Wednesday, May 31, 2017


"When the monster's dead, the movie's over."

Shot in five to six days with a budget of only $50,000, Roger Corman's 1959 monster movie, THE WASP WOMAN, is a classic example of what made the legendary genre auteur the king of the "B"'s. It's got an alliterative, attention grabbing title (working titles included THE BEE GIRL and INSECT WOMAN), and a bait-and-switch poster that promises far more than the film can possibly deliver. For one thing, the monster is not a gigantic wasp with a woman's head, it's a woman with a wasp's head (ala THE FLY (1958)).

The opening credits play against stock footage of a bee hive, not a wasps' nest. In fact, there's no depiction of a real wasp anywhere in the film's sixty-one minute running time (when WASP WOMAN was sold to television in the 1960s, a prologue featuring Dr. Zinthrop (Michael Mark) was shot by Jack Hill to pad out the running time to seventy-three minutes and allow for more commercials in a ninety minute block of programming).  Zinthrop has been conducting experiments with the jelly produced by queen wasps as a way to reverse the aging process in animals. He's ready to try out the serum on a human subject but he needs someone to act as an investor and a willing guinea pig.

He finds such a person in the form of Janice Starlin (Susan  Cabot), owner of a large cosmetics company. Sales of her products have taken a nose dive especially since cover-girl and spokesperson Janice has begun to show horrible signs of age (she's only forty!). Desperate to regain her lost beauty and rescue her company from financial ruin, Janice agrees to fund Zinthrop and let him inject her with his serum. After all, it worked on a guinea pig and a cat, what could possibly go wrong by shooting the juice into a human?

At first, nothing goes wrong. Janice is restored to her former stunning good looks (loose the glasses, re-arrange her hair and remove the "age" lines and voila!). But Zinthrop discovers that there are some serious side effects and, devastated by this knowledge, steps off a curb into the path of a truck, an accident which renders him temporarily comatose. With Zinthrop out of service, Janice breaks into the lab and shoots herself up with more of the serum. This is where things take a turn for the worse.

The junk causes her to grow a wasp-like head and black, fuzzy waspish hands (actually, furry mittens) and to develop a taste for human blood. That's right, she's a vampire wasp woman (hey, that would have made a great title!). Zinthrop recovers, and warns Janice to stop using the serum but it's too late, she's gone insane. Zinthrop and PR man Bill Lane (Fred Eisley), confront the monster in the lab where she's doused with acid and shoved out of a window. The end.

Despite it's non-scientific plot, WASP WOMAN is an effective little thriller competently staged and efficiently shot by Corman and cinematographer Harry Neumann. The jazzy score by Fred Katz works and the Corman stock company of actors hit their marks and say their lines with practiced aplomb. The sets are minimal but they're nicely dressed with mid-century goodies courtesy of art director Daniel Haller. There's not much room in Leo Gordon's script for a sub-plot but a budding relationship between Lane and Mary Dennison (Barboura Morris), provides some romance. Two secretaries, Carolyn Hughes and Lynn Cartwright, talk about seeing DR. CYCLOPS (1940) on the late show, while Corman himself appears in one scene as a doctor.

WASP WOMAN was the first movie Corman made under the auspices of his own production company, Filmgroup, and, not having someone else's money to play with, it's obvious that he makes every shot count. Released on a double bill with BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE, WASP WOMAN is exactly what you think it is: cheap, quick and entertaining.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Before there was Hard Case Crime, there was Black Lizard Books. Black Lizard was an imprint that specialized in reprinting out-of-print works of noir fiction by a variety of writers in mass market paperback format. Founded and overseen by writer/editor Barry Gifford in 1984, Black Lizard published more than ninety books between 1984 and 1990. In June 1990, the imprint was sold to Random House where it was merged with the preexisting Vintage Crime imprint to form Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. The reprints of vintage crime material continue, along with some contemporary works but this time the format is trade paperback.

Black Lizard featured novels by such genre stalwarts as Charles Willeford, David Goodis, Peter Rabe, Harry Whittington, Dan J. Marlowe, Charles Williams, Lionel White and Jim Thompson, among many others. I remember stumbling across a slew of Black Lizard paperbacks in a Half Price Books store sometime in the mid-'80s. I went nuts looking for every book I could find that had the Black Lizard logo on it. I bought as many of them as I could and in the years since, have managed to read many of them. I currently have 22 Black Lizard paperbacks on my bookshelves. I've been in the mood lately to sample some vintage crime fiction but rather than spend money for used copies or reprints on eBay or other websites, I decided I'd read some of the stuff I already had.

Which brings me to SING ME A MURDER, a 1961 murder mystery by Helen Nielsen. Nielsen also wrote DETOUR (not to be confused with the Edgar G. Ulmer film of the same name) as well as scripts for such television shows as PERRY MASON, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, ALCOA THEATRE and 87TH PRECINCT. She was one of the few women writers to sell stories to such male dominated crime magazines as MANHUNT, ACCUSED, HUNTED, PURSUIT and JUSTICE (among others), where she shared pages with Evan Hunter, Harry Whittington, John Jakes, and Gil Brewer. Nielsen was a whiz at plotting, a skill that is on clear display in SING.

Playwright Ty Leander is devastated by the death of his wife, the beautiful singer Julie San Martin. She met her end in a wildfire that consumed half of their Malibu Canyon home. When he learns about the death of Mary Brownlee, a look-a-like for Julie, he decides to attempt suicide in the same boarding house room where Brownlee was murdered by her jealous boyfriend. He doesn't really intend to kill himself but he feels he must atone in some way for the death of his wife. He declares to his attorney friend Cole Tyler that he intends to be charged with Brownlee's murder and take the place of the accused Mike Flanders (whom Tyler is defending). Got it?

Leander's bizarre actions at the beginning of the book are merely a ruse to get him involved in investigating the deaths of the women. He finds evidence that his wife may have been murdered at the same time it becomes clearer that Flanders is innocent. Who killed the two beauties? Among the suspects are lawyer Tyler, theatrical producer Marcus Anatole, set designer Alex Draeger (a woman) and moody young artist Dana Quist. Police detective Janus is also on the case which takes several surprising twists and turns before the killer is finally revealed.

SING ME A MURDER isn't noir or hard-boiled. It's a straightforward murder mystery with well drawn characters and a look into the goings-on in a mid-century artists' salon in Southern California. You have to pay close attention because Nielsen provides a lot of red herrings along with legitimate clues before the big reveal. Not the greatest murder mystery I've ever read but a perfectly fine way to spend a Memorial Day afternoon. Thumbs up to this one and any and all Black Lizard paperbacks you can find.

Monday, May 29, 2017


I'm a huge fan of 1950s science fiction films. I've seen a lot of them but there are still some out there that I have yet to watch. One of them was THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953), which I recently had a chance to see, thanks to TCM.

Halfway through this coma-inducing film, I succumbed and nodded off for a few minutes. When I awoke, it suddenly seemed as if I was watching an entirely different film. There was stalwart sf icon Richard Carlson valiantly trying to save the world but what's with that massive set of futuristic equipment that looks like leftovers from Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1926)?

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER was produced by Ivan Tors. It was the first in his trilogy of science fiction films featuring the Office of Scientific Investigation. The other two films were RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954) and GOG (1954). Tors also co-wrote the screenplay for MAGNETIC with genre veteran Curt Siodmak, who also directed (along with an uncredited Herbert L. Strock). Trouble is, there are no opening credits to let us know who's responsible for the film. We only get a title card with Ivan Tors name on it. Full credits are reserved for the end of the film.

Tors and Siodmak adopt a docu-drama approach to the material in MAGNETIC. There's a voice-over narration and everything is presented in a straight forward, matter-of-fact manner. All of the scientific jargon sounds reasonable and plausible (it's not) and there's a lot of it (what, no flux capacitor?). Imagine Jack Webb producing a science fiction movie and you'll have some idea of the style of this film.

Carlson stars as OSI agent Dr. Jeffrey Stewart. His partner is Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan). They're called upon at the beginning of the film to investigate a mysterious outbreak of super magnetism at a local department store. The plot escalates from there as it appears a fellow scientist, Dr. Howard Denker (Leonard Mudie), has created a new highly radioactive isotope, dubbed serranium, which consumes massive amounts of energy on an exponential basis, doubling in size and mass each time and releasing deadly radiation and intense magnetic energy.

The whole world is threatened by this "magnetic monster" and it's up to Dr. Stewart to save the day. This requires using an experimental Canadian power generator, the Deltatron, under construction in a huge cavern under the ocean. The plan is to "feed" the monster an overdose of energy hoping that the overwhelming amount of power will be enough to finally "kill" it.

And here's where that previously mentioned giant set comes into play. In order to stage an exciting climax, Tors and Siodmak spliced some ten minutes of footage from the German science fiction film GOLD (1934), into the narrative. The match cuts don't entirely work. Carlson is forced to wear clothes that match a character in the German footage and a Canadian official is made to stand in Carlson's way in order to match a similar action from GOLD. The footage from GOLD is spectacular and seeing these few minutes makes me want to see the entire film. It's clearly the best thing about THE MAGNETIC MONSTER. Is it a cheat, an unfair way to pull off a dramatic and exciting climax by using the work of someone else? Tors clearly didn't have the budget to stage something on this scale on his own and it works for the most part. But imagine nodding off for a few minutes while watching a boring, routine "realistic" science fiction movie and seeing something that looks like a cross between Jack Kirby and Kenneth Strickfaden!

Carlson, as always, is good in a role that was a prototype for future parts in such '50s science fiction films as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), THE MAZE (1953), RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954) and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), among others. Co-star King Donovan appeared in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1954), RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954) and Don Siegel's masterpiece INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). Director Siodmak had a long career as a screenwriter. His genre credits include THE WOLF MAN (1941), INVISIBLE AGENT (1942), FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1946) and BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951). In addition to helming MAGNETIC MONSTER, Siodmak directed BRIDE OF THE GORILLA and CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON (1957). Included in the supporting cast of MAGNETIC are veteran character actors Kathleen Freeman as a switchboard operator and the legendary Strother Martin as an airplane co-pilot.

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is a mixed bag. It sets up a difficult challenge from the get-go, one of how to make a "monster" out of what is essentially just energy, albeit an incredible amount of it. Everyone plays it straight which helps make the wild plot seem feasible. But the ending is jarring, throwing Saturday afternoon serial thrills (from another film), into what had previously been a pretty routine narrative. Definitely worth seeing for genre fans but if you're not already enamored of '50s science fiction films, you're better off giving this one a pass.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


What hath Robert Aldrich wrought? When Aldrich's gothic masterpiece WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was released in 1962, no one expected it to be the beginning of a cycle of films that would run through the rest of the decade and into the early 1970s.

We speak of course of the, you'll excuse the expression, "horror hag" films, thrillers in which the leading ladies were all a bit past their prime and "slumming" in low budget genre and exploitation films. These actresses had long and sterling careers behind them, but major roles in A movies were becoming few and far between. They took the work that was offered and gave it their best.

The Horror Hag filmography includes HUSH...HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) (also by Aldrich). Bette Davis, who appeared in both JANE and CHARLOTTE, went on to headline DEAD RINGER (1964), THE NANNY (1965), and THE ANNIVERSARY (1968). Her co-star in JANE, Joan Crawford, starred in STRAIT-JACKET (1964), I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965), BERSERK! (1968) and TROG (1970). Joan Fontaine did THE WITCHES (1966), Tallulah Bankhead terrorized Stephanie Powers in DIE! DIE! MY DARLING (1965) and Olivia de Havilland was menaced by James Caan in LADY IN A CAGE (1964).

Which brings us to WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971), a late entry in the Horror Hag cycle which paired fading stars Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters in a thriller set in the 1930s. Helen Hill (Winters) and Adelle Bruckner (Reynolds) are mothers with something grim in common. Their sons have been tried and convicted for the murder of a woman in a small town in Iowa. Beset with vitriol from the townspeople for the deeds of their sons, the two decide to leave town together and head for Hollywood. Adelle, a dance instructor, has dreams of making it big in Tinsel Town while Helen, a deeply religious woman, appears to be slightly disturbed and hiding something behind her placid features. Adelle finds a sugar daddy in the form of rich Texan Linc Palmer (Dennis Weaver), but as Adelle begins to find happiness, Helen starts to become unhinged and the bodies begin to mount up.

The poster image gives away a major plot point but there's nothing to be done about that now. It's provocative and I'm sure it helped sell some tickets. Reynolds has a chance to showcase her dance skills in a few scenes and she's generally good. Winters, on the other hand, is crazy from the get-go and it's no surprise when her dark side surfaces. There's a murder scene in which a man goes plunging down a staircase that recalls a similar sequence in PSYCHO (1960). The supporting cast is good with Agnes Moorehead playing a radio evangelist, Yvette Vickers in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance as a stage mother and young Pamela Ferdin as one of Adelle's child dancers. The cinematography by Lucien Ballard gives everything a slightly hazy, gauzy look. It is the past after all, while the production design is by Eugene Lourie, who directed such genre classics as THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) and GORGO (1961).

Director Curtis Harrington does a good job with Henry Farrell's screenplay. Harrington was a genre auteur whose filmography includes NIGHT TIDE (1961), VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET (1965), QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), GAMES (1967), WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1971, with Shelley Winters), THE KILLING KIND (1973) and RUBY (1977). WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN isn't great by any means. The script holds no surprises and the shocks are minimal. Fans of Reynolds and Winters will enjoy seeing these two square off  but don't expect anything as outre as BABY JANE.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


The amazing thing about Joe R. Lansdale's SAVAGE SEASON (1990), the first Hap and Leonard novel, is that there were any more Hap and Leonard adventures, given the number and severity of injuries these two endure during the book's third act, a brutal, blood soaked showdown that plays like something out of a Sam Peckinpah film.

And that's a good thing.

Hap Collins and Leonard Pines are a noir odd couple, two anti-heroes who nonetheless end up on the side of good more often than not. Hap is a disillusioned sixties radical with no causes left to fight for except his own well being. Leonard, a Vietnam veteran, is gay and black. The two are fast friends and best buds who bicker back and forth constantly, trading insults and verbal jabs in the way that only two truly good friends can do.

They're making ends meet in the small east Texas town of LaBorde, working in the rose fields and enjoying a laid back lifestyle. But trouble rears its' ugly head in the form of the beautiful Trudy, Hap's ex-wife. She comes to town still hot-to-trot for Hap and seduces him into a scheme to recover some lost loot, supposedly hidden in a sunken boat in a creek somewhere deep in the woods. Trudy has thrown in with some other post sixties idealists who want the money (from a bank robbery gone bad) to finance their latest social justice cause. Hap and Leonard just want their cut of the loot for themselves. The money is found and the tables are turned as it's revealed that Trudy and her pals need the money to buy guns and ammo so they can go on a crime spree of their own.

But there's yet another reversal of fortune when the gun dealer, Soldier, turns out to be a stone cold psycho who will kill each and every one of them, including Hap and Leonard, in his quest to get all of  the money for himself.

Lansdale builds the tension slowly and surely and then let's everything explode in a wild climax that includes a nail hammered into a woman's hand, multiple gunshots, shovels to heads and more. Along the way he gives us sharp, terrific, hilarious dialogue, well drawn characters, a strong sense of place, a truly scary villain and ruminations and regrets over lost loves and causes.

SAVAGE SEASON was both a critical and commercial success and Lansdale has gone on to turn out several more Hap and Leonard adventures. But this is where it all began in all its' blood drenched glory. A first rate page turner that mixes filthy humor and oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-he-did-that horror, SAVAGE SEASON is highly recommended.

Monday, May 22, 2017


TRIPLE CROSS (1966) was one of many films I recall seeing advertised when I was a kid. I identified it as something I wanted to see (WWII! Spies! Beautiful women!) but never did. I had an opportunity to view it yesterday afternoon thanks to TCM and frankly, it wasn't worth waiting fifty years for.

On paper, TRIPLE CROSS has a great pedigree. It was directed by Terence Young, the man who helmed three of the first four James Bond films: DR. NO (1962), FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) and THUNDERBALL (1965). Claudine Auger, a Bond girl from THUNDERBALL, appears in a small part as a member of the French resistance, while Bond villain Gert Frobe (GOLDFINGER, 1964), plays a German colonel. There's even a Bond-style song over the end credits. And then there's Yul Brynner, as another German colonel. With his bald head and glass monocle, all he needs is sizable facial scar to be a dead ringer for Nick Fury's long time nemesis Baron Strucker.

Based on a true story, TRIPLE CROSS is the tale of Eddie Chapman (Christopher Plummer), a professional safe cracker and jewel thief operating in Great Britain at the outset of WWII. When he is captured and imprisoned on the German occupied island of Jersey, Chapman bargains with the German brass for his release by offering to work for them using his safe cracking skills and expertise with explosives. The Germans agree but remain suspicious. Chapman is put through rigorous training before being sent on his first mission. He's supposed to be parachuted into England but instead, lands in Germany as a test of his loyalty. He passes and is finally sent on his actual mission.

Once in England, he goes immediately to the authorities and meets with an unnamed British spy master (Trevor Howard). Chapman gives up all of his information on the Germans to the British and tells them he'll work as a double agent in return for a full pardon and cash. They agree and he's sent back to Germany.

Chapman is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the German army thanks to his successful completion of his first mission but things have changed. His main ally, Colonel Baron von Grunen (Brynner) has been sent to the Russian front and several SS officers are beginning to have serious doubts about Chapman's loyalty. He's prepped for another mission back to England but once the allies invade Normandy, the top brass know it's only a matter of time before Germany loses the war.
Chapman returns to England and sends phony info back to the Germans about where their V2 rockets are striking which helps hasten the end of the war. And the movie.

TRIPLE CROSS has all of the ingredients of a first rate spy thriller. Plummer makes a likeable rogue, the villains are colorful and the women (Auger and Romy Schneider as a German countess) are beautiful. But the screenplay by Rene Hardy and William Marchant is weak and episodic. The production seems slightly cheap and cut rate and the third act is rushed, with the movie coming to an abrupt end. There's no real action and very little genuine suspense. Of course, the filmmakers were dealing with real life, not fiction but I can't help but believe that with a little bit more time, effort and money, TRIPLE CROSS could have been an effective wartime thriller. As is, it's a mediocre relic of '60s WWII cinema.

There were far better WWII films produced in that decade and far worse. TRIPLE CROSS falls somewhere in the middle.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


In 1968, when I was twelve-years old, I developed an interest in the Boston Strangler serial killer murders of the early 1960s. Don't really know what it was about this case that sparked my interest but I do recall purchasing and reading the Signet paperback edition of Gerold Frank's bestselling book. It was the first true-crime book I can recall reading and, to be honest, the majority of the material was way above my head. I was way too young to fully process what I read and I was certainly too young to be allowed to see the 1968 film of the same name. But I did.

The film was released on October 16th, 1968 with the label "suggested for mature audiences." Had the film's release been delayed by less than a month, it would have most certainly earned an "R" rating under the newly minted Motion Picture Rating System which went into effect on November 1st of that year with the initial ratings composed of "G", "M", "R" and "X". In fact, the DVD edition of the film that I have now bears the "R" rating. Had the film been rated "R" at the time, my buddy Steve Cook and I would not been allowed admission without a parent or adult guardian. But we were on our own and our money was green at the box office of Austin's Paramount Theatre.

I watched the film yesterday for the first time since that long ago 1968 viewing. It's an extremely compelling film, told in a very matter-of-fact, straightforward approach by screenwriter Edward Anhalt (working from Frank's book) and director Richard Fleischer (who also helmed  THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966), TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) and SOYLENT GREEN (1973), among many others). Fleischer and cinematographer Richard H. Kline use split/screen and multiple small images all in the same frame to great effect throughout the film. The exteriors were shot on location in Boston and surrounding areas while interiors were filmed at the 20th Century Fox studios.

Tony Curtis, playing against type, stars as Albert DeSalvo, the self-confessed Boston Strangler. It was a brave move for Curtis, who by this point in his career was relegated to romantic comedies, to portray one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.  To make things even more daring, Curtis doesn't even appear onscreen until halfway through the film's 116 minute running time.

John S. Bottomly (Henry Fonda) is the head of the "Strangler Bureau", a combined strike force of various law enforcement agencies tasked with finding the killer. He's aided by Detective Phil DiNatale (George Kennedy) and Sgt. Frank McAfee (Murray Hamilton), among others. The investigation leads them into various blind alleys which uncover the seamy and seedy underbelly of Boston. Caught in the dragnet are peeping toms, obscene phone callers, foot fetishists, bottom pinchers, wife beaters and other kooks and weirdos. Boston's underground gay scene is included, in a scene I'm sure went entirely over my head in 1968.

DeSalvo is ultimately caught and his split personality eventually revealed in a series of interrogations by Bottomly. De Salvo was never indicted or convicted for the murders but was incarcerated on rape charges. He died in prison in 1973.

THE BOSTON STRANGLER is a daring piece of film making, using cutting edge visuals and a bold act of counter casting with Curtis in the lead. It's grim, frank and disturbing but never exploitative nor sensationalistic and is definitely worth seeing.


Joe R. Lansdale is a born and bred Texas writer (from Nagadoches), who's been around for quite some time. He's written horror, dark fantasy, crime, mystery, westerns, pulp adventures and comic books. I read a couple of his books years ago but he's always been one of those guys that I was aware of and wanted to check out but somehow just never got around to. I saw him at a recent one day book festival and, having just purchased a used copy of THE BOTTOMS, decided that now was as good a time as any to sample some of his more recent work.

Boy, can this guy write. THE BOTTOMS, his 2001 Edgar Award winning novel is one hell of a ride. Comparisons to Harper Lee's immortal masterpiece TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD are inevitable but let's call THE BOTTOMS, MOCKINGBIRD noir. Set in a small town in East Texas during the Depression of the 1930s, the story is narrated by a young boy, Harry. His father is both the local barber and constable and he has plenty on his hands when Harry and his little sister Tom (Thomasina), discover the mutilated body of a black prostitute in the woods. The crime is the handiwork of a serial killer who is stalking the bottom lands and it's ultimately up to Harry and Tom to solve the mystery of the killer's identity and bring an end to the killings.

Dark and complex, THE BOTTOMS spins a tale of race relations, hidden secrets, twisted desires, a loss of innocence and unbreakable ties of familial love. Harry and his family, along with other characters in the book, go through plenty of dark patches before the end and the book is definitely not for children or the faint hearted. But Lansdale brings this lost time and place to vivid life, peoples it with well drawn, sympathetic characters and ratchets up the suspense to an almost unbearable level.

I must confessed that I figured out the identity of the killer about halfway through the book but that didn't keep me from racing through the pages, praying desperately that Harry and Tom would survive the ordeal of both the killer and the mysterious, shadowy figure known as The Goat Man who haunts the woods. THE BOTTOMS is a crackerjack piece of storytelling and is one of the best books I've read this year.

I've already started my next Lansdale book, SAVAGE SEASON, the first in his long running Hap and Leonard series.

Highly recommended.

Friday, May 19, 2017


"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Writer/Director Mike Judge swings at and hits a lot of low hanging fruit in his 2006 science-fiction comedy IDIOCRACY. The premise is a rift on the old Rip Van Winkle plot device (see also Woody Allen's brilliant SLEEPER (1973)), in which a person from the present day is put into hibernation only to awaken years later into a brave new world.

The sleepers here are Army Corporal Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) and hooker Rita (Maya Rudolph) who are subjects of a military experiment designed to put the two to sleep for only one year. But things, of course, go wrong and the pair are revived 500 years later in an America dominated by dumb asses.

Joe, or Not Sure, as the idiots name him, is, despite his strictly average intelligence, a genius to the stunted mouth-breathers he finds himself surrounded by. Through a series of trial and errors, Joe eventually saves the morons from their own stupidity and becomes President of the United States.

The gags are rapid fire and plentiful. Advertising covers every available surface. Water has been replaced by "Brawndo", a Gatorade-like sports drink that has "electrolytes". The most popular film is ASS, a 90 minute shot of a person's butt. The favorite television program is OH, MY BALLS! a JACKASS like laugh riot in which a hapless stooge's balls are continuously under attack.

To add to the insanity, the president is former wrestling star Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews), who presides over a cabinet of knuckle-walkers. Gee who would have ever thought we'd have a stupid celebrity president and a bunch of idiots (Ben Carson, Rick Perry) as cabinet members?

The special effects range from acceptable to dodgy and there are a couple of scenes filmed in Austin at the convention center and the Seaholm power plant. IDIOCRACY was barely released theatrically by 20th Century Fox, making less than $500K at the box office. It has since gone on to achieve cult status and deservedly so. It is a genuinely funny film that hits a target that we don't have to wait 500 years to see come true. The stupid people are already here and their numbers are legion.

Thanks to our friend Holly Hepp Galvan for the recommendation. Thumbs up.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958) was, like so many other mid-century science fiction/horror films, a movie I first encountered in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS.A Frankenstein movie starring Boris Karloff and set in the far distant year of 1970 sounded way cool. I never got around to seeing it when I was a kid but I watched it the other day and was profoundly disappointed.

For starters, the title is somewhat misleading because there's nothing in the film that even remotely tries to depict the then 12-years into the future world of 1970. It's a marketing gimmick, pure and simple. And although Karloff gives it his best, he's hampered by a sub par script by Richard H. Landau and George Worthington Yates (from a story by Aubrey Schenck and Charles A. Moses) and an extraordinarily weak cast of supporting players whose acting abilities range from passable to non-existent.

The story concerns a television film crew and cast who are shooting a "documentary" about the Frankenstein family and its' horrific legacy in Castle Frankenstein itself. Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (Karloff), is their gracious host but he's up to something in his hidden, underground laboratory. The scar-faced and limping Baron appears to have suffered at the hands of the Nazis during World War II and he seeks to make a living creature with his own pre-war perfect features. This costs money of course (he desperately needs an atomic reactor) and he's willing to host the film crew in exchange for a fee. By the way, just where does one go to purchase an off-the-shelf atomic reactor?

Of course, things go wrong as various members of the Baron's staff and the film crew stumble across a giant, swathed-in bandages body in the basement and meet their untimely ends. It ends with the "monster" killing the Baron (didn't see that coming!) and the face of the monster revealed as Karloff''s own.

Shot in CinemaScope by Carl E. Guthrie, FRANKENSTEIN 1970 is nonetheless visually unimaginative with director Howard W. Koch either afraid of or unwilling to use edits. He lets long scenes play out in single takes that seem to go on and on, the camera tracking across a borrowed set while actors spout their lines. It's all stagy and static. There's little to no atmosphere or suspense save in the "gotcha" opening scene where a woman is pursued through the nighttime forest by a monstrous beast.

Karloff is the only reason to watch this turkey, a lackluster piece of genre clap trap that trades heavily on the names of both Karloff and Frankenstein to garner an audience.  It's strictly low-budget, barely competent junk. Thumbs down.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


HIGH ADVENTURE #47 reprints another classic issue of the vintage pulp magazine THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG. This time, the issue is from February, 1936. The story, THE CASE OF THE BLACK LOTUS is by veteran pulp wordsmith Robert J. Hogan and the vivid cover painting is by Jerome Rozen.

In this page-turner of a thriller, the action takes place entirely in New York City and the twisted streets, alleys and underground passageways of Chinatown. Wu Fang is up to his old tricks again, killing prominent citizens left and right and leaving their poisoned corpses clutching a rare and exotic Black Lotus flower. It's up to the intrepid trio of G-Man Val Kildare, archeologist Rod Carson and newspaper reporter Jerry Hazard to solve the riddle and stop the murders before they escalate to an even larger scale of death and destruction.

The action, as usual is fast and furious with the climax taking place in Wu Fang's torture chamber where Hazard faces certain death when he is placed upon the stretching rack. But help is on the way and things come to an abrupt end with Wu Fang escaping to menace the world again on another day.

Part of the problem with building a pulp character series around a master villain is that he (or she), can't completely succeed in their wild schemes in each issue. If they did, they'd be rulers of the world. Instead, they must enjoy limited success in their plans before being foiled by the heroes which allows them return in the next issue for more murder, madness and mayhem. In BLACK LOTUS, Wu Fang doesn't even appear "on camera" until the final couple of chapters of the story, even though his presence is felt throughout the yarn. Kildare, Carson and Hazard are cardboard, one dimensional characters, interchangeable to a large degree and identified only by their respective job titles: government agent, archaeologist and newspaperman.  The abrupt ending may have been a result of author Hogan being on a strict deadline and word count. It's like he hit a certain number of pages and time's up! Please step away from the typewriter.

A rewrite could have cleaned up some dangling plot threads and made things hang together a bit better but, as I've said before, a polished manuscript would rob such stories as THE CASE OF THE BLACK LOTUS of their vitality and headlong pace. You don't read something like this looking for shine, spit and polish. You read it to escape, to enter a world threatened by an evil genius where death and danger lie in wait around every corner.

Mission accomplished.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


There were a total of 30 SHADOW pulp novels reprinted in paperback in the late '60s/early '70s. Following upon the success that Bantam books was enjoying with their ambitious reprints of the entire DOC SAVAGE series, The Shadow found a home at Bantam also at first, before moving to Pyramid which then morphed into Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, or Jove for short.

I have now read all 29 of those SHADOW paperbacks. Wait, weren't there 30? Yes but the first Shadow novel, THE LIVING SHADOW, was published by both Bantam and Pyramid. I have the Bantam edition and read that one first and didn't need to read it again when it was reissued later. But reading 29 SHADOW novels is just a drop in the bucket when you consider that there were a total of 325 Shadow adventures published. Needless to say, I have a very long way to go before I'm finished with The Shadow.

The book pictured above, THE DEATH GIVER, was the 30th Shadow thriller, first published in May 1933. It was the last reprint published by Jove in April 1978. The cover by Jim Steranko is, of course, magnificent but suffice it say, no scene even remotely like this appears in the story. As much as I love Steranko's work and his interpretation of this classic pulp hero, I think he kinda missed the boat on this one.

That's because there was stuff in THE DEATH GIVER that would have made a much more powerful cover, albeit, without the fetching redhead in the pink slip. Thade, the Death Giver, the title character, is a bonafide super villain. He's a disgraced weapons maker who, when the U.S. military declines to buy his wares, turns his devices upon the people of New York City in a reign of terror and death. Thade (real name Julius Olney), is a wizened little man who dresses in green robes emblazoned with a black skull and crossbones. He has a secret hideout somewhere in Manhattan, where he's guarded by two immense Nubian servants. From here he plots his schemes of murder and extortion.

Thade starts on a small scale, targeting random victims to disguise his real objectives, wealthy businessmen and their money. After several seemingly unrelated deaths in the first part of the book, crimes which baffle the police but not The Shadow, Thade and his thralls up the ante by unleashing a rain of poison gas on a ticker tape parade in lower Manhattan. The attack is thwarted by The Shadow which leads to a final showdown in Thade's den of evil.

THE DEATH GIVER is a first rate pulp thriller featuring a genuine costumed super villain with a secret identity, a hideout, henchmen, deadly devices and insane schemes of mass destruction. I would have loved to see Steranko's rendering of this madman on the cover of this book but alas, we'll have to make do with what we have which is still first rate.

Highly recommended for pulp fans and for those who are wondering what all of the fuss over these old stories is about. This one's a winner.