Tag Archives: travel

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Bill Oberst Jr.

The Last Knock

Bill Oberst Jr., one of the horror genre’s finest and most revered, chats with Billy Crash about movies, theatre, acting, Ray Bradbury, life, and so much more.

Please do not miss this interview with one fantastic and engaging gentleman. Bill Oberst Jr. is someone special who has earned an Emmy and many other accolades from being on the large and small screen over the past decade. Listen in and you’ll find out why he’s been so successful – and why he’s so respected.

Please visit Bill Oberst Jr.‘s website, Facebook, and Twitter – you won’t be disappointed.

QUARRIES (2017) by Billy Crash

You know those pathetic horror films, usually slashers, where the unsuspecting victims get the best of their antagonists only to beat up on them before freaking out and running away so the guy can get up again and hunt them down?

This isn’t one of those.

Directed and co-written by Nils Taylor, Quarries brings together a group of women on a two-week sojourn through New England’s mountainous wooded region. Posed to learn more about themselves, or to divorce themselves from the stress of life, Jean (Sarah Mornell) the experience backpacker and leader of the group, is matched only by Joy (Joy McElveen) and her former military service. The women are the strongest and most capable, while the remaining five are clearly inexperienced and may not realize how hard Mother Nature can be.

Although an ensemble, the narrative focuses on Kat (Nicole Marie Johnson, who co-wrote the script), a woman escaping from an abusive relationship who bears its most recent physical wounds. Unlike the others, she came late to the party and failed to undergo her two-days of mandatory wilderness training.

What the women have to face in Quarries is far worse than what the woods can throw at them because where Mother Nature is indiscriminate, someone sets their sites on targeting the group.

It’s easy to say we’ve seen this movie time and time again. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes to I Spit On Your Grave and the Wrong Turn franchise, as well as last year’s Carnage Park and, most evidently, The Descent, the idea of backwoods mayhem at the hands of man – or even mutants – has provided us with a sub-genre of the slasher realm. Films from Sweden, France, and Spain have also explored this “traveler beware” vein.

One can easily argue the strength of some of these movies, but at times we really don’t get a chance to know the characters, and many are “red shirts,” such as the wayward college students in almost any slasher. Due to the emotional disconnect, many viewers can’t wait to see who gets killed and how creative their deaths are going to be since these stock characters of jock, bully, manipulator, and more, are simply disposable – except for the stock “Final Girl.”

Again, Quarries offers a different take by establishing a heavy dose of realism and character depth that ramps up the suspense and leaves us concerned about those being hunted instead of cheering when they might go down.

Quarries is low budget venture, and we know how those can go. Quite often, someone has an idea that falls under the slasher, supernatural, or ultra-cheap found footage umbrella, and they crank it out. Hell, anyone can these days thanks to easy access to low cost equipment and software. Most so-called filmmakers, however, have no business shooting a birthday party for a little kid. Quarries has made clear that little money doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality.

Regardless of budget, Nils Taylor and company made certain to do everything right. First and foremost, there are no bad actors. Each person “brings it” and delivers a definitive performance worthy of an audience’s investment as they all undergo a series of emotions in their test of survival. Johnson proves to be a formidable lead actress right away, and Carrie Finklea shines as Wren, the young women who has let her own trials and tribulations seemingly get the best of her in self-destructive fashion. None of the characters are stock, and even if they share some attributes to the tried and true, each women shares a different side of themselves when the environment changes instead of falling back on what seems to be their character’s sole foundation. And like most of us who give up some information about ourselves only to leave a bit of mystery behind in our wake, the characters do so as well in genuine fashion.

John Woodside’s cinematography is often amazing, keeping the action tight with close-ups and medium shots, and only pulling the camera back to establish distance. And the view of the Appalachians is not only stunning, but shows us the dichotomy of how isolated our protagonists are in such a vast region. A solid musical score that enhances the visuals and the action in Quarries instead of distracting us from them comes from more than capable composer Isaias Garcia. David Jacox and David C. Keith deliver the all-important editing, and Cody Davis, the stunt choreographer as well as an actor in the film, keeps the fight scenes hard, bold, and relentless. All of this is thanks to Nils Taylor for directing this cinematic excursion so damn well.

One can allude to this group of seven as the Seven Samurai or the American retelling as The Magnificent Seven, but the former didn’t choose the fight and had no training to combat attackers. They are every day women going through all the emotions and stresses that most of us do, yet they were all put in a position where they had to stand up or perish, which certainly outweighs 9 to 5 drudgery, money trouble, and family issues.

My former Kearny High School psychology teacher in New Jersey once said in class, “Anyone can kill. It’s just that not everyone has been in a situation where they’ve had to kill.” And in Quarries, the women may just have to do that to survive. This doesn’t mean morality is thrust by the wayside, but when “kill or be killed” is the mantra, one had best stand tall and fight with abandon, or it will be the last mistake one ever makes. Even if one does go down, the old saying “better to die on your feet than live on your knees” takes on a whole new meaning.

Keep in mind that Quarries is not a “feminist women getting back at misogynist men” tale, but a group of women simply fighting predators to live another day. To get on with their lives. To know their true strength, and to understand that they can now handle any stressor that comes their way because they’ve faced the ultimate battle. This is a rite of passage few of us get to endure. Whether male or female, we can live vicariously through their venture and experience such a gauntlet. But for most of us, we’ll still wonder if we can pass the test.

Don’t miss the interview with QuarriesNils Taylor, Nicole Marie Johnson, and Laura Small of D!amond Cutter Films, and Melanie Wise of the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival. And visit the Quarries‘ site.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and 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 TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Dog Soldiers Buffy from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)

Highways of Horror – Day V

We’re a thousand miles from nowhere, man, and it’s gonna get a hell of a lot worse before it gets any better!

Windows – The Thing

Persistent snow drifts. Sheets of ice. Car moving cross winds. Fog. Snow. White out conditions.

My nine-hour drive from Rapid City, South Dakota to Butte, Montana has been one of the worst and most grueling rides of my life.

The day had started off well. Actually, the night before. Rapid City’s a blue collar entity of low buildings, and far too many franchises and chains, spread out amongst low sedimentary hills and patches of pine. However, everyone I met was cool as Hell.

I met James at check-in, who could have been prepping to be a modern day Santa Claus with large-gauge lobes and tattoos. We discussed the navy and the coast guard, and traded stories about our fathers before I headed out and down icy steps to a Ruby Tuesday. I don’t eat at this chain, but they have a gluten-free menu and I wasn’t about to drive anywhere else. Rachael, a kind-hearted woman with more tats than James, made me feel welcomed, and brought over one amazing glass of red wine to go with the ribs and vegetables I had ordered. And in the morning, after a restless sleep, I entered the dining area.

All of the free breakfasts to date have been lackluster: chemical carb city. I passed them up for the protein bars I carry with me. But Brenda’s a sweetheart and made small omelets (I had two) and sausage. The coffee was fine and it was great to eat yogurt. Brenda, an older woman with straw hair who slumped over when she walked, never frowned. We had a great conversation about the New Year, and “No more politics!” as she exclaimed before I hit the road on a very full stomach.

And though I went west on 90 again, things went south when I took 212 North.

This is the “Warrior Trail Highway” to honor the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoe, who had made Colonel Cole’s Powder River Campaign a bust in 1865, and the road reconnects with Route 90 again near Little Big Horn where Custer’s egomania led to the demise of his men as they formed three defensive lines against the amazing Crazy Horse and his warriors under the leadership of Sitting Bull. (From all I’ve read of Custer, Richard Mulligan’s portrayal of him in Little Big Man may be the most accurate.)

Where I crossed an ocean yesterday, today I crossed a vast desert. The two-lane highway offers a fast pace and much passing opportunities to circumvent lumbering trucks, but approaching a town dramatically curbs speeds at regular intervals as if a trap for tourist and trucker alike.

Granted, I did want to stop and take about a thousand pictures of the rolling hills, but the blue sky quickly faded to stark white and created a monochromatic scene that proved daunting. Patches of ice had truckers ahead of me slowing down, and snow drifts snaked along the road before they ultimately created a cloud as if in a uniformed attack against those on the road. That cloud hid ice, and when trucks up ahead began to move at a steady rate, visibility plummeted as snow poured off them like heavy smoke.

That’s when the words of Windows from John Carpenter’s The Thing resonated in my ears. Due to the weather and the holiday, vehicles were few and far between, as were towns. If I had wiped out and needed help, especially since my cell signal dropped off regularly, I may have had to hop a rancher’s fence. The worst part is that no houses were in sight. Who knows how many miles and how many hills one would have to go to find a living soul.

That was the best and easiest part of the drive.

Back on Route 90, wet snow fell, and the 80 mph (129kmh) speeds dropped way off, as did the temperature. With 4 degrees (-15.5 Celsius) plummeting to negative double digits, the snow fell as a fine powder, then silver confetti, and finally twinkling dust particles. Heavy crosswinds kept the highway covered, but the road was so packed with rock salt, many drivers mistook the brown looking ice for actual ice and moved with caution (then again, a pickup later slid into a ravine because of the slick powder from the salt. Another pickup was gearing up to pull him out by chain.) Passing other drivers became a nightmare because the right lane remained clear for the most part, but when trucks sped down the road, the dust and snow they kicked up went twice as high as their trailers, and created white out conditions of great length and duration.

At one point, a truck ahead of me seemed to disappear. The clouds of snow and salt had become so thick that his lights were completely blanketed. Even worse, with the shifting snow and packed down road salt, lines vanished. On several occasions, especially since the highway only had lighting near major stops, I had no clue as to my direction.

Driving through the white outs took three hours.

I was so focused on the road, I had forgotten that I had crossed the Continental Divide at 6,300 feet, that I had been listening to the debut CD from Band of Skulls for six hours straight, that I had unfinished coffee now congealing in a cup, and that I had driven through the 65 million-year-old Hell Creek Formation that resulted in sandy mounds covering everything from tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.

When I finally pulled up to the motel at 8 PM, I limped from an overworked right knee that had bounced from pedal to brake. Having to remain constantly vigilant left me shaking, and only now as I write this, some three hours later, am I finally “coming down” and feeling justifiably tired.

The drive was a true horror, and like the guys at U.S. Outpost No. 31, I just wanted to make it to point B and discover some semblance of normalcy again. Every time I had the chance to see a massive hill or mountain before the sky turned black, I thought of The Thing’s opening sequence. After the credits, the great Ennio Morricone score begins, which welcomes us to a creepy, sullen, and doom-ridden world of isolation and oppression. And Carpenter presents us with a sheer rock wall the Norwegians fly their helicopter over in pursuit of a dog. This massive edifice is something those Norwegians will not be able to get over again, and MacReady and company will not be able to scale it as well. The forces against them in The Thing are formidable, relentless, and their uphill battle will be for naught.

I’m happy to have squared off against mountains and hills full of snow, ice, wind, and countless road hazards. I’m in a decent motel with a warm bed to dive into after I indulge in a steaming hot shower. I’m no longer a thousand miles from nowhere but nine-hours away from my beautiful wife and our pups in Seattle. One final ride from Montana through Idaho and into Washington will not be the end of a nearly 3,000-mile journey, but the beginning of a new one.

(Photo from “Warrior Trail Highway” (Route 212) near Broadus, Montana. Taken from Billy Crash’s iPhone 5.)

Highways of Horror – Day IV

Don’t look for a reason. Look for a way out.

Tagline – Cube

The way out of Sioux Falls is straight west via Route 90. End goal: Rapid City, South Dakota. But there are traps along the way, tons of them…

As I drive with the sun at my back and a real feel temperature of eight degrees (-13.3 Celsius) outside the Malibu, I traverse a vast ocean of taupe and white. Here, empty beer cans and used condoms don’t float upon the waves, but billboards. Hundreds litter the landscape on both sides of the interstate enticing tourists to choose one trap instead of the next. It’s like trying to traverse crackwhores on Frelinghuysen in Newark or fishing boat captains down the shore in Belmar. They all want a piece of you: your time and your hard earned dollar thanks to snake oil salesman marketing and bad jokes passing for wit. Worst still are the promises: “You’ll be amazed!” and “You’ll remember the experience for a lifetime!”

Route 90 has an 80 mph (129kmh) speed limit to help me run the five-hour gauntlet to Rapid City. But the pummeling of roadside signage makes me woozy. What was this drive getting me into? I could have gone a bit north to Fargo, where I hoped someone would have jammed an ice scrapper into the snow near a fence to play with the minds of Coen Brother movie fans. I could have visited something worthwhile, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder house, or even stopped off at Sturgis, the motorcycle mecca. But as the trapped group in Cube, I had to keep going and dodge boobytraps like these:

Corn Palace. Wall Drug. 1880 Cowboy Town. Wall Drug. Bear Country USA (with a wolf on the billboard). Wall Drug. Reptile Gardens. Wall Drug. George McGovern Museum (probably the size of a cubby hole). Wall Drug. Pioneer Auto Show (with the General Lee from “Dukes of Hazard”). Wall Drug. Wonderful Cave (“Rated number one!” amongst caves?). Original 1880 Town. Wall Drug. Al’s Oasis. Wall Mother Fucking Drug.

I was inundated with Wall Drug shit for over 200 friggin miles. But I knew I had to stop there. Once Ally brought the place up, I could actually hear through the phone that she and Patricia Eddy engaged in a synchronized eye roll worthy of an Olympic Gold Medal. Other than that, I’d have to bypass the cheese that clogged South Dakota’s major southern artery.

But in Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 sci-fi/horror, Cube, the occupants seemingly had no hope of escape. Isolation proves to be one of the most pertinent tropes in horror. We’ve seen this element occur many a time from Alien to The Shining, and from The House on Haunted Hill to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The notion of “no hope” remains cringe worthy, and keeps horror fans rooting for those one or two cool characters to somehow find a way to break free.

Sure, if I was with Ferdinand Burghoffer, Jonny Numb, Greg Palko, or John Eddy, I’d probably stop at every damn place just to make some kind of record for Americana’s sake – plus you never know if they’ll come up as “Jeopardy!” questions. But I had to drive on – at 95 miles mph anyway – because I did have a legitimate place on the road less graveled that was most definitely camera and discussion worthy – and it wasn’t Wall Drug.

As I motored on, The Pixies’ incredible “Doolittle” kept me up and rocking. Then again, I almost earned eight-hours sleep and felt pretty damn good. Almost. Although the motel was quiet and the room comfortable, for the past two months I’m somehow sleeping on my left hand and crushing it. I often wake from the pain of a hand that’s not asleep but in a coma, and now my ring finger’s starting to lock. Even worse, a jolt of pain moves through that entire hand as if I hit my funny bone – with Gallagher’s watermelon mashing mallet, which I’m sure is on display at Wall Drug.

Indulging in one ridiculous nature crushing signpost after another, as if I was stuck in “the heart of the Poconos,” I thought of Joey Santiago’s gift to music. As the guitarist for The Pixies he took the surf guitar sound and upended this entire rock subgenre by adding ripping waves akin to speed metal. The great Johnny Marr did something similar when he added extensive rhythm to his lead guitar work, joining both worlds. Then again, Rage Against the Machine’s and Audioslave’s Tony Morello pulled from both the power of Jimi Hendrix and the technical wizardry of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp to bring us some out of this world sounds.

And by the time I pulled into that one place I had to see, I certainly felt as if I was out of this world.

Before Ally and Patricia took their drive west, my wife recommended I visit the Badlands. When I said, “Okay” and must have seemed as if I was brushing off the idea, Patricia approached me. She’s a great writer and caring soul with a lovely smile, killer hair, and eyes that always seem to sparkle even in the dullest light. And in every conversation her intelligence shines through and her multi-faceted frames of reference add great dimension to any topic. But this time, something was different, she glared at me and said, “You have to go to the Badlands.”

Sold.

The Badlands, wild rock formations and mixed prairie grass, remained the hunting grounds for Paleo-Indians and the Lakota Sioux – until some wingnut emerged on a hill with a rifle in one hand and a bible in the other, and ruined everything. This is where traditional Ghost Dances took place, and near where the horrific Wounded Knee Massacre occurred.

Due to the bitter cold and ceaseless wind, my photography time would be severely limited. However, I still wish those friends of mine who enjoyed photography were there with me: Gillian Anne Gibson, Ann Thraxx, Melanie McCurdie, Betsy Mullenix, Ferdinand Burghoffer, Guy Ricketts, Vic De Leon, and Brad. (The latter would most likely be our guide to getting the best damn shots.)

The striations of the rock, as well as the textures and shapes, made me feel like I was part of a “National Geographic” special. After all, I was looking at what downpours and streams had created some 35 million years ago of an 80 million-year-old formation thanks to the disappearance of an inland sea. Holy Hell! Like most things that excite me to the point of swooning, as I write this, I can’t really remember what it was like to actually be there. At least I have the photos. Though the cold penetrated me to the point where I could no longer feel my camera, at least I didn’t drop it to the frozen earth. And once my memory card read “full,” instead of reaching for another, I made it to the Malibu to crank the heat. After visiting only three sections of the National Park in under 90-minutes, my stomach cramped from the stifling freeze.

But I do remember one thing quite well about the Badlands. When the wind would stop – completely – there was no sound. Absolutely nothing as if I were on the moon. And as the shadows of the rocks loomed larger thanks to a waning sun, I felt a different kind of chill.

I left the Badlands, wondering if they really were bad or just misunderstood, for a brief stop at Wall Drug. Of course, like the bulk of roadside distractions, it’s a tourist trap, though it’s simply a peddler’s village with an overabundance of old west flavor. But it’s also a speed trap. Once I got off the 80 mph highway, I had to crawl at 20 mph through the town of Wall, as the sheriff watched me roll.

Regardless, after a gazillion signs stretching for over 200 miles, I got there just in time to learn Wall Drug was closing early because of New Year’s Eve. So much for getting their “traditional five-cent cup of coffee” as advertised on at least twenty friggin billboards. Sonsabitches.

I let Richard Butler and the Psychedelic Furs carry me into Rapid City on the tunes from “Talk, Talk, Talk.” I made it through the gauntlet, and I’m happy to say I saw one stellar billboard for the Que Pasa? restaurant: “Mexican food so good Donald Trump would build a wall around it.” Now, that’s marketing!

So I made it through the gauntlet and the smothering of bad advertising, but you have to watch Cube to find out what happened to those hapless souls in one of Canada’s best low budget independent films of all time. There’s some snappy and poignant dialogue in there, and you’ll no doubt wonder what you’d do if you were in their boots. Now, what would you have done if you were in mine? Visit Reptile Gardens or stop at Al’s Oasis? Head over to Pioneer Auto or check out Original 1880 Town? I guess it depends on how you read the billboard.

Although I feel good about the day’s drive, tomorrow brings two new challenges as I head towards Butte, Montana: 8.5 hours behind the wheel and snow. So much for seeing Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and although the Malibu is one smooth, fast, and warm ride, my back hates the driver’s seat. But pending weather, I might not have the chance to take as many breaks to stretch and recoup.

Then again, who knows what the road will offer.

Happy New Year. And don’t trust someone else’s signs. Create your own and define love, happiness, and success for yourself. Travel forward, travel safe, but definitely take some calculated risks because regret can be a heavy burden.

(Badlands photo from Billy Crash’s iPhone.)

Highways of Horror – Day III

He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold…

Bela Lugosi – Extraordinary Tales

Forgive my writing. By the time I get to these posts my brain is jelly, which means writing weaknesses shine through as I pounce on the keys. I know I’m mixing tenses, and I’m sure Grammar Nazis cringe with each read. There simply isn’t time to edit and revise. And I’m not sure if Edgar Allan Poe were alive he’d care, for writing, grammar, or a trip away from the east coast he had clung to, but Poe may have enjoyed how his story, The Tell-Tale Heart found its way into the day’s ride…

Nescafe is not coffee, much like Hershey is not chocolate. So I moved beyond the chemical laden crap the hotel called breakfast and ventured outside. A typical winter sky of blue gray hovered above me, but the eleven-degree wind chill (-11.7 Celsius) caught my attention and I huddled up. Then, thunder rocked my ears to the point where they buzzed, much like a singer hitting a high note the speakers couldn’t handle. But the thunder kept on coming. I looked to the clouds above but failed to find what I knew was an F-16 Fighting Falcon. The brutal cold let its roar resonate to the point where the fighter seemed only inches above me, though I couldn’t see the damn thing. I finally caught it low on the horizon about a half-mile away near Traux Field that the Air National Guard 115th Fighter Wing calls home.

That was the best part of the day.

Though the drive to Sioux Falls is only six hours, once I passed some cool terrain thanks to glaciers, it was as if I was riding through Pennsylvania farmland again. A decent break came near Dexter, Wisconsin, a town of under 400 people, that showcased a wind farm far larger than Van Wert. Hell, there may have been one mill for each person in Dexter.

The odd thing is that Google Maps always launches a “Welcome to…” when I cross a state border, but failed to do so with Minnesota and its endless Groundhog Day like highways. Every time I rounded a bend, it appeared to be the same stretch of road I had just left. Still on 90 West, I rolled by the city of Blue Earth yet failed to see their sixty-foot statue of the Green Giant. (Yes, I even welcomed product placement as a distraction at this point.)

Thankfully, Ben Howard kept me awake, at least his Rivers in Your Mouth song, which I must have replayed fifty times. Like Don Riemer, I love Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), who may be the strongest and most innovative female in music, but her studio albums lack the verve and energy she brings to her live performances, so I had to put her CD to bed. I started to fade fast, until I cranked Ultraspank, the metal/industrial band Kim McDonald, Melanie McCurdie, Amber Shaw, and even Jonny Numb, may find worthy. The day before, I had indulged in Joy Division’s “Still” recording and thought much about Ian Curtis, his all too short life, and the film Control. Then I revved up X’s fantastic “Under the Big Black Sun,” which critics bypassed for “Los Angeles.”

But there’s something to say about alternative music from the frozen doldrums of Minnesota. If Nirvana helped put the “Seattle Sound” of Grunge on the map, and if the fathers are The Melvins, then the grandfathers must be The Replacements and Husker Du. Why Grunge isn’t called the “Minnesota Sound” or “Minnesota Music” for alliteration purposes, never ceases to amaze me.

Besides the music, I was haunted by a different kind of eye than the narrator in Poe’s classic tale. Mine was the sun as it set over the farmlands of Minnesota. The eye shone bright and blinding, and sent waves of gold, aquamarine, red, purple, and pink through low clouds for what seemed like hours as I drove into it to be swallowed up. The eye stared down the road and fought to combat the rotation of the Earth so as not to go gently into that good night…

With an hour to go, I stopped in the Blue Line Café in Worthington, Minnesota, just minutes from the South Dakota border. The gas was cheaper than most, and I had wanted to visit some sort of a diner, so I walked into the place. Besides a restaurant, there was a small café and gift shop, and a 7-11 like store with a plethora of Confederate Flag decals intermixed with anti-Obama propaganda – though no Trump signs were in sight. I ordered salmon and steamed vegetables (green beans from a fucking can), and saw the first Latina (a busgirl) since I had left Easton. The day before, in Madison, I had seen a black person for the first time since Pennsylvania. I immediately wondered: What if I wasn’t a bald guy sporting a Misfits shirt at a local dive, but a black man? Would the patrons give me looks? I don’t have a clue, but when I asked the waitress if they served ice cream, she said, “Only vanilla.”

Route 90 West was black as Hell, though another windmill farm to my right freaked me out. I couldn’t see the mills, but their red warning lights to low flying aircraft faded in and out in unison like some Cylon army out of “Battlestar Galactica”. And it wasn’t hard to imagine multiple copies of Jody the Pig’s eyes staring back at James Brolin in The Amityville Horror. The movie may be bad, but that scene from the dock blew my mind. And if Poe’s mad narrator hadn’t heard the heartbeat in his head, but saw the Old Man’s eye multiplied by one-hundred, he wouldn’t have confessed to the murder, he would have died from cardiac arrest.

Oddly enough, the talented and engaging Vicki Speegle invited me to co-write a short run series for cable television based on Poe’s stories. Rest assured, her concept’s fantastic and the end result will be something far removed from a modern regurgitation of Poe’s tales. Today’s motif, combined with Raul Garcia’s 2013 animated analogy gave me some great ideas. In Extraordinary Tales, Garcia uses Bela Lugosi’s narration of the story from most likely 1946. Lugosi’s agent may have used the audio as a calling card to gain the Dracula star some roles in his waning years.

Soon, the dark highway gave way to low lights on the horizon – Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city of roughly 165,000.

I’m in the hotel with no desire to engage in any night life. The goal is to get to bed early and drive out to the Badlands before the sun sets and stares me down once again.

And although Google didn’t welcome me to South Dakota either, I’m at the halfway point to reuniting with Ally Bishop in Seattle.

Highways of Horror – Day II

A closed mind is the worst defense against the supernatural… If it happens to you, you’re liable to have that shut door in your mind ripped right off its hinges!

Dr. John Markway – The Haunting

Rolling from Mansfield, Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin. The sky is low. Oppressive. Immediately conjuring the horrors of films like 1963’s The Haunting or The Haunting of Hell House. For it’s not just the inner walls of a claustrophobic house closing in, but the sky above that weighs down as if it too will fall and crush those in the throes of the supernatural.

I head west on Route 30, a small highway, that transforms into a country road and back again, that took me from Ohio to a slice of Indiana. The area reminded me of the towns out and about Kutztown, Pennsylvania as well as Sussex and Warren counties in New Jersey: clusters of homes and more farms than people – and too damn quiet. The only difference is there are no rolling hills. The Appalachians have clearly given way to what will become the flat lands of the country I will witness until the young, majestic Rockies rise before me, and where weather will play its most vital role (more when I get there).

Wind streams through this section of Indiana in massive gusts, but since the sun has burst through like a teaser in the second act of a gloomy horror, offering characters’ false hope that all will be well (just ask Nell in The Haunting), the rays shine off flattened corn stalks and other crop leftovers. They radiate as if gold, but the twenty-degree temperatures clearly announce all is not pleasant.

But like Tornado Alley south of me, this must be a consistent bowling alley for wind to throw strike after strike because large, towering windmills and their sweeping white arms have stretched for miles. I first noticed them in Van Wert, Ohio, taking residence and holding firm as if the latest additions to a science fiction film where the modern age contrasts with farming of old.

Van Wert stood out because of its name. Ms. Carol Van Wart had been my English and Creative Writing teacher at Kearny High School. A great supporter of those who embraced the written word, her positive energy and reinforcement proved to be contagious and inspiring. Although I was still a student of craft and realize now how little I knew about writing in general, her encouragement and guidance propelled me forward. She was kind enough to tell my parents during conferences that, “He should publish everything, right now.” That was overly kind. I was the Feature Editor of the Hi-Kearnian school newspaper, and wrote the worst poetry – ever. You’ve read it before: the sad sack “why doesn’t anyone understand and love me shit” that’s simply a woeful cry and completely devoid of any poetic structure, wit, or grace. Godawful stuff.

I had rediscovered that bad poetry, some of which had been published in shady anthologies, and small press books and even smaller magazines. The bulk is dreadful, but “The Vampire and the Rose” about a prostitute dreaming of a trip to India’s Taj Mahal right before she was attacked and killed by a New York City vampire, seemed to garner much attention, and even led to my first public reading. Yes, the prosititute didn’t make it, but neither did the vampire. She had AIDS, he drank it all down, and within minutes his eternal life of preying on others had been cut way short. That piece had won “Best Long Poem” and was published by Tri-Quarterly Press – right before they went under.

“The Circle” was another poem that wound up being published in many venues, maybe because it tried to tie everything in existence into one neat little package. I found that in a “Bill’s Writing” box along with the aforementioned, where material, good or absolutely horrid, mixed together as a sort of historical record of my writing. Yes, I found decent lines within some of the poems and short stories, but any intriguing concepts eventually died convoluted deaths at the hands of bad storytelling, including three horrendous novel writing attempts that reinforced the idea of giving up the craft altogether, and I did so for three years (a story for another time). Even so, the one poem I did like ended up in the back of 1983’s “The Lamp Post,” the yearbook for my graduating class, with art from my friend and Dungeon’s and Dragon Dungeon Master, Kevin Kirst. I definitely rolled a “natural twenty” on that one, and I am honored that it helped represent my graduating class of 426, which included wonderful friends I’m still very much in touch with and love for many reasons, even if we haven’t spent a lot of time together over the years: Christine Lynn, Debbie Valenta, Stacy Wolff, Joe Loughman, Joe Vala, Steve Mager, Stephen Richardson, Dan Price, Steven Keller, Gordon MacAvoy, Russ Murray, Fernando Semiao, and Barbara Gordon, and many more. I’ve known several since Kindergarten through eighth grade as well, thanks to Franklin School, but it was in third grade that I chased poor Barbara Gordon around – and caught her from behind. When she yelled, “Let me go!” I did so, and she fell face first to the ground. She came up crying as blood poured from her chin. Shellshocked from harming her, I cried too. Our wonderful teacher, Ms. Huhn, knew it was not deliberate, and Barbara became my girlfriend. Today, she’s an amazing mother and a phenomenal soul, but I think she still has a little scar on her chin thanks to me not thinking ahead.

But I’m thinking ahead now. My body aches for a break, but the sun has been undercut by formidable clouds. The Malibu flashes an “ice warning,” and flurries abound. Thoughts of the time when I took one of Ms. Van Wart’s writing prompts about ice cream, and wrote of the “Dolly Parton”: two large scoops of vanilla, with small rings of strawberry sauce, topped by two cherries – and didn’t get in trouble for writing so, quickly escape my mind. I ride through more tiny towns, and since I want to circumvent the underbelly of the great city of Chicago before rush hour, I continue at 80 miles an hour, and pay too much for tolls as if I’m heading down the Jersey Shore. Snow whips around but fails to cling to the road, and everyone’s moving along 90 West as planes come into O’Hare. By 6:30, I’m safely in Madison, Wisconsin before snow does indeed stick to the surface.

The third act had its challenges today, but staying ahead of stormy weather is the name of the game. Nell (Julie Harris) couldn’t do it in The Haunting and succumbed to the oppression of the house, her frightened mind, and the heavy sky that weighed upon her, which only introduced more isolation and even more fear. In effect, Nell was pressed to death. She had felt a supernatural presence, first created by the talented Shirley Jackson of “The Lottery” fame, and brought to the screen by director Robert Wise, and went all in until she underwent an internal collapse. Yet Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) kept his mind open to the world around him and reigned supreme. I like to think I pulled a “Dr. Markway” today and pressed on in the wake of ice and snow while respecting Mother Nature’s warnings.

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be the same as I slip on a Misfits “Legacy of Brutality” T-shirt and ride further west to Sioux Falls, South Dakota – though I wish they’d change the name to Siouxsie Sioux Falls. See, the teenage writer in me still comes to the fore and makes me look ridiculous. Dammit. But every rotation of the tires gets me that much closer to my beloved Ally Bishop.

Riding on…

Highways of Horror – Day I

If there was a storm coming right now, a big storm, from behind those mountains, would it matter? Would it change anything?

Arash – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

In the rearview there’s nothing. No horizon. No distinction between the road and the sky. Nothing but black on black.

This can easily indicate that the past is dead and gone, and that turning back is a ludicrous option. Though not well lit, looking out the windshield certainly delivers a sense of future possibilities. But the most important – the now – me in the driver’s seat fighting fatigue, isn’t very promising.

The morning had started well enough. Up at 7:20 I rushed to get a few things ready on Wednesday, December 28 because this was the day I’d finally begin my excursion to the west coast to reconnect with my wife, Ally Bishop in Seattle, Washington – our new home. Although I had only gained five hours sleep, meeting the great Bill Hartin at Tracy’s Café in Easton was well worth waking up for. Bill had co-created FIFO (Fade In, Fade Out), a film consortium in the Lehigh Valley, and without him as executive producer, my short film, Tigers In the Soup never would have been made. We enjoyed a good breakfast and better conversation before heading back to the house Ally and I shared at 827 Wilbur Street in the “poor side” of the College Hill section. Soon, the truck that would carry forty plus boxes, a chest of drawers, Ally’s hand-painted file cabinet, and other assorted items arrived. With that, great souls materialized to help Bill and I load the freighter: Angela Mozeko and John McPoyle, from FIFO as well, and the man with a smile that never fades, Ryan Kramer. And man, did Ryan rock me with an ultra-cool Billy Crash T-shirt in a Misfits font no less! Damn!

This special gang of four really saved me. Since Ally left with Patricia Eddy and our puppies for the west coast on the day after Thanksgiving, the silence of our now old homestead became so loud it hurt. I was left with George, the Beta fighting fish, and we bonded as I cleaned, repaired, painted, and packed, as I sorted through belongings to sell on eBay, to Craig’s List, and to friends, and as I stuffed bag after bag with Goodwill donations, and sent tons of material for recycling or the landfill. The work finally caught up with me on Christmas. I woke up tired, visited my sister Elissa, brother-in-law Pete, and their nearly seventeen-year-old puppy, Max, for a few hours, and fell asleep for a bit. By the time I got home in the late afternoon, I was exhausted – but I knew sleep would have to wait. I cleaned the entire basement, and left a mountain of garbage and recycling items for the morning, and made a final run to the Goodwill donation boxes. During this time, I almost fell asleep on my feet, and lost my footing on the top steps of the basement stairs. Thankfully, I caught myself in time.

That isn’t to get a “poor Bill” out of anyone, but juggling so much for so long takes its toll as it would on any person. I hadn’t felt that exhausted since boot camp, where my entire body just wanted to quit. Angela, Bill, John, and Ryan, saved me from moving everything myself, which allowed me to store some energy for the first leg of the drive to Washington state.

After the load was secure, Angela and Ryan stayed a little longer to help me clean up the house. And once I picked up a few things for the trip, I finally hit the road at about 5:30 PM – three-and-half-hours behind schedule. To be honest, I was scared. Everything was a blur, and I doubted I could drive an hour, if at all. I then remembered a documentary of a scientific study where they showed that drowsy drivers may be far more dangerous than drunk ones.

Chocolate snapped me out of it, but a moonless night and starless sky thanks to black clouds didn’t help. I drove through an abyss so thick, only my headlights could make out the trees on occasion along Interstate 80. I had taken this trek many times from 1993 to 1994 when I attended Slippery Rock University to earn my masters in English. I had joked that one viewed the same tree over and over on the highway, but I would have welcomed the sight of any tree, or the curved edges of the worn Appalachians.

Blasting Ramone’s Mania compilation helped as I sang along with Joey, and the psychedelic folk rock of Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter kept my head bobbing. But this wasn’t the five-hour drive Ally had planned. Unbeknownst to her and me, this would be a six-hour and forty-minute venture to the center of Ohio.

I rebounded by cranking Sisters of Mercy, “A Slight Case of Overbombing” of their first greatest hits. Here, the iconic Goth god, Andrew Eldritch remixed the originals, and when it came to mundane songs from his ill-fated “Vision Thing” recording, he enticed Terri Nunn of Berlin fame to totally rock some of that albums tracks. The music filled the Chevy Malibu, and stunned some deer outside the merlot ride, and kept me awake as I entered the Buckeye State.

I thought of Drew Carey, Chrissie Hynde, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (where they supposedly keep an alien body from the Roswell incident, as well as the Kecksburg UFO), and my permanently snake-bitten Cleveland Browns. And then I saw the oddest thing, a truck with a light rack that sent out beams of green. What the Hell was that? Many know construction vehicles by their yellow flashing lights, but in Ohio, they mix it up with green and white.

Most important, and as I suspected, where I hadn’t noticed one Pennsylvania State Trooper from Easton to the border, Ohio’s finest was out in force. Just like the early 90s when I’d see suped up pursuit cruisers on the roadside. One even had “Interceptor” across the back trunk as if it had survived the original Mad Max film.

I did the speed limit as best I could, but with a half-hour remaining, I hit the gas a little harder even within a snow squall and amongst the pings of frozen rain. I passed two salt trucks, forgot about the Road Nazis, and watched the arrow on my Google Maps get closer to my destination.

When I got to La Quinta in Mansfield at roughly 1 AM, I contacted Ally to let her know I was safe, and walked across the street to a Steak and Shake and had dinner. My first meal since that breakfast with Bill. The waitress forgot to add my dark chocolate shake to the tab, and when I told her, she waved it off. Now, that’s one great Ohio welcome.

Back in my hotel room, the building weaved and bobbed as I stood in the shower. But it wasn’t an “erosion quake” as a lighter part of the Appalachian mountains rose a millimeter or two to meet the sky – it was me. I almost fell in the shower as brain and body begged for sleep. I stumbled to the bed and the last thing I remember is letting out an arena-sized sigh.

I awoke from a seven-hour slumber, far better than my normal five, ate a protein bar, and moved west towards Madison, Wisconsin before the next storm rolled in…

But in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Arash (Arash Marandi) knew. As he drove with the Girl (Sheila Vand) by his side in their attempt to escape Bad City, storms didn’t matter. No obstacle mattered. Whether the city represents purgatory or Hell in Lily Amirpour’s intriguing vampire horror, escaping such darkness is the point of the movie. However, the answer is simple: Of course they can. Where there is love, respect, admiration, and passion, as well as a desire to go beyond selfishness, what can’t be defeated? Both had paid their ways in full. The Girl, serving like one of Mother Nature’s wolves, cleaned the streets. However, she never preyed on the weak, the sick, or the wounded, but those who used and abused, and made life worse for others. Arash did what he could to rise above the apathy and negativity, and that desire was his ticket out of that colorless void.

I’d like to think Ally and I had earned the same right to pick up and move elsewhere. We just took separate cars.

Many thanks to Airworthy’s Don Riemer, a fellow member of the phenomenal New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group, for encouraging me to keep a travel blog, and for the incomparable Jonny Numb for exclaiming “Hell, yeah” when I asked if I should post it at Crash Palace.

(Billy Crash T-shirt photo from Billy Crash.)