Friday, April 29, 2016

Witness The Ghastly Love of Johnny X with film director Paul Bunnell!

Just the other day I watched a film that kinda blew me away. I didn’t expect much (based on the title), but in return I received a bucket-load of fun. Of course I’m talking about The Ghastly Love of Johnny X. (I know, right?). Immediately, as a goofy fan-boy, I hit up the director. To my delight, Paul Bunnell agreed to be pummeled (“Bunnelled?”) on my blog.

SRW: Paul! Thanks for hanging out.

PB: My pleasure. I’m always happy to hear from folks who appreciate the Johnny Xperience. It was a fun movie to make.

SRW: Okay. I’m a fan. Honestly, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X kinda blew me away. Tell everyone in Tornado Alley-land what it’s about.

PB: GLJX follows the misadventures of a band of rogue aliens who have been exiled to Earth, because they refuse to fit in with society on their own planet. The leader is Johnny X, and at the start of the picture, they’re tracking his ex-girlfriend, who took off with something very important to him. Intrigue ensues, including romantic entanglements, demonstrations of otherworldly powers, and the occasional dance routine, all in beautiful black and white!

SRW: The film’s an encapsulation of everything great from ‘50’s and ‘60’s era drive-in flicks. Quick run-down, Paul, off the top of your head…favorite drive-in flicks. Countdown (to the lobby) starts now!

PB: I’m a fan of THE BLOB, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (original version, obviously) and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE for examples of drive-in movies of the sci-fi or horror variety. And of course, for more serious, intellectual fare, I love anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

SRW: What in the world did inspire you to create Johnny X? I can’t imagine Hollywood producers were clamoring for a
project like this (shows them how much they know).

PB: Well, the idea of GLJX was always in the back of my mind. I can’t honestly say it was inspired by any single movie or moment in my life. But I definitely wanted to create something that harkened back to the fun of a good, old-fashioned, loopy drive-in movie. And the story itself went through a bunch of changes before I settled on the final plot.

SRW: Paul, my favorite part of Johnny X is the musical numbers. And I’m not really a musical guy. But the performances are very well-mounted and clearly choreographed to a tee. Practically mini-operas in that they effectively progress the story and showcase different characters in their arc. All set to the same song. Impressive. I imagine it took hella work to film. Any heartache/back-break tales of woe?

PB: No real tales of woe, unless you count a six-year hiatus. There are some cuts in the drive-in sequence that were actually filmed years apart, like when Chip and Bliss exit the car and we cut to them walking away, it’s six years later. How’s that for continuity? Interestingly, the movie was not originally conceived as a musical. I wanted to stage
one elaborate number as my nod to movie musicals, which was the fantasy diner number (“The Rumble”). I was kind of poking fun at the conventions of the musical, where gangs, as in WEST SIDE STORY, for example, would unexpectedly break into song and dance to further the plot or reveal character issues. That is why this sequence is fairly long, compared to all the other songs, it was intended to be the big
set-piece. And, of course, the plan had been to include at least one concert song performed by Mickey O’Flynn later, and that would have been it. As development on the script went along, though, I found it was more effective to condense scenes or dialogue I was not too happy with into song – for some reason this just worked better. It added a little more punch, and took what might have otherwise been a stagnant, exposition-heavy piece of drama into something way more
entertaining to watch. So before you knew it, there were songs everywhere! Although I still don’t honestly consider GLJX a cookie-cutter musical, strictly speaking.

SRW: A six-year hiatus!!! That's some dedication. (It paid off, though. "The Rumble" is a great sequence).

I recognized Reggie Bannister (the world’s most unlikely, balding, pony-tailed action hero from about a kazillion Phantasm movies) and Paul Williams (although I thought he was Bud Cort throughout the film!) in the cast. But, in my opinion, your big “Get” was Kevin McCarthy. Wearing a silly Devo-looking cup hat. As always, he was great. (And if you don’t know who he is, folks, shame on you and go do homework. Now. I’ll still be here when you’re done). Am I correct that this was his last film, Paul?
PB: Yes, GLJX was indeed Kevin McCarthy’s very last film. Great actor and consummate professional on the set. By the time I started editing, he was in failing health, unfortunately. Sadly, he didn’t get to see the final product. However, I am happy to say I did visit him, and was able to show him a rough cut of his scene, which he seemed to enjoy.
Also, regarding the hat, I have to tell you that it was actually Kevin’s idea! We had been discussing his character, and at some point he came across a picture of Devo, which for some reason he found intriguing. He sent me the picture and asked what I thought of adding such a hat to his costume. I thought “why the heck not!”, so my movie sports the one and only Kevin McCarthy in all his glory, outer space judicial robes, Devo hat and all!

SRW: Dang, Paul, I didn’t even realize Mickey O’Flynn was portrayed by Creed Bratton until the credits rolled. Unrecognizable. (Most people will recognize him from his portrayal of the skeevy, questionable guy in The Office). I knew Bratton had a musical background and here you utilize his talents magnificently. I’m curious if you wrote the
part of the Frankensteinian O’Flynn with Bratton in mind or if he came after the script.

PB: The part wasn’t written with Creed in mind as Mickey, but I agree that he is unrecognizable, and a totally unique, bizarre character. Really a pitch perfect performance that matches the sensibilities of the movie in every way. Since you brought it up, I’d initially hoped Paul Williams would play Mickey O’Flynn, and worked pretty hard to make it happen for a long time. I think Paul would have been great, no
doubt a very different take on the character, and I’ve always been a big fan of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. But there is no question Creed owns the role. And Paul himself told me he agreed that Creed was an excellent fit.

SRW: Yeah, I love Phantom of the Paradise, too. Where’d you find the rest of your cast? Actors, dancers or singers first?

PB: I cast for acting, primarily, but since there was always going to be the one big diner number, we held singing auditions at the same time, with Scott Martin, who wrote the songs. A couple of roles were filled by friends of mine who I knew fit the parts perfectly. All the other characters were auditioned in the usual manner. Luckily, as the number of
song and dance sequences expanded, everyone turned out to be more than up to the task.

SRW: I really enjoyed Heather Provost’s performance. So I looked her up. How ‘bout this for credentials? Not only is she Tony-nominated but she appeared in something called Fagney and Gaycey. Yow!

PB: Yes, she is sort of a talent powerhouse, really! And I love the comedic touch she brings to her scenes. I’m happy with all the gang members, too, who have such interesting and distinct personalities. And speaking of comedy, I hope to see more in the future from De Anna Joy Brooks, who plays Bliss with such terrific timing and incredible, subtle expressions.

SRW: So. We have juvenile delinquents, teen gangs, aliens, music numbers, sodajerks, drag races, bombshells, femme fatales, and so many more staples of the old days drive-in cinema. Paul, I kinda kept waiting for a giant ant or something to crawl out of the woodwork. But it’s really perfect. Except for the post-modern irony and occasional cursing, this flick could’ve been birthed in the ‘50’s. What did convince you to take on such a mammoth labor of love?

PB: GLJX is basically my love letter to B-movies of yore. That is why it is filled to the brim with the staples you mention. I truly love going to the movies, and wanted to make something that wouldn’t have appeared out of place on a big, old-fashioned drive-in screen. And I didn’t want to make something too modern or hyper realistic just to sell
tickets. It would have been easy, even with this fantasy based material, to churn out an expletive laden gore-fest, but that was never a style I wanted to embrace just for the sake of it. That is also why this was planned from day one as a black and white picture. I felt like it was the best way to convey the spirit of the movie, even when everyone around me insisted today’s audiences would refuse to see anything that wasn’t shot in color.

SRW: Whoa. It took you 18 years to make Johnny X since your last film. Um. What happened? What’ve you been up to?

PB: The witness protection program comes to mind. But seriously, it just took a lot of time to get another “quality” independent movie produced. Funding is always the hardest thing and I didn’t want to do it on the cheap. If I’m going to make a movie it has to be the best that it can be. It must be a quality show. My goal is to make good art.

SRW: Lol. I didn’t realize until today that I’ve seen your ’94 flick That Little Monster. Who could forget the legendary Forrest J Ackerman’s stellar performance? (Cough.)

PB: Wow, that is actually really something - I mean that you had previously already watched THAT LITTLE MONSTER! As for Forry Ackerman’s performance, well… he’s “The Poor Man’s Vincent Price,” and I say that with love. So I guess that makes me the “Poor Man,” right? I was pretty happy to snag him.

SRW: Actually, I would've called you the "Poor Man's Roger Corman,", that kinda seems redundant. Okay, Paul, what’s up next for you? Please don’t take another 18 years for your follow-up film. I’m a fan, but you gotta keep giving.

PB: I have a couple of possible projects in the wings, one of which is something you might be interested in, called ROCKET GIRL. It is not related in any way to GLJX, but it does involve visitors from outer space. But it isn’t a comedy, or a musical, at least not right now. Rest assured, I will do everything in my power to see that it does NOT take 18 years to get made! The script is being fine-tuned, so I don’t want to say too much about it, other than I hope to make a movie that is above everything just a lot of fun.

SRW: Ta-dahhhh! Take a bow, Paul. Thanks for visiting. Shout at my readers (very loudly) where they can find your awesome film or where to chat you up.

PB: Thanks for your kind words and for discovering my movie. Your readers can also discover it On Demand and DVD from Strand Releasing. When on Earth visit (ask for Sluggo).

Friday, April 22, 2016

Welcome to the Geriatric Ward!

Last week I celebrated a birthday. Well. "Celebrate's" probably not the right term.
From Florida, my mom calls to wish me a happy day.

" old are you today?" she asks.

"I don't know."

"Yes, you do. Come on."

I didn't know, I really didn't. Just because my mom played at being 39 for many decades didn't mean I had to join in her  games. Somewhere along the way, I sorta quit counting.

So I said, "Well, lessee...subtract 1961 from 2016...carry the number..." I used my air chalkboard. "Wow. Guess I'm 55."

"Then today you're officially in the senior discount age bracket."

Huh. She said it like it was a rite of passage, a badge of honor to get that 10% off a bag of chips. did that happen? More importantly, when did it happen? Seems like just yesterday, I was living like a teenager. Carefree and not an ache in my body. And now I can get a senior discount. How...awful.

Thanks Mom!

Of course I mulled it over all day long. That night my wife took me out for a great birthday meal where I ate like my life depended on it. Pretty much felt like it did, too.

On the way home through the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, I watched all of the teenage hipsters strolling through the streets.

"Look at 'em," I ranted. "Wearing their shorts and sandals and T-Shirts and beanies, walking around like they're invulnerable to aging! Bah!"

My wife said, "Wow, this is bothering you. Do you really feel like a senior citizen?"

"Right now I feel bloated, stuffed like a turkey and in a brain coma from eating too much seafood lasagna! My shoulder and arm ache because I slept on it 'funny!' And there's nothing 'funny' about it! And it's 7:00 and we're going home and all I feel like doing is rolling into bed! So, yeah...I do feel like a senior citizen!"

Great Caesar's ghost!

I'll save you a spot in the nursing home. I hear Bingo Night's a real hoot.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Horror binging with author John Palisano

Horror author John Palisano has written many terrific short stories and novels. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading three of them: Dust of the Dead, Ghost Heart and the forthcoming Beasts of 1,000 Nights. A “Pali-binge.” Everyone, please make John feel at home here at Twisted Tales.
SRW: John, speaking of “home (didja’ like that clever segue? Huh?),” one of your novels takes place in New York, another in Los Angeles, two very different locales. Yet, I thought you captured them both beautifully: the architecture, the people, even the weather are practically characters. First, where do you hang your hat? Second, how important is location to you in developing mood?

JP: Thanks for the nice words, and for reading so thoroughly. You have the distinction of being the first person to ever read Night Of 1,000 Beasts! I currently live in Los Angeles, although I’ve lived all over the United States. Location is very important to the story for me. Like you said: it becomes a character. It has its own obstacles and unique parts that reflect and tell the story. Very few other locales would have been able to have all the elements I needed for Dust Of The Dead to work. Same with Ghost Heart. You’re right: the weather plays a substantial part in both stories. And then taking those locations and exploring unexpected and little knows parts about them sets a mood, as well. I showed a lot of places in LA that are right next to, or under, well-known areas. Like the access tunnels to the subways right under Hollywood Boulevard. In Ghost Heart we crawled inside old passageways that once provided passage for freeing slaves, complete with large chambers and rooms. Taken over by hellish creatures, all, of course. 

SRW: One thing I’ve noticed about all three novels is your protagonists always begin with a solid support group of family and friends. Then, like a cruel god, you sweep in and wipe them away, leaving the hapless protagonist to face seemingly insurmountable odds by himself. Now, I know it’s a horror trope, but I’m strapping into my psychiatric armchair here…do you feel being alone is horrific?

JP: Personally, that feeling of abandonment has always been awful for me. I know that’s a universal fear. We like our alone time, but we all like to know we can go home again, be it with our parents, or our close friends. In these stories, it was important to isolate the protagonists. I was accused of Mike in Dust of the Dead of him not starting out heroic. Well, that was by design. I wanted him to be real and not this Perseus-like God, swinging his sword right away. I thought it’d be interesting to see him falter a bit, and make a few bad choices. We’ve all stayed home when we probably should have gone out to something! I thought it’d be neat to play with that. In the end, though? He rises. You’ve unearthed a bigger question, though, that definitely is a through line in my work. I have been exploring what it means to be alone or with someone, how do we change based on others we fall in love with or work with, and what do we do when that support system buckles? How do we survive? 

SRW: Let’s chat about Dust of the Dead, my favorite of your books so far. Believe me, I understand it’s hard to come up with an original zombie tale. I mean how many ways can you change things up (“Arrrrr!”), right? But I think you’ve done it with Dust. The clever idea behind the tale seemed rather organic, a natural. Tell us about the genesis.

JP: Hah! Cool. It began by me realizing a lot of zombie books were really fan fiction, in that they took slightly skewed versions of themselves, in their own hometowns, and pretended zombies came. Well, boring! But I got to thinking about the reality of zombies, if they were feasible. Well, corpses can be very toxic when breaking down. I thought about the biology of a body breaking down. I pictured a dead body in the hot Los Angeles environment. At the same time, it was summer, and I caught a sinus infection from the hot winds. I read that it didn’t take much in the way of pollutants to cause such a thing. So what if some of those pollutants were coming from dried up undead, their bodies turning to dust? Hence the title. And then, as diseases are happy to do, the infection changed and mutated over time so that it became something even nastier. Of course I thought about what would be done about the left behind undead? Which leads us to ...

SRW: A pretty hapless job being on the Reclamation Crew, I imagine. But the details were solid. Did you ever have a similarly awful job? Clean up crew at crime scenes?

JP: I’ve worked a lot of jobs people wouldn’t expect. Growing up my family owned an autobody shop and a towing company. I worked there on and off with my uncles and cousins. At one point my brother wanted to be a funerary tech. We spoke a lot about it. Learned a lot about it. So all that blue collar stuff was in there already. Working in towing, well, there are a lot of stories about what’s left behind. I didn’t personally see a lot of that, thank God, but I heard a good deal. I was always fascinated with even being able to clean up some of that. It seemed unrecoverable.

SRW: Okay, John, now about that ending. (Possible spoiler alert!) Um, those were aliens, right? Right? And level with me…did you grow bored with the book, wanting to end it quickly? It seemed a bit rushed with a major plotline left dangling. Or are you bucking for a sequel?

JP: Right. Sure. Aliens. Heh-heh. Little Green Men. Seriously? The idea was always to do another book or two in the series. I thought it’d be out by now, but the editor at the time didn’t want me to get stuck just being a zombie author. I think that was the right choice. Smart. But the story will continue in a second book, a third written, called VOICES OF THE DEAD, which begins exactly where Dust leaves off. 

SRW: Moving on to Ghost Heart. The book captures the sorta narcissistic nightclub scene of New York well, I think. These characters don’t really have much going on outside of nightly bar excursions, casual sex, partying (sigh…takes me back) and having a dead-end job to finance said outings. But the protagonist, Rick, rises above the pack, falling in love with a mysterious girl. Now, I gotta ask, are you truly behind the love story? Or is it just a means to the horror?

JP: That was a very difficult mindset to return to: when that was all that mattered. As I’ve grown older and now am a parent, priorities have shifted. So going back to that first painful love that seemed like the best thing in the world? That was tough. I’m so jaded and cynical! But I wanted to recapture those feelings. The truth of being young and in love with the worst possible person while a much better fit for you is just cast away. The truth of putting so much into these things, only to have someone profoundly betray you. Rick grows up as he grows a little colder by the end. He realizes he has to. All the death. All the horrible things he sees. Love is not enough. Love leads him to the most dangerous places. Is it worth it? That’s the question, for me, that Ghost Heart asks: is living life at a thousand miles and hour worth it if it’s all going to crash and burn? Or is it better to take it easy and live a long, fruitful, if not boring, life? Looking back, it seems nearly every horrible thing is a metaphor of a different aspect of his youth being taken away. It’s a real feel good book! 

SRW: Again, I think you’re trying something different with the played out vampire story (and thanks for leaving all sparkles at home). There’s even a Lovecraftian beast in the tale. Every author tries to write something different, it’s in our blood. Do you think it’s possible to write a good book utilizing the ol’ clichés? Or do you prefer to stake out new territory?

JP: Art is supposed to be a reflection, right? So if people can guess the ending and all the plot points in between, then what is it? A way to kill time? Are they just waiting on the one liners in between? I think story is changing. Millions of people know what three acts are. They can predict the twists and turns of so many movies and books. So the art needs to change. The art needs to surprise and intrigue. If it doesn’t, then it’s not being honest. I don’t agree with the popcorn film mentality. It’s just fun. Turn off your brain. Well. No. Even in a tent-pole movie, people have a much better experience if they’re trying. 

SRW: The highlight for me was the scene where Rick sees (hallucinates, he wonders?) Minarette lurking outside his uncle’s body shop during a late night blizzard. Scene made me feel cold inside and out. Well done. Do you prefer writing the subtly chilling scenes like that? Or do you like the big “pop outs (as my wife calls them)”?

JP: Thank you. That was a scary scene to write for me, too. And it was a major turning point in the story. Minarette goes from the Miss America-Blonde goddess and changes into a dark, pale Gothic force. She’s still sexy and gorgeous, but the switch is disturbing more for what it’s implying. We’ve all known people who we’ve loved who seemingly change into new people, and have been betrayed by them. That’s what that moment symbolizes. I definitely prefer the character driven and spookier scenes. That being said, I think the jump scare and action scenes can be equally great to write. I think the goal is to always reach past your comfort zone and try something you haven’t previously. Those moments are my favorites, overall, when a scene comes together like magic, yet isn’t a cliche. 

SRW: Beast of 1,000 Nights is your most unusual book yet. I detected a Jack Ketchum influence, a little of the old schlocky “beasts attack” horror films from the ‘70’s vibe, and a “Most Dangerous Game” nod. Close? Jumping to ludicrous conclusions?

JP: Certainly there’s a massive Jack Ketchum influence to the book, although this one goes way into the supernatural where Jack doesn’t really explore those places. His stuff is more real and visceral, which I find very hard to read and not be completely affected from! Mostly, the influence came from a winter trip to Colorado with Fawn and my son. We were riding up the side of Pike’s Peak on an incline train and it was so amazing and gorgeous, and I thought about how small we are, and about how if that train broke down and no one could get to us, that any number of animals or environmental elements would be severe threats to our cushy selves! I also work in Animal Rights and Rescue and thought about how neat it would be if the animals did to us what people did to them. So there’s a lot of what I think are very funny scenes. I mean, the helicopter pilots are boiled alive in a huge pot by lobster creatures in the middle of a snow-packed mountain. Absurd and hilarious, but at the same time, illustrates just how brutal we are to them. So those were really the two influences that converged. 

SRW: Near the end of the book (MILD SPOILER ALERT!), there’s a frankly bizarre scene where you’ve taken the human equation out of the picture (who we’ve been following throughout the entire novel) and turn the tale over to the titular beasts for a mega-battle. I just gotta ask…what’s up with that, John?

JP: That scene is vital. It illustrates that even when animals serve us well and do our bidding, they are ultimately still disposable. Estella sets them up because, well, what the hell is she going to do with a thousand walking, talking beasts until the next longest night of the century? Buy them ski passes? Pay for their condos? She’d rather take her inner circle and have the rest kill each other. Totally selfish and horrible of her, but she’s a bit of an arrogant jerk, isn’t she? 

SRW: Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the identity of the “final girl.”  Without spoiling it for everyone, I applaud your choice. There you go again, fighting the cliché. While I read, I wondered if this had been your intent from the beginning. Or if you’d changed your mind as the finale neared.

JP: I always knew. Because life rewards horrible people left and right, doesn’t it? Look at all these absolutely abysmal people who are celebrities. We make them rich. We make them famous. We hang on their mental flatulence. Meanwhile, the noble, the true, the folks who teach our children, the people that make our food and our clothes and our shelter, are often treated like hell. I wanted to show that. There’s a line where one character, a vegan, pleads for mercy. She is told that her people showed no mercy to an animal for being pregnant or good, and is slaughtered anyway. That’s a big theme in the book: that the good guys don’t always come out ahead in real life, and doing the right thing can sometimes cost you more than being a conniving jerk. It may sound bitter, but I’m not. I just thought it was pretty funny and illuminating to explore that sort of story: where the hero’s journey is interrupted and hijacked by a no-good, selfish asshole. Kind of like people bullying cute girls for winning Grammys. 

SRW: What’s up next from the prolific keyboard of John Palisano?

JP: A small collection of Halloween stories, “Starlight Drive” has just been released, as well as my first short fiction collection, “All That Withers” which is coming from Cycatrix Press in May. There will be more novels soon! I’d like to say that the titles I have with Samhain are and will be available into the foreseeable future, despite the changeover. We’re all waiting to see precisely what that will be, but one way or another, the books will be out there. So please check them out, and for the love of all that is good, leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, people. And not just for my stuff: for every author you read. Even a line or two. It helps tremendously and only takes a moment. Thanks, Stuart! 

SRW: There you have it, folks. If you have any interest in horror, I’d recommend John’s books. You can find them and John at:

Friday, April 8, 2016

Where do birds go when they die?

Occasionally, I'll see bird bodies upon the side of the road, an unfortunate meeting with a car windshield. When new buildings are built, I'll see a smattering of bodies.

"Hey, Carl," says Lennie in mid-flight, "let's fly our usual route and--"


"Carl? C'mon, get up. Quit horsin' around. Um...Carl?" 

A hard road to fly.

But there're a lotta birds flying the skies. Tons and tons and tons. The math doesn't add up. There should be bird bodies everywhere when their time is up. But...I don't see them. Anywhere.

Now, I know what happens to dogs and cats; their owners take care of them. And some varmints burrow underground to die. Cows and chickens? Best not to dwell on it, particularly for vegans.

But what happens to our feathered friends when their lives end? The earth can't swallow them up that fast. Is there some secret bird graveyard? Does a bird-God swoop 'em up? Is there a jump-suited guy advertising on Craig's List offering bird clean-up services?

Macabre, yes, but these are the sort of questions that keep me up at night.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Bad wine accident in Kansas!

I thought I could hold my alcohol. Until I tried to go glass to glass of wine with my sister-in-law. 

Nearly thirty years of living in my house and nearly as many years drinking responsibly, I've never had an accident.

And then things took a turn for the worse.

Everything was going great. We were having fun. Drinking wine (which I'm not that used to, being a beer kinda guy). Watching bad '80's horror films. 2:30 A.M., time to pack it in.

On my way up to bed, though, the stairs turned traitor on me. 

Bram! Crunch! Brmble, brmble, brmble....


It all happened in a flash. Yet, I remember it like it was last Tuesday. Which it was, but that's not the point. I caused an avalanche of noise, a destruction of body. The house was full of six people and no one heard my wine-imposed earthquake. I was twisted down on the floor about six feet away from my sibling-in-laws, my foot yanked back in a very unnatural manner. Lightning charged through my body, mental sensors screaming at my nerve endings. I became very intimate with pain. Not a good kind of intimacy.

My wife wasn't very happy with me the next day. But we're gonna skip that part of the story.

Now my foot is larger than the Elephant Man's head and sports all the colors of the rainbow. I'm hobbling around on a cane, doing a Dr. House impression. Here, look...gross, right?
The doctor visit was pretty bad.

"How'd this happen?"

"Um, bad horror movie accident," I offered while shifting my gaze away.


Let this be a cautionary tale to all of you kids. Don't watch bad horror movies late into the night. (And don't drink with my sister-in-law.)