An Interview with Laird Barron


            If you read modern horror fiction, then you must've come across the name Laird Barron. And remembered it. Not only because it is pretty unique and memorable in itself, but because his writings are, too. Laird Barron is certainly one of the best new horror authors. He has a recognizably vivid, pictorial, no-nonsense style while his themes are commonly connected with the kind of cosmic horror that H. P. Lovecraft made all his own. Now Barron is putting his own distinct stamp on this fertile field – with more testosterone than found in your usual bookish antiquarian HPL-inspired works.  
His latest collection came out a few months ago, titled The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All (published by NightShade Books, just as his two previous collections and the excellent novel The Croning). It contains some of his best work ever: my favorites are the novellas "The Men From Porlock", where the mystical horror of the woods leads to an even darker horror of the caves, and "Blackwood's Baby", about hunters becoming hunted by the primal Beast… but all of the others are more than worthy additions to cement his recent reputation as "the scariest writer alive". 
            Here's the interview I did with him for the RUE MORGUE magazine: parts of it were used for the article which appeared in the April issue (a big thanks to its editor, Dave Alexander, for allowing me to publish this online). This is its first appearance in its full, original form.

- How do you feel about the label "Lovecraftian" on your prose? Of course, not implying that it's derivative and imitative, but merely as a tool in description. What's your attitude to the Old Man from Providence and his prose? How did his writing affect you? And how do you feel about some other "pulp" SF-horror writers from that era?

It is, as you say, a tool, critic/reviewer shorthand, and it doesn’t faze me. Although, I am occasionally bemused when something of mine is labeled Lovecraftian and is quite objectively not. I count Lovecraft as a strong influence, but no stronger than that exerted by Peter Straub, TED Klein, or Cormac McCarthy. At the top of his game HPL was a much better stylist than his detractors will admit. Before I found my own voice, and that was an age and a half, I was enamored of his baroqueness. While that luster has faded for me, I remain an admirer of his vision.

Growing up, I read a lot of H. Rider Haggard, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, and a slew of other authors who staked out pulp territory back in its glory days. Those are some of the guys who taught me the fundamentals. How to tell a story being lesson one.

- In terms of genre, horror seems to be pretty central to your interests as seen so far. There are spices of SF, action, spy, adventure, noir, western... but the main meat is usually horror. Do you have plans for stories or even novels where the main meat would be something other?
Basically, this question is about another label – how do you feel about the term "horror" (do you prefer "weird" or "strange" or...?) and, regardless of the term, what are your feelings about the genre?

I enjoy horror in its numerous manifestations. Much as I like category horror, it bores me a bit these days.  My preferences increasingly lean toward its use as a spice, rather than as a course. The great strength of the genre is its mutability, its chameleon nature, the way it can be insinuated into other genres. Take McCarthy’s Blood Meridian —there’s a historical western that’s energized and transformed by the infusion of horror and dark mysticism. It’s a landmark horror novel that will never be recognized as such by the main body of readers or critics, and in a perverse way, that’s the ultimate compliment a genre author can be paid.

I’m working on a crime novel and a number of stories that are horrific, if not explicitly of the horror tradition.

- It seems to me that some very interesting things are happening in horror literature today, with the overall level of quality higher than in the golden days of mass popularity brought by Stephen King in the early 1980s. Do you agree? Please discuss.
What do you think about horror literature today? Which contemporary colleagues would you single out?

It’s a tough call, comparing the eras. Hard to beat a young King, Barker, or Straub. Michael Shea and Karl Edward Wagner were smashing stories out of the park. TED Klein, too. So were many others. On the other hand, yes, the racks were glutted by dreck and that led to an implosion, not just commercially, but also perceptually. The average reader identifies horror with garbage from the ’80s and ’90s. In some respects the subsidence of mass market horror has done a great service to the genre —the rise of independent and small presses and their willingness to publish literary takes on the subject matter has led to a kind of renaissance. There might be less volume, but the quality is often impeccable.

There are a number of exemplary figures at work, but let me point to a handful of them: Livia Llewellyn, Sarah Langan, Dan Chaon, Stephen Graham Jones, Gemma Files, Kaaron Warren, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Gary McMahon, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, Joe Pulver, Matt Cardin, Norman Partridge, Lucius Shepard, Chesya Burke, and so on. I’m giving some terrific authors short shrift because the list would be too long. Suffice to say, the field is healthy. We’ll look back fondly on this era, I am certain.

- This is your third story collection and you have two novels published. Is this predominance of stories over novels a matter of circumstances or of your general preference to the shorter form (stories, novellas)?

Oh, it’s a little from column A and a little from Column B. I’m addicted to the short form, and have been since childhood. Collections from Dahl, King, and Barker very much sustained my creative soul and influenced my own writing. That said, I’ve written a couple of novels and am in the process of completing more. I imagine my bibliography will be fairly balanced between the forms when all is said and done.

- What's next coming from you? Any novel in preparation? Would it in any way be a continuation of the mythos of your previous novels?

I’ve a number of short stories scheduled to appear in 2013 and 2014, but mainly I’m working on a crime novel at the moment. Very dark stuff. After that, there’s a collection and another novel, both set in Alaska, both horrific and at least peripherally connected to material from my previous works.



Country :
South Korea

SF / Action

Running Time:

Gee-woong Nam

Cast: Lee So-Woon, Kim Dae-Tong, Bae Soo-Baek, Kim Ho-Kyum, Yang Hyuk-Joon

0 (ZERO)

Story: The first 7 minutes, out of the 60, are made of opening credits. Nothing interesting whatsoever happens during them. In the following 32 minutes, a hooker (I'm not sure if she's teenage, but she's certainly nothing to write home about) is impregnated and killed by her 'teacher', revived by hack-saw 'scientists' and turned into a poor man's cyborg. She is unleashed upon her wrongdoers in the 39th minute of this mess (that's only 17 minutes before the end credits). Of course, nothing interesting whatsoever happens during the entire 49 minutes of the film proper. The end credits are mercifully shortened to mere 4 minutes, and, of course, just like in the opening 7, nothing interesting whatsoever happens during them. 

Review:  TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs!
I'm not against opening credits: they can be an art-form in themselves. They prepare you for the film, introduce the mood, the setting, the atmosphere, they can be enjoyable in themselves, like a short movie of a kind... But, those you get in REAL cinema. The opening of TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE perfectly announces the insipid time-waster that follows by showing 7 worthless minutes of a girl roaming around the city streets, accompanied by a forgettable, stupid music and the endless crawl of names no one should ever bother to read or remember.

TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie. It is a title that never bothered to provide a substance to be attached to. And by 'substance' I do not mean a profound meditation on human condition and the plight of raped schoolgirl hookers around the world. No, I mean the kind of substance one can reasonably expect from something that advertizes itself as a TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE. Rape, tits, perversity, mayhem, slaughter, gore, body parts, imaginative death scenes, weird cyberpunk imagery. Stuff like that.
None of that will be found here. The only 'sex' scene consists of repetitive close up shots of a guy's ass (luckily, in trousers) pumping at the 'teenage hooker' against the wall. Cyberpunk imagery? How about a group of giggling 'scientists' with a hack-saw, whose overlong 'operation' is intercut with a pointless opera singer? Their creation is surrounded by cheap plastic tubes. GHOST IN THE SHELL, eat your heart out! Gore and mayhem? Gotta be kidding me. A tit blown-off, a few splashes of red, and that's all. Here's a free advice: if you're after sleaze which, unlike this crap, actually delivers, try GUTS OF A VIRGIN and ENTRAILS OF A VIRGIN for a change. They ARE stupid, but at least they do not cheat you with endless nonsense. They deliver on their promise.

It is one thing to try something, and fail. But it is a completely different, and most despicable affair when a product (I refuse to consider this a movie) does not even try. TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is a spiritless affair whose makers were assured there would be enough morons in the world to buy or rent a DVD solely because of its title, cover and basic plot. Since the director Gee-woong Nam was too lazy and talentless to even bother trying to develop the concept into something resembling a movie, he decided to stretch scenes way beyond the running time they require, so as to forcefully fill the 60 minutes. Other than the 11 minutes 'worth' of credits, you're also treated with a 2 minute long wailing of a granny who hates the noise in the streets. Two minutes of an ugly crone thrashing on the floor: "Why are they making all this noise? Why don't they leave an old woman like me alone? Why, oh, why? etc." Other memorable scenes include the 5 (five!!!) minutes of the hooker's single uniterrupted close up in which she slowly mumbles insufferable platitudes about her love to her teacher, willingness to leave the job for him etc. Whatever could be stretched – was stretched. Emptiness had to be filled somehow. With no budget, no imagination, no spirit, no inventiveness, no care, no regard for the audience – all they could think of was: prolong everything. This may be 'only' 60 minutes long – but if you're foolish enough to watch it, it'll seem like eternity. 

Because this thing is not a movie, it does not deserve to be treated as one. That's why this is not a movie review, but a warning: TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs!




Conducted by Dejan Ognjanovic

Goran Marković's Već Vidjeno (Déjà vu, aka Reflections, 1987) was the purest horror effort made in Serbia to that date; it is included in the second edition of Phil Hardy’s Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror (1994). I wrote about Déjà vu in BFI's 100 European Horror Films (Steven Schneider, ed.), British Film Institute, London, 2007, pp. 63-64, and about Marković in Steven Schneider's 501 Movie Directors, Quintessence / Barron's, London / New York, 2007, p. 498. 
Variola Vera (1982) is a title which refers to the Latin name for smallpox, and the film is loosely based on a real event. In 1972, an Albanian Moslem from Kosovo was infected by smallpox on his pilgrimage somewhere in the Middle East, and upon his return to Serbia he caused an epidemic in the Belgrade City Hospital, since his symptoms were not immediately recognised. The film's director, Goran Marković, uses the disease as a metaphor: it provides a distorted mirror for an unhealthy system... He explains how he came to make this cult film which mixes disaster and horror movie formulas with an auteur approach.
(My review of this film is HERE)


-- In your film, it is the society who is generating horror and psychosis... What is your attitude to horror films and how consciously did you use horror genre in making Variola vera?  

What I have done was to abuse the elements of the genre. I've never made a real genre film, primarily because I didn't think I was able to, and also because I felt no need to examine the possibilities of a genre. Variola vera is, I would say, first of all, a disaster movie, where these elements of horror, so to speak, are used sporadically. 
What I did was to gather material that was concealed, regarding the real event, the epidemic of smallpox in Belgrade in 1972. It was 1982 when I was making the movie, and all the time, in those ten years in between, the truth about the epidemic had been concealed. I was conscious that there must have been some kind of cover-up.
When I reconstructed the events I found out that there was a disease that had not only its biological but also social aspects. And the story of the epidemic to me has served to place doubt on the validity of the society in which we lived.
I carried this film with me when I taught film classes in New York. The American students who saw it, they only perceived a story about the epidemic. What they failed to see is that it's also a story about a society, about a sick society. But that sort of thing happens when you try to use metaphors, symbols etc. But such were the times back then.

--- What kind of research did you conduct?  

During the research I was very much helped by a brochure on smallpox, and a voice recorder that I used with doctors who wanted to talk to me. I was afraid that they would not want to talk if they knew I was recording them, but once it so happened that it clicked when the tape came to an end and then they found me out. I was ashamed.
That's what I basically did: a reconstruction of the story. When people enter the quarantine they wear those white protective suits, it's one of those horror elements which seemed attractive to me.  
It is interesting that Erland Josephson came to shooting the film immediately after working with Bergman, on Fanny and Alexander, and he asked what language to use and I said 'In English'. The first scene was with the Albanians from Kosovo. We found them at the railway station and took them to play the relatives of the deceased Rexhepi. When they came to the set, it was the first time that they've ever seen a film camera, and we had Josephson speaking in English, they are using Albanian, there are also Serbian actors... It was an incredible set of people!

--- You mentioned the Albanians, and this inevitably imposes a comparison of coincidence of the premiere of your movie which happened just one year after the massive Albanian demonstrations in Kosovo, in 1981. Was there an intention to present the disease as a metaphorical version of this type of risk coming from there?

No, it was factually quite authentic, I just changed the name of the man who brought the smallpox virus to Belgrade: in the film he is called Halil Rexhepi, while in the real case his name was Rexhep Halili.  
As for the opening sequence, I also had this one idea that horror fans would've liked. It was supposed to happen on a cult place for Islam, and that is the tower in Samarra. It is absolutely a masterpiece of architecture and rhythm. It somewhat resembles the Tower of Babel, it's like a pyramid, made up of a spiral road which climbs to the summit. This path is widest down, at the base, and as you get above, it gets very narrow. So, the idea was for this Albanian pilgrim to climb the spiral, and I wanted the originator of the disease, with his flute, to be on the very top.
But it is true, at the time of premiere, there was a critic from Zagreb, who wrote that Variola vera was anti-Albanian film and that I suggested that evil comes from the Albanians...

--- At the time of the film's premiere it caused some controversy because some people recognized themselves or their relatives in certain characters of the film. 

It was only a matter of relatives of one of the nurses. I have a character whom I presented as the mistress of a doctor on duty, but that was my creative freedom, it was not based on any specific real character.

--- Could you summarize, in a nutshell, what Variola vera is about?   

The theme of an individual against the dark forces is what haunts me and I think that's what surfaces from the initial analysis of a society in which there is little hope for individual happiness and harmony.


BAD TASTE by Jim Barratt

BAD TASTE by Jim Barratt
Wallflower Press
(London, UK – distributed in the US through Columbia University Press)


The guys of the 'Cultographies' series are back at it again, with some new titles! We've already presented their first three books on this site: THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, DONNIE DARKO and THIS IS SPINAL TAP. You'll remember them as the slightly more accessible variety of what BFI is doing in their 'classics' series: small, serious but readable accounts of the production, evaluation and influence of some major modern titles – in this case, devoted entirely to ''the weird and wonderful world of cult cinema''. The series editors, Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, now proudly present Jim Barratt's analysis of Peter Jackson's cult classic, BAD TASTE.
            In its form, the book stays close to that envisioned for the whole series: it opens with a personal note (how the author came across the film, what it meant for him back then, what it means for him now), continues with behind-the-scenes facts of the painful birth process (always a fun read when it comes to the usual guerilla filmmaking in the low budget arena!), culminating, of course, with the analysis (what, exactly, makes the particular title the object of a cult following? what does it all mean? what's the significance? etc.) and further relevance for the genre it belongs to and to (cult) cinema in general.
            The author, Jim Barratt, is a fine choice for this book: as a former Film and Video Examiner for the British Board of Film Classification he can provide some rare facts about the various censorship issues that BAD TASTE sometimes encountered, and how, eventually, it was cleared of that danger in most countries, passing uncut in spite of its copious amounts of splattering gore, vomit, goo and the like. Obviously, BAD TASTE was one of those rare instances in which someone actually paid attention to the context of its set-pieces, and the context justified the exception. 
Even the censors were able to recognize that all of the 'bad taste' on display, including exaggerated dismemberments, geysers of blood etc. were used for obvious humorous purpose, in a context that's more infantile than 'nasty'. Barratt also rightly points to the similarities between Jackson's peculiar 'splatstick' (splatter + slapstick) and Monty Python's memorable uses of similarly extreme and intentionally goofy effects, like in the famous gore-galore sketch of "Sam Peckinpah's SALAD DAYS" or in the unforgettable episode from MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE with the gluttonous, obese man who gorges himself (and vomits every once in a while) until he explodes all over the fancy restaurant.
            Because of its comedic elements, together with bits and pieces of other genres (Sci-Fi, action, etc.), Barratt claims that BAD TASTE is not really a horror film at all: other than the splatter effects (used for comedic effect), there is no evidence of suspense, fear, creepiness or anything remotely scary (unlike, say, some other splatter-horror comedies, like THE EVIL DEAD or RE-ANIMATOR). Thanks to its light-hearted tone BAD TASTE could expect a better understanding among the frowning censors around the world, and it is certainly one of the keys of its general appeal. Nothing is really dark or edgy about it: it's a series of juvenile 'sick', but essentially inoffensive jokes in which no one (and nothing of value) is really hurt. There is no deeper point, no relevance, no subversiveness to speak of, except the most basic puerile provocation of lavatory humor and childish 'bad taste'.
            It's an exercise in style by a budding filmmaker trying to draw attention to himself by a calculated effort to make a CULT film. There is plenty of evidence in the book that Jackson knew what he was doing, right from the start (see the excerpt from the letter in which he asked for financing from the officials). "BAD TASTE was actively marketed and distributed in ways designed to solicit cult status", says Barratt (page 52). But, significantly, he adds: "But for the film to be adopted as such by its audience, it has to offer them something different, some special qualities worthy of their devotion." Jackson did offer something new and, eventually, rightly got where he is now. 
            The first three films analyzed in the 'Cultographies' series all dealt with some significant issues: gender roles in ROCKY HORROR; time, death and sacrifice in DONNY; rock culture and documentary genre in SPINAL TAP. Unlike them, BAD TASTE is not really about anything, and that may be the reason why this volume is some 20 pages slimmer than the previous entries. Although short, this book is by no means lightweight, and serious tools are used to analyze what little there was to be analyzed. 
It also provides numerous amusing anecdotes and facts about the film (especially the local, New Zealand specific references lost on many international viewers), but one feels much more of the similar material could've been used to make the text somewhat weightier. At least, the book points to numerous sources (articles, books, even web sites) which might be valuable to those cultists willing to explore more background of one of the most inauspicious debuts in the history of cinema. From rags (BAD TASTE) to riches (LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Oscars etc.).   
The other new 'Cultographies' titles are devoted to Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL and SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY. On the other hand, those interested in BAD TASTE's older (and better) splatstick brother can eagerly anticipate the announced EVIL DEAD volume. Stay tuned!
Originally published at Beyondhollywood


RUE MORGUE: New Horrors!

 You have one more week left to grab the April issue of RUE MORGUE #132 with some great stuff in it – and some of it may be mine.
In this one you can find my review of SLEEP TIGHT, one of the best horror-thrillers of the past year, directed by the Spanish master Jaume Balaguero, whom I had the pleasure to meet at last year's Grossmann film & wine festival. Something tells me you're likely to read my interview with him in some other RUE MORGUE-related thingy pretty soon.
Also, in the CLASSIC CUT, at the very end of the mag, there's my praise of one of the most important books about horror film ever written – and certainly and without doubt THE most important reference book on horror cinema around the world in existence: THE AURUM FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR (aka THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR in its later, updated edition). If you haven't discovered this gem so far, take a look at my reasons for such a praise before you try to buy this hard-to-find item.
Finally, so far as my contributions to the mag are concerned, there's a feature article devoted to Laird Barron and his latest collection THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL. He talks about his influences (especially Lovecraft and pulp authors), about horror and noir-western-crime elements in his fiction (that's why the article is titled GODS & GUNS), and there's also my overview of his latest book's highlights.
Sadly, a very rare and unexpected thing happened: the book was due to appear on April 2. Instead, just a few days later, news broke that its publisher, Night Shade Books (who also published his two previous collections + excellent novel THE CRONING) is on the verge of bankruptcy and will most likely be bought by another company – provided their authors agree to the new conditions. The book remains in a limbo while this whole thing with Night Shade Books is satisfactorily resolved, but while you await this truly wonderful and deservedly highly anticipated collection, here's a gift from Barron to all of his devoted readers – a free story on his site, as a sign of appreciation for your patience and support. Check this exclusive horror tale HERE!
So, hurry up, and grab this EVIL DEAD issue of RUE MORGUE (its full contents are HERE) while it's still available.

Only a week from now it will be replaced by the latest – devoted to BRITISH HORROR FILM, new and old. This year commemorates full 40 years since the classic THE WICKER MAN (1973), and to celebrate the May Day, RUE MORGUE offers brand new interviews with the director Robin Hardy and star, Sir Christopher Lee
I'm author of the interview with Christopher Lee since I had the honor to meet and talk to the living legend, also at Grossmann film & wine festival. Read it to see why Lee considers THE WICKER MAN his personal favorite among all the films he's ever been in.  
I believe issue #133 will also feature my review of John Langan's wonderful second collection, THE WIDE, CARNIVOROUS SKY AND OTHER MONSTROUS GEOGRAPHIES, available from Hippocampus Press. Give it a chance – it's great stuff (and has an afterword by Laird Barron)!

By the way, RUE MORGUE has just received Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for the Best Modern Magazine and it also got one for Best Magazine Column (It Came From Bowen's Basement by John W. Bowen). 
The very same RM was also shortlisted or second-tied in several other categories:
Best Themed Issue (RM#127)
Best Multimedia Horror Site (The Rue Morgue Podcast),
+ honorable mentions in  
the Best Convention (RM's Festival of Fear)
+ Best Article ("Ghosts of Horror Past: 25 Films That Have Been Lost to the Sands of Time", by Kelly Robinson, RM#124).
            The full list of Rondo Awards can be seen HERE.
            I'm really happy and proud for the opportunity to give my modest contribution to the best existing magazine devoted to horror in cinema and culture!




Masahiro Okano, Shigehito Kawata, Naoki Kusumoto, Toshikatsu Kubo

Cast: Joe Odagiri, Naota Takenaka, Masa Endo, Masaya Kato

Running Time:
4H 30


Story: PRAYER BEADS is a nine-episode horror series. Each 30 minute episode stands on its own (in spite of a lame attempt to tie them all together in the last one), and each will be dealt with separately.

EPISODE ONE: PRAYER BEADS (director/writer Masahiro Okano)
A pregnant woman, a psychologically unhinged friend and her missing husband, apparitions in their darkened apartment, mysterious connections between them all and the culminating zombie revenge are elements of this concoction.
I've always hated the phrase 'not bad for its kind', but it just sums up this episode perfectly: while not original or deep in any way, at least it tries to be as scary as possible with its limited means and déjà vu elements, and ends up as one of the creepiest episodes of this series.

EPISODE TWO: VENDING MACHINE WOMAN (director/writer Shigehito Kawata)
This is what happens when a young pair goes on a vacation unprepared: not only have they not checked on the place in advance, but even worse, they're going there with no soft drinks whatsoever. So, when the girl is thirsty in the middle of the night, her beau has no alternative but to go to a creepy shack several miles down the road through the woods, and take a few cans of queasy juice from a wending machine nearby. The effects of this juice, however, lead to a wonderfully extravagant conclusion.
This is a favorite episode among many, and I can see why: the isolated setting is creepy, and the outré ending is reminiscent of some crazy stories of early Stephen King, where weirdness awaits you just off the beaten path, with no rhyme or reason. It also features the series' most elaborate physical effect: it is a bit on the cheap, rubbery side, but is still quite effective in its merging of the organic and mechanic, sort of like a poor man's David Cronenberg meets a poor man's Screaming Mad George.

EPISODE THREE: IT’S ME (director Naoki Kusumoto)
Young thugs intend to extort some money from an old lady. But, in Japanese horrors, old ladies are not to be fooled with! Besides, who is observing the criminal behind the closet door?
For my money, this was an endurance test, a bore-fest with a predictable twist not worth waiting for.

EPISODE FOUR: REAL (director Masahiro Okano)
A respected surgeon (Masayo Kato, from GOZU, AGITATOR, SAMURAI RESURRECTION…) suffers from headaches which make him untrustworthy and unbalanced in the middle of an operation. So, this man of science goes to a comic-book-creepy guy who wears a cloak and hides his face even in his living room, and accepts a mysterious "cure" with a side-effect or two. That's when he really enters the world of pain…
I have a weak spot for downward-spiral LSD-trips, so this portrait of a madman as a young surgeon had its moments (i.e. his visions), but was mostly dull and uninvolving in the remaining part, and lacks a real punch.

EPISODE FIVE: MUSHROOM HUNTING (director/writer Masahiro Okano)
An otaku boy meets a nice girl meets a date-rape jock over the internet. What do they do on their first encounter in real life? Why, they go to the woods for some mushroom hunting, of course. And what do they do when a comic-book-creepy guy (cloak, rags, hidden face and all) warns them not to proceed any further, or at least not to enter a witch's cabin? Well, of course they continue until they come to a cabin where a creepy old woman offers some nice mushroom soup. They were asking for it!
Other than being completely silly, unbelievable and trashy, this episode is quite passable. The acting is somewhat better than the usual (low) standards of this series, while mushrooms grown from human bodies are always a nice thing to see. 

EPISODE SIX: EDDIE (director Toshikatsu Kubo)
It begins like a precursor of Korean THE HOST: in a river, under the bridge, there is a creature, and a bunch of spectators (and even a TV crew) are crowded on the bank. However, the said creature is a cute, seal-like thingee with those big sad-puppy eyes. How could it be dangerous? And what's a little telekinetic boy doing there?
You can never go wrong with giant vagina-monsters, and this episode proves this time-worn truth once again. OK, they are CGI, and rather poor CGI at that, but hell, it's giant vagina-monsters anyway, rampaging on the river bank and exploding all over the place. What else could you possibly want from your entertainment? Perhaps more money and physical creature effects instead of CGI, but… beggars can't be choosers!

EPISODE SEVEN: ECHOES (director/writer Naoki Kusumoto)
An old man and his wife exert a revenge on the men responsible for abducting their grand-daughter and selling her to the hospital for body parts. Is this a subtle satire on the underbelly of Japanese health-care system, unrivalled even by Michael Moore's SICKO, or just an excuse for some cheap CGI body-damage effects? You decide!
Once again, I wish they went with practical effects instead of (very poor) CGI! I mean, come on, guys, it's XXI century, and if you cannot make Joe Odagiri (BUGMASTER, SHINOBI, BLACK KISS, AZUMI) explode better than John Cassavetes did full three decades ago, in de Palma's THE FURY, you should bow your heads in shame! The story is dull and unconvincing on too many levels, even for this kind of Tales from the Crypt scenario.

EPISODE EIGHT: CAT’S PAW (director/writer Masahiro Okano)
A bullied boy (is there any other kind, except for bullies?) receives an unexpected help from an internet portal and a fuzzy cat-like creature through anime enactments of his three wishes.
Stylistically different at least in the sense that half of its running time is actually animated, this is a variation of the classic 'be careful what you wish for…' story, W.W. Jacobs' MONKEY'S PAW. We've seen millions of variations on the theme, including one on THE SIMPSONS, so why not an anime one?

EPISODE NINE: APARTMENT (director Masahiro Okano)
What starts as a grueling family dinner from Hell ends up as a mess of a very different and silly kind.
There are two completely disjointed halves here: in the first one, a psychotic father torments his wife and two kids; in the second one Mr. Okano tries to include visual references to all previous episodes, regardless of the fact that none of that makes any sense, and so 'wraps up' this series in a haphazard way.

All in all, PRAYER BEADS is a decent, though not too inspired attempt to make a Japanese version of TALES FROM THE CRYPT (without the Crypt Keeper foolishness). It means it's trashy, cheap, clichéd, unconvincing and mostly dull, over-reliant on special effects (Masahiro Okano's real profession), with occasional flashes of inspiration scattered here and there. It is very low on atmosphere, mood and scares; when it attempts something of the kind, it ends up being silly, comic-book-like in the worst, most dated sense (think EC comics of the '50s as the paragon). Obviously shot on video, its visuals are workmanlike, bland, often banal or downright ugly, more appropriate for the SCHOOLGIRL IN CEMENT kind of snuff-like horrors than to something that's supposed to be scary. Nevertheless, there's quite enough for undiscriminating viewers to enjoy here, so if you feel like some low-brow horror fun for the whole family, go for it!




            Carl Panzram is unique among serial killers in several regards. First of all, he was the most nihilistic and misanthropic of them all. He was not partial in his hatred because he did not hate only women, Blacks, Jews, hookers... "I don't believe in man, God nor Devil," he wrote. "I hate the whole damned human race, including myself." He had no hopes, no illusions about either himself or the world which he saw it in all its depraved and brutal clarity. "I wish you all had one neck and that I had my hands on it" said the man who described himself as "the spirit of meanness personified".
            The second quality which raises him above practically any other serial killer on record: he was a truly lucid, intelligent and sensitive (!) person, and the autobiographical writings and letters he left behind make for a uniquely profound read, at the same time shocking and touching. He's a true philosopher among the serial killers, and his words have the power to resonate like the best lines from Hemingway, Chandler and William Burroughs: clear, cruel, vivid, witty and precisely to the point. No bullshit there. No-nonsense, straight for the jugular, that's Panzram for you.
            Raised in poverty, hard labor, ignorance, bestial violence and abuse, Panzram met only cruelty wherever he turned: family, school, church... it was all the same. His Golgotha through the soul-crushing brutality of corrupt institutions culminated in the correctional center for youths which only strengthened his bleak worldview and proved that, sadly, "might makes right". He was fully formed when he was only 14: "I was so full of hate that there was no room in me for such feelings as love, pity, kindness or honor or decency, my only regret is that I wasn't born dead or not at all."
            A few years later, while still a teenager on the run from home, he was gang-raped by four hobos. "I cried, I begged and pleaded for mercy, pity, and sympathy," he wrote later, "but nothing I could say or do could sway them from their purpose. I left that box a sadder, sicker, but wiser boy." He felt literally and metaphorically fucked by everybody, and decided that from then on, HE would be the one to fuck everyone he could: "In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all of these things I am not the least bit sorry. I have no conscience so that does not worry me." In a world in which you either eat or are mercilessly eaten, his motto became: "Rob 'em all, rape 'em all, and kill 'em all."  
            At long last, Panzram's colorful life story – and his views, inseparable from it – became the subject of a feature-length documentary. The long wait ultimately paid off because Panzram got the treatment he deserved from John Borowski, independent filmmaker and author of two previous, equally superb documentaries on America's serial killers from the late 19th and early 20th century: H.H. HOLMES (2004) and ALBERT FISH (2007). This means that Panzram ended in truly devoted and more than able hands. The resulting film, CARL PANZRAM: THE SPIRIT OF HATRED AND VENGEANCE, is a true paradigm of how to make a great documentary on a subject like this.
            Borowski presents Panzram from as many angles as possible. Understandably, his hands are somewhat tied by the fact that Panzram lived in the early decades of the 20th century (he was executed in 1930), which means that there are no living witnesses, no current first-hand accounts, no direct video or film footage of him or scenes relevant for his deeds. Borowski had to rely on the few existing photographs, news clippings and facsimiles of Panzram's writings. The closest he comes to a direct footage is an archive interview with Henry Lesser, ex-prison guard: the only person ever to treat Panzram like a human being and the one who made him write his autobiography, smuggling and preserving his papers later on. Without Lesser we wouldn't have any record whatsoever of a rich and inspiring human being that Carl Panzram certainly was. This interview exists only on a poor quality VHS cassette, but it's a valuable document and the worthiest asset among the extras on the DVD.
            What he couldn't get through direct footage, Borowski more than compensates with the use of said photographs and writings, but also through archive film materials from the period and, especially, through brief but colorful re-enactments. Three actors portray Panzram in the three crucial stages of his life: Brett Jetmund plays Charlie Panzram in his formative, pre-teen years, David Salmonson is the young Carl Panzram (in his 20s, when he did most of his killings) and Tom Lodewyck plays the somewhat older Carl Panzram as an inmate of various prisons before he was hanged at the age of 38. The perfect cast does a great job of embodying the abused abuser, "the spirit of meanness personified" but also the human being behind the mask of a monster.
            Another layer of quality is added by the narration by John Dimaggio (best known as the voice of Bender from FUTURAMA): he reads numerous well-chosen quotes from Panzram's writings using a grave whisper somewhat reminiscent of Kiefer Sutherland's "psycho" voice.
            The film provides an insight into the conditions which created this "monster", trying to understand his crimes without justifying them. This is a tricky thing: defending a person (as a victim of various circumstances) without defending his crimes, without glorifying him or turning him into a hero. Panzram's spirit of total negativity can be hypnotic and attractive for modern-day nihilists: his attitude of an almost Burroughsian TOTAL OUTLAW is very inspiring while many of his saying are highly quotable. Still, this shouldn't make us forget that this man has raped and killed at least 22 men. Especially unforgivable are his brutal rapings and killings of several pre-teen boys. They are mentioned in the film, briefly, but only in passing, while Panzram's cold-hearted reminiscences of them are NOT quoted. This is a pity, because paragraphs such as this one shouldn't be glossed over:  
"I grabbed him by the arm and told him I was going to kill him. I stayed with the boy about three hours. During that time, I committed sodomy on the boy six times, and then I killed him by beating his brains out with a rock... I had stuffed down his throat several sheets of paper out of a magazine. I left him lying there with his brains coming out of his ears."
This is the kind of crimes that earned him the label of a monster, much more than the one single killing (of an abusive prison employee) which eventually led him to the gallows. Other than that, the film does a fine job of balancing the life and times of this man and of putting him into a proper context. Panzram certainly was and is a telling sign of an age. Many bigger social, psychological, ethical and philosophical issues are reflected in and around him: from (in)human treatment of prisoners through the problem of psychopaths all the way to the questions of good and evil, right and wrong, human laws vs. higher laws... A big help in shedding some light on those questions comes from a superb selection of a wide array of relevant participants who talk on camera.
Thus, the documentary includes valuable insights from SCOTT CHRISTIANSON, PhD, author, investigative reporter, and scholar who specializes in crime and punishment; 
JOE COLEMAN, artist who has painted a portrait of Carl Panzram, who he sees as a "kind of unholy saint of nihilism: the very shadow of Christ"; 
MARK GADO, a police detective whose story "Carl Panzram, Monster of Minnesota" (2004) won a Page One award for one of the top three magazine articles of the year;
DR G. THOMAS GITCHOFF, a criminologist and professor of criminal justice at San Diego State University and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine in La Jolla;
JOEL GOODMAN, Federal Bureau of Prisons Retiree, an expert on jail, prison and community corrections operations; 
 KENNETH LAMASTER, Leavenworth Penitentiary Historian;
CHARLES DUDLEY MARTIN, Robert Stroud's Missouri Attorney;
ROBERT RAY, Head of Special Collections and University Archives at San Diego State University which holds the original, handwritten Carl Panzram Papers;
JASON SCHUBERT, curator of the J.M. Davis Gun Museum (which keeps several Panzram related paraphernalia, including the rope he was hanged by) 
and last but not least - KATHERINE RAMSLAND, PhD who has a master's degree in forensic psychology from the internationally esteemed John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master's degree in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has published thirty-one books, including The CSI Effect, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator, and The Forensic Science of CSI.
            With their contributions CARL PANZRAM: THE SPIRIT OF HATRED AND VENGEANCE becomes as layered a story of the unique individual of Carl Panzram as one could possibly hope for. 
            Clocking at 80 minutes, the film could certainly use some more material without being overlong or repetitive. The extra features on the DVD actually contain many scenes which could've been used in the film. For example, most of the DELETED SCENES (approx 10 minutes of them) deserve to be IN the film itself, as they contain telling information and add further shades of Panzram's character (esp. the issue of being TRUTHFUL and /not/ honoring his word).  
            MAKING OF feature (approx 25 minutes) also contains at least 15 minutes' worth of material that could've been IN the film. It has very little actual footage of making of the film – instead, it offers many additional pieces of interviews and re-enactments not seen in the film proper.
INTERVIEW WITH HENRY LESSER (approx 45 minutes), like said above, is a priceless document and a more than welcome addition to the DVD (although most of the best bits are used in the film itself).
Other extras include: PRODUCTION STILLS (accompanied by a song about Panzram), TRAILERS and a DETAILED VIEW OF JOE COLEMAN'S PANZRAM PORTRAIT (which is helpful indeed, considering this artist's style of collage with numerous very tiny and minute details, photos, drawings and quotes otherwise hard to decipher).
            If I were to nitpick in an almost perfect film, I'd say that it could've presented some more detail about Panzram's afterlife in pop culture and elsewhere. The book PANZRAM: A JOURNAL OF MURDER by Thomas E. Gaddis and James O. Long, which was the first to reveal the full story about this man, including copious excerpts from his writings, is barely mentioned. The film KILLER: A JOURNAL OF MURDER (1995) by Tim Metcalfe, in which James Woods portrays Panzram, is not even mentioned. While Panzram is certainly not a "star" even among serial killer buffs, he has his own cult and his shadow spreads over some significant films. For example, his quote "I wish you all had one neck and my hands were around it" serves as a motto to a Serbian horror-comedy DAVITELJ PROTIV DAVITELJA (Strangler Vs. Strangler, 1984) by Slobodan Šijan, while his words "Today I am dirty, but tomorrow I'll be just DIRT" open the film DER TODESKING (1990) by Jorg Buttgereit. References to these and other possible examples would be just footnotes – but perhaps worthy of inclusion so as to further flesh-out Panzram's ghost which still haunts us.
            In spite of these quibbles, CARL PANZRAM: THE SPIRIT OF HATRED AND VENGEANCE is obviously a work of devotion, love and knowledge, self-financed and created among hardships which, thankfully, don't show up on screen. It manages to become the definite story about this unique man – and to show why his story is still relevant and haunting.
            Strongly recommended!
        The best way to get this DVD is to order it directly from the filmmaker's site http://www.panzram.com/.