Friday, January 17, 2014


In his foreward to Kim Newman's fastidious book, Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema (St. Martin's Griffen, 2000), David J. Schow opines that, in the case of horror and science-fiction genre, "giant, radioactive, skyscraper-eating monsters were not the problem. Goo-faced nuclear mutants were not the problem. The real evil, it seemed to me, even at age ten, was Politics -- the cause of all those Final Conflicts." Schow goes on to explain that: "In movie after movie, politics and politicians were the real monsters the ones culpable for atomically flushing the whole planet, thereby enabling all those giant bugs and post-apocalyptic wastelands. In many a film blaming the Bomb, politicians were the ones whose squabbles caused them to start stabbing big red buttons and upsetting property values worldwide ..." It is perceptive, then, for DIABOLIQUE -- in light of the post-tsunami Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown coinciding with a sort of New Wave of post-apocalyptic films and TV shows led by the ever-popular THE WALKING DEAD -- to produce a themed-issue that re-examines this film making niche.

Leading off the issue is a look at the late, great Richard Matheson's enduring tale of survival, I Am Legend. The novel, which has so far been filmed three times, is his earliest in his cycle of books, stories and screenplays that are infused with the common thread of Cold War paranoia of the kind that held the denizens of this planet on the edge of fear for decades in the 1950's and 1960's. I remember well the "drop drills" that were called by my Elementary School teachers, as well as the regular "fire drill" evacuations. This came at the same time when every morning before school started, the flag was raised and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited outside by the entire school. No one was there to dispute or question what the phrase "under God" meant or why it was included, but every time you watched one of Schow's "goo-faced mutants" or "giant bugs" on Chiller or Science Fiction Theater on the weekends, one had to wonder, what was God thinking? Matheson admitted that there was a reason his family teased him with the moniker, "Mr. Paranoia": "My theme in those (early) years was of a man -- isolated and alone, and assaulted on all sides by everything you could imagine." Matheson's work stood tall in those days, alongside his peers Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont and George Clayton Johnson, and his "paranoid" vision still resonates today.

To say that Harlan Ellison is a cutting edge author is a bit of an understatement. While we don't hear too much from him today, in his prime there wasn't a more outspoken, angry writer on the edge than him. I had the fortune of meeting Mr. Ellison briefly years ago in a Santa Monica, CA bookstore called A Change of Hobbit (and, according to the business card, run by Sherry Gottlieb, The Hobbitch!) just at the time I was immersed in his fantastic double-volume diatribe against television, appropriately titled The Glass Teat, which I would follow up shortly with his double-volume paperbacks of sci-fi death rays, Again Dangerous Visions. Being a person who happens to respect a celebrity's privacy, I only spoke with him long enough to let him know I was a fan, coincidentally reading one of his books, and respected his work. He was appreciative and I learned in that moment that I would never make a living as one of the paparazzi. Re-reading some of his commentary that was originally published in the late-60's by the Los Angeles Free Press, I can see where Stephen King may have gotten some of the voice for his narrative swagger.

One of Ellison's stories made it to the silver screen in 1975, a novella entitled A Boy and His Dog. Labeled as a "post-apocalyptic" tale, it is noted for an early role by Don Johnson, who would later go on to woo the ladies (Melanie Griffith, in particular) as Detective Sonny Crockett in Michael Mann's hit TV series, MIAMI VICE. A few years later, another violent tale set in a dehumanized wasteland called MAD MAX would borrow heavily from visuals and art direction in A BOY AND HIS DOG. I saw it when it first ran in theaters and was left a little dazed ... in a 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY kind of way. In other words, I wasn't expecting the violence or the misogyny (I didn't have a word like this in my vocabulary back then, but it more than fits now). A few years before, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE stunned viewers with it's sex and violence, but they were expecting it because of the pre-release media hype. A BOY AND HIS DOG came in under the radar, however. Remember, this was back in the day when all you had was TV and print media. Today, you can create a buzz around any movie just by designing a trailer to "go viral" on YouTube. Directed by L. Q. Jones, A BOY AND HIS DOG nevertheless has been an influence on The Cinema of Dystopia.

The rest of issue #18 of DIABOLIQUE is filled out with articles on writers David Moody and Rob Guillory (creator of the award-winning comic book, CHEW), fantasy-artist-turned-Zombie King Arthur Suydam, and special effects artist, Remy Couture. Thus far in its short existence, DIABOLIQUE has eschewed the DVD and film review columns that many of its competitors choose to include, and instead relies on the feature content for its criticism.

While politics may play a major role in apocalyptic cinema, I would have to say that natural disasters have also caused plenty of on-screen havoc that have led to the dystopian wastelands depicted in the movies. DIABOLIQUE, through its thoughtful and incisive writers have dissected the topic and opened it up to reveal a multifaceted genre that is perhaps even more relevant today than in the Cold War era.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I didn't know at the time how fortunate I was, but my third grade teacher or so in '64 or so stood in front of the class and said that the part of the pledge with "under God" "was added just a few years ago" and we didn't have to say it if we didn't like reverends telling us what to do. That mostly forgotten teacher is now one of my heroes.


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