Friday, February 05, 2016

Matt Helm - The Removers

Last week I finished reading the third of the Matt Helm novels -The Removers - by Donald Hamilton. I would have probably gotten to it sooner except that it became a very difficult book to locate in my usual haunts. Luckily the Internet provides - thank you Christopher Mills! About two years ago I finally decided to read the Helm novels because I stumbled across the first one in a used book store and was reminded that they exist. That novel, Death of a Citizen, turned out to be far better than I thought it was going to be and I immediately rushed to the second one which was just as good, if not better. At this point that I realized maybe I needed to revisit the series of Matt Helm film adaptations made in the mid 60's starring Dean Martin.

That proved to be a very mixed bag. I still haven't rewatched or maybe even watched the 3rd and 4th of that sad, misbegotten series of semi-comedic spy capers. I'm sure I will eventually but I'm just not in a big rush.

But the books, the books are turning out to be fantastic. I know that in general they were looked upon at the time as kind of the American answer to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and there's something to that. I find them just as exciting, just as well written and just as engrossing as the in Fleming Bond novels - sometimes even more so. Hamilton's prose style is spare, precise and his sense of pacing is excellent. He has a facility for sketching characters very quickly but effectively and setting up personalities and conflicts in gripping ways. If you've never read these novels and you enjoy adventure fiction allow me to highly recommend them. I cannot wait to read more in the series and I'm kind of surprised to see how quickly Hamilton was turning these out. They are short novels but these first three came in the rush of about 18 months if I'm reading publication dates correctly. Amazing! 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

THE STAR WARS! - A Grindhouse Classic!

I would watch the Holy Living Hell out of this!! 

Monday, February 01, 2016

THE X-FILES and me

I'm not sure if we all loved The X-Files in the 90's because it was good or because it was really the only game on television. It was, at the time, the only successful, interesting science fiction / horror television show in existence. And the fact that it occasionally did something really, really well (especially in the first four or five years) made it must watch television for genre fans. But we all know what happened there. Yes we do. It floundered. It stumbled. It belly flopped onto concrete. By the last few seasons when they couldn't even keep the star of the show involved no matter what they did. Move the production to a warmer climate, give him more control over stories - jump through whatever hoops and it still got to the point where even he felt the show needed something that wasn't him. Or maybe it just needed a real direction.

Because that was the show's core problem. It had no direction. Which would have been fine for a cool, creepy monster of the week science fiction series but that was deemed to not be enough. It had to be BIG. And so, creator Chris Carter started getting high on his own supply. He began telling everyone that the series was going to bring all the pieces together from all the various extraterrestrial stories that had fuzzy endings (or no ending) and we'd see that there was a huge alien invasion conspiracy that the government knew about and was covering up or helping to happen that involved colonization and black oil and human alien hybrids or.....something! But it all would eventually come together and make some kind of damned sense! Really! He promised.

But that was a crock of crap. He had no freakin' idea what the hell he was doing. And because of that years ago realization I wanted to punch that dumbass in the face.

But I've grown. If I've not grown wiser or less filled with unfocused anger at least I've grown less violent. Chris Carter is safe from me. For now. Surfing putz.

So now the return of The X-Files in a six-episode mini-series for Fox television has caused me to want to go back and reevaluate the original series. I don't mean I want to go back and watch the entire nine year run - I'm just not going to invest that much time in the damned show - but I was curious enough to finally sit down and watch one piece of the X-Files history that I have left unviewed - the second feature film from 2008. The first X-Files film was made during the heyday of the show's original run and was so bad that it made me want to cry right there in the theater. In fact it was the hideous nature of that first film that may have started my complete turnaround on the series or at least initiated and influenced or simply expanded upon the doubts that I had been having about the show for some time at that point. Needless to say long before the original run of the show ended I punched out and I couldn't even tell you what happened in the final miserable season. I think I saw two or three episodes. So when THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE came out long after the series had gone to that great rerun junkyard in the sky I didn't care. Indeed, almost everyone I knew was so unconcerned I don't think I know any person that has seen it. But with this new resurgence of interest and all this talk around it - well - I decided now was the time. And for $4 a Blu-Ray is cheap so what the hell, huh?

I chose the longer cut - I am, after all, a lunatic - and once I was thirty minutes in I was shocked to realize that I was enjoying the movie! This was not the coincidence fueled series of disconnected sequences of the first film. This thing actually made sense. Not that there isn't one intuitive leap late in the story that stretched credulity a bit (Bible quote leads to mail box) but, in total, this is a damned good little science fiction thriller. Clearly Carter didn't write most of this or it would have devolved into a hot mess in the first reel so I was not surprised to see Frank Spotnitz listed on the screenplay. He was responsible for several good episodes of the original series as well as being currently in charge of the excellent Amazon show The Man in the High Castle. I WANT TO BELIEVE is not a brilliant film but if it had been first feature instead of the second there might have been more than just two movies made. Hell - if this had been the only X-Files film made more people would have seen it because there wouldn't have been a sense of 'won't get burned again' in the minds of the fans. Shame. This is a solid SF film and I'm glad I've finally seen it. Now I just wonder what was cut out of the shorter version.....

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price #55 - The Haunted Palace

The latest in the series focuses on one of my favorite of the Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations. This is still one of the best adaptations of Lovecraft for the big screen.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

TV Viewing - The Expanse

I don't write a lot about television series here and I'm not sure why. Some of the best storytelling I see each year is produced for the small screen. Often I will try a new television show to see if it has anything to keep my interest and then drop it if it turns out to be dull, dumb or too derivative. This shotgun effect has led me to several very good shows that only seemed mildly interesting but turned out to be excellent. Right now the top of the Unexpectedly Excellent list is the new SyFy (it pains me to type that asinine name) series The Expanse.

I originally tuned in because the preview images looked like the production had spent enough money to make the science fiction world realistic and because I'm a fan of lead actor Thomas Jane. After only two episodes I was shocked by what I was seeing. This was a complex, credible and exciting vision of the future that felt like a lot of thought had been put into every single aspect of every single level. This universe feels lived in and genuine in ways that most science fiction TV series rarely attempt. All of the characters have depth and color with relationships that seem believable and complicated by past break-ups, bad decisions and job conflicts - you know- like real people! This is helped by fine performances from a large and diverse cast. I expect good work from Jane and Jared Harris but the less famous actors are doing great jobs as well. Iranian born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is a revelation as U.N. Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala who is incredibly adept at politics and subterfuge but still callous enough to use an old friend in high stakes, dangerous intelligence gathering.

The series takes place two hundred years in the future in a fully colonized Solar System. The story revolves around three main plotlines that are interconnected even if they don't seem so from the beginning. Ceres police detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) is given an under the table assignment to find a missing young woman named Julie Mao. Julie is the daughter of a wealthy Earth businessman and she has recently gotten rebellious about the ways Earth controls and suppress the asteroid belt colonies. Meanwhile the acting Executive Officer of the ice freighter Canterbury James Holden (the excellent Steven Strait) tragically involves his ship in an incident that ends with it destroyed by unknown attackers. This attacks threatens to destabilize the fragile political situation between Earth, breakaway colony Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Back on Earth United Nations executive  Chrisjen Avasarala (played by the aforementioned Shohreh Aghdashloo) is working to prevent war between Earth and Mars by any means necessary - and some of those means are pretty distasteful. Slowly these three threads converge as they find links between the missing woman and the ice freighter's destruction that point to a conspiracy that threatens all of humanity.

I've not read the books this series is based upon but I think the writers have to be proud of this show. This is easily one of the best shows on TV right now regardless of genre. Yes, I was drawn to this show for the whizz-bang nature of the effects work but what has me excited is the characters and the story. The plot is part political intrigue, part film noir mystery, part relationship drama, part military action and it's wrapped in a brilliantly realized science fiction world. This is great television and I'm thrilled that there is a second season already in the pipeline.  "Remember the Cant!" 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Caroline Munro images!

Just because! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Bloody Pit #34 - CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)

John Hudson returns to the Bloody Pit to help me discuss this amazing cannibal gore film from director Antonio Margheriti. Shooting in Atlanta, Georgia during the cooler months of the year gives some fascinating texture to the film and lends a little gravity to the plot about deranged Vietnam Vets. And when your story revolves around a virus that somehow transfers cannibalism between people like the flu you need all the seriousness you can muster! Luckily this is one of the very few Margheriti films that has been released to DVD in the US with extras! Among those extras is a very nice 54 minute long documentary about CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE that includes interviews with the director as well as actors John Saxon and Giovanni Lambardo Radice a.k.a. John Morghen. This gives us a little more insight into the film than we usually have and allows for some examination of the ideas presented, which I like!

Before we dive into the film Hudson and I catch up a bit with discussion of our upcoming Alice Cooper encounter; John's history with Tarantino theatrical screenings; his rewatch of The Sopranos; my journey through the Hannibal TV series and a general concern for the winter weather. Once we attack our main topic I start with some information on the legendary Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti who is responsible for so many of the classic Euro-Cult films of the 1970's and 80's that entire books should be written about him! As the podcast continues we complain about the often inappropriate score along with an audio example of the sound of blood dripping from meat - high strangeness. There is some talk about flamethrowers and exploding dogs as well as the real animal cruelty in the sewer scenes. We touch on the use of wood as a metaphor (I'm not kidding) and end up wondering what words rhyme with Saxon. Yeah, we're all over the place in this one.

Thank you for downloading and listening to the show. We can be contacted at for any comments or complaints. At the end of this episode we lay out the plans for future Bloody Pit shows about Antonio Margheriti as well as the other movies that will be covered in the next few months. We hope you enjoy what we're doing and please stay safe and warm.