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by G. Christopher Williams

28 Oct 2009

There are also a few badly-scared champions of the formal or the classic mystery who think no story is a detective story which does not pose a formal and exact problem and arrange the clues around it with neat labels on them. Such would point out, for example, that in reading The Maltese Falcon no one concerns himself with who killed Spade’s partner, Archer (which is the only formal problem of the story) because the reader is kept thinking about something else. Yet in The Glass Key the reader is constantly reminded that the question is who killed Taylor Henry, and exactly the same effect is obtained; an effect of movement, intrigue, cross-purposes and the gradual elucidation of character, which is all the detective story has any right to be about anyway. The rest is spillikins in the parlor.
—Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

In attempting to distinguish the hard boiled detective story from the kind of “parlor” detection of traditional British detective fiction, Raymond Chandler suggested that a distinct difference emerges in the interests of these two subgenres of mystery.  The latter “classic” form is concerned with solving a formal problem.  Hard boiled or American crime fiction is more concerned with setting a tone and resolving mysteries through movement, intrigue, cross-purposes, and the elucidation of character.  What this difference boils down to in practice is that detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot become logicians that draw conclusions based on careful studies of evidence and formal problem solving all while sipping tea in the parlor.  Detectives like Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade don’t so much investigate by reasoning out solutions as much as they get their hands dirty by wading into the muck of the world that a crime takes place in in order to see what might shake out.

The British detective is brilliant, insightful, and driven by logic.  The American detective is persistent.

by Tyler Gould

28 Oct 2009

This song is brand new, taped from the audience with surprisingly good fidelity at the NBC Experience Store.

by AJ Ramirez

28 Oct 2009

Question: What happens when you put members of the Stooges and the MC5—two of the rawest, most powerful bands of their day—in a band together?  You end up with the five minutes of sustained awesomeness that is “City Slang”.

Sonic’s Rendezvous Band featured drummer Scott Asheton and guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith from the aforementioned Detroit protopunk groups.  After those ensembles imploded in the early 1970s, Smith assembled the band and cut “City Slang”.  Due to internal band tension, the planned b-side “Electrophonic Tonic” was pulled prior to the single’s 1978 release.  But in a maneuver of sheer ballsy simplicity, the group remedied the situation by simply placing “City Slang” on both sides of vinyl, in mono and stereo version.

Now, any rock song of that breaches the five-minute mark (much less one that appears on both sides of a vinyl single) needs to have either an interesting composition, a hypnotic quality, or tons of charisma to keep listeners engaged.  Sonic’s Rendezvous Band opted for the latter, delivering a powerful rocker with lurching grooves and a stuttering vocal hook.  There’s a killer bass breakdown in the middle, and a great ending where the band just rides out chord progression as Smith’s guitar delivers pummeling eighth-note rhythms.  The group even works in a piano into its assault.  To think, this was the only material released while the band was still active.  In a time when punk was insisting that rock had to be short, fast, and loud, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band demonstrated to the new kids that two out of three could be even better.

by Lana Cooper

28 Oct 2009

Underground filmmaking goes episodic! 664: Neighbor of the Beast is a guerrilla web series in its second season. Rife with unabashedly campy humor melded with a dab of the macabre, each webisode crams a surprising amount of character and plot development into its ten-minute (or less) installments. 

The brainchild of director/producer George O’Connor, 664 was conceived as a contest entry to create a television pilot.  O’Connor enlisted local, amateur filmmakers and pals, Gary Greenbaum and Alex Kaloostian, to help. Their entry didn’t win the contest, but the fleshed-out (albeit low-budget) concept of a suburbanite family that moves next door to a surprisingly congenial Satanic Majesty proved so popular, they decided to turn it into a web series. O’Connor’s wife, Tracy, along with fellow lead actors Arthur Laurie and Tony DeMauro pull double-duty as part of the show’s writing team, as well.  For an amateur production squad of just six people, 664 manages to be highly entertaining on a shoestring budget. 664: Neighbor of the Beast can be seen on YouTube or on the Lazy Horde Productions website.

by Bill Gibron

27 Oct 2009

Gather around neophyte fright fans, it’s time for a long overdue lesson in what is truly scary. Somewhere along the way, you’ve been misguided, believing that being startled equals a feeling of dread or a shorthand for suspense. For the record, both emotional responses are completely and utterly different. Shock is a sudden sensation, one that comes from the unexpected or the unanticipated. A car pulls out in front of you as you precede through an intersection; the cat jumps on your computer while you are cluelessly chatting with your Facebook pals; a door slams or a vehicle backfires while you weren’t paying attention - each one of these situations produces a considered response, one that can have a deleterious effect on your psyche. You’re jumpy. You’re afraid. But unlike being truly scared, such a feeling is merely temporary, a momentary lapse before rediscovering your fairly consistent everyday comfort zone.

No, fear is literally spine tingling and chilling. It seems under your skin and raises the fuzz on the nape of your neck. It brings about sleepless nights, eyes open as the darkness descends on your already anxious thoughts. Being scared is being constantly reminded of the reason for your fright, of being unsettled for no obvious reason except for the subject of said terror. A loud bang might bring about a couple of minutes (or hours) of unease, but the sensation soon goes away. Terror should be something that sticks to you like a leech, sucking away your resolve until you can no longer stand the stress. Being startled therefore is not the same thing, and as a result, any movie that functions as a series of jolts is nothing more than the cinematic version of a defibrillator. It may be startling, but it’s not also scary.

Last weekend, Paranormal Activity was the Number One film in the nation, raking in almost $22 million at the box office. Declared by some limited perspective websites as “the scariest movie of all time”, this $15K clunker is really nothing more than 90 minutes of meandering followed by five minutes of predictable “BOO!”. No attempt is made to deliver suspense, to take the viewer through a collection of connected scenes leading to an unholy feeling of trepidation. No, like those YouTube video where people tell you to look closely at the screen before a photoshopped version of Regan MacNeil’s devil face pops up and causes you to jump, director Oren Peli realizes he can’t get you with style or storytelling. So he sets up a video camera, cranks up the stillness, and then systematically showers the viewer with nothing more than anticipatory, formulaic surprise. Again, it’s startling, but it’s not scary.

A couple of years ago, another unlikely hit, The Strangers, followed a similar format. Though we did have the notion of blood and gore as a byproduct of the shocks, the entire movie was made up of two people responding to door knocks, window crashes, footfalls, and the sudden appearance of masked mugs. Again, there was no attempt to get the audience to identify with the plight of the people involved (not the failed relationship aspect - the being surrounded by psychos part) and after the initial jolt, director Bryan Bertino went right back to boring us to death. Indeed, the false scare has been a scary movie mandate since the beginning of the artform. Before complicated elements and psychological chills became part of the fright flick landscape, the carnival dark ride ideal was the main creative ploy used by artists and hacks alike.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to define scary. Being startled is almost universal. You have to be incredibly laid back or uber-cynical not to flinch when something comes unexpected flying at you (as in Paranormal Activity‘s finale). But fear is a lot more ambiguous. It’s like phobias - some people can’t stand heights, while others would hang out at the top of a tall skyscraper if they could. Others hate bugs or certain types of animals while others embrace these subjective fear factors. Going back to something said previously, being scared is about being disturbed, about worry that won’t go away, about dreading the next image or idea coming up on the screen (or into your brain). True, some can mistake the adrenaline rush of a probable shock as something akin to the scary experience, but true terror comes not only from what is seen - it’s the unknown element or concept that is waiting around the narrative corner, claws sharp and fangs caked with grue.

As mentioned before, The Exorcist is an example of one of the scariest movies of all time. It’s definitely shocking and highly upsetting, but there is more to it than crucifix masturbation and a Satan influenced potty-mouthed adolescent. William Friedkin used the unusual setting to discuss the growing generation gap between ‘70s youth and supposedly tuned-in parents, exploring divorce, separation, and selective parenting along the way. Author William Peter Blatty tapped directly into the lingering superstitions surrounding religion and its rituals while referencing a supposedly real life case of possession. The combination created a kind of perfect supernatural storm, the constant bombardment of evil and everyday explanations setting the stage for a finale so horrific it remains a genre classic.

Similarly, Dario Argento brought a Mediterranean view of macabre to his brilliant horror crime thriller Deep Red (Profondo Rosso). Using a standard whodunit set up (a famous psychic is killed, and a jazz musician tries to find out who…and why), the famed filmmaker takes us through a wicked whirlwind of childhood trauma, familial secrets, and one of the creepiest abandoned manors ever. All the while, blood sprays, gloved killers conspire, and a horrific atmosphere is manufacture out of pure visual wonder. Like The Exorcist, Argento’s movies (including Suspiria and Inferno) function as psychological stumbling blocks. They do not let you rest. You cannot easily forget them. And when the time comes to turn off the lights, to try and settle in for a little sleep, the visions created in both efforts lie right along with you, replaying in your tired, troubled mind over and over again.

Unless a tree limb falls on your roof overnight, memories of Paranormal Activity are not going to disturb your slumber. It’s like a rollercoaster or other amusement park thrill ride - a few moments of empty edge of the seat thrills followed by a slow fade into memory. Indeed, the embracing of this idea as scary seems indicative of the contemporary tread toward better-than-instant gratification. We want our pulse quickened and we want it now! No time for character development or careful plotting. Shock us, startle us, and then let us get back to our cellphones. If that’s all you want in a horror film, there are perfectly perfunctory examples of same currently showing. Once you’ve been jolted and jostled, why not give some real fear a try. Then you will hopefully know what truly is “the scariest of all time.”

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