Monthly Archives: August 2016

“Satanic Panic” edited by Janisse Kier-la and Paul Corupe— A Descent Into Cultural Terror

satanic panic

Janisse, Kier-la and Paul Corupe, editors. “Satanic Panic”, FAB Press, 2016.

A Descent into Cultural Terror

Amos Lassen

In the 1980s, Satan seemed to be everywhere and it was impossible to escape his supposed influence. There were warnings everywhere about a widespread evil conspiracy to indoctrinate the vulnerable through the media. This has since become known as the “Satanic Panic,” and its aim was to convince us of devils “lurking behind the dials of our TVs and radios and the hellfire that awaited on book and video store shelves, it also created its own fascinating cultural legacy of Satan-battling VHS tapes, audio cassettes and literature”. This book is an in-depth exploration of how we were caught in a culture war during the decade. It features new essays and interviews by 20 writers who look at the ways the widespread fear of a Satanic conspiracy was both illuminated and propagated through almost every pop culture pathway in the 1980s (from heavy metal music to Dungeons & Dragons role playing games, Christian comics, direct-to-VHS scare films, pulp paperbacks, Saturday morning cartoons, TV talk shows and even home computers). We also have case studies on Thee Temple or Psychick Youth and Long Island “acid king” killer Ricky Kasso. We meet con artists, pranksters, martyrs and moralists and see how untold story of how the Satanic Panic was fought on the pop culture frontlines and the serious consequences it had for many involved. We become very aware of what happens when belief outweighs reason.

The writers include Adam Parfrey (Apocalypse Culture), Gavin Baddeley (The Gospel of Filth, Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship and Rock n’ Roll), Liisa Ladouceur (Encyclopedia Gothica), David Flint (SHEER FILTH!), Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Rape Revenge Films: A Critical Study), Adrian Mack (The Georgia Straight), Forrest Jackson (Cosmic Suicide: The Tragedy and Transcendence of Heaven’s Gate), Alison Nastasi (Flavorwire), Leslie Hatton (Popshifter), David Canfield (Twitch), David Bertrand (Fangoria; Spectacular Optical), Alison Lang (Rue Morgue, Broken Pencil), Kevin L. Ferguson (Eighties People), Wm Conley (Deathwound), Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), Samm Deighan (Satanic Pandemonium), Stacey Rusnak (The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction), Ralph Elawani (C’est complet au royaume des morts), Gil Nault (Liturgie apocryphe), one-man band John Schooley and Joshua Benjamin Graham, alongside co-editors Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation). The book also features comic art by Rick Trembles (Motion Picture Purgatory) and original illustrations by Toronto artist Mike McDonnell.

This is a fascinating bit of pop-culture ephemera, especially for those of us who lived through this period. While it may have laid down roots in the late Sixties and Seventies, with the great successes of films like “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and “The Omen” (1976), or with the resurgence of interest in occult matters after the founding of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, the “Satanic Panic” remains a relic of the Eighties. “Satanic Panic” is an essential resource for understanding this momentary mass hysteria with its exploration of both the causes of the craze and the effects it had on Eighties society.

“Lily and the Octopus” by Steven Rowley

lily and the octopus

Rowley, Steven. “Lily and the Octopus”,  Simon & Schuster , 2016.

Living and Loving Fiercely

Amos Lassen

I am a pet lover so naturally a book about a gay man and his dog appeals to me but, I must say, I was not prepared to have the adventure that I did with Steven Rowley’s “Lily and the Octopus”. It reminds us how it feels to love totally, how hard it can be to let go and that we are willing to fight hard for what we love.

Ted Flask is single and unhappy single in Los Angeles. His dachshund has become the love of his life and she is always there for him as he negotiates therapy and dates with guys he meets at online dating sights. Teddy is able to communicate with Lily and they debate good-looking men and even play board games together. There is just one problem and it is the “octopus” attached to Lily’s head and we learn that it is a metaphor for Lily’s lethal cranial tumor that is sapping her life. The octopus is the reason for Lily’s frequent seizures that point to the limits of her life. This is truly an emotional read that makes us cry and laugh sometimes simultaneously.

One day, Ted discovers that an octopus (tumor) is present on Lily’s head and Ted knows that it is trying to take his beloved pet. Ted, however, is not going to let Lily go without a fight. We go through

Lily’s decline in health and Ted’s journey to fight the octopus. He goes through an emotional and sometimes insane journey to finally accept that the Octopus may win.Lily talks to Ted, and so does the octopus. Ted would do anything he could to defeat the octopus.

Ted, is a man struggling with the loneliness and heartbreak of everyday existence and his struggles made me contemplate my own. This is a very honest look at a man who also represents much of what we see in ourselves. It is impossible not to

commiserate with his predicament. I really felt the way Ted and Lily loved each other; I have had my Jack Russell “terrorist”, Sophie, for eleven years and cannot imagine what it will be like once she is gone. She is the family member who forgives me in an instant and who shows utter devotion, always being there for me.

 

 

“Darling Days: A Memoir” by iO Tillett Wright— “Punk, Poverty, Heroin and Art”

darling days

Wright, Tillett iO. “Darling Days: A Memoir”, Ecco, 2016.

“Punk, Poverty, Heroin and Art”

Amos Lassen

In his memoir, iO Tillett Wright shared that he was born in New York in the 1980s and came of age at the intersection of “punk, poverty, heroin and art”.

New York then was “a world of self-invented characters, glamorous superstars, and strung-out sufferers, ground zero of drag and performance art”. iO’s mother, Rhonna, was a showgirl and young widow, “and a mercurial, erratic glamazon”. She was also iO’s fiercest defender and only authority in a world with few boundaries and even fewer indicators of normal life. This is the story of the relationship between a fiery kid and a domineering mother who shared a bond that was defined by “freedom and control, excess and sacrifice; by heartbreaking deprivation, agonizing rupture, and, ultimately, forgiveness”.

“Darling Days” is much more than a memoir; it is also an examination of culture and identity, of the instincts that shape us and the norms that “deform” us, and of the courage and resilience it takes to listen closely to your deepest self (Something many of us have a hard time doing). When a group of neighborhood boys refuse to let six-year-old, female-born iO play ball, iO instantly finds a new persona and becomes a boy named Ricky and her parents support and celebrate. Here was the start of a profound exploration of gender and identity through the young years, and the beginning of a life that was invented and reinvented at every step and whenever necessary. The beauty of this book is that it is constantly moving back and forth between the “harrowing and the hilarious” all the while remaining as a candid and honest memoir of a young person in search of an authentic self as family and home life become chaotic.

People will have mixed feelings about the memoir because Wright tells it like it was and her honesty is brutal as well as shocking at times. She has been an artist, an activist, and a survivor and approaches life with a fierceness that we do not often see. She also happens to be a great storyteller with a true story to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“SPECIAL EFFECTS”— A Movie About a Movie

special effects

“Special Effects”

A Movie About a Movie

Amos Lassen

”Special Effects” is a movie about a movie being made about a murder. The story has to do with a director who strangles an aspiring actress while the camera is running and then tries to pin the crime on her husband.

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Larry Cohen directed this self-reflexive thriller that deliriously dissects the boundaries between reality and fiction. With his career in shambles after having blown a $30 million special effects- project, director Christopher Neville (Eric Bogosian) finds inspiration for a comeback after he murders a young would-be starlet named Andrea (Zoë Lund), films the scene and then blackmails the victim’s husband, Keefe (Brad Rijn) who is detective Delroy’s (Keevin O’Connor) prime suspect in the slaying. He gets the inspiration to star in a reality-based film about the murder starring an Andrea doppelganger named Elaine (also Lund) with whom Keefe begins falling in love. It’s an insane set-up to be sure, and Cohen never seems fully in control of the myriad themes he’s addressing.

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Writer/director Larry Cohen’s script for this film touches on Hollywood egotism, the cruelty of showbiz, snuff films, the corrupting allure that moviemaking holds for neophytes and even works in a few allusions to Hitchcock (a key plot device is lifted from Vertigo). Coney Island parking lot. Cohen anchors the film with gutsy performances by actors from New York’s experimental arts scene and what holds it all together is Eric Bogosian’s furiously intense portrayal of the egomaniacal director who drives the story’s events.

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Unfortunately, there is little coherence in the script and it all does not come together. If this film is meant to be a spoof of the auteur cult, Mr. Cohen doesn’t know what to do. There is some humor, however, that is extracted from the part of a detective who wants an associate-producer credit on the movie about the murder he is investigating – and gets it. “Special Effects” should have worked. 

“GAS-S-S-S”— Combining Science Fiction and Comedy

gas-s-s-s

“GAS-S-S-S”

Combining Science Fiction and Comedy

Amos Lassen

Gas-s-s-s, a mash-up of the science fiction and comedy genres. It is a post-apocalyptic tale viewed through the lens of director Roger Corman and features a cast of young talents-of-the-day including Cindy Williams, Bud Cort and Ben Vereen.

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When a military chemical accident kills everyone on the planet over the age of twenty-five, Earth is left in the hands of the youth. Hippies Coel (Robert Corff) and Cilla (Elaine Giftos) will lead a quest for survival joined by Hooper (Bud Cort), Coralee (Tally Coppola), Marissa (Cindy Williams), and Carlos (Ben Vereen).

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When “Gas-s-s-s” was released in 1970, it was promoted with ads that proclaimed, ‘Invite a few friends over to watch the end of the world. They travel around the country to find a specific place in New Mexico where many survivors are traveling to although we never know just why so many survivors are traveling there. The various characters the group encounters along the way are all goofballs.

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“Gas” came to be is Roger Corman’s latest attempt to be funny and hip. I do not know what happened here as this movie left me totally befuddled. The young actors are fine and some of the jokes work but by and large, I was lost during the viewing.

“Blood Dive” by Greg Howard— Going Home

blood divine

Howard, Greg. “Blood Divine, Wilde City Press, 2016.

Going Home

Amos Lassen

Cooper Causey is not our typical hero; he has had to deal with the demons inside of him ever since he was a young boy. He receives a voicemail that upsets him and brings him back home to Wakefield, the place where he was first made aware that there was something dark inside of him. Arriving in South Carolina, he searches for his missing grandmother and with this he learns about who he really is and who came before him. Before he realizes it he becomes “a pawn in an ancient war between two supernatural races”. Cooper knows that he has to protect the man he loves from what seems to be impending doom and to do so he must use his dark powers, the very same powers that can consume him.

With so many paranormal books being written these days, it is difficult to find one that has something to say and that is what we have here. I honestly had no idea what to expect as I began to read and the more I read, the more involved I became.

In order to protect the only man he’s ever loved, Cooper must embrace the dark power threatening to consume him and choose sides in a deadly war between the righteous and the fallen. Most of life seems to be a battle between good and evil but the extent always differs. I recently taught a seminar of the “banality of evil” and I learned a great deal about it from my students but the one singular thing I took away from that class is the fact that evil is always present but we seldom recognize it as such. We see it in contrasts—light and dark, heaven and earth, love and hate and so on.

We immediately see that Cooper has a problem but we have no idea, at first, what it is. We certainly see how he feel about his boyfriend and the fear that Randy (RJ) will ever one of the main characters in this book. From the very get go you can tell that there is something different about Cooper but just not exactly sure what it is. One thing that is certain about him is he is in love with RJ (Randy) even believing that the love of his life will be able to return that feeling. This does not stop him from loving but it makes it frustrating. After all, the two have seen each other for a long time. Because Cooper has no clue about his own and his family’s past lives and knows nothing about his ancestors. He left home ten years ago and he knows that going back gives him the chance to see the love of his life again.

Returning home for Randy was like going to a different planet. He is forced to face evil and acknowledge to himself that there is something within that wants to come out. He is about to find out what that is.

From the moment Cooper steps back into town his world is turned upside down and things he never knew existed suddenly do and he is faced with an evil that he has never imagined. Cooper has always known that something was inside of him trying to get out but he never knew or understood what it was. If that is not enough, he also has Alexander trying to get to him but that is as far as I am going with that. This is one of those books that is hard to review because of the possibility of giving something away.

Let me say that it is not just the characters who are in for a little excitement—so are the readers. Set yourself aside a block of time when you start reading because you will find it hard to stop. We are going to meet all kinds of paranormal beings and see how real they seem to be. There is a lot of action and there is love. There is also an open end so I surmise that the story is not yet over.

 

 

 

 

 

“AGUA”— Two Young Men and a Pool

agua

“Agua”

Two Young Men and a Pool

Amos Lassen

“Agua” is set solely at a swimming pool and changing afterwards. It follows a young man who goes there to practice in the water. He meets another young guy who starts swimming in the next lane. Their friendship grows, but when one decides to kiss the other, it may bring it all to the end.

The film uses repetition to show the subtle changes that went on in the relationship between the two guys. it’s a well-made film that’s well worth a look. Directed by Ricardo Esparragoza at the Universidad de Guadalajara, “Agua” is now being seen on the festival circuit.

“DON’T CALL ME SON”— A Trans Film Prizewinner

dont call me son

“Don’t Call Me Son”

A Trans Film

Amos Lassen

“Don’t Call Me Son” (“Mãe Só Há Uma”) has won a lot of praise on the film festival circuit, including winning the prestigious Teddy Jury Award at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. It was recently released in its native Brazil, to plenty of acclaim.

‘A bike, high school, joints, girls, a rock band are part of Pierre’s life. He is a middle class teenager like many others. One day the police knock at his door and his life turns upside down: After a forced DNA test, the woman he thought was his mother is arrested. Pierre is forced to have a new family, to change his address, school, and even his name. In his new identity, he is called Felipe. And that is the moment when his most intimate and hidden secrets will come out, as painful as it may be…’

“BUDDY”— A Dutch Gay Short

buddy

“Buddy”

A Dutch Gay Short

Amos Lassen

A reunion with an ex-lover is never the easiest of situations but when it takes place in an STD Clinic it is even more fraught than usual. Asking someone to hold your hand whilst you take an HIV test after having unprotected sex with someone else infers a level of intimacy that is open to misinterpretation such as an unspoken plea to even start all over again?

Dutch filmmaker Niels Bourgonje touching wee short movie “BUDDY” that he co-wrote with Edwin Goldman was based on a true story and to add to its authenticity was filmed in an actual STD Clinic.

“The One Man” by Andrew Gross— Ending the War

the one man

Gross, Andrew. “The One Man”, Minotaur Books, 2016.

Ending the War

Amos Lassen

In 1944 the United States was working hard to develop a weapon to end World War II. There was one man, an electromagnetic physicist from Poland named Alfred Mendl, who had the expertise to separate the uranium isotopes necessary for creating the weapon but he was a prisoner in Auschwitz. With his wife and daughter already dead, he was getting weaker every day yet he was well enough to take a young chess champion with a prodigious memory into his confidence and he taught him the important formulas so that his knowledge would live on if he died not survive.

Meanwhile, an American OSS officer who had some knowledge of the camp (from a map drawn by the only prisoners who managed to escape) devised a plan to rescue Mendl. Lieutenant Nathan Blum, the only member of his family who had managed to escape from Poland and was fluent in Polish and German planned to infiltrate the camp, find Mendl, and escape with him with some help from the Polish resistance. From this point on, we read of Mendl’s efforts to pass on his knowledge and Blum’s attempt to rescue him.

Writer Andrew Gross based is story on the experience of Andrew Gross’s Polish father-in-law, a survivor. He pulls us in with very realistic descriptions of life in a concentration camp; so much so that we actually sense the terror of not knowing whether one will live another day as well as the brutality of the camp guards. Another OSS officer, Strauss, another OSS officer, is the son of a cantor, feels obligated to help fellow Jews even though he had already eschewed his Judaism, agreed to help Blum who was also dealing guilt by rescuing Mendl. Gross gives us a great deal to think about including genocide, the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the efforts to combat these evils. In combining the genres historical fiction and thriller, Gross gives us a very suspenseful read. To make the plot ever more exciting, we learn that Blum has only 72 hours to rescue Mendl and the irony of Blum’s own situation—having been rescued from Poland and now having to return to rescue someone else plays heavily upon him. When he left Poland he learned that his parents and sister are killed. Parachuting in, he had nothing but a large and valuable diamond to aid in his mission. While the

focus of the story is the mission to save an electromagnetic physics professor from Auschwitz, we also get a look at Auschwitz and the depravity of the Nazi party. Above all else is the way Gross tells his story. I actually had to stop reading several times just to relax from the tension I felt.