Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

Mommy Is About to Escape!

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

I got some advance copies of the Mommy/Mommy’s Day Blu-rays that will be coming out in a week or so from MVD/VCI. I wanted to share my reactions with you and encourage you to order this three-disc package. It is still on pre-order from Amazon at a reduced price.

My editor/director of photography Phil Dingeldein and I put in many hours getting the materials ready for this release. Back in the day, the two Mommys went out to VHS and on TV as 4:3 (so-called “full screen”) presentations, though we had designed both for widescreen and on laserdisc and DVD it went out that way. But for High Def release, we needed to reframe every shot for 16:9, and that was a lot of work.

Both features had been taken by Phil and me to a place called Woodholly in Hollywood (get it?) for the then much-used “FilmLook” process, which involved frame skipping and other tricks of the trade. This allowed us to get past Lifetime and other markets with a feature shot on high-end video as opposed to film. We were never happy with Mommy after FilmLook, because we had not been informed that the process darkened the image and that we would need to allow for that in shooting (that is, deliver a brighter master than would normally be the case).

In digging through the materials, we found the original output master we had taken to FilmLook – in other words, the original, unFilmLooked version. That’s what we worked with for the Blu-ray release.

The image on the Blu-ray has a soft look, particularly on Mommy, but not unpleasingly so. I adjusted my TV to the “natural” setting (as opposed to “movie”) and liked it better; I hiked the sharpness a little, too.

Mommy’s Day (aka Mommy 2) utilized the high-end video master of the FilmLooked version – we could not find the un-FilmLooked tape, but Mommy’s Day had never bothered us, as we’d allowed for the brightness issue before we took it out to Woodholly (in Hollywood, remember?).

This is a nice 3-disc package. The two features share a Blu-ray, as does a DVD. A second DVD offers up a plethora of bonus features – a vintage “Making of Mommy” documentary, a very gritty behind-the-scenes look; another making of doc from PBS; Leonard Maltin on Entertainment Tonight extolling Mommy; an interview I did with Patty for Mommy’s Day that covers her career; a vintage trailer for Mommy; and a Blooper Reel. Back on the other two discs are new commentaries by Phil and me. Barb looks stunningly beautiful on both documentaries, by the way.

Revisiting these little movies, I remain proud of both, and think Mommy’s Day is the rare sequel that doesn’t just refry the first movie, and in some respects is better than its predecessor. I remain astounded that reviewers and viewers sometimes don’t see both films as the dark comedies they are, but on the whole the reviewers back then (and today) have been positive in their response, and picked up on the intentional humor.

I think anybody interested in my work will find this release worthwhile. Certainly any fan of The Bad Seed should jump right on board.

If you buy the 3-disc package from Amazon, and like what you see, reviews will be appreciated.

* * *

Speaking of reviews, Barb and I will be sending out an enormous mailing today of advance copies of Girl Can’t Help It, Antiques Fire Sale, and Hot Lead, Cold Justice; also a few of the Mommy Blu-rays.

These go to reviewers in some cases, but mostly are me following up on a Killing Quarry book giveaway here a while back by sending Girl Can’t Help It in particular (and sometimes the other two books) to some of you who didn’t get in on the Quarry books. All of these are ARC’s – advance reading copies.

If you receive one of the ARC’s, take note of the publication date. Amazon won’t accept reviews until a book is out, and Girl Can’t Help It won’t be out till March, and the other two later than that.

I regret to report that no ARC’s of Do No Harm, the upcoming Nate Heller, will be available here. My publisher sent them out to the magazine reviewers and the rest were distributed at Bouchercon – they flew out of there. But I have requested copies for an Update giveaway as soon as the finished book is available.

Stay tuned.

* * *

This is a downright wonderful Killing Quarry review that I hope you will take a look at. It’s from the delightfully named site Outright Geekery.

Another great one here.

And this one, from Criminal Element, is damn good, too. I’m so happy that this new Quarry is pleasing readers.

Meanwhile, I am just getting started on Skim Deep, the first Nolan and Jon novel in three decades or so.

M.A.C.

Shine On, Shine On

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

I was thrilled to see the great Crime Fiction Lover site has named Killing Quarry one of the best five books of 2019 – it comes in number four (just above someone named Elroy).

And the Borg site has named Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother the Best Comic Reprint Anthology of the year.

The same site calls Murder, My Love as the Best Retro Read of the year.

* * *

In preparation for the 4K Blu-ray release of Doctor Sleep, I decided to watch the 1997 TV mini-series, Stephen King’s The Shining. I did this over a two-day period (it’s three 90-minute episodes). I hadn’t looked at the new 4K disc of The Shining yet, and hadn’t seen the film since its original release, although back then I’d gone several times. So I revisited it after taking in the mini-series.

King famously dislikes (and that’s a mild way of putting it) the Stanley Kubrick film, and used his superstardom as a writer to script and executive produce the mini-series. The history of that mini-series rivals the Overlook Hotel in weirdness. Initially it was well-received – highly rated, getting ten out of ten from TV Guide, winning Emmy awards, and generally considered a big success. But over the years its reputation has fallen and it’s even been rated the worst Stephen King adaptation and termed a “crapfest.” Meanwhile, the Kubrick film has only grown in stature.

Twenty-some years on, the mini-series – directed by frequent King screen adapter Mick Garris – strikes me as a decent job with strong performances from its leads, Steven Weber, Rebecca DeMornay and Courtland Mead. Weber has the unenviable job of taking on what had in ‘97 already become a signature Jack Nicholson performance – sort of like starring in a remake of White Heat in the Cagney role – and he is generally very good, suggesting his character’s gradual breakdown and underlying love for his family that King felt (rightly) had been largely lost from the chilly Kubrick version. DeMornay, cast specifically to be worlds apart from Shelly Duval’s abused wife and mother, is excellent, probably the best thing in the film, exuding strength and of course sex appeal. A lot of people seem to despise cute kid Mead, but he does well, delivering lines credibly that many actors of any age would stumble over.

The first two episodes are quite good, but the final one finds King’s dialogue writing (not always a strong suit in his screenplays) making the tasks of all the actors much more difficult, and the harrowing climax of the Kubrick film haunts the mini-series like another nasty ghost in the Overlook, filmed for TV in the real hotel that had inspired King. The limitations of budget and ‘90s CGI make some of the effects – particularly the poor idea of reverting from Kubrick’s hedge maze back to topiary, with shrubbery beasts coming to life (cue Count Floyd) – a big problem.

Returning to the theatrical Shining, I encountered a film whose surface story – including dialogue, although little or none of the clumsy stuff – right out of King. What differs was the motivation of the Jack Torrance character, who (and King hated this) is clearly at the outset a disturbed human who is a parent at least mildly disgusted by his wife and kid. He’s a rather classic abusive father and husband. Duval is often characterized as whiny and weak, even by fans of the film, but really she never whines and eventually grows a spine in defense of herself and her child. She seems right – just the sort of victim of a wife a prick like Nicholson’s Torrance would choose. Torrance is an alcoholic who, enraged, hurt his son and has been on the wagon for five months, and resents his family for that.

The problem with Kubrick’s version, for me, has always been the puzzling response to it, and not just by King. That response has been characterized by numerous interpretations of what the film means (including a feature-length documentary, Room 237), and what Kubrick is up to. Yet it’s one of the most straightforward horror films imaginable – it’s a deal-with-the-devil yarn, obviously so. Alcoholic Torrance, in a big empty ballroom, seated at the bar, says out loud that he would sell his soul for a drink. A ghostly bartender in a red vest with lapels suggestive of devil horns pops up and pours him a drink. From then on, Jack is both drunk and drinking on the house – “Your money is no good here, Mr. Torrance.”

There is even a suggestion that the contract was signed much earlier, when Torrance agrees to become caretaker of the Outlook, after a conversation with the manager – a guy in red pants. Later Torrance has a conversation with the ghost of the prior caretaker – now a waiter in the Overlook – in a strikingly Kubrick-ian restroom that is wildly, predominantly red.

Red. Get it?

And at the end we see Jack (Nicholson/Torrance) in a photo at a New Year’s Eve party taken in 1921, where he has obviously joined the lost souls in the Hell (or perhaps Purgatory) of the Overlook. Oops – I guess I was supposed to say, “Spoiler Alert.” (In case you missed it, Damn Yankees is also a deal-with-the-devil movie.)

Nicholson’s performance is over the top throughout, but waaaay over once he’s taken that devilish drink. He becomes, at that point, the monster in a monster movie. He is right out of a Nightmare on Elm Street-style horror flick, complete with Freddy Krueger-ish quips – though in fairness, Nightmare came out four years later, so the inspiration probably flowed from the Overlook to Elm Street. In any case, Torrance, chasing his family around the haunted house of a hotel, is right in tune with the slasher craze just then perking.

And I’m fine with that. It seems a valid take on the material, and it demonstrates that movies taken from successful novels don’t have to mirror their subject matter, even thematically, to be good. Would Kiss Me Deadly have been a better movie if it had been rigorously faithful to Mickey Spillane? Absolutely not. I love The Girl Hunters, Mickey’s controlled film of a book of his, in which he himself played Mike Hammer. But no one seriously, credibly, considers The Girl Hunters a better film than Kiss Me Deadly – even though Kiss Me Deadly set out to make a monkey out of Mike Hammer.

Do I wish the film of Road to Perdition had used more of my dialogue, and in particular my ending? You bet. But it’s a great film and I am thrilled and grateful for its existence. Had Stanley Kubrick made a movie out of one of my books and peopled it with sock puppets, I would’ve felt honored.

But Kubrick, who had his faults (much of King’s criticism of the theatrical film is understandable and even correct), is relatively faithful to the source material, even surprisingly so. It’s his take on Torrance that differs. It’s no accident that the most memorable things about the film are not in King – the spooky twins, the tike on a trike going down corridors in pioneering Steadi-cam shots, the elevator cascading blood, the hedge maze, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and even “Here’s Johnny” (which post-Johnny Carson is not working as well as it used to, but…).

Nicholson may have been set loose by Kubrick, who was not an actor-oriented director. Kubrick liked to cast really strong actors – Peter Sellers, Malcolm McDowell, James Mason – and let them go for it. And his best films often benefit from that. Nobody thinks the acting of the leads in 2001 and Barry Lyndon is worthy of high praise.

But Nicholson wasn’t always a ham – his work as Jake Gittes in Chinatown alone is incredibly nuanced. As uncomfortable as it might have made Stephen King, Nicholson in The Shining is right in there with Freddie Krueger, Michael Meyers and Jason Vorhees, though none of them were ever at the center of a film so accomplished. And assuming Kubrick left Nicholson to his own manic devices, the director surely did so knowingly.

Circling back to Doctor Sleep, which I’ve discussed here before, what director/writer Mike Flanagan pulls off is something damn near magical: a film that works well as a sequel to both Kubrick and King (who has reportedly warmed to the theatrical film in the context of this one).

But remember – if you are really, really thirsty, and a ghostly bartender in a red jacket with horn lapels shows up, right after you say you’d sell your soul for a drink? Take a pass.

Drinking on New Year’s is for amateurs, anyway.

* * *

This was our first Christmas with our son Nate, his wife Abby and our two grandkids, Sam and Lucy, here in Muscatine, living just up the street. We had a wonderful time and Barb cooked a fine Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner on Christmas Eve that she swears will be her swan song as a holiday chef. We’ll see.

We had the week before gone to visit Barb’s mother (and sister Cindy) in Bowling Brook, Illinois. While in that part of the world, we dined at one of our favorite restaurants, White Fence Farm, who really deck out their already wonderfully eccentric venue for Christmas.

No New Year’s Eve gig this year for Crusin’. First of all, we rarely play during the winter, and second, what had once been a regular gig for musicians is now much less of a one. I will not be sorry to be home with Barbie having champagne while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Next year will be a big one – half a dozen books are coming out, and I’ll get into that next time. I am today writing the introductory essay to The Complete Dick Tracy Volume 28 – one volume left to go, meaning I will have written about the entire Gould run. No word yet whether IDW will continue on with Gould/Fletcher/Collins (and after that Locher/Collins).

I will be starting the new Nolan (!) novel in a few days. First I have to put finishing touches on the Eliot Ness/Butcher non-fiction tome by A. Brad Schwartz and myself. We delivered it a while back but the editor had notes and suggestions. The announced title, The Untouchable and the Butcher, with various subtitles but probably Eliot Ness, the Torso Killer and American Justice, is suddenly in question. We are still lobbying for that, but are also considering (with the same subtitle) Knight in the Dark City and Shadow of the Butcher.

Opinions?

See you next year.

M.A.C.

One More Time for Nolan?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Apparently I told an interviewer a while back – a few years ago least – that the Nolan series was complete. That I had no interest in writing another, and wouldn’t under any circumstances write a new Nolan novel.

So, of course, I am preparing to write one. I’ll be spending December and January on Skim Deep, the cover for which (by the wonderful Mark Eastbrook, my personal choice among a bunch of wonderful artists provided as possibilities by editor Charles Ardai) appears with this update.

For those of you who came in late, Nolan was the hero (anti-hero?) of my first published novel, Bait Money, written around 1969 and published in December 1972. Nolan (no first name) is professional thief, who – approaching the ripe old age of fifty – wants to pull one last big job and retire. I teamed him with a young would-be cartoonist, Jon (no last name), whose first heist this would be.

Nolan was (and is) an homage (French for “rip-off”) to Richard Stark’s Parker. For a long time, Nolan died at the end of Bait Money, and until an editor returned the manuscript with coffee spilled on it, I had ignored my then agent Knox Burger’s request to un-kill Nolan, which he thought would help the book sell. I did, and it did.

When the publisher (Curtis Books) asked for more, I suddenly had a series. I asked Don Westlake (who of course was Richard Stark) if it was all right with him for me to do a series so blatantly imitative of his own. Don, who’d been mentoring me by mail, was nice enough to say that Nolan with the addition of the surrogate son, Jon, was different enough from Parker for me to proceed with his blessing.

So Blood Money followed, and later came Fly Paper, Hush Money, Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, and finally in the mid-‘80s, Spree. The publishing history is torturous and I won’t go into here, though I’ve discussed it elsewhere in detail.

There’s also a prequel of sorts called Mourn the Living, which was the first Nolan, unsold and tucked away by me till fanzine editor Wayne Dundee heard about it and requested that I allow him to serialize it. Which I did, and it was eventually published a couple of places.

When, a decade and a half ago or so, Charles Ardai was putting Hard Case Crime together, he was nice enough to want to reprint my novel Blood Money, which for inexplicable reasons was and is a favorite of his. I said yes on the condition that he combine it with Bait Money, to make its sequel Blood Money more coherent, into a single volume. He did this. Hard Case Crime is noted for its terrific retro covers, but the Nolan duo – now titled Two for the Money – was possibly the weakest Hard Case Crime cover ever…the only time dark, mustache Nolan was depicted as looking like blond Nick Nolte.

When Charles came around wanting another M.A.C. reprint, I offered to do a new book – The Last Quarry – instead, for the same reprint money, as long as I could get a Robert McGinnis cover. Also, I wanted a chance to finish that cult-ish series once and for all. While I got my McGinnis cover, the rest of the plan didn’t exactly work out that way, and now – with a bunch of new Quarry novels, a Ms. Tree prose novel, several Spillane projects and a couple of graphic novels under our collective belt – Charles has twisted my arm into doing another Nolan.

Part of what made that attractive to me was Charles bringing all of the Nolan novels back out, in the two-per-book format, so that – like the Quarry novels – the entire canon is under one imprint. Better still, we have new covers…including Two for the Money.

Double Down will include Fly Paper and Hush Money. Tough Tender will include Hard Cash and Scratch Fever (these appeared under that join title before but not at HCC). And Mad Money will have Spree and, as a sort of bonus, Mourn the Living.

What will Skim Deep be about? I haven’t plotted it yet, but the premise has to do with a Vegas honeymoon, casino skimming, and a Comfort or two. If you’ve read the Nolan novels, you understand that last bit.

As with the Quarry novels, I will be doing this one in period – probably within a year of the action in Spree.

Am I looking forward to it? Sort of. I have this nagging feeling that by writing another Nolan, at this age, after all this time, I could be bookending my career. So my ambition is not to fucking die immediately after finishing it (or during it, for that matter). I have other contracts to fill, and miles to go before I sleep.

But it sure is fun to see these new HCC covers. The Van Cleef resemblance (which was part of the Pinnacle covers, to a degree, and very much an element of the Perfect Crime reprints) is mentioned prominently in the novels. I met him once, interviewed him, and he treated me with amusement and at one point got briefly irritated with me. It was unsettling but memorable, being Jon to his Nolan. No guns were involved.

* * *

Here’s a nice essay by my frequent collaborator, Matthew Clemens, on what he learned about suspense writing from the film Jaws.

The First Comics News blog has Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother on its Christmas gift list.

And here Ms. Tree is on another holiday gift guide, from Previews no less.

M.A.C.

Killing Quarry (Again), Doctor Sleep and More

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

I spoke too soon.

Last week I mentioned that – while reviews have been uniformly splendid for Killing Quarry on the web – none of the publishing industry’s trade publications had weighed in on the latest Quarry novel. As you may recall, I said I was not surprised, because entries in long-running series are often overlooked by PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal.

But I was wrong, and am delighted to be. I am providing excerpts because links to the full reviews would probably require you to subscribe to the services.

Anyway, this is from Publisher’s Weekly:

“Irresistible … It’s Lu’s presence, and the dash of romance she brings, that really energizes this entry … Collins maintains a tension between the two that’s resolved only on the final page. One of the book’s great pleasures is the humorless Quarry’s deadpan narration, whether he’s describing a pragmatic sexual encounter or exactly how a carefully planned hit can suddenly go off the rails. Newcomers and established fans alike will be happily drawn into Quarry’s cold-blooded criminal world.”

Okay, actually I’d read this earlier and forgotten about it; it’s a fine review but for the bewildering “humorless Quarry” reference, since the book is pretty much wall-to-wall sick humor, most of it tumbling from Quarry’s (yes) dead-pan lips.

On to Booklist and that fine reviewer, Bill Ott (I define “fine reviewer” as any critic with the sense to like my stuff):

“A thoroughly entertaining pas de deux, evoking Richard Condon’s classic Prizzi’s Honor (1982), in which Quarry and Lu come together as lovers and co-conspirators, despite neither one being sure who will try to kill the other first. The seventies backdrop, complete with cavorting and bloodletting at a former Playboy resort, only adds to the time-capsule ambience of this pulpy pleasure trip.”

For you less worldly readers, a pas de deux is a dance between a man and a woman (all right, I admit it – I had to look it up…je m’excuse.)


Cover Art for Killing Quarry
by Paul Mann

Last week I also hyped the audio of Killing Quarry read by Stefan Rudnicki even though I hadn’t heard it yet. Since then Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines for shopping and food and maintaining our sanity, and the five-hour round trip allowed us to listen to Stefan narrating Killing Quarry (the new Quarry novel – have I mentioned that?).

Stefan does a fantastic job on the book. I will admit that the first time I heard him read a Quarry I wondered if his deep, resonant voice, that of a mature male, was right for my eternally boyish killer. I was soon won over, because Stefan gets every nuance of what I’m up to. He has lately been narrating the Mike Hammer novels (Murder, My Love and the forthcoming Masquerade for Murder), and stepping in for Stacy Keach in that regard is a daunting task, but what a fine job Stefan’s doing of it.

Dan John Miller has become, for me (and for Barb), the voice of Nate Heller. He has done all of the Heller novels including Better Dead, as well as the novellas (Triple Play) and short stories (Chicago Lightning), and I hope (if I land an audio book) he’ll read Do No Harm. In just that way, Stefan has become the voice of Quarry for me, and the male maturity he brings indicates that the notion of Quarry writing these memoirs later in life (much as Nate Heller does) is the right one.

Quarry is on hiatus at the moment, because the next novel for Hard Case Crime will be a Nolan – Skim Deep. More about that later.

* * *

While in Des Moines I caught the film Doctor Sleep, which seems not to be staying in theaters long. That’s a pity because it’s a fine Stephen King adaptation, and director/screenwriter Mike Flanagan pulls off a feat that I would have thought impossible – managing to make the film simultaneously an effective sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s The Shining. To do this, he had to get past both Stanley Kubrick’s estate and Stephen King, who notoriously hates the Kubrick film (he’s wrong) to the annoyance of the late director’s estate (they’re right, unless King didn’t cash the check).

I have a lot of respect for Stephen King, by the way. I discovered him via the novel Carrie, a copy of which my wife’s then-teenage sister was reading. It’s a great book, and I followed his work for a while, but couldn’t keep up with his output (look who’s talking) and also found his prose increasingly self-indulgent, after he got so famous he could no longer be edited. Was anybody really looking forward to a longer “cut” of The Stand?

But the guy is a hell of a storyteller, with a wonderful imagination and a devotion to exploring his own obsessions and concerns via prose fiction. Good for him. Who else do you know, who is still walking the planet, who created a section of every bookstore to accommodate the genre he popularized? “Horror” didn’t get its own shelves till King came along.

So I usually go to the movies based on his work and this is a good one, rivaling the two It films. As someone who’s written his share of sequels, I was impressed by how both the filmmaker and the source material explored a wholly different tale but then wound back up at the Overlook Hotel to tie a bloody bow on the proceedings. I particularly relished the bad guys, hippies living in a caravan of Winnebagos, riding under the radar of the world – deadly Dead Heads.

Star Ewan McGregor is fine as the adult Danny Torrance and a very good Kyliegh Curran is the preteen gifted (and plagued by) a “shining” of psychic abilities. An astonishing Rebecca Ferguson is the chief evil hippie woman, and if you’re wondering who might be able to play Ms. Tree effectively, take a look at her.

I’d also like to recommend several ongoing TV series I’ve seen of late, the kind of eight-or-ten-episodes-per-season unfolding novels-on-screen that make binge-watching such a delirious drug.

Danny McBride has already done two of my favorite examples of that form by way of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, both among the best dark comedies I’ve ever seen. McBride is relentless in making the characters he plays un-self-aware assholes, and yet somehow appealing and even displaying unlikely redemptive moments. He has topped himself in the epic Righteous Gemstones, an acid yet oddly affectionate look at a family who have taken right-wing Christianity to ridiculous yet believable low heights of show biz carnyism. McBride’s trick (and that word is not really fair) is exposing his characters, and this time the whole family surrounding his character, as fairly terrible human beings, then gradually revealing their humanity, which – damnit – makes us care about them. This is my favorite American drama, although really it’s a satirical melodrama, but let’s not carp. An HBO show.

A close second is Goliath, the Billy Bob Thorton drama (again, it’s melodrama, but nobody but me seems to make that distinction anymore) about a lawyer who rose and fell and (sort of) rose again. He’s the David who battles one Goliath per season, fighting the powers of political and economic corruption. The first season is among the best of its kind, the second season slightly faltering by going over the top sexually (and that’s me complaining, remember) but mostly by failing to show Billy Bob in court – part of the effectiveness of the series is its depiction of the main character as something of a shambling alcoholic with a seemingly inexplicable big reputation, the reason for which is only revealed in the courtroom. The third season, which is kind of a sideways modernday take on Chinatown, is back on point, with Billy Bob back in court, alienating a crooked judge. It streams on Amazon Prime.

I would also recommend Wentworth, the re-imagining of the classic Prisoner Cell Block H. Barb and I just watched season seven of this terrific women-in-prison show, which is very much a soap opera but an incredible one, with a primarily female cast who just kill it. This streams on Netflix, but we watched it on a Blu-ray from the UK.

* * *

For those of you wanting signed copies of Killing Quarry, VJ Books has it on sale here at around 40% off.

The unstoppable J. Kingston Pierce has listed (by year) the best books of the decade, and two are mine (Quarry’s Choice and Better Dead).

Charles Ardai, bless him, has given Geeks A Go Go (love it) a great interview about Quarry in general and Killing Quarry in particular.

Another fine Killing Quarry review is here from Criminal Element.

Crime Fiction Lover loves it, too.

But enough about Quarry. Here’s somebody who considers Road to Perdition one of the great gangster films.

M.A.C.