Oh, fuck me — I wouldn’t want to be the first person to “go live” with their review of part eight of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three. I couldn’t handle the responsibility.

Here’s what we know for sure — about eight hours ago as I write this, Peter Deming, who oughtta know because he shot the thing, tweeted this :

Fans promptly went into frenzied speculative overdrive, because that’s what fans do : was this the night the “real” Agent Cooper would return? Would Michael Ontkean be putting in his long-rumored cameo? Would we finally learn what “Blue Rose” meant for certain? Was somebody gonna — gasp! — die?

What it’s safe to say no one expected was an epi — sorry, a part — so visually, thematically, indeed constitutionally flabbergasting and surreal that it makes part three look like child’s play in hindsight. Like most, if not all, of you reading this, I just got done watching the most flat-out amazing hour of television I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m not really quite sure how the hell to describe it. Still, if you wanna make a go of it as a critic — even if only of the armchair/internet variety — you’d better not be the type of person who’s at a loss for words too often, so let’s just dive in and see where it goes.

Everything starts innocently enough (at least by Twin Peaks standards) with special agent Dale Cooper’s evil doppleganger (Kyle MacLachlan’s only got the one role tonight) making his prison “break” in a car driven by his sleazebag accomplice, Ray Monroe (George Griffith). Nobody films desolate open roads like Lynch, and this opening scene has a very Lost Highway feel to it, until Evil Coop decides he’s going to get one up on Ray only to find that Ray has double-crossed him first (it’s a bit of a long story) and has him dead(?) to rights. Shots ring out in the night and then the Black Lodge comes to claim its own when a legion of those apparition-type creatures we’ve been seeing hanging out in the Buckhorn, South Dakota police station set upon BOB/Coop’s prone form and proceed to rip it to shreds — or to at least extract a whole shit-ton of blood out of it. Ray watches in stunned disbelief for a matter of minutes before finally high-tailing it out of there, which proves to be a smart move because not-Coop gets up again and doesn’t seem real happy.

Cut to the Roadhouse and our musical guests for the evening, Trent Reznor and “the” Nine Inch Nails, as introduced, if I’m not mistaken (although I could be) by Jimmy Scott, the same guy who sang “Under The Sycamore Trees” in the final episode of Twin Peaks‘ first go-round. This is fun, a good chance to catch a breath, so do that — trust me when I say you’ll need it.

Cut to — I’m not kidding — the New Mexico desert in 1945, site of the first H-Bomb test. And be prepared to go inside — deep inside. Some years back I read the notorious essay “Meditations On The Atom And Time” by Dennis Stillings in the pages of Adam Parfrey’s equally-notorious Apocalypse Culture anthology,  and while Mr. Stillings made a number of astute and otherwise-unspoken observations about the dawning of the so-called “Atomic Age,” among the most profound was his stated belief that “The Bomb” represented the destructive and awesome (in the truest sense of the word) hand of God come down to usher in a conceptual shift too profound for most of our tiny minds to comprehend. David Lynch, though, no more has a tiny mind that Donald Trump has tiny hands (at least if you ask him), and not only do I think he read Stillings’ text, I think he absorbed and understood all of its staggering contents. Which puts him at least three or four steps ahead of me.

The first nuclear explosion as channeled through Lynch’s subconscious and camera is a terrifyingly revelatory experience, far more than “quasi-” religious in nature. It is the God of the Old Testament, whose secret name of Tetragrammaton is spelled out in the Kabbalah.  It is the alpha and the omega, the Trinity (site), the hand and voice of the fire (walk with me), the burning universal absolute that has been the animus of all great artists who are/were “dialed in” to forces beyond perhaps even their own admittedly vast comprehension from William Blake to Austin Osman Spare to Jack Kirby to Lynch himself. It is the Great God Pan. It is the terrible three-headed Jah-Bul-On. It is also BOB’s daddy.

Or, at least, that’s (part of) what I got from it. We’re up to 1956 now, after a long interlude featuring The Giant (Carel Struycken), a female companion, and an abandoned theater in a “house on the hill” unlike any you’ve ever seen, and the face of Frank Silva keeps popping up in the most unusual places. As does the face of Sheryl Lee. Was Laura Palmer’s death inscribed into the book of fate that night another book — that of Revelation — came true? The visual clues seem to suggest that, but if I watch this 60 more times (and I just might!) I’ll probably have 60 more opinions on the matter. What I do know is that the world of ’56, like that of ’45, is a black-and-white one. And the vagrant apparitions we keep seeing in the here and now are all over the desert, after having first strode out of a ramshackle convenience store back when “The Bomb” birthed them. One has even learned to speak. And smoke. “Gotta light?”

He likes that question a lot — so much so, in fact, that’s is all he says, until he gets to a radio station, brutally (and graphically) kills the secretary and the DJ working there, and plants himself behind the microphone, at which point his vocabulary becomes distinctly less limited. “This is the water, this is the well —” he begins, before launching into a brief soliloquy that becomes a repeated mantra of the sort that would make David Tibet proud, a poetic paean of verbalized psychopathology, a meme back when memetic theory still fucking meant something. And something dangerous at that.

Everyone who’s tuned into the station (we see a mechanic and a diner waitress, presumably there are others) drops dead — everyone except a teenage girl, one of a pair of young lovers we meet briefly as they walk home. That’s because out in the B&W desert of ’56 an egg that came through from ’45 hatched. And out of it came a distinctly advanced, evolved, and grotesquely large bug, one whose movements are almost — dare I say it — human. And when out erstwhile New Mexican Juliet falls asleep, it crawls into her mouth. And yes, it’s every bit as disgusting as it sounds, maybe even moreso.

And that’s where it ends. We’ve got two weeks to process this one, since there’s no new episo — goddamn it, when am I gonna get that right, part — next week owing to the extended-for-some holiday weekend. But it’s going to take longer than that to wrap my head around this thing. Probably, like, forever long. On the surface, one could easily posit an argument that the main storyline wasn’t advanced all that much here in part eight, but if you’re into surface-level readings you’re probably not watching Twin Peaks in the first place. What Lynch and Frost have wrought with this particular segment is a thing both lush and terrible, beautiful and horrifying, mind-beding and stomach-churning, a gaze into the abyss and the abyss gazing back. It’s far and away the most important installment of the series to date —  shit, I’m prepared to say the most important thing to ever air on American television screens — but please don’t ask me why yet. I’m still too busy trembling. We were, all of us, touched by the hand of God tonight — and it fucking burns. Fire, walk with me.

One of the chief gripes that a lot of folks who’ve fallen away from comics over the years have is that the medium just takes itself way too fucking seriously these days — and I have to admit that, looking over much of the output that comes from the “Big Two” (as well as a number of independent publishers), these past (and hopefully future) readers do have something of a point. A quick glance through the pages of almost any randomly-chosen five or six “floppies” on the racks of your LCS are enough to make anyone think that “dark,somber, and brooding” is the order of the day in what were once thought of as “funnybooks.” Which isn’t to say that many of these (overly?) serious titles aren’t involving, interesting, smart, and maybe even fun, in their own way — but goddamnit, whatever happened to stupid fun?

Well, it may be in short supply, but I’m pleased to say it’s not entirely extinct altogether thanks to writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner, artist Nil Vendrell, and colorist Mike Spicer, the “brains” behind the new overtly outrageous, over-the-top Image Comics mini-series Shirtless Bear Fighter!, who have wisely chosen to ask — and answer — the question “what would happen if Grizzly Addams ingested a dozen tabs of bad acid and picked a fight with Yogi Bear? And did it all when he was naked?”

The particulars, for those who must know them : a major city called —- uhhhmmm — Major City is under attack by ferocious, apparently-mind-controlled bears who kill people and wipe their asses against buildings. Nobody knows who or what is commanding the creatures, but never fear — the FBI has a plan. They’re going to head out into the wilderness and persuade a perpetually-naked mountain man who was actually raised by bears (before turning on them and becoming their mortal enemy) to come into town and deal with the problem. He’s got all the tools you need for the job : super-strength, a ferocious attitude, and more body hair than his opponents. It proves to be a tough sell, though — even a lifetime supply of flapjacks (don’t call ’em pancakes!) and maple syrup can’t persuade our reluctant hero at first, but a jog down memory lane combined with insults to his manhood end up providing the impetus that outright bribery can’t, and soon enough he’s taken to the skies in his fur-covered “Bear-Plane” and even put on some pants! Major City, here we come!

Some subplots make their presence known at the very end of this first issue — it seems the combined forces of a skeevy, gentrifying real estate developer and a pig-faced demon known as the Hillbilly Warlock are “guiding” the possessed bears — but this is definitely “shut your brain off and go with the flow” material all the way, as it damn well should be. Vendrell’s cartoony art, Spicer’s bright, vibrant, right-outta-Saturday-morning colors, and Andrew Robinson’s tone-setting cover (side note — there are also a couple of variants, but weirdly enough Image isn’t doing a “Pride Month” cover for this one even though they are for most of the rest of their line-up and you’d think it would be a natural here) seal the deal, not that there was ever too much danger you were going to take a premise this fantastically absurd with anything less than several thousand grains of salt, anyway. Characters are presented in the broadest, most one-dimensional strokes possible, every page presents a new situation that’s flatly (or, in the case of our digitally-obscured protagonist’s phallus, far from flatly) ridiculous on its face, and none of this is meant as a criticism. Quite the reverse, in fact.

I suppose the anti-animal cruelty crowd (which includes yours truly under normal circumstances) could find something to bitch about here if they really have nothing better to do with their time, but the violence unleashed against our four-legged friends in this book is a lot more Looney Tunes than it is Ruggero Deodato. You needn’t read any hidden subtexts into Shirtless Bear-Fighter! simply because, hey — there are none. Man vs. nature is a story as old as time, it’s true, but when you filter even the most hackneyed premise through the minds of creators this talented and this unglued, it definitely has a way of feeling fresh, new, and vibrant — as well as garishly, gleefully, and gloriously idiotic.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get stupid!

 

Dinosaurs! You love ’em, I love ’em, everybody loves ’em — and we love ’em even more when they look cheap.

The good news is that if you’ve got a low-rent dinosaur itch, there’s  a brand-new (2017 release date and all) number available for streaming on Amazon Prime called Revenge Of The Lost that’s sure to scratch it for you. The bad news is that aside from the admirably cheesy practical-effects dinos, it’s not a flick that really has much else going for it.

The brainchild of director/co-writer/producer/star Erik Franklin and co-writer/producer Daniel Husser’s less-than-imaginatively named Franklin-Husser Entertainment, a Seattle-based production outfit that apparently has some ambitious plans for the future, this is a film that fell far short of its fundraising goal on Indiegogo, but what the hell — our intrepid Pacific Northwest auteurs didn’t let that stop ’em from unleashing their debut opus on the world, and for that “never say die” attitude alone they get some solid “props” in my book. Labors of love such as this are definitely the kind of thing I have a vested rooting interest in, but much as I’d love to, I can’t completely shut off all of my (limited, according to some) critical faculties and just heap praise on all aspects of a production that has some serious — and frankly glaring — flaws. So keep in mind, as you read on, that any and all criticism I level at this film comes from a place of — well, maybe not love, but at least like.

Here are the basics : right out of nowhere, the dinosaur apocalypse lands on the hipster capital of America, but fear not — there’s a military base nearby that you can hole up in to ride out the mess, provided you can make it there in one piece. So guess where our trio of largely personality-free protagonists — Michelle (played by Ivey Bronwen), Jeremy (Jerry Nash), and Ray (Franklin) — are headed? Oh, sure, they’ll briefly make the acquaintance of  some mostly- reluctant temporary allies, as well as some folks who fall well short of that description, along the way, but mostly you know that what you’re going to end up with here is a closed-set, small-cast movie that sees our “heroes” struggling to survive against insurmountable odds in a warehouse made up to look like a high-security armed forces installation.

And so you do. Franklin and Nusser clearly can’t afford to surprise you on their micro-budget, pretty much all of which was of necessity blown on their numerous model dinosaurs, but without actors that can at least get you to care about whether or not they make it out alive — well, you won’t care whether or not they make it out alive. I got a good, old-fashioned “B”-movie charge every time a big, green, hungry reptile showed up on screen, but when there weren’t any around, my interest waned pretty damn fast. The film tries its best to maintain your interest with a lame “who’s really behind all this and why?” sub-plot, but it’s amazingly predictable stuff that doesn’t — maybe even can’t — do what it needs to in terms of holding on to your attention by its finger-tips. Bless ’em for giving it the old college (or at least film school) try, but actually succeeding would be even better.

Still, I can’t say Revenge Of The Lost isn’t worth at least one watch (though probably no more) for fans of ultra-low-budget creature features. I admire the fact that Franklin and Nusser only rely on crap CGI when they absolutely have no other alternatives, and keep things old-school as much as humanly (or reptilian-ly) possible. If a little bit more time, attention, and thought had been put into what the hell they were going to do to to keep things chugging along when there were no monsters on-screen that would have been welcome, sure, but when they do put in their various and sundry appearances, this is fun enough stuff — even if purely by default — to make you think that somewhere Sid and Marty Krofft are probably smiling at the efforts of their spiritual successors.

 

Right off the top of my head : what’s Andy doing wearing a Rolex?

Oh, sure, there are many larger and more important things to ponder after watching part seven of Daid Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three than Harry Goaz’ timepiece, but when you see a small-town deputy who probably earns 40 grand a year if he’s lucky riding around with $10,000 on his wrist, it sticks out.

Although, in fairness, so does the following : Laura Dern’s Diane telling everyone she comes into contact with “fuck you” at least once (and is it just me or does she have a special level of enmity for Chrysta Bell’s Tammy Preston?); Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) getting so stoned he can’t find his car; Janey-E (Naomi Watts) dealing with the cops every bit as effectively as she dealt with the crooks last week; Tom Sizemore going from a threating manner of lurking to a sulking one; Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) getting one up on his boss, Gordon Cole (Lynch) by making him say “please”; that mysterious figure from the Buckhorn, South Dakota jail cell waaaaaayyy back in week one graduating to the role of the “Man Behind Winkie’s” figure from Mulholland Drive; Ernie Hudson making a return appearance as the mystery surrounding the dead body of probably-Major-Garland-Briggs deepens; the “lost” pages of Laura Palmer’s diary that Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) found in part six directly quoting Heather Graham’s lines from Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me; the diminutive assassin we met seven short days ago coming after Dougie/Coop (Kyle MacLachlan) with a gun and being dealt with pretty easily (and, it’s gotta be said, roughly) thanks to some timely intervention from the “evolved” Arm; Walter Olkewicz playing yet another member of the apparently-endless Renault clan — I could go on like this for some time, because this episode was packed to the goddamn rafters.

Instead, I’d like to take a minute to talk about some of the truly sublime moments on offer tonight : the Skype call between Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) and Doc Hayward (the late Warren Frost); Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) obviously plotting when he’s going to make his move on his new assistant, Beverly (Ashely Judd, who you knew we would be seeing more of — and we might even be seeing more than that, given that she’s hiding a few secrets of her own); some poor schmuck sweeping the floor at the Roadhouse for nearly two minutes while “Green Onions” plays overhead; Lynch himself getting the first “damn good cup of coffee” line of the series; Norma (Peggy Lipton) holding court at the Double R as the end credits roll. If Twin Peaks fandom could send a video love letter to itself, would it look much different than any of that? Are scenes like this not exactly what we’d all been hoping for — only maybe with Michael Ontkean in there somewhere?

The best thing about it all, though, is that we’re getting so much more than just a rose-tinted serving of nostalgia with this new series — instances like those just quickly catalogued are lovely, to be sure, but they’re the heart of the show, not the backbone. The backbone is the dirt “Evil Coop” is holding over the warden that’s juicy enough to get him sprung; the fourth, still-missing, page from Laura’s diary; the investigative legwork going on in Twin Peaks, Buckhorn, and Washington, D.C.; the “spiritual finger”; the house in Argentina now owned by, literally, a girl from Ipanema; “It wasn’t Bob — I know who it was.”

The questions, the mysteries, the unknown and perhaps unknowable — that’s what Twin Peaks has always been about, and still is. More than ever, I’d venture to say. And for this viewer, at any rate, one of those big mysteries is still what the hell Andy is doing with such a fancy watch.

 

One nice thing about reviewing a new book a couple of days after it comes out rather than a couple of days before is that it gives you a chance to read what others have to say about it before sitting your ass down in front of the keyboard yourself. You can determine what other critics got right in their assessments, and what they got wrong. See what you agree with and disagree with. All that good stuff.

Take, for example, the first issue of the new Image Comics four-parter Winnebago Graveyard, which comes our way courtesy of veteran horror comics author Steve Niles (who created a little something you may have heard of called 30 Days Of Night before going on to, among other things, co-founding Black Mask Studios), architect-turned-artist Alison Sampson, and master of moody hues Stephane Paitreau. By and large people seem pretty pleased with it, and are quick to point out that it’s a fairly heartfelt homage to 1970s “never get off the main road” horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and (most obviously) The Hills Have Eyes, with a little bit of I Drink Your Blood or Messiah Of Evil-esque “devil cult” influence thrown in for good measure. These critics are in no way wrong — but they’re not entirely right, either.

To be sure, Niles is in no way trying to hide the various and sundry tips of the hat liberally interspersed throughout his script, but I think there are more of them than people realize. In fact, Winnebago Graveyard is nothing if not a love letter to all of ’70s celluloid horror in general, given that events play out in a near-dreamlike manner that would make Dario Argento himself proud, but hew closely to the grindhouse ethos of, say, a David F. Friedman all the way through. There’s even a nice helping of Herschell Gordon Lewis-style low-rent blood n’ guts to be had in the opening pages. It all feels grimy, dirty, dark, and dangerous — just like it should.

In fairness, there may not be anything new under the sun — or, in this case, the full moon — on offer here, but damn is it done well : hooded figures in robes perform grisly human sacrifice. Cut to a “blended family” (mom, son, and newly-minted stepfather) in a rented RV headed west. They venture off the highway onto some desolate desert road to check out a travelling carnival. They even hit the freakshow. They then find their titular Winnebago has been absconded with while they were eating cotton candy and gawking at the bearded lady. They head off on foot and pass a dilapidated, probably-haunted house. A potential rescuer in a beaten-down old pickup truck passes them by. They eventually come across what appears to be a ghost town. They’re fucked.

I won’t bullshit you : this comic takes all of about five minutes to read (unless you spend the 10-15 minutes required to take in the very good backmatter essay, which I highly recommend that you do), but Sampson’s art is absolutely gorgeous and you can while away the better part of an hour taking in all the majestically creepy details (a cloud shaped like open alligator’s jaws? How awesome is that?) she packs into every deliriously rich panel. There’s a bit of a late-’80s/early-’90s indie vibe to her style that fans of Guy Davis or Vince Locke are sure to recognize (and dig), but it’s imbued with a more “high-art” sensibility that nevertheless isn’t ashamed of its shadowy, sketchy lineage. Slap on some deep, rich, damn-near textured colors from Paitreau, and you’ve got illustration that I could easily say that I love, but ya know what? Even that might not be praise enough.

So, yeah, these fine folks can just take my sixteen bucks now, ‘cuz there’s no way I’m not sticking this one out to the finish. There are a number of pretty damn good horror series out there right now, but if the next three issues of Winnebago Graveyard are as good as the first, we’re looking at one of the best comics of the year here, easily.

Review : “The Defenders” #1

Posted: June 18, 2017 in comics

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

You know that feeling you get reading the final few issues of a book that’s been cancelled? That “these-creators-are-obviously-running-out-the-clock-but-I-guess-I-want-to-see-how-it-all-wraps-up” feeling? Welcome to all of Marvel Comics circa summer 2017 — even the brand-new series.

“Now hold on just a minute,” I hear you say, “this might be a first issue, but there’s nothing ‘brand-new’ about The Defenders. They’ve been kicking around in one form or another since the early ’70s. Whaddaya got to say to that, smart guy?”

Technically speaking that’s true, I suppose — we even get the old-school logo on this one — but who are we kidding? This latest iteration of the franchise bears precisely zero resemblance to Steve Gerber‘s “un-team,” and is in fact yet another example of Marvel’s Hollywood arm yanking its print division around, since we already know that the Defenders name was plunked from semi-obscurity to serve as the catch-all title…

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There are those who claim that in today’s visually-saturated, sonically-bombarded, information-overloaded world, good, old-fashioned words have lost not only, in many cases, their meaning, but also their power — and yet, with nothing more than one word, David Lynch and Mark Frost stopped Twin Peaks fandom as a whole dead in its tracks tonight.

That word? “Diane.”

And here’s the damndest thing of all : it wasn’t uttered into a micro-cassette recorder by Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper, it came from the mouth of Miguel Ferrer’s Albert Rosenfied, and it was addressed to an actual, living, breathing human being — specifically, Laura Dern. But now we know. Now we know who Coop was talking to for all those years, and all those years ago. And something tells me — and I’m telling you in turn — that’s going to have big repercussions.

Oh, and other things happened in part six of Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The ReturnTwin Peaks season three, as well — in fact, it was an uncharacteristically brisk, dense, and harrowing segment, punctuated by the unspeakable tragedy of a child mowed down by a speeding truck and the hyper-violent outburst of a maniacal contract-killer midget. It re-introduced beloved figures like Carl from the Fat Trout Trailer Park (Harry Dean Stanton only gets more awesome with each passing year, doesn’t he?), dropped Patrick Fischler and Tom Sizemore back into the mix for no apparent (as yet) reason, shed an all-too-human light on the nature of the relationship between Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) and his wife, Doris (Candy Clark) that perfectly explains both of their demeanors, offered up a genuinely touching moment between Dougie/Dale and his boy, Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon), showcased Deputy Hawk (Michaeal Horse) doing his best detective work to date, took a minute to breathe a bit more character depth into Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick), proved that Norma must offer way better wages and benefits than the average cafe owner since the Double R has apparently kept the exact same staff in place for 25 years, and gave Naomi Watts’ Janey-E Jones a hitehrto-undisclosed backbone that was definitely worth the price of admission alone. Yup, a whole lot went down tonight — and in the best Twin Peaks fashion, not all of it was entirely explicable.

Take, for isntance, Dougie’s idiot-savant abilities manifesting themselves in the form of child-like scrawling all over his “case files.” couldn’t make head or tail of any of it, but it sure seemed to impress the hell out of his boss. And where Harry Dean Stanton (who gets the best line of the night with “I’ve been smoking for 75 years — every fuckin’ day”) goes, mysterious power lines seem to follow, as the departure of the dead child’s soul/spirit/essence into the electrical grid perfectly recalls a similar “cut-away” shot from Carl in Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me. And I’m thinking those numbers on the telephone pole probably mean something, too.

And since we’re on the subject of speculation, I think this is as good a point as any for me to officially advance a theory I first floated on facebook a few days back : Eamon Farren’s drug-fueled psychopath? Who can now add “kid-killer” to his resume? The minute I heard he was part of the Horne clan, it hit me : he’s the child of Audrey and “Evil Coop.” And he’s got a lot of his daddy in him. Come on — you know it makes sense.

Fuck me, but there’s a lot to process after this one, isn’t there? We’re officially 1/3 of the way through at this point, and the only thing I can say I know with absolute, lead-pipe-cinch certainty is that John Pirruccello’s Deputy Chad is the biggest d-bag on the planet — but in my experience, that’s almost always the case with grown men named “Chad,” anyway.

At any rate, his is not the name we’re going to keep coming back to again and again as we re-play this episode — sorry, “part” — through our minds, is it? Nope. We finally know who you are, Diane — now, who are you?