Category: edgar allan poe

Mr. Andy Kaufman’s Gone Wrestling

Man on the Moon: written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; directed by Milos Forman; starring Jim Carrey (Andy Kaufman), Danny DeVito (George Shapiro), Paul Giamatti (Bob Zmuda), and Courtney Love (Lynne Margulies) (1999): Terrific biopic of enigmatic, innovative 1970’s comic Andy Kaufman, whose often surreal bits helped inspire such acts as Pee Wee Herman and about a thousand others. Jim Carrey shines as Kaufman, though he generally plays the classic Kaufman performances scattered throughout the movie a bit more broadly than Kaufman did as seen in existing recordings.

The movie takes its name — not to mention its musical lietmotifs — from the 1992 R.E.M. song “Man on the Moon.” The title refers to various conspiracy theories about the lunar landing as an oblique way to comment on conspiracy theories about Kaufman’s death in 1984. Because of Kaufman’s love of hoaxes and disguises, many believed that he faked his own death as yet another stunt. In an odd way, Kaufman’s Hoaxy side put him in a proud American tradition dating all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe, another Hoaxy fellow whose early death seemed (and still seems) like a hoax to many.

At the very least, Carrey deserved an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Looking back at the 1999 Oscars, I find it hard to view Kevin Spacey’s Best Actor-winning turn in American Beauty as anything other than ridiculous. It’s not just that this is fine work from Carrey — it’s also tremendously funny work. The Academy may undervalue comedy, but in acting, comedy is the hardest thing to do.

Danny De Vito and Paul Giamatti are also great as Kaufman’s agent and head writer, respectively. The movie plays a bit fast and loose with the order of events to create a more standard Hollywood narrative. However, the movie also mocks this rewriting of history in Carrey’s opening monologue. So there is that. Milos Forman and the writers keep everything both brisk and information-packed. This is a surprisingly informative biopic. Certainly we get a much better grasp of Kaufman’s life and work than we did of, say, Stephen Hawking’s in The Theory of Everything

There’s also a refreshing bit near the end that debunks New Agey mystical cures for diseases such as cancer, capping this film with a moment in which a dying Kaufman laughs at accidentally seeing behind the curtain of another performer’s hoax. Highly recommended.

The Great White Space by Basil Copper (1974)

The Great White Space by Basil Copper (1974): The recently deceased Basil Copper gives us a splendid homage to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, with perhaps a smidgen of Moby Dick, in this tale of an expedition into a mysterious cave system located beneath mountains somewhere in Asia. The exact location is never given because the narrator doesn’t want anyone to follow in his expedition’s footsteps for reasons that become abundantly clear as the narrative progresses. He only is escaped alone to tell thee.

Narrated decades after the (thankfully fictional) attempt of the 1932 Great Northern Expedition to penetrate the mysteries of that cave system, The Great White Space goes not into the southern polar regions (as Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, Jules Verne’s The Sphinx of the Ice, and Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym did) but beneath the Earth.

Copper devotes a lot of space and detail early in the text to explaining the technical and logistical preparations for the descent and then the long voyage to ‘The Black Mountains’, where the entry to the cave system exists. Along the way, two different and somewhat odd Asian tribes are met, and possible taboos about entering the caves encountered. The natives do not go in there, through an artificial cave mouth that stands several hundred feet high.

Once inside the system — which is, to use a favourite Lovecraftian adjective, cyclopean, as in monstrously huge — the expedition soon discovers that the entire cave system is artificial, carved or somehow otherwise scooped out of the rock through unknown technological means. Something lurks, of course, though much of the terror of the novel lies in what comes before the Big Reveal.

Unnerving details and an attention to both the squeamish and the Sublime build to the revelation of what waits in the region of The Great White Space, a region paradoxically located miles beneath the Earth. There are things in bottles, a library, and great forms glimpsed in the distance, coming closer. And there comes occasionally from far off the sound of enormous wings.

Some may find this brief novel a tad slow — the horrors come on-stage fairly late in the game, and explanations are abandoned in favour of mystery and dread. I quite liked the modulation of this novel — it’s quiet and it demands concentration, but it’s a page-turner nonetheless. Highly recommended.

100 by 54

100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories: edited by Al Sarrantonio and Martin Greenberg with stories by Washington Irving, Chet Williamson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Donald A. Wollheim, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Al Sarrantonio, Henry Slesar, Richard T. Chizmar, Avram Davidson, Gary L. Raisor, E. F. Benson, Saki, Frances Garfield, Mark Twain, Phyllis Eisenstein, William F. Nolan, Ed Gorman, Eric Frank Russell, Melissa Mia Hall, Joe R. Lansdale, Ruth Berman, H. P. Lovecraft, Edward D. Hoch, James E. Gunn, Robert Sheckley, Barry Pain, Fritz Leiber, Richard Laymon, Jerome K. Jerome, Ramsey Campbell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Norman Partridge, Juleen Brantingham, Barry N. Malzberg, Thomas F. Monteleone, James H. Schmitz, Frank A. Javor, E. G. Swain, Bernard Capes, Nancy Holder, Charles Dickens, William Hope Hodgson, David Drake, Mort Castle, Bill Pronzini, Dennis Etchison, Charles L. Grant, Susan Casper, Rudyard Kipling, Sharon Webb, F. Paul Wilson, Manly Wade Wellman, and Stephen Crane (1993).

Fun, long anthology of horror stories of ten pages or less, arranged alphabetically. The book covers a range of about 150 years, starting with Dickens and Poe and ending up in the early 1990’s with Norman Partridge. It’s entirely inevitable that I’ll find some of the selections odd and some of the omissions odder.

What I do like, though, are the multiple selections from Donald A. Wollheim, known much better now as the founder and name-giver of DAW Books, but also a fine short-story writer. “The Rag-Thing” is a terrific little piece, as is “Babylon: 70 Miles.” In a perfect world, I suppose one could ask that every story be written by a different person. And in my perfect world, the parodies would be in their own anthology, as neither a Twain nor a Jerome K. Jerome piece raise any hair at all (nor are meant to, as they parody the form and content of ghost stories).

I’ve noticed this penchant in a lot of horror anthologists — there’s always a couple of parodies that aren’t scary and were never meant to be. But there they are in something labelled ‘horror.’ I actually don’t get it. There are great humourous horror stories of various types, and there are extremely subtle parodies that can still work as a horror story.

However, the overt ‘ha-ha’ stuff just seems out of place in a horror anthology because it isn’t actually horror. Is there some unconscious nervousness about horror’s respectability that causes the insertion of the parody into a non-parodic anthology? I don’t know. I also dislike not knowing the year a story was published, but I seem to have grown resigned to anthologies generally omitting what I think is a necessary piece of editorial machinery. In any case, recommended.

Invasions and Degradations

It Came from Outer Space: adapted by Harry Essex from a short story by Ray Bradbury; directed by Jack Arnold; starring Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff) and Russell Johnson (George) (1953): Surprisingly thoughtful and methodically paced 1950’s alien-invasion movie from the great Jack Arnold, with an assist from Ray Bradbury, who actually wrote much of the screenplay.

The Arizona landscapes make a perfect backdrop for a story of paranoia and infiltration that doesn’t go where one might expect it to, given its Cold War origins. That’s the Professor from Gilligan’s Island (Russell Johnson) as a power lineman. If any screen aliens are the parents of Kodos and Kang from The Simpsons, it’s these aliens. Recommended.

The Raven: written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston; directed by James McTeigue; starring John Cusack (Edgar Allan Poe), Luke Evans (Detective Fields), Alice Eve (Emily Hamilton) and Brendan Gleeson (Captain Hamilton) (2012): Often jarringly anachronistic dialogue is the only major problem with this solid period thriller (it’s set in Baltimore in the late 1840’s). John Cusack makes an interesting Edgar Allan Poe, doomed (as history and the opening scene tell us) to die under mysterious circumstances within days of the movie’s beginning.

But first he has to help a police detective stop a serial killer who’s modelling his killings on Poe’s short stories. Things look great, and the direction is moody and effective from V for Vendetta ‘s McTeigue. But boy, the dialogue stinks at points, and there are also several points at which the writers seem to lack a basic knowledge of Poe’s body of work (when asked if he’d ever written about sailors, Poe says no, apparently forgetting The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, and about half-a-dozen other stories. Well, he is drunk and opium-besotted much of the time).

Luke Evans is also effective as a hyper-rational detective right out of a Poe — C. Auguste Dupin, to be exact, the fictional ancestor of Sherlock Holmes. Oh, and there’s no Oran-Outan in the movie, dammit, though Poe does have a pet raccoon whose fate is left unresolved at the end of the film. They’ve also got Jules Verne (who homaged Poe in From the Earth to the Moon with the space-faring Baltimore Gun Club) starting his writing career about 20 years early. Either that or the serial killer is also a time traveller. Recommended.