Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Edifice and Artifice in Buda and Pest" in River Styx

My latest short story, "Edifice and Artifice in Buda and Pest," the winner of the 2017 Schlafly Micro-Brew Micro-Fiction Contest, has been published in the latest issue of River Styx, #98. The issue is available to purchase in print here.

River Styx is a St. Louis-based literary journal (active since 1975) that has published work by writers such as Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, and Czeslaw Milosz.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sean Gill Reading With the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library on Governor's Island, Sunday, July 23rd

The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library is partnering with the Empire State Center for the Book for a series of Vonnegut-related events this weekend on Governor's Island. At 1:00 PM on Sunday, July 23rd, I will be part of a reading program, reading my satirical short sci-fi story "Forbidden Melodies from a Diminishing Octave," which was previously published in So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The event is free, and additional details are available here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

R.I.P., George A. Romero

It pains me to write about the death of George A. Romero, whose impact on my love of classic and contemporary horror is immeasurable. While he is best known for essentially creating the modern zombie movie with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (then setting the gold standard for the genre with DAWN OF THE DEAD), his entire catalogue is worthy of deep study. He was not merely a scare-master, but a true observer of the human animal, and his films are packed with nearly six decades' worth of trenchant, razor-sharp social commentary (I'd hoped he had at least one more feature in him, a "Romero" take for these troubled times. Though there are multiple Romero scripts in circulation, one of which, ROAD OF THE DEAD, seems the most likely to see release).

Whether I'm talking about CREEPSHOW, a strong contender for "most fun Halloween movie" and one I can truly watch anytime, anywhere; MARTIN, a masterpiece of postmodern vampirism and Rust Belt mysticism; or KNIGHTRIDERS, a film about "fighting the dragon" and making your own family wherever your find it; Romero's films speak to me in varied and complex ways––the man was a philosopher, a poet, a sociologist, and a true citizen of the world. It was my pleasure to see him twice in person (at the New York premieres of DIARY OF THE DEAD and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD) and he was as delightfully charming as you might imagine: compassionate, gregarious, and humorously no-nonsense (he answered one audience member's question about the efficacy of chainsaws versus shotguns in the event of a zombie pandemic by saying "Son, it's only a movie").

Here's to you, George.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Stars: Hoo Boy of 5.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Richard Chamberlain (THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE LAST WAVE), Sharon Stone (CASINO, BASIC INSTINCT), James Earl Jones (STAR WARS, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, SNEAKERS), Henry Silva (SHARKY'S MACHINE, BULLETPROOF, GHOST DOG), Cassandra Peterson (ELVIRA MISTRESS OF THE DARK, PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE), Robert Donner (COOL HAND LUKE, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER). Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard (KING SOLOMON'S MINES, SHE). Screenplay by Gene Quintano (SUDDEN DEATH, OPERATION DUMBO DROP) and Lee Reynolds (WHO AM I, DELTA FORCE 2). Directed by Gary Nelson (FREAKY FRIDAY, THE BLACK HOLE). Music by Michael Linn (AMERICAN NINJA, BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO) and Jerry Goldsmith (TOTAL RECALL, ALIEN, GREMLINS). Second unit directed by Newt Arnold (BLOODSPORT, BLOOD THIRST).
Tag-line: "24 Karat Entertainment!"
Best one-liner: "We're starting to piss off somebody's god!"

I've written before at length about the "Cannon Quatermain Canon"––the two films, KING SOLOMON'S MINES and ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, were made simultaneously in 1985, were based on outworn adventure novels by H. Rider Haggard, and were shamelessly attempting to cash in on the success of the INDIANA JONES series.

These films, even moreso than the average American globetrotting adventure film, are xenophobic, racially insensitive (they actually use brownface on Robert Donner to transform him into the excruciatingly offensive Indian character "Swarma"), and generally spit-take inducing. I honestly can't tell if these films are an elaborate joke on the audience, a spoof of the genre's racist tropes, or a genuine attempt at action-adventure entertainment by woefully out of touch individuals.  [It's also worth noting: Cannon's FIREWALKER (with Chuck Norris) was made in the same period and is definitely cut from the same cloth.]

The plot concerns Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain, who deserves better)

Note how his fedora differs from Indiana Jones' in that it is handsomely garnished with a swatch of leopard print from Jo-Anne Fabrics.

and Willie Scott––er, I mean Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone, who also deserves better)

She doesn't even get to sing.

are searching for... not the Ark of the Covenant nor the Sankara Stones nor the Holy Grail, but, I shit you not... a legendary white African tribe who lives in a lost city of gold. At one point, Sharon Stone is made to exclaim, "The white race does exist!" I cannot overstate how unsettling this is.

James Earl Jones (who also obviously deserves better) shows up in a tailcoat, a plastic bone tooth necklace, a Native American feather headpiece, and no pants.

He is playing the warrior sidekick "Umslopogaas," and he wields a giant axe that is conspicuously lightweight and shiny, almost as if it is a piece of plastic covered in reflective paint (which it is). At one point he is captured by the guards of the white tribe's lost city, who are black men wearing white hoods. Again, these decisions appear to be so plainly tone deaf and misguided that it is better to believe they are not deliberate.

According to James Earl Jones, he only signed up for this picture because it allowed him to piggyback his shoot dates with an African vacation. I hope it was a nice vacation.

Master of crazy-eye Henry Silva rules the Lost City like Jim Jones, wearing community theater biblical robes and a Gene Simmons wig. He is clearly based on "Mola Ram" from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (complete with a floor-opening sacrificial chamber and a mine full of slave labor), and the major difference is that he does not rip out his victims' hearts, but rather dips them in gold. He screams things like "Which one of you is going to die for slaying our sacred beast?" and appears to be having something approaching a good time.

And wait a minute, who is that on the left, in the Valkyrie breastplate?

Why, it's none other than Elvira (!) herself (Cassandra Peterson), who mostly lounges around and gives the evil eye, which makes her role in this mess the most enviable, from an actor's standpoint.

ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD is treasure trove of cheap costumes, depressed actors, incompetent matte work, and mind-bogglingly terrible ideas. There are giant maggot attacks, a wild raft ride (that attempts to mirror TEMPLE OF DOOM's mine-car chase),

and a zany bazaar salesman whose wares include bulletproof spandex.

Furthermore, Quatermain solves literally 95% of the problems he faces with trick-shooting (at tomatoes, natives' faces, trap doors, stalactites, etc.) which is a great message for the youth, too, sure.

In the end, the film is troubling, bizarre, baffling, and frankly the whole thing has aged about as well as the Gold Dust Twins. Now you must atone for your sins by watching the entire catalogues of Ousmane Sembéne, Sarah Maldoror, and Gadalla Gubara. Whew.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Film Review: GHOULIES II (1988, Albert Band)

Ghoulies: A lot more than two.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Albert Band (I BURY THE LIVING, PREHYSTERIA!). Produced by Charles Band (TRANCERS, TROLL, TOURIST TRAP) and Frank Hildebrand (ROBOT JOX, THE TREE OF LIFE). Written by Charlie Dolan and Dennis Paoli (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND). Music by Fuzzbee Morse (DOLLS). Cinematography by Sergio Salvati (THE BEYOND, ZOMBI, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). Starring Damon Martin (PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, NORTHFORK), Royal Dano (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE RIGHT STUFF), Phil Fondacaro (THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE, WILLOW, RETURN OF THE JEDI), J. Downing (ROBOT WARS, VIPER), Kerry Remsen (PUMPKINHEAD, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2), Sasha Jenson (DAZED AND CONFUSED, HALLOWEEN 4).
Tag-lines: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom!"
Best one-liner(s): "Bon appetit, mutherfuckah!"

The question: What do you get when you combine the talents of Stuart Gordon's writer, Lucio Fulci's cinematographer, Terrence Malick's production manager, a composer named Fuzbee, and the Band brothers (of Full Moon Pictures infamy)? The answer: GHOULIES II, apparently.

GHOULIES is a franchise founded on two pillars. The first is a desire to make a quick buck off of the success of GREMLINS. The second is a profound enthusiasm to provide an audio-visual platform for little monsters who bite people's bums while they're trying to go to the toilet.

In lieu of a traditional review, I've decided merely to describe––with a minimum of editorializing––a dozen events that take place within the world of GHOULIES II. Possessing merely the facts, you will be free to engage in a your own personal evaluation of the picture. It's an exercise in objectivity, really.

 #1. The legendary Phil Fondacaro, playing a career carny, encounters his insufferable rich-kid boss (J. Downing)

He's sort of a Kushner-type

and counters by quoting KING LEAR:

"They know not how their wits to wear, their manners are so apish."

 #2. A cat-faced ghoulie gleefully rides the swinging blade of a pendulum, cackle-meowing all the while.


#3. A rat-faced ghoulie vomits green goo onto a child's shirt, prompting him to fling a ninja star at the ghoulie's face. The ghoulie proceeds to eat the ninja star, prompting the child's friend to exclaim:
"This place is better than Epcot Center!"

#4.  The cat-faced ghoulie and the rat-faced ghoulie give each other a righteous high-five while enthusiastically cheered by a crowd.

#5. Sasha Jenson essentially plays the exact same character he plays in DAZED AND CONFUSED,
thus proving that Richard Linklater is a closet GHOULIES II fan.

#6. This carnival employee (on the left, in the blue polka dots), explains to her friend that she will not be quitting the carnival despite the ghoulie infestation. She explains this decision by saying:
"Me? I can't do nothin' else but sling these old bones around!"

#7. Royal Dano attempts Shakespearean posturing, but he cannot hold a candle to Phil Fondacaro's, (though he does possess a certain old man charm).

#8. At one point our male lead (Damon Martin), in a moment of frustration, accuses his friend Phil Fondacaro of being "a second-rate hobgoblin!"

I believe this carries some form of meta-commentary, as in my mind, there is an ouroboros-like succession of little-monster-related activity throughout the 1980s. The GREMLINS series was ripped off by the GHOULIES who were ripped off by the CRITTERS who were ripped off by the MUNCHIES who were ripped off by the HOBGOBLINS. So perhaps this is a shot at the HOBGOBLINS series (which was launched in 1988), or perhaps it's just an excuse to show us more of Phil Fondacaro's "John Oates pathos face."

Naturally, Fondacaro responds to this by quoting more KING LEAR.

#9.  The cat-faced ghoulie shoves a red plastic boombox off of a table, breaking it into two pieces.

The cool kids––to whom it belonged––freak out, naturally:

"They broke my tunes!"

Later, another tunes aficionado discovers the broken boombox and, like Hamlet considering Yorick's skull, holds it aloft and says:

"Dude... your tunes!"

Much later, when all hell has broken loose, the owner of said busted tunes brings a policeman and explains the gravity of the situation:

"My tunes are still in there!"

 #10. Set in part to the wild hair metal strains of W.A.S.P.'s "Scream Until You Like It," the ghoulies run roughshod over the carnival. This includes––but is not limited to––the cat-faced ghoulie commandeering the shooting gallery:

A ghoulie playing hit-and-run driver with a bumper car (I'm not sure how that's possible):

And the dunk-tank clown being eaten by the ghoulie in what resembles a Great White Shark attack:

#11. Speaking of sharks, the latter half of this film has a very JAWS vibe, except it's the rich-kid owner of the carnival (J. Downing) who is fulfilling the role of JAWS' mayor, the guy who wants to keep the beach open at all costs. But don't you worry––in living up to the series' core premise, a ghoulie (inspired by THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) gets this heartless capitalist in the end.

 #12. Finally, as is customary in every GHOULIES picture, the ghoulies can only be defeated by the summoning of a gigantic ghoulie who proceeds to eat the rest of them.

It's poetic biology

So happy 241st birthday, America––I can't think of a more appropriate present than a movie about selfish, accidentally-summoned mischief-making toilet monsters who lay waste to our carnival, threaten our collective "tunes," and who are destroyed by carnies and amateur Shakespeare enthusiasts. After, we survey the destruction the ghoulies have wrought, and declare with stoicism: "We can't do nothin' else but sling these old bones around."