THE LAST KNOCK presents: Hodgepodge of Horror IX

The Last Knock

No, Billy and Jonny aren’t trying to catch up to the Super Bowl type numbers, but they are getting there. With the ninth installment of “Hodgepodge of Horror” they travel the realms of horror cinema from Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered to Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Blood Wars – with some intriguing films in between.

So kick back, relax, indulge, and check off your  horror list about what to watch, and what to avoid like a zombie virus.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@LoudGreenBird @AFiendOnFilm @CrypticPictures @d_m_elms @dixiefairy @ThisIsHorror @RealJillyG @wilkravitz @Jimbomcleod @RonGizmo @UKHorrorScene @Tammysdragonfly @MFFHorrorCorner @GuyRicketts

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016) by Dee Emm Elms

[104 minutes. Not rated. Ireland/UK. Director: Billy O’Brien]

Understanding other people doesn’t just take skill. It takes effort. I should know: as an autistic person, I struggle mightily to understand other people. I can’t tell what someone is feeling from reading facial expressions or body language, the way most people can. But, at the same time, this puts me in a unique position to see what people do from an outsider’s perspective.

And I think that’s a part of why the film I Am Not A Serial Killer had such a profound impact on me.

Of course, we all bring elements from ourselves into the media we consume. But in this case, there’s more going on than that. The comparisons of what we are and what we consume and how the two things are linked together is a central theme in the movie.

I Am Not A Serial Killer centers primarily around telling us the story of a young man named John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records). The surname Cleaver immediately evokes the squeaky-clean white Americana of Beaver Cleaver, the central character of TV’s “Leave it to Beaver.” But it also evokes John Wayne Gacy, a real-life killer notorious for having been a would-be performing clown. But there’s less of a paradox at work than you might think because that contrast is central to who John Wayne Cleaver is: a young man who may be a sociopath – who not only recognizes that he has within him the capacity to be a serial killer, but is actively working not to be one.

That’s not a new premise. We’ve seen it in media for decades, up to and including recent television shows like “Dexter” and “Hannibal.” But these shows tend to treat serial murder like a drug-addiction, where a character’s thoughts tend to dwell on violent fantasies or the act of trying to resist giving in to what these stories present as some intensely-pleasurable urge the hero must keep secret. And it makes an unpleasant kind of sense for the writers to do this; it allows them the chance to engage in all the most lurid elements and excesses while still proclaiming that their heroes have a moral compass.

I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t like that in a number of ways.

Even though the book (written by Dan Wells) on which the film is based is told in the first-person, film director Billy O’Brien wisely pulls back from hovering over Max’s shoulder in terms of storytelling. He instead gives us the broader perspective of an observer. Yes, we focus mostly on John, but we don’t get to hear what’s going on in John’s head. We don’t get the lurid details of John’s struggle. We must instead rely on the performances, and Max Records fulfills this with a blend of subdued delivery and sometimes-surprising non-verbal choices. There’s a deliberate nature to Max’s work as John that shows us just the faintest glimpses of the fight Max is waging to keep his good-natured heart.

But it isn’t just Max who carries the film. Karl Geary, as John’s therapist, Dr. Neblin, provides a welcome change from the inspirational advisor such a role usually entails. Geary smartly depicts Neblin as a thoughtful man trying to help his young patient figure out a path to success, but also as a man who isn’t afraid to confront the fact they’re learning and guessing and failing as they go along, together. Likewise, Laura Fraser’s portrayal of John’s mother, April, plays perfectly off of Max’s acting choices as we struggle to see into her conflict as her already-fragile faith in John’s willpower is put to the test. And Christopher Lloyd displays an agile balance between a wide variety of deep but subdued emotional states as John’s neighbor Crowley; Christopher and Max don’t actually share a great deal of screen-time together throughout the film’s runtime, but the moments when they are in the same place resonate with the skill of two actors who know how to hold back and still provide information to the audience. It’s these moments, when both of them are together that the film is at it’s most intense and impactful.

And what is that theme, exactly? Well, I contend that what the movie’s story tells us is that we sometimes need someone from the outside to tell us when things aren’t what they appear to be. That we need unusual perspectives to keep the world together. To keep us safe. To keep us alive.

We need someone who can recognize that there can be menace behind a smile. That sometimes love can look ferocious or angry or desperate. That a killer can be the man at the back of the church ceremony. That love can lead us to do terrible things, just as much as the supposed absence of love. That just because our own feelings don’t match what other people tell us those feelings are supposed to be like doesn’t mean that what we’re feeling is wrong or irrelevant. But most of all, sometimes the people who seem to act in strange or peculiar ways are the good guys, and sometimes the most pleasant people are the bad guys … while also simultaneously telling us that it’s not so easy as good guys and bad guys.

The theme of complicated heroism and villainy isn’t new either – but making it sincere and emotional is very uncommon. Usually, stories that depict “shades of grey” come off as cynical or hamfisted. Worse, they often paint the world as a place where caring or decency are “old-fashioned” ideals. That it’s somehow unevolved of us as human beings to believe in idealism.

I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t like that.

Instead, it takes an oddly old-fashioned approach to its morality. It says that there are good people, and monsters, and that there’s a difference. The victories and defeats it depicts are rooted in the idea of people making moral choices – in a way that earns the last name Cleaver as more than a horror-movie/sitcom mash-up pun. This is a film that isn’t afraid to teach moral lessons in an up-front out-loud way. And I love it for being more than, say, the cynically-hateful moral flatline of works like Mark Millar’s Wanted or Kick-Ass – examples of films that deal with similar issues but come to “whatever, it’s all on you” non-conclusions.

I Am Not A Serial Killer makes statements about looking deeply into other people to find what matters in them.  And no matter who we are or how we think, that’s something we all need to do a lot more of in life.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Dee Emm Elms was born in 1972 in Glens Falls, New York. Dee writes about many subjects ranging from social justice issues to Lost In Space, and often mixes them together. Her favorite topic is horror, and horror movies in particular. Her novel Sidlings may be read at sidlings.com, and she would be pleased for you to check it out.  Dee may be contacted at her email sidlingsnovel@gmail.com, or her Twitter: @d_m_elms.

(Movie still from Uncrate. Dee Emm Elms photo via Dee Emm Elms.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Movies 2017

The Last Knock

 

What does 2017 have in store for the horror fan? Well, Billy and Jonny take a look at the year ahead to uncover upcoming macabre movies from The Blackcoats Daughter and XX to Psychopaths and Rock, Paper, Dead. But wait! There’s more! The year will bring many a sequel as well as remakes, and we’ll look at them today.

Billy apologizes for the occasional cough and for feeling a bit out of it – thanks to the damn flu. But the show must go on, and Billy’s happy he wasn’t patient zero for the zombie virus.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@ScreamHorrorMag @SiaraTyr @LianeMoonRaven @ScarecrowVideo @patricia_eddy @machinemeannow @ValeriePrucha @DeadAsHellHP @stycks_girl @Israel_Finn @MelanieMcCurdie @TimothiousSmith @RealJillyG @issacrthorne @mickeykeating @st_vincent @StephenKing @JordanPeele @THETomSavini @palkodesigns and John Eddy

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: DOG SOLDIERS

The Last Knock

This is a different episode of THE LAST KNOCK, because Dog Soldiers has been the emergency episode on standby since 2014. Yes, that means while Jonny Numb hunts stillborn monster babies in Mexico, Billy Crash is still knee deep in boxes to unpack in Seattle.

But have no fear because Dog Soldiers is on the menu, as it was served to an audience at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association Fall Conference in Philadelphia. Billy Crash, as his alter evil, William D. Prystauk, presents his review of the film during a Horror Panel helmed by Lisa Miller of Pace University. Afterwards, he discusses the film, werewolves, and other creepy crawlies with the audience. Granted, it’s difficult to hear the MAPACA crowd at times after the initial presentation, which means it’s okay to bail after the first fifteen minutes or so. Please see the kid chewing someone else’s nails at the ticket stand for a refund. Otherwise, enjoy the hairy Dog Soldiers journey.

Billy and Jonny will be back at it next week with an all new episode of horror hijinks and macabre madness…

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy Crash and Jonny Numb love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

Highways of Horror – Day VI – The Last Drive

You can’t beat me on the grade. You can’t beat me on the grade!

David Mann – Duel

As the old saying goes: “The last mile is the hardest mile.” In my case, it was the slowest mile and I had to put my car in full throttle…

The morning hadn’t started out well: -10 degrees (-23 Celsius), windy, snowy, and a thick gray sky ready to plop down onto Butte, Montana like the Blob on Phoenixville and a young Steve McQueen. But mere minutes out of the city, the clouds parted, the sun shined, and the roads were clear enough for 90 mph driving.

I loved the latter because this was a ten-hour haul to Seattle. Ally figured I wouldn’t mind driving 120-minutes more to get to her, the pups, and our new homestead, and I couldn’t argue that. I felt pretty damn solid and the Malibu moved like a rock star.

Google Maps welcomed me to the panhandle of northern Idaho, as I remained on my old friend, 90 West, who never seemed to steer me wrong. In short order, I took the curves and overcame the black ice of the road as the Chevy meandered through the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains. Pines sprinkled with white snow stood firm against the rock faces and made for a series of picture postcards, but I couldn’t pull over to take a shot.

I had already passed far too many overly cautious drivers and trucks that rolled like tortoises in slow motion because more ice patches could lay in wait in the shadows of the peaks as the sun dipped lower and lower on the horizon. With the temperature still in a frozen state, and with such narrow shoulder room, pulling over to take a picture would have been a dumb and possibly deadly tourist move.

At the end of the mountain pass is the lovely town of Couer d’Alene and its picturesque lake, and though I wanted to stop there, I felt it best to move further on into Moscow for better refueling options. Here, I took a small break and stretched my legs, but failed to see any Putin fans having a parade or posters of Lenin and Stalin. But I did have the opportunity to use a squeegee and wipe salt from the windshields, windows, headlights, and taillights. That cleanliness ended in such record time that it crushed the speed in which the singularity expanded in the Big Bang that created our Universe.

I pressed on into the dark, with a sliver of a crescent moon sending down enough light to radiate the rolling, snow and ice-coated landscape outside of Spokane as a grand blue mass. The small hills seemed curled up against the cold and let the wind run roughshod over them. Cars and trucks shifted side to side with the gusts right as we entered the Snoqualmie Pass.

This is where my New Jersey driving attitude kicked in. There may have been frozen patches, compressed snow, and seemingly single lanes in lieu of two thanks to bad plowing, but I pressed on at recommended speeds, while others moved as if on square wheels. In fact, signs requested all slow moving vehicles to get in the right lane, yet a string of cars climbing a hill were doing 40 mph in the left. I had to engage the risk of passing on the right because a truck got the message and abandoned the center lane for a relaxing roll up the hill. I pulled into the center and hurled by that string of six cars and kept on flying.

In Richard Matheson’s renowned television horror/thriller, Duel, directed by a young Steven Spielberg before he sent a shark after innocent swimmers, David Mann (Dennis Weaver) didn’t seem to have that many options as a crazed trucker (Dale Van Sickle) remained hellbent on driving him off the damn road. This took place in 1971, long before cell phones and such, so David was on his own. However, when he tried to get help, the man failed miserably. And once, overtaken by fear and paranoia, he even attacked the wrong person at a diner. This isn’t a “fish out of water story” or a “stranger on a strange stretch of road” tale, it’s a bit more existential than that. David’s dueling with himself: overcoming fear to find courage, overcoming anger to embrace logic, and overcoming the fear of death to fight for life. In this sense, he has to cope with the “dual” nature of the human experience.

There are two sides to each of us. We may present ourselves to the public in one way, as opposed to maybe a more relaxed or more honest self to those in our private lives. We also have fears, weaknesses, phobias, and illnesses though we may not have yet been put in a position to overcome them. David has though. He’s been thrust into a war and David can either stand down and die, or stand up with more confidence than he ever imagined he could muster. Even if he doesn’t make it, he’ll know he did his damnedest in the face of adversity.

Here, David’s propelled into becoming “the hero who didn’t want to be.” He has to recollect himself in order to focus to live another mile. Because the world is completely different for him now, and the rules that brought him safety and comfort no longer hold any weight.

When I finally entered the city of Seattle, I was met with overly conscientious drivers, and my duel became finding patience as the female voice on my GPS said, “I don’t have a fucking clue” when it comes to the most convoluted traffic patterns I have ever endured. Collectively, the drivers and their tentative nature and inability to take advantage of opportunities left me frustrated and begging for openings. Hell, when the light turns yellow, everyone stops and some intersections don’t even have stop signs. For the most part, Seattle drivers all seem to have earned their licenses the day before, which is a far cry from the assertive driving I’ve grown accustomed to from New Jersey Formula One racing. Welcome, “stranger in a strange land.”

As I drove on, I realized Seattle is far more gigantic than I ever realized, spreading wide amidst the Cascades. The Space Needle does stand out, but only as if a metallic wildflower nearly drowned out by a city of strong redwoods reaching ever higher towards the Big Dipper and Belt of Orion. Cranes pepper the cityscape, and they’re decorated in different colors to blend in with the lightshow emanating from apartment buildings and skyscrapers, where modern architecture complements the natural ebb and flow of Mother Nature.

This reminded me of Lisbon, Portugal when cranes marked the skyline and pierced the sunset like darts. Lisbon was healthy then, and Seattle is healthy now, growing in the tech and information sectors, offering new career opportunities for those who wish to relocate to someplace cool and begin anew – Hey, that’s Ally and me!

But the Emerald City is so much more, as all cities are, with a great mix of cultures, peoples, and languages, and endless venues. The art and film community is strong here, as well as the love for green and healthy living. Litter has proven to be a rarity, and people are not only concerned about the city, but they love it. In this sense, it reminds me of Montreal (without the European flair) and Vancouver, where the streets are clean and people take pride in where they live. Ally and I look forward to exploring all of Seattle and helping others care for it as if we’ve lived here a lifetime.

The house Ally chose is a perfect rental. Large and roomy, it’s a cool craftsman. The owners seemed to have chosen three different interior design avenues to explore, and “made it up” as they went along, which only adds to its charm. We also have a small backyard for our pups, Suki and Karma to run free. We’re located in the Roosevelt section, where suburbia meets city in a Brooklyn sort of way, and we like that. We’re close to transportation and can easily head downtown or to other section where the city thins out, rolls out, and expands as if at the ends of a lava flow. Better still, we’re right next to Patricia and John Eddy, two friends we hold dear who continue to mentor us in all that Seattle has to offer, and have helped us in ways neither one of us expected. Thanks to both of them, Ally wasn’t alone, and they both continue to send me wonderful job leads – though I doubt I’ll become an exterior washer of the Space Needle – ever.

In Duel, David Mann wasn’t simply a name Matheson chose at random. He was every “mann” caught in a battle he didn’t know was coming that turned his worldview upside down. However, when it came to his little car rolling tough against that 18-wheeler, he was definitely “David” facing his “Goliath.”

All David wanted to do in Duel was get to point B and meet someone. But whether on the road, on the street, or in our minds, we all have unexpected battles to confront and navigate, to come to terms with our own duality and put our own internal duel to rest. The point is to hang in there, dig deep, stand tall, travel safe, and overcome.

Ally and I don’t know what awaits us in Seattle, but I do know my family has had the most wonderful and amazing times in odd years. 2016 was a horror show for many reasons, but Ally and I have much to see, learn, and gain with our new and exciting venture.

I hope the road rises to meet you wherever you roam, and that your highway to success is never blocked. Yes, there may be a detour or two, as well as some bumps and a wrong turn, or maybe even a crash, but as David Mann learned, you’ll get there if you accept reality, keep your mind sharp, and put the pedal to the metal.

Ride on…

(Photo of Roosevelt Way near University of Washington taken by Billy Crash on his iPhone 5.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Those We Lost

The Last Knock

For many of us, 2016 could easily be the “Year of the Reaper” from an entertainment standpoint. We lost many souls who worked and trailblazed in front of and behind the camera. Here, we not only look at the big names of horror who left us, but those you may not even recognize.

Our very best wishes to the friends, the families, and the fans who lost those in horror who made the genre great.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@Talk2Cleo @RonGizmo @RealJillyG @Israel_Finn @AmandaBergloff @GuyRicketts @MelanieMcCurdie @HallowsHaunts @AFiendOnFilm @LolaTarantula @palkodesigns @RSBrzoska @WriterMichelleB @ThisIsHorror @ArrowFilmsVideo @GroovyBruce and Nancy LaShure

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

Highways of Horror – Day V

We’re a thousand miles from nowhere, man, and it’s gonna get a hell of a lot worse before it gets any better!

Windows – The Thing

Persistent snow drifts. Sheets of ice. Car moving cross winds. Fog. Snow. White out conditions.

My nine-hour drive from Rapid City, South Dakota to Butte, Montana has been one of the worst and most grueling rides of my life.

The day had started off well. Actually, the night before. Rapid City’s a blue collar entity of low buildings, and far too many franchises and chains, spread out amongst low sedimentary hills and patches of pine. However, everyone I met was cool as Hell.

I met James at check-in, who could have been prepping to be a modern day Santa Claus with large-gauge lobes and tattoos. We discussed the navy and the coast guard, and traded stories about our fathers before I headed out and down icy steps to a Ruby Tuesday. I don’t eat at this chain, but they have a gluten-free menu and I wasn’t about to drive anywhere else. Rachael, a kind-hearted woman with more tats than James, made me feel welcomed, and brought over one amazing glass of red wine to go with the ribs and vegetables I had ordered. And in the morning, after a restless sleep, I entered the dining area.

All of the free breakfasts to date have been lackluster: chemical carb city. I passed them up for the protein bars I carry with me. But Brenda’s a sweetheart and made small omelets (I had two) and sausage. The coffee was fine and it was great to eat yogurt. Brenda, an older woman with straw hair who slumped over when she walked, never frowned. We had a great conversation about the New Year, and “No more politics!” as she exclaimed before I hit the road on a very full stomach.

And though I went west on 90 again, things went south when I took 212 North.

This is the “Warrior Trail Highway” to honor the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoe, who had made Colonel Cole’s Powder River Campaign a bust in 1865, and the road reconnects with Route 90 again near Little Big Horn where Custer’s egomania led to the demise of his men as they formed three defensive lines against the amazing Crazy Horse and his warriors under the leadership of Sitting Bull. (From all I’ve read of Custer, Richard Mulligan’s portrayal of him in Little Big Man may be the most accurate.)

Where I crossed an ocean yesterday, today I crossed a vast desert. The two-lane highway offers a fast pace and much passing opportunities to circumvent lumbering trucks, but approaching a town dramatically curbs speeds at regular intervals as if a trap for tourist and trucker alike.

Granted, I did want to stop and take about a thousand pictures of the rolling hills, but the blue sky quickly faded to stark white and created a monochromatic scene that proved daunting. Patches of ice had truckers ahead of me slowing down, and snow drifts snaked along the road before they ultimately created a cloud as if in a uniformed attack against those on the road. That cloud hid ice, and when trucks up ahead began to move at a steady rate, visibility plummeted as snow poured off them like heavy smoke.

That’s when the words of Windows from John Carpenter’s The Thing resonated in my ears. Due to the weather and the holiday, vehicles were few and far between, as were towns. If I had wiped out and needed help, especially since my cell signal dropped off regularly, I may have had to hop a rancher’s fence. The worst part is that no houses were in sight. Who knows how many miles and how many hills one would have to go to find a living soul.

That was the best and easiest part of the drive.

Back on Route 90, wet snow fell, and the 80 mph (129kmh) speeds dropped way off, as did the temperature. With 4 degrees (-15.5 Celsius) plummeting to negative double digits, the snow fell as a fine powder, then silver confetti, and finally twinkling dust particles. Heavy crosswinds kept the highway covered, but the road was so packed with rock salt, many drivers mistook the brown looking ice for actual ice and moved with caution (then again, a pickup later slid into a ravine because of the slick powder from the salt. Another pickup was gearing up to pull him out by chain.) Passing other drivers became a nightmare because the right lane remained clear for the most part, but when trucks sped down the road, the dust and snow they kicked up went twice as high as their trailers, and created white out conditions of great length and duration.

At one point, a truck ahead of me seemed to disappear. The clouds of snow and salt had become so thick that his lights were completely blanketed. Even worse, with the shifting snow and packed down road salt, lines vanished. On several occasions, especially since the highway only had lighting near major stops, I had no clue as to my direction.

Driving through the white outs took three hours.

I was so focused on the road, I had forgotten that I had crossed the Continental Divide at 6,300 feet, that I had been listening to the debut CD from Band of Skulls for six hours straight, that I had unfinished coffee now congealing in a cup, and that I had driven through the 65 million-year-old Hell Creek Formation that resulted in sandy mounds covering everything from tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.

When I finally pulled up to the motel at 8 PM, I limped from an overworked right knee that had bounced from pedal to brake. Having to remain constantly vigilant left me shaking, and only now as I write this, some three hours later, am I finally “coming down” and feeling justifiably tired.

The drive was a true horror, and like the guys at U.S. Outpost No. 31, I just wanted to make it to point B and discover some semblance of normalcy again. Every time I had the chance to see a massive hill or mountain before the sky turned black, I thought of The Thing’s opening sequence. After the credits, the great Ennio Morricone score begins, which welcomes us to a creepy, sullen, and doom-ridden world of isolation and oppression. And Carpenter presents us with a sheer rock wall the Norwegians fly their helicopter over in pursuit of a dog. This massive edifice is something those Norwegians will not be able to get over again, and MacReady and company will not be able to scale it as well. The forces against them in The Thing are formidable, relentless, and their uphill battle will be for naught.

I’m happy to have squared off against mountains and hills full of snow, ice, wind, and countless road hazards. I’m in a decent motel with a warm bed to dive into after I indulge in a steaming hot shower. I’m no longer a thousand miles from nowhere but nine-hours away from my beautiful wife and our pups in Seattle. One final ride from Montana through Idaho and into Washington will not be the end of a nearly 3,000-mile journey, but the beginning of a new one.

(Photo from “Warrior Trail Highway” (Route 212) near Broadus, Montana. Taken from Billy Crash’s iPhone 5.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Relocation Horror

The Last Knock

“Moving sucks,” seems to be the cry from those who must pick up all the crap in their lives and relocate. There are services to halt, houses to sell, boxes to pack, and on and on. The turmoil of uprooting and replanting can seem like an endless nightmare.

For the horror genre, those who move often find themselves in precarious positions because that new home, that new locale, may not be what it seems. There’s usually something else in that new abode that awaits fresh souls for taking. So before you pack up and move to that new place with great expectations, listen to this episode and think twice…

And supernatural forces may not have been pleased about this topic. During the recording a number of bizarre interruptions took place, and we hope you forgive any technical hiccups from the Great Beyond.

This show is dedicated to the phenomenal man, writer, editor, and director, Don Riemer of Airworthy. He came up with the relocation idea because of Billy Crash’s cross country move. We can’t thank him enough. And if you need an amazing editor for your film, you can never go wrong with Don – and that’s a Billy Crash guarantee.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@joshstolberg @aicforever @LoudGreenBird @Talk2Cleo @isaacrthorne @KeyzKeyzworth @LatashFigueroa @SamesCarolyn @Israel_Finn @RealJillyG

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

Highways of Horror – Day IV

Don’t look for a reason. Look for a way out.

Tagline – Cube

The way out of Sioux Falls is straight west via Route 90. End goal: Rapid City, South Dakota. But there are traps along the way, tons of them…

As I drive with the sun at my back and a real feel temperature of eight degrees (-13.3 Celsius) outside the Malibu, I traverse a vast ocean of taupe and white. Here, empty beer cans and used condoms don’t float upon the waves, but billboards. Hundreds litter the landscape on both sides of the interstate enticing tourists to choose one trap instead of the next. It’s like trying to traverse crackwhores on Frelinghuysen in Newark or fishing boat captains down the shore in Belmar. They all want a piece of you: your time and your hard earned dollar thanks to snake oil salesman marketing and bad jokes passing for wit. Worst still are the promises: “You’ll be amazed!” and “You’ll remember the experience for a lifetime!”

Route 90 has an 80 mph (129kmh) speed limit to help me run the five-hour gauntlet to Rapid City. But the pummeling of roadside signage makes me woozy. What was this drive getting me into? I could have gone a bit north to Fargo, where I hoped someone would have jammed an ice scrapper into the snow near a fence to play with the minds of Coen Brother movie fans. I could have visited something worthwhile, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder house, or even stopped off at Sturgis, the motorcycle mecca. But as the trapped group in Cube, I had to keep going and dodge boobytraps like these:

Corn Palace. Wall Drug. 1880 Cowboy Town. Wall Drug. Bear Country USA (with a wolf on the billboard). Wall Drug. Reptile Gardens. Wall Drug. George McGovern Museum (probably the size of a cubby hole). Wall Drug. Pioneer Auto Show (with the General Lee from “Dukes of Hazard”). Wall Drug. Wonderful Cave (“Rated number one!” amongst caves?). Original 1880 Town. Wall Drug. Al’s Oasis. Wall Mother Fucking Drug.

I was inundated with Wall Drug shit for over 200 friggin miles. But I knew I had to stop there. Once Ally brought the place up, I could actually hear through the phone that she and Patricia Eddy engaged in a synchronized eye roll worthy of an Olympic Gold Medal. Other than that, I’d have to bypass the cheese that clogged South Dakota’s major southern artery.

But in Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 sci-fi/horror, Cube, the occupants seemingly had no hope of escape. Isolation proves to be one of the most pertinent tropes in horror. We’ve seen this element occur many a time from Alien to The Shining, and from The House on Haunted Hill to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The notion of “no hope” remains cringe worthy, and keeps horror fans rooting for those one or two cool characters to somehow find a way to break free.

Sure, if I was with Ferdinand Burghoffer, Jonny Numb, Greg Palko, or John Eddy, I’d probably stop at every damn place just to make some kind of record for Americana’s sake – plus you never know if they’ll come up as “Jeopardy!” questions. But I had to drive on – at 95 miles mph anyway – because I did have a legitimate place on the road less graveled that was most definitely camera and discussion worthy – and it wasn’t Wall Drug.

As I motored on, The Pixies’ incredible “Doolittle” kept me up and rocking. Then again, I almost earned eight-hours sleep and felt pretty damn good. Almost. Although the motel was quiet and the room comfortable, for the past two months I’m somehow sleeping on my left hand and crushing it. I often wake from the pain of a hand that’s not asleep but in a coma, and now my ring finger’s starting to lock. Even worse, a jolt of pain moves through that entire hand as if I hit my funny bone – with Gallagher’s watermelon mashing mallet, which I’m sure is on display at Wall Drug.

Indulging in one ridiculous nature crushing signpost after another, as if I was stuck in “the heart of the Poconos,” I thought of Joey Santiago’s gift to music. As the guitarist for The Pixies he took the surf guitar sound and upended this entire rock subgenre by adding ripping waves akin to speed metal. The great Johnny Marr did something similar when he added extensive rhythm to his lead guitar work, joining both worlds. Then again, Rage Against the Machine’s and Audioslave’s Tony Morello pulled from both the power of Jimi Hendrix and the technical wizardry of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp to bring us some out of this world sounds.

And by the time I pulled into that one place I had to see, I certainly felt as if I was out of this world.

Before Ally and Patricia took their drive west, my wife recommended I visit the Badlands. When I said, “Okay” and must have seemed as if I was brushing off the idea, Patricia approached me. She’s a great writer and caring soul with a lovely smile, killer hair, and eyes that always seem to sparkle even in the dullest light. And in every conversation her intelligence shines through and her multi-faceted frames of reference add great dimension to any topic. But this time, something was different, she glared at me and said, “You have to go to the Badlands.”

Sold.

The Badlands, wild rock formations and mixed prairie grass, remained the hunting grounds for Paleo-Indians and the Lakota Sioux – until some wingnut emerged on a hill with a rifle in one hand and a bible in the other, and ruined everything. This is where traditional Ghost Dances took place, and near where the horrific Wounded Knee Massacre occurred.

Due to the bitter cold and ceaseless wind, my photography time would be severely limited. However, I still wish those friends of mine who enjoyed photography were there with me: Gillian Anne Gibson, Ann Thraxx, Melanie McCurdie, Betsy Mullenix, Ferdinand Burghoffer, Guy Ricketts, Vic De Leon, and Brad. (The latter would most likely be our guide to getting the best damn shots.)

The striations of the rock, as well as the textures and shapes, made me feel like I was part of a “National Geographic” special. After all, I was looking at what downpours and streams had created some 35 million years ago of an 80 million-year-old formation thanks to the disappearance of an inland sea. Holy Hell! Like most things that excite me to the point of swooning, as I write this, I can’t really remember what it was like to actually be there. At least I have the photos. Though the cold penetrated me to the point where I could no longer feel my camera, at least I didn’t drop it to the frozen earth. And once my memory card read “full,” instead of reaching for another, I made it to the Malibu to crank the heat. After visiting only three sections of the National Park in under 90-minutes, my stomach cramped from the stifling freeze.

But I do remember one thing quite well about the Badlands. When the wind would stop – completely – there was no sound. Absolutely nothing as if I were on the moon. And as the shadows of the rocks loomed larger thanks to a waning sun, I felt a different kind of chill.

I left the Badlands, wondering if they really were bad or just misunderstood, for a brief stop at Wall Drug. Of course, like the bulk of roadside distractions, it’s a tourist trap, though it’s simply a peddler’s village with an overabundance of old west flavor. But it’s also a speed trap. Once I got off the 80 mph highway, I had to crawl at 20 mph through the town of Wall, as the sheriff watched me roll.

Regardless, after a gazillion signs stretching for over 200 miles, I got there just in time to learn Wall Drug was closing early because of New Year’s Eve. So much for getting their “traditional five-cent cup of coffee” as advertised on at least twenty friggin billboards. Sonsabitches.

I let Richard Butler and the Psychedelic Furs carry me into Rapid City on the tunes from “Talk, Talk, Talk.” I made it through the gauntlet, and I’m happy to say I saw one stellar billboard for the Que Pasa? restaurant: “Mexican food so good Donald Trump would build a wall around it.” Now, that’s marketing!

So I made it through the gauntlet and the smothering of bad advertising, but you have to watch Cube to find out what happened to those hapless souls in one of Canada’s best low budget independent films of all time. There’s some snappy and poignant dialogue in there, and you’ll no doubt wonder what you’d do if you were in their boots. Now, what would you have done if you were in mine? Visit Reptile Gardens or stop at Al’s Oasis? Head over to Pioneer Auto or check out Original 1880 Town? I guess it depends on how you read the billboard.

Although I feel good about the day’s drive, tomorrow brings two new challenges as I head towards Butte, Montana: 8.5 hours behind the wheel and snow. So much for seeing Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and although the Malibu is one smooth, fast, and warm ride, my back hates the driver’s seat. But pending weather, I might not have the chance to take as many breaks to stretch and recoup.

Then again, who knows what the road will offer.

Happy New Year. And don’t trust someone else’s signs. Create your own and define love, happiness, and success for yourself. Travel forward, travel safe, but definitely take some calculated risks because regret can be a heavy burden.

(Badlands photo from Billy Crash’s iPhone.)