Sunday, December 21, 2014

Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television

The Weird Western Lassos the Rawhide TV Show
Reviewed by
Anthony Servante
(originally published in The Black Glove Ezine 09/01/2011).

When we watch family television, we have certain expectations about the plots and the behavior of the characters. We expect Lucille Ball to get into and out of trouble; we expect Scully and Mulder to encounter supernatural phenomena. What we don’t expect is Lucy taking on monsters or Mulder stealing John Wayne’s cement footprints from the Grauman’s Chinese Theater. When the unexpected happens on our favorite shows, I call them Off Kilter TV.

Eric Fleming as Gil Hodges

In today’s column we will take a look at the 60s TV Western, RAWHIDE and an episode called, “Incident of the Four Horsemen”, written by Charles Larson, who wrote for the TV show, One Step Beyond, and directed by Thomas Carr, who directed for Adventures of Superman and Dick Tracy. The includes Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. 

Fleming and Eastwood  

What I like about Rawhide is that the stories are always on the verge of the supernatural: a mysterious figure in black follows the drovers, killing them off one by one, the Murder Steer (a bull with the word ‘murder’ branded on its side) appears and whoever sees it soon after dies; there’s the rolling wagon with no driver, a supposedly haunted Indian Burial Ground, and a zombie Indian, but the episodes always end with an explanation: the figure in black is a man who murdered his wife and child and seeks his own death by killing others; the Murder Steer is planted by a corrupt judge who plans a crime; the zombie Indian was just very ill and never really died as his tribe believed. However, in the episode, “Incident of the Four Horsemen”, it turns out to be a true supernatural tale, an Off Kilter TV yarn closer to weird than western.

Let’s first refresh our memories as Rawhide is over 50 years old. The western TV show revolves around a cattle drive of about 3000 head of steer, the trail boss, Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), the second in command, ramrod Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood), Wishbone, the cook (Paul Brinegar), and the 20 or so drovers played by regular and guest actors from week to week.

Rawhide: Incident of the Four Horsemen
 View Episode Here Before Proceeding if you Wish

In the Four Horsemen episode, the drive is stalled between two feuding families, and in Romeo and Juliet-style, a young man from one family, Louden, and a young woman from the other, Galt, marry, triggering a murder and fueling the feud toward a full-scale war. One by one, each of the horsemen arrive as the war nears. Here we need to get a little biblical guidance before we resume the episode analysis. The coming of the horsemen heralds the Apocalypse, that is, the final battle between Christ and the Antichrist for the souls of mankind, and these riders are known traditionally as Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence. The head of one family is Galt (God?), and the other is Louden (Lucifer?); it is difficult to say who is the good one and the evil one in that their names are interchangeable with double meaning: for instance, Galt can be gaunt or god, while Louden can be Lucifer or Lord. This ambiguity causes us to focus on the horsemen rather than the families, just as in the biblical Apocalypse there will be false prophets and one will not be able to tell the rise of the Antichrist from the second coming of Christ. Many souls will be lost as they choose the wrong side.

The Four Horsemen

So, in the Rawhide episode, the family feud on the brink of battle represents the coming Apocalypse. Thus, the first horseman to appear is War: Initially, we meet Gus Marsden (Claude Atkins); get it, Mars, Roman god of war? The den of war. Nudge, nudge. His first act is to instigate the murder of Carl Galt (Edward Faulkner) right after the marriage between Amy Galt and Frank Louden. Next we meet Ben Kerran (carrion?) (John Dehner) who plays the horseman Death. We can tell he’s Death because Wishbone finds him dead and buries him, and a few seconds later, he rises from the grave. Of course, Favor hires him immediately. When Marsden and Kerran meet, they get on like old acquaintances, for what is war without death?

John Dehner as Kerran (Death)

The horsemen, Famine and Pestilence, are found in a ghost town. They are called Hombre and White. Hombre represents famine as he eerily eats nonstop for the rest of the episode. White is pestilence as he coughs nonstop, a cough deep inside where no medicine can reach, as he points out. Soon, the two horsemen join the others and the four are now together, ready for the families to begin their bloodshed so they can thrive. Only Gil Favor stands between the four men and their goal. Favor must drive the cattle across the river, preventing any of the armies from using the steer to feed their warfare. But the Four Horsemen are not going to make it easy for him.

Claude Akins as Marsden (War)

As Kerran reminds Favor that he’s driving the herd straight into a brewing war, the trail boss points out that he makes his own fate, thus alluding to free will and that the outcome is not predetermined. He tries to convince Louden not to go to war, but Galt and Kerran barge in on them. Kerran (Death) pushes the newlywed groom to make it seem like he’s reaching for a gun and Galt shoots him. The horseman tells Favor that he was trying to push him out of harm’s way, the same lie Marsden used to trigger the first murder, of Carl Galt, that brought them to the brink of battle.

Favor is not deterred and plans to cross the river. Marsden, Kerran, White and Hombre sit atop their horses on the other side of the river and the herd refuses to cross. It is then that someone says that the four men are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and call Kerran by the name Death. Favor insists that the sun is in the cows’ eyes and they just need to wait a few hours for the sun to be overhead. But war threatens. Marsden and Kerran are steely-eyed, White coughs away, and Hombre continues to eat. The trail boss challenges Kerran to a fight, winner takes all; if Kerran wins, he claims the lives of everyone, including the cattle’s, but if Favor wins, war will be averted and the cattle can cross the river.

So, it’s mano a mano with Gil Favor versus Death. Since we can’t have the hero of the show get killed, Favor wins, and Kerran admits that his timing was off, that it was not yet Favor’s time, but that he’ll be back. In essence, Death will return for Favor. I guess even Death can make a math mistake. Anyway... War is averted, the cattle cross, the family feud is settled, and the Four Horsemen ride off.

Much of the fun of this supernatural episode is the weak attempt to explain away the strange behavior of the drovers (some come down with a bad cough, similar to White’s, others choose sides for or against Galt and Louden, and many are driven to drink to handle the pressure of impending war), but the best they could come up with is the sun got in the cow’s eyes. Throughout the episode there is talk of devils and demons, god and man’s place in a godless land. Through it all, as Favor tries to talk sense to his men, we as viewers cannot ignore all that has transpired, the deviousness of Marsden and Kerran, the insatiable appetite of Hombre, and that wicked cough deep in White. But there's no explanation other than Death mistimed Favor's demise. The rest (the disease, the evil, and the deaths) can only be explained by the presence of Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine. It's as if the writer Charles Larsen deliberately left the episode open-ended. I mean, what else could we expect from a guy who wrote for the supernatural TV show ONE STEP BEYOND?! Still, “Incident of the Four Horsemen” can be added confidently to the list of Weird Westerns and to the list of Off Kilter TV shows brought to you by yours truly.

Until next we meet with another Off Kilter TV program, keep the TV on in the darkness.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods VI: The Last Zombie
A Final Look at the Literature of the Zombie Apocalypse

Compiled and Formatted by Anthony Servante

Greetings, Zombie Lovers, to our last (?) look at the literature of the zombie apocalypse. 

With us we have Allen Gamboa, author of "Zombie Island: Operation Zulu" (2014). 

Ten years after the world was nearly decimated by a zombie virus, there is a desperate race for an antidote. A team of commandos are sent to a remote island populated by the undead to rescue a group of stranded scientist. The commandos come up against the hungry dead, Russian mercenaries, and shady government conspiracies. Dead Island: Operation Zulu is a fun, action packed, blood splattered, horror adventure. Dawn of the Dead meets Aliens!

Allen Gamboa

I'm a former U.S. Airforce sgt. I'm retired California State Peace officer. I live up in Northern California Redwood country with my lovely wife who was also former Navy and a peace officer, in a zombie free zone.

The Interview:

Anthony: Tell us about your history with zombies.

Allen: My first encounter with zombies was in the early 70s. My Grandmother lived across from a cemetery in Bakersfield. I was sleeping on the couch one night and Night of the Living Dead was on tv. Scared the crap outta me. When Dawn of the Dead came out I had to see it! I talked my dad into taking me since it was rated R and that was that. Spent many Friday nights at the midnite movies watching Dawn of the Dead.

Anthony: Compare George Romero’s original zombie from Night of the Living Dead with a zombie from any of your books.

Allen: Romero's zombies were afraid of fire, used tools and seemed to have some kind of dim thought process. Mine are just ravenous without intelligence. Newly dead are fast. Older dead are slower. 

Anthony: What is the most cliché thing to come from the zombie genre and how do you avoid it? For instance, a trauma to the head kills a zombie.

Allen: Eating brains are a cliche. Mine eat everything. Burp. I do have the brain as the zombies weak spot. That's hard to avoid . I have fun being creative in the way i kill them. I hated in Return of the Living Dead where the zombies were Invincible. It gives the characters no hope. In my books, hope and redemption are recurring themes. I like nihilistic books, but I don't like to write them. I put a lot of humor in my stories. I'm an optimist. 

Anthony: Are we reaching the end of the zombie apocalypse stories? What do you see in the zombie literature of today that leads you to believe otherwise?

Allen: No I don't. So many writers are very creative and they make up for the redundant ones out there. I've read a lot of good books lately with the same story told differently. I hope it's not going away. I just started. I have to pay for my kids' college. I like to focus on my characters. The zombies are secondary.

Anthony: What’s the best zombie apocalypse movie and why?

Allen: You've never heard this before but...Dawn of the Dead..the original. Mostly for nostalgia reasons. Spending time with Dad watching zombies. It gave me the zombie bug and I'll be loyal to Romero for that.

Anthony: Is the popularity of zombies today limiting the imagination of writers who are repeating the same plots? 

Allen: I don't believe so. There are a lot of good, sharp, writers nowadays. Mine is set after the outbreak had been contained and life is getting back to normal. Greed turns things around. Sure there is excessive repetition in the genre. There are a lot of great writers out there that make it interesting and fun.

Anthony: Which writers do you feel are keeping the originality alive in the zombie genre?

Allen: Oh man. I have a list. W.J Lundy is writing some exciting zompoc with his WTF series. Micheal Robertson has a really dark vision on the whole zombie genre, which I like. S.g. Lee has a great book out that has some of the best character development I've read in a long time. H.J Harry has a different take on the zombie outbreak which is really fun and scary. 

Anthony: How are you being original?

Allen: Dead Island is more of an action story than a straight up zombie tale. The reanimated dead aren't the worst things on the island. I put in a lot of humor and some plot twists. I want whoever reads it to have fun yet, care about the characters. I wrote Dead Island to entertain. I have very strong male and female characters. I have a disabled vet as one of the main leads. My goal is for the reader to have a good time. Root for the good guys and want to see the bad guys get there's . Also my book is set ten years after the outbreak and life is back to normal. Or so they think. Things are not what they appear to be. 

Anthony: What’s on the horizon for you as a writer of zombie literature?

Allen: I'm working on a prequel to dead island that I'm really excited about. It's a combination of the wild bunch and Night of the Living Dead. Also an anthology of zombie shorts.

Next up, S.g. Lee, author of Journal of the Undead: Littleville Uprising.


The residents of Littleville, Pennsylvania are about to meet their new neighbors…

New to Littleville, the Wexley twins, Matt and Emma assume fitting in at Lincoln High and making new friends will be their biggest worries. They couldn’t be more wrong. Fate would introduce Evan Stone into the neighborhood and all three attempt to navigate the murky labyrinth of eleventh grade but Evan has a secret. His godfather is Dr. G.E. Mitchell, author of Journal of the Undead: A Survivor’s Guide and Evan has been learning about zombies from one of the best.

With an excellent school system, safe streets, and a strong sense of community, the Philadelphia suburb of Littleville has proudly attracted a diverse blend of people but up until now they’d always been living. When Lincoln High School is overrun by flesh-eating corpses, Evan rescues Emma and they battle their way through the zombies to Matt but fleeing the school doesn’t solve their problems. Friends, enemies, and loved ones are lost in the battle against the undead and the entire town is completely overrun. The true terror unfolds, as the survivors must escape and make the dangerous trek from suburban Philadelphia to the highest mountains of West Virginia with the hope of finding a safe haven at the Stone family cabin. If they can reach the secluded refuge, they just might survive the Littleville Uprising.

The Hand of S.g. Lee

Biography:     S.G. Lee was born in Philadelphia and raised in its suburbs. Forever a die-hard Philly sports fan, S.G. bleeds a dedicated swirl of Orange & Black, Red & White, or Green & Silver, a phenomenon that baffles nurses and phlebotomists alike. Still, it is the love of reading and writing that trumps all else...all except for an encouraging spouse and a rambunctious puppy. Currently, all three reside in North Central West Virginia but this author's heart still belongs to the City of Brotherly Love.

Though it is rumored that the desire to write about zombies was spawned by intense road rage, and a secret longing to club slow drivers with a tire iron, that claim has yet to be substantiated. S.G. is also a contributing author for the Zombie Response Team's blog in addition to a personal blog containing free horror stories and random musings at You can always connect with S.G. on Twitter (@sg_lee_horror) and Facebook (

The Interview:

Anthony: Tell us about your history with zombies. 
Lee. Even as a child, I was a sucker for horror. My dad and I used to watch ‘Creature Double Feature’ every Sunday afternoon on a local channel in the Philadelphia area. My very first introduction to the word zombie was Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie (1932). My dad really got a kick out of those old black & white films even though they were way before his time. Of course, that movie was the voodoo zombies but by the time I’d gotten around to Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, I realized that I’d been bitten!

Anthony: Compare George Romero’s original zombie from Night of the Living Dead with a zombie from any of your books. 
Lee: The interesting thing about Romero’s original zombie was that he was easily mistaken for a regular man in the cemetery. As a tribute, I have a couple paying respects to the recently deceased but the boyfriend is teasing his girl and imitating the iconic, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara”. In my story, her name is Tanya and she gets angry because Night of the Living Dead terrified her. While she’s pouting in the car, real zombies rip her boyfriend to shreds. The whole time she thinks it is an act until she sees his insides spilling out.

Anthony: What is the most cliché thing to come from the zombie genre and how do you avoid it? For instance, a trauma to the head kills a zombie. 
Lee: I’d have to say the most cliché aspect of most horror and especially the zombie genre is that no one has ever seen a zombie movie. I just can’t play by that rule so there are references to all sorts of horror movies in my stories. In fact, my main characters go to a retro theater one weekend to see the original Dawn of the Dead. Just like I’d expect in real life, there are still characters that refuse to accept that the dead have reanimated and are feasting on human flesh. Some even make jokes that they aren’t in a horror movie.

Anthony: Are we reaching the end of the zombie apocalypse stories? What do you see in the zombie literature of today that leads you to believe otherwise? 
Lee: No, I do not think we are reaching an end of the zombie apocalypse stories. I do believe that, like other forms of entertainment, fads ebb and flow. It does seem that the traditional zombie is often shelved for the fast-moving, super human strength creatures. I rather enjoy the shuffling zombie but I think there are still purists who do not like the evolution of the zombie’s characteristics so much that they shun the newer, faster zombies.

Anthony: What’s the best zombie apocalypse movie and why? 
Lee: This is a tough one so I’m going to cheat a little. My go-to zombie film will always be the original because, like my dad, I am hooked on the classics. I will always pick the original Night of the Living Dead because without it, we would not have such an amazing collection of books, movies, and so on. That being said, I absolutely love that zombie horror/comedy has evolved. Shaun of the Dead is brilliant, hilarious, and something of a cinematic love letter to Romero’s films. Nothing chases away the blues like popping in my Shaun of the Dead BluRay.

Anthony: Is the popularity of zombies today limiting the imagination of writers who are repeating the same plots? 
Lee: No, I think it is the exact opposite. The popularity of zombies means that we, as authors, need to stretch ourselves to come up with something new and different. Readers are not going to hand over their hard-earned money to keep re-reading the same story, over and over with different characters. Nor would I want them to; I was a reader long before I was a writer. Especially since the advent of the ‘free preview’ on Amazon, most of the people I know will check out the preview first, before purchasing. (Unless the book is free, of course) These are the things that make us better at our craft.

Anthony: Which writers do you feel are keeping the originality alive in the zombie genre? 
Lee: Okay, now I am terrified that I will forget someone. I am going to say that the zom-poc authors from At Hell’s Gates are definitely doing something original. We are giving away the profits … by that I mean that 100% of the proceeds are donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The IFHF supports the brave men & women in our armed forces, their families, and veterans as well. I hope you all don’t mind a shameless plug here but be sure to check out the At Hell’s Gates website at: Additionally, there are some individual authors who really have something unique in their work. Just to name a few (in no particular order): Ian McClellen, Khail Lerma, Cedric Nye, Stephen Kozeniewski, Shana Festa, Jackie Druga, Devan Sagliani, and your previous guest, Allen Gamboa. I am also hearing amazing things about some authors who are still in my TBR file like: Lesa Anders & Matt Kinney, Mike Evans, and Stevie Kopas. 

Anthony: How are you being original? 
Lee: Part of what is different in my Journal of the Undead series is that the featured character(s) shift. In Littleville, our heroes have a chance encounter with a couple trying to reach their family. Book two shows you how those peripheral characters got to that rendezvous point but also what happened when they separated. In a way, the ‘main character’ of my story is the book, Journal of the Undead: A Survivor’s Guide, written by my character Dr. G.E. Mitchell. Throughout the apocalyptic uprising, his books circulate and lives are saved. One other huge difference is that, because the series is Y/A appropriate, there are no ‘F-bombs’ dropped. I realize that can be a pro or a con but I think I manage to execute it in a way that feels authentic— not prim and proper. While I wholly believe that, even a religious figurehead might be apt to let some bombs fly, I captured the fear and desperation without using language that might deter a younger reader. Fear not, there’s still plenty of blood, gore, and mangled bodies for all!

Anthony: What’s on the horizon for you as a writer of zombie literature? 
Lee: Fortunately, my Journal of the Undead series has just started so we can expect at least 3 more books— Journal of the Undead: New York Outbreak, which is slated for publication late spring of 2015. Journal of the Undead: D.C. Cover Up and Journal of the Undead: A Survivor’s Guide are both in the works. I think readers will be curious to see what Dr. G.E. Mitchell actually wrote in his book since it saved so many lives. Of course there is always the chance it will exceed the original four books that I’d planned. Also, my upcoming story in Volume 2 of At Hell’s Gates features a sort of zombie/infected/bloodsucking freak hybrid. 

Let's welcome Stephen Kozeniewski, author of "The Ghoul Archipelago".

After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain.

A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, a billionaire seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown.

To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of...THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.

Stephen Kozeniewski

Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") is a contributor to the #1 bestselling AT HELLS GATES horror anthology and is the author of bestselling novels BRAINEATER JONES and THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. He lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.
The Interview:

Anthony: Tell us about your history with zombies.

Stephen: The first zombie movie I ever watched was "Cemetery Man." It was on like Starz or Showtime or one of those weird premium channels at like 3am on a Saturday night around 1998 and I just couldn't stop watching. But I really fell in love with the genre about twelve years ago after catching the tail-end of NOTLD on Sci-Fi (back before it became SyFy), and then feeling obliged to pick up Dawn of the Dead on VHS. (Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm dating myself.) I started working on a TV pilot which was then called "Flesh," but eventually became THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. And, of course, BRAINEATER JONES slipped in there ahead of the bell since it was a NaNo baby.

Anthony: Compare George Romero’s original zombie from Night of the Living Dead with a zombie from any of your books.

Stephen: Ah, yes, the estimable Bill Hinzman. Would I be outing myself as a zombie nerd if I pointed out that Braineater Jones's real name is (spoiler alert!) William Hinzman? I suppose since the ur-zombie used a rock to smash in Barbara's car window, it would make sense to compare him to Crunchy from THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, who, while wearing the mind control collar, was also capable of wielding tools.

Anthony: What is the most cliché thing to come from the zombie genre and how do you avoid it? For instance, a trauma to the head kills a zombie.

Stephen: Oh. Probably the scene where, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, one of the characters insists, "No, dammit, it's still HIM in there!" I think I avoid this by having my characters be fairly shrewd. They're still emotional, but you've got to call a spade a spade, especially in the wake of Armageddon.

Anthony: Are we reaching the end of the zombie apocalypse stories? What do you see in the zombie literature of today that leads you to believe otherwise?

Stephen: No. Hell no. I always compare zombie to mobsters. Yeah, if you keep trying to recreate "The Godfather" your mobster movies are going to suck and be repetitive. But mobsters, like zombies, are inherently interesting and can be put into any circumstance and still have it be a good story.

Anthony: What’s the best zombie apocalypse movie and why?

Stephen: Oh. Um...I usually say "Dead Alive" as best zombie movie but that's not really an apocalypse movie, per se. So we're talking post-apocalypse? The only one that really jumps out and grabs me (ha!) is "Land of the Dead." Although I might be overthinking this question, because I keep eliminating all the obvious choices for not being apocalyptic enough.

Anthony: Is the popularity of zombies today limiting the imagination of writers who are repeating the same plots?

Stephen: Some of them. It's a bit tiresome to keep reading "Walking Dead" clones but people are going to keep writing them, just like they're going to keep writing Harry Potter fanfic. Of course, you've still got the Ian McClellans and H.E. Goodhues of the world pushing all kinds of boundaries, so it's not like the creative stuff isn't out there if you look for it.

Anthony: Which writers do you feel are keeping the originality alive in the zombie genre?

Stephen: Ha! Just screwed myself mentioning those two guys. Now I've got to pick a few more. Um...keep an eye out for newcomers A. Giacomi and S.G. Lee. Shana Festa's got her own weird vibe. Phillip Tomasso is pretty great, too. Oh, and, what the hay, I'll throw in Stevie Kopas, too.

Anthony: How are you being original?

Stephen: You ever see zombies fight pirates? All right then.

Anthony: What’s on the horizon for you as a writer of zombie literature?

Stephen: Oh, well, the sequel to the AT HELL'S GATES anthology will be coming out January 31 featuring my own "The Man With Four Scars" about prehistoric zombies. The FAT ZOMBIE anthology will also be coming out next year featuring "The New Dark Ages" which might be the darkest thing I've ever written. And I'm putting the finishing touches on the sequel to THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO right now, tentatively titled NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD. Oh, and I'm hoping to get a BRAINEATER JONES cartoon series off the ground. I've been working with talented voiceover artist Steve Rimpici and animator Zee Risek to pitch it to a few networks and studios, and there's been some interest, so fingers crossed!

Next up: Carl S. Plumer, author of ZOMBIE EVER AFTER.

For fans of Warm Bodies and Zombieland and for readers of A. Lee Martinez and Christopher Moore comes a new literary adventure about love and survival in San Francisco that has been called “hilarious, action-packed, and original.” Trek along with Cathren and Donovan as they fight to evade brain-hungry zombies, vengeful survivors, and a megalomaniacal CEO and his blood-thirsty henchmen. Can the forces of evil be stopped? Can love conquer the undead? Will Cathren and Donovan find freedom, safety, and true love? Find out for yourself by reading "Zombie Ever After"!

Carl S. Plumer


I was born and raised in New York City, and was writing as soon as I could successfully hold a crayon. Now I hold advanced degrees in writing (see what I did there?). As for words, I’ve spent my life surrounded by them in a way. I’ve delivered newspapers, worked at a printing press, managed a bookstore, taught writing, wrote for literary magazines and pop culture newspapers (in NYC), and published both technical and fiction books. In short, even before I started creating novels, I’d been a writer. I’m proud (and humbled) to be an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist (with my very first novel, Zombie Ever After) and a National Indie Excellence Award Finalist (same book). I was also chosen to be a judge for the World's Best Story award, an international writing contest, which was an honor and a privilege. In the coming year, I’ll be putting out to an unwitting audience four new novels and a second collection of short stories. In edition, I’ll be initiating both a podcast on writing and a couple of udemy courses on the same topic. Busy, but very fun, year ahead!

(Contact Carl Plumer for more information and links). 

The Interview:

Anthony: Compare George Romero’s original zombie from Night of the Living Dead with a zombie from any of your books.

Carl: It’s interesting. Every writer, or reader or moviegoer for that matter, has an opinion about how zombies should “be” – I think it is ALL based on Romero’s original zombies. They should be slow, shuffling, and mumbling. I don’t get the sprinting zombies from WWZ, for example. They’re reanimated corpses. Ever been a runner? Takes a ton of energy. Where are these zombies getting that energy? They don’t have working stomachs. So, we all just make it up. Funny zombies, fat zombies, smart zombies, zombies who can drive, zombies who can swim. In my book, ZOMBIE EVER AFTER, zombies don’t swim. From my book:

“The zombies, focused on their victims/dinner, stepped right off the edge and into the water, as if they didn’t know that the dock would end, that there would be no more walking surface. The mutants plunged in like windup toy soldiers, and then sank like anchors, one after another after another.”

But they don’t stay down, either. Again, from Zombie Ever After:

“Back by the docks, they collected their unconscious comrades and then side-stroked with them back to the island. By the pier, the undead bobbed to the surface like wine corks. Pallaton’s men swam around them, once in a while colliding with a waterlogged zombie as it rose to the surface.”

Anthony: What is the most cliché thing to come from the zombie genre and how do you avoid it? For instance, a trauma to the head kills a zombie.

Carl: Two things drive me crazy. First, every single survivor is a crack shot. No matter how close or how far away the zombie is, BANG—perfect headshot, front and center on the forehead. Really? Second is that survivors never, ever, no NEVER run out of ammunition. They may temporarily run out for one moment, but apparently when the zombie apocalypse comes, we will all have magic, refilling ammunition stores everywhere, no matter where we run to, even in the middle of a forest: endless ammo. Again, in my book, there’s a crazy shooting frenzy when the breakout begins. People kill the first zombies with 10 or 20 bullets. Then there are hundreds, then thousands of zombies. The ammo runs out in the first two weeks. Now you only have one option: run like hell.

Anthony: Are we reaching the end of the zombie apocalypse stories? What do you see in the zombie literature of today that leads you to believe otherwise?

Carl: I don’t think this need for stories about the dead walking will ever go away. It fills a primal need for us on a couple of levels. First, hell, regardless of how we might look, it is in some ways “eternal life.” Ugly, but potentially forever (as long as you don’t take one between the eyes). Second, we are all going to die. Except for a few that will die by fire or be cremated, we will all, every single one of us, one day be a rotting corpse, reanimated or not. I think the zombie genre helps us confront that real, but mostly unconscious, horror.

Anthony: What’s the best zombie apocalypse movie and why?

Carl: I write horror with a twist of humor. Or maybe it’s the other way around. So my favorite so far, hands down, is SHAUN OF THE DEAD. What’s not to love? Then there’s COCKNEYS VERSUS ZOMBIES. Two great, but very different, films. Both with genuine scares (SHAUN especially), but also laughs. SHAUN OF THE DEAD of course has a wink or two or twenty to a number of classic zombie films. (See for a short list. Google for more.)

Anthony: Is the popularity of zombies today limiting the imagination of writers who are repeating the same plots?

Carl: I think to a large degree, yes. However for the better writers, I think it is making great things happen. I recently read HANDLING THE UNDEAD by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (he wrote “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN”), and I thought it was heartbreaking and it was a literary novel, not a genre novel, yet there were zombies. I’ve seen other writers doing the same, looking at zombies as people. I think AFTEREFFECTS: ZOMBIE THERAPY by Zane Bradey did that especially well. In that novel, they’ve found a cure. Now, the ex-zombies have to deal with memories of the loved ones that they killed and ate. I think good writers will always find a way to look at tired old tropes and breathe new life into them. Oh, that was unintentional… There has also been great work done in comics and graphic novels. I liked the Archie Comics take on zombies in Riverdale a lot.

Anthony: Which writers do you feel are keeping the originality alive in the zombie genre?

Carl: I’d have to say Maberry’s doing a good job with his Zombie CSU and Rot & Ruin series. Then there’s folks like Sean T Page and his fully illustrated ZOMBIE SURVIVAL MANUAL: From The Dawn Of Time Onwards (All Variations). A lot of creativity there.

Anthony: How are you being original?

Carl: If readers check out my books on Amazon (
, I think they’ll find that they break the boundaries of the genre they’re assigned to. They’re not really science fiction or fantasy or romance or comedy or YA. I consider myself in whatever category A. Lee Martinez and Christopher Moore are in. That is, a category called, “Carl S. Plumer” books. I’m not saying that to be boastful. But because, well, that’s really what they are.

Anthony: What’s on the horizon for you as a writer of zombie literature?

Carl: I’m hoping to return to Cathren and Donovan in a sequel, with them a year or two down the road. I have a lot of ideas and surprises in store. Buy the first book (ZOMBIE EVER AFTER)! It’s really the only way I can gauge if there would be any real enthusiasm for a sequel. In fact, leave a review if you like the book and mention in your review that you want a sequel! That will get me started. I have to prioritize right now. I have four books and another collection of short stories coming out in 2015. I don’t want to sideline any of those projects unless a true demand is there. Other than a sequel to ZOMBIE EVER AFTER, I really don’t know. We’ll have to see what the future holds!

As you see, we keep adding new authors to the Zombies VI interviews. Hard to let go of some things that I feel have utility in the literary field. 
I suppose it's never say never in the world of zombies, so I'll just say "So long". 
Anthony Servante

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Babadook (2014)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Directed and Written by Jennifer Kent

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, and Bejamin Winspear.

Summary: A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

In the tradition of movies like Turn of the Screw (any version), The Amityville Horror, and, yes, The Shining, The Babadook gives us a look at parenthood through the eyes of madness. Only the madness here may in fact just might be a monster. That's the challenge for the viewer--to watch the breakdown of Amelia as her six-year old child, Samuel, drives her out of her mind. But I get ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. Let me also add that SPOILERS may follow regarding the supernatural element of the film, but it's inherent to my critique to reveal the role of Mister Babadook. So, yes, the Babadook is real, but knowing this does in no way affect any future viewing of the movie as that ending takes us beyond the parenting metaphor. 

The film opens with tragedy. Amelia's husband is killed in an accident; she is left to raise her hyperactive child Samuel by herself. The director Kent focuses on Amelia's tics and twitches as she suppresses her desire to yell at or strike Samuel who is incessant with his need for attention. One night Amelia finds a book on the shelf that wasn't there before. For his nighty-time reading, he wants mommy to read Mr. Babadook to him. Even as the book grows more horrific and terrifying (Samuel latches onto his mother in terror), Amelia reads on oblivious to her son's reaction. Basically, the book is the pronouncement of the Babadook's arrival. Amelia just sees the book as curious, but Samuel understands that an evil force has been set loose.

But the poor viewer sees the story through the depressed mother's eyes as her life falls apart around her, while Samuel must convince his mother that they must prepare to fight Mr. Babadook; he pleads: "Take care of me, mommy, and I'll take care of you." The precocious boy has a gift for building clever and deadly weapons, which get him in trouble at school, but come in handy when the "demon" makes his appearance. But don't get me wrong. We don't see the demon. We see mommy gone mad. She now yells at Samuel and imagines cutting his throat. 

However, once the focus shifts to Samuel, we see a different movie, which brings us to the crucial scene of the movie when Amelia actually sees the Babadook in its "outer" form. It is after this scene that we watch Samuel become less hyperactive and more fearful of mommy, although he continues to promise that he won't let the Babadook take her. Which brings us to mommy's tics and such. Amelia has a loose tooth that bothers her throughout the movie. When stressed, she grinds her teeth, thus aggravating the bad molar. She also has a habit of avoiding scary sounds by slipping under the blanket when readying to sleep. Suddenly, it's morning. Very creepy. 

These tics are important because they lead the viewer to sympathize with her predicament with the misbehaving boy. He screams, he destroys property, he hurts other children. His mother has no where to turn for help. Or so it seems. Neighbors and others offer help, but her guilt convinces her that she must suffer her son's misbehavior alone. This opens the door for Mr. Babadook to be let in. Note in the mysterious book the words: LET ME IN! In essence, Amelia seems to be fighting her own fragile restraint, for she too suffers the loss of her husband just as Samuel overcompensates for his mother's attention because of the loss of his father.

It's those TV images, though, that really reflect the state of Amelia's mind. At first there are those gory nature documentaries that flash by as she channel surfs, then the surreal cartoons from the 1920s, you know, the ones where inanimate objects come to life, such as the face of the moon. After that crucial scene, however, the TV images take a darker turn. Remember the movie Black Sabbath, the Mario Bava classic? Well, Amelia watches that infamous scene from "The Drop of Water", where the dead woman rises from her bed to get back her ring. Director Jennifer Kent picks just the right images to unnerve the viewer while showing Amelia slowly going mad. But as I pointed out in the spoiler earlier, these images are the work of the Babadook. Very layered story-telling at work here.

The final battle with the evil force is also a metaphor for Amelia's regaining control of her own senses and restraining her anger and impatience to be a better parent to her child. But what is that thing in the cellar that she too must control? Is it a manifestation of her own dark side? Well, if you were paying attention, you know that it's the "inner" Babadook that the book warned us about early on in the movie. Without the demonic presence, this is basically the story of a single parent trying to raise a troubled child in need of attention after the loss of his father, but with the demonic Mr. Babadook added to the story, we have a Horror movie that scares you out of your wits without the need for jump-scares. Best Horror Movie of 2014.   

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Mrs Silbury's Delicious Mushroom Flavoured Biscuits" 
(2014-Cosmic Eye Records).

Reviewed by Anthony Servante


The Review:

MOOCH is a band of many wavelengths, some easy to float along with, others that require an appreciative ear. They can span the traditional sounds of pagan rock, as they explored in "Stations of the Sun" (2013), to Psychedelic Ambient jams, as they perform on the new "Mrs Silbury's Delicious Mushroom Flavoured Biscuits". This is MOOCH returning to their experimental roots in instrumental moods to challenge the unquiet mind.

The songs range in mellifluous swings from predictable Rock rhythms to syncopated Space Jazz. It is a welcome coalescence given the monotonous selection of Pop music today. Laurie Anderson affectionately termed such music "difficult listening", but hardcore rockers who grew up on bands like Camel, Return to Forever, PFM, and Nektar will appreciate the easy cadences in songs like "The Great Retsina Jam" and "T Minus None".

Bridget Wishart adds vocals to the mostly instrumental LP in "Another Time, Another Place", my selection for radio play on stations where Rock and Jazz are not antonyms. She has shown her capacity to bring depth to Space Rock bands like Hawkwind and Spirits Burning and continues to evolve with the talented Steve Palmer in MOOCH.

Steve Palmer

A layered work of music worth multiple listens, "Mrs Silbury's Delicious Mushroom Flavoured Biscuits" takes us back to a time when Rock music was willing to test the limits of Progressive Rock expectations (think bands like Kansas and Styx, who after their ethereal early albums settled for the repetition of their hit-making formulas rather than explore and reinvent themselves, as did Prog giant King Crimson), and given this is 2014, those boundaries need to be pushed every so often to keep the naysayers quiet as they wait for their moment to shout, "Rock is dead". Hardly. Just pick up a copy of this lastest LP by MOOCH and enjoy some of the most entertaining and easiest "difficult listening" Rock music available today.