Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New story published: Whiteness

New from Bourbon Penn: Whiteness


As far as I can see there is only whiteness. If I could move my head, I would say that the whiteness encircles me. Perspective smudges the vast distance I cannot comprehend into meaningless white space. I've always thought that empty space should be black. Pure white is just as empty, but there is a greater illusion of distance because it is lighted. I need the light to see the nothingness. Without seeing it, the immensity of emptiness in front of me would have no meaning. ...


http://www.bourbonpenn.com/issue/09/whiteness-by-james-l-steele.php


It's a surreal, bizarre story based on an old childhood drawing of mine. I still have the drawing. Maybe I'll scan it and share it with the world someday.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Seek the Original: Hellraiser

69.7% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!


The Hellbound Heart
by Clive Barker

Bored of the vices of this world, Frank Cotton summons the Cenobites, creatures from another world rumored to hold the secrets to ultimate pleasure. But when he gets their attention, he is tortured instead. To these demonic creatures, pain is pleasure, and now he is imprisoned in their realm.

Julia, the wife of Frank's brother, finds a way to bring him back. It's a simple thing. He needs blood and flesh to come back. Julia brings him victims from a bar, Frank feeds and slowly he begins to come back.

It reads like a horror movie, with women in danger, running and screaming but still managing to fight back. The final sequence is quite suspenseful because there is a very real chance Frank will get away with this. I almost believed it, and I was happy to see Frank get what he deserves at the end. After all the Cenobites did to him, he did not come back a changed man. I'd think anyone would return to Earth humbled and mentally scarred, but Frank is still a lusty jerk, even after being tortured day and night for a year, coming back to Earth little more than a walking skeleton with meat hanging off it. He truly deserves whatever hell he has to endure.

It's a decent story, but it leaves me wanting to know more about the Cenobites, what they do to people and why.

compare that to...



Hellraiser (1987)
starring Clare Higgins

Clive Barker himself wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, so naturally it follows the original story almost to the letter. There are other embellishments, but overall it stays true to the original.

What I do like about the movie is how far it goes with the gore effects. The story is vague, at best, regarding Frank's condition and what the Cenobites actually did to him. The movie is able to show this, and the effects look pretty good. The film takes the gore and presents it front and center, and it helps the story quite a bit. The exception to this is Frank's undoing. The movie doesn't really show Frank getting torn apart at the end, but the story does.

What I don't like about the movie is the disconnect between Frank's voice and Frank the monster. Frank the human and Frank the monster are not the same actor, so the voice is dubbed, and the voiceover is all wrong. It reminds me of Duke Nukem: the voice is too disconnected from the action. His voice is too clear, too strong, lacking any inflection. Given his bodily condition, it should sound desperate, watery, raspy, clinging to life. Come on, Frank Cotton is a hunk of meat covering a skeleton. His voice should not be so nonchalant.

Another point: the story describes Frank's and Larry's voices being similar, which is how Frank passes for Larry at the end of the film. But the two actors who play Frank and Larry sound nothing alike, so there's no explanation for how he's able to sound like Larry.

Pinhead is described in the story. So are the chains with hooks into people's flesh. It'a all there, and being able to show it on screen makes it even better because it works so well visually.

The major difference between the book and the movie is how Frank comes back to the real world. In the story, the blood dissolves the divide between the Cenobites' world and our world. When he is not being tortured, Frank is kept in a cell with a view of the upstairs room. Larry's blood allows Julia to see him through the wall. That's when he asks for more blood. Julia takes the hint, and brings him blood, and this allows Frank to step through the barrier.

I like the story's reveal better because it's more logical. It shows that he's in a physical place, and that he's without skin and is little more than a hunk of raw meat that's somehow still alive. It's more subtle. The movie turns it into a gore opportunity, with Frank resurrected by coming up through the floor as a skeleton. The effect is striking and superbly done, but it implies he's like this because it's how he came back to the real world. The original story shows his condition is because of what the Cenobites did to him, and I like that better.

The weird two-headed closet creature that chases Kirsty is not in the story, and it shouldn't have been in the movie either, but, eh, it was the 80's. Ditto for the bone dragon thing at the end. Kinda lame. I prefer the original story's ending better: a Cenobite gives Kirsty the box, the Cenobites return to their realm with Frank, and that's it. She's now the keeper of the device that allows the Cenobites into our world. They don't chase her around the house, they don't destroy it, they don't send monsters after her.

It's not a bad movie, and it is faithful to Barker's novella. The practical effects are impressive, and the movie is quite a remarkable achievement considering the author himself wrote and directed it. Just like in the original, I cared more about the Cenobites than their victims. I wanted to know more about these guys, and apparently I'm not the only one, given how many sequels Hellraiser spawned.

(Oh, and the movie takes place in England, but only Julia has an English accent. Hmmm...)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Health Insurance Cancelled

I got a packet in the mail that said my employer (to whom I will only refer as [retail]) is cancelling my health insurance.

I have been with the company since 2001, full-time, but since the recession the hour cuts have hit deep, and my average hours dropped for the last three years. My average weekly hours for the last year are about 30. The cutoff point is about 32. I am considered part time.

[Retail] recently announced they won't offer health insurance for part-timers. The excuse they gave for cancelling benefits for part time employees is they don't want to deny us the subsidies and tax credits we can get if we purchase insurance through an exchange, and they believe we can find cheaper alternatives on the open marketplace. Bull-fucking-shit.

Reason number three is that the plan is expensive to offer, and the majority of employees don't sign up for it anyway. Yup, it is expensive. I know how they feel. I pay over 100 bucks a month for rising costs and dwindling benefits, plus copays. As much as I pay for insurance, and it still doesn't cover everything. Yeah, I know exactly how expensive healthcare can be.

I talked to my HR and asked her if I have any recourse, since odds are I will be above 32 average hours sometime this year. Last June I was finally allowed to transfer to a different work center and have had full-time hours since. But the other day I confirmed it: average hours were determined on January 1, I was below the threshold, and I will lose my benefits. There is no appeal.

It feels like a slap in the face. I have had their insurance since 2002 or so, always paid my premiums, only used it a handful of times over the years. As long as I've been with [retail], as "flexible" as I've been adapting to erratic schedules, dwindling hours and doing other peoples' work for no extra pay in recent years, they are cutting me off.

My lack of hours was not my choice. I asked for more hours. I begged for more hours. The answer I always got was "well, James, hours are just so tight. We'll see." Nothing was done. So I just kept my 23 hours a week and was expected to be thankful for them because some people got even less. I took extra shifts whenever I could, but there were never enough to bring me up to full-time. Now [retail] is punishing me for not being full-time.

Fuck [retail]. No, not fuck Obama. My employer is doing this--probably had it in mind for years. They're just using the ACA as an excuse. This is big business pushing the cost of insurance onto the individual, leaving more profit for the shareholders. Fuck them, and fuck healthcare in this country.

Looks like I will be seeking insurance from healthcare.gov soon. I don't expect to find anything this good for this cheap, but maybe it will be a good thing. Health insurance was one thing keeping me tethered to my job, so maybe once I find insurance apart from my employer, I'll have that much more freedom.

It's still a slap in the face. There's no reward for loyalty. Your reward is in your paycheck. That's it. It makes me want to quit, find someplace that will treat me better and--oh, wait, that's right, the economy sucks. I can't do what I feel like doing, which is walk out the door giving [retail] the finger. I hope I find decent insurance on the open market. I should qualify for a subsidy, since my income is so low, but I'm not hopeful. Insurance is expensive.

Things are getting worse for those with the insurance, too. People on the HRA plan don't receive account dollars automatically. Now they have to earn those dollars, probably with health screenings and other activities. Little by little costs go up and benefits go down. It's been like this for many years. Healthcare reform had nothing to do with it, but now they're blaming Obamacare for it.

Rising costs and falling wages hurt our freedom more than the government ever could.