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Monday, November 3, 2014

Bay of the Living Dead: Jason V. Brock's Dark, Phantastique Life

Posted By on Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 8:05 AM

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Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a monthly column dedicated to the horror genre.

Jason V. Brock has spent his life immersed in the horror genre. Not content to wile away his time watching classic chillers on DVD or attending conventions, Brock parlayed his love of the genre into a career. Now he's an award winning filmmaker, and a published author. 

A few months ago Brock's efforts were rewarded when he won a Rondo Award, the horror world's equivalent of an Oscar. Brock's film The Ackermonster Chronicles tells the life story of Forrest J. Ackerman, the kindly curmudgeon who edited the iconic Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine from 1958-1983. The film tells a tale that's right out of Brock's own life: Ackerman, a little boy who loved all things horror and sci-fi, grew up to earn a living by working in the genre he loves. The Ackermonster Chronicles was 2013's Rondo Award winner for Best Documentary.

Brock is now promoting A Dark Phantastique, his latest book. He talks to SF Weekly about this other projects he worked on during a life well lived in the Crypt of the Living Dead.

SF Weekly: When did you first realize you were a horror lover? What drew you to the genre?

Brock: Horror and sci-fi books and magazines, comics and films are some of my earliest memories. My father was into all manner of cool things, E. C. comics (the notoriously graphic horror comics from the 1950s), old films, extending into sci-fi and horror, and was very open about sharing his enthusiasms with me. After my father and stepmother married, I had access to her collection of science fiction books and anthologies and books too. 

The next big thing that impacted me was after school TV, shows such as The Space Giants, Ultra Man and The Outer Limits, in addition to Gunsmoke and classic cartoons. The things I watched led to my seeking out other entertainments in this area. I got to see movies on the local Chiller TV show and they played many terrible films, Track of the Moon Beast, but also some Hammer horror films. The Universal monster films would be on periodically. In retrospect I can see that the "forbidden fruit" aspect was a stimulus for getting into some of this, but I have always had a penchant for the morbid, the bizarre, the beautiful and the grotesque. 

I sense too that as a child of a broken home who went to seven different elementary schools and had a tough time making friends during this period, that I would never be abandoned by the creatures in the films. We had a commonality, we were lonely and misunderstood. That was powerful to me, and I spent much time alone with just my toys, art supplies, and imagination.
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SF Weekly: Can you name your top three classic horror films and why you love them?

Brock: Bride of Frankenstein, Freaks, and Val Lewton's Cat People

I think what appeals to me varies with what I'm feeling in the moment, but the common factors are thus: great direction, strong characterization, respect for the audience, good writing, tight editing, intelligence, subtle music, creepiness, creepiness and mood. I much prefer practical make-up and physical effects over CGI.

SF Weekly: Doesn't your wife share your love of the genre? What's it like to be able to share this with a spouse?

Brock: Sunni came into this with a sort of casual love of horror and a genuine interest in science fiction. Over the years I had to initiate her into the layers of who all these writers and creators are — she's done all the editing on my films and is the first reader of my work. Her appreciation has certainly deepened as a result. She's now really into this stuff as I am, and that's one of the most gratifying things that can happen to a couple, I think. That you learn to love one another's passions and see the world from their perspective. 

SF Weekly: Can you describe your documentaries about Forrest J. Ackerman and the writer Charles Beaumont? 

Brock: Beaumont was an intense, driven fascinating man. He crammed 80 years of life into ten years of productivity. Imagine becoming the top writer for Playboy in your twenties, imagine being a mainstay for the groundbreaking The Twilight Zone, imagine verging on the cusp of a major film writing career. Then imagine a mysterious illness stealing your mind and youth. It's a perfect recipe for drama, but sadly it was his life. He died in 1967 at age 38.

Beaumont will be remembered for the way he lived, and for the tremendous, though unfulfilled talent he had. 

Ackerman realized the importance of what was happening as it was unfolding. He was an agent, a notorious serial bit player, an honorary lesbian, Known the world over as Uncle Forry, Ackerman was perhaps best known ad the original editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland and the creator of Vampirella, and all-around mega-fan.

As a literary agent, his clients are a whos-who of genre delights: Charles Beaumont, A.E. Van Vogt, William F. Nolan, L. Ron Hubbard, and many more.

Forry is embedded in the culture of film, fantasy, horror and science-fiction, and was an institution, living in various incarnations of his own museum, The Ackermansion, in Hollyweird. Karloffornia. He had a great zest for life and was a nice man. It was a highlight getting to know him as a friend.

SF Weekly: Tell us about your new book A Dark Phantastique.
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Brock: It's an incredible anthology of all unpublished or new horror and science fiction that intersects with magical realism. It's over 720 pages of illustrated content and features 50 writers featuring work ranging between poetry, fiction, script and non-fiction by the greatest collection of authors in decades. I am the editor.

I also have a non-fiction volume called Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy. This book is an overview of the horror (and to some degree sci-fi) field and it pertains to the last hundred years or so. It covers the important figures and trends of this period and delves into why these twin aspects of multi-media and literature have grown in stature during this interval from a fringe thing that mostly appealed to young men to the dominant expression of modern popular culture. It's a mix of interviews, analysis, profiles and essays.

SF Weekly: Anything else you'd like to add?

Brock: My literary agent has been after me to complete four novels, so I'm at work on those at present. 

Information on all of Jason V. Brock's books and films can be found at his website: www.jasunni.com.



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