I Bid You Welcome

avaTwo centuries ago, in October of 2016, I had the pleasure of seeing Ex Machina.  It’s great science fiction, but it’s also very much Gothic horror. I’d say Dracula in particular.  But it’s not the complete story, the way, say, The Outer Limits would take Macbeth and give it a science-fiction “haircut.”  I’ll explain.

Ava’s piecemeal appearance, and how she takes parts from her predecessors to create herself are kind of a red herring, suggesting Frankenstein (which is the parallel my movie-watching companions saw) rather than the king of the vampires, but look a little closer.   The movie begins with a young man going to a weird house in the middle of nowhere ostensibly on business.   There, he meets a creepy eccentric rich guy with mute, spooky “brides.” And Caleb, the Harker stand-in, can only go to so many rooms in the house, although he finds ways around that.  There’s an intense scene involving a mirror and a cut.   And finally, the visit accidentally sets a monster loose in the modern world.   The computer is in New York, and people will suffer.  The vampire was in London, and people suffered.

But it’s all subtle enough that you don’t notice at first.  Or at least, I didn’t notice it at first.  Something about the movie struck me as familiar, but then when Caleb is locked in Ava’s old room, the Dracula parallels hit me.  And being the monster fanatic that I am, it made me very happy.

One notable difference, however, is who’s invading who.  In Dracula, it’s the old country invading the modern world (draw whatever political parallels you please here).  With Ex Machina, it’s modern society invading itself, basically, because the Internet created the monster.  Whereas with vampires, humanity has to triumph eventually, because they belong in the past, with machines it’s more vague.

If Ex Machina were to get a sequel (which I really hope it does), well, they’ve still got Harker locked in the castle.  He still has to escape and rejoin society.


Eulogizing Tanith Lee

Tanith-LeeFantasy, science-fiction, feminist author Tanith Lee died recently from breast cancer.  She was 67.

No one in my family knew her personally, although through her writings she was an integral part of the household.  My dad read her fiction since her first novel, The Birthgrave, and introduced my brother and me to the novels, which we in turn loved, read very often, and still sometimes quote to each other.

The first Tanith Lee novel I read was Wolf Tower— I read it while waiting to have my broken wrist set… 24 hours after I had broken the bone.  I was in pain, I was nauseous, and I was hungry because I was afraid to eat due to the nausea… and I was totally enraptured by the book.  The other three novels in the series were eagerly devoured, too.

The next year I found Red Unicorn at a book fair.  I bought it, only to be told by my dad that it was the third in a trilogy.  So I hunted up Black Unicorn and Gold Unicorn to read first.  Red Unicorn was a providential purchase.  The Unicorn series became one of my favorites… something my brother and I still quote.

When Dad announced Tanith Lee’s death the other night, my brother asked, “Who?”  I said, “Got a bone?” (A line from Black Unicorn).  Brother said, “Motherfucker.”

Indeed. He had performed her reworking of Snow White– Red as Blood— for a forensics competition a few years ago.  The same fairy tale collection inspired my (in-progress) collection of revised fairy tales, Ashes, and it’s damn good horror besides.  Speaking of horror, one of the best episodes of The Hunger was based on a Tanith Lee story, “Nunc Dimittis.”

And there were lots of other novels and short stories along the way.  It would take too long to go into them all and explain what they meant, but it comes down to this… books have always been friends to me, and Tanith Lee’s books offered me friendship, escape, lessons, companionship, adventure, fun new words that upset my mother (tronking okk’s grulps!), and a way for my brother and I to amuse ourselves that no one else understood.

We really have lost an old friend (and role model), and we are truly sorry for it.  Fantasy, science fiction, and horror are much poorer without Tanith Lee.


This Would Be Awesome!

I'm dreaming of a space Christmas...

I’m dreaming of a space Christmas…

When I was a kid, one of my favorite authors was Audrey Wood.  She wrote about the Big Hungry Bear, a weird bunch of people who all nap on top of each other, and a little kid named Patrick who builds himself a wonderful playhouse with dinosaurs, bubbles, and islands….  But she also wrote The Christmas Adventure of Space Elf Sam— a delightful little book about an elf whose job it is to take gifts to the children on Earth colonies in space.  He crashes on an unknown planet and ends up introducing Christmas to the aliens there.

It’s charming, not too messagey or religious (we’re talking about teaching aliens how to hang ornaments on a sentient shrub), and has plenty of opportunities for cool animation, montage, and ready-made-dialogue with the introductions, explanations, and good cheer of preparing for the holiday.  We could bring in some really nice voices, too.

Chris Pratt could be the Space Elf, and just to shake things up, Robert Englund could be cast against type as Santa Claus.  John Hurt could be the King of the aliens (which would explain a lot), and someone like Ciara Bravo (the awesome little sister on Big Time Rush) could play the Princess.

A studio like Dreamworks, known for its good animation, could take up the project.  I’d see it at least twice… I’d borrow kids to see it again!

Check out the Amazon sample– or better yet, buy it!  It’s seriously under-priced (


Top 10 Women in Horror Films #2 Ellen Ripley

It pays to listen to her.

It pays to listen to her.

Another sci-fi/horror, although  Aliens is more horror than its prequel, because its plot echoes one of the best sci-fi/horror films of the 1950s– Them!  An insectoid menace, a little girl who is the the lone survivor of the initial carnage, and the need to destroy the queen before all is lost… these are all details shared by the two movies, although there are, of course, many significant differences.

Aliens(1986) opens 57 years after the events of Alien when Ripley(Sigourney Weaver) is brought out of hypersleep, her shuttle having drifted through space all that time.  No one believes her story about what happened to her fellow crew members on the Nostromo, and she is demoted down to forklift operator.  However, the planet where all the trouble started has been terraformed and colonized, although suddenly all contact is lost.  The Company now begins to believe Ripley and asks her to join the rescue mission, made up of a group of maladjusted, misfit space-marines and the corporate bastard Burke.  Landing, they discover the little girl, Newt, whose father was the first casualty of the alien outbreak.  With an alien for each member of the colony, and an egg-laying queen, not to mention that the whole place is undermined by a nuclear reactor, the plan quickly melts down.

Tension surrounds Ripley’s character from the moment she wakes up.  She has to prove that she’s not crazy and acted to the best of her abilities on the Nostromo.  Due to the crisis on the colony, the only way to do that is to confront her nightmares head on– not usually a situation female characters are seen in.  She also has to constantly deal with the space marines and Burke overriding and belittling her out of sexism, the fact that she’s a civilian, the fact that she’s the crazy Alien lady… you could make an argument for each or agree that it’s a combination of all three.  When Gorman panics, she assumes command of the team, using her expertise and leadership to prevent a bigger crisis. And she rises to it all, even taking Newt under her wing, inverting the usual trope that tough women don’t have a tender side.  She even learns that androids can be good.  We need more characters like her, and no, I don’t mean Avatar.


Top 10 Women in Horror Movies #9 Maria


The true Maria.

Metropolis— another silent German Expressionist film from the ’20s (1927 to be exact)… this time directed by the great Fritz Lang.  This film straddles the fine line between horror and science fiction, but for the intents and purposes of this project, we’ll call it horror.

The movie takes place in a futuristic city (rather reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Gotham in his two Batman movies) where the rich live on the top level, and the proletariat, who keep the city from literally collapsing (due to the way it is structured) live and labor in deplorable conditions underground.  The top level leader’s son, Freder, accidentally learns of the underclass when he meets Maria, a prophetess who preaches to the people below, giving them hope and advocating a non-violent solution to their plight.  Freder admiringly tells his father, Jon, of her, not knowing that he will want to destroy her.  To do this, he kidnaps her and has the mad scientist, Rotwang, create a mechanical double not of Jon’s deceased wife, but of Maria in order to destroy her credibility.  Chaos ensues.

A lot of truly great talent made this film possible, and the actress who played Maria and her wicked double, Brigitte Helm.  Both women are completely different (even in their facial expressions and movements), and both wield a great deal of power.  They are both eloquent speakers and charismatic leaders who have the power to prevent, start, and stop riots.  Admittedly my knowledge of Weimar cinema is sketchy, but even in Pre-Code America, a woman wielding that kind of power (religious and political) is unusual.  Also, the true Maria is never a damsel in distress.  She gets kidnapped and scared, yes, but once Freder lets her out, she takes charge of the situation again while maintaining her principles of non-violence.  What a woman!  What a leader!