Facebook friends are the new Pokemon

...because people get obsessed with trying to collect 'em all. And that's something you can discuss instead of reading these reviews of movies you probably weren't planning to watch, anyway. I did a whole bunch of 'em, though, so I can claim that to buy me a blog-post-free weekend somewhere down the line. Shit eats a lotta time when all I get is some dude using me to post links to Japanspam fapsite. I feel so cheap... sigh


Code Name Zebra (C, 1976) aka Zebra Force. There’s some confusing surrounding this title, because supposedly the director made a sequel to Zebra Force called Code Name Zebra in 1986, starring Chris Mitchum and Frank Sinatra Jr., but other sources have no record of such a film. And the version retitled Code Name Zebra on the Suspense Classics 50 movie pack is actually Zebra Force. So who knows what the hell’s going on? In any case, this one’s about a group of white Vietnam vet vigilante/bandits who decide to simultaneously clean up/commit crime by pulling violent hold-ups on casinos run by the Mafia. Since they wear masks to pose as black people, the Mafia starts a race war. The “Zebra Force” crooks are led by their former platoon leader, who came up with the plan while recovering in the hospital after stepping on a land mine. His face is scarred, he speaks through a voice box, and he’s missing an arm. The black crime syndicate is insulted by the mob’s suspicion and gladly go to war with them, while the “Zebra Force” sets them against each other. Lots of cheap (and sometimes bloody) action, including gunfights, explosions, car crashes, and one pretty scary-looking live wire electrocution. Features some early Rick Baker effects work, but nothing amazing. The scar-faced Lieutenant’s shirt is more horrific-looking than his face. The twist ending is amusing.

Commandos (C, 1968) Bloodthirsty sergeant Lee Van Cleef (he describes knifing somebody the way other guys tell dirty jokes) and a desk-jockey captain lead an Italian-American paratrooper squad behind enemy lines to kill off everybody at an Italian base, then take their places to fool some German who’ll be showing up soon. After a lot of decently-staged battle scenes (with the exception of one in which Van Cleef fires a machine gun burst at some guys five feet away and doesn’t touch a one of them) they succeed, and pal around with the Germans who roll in... until it’s time to kill them all, of course. Van Cleef suffers from flashbacks due to trauma that happened when he was almost killed by the Japanese, and he also has so much contempt for the desk-bound captain that it almost gets out of hand. It ends with a huge battle involving Panzers that look American, and one what-a-dumbass scene where a guy jams himself under the wheel of a truck that’s stuck in the sand to give it enough traction to get out. Talk about gung-ho, you only see that kind of self-sacrifice in the ant kingdom. Very ordinary war film, of interest mainly for Van Cleef.

Friday the 13th (C, 2009) aka Friday the 13th Part 12. Remake of the slasher classic is closer to a remake of Friday the 13th Part 2, with all the killer-mom stuff dispensed with in a pre-credit explanation, and then campers start being killed off by Jason, who has a sack over his head until he finds the famous hockey mask about halfway through the film... so, maybe part III is blended in there a bit, too. Six weeks after the first batch of campers are put out of our misery, another group of campers and a guy looking for his missing sister (one of the first campers) go to the area. Whoever did the casting for this movie is definitely limited in the scope of their likes, because other than the token Asian and Black guys, everybody looks a lot alike. The Kens and Barbies party a lot, smoking weed and fucking and waterskiing and playing drinking games, doing pretty much everything except anything that’d make you care if they got killed by a masked psychopath. The deaths are surprisingly non-gory; usually remakes try to up the gore level, but this one sticks mostly to simple and unspectacular arrows-through-the-head (if that’s scary then Steve Martin is a horror icon), cut throats, and lots of impalements because they’re easy to do. The only variation from standard-Jason-operating-procedure is that he keeps a girl chained up because she looks like his sister. The film falls victim to the modern rapid-editing style so you can’t really tell what’s happening during some of the attacks, and, if anything, it does an even worse job of characterization than the original films. I think Hollywood is getting so full of shallow assholes that they can’t recognize what the public would find interesting anymore; the writers and producers might like these folks, but they’re assholes, so it doesn’t flow with the rest of us. It’s not even a remake so much as a retcon; this is just a standard F13 movie set during a time before Jason was a zombie or went to Manhattan or into space or met Freddy or the Muppets (he did meet the Muppets, didn’t he? I quit caring about the time the Manhattan thing started) or any of that bullshit... and that would be great if the filmmakers had any idea what to do with it. But this film reeks of being the product of shit writers, a shallow director, and producers who’ve been co-opted. In other words, it’s a fucking product, glossed up and put on sale, nothing more, nothing else. It’s not scary, not all that gory, and doesn’t even give any cheap jump-scares because they’re so utterly predictable. If this is what they were going to deliver I’m mystified as to why they even bothered. Glad I didn’t spend any money on it. You shouldn’t either - don’t encourage them or they‘ll think their mediocre by-the-numbers holding-pattern shit is okay, and that‘s all you‘ll ever get.

Hearse, The (C, 1980) Trish VanDevere moves into her recently-deceased aunt’s house and finds her new town to be very unfriendly. Seems her aunt had been worshiping Satan and there are repercussions, mostly in the form of an old hearse that keeps showing up to haunt her. At first she thinks it’s a trick that Joseph Cotten is playing on her, trying to scare her out of the house because he wants it, but then a new boyfriend and her aunt’s diary convince her that something more supernatural is going on. I’ve always thought this was probably inspired by the creepy hearse driver in Burnt Offerings, but that’s just my theory. The movie’s not entirely successful, but you have to respect it for trying to deliver scares without blood, since it came out in the midst of the glut of gore-laden horror that came out at the time this was made. This approach may have kept this from being a hit, but it was still a brave attempt at the time.

Human Skin Lanterns (C, 1982) aka Human Lanterns, Ren Pi Deng Long. In what seems a bizarre thing for touch-guy martial artists to be preoccupied about, two rivals, Tan and Lung, compete fiercely to see who can produce the prettiest lantern for an upcoming lantern festival. Lung is especially obsessed with the competition, seemingly living for nothing but to get the better of Tan. He goes to expert lantern-maker Lo Lieh, who has been alienated from the world ever since Lung scarred his face in a duel. Lo Lieh agrees to make the lantern only because he sees a way to use it to get revenge on Lung. Dressing in a sort of monkey suit with a skull mask, the maniacally-laughing Lo Lieh kidnaps all the women in Lung’s and Tan’s lives, terrorizes them, and then peels the skin off of them to make lanterns from. Tan hires an assassin to kill Lung, but that doesn’t work out, and finally the secret of the lanterns is discovered and a final duel has to take place. The skin-peeling scenes are uncomfortably sick, and the fight scenes are great in this notorious Shaw Brothers classic.

Lonely Sex, The (B&W, 1958) Moody, weird art-porn about perverts. One is an intense, inept, tormented disturbo who's haunted by his past impotence and hangs out in a shack listening to the radio and practicing looking normal in a mirror. Occasionally he ventures out to kill or kidnap girls. He can't figure out why they think he's creepy, even though his behavior is totally bonkers. He wants help but when he goes to hi sister she just mocks him, so he finds a doctor to listen to him. Meanwhile, a Freud-looking guy named Matt decides the pervert problem is better solved by some vigilante-action... but Matt's got problems of his own, since he's a voyeur who likes to peep in windows or see how many times he can get away with the "whoops, I thought this was my room" trick on the girl who lives across from him at the boarding house. There are a couple of brief topless shots and some cheap-but-effective claustrophobic, shadow-filled photography that keeps this from being dismissed just as exploitation, despite its sleaziness.

Narcotic (B&W, 1933) aka Narcotic Racket, Narcotic As Interpreted By Dwain Esper. Another of Dwain Esper’s exploitative scare-films masquerading as a public service announcement. A certain Dr. Davis turns into a dope fiend after one visit to an opium den with a “Chinese” friend (a white guy in makeup reminiscent of Boris Karloff’s makeup in Mask of Fu Manchu). Under the pretense of research for new cures, Davis gets addicted to opium and his wife gets really concerned, even though Davis insists it’s just a “diversion.” Davis gets injured when a heroin-crazed taxi driver runs them both head-on into a train in a crash of metaphorical irony. Davis gives up legitimate medicine to start hawing a quack remedy, “Tiger Fat,” at a freakshow. In his spare time he goes to a drug party where everybody chooses from a buffet of drugs (some smoke joints, some snort cocaine, some shoot heroin) and act crazy and tell lots of really bad jokes. Some can’t shut up, some can’t stop giggling, some dance, one starts to strip, and it all degenerates into screaming madness and fighting. Davis is soon mired in crime; as he fights with other hoodlums, shots of lizards, skunks, and snakes (including one snake swallowing another) are inserted. Earlier in the film they also stuck in some brief footage of a Cesarian birth, just to up the shock value. Davis is certainly headed to a bad end. This is a confusing and hard-to-get-into film because it’s sloppily made, even for Esper; I’m not certain that things haven’t been edited out (it runs 57 minutes on DVD), and a lot of stock footage has been clumsily crammed in to fill the cracks. Surprisingly, though, some of the camera work isn’t all that bad, and the abruptness of the ending does pack a crude punch. The writer claimed it was an accurate retelling of her uncle’s job with a medicine show, so who knows? Sometimes dull, sometimes laughable, and sometimes possibly even sincere.

Nightmare In Wax (C, 1969) Cameron Mitchell is scarred and missing an eye from fire, but the most damage was done to his mind, because now he likes to inject people with fluid and turn them into was-like figures for his museum. No one suspects that his exhibit of actors who’ve gone missing are the actual missing actors. Sometimes he talks to heads on tables (which means some lucky actor got to sit with her head poking through a hole, probably for scale). Some reviewers have made fun of the film because you can see the figures move a little or breathe, but that’s not really a flaw since they’re not supposed to be dead, just drugged and paralyzed. That’s small salvation, though, since the movie’s still ridiculous, slow, and deadly dull. Mitchell’s not even hammy enough to make it intriguing. This ain’t no House of Wax.

Passing Clouds (B&W, 1941) aka Ghost Story, Spellbound, The Spell of Amy Nugent. A man named Laurie is in love with a frail, nervous girl named Amy, who dies suddenly of general weakness. Laurie goes into deep mourning and becomes obsessed with trying to contact Amy beyond the grave. A spiritualist convinces him that he’s a legit medium and manages to raise Amy’s ghost at a seance. Laurie’s been warned not to try to touch it but he can’t stop himself, and this gets him possessed by some other malefic spirit that takes advantage of the opening between the worlds. Laurie roams his mansion acting crazy while his friends try to find some way to exorcise the demon. This British horror film, based on a story by R. H. Benson, is atmospheric and has some creepiness, but it’s very dry, stiff, and slow-moving, and the heavy accents (and overbearingly corny dialogue from the Irish gardener) may put some viewers off.

Sasquatch (C, 2002) aka The Untold. Millionaire CEO Lance Hendriksen leads a disparate rescue party (the big-game hunter guide who's really a drunk with no idea what he's doing, another guide who's actually competent, a goofy young man who's into cryptozoology, a bitchy woman (Andrea Roth from Rescue Me who's gonna get typecast if she keeps taking bitch-from-hell roles) who's trying to manipulate Hendiksen, and another woman who's seemingly just there so all the women won't be bitchy) into the woods looking for a plane crash site. The premise is that he's searching for his missing daughter, but actually he's trying to recover a genetic-code-scanning device that was on the plane. Out in the middle of nowhere they get stalked by an angry Sasquatch who, for some reason, has thermal vision, and apparently (and absurdly) wants the scanner. The action's way too standard to pack much suspense for anyone who's seen a few of these movies, and the monster makeup's not all that great (although, wisely, they mostly stick to glimpses of it). It's average direct-to-video stuff, painless, but you're better off with Legend of Boggy Creek or Creature From Black Lake.

Seduction, The (C, 1982) Pretty ordinary stalker movie benefited from celebrity-stalking not being as common a topic at the time, mostly known now as a Morgan Fairchild vehicle. Morgan plays a TV newswoman who's pestered by an erotomaniac fan who insists that he has a relationship with her and won’t take no for an answer. The lunatic (Andrew Stevens) lives next door to Morgan and watches her all the time and fills his house with photos of her and calls her on the phone and follows her around and sends her gifts. His obsession gets increasingly dangerous and Morgan can’t find much help from either the police or her boyfriend, and eventually she has to turn the tables on him herself. The film has too soft and romantic a tone to really build much suspense (they seem more interested in glamour shots of Morgan swimming, bathing, having sex with her boyfriend, etc.) and the payoff is far too predictable to make this stand out, but it’s okay for what it is. You can add several points if you’re a Morgan Fairchild fan, since she’s the main thing the movie’s about.

trailer here

Staunton Hill (C, 2009) George Romero's son Cameron follows in his father's footsteps with a low-budget horror film dealing with isolation. In 1969 (we have to take their word for it because it looks nothing like the '60's whatsoever) a group of college kids hitchhiking to a rally in Washington catch a ride with a jerky guy whose truck promptly breaks down in the Virginia backwoods. They take refuge with a farm family who've been alone in their junk-filled house a little too long. There's a kindly fat mother, her wheelchair-bound mom, her scar-faced retarded son Buddy, and they run their own home business which involves the use of some surgical equipment in the basement. It's a Texas Chainsaw variant with some surprisingly nasty and graphic gore (I never expect lingering shots of organ removal in an American film) and a vicious overall tone. Pretty grim.

War-Gods of the Deep (C, 1965) aka The City in the Sea, City Under The Sea. In early 20th century England, American Tab Hunter, his pseudo-twit Scottish friend, and a chicken named Herbert (okay, who wrote this shit?) go looking for a missing girl in a secret passage, fall into a whirlpool, and end up in an undersea city populated by gill-men. Vincent Price is the Captain who runs the place, and who’s had the girl kidnapped. He’s been living there with his men for a century and hasn’t aged, because they’re away from the sun. The only problem is an active volcano is about to doom the whole place and chances of escape would be slim, even if megalomaniacal Price would let them try it. There are some okay underwater-humanoid costumes and outlandish diving gear, but none of it is enough to liven up this bland adventure. Based superficially on Poe’s poem “The City in the Sea,” as Roger Corman tried to extend his Poe-sploitation cycle. Directed by Jacques Tournier, and even he couldn’t do much with the material.

Recent Stuff At Which Some Looking Occurred

Somewhere in the Night (1946)
One of the first (hell, maybe it WAS the first) amnesia-themed flicks (like the better-known but similar D.O.A.) in the film noir genre, SITN has been a kinda forgotten gem, resurfacing recently thanks to repeated airings on Fox Movie Channel. John Hodiak plays an amnesiac WW2 vet, unable to remember his name or his life, but equipt with an engraved wallet (George Taylor), a letter from "Your pal, Larry Cravat" addresst to George Taylor on the letterhead of the Elite Bath Houses in Los Angeles, and a scathing letter from a jilted dame that gives him a hatful of what-for + makes him question whether he wants to find out about his past if he was such a louse. But his curiosity wins out + before long, he's stirring up trouble asking questions at Turkish bath houses + nightclubs, docks in the middle of the night + fortune-tellers, making some serious enemies + also gaining the assistance of the lovely nightclub chanteuse + her nightclub owner boss/admirer. Any more will ruin the flick, but there's a coupla million bucks in stolen Nazi money involved, along with some clever surprises + the snappy dialogue requisite of the genre. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and an almost-lost classic noir. Pay attention + you'll see Harry Morgan, playing the waaaay-butch tough attendant at the bathhouse...

Zombieland (2009)
Yeah... zombie moobies are becoming a bit overdone now, especially since most of the greatest zombieflix are not so recent. 'Cept for some clever spins on the genre like 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead. Or Zombieland. Like Shaun..., this one embraces the horror-comedy blend that, like peanut butter + choklit, works so well. The cast is excellent, but the sho'nuff show-stealer is Woody Harrelson, as an over-the-top zombie-killin' mofo... Also wonderful is the guest-bit by Bill Murray as himself. Fun as hell - but don't think too hard or you'll start to ask yrself some mooby-crashin' questions about the powergrid + availability of ammunition + non-expired foodstuffs + the like... really, just shut up + enjoy!

Jennifer's Body (2009)
Soooo... the most recent entry in the teen-angst-as-monstrosity genre (but we're anxiously awaiting the adaptation of Charles Burns' excellent graphic novel Black Hole) features the otherworldly Megan Fox as a tainted virgin sacrifice that becomes a demon-possesst maneater. Literally. If she doesn't feed, she starts to look sickly + rundown. Amanda Seyfried plays her bestest, narrating the story from her new home in the asylum... There's some black humor + tease-y shots of MF swimming nekkid + similar stuff that certainly appeals to her fanbase. Not as crappy as I'd expected, but then I've always been a (wait for it...) sucker for a pretty face... (Hollah at y'boy, Broke-Toe)! Is the world to be overrun by creepily-beautiful people in the near-future (or has it already happend, what with her + Angelina Jolie + their ilk)?

Coprophagia Is Now Being Marketed Directly Toward Children...

Either the most fuctup - or the most brilliant - book EVER... Them ain't no choklit chips, brother...


Horror Fist!

Just a bunch of kung fu and horror movie reviews I wrote about 10 years ago and am just getting around to typing up...


Dead Hate The Living, The (C, 2000) As a big horror fan I’d be insulted by this, but after listening to the DVD’s commentary track, I think the people who made this were sincerely trying to make something good... they’re just not terribly skilled or creative and don’t have very good ideas. The basic plot is that some low-budget filmmakers go to an old hospital to film a zombie movie, but they find a real corpse (which looks just like Rob Zombie), and he’s an occultist with a machine that brings the dead back to life. So the filmmakers find themselves in a real zombie attack. The things that are bad about this film are hard to count, but here’s a partial list: instead of doing original things, they copy things from other horror films and pass it off as in-jokes and “homage.” This is a dumb idea for a couple of reasons, the first being that only an idiot spazz goes to a horror movie for “funny” stuff, and the other being that it just reminds you how much better those scenes were in the real movies they were ganked from. Then, there’s a zombie that has no nose. I mean, jeez, if you want to be convincingly scary, at least demonstrate a knowledge of basic anatomy and put a hole there or something. The makeup looks like nothing but makeup. The dialogue is very cliche and uninspired. Characterization is poor and unappealing and the acting is bad. It all looks cheaper than it needs to; I mean, they made movies in the 70’s cheaper than this and they looked good. There is some really horrible CGI (electrocution and zombies on fire) Also, there’s some just bonehead-fuck-dreck that basically says to the audience “You are a horror fan and therefore a dumb asshole who’ll accept anything without thinking,” such as having a chainsaw just laying around an abandoned hospital, or Jack Daniels burning like gasoline, or a zombie drooling blood all the time even though it’s long dead, and other implausibilities that are so blatant they’re insulting. I do think it’s a sincere effort and a labor of love, but they just don’t seem to understand what’s scary, good, or even basically intelligent. They have good taste in liking Fulci and stuff, but even though I wanted to like it, it was impossible. At least the DVD’s fairly cheap (and still in print for some unknown reason!) and has plenty of extras.

Watch the whole movie online here
... or, better yet, don't.

Fists of the White Lotus (C, 1980) aka Hong Wending San Po Bai Lian Jiao, Clan of the White Lotus. The evil White Lotus, a.k.a. Pai Mei (the granddaddy of all of those kung fu guys with long white hair and eyebrows) massacred many of Gordon Liu’s friends and so Gordon plans revenge. Even though he trains to add crane fist to his tiger style, it’s not good enough to defeat Pai Mei, who can make himself so light that he just drifts away from the force of the blows and they never touch him. Gordon goes home and his wife makes him do women’s work, such as embroidery, so he can learn a more graceful, gentle style that would allow him to touch Pai Mei and damage him. He practices on paper dummies until he feels ready, then heads off to Lotus Mountain... but Pai Mei can hide his vital kill-spot, so Gordon can’t find it. But he may die trying... One of the classics, with Lo Lieh as Pai Mei (whose character may be better known to American audiences from Kill Bill, where Gordon Liu played him.

Watch the whole thing online here

Grandmaster of Shaolin Kung Fu (C, 1982) aka Da Mo Shen Gong. Everybody wants a big gem stolen from a goofy drunk laughing guy, so they settle it the old-fashioned way -- by beating the peelivin’ doodoo out o’ each other. The gem triggers a laser that opens the door to a golden Buddha holding a sacred book of tricks... but it’s boobytrapped so you have to be a real kung fu master to get to it. The best candidate for receiving this “miracle” is a guy who’s out to avenge the deaths of his parents. A hermit in the golden Buddha temple trains him and gives him secret medicine. Several people in the movie have unusual hats hiding their faces, and there are weapons like birds and teapots that shoot needles. There’s also an aphrodisiac potion that makes a guy have to have sex or his blood vessels will burst, but if he has sex then his fighting powers will be destroyed, so, whaddaya do? Plus there’s an attack by a bunch of bronze statue-men, so you know what it all adds up to: maximum whacky coolstuff! Gotta love it.

Watch the whole thing online here. (Check out at least the beginning with the goofy laughin' guy... it's hilarious!)

He Has Nothing But Kung Fu (C, 1977) aka Gong Fu Xiao Zi, Gangbusters Kung Fu. Gordon Liu (with hair) takes a shot to the head and loses his memory... but not his kung fu skills. A con-man beggar (Wang Yue) teams up with him and finds ways to exploit Gordon's fighting skill, and Gordon goes along with it because he's confused anyway. Together the two of them foil a bunch of gangsters to the accompaniment of a weird Southern-style soundtrack which includes comical renditions of "Dixie," "Rose of Alabama," and the theme from Outlaw Josey Wales. Pretty good kung fu with an interesting plot, unobtrusive comedy, solid fight scenes, and - most importantly - Gordon Liu. A fight on the beam's of a house's unfinished upper story is also a memorable highlight.

Watch the whole thing online starting here:

Invincible Pole Fighter
(C, 1983) aka Wu Lang Ba Gua Gun, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. Elaborate costume kung fu epic with Wang Yu, Gordion Liu, Fu Sheng, and other Venoms doing a whole lotta battling with spears and staffs. It starts out chaotic and bloody with a bunch of Yang brothers fighting an odd assortment of Mongol baddies, including some archers who dress a lot like Santa Claus, and others similar to Fred Flintstone! Almost all the Yangs are killed, thanks to a traitor, and there are only two brothers surviving. One is rendered completely insane, and the other (Gordon Liu, o' course, since it's a role that requires head-shaving) tries to become a monk. The temple doesn't want to take him because he's too violent, but he doesn't give them much choice. The production values are way better than usual -- it even has a budget! - and showcases some truly amazing stick-fighting. That's what they mean by pole-fighting, by the way -- there's no scenes with people standing on poles in the ground, as in some films. You have to clarify on these things... In any case, this is one of the best, and crucial viewing for any kung fu movie fan.

Whole movie online starting here

Lady Frankenstein (C, 1971) aka La Figlia di Frankenstein, Daughter of Frankenstein, Madame Frankenstein. Cheap Italian wanna-be-Hammer-type horror with some horror vets (Joseph "Baron Blood" Cotten, Herbert "Mark of the Devil" Fux) livening things up, and Mr. Jayne Mansfield Mickey Hargitay is also around. Cotten is the Baron, and his bitchy daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri), also a surgeon, arrives at his castle, intent on taking her dad's work to new extremes. Daddy makes a hulking, bulbous-headed thing with a damaged brain and half its face burned up by the lightning that revived it. The first thing this creation does is kill him, then wanders out and kills a naked girl and some villagers. Tania decides that the only way to kill it is to build another, stronger creature to fight it. A graverobber tries to blackmail her into having sex with him, but she wants to create her own ideal sex partner by putting her father's assistant's brain into the body of a local retarded stud. Meanwhile, the monster's still roaming the countryside, killing indiscriminately. Not-bad Eurotrash with sex and gore, nowhere near up to the level of the Hammer films its imitating but still possessing a better look than a lot of stuff that was coming out at the time. And scenes such as Tania getting off on having sex with a man who’s shaking in his death throes do deliver the promised sleazy-sickness level. Readily available (almost inescapable) on cheap DVD.

Whole movie online here.

Legendary Weapons of China (C, 1982) aka Shi Ba Ban Wu Yi, 18 Legendary Weapons of China. The excellent book From Bruce Lee To the Ninjas: Martial Arts Movies calls this the greatest kung fu movie ever made. That’s debatable, and I don’t agree, but it is a really good one, even though the plot’s difficult to keep track of. Martial artists are trying to deny that the arrival of guns is nullifying the effectiveness of their fighting skills, since anyone with a gun can kill them. One teacher named Li Kung gives up his school, admitting defeat, but others hunt him and try to kill him, lest anyone believe his truth. There follows a lot of strange supernatural-tinged fights, some of which are tricked up with faked disembowelments and voodoo dolls which remote-control a fighter’s movements. It all leads up to a lengthy climactic battle utilizing at least a dozen of the 18 legendary kung fu weapons. I’ll probably have to watch it a few more times to sort out all the plot points, but since the fight scenes are so astounding, that won’t be any burden.

Whole movie online here.

Make Them Die Slowly (C, 1981) aka Cannibal Ferox. This sleazy gorefest is the most infamous and (arguably) the sickest of a very sick genre -- the Italian Cannibal Movie. The curious packed 42nd Street grindhouses for years to see this, based on a poster promising that it's "Banned in 31 Countries!" (yeah, well, people in Burkina Fasa and Turkministan probably had other things to do anyway), and a trailer that was based on a catalogue of atrocities. The hype carried over into the video stores, when the oversized box covered with warnings made this (and the similarly-packed Buried Alive) into "dare ya to watch that" events. For better or worse, this is a definite legend, along with the similar (and at-least-equally-as-nasty Cannibal Holocaust), infamous not only for wallowing in disgusting gore effects, but also for killing real animals. Some anthropologists researching the "myth" of cannibalism venture into the jungle, where they unluckily meet up with some criminals who have been torturing the natives and really pissing them off. Then the natives catch up to them and go for revenge. That's the basic plot; what really drives the film is the grubworm chewing, intestine-gnawing, castration, brain-eating, eye-gouging, dismemberment, and hanging a woman by hooks skewered through her tits. And don't forget the carved-up corpses, the bamboo traps, and sadistic cruelty in general. The effects are spare-you-nothing graphic and aren't bad (but they aren't amazing, either -- you can see the base of the strap-on dildo that gets chopped off, for instance), but what's really unsettling is the general mean-spirited tone of the whole thing, the apparent delight in dwelling on extreme unpleasantness... not the least of which is the indefensible animal-killing, which even the Italian-Cannibal-Movie-demographic doesn't really want to see. You won't find many more films as sick as this. Actor John Morghen, on the DVD's commentary track, even says "No one should watch this, it's horrible" a few times. You'll likely hate yourself, but if you're in one of the countries where it's not banned, you may want to exercise your freedom...

Screaming Skull, The (B&W, 1958) A man brings a new wife to his decaying old estate after the death of his first wife. Soon after arriving, she starts hearing strange things at night, and keeps finding skulls all over the place. The husband thinks that the groundskeeper -- who’s a bit touched in the head and obsessed with his late wife -- is trying to scare them away. But it becomes clear that something even more underhanded is going on... but maybe the supernatural is involved after all. There’s a veiled ghostly figure that’s pretty eerie, and lots of skulls popping up and rolling down stairs. Some people toss this film off as silly, but it does have a moody atmosphere and can be effective if taken in the right spirit. It won’t scare you enough to cash in the free life-insurance policy offered at the beginning, but if you play along it’s not bad. Good drive-in - now late-movie - fare, which can be scored on DVD for pennies; cheap copies are everywhere.

Whole movie online here

Snake and Crane Secret (C, 1976) aka She Hao Dan Xin Zhen Jiu Zhou, Secret of the Dragon. It’s not that big a secret, considering this is one of the most widely-available kung fu movies on DVD. I’ve seen various versions everywhere, almost always for a dollar. Some evil Chings are going around killing innocents, while some resistance fighters try to keep them from getting a book of snake and crane fighting styles, since it contains a list of the resistance fighters. A betrayed fighter goes in pursuit of a traitorous spy who’s working for the Chings, and who tried to kill two little boys about ten years before, after framing and murdering their father. Now the boys are separated, grown, and masters of kung fu. One of them is good enough to be a smartass about it. He usually uses crane style (complete with chirping sound effects, y’know, just like a crane doesn’t make). The main bad guy practices strikepoints on human skeletons he keeps in a dungeon. Finally the brothers are reunited (they know each other due to the old you-each-have-half-of-a-jade-medallion trick) and they team up against the evil (and fancy!) Ching warlord. Somewhat hard to follow and lackluster, but it’s decent kung fu.

Snake In Eagle's Shadow
(C, 1978) aka Se Ying Diu Sau, Eagle's Shadow, Snake and the Eagle's Shadow. Possibly trying to follow the laws of nature, an eagle claw master (the amazing Hwang Jang Lee) is out to completely eradicate the snake fist style of kung fu, and he kills every snake fist practitioner he comes across. Meanwhile, poor Jackie Chan is washing floors at a martial arts school and being used as a punching bag. He's miserable (and pretty helpless) until an old man he tries to help in a street fight starts training him... in guess which style? It's kind of familiar ground, since it's Siu Tien Yuen, the same old man who trained him in Drunken Master. He's the last living master of snake fist, and he teaches Jackie, who combines it with things he picked up from watching his pet cat, and he becomes The Wrong Guy To Mess With. Decent kung fu with very good fight sequences, including an impressive game of keep-away with a bowl, and there's comedy but it's not overbearing.

Whole movie online starting here.

Snake in Monkey's Shadow (C, 1979) aka Hou Hsing Kou Shou, Snake Fist Vs. The Dragon. A young fishmonger's assistant falls down on the job because he's more interested in trying to learn kung fu than delivering fish. When he delivers stale fish he gets beaten up and (literally) treated like a dog. He finally gets a job cleaning up at a dojo where they teach drunken technique kung fu, and makes friends with a monkey style expert who looks like an Asian Barry Manilow. Then a couple of snake-fist bad guys show up and kill both teachers, and our hero learns how to avenge them by watching a monkey fighting a snake (which is cut out of the DVD version for reasons of animal cruelty) and trains hard (but briefly) and combines his knowledge inot that coolest of all styles -- drunken monkey! Check it out.

Whole movie online starting here:

Stigmata (C, 1999) Oooo, baby, the Catholics like this movie 'bout as much as they like aborted babies wearing condoms, or little boys who tell! And when something ticks off the church, that's usually a sign it's at least worth checking out. Okay, there's this girl, right? And she's an atheist and everything, but she gets a dead priest's rosary in the mail from her mom (gee, thanks, mom!) and soon begins exhibiting all the wounds of Jesus. Pretty graphically, too -- big gushing nail-holes in her wrists, etc. This kinda messes up her job at the hairdresser's and really cuts into her social life, because every time she goes out, whip marks tear open on her back, or thorns gouge her head. A priest is sent to investigate, and that's when you know this is really an Exorcist imitation, just like they made in the '70's! (Remember Beyond the Door, The Tempter, House of Exorcism, all that good stuff?) Soon she's writing on the walls in ancient Aramaic, rolling her eyes back, growling in tongues, levitating, and bleeding all over. But, she's not possessed by the devil... she's here with messages from Jesus, saying that churches are useless! Needless to say, the church finds this Jesus fella blasphemic... Music-video style art (blood drops in water, flashes of crucifixions) and loud chaotic techno music pack most of the shock-scares in this one, and that's a cheap way to go, but overall it's a pretty decent, well-done, interesting flick that works as sort of an infomercial for the anti-church Gospel of Thomas (which was conveniently left out of the canon). The special effects are fortunately not the lame CGI stuff, and they enhance the plot, rather than replace it. Not outstanding, but possession flicks are always welcome.

Strangeland (C, 1998) aka Dee Snider’s Strangeland. Dee Snider, who, with his bands Twisted Sister and Widowmaker, brought you some of the worst lame-ass heavy metal in history and made the whole genre look stupid, now brings you horror movies. Luckily he’s a little better at this than he is at music, but then he’d just have to be. Snider wrote this film and stars as Carlton Hendrix, aka “Captain Howdy,” a nihilistic body-modification freak who uses internet chatrooms to lure people to his house so he can torture them to death with body-piercings. He gets caught, put in a mental institution for four years, and then released, seemingly cured. Some angry parents try to kill him, though, and reawaken his Captain Howdy side, leading to more mayhem. No classic, but I’ll give the guy credit for coming up with an original and bizarre (as well as timely) concept, and Snider is pretty menacing and very weird-looking. But, he’s still destined to only be the second-scariest Captain Howdy in movie history... but considering he got the name from The Exorcist there’s no shame in that. Fairly gruesome effects work.


A Guide To Hard Case Crime, Vol. 1

I'm a big fan of the Hard Case Crime paperback imprint, and I buy everything they put out. It's one of those rare cases (like SubPop or Megaforce or Dell's Abyss) to put out consistent quality. They used to pop out a book a month, but unfortunately they've slowed down to maybe 4 a year or something. I hope they pick up again and don't peter out, so I figured I'd do my little part by reviewing them here on the blog-nobody-actually-seems-to-read. Maybe a few of the passersby will be inspired to pick up some of their stuff, or maybe even join their book club. So, here are reviews of all the HardCase books I've read so far. There are 65 of them so far, so I still have a whole lot of 'em to go, but from what I've read, and judging from the reviews on Amazon, they still haven't put out a bad book yet, so whatever you pick up will probably be rewarding. Even if, for some unthinkable reason, you don't like the story, you're still guaranteed some amazing cover-art. If you don't want to trust my word on it, their top-notch website (see link) will let you read sample chapters and give you more information on each title.

Volume 2 will be forthcoming in a few years when I read another dozen or so...

Fade To Blonde
- Max Phillips
Hard-boiled retro-noir (it seems set in the 50's) about Ray, a spot laborer (he wanted to be a screenwriter, did a little boxing, and ended up a knockaround guy) who's asked by a girl named Rebecca to protect her from a jealous boyfriend who wants to throw lye in her face. Or at least that's her story... Even though Ray sees through her, he still ends up in plenty of trouble. Excellent old-school noir that really reads like some of the classic Gold Medal good stuff. With writing like this still being done, hardboiled crime fiction is nowhere near dead. Great stuff. If I highlighted all the good lines the book would look like the Yellow Pages. ****

Two For The Money
- Max Alan Collins
Reprint of two novels, Bait Money and its sequel, Blood Money, that work pretty well as one long book. A thief named Nolan takes on a comic-book-obsessed sidekick named Jon to rob a bank, so that Nolan can turn the money over to the mob and get them off his back (he'd killed a mobster's relative). But of course things don't go smoothly, and Nolan's money ends up stolen, so he has to get it back. Not easy. Excellent hardboiled crime novels, definitely recommended. *** 1/2

The Gutter and the Grave
- Ed McBain
Reprint of a 1958 pulp novel that McBain put out under a pseudonym - although I don't know why he used the fake name because if I'd written something this great I'd damnsure want credit for it. Matt Cordell is a detective who hit the skids and became a gutter drunk after pistol-whipping a guy who stole his wife. An old friend seeks him out for help on a minor problem that turns into a major case of murder, which may get Matt beaten to death if eh doesn't back off. Matt's pretty competent for a chronic alcoholic, but that's easy to overlook because the story's so well-written and fast-moving and compulsively readable. A slamdunk for anyone who's looking for something gritty. ****

Bust - Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
Excellent noir with some black-humor undertones, depicting how a relatively-simple plan to kill a man's wife becomes a destructive maelstrom as more and more bad guys get involved and start trying to scam each other... which doesn’t work out well for any of them. Compelling and well-written and well-plotted, although I don’t think you’re meant to take it too seriously. The characters -- an Irish hit man, a hair-metal-listening criminal in a wheelchair, a titty-obsessed businessman, and a slutty Irish/Greek girl -- are all pretty odd and memorable. Another great HardCase original. *** 1/2

Witness To Myself - Seymour Shubin
This is a really good novel, but you’re going to have to be generous and grant it some leeway in regards to certain implausibilities. A lawyer named Alan is haunted by an incident that happened at the beach when he was a kid, when he made a sexual advance to a little girl and then panicked that she might tell on him, got a little too rough with her, and (maybe) accidentally killed her. He got away with it but it shadowed his entire life with guilt and he became obsessed with seeing if he actually did kill her or not. This is where some really not-believable stuff starts happening -- searching newspaper backfiles on the case gets a police sketch of him published in papers, people spot incriminating icons on his computer desktop, a man he saved from a suicide attempt starts stalking him, every development in a decades-cold case gets reported on, etc. Despite flaws, the story remains compelling and poignant, and the writing is great, so you probably won’t mind overlooking some lapses in realism (especially if you’ve been trained by reading guys like Cornell Woolrich). Shubin returned to writing after years to put this out for HardCase. ***

Grave Descend
- John Lange
Fast-reading pulpy crime novel (more of a novella, really -- it’s 202 large-print pages with a lot of blank pages snuck in) about a scuba diver named McGregor who’s hired to salvage a wrecked yacht off the Jamaican coast. From the very beginning the job makes him suspicious, and the further he goes the more wrong it all seems (such as finding out that the yacht didn’t even sink yet!) And the more he finds out the more danger he’s in. The book isn’t overly noirish and the writing is bare bones with no flash, but things keep moving and the plot keeps twisting, making it easily worth the short time it takes to read it. ***

361 - Donald E. Westlake
Reprint of Westlake’s hard-boiled 1962 crime novel in which a soldier named Ray Kelly comes home to reunite with his father and brother, only to have his father gunned down in an attack that also costs Ray an eye. Ray sets out to find out why it happened and how he can even the score. On the way he gets mixed up with the mob, finds out his lineage may not be what he’d thought it was, and loses more loved ones. Good stuff carved out of spare, no-screwing-around prose and not shy about violence when necessary. ***

Lucky At Cards - Lawrence Block
Reprint of an excellent 1964 crime novel with Block in top form. The narrator is a “card mechanic” named Bill Maynard, who gets caught cheating at poker and is beaten out of Chicago. While recovering in a small town he decides to pick up some extra cash by cheating a few locals at their weekly poker games. There he gets involved with a guy’s wife, who wants to run off with him... and her husband’s money. They can’t kill the husband, though, because he has a lot of restrictions in the trust he’s leaving her, so they have to find some other way to get him out of the picture so she can get at his money. The husband’s not as dumb as they’d counted on him being, though, and Bill ends up with a lot of trouble... much of it from letting the slutty wife override his own conscience. Even if you don’t know how to play poker (I admit ignorance) the card games manage to be intense, and Block has an unsettlingly intimate knowledge of how cheating is done, and the plot is tight. This is classic stuff, and you can’t go wrong with this one. ****

Home Is The Sailor - Day Keene
Excellent, ultra-hard boiled crime novel from 1952 about a big, tough, hellraising Swede sailor who plans to give up the sea but may end up giving up more than that, because after a near-fatal bar fight he gets hooked up with a woman named Corliss. He kills a guy who she said was attacking her, and they hid the body and then rush out and get married. The Swede soon starts thinking that Corliss isn’t quite what she seems to be. He’s right. The Swede is a kind of Mike Hammer-ish narrator, usually to’-ass up drunk and banged up from one violent altercation or other, always in a bad situation. Keene does a great job not giving the story any letup in momentum. A must-read. ****

The Vengeful Virgin - Gil Brewer
Reprint of a 1958 noir classic in the James M. Cain tradition, with a TV repairman getting mixed up in a hell of his own making when he helps an 18-year-old girl kill her invalid stepfather for a hefty inheritance. They work out a great, foolproof plan which, of course, doesn’t work. Very well-written, smart, and fast-moving. *** 1/2

Zero Cool - John Lange
Lightning-fast spy-caper type of tale with a young doctor getting in crazy mixed-up trouble in 1960’s Spain when he’s approached to do an autopsy on a dead gangster. Some people tell him they’ll kill him if he performs it, and others say they’ll kill him if he doesn’t. Even though he’s a radiologist, not a pathologist, he finally does it and they make him hide a package inside the body for smuggling purposes. That’s not the end of his troubles, though, since a colorful assortment of hoodlums (an eccentric professor, a dwarf count, a cowboy named Tex, etc.) all think he has information they’re willing to torture out of him, and everyone he meets seems to be in on the baffling conspiracy. Despite being a HardCase Crime book, this reads more like some wacky 60’s spy spoof; it’s played pretty straight, but the crazy situations (including a device stolen from an old Bela Lugosi movie, The Devil Bat!) make you wonder if Lange’s tongue wasn’t pretty far in his cheek. Even the cover has an in-joke that readers of Lange’s previous HardCase novel Grave Descend (whose cover was also painted by Gregory Manchess) will probably spot. It’s assuredly meant as a tall tale and thus deviates from the HardCase code a bit, but it’s well-done and entertaining, so who cares about being a purist? ***

The Murderer Vine - Shepard Rifkin
Amazingly good crime novel (originally published in 1970) that plays like Mississippi Burning gone film noir. A low-rent detective is hired to go to civil-rights-era Mississippi to find out who killed his son (an activist who was registering Blacks to vote) and then kill them all. It’s not the kind of thing the detective usually does, but the man offers half a million dollars, so, armed with a machine gun, a Southern secretary, and a cover story about researching dialects, off he goes into Hell. Very well-done, riveting read, with an effective ending. ****

Gun Work - David J. Schow
Horror novelist Schow turns to hardboiled crime in this action-packed post-Tarrantino novel, in which a gun expert named Barney tries to repay his old friend Carl, who once saved his life. Carl calls Barney down to Mexico to help free his wife, who’s been kidnapped. Barney provides excellent and expert assistance, but unluckily for him the whole shmear is a set-up, and Barney is captured, tortured for months, and nearly killed. He survives and, with the aid of some luchadores (masked Mexican wrestlers, if you’re unfamilar), seeks vengeance. Schow’s typically-hip prose is sometimes too smugly impressed with itself and some of what’s supposed to be badass just comes across as more geeky than badass. Some of the gun-worship, for instance, reads as much like a woman describing a Dior gown as it does a guy describing a firearm, and you’ll likely roll your eyes at some of the faux-macho prose-posturing, because Schow’s just trying too dadgum hard. Other times, though, it works exactly the way Schow wants it to, and sections of the book are intense and unputdownable. Others are comic-bookish action blitzes that feel like the climax of a Mack Bolan Executioner novel... but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of Schow’s strange obsessions pop up again and I got a little deja vu (he has a thing about people with modified, missing-finger hands), but mostly I was glad to have something to read from a guy who I wish was more prolific. Despite a few shortcomings, it’s a great (and very harsh and harrowing) revenge tale with a strong cinematic feel (if Robert Rodriguez hasn’t already bought the screen rights, he should) and a reminiscent-of-Spillane climax. It’s also the most violent HardCase Crime book I’ve read yet. *** 1/2

Nobody’s Angel - Jack Clark
Melancholy, existential crime novel about a cab driver working in Chicago while two killers are loose: one killing cabdrivers and the other slashing up hookers. He loses a friend tot he former and possibly gains a friend from the latter, when he discovers one of the hooker-killer’s victims, still alive in an alley. While dealing with the paranoia and sleaze of his nightly route, he tries to find the killers... and avoid becoming one of their victims. This is more of a slice-of-life than a focused, plot-driven novel, mostly following the protagonist through his shifts and showing his customers, the other people he meets, and what a cabbie’s life is like. The writing is simple but strong, and it stays compelling even when nothing’s really happening. Clark is a real cabdriver and originally had this novel self-published and sold it to customers in his cab. HardCase Crime did the world beyond Chicago a service by making it more widely available, and it’s a welcome addition to the tiny subgenre of cab-driver-crime pulp (whose only other member, to my knowledge, is John K. Butler with his Steve Midnight stories, which you can score in the Stroke of Midnight collection). Clark’s novel has a very authentic feel, not trying to be politically correct, just telling the truth about what cabbies do. ***


Thomas Ligotti Short Stories Checklist!

Following zwolf's most recent post about horrible horror covers, I thought it timely to go ahead + post this checklist of Thomas Ligotti's collected short stories. Ligotti is an excellent horror writer, current + modern - maybe even post-modern - but with a vibe reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, or the parable/fable-style deliveries of some of Jorge Luis Borges' fantasies, and an overwhelming paranoia that'd shame Philip K. Dick.

In any case, Ligotti's short stories are plentiful, but they tend to show up in numerous collected editions of his work. As such, I put together a quick checklist of the stories available in each of his mass-market published collections + present it here as an aid to fans of his writings. The fantastic fiction website already has a checklist of his available published works, but I couldn't find a story checklist anywhere... This list does not include any of his work published through small-press / limited editions, or appearances of his stories in anthologies or zines.

The books included herein are: Grimscribe, My Work Is Not Yet Done, The Nightmare Factory, Noctuary, The Shadow at the Bottom of the World, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Teatro Grottesco



So Unscary It's Scary

Among my many other obsessions is a mania for horror paperbacks. I've been snagging and hoarding 'em for years, and haunting used book stores and library sales for stuff I missed (or figured wasn't worth the full cover price). Back in the 80's there was a big "horror boom" and the market got flooded with paperback originals. People say the market has an "invisible hand," but I think it has an "invisible colon," too -- whenever any particular genre gets popular and starts selling, the market starts filling its belly with everything it can find in that area just to have a "product" to sell, resulting in a whole lot of shit getting dumped on the public. Then the genre dies from oversaturation. You can see this with music (thrash metal, death metal, grunge, rap), movies, wrestling, etc. The need to feed the public's hunger for a genre leads to standards getting lax, a lessening in quality product getting released, and then the audience soon gets sick of the crap, and the once-great genre soon becomes associated with mediocrity, and it dies out (or at least goes into a slump).

Now in the days of the internet there's no filter at all and anybody can "publish" a book and bands don't need to get signed and "filmmakers" can put anything they want on YouTube. About 90% of the self-published stuff out there doesn't deserve an audience, and the signal-to-noise ratio's getting so wide that it's too much of an effort to sort it all out, and now the public is getting pretty sick of everything. It's hardly worth filtering the din of garbage on our own to find the good stuff now, when publishers used to do that for us, so much of the public's given up and the quality of everything is lax. The entertainment industry isn't turning a profit anymore because you can download things for free, so why pay for anything? Especially since it's all shoddy anyway?

And this is my crackpot theory of why the economy is in such a slump... and an illustration of my own theory: blogs are providing non-experts like me a place to spout our crazystuff. Bad internet! You could have been spared this!

Anyway, back during the horror boom, there naturally arose a need for cover art, and there are only so many truly "scary" ideas for pictures to be had. Eventually, the industry ran out, got lazy, and wanted to put out so many books that they commissioned absolutely anything just to get product on the shelves. And that's where the fun starts.

Now, the actual art on these things isn't necessarily bad, as far as quality of technique goes, so I'm not making fun of the artists. Many of those "skeleton children" pictures that showed up on almost every Zebra book cover during those years are actually high quality paintings. But they're of incredibly silly subjects, and the covers are much more likely to induce laughter than chills.

This also isn't a critique of the book inside the cover. I liked several of these books, and haven't read some of the others yet. You really can't judge a book by its cover. Never forget, when it first came out, Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door -- high on the list of the most harrowing novels ever written -- had a skull-headed cheerleader on the cover. Ketchum hated that, and rightfully so.

Anyway, onward toward the hideous horizon we go...


First up, The Feeding, by Leigh Clark. I haven't read it yet, but reviews on Amazon say it's pretty scary. The cover, however...

"AUUUGGGHHH!!! I am the displeased mountainside!
See the displeased face I make, accordingly! Enter, hapless children, into my scowling mouth of DOOM and live inside my belly of TERROR! I awaken from my ancient sleep cranky and hungry for the tender flesh of the unwary! AUUUGGGHHH!!! And, furthermore, GARRRGGHHHH!!!! as well! Surely now you are frightened, no? If not, I shall clutch you! Don't make me clutch you!"

This seems a monster that could be dispatched with an antacid. And the children certainly seem terrified, don't they? That little girl is looking back at the claws coming out of the earth with the expression one usually has while watching a chipmunk, or perhaps a dog-surprise she's avoided stepping in.

And now, what's surely one of the most brilliant ideas in all of horror-book-cover-dom... a frightening bunny!

Yes, high on the list of the fearsome you will always find the bunny. Remember Night of the Lepus, and how scary that was? The promise given by this cover -- that within the pages you will find a mean blue-eyed rabbit -- guaranteed that only those with nerves of steel would dare tackle this book.

You have to admit, though, it does kind of intrigue you. You want to know what kind of story could incorporate a goblin-bunny-thing, don't you? Well, the back cover copy isn't going to help you much, as it's some of the most noncommittal, uninformative, and awkward marketing prose I've ever seen:

Reads like a third-grader's book report, doesn't it? In some unnamed "vicinity" of a "territory," gruesome incidents seemed to be accelerating (even the book itself isn't assertive enough to declare that they, indeed, are). And how much adversity is a ton? Adversity is some hard shit to weigh. It's like, "I'd like a pound of jealousy, please." A "wake" had left a "trail." That's quite a trick, since a wake is a trail. And it's all left to the irrational to explain it to us. Then weird mentions of witches and a mule who eats human hands (AAAAIIIEEEEE!).

You won't sleep much until you discover the answer. And thus we are all condemned to a lifetime of insomnia.

Okay, now, from bunnies to... lollipops!

Holy shit, I wish they wouldn't do that to me! It's irresponsible to put such terrifying images out there on the bookshelves! It's scary on so many levels, such as:

1. It's not just a lollipop, but the messiest of all lollipops -- the all-day sucker! She could, I dunno, put it in your hair or something. It'll rot your teeth out... NOW!

2. The lollipop has a SKULL FACE on it! A scary skull! Right on the lollipop there! You can see it! Surely this is the most fearsome of lollipops. What child would hold such a lollipop? A scary child, it is certain!

3. There's a bite taken out of the lollipop. Now, I dunno if you've ever had an all-day sucker, but them sonsabitches are like ping-pong paddles. You can crack somebody's skull with one, like a Viking axe (which is why you don't get one if you're a bad kid - they can't trust you with such a weapon). They're strictly for licking. You're not takin' a bite out of one of those bad boys unless you're a real beast! So, the implications are there. Implications, of course, of horror.

4. There, on the girl's chin... blood! Eek! And, while she's not really looking malevolent or anything, she's doesn't look particularly friendly, either. And not-particularly-friendly is scary! She looks a little bored, actually. And what does boredom often lead to? That's right - acts of horror. How many serial killers would have gotten started if they'd been distracted with a thrilling game of Jenga or Gnip Gnop? I'm not sure of the statistics, but I'm betting not many.

5. Her hand? It's a skeleton's hand! That does it, Zebra Books has sealed the deal, I'm shitting my pants.

Speaking of lollipops, what happens if you eat too many of them?


"Behold my fillings! And who knows when I've combed my hair? Now you are frightened, I betcha!"

Either this guy's a homicidal maniac who's just seconds away from killing you and doing a maypole dance with your entrails... or he's "the Biffster" at a Kappa Alpha kegger screaming "WHOOOOO-HOO!" because "Brown Eyed Girl" came up on the stereo and that's his jam, man! If the book cover was bigger, I just feel certain we'd see a bottle of Jager in this fudpuck's hand, and that tee-shirt'll have Seven Mary Three on it. I ain't scared, other than by the thought that this guy'll probably have children and vote.

Now here's a book cover that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Kinda creepy, ain't it? Wedding dresses, like clowns, are pretty spooky in a dim environment, and veils could hide anything. When I thought this was the front of the girl, this actually struck me as a damn eerie cover. But it's her back... and, alas, it's just the front part of a two-part cover, because, past a little trimmed edge there, there's a second page. You open that, and you see this:

I know, who farted, right? This little latex sculpt is almost insulting and destroys your confidence in the book. It's like, "Okay, if the people at Pinnacle Books think I'm supposed to be scared by a booga-booga picture of an Ann Coulter Halloween mask, how am I supposed to trust them that the novel within is scary, either?" This is just silly-lookin', and when I think of the hours some poor shlub spent crafting that gremlin-bride out of polymers while thinking "This'll be really scary!" I get a Holden-Caulfield-like level of annoyance. I see girls who look like that shopping in the country music section every time I go to Wal-Mart. Toby Keith, there's your audience, dude. Sorry 'bout that.

Okay, this one's not really horrible, but it's still a bit giggly...

I think if it didn't have the normal-person hands grabbing the monster thing, it would work a lot better. But it makes the bug-eyed grey-skinned claw-handed thing look like it's being victimized. It's not coming to get you... it's in trouble itself, at the hands of an apparently average fella. How scary can it be? It's been compromised. Still, I should probably have given this one a pass, 'cuz I've certainly seen worse.

Now, gird thy loins, because here comes.... A MONSTER JELLYFISH!!!!

O' course, if you've spent any time at the beach at all, you know that jellyfish don't have faces, but still, if you have a book dealing with a plague of walking jellyfish, I think you're to be allowed a certain amount of license. I like John Halkin's books. The first I got was Squelch, about killer caterpillars (which later turn into deadly moths), and it was one of the goriest things ever, wallowing in disgusting bloodshed so hard that you just didn't give a damn that it was stupid-ass city.

I remember when I bought that one, even though it's silly as a fish with titties, the lady at the book store got really grossed out by it and said, "UGH! Why would you want to read that?" and I told her something like "Because I'm a sick bastard!" Anyway, I remember reading it during dead spots between my classes in my Freshman year of college, and was impressed enough to seek out Halkin's other books, which include Slither (about ravenous legless lizards) and Bloodworm (which I think was about intestinal parasites). All British "nasties" in the mode of our next guy, Guy N. Smith. Smith is most famous for his "Crabs" series, about giant killer crabs. The best title is Crabs on the Rampage, but the best cover for our purposes is this one:

SHRRRRIIIIIEEEEEKKKKK! It's a giant crab... and IT'S GOT A KNIFE!!! Held there in its giant claw which could easily snap a human being in half like scissors through a paperdoll! A shiny dagger! And he's gonna hurt that girl with it! I'm gonna swoon!

Yes, a crab with a knife.

Somebody (most likely a whole committee of somebodies) greenlit this idea. Somebody ponied up the money to commission a crab-with-a-knife painting. And someone painted it. And somebody published it in mass quantities, and some people with trucks drove it all over the country and people were paid to put it out on shelves.

And then I bought it, so who's the real asshole here, right? Yeah. I got it used, though, so I'm only about a buck-seventy-five worth of an asshole.

Anyway, I'm waiting for Sasquatch with a gun.

Now, on to the omnipresent children-with-skeletons wave of book covers. There are so many of these I didn't bother to scan more than one, but I could do a post on the kids/toys/skulls covers all by itself.

That little girl certainly doesn't look too horrified, does she? And the skeleton is wearing overalls.

I dunno, I just don't feel any nightmares on their way from this. Mein spine is not ashiver, and alas, my pants, they remain unpeed. And I remember the book itself actually being pretty freakin' scary. Andrew Neiderman, by the way, wrote most of the books ascribed to "V.C. Andrews." She wrote Flowers in the Attic and a few others, then died. Only about 8 of the books under her name are actually by her. As an in-joke, a few of the books under Neiderman's name (including this one) have cover blurbs from "V.C. Andrews." I love that.

And, I think I saved the best for last. Are you ready for this, motherfuckers? Don't say yes to that too quickly, because this is some heavyweight-stupid, rat'cheer.... I don't think you're ready. But I might as well post it, because I don't think you'll EVER be ready for...


A skeleton, with eyeballs, and a sideways baseball cap, and a bloodstained banjo! Do scary things get more-scarier than that-there-thing?!? The answer would have to be NO, there is none more scarier, it is just not possible for a thing scarier than that to exist! Your feeble mind would shatter like a frozen pee-diaper if confronted with an image more fearsome!

"Yes, I have risen from beyond the grave and shall be haunting you and turning your life into a hellish nightmare of terror from which there shall be no escape right directly, but first, how 'bout a little 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown'?"

Seriously, what the fuck? I've been into horror practically since birth, I got in trouble in first grade for reading the novelization of Amicus's Tales From The Crypt movie in first grade, and my grandmother caught me reading my cousin's copy of The Exorcist about the same time. I've researched the origins of this stuff back to cave paintings, I've watched Edison's silent version of Frankenstein and just about everything since, I've studied back to Castle of Otranto and beyond... and in all my delving into the darkest depths the human mind can conjure, "fucking skeleton with a fucking banjo" has just never shown up.

If this is scary, then a werewolf holding a bunch of carrots is also scary, as is a ghost with a badminton racquet, a ghoul with an AbFlex, a vampire with a road atlas, a mad scientist with a bouquet of daylillies sprouting from his buttcrack, and Godzilla wearing a bib and propellor beanie, tooting a kazoo.

The sideways cap doesn't do a damn thing for it, either. "Hey, guys, it's the ghost of little Skippy from down the street!" dadalangdangdangjangjang!

Then the name of the book is Dew Claws. On a poetic scale, that evokes kind of an image: wet early morning grass and claws, we could maybe work with that. But when you look into it, all a "dew claw" is that little claw where a dog's thumb would be. Dogs didn't evolve as far as we did, so they still have a rudimentary nail where a thumb would be, had they gone further up the scale. (By the way, this is thing #67,854 that disproves "intelligent design"). In any case, it's not a scary thing. "Dog thumbs are coming to get you!"

Anyway, I don't think I can top skeleton-with-a-banjo, so I shall now leave you... to your nightmares! BWA-HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!