Sunday, December 30, 2012

1982 - Year of Summer Awesome!

I turned fourteen in 1982 and was just becoming a movie fanatic so the stunning films of that year made a major impression on me. I'm not going to say things used to be better than they are now at the multiplex but when you look at these offerings it is hard to think of a year in which more exciting adventure science fiction hit the screen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In Praise of Quatermass

In the 1950s Nigel Kneale wrote three science fiction stories revolving around his character Professor Bernard Quatermass. They were written as multi-part television plays and when broadcast on the BBC they were so popular that England's Hammer Studio adapted them into films. The first two were paired down by director Val Guest into the SF classics The Quatermass Xperiment(a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown) and Quatermass 2 (a.k.a. Enemy From Space) both of which were huge box office hits at home and in the US. Kneale was unhappy with many things about the Hammer productions, not the least of which was the choice of American Brian Donlevy to play Professor Quatermass. When Hammer finally got around to filming the third Quatermass story in 1967 Kneale was allowed to adapt his own story and luckily the fantastic Andrew Kier was cast as the Professor. All of the Quatermass stories are among the best of intelligent filmed science fiction, weaving scientific theories and speculation into a scenario that seems both plausible and frightening. Kneale creates very recognizably human characters, throws them into outlandish SF plots and manages to make the stories believable. In 1980 Kneale wrote one last Quatermass story for TV that has yet to be transferred to the big screen but with it's extremely downbeat ending I doubt it would survive the process intact. It's a shame because there are few better examples of smart SF then Kneale's clever Quatermass stories.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


For those folks who have never been subjected......... I mean, have never seen this 'classic' Christmas tale here it is on Youtube! The whole thing for free viewing! And that IS the right price!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Carols (Non-Standard)

Here are a couple of my favorite non-standard Carols for the season. They always put a smile on my face and, as strange as it may seem, they make me feel the warm fuzzies about my fellow human beings  I hope for as the big day approaches. I'm pretty weird.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I have been a big fan of Lee Van Cleef for a lot of years. I can’t remember if I first saw him in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK but his presence in any movie means I’m going to be more interested than average. Of course, his casting by Sergio Leone in two of his classic Spaghetti Westerns gave Mr. Van Cleef’s career new life and he went on to star in more than a dozen Italian and Spanish oaters throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. I have been slowly trying to catch up with all of them as I can and have been thrilled to find that I am rarely unhappy with the movies in which LVC stars. Even the lesser works like EL CONDOR (1970) are entertaining and often give him the chance to play something other than his usual stoic gunfighter/lawman/bounty hunter role at which he was so good.

There are only a few ‘big’ LVC western titles that have yet to see and this week I crossed off a highly regarded one- THE GRAND DUEL (1972). I actually saw it under another title (and it has plenty) but the good news was that it was also the first of his westerns I’ve seen on Blu-Ray. Its available on a very cheap Mill Creek Blu paired with the brilliant (if irritatingly scored) Franco Nero western KEOMA (1976) and for about five dollars you can NOT go wrong with this disc. I’m not going to say the movie looks as sharp as it could possibly look but the clarity of the picture is noticeably better than a typical DVD image. The soundtrack was off a few seconds at points in the film but that is unfortunately a problem that crops up often in Italian genre cinema from this era so I’m not going to blame the disc. As long as Lee Van Cleef dubs his character I consider everything else negotiable and luckily he does provide his voice in this one.

As for the film itself I found it to be very good and I can recommend it to fans of the genre. It lived up to its strong reputation with a good story, interesting villains and some very well played gunfights. There is a fun mystery element to the plot which isn't too hard to figure but the slow reveal of information through flashbacks is well done giving the final revelation pretty effective heft. THE GRAND DUEL isn't LVC's best western but it is better than average.

As is typical in the Spaghetti west the motivations of several characters are mysterious and their gun fighting skills are superhuman making the real question for me “will the director craft a silly film or a serious one”. Often, in poor hands, these movies become overly pleased with their own cleverness and end up playing fast and loose with not just logic but physical reality. I wince when I’m watching a western in which someone starts jumping around on hidden trampolines in the action scenes or acting like they can levitate to pull off some impressive feat. Early on I feared director Giancarlo Santi had chosen this route but luckily there was only one instance of acrobatic excess early on after which the film settled down to play things pretty straight. Thank goodness.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stephen D. Sullivan's new book!

OK- actually its a book he wrote several months ago but its now finally available to those of us that didn't get in on the KickStarter event that funded the book's writing. He pledged to write this tale starting at the opening of this past summer's Olympics Games and to be finished when they ended. This meant a lot of work and more than a few late nights but he got this sucker done!

I've been a fan of Mr. Sullivan's fiction for some time now and I think if you give it a try you just might become one as well. This book looks to be the perfect jumping-on point for new readers curious about his work. What is Tournament of Death? I'll let the author describe it---

"Monsters! Magic! Swordplay! Romance! Intrigue! Sudden Death! The world’s greatest champions face impossible odds in this action-packed, slyly humorous fantasy novel. You want knights and wizards? Elves and dwarves? Cat-women and lizard-men? Kung Fu girls? Your favorites are all here–though only the smartest and strongest will survive the Tournament of Death!" 

What more do you need to know? Follow the links below to learn more and I also recommend the Crimson Collection. Good stuff!

Stephen Sullivan's WebSite

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mr. Bean's Nativity Scene

While I will always prefer Rowan Atkinson's performances as the various Black Adder characters I still dearly love his silly Mr. Bean stuff as well. Here's a bit of Christmas cheer to put a smile on a geek's face.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sergio Corbucci Westerns - Poster Art

With a certain Tarantino film due out soon I've been thinking about the other great Sergio again and his fantastic Spaghetti Westerns. I still haven't seen SONNY & JED! Or WHAT AM I DOING IN THE REVOLUTION either. I gotta track those down.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Bloody Pit #5 - A Christmas Carol Appreciation

I love December and the Christmas season. This time of year is inextricably linked to wonderful memories of my childhood and the pure joy of the giving and getting that it brings. The innocence of those times allowed the holidays to be every fantastic thing you could hope for coupled with no school, new toys, amazing food and visits from relatives that only appear once a year. Those cold days beget close relationships as we came together to keep warm, share food and remind ourselves that it is the love we have for each other that makes life worth living.

There are many stories that bring the Yuletide season to life for us but I think that the most life affirming of them all is the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's terrifying night of ghostly visits. A Christmas Carol is a holiday time perennial for many reasons but the fact that it reminds us of the importance of treating our fellow humans well is easily its chief virtue. One hopes that it doesn't take supernatural intervention to show most people the error of their ways but, just in case, its always nice to have the idea of a dreadful, dark future hanging overhead to keep the nastier side of human nature under control.

On this episode of the Bloody Pit I am joined by two dear friends to discuss both the classic Charles Dickens' story itself and the various adaptations of it that have helped to place A Christmas Carol so strongly in the public consciousness. There have been a great number of film adaptations and, while we can't speak authoritatively about all of them, we try to touch upon as many of them as we can in roughly two hours of conversation. So please join me, John Davis and Ryan Reed as we have a fine time discussing the highs and lows of quite a few attempts to bring to the screen one of the best tales of redemption ever written. Things do get a little boisterous at times and we hope you have some fun too!

Remember that you can drop us a note at with your comments, suggestions or even your own favorite version of A Christmas Carol. We look forward to hearing from you and have a Merry Christmas! Oh! And iTunes users may have to re-subscribe to get the new show. PodBean has moved some stuff around. 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Christmas Western Pulp Covers

And then there is this image that isn't a pulp magazine cover but fits in perfectly with these great pieces of art. 

Merry Christmas Buckaroos! 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

What I Watched In November

I got out to the theater four times in the Merry Month of turkey death! They were clumped at the very beginning and the very end but an average of once a week is fantastic any way it flows across the calendar, as far as I’m concerned.

First up was the horror film SINISTER which was far better than I thought it would be. Starring the underrated and underused Ethan Hawke as a former journalist turned crime book writer looking to craft a new bestseller out of an unsolved murder case. To further this goal he has moved his family to the town in which the crime took place without telling his wife that they are actually living in the home where most of the previous residents were killed. These deaths and the disappearance of the youngest of the family’s children are the mystery at the center of this story and when a strange box of old 16mm film cans show up in the house’s attic things get stranger and darker. Each film canister seems to show the murder of a family but each time the method of their demise is different. Hawke’s becomes convinced he’s on to something big when he realizes that these murders have to be done by the same person and take place all over the country and across decades.

SINISTER is a very capable chiller that had me creeped out for a good portion of the running time and scared out of my seat more than once. I found the entire film quite successful at what it sets out to do and its ending is both effective and rough. This isn’t PG-13 horror and for that I am truly grateful.

FRANKENWEENIE is Tim Burton’s big screen expansion of his 1984 Disney short film and, although I didn’t get to see PARANORMAN, strikes me as the perfect funny monster film for big and little kids alike. Done in wonderful 3D stop-motion and shot in black & white it clearly wants to evoke an older sensibility about its characters and story. This is a film made to appeal to lovers of old monster movies with a sense of humor about the creaky tales they watch over and over. The sweet tale of a brainy, geeky science nerd school boy broken hearted over the accidental death of his dog hits every little boy’s (and I’m sure more than a few little girl’s) great fear of losing their loved ones. The feeling of depressive loss when he has to bury his best friend drives home any kid’s essential powerlessness in the world. But little Victor Frankenstein is a very smart, resourceful lad! He’s not going to let a simple thing like death take his dog away. Its time to pull together a lab straight out of the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN and fix this little problem- and that is what he does. Of course, as with all tales of good old Frankenstein, the experiment goes a little out of control with other kid’s wishes to have their lost pets returned as well quickly escalating to a town endangering level of trouble.

This is a truly wonderful love letter to Monster Kids of every generation. I really wish I had a very young boy to share this movie with. The pure joy of its story, the sly humor, the fantastic creatures and its great characters make this a treasure that will be loved for decades to come. I highly recommend this one to any and all monster fans.

A lot has been written about the newest Bond film SKYFALL and I agree with the generally positive reviews. Daniel Craig is easily one of the best Bond’s the 50 year old series has ever had and, luckily, after the mess of the last film he again has a solid movie under his belt. Almost everything in the story works with a fantastic cast getting at least one (and often more than one) scene to shine. The action is very well realized with the series’ usual excellent stuntwork back to being visible and exciting instead of confusing and irritating. Javier Bardem is an inspired villain bringing a dangerous persona to bear as his character manipulates his old organization to engage in a perverse plot for revenge. Like Bond bad guys of old he is entertaining and theatrical without ever sacrificing the very real menace he radiates. This is one of the five best films of the series joining FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER and ON HER MAGESTY’S SECRET SERVICE at the top of the list. Let’s hope the next two that Craig has signed to do will be this good.

What to say about RED DAWN (2012 or 2009 or whenever it was actually made)? I will admit to a certain amount of curiosity about this long delayed remake. The original is a guilty pleasure from my teenage years that I haven’t revisited in decades. It was always a little silly even back then with it’s over the top jingoistic message of how awesome America is, but its well staged action scenes and personable young cast struck me at just the right time to slide behind my BS censors and wedge itself into my brain. I plan to watch the 1985 film again soon to see if it has aged well but I bet I will wince more than smile.

The new version is a mess. The cast is a combination of really good actors (Chris Hemsworth, Jeffery Dean Morgan) and younger TV actors that have a very limited ability to effectively emote. Josh Peck as the young, brash freedom fighter blind to his own faults is a real plank who tries to use his two separate facial expressions to convey things I’m not sure he even understands. Most of the time he just looks confused and the moments when he attempts to show anger were just embarrassing.

The story is pretty much the same as the original film with the villains switched to North Korea or more accurately China. Seriously- the lame attempt to retro-fit the Korea thing onto this story is dumb beyond compare and adding some ‘advisors’ from Russia doesn’t bring reality any closer to this silliness. I could buy Red China on the march as illogical as an invasion would be but North Korea can’t even feed its citizens. Give me a break!

Where the film breaks down as an entertainment is in some sloppy storytelling, dumb characters and several action scenes that are poorly shot and/or edited. I hate not being able to tell who is firing at what or why and this sucker makes that mistake a few times. I can forgive some things in an action film if you can keep me from wondering about the pot and I can tell why things are happening as they happen, but the second I can’t follow a basic firefight I start looking around and noticing things a filmmaker doesn’t want a viewer to notice. There are some good things in RED DAWN but not nearly enough to recommend it to any but the terminally curious.

SINISTER (2012)- 7 (good, creepy film)
STAGEFRIGHT (1987)- 7 (rewatch)

FRANKENWEENIE (2012)- 8 (a love letter to Monster Kids)
THE BRIDE (1985)- 7 (rewatch)
THE SLAVE (1962)- 8 (excellent peplum)
HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)- 7 (rewatch)
THE TALL MAN (2012)- 7 (flawed but exciting thriller)
BRAVE (2012)- 6 (pretty good but far from great Pixar film)
NIGHTMARES (1980)- 5 (rewatch)
ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS (1937)- 6 (solid but nothing outstanding)
SKYFALL (2012)- 9
RED DAWN (2012)- 4 (a mess in more ways than one)
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (2000)- 1 (rewatch)
INVASION USA (1985)- 2 (rewatch)
ATROCIOUS (2010)- 7 (Spanish found footage horror film)
FRIDAY THE 13TH 5: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) - 6 (rewatch) 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Patrick Stewart's A Christmas Carol

Years ago Mr. Stewart did a one man show of the classic Dickens' and, luckily, he also did a wonderful recording of the tale for audio book. Sadly the film of A Christmas Carol on TNT in which he finally played Scrooge onscreen was not very good but I still highly recommend his audio version. You can listen to the whole thing below.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Ethan Black - Mad Monster Maker

I often remark in the Bloody Pit podcast that I have a lot of very talented friends. One such buddy that I have not talked about enough on this blog is Tennessee artist, set builder, monster designer, special effects creator and creature builder Ethan Black. Luckily he has a blog of his own where he occasionally shares his work with the world wide web and I encourage you to take a look at his stuff. The site is called Mad Monster Maker and its well worth your perusal. His most recent piece is the fantastic Krampus painting above - the stuff of Yuletide nightmares, huh?