When The Exorcist was released three decades ago, several adult viewers had to be hospitalized due to the high levels of distress produced by the movie. Still, The Exorcist became a blockbuster, paving the way for the Hollywood resurgence of the 1970s and causing shrinks to wonder if the delights of horror could be quantified. Discussing adrenaline rushes and “arousal jags” (the hedonic relief that follows a quick fright), medical professionals eventually suggested that horror movies and scary books might serve as release valves for primitive corners of our minds or our dormant survival instincts. While such explanations sound glib on public radio, in life they are more applicable to extreme-sports athletes than to genuine horror fans. Where, the horror aficionado might ask, is the subtlety and nuance in an “arousal jag”? Thankfully, you may leave such questions at the gate and lose yourself in the dusky folds of SpookyCon, a three-day convention devoted to all that is frightful, gruesome, chilling, gloomy, grisly, ghastly, ghoulish, horrid, morbid, deathly, and macabre. Highlights include readings by “Britain's most respected living horror writer,” Ramsey Campbell, and New Orleans' darkly brilliant lady of the plume, Poppy Z. Brite; Q&A sessions with Reggie Bannister, star of the Phantasm series, and Bill Moseley, the metal plate-scratching “Choptop” of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2; screenings of Dave Parker's The Dead Hate the Living and Mike Mendez's The Convent; discussions of the 110-year legacy of Clark Ashton Smith's “Klarkash-Ton” and the true horrors of public-access television; evocations by Evil Dead 2 screenwriter Scott Spiegel; and, of course, the zombie costume contest. For those not interested in competition, casual capes are encouraged. SpookyCon will be held Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 9-12, at the Holiday Inn Chinatown (750 Kearny at Washington) from noon till midnight. Tickets are $20-40; call 552-8521 or go to www.spookycon.com.
In the late '50s, the urban landscape began to leave deep impressions on rhythm and blues, and soul music grew out of the cracks. Motown and Stax were the new genre's champion and herald, with the Motown sound of the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Little Stevie Wonder being bouncy, pleasing, and infinitely commercial, while Stax's records were raw, gritty, and emotional, punctuated by fierce horns and unbridled voices. Motown volunteered Diana Ross and Stax offered Mavis Staples — the difference between sequins and sweat.
The disparity between the labels truly comes alive thanks to Soulsville U.S.A., a collection of eight short documentaries that Bay Area filmmaker Bob Sarles made at the behest of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which will be opening in April in the Memphis movie house that once served as the label's studios and store. The videos — comprised of rare live footage and studio sessions, as well as interviews with such surviving Stax family members as Rufus Thomas, Booker T. & the MG's, and Isaac Hayes, plus label founders Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton and President Al Bell — will be part of the permanent installation. (This will be the only screening opportunity outside Tennessee.) While the minidocs on the artists offer wonderful glimpses at Stax's evolutionary talent, Sarles' all-too-brief history of the imprint presents the true grit. Ranging from the spontaneous formation of the multiracial Stax house band — the aforementioned MG's — to Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination just a few miles away, the film places Stax in a historical context and follows the company's progression from its family-room environs to WattStax, a daylong festival that filled the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972. Both a defining musical moment for black America and Stax's death knell, the “black Woodstock,” as it came to be known, proved the power and popularity of the label, and provided Sarles with some of the most jubilant concert footage I've ever seen. Sadly, with more than 40 Stax artists represented, it also proved that the imprint was too big to be one happy family, and two years later the company imploded under its own weight, leaving a treasure trove of memories and music. Screenings of the Soulsville documentaries will be held on Friday, Jan. 10, at Studio Z at 8:45 p.m. Rare concert footage will precede the videos and live music follows at 10 p.m. (arrive early as no one will be admitted in the middle of a screening). Admission is free before 9 p.m. and $5 after; call 252-7666.
Should Soulsville only whet your appetite, '60s jazz-soul organist Reuben Wilson is sure to sate with his Masters of Groove, an ensemble including former James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield and jazz guitarist Grant Green Jr. While Wilson's early Blue Note recordings didn't have the immediate impact of, say, Booker T. Jones' output, his organ vamps have been recently discovered by soul-jazz revivalists and sampled by hip hoppers Nas and A Tribe Called Quest. The Masters of Groove's current release, Meet Dr. No, is an organ-drenched boogie through the James Bond soundtrack, and it's definitely shaken, not stirred. The Masters of Groove perform on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10-11, at the Elbo Room at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 552-7788.