At first glance, Phil Pendelton and his son Adam are just an ordinary father and son, no different from any other. They take walks in the park together, visit county fairs, museums, and zoos, and eat together overlooking the lake. Some might say the father is a little too accommodating given the lack of discipline when the child loses his temper in public. Some might say he spoils his son by allowing him to eat candy whenever he wants and set his own bedtimes. Some might say that such leniency is starting to take its toll on the father, given how his health has declined.
What no one knows is that Phil is a prisoner, and that up until a few weeks ago and a chance encounter at a grocery store, he had never seen the child before in his life.
A new novella from the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE TURTLE BOY and KIN.
(Subscribers to Digital 50 will receive this later today)
(This article was originally published in Cemetery Dance #62)
AN INVITATION TO THE DANCE
LEGION: EXORCIST III
I remember when the commercials for Legion: Exorcist III first started showing on TV screens in Ireland. I was fourteen years old, and although I hadn’t yet seen The Exorcist, thanks to the whole “video nasty” ban—that insidious restriction imposed by the church and browbeaten politicians (here’s looking at you, Mary Whitehouse) in order to protect impressionable children from what they deemed inappropriate material, I was well aware of the movie. It had, like so many of those movies blocked from our shores, gained something of a mythical quality by virtue of its banning. We would talk about it at recess, embellishing the things we’d heard to make it seem even more torturous to have been denied its horrors (I recall one kid telling us that there was a scene in the film in which a baby’s head explodes and a cat crawls out!).
I had, however, seen Exorcist II: The Heretic, which, considering the larger-than-life reputation of the first film, came as a great disappointment to all of those gathered there with the curtains drawn in my friend’s house one sunny Sunday afternoon. It confused us, made us wonder if perhaps we have built up the first film a bit too much in our febrile young minds.
But when those first trailers showed up on TV for the third installment, it looked like a completely different animal, and ample justification for our delight. But despite the many ad spots for Exorcist III, the film never hit the theaters on our side of the pond. Instead, it was relegated to the video stores and all but forgotten. Even then, it was hard to find.
Once adulthood starts lurking like a thief on the borders of adolescence, it’s rare that anything you were ever excited about delivers the same level of gratification. But years later, on a Bradburyesque Halloween night, I attended a midnight showing of the director’s cut of The Exorcist, digitally remastered, and I fell in love with it. It lived up to all my expectations (despite the conspicuous absence of the exploding baby), and I emerged into the crisp night air buoyed by the experience.
There is much that I can say about that night, and that movie, but The Exorcist has endured so steadfastly in the public consciousness that there is little I can add that hasn’t already been said, and said better, in the past, so let’s leave it at that and return to the point of this essay.
Inspired by that midnight screening, I hunted down a copy of Legion: Exorcist III. Unlike the original, I had few expectations when I sat down and slotted that VHS tape into the machine. As I’ve said, I believed nothing could come close to mirroring the sheer mind-blowing experience of the first film, but I had read the novel Legion, and was encouraged to see that it had been directed by the author of the book, so I kept my misgivings in check.
And I’m glad, because William Peter Blatty’s Legion (which is how I’m going to refer to it from this point on) is a terrific film, and has grown to become one of my all-time favorites.
In the company of horror fans, all you need do to indicate the movie you’re thinking of is mention one scene: a long static shot of a hospital hallway, silence broken only by the soft squeak of rubber-soled shoes and the muted crackling of ice melting in a glass. Then, an unexpected zoom-in on a figure shrouded in white wielding an oversized pair of stainless steel shears as it bears down on a pretty young nurse. It’s an incredibly frightening and masterfully crafted scene, and it has become an enduring memory for all those who’ve seen it. And it is only one of many notable scenes in a movie unfairly criticized at the time of its release.
The deranged lady crawling like a spider across the ceiling…
That voice in the confessional…(“…it’s a problem I’m working on, Father…all this…bleeding.”)
The jarring, incongruous faces on some of the religious statues (look carefully and you’ll spot them…)
The bizarre dreams of Heaven…
Had the movie been released bearing only the title of the novel upon which it is based, it might have been rightfully considered a solid, superbly written, and genuinely scary exercise in existential horror rather than a disappointing sequel to a seminal classic. It seems that audiences who went in expecting more crucifix masturbation, projectile vomit, uncouth demon spawn, or spinning heads, left somewhat chagrinned that the third installment in their beloved series had, much like the dreadful second entry Exorcist II: The Heretic, failed to emulate the original.
But to compare Legion to the original is to miss the point. There are of course, similarities, particularly in the nature of the protagonists in both movies (Father Karras in The Exorcist, and Lt. Kinderman in Legion), who believe more in Evil than Good because the evidence of the former seems more prevalent in the world they see around them, a perception that forces them to question their beliefs. But for all the questions and moral dilemmas raised in first movie, Legion takes it a step further. All the theological and spiritual questions are there, but rather than solely documenting the age-old struggle between Good and Evil, it almost seems to propose that evil may already have won.
Lieutenant Kinderman (the late George C. Scott, filling the shoes of the late Lee J. Cobb) is a decent man who has seen the worst the world has to offer over and over again and it has left him with a distorted view of the world, one in which the idea of devoting oneself to the worship of a higher power seems preposterous while children are being brutally murdered in direct mockery of that same devotion. Some of the best scenes in the movie center around the banter between Kinderman and his closest friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders, taking over for Reverend William O’ Malley). Kinderman takes no small delight in goading Dyer, in poking fun at his friend’s faith, but the humor is borne of the detective’s disgust with the world in which he exists, and nothing will convince him otherwise. And by the time the movie reaches its climax, the only revelation that Kinderman experiences is that he was right.
As is typical of Blatty’s work, both on the page and on the screen, the grim proceedings are offset with wry humor. Perhaps my favorite exchange takes place at the entrance to the movie theater where Kinderman and Dyer meet once a year every year to watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Kinderman’s anecdote about the carp (“if I see it moving its gills, I’ll kill it”) is hysterically funny but Blatty does not allow the light-hearted tone to last long, and immediately follows this scene with one in which Kinderman numbly relates to Dyer the gruesome details of a young boy’s murder. There are rapid switches in tone throughout Legion (though fewer in the third act), and they only make the humor and the horror more potent as a result.
The performances are uniformly excellent, from supports to leads, with Scott in top form as the embittered Kinderman. He is truly convincing as a man grasping at the last straws of his faith not only in God, but in humanity itself. His one and only breakdown in the movie is, though brief, a truly heartbreaking moment, and as mentioned, his scenes with Ed Flanders are worth the price of admission (or rental) alone. The late Jason Miller, as Karras (the only cast member featured in both the original and sequel) is not on screen for long, but when he is, we are told all we need to know by the deep lines in his face and the pallor of skin, the death in his eyes. Kinderman’s old friend is suffering.
But special mention must go to Brad Dourif (a favorite among horror aficionados) who delivers a wonderfully manic and terrifying turn despite being forced to sit in the same spot in a straightjacket for the entire time he appears onscreen. His sneering, seething, direct-to-camera diatribes are another of the movie’s highlights. We believe he is insane. We believe he takes an almost childish delight in being permitted to carry on his heinous work. We believe he is the Gemini Killer.
Legion is well-written, beautifully shot, and for the most part a great adaptation of the novel. But the movie’s greatest deviation from the source material becomes its biggest flaw. Apparently under pressure from the studio, Blatty altered the ending to include an exorcism and was forced to tack “Exorcist III” onto the title of the movie. Whether or not this was the case, the final sequence with Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) seems like an afterthought and somewhat cheapens what is to that point, a solid, cerebral and scary supernatural thriller. It is not, however, enough to ruin a great film. It just leaves one wondering what might have been had the producers been savvy enough to let Blatty ride his own train to the very end.
In the end, Legion is a thoughtful, well-executed study of man’s everlasting struggle against overwhelming darkness. And nowhere is it better emphasized than in that dark cell, when The Gemini Killer speaks to Kinderman. The old detective’s expression only further compounds one of the underlying messages at the core of the story: We, like Kinderman, will never fully understand why God allows monsters to roam the earth, or why terrible things happen to good people. We are never certain if there even is a God, or a Heaven. We only know what we’ve been told and shown, and led to believe.
Faith is fragile. Evil is certain
There are no immediate answers.
I very rarely do pre-made cover designs, as the custom projects take up the bulk of my time, but I’ve just added a page to my site which features the five pre-made designs currently available. You can also see them below (click on any of the covers to go to the design site). I’m offering a $100 discount on these, so if they fit your book, please do let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the comments here, as on the rare occasions in which I offer these, they go very quickly.
This limited edition print was inspired by the novellas The Timmy Quinn Series by Kealan Patrick Burke who won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award in 2004 for Turtle Boy.
THE PLAYWRIGHT is a new hand printed broadsheet written by Kealan Patrick Burke and printed with woodcuts and art by George A. Walker. Published by Biting Dog Press there are only 200 copies of this collectable work. Each broadsheet has been signed by the author and artist. This fine press edition of Kealan’s poem is printed on Arches Velin 100% neutral ph rag paper so that it is archival and will provide years of enjoyment. The whole project was printed on a Vandercook SP15 letterpress with each sheet fed into the press by hand one at a time.
Size: 11” x 15”
Paper: Arches Velin Cream rag paper with deckle edge
Edition size: 200 signed copies
Colors: 5 colours = gold hue, yellow tint, dark gold, orche, black
Mediums: woodcut, letterpress, polymer plate, Royal Barlock typewriter
PRICE: $60.00 each
Kealan’s text was prepared for the press by setting the type on a 1910 Royal Barlock typewriter. The runes were set using a newly designed Irish Runes font that we used to replace the roman letters that the Iliad text was set in. The woodcut was made on a piece of birch faced plywood. All the text was printed from polymer plates made at Boxcar press.
What do the RUNES mean? The runes when translated reveal a quote from Homer’s Iliad. Here’s the quote:
“Come, Friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so? Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you. And look, you see how handsome and powerful I am? The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life — A deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you, Death and the strong force of fate are waiting. There will come a dawn or sunset or high noon when a man will take my life in battle too—flinging a spear perhaps or whipping a deadly arrow off his bow.”
What is the PLAYWRIGHT about?
On the beautiful summer day in which 11-year-old Timmy Quinn encounters an odd boy on the banks of a local pond, his life changes forever. Over the next thirty years, he will be tasked with facilitating the vengeance of murderous revenants, reuniting them with those responsible for their deaths. In the process he becomes aware of the existence of The Stage, a parallel dimension where the dead impatiently await their chance to return and The Curtain, the veil that separates their world from ours.
Throughout the series, Tim battles all manner of creatures in his struggle, not only to survive, but to protect those he loves from being contaminated or killed due to their closeness to him.
Ultimately, Tim discovers that The Stage and The Curtain are only one of myriad realities, and that this one was man-made, accidentally, by The Four, a group of creatives who messed with powers they didn’t truly understand in an effort to fashion a “creative Heaven”. The process condemned one of them—William Godwin, a failed playwright—to The Stage, essentially making him its god. The play he writes “Nemesis”, is Tim’s story (the whole Timmy Quinn series of books, in other words), but whether he created Tim or just documents his life is unclear.
In the end, the only way Tim can save those he loves, and the very world itself, is to sacrifice himself by taking The Playwright’s place and writing the ending himself.
The poem is the voice of the PLAYWRIGHT!
Kealan Patrick Burke was born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, he is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of five novels (Master of the Moors, Currency of Souls, Kin, The Living, and Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn), over a hundred short stories, four collections (Ravenous Ghosts, The Number 121 to Pennsylvania & Others, Theater Macabre, and The Novellas), and editor of four acclaimed anthologies, Taverns of the Dead, Quietly Now: A Tribute to Charles L. Grant, Brimstone Turnpike, and Tales from the Gorezone, proceeds from which were donated to children’s charity PROTECT.
In what little free time remains, Kealan is a voracious reader, movie buff, videogamer (Xbox), and road-trip enthusiast.
A movie based on his short story “Peekers” is currently in development through Lionsgate Entertainment.
George A. Walker is a letterpress printer and book artist. He holds an MA in Communication and Culture from Ryerson and York University. He was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) in 2002 in recognition of his achievements in Canadian Book Arts. He is an Associate Professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University where he teaches book related arts in the Printmaking program. He is the graphic novel acquisitions editor for the Porcupine’s Quill and has six titles in print with them. He is the author of the popular how-to book, The Woodcut Artists’ Handbook (Firefly 2005) now in its second revised edition (Firefly 2010), and he is recognized for his art history book on wordless novels, Graphic Witness (Firefly 2007) which has sold over 16,000 copies and an anthology of his own wordless books titled, Written In Wood (Firefly 2015) Since 1984 his letterpress printed artists’ books have been collected internationally by institutions such as the University of Toronto, Morgan Library and Museum N.Y., Columbia University, N.Y. and Princeton University N.J. and the Victoria and Albert museum in London England.
You can preorder THE PLAYWRIGHT here.
Critical buzz can be a dangerous thing because high expectations are generally made to be quashed. This has happened to me so many times I’ve lost count. The most recent example was the independent horror film It Follows, which, while certainly a way above average example of a fright-flick done on the cheap, left me a little disappointed. Blurbs like “the best horror movie of the decade” are hard to take seriously, and indeed, It Follows, for me, despite doing everything right, did not live up to that claim. Few movies could (though I would argue that The Babadook, a similar critical darling, certainly comes close.)
So with all that in mind, nobody is more surprised than I am to find myself typing these words: Mad Max: Fury Road is far and away the best action movie of the past decade. Nothing even comes close.
It’s important to say up front that while I have seen all three of the original Mad Max movies, I was never blown away by them. They have since my initial viewing sometime in my teens faded into obscurity, and any desire to revisit them has been tempered by the awareness that they are not likely to have aged well. The trailers alone are a pretty safe indication of that. Critical reevaluation of the trilogy by better minds than mine have only compounded this fear. What was good at the time, may not be so good now. All of which is to say that I don’t consider myself a big fan of the Mad Max films.
But I’m a major fan of Fury Road.
For months I’ve been excited by the trailers, which promised what was seemingly impossible, and in the back of my mind, I fully expected to be disappointed once I saw the film and realized all the best parts were in the trailer.
Five minutes into the movie, my hair stood on end and stayed that way until the credits rolled. It’s a film that starts with a bang and rarely relents. My muscles were sore from tensing during the seemingly endless action sequences, every single one of which is delivered with such mind-blowingly chaotic finesse, it’s hard to fathom how they were pulled off, particularly when you learn that 90% of the stunts were done by real people (gymnasts and acrobats) and not a computer. The explosions are real. When a car detonates, deteriorates, and fills the frame with flying debris, while actors weave in and out of the shot on poles, it’s all real and happening in-camera. Your eye doesn’t know where to go; your mind struggles to process the sheer amount of madness happening onscreen, and all of it takes place against a beautifully shot apocalyptic landscape. Cinematographer John Seales (who won an Oscar for his work on The English Patient) deserves serious praise for making this wasteland beautiful. It helps that the world in Fury Road is not your typical bleached out landscape, but a study in contrasts. Just as you get accustomed to the deep reds and vibrant yellows, you’re plunged into moody blues (a brief scene in a swamp with “stilt-walkers” remains one of my favorite and completely unexpected moments from the film.)
So, the action is completely off the wall, relentless, and choreographed in such a way that your jaw will be on the floor. It’s an insane combination of art gallery/rock opera/ballet/circus, and it truly has to be seen to be believed. For me, that would be enough to give Fury Road four out of five stars.
It gets a fifth star for delivering something else I didn’t expect: poignancy.
By now you’ve probably heard that some morons out there have decreed that Fury Road tricks men into going to see it, only to subject them to what these fine examples of fuckery have decided (without seeing it) is essentially a femi-nazi propaganda film intended to debase men and celebrate independent women. It emasculates us, these idiots have declared, and forces us to endure what’s ultimately a female-centric action film. We have been duped!
What I didn’t expect and loved was that Fury Road is indeed a female-centric action movie. I know, I know, we’re all fed up of those by now, right? What’s next, Michael Bay doing a remake of Steel Magnolias or The Hours? Puh-leeeaze. Oh wait, those weren’t action movies. Okay then, uh…how about Planet Terror, or…Bad Girls, or…shit, I’m out. Oh, I got one! Alien, Aliens, and…uh, Terminator 2! Those count because they were actually mainstream big budget releases that did well and were critically celebrated and happened to have a strong female character in the almost-lead role.
So, right, you get the point. Stick a woman in a big action movie. Have her not be a complete cardboard character who runs, ducks, screams, and is anything other than a love interest waiting to be rescued by your steroidal action hero, and you instantly get props.
Mad Max: Fury Road goes wayyy further than that. And it does it without trying to direct attention to itself, pandering, or belittling its intended audience. Tom Hardy might get main billing, but there’s absolutely no question that it’s Charlize Theron’s movie. She’s as tough (and at times tougher) than Max. She’s bitter, haunted, vulnerable, and fierce. Her mission to ferry a quintet of slave-women, or “breeders” across the desert and away from their captor does not rely on Max’s assistance. It would have happened without him. In fact, at times he’s the one who depends on her, and is quite possibly the lesser of the two warriors (witness a notable sequence in which, with three bullets left, he shoots at a target and misses twice, only for Theron’s character to prop the rifle on his shoulder and hit the target first time.)
At first, the women being taken to safety appear as Victoria Secret models, scantily clad and washing themselves off with a hose. This is misdirection, the film’s cheeky way of saying “we know how this looks, but just wait.” A few seconds later, Max washes blood off his face, not with water, but with mother’s milk. From there, it becomes clear that the movie is about a world blown to shit and poisoned by men who have taken what they want and declared themselves the inheritors. Women have been reduced to baby-makers, controlled by these monsters. “We are not things!” screams a woman to her enslaver. Later we see one of the “breeders” cut a chastity belt off with a pair of bolt cutters before glaring at Max, the only guy in the scene. The same character, pregnant, bares her belly in defiance from the door of the vehicle being attacked, which confuses every attacker in the scene, all of them male. Throughout the film, women are associated with beauty and strength, the true bearers of the power, while the men are largely single-minded, violent, and mad. It’s a wonderful reversal of how women are generally depicted in these kinds of films. That it’s here, in this film, is even better. The whole world will go to see Mad Max because, yes, it’s an action movie. What you can’t say about it, no matter how the trailer makes it look, is that it’s a mindless one. It’s a lunatic orchestra of everything we go to movies hoping to see. It’s also, astoundingly, a quiet reminder of the things we didn’t know we needed to see, and should already have known.
A few stray observations:
* The guitar-wielding psycho and the drummers atop the truck/amp stack may be my favorite part of any film ever. Those dudes need their own spinoff.
*It was only afterward that I read that the pole-mutants are actually Cirque du Soleil performers. Knowing they did all that insane shit without safety nets/cables only makes the spectacle of what was accomplished during those sequences only more mind-boggling.
*I want a hedgehog car.
*Couldn’t help but think of Duran Duran during the War-Boy’s chant near the beginning of the film.
*Tom Hardy needs to start choosing roles in which he is *not* required to wear a mask.
*A more apt title for the film would have been Mad Maxine. And if rumors are to be believed, the next film will focus even more on Charlize Theron’s character. That to me, is a smart move, and I’ll be there, front and center.
Focusing on Internet trolls and vengeance, my latest short story “The Red Light is Blinking” is now available to read for free at Nightmare magazine and Dread Central. Alternatively you can download the complete magazine for Kindle at Nightmare magazine or Amazon.com.
And you can read the nonfiction postscript “Random Acts of Silence” on this very blog here.