Tales from the Crypt Top 10

The New Arrival

A Halloween post for 90’s kids. If you were a preteen anywhere between 1989 and 1996, Tales from the Crypt was the ultimate forbidden fruit. It pretended to be marketed for adults but was made for kids whose pre-internet minds would be blown by gore, nudity and swearing. The Crypt Keeper is still an intense sight (I can’t believe how articulated his face is and those eyes are creepy as hell) but only a kid could find his shitty Uncle jokes funny.

It’s not a good show. Unless viewed through a lens of nostalgia, most adults would find it boring and modern kids have a better horror pool to pick from. But it does have a couple of points working for it: incredible practical effects, fun gore, and a great roster of guest stars and directors.

While I’m calling this a Top 10 list, I only had around 15 contenders vying for a spot after going through 93 episodes. (For perspective, when I did a Twilight Zone Top 10 last year, I had to whittle down about 70 “top” episodes out of 156.) Continue reading

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“Psycho”

Psycho pic

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, best remembered as the basis for Hitchcock’s 1960 classic film. I read a British paperback edition.

2 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

Seen the Movie: Original, yes (though it’s been 10+ years); 1998 remake, no.

The Plot:

After stealing $40,000 from her employer, Mary Crane checks into a hotel run by strange, awkward Norman Bates.

At 153 pages this is more novella than novel. It’s a breezy read, handling its dark subject matter as though it was old-hat instead of a kick-off to the sympathetic-serial-killer genre.

I kept thinking of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels while reading Psycho; they have a similar matter-of-fact style and tendency to spend pages on inane inner monologues, each of these one-person conversations ending with the character nodding, shrugging or shaking their head (something I don’t believe many humans actually do while thinking. Let me know if I’m wrong). In a Bond novel I roll with it because they’re dumb and fun and the established world is ridiculous to begin with. In Psycho, I feel like Bloch was filling pages either because (a) He wanted to make the book novel-length or (b) He wasn’t sure what to do with the story and the characters’ thoughts are partly him trying to sort things out, too.

I’m going to lean into (a): Bloch had a great concept for a story, wanted to write a novel out of it, then realized there wasn’t enough meat for a novel. So he padded.

The chapters alternate third-person point of views, so we’ll get Norman’s side of a scene, then in the next chapter Mary (or Lila or Sam) will recount the same events from their point of view. It messes up the rhythm of the story and takes away tension. If Bloch had stuck with one perspective (Norman’s or Mary/Lila), this could have been incredibly tense.

The twist is so tied into pop culture that it’s no more surprising than the killer in Jaws being a shark. If, somehow, someone could read Psycho with absolutely no knowledge of Norman Bates committing the murders, then maybe this would be a fun read.

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“Crash” (Post 2/2)

Crash 02[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


[31]

During the inquest she had held my arm in a peculiar grip, frightened that I might be swept sideways out of the window.

(p.76)

[32]

“There’s a certain moral virtue in being materialistic.”

(p.78)

[33]

The frustrated actor was evident in all his impulsive movements, and in an irritating way pre-empted my responses to him.

(p.88) Continue reading

Tom Petty Top 20 Tracks

Today would have been Tom Petty’s 67th birthday. I hate having to write it that way.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were one of the big ones. They (along with The Beatles and Pink Floyd) introduced me to rock. They helped formed my taste, showed me what I liked in music, why I liked it. My formative years were spent admiring and loving Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Howie Epstein and Stan Lynch.

So, after 20+ years of being a fan, here are my Top 20 Tom Petty (solo and with The Heartbreakers) tracks.

Continue reading

“Crash” (Post 1/2)

Crash 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


 

J.G. Ballad’s controversial 1973 novel. I read a Picador paperback borrowed from a friend (Thanks, man – I almost spent $15 on this one). 

1 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: Yes. In fact, I own the movie. It works much better than the book.

The Plot:

James Ballard, a forty-year-old television commercial producer, becomes obsessed with car crashes after killing a man (and nearly losing his own life) in an accident.

I debated whether it was worth making a post for this one and not just slapping Crash on my 10 Worst Read this year and calling it a day. As I said with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (review), there’s no point writing a review if nothing constructive can come of it. Let’s see what we can get out of Crash.

I’ll start with the compliments: Ballard knows how to write. He knows exactly what he’s doing and is in complete control. Some early passages read like poetry; an incredible mix of organic elements described clinically and inorganic elements infused with life. Until around page 30, I was blown away by what was being presented and ready for the story to get rolling. But by page 30 you have all you’ll get for the next 200 pages. Ballard beats you with a thesis and never switches to plot. He wants to watch your reaction as he rubs your face in biological fluids: semen, vomit, urine, faeces, bile, pus, mucosa, blood (I kept waiting for menstrual blood but he incredibly missed that one).

We’re told on the first page that Vaughan will die in a crash. Everything that comes after simply leads back to that point without any surprises on the way. Unless homosexual sex during an LSD trip is your definition of mind-blowing, Crash can’t be enjoyed for its literal plot. It’s simply worthless. It’s ready-made for ambitious literary types to dissect and reconstruct – applying the merging of sexuality and technology and the ability for humans to fetishize anything to our modern age. Vehicles are the physically largest and most powerful device that most humans get the opportunity to control. Most of us never imagine using them for anything other than their intended purpose. All that power that people never explore. We’re fascinated by wrecks – the speed and brutality, the ability for a single vehicle to change and end the lives of others. And everyone who travels on the road – as driver or passenger – is playing the largest game of Russian Roulette every moment. I get it. I get the symbol of the car. I get that you can push many buttons by forcing people to get down close and look at wounds and scars and distorted sexuality. But I also expect the relationship between author and reader to have some respect at its core.

Crash is like a guest slapping you in the face in your living room until they decide they’re finished. Some people might be all right with that. They may even find it an interesting experience. I turn against authors who can only communicate through abuse. Continue reading

“The Last Picture Show” (Post 2/2)

Last Picture Show 02[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


[27]

Sonny quit arguing – he really didn’t know how to argue against a whole crowd. He never had even wanted to before.

(p.87)

[28] Reference:

He soon left her and went back to Bossier City, Louisiana, where he came from.

(p.87)

 

Bossier City is a suburb of Shreveport, Louisiana. As of the 2010 census, Bossier City had a population of 61,315.

[29]

She was silent a moment. “Do you know what it means to be heartbroken?” she said. “It means your heart isn’t whole, so you can’t really do anything wholeheartedly.”

(p.97)

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“The Last Picture Show” (Post 1/2)

Last Picture Show 01[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Larry McMurtry’s 1966 novel, the last of his Thalia trilogy. I read a Penguin Contemporary American Fiction edition.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1 

Seen the Movie: Not yet. It’s been on my watchlist for years – I need to get to it.

The Plot:

Teens don’t have much to do in small-town Thalia, Texas. They can visit the pool hall or picture show or bring dates to the lake (and see how far they can go).

Adults of Thalia can regret decisions they made as teens.

This was my first Larry McMurtry book. I have no idea how it took me this long to read his work. I need to read more. The Last Picture Show was fantastic; solid prose, honest and touching without beating the reader over the head with sentimentality. The story takes place in 1951 Texas but some small-town truths are universal and timeless. My upbringing in 1990s Vermont was enough for me to relate to these characters.

My biggest complaint? Sonny’s first girlfriend (Charlene) drops off the face of the earth after he breaks up with her. In a town as small as Thalia with so few social groups, I don’t see how they could have gone on without running into each other. And if McMurtry was just using Charlene as a pawn to get Sonny to make his next decisions, I don’t know why she was given so much personality and screen time in the opening chapters.

But that’s it. Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything else about this book. Continue reading

“Player Piano” (Post 2/2)

Player Piano 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


[21]

“I want to be sure you understand that men really do worry about what there is for their sons to live for; and some sons do hang themselves.”

“And this is as old as life itself,” said Paul.

“Well?” said Lasher.

“Well, it’s too bad. I’m certainly not overjoyed about it.”

(p.83)

[22]

The kitchen was, in a manner of speaking, what Anita had given of herself to the world. In planning it, she had experienced all the anguish and hellfire of creativity – tortured by doubts, cursing her limitations, at once hungry for and fearful of the opinions of others. Now it was done and admired, and the verdict of the community was: Anita was artistic.

(p.95)

This is clearly sarcasm. Paul (and Vonnegut) look down on Anita for caring and toiling over home design. But listen: Anita is doing this right. She understands exactly what reality she’s living in and how to find worth. She doesn’t sit around moping about how bored and empty and worthless her life is, she’s doing something and I applaud her even if Vonnegut wants to be snooty.

Continue reading

“Player Piano” (Post 1/2)

Player Piano 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

 Post 2


Kurt Vonnegut’s debut novel, published in 1952. I read a battered and burned Dell Laurel Paperback.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

The Plot:

In the years since The Last War, America has entered an age of perfect mechanization and human comfort. Doctor Paul Proteus, son of a legendary engineer, rejects his role as plant manager, wanting something more than subservience to machines.

Player Piano is Kurt Vonnegut’s vision of the near-future from a 1950s perspective. Not every author can be H.G. Wells or Arthur C. Clarke. Vonnegut gets most of it wrong; even by the 1960s, he would have seen how wrong. He assumes computers will remain cumbersome, hulking things used for production and work. There’s no place for technology as entertainment in Player Piano (beyond television) and this is where he really bungles things up.

In Player Piano, regular men – the ones without the high IQs required for engineering jobs – sit around all day with every comfort in the world but nothing to do and therefore no way to justify their existence. Women (except for one female secretary), have nothing to do but watch television; their housework and chores have been taken away, you see. What else is there to do?

Oh, I don’t know: be artistic, read, write, go for walks, play sports – people can find fulfillment and worth in almost any situation. Sit a man in a dark room for long enough and he’ll create a fantasy world to nurture. Boredom is 99% self-imposed. These people simply have no motivation. It has nothing to do with the machines.

So, on a base level, I can’t sympathize with the complaints of Player Piano. But I’ve grown up with technology. I’m quite happy to put my laundry in a machine and read a book while the machine’s hard at work. I’m guessing most people my age (and under) feel the same way. Player Piano will cease working as a narrative at all (if it even works now) in the next couple of decades. If this book is remembered, it will be for two reasons: 1) It was Vonnegut’s first and 2) Its predictions are wrong enough to be an amusing oddity.

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