Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Spectrum Files

Growing up in Southern Wisconsin, "out in the county" as it was referred to by family and friends, caused limitations.  As gorgeous as the surroundings were, the limitations could be irritating in the entertainment department for a kid my age.

It's not like there was never anything to watch, though.

This was the early 80's, well before most had cable television.  Mind you, we picked up Chicago's 5 & 7, NBC and ABC affiliates respectively, with Milwaukee's 4 and 12 doing the same.  CBS was channel 6 out of Milwaukee and remained that way until it converted to Fox in the 90's. (VHF upstart 58 took CBS reins at that point.)  With the benefit of a rotary antenna towering some 12,000 feet above our house, excellent reception of these channels was almost never an issue.

Speaking of VHF, Chicago's 32 and 44, coupled with Milwaukee's 24 and 18 brought some other options, which is where a lot of my early movie watching  and cartoon connosieuring were derived from.  Black Belt Theatre, Svengoolie, and Creature Feature were awesomeness personified. (a certain joy was brought to me this last Christmas season when I found that Svengoolie is still alive and kicking and carried on ME TV, in all it's syndicated glory, down here in my current home in Texas.)   Mind you, I was about 10 or 11 at the time in Wisconsin, and had no clue what I was looking for to expand my viewing horizons.

One day in the fall of 1981 my parents decided to get Spectrum TV.  Spectrum was, along with ONTV, and SelecTV, also available at the time, a one channel movie subscription option.  Spectrum was broadcast from UHF Channel 66 located on the John Hancock center in Chicago.  You had to buy a descrambler box and pay a monthly subscription fee to receive the signal unfettered.

Spectrum was a mixture of first-run movies, uncut older films, and an "after midnight" viewing window that featured "adult" material.  (It wasn't all what you're thinking, however).  After the late night adult/cutting edge material ended, the channel shut down until the next morning.  Some woman doing calisthenics for 20 minutes opened the following broadcast day, before the channel itself took the air.

Initially I was disappointed in that first month. The featured movie was "The Four Seasons", and Alan Alda/Carol Burnett opus, that did not really fit my demographic.  Nothing else that month must have been very watchable either, for I don't remember anything beyond that.  I complained to my brother who told me that I "never appreciate anything".

"I don't appreciate the smell of marijuana in my pajamas either, Einstein, but we can discuss that later",  I replied.

 I'm sure he smacked me or put me in an arm bar or something at that point.  Whatever.

What I didn't know at that age as I watched Spectrum, often by myself, was that the programmer must have been some kind of cinephile genius.  Yes, I'm sure they had to satisfy a sales department, which explained a lot of the first-run claptrap that aired on there. But hidden in-between the cracks, between the "attraction" showings were a lot of what current movie afficianados call gems. (Remember, this was 1981.  Dude (or dudette) was way ahead of their time.

Spectrum was where I first saw Bruce Lee's The Big Boss, the seminal horror works of Wes Craven, long before Nightmare on Elm Street, and the current cult diamond Vice Squad, among tons of others which I will wax nostalgic about here on my blog.  But it wasn't just low budget action/horror fare that filled it's time slots. Here I saw Fantastic Planet in its bizarre animated glory, as well as the German nightmare fuel drama, The Tin Drum, which still has me disturbed to this day.  Was I ready for some of this stuff?  Probably not, but a whole world was opening to me.  I was watching foreign gems like the Jean-Paul Belmondo flick, High Heels, Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!, and the almost-forgotten but still cult Australian flick The Long Weekend. 

Sometimes windows of time will be filled by short films, like Sam Raimi's student film Cleveland Smith (Indiana Jones parody), a bizarre short film with Don King in it, among many others.

Did I have any clue what I was watching half the time?

Probably not.

However, I think my love of cinema was deeply refined by the (possibly too intense) cinematic primer I was getting from that programming genius down at Spectrum.

Anyway, I will be writing reviews and rememberances of the films I viewed on Spectrum here on the blog, and an inkling of how the film affected my young psyche.  Yes, you will wonder how responsible my parents were for letting a 10 year old kid watch Last House on the Left or Shogun Assassin by himself, but I'm grateful I had the opportunity.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rob, The Fights Are On

November 1982:   I never even considered boxing, really.

 As a kid, not at all.....But one day, out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple of dudes boxing on the television screen. I believe it was an Alexis Arguello/Aaron Pryor fight.

Out of both curiosity and a wanting to bond, I asked my dad "Who you going for?"

"Neither, really. They're both really good fighters. I just want to see how this plays out."

I was in.

I watched one hell of a fight that Saturday afternoon, one that would be the first of many. Hundreds probably.   I took a seat on the floor to the left of my Dad's recliner, comic books in hand, and absorbed.

The man taught me everything he knew about the fight game, which was a lot. He observed like an objective scientist, taking in the art of it all, while I usually found someone to root for, because that was how my mind worked. Like a moron, I usually asked one too many questions, and got the old chestnut: "Rob, I'm trying to hear the commentary!" which was followed by a knowing glance of sympathy with a twist of "You oughta know" from my Mom.  But this boxing tutelage was among the great unfolding stories of my life.

Dad loved the game. "The Sweet Science", it was poetically called, and I love that phrasing for it. Unlike today's MMA, boxing has a balletic approach, at least when it's done right. There's a strategy, a humming fluidity to it, a savage beauty, that is amplified over it's sometime brutality.

There are rules, he told me decades before UFC, there is an artful game plan.

We did this every Saturday.  I learned and chose sides for the names of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini (who brought me to a conscience-twisting moment, as an opponent of his died after hitting his head on the ring apron during a knockdown), Bobby Chacon, Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whittaker, Johnny "Bump City" Bumphus, and dozens more.

One night I was an impromptu drink and snack server when my Dad got the Larry Holmes/Gerry Cooney pay-per-view from good old Spectrum TV, for a houseful of his buddies.  I pulled for the "Great Irish Hope", but like many before him, "The Easton Assassin" slowly destroyed him.  It wasn't nearly as embarrassing as the demolition of Randall "Tex" Cobb a few years later, but it was ugly nonetheless.

I had a great time that night, as several of my Dad's friends, in concert with the Old Man himself, tried to teach me the point system and how to apply it to what I was watching.  Sadly, round after round went to The Assassin.  As a kid, I abhored cockiness, and Holmes embodied it.  I still don't care for that to this day.  I roll with humble.  Can't help it.

He provided me with fight ads and a cool Sugar Ray Leonard for my bedroom door.  On a sales trip, he had gotten a rain check with Gerry Quarry's signature on it.  It said "To Dick, Keep Punchin'".  But Quarry's chicken scratch looked like "Kelp Porcini" instead.  I initially thought it may have been a case of the once great pugilist sharing a recipe suggestion for Seaweed Mushrooms.  But I digress.

God, my Dad was wizened in this sport.  He explained footwork, both good and bad, the necessity of a good jab, how the right hook is, while not a desperation move, one to hold in reservation.  He related how petroleum jelly was used to stop bleeding, how swelling was reduced so the fighters could see despite it.  I was schooled in The Standing 8, the referee's taking points for low blows, the TKO, and the reasons for fight stoppage. He had an eerie ability to predict the outcome of the fight, and why it was going to happen.

"He's dropping his right, Rob. He's gonna take one on the chin."

"He's getting tired, he needs to clinch to the bell."

"That's it. He's got a glass jaw."

Dad wasn't just a technician, the man was a history teacher.

I learned of The Greatest, Ali.  His words, his political stance, both the butterfly and the bee.  Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano.  Man, the stories my Dad told.  I wanted to see those fighters so bad, as the tales he told of their ring exploits, the vim and vigor of their skills, had me on the edge of my seat. He told me about Cus D'Amato, trainer extraordinaire, and about Don King and Bob Arum, promoters who turned boxing into the million dollar extravaganza it became.

He was a guru, and I his padawan. I'll never forget any of the things he shared with me for the rest of my life.

This went on for years.  Through the 80's, we chuckled at the "Heavyweight Champion of the Month" as no fighter was good enough to keep what appeared to be a hot potato.  We had personal bets on Mike Weaver, Greg Page, Michael Dokes, Pinklon Thomas, Tim Witherspoon.  No one was good enough to hold the damn title until we together watched the rise of Mike Tyson and his inevitable fall.

Even up through High School, where ESPN brought their names into the boxing hat, and my Dad and I watched the fights with great regularity.  I still remember the Doug DeWitt/Tony Thornton barnburner that had our hearts pounding, and how exciting that was.  A USBA middleweight title fight, DeWitt took it in 13, an extra round fought due to the draw at the end of 12.
My Dad and I marveled at DeWitt's heart, as he put on what I felt was one of the sport's great comebacks of all time.  We looked at each other after that one like we had just witnessed history. That was probably my senior year in High School and may have been the last fight we watched together.

I haven't watched boxing in a long time.  I moved away from home the day after graduation from High School, and have tried to watch the fights on a couple of occasions, but without Pop telling me how it is, it's not the same.  I couldn't get my son Aidan to watch boxing with me, as I had always dreaming of passing the symbolic fight book on, but that was a no-go.  However, the mutual love of cinema that my son and I share did indeed make a connection.  I took my boy to see "Rocky Balboa" when it came out a few years back and we toasted Cokes to his grandpa afterwards.  If not for my Dad and our mutual love of the sport, I'd have never seen the original. I reminded Aidan of that, and we both love that film for multiple reasons, not just its ability to return past glory to the faded franchise.

I miss Dad so much.  I lost him a little over a year ago, and it still stings.  Just this last year "Hands of Stone", a biopic about Roberto Duran, and the Vinny Pazienza story, "Bleed For This" were both released and all I could think about was how bad I wanted to take Dad to the movies.  Not too long back, my wife and I were at a book store and they had a great deal on a gorgeous hardbound history of boxing.  I wept a bit when I it dawned on me, only after having the book in my hands and getting ready to buy it for him, that he was gone.  I was so excited at the thought of giving it to him, my mind didn't want to deny the moment.

It's a strange thing, boxing.  Especially being an unexpected connection between a young man and his new Dad.  But it worked, and it was a glue that acted as a bond.

There's a line in "City Slickers" that Daniel Stern executes with the perfection that only he can:

"But when I was 18, and my Dad and I couldn't communicate about anything at all, we could always talk about baseball. Now that--that was real."

Interject boxing for baseball, and there you have it.  When I'd call him in years gone by and beat around the bush for advice, we could always talk fights.  He kept up after I had gone, as it was his favorite sport.  Long after I had graduated, years after my sister and I had bought him a gold boxing glove to go along with the Italian horn and hand that hung from a chain around his neck, decades after I had so proudly bought him a subscription to "Ring" magazine for Christmas, he stayed with it. He still knew the game, regaling me with how quick this one was, the power another one had.

A thing that brought us together, a confirming thread, also provided a space filler, an ice-breaker, through to the end.

Don't worry, we always got to the advice when we spoke, those golden words, he spun through his footwork, as he danced in the ring around our conversations.  Throwing jabs of fight stories, clinching me with boxing memories, until he finally landed the knockout punch of what I needed to hear.

We always got there.

He was a great fighter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Calvary: We Should Probably Call Them In

     I saw a movie the other night, that though billed a black comedy, left me disturbed. I've read critics that see it as a "serious inquiry into faith", and some view it as a condemnation of where the world is headed. I see it a bit as both. 

     Brendan Gleeson, one of the greatest actors I've had the blessing to watch, plays a priest in a small Irish community that tries to be the voice of reason and hope for all involved.  Sadly, he is treated with disdain by all of them, atheistic or disenfranchised,  to the point of borderline abuse.  Gleeson's character is far from a Seminary honk, he's human and weathered, was married and a widower before joining the priesthood, so he understands the negativity he has directed toward him to some degree  as he attempts to fight it.  He even faces a death threat directed toward him in the films first scene.

     This community became, in my eyes anyway, a microcosm of the modern world.  There's no doubt that the scientific advances the modern world experiences are amazing and welcome.  No one should question the advancements in equal rights and diversity we've made in the past 25 years.  We have ground to cover, but we've come a long way.  But as we experience the changes that we are, we seem to be leaving behind the qualities of the church. I am no religious person at all, but you'd have to be a fool not to acknowledge that the base virtues of the core of most churches are humanity, love, acceptance, charity, and most of all forgiveness. 

     As our global society grows and changes, all sides seem to be nurturing a hatred for the persons of the opposing viewpoint that grows uglier by the day.  Those core values of the church are dwindling, fading.  Painfully in many cases.  These positive values would provide checks and balances for the concrete pains being felt, scientifically and socially, that evolving creates.

In the interest of fairness, the controversies surrounding Catholicism are addressed, and in the right way, as all cannot be blamed for the sins of a few.  We need to learn this.  Society does this blaming daily.

    Gleeson's priest faces the ugly spewing of the community he tries to provide fellowship for on a daily basis, and crawls through it's ugliness, not naively, but like a fighter would. At the same time, he clings to the faith that made him join the priesthood, and becomes a martyr-figure.  His priest is the only good person in this village, I'm convinced, and I looked fucking hard.  The film closes cynically, but does goes black with a faint glimmer of possible hope. 

     I fear this is becoming the world.  As we learn, as we evolve, we are leaving behind the nature of humanity.  We desert the ability to accept.  To understand.  To love and to learn about the invisible nature of the soul as much as what is seen and written about for the naked eye.   

     Gleeson says at one point, "I think there's too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues."  I think I can agree with that.   If we are going to move forward as a race, we have to move forward together, and we have to make being humans as much an art, as it is becoming a science.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Retrospection Dysfunction

      In the late 70's there was a nostalgia boom for the 50's. Looking back I can understand why.  The 50's were awesome; from James Dean to Buddy Holly to those freakin' cars, what is not to love?

     And the 70's? Well, they were the goddamn 70's.

     But the weird thing is there was only a 18 year gap from the end of the 50's to 1978 and "Grease".  However, the 50's nostalgia tornado started a few years before that, "Happy Days" and "American Graffitti" being prime examples.  Now, yeah, yeah,  I know, Lucas' film took place in '62, but it felt like the 50's.  The 1950's hadn't even gotten old yet, for Cripe's sake (I don't know who Cripe is, either, ask my Mom) and folks all over America were ready to pour it on their cereal in the mornings.  Think about that for a second. In significantly less than 15 years, a past decade was being revered, re-packaged and celebrated in music sales and airplay, on the screen both big and small, and to a lesser extent, in fashion sense!

     Jump forward a little bit now. Compare the mid to late 70's 1950's resurgence to the minimal nostalgia boom for the 80's after that decade had come and gone.  Not even comparable.  As we move forward I think respect and love for "days gone by" is being lost. Past decades have not been looked upon with reverence, except by those that were "in their prime" during them.  It's hard to grasp.

     The same goes for the time capsule items of their time.  Take a look at a 1967 Pontiac Catalina.  Compare it to a 1993 Acura.   One was already regarded as a badass classic only 10 years after it rolled out and the other is a piece of shit, even mint, 22 years later.  What's wrong with this picture?

      Part of the problem is tech moving too fast. I had time to smell the roses growing up, moving from the transistor radio to the mp3.  No one can enjoy the scent of those flowers anymore.  They can't appreciate anything developing.  Time and electronics are moving too fast to admire the changes. Anyone draw a WTF reaction looking at the Apple Watch because they also chuckled at "Star Trek" wrist conversations?  I sure as hell did.   Technological advancement in the last 20 or so years is exponential to the previous 60.  From the 1940's to the mid 90's we crept from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to compact disc. From the maelstrom of the mid 90's, we have leaped like a flash from what was considered freakish technology in the CD to thousands of songs being stored on a device no bigger than a few credit cards being rubber banded together.  We have instant access to unbelievable stores of information with a few keystrokes, nullifying the library, or at the least, the Encyclopedia Brittanica.   What was once a huge VHS library is now available to you through internet streaming.

     How can nostalgia find a home there?

     Sadly, it can't.

     I am 43, and feel like I'm part of a hell of a lucky generation. Close enough to see what my parents had, I grew up on vinyl and the radio, but now utilize the whippersnapper tech they have today.  I crossed the time channel from Ralphie Parkers "A Christmas Story" with Ovaltine and Little Orphan Annie to scrolling down to Beck's "Blue Moon" on my iPhone.

     The difference?  I respect the change. The kids today don't.  My daughter looks at my vinyl "Never Mind The Bollocks" LP like a Brachiosaur left in in the living room. Chuckles of disdain shower my commentary on how Pitfall Harry was as complicated as video games got for me.  I love the tube radio, hand-held transistors, and the console TV. Why? Because that's how we got to the cd, the mp3, and SMART TV.   Even if I can't figure the latter out, and had to google what amounts to the equivalent of a Street Fighter 2 finishing move on a Wii U keypad in order to log out of fucking Netflix.

      I sound old.  I feel old.  But I'm not. 

      I think what it is is that I'm not scared of the new tech and the modern conveniences, they're just that, convenient.  I'm terrified all of that great stuff from way back, (and not so way back) will be forgotten. 

      Or worse, disrespected.

      You bastards are just moving too damn fast.



Friday, April 24, 2015

Indy Trifecta of Terror

Thanks to the millions of types of affordable high quality video equipment, available distributors, and video software programs, anyone can make and release a movie these days (myself included, though I haven't produced more than a few videos as of yet). The stacked shelves at stores and the piles of wing-wang on Netflix are all the evidence you need of that fact.

George A. Romero once claimed everybody being given a voice by internet wasn't a good thing and he drove that home with the underrated "Diary of the Dead".  He was referring to the political and societal opinion and news-trafficking arena, but he may not have been far off the mark in the art and writing department either.  Now don't think me an ass, as while I think it's great we can all produce a voice and get it out there, (the internet's blogosphere is saturated with crap, my own bellyaching is probably some of it) there's a lot of garbage out there in the film world as well as the internet's pontification.  While that world shrinks in difficulty to create, it  expands in volume of horseshit, and sadly the good stuff gets buried underneath it. 

Funny how ol' George managed to tie that internet drama in with his own trade.  He's a sharp one.

Move forward about 10 years and most of the wide-release horror cinema trade is redundant and frequently repulsive. If it's not demonic possession, it's "found footage", that with "Unfriended" may have milked the last drops of effectiveness potential out of it, and hopefully mercifully come to an gasping end.

New Zealand doesn't need Jackson to be Brilliant

But I did said wide-release there.  Out of New Zealand and Australia, biting and scratching, come "Housebound" and "The Babadook" respectively, two completely different horror films stylistically, but they both do come heavy.  "Housebound" is the best combination of chills and giggles I've seen since Raimi's "Evil Dead II" or his underrated "Drag Me to Hell".  For every genuinely creepy moment, (and there are some strong ones) there's just as many laugh-out-loud ones to temper the experience. Strong and hilarious performances all around from a largely unknown cast and their quirky characters make this the first of 2 tremendous Netflix watches that are both available now.


Best Australian Horror Since OZ-Ploitation in the 70's & 80's

"The Babadook" is a grim affair to say the least, but works just as effectively as an examination of grief and sorrow with a bravura performance by Essie Davis that ranks up there with any leading lady role (stateside included) in recent years.  This one may be a tough pill to swallow, not so much for the genuinely eerie and chilling title entity, but for the dread atmosphere and truly crumbling lives of the film's two principal characters, an emotionally struggling mother and son.  It ends as redemptively as any film of this nature can, and much like Joe Carnahan's "The Grey", it may work as a genuinely effective and somewhat inspiring example of dealing with a loved one's death and what overcoming oppressive human grief can feel like on multiple levels.  Beyond that thought, it has very chilling horror moments that are given exclamation by the performance of "The Babadook's" two leads.


The Americans Have a Few Tricks Left in the Bag.

"It Follows" does just that. The film may be following you for days after you see it.  A simple construct: after a sexual encounter, our heroine finds herself  followed by an entity (after being educated on the being), that though walking slowly, will never stop.  The film is drenched in an eerie atmosphere, and has a score by Disasterpiece that outside of Christopher Young's "Sinister" score, may be the most powerful horror film music since John Carpenter was laying down creepy ambience tracks in the 70's and 80's.  This film is layered as well, through metaphor pointing out the dangers of an openly sexual lifestyle, as well as making some smart class warfare points.

As I stated, Hollywood's big budget horror films are more often than not just repetitive and noisy. Thankfully the independent market is ripe with developing filmmakers and some truly good stuff coming from them.  They appear to be influenced by the best auteurs of the re-birthing era of chiller cinema, the 70's, and to me that's a good thing.  The best part is that influence is the key word, not mimicry.

I can't wait for the next films from Gerard Johnstone, Jennifer Kent, and David Gordon Mitchell.

Nicely played, youngsters, nicely played.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Very Brady Nightmare

     As a kid, there wasnt' too much scary stuff swimming in the after school TV muck of Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry, Roger Whittaker record commercials, or Gilligan's Island and Brady Bunch re-runs.  Well, truthfully, the Brady Bunch was actually scary on multiple levels. One level was it's irritatingly saccharine nature, which is beyond compare, and the other being two certain episodes that to a child my age, were from some nasty corner of hell.

     First of all, you have to realize I was a kid.  Maybe 5 years old when the two episodes I'm about to speak on crossed my transom.  Still, shell-shocked from a glimpse of "The Exorcist" I had snuck as I passed the living room a couple days prior, I was primed for being spooked.

      One episode featured the Brady Girls seeing a ghost that was slide-projected by the boys in an effort to scare them.  Primed for revenge, they dared the boys to sleep in the attic where they beheld an apparition whispering "I need air" as it clawed its way out of a storage trunk.  Unfortunately for me, I had missed the "slide controversy" and the revenge plans, and just saw the attic events unfold.

      I was petrified.

      The other episode featured the guttural moaning of a tortured spirit that could be heard throughout the Brady household that horrified me to my very marrow.  Later, after running from the room, I learned it was yet another plot, a tape recorded sound (these Bradys were 70s tech whizzes of some sort) played by the kids.  This was for the express purpose of frightening away potential buyers of the place, as the kids just couldn't fathom leaving that awesome spread, what with it's orange kitchen, see-through living room stairs, and astro-turfed backyard.

  I am quite convinced that if I were to re-watch these episodes today, they would be laughably bad. There's no reason to think otherwise.  They would join movies and shows like so many I had seen in my youth, that upon return viewing as an adult (term used loosely) were nowhere near as cool, scary, or as exciting as they were when I was a kid.  But you know what?  I think I'll leave them as they are, crawling around somewhere in my memory with a 'fear marker' on them.

     Because I think that's pretty cool.  Brady Bunch-induced PTSD.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Samuel Snoek Brown's "Hagridden" is Bone Rattling.

Several years back, a man I greatly admire, film critic Roger Ebert turned to the internet to explore how others reacted to a film. He described their quotes as "dealing with their feelings"

That's what Hagridden will do.  Make you deal with your feelings.  

Hagridden is a simple construct wrapped in complexities built around two female primary characters, who by being victims of circumstance, have to do horrible, reprehensible things to survive in the Louisiana marsh as the Civil War is flaming out. 

And Sam Snoek-Brown makes you feel empathy, even sympathy for them as they murder without restraint. 

It takes a hell of a writer to do that. 

Much like the Japanese horror film, "Onibaba", the story centers on a woman, and a girl, and they go by no more for names than that, living alone and like feral animals.   This after the loss of both their husbands, one in the war.  They are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law which complicates things as "the girl" wants to shirk loneliness with a returned soldier.

Things get darker as they struggle to survive, drowning in fear, paranoia, and hatred, particularly the woman, who's only real tie to the world and reality is the girl.   Characters with malicious intent and dripping hatred wander this landscape, and Hagridden really makes you come to terms with the concept of "the lesser of two evils" as you try to hash out your understanding of these poor souls while they do what you would never consider.  Snoek-Brown's book creates a nature of lethal violence becoming as easy as you or I would buy something we take for granted.  

You become immersed in the Hagridden world as you are repelled by it and one of the reasons that is so easy is Snoek-Brown's attention to detail.  He's steeped in his knowledge of individual locales as well as real characters and battles of the back end of the civil war.  Equally as sharp is  his vivid and detailed, yet at times wistful descriptions of the day to day minutiae of surviving the unforgiving beauty of delta swamp life and second nature gruel of existence in this time and place, that seems alien to us now. 

Just as real is his grasp of human loneliness and sadness and how they tie to desperations within.  Snoek-Brown details how quickly those emotions lead to free-wheeling lust and need, and just as quickly to greed, suspicion, betrayal and murder. 

Hagridden isn't just a story, it's an experience. And as Ebert described "Halloween", you're not just reading it, it's "happening to you."  Sam Snoek-Brown has created a quietly violent world, enhanced by the lack of quotation marks in it's dialogue, where the silence of it's brutality is just as unsettiling as it's reality.