Suggested Audio Candy
 Huey Lewis & The News “Hip To Be Square”
 Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime”
 Timbuk 3 “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”
I never much cared for the word critic. Come to think of it; I loathe the term review also. So why the hell did I get this gig in the first place? Easy … a lifetime cherry picking gave me all the preparation I required; tooled me up for the fight if you like. I watched critics review films at every available opportunity but learned pretty swiftly that I was only ever interested when they were telling me the good shit. The moment their egos became inflated to such a degree that they began with the laundry list of negatives it all turned into white noise and pretty little butterflies began to circumnavigate my inner cranium. I loved Siskel & Ebert growing up and followed Roger Ebert right up to until the day he offered his final thumbs-up. However, a lot of what came out of them was pretentious claptrap. On one hand, I loved the way they chose to analyze and the fact that it pitched itself, not only for often opinionated intellectuals, but also gave us gibbons a snack. On the other, their treatment of horror movies, particularly during the eighties when the whole morality argument came into play, was totally off-kilter.
I disagreed with many of their points, but then, Siskel & Ebert spent the lion’s share of their air time bickering with one another. That was the beauty, they knew how to spark a debate. There was nobody else in the world at that particular time doing what they were and making it so damned entertaining. It mattered not whether I wished, on occasion, to morph through the screen like Sadako, sneak past the runners, Pluto and Goofy, and aim a five-knuckled flurry towards both chins. That was irrelevant as they turned movie discussion into an art form and, for that, I will always hold them in great reverence. I had already pondered writing about film before Ebert finally went off to join his significant other in the great movie house in the sky. However, for whatever trivial reason, I decided against it. It was ethereal then that he died on April 4, 2013, almost exactly two months before I posted my very first appraisal for The Burning on Rivers of Grue.
In truth I already had fifty under my belt by that time as I began in an entirely different way than how things turned out. Back then I would write in a notebook as opposed to a weathered laptop, ordinarily perched under a bridge surrounded by human surplus and critters with far too many limbs to be considered passive. I was entrenched in my mid-life crisis and searching for a happiness which was becoming increasingly elusive at that time. Therapy had just been concluded and six paltry sessions was all the time my shrink needed to grab hold of all of my childhood trauma and usher it to the forefront. This woman was marvelous; she was pale, gaunt, barely over 50 lb in overall mass, and looked unnervingly like the talking zombie strumpet from The Return of The Living Dead, at least from the waist up. Audrey knew how to light all of my fuses in short succession and each implosion revealed a little more of my plight. By the time our final consultation was over, I was left with more questions than answers but the kicker was that a little alone time would afford me the chance to rewire myself. Clever Audrey, real clever. Now please eat a hearty meal as you look downright freakish.
One thing that became utterly transparent was that my childhood, which I had blamed my breakdown on until that point, was nowhere near as distressing as I had recalled. Sure my father was diagnosed with a muscle-wasting disease at a pivotal point during my development but this never stopped me from sitting with my very own personal hero and watching B-movies together until our eyes glazed over. Film was there through the good times and bad, and my memories now are rose-tinted, just the way I like them. Talking about the medium of film meant that suddenly I was no longer alone as I scribed; my dad was right there by my side and every recollection brought a smile where one had been absent for so long. In a way he became my ghost writer and I still feel his influence and wicked streak of humor running through my proverbial quill every time I prepare for my daily pilgrimage. Back then I actually did possess a quill of sorts and my notebook was brimming from cover-to-cover with my hurriedly scribbled estimations of a few of the many horror movies which formed my filmic upbringing.
However, it never felt like enough. What I was writing felt good, the points I made valid, and it fast became clear to me that I had a unique voice after all. So what do you do in such situations? You share right? Sharing is caring after all. So I did exactly that and technology was right there at my fingertips so, with a little assistance from those more technical savvy than myself, I learned how to use Word to design my very own exclusive appraisals. Social networking had never occurred to me before and, until Ebert’s passing, I couldn’t spot the benefits. Instead I would design each appraisal from scratch, overlay visuals and make sure each was entirely different from the last. Then, once satisfied, I’d consult my steadily growing mailing list and present each party with their very own personal copy via PDF. It was my continuing therapy and the encouraging feedback I received suggested I was really onto something.
I decided on the term appraisal from the offset as I wished to distance myself from other critics such as Siskel & Ebert. It’d been done so many times already and with worryingly declining levels of success, so I had no desire to become merely another bleating lamb. The politics made me uncomfortable, thus my methodology was critical to me taking the word appraisal, as opposed to the preferred review, and running with it. No agenda, no preconception, no witch hunt, and way more than simply the cold hard facts. My soul was invested and this was my chosen thread; by explaining exactly why a piece of art resonated on the most personal level attainable, I was going against the grain. Ebert did the same thing to a degree and I picked every cherry tomato he fed me that wasn’t rotten and discarded the ego. It’s a balancing act being confident enough to state your convictions with courage while ensuring it doesn’t go to your head but that was to be my angle.
I knew how it worked, reviewing a film offers a sense of empowerment, particularly when any dialogue is effectively one-way. Historically, after sufficient time, you begin to believe that your shit doesn’t stink and that’s the point when you disappear deep into your own sphincter. I like my rectum where it is, much less so, when my nose is forced inside my own trash compactor of my own devices. I’m far too comfortable self-effacing to fall for that particular banana in my tailpipe so to speak; thus I struck a balance, found my writing style, and never looked back. Ebert’s death saddened me but it felt as though he had passed the baton along; my weapon was loaded but, whereas he preferred to shoot from the hip, I fired from the soul. Where I differed markedly from my predecessor was my chosen social commentary; he believed that moral standards were slipping and blamed horror for its part in this process. I figure that society has its issues but also don’t believe in laying the blame on the very genre which nurtured me through my childhood. I couldn’t bring myself to bite the hand that fed me for so long; especially seeing as it still serves up snacks willingly at forty.
If I had ever sat in the same studio as either Siskel or Ebert … or better yet both, then it would have descended into chaos, of that I have no doubt. But said chaos would have been controlled, no name-calling, just intellectual blow-for-blow sociological skirmish and biting three-way satire. Now that both were deceased it felt like the right time to take the road of the less-traveled and see where it would lead. On June 3, 2013 I popped my cherry for the masses and currently the appraisal archive is tantalizingly nearing 350-strong. One thing that is regularly stated is that often my analysis is more enjoyable than the movie in question and this pleases me beyond my marrow. I could be writing about a classic one minute and, the next, decide to appraise Omen IV: The Awakening. Should that be the case and I be required to pull out my finest can of whoop then great. However, I won’t be held culpable of purely kicking a dog when it’s down unless it’s clearly rabid. Where Omen IV: The Awakening is concerned, I’d settle on a simple curb stomp.
My point being this Grueheads. That film may be reprehensible and lacking in any form of merit but it’ll still be me working the quill. If I can make it entertaining then all the better for it; should it resonate with me on a personal level then I’ll gladly share it, whether positive or scathing. But I will always make my point objectively and never consider myself to be the be-all-end-all either. It’s all subjective, thus scoring is deemed pointless right? I disagree with that logic as there’s a statistician inside me and I know that many of you share this characteristic. I have always stated that, where my appraisals are concerned, the real meat lays within the 1000-1500 words between on your marks and any subsequent red tape. There are films that I have awarded the not altogether elusive 10/10 benchmark of quality that wouldn’t even rank in my top fifty of all-time horror and you should be able to discern such culprits from my analysis. Likewise, there are movies which have scored seven that I cherish more dearly than the nuts in my lap. Read between the lines and you shall find my true vantage; but if I can add the visceral thrill of a score then that offers something for everyone. Ultimately, that is my core audience.
I am known as the Keeper of the Crimson Quill and, as you are aware, judgement is something that I don’t feel fit to pass on anyone. Doesn’t that make me just a tad hypocritical for closing each appraisal with one such decree? Cunningly, I wriggle free of potential shackles on a technicality as any verdict comes courtesy of the quill; nobody can blame its Keeper. It is I who puts in the legwork. I scribe the appraisals and offer any blood, sweat, or tears necessitated, whereas it just collects data on commencement then rubber stamps at the tail-end. But I still have a particular duty every time I award a mark and this is where science comes into play. Soul is drained come the close so it becomes a flat race between heart and head. Soul waits for them to battle it out among themselves like Siskel & Ebert. Soul knows the real score. Case in point is Xtro; my heart got the better of my head on this occasion and it was awarded a shiny eight for its trouble. Little were either heart or head aware that soul had already given it the ten it richly deserved; it just didn’t have to shout above its rival to be heard.
It has been a long road for Keeper; one fraught with peril. Actually, it’s been mild nuisance at worst, I just always wanted to say that in a sentence. Whereas nothing pleases me more than to talk shop about my favorite subject, I often branch out into fiction or even poetry should my mood facilitate. Waxing lyrical on film is my bread and butter; traditionally I can turn one of these babies around in approximately two hours from initial seed, through bleed, and into breed. It’s my comfort zone and this brings us tidily back to a childhood never wasted but instead sprawled out on a sofa with eyes bulging. I was happy then as it all seemed so simple and, by the same token, there are few pursuits as physically undemanding as soaking in a matinée. Alas, I don’t have a crystal ball in my possession and cannot guarantee my trajectory from hereon in but I can say this and state it with uttermost vehemence … I’ll always be writing about horror movies. Like Siskel & Ebert before me and many after me also, I’ll make damned sure it’s the last thing I ever do or bloody well die trying.
Now that I agree with.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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