Recently, HSL had the chance to interview three-time Rondo Classic Horror Award nominee and author of 'Devil Bat Diary: The Journal of Johnny Layton', Peter H. Brothers. Below, he tells us more about 'Devil Bat Diary', his respect and admiration for Bela Lugosi, as well as exclusive details about his upcoming novel, the 'Devil Bat Diary' sequel, 'Terror in Tinseltown'!
- First of all, thank you for taking time out to do this interview.
How would you describe your writing style, for those unfamiliar with your work?
First of all, it's my pleasure and I am grateful for your interest in my book.
My writing style for "DBD" is first-person subjective and what I term "poetic prose," a combination of the gritty, the romantic, the sensitive and the brusque with plenty of alliteration.
- 'Devil Bat Diary: The Journal of Johnny Layton' - is dedicated to the memory of the late actor Bela Lugosi. Were you a fan of his films before you started writing 'Devil Bat Diary', or is it an appreciation you developed whilst doing research?
I've been a fan of Mr. Lugosi since I saw "Dracula" back in 1973 and that was the beginning. Since then I have studiously watched his films and read all that I can on him. Far from the short-tempered and foul-mouth bitter old man as he was portrayed in "Ed Wood" he was a gentleman, the consummate actor, a true professional who loved his craft and was intensely devoted to it. He was intensely passionate on screen and was a fascinating person. He is my idol and inspiration. In summation, I would not be here today if not for his movies and I visit his grave every year around his birthday to pay him my homage and respect.
- What drew you to creating a story inspired by 'The Devil Bat', rather than some of the other popular horror / science fiction films of the same era?
Well Bela was forced to act in a lot of 'Poverty Row Quickies' during his lifetime but always gave 100% and never played down to the material. "The Devil Bat" is my favorite film of his and there is a very likeable quality about it. It was an unusual film for its time and somewhat ahead of its time with its ironic tongue-in-cheek humor.
The film manages to capture the quintessential Lugosi role: that of a man out for revenge who is in his own way justified, and in a sick sense we as audience members can identify with his frustrations and hopes he gets away with it (hey, who wouldn't want a bevy of Devil Bats at his disposal to dispose those who annoy him or who have done him wrong?).
- Do you think readers who have seen 'The Devil Bat' will get more out of 'Devil Bat Diary' than those that haven't?
That's a good question. Some have asked me if they should see the movie before reading the book, and I tell them that the book works both as a companion to the movie and as a stand-alone novel. Some may expect my book to be a behind-the-scenes disclosure of the making of the movie, and others have expressed disappointment that my novel is not a verbatim retelling of the film and the subsequent liberties I have taken with some of the characters, which I did to make them stand-out more; for example, "One-Shot" McGuire did not talk with a Brooklyn accent in the film, nor was Chief Wilkins gay!
- Was it challenging working with characters that have been introduced in a story line previously?
My whole purpose in writing this book was to see if I could do it, in other words, write a novel. To be fair I did use a proven template with established characters, but could I set a mood, descbribe personalities, create suspense? Feeling I had accomplished this has given me the necessary impetus to write the sequel, "Terror In Tinseltown."
- As well as challenging, was it interesting reshaping / expanding upon the personalities and plot from the movie?
It was fun. It's a little like playing God, you know, playing with these persons and giving them more to do and embellishing their personalities. We really know very little about their backgrounds (they simply didn't have the time or inclination to worry about stuff like that back then when making these films) and so I had a good time rounding-out their characters.
- Have you included any new characters, or mainly concentrated on developing and deepening the existing ones?
As a matter-of-fact, the character of the coroner did have a part in the original film, but his scene was removed prior to release. Getting the details on this is now impossible as all the people involved with the production have long-since passed and the records have disappeared. I only added one-or-two new characters (such as McGinty's secretary, Gladys) but mainly stayed with the folks seen in the film, about eight or nine as I recall. In contrast there are over two-dozen new characters in the sequel.
- Without giving away too many plot details, what would you say were the main differences between the character of Johnny Layton and his re-imagining in the novel?
Pretty much the same, or at least how I imagined him to be. It's an interesting concept to show footage of a person reacting to situations, then creating his personae based on mere observation. There's quite of bit of me in his character as well, as I think he and I have much in common.
- If a new film based on 'Devil Bat Diary' was made, are there any actors that you think would be well-suited to your characters?
You know, I am amazed no one has remade this movie, it is absolutely in tune with the times, but who would play Lugosi's part? Perhaps Robert De Niro, who was indeed slated to play Lugosi in a biographical film back in the 1970s (of course, I wouldn't mind playing the part myself as I also act, and guess who inspired me to do that? Bela of course!).
- In the description of the book, it's noted that subjects and situations that wouldn't have been acceptable to the 1940's film viewers are included. Was it important to update the story for a modern audience with "malicious murders, sacred sex and revolting revelations"?
I put that in to increase interest in the book and to prep the reader for some rather adult subject matter. I have already gotten in trouble for it: a kid on a monster movie forum objected to the scene where the naked and stimulated Wilkins is chasing Layton around the office, and a lady reviewer in South Africa objected to the "vulgar" language. Can't please them all . . .
- Following 'Devil Bat Diary', you've also started writing 'Terror in Tinseltown'. What can we expect from it?
Well it's the Great American Novel (wink). "Devil Bat Diary" was approximately 52,000 words long and "Terror In Tinseltown" clocks in at over 88,000. I put everything I had into it and used all my skill. It is a totally original work and I carry-over only a few characters from the first book (well most of them were killed-off anyway).
In this new book - and this is the first time it has been mentioned on the WWW - Layton and McGuire are sent to Hollywood to investigate a series of grisly murders of Hollywood agents. During their adventures they encounter monsters, mobsters, Hollywood luminaries and Layton is reunited with a lost love, but no names yet please! I hope the book will be ready by July.
- Do you have any other upcoming projects in the works?
One item that needs to be attended to is a revised edition of my book "Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men - The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda." That will be the next project and possibly one on the making of the first Godzilla film.
Will there be a third book in the Devil Bat series? I hope so if sales are good, should be a trilogy you know.
- Lastly, if you had to sum up 'Devil Bat Diary' in 5 words, what would they be?
To write or to read? Well let's make it: Funny, Frightening, Thought-Provoking, Atmospheric and I hope Entertaining!
To find out more about 'Devil Bat Diary' or Peter H. Brothers' other projects, you can visit his official website here.