"Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by World Headpress
Written by Shade Rupe
2010, 568 page, Non-fiction
Released on February 9th, 2011
Generally I hate using the term "cult", especially when talking about something (or someone) in the entertainment industry, because the word is so damn subjective. For instance, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is constantly touted as a cult classic. But, at this point, is it really? Classic, perhaps, depending on your tastes — I happen to loath the movie. Cult? Not so much anymore since it's such a part of pop culture it has lost that status. Sure, people probably still show up for the midnight screenings for the audience participation, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become part of the mainstream and certainly doesn't hold such the strong hold on the title as it once did.
In addition, the term "cult classic" is thrown out there willynilly, with reckless abandon. Just look at cover quotes on the variety of indie movies and you'll see a reviewer quip touting films as "an instant cult classic". That in itself doesn't even make sense because it's an oxymoron. There's no such thing as an instant cult classic. These things are grown out of the fringes — like the aforementioned Rocky Horror Picture Show once did. Or maybe even Todd Browning's amazing Freaks. That little flick certainly could have held the title of a cult classic at one point (if not still). The point is, if you refer to something in the film industry as a cult anything, it's probably not. And that's just the first wonderful thing I noticed about Shade Rupe's mammoth book of interviews, Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms, there's nary a mention of the word — and just maybe there should be. Rupe has put together an amazing collection of chats with people that have had a major role in the horror and cult movie genres, but many either don't get the credit they should or deserve a higher profile than they have.
Dark Stars Rising opens solidly, with an interview with the great Divine, possibly best known for his work in the John Waters films like Pink Flamingos and Hairspray. But instead of delving deep into Divine's career with Waters, Rupe simply has a conversation with the man, discussing not just his film work, but his music career, drugs and high school. This first interview sets the pace of what's to come, as the majority of the discussions in the book are conversational in tone, jumping from topic to topic. This is a great format, as you end up learning more about the subject instead of the typical fluff where it's a barrage of questions like "What was it like working with so-and-so?" or "Who was your favorite actor [or director] to work with?" Nobody really cares about those questions, people want dirt. And, boy, Rupe's style of interviewing allows that dirt to come up.
Two great examples of this are Rupe's interviews with Jim Van Bebber (writer/director of The Manson Family and Deadbeat at Dawn) and the late Chas. Balun (founder of Deep Red magazine). Van Bebber is an angry, angry man and has no problem dropping names of people he dislikes. It's the nature of Rupe's interviews that allow this since it's not so much him asking questions, but rather informal discussions. His subjects are obviously comfortable with him since they so freely talk smack about other people. Balun, on the other hand, while he doesn't bad mouth anyone, does express his frustration with the horror genre and where it was heading (with regards to torture porn). What's most interesting about the interview with Balun is he was the catalyst of the Charlie Sheen / Guinea Pig fiasco. Turns out that Balun was the direct reason Sheen had a chance to watch the tape, and later of course, call the FBI. The Balun interview is fascinating, as there was so much more to this man than that piece of horror history, as he was responsible for getting hard-to-find movies into the VCRs of horror fans, before DVD made them so much more accessible.
Of the 27 interviews in Dark Stars Rising, my two favorites are with Tura Satana and the ever fascinating Crispin Glover. Satana discusses much of her real life as opposed to her film work, including her youth, spending time in an internment camp and her experience as a go-go dancer. The stories she shares are both enlightening and, at times, heartbreaking. In her section, Satana mentioned she was working on an autobiography, and having recently passed away as of this writing, I hope there's enough of it finished to be released.
Crispin Glover's interview, on the other hand, concentrates mainly on his film work and how he got in the business. But rather being a chapter on Back to the Future (which is mentioned briefly), or even The River's Edge, much of the topic is devoted to his more personal works of What is It? and It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Glover is notorious for being a bit...unique in his interviews, but he plays this one pretty straight.
In addition to being filled with interesting subjects, Dark Stars Rising has a pulp novel feel with pictures splattered on every page, so it's as visually appealing as it is mentally stimulating. Since there's no warning label on the book, I'll give you one: Contains Explicit Images. I assure you, that is far from a complaint, but it gave me a chuckle when I was reading the book on the Metro, turned a page and found Kembra Pfahler's sewn up vagina from The Sewing Circle staring back at me. I wasn't the only one to see Pfahler's easy bake oven, either. The lady sitting next to me got a glance. Her scoff brought chuckle number two.
If there are two things Dark Stars Rising is desperately missing, they would be more of a synopsis of the subjects (as there were some that I had no idea who they were, but was glad I was "introduced" to them via this book) and notations on who the interviewees are referring to. For the majority of the book, only a brief paragraph is given to the background of the subject. This is fine for people such as Udo Kier and Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) since not much more is needed. However, for someone like Peter Sotos or Dame Darcy, a little more is necessary. For those who don't go below mainstream, jumping into Sotos' trouble with the law over his magazine, Pure, is a frustrating read. I ended up hitting the internet to learn more, but a few simple paragraphs of what Pure was would have saved me the trouble. Plus, as much as the conversational tone of the interviews really helps the book, it also hurts. It's obvious that Rupe and some of the subjects run in the same circles, and when names are dropped with no frame of reference, you get a bit lost on who they are talking about and why it's important.
Now you may be asking yourself, what the hell was the point of the "cult" diatribe all the way back to the beginning of this review. Well, it's simple. What Shade Rupe has put together in Dark Stars Rising is a book full of cult figures who fully deserve the title. Some of these cats, such as Crispin Glover, dance closer to mainstream than others, but the majority of them are underground heroes of sorts, and Rupe did right by giving them some deserved recognition. If you are interested in a fascinating read of some people that you may never have heard of, but they have had an impact on the movies you watch regardless, this book is right up your alley. And if you are the type that keeps on top of the underground culture, this is for you, too. Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms comes highly recommended.