::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
5 Questions About: Haunted Places

An Interview About Scary Places - Real, Imagined, and on the Big Screen

(Setting can be powerful and scary. Can you imagine “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” filmed in downtown Madison, Wisconsin? Would Stephen King’s “The Shining” be as frightening if it took place in New York City? Hardly. DaRK PaRTY stumbled upon a remarkable site recently – TheCabinet.com. One of the sections of this amazing horror focused web site is dark destinations. These are the haunted, horrible places that people like to visit – on vacation. Who knew there was a cottage industry around visiting to
mbs and alleged haunted houses? Well, Casey Hopkins and Tom Gleason, the writers and publishers of TheCabinet.com, of course. Both Casey and Tom took time off their haunted travels to answer our questions).

DaRK PaRTY: What are the criteria to be considered a dark destination?

Casey: The scope of Dark Destinations is quite large and very inclusive. Basically, if there is a dark history, story, tradition, theme, etc. we try to cover it. This can include the paranormal, cryptozoological, horror-genre sites (conventions, film/literary locations, personalities, etc.), infamous crimes, Halloween haunts/festivals, and much, much more.

The interesting thing we find is that locations tend to encompass more than just one general them
e and that by focusing in one element (say the paranormal), you tend to miss out on so many interesting stories that a place has to offer. The other interesting note is how interconnected all of the locations can be. It is not unusual for us to start work on writing an article on one location and end up with several other locations as a result. It actually can be quite maddening at times from the writing standpoint but fascinating from a historical perspective.

DP: Why do you think people want to visit scary places?

Casey: I think it depends on the individual. As I mentioned, we cover a wide array of topics that can and will attract different people, each with their own different motivation for visiting them. It is fascinating to see how there are so many types of so-called dark tourism. You have the "ghost tourism" where people are traveling to alleged haunted locations, "grief tourism" (also known as thanotourism) where people are traveling to a site of a horrific crime or disaster, "movie tourism" that sends fans to the spots where their favorite movies were made (typically in our case - horror films), "cryptid tourism" that involves searching for mysterious creatures like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, and more.

It could be that people travel to reportedly haunted locales for much of the same reason that they might attend a Halloween haunted house or Disneyland's Haunted Mansion - for a quick thrill or scare. Others may be interested in the phenomenon and what it means to their own mortality. Then there are people that travel to sites like Auschwitz or the World Trade Center to either honor the lives lost there or to see some form of closure or acceptance to a horrific crime. The interesting thing is when the various types cross paths like the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. It is not only rumored to be home to paranormal activity, but is also the site of a gruesome double murder and people pay to stay the night there - even in the very room where one of the murders took place.

Tom: Which my wife and I did back in October of 2000. That was an interesting experience. The owners of the bed and breakfast have done a wonderful job with recreating the ho
me as it looked at the time of the murders. They have crime scene photos displayed in the rooms where the murders happened. I had one hanging over my head all night.

During our stay the city of Fall River had scheduled a power outage for the block the Borden house sits on. They needed to cut power due to work the city was performing. The power was shut off at midnight, and it caused the bed and breakfast's alarm system to begin loudly beeping because it was on backup power. The alarm was at the bottom of the stairs near our room. We woke up and used tap lights to find the source of the sound. It was spooky walking around in very dim light in a reputedly haunted house, especially when there were mannequins clothed in Victorian dresses lurking about in the darkness. We felt like we were in a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys novel. I highly recommend the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast.

DP: In your opinion what are the three scariest places to visit and why?

Tom: For me, the scariest place is the ocean. I'm terrified of deep water, especially when there are sharks, giant squids and other creepy things lurking within it. I'm able to go whale watching on boats, but the idea of scub
a-diving is one that scares the hell out of me. Lakes creep me out too. I once lived by a man-made lake that had a former town submerged in it. I heard stories that a church steeple sometimes stuck up out of the lake's waters. I was also told that they didn't relocate the bodies buried in the churchyard when the lake was made. I don't know if there was any truth to the stories, but they bothered me.

Ultimately, fear is subjective. There are places on land that might terrify others, but I generally just find them interesting and a little spooky. Deep water is what hits my fear buttons.

Casey: Probably the most poignant moment I have personally ever had was visiting "ground zero" of the World Trade Center just a few days prior to the one-year anniversary of the attacks. I had been in New York City in 1998 and stopped by the towers, which made it very surreal to return and find them gone. It somehow ma
de it all the more real and terrifying to see the massive crater and damage to the buildings around the area firsthand. It is pretty much impossible to try and explain the emotions that go through your head in that type of moment.

Along the same lines, I found Gettysburg to be very unsettling as well. The battlefield today shows no major signs of what happened there, which kind of adds a sanitized feeling to it. However, there is no escaping the knowledge of the tragic suffering and the death that took place there. Of course, it is supposed to be fairly haunted as well, but I can't say that I had any unusual experiences there.

I did have some rather strange things happen during my stay at the Lemp Mansion in Saint Louis, Missouri. The house also has a tragic history of suicide and madness, but the past is often overshadowed by their reports of paranormal activity. While I was there, I felt what seemed to be someone tugging on my shirt and brushing past me on another occasion. Interestingly enough, these types of things make me more curious than anything. Those are the three that first popped into my head from the question, so I guess they would be my picks.

DP: What horror movie do you think uses setting best and why?

Tom: The first film that pops to mind for me is "Session 9." The filmmakers used the old Danvers State Mental Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts as their setting and filmed on location. The place had been abandoned for decades at that point and had a marvelously creepy vibe even when it had been operating. The abandoned mental hospital is so integral to the movie that it is almost a character. I don't know if the film would have worked had they filmed it somewhere else. The story was also very current at the time. It dealt with an asbestos removal crew working inside the old hospital right around the time the place was undergoing development to turn it into apartments. I've been up to see the apartment complex it became. The place still has a hau
nting quality to it.

Casey: This is a tough one for me. For some reason or another, films shot in the woods with no signs of civilization tend to get under my skin more than others. I know this probably won't be popular, but I'm going to go with "The Blair Witch Project" as a good example of utilizing the scenery and making it something of a character in the film. For that movie, the inherently creepy woods had a very foreboding feeling around them and I thought were rather successfully presented as being somewhat alive and malevolent - adding to the hopelessness and isolation of the characters.

DP: What horror book do think utilizes place better than any other and why?

Casey: Shirley Jackson's “The Haunting of Hill House.” It is a fictional location, but she managed to create a living entity in her descriptions of the place. Robert Wise's film adaptation did a very admirable job (often using voiceover narration that was quite literally Jackson's sentences) with it, but the book created a real fun-house effect with the house. I won't even bother to go into the remake of the film.

Tom: I'm with Casey on that choice, even though I've only read the opening paragraph of that book. It was printed as an example in another text I was reading recently. I definitely need to get around to reading that book finally. I find it interesting how much of an impact literature can have on an actual location. Washington Irving's “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Stephenie Meyer's “Twilight Saga” novels have caused Tarrytown, New York and Forks, Washington to transform themselves to varying degrees in order to draw t
ourism inspired by the fiction.

5 Questions About: Horror Movies (with Fangoria Editor Tony Timpone)

The Greatest Cinematic Serial Killers of All Time

Scary Water Movies

12 Signs That Your Boss Might Be a Zombie

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Monday, December 29, 2008
Book Review: "Runner" Leaves You Breathless

Thomas Perry Welcomes Back Jane Whitefield in New Thriller

I read “Runner” by Thomas Perry so fast – What happens next! What happens next! – that the pages started to smolder and smoke. I was forced to read the rest of it wearing fire retardant gloves and with a fire extinguisher within easy reach.

“Runner” hits bookstore shelves on January 14 and, once you’ve fireproofed your favorite reading chair, you should seriously consider adding it to your collection. “Runner” is a marvel, and already in the running for my pick for best suspense novel of 2009.

Thomas Perry has always
been an underrated scribe. He came out of the gates strong with his first novel “The Butcher’s Boy,” which won the 1983 Edgar Award for best first mystery novel.

But Perry really didn’t hit his stride until he created Jane Whitefield – a Native American woman who helps desperate people “disappear” – guiding them to new lives while helping them escape their pasts, usually filled with various nasty people with guns.

Jane is hard as dried leather – and smart. Her character – the detail oriented, obsessive perfectionist with little humor and a demeanor as sullen as funeral – centers the novel. She’s a fascinating case study as she plunges the reader into the underground world of forgeries and the act of “vanishing” without a trace.

Jane made her first appearance in “Vanishing Act” in 1995 and appeared in four more novels before Perry retired her in 2000. The series, however, has proven so popular, that Perry has dusted off Jane nine years later.

Lucky us. The result is “Runner.”

Jane is now married to a surgeon in up-state New York and living under the name Jane McKinnon. The action begins immediately as a pregnant teenager named Christine tries to find Jane at the local hospital – where Jane is attending a fundraiser she organized.

There are six professional criminals trailing Christine – and they bomb a wing of the hospital in order to flush Christine out of the building. Christine, however, is fortunate enough to find Jane first.

The rest of “Runner” is a harrowing race to save Christine and her baby from her former boyfriend, a corrupt real estate mogul who needs Christine and his child back to avoid being written out of the family businesses by his demanding father and mother.

“Runner” is relentless – but never allows itself to get away from the characters. Perry gives readers complex characters in Christine and boyfriend Richard Beale (and his complicated family dynamics with his mother and father). There are no stereotypes or casting call characters here, but dynamic human beings.

There are some questionable logic lapses in “Runner” with the hospital bombing front and center (would career criminals in a covert operation really do something that dramatic?). And the relationship between Richard and his criminal friends, led by the enigmatic Steve Demming, fails to hold up under too much scrutiny (and we never get any insight into Demming and his colleagues motivations).

However, “Runner” is just too expertly plotted and burns up the pages like a flamethrower to get too caught up in the trivial complaints. The book is just too good for that. Our recommendation is to just guard against third-degree burns and let Jane Whitefield guide you through “Runner.” You won’t be sorry.

Buy "Runner" at Amazon.com

Book Review: "The Brass Verdict" Plays It Safe

Thoughts From the Shadows: Would Jim Thompson Be Published Today?

The Toughest SOBs in Fantasy Fiction

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
"My Favorite Christmas Movie Is..." (Part 2)

The second part of our Yuletide feature. We asked our distinguished panel a simple question: "What is your favorite Christmas movie and why?" Click here to see Part 1.

We received some remarkable answers!

Dave Zeltserman, author of “Small Crimes”

“My selection is Christmas Time for the Jews, originally airing on Saturday Night Live as part of TV Funhouse. While not a movie, and only 2 minutes and 24 seconds long, my wife and I probably watched this a few dozen times when it first came out (thank you YouTube!), and it perfectly captures the sense of alienation of Jews feel at Christmas -- and yes, we use the days as way to get into popular movies without waiting
in line, and usually end up at Chinese restaurants drinking their sweet-ass wine!”

Bill Crider, author of “Of All Sad Words”

“My favorite Christmas movie? That’s an easy one. A Christmas Story, no question. Why? Let me count the ways.

1. Jean Shepherd. I love the narration, but it’s more than just that. I love it because years before I ever saw the movie, I read Shepherd’s wonderful childhood reminiscences in Playboy (after I looked at the pictures, of course). Later, I bought the collection called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and read the stories again. I never dreamed that anybody would mine them for movie gold, but Bob Clark did just that and came up with the film that runs for 24 hours on TBS every Christmas and for almost that ma
ny hours on the TV set in our den. Sure, I have the DVD, but the whole family likes to have that movie running on Christmas day. It’s become a family tradition.

2. The setting. I didn’t grow up in the same era Ralphie did, but nothing much had changed by the time I came along. Everything in the movie hits home with me, from the flat tire to the school classroom to the way the kids dressed.

3. The Red Ryder BB Gun. I had one just like the one in the movie, and it was a wonderful thing. Also, like every kid in that day and age, I heard the bit about “you’ll put your eye out” more than once.

4. The Little Orphan Annie Decoder. I sent away for many a radio-show premium. Most of them were just as disappointing as the decoder Ralphie got. I still have my Lone Ranger Silver Saddle Ring. It still glows in the dark.

5. Mouth washed out with soap. Been there, had that done to me.

6. The cast. Darr
en McGavin is great as the Old Man. The profanity. “Frah-gee-lay.” A major award. Melinda Dillon is the mom every kid wanted to have. And all the kids get it right. If you don’t believe me, watch the sequel, done with a (mostly) different cast. Shepherd is the narrator again, but it just doesn’t work.

7. There’s just too much more to go into. For me, this is it, the one, THE Christmas movie.

Second choice: Bad Santa.

Casey Hopkins, blogger, TheCabinet.com

A Christmas Story! Not only hilarious and one of the true Christmas classics, but also directed by the same Bob Clark who got his start with Black Christmas and Dead of Night. Got to stand by them horror directors!”

Hannah Tinti, author of “The Good Thief”

“Usually my family watches the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. I think it’s still a great movie—very dark and interesting, and some of those images, like the hooded spirit pointing at Scrooge’s grave, and the moment where Scrooge’s sister walks through him, like a ghost, have stayed with me, over the years.”

Malena Lott, author of “Dating da Vinci”

Love Actually. It's a romantic comedy with a huge, stellar cast, multiple story lines and feel good holiday trimming. Perfect movie to watch while snuggled up next to your sweetie.”

"My Favorite Christmas Movie Is..." (Part 1)

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
"My Favorite Christmas Movie Is..." (Part 1)

We asked a simple question this Yuletide season. What is your favorite Christmas movie and why? Our distinguished panel of experts gave us some rather remarkable responses.

Be sure to check out Part 2 tomorrow!

Ken Bruen, bestselling author of “Once We Were Cops”

“Me fav Christmas movie is not really a Christmassy movie but it is about the holidays! So it's Home For The Holidays with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Junior, Charles Durning and a whole stellar cast Directed by Jodie Foster. It is so true of family re-unions and funny, deeply moving and beautifully directed.”

Steve Ulfelder, blogger and mystery novelist

A Christmas Story is my fave movie for this time of year -- and the contest isn’t even close, truth be told.

For starters, I never did like D
ickens’s A Christmas Carol. It always struck me as a nasty story about miserable people in a crappy time and place. For crying out loud, the big payoff moment is the purchase of a turkey. That was always hard to get excited about for me, a son of the mid-20th-century suburbs. Shouldn’t that asshole Scrooge have tossed Tiny Tim a bone in the form of a few Hot Wheels cars, at the very least? Maybe a GI Joe?

So A Christmas Carol and it’s thousand and one spinoffs and imitators were out.

Elf was okay, I guess, but I believe I’m five years too old to really get Will Ferrell.

The Santa Clause, too, was pretty good – but for me it (and its annual sequels, which unsurprisingly grow worse each year) remains strictly a flick-I-took-the-kids-to. Ditto Home Alone.

I’ve seen lists that include the great Die Hard as a Christmas movie, but that’s a stretch.

So it came down to A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation. The latter is distinctive in two ways. First, it’s the most recent Chevy Chase movie that you can get me to watch without those eyelid-holding devices from A Clockwork Orange (and it dates to 1989 – nice career, Chev). Second, it gave the world one of cinema’s classic lines, and one that my friends, family and I quote reverently to this day. The line belongs to R
andy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie character. While emptying the contents of his RV’s lavatory into the town sewer, Eddie casually explains to a disgusted neighbor: “Shitter’s full.”

Despite that and other classic moments (not to mention Julia Dreyfuss,
who I’ve always had a crush on), Christmas Vacation comes in second to A Christmas Story.

Why? Sheesh, how do you explain it without killing all the jokes? The movie is just plain funny. The Bumpus Hounds, Darren McGavin’s ineffectual father, his epic yet non-specific cursing, his ongoing battle with the furnace, the bundled-up sprint from the bullies – it’s all perfect, inevitable, timeless.

Not to mention quotable, another measurement of a movie’s appeal. Flat tires are rare these days, but whenever I get one I turn to whoever’s nearest and say, “Time me.” They know exactly what I’m referring to. Likewise, when the kids are around and I’m struggling with some dad chore in the attic or garage, I vent my frustration by cursing McGavin-style: “Frackin’, mackin’, sousitty-muckin’, hossenpfouffer thing …”

And when
’s the last time you saw something marked FRAGILE and failed to say, “Fra – JEE –lay”?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the basement. The mackity-frackin’ Christmas lights popped a circuit breaker again, and I’m going to fix that ever-sousin’ muckhole of a hossenblatt if it kills me.

Polly Frost, writer and producer of “The Fold”
and "Sex Scenes"

“I don’t like the usual roster of Christmas movies -- What can I say? Halloween and Easter are holidays that inspire the gore movies I’m looking for! But I do enjoy imagining remakes of some of the Christmas movie classics:

It’s a Wonderful Life in a remake by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. When you think about it, the town of South Park is a little like Bedford Falls, the town where Jimmy Stewart lives in the movie, if maybe a little less heartwarming.

White Christmas -- and I actually do love Bing Crosby -- but would love that film being nuked by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman. Gore by the bucket, bad-taste jokes, and obscene musical numbers ... I’m looking forward to a Troma Xmas!

Miracle on 34th Street as reconceived by Michael Bay. Blow New York City up, Michael! And Macy's! And Santa Claus, too, while you’re at it!"

Michael Marshall Smith, author of “The Servants”

“I'm afraid my answer is desperately un-original. Over the ideal holiday season I'd want to see both It’s a Wonderful Life and Gremlins, and both for the same reasons. Christmas is (or should be) about family, sentimentality, magic, and the kind of community that we like to believe still exists in Smalltown USA. Both these films - in different ways - celebrate all of the above, and have snow in them too. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe A Muppet Christmas Carol, I guess.”

John Cozzoli, blogger, Zombo’s Closet of Horror

“My favorite is A Christmas Carol (Scrooge, 1951). It has ghosts, lost souls, damned souls, and a wicked performance by Scrooge himself, otherwise known as Alastair Sim. His vinegar and salt vocal range is incredible, and adds depth to the cynical Ebenezer’s hatred and disappointment with the world. When the spirits turn him into a new man filled with hope and charity, he makes it all very believable and heartwarming. The movie is uplifting without being mawkish, and brings Dickens' story to vibrant life.”

Ed Gorman, author of “Sleeping Dogs”

“I like A Christmas Story because director Bob Clark was able to keep it winsome without getting mawkish. And because the performances were just so damned tight and on the money.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

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Monday, December 22, 2008
Under God's Right Arm: Santa Claus is a Terrorist

True Believing Christians Will Reject the Evil, Red-Clad Gnome at Christmas

By Colson Crosslick

Here is a statistic that should sicken the souls of true Christians: 86 percent of children believe in Santa Claus, yet only 70 percent believe that Jesus Christ is their All-Mighty and Powerful Lord and Savior.

Frightening, isn’t it?

After all, Christmas is
the birthday of the Sweet Baby Jesus, yet we have allowed the ancient pagan troll known as Santa Claus to hijack one of the holiest Christian holidays. What a despicable practice to kidnap another religion’s holy day!

This invasion by Santa Claus has enabled other religions to gain a foothold on Christmas. Because of this evil, red-clad gnome we now have Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and “other” religions celebrating Christmas as if it were a secular holiday.

Wouldn’t this be like Christians creating a make-believe character called “Hungry Habib” to celebrate the Muslim holy day of Ramadan? Hungry Habib, a midget with a red turban, could whisk through the air on a carpet pulled by eight flying camels and bring starving little Arab children heaping mounds of lentils and lamb kabobs to celebrate the end of Ramadan, a month-long religious fast.

Or how about Christians creating a character called “Greedy Goldstein”? Goldstein would be a hooked-nosed miser who breaks into Hebrew homes to leave spare change between the sofa cushions. Jewish children could run downstairs the morning after Yom Kippur and root around for quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies.

Don’t expect to find Hungry Habib and Greedy Goldstein on lunch boxes or featured in Hollywood movies any time soon. Our liberal government and university professors protect these “politically correct” religions from commercial invasion. So we would never allow anybody to hijack one of these “precious” holidays.

Christians, meanwhile, have to put up with Santa Claus, a figure whose only purpose is to undermine the celebration of the birth of the Sweet Baby Jesus. If you don’t think Santa Claus is being used to undermine Christian values then you need go no further than a recent story in the New York Times.

Jews celebrating Christmas! What’s next? Commies celebrating Patriots Day?

I think all reasonable Christians can agree that Christmas needs to be filled with lots expensive gifts and presents (especially electronics and TVs). After all, the three kings brought the Sweet Baby Jesus gifts. Christmas in its essence is a birthday and birthdays need a lot of loot to be successful! We also need the commercial aspect of the holiday to help retail corporations meet their year-end profit goals (go Wal-Mart!).

But we must draw the line at including Santa Claus – better known as Satan Claus! He has come to represent the secularization of Christmas and enable other competing religions to join in the celebration of our holiday. Christmas is for Christians. Let the other religions celebrate their own holidays.

But Satan Claus allows these interlopers to come to the party because he undermines Christ on his most visible day. Satan Claus is also a pseudo-god –possessing magical powers and being immortal. So celebrating Christmas with Satan Claus breaks the Second Commandment about worshiping false gods.

But think about what else Satan Claus represents: socialism (toys for everyone!), equality among religions, liberalism, goodwill (even to sinners!), and that fat people are jolly. I know what you’re thinking – Satan Claus is starting to look a lot like Barrack Obama!

So Christians unite! Stop worshiping Satan Claus and bring the Sweet Baby Jesus and shopping to the forefront of Christmas – where they belong! And Merry Christmas to all Christians! You others move along – there’s nothing to see here!

(The Rev. Colson Crosslick is pastor of the Pretty Good Shepherd Church in Ripsaw, Arkansas. He plans to celebrate Christmas by buying himself a new HD-TV. He also writes the regularly appearing column Under God's Right Arm for DaRK PaRTY.)

More Wisdom from Rev. Crosslick:

How Lego Celebrates Murder

The Cult of Darwinism

The Satanic Appeal of Comic Books

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Who Won the Free Copy of "Groundswell"?

Did You Win a Copy a Free Copy of "Groundswell?"

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff are smart cookies. That's why they work for Forrester Research advising clients on how to figure out this Internet thingy. They have collected their wisdom in a book (like good analysts do). There are a lot of tomes on "Web 2.0," but "Goundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies" is one of the best.

To win a copy of the book that Advertising Age calls "one of the most
comprehensive and useful primers on the sudden surge in social media," we asked people to tell us what Internet sites that found must reads when online.

We were a bit disappointed in the level of participation (come on folks! Free book!)

The winner, however, is:

William S. of Macon, Georgia

You will be receiving your free copy of "Groundswell" in the mail within the next couple of weeks.

Thanks to everyone who participated and keep watching for more book and movie giveaways from your pals at DaRK PaRTY!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008
12 Signs That You Might Be Santa Claus

1. Parked in the garage: eight flying reindeer.

2. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30.

3. Most dangerous part of your job is breaking into the White House to fill George W. Bush’s stocking full of coal.

4. Your deep dark secret: lots of elf porn on your hard drive.

5. When you laugh in the ghetto people think you’re calling for a prostitute.

6. Near career ending mistake: the year you let the overexposed Rudolph talk you into handing out “misfit” toys to your best customers.

7. You ask the wife: “Do these red pants make me look fat?”

8. You’re wife’s biggest pet peeve is when you track reindeer shit on the new carpet.

9. Sick and tired of the liberal media’s innuendo about why you let “naughty” children sit on your lap.
10. You own a sleigh that has the strength and storage capacity for more than 35,000 metric tons of toys.

11. You “de-friended” Burgermeister Meisterburger on Facebook.

12. You bear an uncanny resemblance to Walt Whitman.

12 Signs That You Might Have Been Laid Off

12 Signs That You Might Be a Zombie

The Best "End of the World" Movies

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Friday, December 19, 2008
5 Questions About: Crime Noir

An Interview with Novelist Scott Phillips, Author of "The Ice Harvest"

(There’s a lot of talk this time of year about Christmas stories. Well, if you’re sick of the sugar coated, G-rated tales of self-sacrifice and giving (can we have a collective yawn?) then go out and buy “The Ice Harvest” by Scott Phillips. It’s a nasty, barbed pill of a crime noir novel that takes place on Christmas Eve in 1979 among the strip clubs and barrooms of Wichita, Kansas. It’s a novel filled with damaged, mean-spirited people who steal, strip, drink, and kill for a living. It’s the antidote for watching too many Rankin-Bass holiday specials. Scott has written several other crime novels and has also dabbled in screen writing. In between moving dead bodies around his house, he agreed to answer our questions about the genre he writes in.)

DaRK PaRTY: What do you think are the key ingredients for a crime noir novel?

Scott: Probably a sense of doom, characters struggling to retain or regain control over their lives, and a willingness to transgress to achieve that goal.

DP: How important is dark humor to the genre?

Scott: To the genre, I don't know. To me, very important. It's all whistling past the graveyard. A lot of my favorite crime writers of the moment are very funny; Ken Bruen, Megan Abbott, Vistor Gischler. Then again I like a lot who aren't. But my own stuff just seems to come out funny.

DP: Which crime noir writers have had the most influence on your own writing?

Scott: Charles Willeford, James Crumley, Jim Thompson, to name three closely associated with the genre. There are lots of others, though, outside it. The author I lately find myself imitating, unsuccessfully, is Rick DeMarinis.

DP: All three of your crime noir novels are set in Kansas (where you were born). Most people don't immediately associate Kansas with crime. Why do you think Kansas makes a good setting for a crime novel?

Scott: Because it's pretty boring and desolate, I suppose. Wichita is a town marked by a strong religiosity and a very vigorous sex trade, and I imagine the two are interlinked in all the usual ways. In Word War II a great number of single men flooded the town working in the aircraft plants, and that really opened up the gates for all the usual forms of vice. But I suppose I'd be writing about crime in Iceland or Madagascar if I'd come from there.

DP: Your debut novel "The Ice Harvest" was made into a movie in 2005. Did you like the film and what was the experience of working with Hollywood like?

Scott: My experience with the movie w
as overwhelmingly positive. They let me spend a fair amount of time on set, once they figured out that I wasn't going to tell them John Cusack had the wrong hat on or the real strip club was dirtier, or whatever.

The movie is funnier than the book, but it's still got its fair share of grisly moments. That's probably what doomed it commercially; it was being advertised as this wacky comedy, and the people who came expecting pratfalls and one liners were treated instead to drownings, shootings, people getting their thum
bs chopped off, fingers broken... this can't have helped word of mouth. But I’m very happy with the way it turned out, except for the very end.

Maybe someday they'll let Director Harold Ramis re-cut it with the original ending, which is included on the DVD version.

Buy "The Ice Harvest" at Amazon.com

Visit Scott at his Web site

5 Questions About: Ken Bruen

Could Jim Thompson Be Published Today?

5 Questions About: Sherlock Holmes

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Fantasically Bad Cinema: "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"

A New Name for the Film? "The X-Files: I Smell Like a Rotting Corpse"

How fantastically bad is “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”?

Well, it looks as if director Chris Carter murdered the franchise. It doesn’t feel like one of those “accidental homicides” either. This feels deliberate and mean.

It’s as if Carter
waited under a broken streetlight and kidnapped “The X-Files” at knifepoint as it walked home from a fortune telling expo. He tied it up with duct tape and used an oily rag as a gag before shoving it into his car trunk with his golf clubs. He drove it out to an abandoned slaughterhouse on a desolate country road somewhere.

In the silvery moonlight, he chopped “The X-Files” to pieces with a dull, rusty axe: a horrible, messy dismemberment. Then he dug a hole in the cow manure out back and buried the whole bloody mess in a shallow grave – right next to his writing and directing talent.

That’s how bad
this movie is.

And I say t
his from the vantage point of a diehard fan of the long-running FOX-TV series (which ran from 1993 to 2002). It was my favorite show. For those unfamiliar with “The X-Files,” the show was about two FBI agents, Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who investigated paranormal crimes. But the real pleasure of the series was its interaction between “Spooky” Mulder and his logical, scientific partner.

“X-Files: I Want to Believe” was supposed to be the comeback movie that revived the franchise. That won’t be happening. Not unless Carter hires the crazy Russian scientists from this film to try and revive the “The X-Files” from the dead.

The premise for “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” was a stand-alone feature. Carter was going to leave behind the space alien mythology of the series and craft one of the series popular “creature features.” These were all-inclusive, single episodes that resembled a mash-up between “The Twilight Zone” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.”

Examples from the TV series included having Mulder and Scully investigating Haitian zombies, exorcism, gargoyles, and a plethora of weird serial killers. “X-Files: I Want to Believe” is supposed to be about a serial killer.

There are many problems here – too many to name really. But the real fault lies with the plot, or the lack of a comprehensive one. It has to do with a gay Russian human organ deliveryman who kidnaps women to harvest their body parts – arms, legs, hands, etc. – for his dying husband (they were married in Massachusetts). Why he wants to replace his lover’s anatomy with female body parts when he’s “gay” is never explained.

One of the victims of the deliveryman is a FBI agent – which sets the plot in motion.

We’re also expected to believe this lone, middle-aged deliveryman manages to finance an operation that includes a creepy, but fully functioning hidden laboratory, a staff of rogue Russian surgeons, and lots of expensive medical equipment. He must belong to a great deliveryman union.

This deliveryman manages to outwit Mulder, Scully, and an enormous task force of FBI agents (led, believe it or not, by Amanda Peet – who looks all of 25 years old). The guy is, apparently, a brilliant criminal mastermind.

The miscues start to fall like rain at this point. Mulder and Scully are now a couple – kind of bored with each other. There’s no passion, no chemistry between them. One of the best parts of the TV series was the smoldering, unspoken passion between them. All gone.

Now retired (and living in a part of Virginia that apparently has more snow than Alaska), the FBI requests Mulder’s return because a pedophile ex-priest is having visions of the kidnappings. Are the visions real?

Who cares?

There’s no mystery, no suspense, and in the end, Mulder proves to be more of liability than an asset. He manages to get an FBI agent killed, get ambushed by the killer, beaten up and drugged by an elderly surgeon, and needs to be rescued by Scully – using a log as her weapon of choice.

All of these missteps are linked together by logic and evidence only found in poorly written movies and bad mystery novels.

The result: a dead on-arrival motion picture.

Now will somebody please arrest Chris Carter?

Read More Fantastically Bad Cinema:

Tropic Thunder

Music & Lyrics

The Jewel of the Nile

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Monday, December 15, 2008
Book Review: "The Brass Verdict" Plays It Safe

Author Michael Connelly Avoids Risks, Yet "The Brass Verdict" a Satisfying Crime Novel

Michael Connelly is a safe bet. Pick up one of his crime novels and you’re going to get a tight-plotted caper with colorful characters, riveting dialog, and a satisfying conclusion.

That’s why Connelly is a blockbuster author and New York Times bestseller. He’s consistent – consistently good.

But after more than 20 novels, this consistency may be starting to become something worse: predictable. Case in point: “The Brass Verdict.”

“The Brass Verdict” is the second novel in Connelly’s new series about Mickey Haller, a defense lawyer in Los Angeles. Haller is an interesting charac
ter – a former addict to painkillers who keeps his emotions tightly contained. He’s a brutal realist, but with a soft spot for certain hard luck cases.

The character (and the series) shows a lot of promise. Connelly has a great eye for criminal case detail and understands how to create courtroom suspense. The best parts of “The Brass Verdict” are all in the courtroom.

It’s unfortunate that Connelly didn’t feel confident enough to allow Haller’s case to unfold. The story is a good one. Haller, recently out of rehab, inherits the caseload of a fellow defense attorney. One of the clients is a rich and powerful movie mogul accused of murdering his wife and her lover.

Walter Elliot is an arrogant, oily tycoon with a likability score of less than zero. But did he shoot and kill two people?

Haller isn’t interested in guilty or innocence – only in building a case that can win. This razor-thin line that Haller walks as he investigates the homicides makes for a fascinating look at his character and at how our criminal justice system works.

This is how Connelly opens the novel: “Everybody lies. Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victim lies. A trial is a contest of lies. And everyone in the courtroom know this.”

If only Connelly let Haller build his case and kept us in the courtroom as he argued and maneuvered. The novel would have been even better.

Unfortunately, “The Brass Verdict” gets the same treatment as Connelly’s first breakout bestseller “The Poet” (1996). There are more twists here than an Olympic high-platform dive – and in the end – there’s just too many to keep the story believable.

Part of the problem is the presence of L.A. Police Detective Harry Bosch. Bosch is Connelly’s primary series character (and if you haven’t read any of the books featuring Bosch – you really should).

Bosch really doesn’t have a role in “The Brass Verdict” – except as a crossover concept (and for a surprise coincidence at the end). Bosch’s investigation into Elliot’s alleged double homicide is more of distraction than an addition. It keeps us out of the courtroom – where the real action is.

But even with Connelly’s decision to use Bosch and play twister at the end – “The Brass Verdict” is better than most of the mainstream crime fiction out there. You have to hand it to Connelly – his formula for consistency keeps him selling books.

It would be nice to see him take some risks and move away from his modus operandi, but then again why mess with success?

Buy "The Brass Verdict" at Amazon.com

Read our Review of Ken Bruen's "The Guards"

The 5 Scariest Stephen King novels

Knock Your Socks Off Good Books

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Thursday, December 11, 2008
5 Questions About: Getting Published

An Interview with Author J.A. Konrath
About Getting Your Novel Published

(Everyone wants to be a published author these days. In fact, anyone who has scribbled more than 75,000 words often feels like they are entitled to be published. Well, Author J.A. (Joe) Konrath has a bucket of cold water for aspiring novelists: it takes really hard work to get published. Joe is the author of several thrillers featuring protagonist Lt. Jack Daniels. He also pens a writing blog called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishin
g. Writers can also download Joe’s free e-book on publishing tips from his Web site. DaRK PaRTY talked with Joe about getting published and here’s what he told us. Get ready for a reality check!)

DaRK PaRTY: Is the publishing industry in the United States broken?

Joe: Not yet. B
ut it's damaged. The amount of waste, the return policy, and the blockbuster mentality all keep the industry in the 20th, if not the 19th, century. And the rise of digital media isn't helping any.

But so far, it's the only gam
e in town.

hat is the biggest mistake that new writers make when trying to get published?

Joe: They don't hone their craft, and seek the gratification of seeing their words in print before their words may be good enough to be in print. It's hard to get published, yes. But there's a learning curve, and the vetting process produces better writers.

I don't know of any other profession where someone does something and automatically expects to be recognized, paid, and lauded for it. I can play "What I Like About You" on the harmonica, but I don't expect the Boston Pops to come calling. Yet most writers think that just because they were able to string 90k words together someone owes them a contract. Make sure those are 90k good words first.

Will a complete stranger pay $25 for you book? Will 20,000 complete stra
ngers? If not, try something else.

DP: How can a new writer increase their odds of getting published?

Joe: Write more. Submit more. Learn everything they can about how the biz works.

DP: What is an agent/publisher looking for in a query letter?

Joe: A reason to read the book.

Queries don't sell writing. Writing sells the writing. If the right book gets in front of the right agent at the right time, she'll want to represent the author.

DP: You write the popular Lt. Jack Daniels thrillers (most new writers cou
ld use a shot of JD!). Can you share with us your own road to publication?

Joe: Five hundred rejections, nine unsold novels. The secret is perseverance. And a large, healthy liver.

But seriously, there's a word for a writer who never gives up. Published. This business is all about luck, but the harder you work, the luckier you get.

5 Questions About: Chick Lit

Tony Hillerman and the Power of Setting

Great Openings: The First Sentences of 12 Classic Novels

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The 12 Best Actresses in Hollywood

The Dozen Greatest Actresses Currently Working in the Movies

Our friends at Flickhead challenged DaRK PaRTY to provide a list of our favorite actresses. We pondered this question for a good long while (more than 15 minutes anyway) and we've compiled a list of the 12 actresses we find the most compelling in Hollywood. We decided to limit the list to a dozen -- so let the debate begin about who is missing from the list (Judi Dench and Annette Benning come immediately to mind). We also decided to focus on living actresses and those who work primarily in English - so we left off several excellent French and Chinese performers. Please let us who you would remove or add to the list.

Cate Blanchett

Born: May 14, 1969

Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia

Best Movie: “Elizabeth” (1998)

Underrated Movie: “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)

Worst Movie: “The Gift” (20

Cool Movie Quote
: “Go back to your rathole! Tell Philip I fear neither him, nor his priests, nor his armies. Tell him if he wants to shake his little fist at us, we're ready to give him such a bite he'll wish he'd kept his hands in his pockets!” – From “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2007)

Snap Judgment: Blanchett is one of those actresses that becomes completely absorbed in a role. She also takes chances and refuses to be typecast. That’s why you’ll see her playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There” (2007) and then the evil Nazi villain Irina Spalko in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008). She’s an actress – not a movie star.

Kirsten Dunst

Born: April 30, 1982

Birthplace: Point Ple
asant, New Jersey

Best Movie: Levity (2003)

Underrated Movie: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Worst Movie:
Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Cool Movie Quote: “You smell like sex.” – From “Levity” (2003)

Snap Judgment: Dunst is an intense actresses willing to go out on an emotional limb. She should con
tinue to take edgy independent roles in movies like “Levity” (2003) and “The Cat’s Meow” (2001) and stop playing it safe with the safe roles in the “Spiderman” movies (although her Mary Jane Watson often steals the scenes in which she’s featured). She’s a beauty, but she’s real depth.

Jodie Foster

Born: November 19, 1962

Birthplace: Los Angeles, California

Best Movie: Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Underrated Movie: Sommersby (1993)

Worst Movie: Maverick (1994)

Cool Movie Quote: “Well detective, there are matters at stake here that are a little bit above your pay grade. No offense.” – From “Inside Man” (2006)

Snap Judgment: Jodie excels at playing strong women – from the hard-as-nails doer in “Inside Man” (2006) to the heroic mother from “Flightplan” (2005). She is always fasc
inating to watch even in bad movies like “Maverick” (1994) and “Nell” (2002). She’s one of those actresses that make any movie she’s in better.

Nicole Kidman

Born: June 20, 1967

Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii

Best Movie: “The Hours” (2002)

Underrated Movie: “Cold Mountain” (2003)

Worst Movie: “The Stepford Wives” (2004)

Cool Movie Quote: “What we have lost will never be returned to us. The land will not heal - too much blood. All we can do is learn from the past and m
ake peace with it.” – From “Cold Mountain” (2003)
Snap Judgment: Nicole Kidman is one of those surprising actresses. She is so beautiful that you don’t expect the power of her performances. Her p
ortrayal of Virginia Woolf in “The Hours” (2002) was masterful. She also soared in “Cold Mountain” (2003) and “The Others” (2001). She needs to stay away from comedies like the awful “Bewitched” (2005).

Julianne Moore

Born: December 3, 1960

Birthplace: Fayetteville, North Carolina

Best Movie: “The End of the Affair” (1999)

Underrated Movie: “The Hours” (2002)

Worst Movie: “The Forgo
tten” (2004)

Cool Movie Quote: “You know that ringing in your ears? That 'eeeeeeeeee'? That's the sound of the e
ar cells dying, like their swan song. Once it's gone you'll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts.” – From “Children of Men” (2006)

Snap Judgment: Julianne Moore moves quickly from acting in really good movies to really bad ones. But she’s always fun to watch. She’s a bold actress and she’s always willing to take chances from sci-fi movies like “Children of Men” (2006) and “Blindness” (2008) to period pieces like the powerful “The End of the Affair” (1999) and the underrated “Far from Heaven” (2002).

Michelle Pfeiffer

Born: April 29, 1958

Birthplace: Santa Ana, California

Best Movie: “The Age of Innocence” (1993)

Underrated Movie: “The Fabulous Baker Boys” (1989)

Worst Movie: “Frankie and Johnny” (1991)

Cool Movie Quote: “It's the so-called "normal" guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. Least they're committed.” – From “Batman Returns” (1992).

Snap Judgment: Pfeiffer may be one of the most beautiful actresses of all time, yet she never le
t that hold her back. In fact, she used her beauty as a character trait in her underrated performance in “Hairspray” (2007). She has excelled at portraying strong women with a streak of vulnerability in movies like “Age of Innocence” (1993) and “A Thousand Acres” (1997).

Winona Ryder

Born: October 29, 1971

Birthplace: Winona, Minnesota

Best Movie: “Little Women” (1994)

Underrated Movie: “The Crucible” (1996)

Worst Movie: “Autumn in New York” (2000)

Cool Movie Quote: “I'm Pam Dawson, virgin school nurse from Westchestertonfieldville, Iowa.” – From “Mr.
Deeds” (2002)

Snap Judgment: Ryder gets a bad rap and went through a terrible stretch of not finding work
and being forced to act in movies like “Mr. Deeds” (2002) and “A Scanner Darkly” (2006). But among the bombs are some amazing performances in “Girl, Interrupted” (1999), “The Crucible” (1996) and “The Age of Innocence” (1993).

Susan Sarandon

Born: October 4, 1946

ce: New York City, New York

Best Movie: “Dead Man Walking” (1995)

Underrated Movie: “The Client” (1994)

Worst Movie: “Speed Racer” (2008)

Cool Movie Quote: “If only we were amongst friends... or sane persons!” – From “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)

Snap Judgment: Sarandon is one of the best actresses of her generation. Few actors in Hollywood have the range and the talent that she possesses. She has dazzled in films like “Igby Goes Down” (2002), “Bull Durham” (1988), “Thelma & Louise” (1991), and the amazing “Dead Man Walking” (1995). She even had the audacity to appear with Billy Bob Thornton in “Mr. Woodcock” (2007).

Meryl Streep

Born: June 22, 1949

Birthplace: Summit, New Jersey

Best Movie: “Out of Africa” (1985)

Underrated Movie: “Marvin’s Room” (1996)

Worst Movie: “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006)

Cool Movie Quote: “Thank God
I got sober now so I can be hyper-conscious for this series of humiliations.” – From “Postcards from the Edge” (1990)

Snap Judgment: Streep is probably the best actress ever with two Oscar wins (and she should have won at least two more). She’s one of those actresses who simply becomes her on-screen personae. Her highlights include the wonderful “Mamma Mia!” (2008), “Lions for Lambs” (2007), “Adaptation” (2002), “Ironweed” (1987), and “Heartburn” (1986).

Emma Thompson

Born: April 15, 1

Birthplace: London, England

Best Movie: “Sense and Sensibility” (1995)

Underrated Movie: “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006)

Worst Movie: “Primary Colors” (1998)

Cool Movie Quote: “Because it's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die. And then dies. But if a man does know he's about to die and dies anyway. Dies- dies willingly, knowing that he could stop it, then- I mean, isn't that the type of man who you want to keep alive?” – From “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006)

Snap Judgment: Try not to cry when you watch Thompson in the sensational “Sense and Sensibility” (1995). Thompson is a subtle actress and it’s easy to overlook her as among the best. But here is a woman who has starred in films like “Love Actually” (2003), “In the Name of the Father” (1993), “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993), and “Howards End” (1992).

Sigourney Weaver

Born: October 8, 19

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Best Movie: “The Ice Storm” (1997)

Underrated Movie: “Aliens” (1986)

Worst Movie: “Ghostbusters II” (1989)

Cool Movie Quote: “When they first heard about this thing, it was "crew expendable". The next time they sent in marines - they were expendable too. What makes you think they're gonna care about a bunch of lifers who found God at the ass-end of space? You really think they're gonna let you interfere with their plans for this thing? They think we're - we're crud. And they don't give a fuck about one friend of yours that's - that's died. Not one.” – From “Aliens 3” (1992)

Snap Judgment: No actress plays tough better than Weaver. She’s the Clint Eastwood of actresses. But she often gets typecast as Ripley, the pugnacious fighter from the Alien movies. Weaver has a lot of range as evident by her stunning performances in films like “The Ice Storm” (1997), “Half Moon Street” (1986), “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982), and “Tadpole” (2002).

Kate Winslet

Born: October 5, 1975

Birthplace: Berkshire, England

Best Movie: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

Underrated Movie: “Little Children” (2006)

Worst Movie: “The Life of David Gale” (2003)

Cool Movie Quote: “Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours.” – From “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

Snap Judgment: Winslet is a force of nature and another actress that becomes completely imbedded in character. She tears up scenery and she’s hard not to watch. She has done understated in “Finding Neverland” (2004), romance in “Titanic” (1997), and even period pieces in “Hamlet” (1996).

Is Indiana Jones a Misogynist?

Elegant Violence: Fight Scenes That Flow Like Poetry

Hollywood's Most Awkward Nude Scenes

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