Prism of Madness l

Friday the 13th, May 2022, was the official launch of the Prism of Madness podcast. It was also the day that, unconnected, I was laid off from my day job.

While we did a soft-launch with a  short trailer for the podcast on Wednesday night and I technically uploaded the main episode then to work on technical aspects, Friday 13 and was the actual launch, fitting for a horror-related podcast. My partner and co-host Chris and I launched with a strong episode, a great interview with writer and director Damien LeVeck.  A wonderful guy, he is the director of the horror film The Cleansing Hour.

Originally we were planning to launch with a different episode, but ultimately decided to go with the LeVeck interview due to its strength. A few weeks prior I had added an edited transcript from the podcast  on the Prism of Madness website. 

Of course I didn’t know I’d be losing my job. I was unceremoniously let go, by PHONE, after 8 1/2 years, no severance package, nothing. I was given an extra two weeks pay, but given I had never taken the allocated vacation time as I was the sole manager of the company’s online brand, the two weeks didn’t even make up for my donated vacation time.  

Having worked in editorial, notoriously volatile, I’d been through downsizings, company closings and layoffs before. Additionally, I was dissatisfied with the workplace and its lack of respect and empowerment, so I was ready to go. That said, dedicating that much of your life to an initiative and then simply being dismissed (I was one of many), messes with one’s head.

And yet the podcast was going live, interviews with people in the motion picture industry were being set up, and I was in the process of pitching scripts.  I didn’t have time, immediately, to “mourn” my loss as there was work to be done. Also, beyond the panic of how I was to now pay my bills, my overriding feeling was one of relief. I was going to be okay. I knew that the real loss was for them, not for me. 

So I will say WHAT A FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH! It’s positive energy from here on out, and I’m ready. Chris got the podcast up on Apple Podcasts last night, and I worked on getting it set with Google Podcasts today, so it should hopefully be live on that platform in a few days. It’s already streaming and downloadable on most of the main platforms: Amazon, Deezer, I Heart Radio, and others, ready to subscribe.

I know that there will be some challenging moments as I move into this very different, very new phase of my life, but I’m optimistic. I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time!

Check out our Prism of Madness podcast: https://bit.ly/37D4LfK

Much has happened in a short time as we are now only a few weeks away from the launch of the Prism of Madness podcast. We’ve got episodes edited, interviews both lined up and recorded, and the format tweaked. We’re still a bit rough around the edges and we don’t yet have opening/closing music or even know if we want it yet. The new Prism of Madness logo is being completed and will be done by launch. Now it’s a focus on content, content, content.

Even though this personal blog is more of a think-on-digital-paper type of effort for myself rather than something people are regularly reading, I still don’t want to reveal the interviews coming up on the podcast. More accurately, I DO want to reveal the interviews coming up, but I won’t until they actually air. Got to keep the surprises, but seriously, we snagged some very cool interviews.

What else to say? Just an expression of gratitude to all the people who have patiently helped us get going. Gratitude to my co-host Chris for his positive energy, drive and completely weirdo, off-hand idea for the podcast name Prism of Madness. Gratitude to the good folks over at Riverside.fm for being responsive to my questions and for making a user-friendly distance podcasting platform. Gratitude for sound engineering service Auphonic for making my life so much easier. Thanks to my son Gavin for helping do smooth audio edits and fixing some of my particular rough cuts, and to Chris’ son Connor for his patience as we contracted him to design a logo and then completely changed concept on him right in the middle. Giant thanks to the directors, producers, writers, production coordinators and other movie personnel who had faith in us and granted us interviews even before we officially launched. Thanks to Richard “RB” Botto for creating Stage32 and to all the cool folks I’ve met over there to keep me in touch with other screenwriters and movie personnel.

Thanks everyone. This is going to be a fun, mad ride.

 

Chris and I unanimously decided to rebrand our upcoming podcast from Fear with Beer to Prism of Madness to better reflect our direction, which is to focus on specific aspects of horror movies and the specific people who contribute to the madness that is film making. Additionally, we learned of a podcast that slipped past us that began in 2020 called Fear and Beer, so that told us we were destined to change direction.

We love the rebranding of Prism of Madness, because after all, the number of things that have to go RIGHT in a movie, even in the worst movie, needed for it to come together is staggering. The things that need to go RIGHT for a GOOD movie are nearly impossible! Our job is to dig deep into the who’s and how’s of this, breaking a movie apart like a prism breaks apart light.

 

The show, in addition to featuring Chris and I breaking down movies to explore specific pieces parts, will also feature guest interviews, and we’re off to a great start. In addition to an interview already “in the can” with a production coordinator at a regional film commission, two upcoming interviews are lined up with two different movie directors I highly respect. I’m not spilling the beans on who they are yet, but we are stoked to roll out those episodes.

While this has slightly postponed our original launch date, we’ll be ready to debut relatively soon and will likely launch the first episode by the end of this month.

Exciting! We hope you’ll join us in the Prism. You can keep tabs of the episodes soon at https://prismofmadness.com

 

 

This one is personal. One of the my favorite screen actors, William Hurt, has passed away at age 71.

I first saw Hurt in the movie Altered States at a movie theater in Kent, Ohio. I was young and knew nothing about the movie or director Ken Russell, but the movie poster with Hurt pictured upside down in sepia-toned hues was sufficiently weird and compelling to make me give it a try. I don’t remember why I was at the theater by myself, but the year it came out had been a tough one for me and I had been struggling with some issues, so it probably was a simple escape. To say that movie had an affect on me is an understatement. The existential questions of what it means to be human, the psychedelic imagery and the horror of nothingness hit me hard, particularly of where I was mentally at the time. Beneath it all, however, was the haunted, brooding persona of Hurt playing Dr. Eddie Jessup. This was a mad scientist tale, for sure, but one played with more doubt, humanity and torment than I had ever seen.

 

My primarily cinematic love is the horror genre, but my appreciation of cinema is broad. I love all movies and watch all genres, eras and topical matters. I’d like to say that was the case when I was young, and while I probably watched a few more artsty movies than my peers, to say I was well versed in movies  then would be a lie. In the 1980s I was watching a lot of slashers. The truth was, as a young man, William Hurt drew me to watch movies I might not otherwise have watched back then simply because he was in them.

I was at the movies for The Big Chill, Gorky Park, The Kiss of the Spider Woman and Children of a Lesser God. I rented Broadcast News, The Accidental Tourist (I had read the book) and The Doctor. I sat through Lost in Space. I watched all these first because I wanted to see William Hurt, but these movies (except Lost in Space) would influence me and the way I look at movies forever, so on a personal level, I credit William Hurt as a key force that helped me broaden my range in movies. His passing to me is a passing of an era in myself.

As the 80s moved to the 90s, my range of movies continued to expand, and I remember the joy of watching William Hurt and Harvey Keitel in Smoke, a movie that didn’t feel exactly like a movie but that was a joy to experience. Hurt had led me to watch so many different genres and types of movies, and yet …

I have a confession to make.  I had always hoped Hurt would  step more into the horror genre. He would have been amazing.

It’s a selfish wish, and one that could have led to him being pigeon-holed without the ability to bring to life so many rich and compelling characters. I wouldn’t have wanted that, but still I know if Hurt had shifted toward the horror genre the way Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing had, the results would have been remarkable. I’ve watched so many horror movies where I mused I bet this would have been a better movie with William Hurt.  Nobody could do haunted and conflicted like Mr. Hurt, and he had the range to do potentially do chilling diabolical like nobody else. Even his name, Hurt, seemed made for horror. 

That didn’t happen but doesn’t matter. I know he would have been remarkable in the genre, and in a parallel universe, or at least an imaginary universe in my head, William Hurt is a horror movie superstar.

Even though William Hurt didn’t join me in the cinematic worlds of horror except for a few brief forays, he made an indelible and permanent impression on me and my relationship with movies. For that I am forever grateful.

Rest in Peace.

  William McChord Hurt, March 20, 1950 – March 13, 2022

My father asked me my definition of a horror movie yesterday. I didn’t have an elevator-pitch answer, so I stumbled through a spontaneous one about a movie that focuses on inspiring fear, dread or revulsion with events that move beyond what we would consider regular “normal” events. I then added that horrifying events don’t mean a horror movie. War is horror. Child abuse is horror. Movies about war or child abuse are not horror movies, or more specifically, the horrific topics don’t automatically make them horror movies.

Horror movie folks know a horror movie when they see one, but non-horror movie folks sometimes don’t get it. Any horror movie fan has heard someone say something like, “___________  is real horror” or “the world is full of real horror like __________ that I don’t need made up stuff,” to know they don’t understand the genre or the appeal of the genre.

That’s not to say there is strict agreement in the community on what is or isn’t a horror movie, but discussions between horror movie people are different than discussion between horror movie and non-horror movie folks. It’s a nerdy pleasure to for horror movies fans to argue if Silence of the Lambs or Wake in Fear  or Hush should be considered horror movies. I subscribe to Shudder, the horror movie streaming service, and there are movies there I wouldn’t consider horror. That’s cool, because it’s on the edge that interesting things happen, and being confined to unbreakable rules leads to boring content.

Still, however, horror movies are a genre, and while there aren’t specific rules (or at least there are rules that can be broken) generally good horror movies come from people who understand the genre even if they choose to push the boundaries. You’ve probably seen a movie made by someone who obviously didn’t watched horror movies who thought adding a gruesome death or a jump scare made it a horror movie. I know I have. Those movies generally fail because they don’t understand basic elements of the genre or what makes a horror movie frightening.

I’m bordering on sounding like a horror movie snob or elitist, and that’s not my intent. A good movie is a good movie and doesn’t need to be defined or pigeon-holed into a category. Is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet a horror movie? Who cares? Most of us in the horror community wouldn’t call it one (how do you categorize most of Lynch’s movies?), but it’s an amazing piece of movie making which undoubtedly has influenced horror movie makers, regardless of category. Undefined categories are fine. It’s when a movie proclaims to be a horror movie without an understanding of the genre where issues can happen.

I refuse to bash movies, so I’ll be vague, but one particular instance comes to mind in a low-budget horror anthology movie where indie directors where asked to make horror short shorts, with many of the directors from outside the genre. That unnamed anthology fell short because of the previously mentioned misunderstanding by some that showing a horrific situation automatically makes a film horror. While some made important observations about needed societal change, they didn’t belong in a horror anthology. Definitions or not, most horror movie fans would recognize some of the films weren’t horror shorts. There was a lack of understanding of the genre and it showed, the equivalent of taking a Facebook discussion of gardening and subverting it into a political discussion. The anthology was expressly a horror anthology.

Interestingly, social topics and societal change can be intensely important to horror movies, and I would argue the genre is a near perfect vehicle to explore those topics. Again, though, the topic itself, however horrifying, doesn’t make the movie a horror movie. Whether an intense exploration of grief in The Invitation or racial issues in Get Out or living with family trauma in The Babadook or damaging stereotypes in the horror comedy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, horror can go places difficult for other movies. It’s when a director exploits the horror genre to expressly to get a point across without holding deference for the genre that movies become preachy.

So going back to the original question from my father, who is not a horror-movie fan: did I consider No Country for Old Men a horror movie? Certainly there is a terrifying, soulless killer, tension, horrific scenes of violence. If not, why?

Horror fans, I’ll leave you with that. Tap into your horror nerd and answer that one in a make believe interview.

 

 

The podcast is taking shape! We’re going into our second recording session this weekend, and I’ve been working through the complexities of equipment, software, and other tech requirements. We are settling on a podcast hosting service, narrowed down to four candidates.

Most exciting is we have our first guest interview lined up. We’re recording the guest segment remotely using Riverside’s remote podcast product, which bumps up reliability and is user-friendly. It’s great for recording video interviews, but  easily breaks out audio. I’ve downloaded the app for Android, too, but haven’t tested it, although the actual interview is to be recorded on a laptop.

There are many editing software options, but I’m LOVING Filmora’s audio editing tool. I already owned Filmora Pro, having used it for short YouTube videos, but it’s ease of use makes it amazing to use for straight audio podcast editing. And, more importantly, I already owned it.

I found a type of cheat that we will be using for at least the near future. The Auphonic.com audio service is crazy amazing, automatically handling balancing, noise cancellation and compression of audio in what would have taken me hours manually doing with tools I don’t currently have. You lose the control of a full mixing experience, but if sound design isn’t your thing, the automation of Auphonic is remarkable, and I’m fairly certain my mixing wouldn’t have come out nearly as good. We uploaded a rough test recorded on a Tascam DR-40 four-track with two people using only the built-in condenser mics, and after running it through Auphonic that came out great. We’ll of course be using external mics, but it’s good to know audio recording directly on the Tascam with no mics is usable for easy remote interviews.

The content, however, is what it’s all about, and I’m excited about the topics we’ll be hitting. Check on back for updates on the process!

 

 

 

In 2016, I began Fear with Beer. The concept, originally envisioned as a podcast, immediately took shape as a blog where I wrote about horror movies, talked with aspiring horror genre filmmakers and discussed craft beers, generally pairing a rare or unusual beer thematically with a movie.

I adored the site, but it took a LOT of time, something I didn’t have, and ultimately let it go. Until recently. Ironically as a script writer who sits alone writing for hours at a time, I am at my heart a collaborative person. What Fear with Beer had been missing was a full-time collaborator equally passionate about horror movies (and beer) and ready to do the work of researching, interviewing and writing. I found that collaborator in Chris Robinson, a fellow horror and beer connoisseur.

Chris (also a writer) and I had been brainstorming for some time, having decided we wanted to collaborate on a project but unsure on what. Chris was a natural for podcasting given his smooth and chill voice, and we kept coming back to Fear with Beer. While I loved the idea, I was hesitant to revisit a past project, but it wasn’t long before I saw the potential.

Original Fear with Beer logo

There was a perfect balance between the two of us. Chris has an aggressive, entrepreneurial business acumen that got shit done which offset my tendencies to overthink and over complicate. At the same time, Chris has a relaxed, easy going demeanor which offsets my more outwardly nervous behavior. Together, we made a perfect team, but it wasn’t just in personalities.

We also had a balance in our tastes toward horror movies and beer with enough similarities for cohesion but enough differences to keep things lively. While I tended toward cerebral, spooky, artsy mood pieces, Chris tended toward more story-driven action movies. I drifted toward ghost stories. He drifted toward zombies. We both, however, loved and respected the genre. We both, however, had begun watching horror movies at very young ages, and both of us had late-night horror movie hosts as our primary gateway into the genre. Growing up in a small town in Northeastern Ohio, I had Cleveland’s Houlihan and Big Chuck and Saturday morning’s Superhost, Chris, growing up in Pittsburgh, had Chilly Billy Cardille’s Chiller Theater.

Fear with Beer was reborn.

With a massive amount of business, writing, researching and creative talents and experiences between the two of us, the element we didn’t have was the technical experience. I had a TASCAM DR-40 four track recorder I had purchased back with the first incarnation of Fear with Beer, but using it was another story. We recorded our introduction using only the TASCAM’s built-in speakers and mixer, and while better than expected, the initial foray wasn’t stellar. We soon added some Samson dynamic mics, and fumbling around, we’ve made huge strides in a short time. 

While we haven’t released our inaugural podcast yet, we will soon, by April, 2022 if not before. Please visit the new https://fearwithbeer.com website for updates on episodes.

 

 

 

I don’t do movie reviews, leaving that to more review-y sorts than myself. I also don’t think people care what movies I enjoyed or didn’t. I leave that to more social media-y sorts.

That said, I wanted to share my strange experience with a strange movie I stumbled upon via Amazon’s streaming service, a psychological horror-esque picture from 2012 entitled Berberian Sound Studio. Wow.

Part of the challenge of being an avid horror movie fan is after time, you see so many movies that it’s rare to experience something new. There are still movies that stagger me in their execution like Get Out or The Devil’s Rejects or The Babadook or Resolution or A Ghost Story (not horror but still), but more often I see a variation of a movie I’ve seen before. Sometimes that’s fine if it’s good, but sometimes I want something freaky fresh.

And that’s what I got with Berberian Sound Studio. This movie seriously disturbed me, and I don’t react to movies like that often anymore. This isn’t about whether it’s a good movie or bad movie. It’s about seeing a movie that personally got under my skin, that tapped into core fears and insecurities.

In other words, it’s the type of movie I seek out.

Technically I don’t even know if you’d classify this as horror. The film is set in Italy in the 1970s during the filming of a fictional Italian horror film that is exceptionally bloody and vulgar, so in a way a movie within a movie. As the viewer, however, we don’t actually see the film, but instead see the people making the movie, someone rending and snapping vegetables to create the sound of hair being pulled out, a voice actor babbling terrifying sounds alone in a sound booth to voice the demonic mutterings of a goblin, playbacks of movie scenes to coordinate sound and music. People doing their jobs.

The fear, however, isn’t from the movie being made, but the alienation and mental deterioration of a meek and very British sound engineer named Gilderoy played by Toby Jones who simply doesn’t do horror. The graphic scenes of cinematic violence (which he sees even though we as the viewer never do), along with the toxic masculinity bubbling through the studio and a constant feeling of alienation, cultural and otherwise, begin to unravel Gilderoy’s psyche.

To explain why this movie was so frightening to me is difficult. There were many scenes where little happened, such as beautifully filmed images of rotting vegetables or long artsy images of analog tape winding on it’s playback journey. Berberian Sound Studio is a movie that I could imagine angering someone wanting action, maybe even myself in a different mood.

For me, though, it was like tasting a distilled version of a horror movie. The underlying fears that horror movies generally tap into: fears of being alone, fears of being out of control, fears of losing one’s mind, were all there, with the actual horror movie a fictional, off-screen presence within the movie itself. This movie, precisely because of it’s slow visuals, jacked right into my psyche, skipping over requiring the normal horrific visuals that would cause the fear and instead somehow inserting the fear direct, straight no-chaser. I completely accompanied Gilderoy through his descent, not because the visuals were terrifying, but because the underlying emotions were so recognizable and his vulnerability so understandable, and this was supported by unusual visuals. Take recognizable feelings and juxtapose them with seriously weird images and it’s an unsettling experience.

I loved this movie because it took me on a journey I hadn’t been on before. So strange, so beautiful, and, for me, so sincere. As a horror movie writer and horror movie fan, I don’t want weird for weird’s sake, but I do crave new, crafted experiences and I’ll forgive a creative movie that misses more than I will a decent movie that plays it safe. This movie hit me hard, and that’s not common for a jaded horror movie fan like myself. For this reason, I don’t care in the least whether writer/director Peter Strickland’s movie is considered good or bad. I’m not even interested in what other people thought of it. I just know this was a movie experience I’ve been craving, that fresh excitement similar to what I experienced as a kid watching a horror movie. For me it was the right movie at the right time and finding it without any knowledge or expectations made it all the more special.

Peter Strickland, if by some bizarre chance this blog passes your way, thank you for crafting a different type scare. I really needed this. 

 

An intense few weeks and I’m coming up for air. I completed, and did multiple rewrites, of my horror romance screenplay Wicked Sisters.  I also finished the first draft of a ghost story short for an anthology film project I am working on with an indie filmmaker. Feels good.

To celebrate that good feeling, I’ve decided to share three random things in life that bring me joy. Step inside my head to see what really makes me smile.

 

Sport Fishes of Ohio collector cards

 

I LOVE these things. So random, so odd, so Ohio they make me smile. I love how it reads Collector’s Edition, as if there  are other editions designed for people who don’t dare collect them. Rock Bass, you’re my friend.

 

Glow-in-the-dark goat toy

 

It’s a goat. It glows.

I call it glowgoat and nobody is going to stop me.

Vintage 1970s pink Lucite arrow

 

A foot of funky 70s modness. The thing looks like it glows, although glowgoat is quick to point out it’s not actually phosphorescent. It casts a pink shadow, and I bet you wish you could do that, too.

 

Hope you enjoyed a look into my happy places. Wait. You know what I meant.

 

I was a kid when I received the above book for Christmas – Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema by Alan G. Frank, to this day one of my favorite gifts. The book, published in 1974, was a compendium of horror movies , slanted toward the British horror powerhouses of the day, Hammer and Amicus, but also looking at horror movies in general.

I’ve been thinking about this book: it’s one of the few pieces of my history that has made the multiple journeys to multiple states and residences — at last count I’ve lived in more than 15 different locations, but honestly I’m not motivated enough to get an accurate count. This was the book I cared for and cherished.

I grew up in a small farming town in Ohio, and while technically only am hour’s drive to Cleveland, in the days before the Internet, cell phones or cable TV it might as well have been on another planet. The town where I was raised was isolated, and there was no theater or news stand. Most of my knowledge of pop culture came from the Mad magazines I’d get every month from the Lawson’s. I had to work hard to find horror movie trivia, reading every book on horror movies, ghost stories and anything else scary that I could find at our small school library, which wasn’t much. A book like this, then, was a life saver.

I’ve been watching horror movies for literally as long as I can remember, and while memory is fickle and unreliable, I can actually remember one of the key cinematic experienced that inspired my horror journey. I was up late for some reason, I might have been sick. I was probably six or seven, maybe even five, and was on the couch with my parents. They weren’t horror movie folks but for some reason that night they were watching a late night movie, again maybe because they were up with me if I was sick. I’ve asked them about it later in life but of course they don’t remember that particular event as it wasn’t anything memorable them, and I’m sure they had no idea how important it would turn out to be for me.

The particular movie was the 1944 ghost story The Uninvited with Ray Miland. The scene that hooked me on horror, particularly melancholic atmospheric horror, was one that you might not guess. Our lead characters, a piano composer and his sister, enter a large open room on the top floor of a spooky house with windows overlooking a bluff and the sea beyond. As they tour the house for the first time, the movie viewer sees a bouquet of flowers on the table. The flowers shrivel up and die, but it’s only seen by the movie viewer, not the characters in the movie. So simple, so understated, and so terrifying to my young mind that I cried. That scene hit at some core, primal level.

While that night I was terrified, the fascination of that fear stayed with me and I began seeking out anything spooky I could find. Luckily back then it was a golden time for horror movie hosts in Ohio out of Cleveland and Akron such as Houlihan and Big Chuck, The Ghoul, Sir Graves Ghastly, and on Saturday afternoons Super Host. These hosts became family to me, and when I was young I would tiptoe out to the family room late night (my parents went to bed very early) on Fridays to watch the late night horror hosts on a tiny black and white Zenith TV with the sound turned way down. The room wasn’t insulated well so was crazy cold in the winter time, but I didn’t care. I was hooked.

I might not remember half of the things of my youth, but I remember watching Peter Cushing in The Gorgon, practically peeing myself with terror while watching Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (particularly the story “A Drop of Water” where a spooky corpse terrorizes a nurse in an old house) and catching the TV release of the 1971 horror film Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. While other kids knew sports and music stars, I knew Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Lorie and Boris Karloff.

While some of my friends also watched horror movies, my pursuit and obsession was largely solitary. I watched them by myself and developed my knowledge independently as a kid who didn’t feel that he fit in with society in general. It wouldn’t be until decades later as an adult that I would meet other horror fans who shared similar experiences growing up. It’s like all of us were, and are still, invisibly connected by a love of horror movies even though we didn’t know a community existed out there that was waiting for us.

And then, of course, came the 1980s. By then I had a driver’s license, long hair and a theater in a nearby town. I don’t need to tell you what a rush it was for a horror movie lover to be a teen in the 80s. Even so, though, the core of my horror love always remained with the atmospheric and moody. Slashers were fun, but the upsetting ride of Roddy McDowell in The Legend of Hell House, the melancholic cynicism of made for TV movies like A Taste of Evil with Roddy McDowell (before Hell House) or The Paper Man  or the American Gothic horror of The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, a mini series in 1978, are still near and dear to my heart.

But through it all, I clung to my hardback book Movie Treasury published by from Octopus (with its groovy 1970s Octopus logo). I recently learned that the author, Alan G. Frank, is still doing movie reviews and can be found at the website  PicturesthatTalk.com.

Thank you, Mr. Frank, for providing a desperately needed connection to a community that I didn’t even know existed at the time. My horror movie journey would have been incomplete with you.