Good things come in threes...

... like, celebrity deaths, for instance.

That's not very nice.

Anyway, I'm determined to salvage some of Friday night and finish this by 11:00 or so instead of 3:00 a.m., which'll give me more quality time to spend with my attitude problem. So, you only get three this time, but I liked all three, so, that's not so bad, I think, since it's still fer-free.

Here goes...

Embodiment of Evil (C, 2008) aka Encarnacao do Demonio, Devil's Reincarnation. Third of director Jose Mojica Marins' Coffin Joe trilogy picks up forty years later, with the 75-year-old psychopath being released from prison (where he's killed many other inmates) and picking up where he left off in his obsessive quest to reach immortality by having a son by a "superior woman." Coffin Joe has a dedicated cult of goth-type followers ready to do his bidding... which he might get around to if he can stop having hallucinations in which he's tormented by victims of his past crimes (including snippets from the first two films, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse). Like the others the film seems to be a work of madness and the storyline and all its philosophical gobbledygook is mostly an excuse for sick images and gore effects, which are well-done and pretty hardcore-nasty, such as a girl getting a buttock sliced off, which she then eats, or a girl being birthed from the guts of a pig, or spiders attacking from a half-corpse's innards. Visually there's some strangeness, such as black-and-white ghosts moving through the in-color world. Marins himself holds up well, still pulling off his megalomaniacal Coffin Joe shtick with enthusiasm and genuine eccentricity (he's a nasty little guy, with real three-inch fingernails and badly-trimmed beard exploited to the grotty fullest), and he creates some inspired visuals reminiscent of Jodorowsky (but nastier, such as drowning someone in a barrel of cockroaches, or a girl raped with a live rat). I wasn't expecting much because most horror directors tend to lose their artistic vision with age (check out recent works from George Romero or Dario Argento, for instance) but Marins apparently still has some things he's eager to say... even if they're really pretty crazy things. I suspect some of the special effects -- such as lips sewn shut and a guy lifted by hooks pierced through his back -- might be the real deal, and he's not shy about nudity, either. I don't think any fans of the first two will be disappointed by this follow-up.

Trailer here

Encounter With The Unknown (C, 1973) Cheap and crude horror anthology that plays like three episode of One Step Beyond smooshed together, although it's clear they were hoping for a Twilight Zone or Night Gallery comparison instead, because they somehow got Rod Serling to narrate it. The production is amateurish and the stories seem like they were pulled from an old House of Mystery comic, but it does have a certain Boggy Creek-ish charm, and it's a treat for fans of S. F. Brownrigg's movies because I spotted at least a half a dozen actors from his films in it. The first story is the very simple and straightforward tale of three gruesome-looking youths who play a prank on an even-more-hilariously-gruesome-looking friend (imagine Steve Buscemi doubling down on what makes him unique), which results in his ridiculous death. At his funeral, his mother - pulling a face almost like the one Donald Sutherland did at the end of that Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake -- curses them all. The whammy works, or how would we get a story out of it? The second story involves a farm kid finding a steamy hole in the ground with monster-roaring coming from it. There's apparently something mind-destroyingly terrifying down there, but we'll have to take their word for it, because the movie courteously refrains from destroying our minds by not showing us. The last story (reuniting Don't Look In The Basement's Rosie Holotik and Gene Ross) is the ol' phantom hitchhiker tale. If you nod off during any of the slow-moving stories, fear not - as soon as the stories are over, they start up again in Reader's Digest condensed form, while a not-Serling narrator babbles about supernatural forces. Probably too homely a film for normal people, but it's gold for trash fiends.

Watch the whole thing starting here.

Rituals (C, 1976) aka The Creeper. Deliverance-inspired wilderness horror from Canada, in which five doctors take a hiking trip in the woods, only to fall victim to a stalker who has a justifiable grudge against doctors, due to incompetent surgeries that left him hideously deformed. First the maniac harasses them by stealing their boots and dropping beehives on them and hiding animal traps for them to step in. As he whittles down the number of victims his terrorizing becomes more intense and their odds of survival become pretty scant. It's an early take on survival horror done in a raw but effective style and even though it's not as scary or as much of a masterpiece as its original source, it's justifiably a classic in its own right, and is crucial viewing for any horror fan. Hal Holbrook is especially good as one of the most determined-to-live potential victims, and the atmosphere of isolation is heady stuff. One problem with this movie is that most of the copies that have been available on VHS and cheaper DVDs have about ten minutes chopped out of them (a butcher job nearly as bad as that done on the film's villain). Code Red finally got their uncut DVD out after over a year of frustrating delays and false-starts, and it's well worth tracking down. Despite some unavoidable print damage (which really isn't that terrible unless you're a video prima-donna who has no business following the grindhouse genre to begin with) it was well worth the wait to see the full thing.

Trailer here.

P.S. - Twitter! Go there! Follow! I promise not to waste your time at least 12% of the time. (You'll get even better results if you're not picky!)


Nothin' but the cheap stuff

This week's episode of What's Z Talking About And Why Should I Care? will focus on movies available really cheap on DVD. You can find these on low-priced multi-title box sets or possibly even in your local Dollar Tree. Some are probably public domain so you might be able to download 'em off the 'net, if you were disposed to go with such low-quality. In any case, here are the reviews. Enjoy!


Astral Fiend, The (C, 1976) aka The Invisible Strangler, The Astral Factor. A psycho with mother issues learns how to harness the power of his mind while in prison, and he uses his new powers of telekinesis and invisibility to escape from prison, bury a cemetery nightwatchman alive, and strangle girls. Cop Robert Foxworth is assigned to investigate, which seems to irritate him. The killer targets celebrities because his mother was a former showgirl, and Elke Sommer is a likely target. He uses his powers to run cops over with their own cars, and Elke sings Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” The killer uses scuba gear to get one victim who’s been hidden on a boat (Marianna Hill, from one of my favorite movies of all time, Messiah of Evil). How can the cops ever catch a killer they can’t see? Far from riveting, but it’s a passable cheapie if you’re forgiving. The “turning invisible” special effects look like transporter effects from Star Trek and the “glowing eyes” he gets when using telekinesis aren’t far removed from the retsyn “ting!” in an old Certs commercial.

Watch the whole thing here

Brain Machine, The (C, 1977) aka Grey Matter, The E-Box, Mind Warp, Time Warp. Incredibly boring, static sci-fi that’s hard to stay interested in and really isn’t about anything. Filmed in Mississippi in 1972 and not released until 1977, this involves subjects taking part in some psychological experiment to determine “truth.” The subjects include priest James Best, a young Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney, an obnoxious slob, and an airheaded girl from Tennessee. People in remote areas monitor them on TV screens while delivering lines full of meaningless technical jargon (“Integrate CIC circuit probe mode 3, mark T, minus 10 and counting” - shit like that) as they sit around talking about nonsense or occasionally having watery flashbacks where they talk about different nonsense, which somehow puts their lives in peril. Meanwhile in the outside world, agents from the program go around shooting people to keep secret plans from getting out. It seems to have something to do with being able to record thoughts as TV images, and it gets out of hand; how, exactly, is never really clear. Much of this is shot in computer labs, in basements next to bare wiring, and other “technical”-looking locations. It’s amazing that they ever thought such incoherency was worth filming, and I deserve some kind of endurance merit badge for sitting through the whole thing. I hope you like establishing shots of buildings and swimming pools, ‘cuz you’re in for it.

Watch the whole thing here

Forest, The (C, 1982) aka Terror in the Forest. Lurid video boxes doth make fools of us all. If you never picked this up during the VHS-rental 80's, I bet you know somebody who did. This is what happens when cheapo slasher-in-the-woods horror meets something like Escape From Witch Mountain and does the hokey pokey (needs more pokey and a lot less hokey). A group of nobody-ever-heard-of-'ems (several of whom look vaguely like heard-of-'em's Robert Reed, Shelley Hack, or Tony Danza) decide to get away from it all by going to a remote section of woods for hiking and camping. Once they get there they see echo-voiced ghosts of a brother and sister, and their mother. Their father -- a grizzled guy in a trucker hat and dirty tee shirt -- is still alive and living in a cave, venturing out to kill hikers with a big knife, then eating them. Flashbacks reveal he murdered his unfaithful wife, and then the kids died at some point and their ghosts go around warning campers that their dad is a lunatic. The body count is low and the gore very weak, and the slasher guy is more likely to inspire yells of "wipe your mouth" than fear (he goes around with grease stains around his lips like clown paint). Pretty pathetic and often laughable (a fight between two guys - one of whom is wielding a pitchfork, the other half a bicycle - really cracked me up) but if you've seen every other dead camper movie you might as well see this one, too. It's on DVD as part of the Suspense Classics 50 movie pack, so at least you won't be spending much money; you really don't want to invest much more than time in this dud.

Watch the whole thing here.

Haunts (C, 1977) aka The Veil. Ingrid, a farmer of Swedish ancestry, is plagued by memories of childhood incest. Her main problem, however, is that some rapist maniac is attacking women in the community and killing them with scissors. He tries to attack Ingrid a couple of times and leaves a murdered bar floozy in her chicken pen. Her goat also ends up dead. Sheriff Aldo Ray tries to help but he’s pretty sickly, and there are too many potential suspects -- an awkward guy who’s new in town, a jerky farmhand who wears fancy shirts, her twitchy uncle Cameron Mitchell... Ingrid is a nervous wreck to begin with, so all this stalking-and-slashing has a bad effect on her. The film is helped by having a kind of S.F. Brownrigg feel to it, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense and gets lost along the way. It has enough worthwhile moments to deem it worth sitting through, but its flaws badly cripple it.

Clip available here

Project: Kill (C, 1976) aka Total Control, The Guardian. Given Leslie Neilsen's later silly roles and his deadpan approach to them, when you catch one of his older serious roles now you keep expecting a punchline. In this action flick by William Girdler, Neilsen plays an instructor of supposed counter-assassins, which are actually being used as government hit men. Highly trained and programmed for killing, Neilsen decides to quit without going through deprogramming. The people behind the project want him back before he can blow the whistle on them, and Philippine gangsters want to find out what he knows. Neilsen’s second-in-command is sent after him. Meanwhile, he’s falling in love with Nancy Kwan, getting in car chases, shooting people, and going through withdrawl from the drugs they were using to control him. His second-in-command is having troubles of his own, fending off grenade attacks in passenger trains and punches in the jaw from his female companion, as well as getting in kung fu battles with thugs. IT’s weird watching Leslie beat the hell out of guys, but he’s fairly convincing. Mediocre overall but worth a look, and available very cheap on DVD.

Watch the whole thing here.

Stryker (C, 1983) Italian Road Warrior rip-off has a very Toby Keith-looking Steve Sandor driving around the post-apocalypse desert, fighting a bad-guy tribe for water, which is a very rare and prized substance. Everybody seems to have enough gasoline and bullets in this version of the future, however. An Amazon tribe kills a lot of bad guys with arrows. The bad guy leader looks like Anton LaVey and has a hook for a hand because Stryker cut the real one off. The women have found a hidden spring, which makes them a big target for the bad guys. There’s also a tribe of midgets, for no apparent reason other than audiences dig the fuck outta some midgets. This isn’t as bad as many Italian Road Warrior films because at least they’re using actual hot rod cars, instead of goofy golf-cart things like so many others. The version of this on DVD (as part of the ultra-crappy “Grindhouse Experience Vol. 2” set) is struck from a banged-up videotape and is missing about three minutes of not-so-special gore and nudity. There’s no real plot to this movie, just a premise, and yet I have a poster for it on my bedroom wall.

Clip available here.


Tortured Angels (C, 1982) aka Strike of the Tortured Angels. Trashy Hong Kong women-in-prison film apparently inspired by some of Roger Corman’s efforts (they wanted a Pam Grier so bad that they stuck an afro wig and blackface on one of the taller Asian girls!). Women in some Chinese prison spend so much time pointlessly abusing each other that the guards don’t even have to do anything, except make the girls sunbathe. The girls engage in all sorts of incredibly ignorant behavior, such as trying to make each other eat huge chunks of timber, setting pigs loose and riding on them, and throwing chairs around. Suddenly there’s a long flashback to show that people in the outside world are obnoxious, too (“Here, have some beer, you’ll feel pretty good!”), and then several of the girls escape during a boat trip (guess it’s not a maximum security joint). After that there’s a lot of soap-opera junk and everybody yells at each other a lot (I would hate to get nagged by any of the women who dubbed this film; talk about strident voices!) and there’s a blackmail plot against a guy who’s planning to marry for a PhD (I know that sounds carzy, but it’s only because it is). Every time you think this movie’s gotten as stupid as it can get, it pulls out a new trick and tops itself. For the most part, though, it’s just boring. Available as part of the “Grindhouse Experience” DVD bootleg collection, with burned-in Dutch (I think) subtitles (whatever language it is, their word for “END” is “SLUT,” which was a pretty funny way to cap this one off).

Couldn't find a clip, so here's the ever-popular monkey washing a cat.

Twisted Nerve, The (C, 1968) Rarely seen (although available super-cheap on the Box Office Gold 50-movie pack from Mill Creek, now out of print and not quite as cheap) British psycho horror that offended audiences with some controversial exploitation of retardation. When he gets caught shoplifting, a young, immature sociopath mama’s boy named Martin pretends to be a retarded guy named George so he won’t get in trouble. He uses his retarded act to get pretty Haley Mills to “adopt” him out of sympathy, and insinuates himself into her household while occasionally sneaking out to stab enemies with scissors or hack them with a hatchet. Mills eventually figures out that “Georgie” is pulling a scam and that he’s actually a dangerous psycho... but Martin knows he’s been found out, and that means Mills is in big trouble. This is an early entry into the Psycho-inspired British horror cycle, and while it’s a bit overlong, it’s pretty compelling and packs some tension. The soundtrack includes a little whistled tune by Bernard Hermann, and that’s one of the things Quentin Tarrantino stole in Kill Bill (it’s what “nurse” Darryl Hannah is whistling). The controversy over the association of “mongoloidism” with insanity led the producers to put a voice-over disclaimer on the opening credits, claiming there was no scientific basis for the entire movie. Ouch.

Clip with the whistling so you'll remember the tune

And what post would be complete without a totally-whorin' link to my Twitter feed? Which I like to think is the written equivalent of that monkey washing that cat.



Zero, One, Two...

'Zup? Book reviews this time, a little horror, a little action, a little horror-action. Something for everybody... unless you don't like horror or action, in which case, sucks to be you, budreaux, 'cuz we're all out of Rainbow Brite and Junie B. Jones. You might find something on my Twitter feed that's more to your taste... but if you like my Twitter feed you may not actually have much taste, because it's mostly about, like, farting and stupidity and perversion and misanthropy and pee. I had a joke on there about raping lawn furniture today, I mean, Jesus, what am I thinking, writing things like that?

Anyway, the blog-post title comes from the fact that several of the books discussed today are numbered entries into various series, usually the first or second, and then there's one book that has "zero" in the title, so... it's clevertime in Mighty B-hole Land, no? Hey, the only other title I could think up for the post was "Rock You Like A Candy Cane" and I don't even know what that means - I just kept singing it to myself today during the series of violent thunderstorms that were raping the Southland like an unguarded deck chair.


Yeaaaaaah, like you never thought about it.

Okay, anyway, enough of the crazyperson and on to the good stuff...


The Dead Man #2: Ring of Knives - James Daniels, Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin. Adventures in Television, 2011.
Apparently this action/horror series is going to be handled by a series of guest authors after having been created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. A lot of action series books did that back in the day anyway (and even before the day, such as the Spider's "Grant Stockbridge") - they just hid the fact behind a corporate author name, while The Dead Man crew is being upfront with ya. But if they all handle it as well as James Daniels has, then I'm all for it, because so far this story's still banging on all cylinders. This time it's a bit of a Shock Corridor scenario mixed with the series' supernatural-Fugitive-like storyline as back-from-the-dead hero Matt Cahill gets caught in a run-down, out-of-control mental hospital. He sneaks in to interview a doctor who had a patient whose symptoms resembled the new powers Matt's been exhibiting, an unsettling ability which causes evil people to appear as rotting zombies. The patient also spoke of a demonic entity he called "Rotting Jack," who sounds a lot like the "Mr. Dark" who's been after Matt. After being subjected to all sorts of bizarre things since he came back from being frozen alive, Matt's trying to figure out if he's crazy or not. His sanity is still questionable, but the situation he's in is crazy beyond a doubt, because the doctor he came to see is now one of the patients, and the patient he was looking for is now something far worse. Evil nurses subject Matt to shock treatments (who knew those could have erotic benefits?) and also want to send him to the "ring of knives," which, as you may imagine, isn't anything you'd want to face. And while Matt may not learn as much about what's happened to him as he'd like, he does get a terrifying view of what will happen to him if he ever gives up his fight against Mr. Dark. Fast-moving and well-written novella continuing what's turning out to be a very good series. You can get them in paperback at Amazon... or in e-book, but don't go for that format -- fight the e-plague and stay loyal to paper! There's something just eeeeyarrrgh about reading pulp fiction on something that doesn't even have pulp in it. There's no such thing as "silicon fiction," so let's keep it that way and stay old-school. It's worth the extra bucks to stay with paper. You will thank me after the EMP. In any case, pick this up and read it soon, because I hear that the third installment isn't far off. But you'll already know that if you follow The Dead Man on Twitter.

The previous Dead Man book is reviewed here.

Population Zero - Wrath James White, Deadite Press, 2010.
I usually say I'm all for zero population growth, but I guess I'm not really all for it because I find the actions of the main character in this hardcore horror novella just a bit extreme. An ecology nut named Todd is so upset at the overpopulation problem facing the planet that he feels he needs to do more to stop it. He starts by offering secret incentives to the clients he meets in his job at the welfare office, trying to get them to abort their pregnancies and get sterilized. When success is limited in this endeavor, Todd -- already warped by extremely horrific childhood trauma -- becomes unhinged and starts taking his plan to gruesome extremes. White is never one to balk from showing extreme violence and gore, and that's certainly on display here (you may not believe what you're reading when you get to pages 92-93! Holy shit!), but as extremely horrifying as this book is, it also has valid concerns about overpopulation, while serving as a satire of extremists like Todd (I've met a few who were almost pushy enough to do the things he does). While it deals heavily with abortion it's not really a pro-choice or pro-life book because it's viewed through the eyes of a character who wants to make that choice for everyone else. Which, come to think of it, is kinda what opponents of pro-choice want to do, too; Todd's just kind of flipped that Godbully coin. In any case, the subject matter and the no-holds-barred presentation of it will put this out of reach for some, but hardcore horror fans are advised to seek out a copy; it's a short book but moves even quicker than its page count, because the pace never lets up.

Wrath has a great Twitter feed that you can follow here and a top-notch blog that you're also advised to check out. And a previous book, Succulent Prey, was reviewed here.

A Gathering Of Crows - Brian Keene, Deadite Press, 2011
Brian Keene's last book for Leisure before they screwed up a good thing (both with him and with the reading public) is the story of a small town's destruction at the hands (and beaks) of some demonic shape-shifters who were originally occultists at the lost colony of Roanoke, which was found deserted in 1590, leaving only the mysterious word "CROATOAN" carved on a tree. I've always been intrigued by that story, and apparently Keene was, too, and came up with an interesting theory that really put the "crow" in "Croatoan." These five dark men descend on the dying town of Brinkley Springs in the shape of crows, and even though they town's already on its way out, they speed things up by murdering its inhabitants in various gruesome ways. They want to feast on their souls, and the souls are tastier when the people giving them up have first been thoroughly terrified. Thus mass carnage happens. A former Amish magus named Levi (who was in Keene's previous Ghost Walk and Dark Hollow) arrives in his buggy to combat them in hopes of saving the town's few survivors, but his magic may not be strong enough to deal with these evil ones. It's not particularly scary, really, but it's action-packed and has plenty of good-vs.-bad magic to keep things interesting. I'd call this horror-based action-adventure instead of strictly horror (although there's no shortage of graphic killing), but there's nothing wrong with that, and the pacing never lags. Keene's writing is solid as always, and I doubt anyone will be disappointed in this one, especially if you like a little fantasy action mixed with your scares. The peek into things Lovecraftian is also appreciated. Leisure isn't supposed to be selling Keene's works anymore, so don't buy the Leisure version if you see it; it's worth a few extra bucks to get the Deadite Press version.

Keene's got a highly entertaining Twitter feed, and pretty-much the best site for the horror fiction industry on the web. One of these days I gotta un-lazy my ass enough to register for that forum... (Yes, I am so lazy that registering for forums is something I procrastinate about. It's amazing that I get posts for this blog written, really...) I also reviewed a previous Keene book here.

Hellrider #1 - Dan Killerman, Pinnacle Crossfire, 1985
First in a short-lived (2 volume) series about a vengeance-seeking bounty hunter, Jesse Heller, a.k.a. "The Man Called Hell" (who I don't think anyone in the book ever calls Hell). He rides around on a Harley, seeking revenge against outlaw bikers who murdered his family (at Bass Lake, which leads me to think Hunter S. Thompson's classic Hell's Angels was a main source for research). On the way he massacres whole motorcycle gangs, even after he's had the snot stomped out of him and been nearly whipped to death by a dominatrix. Heller (excuse me, "Hell") is one of these action heroes who can be pounded nearly to death and - instead of spending a month in the hospital - still throw his gun aside to try taking on a badass biker hand-to-hand. It's not realistic, but I like guns and motorcycles (and dominatrixes) so I'm all for it, even if the prose is sometimes so overwritten that it's completely hilarious. Want some examples? On the very first page you are confronted with this mighty sentence: "Desolation was a burning gift from the Devil to this scorching flatland where the snakes slithered, the scorpions crawled, the buzzards soared and the sun-bleached skeletal remains of cattle betrayed the unforgiving hatred of nature toward this barren anus of suffering and slow death." I mean, does the English language get any more wonderful than "barren anus of suffering"? I think not! In fact, if there had been a third Hellrider book, I would have liked them to call it Hellrider #3: Barren Anus Of Suffering. It is such juxtaposition of words for which the English language was invented, verily. But "It was as if the earth had split open, spewing molten vomit" is pretty damn charmin', too. Occasional hilarity aside, it keeps moving and isn't lacking in action, and you won't be bored.

Rather than post a picture of the next one, I'll refer you to Horror Drive-In where you can see it, just because I like to plug other blogs. Another blog I like, Phantom of Pulp, supposedly covered it but I can't find it anywhere. Maybe you'll have better luck, and even if you don't, you'll surely find other interesting reviews if you check there.

The Happy Man - Eric C. Higgs, St. Martin's, 1985.
Charles, our narrator, gets a new neighbor named Ruskin. Ruskin has a dangerous, hedonistic way about him that Charles finds intriguing, and as the two men bond, Ruskin's evil becomes more prominent, from letting a couple of drunk girls die in a flaming car wreck to loaning Charles elusive copies of the works of the Marquis DeSade. As Charles is drawn into Ruskin's web he becomes more corrupt himself, and thus more welcomed by the sociopathic Ruskin, who seems to view him as a disciple. Charles soon learns that he still has quite a way to go to match Ruskin's level of depravity, though, or his unholy appetites. Intense and artfully-written horror that's kind of like an early take on some of American Psycho's themes, and it's worthy of rediscovery. The narrator's gradual (and well-guided) descent into madness is chillingly handled and makes this an obscurity worth seeking out.

Again, no picture of the next book; mine's the hardback and the cover's the starkest thing ever, all white with plain black letters. But you can see a color paperback cover at another of my favorite blogs, Glorious Trash - go there to read more.

The Necrophiles - David Gurney, Berrard Geis Associates, 1969.
Wow! Amazing that something this sickly graphic could come out in 1969. A group of thrill-seeking British teens looking for new kicks find some very gory crime-scene photos, and, turned on by the gore and morbidity, decide to take things to the next level by breaking into a funeral home and hacking up some corpses. They take pieces of the bodies home and most of them are disturbed by what they've done and want to stop there, but the ringleader, Theo, coerces his friend Johnny to continue their necrophile activities and expand it into a business. Theo interests some wealthy Satanists in paying him to bring them corpses, but after Theo pulls a Burke and Hare trick after a botched funeral-home robbery, his clients decide they want fresher victims... as in, still alive. Johnny wants no part of murder or delivering people to be tortured to death, but he's too weak and Theo's too persuasive and the situation's soon way out of hand. This one's well-written and very dark, and even though it doesn't dwell on the gory details as much as it could (still leaving some room for the reader's imagination to work on implications) it doesn't shy away from the sickness, either; this must have been a really extreme reading experience back when it was first published, because it still packs a punch post-splatterpunk. You'll have to seek out used copies but it's worth the hunt... and worth the republishing if anyone out there has the means.

Vengeance is His: Ninja Master #1 - Wade Barker (Ric Myers), Warner Books, 1981
First in an increasingly-violent series about one of the world's greatest martial artists who, after losing his parents and wife to a few methed-out bikers, decides to uses his skills to help picked-on citizens. First he goes to Japan and trains for nine years to be a ninja (the training is tossed off in a sentence; it reminds me of Steve Martin's plan to be a millionaire and never pay taxes: "First, get a million dollars."). Then he returns home, finds a community being terrorized by a big street gang, and dispenses with them like Death Wish 3 'cept without guns. It's better-written than most and has good action scenes, but they're kept limited to the leaders of the gang rather than taking on many of the street thugs, which would've been fun.

Night Raider: Lone Wolf #1 - Mike Barry , Berkley Medallion, 1973
When narcotics officer Burt Wulff (no relation to the chef) finds his fiancĂ© dead of an overdose, he throws away his badge, tells his partner “I’m going to kill a lot of people,” and sets out to declare a one-man war against the international drug trade. Committed to the idea that he’s already dead, Wulff is completely ruthless, working his way up the chain of drug dealers, beating, shooting, burning, and blowing up any drug trafficker he finds. This is very hard-boiled, nihilistic, and better-written than most vigilante series books, and the series the followed is one of the strangest in the genre, because it was written by sci-fi author Barry N. Malzberg, who had a contempt for vigilante fiction and made his “hero” a psychotic lunatic who would grow more out of control as the series progressed until, guided by self-righteous delusions, he’d start murdering random citizens. The writing is artsier than most and semi-stream-of-consciousness, and it would get sloppier as the series went on (some books even forgot his name was Burt and called him Martin), but this one is a strong start and packed with colorfully-written mayhem.

Assignment Sulu Sea - Edward S. Aarons, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1964
Federal troubleshooter Sam Durell meets a girl from his childhood on a tropic island as he’s called in to discover the whereabouts of a hijacked submarine full of nuclear missiles and stop it from falling into the hands of the Red Chinese. The romantic entanglements between Sam and the girl are just a distraction from the espionage as he uncovers traitorous plots and the crazy plan of a local crime lord. The writing is tight and very descriptive and the story never stops moving, either with realistic action scenes or with intrigue. Another good one from Aarons.

Why do I find this cover so hilarious?

The Avenger - Chet Cunningham, Warner, 1987
First in a Lone Wolf-like action series in which DEA agent Matt Hawke gives up his badge to become a vigilante when his wife is tortured to death by drug dealers. Arming himself and financing his war with requisitioned drug money, he moves in with a 17-year-old hooker and starts wiping out the drug trade. There’s a lot of action, which is well-written (but oddly not knowledgeable, since he’s able to silence a .45 so well it can’t be heard in the next room); Cunningham wrote half of the Penetrator series (all the even-numbered ones) so he knows his way around this genre. There’s enough plot to sustain the action, and you won’t mind much that it’s a little unbelievable (it’s far too easy for Hawke to find people connected to the drug trade and get away with killing them by the score). The brother-sister relationship between Hawke and the hooker is awkwardly cutesy and some of the declarations of purpose are cheesy, but the novel does a good job of holding your interest even when it’s predictable, and it’s better than most. As an in-joke Hawke takes on the alias of “Dan Streib” at one point, who wrote the Hawk series.

Night of the Juggler - William P. McGivern, Berkley, 1975
A psychotic and retarded giant, driven by needs even he doesn’t really understand (he’s so dim he can’t even remember his own name sometimes), abducts a little girl every year on the anniversary of his mother’s death and mauls and kills her. Because he finishes his depraved acts with a slash across the jugular beins, the police have named him “The Juggler,” and they’re desperate to stop him this year. The little girl he snatches has a military expert for a father and he uses his skills to try to find the lunatic before the police can. Some of the secondary-character exposition in the first half is a bit slow, but the hunt for the killer through Central Park that makes up the second half is riveting. McGivern does a great job getting into the murky mind of the killer and showing all of his strange associations and confusions, even making it believable that a person of such low mental capacity could evade the police for so long.


Scary and badass!

Just some more movie reviews this week, for a couple scary flicks and some badass ones. Got book reviews in the works for next week, if I can catch up on some reading.

First, speaking of badass, this may be the mostest-badass pwnage video I've ever seen. It's very short and definitely worth your time, because it's also hilarious. No matter how many times I see it, I keep getting cracked up. She destroys his argument in half a second with zero effort and still manages to be a sweetheart about it. Genius! I am an instant CompletelyLovely fan.

Anyway, let's talk movies.

Baby's Room, The (C, 2006) aka Films To Keep You Awake: The Baby's Room, Peliculas Para No Dormir: La Habitacion del Nino. Made for Spanish TV (which apparently allows nudity, gore, and profanity, so that's not hindering anything) horror in which a young couple fixing up a house learns there's someone else living with them. They first hear a scary voice in their baby's room through the baby monitor. After buying a video monitor the husband sees a dark figure sitting by the baby's crib. The husband (understandably) freaks out, but his behavior alarms his wife and she leaves with the baby. Left alone in the house, the husband starts experimenting with the monitors and discovers a bizarre situation that's apparently connected to Schrodinger's paradox about the cat in the box. The twist ending isn't completely unexpected but still works, and there are plenty of creepy moments that make this one worth seeking out. In fact, I haven't watched the other five films in the DVD set, but even if they all suck, this one made it worth my money.

Cop (C, 1987) Engrossing adaptation of James Elroy’s Blood on the Moon, with James Woods as lowlife, problem-ridden, shady (yet effective) scumbag detective sergeant Lloyd Hopkins, who’s determined to bring in the killer who committed a particularly grisly murder. He cusses out his bosses while trying to demand extra help on the case, alienates his wife by telling their daughter a lot of crime stories (because he’s determined that she won’t grow up innocent like so many of the victims he has to see), doesn’t hesitate to use violence or violate civil liberties, and doesn’t mind manipulating vulnerable citizens if it’ll give him an edge in tracking down the killer. Lloyd Hopkins was Elroy’s attempt to out-dirty Dirty Harry (which he didn’t like much because he doesn’t seem to admire much of anything that he didn’t write, unless it pre-dates him), and as usual Elroy’s ego goes a bit past his skill... but just because it’s not quite as good as Elroy thinks it is doesn’t mean it’s not still great stuff. Woods is always good, and this is a fitting role for his intensity; Woods always comes across as a little crazy, and that fits perfectly for Hopkins. Strong plot and some powerful action scenes, and the ending is one of the most badass in cinema history. An overlooked and underrated crime film/character study.

Faster (C, 2010) The Rock returns to action movies with a vengeance, literally, in this old-school neo-noir revenge drama, done the way they did 'em back in the 70's. After serving ten years in prison (after surviving a gunshot to the head) Duane Johnson (known only as Driver) gets out with nothing on his mind but avenging his brother's death. Hard and cold as a coffin nail, he gets in a 70's Chevelle SuperSport and ruthlessly hunts down everyone involved and murders them one by one. A burned-out, drug-addicted cop (Billy Bob Thornton) is after him, and so is a professional hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who's an overachiever at his job. Even though Driver is as straight-line about his mission as a Terminator, the ways of vengeance are a much more tangled web than he anticipated. There are a few implausibles here and there but the whole thing's so badass you just won't care. My only quibble is that the director's not very good at car chase scenes (you hold shots longer in car chases - let's see them run! The cars moving make the action, not a strobe of a lot of fast cuts. Bullitt - buy it and study it!) but his good taste in cars makes me inclined to forgive that. The original ending (included on the DVD) is much more ridiculous and it was wise to go with something else. It's not perfect, but I'm so happy to see a film like this still getting made that I can overlook a lot. Hard-boiled action with no fucking around.

Perfume of the Lady in Black
(C, 1974) aka Il Profumo Della Signora in Nero. Brilliant, surreal Italian horror that applies a giallo style to a story that's a combination of aspects of Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. Mimsy Farmer is Sylvia, a young woman who's going mad when she should perhaps be becoming paranoid instead. Haunted by a father fixation and guilt involving the fate of her faithless mother, and perhaps badly influenced by reading Alice In Wonderland, Sylvia starts losing her hold on reality and begins seeing some truly creepy visions of her dead mother putting on perfume, her mother's lover trying to rape her, and a schizoid split when her childhood self starts showing up. Admidst her mental deterioration, there's also something going on with her weirdo neighbors and other people who keep showing up. There's a lot of strange psychology going on here (you can easily spot recurring motifs) as Sylvia goes crazier to the point that she becomes a murderer (perhaps - since much of the film takes her point of view and she's insane you can't always trust what you see). There are some nightmarish images (the first appearance of Sylvia's mother is as flesh-crawly as the appearances of the little girl in Kill Baby Kill), and there's some pretty extreme gore, saved for the end so it's a shocking contrast to everything that came before it, most of which relied on atmosphere. A strange, well-directed film that's not strictly a giallo but is a must-see for giallo fans.

Seeding of a Ghost (C, 1983) aka Zhong Gui. Completely crazy Shaw Brothers sickfest that ends up like a ten-car pileup of gruesomeness, morbidity, and gore. A woman who's having an affair with a married man gets raped and killed by a couple of young thugs, possibly as the result of a run of bad luck her taxi driver husband is having because he helped a black magician escape from an angry crowd. The husband turns to the magician for help in avenging his wife's death, and they raise and reanimate her desiccated, skeletal corpse in an elaborate rite. The resurrected woman decides not only to target the guys who killed her, but her lover’s wife as well, and the movie becomes a nonstop splatterfest that’s played completely straight but gets so over the top that it becomes a little silly. People vomit up worms, eat brain matter, and their toilets spew filth. There’s sex with badly-decomposed corpses, attacks of leprosy-like skin conditions, and a pregnant woman’s belly explodes and gushes out a thing that looks a lot like one of the monsters in The Deadly Spawn, which starts biting off people’s limbs. Buddhist exorcists try to combat the evil, but the mayhem proves hard to stop as spines split backs open, ghosts copulate with floating corpses, and fireballs fly around and explode. Basically it looks like some twistedly-imaginative people sat around thinking of whatever crazy special effects scenario they could come up with and then force-fit it into the exorcism plot. And you’ve gotta love any movie that takes that approach.

Thief (C, 1981) Gritty and hardassed crime film stars James Caan as an expert safecracker who has his whole life worked out so it’ll fit on a postcard. All he needs is one more big score and Tuesday Weld to make it perfect. He’s so close to his dream that he gets a little impatient and makes a deal with some organized criminals, but their way of doing things is a lot more complicated than Caan’s, and he’s not happy with them for long. He starts losing everything on his card and the guys who think they’re his new bosses are sadly mistaken when they believe he’ll just take it; Caan learned some dangerous philosophical tricks during a stretch in prison, and that makes him the wrong person to try to push around. Director Michael Mann, pre-Miami Vice, details the workings of criminal activity (it looks like it requires more skills and is harder work than most legitimate careers) and doesn’t balk when it comes to violence. Great, well-handled crime drama that just keeps getting better and better the more you think about it. Caan is at his best, and there are good roles for Jim Belushi and Willie Nelson (Caan’s father figure, dying in prison).

This is the ending so don't watch it if you plan to seek out the movie. But if you don't, go ahead, 'cuz it's kick-ass.

Oh yeah, here's the obligatory plug for my Twitter stuff. Join now before the great Lisa Lampinelli figures out I suck and unfollows me! This may be as famous as I ever get. ;)