Reviwed by Johnny Butane
Written by Ray Garton
Published by Leisure Books
So this is why everyone credits Ray Garton as “the author of Live Girls“. Obviously I knew it was because he wrote the book, but until I read it for myself, I never got why that was so significant. Now it all makes sense…
Live Girls takes place in a time when Times Square was not the sort of place you wanted to be in when the sun went down…or even when the sun was up. Compared to its squeaky-clean (read: DULL) image now, the Time Square of Live Girls seems like it must have existed in another world. Oddly, however, the book was first published just shy of 20 years ago, which serves as a striking reminder of how much the city has changed.
But Live Girls isn’t really about New York; it just takes place there. The book is actually about Davey Owen, an employee of Penn Publishing for many long, miserable years, whose girlfriend just walked out on him again because he’s unable to ever stand up for himself, stick to his decisions, or even get angry about his dead-end job. All his life Davey’s been hurt by the women he’s been involved with, but this latest cut the deepest.
Lonely and desperate on his lunch hour one day, he decides to cab it to Times Square and take in a peep show. Davey’s not the kind to do such things, and the garish ads and voluminous barkers are almost enough to make him give up altogether…until he spots a small, nondescript place called Live Girls. He decides to go in and see what it’s all about, and before he knows it, he’s given some of the best sexual satisfaction of his life and left feeling more drained than he thought possible. He’s also enamored with the young girl behind the glass, a girl who is unnaturally cool to the touch who very much enjoys what she does. So what if he notices some bite marks in his most private of areas?
Meanwhile, a reporter for the New York Times is on the hunt for his brother-in-law, whom he suspects is responsible for the horribly mutilated bodies of his sister and niece, and tracks him back to Live Girls. Paths cross eventually, much blood is spilled, and one of the more interesting vampire novels I’ve read is unspooled before my eyes.
Yes, Live Girls is a book about vampires, much in the same way Skipp & Spector’s Light at the End is a book about vampires. In other words, it doesn’t suck (pun intended). The creatures are given just enough humanity to make them pass for one of us when it’s important they do so, but at their hearts they are nothing but carnivorous beasts with nary a care as to whom they slaughter to satiate their hunger. Garton doesn’t take the Gothic, classy approach to his bloodsuckers, or if he does, he does so without all the pretension, and adds some great additions to the mythos, like the fact that feeding off of a junkie can have severe, lasting consequences for a vampire. This “new” rule results in a final showdown of sorts that is both revolting and strangely touching at the same time.
Garton is the author of over 50 books, but Live Girls is really his crowning achievement in terms of both story and characters, and I’m glad Leisure is finally able to get this book out to the mass market after the many years and many hard-to-find editions that have come before. The book is gritty, violent, romantic, and erotic with equal measure, and I was glued to the page the entire time.
My only real complaint is the amount of time spent establishing that these creatures are vampires for both the readers and the characters. If you look at the cover, you know what it’s about, but the slow reveal of all the standard vampire lore (excluding their aversion to sunlight; these vamps just can’t take too much of it) does grind the pace down some, though after some of the bloodier set pieces you may be thankful for a breather.
Live Girls is an out-and-out classic vampire novel, not only because of how well crafted the tale and its players are, but because of the slice of American history that it takes place during, a time that we’ll likely never see again (at least not in our lifetime) that gives the book a feeling of something more important than your standard horror yarn. Highly recommended!
4 1/2 out of 5
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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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