Horror de Lucha Libre: A Brief History of Mexico’s Luchador Films

The roots of lucha libre are believed to have begun during the Second Franco-Mexican war. A free-style form of Grego-Roman wrestling was developed and became regionally popular in the 1900s. The Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre was founded in 1933, giving the sport a national foothold and is the oldest professional wrestling promotion in existence. The beloved sporting event became a national obsession in the 1950s following regular television broadcasts. Inspiring devoted followings and subcultures that immortalized wrestlers in comic books and cinema. These luchador movies would transform the high-flying athletes into crime fighting folk heroes. Ripening lucha libre into an undisputed part of Mexico’s cultural heritage.

Behind The Mask

The most well-known luchador star of the ring and the screen is El Santo. Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta’s professional wrestling career would span 5 decades, using the name “El Santo” for the first time in 1942. Initially reluctant to appear on film, Huerta would relent in 1958 to great commercial success. Starring in 52 films, Santo would become a Mexican symbol of justice.  

Legendary wrestling rival of Santo is Alejandro Muñoz Moreno. Professionally known as The Blue Demon since 1948, Moreno began his career in the ring as a heel. In 1952, Santo defeated and unmasked his tag team partner, prompting Blue Demon to become a good guy. Producer of luchador movies, Enrique Vergara, sought to bring another wrestler into pictures. After discovering Moreno, Blue Demon would go on to star in 25 action and fantasy films. Of those, Santo would co-star in nine of them.

In 1966, Vergara would then discover Aarón Rodríguez Arellano, an international heavyweight luchador. Arellano was offered the role of Mil Mascaras, the first character created specifically for the movies. Mil Mascaras would star in 20 luchador movies, in which he’d make several costume changeups as the man of a million masks.

Not to be outdone by the dudes in the ring, Las Luchadoras were a rotating troop of wrestling ladies. Appearing in 6 films, the gals would face off with Satanists, mad scientists, and sometimes each other in the ring. Perhaps the most recognizable actress of the Las Luchadoras films is Lorena Velázquez. Iconic femme fatale of Mexican cinema, her roles in luchador movies evolved from side parts in Santo flicks to leading villainesses. Velázquez would also appear as Gloria/Loreta Venus in 3 different wrestling films. 

Mexican Horror

Mexico’s horror genre got its proper start in the 30s with the films of Juan Bustillo. But it wasn’t until 1953 that it would outshine the dramas and westerns in most of the country’s movie houses. The success of Chano Urueta’s El Monstruo Resucitado had audiences begging for more. Officially ringing in the golden age of Mexican cinema. The movies would echo the iconography of Universal and Hammer horror. Gothically stylized scenes with expressionist cinematography, injecting local lore like The Aztec Mummy and La Llorona.

With television of the ‘50s dominated by the popularity of lucha libre, big screen adaptations were a natural transition. The flashy pageantry of costumed heroes in action would blend perfectly with fantasy story lines. Hardboiled detective plots and crime rings of luchador movies began to take on more supernatural and science fiction elements. Proving to be enormously popular, they remained a staple of Mexico’s commercial cinema until the mid-1970s.

American producer, K Gordon Murray, launched Mexican horror to a wider audience through his distribution of foreign films. The exploitation maven would rewrite and overdub his movies for English-speaking audiences at Soundlab Inc. While his catalog contained many adult and children’s films, over half of the titles were horror from Mexico. Murray was particularly fond of luchador movies and contributed to the success of 2 of the most popular, Santo VS The Vampire Women and The Wrestling Women VS The Aztec Mummy

Films of Note 

There is no shortage of mad scientists and reanimated corpses in luchador movies. Santo Vs. Los Zombies (1962) is considered the first real Santo movie where he is established as a crime fighter. A crazed doctor reanimates dead murderers and thieves to do his bidding. Only Santo can stop these minions from robbing jewelry stores and setting fires to orphanages. 

Las Luchadoras Vs. El Médico Asesino (1963) offers up an evil surgeon experimenting with brain transplants and needing more specimens. Kidnapping women and creating a mindless lady wrestler that Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi must defeat in the ring. Director, Rene Cardona, would reimagine his own film twice in 1969. Las Luchadoras Vs. El Robot Asesino would have an identical plot and borrow aesthetic from the British television series, The Avengers. Again, the same year would follow the surreal Night of The Bloody Apes. A similar movie with a devil-themed luchadora and featuring footage of open-heart surgery. 

Alien invasion was a common trope among luchador sci-fi films. The campiest of which was Santo Vs. La Invasion De Los Marcianos (1967). All of Mexico’s TV transmissions are interrupted by 3-eyed aliens in gold lamé costumes. Sick of humans’ nuclear weapons, they demand peace and brotherhood through fear and destruction. Blue Demon would get a few alien invasion films of his own. In true B-movie style, Aranas Infernales (1968) brings spiders from space, seeking brains to feed their dying queen. Naturally, mankind’s fate is settled in the ring, complete with a were-spider transformation and hand puppets. 

While several luchador movies would feature Count Dracula going toe to toe with masked fighters, the vampire woman trope proved much more successful in the genre. Santo Vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro (1962) give the audience a clan of vampire women seeking a successor for Queen Zorina. But the clan needs human blood for a proper glow up and decided to avenge an ancestor while they’re at it. Mil Mascaras’ lady vampire movie, Las Vampiras (1969), finds him running afoul of a clan following a plane crash. As bodies pile up, he must defeat the vampire women as they fight amongst themselves with interpretive dance and dueling fire poi.

Mummies and werewolves were incredibly popular in luchador movies, showing off their direct inspiration from Universal horror films. Along with the monster mashups that double billed multiple heroes like Santo y Blue Demon Vs. Dracula y El Hombre Lobo (1973). While the films that pitted masked men against different descendants of Dr. Frankenstein are representations of Hammer Film influence. Such as Santo Vs. La Hija De Frankenstein (1972) and Santo y Blue Demon Vs. Dr. Frankenstein (1974). Lastly, the homage to gothic horror is best represented in La Sombra Del Murcielago (1968). A luchador version of Phantom Of The Opera where a disfigured wrestler kidnaps a beautiful singer and Blue Demon must come to the rescue. 

From The Ring To The Screen

Though low-budget and mass-produced, luchador movies falling into the horror genre have maintained their popularity into modern times. For lovers of exploitation, these films continue on as throwbacks or updated gritty formats. Mil Mascaras concluded a film trilogy in 2015 with Aztec Revenge. 2006’s Wrestlemaniac honors its raunchy roots with Rey Misterio Sr. as an insane luchador slasher.

Just as lucha libre is the direct inspiration for the flair and showmanship of WWE, luchador movies have influenced today’s athletes. Duane Johnson and Dave Bautista are now A-listers and casting pro-wrestlers in horror films is more commonplace than ever. Horror and professional wrestling entertain through anxiety and suspense. The union of both within cinema is a sensational delight with a rich heritage.  

Further Reading 

The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography by Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter

The films of Chano Urueta

The films of Rene Cardona

Life and career of K. Gordon Murray

Prescribed Nightmares: Healthcare in Horror Cinema

Medical quackery, mad doctors, and unorthodox lab experiments are the stuff science fiction nightmares are made of. The medical horror trope is rich with enough sub-genres to petrify patients for decades. With an endless supply of entries, this article gives a routine examination to notable healthcare horror films. Side effects may include chills, paranoia, and trouble sleeping. Currently, there is no known cure. 

Human Guinea Pigs

Healthy bodies and unhealthy bank accounts often find themselves on the doorstep of pharmacology. Fortune favors the brave when renting out physical autonomy for experimental drugs. Yet the transparency of chemical messiahs should always be considered when the hazards of medicine are in play. The Biotrial Rennes clinical of 2016 resulted in 1 death and 5 injured. The 2006 UK med trial for TGN1412 caused organ failure in 6 men. The latter incident would inspire Ian Clark’s healthcare horror film The Facility. Seven volunteers enroll in a 2-week research project at a remote medical lab. Injected with a new drug called Pro-9, some of the first side effects to manifest are disconcerting, to say the least. The tension is ratcheted up by nightfall when the facility locks down. Most of the horror happens offscreen in this claustrophobic siege as test subjects fight to survive. This film could easily register as a prequel to 28 Days Later. Released the same year with a bigger budget is the Canadian-American horror film Bloodworx. College friends decide to earn side money for a spring break trip by signing up for pharmaceutical testing. RXZ-19 is a new allergy drug with regenerative side effects that are dangerously addictive. The lead researcher quickly loses control of her subjects. Primitive instincts are reactivated and the patients turn on staff and each other. But not all human lab rats get the choice to participate. Sometimes it’s mandatory in detention centers. In Patients of a Saint, also known as Inmate Zero, St. Leonard’s Island is a repurposed prison for the world’s most violent criminals. Extreme medical trials are conducted on prisoners and the experiment quickly goes wrong. Guards and inmates must unite to survive as the infection spreads in the penitentiary. Will zombie island stay on lock down?

The Doctor is In…sane

Medical professionals have always been a goldmine for the horror genre. Bringing us the world-renowned vivisectionist, Dr. Moreau, and the kinky side of Dr. Henry Jekyll. These psycho practitioners have some of the most intimate access to us. Oblivious patients willingly put their lives in rubber gloved hands. In The Surgeon, little Julian is a witness to his younger brother’s murder at the hands of a doctor. Traumatizing him into a career of mad science, he utilizes terminal patients for experiments until he’s reported by colleagues. Returning to the hospital that condemned his work, he takes revenge by harvesting the humors of the staff. Anyone that has gone to urgent care would agree that the mean girls from high school grow up to be nurses. Yet nobody considers these career paths being revenge driven. Lisa Zane stars in The Nurse, a cold-blooded home caregiver that slithers into a paralytic patient’s family. Holding him responsible for her father’s death, she slowly destroys his world from within. With all the high contrast grime of a 90’s slasher, Larry Drake is Dr. Giggles. An escaped mental patient is about to make a house call to the town that destroyed his family practice. Fixating on a teenage girl with a heart condition, he slashes through her friends as they begin their summer vacation. A healthcare horror comedy that can be downright slapstick at times, Drake steals the show as the demented doc. Delivering Freddy Kreuger-esque one-liners with a straight face, Dr. Giggles is tragically under-rated. When the Mid-Aughts’ grindhouse revival finally got its hands on nurse pulp fiction, it had to be 3D. Nurse 3D is referred to as the film that ruined Paz De la Huerta’s career. This healthcare horror casts her as Abby, nurse by day and serial killer by night. Seducing and butchering unfaithful husbands before deciding to mentor a recent nursing school graduate. A trashy throwback to 90’s erotic thrillers but with all the sleaze and splatter of a drive-in b-film.

I’m Afraid It’s Terminal

The patient is a role of vulnerability we all step into at some point. The anxiety from exposure and dismissal is the most common form of everyday healthcare horror. Medical gaslighting can separate us from the narrative, leading to distrust of the body and doubting perceptions. The Power puts these institutional ‘pecking-orders’ on full display. Set during the politically complicated UK power outages of the 70s, running parallel is a young nurse working her first night at the East London Royal Infirmary. A paranormal revenge tale taking notes from The Exorcist, Nurse Valery is haunted by hospital secrets as well as her own. Particularly vexatious with themes of abusing power and voices silenced by any means necessary. In the 80s slasher, X-Ray, a divorced mother is given the run around with her new insurance. Attempting to collect physical exam results from a hospital with a bad reputation on Valentine’s weekend. Susan is led through a medical labyrinth of humiliation, bouncing from doctor to doctor. No one ever bothers to tell Susan what’s wrong with her, nor do they listen to her cries for help as she’s strapped to a gurney and prepared for emergency surgery. Little does she know her records are being tampered with by a psychopath in scrubs! The psychological thriller, Visiting Hours, focuses more on developing the dark profile of the antagonist, yet speaks volumes on inherent misogyny in medicine. Following being attacked in her apartment, an outspoken reporter finds herself in the hospital. Barely allowed any rest by detectives and well-wishers, she receives a visitor that seeks to finish what he started. Knowing she’s in danger, her pleas are regarded as symptoms of stress as nurses and patients start dropping like flies.

Secret Society Sanitariums

From the Asclepius cults of ancient Greece to the Knights Hospitallers, occult elements of healing remain integrated in modern-day hospitals. These sanctuaries for the sick and injured are the ultimate liminal space on earth. Between birth and death, hospitals become imprinted with the intensity of human emotion. It’s no wonder there seems to be an endless supply of haunted hospitals across the world. But with faith comes followers, and sometimes they’re dogmatic edge lords. Secret societies and cults hiding within the medical profession gives us some of the best healthcare horror. Larry Cohen’s The Ambulance is a comedy thriller emulating hardboiled detective film noir. An aspiring comic book artist meets the woman of his dreams in the streets of New York City, just before she collapses. Quickly whisked off by an outdated looking ambulance, the artist discovers she hasn’t been admitted to any nearby hospitals. Others have started disappearing in a similar looking ambulance and they all have diabetes. Is it a human trafficking ring or a mad science conspiracy? It’s Victor from The Young & The Restless and his laboratory hidden above a disco. Anatomie is a German horror film starring Franka Potente (of Run Lola Run fame) as a medical student. Awarded a highly coveted scholarship to the University of Heidelberg, she recognizes the cadaver in her anatomy class. Upon investigating his mysterious death, Potente uncovers an ancient secret society that performs experiments on ‘undesirables’. On top of everything else, her grandfather is a highly celebrated professor. The Canadian horror film, The Void, is set in a half burned out hospital running on a skeleton crew. When a chaotic bloodbath begins, the radios go out and the hospital becomes surrounded by robed figures armed with weapons. Someone has opened a gate in the hospital’s basement that leads to another dimension. All the hidden medical experiments begin to mingle with the Lovecraftian abominations crawling out of the portal.

Alternative Medicine

Those repulsed by allopathic medical practices often explore their other options of healthcare horror. Opening themselves to esoteric healing and mysticism that was popular with the Universal Medicine cult and The Source Family. At the height of the neon fitness craze of the 80s, it’s no pain no gain at the Death Spa. Beefcake Michael owns and operates a high-tech health club with his brother-in-law. But when Michael’s new girlfriend becomes a member, his late wife rises from beyond to possess the gym equipment. About as schlocky as it gets with bumbling detectives and weight machines mangling juice heads. Featuring Ken Foree in a side part, better known to the genre from Dawn of The Dead and From Beyond. 2016’s A Cure For Wellness is based on Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel, The Magic Mountain. A financial services CEO vanishes to a Swiss “wellness center”, built upon an aquifer. Lockhart, an executive, is blackmailed by the board to retrieve him before a company merger. He discovers the eel infested institution has a dark history of incestuous bloodlines and medical experiments. Trapped among brainwashed patients, Lockhart realizes they’re all willing subjects for Dr. Volmer. Best described as a less lovable Dr. Phibes, operating from the Poolrooms. If you’ve ever believed the medical industry keeps people sick to financially drain them, this film will get to you. The British healthcare horror comedy, Horror Hospital, jumps right into treatments as 2 bandaged patients running through the woods are mowed down by a bladed Rolls Royce. When a young songwriter is kicked out of the band, he decides a holiday to Brittlehurst Manor might do him good. A pseudo “health farm” located in a gothic castle surrounded by an acid swamp. Michael Gough plays the head of the hospital, Dr. Storm, heavily stylized after Bela Lugosi. The faucets run with blood and dinner guests are prone to screaming fits. The film was an obvious favorite for Richard O’Brien. Hippies beware! Your health retreat might end with a lobotomy!

Inconclusive Results

Over the course of the pandemic, it has become near impossible to trust the healthcare system. Devolving into a purgatory of bureaucracy and generating corporate profits, the amount of unnecessary evils makes it difficult to heal. While your chances of being a victim of mad science in this day and age are slim, they’re not exactly zero. Yet in the face of an emergency we have little options but to trust medical professionals with our lives. Stay vigilant and get well soon.

Further Reading

The Pathology of Horror (Medical Horror Films) – IMDb

“The Darkside of Medicine: 5 Doctors Who Became Serial Killers” – MDLinx

“My Life As a Full-Time Human Guinea Pig” – VICE

Maniac Mansion: The Point & Click Horror Comedy Game

Graphical adventures were the rising star of gaming in the 1980s. A genre defined with interactive storylines driven by exploration and puzzles. Many offered players a text parser to input commands. This could become a vexing experience to get the precise arrangement of words to advance the game. Eventually the point-and-click interface was adapted as a standard for interactive fiction, beginning with an unlikely project published by LucasArts in 1987. Borrowing heavily from B-films and fantasy comics, Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick created the dark humored gaming experience, Maniac Mansion.

The Game History/Censorship

Gilbert and Winnick met in 1984 while working at LucasArts. Both fans of sci-fi schlock, they became fast friends over a shared love for horror films. After the completion of Koronus Rift, the pair toyed with the idea of a horror comedy game of their own. Originally mapping their ideas as a paper-and-pencil game, they set their plot in a haunted house and added popular horror tropes. The format of King’s Quest I would inspire the vehicle for Gilbert and Winnick’s brain project. An interactive adventure game with a point-and-click interface instead of fumbling with a parser. This was the birth of the SCUMM engine, an acronym for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion. This programming engine featured a verb/object design paradigm and was utilized for many other games. After 2 grueling years of development, Gilbert and Winnick’s Maniac Mansion game debuted at the 1987 Consumer Electronics Show. One of LucasArts’s first self-published games, it was initially released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II. An MS-DOS port followed in 1988, along with ports for Atari ST, Amiga, MAC, and NES in 1990.

“Don’t be a tuna head!”

During Maniac Mansion’s game development for Commodore 64, Lucasfilm had censored profanity in the dialog much to the irritation of Gilbert. Resulting in some ridiculous 80s lingo like “tuna head”. The game would later be pulled from shelves in Toys R Us, just a few months after release. All due to a letter from a single consumer about the word “lust” being printed on the game box. Shortly after being ported to NES, Nintendo of America expressed concern over suggestive content. Aiming for a younger audience, Nintendo requested LucasArts tone down what they deemed inappropriate content. Such as pixelated allusions to nudity and graphic dialog like the word “kill”. The most laughable censoring issue was the phrase “NES SCUMM created by” in the credits sequence. Not realizing it was the name of the development engine, Nintendo took it as a direct insult and requested it be removed. Funny enough the company somehow missed the ability to microwave a live hamster.

Gameplay

The Maniac Mansion game begins 20 years prior with a meteor crash-landing in the backyard of the titular building. Purple and sentient, the meteor enslaves the mind of homeowner, Dr. Fred Edison. On the anniversary of the incident in present time, our brainwashed doctor has kidnapped Sandy Pantz. A local teenage girl that Dr. Fred plans to suck the brains out of for an experiment. Sandy’s boyfriend, Dave Miller, rallies a handful of his friends from school in an attempt to infiltrate the Edison mansion and rescue her. Punks and nerds unite to put a stop to this mad science, encountering the rest of the Edison family along the way. Dr. Fred’s raunchy wife, Nurse Edna and their military obsessed son, Weird Ed. Also inhabiting the house are two sentient tentacles, a kind green tentacle and evil purple one. The Maniac Mansion game is unique in allowing the player to pick three of seven characters for the rescue mission. Each defined by their various skills, which allow for different solutions to many of the game’s puzzles. Syd is a new waver, Michael the school photographer, Jeff the surfer, Razor a punk singer, Wendy an aspiring writer, and Bernard the token geek. Players can only control a single character at a time and switch via the “New Kid” command. Most actions are carried out by selecting verbs on the screen and applying them to an object. If any one of the kids are captured by the Edisons, they are thrown into the dungeon and must be rescued by any character who still has their freedom.

“Oh good! More brain donors!”  

The development team took a lot of inspiration from their favorite horror films to aid in the game’s creation. Winnick referenced the 1969 film, Horror House, describing it as “a ridiculous teen horror movie”, in which teenagers inside a building were killed one by one without any thought of leaving. Gilbert often expressed his fondness of the mad scientist trope, citing horror films of the 80s like The Fly and Reanimator. But the film Creepshow would really set the tone of the game’s premise, specifically the segment “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”. Starring Stephen King, it follows a farmer who encounters a fuzzy meteor. The rest of the Edison family was shaped after characters from EC Comics and Warren Publishing magazines which specialized in horror and science fiction from the 40s and 50s. Other sources have listed films like The Little Shop of Horrors, Night of The Comet, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street as inspiration for the Maniac Mansion game. The actual house was designed in detail to resemble the main building on Skywalker Ranch where LucasArts was located and George Lucas himself kept his office.

The Legacy Lives On

In 1993, LucasArts released the sequel Day of the Tentacle. Set 5 years after the events of the Maniac Mansion game, the purple tentacle becomes exposed to toxic waste. Driving him insane, he sets on a course for world domination. This prompts the green tentacle to reach out to Bernard from the original game. Bernard and his unique roommates must utilize a time machine to stop the purple tentacle from taking over the world. The game came with a fully playable copy of Maniac Mansion hidden as an Easter egg within the game. In 1990 a Maniac Mansion sitcom was created by Eugene Levy for the Family Channel. Loosely based on the game, Dr. Fred Edison was the only character to crossover as an “eccentric inventor”. The Edison family reside in a mansion in an upscale suburb and their lives revolve around Fred’s creations. All American mad science experiments conducted in a basement laboratory powered by a meteorite. The series lasted 3 seasons with 66 episodes.

LucasArts’ Maniac Mansion game wasn’t initially a commercial success, rather developing a slow and loyal cult following. Calling forth an audience that was deeply entwined with horror fandom to embrace gaming culture. Along the way it accidentally ended up revolutionizing the adventure game genre while solidifying LucasArts as a quality developer. With several different endings, multiple solutions to puzzles, and purposely linked up no-win situations, Maniac Mansion cultivates a high replay factor for gamers and horror fans alike.    

Further Reading

Maniac Mansion Fan Site

Nintendo Censoring of Maniac Mansion

Do Androids Dream of Cronenberg? Philip K Dick’s Influence on the Baron of Blood

Canadian director, David Cronenberg, is best known to cinephiles for body horror of a particular kind of yuck. Whether it’s a parasitic relationship or a medical kink, his use of practical effects could make any gore-hound squirm. Others are drawn to Cronenberg’s cerebral adaptations of unfilmable literature. The not-too-distant dystopian unrealities of J.G. Ballard and Burroughs were brought to the big screen with Crash and Naked Lunch. Yet David Cronenberg’s amalgamation of technological unrest and quivering gristle may yet best envision the fictional worlds of Sci-Fi guru, Philip K. Dick.

Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab.

The producers of Alien had been trying to adapt a short story of sci-fi guru Phillip K. Dick since the 70s. “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” became the basis for Total Recall with David Cronenberg as the first director considered. Spending a year working on 12 different drafts, Cronenberg kept the script as close to Dick’s novel as he could. Remaining dark and paranoid, he contributed the concept of mutants and his own on-brand yonic imagery. But studio executives were looking for “Raiders of The Lost Ark goes to Mars”. Something much different than what he was willing to give and eventually left the project. Though the stories of Philip K. Dick would always have an influence over David Cronenberg. His pessimistic futures of isolation and counterfeit realities blended well with the director’s affinity for perversions of science. The foundations of Dick’s novels continue to manifest within the films of Cronenberg. Here we examine the similitude of their three most popular novels and films.

Scanners/Ubik

Hollywood continues to try and develop a film version of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik. David Cronenberg was at one point involved in discussions of an adaptation, even directly contacting the writer’s daughters. Though the director’s idea fell through, themes from the novel remained prevalent in another film. Through a combination of Cronenberg’s scripts for The Sensitives and Telepathy 2000 came the movie, Scanners in 1981. It’s a story of a mentally ill vagrant named Vale, captured by a private military company. They cure him of the voices in his head with their drug, Ephemerol, and then inform him of his super mind powers. As a “scanner”, he is recruited to stop an underground ring of rogue scanners through infiltration. Uncovering a plot of mass distributing Ephemerol to pregnant women and mutating the unborn. Transforming a new generation of scanners to overthrow the world. Philip K. Dick’s Ubik gave us the same gritty timeline where psychic powers are used for corporate espionage. Another downtrodden protagonist is employed by a company managing “precogs”. Cyberpathically securing their clients’ private information from telepathic hackers. A rival organization of psychics engage in guerilla style combat to eliminate business competition resulting in a liminal plot of time travel. Between life and half-life, the present or 1939, the characters become trapped Schrodinger cats. Doomed to deteriorate without the widely accessible store-bought product, Ubik. Both Scanners and Ubik would broadcast a faint warning of warring corporate entities and their disregard of consumer casualties.

Videodrome/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner is an acclaimed 1982 film adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Though an excellent piece of cinema, the1968 novel contained more complexities than a single film could possibly capture. David Cronenberg would expand on Philip K. Dick’s story beyond android bounty hunters with 1983’s Videodrome. A retro portrait of post humanism, the movie pokes fun at the idiot box and media identity. A sleazy cable-TV president becomes obsessed with a snuff channel broadcast out of Pittsburg. The addictive signal induces a brain tumor that causes hallucinations. These visuals are recorded and marketed as television programming. All under the guise of a false media prophet, Brian O’Blivion, founder of the Cathode Ray Mission. Existing only within video tape recordings, humans are reprogrammed into an analog hell-LIVE! Dick’s novel, Electric Sheep, gives us another society of stifling technology mimicking the organic. Literally dictating every human emotion with Penfield Mood Organs and a tech-based religion called Mercerism. Utilizing “empathy boxes” to simultaneously link users to a virtual reality of collective suffering. Centered on a Sisyphus martyr-like character who eternally climbs up a hill while being hit with crashing stones.

eXistenZ/The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The David Cronenberg film most referenced in regard to Philip K. Dick, is 1999’s eXistenZ. A film that takes gaming beyond hobby or addiction and into a complete lifestyle alignment. Popular on the market in eXistenZ are fleshy VR pods that connect on a bio level with consumers. Gamers are surgically fitted with a spinal port that plugs into the console. Dueling game companies compete for control of the market while fending off an underground movement of “Realists”. Domestic terrorists that disapprove of these games distorting reality. A failed assassination on a game-developer’s life has her on the run with the only copy of her latest game creation. To ensure it isn’t corrupted she plays through with her bodyguard, only to enter a deeper level of virtual reality filled with assassins and spies. The addiction to escapism reflects Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. A novel about the miserable existence of manual labor where citizens are drafted to colonize other planets. Draftees self-medicate with the illegal drug, Can-D. A hallucinogen allowing a controlled simulation of a Barbie doll figure, “Perky Pat”. Continuing with the element of opposing business giants, a famed bio-modified merchant has discovered a better alternative called “Chew-Z”. Double agents fall through the looking glass into their own hallucinations as the battle of drug patents ensues. Both Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and Dick’s Three Stigmata have ambiguous endings that leave the audience wanting more.

 Brandon Cronenberg: Like Father Like Son

David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, follows in his footsteps as a director and screenplay writer. Deriving inspiration from alternate consciousness and the universes created by Philip K. Dick. His debut, Antiviral, takes celebrity worship and his father’s signature “venereal horror” to another plane. Familiar tropes of misuse of medical technology and quarreling corporate giants,the movie reveals a black market of genetic souvenirs from celebrities. Reminiscent of Ubik by way of a manufactured afterlife wrapped around the consumer market. Brandon’s 2020 film, Possessor, references Dick’s frequent use of imposters and multiple identities. An assassin tale where public persona meets shadow, and all sense of identity is lost in a role. Similar themes arise in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and The Simulacra.

Long Live The New Flesh

Philip K. Dick was afraid of how technology would transform humanity, and that fear aroused something within David Cronenberg. He is the grimy lens of our mind’s eye that shows us a broken-society closer than not-too-distant. Where body horror is loss of autonomy when flesh melds with tech. Where humans become fake versions of themselves living in fake storylines. Philip K. Dick warned that this was going to happen, and David Cronenberg rubs our faces in it.

There are about a hundred movies that could be made from Dick’s stuff, but I think people are afraid of it still, which is a testament to the power his work has.

https://www.nightmare-magazine.com/nonfiction/interview-david-cronenberg/

Further Reading

Behold! The Unfilmable: The Literary Adaptations of David Cronenberg  

Every Warning Sci-Fi Writer Philip K. Dick Gave Us About Technology is Coming True

Never-Been-Seen Concept Art for David Cronenberg’s Total Recall

Dr. Bloodmoney or: The Post-Apocalyptic Novel to Begin Your New Year With

Hailed as “The Godfather of Science Fiction”, Phillip Kindred Dick was born prematurely on December 16th, 1928. His twin sister, Jane Charlotte, would die 6 weeks later and leave a profound impact on Philip’s life. Suffering from hallucinations and a slippery grip on reality, he would also be forever haunted by the absence of a sibling. The concept of a “phantom twin” and estranged siblings would surface throughout his critically acclaimed writing career. Most notable being Dr. Bloodmoney or: How We Learned to Get Along After the Bomb. In a letter written to Sandra Miesel in 1970, Dick admitted that he liked this novel more than anything else he had ever written.

The Bomb Will Bring Us Together

Composed on the heels of the Cuban missile crisis, Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney imagines the early 80’s in California’s Bay Area as an age of fear. A paranoia of atomic weapons and fallout after a failed nuclear defense experiment. The Bluthgeld Disaster of ’72, so named after the overseeing physicist that had made a miscalculation. Resulting in mass destruction and radiation poisoning. In his signature style of a disjointed narrative, Dick’s novel begins by introducing multiple characters on the last known day of civilized society. 

Beginning with Mr. Jack Tree, the assumed name of Dr. Bruno Bluthgeld. The infamous radiation expert that had made the grave error. Having gone into hiding after the catastrophe, he now suffered from severe paranoia. Guilt and isolation eroding his mind to fabricate delusions of grandeur. Believing he can speak with God and that others read his thoughts. At the suggestion of his friend, Bonnie Keller, he seeks psychiatric help from Dr. Stockstill. Unfortunately, Stockstill disgusted with the incognito scientist, knowing who he really is. Trying to mask his hatred of the patient, he distracts himself by thinking about the NASA Mars launch. 

The lone friend of Bruno Bluthgeld is a bored housewife, Bonny Keller. Depressed and repressed, she fears stagnation. Burning through hobbies and meddling in the lives of others to stay busy. With little regard for her husband, Bonny is quite fond of Bruno. Having served as a mentor, she hopes her psychiatrist can help with his mental state. Anxiously she waits by the phone to hear about Bluthgeld and Stockstill’s session. Fantasizing about having affairs or China declaring war. To ease the restlessness, Bonny watches the Mars launch live on television.

Hoppy Harrington suffers from phocomelia, born without arms and legs. He gets around on a government issued cart with extensors. But Hoppy has a powerful mind and is full of ambition. Determined to make a living doing manual labor, he’s hired as a repairman at Modern TV. Quickly he wins over his coworkers with his talents. Concentrating on a broken electronic, he almost seems to heal the device rather than repair it. 

Emergency Day 

Since the radiation fallout from 1972, mankind has been seeking to thrive beyond Earth. Russia had failed to colonize the moon and the cosmonauts either starved or suffocated. NASA had decided to send a couple into orbit in hopes of colonizing Mars. Walter Dangerfield was selected, an earnest-hearted Regular Joe with his wry and mordant wit. He and his wife Lydia were being sent to pioneer a “Nova Terra”, armed with good breeding genes and a wealth of knowledge. The Dangerfields are a beacon of hope for Earthlings suffering the long-term effects of the Bluthgeld Disaster. Making the opportunity of a fresh beginning more available to everyone tuning in. Until all the screens suddenly go blank, and the signal is lost.

“Walter, we are under attack down here.”

Static begins erasing voices from mission control to the Regular Joe. Helplessly looking down at the blue marble to see matches being lit. Little puffs and flares burning up life. 

The only warnings that came were a split-second Red Alert on FM radio. Moments passed before skies darkened and filled with soot. The very ground would jump again and again. Bombs rained upon cities and countryside alike from unknown enemies. People ran wild in the streets, seeking shelter in community cellars. Buildings crumbled and all of Berkley seemed to be sinking on one side, tilting sidewalks, and toppling structures. The survivors would one day reminisce about the event lacking hostility and purpose. As if it was another mistake made in Washington. Militant amateurs and the greedy in their highly scientific circles. Just like in ‘72, when the deranged are in charge it makes the concept of “enemy” unbelievable. Other survivors will recall the relief and excitement felt when the bombs started dropping. If not seen as a second chance to do things over, it was regarded as the will of God. Cleansing away all the undesirable traits of mankind. 

The city had become a sieve, leaking endless streams of people wanting to get out. Bruno Bluthgeld wandered the demolished streets of Berkeley, in the midst of chaos. Unable to understand what was happening, just like everyone else. Cars and crowds pushed past him as he slowly recognized this as the end. Surmising that there is no war to speak of other than inside of himself, the responsible party. Bluthgeld believes he brought about this ending with his mind alone. Possessing psychic abilities that cause destruction, just as he had done in ‘72 with the experiment failure. Desperate to make amends, Bluthgeld attempts to will civilization to heal itself from this tragedy. 

Crawl Out From the Fallout 

When the bombs cease and the smoke clears, society slowly reestablishes itself in smaller colonies. Connecting with a barter system of skills and resources. Slowly they rebuild with primitive methods and little to no machinery. Outside of Berkeley, in West Marin, there are communal gatherings to listen to a lone working radio and the last broadcasts of mankind. Walter Dangerfield, trapped in the Dutchman IV space capsule for the last 7 years, has become an international disc jockey. Endlessly orbiting Earth, entertaining anyone that can pick up his signal. Transmissions of book readings and songs from his music archive. Equipped with the resources to sustain a decade of life for 2, he currently feels unwell. Noticing a sudden appearance of chest pains. Cheerfully, he asks his audience for advice and wonders how much time he has left, as do his listeners. Unable to imagine going on without Dangerfield. 

Hoppy Harrington defied all odds and survived Emergency Day. Settling in West Marin, he serves as the capable handy-man and entertains with imitations and juggling. Always seeming to know more than he lets on, Hoppy makes people uncomfortable. Yet the residents were grateful to have him part of the community for his talents. Mechanically inclined and strengthened mental abilities, Hoppy can now move objects with his thoughts. Using these assets to protect residents from thieving outsiders. Psychically lashing out at anyone who underestimates him. Hoppy’s funny impressions can become cruel mocking if his telekinetic gifts aren’t respected. 

Bonny Keller defeated stagnation after Emergency Day with her beauty alone. Rising to an unofficial position of power by influence and her many secret affairs. This dangerous hold over her peers has led to the execution of anyone who displeases her. In a spontaneous comfort tryst with a traveling salesman after the bombs fell, Bonny conceived a child. Now 7 years old is the dark eyed little girl named Edie. Unbeknownst to all is her parasitic twin that she calls “Bill”. When she speaks to her brother, it is written off as merely an imaginary friend. But Bill has special abilities too, being stuck between worlds. He speaks with the dead and wants to try and swap consciousness with another creature. 

Mr. Jack Tree, formerly known as Bruno Bluthgeld, lives on the outskirts of West Marin as a sheep herder. Twisted with age and more mentally unstable than ever before, protected by Bonny Keller. Once suspecting his cover has been blown, he decides to eradicate all of humanity for good using only his mind. Envisioning black skies and bright flashes in the distance with the smell of smoke on the wind. Hoppy Harrington decides to intervene with his own mental abilities and psychically disposes of the physicist. Indebting West Marin and the rest of the Bay Area to him for sparing all another Emergency Day. But the resident’s gratitude isn’t enough for the telekinetic handy. He wants to be admired like Walt Dangerfield and uses his mind to slowly replace him. Only the little Bill Keller inside of his sister’s abdomen is willing to take on Hoppy Harrington and stop him from hurting people anymore. 

Postmodern Pandemic 

Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney is considered to be one of the defining science fiction novels of the ‘60s. Originally under the working titles “In Earth’s Diurnal Course” and “A Terran Odyssey”, editor Donald Wollheim suggested something different. A reference to the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Published by Ace Books in 1965, it was nominated for a Nebula Award for ‘best novel’ but lost to Frank Herbert’s Dune

Reading Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney in the beginning of 2022, is remarkably chilling. Offering ideas of how people come together or move further apart after a major disaster. He blurs the lines of time by referencing actual government officials, like Richard Nixon. Other times he gives only vague descriptions that allude to other political figures. While the book is a product of its times, it’s uncomfortable in moments that highlight the unnecessary divisions of humanity. Many of which are still rampant, 57 years later. Dick noted the desperation of neglected veterans, mental capacities of leaders, and long-term effects of chemical testing. Even giving an uncanny projection of the Challenger tragedy with a simple line of alternate history. 

The arrangement of characters and their struggle for a basic understanding echoes current uncertainties of the future. From the horrible realization that everything will change. To the feelings of hopelessness in the face of domestic error and miscalculated response. All putting the reader in an uneasy state of familiarity, as we enter a 3rd year after Covid’s debut. Once considered tropes of science fiction and horror are now staples of our modern-day reality. It wouldn’t feel too far-fetched if the next challenges our society faces align with other themes in Philip K. Dick’s existential treatises. Such as government conspiracies, evil corporations, or the entity formerly known as God appearing as A.I. or a cosmic structure. The futures he contributed to the sci-fi genre beg us to never stop questioning reality and what does it mean to be human? The answers to which are forever evolving in what feels like the beginning of the end.

Review: Kids of the Black Hole – A Punksploitation Anthology

My first introductions to punk rock were exactly as Tim Murr described them, “pink mohawked parodies on TV shows like Mama’s Family.” Or perhaps it was a young Johnny Depp “Speaker Diving” to Agent Orange on 21 Jump Street. The fascination with these cartoon portrayals led me to seek out other punks on film. Low budget movies with actual bands performing punk rock soundtracks and even real punkers as extras.

Anyone with a special devotion to punksploitation has a story of the influence it had on their life. Return of The Living Dead took place on the day I was born, and I’ve sampled many lines from Repo Man for mixtapes, over the years. Tim Marr shares the same love for the subgenre that I do. Curating a small collection of original short stories inspired by classics of the 80s like Suburbia and Dudes. St Rooster Books released the (hopefully the 1st of many) anthology, Kids of the Black Hole.

Sarah Miner’s “Black Thunder” is a fast-paced tale of mad science. Flesh crazed Gipper clones terrorize a dive on the outskirts of town. A band of punks on tour deliver a splatter fest with excellent one-liner cheese. Chris Hallock continues the theme of surreal tour life with “Urchins”. A punkrock girl finds her true voice after a gig. Facing off with Nazi skin heads as newly crowned queen of the Philly CHUDs. Paul Lubsczewski’s “I Love Livin’ in the City” is a hard-boiled fleece. A punk gang prowls through strange city streets, ready to pounce on poseurs for a good time. But amid the flames and dead bodies, who is hunting who? “Skate or Die” by Jeremy Lowe is a demonic cumming-of-age nightmare. Weird kids gotta stick together and take back their power when friendships are threatened. Even if it means unleashing hell on your hometown with Satanic skateboard Droogs! Tim Murr concludes the anthology with “What We Do Is Secret”. A spooky crush drags a musician into the middle of necromancer feud. Caught between a swamp witch and a death cult, this story proves that sometimes punk rock can save your life.

I certainly hope to see more volumes of punksploitation anthologies from St Rooster Books in the future. The title, Kids of The Black Hole was taken from a song of the same name off the Adolescents’ blue album, as a tribute to the late bassist, Frank Soto. It’s sloppy good fun for lovers of weird fiction and the horror show of subculture.

Available on Amazon here.