The Horror!

Although I made this playlist the day before Halloween ’08, I listen to it all the time. Even in April.

“Main Title and First Victim” – John Williams, Jaws (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
Overused past the point of cliché, but crank this shit up at night in a dark, remote location, and you’ll rediscover its power. Do this in a dark, remote swimming pool, and you’ll probably die.

“Black Angels: I. Departure” – Kronos Quartet, Black Angels
By far the least traditionally “musical” item on the list, this sounds like a trillion bigger-than-you-care-to-imagine bats scuttling all at once against the ceiling in some colossal echo chamber of a cave. Running time: 5 min 24 sec.

“Theme from Halloween” – Buckethead
I ripped this audio snippet off of a YouTube video showing the apparently superhuman Buckethead playing both parts of this theme at the same time. Scary in both senses.

“Musica Ricercata for Piano: II. Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale” – Fredrik Ullén, Ligeti: Complete Piano Music, Volume 2 and “Masked Ball (1999 Extended Mix)” – Jocelyn Pook, Flood
Both of these tracks appear in Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s final movie (that we know of), the one with Cruise and Kidman and scenes that look like color-treated, gussied-up outtakes from The Shining. I detested this movie the first time I saw it; then I watched it again for reasons I can only guess at, and I went, “Oh, I get it now.” I think these two tracks are part of why I got it (and have now seen it 10-12 times). The former is a lonely smattering of piano notes that crops up occasionally in the film to signal bad things, man; the latter features a cello and assorted instruments underneath a priest reciting a Romanian liturgy – played backwards. Really fucking creepy, as is the orgy scene it accompanies.

“Come to Daddy” – Aphex Twin, Come to Daddy EP
The song itself is shocking enough, but the video is way, way worse (or, you know, better). Run away from the TV, Pepperpot!

“The Three Shadows Part 1” – Bauhaus, The Sky’s Gone Out
This track succeeds the same way “Masked Ball” does: as some seriously effective atmospherics. While his bandmates play chiming minor-key intervals, Peter Murphy wordlessly rumbles near the bottom of his Marianas-Trench register, a sound that gets maddeningly louder as the song drones on. I once played this at full volume while driving rural backroads alone late at night. It worked.

“Sympathy for the Devil” – Laibach, Sympathy for the Devil
Oh, thank you, Laibach, for making some of the funniest sounds in the history of human hearing (ever heard their version of the Beatles’ “Get Back”? Better not have a full bladder!). This track sure ain’t “scary,” but the stoopid synths and Teutonic phrasing definitely help set the list’s mood.

“Blue You” – The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
This song is a dark beauty on a three-disc collection full of beauty, and when the singer groans “The dead in their graves / And the gods in their caves” – well, it’s still technically a love song, I guess, but yikes.

“Goliath and the Vampires” – Monster Magnet, Powertrip
Dave Wyndorf’s deal with Satan apparently requires him to put at least one maelstrom of an instrumental on every Magnet album (check out “Ego, the Living Planet” on Dopes to Infinity), but this one outdoes itself and the pattern: the song’s grinding, echoing, always-building guitar and 1000-and-counting-damned-souls-a-screaming backdrop sound like the score for Dante’s Inferno: The IMAX Experience. Terribly unsettling.

“Sweet Dreams” – Probot, Probot
King Diamond, lead vocals.

“665 / Beyond the Wheel” – Soundgarden, Ultramega OK
Been listening to this for 20 years, and I still have no idea what they’re doing in “665”; it sounds back-masked, but who knows? Regardless, the keen/rumble/keen of Chris Cornell’s voice on both pieces is chilling.

“Black Wings” – Tom Waits, Bone Machine
As Waits songs go, this one’s pretty straight: a somber Tex-Mex shuffle with lovely guitar flourishes and a spoken-word narrative instead of Tom’s – ahem – “singing.” That narrative, though, is a doozy about a mysterious stranger who might have wings beneath his coat (would be a first-rate movie, in the right hands). And when Tom intones, in that low and disgusting whisper, “Well, they stopped trying to hold him / With mortar, stone, and chain / He broke out of every prison / When the boots mount the staircase / And the door’s flung back open / He’s not there for he is risen / He’s not there……for he has risen!”…… (shudders)

“Halloween (Album)” – Sonic Youth, Bad Moon Rising
A thematic pick. It’s not really scary per se, but there’s something about the way the song lurches ahead and the way Kim emotes that’s always given me the willies. Mudhoney’s version is damn good too.

“L’alba Dei Morti Venti” – Goblin, Zombi – Dawn of the Dead (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
Let us return now to yesteryear, back to a time when zombies were slow but persistent*, just like this track. It’s sort of plodding and silly – especially the spiraling synthesizer squiggles – but if you can get in the right frame of mind (like I can), it’s fun anyway.

“Black Sabbath” – Black Sabbath, Symptom of the Universe
A sentimental and thematic pick, but a badass song all the same.

“The Exorcist (Theme from Tubular Bells)” – 101 Strings Orchestra, Halloween
This was probably pretty, originally. Not no more. Now it just sounds like a harbinger of all the insanity to come. Thanks a lot, Regan.

“The Omen” – 101 Strings Orchestra, Halloween
Baboons! Rottweilers! Devil spawn! Gregory Peck!

“Symphony No. 6: Fifth Movement” – Glenn Branca, Symphony No. 6 (Devil Choirs At the Gates of Heaven)
Jesus H. This is otherworldly, terrifying music in any setting, but turned up loud in the dark it becomes physically unpleasant. And I mean that in a good way.

“The Murder Mystery” – The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
Probably the musical equivalent of a migraine, or of schizophrenia. Or even a schizophrenia-induced migraine (but not migraine-induced schizophrenia – that’s John Mayer). I’m sure Lou Reed is nice and all, but I really think you’d have to be a psychopath to put something like this together and have it work so damn well.

*If you’ve never seen 28 Days Later…, oh fucking hell go see it right now. Perfect in so many ways, particularly the “D’oh!” moment all viewers probably get when they wonder, “Why didn’t I think of Fast Zombies™?” (The sequel is also awesome.)


"Constable, off with those pants!" : a massive influx of movie reviews

Did a bunch of 'em this time, even though I used so much space just ratfucking Dondi I think I could've left it at that and nobody would've called me lazy. Same for Killers Of The Sea. Booyah!

American Hardcore (C, 2006) Film documentary version of Stephen Blush’s excellent book chronicling the rise and decline of hardcore punk in America includes interviews with tons of people from classic 80’s punk bands, as well as vintage film clips that I’m surprised they could dig up (Void! Negative Approach! SSD! Flipper!). They cover most of the core bands, like Black Flag and Bad Brains and D.O.A., but some are conspicuous by their absence -- like where’s Government Issue, Husker Du, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, etc.? It’s incomplete, but face it: this is a movie for a very specific audience, and we’d still be wanting more of it if it was ten hours long. I’m already wishing for another volume of outtakes and more concert footage; this stuff is historical artifactage, it needs to be preserved somewhere. Some punks complained that the film (and the book) concentrated too much on the violence, but, face it, that was a part of the scene, and if you’re relating stories the violent incidents are going to stand out as interesting. The filmmakers obviously have done their homework and have a lot of passion for the subject. How infectious that is I can’t say, since I’m already heavily into the music -- I don’t know how drawn to this anyone would be if they weren’t interested in punk. But it’s well-made. Hype, the film about grunge, would make a good second feature for this, since that’s where history led.

Beach of the War Gods (C, 1973) aka Zhan Shen Tan, Blood Dragon. The Japanese are invading China and are headed for Li Town, demanding an exorbitant sum of money from the penniless villagers. Jimmy Wang Yu, looking all of twelve years old despite some press-on beard stubble, is a mysterious swordsman who can kill them by the dozens. Since a whole army is coming, though, he starts recruiting an army of super-warriors, including a sword salesman and a guy who has throwing knives strapped all over his body. They start training the villagers with swords and spears, but only have a week to get their little civilian army in fighting shape. The last almost-hour is constant gang fighting, nicely choreographed and complete with blood-spray. The end is legendary, and Wang Yu would repeat it in at least one other movie (I won’t tell you which one since you may have seen it and that’d spoil this one for you). One of the great kung fu flicks, and unfortunately pretty tough to track down; somebody should release this in a more widespread fashion, ‘cuz it’s worthy.

Bobby G. Can’t Swim (C, 1999) aka Drug Dealer. Bobby is a squirrelly, nothin’-happenin’ cokehead who happens across the score of his small-time life: some people he knows want to buy a whole kilo of cocaine. All Bobby has to do is get his hands on one and then he can make $15,000 on the markup. That’s not quite as easy as it sounds, though, because the buyers are amateur and skittish, and they get him in a tough spot with the dealer he’s buying the key from. If Bobby doesn’t bring the dealer his money in an hour, he’s going to be killed. Then Bobby gets hassled by the cops, loses the drugs, and has to pull off a hit-man killing to get enough money to pay off the dealer… but then the guy who set him up with the hit job doesn’t pay him for it, and real desperation sets in. Then Bobby finally finds some luck… but it may not all be the good kind. This film is very low-budget, but because the filmmaking is very confident the budget actually works in its favor, adding street-level authenticity. You get the sense that director/writer/star John-Luke Montias may have been channeling his desperation to get the film made into his portrayal of Bobby. It’s got a Mean Streets thing going (but non-derivative; most people making this film would have tried to ape Tarrantino or Guy Richie, but I can’t tell that Montias has ever heard of them -- and that’s a good thing) and manages to balance crime drama with an undercurrent of absurd humor (like when ever-scheming-but-naïve (or maybe even slightly good-hearted) Bobby accepts a “rare” bowling ball as payment for a deal and gets stuck kicking the silly thing around the streets); it reminds me of a Jason Starr novel (which is also a good thing). I found this for three bucks at Big Lots and took a chance on it, not expecting much, and it turned out to be a nice, unpretentious surprise.

DeadHouse (C, 2005) I mainly watched this because years before it was made I wrote an (unpublished) novel by the same name. I’m proud to say my plot bears no resemblance to theirs but I still want my title back. This is one of those generic shot-on-video horror cheapies that have been oversaturating the market lately, and it’s one of the many Texas Chainsaw-inspired ones. A carload of trendy twenty-somethings are on a road trip when they run into a family of butchers who are killing travelers for their meat. Fear gives the meat flavor, so they torture and terrorize them first, but not in any particularly original way. The cast is made up mostly of overweight nu-metal fans, and their “Leatherface” stand-in looks borrowed from Slipknot, complete with scary-clown mask, electrical tape on his arms, and duct tape on his clothes -- you know, all the stuff you’d take time to do if you were a fashion-conscious psycho. Everybody seems off-balance in this movie; bumping into a stick knocks one guy down, the Slipknot guy gets temporarily felled by a couple of taps from a yardstick-sized scrap of board, and a poke in the nuts leaves another killer incapacitated long enough for a girl to untie all her friends. The killers are so clumsy that the chase scenes that may up too much of the too-long running time don’t have much impact. Slipknot dude grasps for one girl like he’s trying to pick up a bar of soap, and she gets away easily. The main bad thing about the movie, though, is that you can’t hear much of the dialogue. It’s badly recorded to begin with, and then they bury it under omnipresent synth-pop. One not-terrible-but-not-special-either song with lyrics gets played over several scenes. The gore is the usual blood-splashed-around stuff. This isn’t the worst shot-on-video horror flick I’ve ever seen -- unfortunately it’s about dead-average -- but it’s hardly worth the time. It’s cheap enough, though, as part of the Catacomb of Creepshows 50-movie DVD pack.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (C, 1977) Bizarre cult item, popularized by comedian Patton Oswalt, who built an entire comedy bit around the mere fact that such a film exists. Even though I love the concept of Patton’s sequel, Rape Stove, this movie isn’t nearly as bad as Patton would have you believe. The film is intentionally absurd because it’s using dream-logic, like a filmed nightmare. And even though it’s played pretty straight, it does realize how wacky its premise is and has a sense of humor about itself (such as the scene where the bed gets a bottle of Pepto Bismol). Centuries ago, a demon built a bed in which to seduce a maiden, but he accidentally killed her and he wept tears of blood onto the bed, which gave it a weird form of life, and a constant hunger. Anything placed on the bed gets sucked into it (usually with a bunch of dissolving acid bubbles), where it gets digested. There are lots of scenes of digestion inside the bed, everything from apples to chicken legs to suitcases fizzing away in yellow liquid like a deep fryer. And, of course, people, or this wouldn’t be much of a horror film. The bed can also do magical things like transport the bones of the people it eats to the ground outside the castle, where roses grow over them. The movie is narrated by a man who’s trapped behind a painting in the bedroom. There’s not much plot, just people visiting the castle and being eaten by the bed, often after having nightmares while sleeping on it. When you have this much style you don’t need a lot of plot, though, and the film is artistically shot (though not too pretentious to use blood) and has some decent special effects. It’s not to be taken too seriously, but it’s no spoof, either, and it’s a lot better than the title would lead you to believe. Lots of surreal atmosphere and a definite originality makes up for the goofy premise and leisurely pacing, and some of the imagery -- while absurd -- is effectively horrific, such as a guy calmly watching his skeletonized hands fall apart. Patton’s routine is hilarious, but I’m not sure he’s seen the actual movie.

Dondi (B&W, 1961) Goshers, movie-review-reader buddies, this is as awful as you’ve heard! Usually you can’t trust the inept and pathetically-deranged Michael Medved for anything, but, for once, he was right about something when he gave this a Golden Turkey. Even the blind hand finds the grain, as they say. I’m still surprised he didn’t like it, though, since it does pay a lot of respect to God (“Mr. Big Buddy.”) When you can get Medved to dis a God-friendly film, you know it’s bad! A group of happy-go-lucky G.I. buddies stuck in Italy for Christmas take in a pathetic orphan named Dondi, who speaks just enough English to form highly annoying (though I’m sure they were scripted to be “cute”) sentences, such as “Buddies! Where are you? Is me, Dondi!” and "Is okay if I hungry too?" As portrayed by David Kory, who is to acting what an anvil is to swimming, Dondi appears brain-damaged. He mouth-breathes, incoherently projects his lines through his clogged nose, and has the expressionless black eyes of a stunned carp. You know that flat-effect stare that a sociopath gives you when you confront them? He has that perpetually. The G.I.’s (headed by David Jansen, who I suspect was being blackmailed to appear in this, possibly for killing a pregnant nun) head home on leave, all feeling guilty about leaving Dondi behind (even though they should have felt like a curse had been lifted). But, like a bad case of the syph, Dondi proves hard to get rid of. He stows away on their ship and his buddy-buddies sneakily manage to keep him hidden and fed (Dondi helps himself a lot in that regard by looming over people’s plates and drooling while they’re eating, or commenting “Is it okay if soup smelling good, Mr. Dealy-Buddy?” - he’s as subtle as prison rape, this kid). Just in case you miss any of the subtleties in the humor, the soundtrack prompts you with constant and obnoxious harmonica cues; it’s like some asshole’s doing an interpretive mouth-harp commentary track through the whole thing… and WILL NOT STOP, DAMN HIM! When they get to port, Dondi’s smuggled off in a duffel bag and promptly gets lost on the streets of New-York-Buddy. Descending on the city like a plague, he wanders around looking stoned and trying to get ladies out of televisions, trying to eat grapes off of people’s hats, spreading terror as he tries to climb the down escalator, misunderstanding elevators, or trying to pick fights with mannequins. Meanwhile all of New York is inexplicably falling in love with him, Patti Page is singing sappy songs about him, and everyone's dropping everything to write their congressmen to grant him citizenship (hmmm, maybe this is why Medved hates the movie - it’s pro-immigration!), when they don’t even know him. Walter Winchell even declares Dondi to be “Democracy itself!” The filmmakers actually have the temerity to try to wring sentiment out of this nursing-home-fire of a film. David Kory, with the emotional range of a pumpkin and all the charm of toilet backwash, really must be seen to be believed. Is it really so wrong to hate a child? Only as wrong as it is to hate an abscess. This was based on a forgotten newspaper comic strip; I guess they couldn’t get the rights to Mary Worth or Mark Trail. It’s awful but you should watch it anyway, because surely you have some sins to account for, and after this, you will feel cleansed. It’s a purgative, this film. Available on DVD-R from notavailableondvd.com (their print looks like a 3rd generation copy of an EP-speed taped TV broadcast, but considering Criterion isn’t likely to scrape this one off the curb, it’s probably as good as you’ll find). There were rumors of a sequel being made (Oh Shit, It’s Dondi would be a good title) and even a TV series, but that cataclysmic event fortunately never happened. And if anybody out there ever thinks of doing a remake… don’tdi!

Female Demon Ohyaku (B&W, 1968) aka Yoen Dokufuden Hannya No Ohyaku, Ohyaku: The Female Demon. First in the “Legends of the Poisonous Seductress” series, and the only one in black and white and also considered the first “Pinky Violence” film. Ohyaku survives an attempt by her prostitute mother to drown them both, and Ohyaku grows up to be a prostitute herself. She resents being used by men, though, and when she falls in love with a down-on-his-luck young samurai, she beings a life of crime. While trying to rob a gold shipment, they’re captured. Her boyfriend is killed and she’s tortured by being hung by her hair over a fire, and then is sent to prison. She swears to become a demon to get revenge, and has a demon tattooed on her back by a lesbian admirer. When Ohyaku does go for her vengeance, it’s cruel, ruthless, and bloody. Pretty surprising Japa-nasty is compelling and very well made, and it doesn’t balk at any cold-bloodedness. Ohyaku uses her beauty as well as her sword skill, and is amoral about tricking people into dire situations; a definite anti-heroine. Lone Wolf & Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama has a part as a crime boss.

The Golem (B&W, 1920) aka Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt Kam, The Golem: How He Came Into The World. An edict is passed in 16th century Prague, demanding that all Jews leave the city because they supposedly practice black magic. Oblivious to the irony of the act, Rabbi Loew builds a giant out of clay and uses black magic to bring it to life to protect the Jews from their persecutors. During a magic-circle ritual, the floating head of the demon Astaroth belches smoke which gives the Rabbi a magic word (AemAet, if you’d like to play along at home) that, when written down and stuck to the clay statue’s chest, gives it life. The Rabbi uses the Golem as a servant, having it chop wood and fetch water and groceries from the market, but then takes it to the king’s court, where it saves everyone from the wrath of God (in the form of a collapsing roof) when everyone laughs at the Rabbi’s magical infomercial about the history of Jews. In exchange for being saved, the king withdraws the edict. The troubles aren’t over, though, because the stars fall into bad alignment and the Golem becomes filled with Astaroth’s destructive rage. The Rabbi deactivates it, but his assistant revives it to make it deal with the guy his would-be girlfriend (the Rabbi’s daughter) is seeing. The angry Golem goes on a killing spree and abducts the Rabbi’s daughter and starts burning down the ghetto. Can the Jews stop the menace that formerly was their protector? An amazing-looking silent film with stylized, German-expressionistic sets and costumes, all masterfully photographed by Karl Freund. Director Paul Wegener also portrays the Golem, who looks really impressive even though his giant hair-helmet is a tad silly-looking. His lumbering movements and a scene with a child would prove to be a big influence on James Whales’s Frankenstein a decade later.

Harlem Rides The Range (B&W, 1939) All-black-cast Western looks crude from a technical side, but it does a better job of being entertaining than most of its white contemporaries. Thin, dapper-dressing singing cowboy Bob Blake and his always-hungry (at one point he eats a can of dog food!) sidekick Dusty take a break from riding and they discover bloodstains in a cabin. The owner of a radium mine was murdered there when he wouldn’t tell the location of the mine and sign it over to a crime boss. The bad guys take advantage of Blake’s losing a glove (shades of O.J.!)to pin the murder on him. That doesn’t work out, so the murdered man’s daughter is taken captive. Blake’s fallen in love with a picture of her, so he breaks out of jail to save her. Moves quickly (it better at 55 minutes long) and the plot stays more on-point than many creaky old oaters. There are a few scenes that would probably be considered stereotypical racism if they weren’t in an all-black movie (guys running around because they’re scared of ghosts, etc.) The picture on the DVD is so rough it looks like it was filmed in newsprint, but considering the rarity of the film I can deal with that.

Inglorious Bastards (C, 1978) aka Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato, Counterfeit Commandos, Deadly Mission, G. I. Bro, Hell’s Heroes, The Dirty Bastard. Spaghetti-war-flick blending of The Dirty Dozen (with just half that many guys) and Kelly’s Heroes sees a handful of criminal misfits who escape on their way to being court-martialed. There’s Fred Williamson, who accidentally killed a racist sergeant, Bo Svenson, a hotshot pilot who used his plane to visit a girlfriend in London, a long-haired scrounger who looks like a refugee from Black Sabbath, a sadistic jerk from the Chicago mob, a coward, and a German deserter. They’re all trying to escape to Switzerland, but on the way they kill a group of guys they think are Germans, but who are actually American paratroopers on their way to a secret mission. So our anti-heroes find themselves roped into a very dangerous mission, hijacking a train carrying V-2 rocket technology. It’s pretty standard plot wise, basically a vehicle for action scenes, which are pretty excellent stuff, and almost nonstop. Quentin Tarrantino was so impressed with this that he lifted the title for a war movie of his own. Directed by Italian crime film specialist Enzo G. Castellari.

Killers of the Sea (B&W, 1937) Incredibly bombastic narration (the most overblown I’ve ever heard) and some appalling racist “humor” make this 49-minute documentary a jaw-dropping experience. Based in Panama City, Florida, Captain Wallace Caswell is a constable and hunter of ocean predators that foul up the local fishing business. Caswell is described in heroic terms that would embarrass a god. He’s killed sharks with only a knife! He has muscles of steel! Even his binoculars are astoundingly wonderful (“they see far and clear!”). And he has a black cook named Evolution (“Look at Evolution, dark Evolution, humorous Evolution!”) who has a wooden leg and provides bug-eyed comedy relief that Steppin Fetchit would have passed up as too demeaning. Between fights with fish everybody dances around the boat to accordion music (“All week before going into action, Caswell likes to hear a jolly song, a salty sailorman tune! He’s a musical constable! So let the tune ring out with a shout and a fling!”) The first sea creature he goes after is hardly dangerous -- a bottlenose dolphin. (“The constable takes off his pants, a tell-tale sign! Trousers would never do for fish fighting! So when you see Caswell climbing out of those pants, that means the battle is about to begin, man versus monster!”) This is supposed to take place far out at sea but you can tell it’s staged in waist-deep water. When it gets away, the bastards harpoon it, and the narrator gushes about “fun.” For killing Flipper, one of the most lovable of all animals! I guess if they slapped a child they'd have a hoe-down. When the dolphin gets in the boat with a black sailor, the narrator says “That darkie sailor is having a whale of a time! What colored man ever dreamed of having a leviathan in his boat?” Then they harpoon a hammerhead shark, which keeps raising hell on the boat even after they cut its head half-off. Then Caswell goes after a tiger shark with only a knife, which looks like ill-advised showboating. When birds spot schools of fish, the narrator declares “We are guided by boobies!” How true that is. Then, they kill sea turtles (“Science says a sea turtle can live without a brain, as some international statesmen do!”) and a guy in a diving suit finds a sunken ship and a herd of octopus, which the narrator hates (“like a horrible symbol of sin… fantastically odious… unmitigated ferocity! The octopus is so fierce that the devil fish, when hungry, has been known to attack one of its own tentacles and devour its own arm!”) In the wreck is a skeleton and a chest, just in case you thought this wasn’t set up. A turtle and octopus attack and obviously-stuffed diving suit, so, knife in his teeth, Caswell dives in to save the day. The whole thing’s shot silent with occasional faked dialogue. At times you see the narrator at a desk staring off into space and talking. Truly jaw-dropping old curio that must be seen to be believed, with many obviously faked scenes. “Constable, off with those pants!” Available only as an oddly-chosen part of the Night Screams 50-movie DVD pack.

Madmen of Mandoras (B&W, 1968) aka The Amazing Mr. H, The Return of Mr. H. This is the film that was reworked and had newer footage (clumsily) added and was retitled to the much-more-exploitable They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Thanks to the miracle of low-budget DVD the original version is available again, and it’s a lot more comprehensible and seems less ridiculous, although it’s still pretty bad (mostly due to bad choices that retard the pacing). A couple get caught up in international intrigue when they’re whisked away to a small South American country, where a cabal of neo-Nazis are still taking orders from the reanimated head of Adolph Hitler, which is being kept alive in a fancy fish tank. Their main mission is to destroy the formula for the antidote to some super nerve-gas they’re planning to unleash. It’s hard to have much faith in their competence, though, when they can’t even get their swastikas to point in the right direction. There’s a lot of talk, and if you’re into extended shots of people getting into and out of cars and then driving around in the dark (no matter what time of the day they get into the car it’s dark when they drive; I guess the rear-projection needed a new bulb), then this is pornography for you. The Hitler head, blinking and smirking in a jar atop a Ham radio, is the highlight, but they don’t show it much, and you’re left with a lot of driving around. More dull-bad than funny-bad.

Mudhoney (B&W,1965) aka Mud Honey, Rope of Flesh, Rope, Rope of Love. Russ Meyer films this depression-era backwoods sex-and-violence like it’s the cover of a Erskine Caldwell paperback come to life. Calif McKinney is hitchhiking from Michigan to California and is so hard up for work that he takes an $8-a-month job at a farm of ill repute. His boss is a sadistic wife-beating drunk, and Calif soon has designs on his neglected wife. Meanwhile, the drunk is hanging around at the local whorehouse even though he’s got no money. He plans to steal his wife’s money once she inherits it from her ailing uncle, but the uncle decides she’d be better off with Calif. An evil fanatical preacher makes things even worse… and they don’t need any help in that regard, since the drunk is rapidly losing his sanity and becoming a homicidal maniac Meyer has a flair for backwoods grotesquerie, and makes this sleazy drama pretty much essential. Amazingly, Turner Classic Movies shows this from time to time.

Neither The Sea Nor The Sand (C, 1972) aka The Exorcism of Hugh. An unhappy woman meets a man on the Jersey shore (that’s Britain Jersey, not Sopranos Jersey) and is immediately smitten with him despite there being no reason to be, since he’s not all that handsome and has a cold, sullen personality. They have an affair, and while doing the obligatory romantic-movie running-down-the-beach scene he has a heart attack and dies. He promptly shows up again, though, and she never questions how or why, she’s just happy about it. He doesn’t talk anymore, just stares a lot. She manages to work around that, until he starts to rot, and his kisses almost make her throw up. The decay gets worse and she wants to break up, but he wants her to join him in death…. Very slow-moving and not very eventful, but it’s atmospheric and kinda creepy. It was very hard to see until they finally released it on DVD.

Quick-Draw Okatsu (C, 1969) aka Yoen Dokufuden: Hitokiri Okatsu. Trying to help her brother escape from gangsters, a female swordsmanship teacher is raped by a crime lord. Her father is tortured to death, upping the ante for vengeance. Escaping from a life of being a forced concubine with the help of a cute swordsgirl drifter, she sets out to avenge herself against her father’s killer. Tomisaburo Wakayama (wearing a sort of samurai-modified leisure suit) is a badass bounty hunter who’s after her. Second in the “Legends of the Poisonous Seductress” series (which I can’t really understand, since it bears no relation to the first - Female Demon Ohyaku) and is full of excellent and sometimes gory swordfighting.

Who Can Kill A Child? (C, 1976) aka Quien Puede Matar un a un Nino?, Island of the Damned, Death is Child’s Play, Island of Death, Lucifer’s Curse, The Killer’s Playground, Trapped, Would You Kill a Child? A couple vacationing in Spain decide to rent a boat for a side trip to a small island, which is supposed to be really charming. When they arrive, however, things are very strange. The streets and shops are deserted, and the only people around are weird, unfriendly children. The phones ring with someone speaking Dutch on the other end, and while trying to track down the caller the husband starts finding dead bodies and children using a dead adult as a pinata. He comes to the realization that the children have murdered all adults on the island, possibly as retaliation for all the pre-adolescent “collateral damage” that grown-ups kill in their wars. The wife is pregnant, so she might be spared the wrath of the kids, but any other adult left on the island will have to reconcile themselves to the idea of killing children in self-defence. If you’re accustomed to killer-kids movies being somewhat laughable (such as The Children or Devil Times Five), then you’ll be extra shocked at how incredible this filme is at building menace, tension, and dread; these kids are scary, and the film maintains a Night of the Living Dead sort of vibe, and wait for adults to try getting past them. The film leaves a lot unexplained, and is all the more effective for it. Very intense horror gratefully rescued from obscurity by DVD, and will hopefully become regarded as a classic, as it deserves. Fearless in its taboo-breaking and powerful in its ability to shock, a must see in Spanish horror, very well shot and directed.

The Woodland Haunting 2 (C, 2006) A homemade shot-on-video horror comedy that achieves absolutely nothing; it’s brutally unfunny, it damnsure ain’t scary, and what little story there is doesn’t really hang together well enough to even allow me to give it much of a synopsis. It’s something about an Elvis impersonator who researches psychic phenomena trying to investigate a house haunted by a certain Baker family, who lived on potatoes. Meanwhile, some woman (played by a guy in drag) is battling the forces of evil which come in the form of a Betty Boop doll, a flying tampon (still in its wrapper - they’re not that gross) and some green popcorn. At one point they briefly (and pointlessly) do a rip-off of The Ring, just to make another fart joke. Then Elvis gets chased briefly by a Sasquatch (which you don’t even see), simply because some goon making the movie mistakenly thought, “Boy, wouldn’t it be hilarious if Bigfoot chased Elvis?!” There’s also some tall, balding goober in sunglasses (who I believe is also the transvestite) whose voice is always slowed to “monster pitch” electronically, who shows up for no real reason to pad out running time by doing sit-ups, eating peanut butter, or talking on his cell phone. The filmmakers try hard, but they just seem to have no sense of humor or understand what makes something funny; it’s like they heard Elvis impersonators are supposed to be funny, so their movie will automatically be funny if they use this most-tired of ideas one more goddamned time. Or, just the mere sight of a Betty Boop doll or the idea of people eating potatoes is supposed to be comical. The only thing funny about the comedy is trying to figure out why somebody thought it was funny. It does try, which keeps the pacing (which still drags because they don’t seem to understand what’s interesting much more than they do what’s funny) under control, if you’re trying to play along with it. I wanted to work with it, but it just doesn’t let ya. Available cheap on the “Hostile Hauntings” DVD set.


Tales of WTF?

When you work in academia, you see students try a weirdly impressive amount of stupid shit. Culled from my time both as an instructor and on a panel that hears cases of academic misconduct, here are some of the most titillating examples of aforementioned stupid shit, sassily named for your reading pleasure.

Oddly Familiar: In an English Composition II class years ago – back before I even knew what a “course website” was – I provided my students with a sample essay illustrating the type of assignment they were about to write. This sample was an anonymized essay that I had gotten in a previous semester, and I gave it to the class with grim but standard instructions: “This sample is intended to give you a practical idea of the type of essay you should write for our next assignment. Do not copy any of the wording or the sentence structure; doing so is plagiarism, and plagiarism means an F for the course and a visit to the Dean of Students.” We also discussed plagiarism, how to cite sources appropriately, etc. So a few days later I’m grading their essays, and I start reading one that sounds oddly familiar; the sensation was sort of like hearing your song on the radio and not realizing it’s you, only less cool. I keep reading, and then one passage brings it all home to me – this is the sample essay. I don’t remember the exact topics involved, but I do know they were pro/con argumentation papers, so let’s just say the sample concerned banning boxing, and the aggrieving paper in question concerned legalizing marijuana. What this writer had done was copy every single word of the sample (remember, no course website, no substantive use of e-mail, no electronic copy to highlight/copy/paste) and then change all boxing references to marijuana-legalization references……except she didn’t catch all the references. So there, in a paragraph on (e.g.) the thorny issues surrounding medical marijuana use, appeared a reference to blunt-force trauma and the frequency of long-term brain damage among ex-fighters. This example introduces a question that crops up in virtually every case of academic misconduct: considering the necessity here for retyping the entire paper, at some point wouldn’t it be easier for the offender to just write the goddamn thing herself? Apparently not.

Mom Wrote It: While grading English Composition I papers one semester, I noticed that one of my student’s papers was a bit better than earlier efforts, though not so much that I became too suspicious of inappropriate outside help. When I got to the end of the essay, I realized there was another page attached, which was unusual because we weren’t using sources and therefore had no need to list any references. So what was this mystery page? Why, it was a letter from the writer to her mother, thanking her for writing her child’s paper. Really. It literally said something like this: “Dear Mom, Thanks for writing my English paper for me. See you this weekend. Love, So-and-so.” I sat there looking at it, wondering why the fuck this student couldn’t have just given the letter to Mom! Had she done so, I would have finished grading the paper, assigned its appropriate grade, and kept moving. Instead, I had to meet with this student and endure the following:

ME: So-and-so, this paper is a bit better than your previous ones.
SO-AND-SO: Thanks.
ME: Why do you think this one is better?
SO-AND-SO: Um, I don’t know. I guess I just worked harder on it.
ME: It has a few places that concern me, as though perhaps you had some help. Did you have any help?
ME: Are you sure?
ME (producing the letter to her mother from my bag): Well, I have this letter here…

...at which point So-and-so’s face blanched out and her eyes bulged and she copped to the whole sordid affair. And just in case you’re wondering, I take absolutely no pleasure in scenes like this. They suck the ass-end of a menstruating skunk. I’d much rather all students walked the academic straight-and-narrow, but if any of mine are going to plagiarize, I’m going to do my due diligence. Harrumph.

No Evidence = Guilty: So when you’re on this committee that conducts hearings, you get e-mails inquiring about your availability for a hearing at a certain date/time, and if you affirm your availability, you soon get an envelope in campus mail with the details of the hearing so you can educate yourself. Once, I got very few details in said envelope; in fact, you could say that there was no evidence. The envelope had the paperwork from the Dean of Students’ office, including a narrative summary of the allegations, and a typed, double-spaced research paper. As the summary explained it, a professor had been told by a former student (i.e., not currently in her class) that a current student had copied his paper and submitted it as his own. The typed paper in the envelope, however, was not the offending paper (it apparently didn’t exist) but a copy of the original paper, the one the former student said had been copied by the current student. Hence, our materials for this hearing were allegations and a typed essay that could have been literally anything. When the committee met before the professor and student arrived, we expressed dismay at holding a hearing with no evidence and flatly said that if the student pled innocent, we’d have no choice but to find him innocent and end the hearing. So when the student came in and we asked how he pled, he said – I am not making this up – “Guilty. And I throw myself on the mercy of this court.” We looked at each other in shock, had a very short hearing (verdict: guilty), and then decided amongst ourselves (after the involved parties were gone) that this student had likely not known we had no evidence and therefore assumed his goose was cooked; the other logical explanation – a desire to confess the truth – was not, we decided, all that logical after all.

Seventeen Counts, One Offense: Sometimes, the packet of information you get for a hearing is so thick, you do the only right-thinking thing you can do: you ignore it. This is what I did for a recent hearing, preferring instead to thumb through the info as the hearing went along. My strategy, it turns out, was a bad idea (imagine that), partly because I was less informed than I should have been and partly because the particulars of this offense were damn-near impossible to believe. Indeed, it wasn’t until about a week had passed that I fully grasped the concept that this student had committed seventeen flagrant offenses that ended up counting as one offense.

Here’s the shiz: dude decided to buy some research data online from one of apparently many eBay-type sites where one can bid on “jobs.” He did this not once but seventeen separate times (that we and his department know of). The details of how he got caught were about as salacious as novice-level academic research gets, but, sadly, I don’t remember them all, and they make us turn in our info for shredding once it’s all done. I can tell you that it involved weeks- or possibly months-long surveillance by the university’s network technicians and that the linchpin of their case was a document or screenshot linking this guy’s please-sell-me-my-homework screen name to his university account……which they eventually acquired because dude forgot to logout of a screen that showed both his commercial screen name and his university ID (without this, his case would have been much harder to prove). I tell you, it was crazy to be sitting there in that hearing, staring at a screenshot from AcademicMisconductRUs.biz (or whatever) that showed (a) his description of what he wanted along with the reduced price of $50 (alas, no takers at $100), (b) his screen name, and (c) his university-assigned ID there at the bottom of the frame. “What in the fuck did you think you were doing,?” I wanted to ask him.

At any rate, he pled guilty, cried, and said he learned his lesson; his mom cried and said he learned his lesson; his fiancé cried and said he learned his lesson. Touching, perhaps, but I was having none of it. I like to think I’m as generous as the next person regarding lessons learned, second chances, rehabilitation, what have you, but seventeen separate counts of bought-and-sold cheating, all rolled into one über-offense since they’d been discovered at the same time? Sorry, old chap: that stomps all over whatever “line” I draw as a faculty/committee member. I was alone in my desire to expel this guy because his offenses were so numerous and so dire; the rest of the committee overruled me and voted to suspend him for five full years, which, in all honesty, will probably result in a de facto expulsion, since most people do not come back after that long, especially with such a bloody ugly track record. (FYI, I did not fully understand what “expelled” means until I got on this committee. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it means “you can never come back to this school, and probably not many others either, since most schools, for some bizarre reason, are not fond of would-be students whose transcripts are stamped ‘EXPELLED FOR ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT.’”)

Cut & Paste: Then there’s this one, the Ishtar of academic misconduct as far as I'm concerned. A few years ago, a fellow teacher in my program brought a potentially plagiarized paper to my attention. The evidence went like this:

1. The writing style of the document’s first two sections was very obviously less sophisticated than the style of the remaining 4-5 sections (too many short & choppy sentences in a row, lots of overly informal phrases, many silly expletive constructions like “it is” or “there are,” etc.).

2. The font in the first two sections was 12-point Times New Roman, while the rest of the document was 10-point Arial — not exotic fonts, of course, but a dramatic and wholly nonstandard shift nonetheless.

3. Every single section of the document after the first two contained variant British spellings, most containing “-our” instead of just “-or.” Such spellings aren’t wrong per se, but they are beyond the reach or purpose of most students from the rural South.

(Note a running theme in the three items above: everything in the document past the first two sections was noticeably different than the shit in the first two sections. Gawrsh! This water sure is wet!)

These items alone would be grounds for bringing up plagiarism, but the best and most damning evidence was the presence of thin, dark lines and smudges along with what looked like fingerprint whorls in strategic places that more or less framed the writing on the page. These irregularities were telltale signs of a literal cut-and-paste job: shadows created by the space between two less-than-perfectly flat sheets of paper during the photocopying process, and fingerprints evidently left by the offender while taping one sheet of paper onto another.

Yes, this MENSA candidate took an existing document, cut out (with scissors!) the sections he needed (not the first two), taped them (with dirty hands!) to blank paper, photocopied the resulting “pages,” and submitted all this as his writing assignment. We actually kind of marveled over his ability to line up the different blocks of paper so exquisitely, because none of them looked askew in the least.

So, 15 seconds on Google and we had the offending PDF (hence, I guess, the lack of virtual cut-and-paste) pulled up on my screen, every word, font, graphic, and design element a spot-on match. When confronted, this student admitted it outright but said he got the source document at work and didn’t know it had actually been published (as if this makes any difference at all).

Talk about dedication.


The Shaming Of The True, or, I Like The Hole The Baby Comes Out Of

Don't think too hard about the title, it doesn't mean anything, I just needed something to put there so I went with randominance. It was either that or What's Inside A Homonculus: or, All Flesh Is Gruel. Which is still better than Heed Ye The Chatterings Of The Monkey-Priest; or, A Serenade of Bean Music.

Oi loike madness! Es tasty!

I’m kinda bleh at the moment ‘cuz I’ve had kinda a Guantanamo-style weekend and I‘m pretty sure an MRI would show my spine looking like a flute full of bubblegum, so this probably won’t be much of a blog ‘cuz I don‘t wanna sit here long. Horizontal sounds really good right now. I didn’t wanna break the habit, though, because my laziness is of a cumulative nature, and once I do that, the snowball’s going down the hill and destruction doth reign.

I found another YouTuber I’m addicted to. I honestly don’t seek out pretty 20-year-old girls there (I’m too freakin’ old for ‘em) but somehow that’s how it works out. I’m still checking out Cutiemish but she’s putting most of her vids on her own website instead of YouTube, probably to avoid all the “sit on my face!” comments that the jerks there live to put up. Anyway, she’s still recommended, especially if you’re ever feeling bummed out; it’s impossible to watch that adorable goofus and not feel happier. It’s like listening to the Ramones. If you don't like Cutiemish, you don't like ice cream or puppies or kittens. Anyway, the new girl I found is also gorgeous, but that’s not why I like her (it’s not why I like Mishy, either, although it doesn’t hurt in either case). This girl, Laci Green, is an atheist, and she’s super-smart. She’s been in college since she was 15, and even though she’s only 19 now she expresses herself better than most adults. Unless you’re a theist of some sort and don’t feel like sitting through the rhetoric (which I could understand if you didn't - it definitely appeals only to a like-minded audience, and otherwise it'd probably be a pain in the ass), check this out, it’s pretty amazing.

She gets a lot of intelligent replies (on either side of the issue) but it makes me misanthro-pissed that idiots will reply to things like that with “Tits or get the fuck out!” I don't get trolls.

One thing ya’ll might want to be prepping for, if you want to participate, is an upcoming NaNoWriMo. The official one is in November, but screw that: at work we came up with our own “NaNoWriMoSouth” thing, which is in July. Dunno if they’re doin’ it at work this year again, but I think I will, regardless of what they do (punk rock!), and if I can drag any of ya’ll into this hell with me, I will! What it entails is, you’ve got to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Starts July 1st, so start coming up with yer plots and characters… or your lame excuses. I’ve done this for the past two years, and I’ll admit that it’s only satisfying in the aftermath. During the month it’s pretty much a-much-much-much-wimpier-version-of-Navy-SEAL-training. You won’t get to do much else and will get interesting new forms of carpal tunnel, but afterward you get major bragging rights! If you can find anybody who‘s actually impressed with such activities, that is, which admittedly isn‘t easy in a world where people are often proud of not even reading books, much less writing them. Mostly it’s a discipline exercise, and a way to test your iron will against your own pitiable laziness. I completed it in 2007, turning out the zombies-in-the-storm-drain gorefest - Signal 30 - (which I’ve previously discussed/disgust). Last year I failed with Steve’s Trailer, but I did finally finish the novel when I un-lazied myself for a couple of hours about a month ago, and that’s the main thing that counts, I think. So, this is yer head’s up, kids. Be thinking on it. I think I’ve already got a plot brewing in my head, and lord, is it ugly! It's kinda a Deliverance meets Lord of the Flies with LSD-birth-defect-inbreeding thrown in. In other words, lit-er-a-toor, yeah-huh buddy, you know it! I'm gonna try to work in a scene were somebody masturbates in public with a baby's head, as a homage to Henry James!

Oh, wait, I already did that in Death Metal Creeps, sorta. Oops.

Also I finally scored another rare horror flick I’ve been looking for for years, so the review of that will be below, so there’ll at least be something somewhat substance-like in this post.

Blood And Lace (C, 1971) A young lady named Ellie has dreams about a hammer murderer who killed her mother. Detective Vic Tayback takes an interest in her (and not an entirely wholesome one) and wants to protect her since she could identify the killer and therefore might become his next target. Ellie moves into an orphanage (even though she looks like she’s in her 20’s, but then so do all the other “orphans”), little knowing that the people who run it are crazy and have been murdering their charges and keeping their corpses in a freezer. There’s also a golem-looking zombie guy lurking around, girls chained up in the attic, and mental illness in general. The film’s very cheap and stuck with a music score that’s about 40 years out of date, but it maintains a twisted atmosphere and is pretty darn effective overall. It’s also incredible that this movie got a PG rating, given the graphic nature of some of the violence and the psychotic, sadistic themes. The surprise ending is freaky and ridiculous, but has some disturbing implications. Hard to find, but a DVD-R is available from Midnight Video, and it looks great.

Here, watch the trailer:

Oh, and I finally got to see Norma Rae, inspired by Kicker Of Elves’s review several weeks back (write some more of those!) - he was absolutely right about this movie, I dug it big-time. So make that two thumbs up, definitely something worth seeking out.

Also, one last thing to leave you with, just because I tripped across it on YouTube… a video from Celtic Frost’s horrible, ill-fated flirtation with poser-metal… the infamous Cold Lake album, which it is forbidden to speak of! God, that album was some doodoo. This song, however, actually kicks ass (and is pretty much the only thing on that record that does). But only if you listen to it without the hilariously bad poofy-hair video, which is funnier than a ventriloquist in a morgue. I remember when this first showed up on MTV, and my Hellhammer-crazy self getting extremely disoriented. Surely these thalidomide poodles couldn’t be from the same gene pool as the mighty creators of such songs as "Necromantical Screams" and "Circle of the Tyrants?" Yep. And it’s got fretboard-cam, stoopidt drummer tricks, and everything! Feel the shame as you fall in love with this massive riff as you watch guys with hair that's been teased like a fourth-grader with an Urkel lunchbox make goo-goo eyes at you and stab at the camera with their gee-tars, and "rock" into each other wearing strappy pants.

And is anybody waiting the Anvil documentary as anxiously as I am? I actually liked this band, but I can see how this is gonna be a for-real Spinal Tap. Can't wait!

"It's so unfair to Anvil, it's so unfair to Anvil..." But seriously, does cheese get any more lovable than this?

Man, I've just figured out this isn't even a blog post, it's just an episode of "Let's watch YouTube with Zwolf." Sorry, guys.


buncha movies 'n' a couple books

Nothing wildly original is occurring to me, but I'm still striving to be a workhorse, so I figured I’d toss a few reviews in here. Haven't proofread them much so they're probably sloppy. God, I hope so... messy is charmin'. If I could figure out a way to put feedback and reverb into prose, I'd do it. Eerrrreeeegggh.

First some movies:

Book Of Stone (C, 1969) aka El Libro de Piedra. Tragically obscure horror film from Mexico in which a woman is hired as a nanny to a little girl named Sylvia, who many consider mentally ill. The girl has a friend named Hugo who no one else ever sees. They think she’s formed an imaginary friend around a centuries-old statue of a little boy holding a huge book, but certain events (the recovery a necklace she lost in a river, prediction of events, knowledge of a long-destroyed Austrian town Hugo supposedly hails from) lead the nanny to believe that Hugo might be real, or that the statue is actually the petrified body of a wizard’s son, who was left to guard his father’s book of black magic spells. When little Sylvia starts making voodoo dolls (that work) and drawing pentagrams on the floor, they fear that Hugo is teaching her things, or perhaps possessing her, and things get dangerous. Atmospheric and creepy horror (some have compared it to The Innocents, which is apt) that rates highly on the scary scale (especially when that damn little Hugo starts showing up!) but has somehow slipped under the radar to such a degree that I can’t find mention of it in any horror reference book. That’s a shame, because this one really deserves to be seen, and I hope some DVD company will make the discovery and release it. It’s currently available as a DVD-R from notavailableondvd.com and you’re encouraged to go there and snag it. When you come across something this classic and nobody’s ever heard of it, you have to wonder what else may be luring out there, unseen. Chilling final shot.

Bryan Loves You (C, 2008) Yeah, well, I hate Bryan. The title of this no-budget, shot-on-video horror flick is very original and intriguing (I love horror titles that don’t sound like horror titles), but, alas, the goodness ends there. When reputable actors like George Wendt and Tony Todd showed up on screen, I became concerned about how their careers were doing, because this thing is a boring fucking mess that almost defies viewing. Lloyd Kaufmann, from Troma, also makes an appearance, like anybody gives a fuck if that jerk-off is around or not. Purporting to be “found footage” of a videotape a psychotherapist made to document a cult spreading in his town, it also includes bits supposedly shot by security cameras. The cult centers around a supposed messiah named Bryan, who was murdered by “the devil,” whose name is Tansy. Members of the Bryan cult often wear expressionless white masks with cracks painted on them, and deaths and insanity surround them. The psychotherapist is eventually institutionalized because people claim he’s crazy They try subjecting him to therapy that’s also indoctrination into the overbearing Bryan cult, which has no tolerance for nonbelievers. He tries to escape and eventually broken out by a resistance group of unbelievers. Living amidst the Baptist Taliban of the South, I can relate to his situation, but it’s still incredibly boring and so poorly told that it borders on nonsense. The camera lingers forever on the most uninteresting things imaginable (at one point the guy sets the camera down and we look at an easy chair in an empty house for over a minute) and the horrifying, disturbing, gruesome stuff Tony Todd’s grave warning prolog promised never shows up. The ending is a total non-ending, too, so your patience isn’t even rewarded with a payoff. When you combine hard-to-follow filmmaking with a hard-to-stay-interested-in storyline, you get something like this. I could probably have lived with it if it was on some cheapo 50-movie box set, but it’s ten frickin’ bucks, and I was sad to see it released by the once-mighty Anchor Bay. Anchor Bay, what the hell happened to you? The commentary track shuts off 15 minutes before it’s done with a fake assault, but I suspect the truth is that not even the filmmakers felt like sitting through it. Borrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnnnng.

Cannibal Curse (C, 1987) aka Curse, Chu Nv Jiang. Wacky Hong Kong witchcraft flick. First, a young woman married to an evil letch in a wheelchair tries to find a way out of her terrible situation by having a witch marry her to her secret lover’s corpse. Then, apparently reincarnated, she seeks his reincarnated form. Meanwhile, her cousin gets mixed up with a laughing sorcerer who looks like an Asian version of Bootsy Collins, who runs a tribe of cannibalistic dwarfs. The sorcerer helps her win her man (even though he turns out to be married) on the promise that she give him her body. She doesn’t keep her end of the bargain, so he casts a snake spell on her lover. A Taoist priest tries to battle the evil sorcerer but is overwhelmed, so his virgin daughter tries to get revenge by having sex with the sorcerer (which consists of him sucking her toes and then puking up frogs and worms while snakes slither out of his split-open belly). Despite some lurid craziness, particularly at the climax, this would be tedious under the best of circumstances… and the Video Asia DVD is far from the best circumstances. The copy they used on the Grindhouse Experience Presents Eye On Horror set is in Chinese, and the soundtrack has a horrible echo problem throughout. The subtitles are badly translated, and are mostly unreadable since they’re off the bottom of the screen. If your DVD player has a shrink-screen option, that helps. Also very handy is the fast-forward button, or, better yet, eject.

Ghostwatch (C, 1992) A big scary Halloween prank the BBC played on the United Kingdom, which provoked some controversial panic (and even got written up in the British Medical Journal for having caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children). Shot documentary-style and presented as a live newscast, using actual BBC newscasters as actors, this is a supposedly-live feed from an extremely haunted house, and the supernatural activity (perpetrated by a spirit called “Pipes,” because a little girl misunderstood her mom’s explanation of the poltergeist’s knocking sounds as being “pipes”) escalates, enters the BBC studios, and supposedly spreads through the broadcast into the homes of viewers across the country. The film expertly manipulates the tension, building intensity, then providing some relief by revealing an apparent hoax… right before everything gets even more horrific, involving possession and spreading the phenomena around until no place seems safe, including your own living room. The film uses a lot of subtlety, not showing you much, just giving you some brief, almost-subliminal glimpses of the ghost. By the end this thing’s DAMN scary and that’s even when you know it’s not real; I can’t even imagine how badly freaked out the original viewers who got War of the Worlds-ed with this thing must have been. And the filmmakers wanted to mess with them even further by hiding high pitched noises in the soundtrack, which would be inaudible to humans but would make your pets go running around the house! This thing needs an official U.S. DVD release badly (I got a DVD-R from notavailableondvd.com) but so far it’s only on region 2. I believe you can watch it online in pieces at YouTube. See it any way you can, because this predecessor to Blair Witch-style horror really delivers.

Kill Them All And Come Back Alone (C, 1968) aka Ammazzali Tutti E Torna Solo, Go Kill Everybody And Come Back Alone. Action-packed Spaghetti Western in which Chuck Connors is contracted by the Confederacy to put together a “Dirty Half Dozen”-style team of unusually-talented mercenaries capable of stealing a fortune in gold coins that the Yankees are hiding inside sticks of dynamite. Chuck’s team is made up of a super-strong guy named Bogard, an Indian/Mexican knife expert creatively named Blade, a pole-vaulting acrobat called The Kid, a dynamite expert named Deker who uses an air-gun bazooka that looks like a banjo, a gun expert named Hoagy, and a ruthless spy named Lynch. Connors is directed to kill everyone else on his team once the mission is completed. He betrays them, all right, but doesn’t kill them, which could prove to be a mistake. In fact, he’s kind of lucky when he and the rest of them are captured and sent to a Union labor camp. O’ course they eventually escape and scramble to be the last man standing with the gold. Good stuff directed by Enzo G. Castellari.

Let The Right One In (C, 2008) aka Lat den ratte komma in. A wimpy picked-on 12-year-old named Oskar finds a new friend in Eli, the creepy weird girl next door. She can work Rubik’s cubes almost instantly, doesn’t seem to feel the cold, and sometimes has a nasty smell, but since all the kids in his school are hateful to him he still falls instantly in love with the repellent girl. He doesn’t know that Eil is actually a vampire, and her father has been murdering and draining people to keep her fed. It’s a very well-made film (although it backs up my theory that everybody believes slow pacing and sterile atmosphere instantly means art) and is very highly-praised, and I can understand reasons why even though I’ve got to admit I’m not sure what the big deal is. There’s nothing even slightly unpredictable in the story and it went exactly where I thought it would, and the characters and situations are comic-bookish and patently manipulative. That may sound like I’m dogging the film, but I’m not; I liked it fine, even though I’m pretty worn out with the tired, done-to-death vampire genre, and think they did a great job with it. I just don’t know why it’s special: we’ve seen this story before in everything from Little Shop of Horrors to Basket Case. I guess it grabbed people who are into adolescent-alienation-love-stories more than I am, because I thought they overdid the shmaltz a bit. I do like that they left some things vague (is the guy killing for Eli her father? Or did he start when he was Oskar’s age? Is she even a girl?). Still, this may be the least-glowing review of it you’ll find, and I’m still telling you it’s really good and you should see it, so, there you go.

The Punisher: War Zone (C, 2008) aka The Punisher 2, The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank. After the Thomas Jane film that de-emphasized action, this sequel dispensed with plot for the most part and got a new Punisher (Ray Stevenson). I like Thomas Jane but he wasn’t really right for the part; Ray is better, but Dolph Lundgren is still my hands-down favorite. I’m in a vast minority on this one, but thought Dolph’s non-acting really worked for the character. Anyway, this one gives you the origin of Jigsaw, and sees the usually-absolutist Punisher facing a moral crisis when eh mistakenly kills an FBI agent. Jigsaw and his homicidal maniac brother Loonie Bin Jim go after the Punisher… which is convenient since he’s also looking for them anyway. What’s not so convenient is that Jigsaw has recruited all the criminals into the city into one big army intent on killing the Punisher. This movie had one aspect that annoyed me to the point of distraction : some fashionista fool in wardrobe mistakenly thought it’d be cool-looking if the Punisher had a big funnel-like collar on his coat, almost like one of those things the vet puts on your dog to keep him from gnawing at his wounds. It’s like a spacesuit with the helmet off, so he always looks like a guy peeking out of a manhole. I guess it’s supposed to be body armor, but if that’s the case, why not a helmet, too? He never wears that collar thing in the comics… because he’d look like a clown there, too. Anyway, it’s so stupid-looking it compromises the bad-assedness of the movie… which is less than some of the comics, anway. There’s still a ridiculous amount of graphic violence but someone seemed intent on showing Frank Castle’s softer side, having him interact with little girls and what-not. Some of the mayhem is silly, too, such as hanging upside down from a chandelier and letting recoil spin you around. Probably fun, might look nifty, but the accuracy of your fire would be zilch-nada-fuckall. Anyway, this still isn’t perfect and you’re still better off with the comics, but it’s not bad.

Punk’s Not Dead (C, 2007) Documentary on punk rock is amazingly comprehensive; no band gets covered for more than a few seconds because they interviewed and got footage of so many of them, from the classic to the obscure, from the really important bands that built the genre to the pop-punk posers who (however sincerely) cashed in and capitalized on it, to little bands in strange little place in the world who are probably getting the entirety of their 15 seconds of fame right here. I’m not even going to try to name all the bands because it’s so exhaustive and the movie’s not really about any of them, but just about punk rock as a whole -- how it was born, grew, mutated, and still lives and thrives in various forms, from mall bands to hardcore units that are still very much underground. If you’re not a punk this is an education, and if you are it’s a celebration; I felt happy just recognizing so much of the music (at least until they got to the mall band section). Well-made and perfect for viewers with short attention spans.

Sinful Dwarf, The (C, 1973) aka Abducted Bride, Dvaergen. Twisted sex sickie in which a scar-faced former showgirl and her crippled dwarf son (Torben, host of a children’s TV show in Denmark, who looks like Jack Black’s Mini-Me) run a boarding house with a brothel in the attic. The women staffing the brothel aren’t willing participants; they’ve been abducted and hooked on heroin, and occasionally get whipped. A young couple of meager means unwittingly rent a room there until they can find someplace better, and they get spied on by the always-leering-and-smiling dwarf while his mother and her old friend get drunk and sing show tunes all day, and the white-slave harem suffer from smack-jonesing. The dwarf and his mom are also involved in smuggling heroin in teddy bears. Eventually the wife of the renting couple figures out something’s going on and that gets her chained up in the attic as part of the prostitute stable. Even though they make it look like she’s run away, her husband gets a clue. Can he rescue her from the perverted hell she’s landed in? Crude and highly unpleasant film looks like it was mostly shot in some dirty basement, and dwells on lots of full-frontal nudity and Torben’s ability to make disturbing faces. The fact that he giggles and plays with toys whenever he’s not mistreating women makes it all worse. This was a really-seen “holy grail” film for a lot of exploitation movie fans, but once it was released on DVD and they got to see how soulless and mean-spirited it is, they usually learned to be careful what they wish for. No gore but disturbing, especially to people who have a fear of dwarfs (as ridiculous as that is).

There Will Be Blood (C, 2007) aka Oil! When this movie first came out I thought it was going to be some kind of blatant Saw ripoff, since the title is one of Saw II’s promo lines. It’s a weird title, especially since it’s an adaptation of a book by a major author (Oil by Upton Sinclair). Daniel Day Lewis is an ambitious oil man who’s misanthropically building an empire even at the cost of his humanity. At first he’s pretty single-minded but still has sparks of kindness (adopting the son of a friend killed in an on-the-job accident) and can be charming, even if psychopathically, but the more successful he gets the colder her becomes. As a foil he has an ambitious young preacher/ faith healer who’s trying to build an empire of his own, and his aggression is more passive but nearly as nasty. The conflict between the two heats up when the oil man’s son is stricken deaf in an accident, which also starts Lewis’s alienation from his son, and escalates it against the rest of the world. The fierce (and unreasonable) competitive nature in him increases his misery the more successful he gets, until his fortune becomes a hell. This is a very well-made (if overly slowpaced) film and watching Lewis’s performance (he really does seem more at home at the beginning of the 20th century than in the 21st) is the drive of the film. It was a major Oscar contender, and it is a great film, but it’s flawed in that Lewis’ actions never really seem to stem from anything or are built from anything. He seems to just occasionally snap into actions without real motivation, and that weakens the message. Sometimes the artistic nature of the film also becomes self-conscious and false. But despite this it’s a great-looking film and it’s oddly more absorbing than anything so long and uneventful has a right to be. The cinematography’s great and helps you stay locked-on even though there are long stretches with no dialogue. A bit overrated but definitely worth a look.

What We Do Is Secret (C, 2008) Biopic about Darby Crash and the Germs is pretty well done and appropriately messy, just like the Germs’ music and Darby’s brief life. Shane West does a good job depicting Darby, although if you’ve ever seen any live footage of the Real Darby, West cleans his performances up a good bit and makes him more articulate. It barely touches on Darby’s Machiavellian tendencies and his plans for cultish world conquest, and it also nearly avoids any mention of Darby’s latent homosexuality, which was some contributing factor to Darby’s destructiveness and suicide. These things being left out robs the film of much potential depth, and what you’re mainly left with is a tale of struggling and barely competent band who amassed a huge following despite being banned from every venue in town, and how Darby took a lot of drugs and didn’t seem to really know what he wanted to do with his band and his fame, despite all of his talk of five-year-plans and assurances that he knew what he was doing. Best suited for Germs fans; even though it’s very well-acted and almost perfectly cast, it’s pretty much the same story you’ve heard before (be it from punk rock or stuff like Bad Company’s “Shooting Star”) and isn’t likely to intrigue many people who aren’t punk fans.

As a bonus, a few books….

A Dull Roar: What I Did On My Summer Deracination 2006
- Henry Rollins, 2.13.61, 2006. Today I’d told myself I was going to read some Henry James today (I hate Henry James but I still force myself to read some every once in a while just as a discipline exercise), but I veered off and read a much more entertaining Henry instead… which is ironic, ‘cuz Rollins’ life seems to be one big long discipline exercise and he derailed me from mine. I’m not quite done with it yet but I’m far enough to review it. If you’ve read any of his journals before, you know what to expect from this one. He is obsessive and revisits the same topics over and over again; he’s pretty much the Greta Garbo of punk rock with the constant “I want to be alone” shtick, and if I had a nickel for every time he defensively writes “I don’t hate people” (trying to convince himself more than us, I think) then this book would have been free. Yet despite this repetitive stuff, I can hardly put the book down, just like his other books. This one covers his work on the movie Wrong Turn 2, his IFC TV show, and a tour the reunited Rollins band did in support of X. Tours for Henry involve a helluva lot of physical training, and that’s detailed, too, as is his righteous anger at the Bush administration. And, as often happens, there’s a lot of Henry’s fascination with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night. I think he’s secretly trying to convince me to read that book. If you haven’t liked his other books you won’t like this one, either, but as for me, I always like spending time with good ol’ Hank. *** ½

A Feast Of Snakes - Harry Crews, Scribners Paperbacks, 1976. Redneck slice of life… if you really want to call that a life. A big rattlesnake roundup in Mystic, Georgia is the scene of all sorts of degenerate tragedy (or what might be tragic if the people it was happening to were worth a damn) when dissatisfaction catches up with some of the locals. One guy gets his dick cut off by a demented would-be girlfriend with a snake fixation. Another guy, Joe Lon Mackey, figures out that his glory days were over when he was done with high school football, and the sullen anger inspired by all he has left is set to explode. And his soulless father is not faring much better with his dog-fighting business, and Joe Lon’s girlfriends are still obsessed with baton twirling even though their high school majorette careers are over, too. This is a well-written, existential drama of hellish lives, everyday horror, and black humor, and even though it’s an unflattering picture of the South there’s a lot more truth in it (about certain segments of Southern society, at least) than many would like to admit. *** ½


Sexy Violent Trash Lit! or, How I Spent My High-School Vacation

A while back I promised (or perhaps threatened) to do a post about the “action” paperbacks that appeared in the early 70’s and flourished during the lunkhead 80’s, when America was drunk on Reagan and Rambo and “action hero” was almost a profession you could look for in the yellow pages. I read a lot of these things back then, because I went to a crap private school that was basically a scam: it was overpriced, had mostly substandard teachers, occasionally used us for free labor, tried to indoctrinate us in Baptist-Madrassa style, and wasted two hours every day on “study halls,” also known as "day care for teens." I never did my homework in study hall. Instead I’d flirt (incredibly clumsily, in embarrassing retrospect) as much as I could get away with with a girl I had a crush on (even though we were totally unsuitable for each other and it was pointless. She was cute at the time, but I bet now she looks like she’s carved out of turkey bacon. You could just tell she’d be one of those… mmm, sour grapes). And read.

And read and read. Actually, given the quality of most of the teachers, study hall probably was the most educational part of the day for me. I read a lot of my dad’s old Max Brand and Louis L’amour Westerns (which are actually really well-written) and Edge books. Edge books were “The Most Violent Westerns In Print,” and I got turned onto them by buying a couple at a neighborhood yard sale and eventually collected all of ‘em (the ones that sold in America, anyway - turns out they were a British creation). They were spaghetti-westernish and, indeed, violent. Edge was always sticking knives in people’s mouths and slicing their cheeks open and such.

Anyway, that bad influence sparked me into seeking more violent literature in the form of these “men’s adventure” paperbacks I’m going to discuss here. These series were the bastard sons of pulp magazine heroes like The Shadow, The Spider, Doc Savage, The Green Lama, the Phantom Detective, the Black Hood, G8 and his Battle Aces, Secret Agent X, Operator 5, and others. I won’t go into those too much, but you can still find reprints of them at places like Vintage Library, and I’ve read a good many of those, too. The Spider especially kicks ass, and even though they were written in the 30’s they’re crazy-violent, with body counts sometimes reaching the tens of thousands as terrorist masterminds put cholera in New York’s water supply, topple buildings, turn people into deformed homicidal maniacs, etc. How could you pass up hyperbolic titles like The Devil’s Death Dwarfs, Death Reign of the Vampire King, Machine Guns Over The White House, or King of the Fleshless Legion?

Anyway, back to the 70’s and 80’s paperbacks. I bought lots of these at used book stores for pennies, and - being a total trash-fiend who buys so much library-sale crap that rooms in my house are now literally impassible - I still snag ‘em if they’re cheap enough. I even still read them once in a while. They’re often printed on cheap paper (though better quality than the pulps), sometimes have cigarette ads in the middle (because apparently there’s nothing like reading about a bereaved psychopath killing Mafiosi to make you crave the smoooooth taste of a micronite-filtered Kent), and the cover art is sometimes priceless. It’s fun to think about artists making their livings doing endless paintings of angry people firing guns. This will probably be a multi-part project because there are so damn many of these series, and I’m not even going to try to be organized about it; I want to hit the popular ones as well as the obscure junk nobody remembers. At some point I may do a “reviews-of-action-series-that-don’t-exist” post because these things are so easy to satirize, but all of the following do exist, even if they sound over-the-top. You probably shouldn’t read them, though, because they’d distract you from something more worthwhile, like a study of Leviticus.

And now, randomly…

1. The Executioner - Don Pendleton, Pinnacle Books. Okay, this one’s not so random, because along with the Nick Carter Killmaster books, they kicked off the whole party. They were here first, and they’ve outlasted all their competitors; you can still find Executioner books (and their spin-offs, Mack Bolan and Stony Man) in your grocery store. First in and last man standing, baby! Mack Bolan, a.k.a. The Executioner, Sergeant Mercy, and “that Bastard Bolan,“ was a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran whose family was murdered by the Mafia, sparking him to use his military skills to declare a one-man war against them. After reaching 38 books in the series, Don Pendleton turned it over to a corporate author team and Bolan wrapped up his Mafia vendetta and went to work for the government, where he rescues us all from international terrorism to this very day (even though he’s probably pushing 70). The Executioner spawned a zillion other “one man war against the Mafia” series (most lacking any class whatsoever), which were so blatant that they even borrowed the title shtick of using a city’s name in the title (such as Vegas Vendetta, Colorado Kill-Zone, Miami Massacre, etc.). Marvel Comics’ The Punisher is also a direct steal of Bolan, and is another way the long arm of the Executioner is still influential today. Ya just can't kill 'im.

2. The Butcher - Stuart Jason, Pinnacle Books. This was one of my favorites until I noticed the pattern, and the fact that some books would have entire chapters lifted from previous books with a few names changed! This was an Executioner variant, with the novel twist that the badass antihero was a former Mafia goon himself. He’d gotten sick of all the crime and quit the mob. But nobody quits the Mafia, you say? Of course not, which mean that our hero not only had to carry out international spy missions for the government, but also had to fend off Mafia torpedoes who were after the $100,000 dead-only price the mob put on his head (which was upped to $250,000 as the series moved on and inflation devalued the dollar). They usually showed up in the first chapter, got dispensed with, and then it was off to Angola or whereever. The Butcher was an expert shot with his Walther P-38 (equipped with a silencer “it was illegal for Jesus Christ himself to own”) and also used a switchblade and brass knuckles a lot. He usually had time to engage in some badass dialogue with the inept (and usually perverted) hitmen he “chilled,” and sometimes did outlandish feats like firing down the barrel of another guy’s gun or killing an ox with one brass-knuckled punch. The bad guys were always comically gruesome fiends, covered with pus-filled warts and such, and so sexually depraved they'd rape a rock heap if they thought there was a snake in it. Even though Butcher always came out on top, every book ended with him having “the bitter ashy taste of defeat on his tongue.” Oddly, some of these books had a picture of a real guy on the cover instead of artwork. Wonder what that guy's doing now. Probably sitting in some nursing home telling people "I used to be The Butcher!"

3. .357 Vigilante
- Ian Ludlow, Pinnacle Books. The movie Death Wish inspired almost as many of these series as The Executioner, and this short-lived series (a trilogy) was a standout. Written by a cash-needing college student Lee Goldberg, who went on to write for a bunch of TV series, these stories of “Mr. Jury” taking on neo-Nazis, child-pornographers, and criminal punks weren’t bad and sometimes winked at you, making you think they might be parodies of the genre, just a little bit.

4. Mondo - Anthony DeStefano, Manor Books. Extremely tough and hardboiled action about a maladjusted, misanthropic badass who’s a thief by profession but ends up killing people more often than not. As he battles ninjas and drug kingpins, our fiercely-alienated antihero takes a lot of abuse himself (even getting hooked on heroin while in captivity and having to go cold-turkey by chaining himself to a tree). Realistically grim and cold-blooded. It's highly obscure and I’ve only got one (Cocaine Kill) but may seek out others, because it was kinda impressive.

5. The Rat Bastards - John Mackie, Jove Books. Oh, how I loved the fucking Rat Bastards. It was impossible to tell one book from the other, but they were so violent, vulgar, and over the top that you couldn’t help but be a fan, if only for the reason that you got to take a book to school that had "Bastards" right there in the title. If they'd had a series called The Gun-Toting Motherfuckers I'd've been the happiest kid in the world. I always imagined the “Bastard Squad” show mentioned in The Young Ones show would be like this series. It’s basically a Dirty Dozen ripoff set in the Pacific theater of WWII, following a squad of criminal types who killed Japanese while they weren’t beating each other up, trying to find something to fuck, a place to take a dump, something to steal, or something to get drunk off of. They were cowards, lowlifes, goldbricks, thieves, and would frequently get badly wounded or killed( so you’d always get new replacement scumbags coming into the cast), but they sure perpetrated a lot of mindless violence. The books were so action-packed that there wasn’t really anything but action, which made them completely interchangeable. Only one book - where the boys got some R&R time and got in violent trouble amongst the civilian population in the form of whorehouse fights and such - was in any way different from the others, and the series continued to the end of the war. Trashy, reprehensible fun.

6. The Marksman - Frank Scarpetta, Belmont Tower. Bottom-of-the-barrel Executioner rip-off, turned out cheap, fast, and sleazy. These are great mostly because of the violent titles (one’s just called Kill! - ya can’t get more straightforward than that) and cheap, gory cover art. Phillip Magellan is a guy killing off all the Mafia goons he can find because they killed his wife and kid. Even though the writing’s pretty crap (with such weird author tactics as using exclamation points outside of dialogue), you gotta love titles like Icepick In The Spine, Kill Them All, Mafia Wipe-Out, etc., and declarations on the back like “Tortured Death!,” “Garbage Disposal,” “Open Season On Rats!” and hyperbole about “squashing Mafia lice.” The kind of book you often find used, still smelling of cigarette smoke and spilled Pabst.

7. The Sharpshooter - Bruno Rossi, Leisure Books. I strongly suspect that the author was also writing the Marksman books, because I’ve seen him slip and call the hero, Johnny Rock, “Magellan” once or twice. I imagine he was turning these things out so fast that he oversaturated one publisher and branched out to another and forgot which guy he was writing, since they’re exactly the same. Again, cover copy and paintings are the charm in these blatant Executioner rip-offs. Neither the Marksman or the Sharpshooter books ever decided what their hero was supposed to look like, so his appearance changes from cover to cover, making these sloppier than most. One of ‘em looks like they just painted Clint Eastwood, complete with Dirty Harry .44 Magnum.

And speaking of…

8. Dirty Harry - Dane Hartman, Warner. Yep, they made a series based on the Dirty Harry movies, even featuring paintings of Clint Eastwood on the covers. These are really good and stay in the spirit of the movies, and if - like me - you can’t get enough of the movies, these are a welcome addition to the canon, and would have made good movies. Ironically, Clint’s “Man With No Name” Spaghetti Westerns also spawned a series of Western novels, expanding on their mythology.

9. The Chopper Cop - Paul Ross, Popular Library. This very obscure series’ biggest claim to fame is probably that Raging Slab used one title - Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert - for one of their CD’s. From the back copy: “Terry Bunker is a cop other cops don’t like. He’s too hip, too honest, too much his own man. He plays the game his way or not at all, but he gets the job done.” Basically, this is a “hip” cop who rides a motorcycle and hangs out with hippies, weeding out the crime in their midst. These are pretty rare, I’ve only run across one.

10. Bronson: Street Vigilante - Philip Rawls, Manor Books. How blatant is this? It’s such a Death Wish ripoff, the hero’s named after the movie’s star. Gotta admire the panache of that, at least they're not fuckin' with ya. “He was a knee-jerk liberal until they murdered his family. Then he became even more savage than the street scum he stalked.” I remember these being pretty over-the-top sick as far as the violence went. It got pretty depraved. Not a healthy read.

11. Operation Hang Ten - Patrick Morgan, Macfadden Books. Odd and very obscure series (I’ve only seen the two I bought, but apparently there were at least ten of ‘em) with a spy surfer keeping Communists and killers out of the surf scene. Odd titles like Cute & Deadly Surf Twins, Freaked-Out Strangler, Topless Dancer Hangup, Too Many Murders, and Beach Queen Blowout leads me to believe these are probably tongue-in-cheek, but I haven’t read one yet.

12. Keller/ Ryker - Jack Cannon/Edson T. Hammill/ Nelson DeMille. Manor, Leisure, Pocket. This Dirty-Harry-inspired asshole-cop series has a storied history, being put out under various pseudonyms and by various publishers, with even the main character’s name being changed as a dodge for copyright litigation or something. Anyway, the main character is a racist, sexist, rule-bending (but effective) dick of a police sergeant who has to take on the slashers, cannibals, drug dealers, snipers, psychotics, etc. that plague his city. This one really works hard to make the hero completely unlikable, which is fun.

13. The Outrider - Richard Harding. Pinnacle. One of the early Road Warrior ripoffs. The hero, a guy named Bonner, drove around a post-apocalyptic wasteland, having rather boneheaded battles against gangs of scumbags, most of them led by a guy named Leather. Leather had knives for hands because Bonner had cut his real ones off. Ammo is pretty scarce in the post-nuke world, so Bonner mostly used knives. The oddest thing about this series is the weird choice for cover paintings: Bonner looks like Andrew Dice Clay with Downs Syndrome! Look, I’m not kidding.

Rather than looking tough, he looks like he could be distracted in the midst of a fight by a kitten or a shiny red apple. They changed cover artists after the third book, but by then he was pretty well-established in my mind as being goofy-lookin’.

14. M.I.A. Hunter - Jack Buchanan, Jove - Rambosploitation with veteran Mark Stone (seems like every action hero has a last name dealing with either rocks or birds of prey; they were born to be tough!) going back to Vietnam and elsewhere to liberate P.O.W.’s. Thin plots that exist only to propel cartoonish action make this read like a transcript of a video game, with lots of cheesy gushing about how heroic Mark and his friends are. The narrative sometimes stops to say things like “Damn right!” and the action scenes tend to be of the “he shot this guy and then spun and shot another guy and then a guy came up on the right and he shot him too,” etc. Pretty average.

15. Fox - Adam Hardy, Pinnacle. This is an oddball for an action series, since it’s a period piece, and the writing is actually verging on classy and highbrow. It’s a naval adventure about a complete bastard trying to rise in the ranks of the British Navy in the old sailing ship days. This anti-hero, George Abercrombie Fox, is a real prick and even a psychopath, with some kind of brain-damage condition that causes temporary blindness if his blood pressure gets jacked too high. He mistreats his men, press-gangs citizens, and mostly looks out for himself, but he’s effective, and the action scenes are realistic and strong. These were much better than most series books, and the author is so knowledgeable about the topic that you may need to study up on your period nautical terminology just to keep up.

16. K’ing Kung Fu - Marshall Macao. These came from an obscure publisher and are hard to find used, but I just noticed on Amazon that they’re back in print, apparently from some print-on-demand place. Wise move on the part of the author, I think. I haven’t read any of ‘em yet, but they’re martial arts adventures following a fighter known as “the Son of the Flying Tiger.”

17. Black Samurai - Marc Olden. Signet. These actually inspired a movie version, with Jim Kelly. Haven’t read one yet, but they deal with an African-American G.I. who gets trained in martial arts while in Japan, and uses his skills to combat various evildoers. The Blaxploitation thing spilled over to a lot of obscure books (most notably the Holloway House back catalog) but this was as mainstream as it got. They’re reportedly pretty good, and I’ll have to get around to actually reading some of ‘em one of these days.

18. Narc - Robert Hawkes, Signet. I’ve read a couple of these badass-D.E.A. agent John Bolt vs. drug dealers books and have been pretty impressed with the level of writing. He usually faces off against some particular cartel led by a colorful badguy, and the action is less brainless than most.

19. Mafia: Operation ________ - Don Romano, Pyramid. These were apparently all concerned with inner-Mafia conflicts, like the Sopranos or something, with no real heros around. I haven’t read any yet, and only have Operation Hit Man, but one called Operation Porno sounds promising.

20. Soldato! - Al Conroy, Magnum Books. More Executioner variation, kinda in the Butcher school, as the hero, Johnny Morini, is a Mafia goon who turned traitor and is hunted by the mob, and basically declares war on them out of self-preservation. The action in the one I read was more realistic than most books in the genre, and kept things at a this-could-actually-happen level.

21. Israeli Commandos - Andrew Sugar. Manor Books. A series from the author of another series, the body-hopping clone action series The Enforcer. This one took the unusual tact of focusing on a team of Jewish harasses battling Arab terrorists in defense of Israel. It’s a rare example of Jewsploitation, competently handled from cheap ‘n’ pulpy Manor Books.

22. The Revenger - Jon Messmann, Signet. Yet another direct rip-off The Executioner, with another gun-totin’ fella (this one named Ben Martin) “teaching the Mafia to sweat with fear” and “teaching the most feared men in America the meaning of blind, gut-wrenching terror.” And, presumably, teaching us all the power of unrestrained hyperbole. Forward, mush!

23. Joe Gall books - Philip Atlee, Fawcett Gold Medal. This series never had an official name, although the antihero, Joe Gall, was known as “The Nullifier.” He was depicted on the covers in both paintings and photographs as a craggy, ugly guy with a badly pock-mocked face, and he was a contract counter-espionage agent and “take-out artist.” Apparently this guy’s a real jerk (one back cover has sequential photos of this guy smoking a cigarette in an infuriatingly assholish manner) which is usually a fun thing in these books. Haven’t read one yet.

24. Nick Carter, Killmaster - Ace Books. Not to be confused with the Backstreet Boys guy, this is possibly the most prolific action hero of ‘em all, having his roots in a detective incarnation back in 1886! The 70’s and 80’s version was an espionage agent working for an organization known as AXE, and he was armed with three weapons - a stripped-down Luger named Wilhelmina, a stilleto named Hugo, and a gas bomb he kept taped under his balls which he called Pierre. There were hundreds of these books (you’ll find some in almost every used bookstore, guaranteed) and they were written by a variety of authors (including some notables such as Michael Avallone and Martin Cruz Smith) although no author was ever listed on the cover. Some were in first person and some in third, but the quality of the writing in these usually isn’t bad. Nick beds a lot of women and usually endures torture at some point. One of them I’ve read, The Sign of the Prayer Shawl, was amazingly prescient: the plot involved former Japanese kamikazes who planned to hijack planes and crash them into America’s financial centers and government buildings. Sound familiar? And it was published in 1976!

25. The Doomsday Warrior - Ryder Stacey, Zebra Books. A survivalist named Ted Rockson heads a group of resistance fighters against the occupying forces in post-Nuke America. Mostly he battles against an evil KGB agent, Colonel Killov, and he gets captured a lot. These were pretty goofy but did move nicely and were engaging in a comic-bookish way. Every cover had a hand holding up something (a weapon, a burning flag, a Statue of Liberty, a Declaration of Independence, etc., and most titles had “America” in there somewhere. There were a lot of these, and I think the last one actually came to some kind of conclusion. You could do worse. Apparently you can even get these as audio books!

I better let off here, because this thing’s huge already. I do feel neglectful not covering such series as The Lone Wolf, The Vigilante, Traveler, The Black Berets, Stormrider, Roadblaster, Hawker, The Specialist, Enforcer, Hellrider, Mutants Amok, Mac Wingate, Gannon, Confirmed Kill, Phoenix, the horrible Ashes series, The Liquidator, Overload, The Assassin, Justin Perry: Assasin, TNT, Stryker, The Hunter, The Avenger, Kung Fu Featuring Mace, Detroit P.D., Jason Striker: Master of Martial Arts, Death Squad, The Mercenary, The Last Ranger, The Bounty Hunter, The Destroyer, The Penetrator, Man From O.R.G.Y, Cherry Delight, S.O.B.’s, The Zone, Omega Sub, Survival 2000, Black Eagles, Headhunters, the Death Merchant, and dozens more… but, maybe sometime in the future if I get around to it, who knows? Just too big a task for one post.