Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Brock Brower, author of THE LATE GREAT CREATURE

This past weekend marked the 80th birthday of Overlook author Brock Brower, whose 1973 National Book Award-nominated novel The Late Great Creature was reissued this year in paperback. To celebrate his birthday and discuss the revival of his cult Hollywood satire, we have him on the blog for an interview. Welcome, Brock!

OP: The Late Great Creature follows the fictional making of a low-budget horror film, a Hollywood adaptation of Poe’s The Raven. In 1966, as a journalist reporting for Esquire, you covered the production of a real-life adaptation of The Raven. To what extent is this novel based on that experience?

BB: My first and only stay on a movie set was at American Pictures (the last wee sprig of the Studio System, for direct supply to the final drive-ins) when Roger Corman shot The Raven with Boris Karloff, Vinnie Price, and Peter Lorre, plus the free bonus of an early, unheralded Jack Nicholson. But I was really there out of my fascination with Lorre, whom I knew a lot about, especially his Berlin days with Bertolt Brecht. Lorre was a laggard joke by then, but still sharp of mind before noon (and his first pills out of an immense handbag he carried on set, which matched his raven's feathers). We talked a lot together, like Sydney Greenstreet (me) and Joel Cairo (him) in The Maltese Falcon. He had a rich, puffy, still Germanic delivery, and tight thoughts about world issues. He'd just been reading early Phil Roth, and was amazed how Roth was able to write himself into trouble with the Jews. He admired Roth's intellectual courage. Not very Hollywood, he wanted to hear all about Phil, whom I knew. I think that's where I got a first inkling of wanting to do Lorre as a larger character in an American setting, as my Creature, the mischievous Simon Moro.

OP: In the novel Simon Moro declares himself a deep admirer of Poe. Are you also a Poe enthusiast? What is your favorite work by the so-called “Master of the Macabre?”

BB: Yes, I'm a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe; from a kid reader, onward. He taught me cryptography with “The Gold-Bug,” how to write detective stories from an armchair with Dupin, and above all, vocabulary. Right out of “MS. Found in a Bottle,” his first winning short story. His horror effects were built out red-hot word smithery, out of a brooding normalcy he brought forth the horrid haunts, the walled-up dead. His “Fall of the House of Usher” is a creeping study of malevolent architecture. And all this depends on his necromancer's gift with language. Baudelaire saw that before any of us Americanos did. Re-reading his work is a treat to any palette that has the taste for voluble piquancy. That's why Nabokov liked him so much.

My favorite stories are "William Wilson" for its doubling of Good & Evil in a suspect personality, and "The Purloined Letter" as the perfect story of intrigue and superb intelligence work by Dupin, under pressure to achieve victory in politic absentia. The descriptive "Purloined" is exactly right. Mind games and stealth, not bald thievery. It's not the “Once Stolen, Now Returned" letter. It is "Pu-r-r-r loined," by a clever cat burglar.

OP: The B-move genre forms the basis and foundation of this novel. Why did you choose horror films as a subject to write about?

BB: I deliberately picked the horror film as a matrix to bring forth some judgments on the damn horrors we daily face but never admit into blithe American consciousness, except as grade-B "entertainment." That gives Simon a ghoulish purpose at the end of his career, to make his Creature the haunted revenant of New York, New York, it's a Helluva Town. Emphasis on hell.

OP: This book was originally published in 1971 and horror movies have changed significantly in the last 40 years. Are you a fan of modern horror films? In your opinion, which contemporary filmmakers best represent the genre?

BB: I prefer the old classic rampages over the present vampire love stories and TV blood-curdlers. Beyond the great monsters, I have liked the exorcism-type '70s movies, some of the Stephen King shoots, especially his "horror" clowns. I'm a big fan of Roman Polanski's films, Rosemary's Baby, but also an earlier black-and-white treatment he did of Beauty and the Beast, on almost no budget. He even made a Macbeth horror picture. His big picture should have come right out of Charles Manson and the whole Laurel Canyon/Sharon Tate atrocity, but he screwed up his own Hollywood life, so thoroughly, he lost his right to be in the picture. Also, never forget that Sissy Spacek started out as a first-rate horror heroine.

OP: The New York Post recently listed The Late Great Creature as "required reading." In the spirit of the book, what cult classic films do you consider "required watching?"

BB: The absolute classic horror film is M with Peter Lorre. He is an utterly inhumane madman, a total monster, and our human sympathies are all with him.

OP: You turned eighty this month, congratulations! How will you be celebrating?

BB: Yes, I am eighty this November. Still with the same wife since 1956, who is the dam of our five children, who have given us five grandchildren. And lately I have l plunged into the throes of pondering what a monster I may have been, after all, all along.


“This is a splendid and complex book that plumbs the depths of sex and death, along with the perverse American mind that anaesthetizes itself to the truths of life through comfortable films in which death becomes mild entertainment.” – Publishers Weekly

“After a nomination for a National Book Award in 1973, Brower's angry, articulate, and downright clever novel receded into the underworld of forgotten paperbacks with dated covers. Now, after years of being out of print, The Late Great Creature has been reissued and Brower's hardboiled, horror-themed wit might finally find a new audience.” – The Huffington Post

“Wonderful—like a circus with several brilliant performances going on at the same time.” – Joan Didion

“A wonder-work, a display of wit in the oldest and truest sense of the word, [with] style that illuminates the total structure.” – The New York Times

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