by Garrett Cook
While Bizarrocentral has a lot of material about Eraserhead authors like myself, the genre is growing bigger by the day. Just as when the Ramones and The New York Dolls took the stage at CBGB’s, kids strapped on their guitars to go forth and fuck shit up, the same thing is happening nowadays with literature. As a closet socialist snugglebunny, I like to look at the genre as a whole, not just as EHP and its imprints but as something growing from many different places. Alex S. Johnson is a contributor to Imperial Youth Review, the magazine I edit alongside Chris Kelso. His stories and poem appear often on our blog and one of his pieces will appear in Issue 3 of IYR. He wrote a Jason X tie in novel. He’s been around awhile but is finally starting to manifest. So let’s hear a little about him, shall we?
A: I ‘d always been a fan of horror, starting as many do with Stephen King, Peter Straub, Richard Matheson, Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, and of course the classics, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley. When I was growing up, in high school and then in college, I read every horror magazine and book I could find, all the Whispers collections, anthologies, the Year’s Best Horror books edited by Karl Edward Wagner (whose writing I still adore, RIP). As an undergraduate at UC Davis, I wrote a regular column for the school paper called “New Frights” where I reviewed the latest books by Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, et al. The first really extreme/proto-splatter book I read was Live Girls by Ray Garton. I loved the balls-out inventiveness of that novel, and the seedy setting, the erotic element, all of that. Then The Kill Riff by David J. Schow. After that it was a matter of seeking out the most extreme and disturbing work I could get my mitts on. Moving to L.A., I was like a kid in a candy store. It blew my mind that I was living in the same town as all these writers who were my heroes, that I could actually talk with them and pick their brains. For a long time they had just been names in magazines, almost mythical.
Q: What are you currently doing to make your way in the Bizarro genre? How do you feel the response is? How do you feel about your support system?
A: Interesting question. If by making my way you mean gaining exposure for my work, networking, perfecting my skills and gaining knowledge, let me back track a bit and explain why and how I landed in the Bizarro world in the first place. Before I knew such a genre existed, I spent years cultivating what I think, and still think is a pretty unique writing voice. As I said before, along the way I have bent the ear of people who were doing work that excited me, and succeeding. Poppy Z. Brite, for example, gave me some insights into her working methods, the way she culled from her obsessional interests. My favorite writers have always been those who straddled multiple genre lines and used science fiction or horror motifs s they presented themselves, instead of just narrowly following a formula or a pre-established structure. William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Ray Bradbury, Kathy Acker, among others, created voices that were strong and recognizable because they listened to what the story was saying to them as opposed to what the market or current fashion dictated. All my work is hybridized, a mingling of extremes, the weirder and more transgressive the better. Last year, researching markets, I stumbled on Brent Millis and Full-Metal Orgasm. I sold him two stories which he suggested were squarely in the Bizarro mold, and recommended that I look at Eraserhead as a possible market. From there, it’s been a matter of familiarizing myself with the names and works of the genre. I didn’t so much tailor my stories to the Bizarro world as use what other Bizarro writers were doing to catalyze my own imagination. Apparently it’s working. The only coherent response to my work, for me, is whether it sells. While I have a lot to learn, I’m confident now that I can write credible Bizarro fiction and sell it. It was as though I were looking for a home, a community, and I found it. Other writers have been tremendously supportive, as well as a few editors. My support system could be a lot stronger, but it’s already developed far beyond my hopes.
Q: What Bizarro authors do you look up to?
A:There are so many. When I think of Bizarro, I think of all the writers who sort of prepared the way. In fact, there’s elements of Bizarro in a lot of great literature. Joseph Conrad, Franz Kafka, hell, Shakespeare; then there’s the magical realists, Borges, Julio Cortazar, Manuel Puig, et al. And Terry Southern, who wrote Candy, Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider of course and some lesser-known stories like “Worm-ball Man,” which is in the Now Dig This collection. I adore Ed Lee, Joe R. Lansdale, John Skipp who I’ve mentioned; I like your stuff, Carlton Mellick, Jordan Krall, Nikki Guerlain, Kevin Strange, I could really go on and on. There’s an embarrassment of good work out there. As far as Bizarro authors I look up to, all of the above. I’m always learning. That’s what it’s all about, I think–being open to improvement.
Q: Finally, what are your current projects? What are your future projects?
A: My current projects are Satanic Rites of the Nuns of St. Sophia, which I’m writing for Jordan Krall; it’s a no-holds-barred nunsploitation seige, which means I’m having way more fun than a middle-aged white man has a right to; then there’s From Behind, a Lovecraftian Bizarro saga I’m writing with David Anderson. After that, I plan to write an epic novel with elements of meta-narrative, post-writing, fantasy, magical realism and more, titled The Ghost Highway. That’s all I will say about that one.
Q: Can Bill Cosby be stopped? What if he gets what he wants?
A: Bill Cosby will never be stopped. His sinister plan of global domination via Jello pudding will continue until every man, woman and child on the face of the planet has been reduced to a state of stupefied, chocolatey contentment. At first he used his powers for good, but since his secret induction into the CIA in the early 60s he has become a megalomaniac. He’s out there commanding troops, and he has become insane. Obviously insane.
Thank you, Alex! Buy Alex’s chapbooks for Jordan Krall’s awesome Dynatox Ministries, read his Cosbycentric serial Pudding Spooks at Imperial Youth Review and say hi to him on Facebook and invite him to your house for pudding pops.
by Garrett Cook
I’m gonna keep this short and sweet. I’m assuming you read up on this. If you didn’t, Google it. Today, I found out that three young women about my age and the age of many of my friends in the Bizarro Community were jailed for hooliganism and blasphemy for standing up to the Russian government. They dared call for the removal of Vladimir Putin in a church, a church apparently dedicated to the worship of Vladimir Putin since there would be no other good reason to call speaking out against Putin an act of blasphemy. Hooliganism. Blasphemy. We Bizarros call that a Monday. We Bizarros call out any man we think is wrong. We Bizarros toss meat at the ceiling. We Bizarros write about Baby Jesus Buttplugs. We Bizarros practice Voodoo, Chaos Magic and things even weirder and more incomprehensible. We Bizarros don’t get jailed all that often. I think we oughta remember that.
Three heroes are doing two years of hard labor. Read up on it. Share their videos. Share everything filthy, everything bold, everything wrong. Broadcast, broadcast, Bizarro Brigadiers, because there but for the grace of God or Goddess or Ego or Spaghetti Monster go we. Share our boldest videos, read our most flamboyant books on the subway, blare Pussy Riot through your ipod if you can. Go forth and tag the world. Three heroes were jailed today. Let’s all be heroes.
In the Name of All That is Holy, Please Don’t Be a Fucking Spaz: A Nice Guy Gets Tough on Bizarro Etiquette
Hey, friend. What’s that you got there? Well, I’ll be! It’s a Bizarro book. How did you like it? Yeah, I read that one too. It’s super good. The guy or lady who wrote that is a friend of mine. No, I don’t have their phone number. I don’t own a phone. No, I will not log on to Facebook with your phone so I can message them and ask for their phone number right here. Because that’s rude. Rude. No, I am not implying that it has a fondness for ska music, I am saying it’s impolite. Oh…you still don’t understand.
I’m a nice guy. I do a lot of favors for a lot of people. Some of these people have returned these favors, some I never expect to. Some have punished me for my generosity and kindness. This is true with most nice people. And I’m not saying I’m a nice guy in the way Don Rickles says it. I try my damnedest to be nice to everyone, especially people trying to come into writing. There’s a good chance I may have already read your manuscript or story, given you advice on Bizarro or offered some words of encouragement even though chances are, you were only pretending to know who I was. I’m onto you, but that’s okay.
“David Crosby looks good with his beard like that.”
Everybody needs a helping hand. Everybody needs someone in their corner. Chances are, I or some fellow Bizarro is willing to give you said hand. But in seeking this assistance, please try to take note of the social contract and the following Bizarro rules of etiquette.
Rule Number 1: Do Your Research
Before trying to become a Bizarro writer because your work has weird elements like vampires or Canadians or people smoking (tee hee) MARIJUANA, go to Bizarrocentral and look at it thoroughly. If you’re reading this article, you’ve taken one step in the right direction. If you read one Bizarro book, you are headed in the right direction. If you read ten Bizarro books, you’re doin’ fine. Always know the work. Always know the guidelines. Always know the players. Why? Because people don’t like doing huge favors for people who don’t know who the fuck they are.
There are some exceptions. But not many.
Rule 2: Don’t Walk Around With Your Genitals Hanging Out
Let’s say we’re at a bar. And I’m a person that you want to pick up.
A VERY likely scenario.
a.) Approach me and strike up a conversation with me about a subject I might be interested in, like chainsaw massacres or the blues?
b.) Try to sell me a Rolex?
c.) Wave your genitals at me and scream “STUFF THINGS IN MY HOLES!”
If you answered anything but a, you will get no smooth, cool Bizarro style lovin’. Not just from me. From anyone in the community. Do not hound publishers about your work publicly on their Facebook wall. Do not mail them mounds of unsolicited material. Do not email me your manuscript and ask me to send it to Jeff or Cameron. Keep it in your pants. Be polite and inquisitive. Do your research. See Rule 1. Then see it again and fucking do it.
Rule 3 Come unarmed and humble
Do not approach Bizarro publishers material in hand preconceptions in head expecting them to take you on and that you’ll be the one exception because your book Horatio Wackypants and the Queef Machine is 250,000 words of pure surrealist gold. This might look like a rehash of rules 1 and 2. It isn’t. The best way into Bizarro right now is through The New Bizarro Author Series and Kevin Shamel is not going to make a gigantic exception to his 20,000 word limit to accommodate your magnum opus. Approach Kevin with humility and a willingness to learn.
And some rootbeer. And a map that leads out of the forest.
Approach Rose O’ Keefe, Cameron Pierce, Jeff Burk, Carlton Mellick and anyone else affiliated with Eraserhead with humility and a willingness to learn. If an Eraserhead author looks you right in the eyes and says “I’m sorry, this isn’t Bizarro”. Don’t ask “well, what do you know about Bizarro? Isn’t Bizarro whatever I want it to be? How hard do you think you can punch me in the-” Head back to the old drawing board. Understand that everybody gets rejected. My initial query to Eraserhead was a mishmash of PTSD and ignorance with a delightful soupcon of absolute naivete. But I attended Bizarrocon, paid attention to my peers and read a shitload of books and now I have a contract. And so could you. But if you ain’t ready to learn, you’re ready to suck.
Ha ha, yes, even you Mechagodzilla!
If you’re here on Bizarro Central, chances are you’ve read some Bizarro in your time and, unless you’re some kind of creep, you’re here because you liked it. And if you liked it, chances are, that somewhere in your heart, it created a longing to be a Bizarro author, swinging from tree to tree in the forests of British Columbia, with your best girl by your side and you’d sing, sing, SING! Ah, to be a Bizarro author!
Like Cameron Pierce
or Famous Author Mykle Hansen
(Bizarro novel forthcoming)
But wait…your fancy Marxist hug factory university doesn’t have a Bizarro program, which must feel like when you first realized six months ago that you probably can’t be Spiderman when you grow up. If only there was someone who could help you – someone dark and mysterious, but friendly and approachable who knows the Bizarro scene and has written Bizarro books and gotten nominated for a Wonderland Award and won the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown. I know someone who can help you. It’s me. Garrett Cook. Author of Archelon Ranch and Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective. I run a Bizarro writing workshop. And it’s cheap. Real cheap. And it get results. Real results. Several of my students had their first stories published while participating in my workshop. One finished a novella. It’s been a good online Bizarro writing workshop. But how could I make it better?
Maybe Bradley Sands could help. He wrote Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy, It Came from Below the Belt and Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, edited Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens and is world renowned for his knowledge of the genre. Maybe we should team up. Like we did. We teamed up. And we’re going to rock this town, rock it inside out. With Bizarro knowledge. Which we will impart to you. For a small fee of course. 30 bucks for a month of Bizarro instruction with two Bizarro authors, both of which have appeared in a Bizarro Starter Kit isn’t bad at all. Especially when the workshop is endorsed by this man:
NBAS editor Kevin Shamel, the Cerberus of our wacky literary underworld, editor of the NBAS approves of this workshop like he approves of forests and recent photographs. He had this to say:
“Garrett Cook’s workshop has already helped writers produce books that have gotten my attention for the New Bizarro Author Series–throwing Bradley Sands into the mix can only bring better bizarro into being.”
So go HERE, read some testimonials from former students, find out a little more and find out how to sign up. Start living the dream. Admissions close April 1st. Workshop starts April 15th. It costs 30 dollars.
by Garrett Cook
When you put a trenchcoat and fedora on a character, it does something to who they are. They’re a detective, they’re a gangster, they’re a loner. These trappings change your perceptions of a person, of what they do and what they’ll get into. It’s a shortcut, maybe a shallow visual cue. I poke fun at this and examine this at the same time in my book Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective, a book that’s about whether we are what we look like or what body we’re in or what clothes we wear or even, in the case of fictional characters, which ones they’re dressed in. Sometimes that’s the only indication of a genre we have. A lot of the time genre itself is just a costume we slap on a piece of fiction.
Laura Lee Bahr’s Haunt is a Bizarro novel and a noir underneath its clothes, but something really interesting is going on, something you don’t see that often in crime fiction. While Haunt features a private dick, a femme fatale and a man obsessed who must confront his dark side, she doesn’t use these as a veneer. It’s noir whose trappings are what they are, whose strangeness is unabashedly what it is, pervading the architecture of the book and the voice of its narrators. It’s surreal, it’s transgressive and its more strange than it is anything else, but its strangeness and its noir-ness become one in ways you seldom see.
This is a traitorous whore of a book, a femme fatale that puts Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Joan Bennett to shame. It switches protagonists. It switches storylines. It’s not just the basic vicissitudes of plot or the revelation of facts. It outright turns on you. It’s turned on its author it seems. Bahr has blended fiction and lying. You are, like the book’s heroes part of its intrigues and the author might well be too. Noir is about shadows and identity schemes and broken confidences and people facing up to their dark sides. This is Bizarro noir that isn’t wearing a trench coat or anything at all.
Haunt is a book that doesn’t require a lot of violence, a lot of detective work, gangsters or grit. The violence occurs at the emotional and narrative level. It hurts the brain and it hurts the heart of the protagonist and the reader alike who have become one. I’m reminded of Frank Zappa’s statement “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” It’s made of hurt and enigmas. Which is an impressive feat to say the least.
Bizarro noir is already a fine tradition. It comes out of a fine cinematic tradition, films like Mark Damon’s The Seventh Victim, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Alex Proyas’ Dark City. Jordan Krall’s books alone are enough to validate the subgenre, but others came before it and more will come after it. Haunt fits in with these films and with this tradition and reminds us why the two go together. Bizarro and noir are both at some level about reality being unreliable. They both involve emotions and ideas becoming realities and changing
the physics of one’s universe. Naked, proud, honest weird noir Haunt reveals these connections and uses them the best they can be used.
by Garrett Cook
This is Francesco Petrarca. Also known as Petrarch. He has little to do with Bizarro, other than that Bizarro is the sexiest literary genre and he was one of the progenitors of sexy. Petrarch invented the Petrarchan sonnet, one of the best forms for the expression of love, and even sometimes looooove.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could hire Petrarch to write your special someone a love sonnet for five dollars? Well, you can’t. Petrarch is dead and Troy Chambers gave me an 18 dollar reanimation estimate, which, frankly, is highway robbery. You’d be screwed, if, for example, Valentine’s Day was coming up and you wanted to express your love and admiration for Carlton Mellick and Bizarro fiction. Like this.
In boring books we stumble through the dark
In literature of cancerous cliché
Where all the novelty has gone away
So how then would a novelist embark
To write of Shatner or to write of shark
When all around no balls are on display?
How rotten the state of literature today!
If only there were some strange patriarch!
But there’s a giant man with sideburns made of steel
An advocate of literature perverse,
Making sure that books aren’t dull or dumb or worse
And that your brain dies not just rot as a dusty old relic.
He’s a publisher the size of Richard Kiel,
Hooray for Bizarro and for Carlton Mellick!
But wait…I did. It might not be as good as Petrarch would do, but it was serviceable. I have mad sonnet skills that you can exploit this Valentine’s Day, for the low low price of five dollars a sonnet. Give me the name of your loved one or whoever you want to dedicate the sonnet to (Shatner, Aquaman, Rico Slade, Terry Silver…the list goes on) and two things they’re interested in or aspects of their personality (like if they’re a werewolf or if they have a sandwich for a head) and I will send you a one of a kind sonnet by noon Valentine’s Day for you to use as you see fit. I’m not here to judge. Order HERE and include your loved one’s name and two things you want included in the sonnet. It might be just what you need for a happy and sensual Valentine’s Day.
Garrett Cook, author of Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective offering an October Weird Fiction Workshop
by Garrett Cook
I will be teaching an online Weird Fiction workshop all through the month of October. It will give me a chance to share what I’ve learned from reading submissions for Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens and Evil Nerd Empire, from editing Bizarro manuscripts and from writing horror and Bizarro fiction with aspiring Bizarro authors or just anyone looking to sharpen their skills. The workshop starts October 1st and costs only $20 for a month of writing exercises and critiques. If you’re interested in having a happy and productive Halloween season and learning a bit more about all things weird, you should sign up.
By Garrett Cook
This Fourth of July, I was fortunate to be able to talk to an American original, an action icon like none ever before him, Rico Slade, hero of Bradley Sands’ book Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You and naturally, the Rico Slade films. One author, one icon, ten questions and here they are:
1) Rico, it is a pleasure and an honor to meet you. Thank you for consenting to this interview.
Yeah, whatever you say, dipshit.
2) First of all, could you tell everyone (for those uncultured ignorami out there that might not own televisions or go to the cinema) what it is you do for a living?
I totally save the asses of the American people.
3) Excellent response, Rico. Really top notch. What is a regular day like for Rico Slade then? What do you have for breakfast? Any favorite Hollywood hangouts?
Usually I get woken up in the morning by a clan of ninjas trying to slit my throat. It beats an annoying alarm clock. After I’ve annihilated all the ninjas, I pray to Jesus Christ, who is my personal Lord and Savior. I usually pray that I’ll meet some hot chicks later in the day who will totally want to do me. For breakfast, I eat some Frosted Mini-Wheats, drink half a case of Neurogasm, and cook up a few scrambled eggs that I mix with the hearts of my enemies.
I leave my mansion and drive downtown in my tank, running over any shifty- looking customers. After that, the CIA usually calls me with a secret mission to keep America safe from total nuclear armageddon. That usually involves commandeering a helicopter unless my pal, Lincoln Hawk, is flying one of his fleets of helicopters nearby. Then I save everyone’s asses, usually by crashing the helicopter into some sort of super secret technologically advanced airplane and ripping out evildoers’ throats as they’re falling to their deaths just in case any of them have parachutes strapped to their backs or are supermutants that can survive falls from 20,000 feet. After I open my parachute at the last possible moment, I use the GPS system the government installed in my brain and locate the nearest McDonald’s. I usually buy a Big Mac Extra Value Meal. While I’m eating, armed robbers always rush into the store. I take them out no prob and return to my meal. Then I hitch a ride on an experimental plane with super speed and topple an unjust dictatorship who got more oil than they know what to do with, leaving the country without a government so the good ole US of A can come in there, take control, and get all humanitarian and shit. After that, I fly back to Hollywood, eat dinner at some swanky place, and pleasure a roomful of women in one of my favorite Hollywood hangouts, usually a whorehouse that lets me get by on credit. When I’m all tuckered out, I fall asleep to the gentle hum of Fox News.
4) Ha! Fantastic! What was your childhood like? What’s it like growing up knowing in your mighty heart that you might one day become the greatest action hero in history?
I didn’t have much of a childhood cause I was grown in a government lab and reached adult size, strength, and intelligence in a couple of days. My first thought was, “Damn, I’m gonna be the greatest action hero in history.” My second thought was “freakin sweet.”
5) Sensational. Truly insightful stuff. Since I’m asking you these questions on the 4th of July, I must know: what are the three things Rico Slade loves most about America? What three things would be different in Rico Slade’s America?
I love America cause it’s the greatest nation in the world! Our national anthem is more awesome than any other country’s national anthem. And we have freedoms like the ability to choose between health insurance companies that no other nation enjoys. I’m pretty damn satisfied by the way America is now, but if I were the president, I would change the name of America to the United States of Rico Slade, legalize prostitution, and enforce a law that makes Sunday church service a little more interesting by legally requiring hard rock and fights to the death. I always go to church Sunday morning, but it’s kinda boring as shit. I deal with it by imagining I’m killing evildoers. Sometimes I get really excited and yell out. All the churchgoers think I’m yelling to express my love for the Lord and I don’t correct them. But I don’t feel bad about that cause I do truly love my Lord, but not as much as hot chicks that want to do me. But the Lord is in everyone, so it’s cool if I love hot chicks that want to do me more than the Lord when he’s not inside the hot chicks. But damn do I love him when he’s inside the hot chicks. Crap. That sounds kinda gay.
6) I’ve heard rumors that your archenemy Baron Mayhem might not be dead? Do you think these could be true? If this is so, should we be concerned? Or is Rico Slade “on it”?
Yeah, the rumors are true. Don’t think there were ever any rumors that he was dead. No one should be concerned though cause I always beat his ass before he can do any real damage. Yeah, I’m on it, motherfucker.
7) Comparisons have been made between you and Chuck Norris. In my opinion, unfair ones. I don’t find Chuck Norris very entertaining and he lacks the deep, personal charisma and flair that Rico Slade has. What would you say to those that make these comparisons?
I would say, “Yo, stop by my mansion so I can give you a lesson in mixed martial arts. I won’t even charge you cause that’s the stand up guy that I am, but you gotta sign a legal document first releasing me from all blame if you end up totally getting your ass kicked. But don’t worry bout that. I’ll go easy on you. A few broken ribs never hurt nobody.
8) How do you feel about Bradley Sands’ book Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You? Do you feel this book captures the real Rico or is it just more nonsense from a writer whose friends and colleagues regularly refer to as a “dick”?
Fuck, dude. I don’t know cause I just started the book. I don’t read too good so I’m kinda slow. I’ve only read the first few paragraphs and it’s pretty fucking sweet so far and pretty damn accurate. I recommend that everybody buys a copy. Don’t know about this “dick” business. He’s definitely a nerd though cause all writers are nerds. Don’t know him too well. He shadowed me on some missions under the stipulation that he shut the fuck up and obeyed, so he’s cool by me. I’ve sort of kidnapped him, but I don’t mean no harm by it and I’m giving him his freedom at the end of the month.
9) I agree. I’ve heard recently-correct me if I’m wrong- but you’re really into decency. I’ve done some research into decency recently. Wild, wild stuff. How is that working out for you?
This decency shit is going alright. Whenever I see someone not being decent, I correct them with a karate chop to their nuts and they start being decent. When I see indecency in the media, I just beat the crap out of the medium that’s bringing the massage. TVs, computers, books, magazines. Then that shit starts being decent. But whenever I inspect a new medium, it’s usually being indecent and I need to kick some more ass. So I guess it’s not working out too well for me, except for with the mediums that I beat up. I’ve been highly successful and shit with that shit.
10) Lastly, I think the ladies out there would hate me if I didn’t ask this…is there a Mrs. Slade? Are there wedding plans in your future?
Nah, I don’t believe in the existence of marriage. It’s all make believe like the dinosaurs and the belief that man used to be monkeys like a trizillion years ago.
Thank you for your time, Rico.
To find out more about Rico Slade, buy the book Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You by Bradley Sands.
Garrett Cook is the author of Archelon Ranch and Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective. And one hell of a Rico Slade fan.
By Garrett Cook
“Bela Lugosi on Bizarrocentral? What does he have to do with weird shit happening? Dude, my grandpa watched Bela Lugosi movies! Nothing weird ever happened around Bela Lugosi!”
This is what you say to me. Why would you say that? That’s just ignorant. Funny things happen to some actors. If you see James Spader in something there’s a good chance he’s getting laid, and it’s kinda weird but you still wish it was you. If you see Jack Nance, things either have or are about to get wildly out of hand somehow. If you see Peter Lorre, don’t make eye contact. You might think that if you see Bela Lugosi, you’re in for some crusty Gothic with superlative set design and a typical Universal horror plotline. Well, you’d be wrong. Here are five examples of Bela Lugosi proving that weird shit does indeed happen around Bela Lugosi.
1.) Murders In the Rue Morgue
Edgar Allan Poe? How weird is Edgar Allan Poe? Well, in the hands of French director Robert Florey, pretty damn weird. Bela Lugosi plays Doctor Mirakle, a scientist with ludicrous hair that seeks to create a race of ape men the old fashioned way…by breeding the lovely ladies of Paris with a murderous ape. It is said they’re just being injected with gorilla blood, but the ape’s attitude makes this look highly unlikely. This seems to be one of those cases where a scientist is a mad scientist mostly because he is not very good at actual science. Lugosi’s performance as Mirakle is outstandingly over the top, the occasionally expressionistic sets are beautiful and there is a pervasive strangeness and a subtle air of perversion throughout. For the Bizarro and vintage horror fan, this is a must. And proof that weird shit happens around Bela Lugosi.
2. The Gorilla
You ever wonder what a Marx Brothers movie would have been like if the Marx Brothers weren’t funny at all and Bela Lugosi was there and a guy in a gorilla suit was blackmailing vintage horror legend Lionel Atwill? And there was an obnoxious comedy maid thrown in for good measure? I hope you’ve never wondered that. The Gorilla is the story of a guy who fakes kidnap and blackmail to avoid paying off his creditors. How does he do this? By faking notes from a blackmailer and murderer known as The Gorilla. Then, to make sure nobody gets to the bottom of this, he hires a team of detectives played by The Ritz Brothers. The Ritz Brothers are the Flavorite of comedy teams. These absentminded Irish cop stereotypes bungle the mystery and make unfunny comments about how they’re frightened by the butler, portrayed by Bela Lugosi. Bela Lugosi is the sanest thing about this movie. It starts out chaotic and it only gets dumber when the real Gorilla might be in the house and an actual gorilla (or rather a guy in a terrible gorilla suit) is running wild. When you’ve got Bela Lugosi, incompetent vaudevillians and a guy in a gorilla suit, it’s clear that weird shit happens around Bela Lugosi.
3.The Devil Bat
Still not convinced that weird shit happens around Bela Lugosi? Prepare to be dazzled. In this film, Bela Lugosi plays Paul Carruthers, a man whose name does not sound Eastern European at all, a man with a grudge, a man with a plan. See, Carruthers was one of the founding members of a cosmetics company that keeps the local economy booming. But, he decided he wanted to be paid outright for his aftershave formula. And lost out on millions in dirty, sexy aftershave money. Hell hath no fury like a parfumier scorned. He does what we would expect anyone in his position to do: he makes an aftershave that attracts a prehistoric bat that he has trained to kill. A mad parfumier kills people with a fucking giant bat. How exactly did this man discover a prehistoric bat? How does he replace the prehistoric bat with another prehistoric bat when it’s killed by the movie’s reporter hero played by Dave O’ Brien, who you might remember as one of the cackling idiots from Reefer Madness. How does this film spawn a sequel that doesn’t even feature Bela Lugosi? Only one answer to these questions and the questions: weird shit happens around Bela Lugosi.
4. The Corpse Vanishes
Awesome little person actor Angelo Rossito, who you might know as the scary little person with a switchblade and a dead serious look on his face from Freaks joins Lugosi in an exercise in poverty row insanity. Lugosi’s wife is hideous because of a disease or something. So, he poisons brides with special orchids and kidnaps them to steal their beauty for his wife. The beauty only last temporarily, so he has to kidnap and kill several of them with the help of his little person companion. This is one confusing jumble of a film. This basic plot is reused to slightly weirder effect in later films like Atom Age Vampire, Gritos en la Noche, Les Yeux Sans Visage and other such Eurohorror classics, but Lugosi and Rossito together with his deformed henchpeople make The Corpse Vanishes another good example of how weird shit happens around Bela Lugosi.
5. Glen or Glenda
Want ultimate proof that where Lugosi goes weird follows? Or that Lugosi is attracted to weirdness? Here it is. Glen or Glenda is one of the great repositories of weirdness in film history. It seems to have a healthy message, which is that transvestitism and sexual experimentation are just parts of our development. But when we see predatory streetcorner homosexuals trying to exploit some poor transvestite and hear Wood’s statistics regarding men’s clothing, we see that this is not a proper documentary. This is pro-cross dressing propaganda full of chaotic art film elements and fake statistics. And of course, if you’re going to make a film on how transvestitism makes more sense than wearing men’s clothes, who better to help you than Bela Lugosi playing a mysterious figure that seems like a cross between God and William Castle. (Not that William Castle and God are portrayed that differently in films.) Lugosi was not just an accomplice to this wonderful cacophony of surrealistic dancing, Centron style narration and bad acting, but stood by Wood through two other movies, Bride of the Monster, in which he is the sole source of integrity and quality around a weird plot featuring Tor Johnson and a giant octopus and the famous and infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space, which while weird, in my opinion doesn’t hold a candle to Glen or Glenda. With a career that involved Ed Wood, fiendish little people and many men in gorilla suits, I think it is impossible for even the most jaded Bizarro fan to deny that weird shit happens around Bela Lugosi. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.
Garrett Cook is the author of Archelon Ranch and the recently released Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective, a book that would never have been without Bela Lugosi. Find out more here
Now available at Amazon.com
Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective by Garrett Cook
“In a city ridden with prostitute furries, cannibal cops and warehouse-sized mob bosses, I’ve got my work cut out for me. My name is Jimmy Plush. I’m a private detective. I’m also a teddy bear. It all started when the original Jimmy Plush entered my life, offering to take my gambling debts away if I agreed to switch bodies with him. But I didn’t know that being a three-foot-high plush toy would be such a living hell, especially now that everyone in town wants a piece of me. All I’ve gotten out of this deal is a faithful Chinese chauffeur, a custom teddybear .45, and a girlfriend who won’t take off the fox suit she turns tricks in. Now I’ve got to keep this town clean and try to track down the real Jimmy Plush without losing my stuffing for good. Only one thing is for sure: Life is hard when you’re soft. Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective is a high octane pulp satire. In the tradition of Sam Spade, The Shadow, Dick Tracy, Hellboy and Howard the Duck comes a new kind of hero, a hero that reminds us that the measure of a man is in his guts and his gun.”
Bizarro is a genre that gets a lot from film. Not only is it referred to as “the literary equivalent of the cult section of the video store”, but the genre of each individual Bizarro book is flexible and often inspired by a film genre or a kind of cult film. Here are five directors that fans of Bizarro ought to know about for one reason or another.
One of the progenitors of American horror, first of all, and a great director of silent films known for his collaborations with Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces. His films combine an Americanized Expressionist aesthetic with unique actors and weird imagery that borders on gothic but just seems out of place. There is an armadillo crawling around the tomb in his iconic Dracula. Opossums roam the haunted castle in Mark of the Vampire. But what really makes Browning a godfather of Bizarro and a director of interest to the Bizarro audience are the films that reflect his time spent in the carnival business. Unsettling circuses full of deformed misfits, the kind of deformed misfits we see in today’s Bizarro films engaged in behaviors that one could only call Bizarro and very pulpy situations. In his film, The Unknown, Lon Chaney plays a circus knifethrower who chops off his arms because the girl he loves is afraid of arms. No, really. In Freaks, which is my opinion, Browning’s masterpiece and a Bizarro must-see, a rich midget is seduced by a tight rope walker and her strong man boyfriend. The feast at their wedding is a scene of cinematic weirdness you must witness to believe, and quite frankly, you MUST witness. For Bizarro fans, a film that shows the humanity of a cast of real sideshow freaks, leaving you rooting for the Freaks and cheering for their grisly revenge on the normal people around them that seek to fuck them over is a dream come true. Browning was an American original.
Herschell Gordon Lewis
Herschell Gordon Lewis is known as The Godfather of Gore. One cannot invent bloodshed and exploitation, but one can certainly reinvent it. And Lewis did. His movies are weird, candycoated slaughterfests. Stiff protagonists fall into the hands of raving eccentrics, several of whose personas have pretty much no place in reality. His first gore film Bloodfeast features a crooked caterer who has been sacrificing girls to the Goddess Ishtar to make a grim ritual feast. In this movie, you see a newspaper headline reading “Legs Cut Off”, scenes of Bizarre ritual torture and both a villain and a victim whose acting is wrong in the most unlikely of ways. The illogic and grue of this movie make it a Bizarro prerequisite, particularly to fans of Carlton Mellick and Jordan Krall. Later films of his like Two Thousand Maniacs, The Gore Gore Girls and The Wizard of Gore feature more insane gore, weird characters, puzzling leaps out of genre and outrageous porn caliber acting. Lewis was also a big influence on John Waters. Not just a Godfather of Gore, but a godfather of American cult and trash cinema.
While the first two directors I mentioned are people you might have heard of and there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of their films. There’s a fair chance you haven’t been graced with Svankmajer’s cinematic presence yet. If you didn’t go to film school, hang out with film students or take movie recommendations from Bizarro authors, you may have missed out on him and that’s a shame. Svankmajer is a puppety lunatic from Kafka’s homeland, a surrealistic Czech maniac who takes no prisoners in the war on realism. In short, our kind of guy. A couple carve a son out of wood in his chilling Little Otik. Carnivalization reigns supreme in his short films. But, personally, I think the thing of greatest Bizarro interest is his Alice, a puppet powered and offputting interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland is hard to film. It’s a book with its own internal world of logic, where plot is virtually nonexistent and most action occurs through logical arguments. Though obviously more entertaining than Dante’s Inferno or a medieval morality play, it shares some of the weaknesses of both. Svankmajer, through the use of puppets and found objects brings Wonderland to life in a way that challenges its weaknesses and plays off its strengths without being disloyal to the spirit of the book.
“Lord of the Rings ain’t Bizarro! GET ‘IM!”
Put down your pitchforks, torches and halberds. I’m not talking about elves. I’m talking about vomiting aliens, chainsaws, lawnmowered zombies and fucked up muppets. Peter Jackson used to be cool. Not like how your dad used to be cool, more like how Alice Cooper used to be cool. You know, actually really cool as opposed to somebody who was sort of cool who won’t let you borrow the car to go to a strip club because you’re twelve or something so you’re saying that they used to be cool. He made such films as Bad Taste, Dead Alive and Meet the Feebles. Gory, weird, depraved, over the top shit. Before Hobbits, he was a low budget wild man like Sam Raimi and now he’s like…Sam Raimi. At least Lynch and Waters stayed crazy.
Bizarro and the Monster Hero
There’s a lot to look up to in the strong square jaw of Superman, the unshakeable morals of Captain America, the awesome, the integrity and responsibility of Spiderman, the unflappable resolve and crystal clear intellect of Sherlock Holmes. They’re great heroes, people worth admiring and sources of inspiration. Classy gentlemen indeed. A space alien that can melt you with eyes. A steroid driven powerhouse. A total geek bitten by a radioactive spider and granted the capability of shooting webs from his hands. An autistic cokehead. Your children want to venerate alien overlords, bulk on roids, play with tarantulas and use drugs to expand both their mind and sexuality. Shitty role models or a reflection of real human needs? It’s hard to tell. The boundary between heroes and monsters is pretty thin. And it’s a tempting one to cross.
Especially if society does something to make you feel like a monster. The cool kids make fun of you because they don’t know who Marc Bolan is or think it’s lame to wear a cape to gym class. You secretly know that your cape and the music of T Rex both kick ass, even though the semiliterate dickface that assumed you were homosexual because you sought to emulate a guy whose wife is so attractive that as of yet, no live actress has managed to live up to her hotness never will. You’re Clark Kent. But Clark Kent keeps his glasses on, turns the other cheek and never fails to hit the moral high ground. These guys make you feel like Superman doesn’t get you. You wish they’d just leave you alone and you wish you were big and strong enough to make them leave you alone and you know that if they fucked with you, you’d make them pay for it…because you’d be the strongest one there is. You’ve gotten smarter and more antisocial and instead of Clark Kent, you’re starting to feel more like Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk.
Or you might feel that a passion for revenge and a lone wolf attitude is enough, so you embrace another kind of monster. The Punisher, Dexter or even Jigsaw, the judgmental criminal mastermind of the Saw movies might be the hero you see yourself in the shoes of. You might think that Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers are doing the right thing when it comes to purging the world of the jocks and the cheerleaders and the flat out assholes. It was thin line between the first freaks I listed and the Hulk. It’s a thin line between the Hulk and these guys.
And it’s an easy line to cross. Monstrosity is very tempting and in complicated times, monster heroes make the most sense. And in these monsterfriendly times, we have Bizarro fiction. You might not feel like a lonely Kryptonian Hercules or an angsty green giant. You might identify with a William Shatner fighting through a wall of selves because of all the different people you’ve had to be or feel like a 700 pound ninja who still manages to be awesome, like a werewolf struggling with peers that mock him for not getting hit by a car or a cowboy navigating a landscape of freaks and perverts in search of justice, or like a teddy bear detective. Bizarro embraces and riffs on the monster hero and in the pages of the books here on Bizarrocentral, you’ll find monster heroes that take the archetypes of The Toxic Avenger, The Hulk, The Thing, Howard the Duck and Plastic Man to new levels and wild, unexplored realms. And beyond that, if you look around the author profiles at Bizarrocentral, you see a real life rogue’s gallery of monster heroes, the Doom Patrol of contemporary fiction. By the way, the hypothetical teen in these examples was NOT me. I was nowhere near cool enough to wear a cape and listen to T Rex.
Garrett Cook is the Winner of the First Annual Ultimate Bizarro Showdown and the author of Archelon Ranch. Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective his first book from Eraserhead Press is on its way and is closer than you think. Read some fiction, some film reviews and some other stuff at his blog, Chainsaw Noir.