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Tales from the Hood 2
Horror, History, Humor & Politics

September 22nd, 2018

“All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS. What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political!” – Toni Morrison

Morrison’s words are particularly relevant to the horror genre. After all, horror literature is all about powers beyond comprehension. It’s true in the genre’s seminal works (think Dante’s Inferno), and it’s certainly true with horror stories today.

Case in point is Tales from the Hood 2, the new anthology film from Rusty Cundieff and Darrin Scott, which serves up a mix of timely jokes, jolts, and meditations on contemporary politics.

I caught the film at the Fantasia International Film Festival, where it screened along with the world premiere of Nightmare Cinema. Here’s what I had to say about it in a brief blog post the following day:

Tales from the Hood 2, from filmmakers Rusty Cundieff and Darrin Scott, is a topical mix of dark comedy and thought-provoking horror. I can’t recommend it enough, but I will try my damnedest in tomorrow’s post.

Although I may have tried my damnedest, that post didn’t appear the next day. But now – with Hood 2 scheduled for release in two weeks – I’m at last making good on my promise.

Coming more than 20 years after the original Tales from the Hood, the sequel opens with a wrap-around segment titled “Robo Hell,” in which Keith David plays Portifoy Simms, a 21st-century scop hired to help program Robo Patriot — a sentient robot that operates on a kind of next-generation AI software known as RI (Real Intelligence).  As one of the developers tells Simms, RI enables Robo Patriot to “learn from second-hand experience — stories, fables, tales. And that’s where you come in.”

The conceit: Simms will help the Robo Patriot develop a sense of justice by telling it stories, the first of which is titled “Good Golly.”

“Good Golly” opens with two friends, Audrey (Alexandria DeBerry) and Zoe (Jasmine Akako), visiting the Museum of Negrosity in search of golliwogs, rag dolls fashioned as racists caricatures. Audrey had a golliwog as a child. She thinks they’re cute, and though the museum’s curator explains that the dolls were an attempt to perpetuate racial stereotypes and are not for sale, she refuses to be turned away.

Presented with equal doses of history, horror, and humor, “Good Golly” accelerates into what appears at times to recall the “Amelia” segment of Richard Matheson’s Trilogy of Terror. But where Matheson went for thrills, “Good Golly” has another agenda — a lesson that doesn’t become clear to the golliwog shoppers until it’s too late.

The next segment, “Medium,” centers on TV psychic John Lloyd (Bryan Batt from Mad Men). Dealing with a band of gangsters who put their trust in Lloyd’s pseudo skills, this episode is perhaps the most straightforwardly entertaining of the four, offering a humorous riff on the blurred line between reality TV and the realities of life. It benefits from energetic performances and twists reminiscent of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

Perhaps inspired by the Me-Too movement, “Date Night” centers on a pair of pick-up artists who pass themselves off as casting directors. Their plans go south when they meet Carmen and Liz — aspiring actresses who are not what they seem. It’s a story of predators becoming prey that plays like an allegory for our times.

As Hood 2 draws to a close, storyteller Simms presents his grand finale, a poignant ghost story about a politician haunted by past civil-rights leaders and victims of racial injustice. Depicting such historical figures in film is challenging, yet Cundeiff and Scott pull this one off beautifully. In all, it’s a timely meditation on race in America.

The final act returns us to the film’s wrap-around device. Here, the RI robot has listened to the stories and is ready to apply what it has learned. As you might imagine, things do not go quite the way the robot’s designers had planned.

Speaking with Rusty Cundeiff and Darrin Scott following their Fantasia premier, I discovered we share a fondness for the old Twilight Zone series and the way writers like Rod Serling and Richard Matheson used horror as an allegory to comment on timely issues and social injustice.

With Tales of the Hood 2, the Cundeiff-Scott team is carrying that tradition into the 21st century.

Tales from the Hood 2 comes out on home video on October 2.


Images

  • Promotional images from Tales from the Hood 2, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018
  • A view from the stage during Rusy Cundeiff and Darrin Scott’s Q&A session at The Fantasia International Film Festival. Photo by Vincent Fréchette, 13 July 2018.

Welcome to My Nightmares:
A Video Essay on Cinematic Monsters

July 2nd, 2018

You’ve heard of man-made monsters. Today, let’s consider a video essay about a monster-made man … or at least a monster-made writer. Namely: the 21st-Century Scop.

Here’s the backstory: Last year I was invited to take part in a speaker series sponsored by the Uniontown Library. Helmed in part by author Heidi Ruby Miller (who also organized the successful Pennsylvania Literary Festival), the program included a series of promotional videos in which authors spoke about influences on their writing.

Thus, they had writers such as Michael A. Arnzen sharing Three Great Things about Horror, John Edward Lawson on Three Great Things about Poetry, and Matt Betts on Three Great Things about Godzilla.

Unfortunately, I was neck-deep in other commitments when Heidi contacted me a to take part in the series. Nevertheless, if they could wait, I was sure I could put together a video in time for an August 2018 visit to the library. An August appearance would follow the premiere of Nightmare Cinema, and I figured the topic Three Great Things about Scary Movies would make for a timely tie-in to the film. Alas, the speaker series concluded in May. Time waits for no one.

Nevertheless, Heidi’s Three-Great-Things premise got me thinking. It turned out I had a few things to say about scary movies. So I decided to shoot my own video, a slice of memoir explaining how monsters influenced (corrupted?) my childhood. Press play. I’ll tell you all about it.

Report from the KGB

June 23rd, 2013

KGB SignFrom the outside it looks like a redbrick townhouse, with only a small sign above the door to let us know we’ve arrived at the KGB Bar – the place that both New York Magazine and the Village Voice have named the best literary venue in New York.

The doors are likewise unremarkable, opening to a flight of stairs that leads to a dim room decorated with Soviet art. For a moment I feel as if I have arrived back in Leningrad, or possibly the upstairs gallery of the illegal artist in my story “Smuggling the Dead.”

MM DeVoe Nicholas Kaufmann Alexa AntopolEllen Datlow, one of our hosts for the evening, is already there. She shows us to our seats, and within minutes people start arriving. I recognize some of them. There’s Nicholas Kaufmann, M. M. De Voe, Rick Bowes, Linda Addison, Gordon Linzner of Space and Time Magazine (editor emeritus), Vaughne Hansen of the Virginia Kidd Agency, and Will and Meesh Horner of Fantasist Enterprises. It’s going to be a fun evening.

Tom Connair and Heather SedlakSome newer writers are also settling in, among them are Heather Sedlak and Tom Connair, MFA candidates from the graduate writing program at Seton Hill University; Andrew Alford, who’s made sales to Space and Time and Midnight Echo; and Nicholas Schwartz, a terrific young filmmaker who has recently option my story “Shooting Evil” for adaptation as a short film. Others are there as well. Too many to mention. Soon, the room is overflowing.

Matthew KresselSarah Langan is also there, of course. We’re sharing the bill. She’ll be reading an excerpt from her forthcoming novel. I’ve selected three stories from Visions. Between the two of us, we have what seems a nice mix planned for the evening.

Cohost Matthew Kressel kicks things off with the announcement of a Kickstarter campaign to help underwrite the continuation of the series. He also shares a list of upcoming readers, including Libba Bray, Lucius Shepard, James Patrick Kelley, and Thomas F. Monteleone. Listening to the list, I’m thinking I’ve got to move to New York so I can become a KGB regular.

Lawrence C Connolly Reading at KGBThen Matthew introduces me, and I’m on. The stories I’ve selected are “Step on a Crack,” “Prime Time!” and “Echoes.” I plan to deliver each from memory, a mode of presentation that harkens back to the roots of storytelling. Think Homer or the Beowulf poet, traveling scops who carried their works in their heads and presented their texts live without reliance on the printed page. I’ve blogged about this technique elsewhere, particularly in Scop 101.

The stories are a bit like songs. They’re longer, of course. And they don’t employ rhyme. But each has a vocal rhythm that facilitates memorization. The audience is wonderfully receptive, and the performance goes well.Sarah Langan at KGB

After a break, during which Will Horner does brisk business at the Fantasist book display, Ellen introduces Sarah – the three-time Bram Stoker winner whom the New York Times has referred to as one of “Shelley’s Daughters,” a strong writer of contemporary horror who carries on the groundbreaking work started by Mary Shelley.

Sarah reads the first chapter from The Clinic, and it’s clear from the delivery that she has another Stoker contender in the works.

The reading leaves us all eager for the book’s release.

will meesh heather3After the readings, about 20 of us head out to dinner at the Grand Sichuan Restaurant in St. Mark’s Place, after which Ginny and I make our way back to our Midtown digs. Special thanks goes out to our New York friend for getting us through the subway turnstiles and showing us the way. We never would have made it without them!

Our original plans were to stay in the city one more day, but a gig at another nightspot – Riley’s Pour House in Pittsburgh – sends us packing in the morning. Still, I’m amazed at all we were able to fit into our short stay.

VortexThere’s lots more to tell, including an account of my visit to GQ for lunch with former Twilingt Zone editor T.E.D. Klein. I’ll try to get to some of it in a follow up post. Look for it soon.

I’d also like to share the preliminary cover art for my forthcoming novel Vortex: Book Three of the Veins Cycle. If you were at the KGB and stopped by the book display after my reading, you got an advance look at what artist Rhonda Libby has planned for the conclusion of the series. If you didn’t, I’m going to keep you in suspense a little longer. The art warrants a blog post of its own.

In the meantime, keep reading. And, as always – rock on!

Image Credits:

Screen cap of the KGB Sign is from the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Fundraiser video.

Photos of  Milda De Voe, Nicholas Kaufmann, and Alexa Antopol;  Tom Connair and Heather Sedlak; Matthew Kressel; Lawrence C. Connolly; and Sarah Langan are © Ellen Datlow.

Photo of Meesh Horner, Will Horner, and Heather Sedlak is © Lawrence C. Connolly.