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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Queen of the Monsters


2019 is turning out to be a stellar year for film-related books. Among the most anticipated is THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by first time author Mallory O'Meara (she's also a screenwriter, film producer, and host of a popular podcast). I've been a horror/monster film fanatic since I was about 5 years old (that'd be 1973), and naturally I read FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine since about the same time as well as any books I could get my hands on, and not once can I recall reading anything about Milicent Patrick, the woman this book is about. She designed the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and wasn't credited for it. O'Meara heard about her and became fascinated. When I read the synopsis of this book, I did, too.

After an excellent introduction, the first two lengthy chapters are spent on Milicent's childhood and early years, and gets a bit too in-depth talking about her parents. I think these two chapters could've been condensed into a single chapter of about 8 pages, but once O'Meara lays this foundation, Chapter 3 begins to deliver the goods.



From her time as an animator at Disney (she worked on the coolest part of FANTASIA) to her time as part of the make up team at Universal, to her post-film freelance work, O'Meara digs deep and even managed to get in touch with Milicent's niece (the later chapters dealing with the author's visit to her home are very well told). The author has no problem letting us know she's a major fangirl, and at times this is both entertaining (a lot of her comments and footnotes are genuinely funny), but sometimes her opinions about Milicent aren't documented, and a lot is supposition (her passion to defend her gets perhaps a bit too passionate). But, much of what's said is indeed documented, and regardless of the couple of things that aren't, the author did an incredible amount of research here, and tells her process of how the book came to be alongside unfolding Milicent's story itself.

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON paints a picture of a woman way ahead of her time. An incredibly talented artist (she drew some amazing portraits alongside designing monsters) and a humble person even in the face of blatant sexism, she still had her issues just like any one of us (she wasn't as skilled at picking men as she was an artist, and later on dealt with some severe depression). Yet she had a strong work ethic, and in one of my favorite sections, went on a tour to promote CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and appeared on many TV and radio shows, giving both herself and the film a huge publicity boost (and causing the head of the Universal make up department to become jealous, and, ultimately, end Milicent's career at Universal).

Aside from the first two chapters (and many footnotes which seemed aimed at junior high students), this is an addictive read, and not just for monster movie fans. It's an important look at sexism not only in Hollywood but in any profession, and it's a work where, hopefully, Milicent Patrick may become an inspiration to younger people, (the author herself should, too: she being inspired by Milicent's work led to this story being told, and you can feel her zeal for the subject on every page, even if it feels like she goes a bit overboard at times). For a first book, the author has done a fine job.

Fans of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON do not want to miss this: it not only offers some great insights into the production of the classic film, it doubles as a strong feminist statement that's perfect for the #metoo generation.

On a side note: I've read every issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS from about 1974-5 until it's final issue in 1983, and O'Meara states there was a story about Milicent in a 1978 issue! Of course I was 10 at the time, but I'm now on a hunt to track this back issue down.


Grab a copy here: The Lady from the Black Lagoon




Saturday, April 13, 2019

JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS


JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS by Bill Schelly (2019 Fantagraphics Books / 352 pp / hardcover)

If, like me, you grew up in the 70s and were a fan of comic books and monster movie magazines, the name James Warren means something special. As the publisher of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND from 1958-1983, Warren had pretty much ruled the horror film magazine market until 1979, when FANGORIA brought modern horror fans into the splatter-film era. But until then, FAMOUS MONSTERS was all I obsessed over, religiously collecting new and any back issues I could find in local comic shops and film conventions. I also read and collected all of his magazine-sized comics (VAMPIRELLA, EERIE, CREEPY, THE ROOK, 1994) and loved that the stories within didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code, hence allowing violence, adult themes, and sexuality to pretty much run free. Yet unlike Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, who even in the pre-Internet days had a well known public persona, little was ever known about James Warren by his fans. Bill Schelly has now delivered a satisfying look at the life and career of this mysterious publisher, and as a fan I couldn’t read through it fast enough.

From his childhood days yearning to be a pilot, through his college years and short time in the Air Force (ended early by a machine gun injury), we’re taken through Warren’s early agency works and how Hugh Hefner’s successful PLAYBOY magazine became a major influence (the very first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS’ cover is even a tribute to the first cover of PLAYBOY).

I was completely fascinated with the second and third chapters, as we see how Warren and Forrest J. Ackerman became acquaintances, then business partners, and hence the dawn of FAMOUS MONSTERS. The book then spends a great deal of time on the rise of CREEPY and EERIE magazine, as well as the many writers and artists who worked for Warren (fans of Richard Corben and Bill DuBay are in for a treat). I was quite happy to see the story THRILLKILL get a couple of pages dedicated to it: it’s one of the more disturbing tales to ever appear in comics form (it appeared in a 1975 issue of CREEPY and featured amazing artwork by the legendary Neal Adams and writing by Jim Stenstrum). I first read it around 1981 when I found a back issue, and to this day the story still testifies to how ahead of his time Warren and his staff were.

To my delight, there’s plenty of info on the failed (but long promised) VAMPIRELLA film, including interview clips with the proposed star Barbara Leigh, who was the first woman to wear the Vampirella costume at a comic convention and pose on the cover of the magazine 9 times. Warren fans will be happy to know there’s plenty about the “one shot” issues, short lives series, and proposed projects that never got off the ground.

JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS paints its subject as a generous yet difficult man: he expected the best, and he gave the best. His pay rates for artists and writers, toward the end of his reign, topped Marvel and DC by a wide margin, hence allowing him to keep the best in the business on his side. Warren’s private life included major parties at his Hamptons, Long Island home, world traveling, and pretty much being a sort-of smaller scale version of his idol, Hugh Hefner.

The final chapters discuss how and why the Warren Empire finally went down, including the crazy rumors of what happened to Warren when he seemingly vanished in 1983. I was happy with how Schelly organized and presented this material, and any fan should be satisfied with the outcome. In the end, despite everything uncovered here, Warren still remains an enigma: loved and hated by the same people, he seems to be a man anyone in that field would want to work for, so long as they had thick skin. He might’ve been difficult, but his products spoke for themselves.


Featuring some great interior illustrations and rare photos, Fantagraphics Books has done a wonderful job here (once you get a look at the over-sized spine, you’ll want this on your bookshelf immediately). Until Warren’s memoirs are published (the book states he’s currently working on them), JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS is must reading for fans of not only Warren, but those who love horror film magazines and comics and would like to know a bit about their history.

-Nick Cato


Saturday, March 30, 2019

New Blog Series / Writing Updates


"25 So-Bad-They're-Good Films You Must See Before You Die" will be a 25-entry blog series looking at which of the thousands of trashtastic films out there are actually worthy of your valuable time .. and why. The fun will be starting soon, right here...

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I've been busy promoting my debut film book, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, on Facebook, Twitter, and on it's official page on Instagram. Look for it and check out some great early reviews on the publisher's site here: SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE

Release date is 12/19...

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On Saturday, May 11th, I'll be at my old high school's 4th annual Comic Con. If you're in the NY/NJ area come on down as it's a one day only event. I'll have copies of most of my books plus some free goodies. Visit their social media pages for more info.


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Current projects:

- DAMAGED BRAINS: AN OBSESSIVE LOOK AT ROMANO SCAVOLINI'S 'NIGHTMARE' has been completed and is currently being looked at by two potential publishers. It's my second film book, and features contributions from four fellow film fanatics as well as the FIRST EVER interview with star Kathleen Ferguson! This labor of love also features my commentary on every single second of the infamous film (known in the UK as NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN) and plenty of surprises, including a mind-blowing photo section. More news to follow.

(Me with the lovely actress Kathleen Ferguson, during our July, 2018 interview which took place in Queens, NY).



- My second novel LOVERS is nearly done, and due to taking a wild turn I hadn't originally intended, will take a bit longer to finish.

- My bizarro novella CHANNEL 79 is finished. Letting it sit for a while before doing a final edit and sending to my pre-readers.

- Also working on two stories with two different co-authors, one a novella and one a short story anthology project.

- Currently deciding on the topic of my third film book, which I have several ideas for.

More soon...

Sunday, March 10, 2019

DEEP RED Issue 2 announced

DEEP RED ISSUE 2 out this August!


Last summer saw the return of the legendary 80s splatter film zine DEEP RED with a huge issue featuring the entire old staff plus a bunch of newbies (yours truly included). This August of 2019 will see the release of the second issue, this time in FULL BLOOD COLOR! My column comparing the Times Square of the 1980s to the corporate mess that stands there today will be included alongside amazing articles by Stephen R. Bissette, Chris Poggiali, Kris Gilpin, Mike Hunchback, Greg Goodsell, Keith Crocker, Dennis Daniel, Donald Farmer, Shane M. Dallman, Jamie Chimino, Cecil Doyle, David Kosanke, Bruce Holecheck, David Zuzelo, Art Ettinger, John Szpunar, and a never before read article by the one and only CHAS. BALUN! There will also be plenty of artwork (including a piece by Mort Todd!) and a deluxe hardcover edition will be available.

To pre-order the softcover, visit the publisher's site right here: FANTACO / DEEP RED issue 2.  For the hardcover, here: FANTACO / DEEP RED issue 2 HARDCOVER

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Short Story Collection


My first full-length short story collection, THE SATANIC RITES OF SASQUATCH AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES, is now available from Bizarro Pulp Press (an imprint of Journalstone). The book contains 5 stories published here for the first time, and 9 others dating back to 2007. Each story is headed by an author's note and the wonderful cover art is by Mikio Murakami.

Grab your copy here: The Satanic Rites of Sasquatch

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE Announced


My first non-fiction film book, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE: FROM STATEN ISLAND TO TIMES SQUARE & ALL THE SLEAZE BETWEEN will be released in December, 2019 by Headpress Publishing. Full details can be read on their official site: Suburban Grindhouse

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES was the name of a column I wrote for the CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT website from 2010-2018 (when they shut down). This book, shortened to SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, collects all of my columns, many which were updated, and a host of new material includes interviews with directors Frank Hennenlotter, Elijah Drenner, Peaches Christ, and stars Carmine Capobianco and Lydia Cornell (who gives one of the only interviews she has done about her 1982 film, Blood Tide). The book is half memoir, half film reviews, filled with classic ads for each film as they appeared in local NYC newspapers.

Early reviews:

"There was a time not long ago when I figured that I’d never have to read another book of movie reviews again. I’d been there and done that–I thought I’d seen (and read) it all! Well, I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong. Nick Cato’s Suburban Grindhouse is, quite frankly, one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. Funny, in your face, and most important of all, informative, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE is a rare treat, indeed. And– like my favorite movies–I look forward to visiting it again and again."- John Szpunar, author of Xeroxferox and Blood Sucking Freak: The Life and Films of the Incredible Joel M. Reed

"No movie is an experience in and of itself. There’s a big difference between seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a nice, shiny DVD in your living room and seeing it the way God intended–in a theater full of filth, cigarette butts, broken bottles and used syringes. In SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, Nick Cato becomes the Marcel Proust of trash cinema, resurrecting memories of the kinds of late, lamented, Mom and Pop fleapits in which seeing an anti-social movie with your buddies was a gloriously anti-social act. He writes about the total experience of seeing exploitation movies, and each entry in SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE is a bite into a memory-packed Madeleine full of delicious sleaze."- Michael Marano, MediaDrome movie columnist for Cemetery Dance, horror writer, creator of the Mad Prof. Mike's Headbanger Movie Reviews on the Public Radio Satellite System show Movie Magazine International

Nick Cato’s desire for sex, blood, and filth fleshes out the lesser-known neighborhood venues where lone pervs would anonymously gather to get their collective rocks off. An essential addition to the grindhouse scholar’s shelf, Cato’s roadmap to cinematic depravity relights those long-dimmed and demolished dingy marquees, comforting us with the gentle solace and reminiscence of what can only be experienced in the darkest shadows of the cinema.- Shade Rupe, author of Dark Stars Rising


More news to follow...

Friday, November 30, 2018

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT



Love or hate Director Lars Von Trier, he has turned pissing people off into an art form. The critics often get on his case, and while it may take a few years and a few softer films before he responds, he always comes back swinging with two lead fists.

Von Trier’s latest, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, was screened on 11/28/18 around the US (for one night only) in a 2 hour and 35 minute “director’s cut,” which runs 10 minutes longer than the R rated version being released theatrically and on demand on 12/14. If you haven’t read all the hype that’s been going around since this year’s Cannes Film Festival screening, feel free to consult Google then come back here.

Okay, good.

Matt Dillon stars as Jack, a would be architect who spends the first two hours of the film recounting five murders he committed during the 70s and early 80s in the Pacific Northwest. We hear him speaking to someone, but aren’t told who until the final half hour. Who it turns out to be gives the film an arty twist, but that’s something Von Trier fans have come to expect.

This is a deep study of what made Jack tick throughout his life, and an early scene of young Jack will surely rile animal rights activists, although I understand PETA has actually endorsed the film. Go figure.

The film is set up in 5 incidents, each one dedicated to a particular murder. Uma Thurman plays victim in the first, but it’s during the second where we learn Jack has OCD. The sequence is as darkly hilarious as it is suspenseful, and actress Siobhan Fallon Hogan delivers an amazing performance as a duped widowed house wife. The scene stretches a bit too long, yet I laughed along with it right up until it’s grotesquely demented conclusion.


But it’s the third incident where JACK decides it doesn’t give a crap what audiences think about it. It’s also where I’m assuming most people either walked out of the film or decided to brave on. Jack poses as a hunting instructor. He takes a woman and her two young sons (who look to be about 8 years old each) to an isolated wooded area, and what follows is one of the darkest things you’re likely to see on film so far this millennium. The aftermath of this sequence, where Jack puts taxidermy into practice, genuinely startled me and has stayed on my mind since.

If horror, as an art form, is supposed to disturb and frighten the viewer, Von Trier has brought it here in abundance. Sure, some will see this segment as so over the top as to be laughable, yet when we discover Jack’s position in life near the finale, the scene takes on a dimension that’s anything but humorous.



During Incident 4, Jack falls in love (sort of) with an attractive blonde woman, yet mentally abuses her until finally ending her life. It’s an unpleasant, ugly experience, and will probably end up being more controversial than the aforementioned third incident. I can see viewers taking issue on why the director would do this (some reviews I’ve read pointed to instances of Von Trier himself treating women like dirt) and at this point in the film we know Jack is a complete psychotic, capable of anything. That said, Jack’s comments on male superiority will surely leave a bad taste in many mouths. I know it did mine. Yet in a film that some have already considered abusive to the audience, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprise the director chose to go here?

Not wanting to spoil too much, let’s just say the final act of Jack’s “house building” is as gruesome as anything that came before it, then the film shifts tone for its final half hour as we learn who Jack has been talking to throughout its running time. We get two hours of Jack’s madness on (often) graphic display, then a conclusion that’s Von Trier’s version of Dante’s Inferno. And while I enjoyed the wonderfully eerie look and tone of the film’s shift, right up until the final shot of Jack’s not so surprised face, I found the comical song that takes us into the end credits to be a horrendous choice. While the film has plenty of dark humor early on, most of the film is grim and serious. To end things on such a goofy song selection made me think the director wasn’t really taking things as seriously as I’d thought. It’s obvious Von Trier made some of this to be darkly comic, but this aural assault took me right out of the world I had just spent two and a half hours in, and it’s something that puts a huge dent (along with the “blonde bimbo” sequence) into what could’ve been a perfect film.

Lengthy horror films seem to be a trend in 2018 (i.e. SUSPIRIA and HEREDITARY), yet THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, even when pissing you off, is never slow, never boring, and continually suspenseful. I mentioned the Incident 2 scene went on a bit long, yet in the context of an OCD person it’s understandable, and still entertaining.

This is a divisive film, is not for everyone (even among die hard horror fans), and will surely be discussed for years to come. It's one of those films I can't wait to experience a second time.

If Matt Dillon doesn’t at least earn an Oscar nomination, there’s no justice in this world. His performance is stellar, and not once was I reminded of any roles he had done prior.

If you like your horror with balls, look no further.