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review 2015-08-16 16:08
The Freakshow review
The Freakshow - Bryan Smith

A couple of years ago I was a member of a horror board where Bryan Smith occasionally posted. That was good enough for me to seek out some of his work and I soon became a fan of the man's nasty, ultra-violent writing in which beautiful people were often perpetrators and victims of heinous crimes and unspeakable tortures. I had a brief exchange with Smith in which I asked him about his novel Depraved, at the conclusion of which someone else weighed in with a query about The Freakshow. Smith's response was surprisingly candid as he remarked (and I'm paraphrasing here) he wrote this one at a particularly dark time in his life and did not want to think too much more about it.

Wait. A book the author is too disturbed to talk about unless he has to? Yep, this one shot straight to the top of my "To Read" list.

Picking up after madness has descended on small-town America in the form of a travelling freakshow staffed by hellish monsters from another dimension with the goal of slaughtering everyone and replacing them with assimiliations that will one day seek to take over our world, The Freakshow is a depraved and disgusting piece of fiction ... and one that I found all the more enjoyable for its insistence on pulling no punches.

Where other authors would spend 200 pages detailing characters before subjecting them to the soon-to-be-arriving freakshow, Smith fleshes out his characters while they are pursued, captured, dismembered, raped and murdered by the freaks who cavort about the small town of Pleasant Hills. This makes for an immediately arresting read, so much so that the entire tone of the novel is set within the first ten pages. If these opening pages disturb you overly much, my recommendation would be to discontinue reading and pick up something more cerebral in nature. But if you dig the early taste you get, then strap yourself in, because Smith wreaks carnage as he slowly lays out the agenda of the freaks, and details a small rebellion brewing within their ranks. Meanwhile, main character Heather dumps her sadistic boyfriend and then has to survive within Pleasant Hills as she tries to rescue her disabled mother ...

The horror is full on; the gore graphic. Yet the tone somehow flirts with being so pulpy it's hard to take any of it overly seriously. I read this one like I read creature features - that is, so far outside the bounds of possibility that nothing really offended. Be aware however, there are some extremely troubling themes in this one (including rape and necrophilia), so my capacity in this instance to switch off my moral barometer may not to extend to all.

Which is to say that though is may not be for everyone, Smith's The Freakshow is a nasty, perverse trip into the sordid mind of a talented pulp writer, and earns this reviewer's recommendation.

4 Deflated Clown Monsters for The Freakshow.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/676931710?book_show_action=false
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review 2015-08-05 16:59
The Red Mohawk review
The Red Mohawk - Anonymous

There's an awful lot of 5 star reviews for this one out there, so I had to check out this tale of a masked killer wading through the town of B-Movie Hell (heh) in an apparently random killing spree. Said killer is pursued by two FBI agents, who know more about his origins than anyone, but who still don't know enough ...

It's a pretty straight forward set up, though author Anonymous - which feels like a massive marketing ploy - has fun twisting the narrative to fit with his skewed perspective of a world in which a rich prick can buy a town and re-name it anything he wants, have everyone of consequence in the town working for him, and proceed to objectify women to a ludicrously moustache-twirling degree. I mean, this is the type of character who at one point actually refers to his employees as "henchmen". He also seems to need a BJ every 15 minutes from one of the dancers at his club called The Beaver Palace.

The Red Mohawk is also also quite violent. Anonymous does not skimp on detailing the arterial sprays of blood caused by a meat cleaver, or the damage bullets do, especially when fired from dual uzis. So if sleaze and violence are your thing - think a throwback to exploitation films of the '70s - you'll probably have at least a reasonable time with this.

For mine, this was just okay. I liked certain aspects, including a mid-book shock I did not see coming, and tolerated others. At still other times, it all got a bit a silly and ridiculous for me, especially when it came to Mr Ultra-Sleaze-Ball-Beaver-Palace-owner. The twists in the plot are all fine, though they all centre around a large bit of dodgy logic I simply could not understand: (view spoiler)

The writing is nothing special. It's simple and easy to consume, if overly repetitive at times. Not bad enough to take your name off the title of the book, but nothing to be sending to literary agents around the world either.

In sum, The Red Mohawk is unlikely to win any major awards, but it is likely to entertain, if only in that uncomfortable "What did I just read?" kind of way. That said, it's been optioned to be made into a film, so what do I know? Check it out for yourself.

3 Parties Below the Waistline for The Red Mohawk.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1316131677?book_show_action=false
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review 2014-03-01 03:00
Sleaze and Cheese
Unsafe on Any Screen: Cinematic Sleaze and Cheese - Scott S. Phillips

Cross-posted on Soapboxing


I'm really trying here to come up with a Walter Benjamin quote about media studies and engagement with popular culture, and I'm totally failing, which is about right. Obviously, I spend waaaay too much time reading all of y'alls lovely, personal reviews of all kinds of books. Books I would never read; books I have been warned away from; books I've been ordered to read; books I have on the long and growing list that I will never complete because some day I'm going to die.

Even though I have less engagement with movies, as an art form, I compulsively read movie reviews as well. I have the reviewers I trust, and the reviewers I know that I can take anything they say and turn it inside out, so that a bad review becomes a recommendation. I have a passing interest in trash movies, but not a full-blown love affair. Mostly my affection for bad movies leads back to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the times I spent with my family watching MST3K. My immediate family, growing up, was all-female, and I still have the warmest of memories of watching bad movies on Thanksgiving, with my mother & sister, in lieu of the football that was de rigueur in most co-ed households.

Scott Phillips doesn't just have nostalgia to warm him when he watches grindhouse trash, he has a full-blown and well articulated love. This is awesome, and makes for a fine collection of movie reviews. Leonard Maltin, you may fu*k yourself. Many of the movies reviewed in this slender volume cannot be found on Netflix or even in your local video store, should you have such antiquated things in your location. You have to seek these movies out. They are made by people on no budget, with a group of friends, and a maniacal laugh. Or they were made on a budget and then disappeared. Phillips has an encyclopedic knowledge of the pedigree and taxonomy of trash cinema, so that he can draw lines between this director and that, this actor, this imprint, etc. Awesome.

I get the impression that this book started life as a blog, so some of the reviews are annoying short. Kind of like my - and many people's - early Goodreads reviews. But once he starts cooking, man, what a joy to behold. He has really weird grading scales: one about how many greased gorillas he'd fight to watch the film in question, and one about how many scotches, or whiskeys? it takes to get through the film. I endorse this. The scotch metric in particular, not because I especially love scotch, but because it can be either a bad or a good thing that a particular film is awarded the high scotch metric. I feel this way about a thousand things: that they are awesome, but they make me drink, or that they are terrible, and they make me drink. Or they are nothing at all and I remain sober. It gets at the whole deep ambivalence I feel towards so much stuff, even the stuff I love, in an intensely satisfying way. My only real complaint is that there is no index. At least the reviews are alphabetical.

What it comes down to is that I'm as fascinated by the critical process as I am with the art/trash in question, and this book is as much a love letter to the silly fun we have while watching bad movies as it is to the movies themselves. His exuberance is infectious, like an alien pathogen beamed down to a small Italian village that infects a scantily clad babe. It's going to eat someone's brains, but it might just take its top off before it does so.

Keep circulating the tapes.



Also, P.S., Scott is a friend of mine, which is how come I read this, in interests of full disclosure. I never know where to put these disclosures: at the front, like I'm defensive, or at the close, like I'm sneaking? I guess I'm going with sneaking this time. The thing is, there's no such thing as objectivity, so I'm not even going to pretend that the fact I think Scott, personally, is awesome didn't have an effect on my read. It did. But in this case, his balls-out love of his subject, his total commitment to the barrel-bottom of sleaze and cheese movies resonated for me. I know love when I see it, and he loves this shit. Amen. 

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review 2013-09-28 22:11
Sleaze Crossing - Maziar Sadree

Pro: Fratire that takes place during one night in LA. 

Con: Fratire is not for everyone. 


Pro: If you've lived in LA, you've met these guys. 
Con: The LA locations and name dropping are great if you know the city, but I worry that people who are not familiar with the metroplex won't understand some of the references. 


Pro: The story is told in little vignettes that are connected by the prologue and build toward the ending. 
Con: The huge chunks of conversation are jarring and take you out of the narrative.


Everything in this novel is connected, but it's not always apparent how one vignette is connected to another immediately. Each chapter slowly unravels the story line and the character's connections to each other. While reading this novel I kept thinking of the movie Go, where it was only after you heard everyone's stories that the night made sense. I also really enjoyed the little "a-ha" moments when a quick sentence or appearance built the connection. 


The first 20% of the novel could have used a stronger editor. There are chunks of conversation that jar you out of the story. Sadree's writing improves significantly throughout the novel and the issues/things I wanted to correct are mostly gone, including the way conversations were written. Which in some ways made me more frustrated, as Sadree is a talented writer who manages to capture the tongue-in-cheek humor that makes the entire "fratire" genre worth reading.


A quick note for those of you have never picked up anything in the "fratire" genre (i.e. Tucker Max), there is a lot of bodily function humor and women are always represented as two-dimensional cliches. Sadree does a good job of capturing the over-the-top, "you're never going to believe what happened" type of story telling that makes this genre entertaining. 


Overall, it was a quick, fun read and I'm looking forward to seeing what Saldree writes next. 


* * * I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. * * *

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review 2013-08-26 00:00
Sin-A-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties
Sin-A-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties - Adam Parfrey,Brittany A. Daley,Earl Kemp,Hedi El Kholti,Miriam Linna

The sixties saw an explosion of pulp novels, from high literature in disguise to stuff on display here. Shameful!

'Sin-a-Rama' is a fun flip-through -- the essays at the beginning did not really hold my interest -- with a very interesting appendix of authors and pseudonyms and publishing companies. For obvious reasons a lot of contemporary records weren't preserved concerning this particular branch of the industry.

The covers were bizarre fun, the excerpts shockingly untitillating. After reading 'Pulp Friction'  I'd hoped to see more than a dozen or so of the gay sleaze novels, but I'll have to look for a more selective collection.

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