Thursday, February 27, 2020

Awakening by John Russo

by John Russo
1983 Pocket Books

Doctor Benjamin Latham is executed for vampirism in late 18th century America.  He wasn't a vampire then, but the burial ritual prevented his soul from leaving his body and ironically causes him to be a pseudo-vampire.  He has mind control, can cloud men's minds like the Shadow, super strength, super resilience, and poisonous saliva.

Construction work disturbs his coffin and he comes to life in Pennsylvania.  After a little "man displaced in time" business like Time After Time, Latham settles into doing day labor and killing muggers every month for subsistence.  We get a lot of him experimenting with his powers, like a less entertaining version of The Greatest American Hero.

About halfway through the novel we switch gears and Latham tracks down his ancestors, only to find his great, great, etc grand nephew is a serial killer.  We follow the serial killer for a while, occasionally popping over to see if a detective cheats on his wife, and things just kind of fizzle out.

Russo's rambling plots are often refreshingly unpredictable, but here things just go nowhere.  Combined with his usual "tell don't show" style of storytelling, this was a hard one to get through.  It barely qualifies as horror, and even less as romance, which it was branded as in a 90s reissue.  On the plus side, Russo came out with a bad vampire novel and bad serial killer novel years before the glut that destroyed horror fiction.

Available in ebook for Kindle, currently in Kindle Unlimited, and available in audiobook from Audible.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror
by Jay Anson
1977 Prentice Hall


"Small wonder that George dreamed of a simple magical solution to the bind he was in."

In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six family members in his home at 112 Ocean Avenue.  A month after his conviction in 1975, the Lutz family moves in, only to supposedly flee in terror 28 days later, never to return.

In terms of narrative style, it's a notch or two closer to fiction than your standard True Crime book, but not a full fictional narrative like In a Dark Place, and far from the usual "non-fiction" pseudo-scientific book from the era.  Lots of info dumps and exposition, but still probably shows more than tells.

There's enough license taken that there's purpose in trying to fact check, and taken as fiction it's almost too tame to be considered horror.  Nothing supernatural happens until more than halfway through the book, and 90% of what does happen could be written off to a bad foundation and the flu - that is, if any of it actually happened.

I paid more attention to the increasingly poor financial decisions George Lutz made through the book. One of the debunker theories is that the Lutz' got in over their heads financially and tried to get out of their mortgage by claiming the house was haunted.  I never bought this one because a) I know my bank wouldn't care if my house was haunted and b) unless you're underwater with your mortgage, the best way out would be to sell, and publicizing your house being haunted wouldn't help your selling price much.

Now having read the book, I can see where this line of thinking comes from, as the text constantly points to it.

The Lutz' looked at 50 houses, with a price range of $30-$50k.  They bought the DeFeo house at a steal for $80k, only 60% above their maximum budget.  Ronald DeFeo was the only heir to the house, and he was just convicted a month before this sale.  The Lutz' bought the house before these issues were settled in Probate Court with no clear title, putting $40k into escrow for the mortgage.  The taxes were three times what they had been paying, business was slow, and they had just bought some motorcycles and boats, plural.

His brother-in-law gets ready for his wedding at the house.  He shows his roll of cash to everyone, places it in an envelope, only to find it missing - I think this one's called the Coney Island Shuffle, or whatever scams people had to do in person before the internet.  Lutz covers the catering bill with a bad check he floats over the weekend.

He covers the balance from his business account, which seems questionable given that he can't cover payroll.  It's at this point he comes into work, to find the most patient IRS auditor in the world.  The auditor made a cold call between Christmas and New Years, was told by the staff the boss hadn't been in for days, and was just waiting there when Lutz stopped by.

When he later meets with the auditor, his accountant tells him Lutz has to be there in person to explain how he'll pay his taxes, meaning they both knew in advance their deductions wouldn't pass muster.

After the Lutz family flees the house, he sells his interest in the business - if he wasn't the sole owner, the dipping into the business accounts is even fishier.

He hoped to save money by moving his office to his home, but his surveying business has a staff that works from his business.  The bank took possession and was sold to the next owner over a year later for $55k.

Aside from some mysterious green slime, the biggest piece of evidence would have been the doors ripped from their hinges and windows pulled from their frames.  However, each time the damage is repaired by replacing the lock and doorknob. As someone who's repaired and replaced exterior doors and door frames, the lock is the least of your problems.

At the end of the book, Anson jumps back to pseudoscience mode.  Several parapsychologist and mediums studied the house, and as they're all professionals, all of their explanations must be true at the same time, curiously none of which involve the actual, real mass murder that was committed there.  Thus we have a demonic infestation, which may have been there for centuries.

We also have ghosts in the house, though not necessarily the ghosts of the six murdered DeFeos.  There's a scene with a medium walking through the house, indicating that someone may have died in the basement.  A medium, being called to a famous murder house just a month after the murderers high profile trial ends, in which it's highly publicized that six people were killed in their beds, senses a murder in one of the only rooms which didn't have somebody die.

In addition to the demons and ghosts, there are some disembodied spirits who are awaiting reincarnation.  If you've lived an evil life, you'll be reincarnated with physical deformities.  Nobody wants that, so there's evidently the option of taking over somebody's body so you can get some drinking and screwing in while delaying reincarnation.

None of these theories go back to the DeFeos - it would be a natural to blame demonic possession for the actual murders that took place.  This does come up in other books and movies, but not here.  What we do have is an implication that George Lutz is being possessed by Ronald DeFeo - they look the same, as much as any two beardy white guys look the same, George finds himself searching for hidden money stashes like Ronald, drinking at his favorite bar, etc.  It seemed like they were setting up for Ronald to be possessing George - only problem being that Ronald is still alive as of this writing.

A curious thing  about the Amityville "franchise" is that almost nothing is officially connected.  There is at least one official sequel book, but none of the movies, even Amityville II or Amityville 3d, are technically sequels to the Amityville Horror.  From George Lutz' account, they got screwed on the original movie, so the studio gave them rights to any sequels.  Thing is, anybody can use the name of a town, so people just cut them out by not using the word "horror".  The only film connected to the original is the 2005 remake.  All the other films, I'm not even sure they have a connection with each other.

The main problem with the book is that it's boring enough to possibly be true.  That and the story of the DeFeos is infinitely more interesting, between the actual murders, the involvement of his lawyer in book and movie deals, and the bizarre alibis Ronald tried to build.

But the most horrifying story of 112 (now 108) Ocean Avenue is that of two owners ago, as told on Zillow.

I'll gladly put up with green slime on the walls, glowing red eyes outside the window, and ghostly marching bonds over taking a $345k bath.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Satan War (1979)

Satan War (1979) aka Satanwar

I just finished the Amityville Horror audiobook yesterday, and in a piece of synchronicity that defies coincidence, I picked this 1979 rip-off to watch, thinking it was probably a Filipino 70s action movie.

This is an Amityville copy book-ended by two lengthy dance sequences posing as documentary footage of the occult. It starts straight off with spinning crucifixes and oozing slime right out of the gate.  After that, it's people puttering around poorly lit rooms, the repetitive moog soundtrack obscuring any dialogue.

So inept it can't even be classified as a movie.  A waste of a good title.  I felt sorry for it until it tried to pad out the run time with a fifteen minute voodoo dance sequence.

The YouTube version below has a black mass scene not included in the VHS version.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Outrage (1973)

Suburban husband gets hassled by rich, suburban kids. Kind of a low stakes vigilante film with petty vandalism replacing murder. I can watch Robert Culp get increasingly frustrated all day long.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Friday the 13th Part 3 3D by Michael Avallone

Friday the 13th Part 3 3D
by Michael Avallone
1982 Leisure Books


I've seen references to this novelization as being notoriously bad, possibly due to the fact that a different version was published years later as Simon Hawke made his way through the series from scratch.  It was fine.  The prose was better than most novelizations, though it threw in too many campy flourishes.  It opens with a quote from the Satan Sleuth, which was cute.  The main beef is that the famously mute Jason was laughing manically throughout the book.

The story was almost the same as the movie - teens go to house near Crystal Lake, Jason kills some bikers, then the teens, before seemingly being dispatched by the final girl.  To fill out page count, instead of any additional back story or details, he just pumps up the descriptions.  I listened to an audiobook, but even then...
Even then.
I could tell.
I could tell he ended each chapter.

There were two main differences, due to the version of the script we was working off of.  Abel, the Crazy Ralph of this installment, has another scene and is mentioned in the epilogue.  The main difference is the end, when final girl Chris decapitates Jason, leading to an overlong segment of the bodies disappearing and everyone thinking she's crazy, but then that's a dream, or maybe she is crazy, and so on.

Even if it's not notoriously bad, the book is notoriously expensive.  Do what I did and check it out from the 80s Slasher Librarian

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Series Showdown

Since I can't read everything, this year I'm adding a competitive edge to some book reviews.  Introducing the Series Showdown, an elimination tournament of eight book series.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Richard Blade 1: The Bronze Axe by Jeffrey Lord

Richard Blade 1
The Bronze Axe
by Jeffrey Lord (Manning Lee Stokes)
1969 Pinnacle


"Blade, you've been chosen for this mission because you're a perfect physical specimen.  Now take off your clothes and put on this loincloth."
"Excuse me?"
"Do it for England."

MI6 agent Richard Blade is assigned to take part of an experiment to implant knowledge directly into his brain Matrix style, only the experiment sends him to a pseudo-Hyborian dimension, which is about as good a justification as any other John Carter pastiche.

Like John Carter, Blade pops into this other world bare ass naked, and remains so through many pages.  He rescues a princess and goes through several capture/escape cycles through different kingdoms.  The action is plentiful and violent, but with the exception of killing a dog every fight is part of a formal, trial by combat type duel.  Too many banjo acts.

The series has been described as James Bond meets Conan, but Blade is no Bond, at least in this installment.  He's strong, has an aptitude for ancient weaponry, a skilled outdoorsman, and has fought grizzly bears before, as one does as a British secret agent.  But he brings no skills or modern knowledge with him, and at least in this installment the gimmick of him being from 1969 England is unexplored.  He might as well have been a barbarian contemporaneous with the setting.

Richard Blade could be considered amoral to the point of sociopathy.  His underling steals and kills without a shrug, and he completely forgets about the boats filled with child slaves that he inherits.  Alternatively, Stokes just didn't write in enough character or motivation to be able to tell.

Then there's the sexy.  Some men's adventure scenes have a few sex scenes shoehorned in, but The Bronze Axe is infused throughout with hyper-masculine sexuality, the kind that mentions Blade's boners three times as much as any lady bits.  As much sexual tension is in the story, the first sex scene involves him banging the wig and false teeth out of an old lady.

I started out more enthusiastic about this series than I ended.  I kept waiting for a plot to show up, but other than a vague "get the princess to her kingdom" thread there was just variations of trial by combat.  As much as I hate the thousands of pages of world building in most fantasy novels, the little that is built up here is evidently scrapped for the next installment, as Blade goes to a different dimension each book.  I'll give the next one a try, but things got a bit samey by the end of this one.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Bones of Frankenstein by Donald Glut

Bones of Frankenstein
New Adventures of Frankenstein 3
by Donald Glut
1977 New English Library

A communist general forces a sorcerer to resurrect the ghost of Frankenstein (the doctor) to raise an army of Frankensteins (the monsters).  The original Monster is psychically drawn there, where he and his buddy James Judson, former agent of OGRE from the last installment, hang out with the blind sister of a revolutionary.

Things come to a head at the castle where Dr. Frankenstein raises five more monsters, only to be confronted by the original and dynamite toting rebels.  Everything ends in a giant explosion, which we all know is the only foolproof way to kill a Frankenstein permanently.

Short, occasionally violent, and fun, though could have used a bit more story.

Included in volume one of The New Adventures of Frankenstein Collection