THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Greg Palko

The Last Knock

Greg Palko’s a graphic designer and art director with a different way of looking at the world – horror or otherwise. To learn why his movie posters, book covers, flyers, and more, stand out, listen in from his hidden horror homestead at an undisclosed New Jersey location – which is a horror museum for certain! And you’ll find out what it means to be “Palko-ed”!

Don’t forget to connect with Greg Palko whether you need some killer art or not. You’ll find him on Twitter and at his engaging website, Palko Designs.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@BleedingCritic @RonGizmo @DonRiemer @WTPGS @vitotrabucco @bloodybiblecamp @ScarecrowVideo @loneblockbuster @JohnKassir @RevChuckJarman and @THETomSavini

BONUS! Here’s one of Palko’s most recent pieces:

Chronic Demonic Vomit: 666 from Billy Crash

 

 

Number of the Beast

I’ve had it. While watching a movie I’m not at liberty to name, the digital clock ramped up speed – and landed on 6:66 o’clock. I began to roll my eyes but stopped when acid shot into the back of my throat as I endured another horror train wreck. When it comes to the “Number of the Beast,” the only thing I want to hear is Steve Harris and company knock it out as Iron Maiden.

Since The Exorcist, films using demonic possession as a foundation have copied many a scene from William Friedkin’s much feared horror classic. The genre is loaded with bitter or ex-communicated or faithless priests taking on a young girl or woman possessed by a demon. Of course, she must be tied down spread-eagle to a bed, she must speak in a Cookie Monster-like devilish voice, and when the priest asks the demon’s name, she must say, “We are Legion” with a grimace before a splash of Holy water burns her flesh and really sets her off.

I certainly don’t mind demonic possession in film, but as many a sub-genre in horror, the idea has become cliché, and every new low-budget disaster is an even worse copy of the copy before it. Besides the priest, we either get a virgin child or teen, or a hot young mental patient who has survived on the streets but really has a heart of gold. I can’t recall the last time I saw a boy or man possessed in a film (except for 2014’s The Possession of Michael King), but when a woman’s bound and has a priest coming at her, it’s an exploitation fantasy from a third-rate porn mag where misogyny reigns supreme – or maybe viewers hope she’ll grab the cross and use it like Reagan’s stabbing phallus from The Exorcist. Usually, especially if the priest is young and survives the ordeal along with the possessed female soul he rescued from the clutches of the Devil, his eyes will linger on the now demure survivor for a moment. Yes, he loves her, but dammit, he’s a changed man with a higher purpose, and loves God more because his faith’s been re-established – even in the face of Roman Catholic bureaucracy that never thought the girl/woman was possessed in the first place. Our priest now reborn must engage his new mission to save other souls, and our survivor’s left to find some semblance of normalcy in her world.

And why Roman Catholics with the Vatican, the papacy, and church politics all the time? Other religious holy men answer the call of the damned and expunge demons. In 2012’s The Possession, though ultimately a disappointing movie, we find Tzadok, a rabbi’s son played by Matisyahu, who battles a dybbuk before it completely possesses a little girl. In Vikram Bhatt’s 1920, after his wife Lisa (Adah Sharma) becomes possessed by the spirit of a former occupant, Arjun (Rajneesh Duggal) regains his faith in his Hindu God, which may be enough to save his spouse.

The whole Roman Catholic element and its clandestine hierarchy has become a bore.

Daniel Stamm attempted to do something different with 2010’s found footage film, The Last Exorcism, which introduced Ashley Bell and Caleb Landry Jones to many. Groovy Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, and Necronomicon beasties rocked possession in a different, comedic, and gory fashion with The Evil Dead franchise, and now with the phenomenal television series, “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” (Yes, Ash had become possessed and even lost his hand in the demonic process, but unlike female characters, he was able to break free from the clutches of evil.) One of John Carpenter’s most under-appreciated horrors is the heady and unsettling Prince of Darkness from 1987 where possession is embraced from a skeptical scientific point of view, ironically at the behest of a priest (Don Pleasance) no less. In 2006, Hans-Christian Schmid’s in-depth look into the true story of Anneliese Michel in Requiem rips one’s heart out, while The Taking of Deborah Logan pulls one straight down into Creep City thanks to the brilliant acting of Jill Larson. For a thriller, don’t pass up Denzel Washington on the hunt for a leap-frogging demon in the under-respected Tinseltown story, Fallen from 1998. And although the Roman Catholic factor exists, and regardless of the narrative’s imperfections, The Vatican Tapes brings viewers something new in the third act many didn’t see coming.

616 Becomes 666

666 is certainly one number that lives in infamy, especially in Judeo-Christian-Muslim religious culture. But where the hell did it come from, and how does it have so much damn power? This “Number of the Beast” is in Revelation (never “Revelations”) chapter 13, verse 18.

As a child, I took it to heart that 666 was the spawn of Satan’s number, and The Omen reaffirmed that for me, though the actual three-digit number appearing on a child born on 6/6/66 seemed downright silly. Even so, interpretations of the number and its origins have led to many an argument and have found their ways into many a book. What blew my mind many moons ago, however, is the discovery of Papyrus 115. Irenaeus, who’s responsible for the attacks on Gnosticism in the second century AD, decreed that the beastly number was indeed 666, when he knew of the original number as 616. This numerical difference found confirmation in 2005 when a 1,700-year-old fragment of Papyrus 115, which had been discovered at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, turned up in Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.

Now, if the number was originally 616, why the change? The answer can be found in Hebrew numerology, gematria to be precise, as well as Greek isopsephy where every letter in the alphabet has a matching number. In this case, 616 is the “numerical name” so to speak of Caligula, the whacked out Roman Emperor who declared that his horse was a senator (among other weirdness and genuine horror whether sponsored by Bob Guccione or not). After the assassination of “Little Boots,” Nero took the helm, and his name as number is 666. This would indicate that redactors (editors) altered the number to reflect the true beast to Jesus Christ and fledgling Christianity in general: The Roman Empire and its main man. The number code would protect the small group of Christians hunkering down for survival since Romans wouldn’t know what the numbers meant, and the horrific warnings from the Book of Revelation would prevent Christians from giving up this newborn religion out of fear. (Please conduct your due diligence and check all this out for yourself. It’s pretty wild.)

The Possession Sub-genre in Horror

With the aforementioned in mind, let’s keep 666 on the shelf, in a jar, locked in a box, and forgotten – unless you’re doing something with the number that we’ve never seen before. Storytellers have used 666 as a cheap device to strike fear into the hearts of audiences by letting them know the Devil is afoot – or ahoof. But this trope has been so overused and misused that it’s become comical. It’s just as bad as hearing that demonic voice state, “We are Legion” before her open sores leak and stain the bedsheets.

Yawn.

And the next time you have some young woman tied to a bed as she’s being exorcised, don’t do this: If she can move objects, imitate voices, make the bed rise, vomit pea soup, adjust room temperature, launch objects, and project hallucinations, I’m sure that bound demon has the power to untie its human host and run amok.

If Satan, Mephistopheles, Old Nick, Old Scratch, or whatever you want to call him – or her – come calling in your story, take a page from Al Pacino as the Prince of Lies in The Devil’s Advocate: make it so we never see him coming. Unleash the beast in a way that will surprise and rock audiences, but leave the overused numbers, rituals, and “The body of Christ compels you!” chanting out of it. Think of demonic possession in a new way, shape, and form to bring a different angle to horror audiences craving something different and shocking. Hell, it isn’t horror if you’re not making readers or audience members gasp.

Now run to the hills, blast some Iron Maiden, and don’t call me in the morning – especially at 6:66 AM.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Al Pacino getting his Satan on in The Devil’s Advocate from AV Club.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: JACK GOES HOME on the TRAIN TO BUSAN

The Last Knock

It’s another Horror Double-header: Jack Goes Home and Train to Busan. We’re sure you’ve heard of the latter, but poor Jack hasn’t gotten his due. We’ll give you the low down, the high points, and more as we discuss this offbeat pair from a heady psychological horror to a zombie disaster on a KTX. So kick back, relax, and enjoy the train ride to Busan with Jack as your passenger. No tickets necessary – but don’t even think of jumping for it because we’re crushing it at 187 mph (300 kph).

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@RealJillyG @JoeEliseon @WriterMichelleB @DeadWood2012 @isaacrthorne @ZADF_ORG @CarlPopEye @drawnofthedead @ZombieDoug @RonGizmo @fullmoonhorror @RealCharlesBand @palkodesigns @KeyzKeyzworth @OwenMcCuenQuest @HorrorTalk @Lndnknts @ALOLMOVIE @TheWalkingDead @dixiefairy @RSBrzoska @LoudGreenBird @d_m_elms @JackGoesHome @theThomasDekker @roryhugh @linshaye @NikkiReed_I_Am @Ceiri_Composer @Momentum_Pics

Sinners in the Hands of an Indifferent God – CARNAGE PARK (2016) by Jonny Numb

(Author’s Note: this article is not intended as an endorsement or condemnation of Christian belief. Mentions of God and Christ will defer to the pronoun “he.”)

This review contains SPOILERS.

“The coin don’t have no say.” – Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), No Country for Old Men

There’s a scene following a bank heist that’s ripped straight out of Reservoir Dogs.

There’s opening narration by loony loner Wyatt (Pat Healy) that waxes moral and existential, not unlike the opening narration by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) in No Country for Old Men.

There’s an attention to production design and gritty staging that winks at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (the gore also shows a flair for traditional, in-camera FX over CGI).

With Carnage Park, Mickey Keating is going for his Tarantino homage (or, maybe more accurately, the films that Tarantino homages). Granted, the indie-movie landscape never really stopped being littered with posers trying – and almost always failing – to craft their own unique Reservoir Dogs (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, anyone?). So to pay tribute to a film that’s a cornerstone of savvy-cool-ironic-iconic was bound to struggle against a wave of preexisting imitators and the challenge of extracting something unique from a well-worn premise.

For what it’s worth – and to give Carnage’s critics some credit – the film doesn’t touch its influences. It’s also a fair distance from the aesthetic and narrative complexity of Darling, Keating’s previous film.

That being said, it’s still a worthwhile ride…but not for the (visceral) reasons genre fans will expect.

The originality that emerges from all of Carnage’s borrowed parts is curiously existential (in the Cormac McCarthy, No Country vein): if there is an omniscient “God” monitoring creation, where and when is his role in intervention? Does he owe humankind anything? And how can he ignore a world in which awful things happen with disturbing regularity?

Keating is too tasteful a filmmaker to allow his concept to unravel into glorified sadism (see Rob Zombie’s similarly-themed 31), and there is a bizarre innocence at the heart of Carnage: when financially desperate farm girl Vivian (Ashley Bell – The Last Exorcism) is abducted by Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert – Gangster Squad) following a botched bank robbery, we are given the immediate impression that both characters are in over their heads. Vivian is resourceful and assertive, while Joe is all violent swagger; both are oblivious to their roles in the world outside of their immediate circumstances, which is perhaps why, once the violence of the situation relents, they are able to share in an eerily even-toned dialog.

From the initial panoramic montage of open hills and sky, Keating establishes a sense of the existential: yet for all the open space, Carnage Park never seems to wander beyond its tight, character-based intimacy. (Given the grandiose title, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the violence is doled out with erratically-paced deliberation.) Does this require a suspension of disbelief in that Wyatt could preside over miles and miles of desolate terrain? Sure. But it also brings some intriguing observations to the surface.

The skyline – seen mostly from a “puny mortal staring upward” POV – is punctuated by bright light pressing through clusters of clouds. Characters’ pleas for rescue fall on deaf ears, suggesting an omniscient sadism that correlates to the homicidal mischief perpetrated by Wyatt (who intones, right at the beginning: “Out here, God don’t play favorites”). One early scene in particular – of Vivian tumbling out of a car, handcuffed to a very dead Scorpion Joe – glares from an overhead POV as she cries for help (to no avail). Vivian is our conduit for empathy, but her efforts to assist random victims (played by Darby Stanchfield and Larry Fessenden) are either thwarted by an off-screen Wyatt, or left behind and forgotten in the name of her own survival. She can’t save the family farm, or anybody else; she’s in a no-win situation where self-preservation takes precedence over altruism.

Complementing the Alice in Wonderland tone Keating establishes early on, the film’s idiosyncrasies possess a randomness that still feels reflective of the real world. Instead of devolving into a Saw-styled funhouse of torture devices, the landscape of Carnage Park is a string of mournful monuments to death and decay (including a nod to Christ’s crucifixion). This is reflective of Wyatt’s opening narration about the government closing mental institutions and leaving veterans damaged from war (mentally and otherwise) to wither on the vine. As a “fuck you” to the bureaucracy, his dried-up chunk of the American Dream being used as the equivalent of General Zaroff’s playground isn’t off base.

Even the spray-painted “God’s Country” sign on the gate of Wyatt’s property is presented without irony, and establishes him as judge, jury, and executioner of this contained world. The fact that his sheriff brother, John (Alan Ruck – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), is not only complicit in covering up his crimes, but also intimidated and emasculated in his homicidal brother’s presence, is a testament to their shared psychosis.

At the bridge between the second and third act, Vivian finds herself in a shack (adorned with macabre, homemade wind chimes and lawn ornaments – another Texas Chainsaw echo) that, for all intents and purposes, is Wyatt’s command center. She’s taunted via CB radio, and when she asks, “Who are you?” the straightness with which Wyatt answers, “Me? I’m nobody” delivers a chill on par with the everywhere-at-all-times presence he’s exhibited up to that point. Perhaps it’s a reach, but if Christ or Satan visited planet Earth today (in the most literal sense), it makes a certain amount of sense that they would walk among humanity incognito, rather than drawing excessive attention to themselves.

I’m not sure I can rationalize Wyatt as an analogue for Christ or Satan – Keating’s treatment of the character and Healy’s performance renders him almost innocuous –  but he judges his fellow humans based on his own perception (the film is light on explicit psychological insight). Does Scorpion Joe, with all his macho bluster, get a bullet to the head because of his lack of humility in the presence of someone – or something – greater than him? What of Wyatt’s absurd kindness (“HOW YA DOIN’?”) when he first meets Vivian? And what, especially, of Vivian getting the drop on Wyatt midway through, only for him to seemingly rise from the dead? “God’s Country,” indeed…

In an interesting aesthetic choice, Keating chooses to obscure Wyatt with a gasmask during the last half of the film, which raises the question: if John was covering up his actions, then who is to say that Wyatt also didn’t have other men prowling the hills? It seems unlikely that a solo sniper could orchestrate all of the sinister tableaus on display (including a camouflaged vehicle dumping-ground), given the area that would need to be covered. Also noteworthy: outside of the scene at the gate, there’s no definitive indicator as to where Wyatt’s land begins or ends; another subtle allusion to nature’s arbitrary boundaries, as well as the intangible, subjective spiritual boundaries that distance God from humankind.

An explanation that dances around the edges of Carnage Park is the possibility that Vivian, not unlike Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has been so driven to madness that her POV is unreliable by the end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold much weight, as the film is initiated by Wyatt’s narration (and his murder of an unrelated victim). Nonetheless, I love Keating’s approach to the ending, which excises the deus ex machina of the Black Marina savior from Texas Chainsaw in favor of something as simple as a literal light at the end of a tunnel. While this may fluster some viewers, I found it perfect – in a place where God doesn’t play favorites, it’s up to us to find our way out of dire situations, whether self-imposed or foisted upon us.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com.  He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

(Carnage Park photo from AV Club.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Hodgepodge of Horror IX

The Last Knock

No, Billy and Jonny aren’t trying to catch up to the Super Bowl type numbers, but they are getting there. With the ninth installment of “Hodgepodge of Horror” they travel the realms of horror cinema from Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered to Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Blood Wars – with some intriguing films in between.

So kick back, relax, indulge, and check off your  horror list about what to watch, and what to avoid like a zombie virus.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@LoudGreenBird @AFiendOnFilm @CrypticPictures @d_m_elms @dixiefairy @ThisIsHorror @RealJillyG @wilkravitz @Jimbomcleod @RonGizmo @UKHorrorScene @Tammysdragonfly @MFFHorrorCorner @GuyRicketts

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016) by Dee Emm Elms

[104 minutes. Not rated. Ireland/UK. Director: Billy O’Brien]

Understanding other people doesn’t just take skill. It takes effort. I should know: as an autistic person, I struggle mightily to understand other people. I can’t tell what someone is feeling from reading facial expressions or body language, the way most people can. But, at the same time, this puts me in a unique position to see what people do from an outsider’s perspective.

And I think that’s a part of why the film I Am Not A Serial Killer had such a profound impact on me.

Of course, we all bring elements from ourselves into the media we consume. But in this case, there’s more going on than that. The comparisons of what we are and what we consume and how the two things are linked together is a central theme in the movie.

I Am Not A Serial Killer centers primarily around telling us the story of a young man named John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records). The surname Cleaver immediately evokes the squeaky-clean white Americana of Beaver Cleaver, the central character of TV’s “Leave it to Beaver.” But it also evokes John Wayne Gacy, a real-life killer notorious for having been a would-be performing clown. But there’s less of a paradox at work than you might think because that contrast is central to who John Wayne Cleaver is: a young man who may be a sociopath – who not only recognizes that he has within him the capacity to be a serial killer, but is actively working not to be one.

That’s not a new premise. We’ve seen it in media for decades, up to and including recent television shows like “Dexter” and “Hannibal.” But these shows tend to treat serial murder like a drug-addiction, where a character’s thoughts tend to dwell on violent fantasies or the act of trying to resist giving in to what these stories present as some intensely-pleasurable urge the hero must keep secret. And it makes an unpleasant kind of sense for the writers to do this; it allows them the chance to engage in all the most lurid elements and excesses while still proclaiming that their heroes have a moral compass.

I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t like that in a number of ways.

Even though the book (written by Dan Wells) on which the film is based is told in the first-person, film director Billy O’Brien wisely pulls back from hovering over Max’s shoulder in terms of storytelling. He instead gives us the broader perspective of an observer. Yes, we focus mostly on John, but we don’t get to hear what’s going on in John’s head. We don’t get the lurid details of John’s struggle. We must instead rely on the performances, and Max Records fulfills this with a blend of subdued delivery and sometimes-surprising non-verbal choices. There’s a deliberate nature to Max’s work as John that shows us just the faintest glimpses of the fight Max is waging to keep his good-natured heart.

But it isn’t just Max who carries the film. Karl Geary, as John’s therapist, Dr. Neblin, provides a welcome change from the inspirational advisor such a role usually entails. Geary smartly depicts Neblin as a thoughtful man trying to help his young patient figure out a path to success, but also as a man who isn’t afraid to confront the fact they’re learning and guessing and failing as they go along, together. Likewise, Laura Fraser’s portrayal of John’s mother, April, plays perfectly off of Max’s acting choices as we struggle to see into her conflict as her already-fragile faith in John’s willpower is put to the test. And Christopher Lloyd displays an agile balance between a wide variety of deep but subdued emotional states as John’s neighbor Crowley; Christopher and Max don’t actually share a great deal of screen-time together throughout the film’s runtime, but the moments when they are in the same place resonate with the skill of two actors who know how to hold back and still provide information to the audience. It’s these moments, when both of them are together that the film is at it’s most intense and impactful.

And what is that theme, exactly? Well, I contend that what the movie’s story tells us is that we sometimes need someone from the outside to tell us when things aren’t what they appear to be. That we need unusual perspectives to keep the world together. To keep us safe. To keep us alive.

We need someone who can recognize that there can be menace behind a smile. That sometimes love can look ferocious or angry or desperate. That a killer can be the man at the back of the church ceremony. That love can lead us to do terrible things, just as much as the supposed absence of love. That just because our own feelings don’t match what other people tell us those feelings are supposed to be like doesn’t mean that what we’re feeling is wrong or irrelevant. But most of all, sometimes the people who seem to act in strange or peculiar ways are the good guys, and sometimes the most pleasant people are the bad guys … while also simultaneously telling us that it’s not so easy as good guys and bad guys.

The theme of complicated heroism and villainy isn’t new either – but making it sincere and emotional is very uncommon. Usually, stories that depict “shades of grey” come off as cynical or hamfisted. Worse, they often paint the world as a place where caring or decency are “old-fashioned” ideals. That it’s somehow unevolved of us as human beings to believe in idealism.

I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t like that.

Instead, it takes an oddly old-fashioned approach to its morality. It says that there are good people, and monsters, and that there’s a difference. The victories and defeats it depicts are rooted in the idea of people making moral choices – in a way that earns the last name Cleaver as more than a horror-movie/sitcom mash-up pun. This is a film that isn’t afraid to teach moral lessons in an up-front out-loud way. And I love it for being more than, say, the cynically-hateful moral flatline of works like Mark Millar’s Wanted or Kick-Ass – examples of films that deal with similar issues but come to “whatever, it’s all on you” non-conclusions.

I Am Not A Serial Killer makes statements about looking deeply into other people to find what matters in them.  And no matter who we are or how we think, that’s something we all need to do a lot more of in life.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Dee Emm Elms was born in 1972 in Glens Falls, New York. Dee writes about many subjects ranging from social justice issues to Lost In Space, and often mixes them together. Her favorite topic is horror, and horror movies in particular. Her novel Sidlings may be read at sidlings.com, and she would be pleased for you to check it out.  Dee may be contacted at her email sidlingsnovel@gmail.com, or her Twitter: @d_m_elms.

(Movie still from Uncrate. Dee Emm Elms photo via Dee Emm Elms.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Movies 2017

The Last Knock

 

What does 2017 have in store for the horror fan? Well, Billy and Jonny take a look at the year ahead to uncover upcoming macabre movies from The Blackcoats Daughter and XX to Psychopaths and Rock, Paper, Dead. But wait! There’s more! The year will bring many a sequel as well as remakes, and we’ll look at them today.

Billy apologizes for the occasional cough and for feeling a bit out of it – thanks to the damn flu. But the show must go on, and Billy’s happy he wasn’t patient zero for the zombie virus.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@ScreamHorrorMag @SiaraTyr @LianeMoonRaven @ScarecrowVideo @patricia_eddy @machinemeannow @ValeriePrucha @DeadAsHellHP @stycks_girl @Israel_Finn @MelanieMcCurdie @TimothiousSmith @RealJillyG @issacrthorne @mickeykeating @st_vincent @StephenKing @JordanPeele @THETomSavini @palkodesigns and John Eddy

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: DOG SOLDIERS

The Last Knock

This is a different episode of THE LAST KNOCK, because Dog Soldiers has been the emergency episode on standby since 2014. Yes, that means while Jonny Numb hunts stillborn monster babies in Mexico, Billy Crash is still knee deep in boxes to unpack in Seattle.

But have no fear because Dog Soldiers is on the menu, as it was served to an audience at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association Fall Conference in Philadelphia. Billy Crash, as his alter evil, William D. Prystauk, presents his review of the film during a Horror Panel helmed by Lisa Miller of Pace University. Afterwards, he discusses the film, werewolves, and other creepy crawlies with the audience. Granted, it’s difficult to hear the MAPACA crowd at times after the initial presentation, which means it’s okay to bail after the first fifteen minutes or so. Please see the kid chewing someone else’s nails at the ticket stand for a refund. Otherwise, enjoy the hairy Dog Soldiers journey.

Billy and Jonny will be back at it next week with an all new episode of horror hijinks and macabre madness…

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy Crash and Jonny Numb love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

Highways of Horror – Day VI – The Last Drive

You can’t beat me on the grade. You can’t beat me on the grade!

David Mann – Duel

As the old saying goes: “The last mile is the hardest mile.” In my case, it was the slowest mile and I had to put my car in full throttle…

The morning hadn’t started out well: -10 degrees (-23 Celsius), windy, snowy, and a thick gray sky ready to plop down onto Butte, Montana like the Blob on Phoenixville and a young Steve McQueen. But mere minutes out of the city, the clouds parted, the sun shined, and the roads were clear enough for 90 mph driving.

I loved the latter because this was a ten-hour haul to Seattle. Ally figured I wouldn’t mind driving 120-minutes more to get to her, the pups, and our new homestead, and I couldn’t argue that. I felt pretty damn solid and the Malibu moved like a rock star.

Google Maps welcomed me to the panhandle of northern Idaho, as I remained on my old friend, 90 West, who never seemed to steer me wrong. In short order, I took the curves and overcame the black ice of the road as the Chevy meandered through the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains. Pines sprinkled with white snow stood firm against the rock faces and made for a series of picture postcards, but I couldn’t pull over to take a shot.

I had already passed far too many overly cautious drivers and trucks that rolled like tortoises in slow motion because more ice patches could lay in wait in the shadows of the peaks as the sun dipped lower and lower on the horizon. With the temperature still in a frozen state, and with such narrow shoulder room, pulling over to take a picture would have been a dumb and possibly deadly tourist move.

At the end of the mountain pass is the lovely town of Couer d’Alene and its picturesque lake, and though I wanted to stop there, I felt it best to move further on into Moscow for better refueling options. Here, I took a small break and stretched my legs, but failed to see any Putin fans having a parade or posters of Lenin and Stalin. But I did have the opportunity to use a squeegee and wipe salt from the windshields, windows, headlights, and taillights. That cleanliness ended in such record time that it crushed the speed in which the singularity expanded in the Big Bang that created our Universe.

I pressed on into the dark, with a sliver of a crescent moon sending down enough light to radiate the rolling, snow and ice-coated landscape outside of Spokane as a grand blue mass. The small hills seemed curled up against the cold and let the wind run roughshod over them. Cars and trucks shifted side to side with the gusts right as we entered the Snoqualmie Pass.

This is where my New Jersey driving attitude kicked in. There may have been frozen patches, compressed snow, and seemingly single lanes in lieu of two thanks to bad plowing, but I pressed on at recommended speeds, while others moved as if on square wheels. In fact, signs requested all slow moving vehicles to get in the right lane, yet a string of cars climbing a hill were doing 40 mph in the left. I had to engage the risk of passing on the right because a truck got the message and abandoned the center lane for a relaxing roll up the hill. I pulled into the center and hurled by that string of six cars and kept on flying.

In Richard Matheson’s renowned television horror/thriller, Duel, directed by a young Steven Spielberg before he sent a shark after innocent swimmers, David Mann (Dennis Weaver) didn’t seem to have that many options as a crazed trucker (Dale Van Sickle) remained hellbent on driving him off the damn road. This took place in 1971, long before cell phones and such, so David was on his own. However, when he tried to get help, the man failed miserably. And once, overtaken by fear and paranoia, he even attacked the wrong person at a diner. This isn’t a “fish out of water story” or a “stranger on a strange stretch of road” tale, it’s a bit more existential than that. David’s dueling with himself: overcoming fear to find courage, overcoming anger to embrace logic, and overcoming the fear of death to fight for life. In this sense, he has to cope with the “dual” nature of the human experience.

There are two sides to each of us. We may present ourselves to the public in one way, as opposed to maybe a more relaxed or more honest self to those in our private lives. We also have fears, weaknesses, phobias, and illnesses though we may not have yet been put in a position to overcome them. David has though. He’s been thrust into a war and David can either stand down and die, or stand up with more confidence than he ever imagined he could muster. Even if he doesn’t make it, he’ll know he did his damnedest in the face of adversity.

Here, David’s propelled into becoming “the hero who didn’t want to be.” He has to recollect himself in order to focus to live another mile. Because the world is completely different for him now, and the rules that brought him safety and comfort no longer hold any weight.

When I finally entered the city of Seattle, I was met with overly conscientious drivers, and my duel became finding patience as the female voice on my GPS said, “I don’t have a fucking clue” when it comes to the most convoluted traffic patterns I have ever endured. Collectively, the drivers and their tentative nature and inability to take advantage of opportunities left me frustrated and begging for openings. Hell, when the light turns yellow, everyone stops and some intersections don’t even have stop signs. For the most part, Seattle drivers all seem to have earned their licenses the day before, which is a far cry from the assertive driving I’ve grown accustomed to from New Jersey Formula One racing. Welcome, “stranger in a strange land.”

As I drove on, I realized Seattle is far more gigantic than I ever realized, spreading wide amidst the Cascades. The Space Needle does stand out, but only as if a metallic wildflower nearly drowned out by a city of strong redwoods reaching ever higher towards the Big Dipper and Belt of Orion. Cranes pepper the cityscape, and they’re decorated in different colors to blend in with the lightshow emanating from apartment buildings and skyscrapers, where modern architecture complements the natural ebb and flow of Mother Nature.

This reminded me of Lisbon, Portugal when cranes marked the skyline and pierced the sunset like darts. Lisbon was healthy then, and Seattle is healthy now, growing in the tech and information sectors, offering new career opportunities for those who wish to relocate to someplace cool and begin anew – Hey, that’s Ally and me!

But the Emerald City is so much more, as all cities are, with a great mix of cultures, peoples, and languages, and endless venues. The art and film community is strong here, as well as the love for green and healthy living. Litter has proven to be a rarity, and people are not only concerned about the city, but they love it. In this sense, it reminds me of Montreal (without the European flair) and Vancouver, where the streets are clean and people take pride in where they live. Ally and I look forward to exploring all of Seattle and helping others care for it as if we’ve lived here a lifetime.

The house Ally chose is a perfect rental. Large and roomy, it’s a cool craftsman. The owners seemed to have chosen three different interior design avenues to explore, and “made it up” as they went along, which only adds to its charm. We also have a small backyard for our pups, Suki and Karma to run free. We’re located in the Roosevelt section, where suburbia meets city in a Brooklyn sort of way, and we like that. We’re close to transportation and can easily head downtown or to other section where the city thins out, rolls out, and expands as if at the ends of a lava flow. Better still, we’re right next to Patricia and John Eddy, two friends we hold dear who continue to mentor us in all that Seattle has to offer, and have helped us in ways neither one of us expected. Thanks to both of them, Ally wasn’t alone, and they both continue to send me wonderful job leads – though I doubt I’ll become an exterior washer of the Space Needle – ever.

In Duel, David Mann wasn’t simply a name Matheson chose at random. He was every “mann” caught in a battle he didn’t know was coming that turned his worldview upside down. However, when it came to his little car rolling tough against that 18-wheeler, he was definitely “David” facing his “Goliath.”

All David wanted to do in Duel was get to point B and meet someone. But whether on the road, on the street, or in our minds, we all have unexpected battles to confront and navigate, to come to terms with our own duality and put our own internal duel to rest. The point is to hang in there, dig deep, stand tall, travel safe, and overcome.

Ally and I don’t know what awaits us in Seattle, but I do know my family has had the most wonderful and amazing times in odd years. 2016 was a horror show for many reasons, but Ally and I have much to see, learn, and gain with our new and exciting venture.

I hope the road rises to meet you wherever you roam, and that your highway to success is never blocked. Yes, there may be a detour or two, as well as some bumps and a wrong turn, or maybe even a crash, but as David Mann learned, you’ll get there if you accept reality, keep your mind sharp, and put the pedal to the metal.

Ride on…

(Photo of Roosevelt Way near University of Washington taken by Billy Crash on his iPhone 5.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Those We Lost

The Last Knock

For many of us, 2016 could easily be the “Year of the Reaper” from an entertainment standpoint. We lost many souls who worked and trailblazed in front of and behind the camera. Here, we not only look at the big names of horror who left us, but those you may not even recognize.

Our very best wishes to the friends, the families, and the fans who lost those in horror who made the genre great.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@Talk2Cleo @RonGizmo @RealJillyG @Israel_Finn @AmandaBergloff @GuyRicketts @MelanieMcCurdie @HallowsHaunts @AFiendOnFilm @LolaTarantula @palkodesigns @RSBrzoska @WriterMichelleB @ThisIsHorror @ArrowFilmsVideo @GroovyBruce and Nancy LaShure

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.