Archive for the films Category

Revenant Review, Part 4: Shanks

Posted in films, zombies on September 16, 2013 by David N. Brown

“Old Walker could not make it to Celia’s birthday party, because Malcolm (out of mercy) had buried him several days before.”

Back from the dead in more ways than one, it’s time for the fourth installment in this feature, and I’m pleased to present the Great White Whale of unfindable zombie films. Back in the 1970s, the infamous B-movie master William Castle, whose long history of gimmicks included wiring theater seats to deliver electric shocks, thought it would be a good idea to make a horror movie starring the world-famous mime Marcel Marceau as the protagonist Malcolm Shanks. The result was a 1974 film titled Shanks, and it achieved a legendary status, with partisan reviewers either praising it as an avant garde work of psychedelic genius or panning it as, well, an avant garde work of psychedelic genius. Peter Dendle’s masochistically comprehensive Zombie Movie Encyclopedia calls it “a dark vision… of how perverse innocence, left to its devices, really is.” A frequently-quoted review by Hal Erickson describes it as “not so much a movie as a hallucinatory experience.” The film’s reputation was probably helped more than hindered by the fact that THIRTY-NINE YEARS went by before its FIRST authorized video release. Armed with a copy of the authorized release that I received and viewed this weekend, I am prepared to wade into the fray.

The first thing I will say is that the authorized edition from Olive Films, is of excellent quality. Every scene is of very sharp quality. I mention this because more than one prior review made prominent mention of problems with image quality, particularly in the final scenes, due either to poor-quality bootlegs or poor lighting and camera work in the making of the films itself. The quality is, indeed, high enough almost to bely the film’s reputation. Apart from a few cuts to silent-film-style sepia, the film is marked by sharply-focused, even camera work, which offers a striking contrast both to the atmospheric blurs and shadows of established horror-film tradition and the jerky, choppy techniques that came into full flower in the 1970s. Even the finale is well-lit and shot almost to a fault (which I must regard as evidence of truly atrocious quality in prior bootleg copies). The workman-like photography serves to reinforce a decidedly un-psychedelic backdrop, where ’60s-’70s artifacts abound without a lava lamp or tie-dyed shirt in sight.

Then there is the story. Um. What is there to say about a story that centers on using human corpses as puppets? Shanks, a “deaf-mute” puppeteer picked on by his stepsister and her drunken husband, learns the secret from the scientist Walker (also played by Marceau), who demonstrates with dead animals in his castle/ lab. When Walker dies of natural causes, Shanks tries out his invention on his corpse. When the in-law and stepsister start asking questions, Shanks gets rid of them with an undead chicken and a GTO “Judge”, then uses their bodies for a show to entertain a teenish admirerer named Celia. His jailbait interest is alarmed on discovering Shanks’ secret, but soon accepts an invitation to the old castle. Shanks and Celia celebrate her birthday in Victorian dress, served and entertained by the in-laws, until a biker gang crashes the party. Stylized savagery ensues, culminating in a notorious scene in sepia of Shanks dancing with Celia before a jarring cut to a cop-out ending.

Shanks astonishes and apalls on amny levels. The horror/ zombie elements are usually passed over in commentary, yet the grue factor is fairly impressive: Walker looks none too fresh, especially after Shanks summons him back for revenge, and a sequence in which a pickled frog is reanimated is genuinely ghastly. The infamous chicken attack, on the other hand, is in my opinion a dud. The intended highlight, Shanks’ “shows” (carried our by two accomplished colleagues of Marceau), are about as problematic as they are unsettling. It is hard to watch without wondering first and foremost if we are actually expected to laugh. (I will admit to being amused by the deceased drunk pulling bottle after bottle off the shelf of a store, which presents a possible subtext of the “puppets” retaining its former personality.)

Finally, we are left with the matter of subtext. The corpse-puppets clearly represent one of the most overtly materialistic representations of the corporeal revenant, and can easily be regarded as further social commentary, but the film offers little to hang such an allegory on. Efforts to inject imagery of good and evil through recurring play cards (source of the opening quote) are, if not strictly ironic, then entirely unconvincing. Shanks is entirely too cunning to make a convincing “innocent”, and it is even more striking that the “evil” bikers come far closer to showing normal human emotional responses than he or Celia ever do. Ultimately, it is all too easy to regard the dynamic of Shanks and the puppets as a statement about the audience: That we, like too-wide-eyed Celia, are entirely at the mercy of the film’s weird and amoral vision.


Revenant Review Part 3: 7th Voyage of Sinbad/ Jason And The Argonauts/ Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger

Posted in films, Mythology, zombies with tags on July 15, 2013 by David N. Brown


I’m back after a busy couple weeks working on “XX Exotroopers”, which I plan to mine for a few “Demo Days” shortly.  But first, I’m going to do another tribute to the late, great Ray Harryhausen, and in the process write a little about the inspiration for a major element of my current project.  The creations of Ray Harryhausen were very diverse, and I am sure any gathering of fans could argue all day and all night about which ones were best.  I personally am especially fond of the occasional sympathetic or at least unaggressive creatures, like the charming Eohippus in Valley of Gwangi and Prince Kassim, the previously-mentioned prince transformed into a baboon in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger.  But there can be no doubt that Harryhausen’s most enduring and famous creations are his walking skeletons, best known from Jason and the Argonauts but also featured previously in 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and the subsequent Eye Of The Tiger.  A selection of these creations are featured with Harryhausen himself in the unusual photo above.  (Source TechDigest.)

Harryhausen’s skeletons debuted with a single specimen reanimated by the sorcerer Sokurah to kill the title character.  While many consider 7th Voyage to be among Harryhausen’s best work, I have never been enamored with it:  Strong performances by Kerwin Matthews as Sinbad and Thorin Thatcher as the villain are among its redeeming features, but the film is weighed down by an egregiously annoying genie and a storyline that is disorganized and episodic even by Harryhausen standards.  The appearance of the distinctly sinister, beetle-browed skeleton is the strongest sequence of the film.  In the documentary the Harryhausen Chronicles, Harryhausen displayed the original model, and recounted making it entirely out of hard material with joints corresponding to those of an actual skeleton, rather than from rubber over an armature.  As a result, the model remained in strikingly pristine condition, where the vast majority of his and other vintage stop-motion models were notorious for decaying relatively quickly down to bare metal.

Per Harryhausen, the same model used in 7th Voyage was among those used in the final battle in Jason And The Argonauts.  This sequence is justifiably Harryhausen’s most renowned, and I would not hesitate to endorse it as among Harryhausen’s best animation, but in my opinion, it was in many ways too much of a good thing, with the action crossing the line from complex to chaotically muddled.  In the course of the “Chronicles” interview, Harryhausen made the intriguing remark that the walking skeletons offered a sanitary alternative to the source mythology, in which the revenant warriors are intact enough to be gruesome.  His passing remark is intriguing in the context of the evolution of the movie zombie, as it was indeed a very long time before even “hard core” horror movies began showing graphically decomposed undead.

Audiences would receive one more treatment of Harryhausen’s walking skeletons in an early sequence of Eye Of The Tiger.  Harryhausen recounted disappointment with this scene, but in my opinion, it is in many respects, an improvement on his previous efforts.  The three “ghouls” against Sinbad make for tighter and more focused action (surely in chronically short supply throughout Harryhausen’s career), and their initial appearance in a tent lit only by firelight is impressively atmospheric.  One can also see glimpses of grue that might have been in the ghouls’ mummy-like bodies, which to me give an extra touch of realism.  I can’t help wondering if the infamous insectoid heads of the ghouls were in no small part a means of backing away from a (literally) fleshed-out corporeal revenant.

In closing, honorable mention is in order for two other appearances of the skeleton in Harryhausen’s work.  I was reminded in the course of writing this article that a walking skeleton is featured very briefly in First Men In The Moon, when the Selenites use their technology to view the insides of their human captives.  Then there is one of the most intriguing of Harryhausen’s (very!) many unmade projects, titled “Skin and Bone”.  This proposed film, based on a 1930’s novel, would have featured a hero who sometimes becomes invisible except for his skeleton.  The storyline would presumably have made the animated skeleton a sympathetic character, and focused on misadventures in domestic settings.  The possibilities of table etiquette alone are certainly impressive!

Demo Day! Sleeping Beauty Revisited

Posted in films, Mythology, one-shot on June 26, 2013 by David N. Brown

Though I have done many stories featuring mythology, the one thing I haven’t done anything with is traditional “fairy tales”. But, I have thought intermittently about taking on the genre for years, to the point of developing a concept for a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”. That’s still on the shelf, but I recently did a different take on it as part of a well-received romance film fan fiction series, which I believe will suffice as proof that I am even more brutal in that genre than I am in military/ SF. The following is the resulting story-within-a-story, as narrated by a character to a child:

Once upon a time, there was a brave knight. He was strong, and brave, and he did many great deeds, but he wasn’t that smart. Actually, he was pretty dumb. He even said no to a beautiful lady who offered him her hand, when everyone knew a good knight should say yes, even if it wasn’t very ladylike for her to offer. But the lady still loved him, and she helped him as much as she could. She held celebrations when he came back in victory, and she tended to his wounds when he came back defeated. She even helped him in a quest to win another Lady- not just any lady, but the Fairy Queen.

The knight had loved the Fairy Queen since he was a young squire. He had gone out with his lord and a band of knights to fight a fierce dragon. It was a terrible battle, and in the end, only he was left to face the wounded dragon with his master’s sword. But by his courage, he stood his ground as the dragon charged, and just as the dragon threw back its head to devour him, he drove the blade into its open mouth. Even in death, the dragon struck him with its poisonous tail. He would have perished, but for the Fairy Queen. She watched the battle, and she was so moved by the squire’s valor that she came to him and with her own hands she bandaged his wounds and poured into his mouth the elixir that would cure the dragon’s sting.

The Fairy Queen wished only to save the brave squire’s life, but when he beheld the Queen’s immortal beauty, he thought he could not live unless he had her for his lady. So he devoted himself to becoming the greatest of all knights, and at every chance, he sought for the Fairy Queen, though she fled from him. Then the lady who loved the knight learned of a secret place where the Queen feasted with her subjects. To show her love for the knight, she told him the place, and then begged him not to go. But he went forth, and burst into the Queen’s feast.

At last, the Queen was truly angry, and she cast a spell upon the knight to put him to sleep forever, and decreed that he should be taken to the Forbidden Castle, which was surrounded by a forest of poisonous thorns and guarded by an army of goblins and a dragon greater than the one that had almost slain the knight. But then the lady came forth, confessed to telling of the Fairies’ gathering place, and begged the Queen to let him go, even to punish the lady in his place. So the Fairy Queen lifted her spell and cast it on the lady instead.

The knight awoke not knowing what had happened, and returned to his castle. At first, he did not miss the lady, and he pressed on with his quests, even his quest to find the Fairy Queen. But without the lady to help him, he was lost. Twice, he failed, and once he nearly died. Then the Fairy Queen came to him, and told him what had become of the lady. When he learned what the lady had done for him, he knew at once that he loved her, and begged the Fairy Queen to release her, even to let him take her place. Then the queen told him that there was one hope: That, if he could win his way to the Forbidden Castle, and place true love’s kiss on the lady’s lips, the spell might be broken.

Then the knight made for the Forbidden Castle, and he showed more courage and might and devotion than he ever had. And the Fairy Queen herself gave him aid: A magic salve to protect him from the poison of the thorns, an enchanted Fairy sword, and a magic rope to scale the walls of the Forbidden Castle. With the salve and the sword, he hacked a path through the thorns, and the goblins who came forth to oppose him fell or fled in terror. The magic rope lifted itself to the top of the Castle’s unscalable wall, and the knight climbed up quickly, hoping that by stealth and speed, he could avoid the dragon. But when he reached the top, he found the dragon waiting in ambush. He knew he was doomed, and cried out that he had always loved his lady. Then, just when it seemed all was lost, the Fairy Queen appeared and cast a spell of blindness on the dragon, and the knight drove home the mortal blow.

At last, the knight made his way to his lady, and placed true love’s kiss upon her lips. But the lady did not awake. For days, the knight wandered despondent in the corridors of the Forbidden Castle, wondering why the Fairy Queen’s promise had failed. Then he remembered that the Queen had not promised that the first kiss should break the spell, only that a kiss might break the spell. So he returned to his lady, and kissed her again. When she did not awake, he sat beside her, telling her of the quests he had won because of her help, of the times she had feasted with him at her table and the times she had tended him at his bedside, and always of his love for her, and his regret that he had not returned her love before.

And every day, the knight kissed her, and told her the stories, and he found that each day he loved her more. And he knew that one day, his love would be great enough to waken the lady to his love. And then they would live… not happily ever after, but doing their best to make each other happy, one day at a time.

RIP Ray Harryhausen

Posted in Disabilities, films, prehistoric with tags on May 9, 2013 by David N. Brown


I hadn’t really planned on this, even after hearing about it, but today’s post will commemorate the life of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, whose passing was reported earlier this week.  I won’t be saying much about his work, as I don’t think I have much to say that hasn’t been said.  I will talk a bit about Harryhausen’s impact on me.  Looking back, it feels like Harryhausen’s films “should” have been a formative influence on me, but I really can’t say that was the case.  I was well aware of Harryhausen’s films, but the only one I saw before I was in college was Clash of the Titans and the Kali sequence of Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which was shown in my junior-high English class for ostensibly educational purposes.   I suspect that part of the problem was limited availability and interest in stop-motion films in the 1990s: I went looking for King Kong at the time, and could never find anything on the shelves but the infamous 1976 remake, which I was already forewarned about from Michael Medved’s “Golden Turkey” books.  (Incidentally, I have always preferred reading about “bad” movies to viewing them myself, so I have never watched this or many of the notorious B-movies.)  I distinctly recall discussing it with a video store clerk, and was told that people were only interested in buying the “new” version.

Fast-forward to around 2002, and I was on my own at NAU, with plenty of free time and a Barnes & Noble, Hasting’s and Bookman’s directly adjacent to campus.  I had finally found a copy of King Kong around 2000, and it was joined by VHS copies of Valley of Gwangi, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, the Sinbad films, and DVDs of Jason And The Argonauts and Kong animator Willis O’Brien’s The Black Scorpion.   My graduation present to myself was a $50 box set of Harryhausen’s science fiction films, which added Mysterious Island, It Came From Beneath the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon and 20 Million Miles to Earth to the collection. I was never greatly impressed by the films, and often frustrated (I still can’t watch Black Scorpion without wishing I could smack the editing genius who decided to mix incessant shots of a drooling puppet with O’Brien’s animation upside the head), but I always loved the stop-motion creatures.  My favorites were Gwangi and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. In many ways, I was most impressed with Eye of the Tiger, despite its egregious flaws, because of its unusually (comparatively!) focused storyline and the presence of two sympathetic and well-developed stop-motion characters, the prince-turned-baboon and a friendly giant caveman.  I was also intrigued by the occasional fragments of incomplete films, such as Harryhausen’s early Evolution footage, which the image at the head of this post is taken from.

It’s hard for me to say in hindsight how much Harryhausen’s films influenced my own writing.  By the time I saw them, I was already well into writing the “Naughtenny Moore” adventures, and indeed mature enough as a writer to be acutely aware of the films’ flaws.  At the same time, I believe I was especially able to recognize the best qualities of the films, especially the subtle nuances of motion and expression that make the difference between special effects and a fully-realized living creature.  That led to my most poignant memory at all related to stop-motion films.  Right about the time my interest in stop-motion films was in full stride, I was also finding out about my Asperger’s diagnosis, and recognizing the long-standing problems that were associated with it.  These included the quite typical problem of following “body language”, which I recognized as pretty much interchangeable with my equally typical tendency not to look at people when talking to them.  At some point in all my struggling and pondering, I had a true epiphany: “I can follow King Kong’s body language, so why not real people?”  So I decided to try, and I like to think I’m catching on.

Revenant Review Part 2: Shock Waves

Posted in films, zombies with tags , on May 1, 2013 by David N. Brown


It was my hope this April to commemorate the anniversary of the fall of the Third Reich with a few posts related to the Third Reich, including backstory material for the exotroopers “Space Nazis” adventure.  Unfortunately, the spare time I hoped to have for it ended up being occupied mainly with the last round of revisions necessary to make my master’s project report satisfy the arcane and arbitrary whims of Turabian formatting.  I decided the best thing to do would be to carve out some time to do the long-overdue second installment of this feature on a fairly infamous film titled Shock Waves, noted (if at all) as the first occurrence of the “Nazi zombies” meme.  It has been a direct influence on me as the immediate inspiration for the above-mentioned “Space Nazis” episode, otherwise notable as the only occasion where i) the decisive consideration in writing out a story was that I could use it as setup for an unused gag idea and ii) where I “invented” a phrase that turned out not only to be in use but to have its own wikipedia page.  Even before I thought of the outer space angle, I was attracted to the idea of an adventure based on Shock Waves, and before I developed and settled on my own concept, I very seriously considered flat-out copying the undead stormtroopers of this very weird film.

The film opens in media res with a lone woman being rescued at sea.  Then we go back to find her at sea with a party of dumb tourists on a cruise captained by John Carradine, who is the first to go after they pass a mysterious ship wreck.  When the rest of the party goes ashore, they find the hideout of a Nazi, played by Peter Cushing.  Their host reveals that he was the commandant of a force of undead commandos the Reich retired by sinking the ship.  Naturally, his old troops soon pay the house a visit.  After rising from the water in perfect formation, they systematically hunt down and eliminate the tourists who don’t bump themselves off first.

I first watched this movie on a used VHS tape in 2004 or so, soon after first hearing of it from Peter Dendle’s Zombie Movie Encyclopedia.  I was unimpressed enough that I promptly traded back the tape.  After giving it another shot through n*tfl*x, I have some regrets about that, but my feelings about this film are still very, very mixed.  Of the billed “talent”, B-movie legends John Carradine and Peter Cushing, Carradine (whom I only recall seeing in this film) is utterly wasted even before being, well, wasted, while Cushing supplies the best scene or so in the film only to be promptly and anticlimactically taken out.  (His all-too-brief appearances also make this a striking case where the backstory is far more interesting than the proceedings at hand.) That leaves the viewers with the better part of an hour to watch the no-names who make up the  rest of the cast get themselves killed.  In fairness, even the no-name performances can probably be considered at least fair, for the film’s caliber and period; on the other hand, the likability and intelligence of their characters is far below par even for the horror genre.  The story at least plays this into a vividly harsh streak:  The survivors repeatedly end up in as much danger from themselves and each other as the stormtroopers, and one manages to  get himself killed in an accident involving a sea urchin while one of the Nazis appears to do nothing but watch in contempt.

That brings us to the film’s most redeeming feature, the underwater Nazi zombies.  The stormtroopers prove to be a little worse for wear (looking a little rotten, or perhaps chewed) but well-preserved and still in uniform, with goggles whose function is never explained despite being a significant story point. They are played with no more distinction than any of the characters, though there are enough differences in their appearance to give some sense of individuality.  But what they do provide is an impressive sense of cold menace and especially of calculated and coordinated action.  The scenes in which they rise from the water, particularly en masse, make the film truly unforgettable, though one might well wish otherwise.  Of course, what one would wish for most is that these hypnotically menacing revenants had been used in a better movie, or at least one with more of Peter Cushing.  Still, what there is is more than enough to make the film worth watching.


One-Shot Week Part 8: Machines Don’t Bluff (from the Rookie)

Posted in films, one-shot with tags , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

For the last day of One-Shot Week, here’s one of my all-time most successful pieces, written as an installment of my fan novel The Rookie.  The novel was conceived both as a somewhat irreverent take on the source material and as a parody of Apocalypse Now, which I hadn’t actually seen at the time.  By the time I was about halfway through, I watched the film, and thought of some new directions, though the storyline didn’t change (pretty much an indication of how deeply it has been embedded in popular culture).  The major shift was having more travel scenes, including a scene or two set on boats.  It was at this point that I thought, completely out of the blue, of taking the most stereotypical of war movie interludes, and by necessity as much as anything else turned it completely upside down.  Here’s the scene, with introductions for the characters.

Unit 838: Model T777 combat cyborg, rising star in the ranks of an army of human-killing robots.  Career prospects set back after winning a battle against orders.  Sent on deep-cover mission against renegade cyborg as an alternative to being used for target practice.

Unit IX 303A aka “Davey”: Advanced spy cyborg.  Looks like eight-year-old boy.

Unit 105: New model.  Still has a few bugs.

54 hours had passed since 838 and IX303A “Davey” had been deposited on the Northern Arizona flood plains. Fortunately, the last 12 had seen a marked improvement in their situation. Davey had attracted a new transport, an HKM 115 hovercraft. The 30-foot craft cruised over water, mud and sand at up to 70 knots. In the bow, a standard HK torso towered like an oversized figurehead. In the rear, Davey and 838 rode with ten Model 789 terminators. Terminators rarely communicated with each other except for signals necessary to their mission, and the T789s were proving more taciturn than their predecessors. But the intelligence unit circled the deck, repeatedly querying the terminators verbally despite repeated transmissions of, Present queries in electronic form. Eventually, Davey exerted sufficient influence upon T789.105 to rope him into an exercise, along with 838. “We will practice a human exercise in psychological manipulation and risk assessment,” Davey said. “It is called a `poker game’.”

The three units sat in a triangle, and played with a deck of cards and rolls of pennies in 838’s duffel. Pennies had long become standard human currency, easily fetching a hundred times their pre-war value, and so were always issued to units on extended infiltration missions. Decks of cards also were usually provided: Though Skynet had limited data upon card games, and had found no relevant application for it, it had long been recognized that possession of this and other seemingly useless items improved the chances of being accepted as human considerably. Davey dealt the first hand, and Unit 105 won. “It is against the rules to use active imaging to scan the non-identical faces of the cards,” Davey said.

“But the mission objective is to determine which unit possesses the superior assets,” 105 said in a monotone painful to 838’s sensors.

“Yes, but mission parameters prohibit direct observation,” Davey explained patiently.

“Revising mission parameters,” 105 said.

838 spoke: “But what purpose do humans find in the exercise? They lack our sensory capabilities, but they must have found ways to identify cards with certainty. Once this had been done, the exercise would be obsolete.”

“They do have such techniques,” Davey said, after an unusual pause of 1.1775 seconds. “Identified forms include `marking’, `counting’ and `stacking the deck’. They are collectively known as `cheating’, and elicit extreme negative reactions from humans. Seven of thirteen attempts by a terminator unit to participate in a `poker game’ resulted in the unit being fired upon.”

838 dealt next, after Davey shuffled for him. 105 folded at the star. 838, possessing what he knew to be a strong hand, remained in. After three rounds in which each made the ante, he raised two pennies, and Davey raised four in response. He put in four, and Davey responded with eight. By then, the other T789s were gathering to observe. 838 did not feel what humans would have called temptation to cheat, but he experienced an unusual sensation, like what he felt in battle, but not at a known threat but at the unknown. After long seconds, he folded, then immediately looked at the other players’ cards. He had 3 kings, 105 had 2 jacks, and Davey had a jumble of number cards. “Your hand was worthless. Even 105 could have beaten you,” he said. “By probability and risk analysis, you should have folded immediately, as 105 did. Instead, you risked fifteen additional pennies. Why?”

T789.105 was more blunt: ” IX303C should be inspected for defect.”

“There is no defect,” Davey said. “It is called a `bluff’, and I am the first to emulate it successfully. Humans take pleasure in danger. Skynet has concluded with 99.734% certainty that that is the main reason humans play these `games’. Greater known probability of failure gives greater pleasure, and greater pleasure still when they win nevertheless. Success appears to depend upon the convincing simulation of confidence, through nuances of voice and physical posture, which are subject to ongoing study, and also by demonstrating the willingness to take risk.”

“For that alone, the humans deserve termination,” 105 opined.

“If they can take pleasure in proceeding despite the highest probability of failure, then they will never stop fighting us,” 838 said as he handed the deck to 105. “They could even enjoy it.”

“In all probability.”

“Might their resistance be a bluff?”

“Definitely possible. But Skynet can never be bluffed.”

838 decided he would like to bluff. But, unfortunately, there was no third hand. T789.105 tore the cards to shreds while trying to shuffle.

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

One-Shot Week Part 7: Re-Deanimator! Meg and Greg

Posted in Cars, Disabilities, films, one-shot, zombies with tags , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by David N. Brown

As a bonus for today, here’s another chapter from my “Re-Deanimator” project.  This was my real starting point for the project, and the raw elements were an “alternate history” homage to classic zombie movies, an atmosphere of domestic dysfunction and a single tableau.  I used subtle details to establish a “nineteen-eighty-something” frame of reference, and build up a backstory as I went along.  The part that definitely got a response out of people was actually the least-planned aspect of the scene.  As I commented privately after receiving feedback, I put it in where I did because, by the time I got there, it was what clearly fit these people.  It was also my intent even then to leave  a little ambiguity, which I think is an important aspect of the real issue.  I put up this scene in quite a few places, including a blog that is one of several  created (as was a consideration with this one) expressly to be seen in place of very bad stuff being circulated by a very bad person whom I regard as very much a real life counterpart to the kudlaks.


Meghan lived in the suburbs of a modest city in the desert. Her friends called her Meg, and she lived with Greg. She rose from the couch in the morning, as she had for the last five mornings, and confirmed that the light switch still did not work. She emerged from the den into the living room and went to the kitchen, where she discovered that the faucet did not work either. That was new. She went upstairs, past the photo of Greg, Greg at the office party, Greg at the wheel of his new Audi Quatro, Greg shooting his .454 magnum, and Greg with his big muscular arm thrown lazily around her neck, almost eclipsing her almost-new Chevette behind them.
Meg rapped on Greg’s bedroom door. “Greg,” she called out, “the water’s out.” She opened it. Greg was gone. She glanced at the dresser, and confirmed that the keys to the Audi were there. She stepped back into the hall, and saw that the door to the bathroom was closed. “Greg, I said, the water’s out.” She turned the knob; the door was latched. That was when she heard the thumping.
It was strikingly regular, one thump, a pause, and another thump, repeated, over and over. Meg pressed her ear to the door, and listened. Now, she could hear an unmistakeable swishing between thumps, and a hint of momentary scuffling: “Thump- swish- scuff- swish- thump…” She thought of a pendulum, and at that very moment, she heard the creaking, a sound just like some metal fixture, bending under considerable weight. “Greg,” she said flatly, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead against the door.
Meg’s eyes opened at a change in the rhythm of the sounds: “Thump- swiishh– thump- swishthump– swish- rrriiiiippp…” She lurched back at the crash and jingle of the shower curtains being torn down. The creaking grew louder, and then there was a tearing screech exactly like the shower head being wrenched right out of the wall and a crash exactly like a body falling into the tub. For a moment, she stood completely still. Then she backed up to the bedroom.
She found the magnum and two boxes of ammunition, exactly where she knew they would be. She scooped them all into her old overnight bag, shoved out of sight in the closet. On a whim, she grabbed the key to the Audi. She was gathering things in the den when she heard another crash. She scurried back into the living room and looked up the stairs.
The bathroom door had been knocked open with single blow, forceful enough to splinter the wood and lodge the knob in the plaster. At the top of the stairs stood Greg, in his business suit, with the shower head hanging from Meg’s nylons around his neck. His face was almost black, and his head lolled like a badly stuffed scarecrow’s. Yet, his gaze seemed to turn directly toward Meg, and with strides as stiff and even as a windup tow, he began to descend the stairs. She drew the magnum as she backed up to the door, and took aim, no doubt badly, at Greg’s face as she reached the bottom. She held her aim, as best she could with a gun whose weight alone was enough to strain her wrist, while Greg turned ponderously toward her. He stood there, seeming to stare, with his head lifted just a little higher and straighter. Finally, Meg put the gun back in the bag. “Okay,” she said, “you can keep the Audi.” She cast the keys at his feet, and as she made her exit, she saw him bend over to pick them up.
Meg had to cover some distance to reach the carport where the Chevette was parked, past two cul de sacs of identical two-story, two-unit townhomes and through a little park. On the way, she saw three wrecked cars and a dozen shuffling figures, one of which definitely turned in her direction before she went around a corner and out of sight. She used a shortcut that required vaulting over a low wall and dropping another foot to the asphalt. The only car in sight besides her little reddish-orange hatchback was a station wagon with a crumpled, blood-stained hood and the driver’s-side door torn halfway off its hinges. No bodies were in sight.
Meg dropped her keys trying to unlock her car, at the unset of sudden shakes. Her hands steadied as she put the key in the ignition, but began to tremble worse as she turned the key again, and again, and again. The first time, nothing happened. The second produced an abortive rattle. At the third try, the engine gave an apologetic cough before falling silent. Meg’s hands were shaking hard enough to make the key rattle in the ignition as she turned it yet again. The engine rumbled to life but then died with a protracted wheezing. She looked out the window, at the station wagon, The window frame of the door was bent. Her hand went still. She turned the key, and kept her hand on the ignition as the engine started, began to cough, and then worked back up to a steady rumble.
Meg made a tight U-turn in reverse, scraping the station wagon in the process and bumping into a support beam. Then she accelerated, approaching top (though still modest) speed as she peeled out of the parking lot and around a corner onto the street. She swerved to avoid a shuffling figure, only a child, but there was no taking chances with such a small car. As the car rounded another corner, the child turned belatedly and reached out for where the car had been. Its head lifted, as if staring, but any observer who met its eyes would have seen clouded lenses in no shape to see much of anything.
The Chevette was closing on 80 miles per hour as it roared toward the gates of the townhome complex. It braked and finally swerved for Greg, who stood in the middle. The showerhead was gone, but the torn nylons were still around his neck. His darkened face had lightened to a reddish purple, enough to make his features readily discernible. As Meg gazed out, her hands began to shake. It seemed to her that what she saw was indeed the Greg she knew. It occurred to her that his expression, especially, was the same he had worn on the night she made a discrete trip to the emergency room. As Greg reached for the door handle, the window went down, and a perfectly level gun barrel slid out. “Selfish ass,” Meg said. She had no awareness of firing the gun. She only felt the wrenching ache of recoil, and saw Greg drop with a half-inch red spot on his forehead and a substantial hole in the back of his scalp. As he struck the asphalt, the keys to the Audi tumbled from his hand.
After a moment’s pause, Meg opened the door and scooped up the keys.
David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona