Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2022 October 31 • Monday

Happy Halloween! And also happy birthday to a certain someone!

That double opening deserves double content so the 750th Soundtrack of the Week is going to be the music for Lifeforce, composed by Henry Mancini and Michael Kamen, not as a team but separately.

Henry Mancini mostly got asked to write "Mancini" scores, for obvious reasons, but the composer was astonishingly versatile and could more than hold his own when it came to large, sweeping, dramatic orchestral scores.

His music for Lifeforce is all the example you need. You can put it next to anyone else's efforts and it'll be as good if not better.

The senses of movement, color, mood, texture, atmosphere and varying emotions is always powerful and never anything but perfect.

If you didn't know about this music, or Mancini's mostly unsung genius in this area, you probably wouldn't be able to guess who the composer was. A collaboration between John Williams and James Horner might be more like it.

It's brilliant, though, and Intrada has done us all a great service with this two-CD presentation that includes alternate takes, the original score and the soundtrack album..

But what about Michael Kamen? Well, Lifeforce had to get a lot of stuff cut out of it, so much so that Kamen was brought in to score the parts that had been radically changed.

The end result is two great scores that sometimes actually overlap in the finished film.

Kamen's contributions bring more intense "horror" sounds as well as more ethereal passages for harp and flute. While Mancini leans more toward the romantic, Kamen favors dread.

The combination is just amazing. It's incredible that it not only works but succeeds brilliantly. It makes me want to watch the movie again!
2022 October 28 • Friday

Toronto is still a great bookstore city and on our recent visit there we were delighted to discover not only a horror bookstore (and coffeeshop) called Little Ghosts but also a sci-fi/fantasy bookstore called Bakka-Phoenix Books.

It was while perusing the used books in the basement of the latter shop that we came across a signed copy of Carol Weekes's novel Walter's Crossing.

We love to discover things that are new to us, so we scooped it up. Because of the exchange rate, we felt like everything in Canada was on sale!

Walter's Crossing is mostly a story of supernatural vengeance. It begins on the last day of high school and Walter, the teenaged boy of the title, has a plan to strike at the four bullies who have tormented him all year. (Walter and his family had just moved to the town at the beginning of the school year.)

While it's a crew of four, it's mostly the leader, Brian, who has it in for Walter and keeps the hate and sadism alive. As the book begins, one of the four, Willy, is beginning to have serious misgivings about Brian's fixation on Walter, as well as hanging out with Brian in general.

Weekes is very good at both descriptive and psychological writing throughout, presenting the reader with sensually vivid impressions of the hot and humid east coast summer environment as well as the rampant emotions and lines of thought running through her characters' heads.

Walter makes his move but makes a serious mistake that ends up providing Brian with proof that Walter is responsible for the terrible thing that happens to Brian.

Brian goes after Walter, dragging his three friends with him, and Walter ends up dying a gruesome death.

Things get considerably more gruesome from there, as Walter, now somehow connected to some otherworldly source of power, goes on a very gory killing spree.

After a bit of this, the story takes an unfortunate turn. Narrative conventions demand that Walter be stopped somehow and instead of flouting convention, Weekes comes up with an unconvincing, too contrived and totally out of nowhere solution.

It's a shame because the book is quite gripping until this more or less randomly generated third act (although there's also too much vomiting by characters, literal puking).

But it was still a good read and we were pleased to listen to a new (for us) authorial voice.

The first line is "Dying is never pretty, and death is ugly".

2022 October 26 • Wednesday

John Wyndham wrote at least a few great novels on the theme of humans fighting to survive being made extinct by another species. Several decades later, Frank M. Robinson wrote his take on this idea, a book called Waiting.

It’s nothing like Wyndham at all, either stylistically or conceptually. Which is fine. Nobody else needs to be John Wyndham.

Waiting is a brisk page-turner, an airport novel or beach book. The premise is that another species of human, almost but not quite wiped out by homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago, has been secretly living among “us”. They look like humans but they’re stronger, faster, have some sort of not especially well explained telepathic abilities and lack a facility for language and creativity that’s natural for homo sapiens.

The story itself ricochets from one bit of action to another while limiting the radius of involvement almost entirely to the main character’s circle of friends, who have known each other since college and meet regularly as an evolution of a daredevil club they had started when they were young and careless.

When one of them is murdered before he can attend the next meeting, Artie Banks and his best friend and fellow Vietnam veteran Mitch Levin go sleuthing. Everywhere they go they discover someone else who’s either disappeared or been killed. Artie and Mitch almost kill themselves under the influence of hostile mind control.

Of course they end up discovering what the reader has known all along, since it’s the premise of the book. The mystery part of it is more about who’s who, who among the characters is a homo whatever instead of homo sapiens. And what about Artie’s wife and step-son? Is their status abducted, fled or dead?

Certainly the pacing is agreeable enough and Robinson is quite good with the San Francisco location. It was a fun book but not rewarding. It awkwardly combines an unrealistically small cast of characters who are all somewhat incestuously connected with concerns about broader and much graver events, most notably the disastrous effects of climate change, relevant since the species in hiding can’t afford to wait anymore, as homo sapiens is definitely going to destroy the planet.

There are some neat ideas and bits that are reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers but Waiting never really took off, never delivered much in the way of thrills or interest. The ending is somewhat soft and muted as well.

There’s potential in the story idea, though, even if we end up spending a lot of time on certain characters and narrative threads that end up being irrelevant and unceremoniously dropped from the book.

The first line is “Running…”.
2022 October 24 • Monday

The 749th Soundtrack of the Week is Dracula A.D. 1972, scored by Mike Vickers.

The movie begins in 1872 and the first track, the "Warner Bros. Logo", has a deliberately old-fashioned sound to it, perhaps meant to refer back to Lugosi-era Dracula.

Then "Prologue/Hyde Park 1872" introduces us to the main theme accompanied by an insistent snare drum part and organ, plus a few breaks for wind instruments.

A percussion intro brings us into the groovy world of the seventies and "Main Theme: Dracula A.D. 1972", with distorted guitar and horns now playing the theme we just heard with a funky groove.

Organ and electric guitar create an eerie atmosphere for bass clarinet and other wind and string instruments for the suspenseful "Johnny Looks at Ring/Legend of Dracula" while "Devil Circle Music" is a wonderfully crazy cue full of percussion, weird electronic noises and bizarre wordless vocals.

"Baptism by Blood" is also strange but much more cloudy and sedate, as echoing and fluttering instruments swoop around in an airy sonic world.

Timpani propel us remorselessly into "Dracula Rising/The Blood Ritual/Laura Screams", which starts slowly but menacingly with carefully chosen statements by just a few statements before jumping into a driving seventies groove again, basically the main theme again but not exactly the same.

Some big open chords, major and minor, announce that “Mae Comes Back”, and the feeling is moving and uplifting, with an angelic upper register synth line as the focus.

“Father and Son (Resurrection 2)” is a tenser, more ominous piece, again with a cool synth rhythm track and very composed and controlled keyboard work on top.

The next cue, “Severin Dies”, is an errie and effective bit of dramatic underscore, holding itself back for the first half, which has as almost as much space as sound, but then exploding into action and horror for the second half.

Vickers uses a similar structure for "Dracula Returns/Dracula Bites Laura", the the musical specifics are different, just again starting with something moody and in waiting and then bursting into a faster, more rhythmic, denser section.

"Alucard=Dracula/Not the One!/Give Me the Power!" begins with droning organ, soon to be joined by the ensemble emitting an urgent pulse. The beats stop and there's some more atmospheric playing that gets a thicker, joined by electric guitar and swirling wind instrument lines. This stops, there's more unison eighth note clusters and eventually the backbeat and wah-wah guitar come slinking in for more 1972 sounds. These ideas are basically reprised in the next piece, "Dumping the Body/Van Helsing Prepares/Jessica Walks into the Trap".

The main theme comes charging out of the gate for "Van Helsing Heads to the Club", which is a straightforward groovy rocking take with a small break for a bit of atmosphere in the middle.

Wah-wah guitar, percussion and some mesmerizing lines from wind instruments start off "Van Helsing Confronts Johnny/Johnny's Ignoble Death Scene". There's a section for string instruments and then percussion and electric bass and electric guitar come in, setting up a killer groove for… is it an oboe solo? It sort of sounds like it but maybe it's saxophone.

The next piece is a big chunk, an almost twelve minute-long suite called "Johnny Be Really Dead!/Van Helsing at the Church/Van Helsing Confronts Dracula/Rest in Final Peace/Main Theme: Dracula A.D. 1972 (Reprise)". What to say? You hear the main theme, some dramatic underscore, some very nice "church" music.

The record ends with two songs. "You Better Come Through for Me" is a surprisingly raw rock/soul number with great energy and awesome guitar playing. "Alligator Man" is more bluesy and relaxed but still toe-tapping and lively.

2022 October 21 • Friday

How do you come up with a new twist on the haunted house story? On second thought, why would you want to?

It's not the house that's ever the problem, it's the people in it. Brian Asman is here with a refreshingly zany, fast-paced and violent haunted house story populated by vividly characterized and interesting humans.

His book also has maybe the best haunted house story title of all time: Man, Fuck This House.

It starts like many others do, a family moving into a new house.

Mom Sabrina isn't thrilled by husband Hal but he's good enough. Daughter Michaela isn't too much trouble but the younger child, Damien, is kind of a psychopath. Precociously intelligent, he hides his true nature, pretending to be developmentally arrested, all part of a years-long plan to be sadistic to his mother.

Damien has kind of a head start in the generating unease department in that he's a parasitic twin, meaning that he absorbed his twin sibling while both were still in the womb.

Sabrina can't help regarding this as basically cannibalism and this is the root of Damien's resentment of her.

Anyway, they move in and spooky stuff starts happening right away. Sabrina is the only one to witness the events and they're definitely ghosts. She sees them and interacts with them.

Eventually she confides in a neighbor who points out to her that the ghosts appear to be helping her. They move heavy boxes for her, makie coffee for her, draw a bath for her, bring her a towel. These ghosts are… good?

Well, the ghosts want to make her happy, that's for sure. And they can't help but notice that Sabrina's family appears to be a source of her unhappines much of the time.

Wouldn't she be better off without them? What if her husband and children simply weren't around to bother her anymore?

That's the basic premise but it's a fairly wild ride, rather wickedly humorous and taking an unexpected detour into something akin to kaiju territory at the end.

Perhaps one of the most complimentary things one can say about it is that it pretty much lives up to its title.

The first line is "Through the upstairs windows, the House watched".

2022 October 19 • Wednesday

Watching Near Dark again recently brought us another addition to our fabulously useless Meta Marquee thing that we're doing for some reason.

There's Adrian Pasdar walking by a movie theatre marquee that clearly shows that Aliens is playing.

Adrian Pasdar didn't have anything to do with Aliens, as far as I know, but two of his Near Dark co-stars, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton, were both in Aliens.

It's also worth noting that Kathryn Bigelow, the director of Near Dark, would, a couple of years after the release of this movie, meet and marry James Cameron, the director of Aliens.


Well, yeah, most likely.

2022 October 17 • Monday

Tangerine Dream's score for the classic vampire movie Near Dark is our 748th Soundtrack of the Week.

It starts with a synth rock number called “Caleb’s Blues”, which has a nice groove, a very ‘80s sound and a good melody.

This is followed by a moody and atmospheric piece, “Pick Up at High Noon”, which begins with Vangelis-like cloudy textures before shifting into a sparse, drum-driven, alternatingly edgy and ethereal synth melody.

Snarling and distorted synth lines add further tension to an already ominous feeling in “Rain in the Third House”, which also finds an engaging electro-percussive groove that acts as a foundation for some nice chords and lyrical figures.

“Bus Station (incl. Mae’s Theme”), starts dreamily but with a loud, deep, resonant, throbbing percussion hit that cycles not quite regularly, eventually augmented by something sounding a bit like tabla. Synths and keyboards bring a harmonic shape and then about halfway through, the rhythm part is gone to be replaced by a different feel together, a pretty melody with the synths trying out some flute settings.

After that it’s time to rock out with “Goodtimes”, an energetic backbeat urging on wailing synth-guitar lines.

The next track, “She’s My Sister (Resurrection 1)”, starts with a shadowy mood and synth pads fading in and out. It finds a tense kind of propulsive groove and holds it for a while as different notes and chords hover above it. Then it switched to a slower, more pensive with some restrained playing atop a repeating triplet.

Some big open chords, major and minor, announce that “Mae Comes Back”, and the feeling is moving and uplifting, with an angelic upper register synth line as the focus.

“Father and Son (Resurrection 2)” is a tenser, more ominous piece, again with a cool synth rhythm track and very composed and controlled keyboard work on top.

The next cue, “Severin Dies”, is an errie and effective bit of dramatic underscore, holding itself back for the first half, which has as almost as much space as sound, but then exploding into action and horror for the second half.

The same approach was used for “Fight at Dawn”, though instead of a quick jump from mood to another, it builds gradually from a quiet, spacious piece to a rhythmically dense number with a pulsating feel and notes and chords stabbing out at the listener while a dreamy melody floats by.

Finally there’s “Mae’s Transformation”, similar to “Mae Comes Back” but with greater emotional weight and an added sadness to it.
2022 October 14 • Friday

Here's a book we really enjoyed, about a Vietnam vet who shows up in a small American town, is greeted with suspicion and hostility by local police and ends up waging a war on the populace.

It's not First Blood, though, it's Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale, and that war only happens because most of the townspeople become vampires and, you know, that's a problem.

This is part of the Paperbacks from Hell series and it was super entertaining.

Chris Stiles is a quintessential men's adventure fiction hero, tough, compassionate, attractive to women, competent in every conceivable situation and blessed with a truly remarkable pain threshold.

This is also a book that wastes absolutely no time getting down to business. One of the reasons that The X Files was ultimately disappointing and Kolchak: The Night Stalker was not is that Kolchak established in the first scene of every episode that there absolutely was a real supernatural monster that had to be dealt with, while The X Files burned almost all of its running time on sleepy ambiguity and would usually end with a shrug.

Right at the beginning of Nightblood we have Stiles talking to his brother's ghost, a real ghost, so we're off and running right away.

Alex Stiles had been brutally murdered in New Yorks' Central Park and his first action as ghost was to save Chris's life in Vietnam.

Since then they've been roaming the country trying to find the great evil thing that killed Alex. Neither of them knows what it was. All Alex was aware of was the enormity of the evil.

Works for me. And it's a good basis for a series, which this was meant to be, with Stiles going from place to place and always finding some kind of monster horror to deal with. The new introduction to this edition, part of the Paperbacks from Hell imprint, mentions zombies in Florida.

But horror fiction wasn't exactly flying off the shelves in the early '90s, so this Chris Stiles's only published outing.

But it's a lot of fun.

When some teenagers accidentally release a vampire from a creepy old house on the outskirts of town, the shockingly fast result is that almost everyone in town becomes a vampire.

Stiles and a handful of others have to fight basically an army in a fast-paced and brutal campaign.

Martindale doesn't pull a lot of punches here. Main characters get hurt in surprising ways, and sometimes even killed. Don't get too attached to anyone.

He also has some fun with vampire lore. They don't turn into bats or wolves or fog, and as I recall the matter of whether they have reflections isn't ever touched on, but garlic works, as does silver. Crosses repel or hurt them only if wielded by someone with real faith. The object itself is useless without it. Stiles, for instance, can't hurt a vampire with a cross, simply because he lacks this faith, much as he would like to have it.

This makes for some effective moments of tensions and suspense, as you can imagine.

Stiles has a lot of experience going for him in this fight. Although this is his first book, he's been doing this for a long time and has seen plenty of vampires and other monsters. He also has his ghost brother to help him once in a while, though of course Alex has no physical form.

Most gratifying of all is the pacing of the book. It is action, action, action, but Martindale has still drawn interesting and distinct characters and realized the town vividly. I remember trying to read 'Salem's Lot when I was a teenager and finding it boring. Nightblood is the opposite of boring.

And it's good enough that I'll keep an eye out for Martindale's other books.

The first line is "Stiles lay flat on his back in bed with his eyes shut".

2022 October 12 • Wednesday

We're fans of Grady Hendrix here and heartily recommend subscribing to his newsletter, in which he writes with charm and hilarity about paperback horror novels from the 1970s and '80s.

So of course we're also fans of his Paperbacks from Hell series and are resolved to read his book of the same name, a survey of that particular literature landscape.

But what of Mr. Hendrix's own novels? Can he dish it out as well as he can tell us about what other writers have dished out?

It turns out he can, on the strengths of the book we just read, My Best Friend's Exorcism.

The story starts in 1982, when Abby (whose name is perhaps itself an amusing reference to one of the post-The Exorcist demonic possession films) meets Gretchen and they become best friends.

Despite significant differences in their respective social spheres, they stick together and only become closer, until in high school, during a night of naughty but more or less normal teenage activity, Gretchen disappears.

When she shows up again, she's not the same.

If you noticed the title of the book, and the ingenious way the front and back covers are designed to look like an old VHS rental tape of a horror movie, then you already know the story.

What makes it worth reading is the quality of the writing, the placement of felicitous and pleasantly surprising details, the sure eye and ear for the atmosphere and culture of the time and place, the quickly flowing pace of the story and the efficient movements of the plot. Nothing really outrageous or coincidental or out of character here. Each step on the path makes sense.

The exorcism itself is of an unexpected quality and I hope that the movie version that just came out was able to get the rights to all the songs mentioned in the book.

The first line is "The exorcist is dead".

2022 October 10 • Monday

The 747th Soundtrack of the Week is sort of a Goblin score. When George Romero's Martin got an Italian release, the title was changed to Wampyr and the soundtrack replaced by Goblin music from the records Roller and Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo, modified for use in the film. Aldo Salvi also contributed two pieces of music for the film. Anyway, that's what we're listening to right now.

It's on blood red vinyl!

It starts with "Titoli di testa", a.k.a. "Roller", a heavy, throbbing tune with massive keyboard sounds and aggressively thudding bass.

Next is "Braddock", a.k.a. "Le Cascate Di Viridiana", a more atmospheric number that pulses in 12/8 and has the unusual, for Goblin, inclusion of hand percussion and saxophone.

"Consegne a domicilio", a.k.a. "Snip Snap" is a short blast of uptempo Euro synth funk.

It's followed by "Martin & Christine" a.k.a. "Il Risveglio del Serpente", an atmospheric and somewhat eerie feature for drums and percussion that has some melodic guitar and piano playing at the end.

Things get creepier with "Attacco sul treno della notte", a.k.a. "Dr. Frankenstein", which has some ominous low tones, classic Goblin backbeat drums and restless bass guitar lines over which keyboard and guitar play some angular and modern ideas. There's also a lot of soloing, sounding like it might have been inspired by electric Miles.

Side A ends with "Martin & Emily", a.k.a. "Aquaman", a fast and wild piece with monomaniacal bass lines and some startling keyboard sounds as well as crazy explosions of prog rock sonorities.

The B side kicks off with "Album di famiglia", a.k.a. "La Danza", that has fast triplets providing the base for an airy and otherworldly melody from keyboard and guitar. Eventually they slam into a more rock sort of groove with pounding syncopated drumming.

"Seguendo la prossima vittima", a.k.a. "Goblin", almost has a Suspiria feel to it but unexpectedly veers off into a triumphant-sounding, anthemic direction with some wailing electric guitar. It fades out on a promising drum solo.

Then there's "Cancellando le tracce", a.k.a. "…E Suono Rock", which has synth arpeggios creating an atmosphere of excitement. Once again a saxophone makes a surprise appearance but then the track fades out quickly.

Computer-like noises introduce "Impalamento", a.k.a. "Wampyr Finale", which has wailing synth tones and stabbing bass and drums, somewhat similar to Goblin's music for Dawn of the Dead and Deep Red.

The last Goblin piece is "Titoli di Coda", a.k.a. "Notte", which actually almost has a groovy kind of lounge feel to it, though it's a demented sort of vampire lounge, I guess. Still, it's nice to hear them play with this kind of feel. There are also some Italian spoken vocals.

The two cues by Aldo Silvi conclude the record. "Strange Terminal" is some genuinely weird dramatic underscore played by free-form rock combo: sythesizers, fuzz guitars, piano, percussion, etc. Sounds like echo effects and other little tricks are being deployed. This is the kind of track that could have been completely improvised if the musicians had sufficient restraint and sensitivity. And maybe the first part was but the band does eventually land on a recognizable tune that they play together.

And finally there's "Royal Road", which begins with the piano playing a tense and fast ostinato part. Drums come in with a laid back rock beat and the electric bass guitar is kind of all over the place. Again it's a very loose and interesting rock number with electric guitar playing with distortion and other effects. Of course the synth plays a part too.

It's a very cool record, as expected! I wouldn't mind seeing Martin with this music tracked into it.

2022 October 07 • Friday

Here's a really fun book: Scott Kenemore's Zombie, Illinois.

It's the usual spread of the zombie virus in a major city story but Kenemore isn't walking through a genre exercise, he's actually written an ambitious, fast-paced and entertaining novel.

Part of the appeal is how the book alternates between three different first-person narratives: a preacher from the south side, a punk rock musician and a reporter.

Between the three of them they have a lot of varied knowledge and experience and Kenemore is paticularly good on Chicago history and politics. You'll learn some things!

Also, while this is a fairly frantic and violent story, it's also quite witty. Kenemore wants us to have a good time. The construction of the book is admirable in itself. Early on we're tipped to the fact that the preacher has a shameful secret that he's terrified other people might learn. When this is revealed, as you know it will be eventually, it's pretty hilarious.

Basically every page has laughs and thrills and it's just a great ride. Apparently it's a second in a series, the first one being Zombie, Ohio, which I will certainly check out one of these days.

The first line is "The flag of Chicago has four stars on it: one for political corruption, one for high taxes, one for racial segregation, and one for…".

2022 October 05 • Wednesday

Who would have thought that actual printed zines would still be going in 2022? At first it seemed like blogs had completely displaced them. But now that social media has made blogs irrelevant, printed matter is back as an effective and meaningful receptacle for the thoughts and expressions of a large variety of people.

In the heyday of zines there was kind of a dreadful amount of product. There was always something interesting to check out but there was also a grim inevitability about most of what you saw on the shelf.

The signal to noise ratio is much better now, as it takes a lot more determination and inspiration to go through the process of making a zine and there's less potential for renumeration than there used to be.

One of the best ones to come out recently is Kris Rose's The Final Girl: How Horror Movies Made Me a Better Feminist.

What you'll find in here is basically the essence of the zine's appeal in its combining of the personal with the pop cultural.

Rose offers astute and entertaining analyses of many big-name horror movies (Texas Chainsaw, Elm Street, etc.), but what hooks the reader is the glimpses she gives us into her life, particularly her youth and the challenging circumstances in which she grew up.

I hope she does more of these!

2022 October 03 • Monday

It's Shocktober again! And so we're diving into the horror genre all month.

First up is Whit Body's music for Dracula (The Dirty Old Man), our 746th Soundtrack of the Week.

This is a real obscurity and the presentation includes the engineer's intro to the tunes.

It's basically an organ, guitar, bass and drums jamming on different moods and motives. Sometimes there's saxophone, too.

The first piece, "Fast Music Trailer", has the saxophone wailing right away while the guitar, bass and drum create the groove. Then a guitar solo and an organ solo. It's a cool tune, sprightly and funky.

"Dracula (The Dirty Old Man) Theme" is a slow and moody and spacey sort of piece with the organ especially stretching out.

We get uptempo again with what would be called a "shake" on an Italian score: "Peppy Music for a Dating Scene" is probably for some kind of go-go club or bar.

The next piece is mid-tempo and more bluesy, again with the guitar and organ just kind of playing while the rhythm section keeps things moving forward.

More urgency and some quoting—okay, well, just copying—of the Batman tv theme, as well as some other familiar musical ideas are cobbled together for "Chase Music for Girl in a Cave".

The saxophone comes back for "Music Number Five", which almost has a bit of an Ehtopian feel to it. It's another groovy tune and quite long at almost fourteen minutes.

"Three Minutes of Love Music" is actually 3:29 and doesn't sound like any sort of love theme but more like a triumphant, dramatic cue, albeit one played by organ and guitar combo with, perhaps, not a strict agreement about what key they're supposed to be playing in.

"Six Minutes of Music To Make Love By" is closer at 5:57 and does actually sound like romantic kissy-time background music, again featuring the saxophone and lots of soloing from the guitar and, for a change, piano instead of organ.

Finally "Music Number Four" is a long, bluesy, jammy number that takes a while to get into its groove but stays deep in it once it does.