Thursday, September 29, 2016


Regular readers of this blog know that Jack Kirby is my all-time favorite comic book artist. At last weekend's Austin Wizard World Comic Con, the only thing I bought (besides a cup of coffee and a $4.25 bottle of Dr. Pepper!) was the book pictured above. I recall buying this one when it was originally published in 1976 but somehow, over the years, it disappeared from my collection. Sold or traded away most likely. It's one of the few Kirby comics from his second stint at Marvel during the mid '70s that included work on CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE BLACK PANTHER, THE ETERNALS and DEVIL DINOSAUR, that I don't currently own. I found a dealer who had a very nice condition copy for twenty-bucks. He let me have it for fifteen. Sold.

How do I begin to explain this one? If you thought Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was a head scratcher the first time you saw it, this over-sized all-Kirby extravaganza offers some answers but raises an equal number of new questions. First, the film was released in 1968. This Treasury Edition behemoth was published in 1976, eight years after the film had come and gone. That's far too late to be accurately identified as a bonafide tie-in and, coming in '76, was a year before STAR WARS hit and changed everything, especially in regards to merchandising for blockbuster films. Apparently, Kirby wanted to do this book as part of his deal to return to Marvel in the mid '70s. Someone must have agreed to it because rights and permissions had to be secured from MGM and Stanley Kubrick and any one else who had a claim to the property. That's also probably why this material has never been reprinted in any form. Rights must have reverted to MGM and the Stanley Kubrick estate, not Marvel and/or Jack Kirby. While there's interest in seeing this reprinted as a Kirby work, I doubt there's much commercial potential in a reprint of a forty-year old adaptation of a forty-eight-year-old film.

While I'm always happy to see Kirby's work in any format, I have to admit that I don't believe he was the best artist for this material. Sure, his artwork is solid but it's not his best work. Frank Giacoia was not Kirby's strongest inker but he does a serviceable job here. Joe Sinnott would, of course, have been perfect. Mike Royer would have been a good choice also. Thank goodness the inking was not assigned to Vince Colletta.  Kirby's dynamic, powerful layouts, compositions, figures, landscapes and machinery are all well done but his style just never seems to mesh with the cold, sterile look and pace of Kubrick's visuals and storytelling. If any then contemporary artist could have more closely captured the look and feel of the film, I submit that Jim Steranko would have been a better choice. Of course if Steranko, never the fastest artist, had started work on the book in 1976, it might just now be ready for publication.

So, let's take what we have and be glad that we have it. It's Kirby. What can I say? Jack also provides the captions and dialogue which explain everything we're seeing on the pages, leaving little or nothing to our imaginations. He over explains as much as Kubrick under explained events in the film. Where the film relied almost totally on visuals and sparse dialogue, deliberately evoking an ambiguous atmosphere full of mystery and wonder, Kirby spells it all out for us.

Plus, he adds material that was not in the film. This material appears to have come from two sources. One, Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and an earlier draft of the screenplay co-written by Clarke and Kubrick . The added material expands the narrative but doesn't change the storyline in any major way.

As good a penciler as Kirby was, his attempts to replicate the film's notorious "cosmic light show" finale, fall short here. His pages are full of star scapes, "Kirby Krackle" and, photo collages. It's good but it's not the awesome visuals seen in the film.

Apparently, the Treasury Edition sold well enough to warrant a continuing comic book series of the same name. In the monthly comic book, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Kirby repeated the same two part structure of the film for several issues. Open with a primitive man or woman, introduce the monolith, cut to the future where an astronaut encounters the monolith and is transformed into a "Star Baby." That's the gist of the first few issues until Kirby introduced a robot character who eventually became Machine Man, a hero who ended up taking over the book and causing a title change.

I'm glad I have this comic. It's not great but it is Kirby and even lesser Kirby work is better than many artists' best stuff. It's an adaptation of one of my all-time favorite films. It's a giant-size, tabloid format hunk of Bronze Age magic that's worth reading if you can track down a copy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


When I was a kid, my four favorite actors were all leading men on popular network television shows. They were Adam West (Bruce Wayne/Batman) on ABC-TV's BATMAN, William Shatner (Captain Kirk) on NBC-TV's STAR TREK, Robert Conrad (James West) on CBS-TV's THE WILD, WILD WEST and Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo) on NBC-TV's THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Great actors? No but they all had dynamic personalities whose performances in those roles came to largely define the men for the rest of their respective careers.

I've now had the pleasure and honor to meet two of those men. The first occurred as part of a June, 2010 screening of BATMAN (1966) at Austin's Paramount Theatre. The film had it's world premiere at the Paramount in August, 1966 as part of Aqua Fest. The reason the film premiered in Austin? The Batboat vehicle used in the film was built at Glastron Boats and Motors right here in River City. There were two screenings of the film, a matinee and one later that evening. The matinee featured several of the cast members in their character costumes while the stars sported formal wear for the evening screening. My uncle took me and my two cousins to see the premiere. We stood in the hot, baking August heat and steaming humidity along with hundreds of other fans on Congress Avenue to watch the stars arrive. Then we went into the wonderful, cool darkness of the Paramount to see the movie. It was one of the most memorable events of my young life (I was ten-years-old at the time). For the rest of my life, I could say with pride "I was there."

In June, 2010, as part of Austin's Bat Fest, a screening of the 1966 film was scheduled  with Adam West in attendance. I was writing film notes for the theater at the time and as soon as I learned about this event, I immediately asked if I could be involved in some way. In addition to writing the notes for the film, I was granted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce Adam West and do a brief question and answer session with him on stage before the film.

 Judy and I arrived at the Stateside Theater about an hour early. Mr. West was going to be there for photos and autographs prior to the screening. I was allowed to be placed at the front of the line to wait for his arrival.  I had brought my DVD of the 1966 film to get signed and while waiting in line, I struck up a conversation with a very nice gentleman behind me. He had a couple of nifty commemorative posters for the event and when he found out my involvement, he gave me one of the posters for Mr. West to sign. That was incredibly generous and gracious and I owe that unknown fan a huge thanks. When Mr. West arrived, I stepped forward to his table, posed for the photograph above (I was sixty pounds heavier then!) and asked him to sign my DVD and poster. He did and we briefly chatted about the format of his appearance next door. I shook hands, told him I'd see him backstage when he was finished and left. I was on cloud nine.

When Judy and I got to the Paramount, she grabbed us two choice seats while I went backstage to wait for Mr. West. I chatted with a couple of Paramount employees while clips from the local television coverage of the 1966 premiere were projected on the huge movie screen. Finally Mr. West arrived and we once again went over the details. I had a written, prepared script to read first and then we'd open it up to questions from the audience (which was close to 1,200 people, full capacity of the Paramount). Mr. West told me about a recent injury he had incurred while driving a dune buggy. Throughout our brief time together he was charming, gracious and friendly. It was truly like visiting with an old friend.

Finally my cue came and I strolled onto the stage. Before reading my prepared introduction, I asked if anyone there had attended the 1966 world premiere. There was a smattering of applause. I confessed that I had been there too. I read my notes and brought out Adam West to thunderous applause. We took a few questions and bantered back and forth for a few minutes. I remember him asking me which episode was my favorite and I replied, "the first one with the Riddler and Jill St. John." He ended by saying that in contrast to the "Dark Knight", his interpretation of Batman was more the "Bright Knight". With that he exited the stage, I called "give it up for Adam West!" and the place went nuts. I shook hands with him once again backstage and thanked him again then went out into the auditorium to find Judy and enjoy the movie.

It was a day I'll never forget. Truly one of the great moments of my life.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet William Shatner. It was a vastly different experience than my meeting with Adam West.

About a month ago, we were approached about selling copies of LEONARD, William Shatner's memoir about the late Leonard Nimoy at his appearance at Austin Wizard World Comic Con. We quickly accepted the offer and made our plans. I asked my contact person if it was possible that we could get a photo with Mr. Shatner and he told me that could be arranged. I also asked if Mr. Shatner would sign any unsold copies for us to sell at the store. I was informed that he would do so, for fifty-dollars a signature. I politely declined.

We (Jon Levesque, Jeannine Hasse and I) were set up at a table on Saturday at the con directly in front of where Mr. Shatner was signing autographs. We were next to the table where one of his agents/managers/handlers was selling autograph tickets at eighty bucks a pop. If you wanted to buy a color 8 x 10 for him to sign, that was an extra five dollars. If you wanted to buy a book from us, that came to twenty-eight dollars. Plus another eighty bucks for the signature.

After the initial signing line died down, I went over to the table and spoke to a gentleman named Gary who had introduced himself to me earlier as "Bill's agent". I asked him if we could arrange a photo op and he said, "let's do it right now."

I motioned to Jon and Jeannine and we went over to Mr. Shatner.

 "Bill," said Gary, "these people are selling your book and they'd like a picture."

"When," asked Shatner.

"Right now," said  Gary.

"Okay," said Shatner. "Come on around behind."

We did so, a volunteer took one quick, somewhat blurry picture with Jon's phone, we thanked Mr. Shatner and went back to our table. Wham, bam, thank you, mam. That was it. It was over. No hand shakes, no small talk, no engagement whatsoever. Mr. Shatner wasn't mean or rude but he wasn't ebullient, charming and outgoing either. There's no telling how many photos with fans he's had taken over the years and for him, we were just three more people. But for us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the one and only Captain Kirk.

Make no mistake. I'm glad we did it. While I wish it could have been more, I knew it was the only opportunity we were going to get and it was better than no photo at all. Plus, we didn't have to pony up eighty bucks.

Two down. Two to go. Will I ever meet Robert Conrad and Robert Vaughn before either man passes away? Who knows? But then again, not long ago, I had no idea that I'd ever meet Adam West and William Shatner either.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


In 1931, flush from the box office and critical success of Tod Browning's DRACULA, Universal Studios, headed by Carl Laemmle, Jr., decided to put another horror film into production as quickly as possible. In the silent era, the studios' go-to-guy was the late, great Lon Chaney. But the actor had recently passed away and it was Hungarian transplant Bela Lugosi who became the first horror star of the sound era by playing Count Dracula in the film version of the stage play in which he had defined the role.

The next project being prepped was an adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic novel FRANKENSTEIN, to be directed by Robert Florey. Lugosi was considered for the part of the mute, man-made monster but a screen test was required. Make up wizard Jack Pierce applied his skills to Lugosi with somewhat questionable results. When the test reels were shown to Laemmele, Florey and Lugosi (along with other studio executives), they all knew that what was on the screen simply wouldn't work. Florey and Lugosi were out as director and star of FRANKENSTEIN, James Whale and Boris Karloff were in. The rest is history.

Florey and Lugosi did work together on a different horror film at Universal, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932), based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. And, ironically enough, Lugosi would eventually play the Frankenstein monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1942) and only play Count Dracula on screen one more time in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).

But what about that disastrous screen test? It is, to date, lost, a bit of Hollywood history that has never been seen since that fateful day in 1931. No print of it has ever surfaced and it remains one of the great lost treasures of the great golden age of horror films. It ranks up there with Tod Browning's silent horror film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), as one of the holy grails of lost horror films. At this date, it's likely that we will never see the Lugosi Frankenstein screen test but then again, who would have ever believed that a nearly complete print of Fritz Lang's monumental METROPOLIS (1927) would surface in, of all places, Argentina, as it did a few years ago. Never say never seem to be the bywords here but I would also offer this addendum: Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting.

That legendary lost Lugosi screen test is the object of desire in ALIVE! (2013) by Loren D. Estleman. It's the third mystery involving Valentino, a film fanatic who works for the UCLA department of film preservation tracking down rare and obscure treasures. Valentino searches out both actual films as well as movie related artifacts such as screenplays, posters, promotional materials, props and costumes.  He's also up to his neck in debt restoring a vintage Los Angeles movie theater (he lives in the projection booth). Valentino's quests inevitably lead to murder and when that occurs, he plays amateur sleuth to solve the crimes and recover the prize.

That's pretty much the set-up here. A washed-up, alcoholic former action star, Craig Hunter, calls Valentino late one night claiming to have the Lugosi film. Hunter turns up dead, a victim of murder. The film is missing (if he ever really did have it) and the evidence points to a crime boss whose father worked at Universal Studios back in the day. Valentino's efforts to solve the murder of his friend and find the missing film brings him into contact with J. Arthur Greenwood, a famous Hollywood collector and publisher of HORRORWOOD magazine. Greenwood, is, of course, a stand-in for Forrest J. Ackerman, the legendary editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.

Valentino is also aided in his quest by a student intern and his gang of steam punks. The suspects are many, there's a fair amount of danger and a ton of film history contained within the narrative, all of which is told with a mixture of genuine respect and reverence for film history and a slightly comic, tongue-in-cheek tone. This Valentino mystery reminds me a great deal of the Toby Peters series by Stuart Kaminsky. Peters was a Hollywood based private detective whose cases involved various players in the movie industry during the '30s and '40s. They were light weight, breezy and fun, full of affection for the Golden Age of Hollywood.

That's the vibe I get here. ALIVE! is a fun, fast read. It's not a great mystery by any stretch but I did enjoy it and got a few chuckles out of it. Of course what really pushed my buttons was the Lugosi film and all of the stuff about the Universal horror films (which are my all-time favorites). If you like classic monster movies, you'll definitely enjoy ALIVE! If you're not a fan, it's still a nice, PG-13 (brief nudity and violence)  rated murder mystery.

Friday, September 16, 2016


"No," Reacher said. "I don't need a key."

I finished reading ECHO BURNING (2001) by Lee Child last night. I have now read the first thirteen Jack Reacher novels. I didn't read them in the order in which they were written but I have read the following: THE KILLING FLOOR, DIE TRYING, TRIPWIRE, RUNNING BLIND, ECHO BURNING, WITHOUT FAIL, PERSUADER, THE ENEMY, ONE SHOT, THE HARD WAY, BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE, NOTHING TO LOSE and GONE TOMORROW. I highly recommend each and every one of these terrific thrillers.

For those of you who may have come in late, Jack Reacher is one of the great heroes of modern crime fiction. He's an ex-military police officer who is homeless by choice. Reacher wanders the byways and back roads of America and he always manages to find trouble where ever he goes. He has the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes and the fierce, take-no-prisoners physical toughness of Clint Eastwood in his prime. Oh, and did I mention that he's six-foot, five-inches tall and weighs two-hundred-and-fifty pounds? That's a point made in every book.

ECHO BURNING is set in the arid wastelands of West Texas, a landscape that Child does a remarkable job of capturing with vivid and accurate detail. Reacher is picked up in Lubbock by a beautiful young Hispanic woman, Carmen Greer. She's married to an abusive husband, Sloop, a wealthy native Texan and rancher who is currently in jail for tax fraud. Sloop is about to be released and Carmen wants to hire Reacher to kill him. Reacher, of course, isn't a paid killer but he agrees to stick with the woman and her young daughter, Ellie, and provide what protection he can.

Sloop gets out of jail early and immediately ends up dead, apparently shot by Carmen. It's a crime to which she confesses and suddenly everything she's told Reacher about being an innocent victim appears to be a lie. Or is it?

ECHO BURNING isn't so much a whodunit as it is a what-the-hell-is-going-on-here mystery. Child builds his narrative slowly and carefully, introducing characters with various motivations and secrets as the plot advances. Included in the mix are a team of professional killers that you know Reacher will eventually have a showdown with.

To say any more would be to spoil the surprises and pleasures contained in these pages. Reacher, as usual, exhibits both his physical and mental prowess, twists and turns abound  and there's an edge-of-your-seat ending. If you're a fan of Jack Reacher and Lee Child, you've probably already read this one. If not, it's a good place to start. I guarantee you won't be disappointed and if you read one Reacher, you'll want to read them all.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


In all of my years of reading FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND Magazine, I was never scared by any of the classic creatures pictured above. Intrigued, yes. Fascinated, definitely. Obsessed? You betcha. But scared? Nah, these fiends didn't scare me one bit. Same with watching the films they starred in. I was thrilled by monster movies but I was never really scared by them.

Let's face it, most of these monsters existed only in what I like to call "Earth Universal", a vaguely European, black and white fantasy land. The movies themselves were in black and white and kind of slow and creaky in parts. Most of them I saw on television for the first time, usually during the daytime with many (too many!) commercial interruptions. I knew, even at a young age, that these creatures were not real, that they could not possibly exist in the real world and thus, I had nothing to fear from them.

And even if, for the sake of argument, they were real, what were the odds that any of them would come and get me? The Invisible Man? Despite several sequels, the original Invisible Man was dead at the end of the film. Dracula? Relegated to Europe and could be beaten by a number of ways: crosses, garlic, wooden stakes, etc The Creature from the Black Lagoon? Lived in the Amazon River basin and, briefly, in Florida. No threat to Central Texas. The Mummy was relegated to Egypt in the first film although other entries in the series relocated him to the United States. But so what? I could outrun the Mummy any day of the week. Frankenstein's Monster and the Bride were both stuck in that weird Europe of Universal films and only wanted to left alone. The Phantom never left the catacombs of Paris beneath the Opera House and the Wolfman could be defeated by means of silver, especially in the form of bullets.

No, the Universal Monsters were heroes to me. They posed no threat or menace to my young life. I loved 'em. Likewise, King Kong and Godzilla. Kong lived in the '30s and died in New York while Godzilla came back again and again but always only in Japan. I would have loved  to have seen Godzilla, a giant, radioactive dinosaur, rise up from the depths of Austin's Town Lake and slowly make his way up Congress Avenue towards the state capitol building, wreaking havoc and destruction all around. I even wrote a terrible short story describing that very vividly imagined event. So I was okay with the giant monsters also.

No, what absolutely terrified me, what petrified me, what made my blood run cold was this photograph:

I don't recall in which issue of FM I first saw this still from Don Siegel's masterpiece INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), but I recall staring at it for a very long time and thinking, "this looks real." I had no idea whatsoever about the pod people or the plot of the film but I knew that this was pure terror, something that could actually happen anywhere at any time. A man and a woman running for their lives from a mob in close pursuit on a Southern California street. I wondered if the mob caught them in the film and if they did, what happened after that? What horrible fate awaited these two poor, nice looking people? I  could only imagine.

Believe me, Earth Universal offered nothing as remotely terrifying as this one glimpse of real life peril. I often wondered what I would do if  I ever found myself in a situation like this. I could run pretty fast but fast enough to get away from a mob with death in their eyes? I don't think so. This is an idea and image that still haunts me today. I don't like crowds. Never have. Maybe it's because of this picture.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


The Inhumans, a hidden race of super-powered men and women, were co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They made their first appearance as a group/team in FANTASTIC FOUR #45, December 1965, although a couple of the characters had previously appeared in the title. First, Medusa was a charter member of the super-villain team The Frightful Four, which included The Wizard, The Trapster (formerly Paste-Pot Pete, I kid you not!) and The Sandman. That was in FF #36 in March, 1965. Then Gorgon, he of the hoofed feet, debuted in FF #44, a month prior to the introduction of the rest of the Inhumans members.

There was the regal Black Bolt, whose merest whisper could destroy mountains, Medusa, his queen with her living hair, Karnak (no, not the Johnny Carson character), a karate master who could find the weakest point of any object and shatter it with one blow, Gorgon, who's cloven hooves could cause earthquakes when stamped upon the ground, Triton, the amphibious Inhuman, and Crystal, who controlled the elements and was the object of Johnny (The Human Torch) Storm's affection. The whole gang is pictured above as they appeared on the splash page of their first solo series which premiered in AMAZING ADVENTURES #1 August, 1970. There were two other key members of the Inhumans. Maximus the Mad, Black Bolt's insane, evil brother who reared his ugly head from time to time in various attempts to overthrow Bolt and conquer Attilan (the Inhumans hidden city) and Lockjaw, a gigantic bulldog able to teleport himself and others across vast distances.

These eight characters formed the core of The Inhumans and it's those characters for which I have the most affection and affinity for. The Inhumans have appeared in dozens of Marvel Comics over the years and I have absolutely no idea what the current iteration or status of these characters are in the Marvel Universe as it currently stands. I'm sure changes have been made and will continue to be made. There's also an INHUMANS film on the production schedule for Marvel Films and it remains to be seen which of these original characters (if any), will be depicted in that film.

Yesterday, I pulled out from one of my long boxes and read for the first time THE INHUMANS #1-4, a mini-series published in the summer of 2000. It was a very good read.

All of the regular players are here (except for Lockjaw). The Thing and Human Torch make a guest appearance as does Crystal and her husband Pietro (aka Quicksilver). The main bad guy is Ronan the Accuser of the alien race The Kree (he was in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY film). There's star-spanning battle and intrigue aplenty in a story which finds the royal family forced to serve as pawns for Ronan in his plot to start an interplanetary civil war. We get to see the Shi'ar alien race, represented by Majestrix Lilandra and her Imperial Guard (Marvel's doppelgangers of DC's The Legion of Super-Heroes). The action is fast and furious and there's a major plot twist in the last issue. If George Lucas directed a Marvel Comics movie it would look like this.

What sets this mini-series apart is the story by Carlos Pacheco and Rafael Marin and the fantastic art by Ladronn Studio. Imagine Jack Kirby's pencils inked by Moebius (Jean Giraud) and you'll have some idea of how great this hyper-detailed artwork is. The only problem, and it's a big one, is that many of the panels are small and tight making the artwork cramped and hard to see. The muddy, dark coloring job (also by Ladronn Studio), doesn't help either. There are a few full page splashes but in general, the art is small and dark in a story that screams for the wide screen, four color brilliance of Kirby's '60s work.

Make no mistake. The artwork is stunning. I just wish I could see it in a larger, cleaner format. As it is, THE INHUMANS (2000) #1-4 is a good little self-contained series that is worth digging through the bargain bins at your local comics shop for. Thumbs up.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


My buddy Kelly Greene and I were talking the other day about how we first discovered FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine. For monster kids of the 1960s, FM was our bible. Edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and published by James Warren, each issue of FM was chock full of b&w photos of monster movies past, present and future as well as articles covering the history and current state of the genre. It was a glimpse into untold worlds of wonder and imagination, a place were we could learn about old favorites or discover a film that we just absolutely, positively, had to see. The magazine was an enormous influence on an entire generation of monster lovers, many of whom went on to have careers as writers, special effects and make up artists and film directors. I loved FM and still do. I had the honor of meeting Forry twice and I'll write about those encounters in more detail in a future blog post. For now, I want to focus on that first voyage of discovery.

The issues pictured above, FAMOUS MONSTERS #21 (Bride of Frankenstein), #24 (Werewolf of London) and #25 (King Kong), were the first issues of FM I ever saw. They were on the magazine rack at a variety store (remember them?) located in the shopping center at the intersection of Burnet Road and Koenig Lane in Austin. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the store or why my family was shopping in that center that day. It wasn't one of our usual haunts. But I do remember seeing those three issues on the stands and being overcome with an intense, burning desire to own all three of them. But I didn't have the money and I couldn't convince by mother to spring fifty cents for a trashy magazine about monsters. I walked away empty handed and always wondered what lucky kid eventually bought those magazines.

Not long after, I did purchase this item:

The Customizing Monster Kit by Aurora contained various add-ons for their line of classic monster models. I had all of the models issued thus far but I really needed some extra skulls, bats, rats, lizards and bones to make the monsters look even more monsterific. Included within this small, narrow, cardboard box, hidden beneath that wonderful painted cover, was a golden ticket of sorts. It was a coupon for an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. All I had to do was fill out the coupon with the necessary information, include fifty cents and mail it off. I was promised an issue of FM in return. My father, who knew full well how eaten up I was with all things monsters, popped for the fifty cents. We mailed everything off and I began the long, long waiting game. Which issue would I receive? It would be one of the three I had seen at that store or something new entirely? I had no way of knowing precisely what to expect, save that my very first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS was coming my way.

The day finally arrived. I received a large, magazine size manila envelope in the mail. I couldn't wait to open it and see my very own issue of FM for the first time. It was this issue:

FAMOUS MONSTERS #26, with a cover feature of the new ABC-TV science fiction television series THE OUTER LIMITS. Just look at that giant orange skinned alien. It was love at first sight! I read the entire issue from cover to cover several times. I committed every b&w still to memory, likewise the content of every article. I had no way of knowing if I would ever have another issue of FM or if I would ever have the opportunity to see the films and TV shows featured in the magazine. It was my first and, for a time, only issue of FM and in the days before cable television and video recorders, it was the only way I had to experience those monster movies.

At the time, Austin only had one (yes, ONE!) local television station and it did not broadcast THE OUTER LIMITS. I never got to see any episodes of this groundbreaking television series until the summer of 1964 when my family took a trip to the tiny town of Rainelle, West Virginia, where my father's sister and her family lived. It was there, in the basement of Aunt Lou and Uncle Dan's house that I finally saw an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS. Alas, it wasn't THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR (the episode pictured on the cover of FM). Instead, it was a summer rerun of ZZZZZ (first broadcast on January 27th, 1964). A human queen bee wasn't nearly as cool as a giant orange alien but hey, there were no other options, so I took what I could get and was happy with it.

I don't know what ever happened to that copy of FM #26. I either traded it, sold it or saw it fall apart from constant reading. The bottom line is that I don't have a copy of it in my collection at this time. Nor do I have copies of issues #21, 24 & 25. The oldest, earliest issue of FM I own is #23. I'll track 'em down eventually and fill in the gaps in my collection. It will be a bit of a rush to finally have them all after all of these years but it won't equal the charge these magical magazines gave me oh so long ago. 

Friday, September 9, 2016


With an evocative title like EYE OF THE DEVIL and a one-sheet that sells it as a horror film, ten-year-old me would have definitely bought a ticket to see this one when it was first released in 1966.

Ten-year-old me would have been sorely disappointed.

There's no monster and very little overt horror in this British MGM production. Capably shot in black and white by Erwin Hillier and directed by veteran J. Lee Thompson, EYE attempts to give a routine horror story a touch of class by casting stars David Niven and Deborah Kerr, both of whom still had a little bit of box-office clout (albeit not much) at this stage of their respective careers. Niven is Philippe, owner of an immense French estate which includes a vineyard. The estate has been in his family for years but the vines have withered and this year's grape crop is useless. Something must be done to restore vitality to the fields. Something like, oh, say, a human sacrifice.

Deborah Kerr is Catherine, Philippe's wife, who slowly uncovers the truth about what's going on. There's genre icon Donald Pleasance as a mysterious priest, Edward Mulhare is a sympathetic family friend (who you think will end up being the hero) and two odd twins, Odile (the stunning Sharon Tate in her film debut) and Christain (David Hemmings). Christain has a thing for archery while it appears that Odile is a witch.

EYE OF THE DEVIL prefigures Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN (1973), which is a far superior film in every way. Still, you have to give the team behind EYE credit for trying. The film has a definite French New Wave vibe to it as it opens on a series of quick cuts of random images before the Maurice Binder designed title sequence. Director Thompson and editor Ernest Walter favor abrupt smash cuts and camera movement in almost every scene. A camera will move in a shot, then BAM!, a cut into a different scene in which the camera is already moving. This technique is used repeatedly throughout the film, producing a growing sense of tension and unease.

EYE OF THE DEVIL isn't a bad little film at all. It's certainly worth seeing once if you're a horror film fan. There's no monster and few scares, which would have disappointed ten-year-old me. But sixty-year-old me enjoyed it, especially for the opportunity to watch the simply breathtaking Sharon Tate.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


I found a used trade paperback copy of WHITE SHADOW (2009) by Ace Atkins in a local thrift store a couple of months ago. It looked intriguing and with a price of only a buck, I figured I'd take a chance. Boy, am I glad I did. This is one terrific crime novel.

Set in Tampa, Florida in 1955, WHITE SHADOW is based on the true story of local mobster Charlie Wall. Wall was old and not active in crime at the time of his death but his murder shocked the city and revealed a tangled web of corruption, hidden agendas, dark secrets and old grudges.

There are two main players in the story. One is L.B. Turner, a young newspaper reporter on the crime beat who serves as the story's intermittent narrator as only Turner's chapters are told in first person. Turner was friends with Wall and knows things the cops and mobsters don't. The other main character is police detective Ed Dodge, a tough cop investigating Wall's murder. Dodge has some dark corners in his soul but he's basically a good guy.

There are others including a variety of newspaper people, cops (crooked and straight), low and high level mobsters, hit men, circus freaks, and real life players Santo Trafficante and Fidel Castro.

Atkins has done a great job bringing 1950s Florida and Cuba to rich, vivid life. WHITE SHADOW is drenched in period detail and every page has a strong sense of time and place. It's a world about to undergo a seismic eruption with Castro's rise to power in Cuba signalling the end of the mob in that island country. Atkins' narrative voice is assured and economical, with a sharp ear for dialogue, an at times poetic rendering of the city and the natural world, quick, brutal violence and a densely plotted storyline that unravels in a slow but satisfying pace.

WHITE SHADOW does for Tampa, Florida and Cuba in the 1950s what James Ellroy did for Los Angeles in  his L.A. Quartet: THE BLACK DAHLIA, THE BIG NOWHERE, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and WHITE JAZZ. Atkins has written some other historical crime novels including WICKED CITY, DEVIL'S GARDEN and INFAMOUS. You can bet I'll buy and read every one of them.

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched PITFALL (1948) for the first time yesterday. Based on the novel THE PITFALL by Jay Dratler, screenwriter Karl Kamb and director Andre De Toth do a great job in constructing a tight (running time of 86 minutes) and taut little thriller.

Dick Powell stars as insurance agent Johnny Forbes (an echo of Fred MacMurray's character in Billy Wilder's masterpiece DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). Forbes has a beautiful wife, Sue (Jane Wyatt) and an adoring young son, Tommy (Jimmy Hunt). But Forbes is tired of the dull, monotonous routine of his daily life. He feels trapped and suffocated, frustrated by the never ending predictability of his work and home life He yearns for something different to happen. Of course, he should be careful what he wishes for.

Forbes has hired private detective J.B. MacDonald (played with hulking menace by Raymond Burr) to recover some items in the possession of Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). The items were given to her by her boyfriend, embezzler Bill Smiley (Byron Barr). The insurance company and Forbes just want to cover their policy and potential losses. But Mac is strongly attracted to Mona and soon, so is Forbes.

Forbes and Mona have a brief fling but when Mac beats up Forbes and threatens his family, the budding romance is nipped in the bud. Mac wants Mona for himself and is determined to ruin Forbes and Smiley (who is about to be released from prison). He sets in motion a dangerous game that will end in death.

PITFALL does a good job of subverting our genre expectations. You keep expecting Lizabeth Scott to become a femme fatale and lure Dick Powell into a twisted scheme. But she's only guilty of having poor taste in men and becomes a victim herself of Mac's sinister and unwanted advances. Powell does a good job of going from frustrated and bored insurance agent, to devoted family man when he realizes how close he's come to losing it all, to a trapped, desperate man who is ultimately forced to take the law into his own hands.

PITFALL ends on a note of tentative hope, which somewhat mitigates the inevitable doom that hangs over Forbes' head throughout the film. But there is blood on the hands of two of the major players, blood that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

If you're a film noir fan, you've probably already seen PITFALL. If not, check it out. It's a good one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Now that it's September and summer is officially over, I thought I'd devote some time and space to catching up on some of the films I saw this summer but have not yet blogged about. I've kept a running set of notes on what else I've seen and I'm going to try and get as many of them in here as possible. Bear with me.

For the record, I did not see a single film at Austin's Paramount Theatre this summer. This is, I believe, the third year in a row that I have not attended a screening of any kind at the Paramount (or Stateside either, for that matter). Nothing against the Paramount at all. In fact, I did some paid writing work for the theater this summer, contributing a dozen sets of  notes for various films. But it's just become too much of a hassle to come home from work, eat a fast, early dinner, drive all the way into downtown Austin, pay to park, watch one film (gone are the days when I could make it through a double bill), drive home and go to bed. In addition, most of the films I've either already seen or I own on DVD or Blu-Ray so there's very little incentive for me to go out to see something that I can easily and comfortably watch at home.

Same for first run films. Last year, I only went to the movies a total of four times. I saw AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, SPY, MISTER HOLMES and A WALK IN THE WOODS (the last three in the company of my lovely wife). This year? One time and that was for GHOSTBUSTERS with friends from out-of-town. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that's the only new film I see in a theater this year as I have no plans to see anything else that's scheduled to be released this year.

Back in June, we made the switch to Directv and as part of the deal, we got all of the premium movie channels (all HBO, Cinemax, Starz, etc.) for free for three months. I quickly maxed out my DVR with films from a variety of these channels (especially StarzEncore Westerns) along with fare from the always reliable TCM. In short, I have enough new and classic films recorded and saved to last me for quite a while, to say nothing of my collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays. So, going out to the movies? Not for me anymore.

But I have certainly been watching films at home and lots of them. Here's a rundown on what I saw this summer (in the order of year of release). I'll try to keep this brief but no promises.

I saw BLAZING SADDLES when it was first released in 1974. I was a senior in high school. I thought it was one of the funniest movies I'd ever seen. I still do. I don't know how many times I've seen it since but it never fails to make me laugh. Judy and I watched it together one night this summer. She had never seen it. Before I hit "play" on the remote, I told her "Prepare to be offended." She was but she also laughed uproariously. The brilliance of the screenplay by Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Al Uger, is that it quickly makes out the racist rednecks who casually drop the "N" bomb at the beginning of the film to be complete idiots and morons. The funniest bit to me, the scene that always makes me laugh the loudest is when the bad guys line up to go through the fake toll booth out in the middle of the desert. "We're gonna have to send somebody back for a shitload of dimes!"

Ah, the '70s and '80s, the Golden Age of Slasher Horror Films, many of which were linked to holidays or other special days of the year. There was BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), HALLOWEEN (1978), FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) and PROM NIGHT (1980), among many others. HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY launched film franchises that are still going today while there were other "special day" themed horror films that came and went. Like BLOODY BIRTHDAY. The premise is a thin one. One night in 1970, two boys and a girl are born at a Southern California hospital during a solar eclipse. Ten years later, the three become killers for no really good reason other than that they were all born at the same time during an eclipse. The body count is a high one (including an ahead-of-it's-time school classroom shooting in which one of the boys guns down his teacher). One neighborhood boy and his older sister tumble to what's going on and confront the killer kids in the climax. Of course, they're far more capable than any of the adults depicted in the film including Jose Ferrer (the only name actor in the cast) as the doctor who attended the unusual births. He has very little screen time and looks like he wishes he had a better agent during his handful of scenes. 

AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007) pairs Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe star in director Ridley Scott's meticulously crafted, based-on-a-true-story crime film set in the 1970s. Washington is Frank Lucas, a Harlem drug kingpin who is ferrying in highly potent heroin from Vietnam and selling it cheap on the streets of New York City. Crowe is ultra straight arrow narcotics detective Richie Roberts who heads up a task force to arrest and convict Lucas. Lucas is totally corrupt but a decent family man while Roberts is clean as a whistle and cannot be bought but his marriage is coming apart at the seams. Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian take their time to tell the story using parallel lines of action over the course of several years before Roberts finally makes his move on Lucas during a well-staged shootout sequence. Washington and Crowe finally appear together in interrogation scenes at the end of the movie and it's a treat to watch these two pros play off of each other. AMERICAN GANGSTER ranks as one of the best crime films I've seen in quite some time. 

DC Comics does a much better job with their animated films series than their live action movies have thus far at accurately capturing the look and feel of classic comic stories and series. Take for instance BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011), which manages to vividly bring to life Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's 1987 mini-series in a mere 64 minutes. The film is largely faithful to the comics (they can't include everything) and does a great job of depicting Bruce Wayne as a novice, street-level crime fighter who gets better the more time he spends on the job and on the mean streets of Gotham City. The look of the film matches the visuals by Miller and Mazzucchelli and the voice casting is superb with Bryan Cranston as Lt. James Gordan and Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne. This is a gritty, adult oriented animated film that perfectly captures the look and feel of the source material. And by the way, if you've never read Miller and Mazzucchelli's BATMAN: YEAR ONE 4-issue mini-series, you really should check it out. It's readily available in a trade paperback format. Read the book then check out this movie. They're both terrific.
 Now we go from one Batman to another. DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), is the untold (as the title says) origin story of Dracula, the most famous vampire in history. He began his bloody career as Vlad the Impaler, a ruthless king who ruled his Transylvanian kingdom with an iron fist, impaling his enemies on enormous wooden stakes for all to see. But Vlad loves his subjects and his family and he will do anything to protect them both. Which means becoming a vampire when the Turks threaten his domain. The deal is supposed to be only temporary with Vlad supposedly able to revert to human form before a deadline is up. He fails of course and becomes Dracula for all time.

DRACULA UNTOLD is more Robert E. Howard's Dracula than Bran Stoker's. There are impressive battle sequences between Vlad's armies and the Turks that look like they could have sprung from the pulp pages of a Howard story. Trouble is, with a PG-13 rating, they're far too bloodless and less visceral than they should be to truly convey the brutality and savagery of the time. Also, instead of turning into a single bat, here Dracula instantly explodes into a mass of fluttering, shrieking flying animals and just as instantly turns back into a human. The film looks great. The locations are spot on, the cinematography is dark and moody and the CGI effects are solid. Not a great film but I've certainly seen worse Dracula/vampire movies.

My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and thoroughly enjoyed it. This sequel to 2011's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (which I also liked), picks up a few years after the end of that film. Intelligent apes have established an outpost in the forests north of San Francisco. A small band of humans living in the ruins of San  Francisco have discovered a dormant hydro-electric power generator and dam near the apes' habitat. The humans desperately need to get the generator up and running in order to send power to the city. Thus begins a back and forth struggle for diplomacy and mutual understanding. Can the apes and humans co-exist? It looks like an uneasy peace is possible until, of course, things go wrong.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a triumph of CGI effects. You watch this film and wonder where the real world ends and the imaginary begins. It's seamlessly executed and worthy of the Oscar nomination it received for Best Visual Effects. A third installment, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is due to be released next summer. This new version of the durable POTA franchise is well conceived and executed and I have high hopes for the next installment in this compelling series.

More to come. Stay tuned.