Yesterday would have been King Kirby's 98th birthday and after reading all the online tributes to him I decided to make a list of the classic Kirby comics runs I have yet to read. I don't think I've read any of his work on The Demon and although there is a nice hardback of the entire run its a bit too pricey for me. I'll have to wait for a paperback version I guess.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Over the last twenty-five years serious fans of horror and science fiction cinema have been happy to witness the awakening of book publishers to the idea that there is more to talk about than the monster make-up and special effects that are the most obvious point of interest in these films. It has always been difficult for those fascinated by genre films to convince mainstream film aficionados of the deeper, more thoughtful aspects of these movies because of the surface elements that attract the most obvious widespread attention. Because of this prejudice the long road to the publication of serious intellectual works focused on horror films almost had to start with movies that have stood the test of decades of popular acclaim and were slowly, grudgingly accepted as good cinema. Those first steps were books of deep discussions of films with literary roots such as Dracula and Frankenstein and movies with often tenuous links to Edgar Allan Poe. When those books proved successful the doors cracked open and, aided by several foreign press' similarly delving into the cult film world for new subject matter, more attention began to be paid to the high quality (and even low quality) works of horror. We are now at a point where someone interested in horror film studies doesn't have to rely on one or two reference books in a certain field but might actually find themselves in the position of having so many choices it becomes difficult to know where to start. Of course, this is a problem I'm glad to have even if it complicates my desire to learn more about the movies I love.
But one area of cinema interest has been, until now, mostly neglected by film academics and that would be the monster and horror films of
Spain. In the United States much attention has been paid to the
various Spanish language genre films of Mexico
has suffered in the dark. This might be because of the shared border that makes
it easier to import scratchy VHS and DVD copies or the colorful nature of the
Masked Wrestling films of El Santo and his cohorts or the fact that K. Gordon
Murray ran dubbed Mexican genre movies through kiddie matinees like a madman who
had learned there was gold in them there theaters! But it is probably also
because, for American viewers, it can be difficult to distinguish a Spanish
made horror film from one of Italian origin since they were all dubbed and
often by the same voices. A casual fan might never notice the differences
inherent in these films or even realize that these differences depend upon
their country of origin. Those who are really interested do begin to pick up on
the ways in which Spanish horror efforts are distinct from their European
brethren and luckily we now have a book that can serve as an intelligent
Cinema by Nicholas Schlegel focuses on the Spanish genre films produced during
what is now termed the Golden Age of Spanish Horror from 1968 to 1977. He examines
the reasons the genre was finally allowed to flower under the Franco
dictatorship and the ways in which the restrictions placed on filmmakers helped
shape the movies in both obvious and more subtle ways. For anyone unaware,
Schlegel lays out a brief history of the Spanish Civil War, the ascendancy of
General Franco, the post WWII economic problems of the country and the eventual
opening of the country to tourism that saw Sadism,
Spain Spain grow into a prosperous
nation. These are the conditions and history that Schlegel points to as the
creative seedbed that made the best of the country's hundreds of horror films distinctly Spanish.
In the largest, most fascinating sections of this book he uses several specific
movies as examples of this. Dividing them into productions co-financed with
money from other counties and then the completely homegrown films Schlegel describe
the details that mark each as a specific product of Spain. It is in these chapters that
genre fans will find much intellectual meat to tear into.
As a Paul Naschy fan I was immensely curious to see what the author would find in his werewolf and other monster efforts and I was not disappointed. When discussing one of Naschy's most famous films Walpugis Night (a.k.a. Werewolf Shadow a.k.a. The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman) he notices that Naschy's screenplay has structured the movie monster's psyches along the lines of the classic Freudian formulation of the id, ego and superego. As I read Schlegel's detailed analysis of the creature's driving desires with this framework I was shocked to see exactly what he meant. The vampires are pure id always seeking pleasure regardless of costs while the tortured werewolf wants only to end his eternal existence because he kills aligning the ego and superego within his bifurcated body. Using this view to examine the rest of the tale opens up whole new avenues that makes thinking seriously about these movies fascinating.
Another amazing discussion is Schlegel's dissection of one of the best and best known Spanish horror films Horror Express (1972). Earlier in the book he pointed out that while American filmmakers had thirty years to refine their craft to the moment that they produced something as monumental in the genre as Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) Spanish creators had to absorb those lessons in a brief few years and synthesize them in order to compete. That they succeeded so well is a testament to their talent and skill with Eugenio Martin's astonishing film standing as the perfect example of transmutation within the confines of chosen set of limits. Part science fiction, part murder mystery, part period adventure and part EC comics horror this film - according to Schlegel - also serves as a view inside the Franco dictatorship from a Spanish citizen's restricted perspective. Indeed, he poses the bold claim that its not an alien monster that stalks the Trans-Siberian train but history itself that moves throughout the narrative. This is an amazing reading of the film's narrative that, at first I was surprised by, but eventually the author won me over with the force of his argument and some pointed quotes from director Martin. And even if this view of Horror Express doesn't jib with your own, the idea itself is fascinating regardless of authorial intent.
This is exactly the kind of film commentary book I love to read! The films examined are accepted as works of quality within their field and worthy of study because of that fact. The intentions of the filmmakers is explored, the times of the production are probed, the concepts presented are teased apart for relevance while the whole is enjoyed as an entertaining work. Nicholas Schlegel has written a fine work delving into an area filled with untapped potential for study. Fans of Spanish horror are lucky that someone has finally begun to explore the deeper aspects of this neglected field and doubly lucky that someone with writing talent has taken the first step. The fear that a book of this type might be dull or dry is one of which I can happily disabuse you. This is a book written by a man who is first and foremost a fan of these movies but has applied his academic mindset to a beloved sub-genre. I hope that he eventually explores these field further in a second volume and continues to burnish the Golden Age of Spanish Horror to a high sheen.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
I first learned of Miss Farrell when I saw THE SMART BLONDE (1937) at a screening in Chicago. The movie was a smart funny crime tale and I knew I wanted to see more of the character of Torchy Blaine and more of Glenda Farrell too. She was wonderful in the role and as I've caught up with more of her Pre-Code movie I've come to love her even more. She seemed to embody the 1930's smart-mouthed, wise cracking, worldly and intelligent dame that always got what she wanted while outmaneuvering jerks left and right.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Episode 53 puts us back in 2004 to discuss a film that features Naschy in a small but impressive role as - wait for it - the bad guy! ROTTWEILER is an English language film made in
Spain by American director Brian
Yuzna during his short lived Fantastic Factory production company's existence.
We start the conversation talking about the various film directed by Yuzna and
segue into the other movies made by Fantastic Factory. There are some good
films and some bad films on that list!
ROTTWEILER was based on a novel by Spanish author Alberto Vázquez Figueroa who also wrote the script. In cases like this I love to read the source work but I haven't been able to locate an English translation anywhere so if anyone out there has any information on such a thing please let me know at email@example.com. I'm very curious about the novel's structure in comparison to the film and how close the story stays to the details of the book.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Tonight I watched this film for the third or fourth time since catching it in its original release and I'm going to have to come out and state that I like it. The recent documentary about the making of this very troubled production rekindled my interest and the new Blu-Ray proved the perfect viewing experience. I'm never going to claim it's a perfect film, but it is far from the terrible movie that it has been painted as for nearly twenty years. In fact, I think it holds together very well until Brando's exit and then it flies a bit out of control. Part of this chaotic feel is obviously intentional as it mirrors the breakdown of order on the island but there always seems to be pieces missing that would have made things work smoother. And while the CGI beasties are awful beyond words the Stan Winston creature effects are stupendous and the actors inside the suits do a magnificent job. I was disheartened to hear so many of the cast & crew referring to it as one of the worst movies of all time! No, no! As far as I'm concerned this is much better than other 1996 releases including Independance Day, The Rock or Twister.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Given a title that has very little relation to its content, Cannibal Man is not the gut-munching splatterfest you might expect. Instead it's a thoughtful, intelligent and deliberately paced study of one man's descent into madness and is much better served by the alternate title Week Of The Killer. The film bears more resemblance to Polanski's Repulsion than the gross-out cannibal movies that stampeded through exploitation theaters in the late '70s and early '80s. Rather than those movies I was surprised to find myself thinking of a line from Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. In that movie a serial murderer of rich old ladies asks what the pleasant facades of middle class homes hide and what ugly things you might see if the fronts were ripped off those houses. In the Hitchcock story the killer is a man from modest means whose maniacal disgust with idle rich women drives his desire to kill. Here we have killer driven by fear committing a string of atrocities but silently watched through that fake calm front his house affords. But behind the walls of this poor man's home death piles up all because our anti-hero believes (probably correctly) that someone like him won't be afforded justice.
Marcos (Vincente Parra) is a man on the fringes of Spanish urban life. He works in a slaughterhouse and shares a rundown house with his older brother. Their home is in an area of the city in which expensive high rise apartment buildings are springing up and pushing out the older residents. This house is one of the last of the older dwellings in the neighborhood and looking up at the new complexes Marcos knows his place in the world as a poor man every day. He's dating the very lovely Paula (Emma Cohen) but she knows her father won't approve of Marcos and has kept their romance a secret. One night while on a date together they are insulted and assaulted by a cab driver. This older fellow is offended by their public displays of affection and in the ensuing altercation Marcos brains the man over the head to protect Paula. The next day’s newspaper reveals that the cab driver died from the blow. Paula thinks they should go to the police, explain what happened and try to put it behind them. But Marcos insists that he will never be believed and when he realizes Paula will go to police with or without him, he strangles her. Clearly puzzled by his own actions, he places her body in his bedroom and carries on with his life.
Marcos' brother has been out of town on a job. When he returns a day early and discovers Paula's corpse he is stunned and tries to convince Marcos to go to the cops. The siblings argue and when things are done Marcos is laying his brother's body in his bedroom as well. At this point things become complicated as his brother's fiancée Carmen shows up looking for her future husband. A forceful woman with a dim view of men she can’t be stopped from searching the house and soon her body is added to the pile.
Marcos continues to go about his usual life, working, eating in a local restaurant and fielding the flirtatious advances from beautiful waitress Rosa. He seems to be trying to figure a way out of his problem but the next day Carmen's father shows up in a fury looking for his missing daughter. Once again Marcos resorts to violence and now he has four bodies in his bedroom. Finally he gets an idea about how to deal with this situation. He begins dismembering the bodies and taking the pieces to the slaughter house each day inside a duffel bag. There he feeds the parts into the machinery that processes the beef, neatly getting rid of the evidence.
Over the course of these few days Marcos keeps meeting one of his neighbors from the nearest high rise apartment building. Nestor (Eusebio Poncela) is a polite but talkative man who lives on his own. He goes out of his way to befriend Marcos and by the time he casually says of his neighbor's unspoken problems, "You should bury them," you suspect he knows the bedroom's terrible secret. It slowly becomes clear that Nestor is a homosexual and it's his own outcast position in Spanish society that leads him to overlook Marcos' crime. Nestor might even be looking for help from his new friend but it only becomes clear what kind as the men become closer. As the smell from the rotting bodies gets to be difficult to conceal, Marcos' problem may have grown too large to escape detection. Soon the missing people are going to cause the police to investigate and Marcos has to make a decision.
One of the best surprises of this very good film is the restraint with which the gruesome tale is told. Even though this a story about a man who kills half a dozen people there is never a feeling of sleaze or exploitation. While there are some bloody moments the film is light on violence. Much more interested in studying its main character's mental deterioration than shocking an audience, the movie works its magic by drawing a portrait of a desperate man pushed by fear into horrible crimes. It's a testament to writer/director Eloy de la Iglesia's skill that we find Marcos more sympathetic as the story goes on instead of less. His acts are terrible — the most heinous act a human can do — but his reasons are understandable. He knows he'll never get justice in the repressive culture of Franco's
The film shows several scenes of daily life around him that make his place in
society clear — he had no real future from the moment he struck that cab
This is a dark, sad film that ultimately becomes about two men from opposite ends of society who are outsiders for different reasons. Neither man can really help the other. But they can at least find a friend — someone to talk to — before they succumb to the inevitable end the world has condemned them to.
Monday, August 17, 2015
I read a lot of comic books both old and new each week but while I tend to concentrate on superhero books (Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc) and horror tales from decades past on occasion I like to try other genres to see what might be out there. I'm a major fan of crime fiction and mysteries so this often bleeds over into my comic reading. The current gold standard for this kind of comic is the fine series of Darwyn Cooke adaptations of the classic Richard Stark Parker novels. If you haven't tried them I highly recommend checking them out. Even the Parker novels I had previously read came to life in new and stunning fashion with Cooke's intelligent visualizations.
With that high quality in mind I can now recommend another great crime comic book that strikes me as being in the same league. Author Christopher Mills has been on my radar for a few years because of his various blogs. My favorite of his blogging efforts is the excellent Space: 1970 which chronicles his love of the television and film science fiction of that groovy decade. Where else are you gonna find multiple posts on Jason of Star Command or The Fantastic Journey?
So when he began to post on Facebook about his crime story character Gravedigger I wondered if his entertaining blogging style could translate into hard-boiled crime fiction. Well I'm happy to say that after only one issue I can say 'Hell yes it can'! Teaming with artist Rick Burchett they have crafted a sharp, mean spirited neo-noir tale that pulses with energy and life. They have opted to produce the comic in black & white and it immediately becomes clear that color would only pointlessly complicate the stark lines and smart storytelling of this book. I was surprised first by the fact that they have chosen to present the story in landscape page layout instead of the normal portrait format of comic books but realized quickly that this is another clever decision. Reading the book this way creates an automatic 'widescreen' feeling to the action and seems to push the tale faster in some odd way. I've read this first issue three times and I cannot wait to snatch up the second one when it hits the stands later this month and then the collected trade paperback in November that will have more tales of professional thief Gravedigger (who bears a striking resemblance to a certain awesome actor). Very cool!
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Thursday, August 13, 2015
I finally scratched this little talked about Lee Van Cleef western off my 'To See' list and I was happy to find it to be a damned good film. I'm surprised this movie isn't better known for the cast if for nothing else. The great Warren Oates plays the villainous ex-Confederate Army soldier Remy who has kept his band of violent cutthroats together after the war ended. With the help of expatriate Frenchman Marquette (Kerwin Matthews - very good here) he has arranged to rob the Union Army of thirty cases of repeating rifles that he plans to use to cement his power over an area of Mexico. The brutal robbery goes perfectly but the plan to cross the
Grande using Van Cleef's ferryboat goes wrong setting
up a standoff that puts the two men at odds and in stalemate.
Forrest Tucker also has a great role as an amusing mountain man who helps Van Cleef and the people he is protecting from Remy's murderous wraith. And I forgot to mention a solid performance from Mariette Hartley in a small role as the wife of a hostage. The deal she strikes with Van Cleef to orchestrate her husband's rescue paints both characters in shades of gray that impressed me. This isn't a cookie cutter western and is well worth seeking out.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Last month I caught the much maligned new Terminator film TERMINATOR: GENISYS and I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure what all the bitching was about other than it NOT being as good as the first two films in the series and did anyone expect that? I consider this new film to be the third best of the run and a major step up from the poorly written TERMINATOR: SALAVATION from a couple of years back. At least this one had a decent story and didn't feel like it was assembled from a bunch of notes leftover after a boardroom meeting.
GENISYS works best when it's playing with what we remember from the first couple of movies while twisting those events into new shapes. I was fearful that the spoiler heavy trailers had given too many plot points away for the film to really surprise me but I was happy to be wrong on this count. I like that we get to revisit the beginning of this story and view it from different angles. It gives the film a retro but fresh feel that felt correct each time that the film shifted into an alteration of known events. Cool! And the cast, with one exception, was very good. Schwarzsenegger finally looks comfortable onscreen again after his dalliance with politics; Emilia Clarke shows that she may have a career after Game of Thrones ends and Jason Clarke handles the toughest role very well moving from hero to antagonist with skill. It is only the hunky (?) new Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) that fails to register much screen charisma often seeming more robotic and stiff than
Arnold's T-100. Don't get me wrong- he's not
bad enough to ruin the film and he's much better than Salvation's pathetic
human shaped black hole Sam Worthington, but he isn't much more than
serviceable. Good film, though. Hope they make the proposed sequel.
ANT-MAN might have seemed like Marvel's biggest gamble to date but honestly that was GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. The ANT-MAN story they have chosen to tell onscreen is probably the perfect one as it gives the studio space to have an original 'classic' Ant-Man with adventures that can be told in the future as well as the new guy who seems poised to join the Avengers pretty soon. Once again they have struck the near-perfect balance of action, character, suspense and humor that keeps these films from feeling stale or stupid. I know they will eventually screw up and make one that I don't enjoy but so far the track record is astonishing. Now I just want the Wasp to make her debut and Giant-Man to put in an appearance and we'll be set. Think I'll mosey on down to
and see what's what!
WEB OF THE SPIDER (1971)- 8 (rewatch)
SORCERESS (1982)- 3 (rewatch) (terrible but fun)
BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973)- 6 (rewatch)
LEVIATHAN (1989) - 3 (rewatch)
TERMINATOR: GENISYS (2015)- 7
PROMETHEUS (2012)- 8 (rewatch)
CORNERED (1945)- 8 (excellent Noir with Dick Powell)
CHERRY 2000 (1987)- 6
THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK (1941)- 6 (Noir with Peter Lorre)
THE GOLDEN BAT (1966)- 7 (over the top Japanese silliness)
CONTAMINATION (1980)- 3 (rewatch)
DOCTOR JUSTICE (1975)- 8 (wow!)
HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (1973)- 6
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)- 8
THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967)- 6 (low budget British SF)
IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1964)- 7 (197 minute version)
THE BRIBE (1949)- 8 (excellent Noir with an excellent cast)
LOST SOUL:The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's
(excellent documentary) Island
of Dr. Moreau
ELVIS COSTELLO: MYSTERY DANCE (2014) - 8
ANT-MAN (2015)- 8
STRANGE BREW (1983)- 7 (rewatch)
NEIGHBORS (1981)- 9 (rewatch)
THE SHOW (1927)- 8 (fantastic silent from Tod Browning)
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)- 7 (rewatch)
Sunday, August 09, 2015
I occasionally like to read a western novel in the same way that I like to occasionally watch a western movie. The western is a genre I love so a well told western tale in print form can be a fun, fast read and never more so than with the long running series books that are still published today. The series I've been most fascinated with in the past couple of years has been the ultra-violent Edge books that ceased publication in 1989 after sixty-one novels of action and blood. So, when I've felt the urge for the genre I've searched used bookstore shelves for any Edge books and scratched that itch in that way. (By the way, it appears Shane Black is a fan of the series as well!)
But I often forget that most of the series westerns have an added exploitative element beyond graphic violence and the joys of western tropes put through their paces. Yep - quite a number of them include straight-out pornography! Series such as Longarm, Buckskin and a dozen others have several explicit sex scenes in each novel and are intended for an adult male audience. These series were mostly begun in the 1970's and are clearly very profitable as were their antecedents, the Spicy Western pulps of the 1930's. This might shock the uninitiated but I stumbled onto these books when I was quite young. I was eleven or twelve when I was surprised that the Slocum novel I had curiously picked up off a drugstore spinner rack was so dirty! "Whoa! So that's how those things work together, huh?" Porn in prose form was my first actual porn! That might explain a lot about me, huh?
Strangely enough, over the years I had forgotten about the explicit sexual scenes in these books. Completely. I don't know how that is possible but it's true. So, the other day I spotted a Gunsmith novel for fifty cents in a local store and made an impulse buy. I grinned a lot thinking about how much fun it was going to be - six-guns, horses and bad guys in the Old West! Hell yeah!
I settled in a for an amusing read and was enjoying myself pretty well with the fun tone of the story's dialog when BAM! A four page long sex sequence that reminded me of a 1970's porno loop done in western costumes. Wow! I wasn't expecting that. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Porn has its place, right? And they had sex in the Old West or there wouldn't be a new west, I guess. But wow! The Old West seems to have had some frisky prostitutes. But I do wonder if anyone else reading my blog occasionally reads one of these series westerns. Are there any closet Slocum or Buckskin fans out there?
Friday, August 07, 2015
It will be a shock to my fellow fans of 1980's post-apocalyptic cinema to learn this, but- until just last night I had never seen STEEL DAWN (1987). I know, I know! WTF? Me - Rod Barnett - friend to all animals and 1980's post apocalyptic movies - had not seen the one starring Patrick friggin' Swayze? How can this have happened? Well, truth to tell, it was BECAUSE it starred Patrick friggin' Swayze. Yep. For years I harbored a dislike for the fellow that was not broken until well after I acknowledged the brilliance of POINT BREAK (1991) . I held my grudge against him for GHOST and DIRTY DANCING for too long, I guess. To my younger, more angry self - that fool of just a few days ago - I say "
You shoulda watched this years ago while drinking beer with friends!" Not that that won't happen sometime in the
future but you know what I mean.
Now that I've seen it I have to say that although its first half is a little too long it turns into a pretty effective little low budget pseudo-western. The plot really is right out of a B western from the 1950's but I consider that a good thing. Lone ex-soldier sees his mentor murdered by a hired assassin, takes up mentor's law bringing job, saves frontier settlement from evil bad guys and becomes father figure to a young boy that cries 'Shane' over the closing credits. No, no- I made up that last bit. But the boy is there wishing ole badass Swayze would stick around and keep 'helping' his mom forge a new world - if you know what I mean.