Stephen Bissette – Simon Moro

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THE LATE GREAT CREATURE by Brock Brower (1971, Atheneum) was Simon Moro, notorious horror movie star of the 1930s and 40s who could (in the words of the men’s magazine reporter who relates the novel’s first third) “indicate corruption with just the back of his neck” onscreen. Brower’s invented filmography for Moro is utterly convincing and compelling: hints of the actor in silent German films; his rise to fame as a mad pedophile in Fritz Lang’s ZEPPELIN (1930); his American debut as THE MOTH, a tatty low-budget horror co-starring Fay Wray; his butchered masterpiece GHOULGANTUA (1937), a reworking of FRANKENSTEIN; his subsequent decline playing Nazis in ersatz World War 2 propoganda and a poverty-row GILA MAN series; a mysterious, incomplete feature Moro starred in and directed in post-War Germany set in the concentration camps; on to the centerpiece of the novel, a Cormanesque remake of THE RAVEN for the drive-in circuit.
The echoes of actor Peter Lorre’s career are intentional (Lorre, too, was launched by a real Fritz Lang classic, M (1930), his career arced through increasingly dire American exploitation films, and Lorre directed and starred in a post-War German feature, THE LONELY ONE, which was relegated to obscurity and nearly deep-sixed his career). Brower also crafts sly sendups of filmmaker Roger Corman and a particularly vicious parody of Vincent Price. But Moro is much more than a curio or has-been horror star. Moro’s agenda is to shock jaded contemporary audiences at any cost through whatever vehicle presents itself — including the climactic grindhouse premiere of THE RAVEN — not for the sake of exploitation, but as an obsessive moral philosophy. He wants to rip open the eyes of the American public, reflect the savagery and corruption of their era by embodying its most horrifying extremities, and thereby hangs the tale. Moro seizes on any opportunity to publicly subvert the idiocy surrounding him and fulfill his destiny: a prop skeleton, a grip’s finger severed in a backstage accident (yup, that’s what’s in the raven’s mouth in the sketch here), a late-night TV talk show, and the tacky accoutrements of a neighborhood theater lobby take on perverse life as Moro ravages the American psyche with whatever meager means or showcases present themselves.
Moro is one of the great unsung creations of modern literature. THE LATE GREAT CREATURE holds a prominent place in my library for being one of the few works of fiction to acknowledge and explore the powerful shift in Western conciousness that was manifesting itself in the mid-1960s close of the Gothic tradition and birth of a volatile, dangerous new breed of horror cinema. THE LATE GREAT CREATURE dissected this scary new imaginative landscape with perceptive urgency, and in turn stands as a landmark in the genre’s transformation, along with Peter Bogdanovich’s feature TARGETS (1967) and the two great landmarks of the modern horror film, George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and Michael Reeves’ THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM, 1969).
In reading the book upon its initial hardcover publication (alerted by a positive review in LIFE magazine), I began to understand what was really happening in the films that were such an anchor for me during my teenage years, and appreciate their sharp, new teeth. I also ached to see films like GHOULGANTUA, knowing full well they never existed, but tantalized beyond reason by Brower’s vivid descriptions and imagery. Author Brower also ushered in a Borgesian subgenre of horror literature which peppered with other imaginary films, filmmakers, and subversive agendas, including FLICKER, Ramsey Campbell’s ANCIENT IMAGES, Tim Lucas’ THROAT SPROCKETS, etc., and for that we owe him, too.
Here’s to Brock Brower and his Simon Moro — The Late, Great Creature, indeed!

 

- Stephen Bissette

 

Further information on Stephen Bissette: srbissette.com

Further information on Simon Moro: sfsite.com/fsf/2004/cur0412.htm