stuff I was doing while I wasn't doing something else

I get days off, I plan to do all kinds of things, and I end up sleeping, sleeping, sleeping. My days off tell me that if I didn't have a job to go to I'd probably sleep 20 hours a day, and fritter away the other four. I am as useless as a housecat without the redemptive adorableness.

But, I did manage to read a bunch of short stories so I could write little reviews of 'em. I'm not sure how useful this will be, but I got inspired by Patton Oswalt's blog. I don't need a lot of prodding to read old horror short stories, so even seeing that someone else did it turns me into a toddler who's just made eye contact on a plane and will. not. stop.

I have it in my head to try to compile my own short story anthology of scariest creepyass-shit-ever. It's a work in progress, to which things are added as I read 'em or remember that they should be on the list. Here's what I have so far, in no particular order, and linked online if I can find a copy:

Algernon Blackwood - "The Listener"
Shirley Jackson - "The Bus"
Thomas Ligotti - "Gas Station Carnivals"
Arthur Conan Doyle - "Lot No. 249"
E. F. Benson - "The Room In The Tower"
C. M. Eddy - "The Loved Dead"
F. Marion Crawford - "The Screaming Skull" (and "The Upper Berth" is damn sure a contender, too)
M. R. James - "Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad"
Karl Edward Wagner - either "In The Pines" or "River Of Night's Dreaming" - I also had this guy planned for a post on "unjustifiably out of print" authors. I can't believe this guy's stuff is having to sell for $150 for beat-up paperbacks... his horror work should be permanently in print, and it's an absolute travesty that it's so hard to find.
Robert W. Chambers - "The Yellow Sign"
Lafcadio Hearn - "Mujina"
Charlotte Perkins Gilmam - "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Ramsey Campbell - "The Companion"

Seek any of those out and read them. I guarantee a case o' the creeps. A lot of 'em are overanthologized already, but there's a reason for that - they fuckin' work.

Anyway, on to the stuff I read over the weekend (also linked if I can find one). Many of these were read in Library of America's American Fantastic Tales collection, edited by Peter Straub (seen here devouring a pair of spectacles) and he's a rather middling editor... a lot of his picks are great, but some others are weak, and he leans toward nearly-unreadable styles. I still recommend 'em, but if they do more volumes (and I hope they do) I'd vote for a different editor.


"The Fisherman" - Brian Rosenberger. (from Vile Things ) The only surprise in this horror tale of what's-the-master-fisherman-using-for-bait is that it's not a surprise at all. I thought surely it'd be something more clever or no one would have bothered publishing the story. I think it's supposed to be black humor but unless backwoods folks masturbating and defecating kicks over your ticklebucket there's not much hilarity to be had. Not boring or incompetent or anything, but not much point in reading it, either. The fact that this story was picked to lead off a "cutting edge" anthology makes me think maybe I should be submitting my crap after all.

"The Treader of the Dust" - Clark Ashton Smith (in The Klarkash-Ton Cycle) A scholar of arcane occult lore finds himself confronted with a very creepy being whose presence brings age and crumbling. The writing style is rather stiff and requires a lot from the reader, but the appearance of the monster is worth the slog, and the imagery is strong and cold.

"My Hobby, - Rather"
- N. P. Willis (in The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre) A man who watches over corpses until they're buried has to fend off a hungry and very determined cat from one of his "clients." Morbid.

"The Snail Watcher" - Patricia Highsmith (from Eleven) - A man who sees a pair of snails mating gets turned on by the eroticism of it and starts breeding them in his study. His obsession turns into an extreme case of hoarding, and he finds out that snails are a dangerous thing to keep in enormous amounts. Goes from uncomfortable to creepy to nightmarish pretty quickly, with one of Highsmith's typical not-quite-right-in-the-head protagonists. Worth seeking out (this whole Eleven book has been great so far).

"Post-Mortem Recollections of a Medical Lecturer"
- Charles Lever. (from The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre) Numbed by the sudden death of a patient and loss of his notes, a lecturer has a catatonic attack during a speech and is nearly buried alive. It's well-described but there's not much of an actual story to it.

"The Golden Baby" by Alice Brown (in American Fantastic Tales) - A cruise liner full of hateful people is stopped and visited by a woman with a happy golden baby, who makes everyone full of love. Badly-written and mundane allegory, pretty worthless.

"The Repairer of Reputations"
- Robert W. Chambers (from American Fantastic Tales) In a future (1920's) America, which has repelled an invasion by Germany and set up suicide chambers in every town for any who want to kill themselves, a mentally-ill narrator (who's very defensive about his sanity) conspires with a born-deformed-and-then-further-maimed mastermind who's at constant war with his cat. The world around them has been poisoned by an evil book called The King In Yellow, which is supposed to be the highest pinnacle of art but also a mind-and-soul-destroying influence on all who read it. The narrator and his cohorts plan an apocalyptic coup d'etat that will put the Earth under the mythical King In Yellow's rule... but it's soon clear that the narrator is even more megalomaniacal than we'd thought and his perceptions cannot be trusted (or, at least, that's what we must hope). Extremely weird, paranoiac tale seething with hints of a far more frightening story under the surface, which isn't being told. That's a hard trick to pull off, but Chambers manages quite well. Relentlessly dark and powerful and off-kilter nightmare-logic tale.

"The Birds Poised to Fly" - Patricia Highsmith (from Eleven). Odd story about an unbalanced weirdo who proposes to a female friend (who he doesn't seem to know well enough to ask for marriage) through the mail. When she doesn't write back quickly enough for him, he deals with his disappointment by stealing his neighbor's mail and answering one of his love letters. Not very scary, but bizarre.

"Luella Miller" - Mary Wilkins Freeman (from American Fantastic Tales) Rather inconsequential tale of a woman whose parasitic nature drains the life from those who help her. Starts out pretty eerily with people shunning her house decades after her death, but ends up being no big deal.

"The Horror at Chilton Castle" - Joseph Payne Brennan (another unjustifiably-out-of-print guy) (From Fine Frights) A guy doing genealogical research in Ireland discovers that one branch of his family is subject to a horrible curse involving something chained in a secret room in a castle for 500 years. Horrific stuff.

"Some Terrible Letters From Scotland" - James Hogg (from The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre) A trio of letters about a cholera epidemic. In the first, a cholera victim is nearly buried alive. In the next, a sailor and his dog terrify a town just by showing up, since everyone thinks they may have been exposed to the disease in their travels. In the third (which is tough to read because of all the Scottish brogue) a man thinks his dead sisters came back to take his mother away for making light of the disease. Okay, no great shakes.


The Return of Trash Lit From Hell

For the past couple of weeks I've been reading some trashy action novels. They're good for ya. Reading great literature is also a good thing, but every once in a while you need to read something fast, pulpy, and possibly even stupid. I love literature, but I’ll admit that much of my deepest affection is for the trash, probably because it’s disrespected and unsung. Anyone can tell you that Huckleberry Finn is a great book, and you know what it’s about even if you never read it, but you’ll have to do some digging on your own to even discover the existence of a book like The Hippy Cult Murders, or Street Of Ho’s. It’s not that they’re necessarily worth the rediscovery, mind ya, but it’s kind of fun to know about stuff that 98% of the population has no knowledge of. I've written about these books and their charms before, and I found a blog that writes about 'em better than I do (Bullets, Broads, Blackmail, and Bombs - Bookmark it! Patronize it! Anyone who summarizes a Blade book as "the sides of vans have better storylines" is a genius. Plus, anyone who regularly reviews Nick Carter and Edge books is filling a niche that I'd wanna be filling if I weren't so goshdarn lazy), but I need to do some more work on this topic, I think. Too many of these books are quietly being lost because nobody sees the cultural worth of trash.

I'd considered doing a blog post where I dug out some of the weird paperbacks I've salvaged from used bookstores and library sales over the years, and scanned in their often-bizarre covers, but my house is way too big a mess to get to most of 'em right now, so I figured I'd just post a few that I actually read and wrote reviews for, instead. Here goes:


Mack Bolan: The New War - Don Pendleton, Gold Eagle, 1981.
First of the post-war-against-the-Mafia Executioner novels, in which Mack Bolan turned his killing talents against international terrorism. It's still the usual formula of sneaking around, getting in occasional firefights, with at least one chapter devoted to an outburst of rather naive but certainly heartfelt paeans to the forces of freedom. In this one, Mack has to rescue (or terminate) an American agent who as fallen into the hands of Arab terrorists who want to hijack satellites to interfere with the world’s oil supply. It’s decent and has good action, but suffers from a few distracting obsessions, such as a weird overuse of the word “hard” -- hardsite, hardmen, etc. You almost figure the last chapter will end up just reading “Hard! Hard hard hard! Hard!” Get past that, though, and it’s not bad pulp action, and definitely not a hard read, even though "hardread" is a blurb I suspect they'd like to have on the cover. And it’s successful as hell, too... the Bolan books are one of the last surviving action series, and are still being turned out under a couple of different headers of over 400 titles.

Soldato! - Al Conroy, Magnum, 1972.
A former Mafia torpedo named Johnny Morini finks on the mob and enters the witness protection program, running a store with his new wife, who’s pregnant. An ex-cop working for the Mafia manages to track him down and hit-men are sent, but Johnny gets them first and goes into hiding with his wife. Realizing that the only way they’ll ever get any peace is to get rid of the Don who’s got the contract on him, he uses his underworld skills to attempt this nearly-impossible task. First book in what became a short series (five, I think), it’s more intelligent and realistic than the usual book of this type.

Runaway Black - Ed McBain., Fawcett-Gold Medal, 1954.
The great Ed McBain was always socially-conscious (his early book under his real name of Evan Hunter, The Blackboard Jungle, was one of the first to tackle juvenile delinquency), but it’s still odd that he’d presume to take on the black experience. But, even if it’s a bit suspicious since it’s written by a white man, it’s still a powerful, desperate downer, told with McBain’s consistent skill. A young black man named Johnny Lane runs when he hears a gunshot in Harlem, just because running is what you do when you hear a gunshot. Because the man who got killed had been an enemy of Johnny’s, the police assume he’s guilty and hunt for him. Johnny tries to hide but can’t find much help, and when a junkie rips Johnny’s arm open with a broken syringe, the situation gets even worse. The cops eventually find the real killer, but nobody tells Johnny and he keeps running and hiding in an increasingly-hellish city. Ultra-gritty and grimy, but still just a wee bit pretentious, too. Early McBain and not his best, but still worth your time.

The Mark of Cosa Nostra - “Nick Carter”, Award Books, 1971
Superspy Nick Carter poses as a Mafioso to infiltrate the mob in Palermo. At first he (and a female agent named Tanya) are just out to cut off a heroin pipeline controlled by the mob, and perhaps stop and up-and-coming Mafioso from seizing power, but he soon learns it’s all a front for a Chinese Communist plot to eventually take over America using the mob to gain stateside footholds. Can Nick put a stop to their evil plan? What do you think? Pretty typical book in the series, decently written by some nameless author, but heavier on the espionage than the action.

.357 Vigilante: Make Them Pay - Ian Ludlow, Pinnacle, 1985.
Lee Goldberg, who went on to write more respectable novels (and the TV shows “Monk,” “Sea Quest,” and “Diagnosis Murder”), wrote these when he was a UCLA student just to make some extra money. This is the second in what turned out to be a trilogy (although I think there’s a fourth available only as an e-book). Vengeance-driven citizen Brett Macklin, a.k.a. Mr. Jury, goes after a pack of child pornographers and the mobsters who blew up his girlfriend. It’s well-written and there’s a decent amount of action, even though it’s not breakneck-paced; I don’t mind that, since he’s actually putting a story in there. Pretty much an average action-series novel, the 80’s equivalent of a pulp magazine.

Street of Ho’s - Leo Guild, Holloway House, 1986
I’ve alluded to this one before, just because how can ya not be fascinated with that title? It’s like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats - writing a novel takes a lot of work, even for a hack, and you can’t believe someone decided, “Yeah, this is a good title, I’m gonna write a novel.” If he wrote it, damnit, someone should read it, and I volunteer! That’s also why I’ve bought a copy of Rampaging Fuckers of Everything On The Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere, and yes, that's a real book. You go that far with a bad concept, and damn ya, ya son of a bitch, you’ll get my ten bucks. Anyway, back around 1990 or so I had a weird fascination with Holloway House, a black-oriented publishing house that published this thing. Their books were cheap and - other than their Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim titles - nobody’d ever heard of anything else they put out. So, I used to order a lot of ‘em. And I got ripped off a lot, too -- if they didn’t have something in stock, they wouldn’t send it... or refund your money. But, I also scored some weird freakin’ books. This is a trashy, simplistic Black pulp novel about a group of young prostitutes who enjoy what they’re doing. The book starts out having a sort of plot, but that gets settled midway through and the book keeps going, just following the hookers through their day to day lives. The sex, though frequent, isn’t very graphic and is mostly just mentioned in passing; I’ve heard dirty jokes that made more pretense at being erotica. So, I’m not completely sure what the purpose of the book is, and there are some odd choices made. For instance, the girl who seems to be our main character gets murdered halfway through without much fanfare, and another major protagonist is jailed a few pages after that. The last main character rather ridiculously gets a top-ten record when she figures out she can sing, and ends up with televised concerts from Madison Square Garden... which she walks out on because she likes being a hooker better. Kinda silly and rather simplemindedly written childish fantasy stuff, but it wasn’t boring, either.

Bronson: Street Vigilante: Switchblade
- Philip Rawls, Manor, 1975
Third in the really ugly Death Wish ripoff series (and, I think, the final) has criminal-scumbag-killing vigilante Richard Bronson killing three young rapists with a switchblade and inspiring the wrath of one of them’s father, a wealthy industry magnate. The rich guy sics the C.I.A. on him and he has to figure out how to keep getting away with what he does... which honestly isn’t a lot in this one, as the action scenes are sparse and quickly dispensed with so the author can fit in more sex scenes, most of which are more nasty than erotic. The whole book’s pretty depraved, with Rawls throwing in a lot of racism and sleaze. Even his good-guy characters are scummy and unlikable, so there’s a misanthropic feel to the whole thing. It’s as if Rawls had contempt for anyone who’d read this kind of book and couldn’t grit his teeth hard enough to keep the I-hate-you from coming through. Even the hero’s picture on the front cover is remarkably ugly. It’s also pretty implausible, since everyone - even the cops - figure out Bronson is the vigilante running loose in the city and nobody does anything to stop him. Grade B 70’s action pulp sleaze.

The Executioner: Boston Blitz
- Don Pendleton, Pinnacle, 1972.
The mob kidnap Mack Bolan’s brother and girlfriend, which drives Bolan (never a guy who needs much provoking to start with) into a kill-frenzy that he unleashes on beantown. Lots of action and even more purple prose about how tough and noble our hero is: Pendleton never lets the fact that he’s showing us stop him from telling us, too, but in this case it’s part of the writer’s unique style and charm. Good entry (#12) in the original series.

The Fanatics of Al Asad - “Nick Carter”, Award Books, 1972
This is pretty extreme even for a Nick Carter plot: the President and Vice President are killed in a mortar attack by Arab terrorists, and the Speaker of the House (next in line and therefore the new president) has been kidnapped by the same terrorist cell, and he will be executed in 48 hours if Israel isn’t disarmed. Of course Israel won’t go along with that and threatens nuclear war, so Nick Carter, Secret Agent, has to recover the new president and nullify the terror cell, singlehandedly. The book stays pretty realistic and believable, even with a plot like that, and the writing is high quality even from a faceless corporate scribe. Delivers!

Edge #17: Vengeance Valley - George G. Gilman, Pinnacle, 1975
I was an Edge fanatic in high school. I got my first two when the preacher across the street had a garage sale (what copies of “The Most Violent Westerns In Print” were doing in a preacher’s library is only for a forgiving and blood-obsessed god to know), hunted down the rest (most of which I got for X-mas in a big bulk) and read almost every one of them at least twice in study halls. I even did a book report on one of them, and that’s probably still a disturbing note in my permanent file somewhere. Edge books were written by a British author who watched Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns and decided Western paperbacks needed an anti-hero, too... and that’s exactly what Edge is. If he’s the good guy, it’s only because everyone around him is worse. He’s a half-breed Mexican/Scandinavian loner, totally motivated by self-interest, and prone to really depraved acts of violence, usually performed with a razor he keeps hidden at the back of his neck under his hair. Anyway, this is an average entry in the series and has Edge getting beaten almost to death and robbed by a gang of men, who -- even in his beaten-to-a-pulp condition -- he manages to square things with before the book is over. He also kills some men who rape a farmer’s wife who helped him. It’s good, but I’d forgotten how witty Edge thinks he is; everything out of his mouth is some bad pun or awful joke that’s so strained that other characters have to translate for him a lot. In any case, faux-clever or not, he’s not a guy you’d want to be on the bad side of, and as misanthropic as he is, pretty much everyone’s on his bad side.

Vigilante: Los Angeles: Detour To A Funeral - V. J. Santiago, Pinnacle, 1975
Second in the Death Wish-inspired series has bereaved Joe Madden going to Los Angeles to carry on his war against criminals. He rescues a hooker or two from violent pimps (who are also famous pop stars or overweight lesbians -- this ain’t a politically-correct book) and stops the local drug trade, raising a lot of hell and racking up a fair body count for a guy armed with only a .38. Simple and straightforward pulp action, no flash but no bullshit, either. One of the few series that used actual photos of a guy on the cover, although they later went to paintings. The Butcher series also flirted with using photos for a while, but were at their best when they used stark pencil sketches.


And now another blog to plug - Patton Oswalt’s Spew. One of my favorite comedians also sounds like my separated-at-birth brother, because some of his reading tastes meld with mine perfectly. If you backtrack that blog with the drop-down menu at the top, back in October he showcased a different horror short story every day, and it sent me into my library to read and re-read some of his recommendations. I really liked that and may have to come up with a short-story reading list of my own, maybe to mail to him and return the favor. I’ve always wanted to edit an anthology, but never got it together. Anyway, Patton did great on that. There’s also a “GHOULS OF PROVIDENCE” post where he wandered around H.P. Lovecraft’s hometown while he had a fever, and that made for brilliant, creepy reading. Check it out.


silly as a fish with titties!

I'm baaaaaaack, motherfuckers!

Holla atcha boy and word to yer mutha! Now that I got access to my computer again and chased the birds out of my house (a long story that I won't burden you with, other than to say that when I picked up m DVD of Sheba Baby later I found that the sonofabitch had shit on Pam Grier's face, so I should've killed 'im!), I typed up enough reviews to make ya'll long for the days when I wasn't able to get online and bother you with my stupidstuff. Heh.

Oh, yeah... and Ronnie James Dio died. That really sucks... I'm still conflicted as to whether I liked Black Sabbath better with Ozzy or with him. "Sign of the Southern Cross" still stacks up pretty well against any song Sabbath ever wrote, with any singer: both beautiful and crushingly heavy, all gelled into one perfect, atmospheric 8-minute thing.

Here's the studio version just so you can get the nuances:

Dio with Rainbow:

Dio with Dio:


Goodbye Uncle Tom (C, 1971) aka Addio Zio Tom, Uncle Tom, White Devil Black Hell. The mondo godfathers behind Mondo Cane tried using cameras as a time machine to take a look at what the slave trade was like. It begins with scenes of modern racial unrest and an examination of white ignorance about "Uncle Toms" and black extremist reactions to it; white denial clashing with black rage. Then they go back to the Antebellum South, filming it as if it's reality and they're documentarians, interviewing characters who plead their causes and say outrageous things. Then they take the same approach to slave ships, showing truly horrific and disgusting practices perpetrated on the human "cargo." At intervals they show modern scenes for contrast. Where they found around a thousand black extras willing to re-enact these atrocities is a mystery to me. To make things even stranger (and more controversially offensive), it's full of slapstick, satirical humor. You get a disorienting mixture of bloody massacres of runaway slaves with modern costume dances, and a "professor" explaining the supposed inferiority of the non-white races, and scenes of throwing food to caged amputees is followed by Mardi Gras clowning. The original Italian cut of this runs 136 minutes, but was cut to 123 minutes for American release... where it was promptly pulled from theaters due to the incendiary, extremely-controversial nature of it. Pauline Kael even said it was an incitement to race war. Others just found it reprehensible, sick exploitation... and they may have a case, but the film does make some important social commentary and is astoundingly well-shot and edited. There’s an awful lot of nudity, bloody violence, and degrading stereotypes that will put it out of reach for many viewers, because they don’t spare the viewer (or the actors) much. The narration -- which is in a lighthearted bantering tone that’s often at odds with what you’re seeing -- is full of even more volatile material, taken from historical narratives. A seldom-seen legend of extreme cinema, definitely not for everyone (including those with short attention spans -- it is overlong and has some drawn-out stretches), and a sure-fire way to make anyone uncomfortable (but also make ‘em think).

Watch online starting here.

Bad Bunch, The (C, 1973) aka Tom, Nigger Lover, The Brothers. Director Greydon Clark stars as a white Vietnam vet who goes into Watts to deliver a letter from his black friend who was killed in 'Nam. He meets resistance from his friend's militant brother, Makimba, and his gang, who want to treat him the way racist white cops (Aldo Ray and Jock Mahoney, who had a stroke soon after filming this) have treated them. When Makimba is later beaten up by the cops, he blames Greydon for it. Greydon had nothing to do with it, though; he's preoccupied with trying to get his girlfriend to live with him, or, failing that, getting slutty Bambi Allen (who died of cancer soon after this film, supposedly due to complications from silicone that was supposed to give her bigger tits) to sleep with him. Makimba's misguided desire for revenge and reactionary racism results in several tragic events, but still leaves time for a naked pool party. There's a lot of bad hair on display in this 70's blaxploitation wannabe, and not all of it is on people's heads. The point -- that racism breeds more racism and it's all stupid -- gets lost in tedium, since this film has more padding than a beanbag chair.

Dark Water (C, 2002) aka Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara, From The Depths of Dark Water. Supremely creepy Japanese ghost story from the people who brought you the original version of The Ring. This has a few similarities, but I think it’s even scarier and more effective. Somebody else apparently thought so, too, because there was an American remake, which was decent but in all ways inferior to the original. A divorcee and her cute young daughter move into an old apartment building that has a big humidity problem; there are puddles of water in the hallways and water stains on the walls and ceiling. One on the ceiling keeps getting bigger and dripping, and the mother also keeps catching glimpses of a spooky little girl in a yellow raincoat... a girl she learns has been missing for a year or two, and who lived in the apartment above theirs. The film builds atmosphere as well as Ringu, but packs stronger shocks and an even more engaging storyline. The ghostly girl is a little reminiscent of Sadako (long black hair, unseen face, always wet) but the familiarity doesn’t distract from things, and the director takes every opportunity to capitalize on the unsettling mood he’s been carefully building, but without ever taking the cheap road to do it. This is one of the major building blocks of J-horror’s reputation, and one of the films that truly deserves that rep.

Dawn of the Mummy (C, 1981) Another George Romero rip-off, this one having the twist of using ancient Egyptian mummies to perpetrate the gory gut-munching instead of zombies (if there's any real distinction to be made between mummies and zombies other than moisture content). The basic plot is as old as the pyramids -- against all good advice given by the local crazy lady with bad teeth (named Xena), some foolish infidels open the cursed tomb of Sephriman, who was mummified and entombed with about a half-dozen of his retainers, all of whom are fated to "rise and kill, rise and kill!" if the tomb is profaned. A group of fashion models doing a shoot in the desert serve as the main course when the walking dead ones do "rise and kill," and it's pretty graphic. It takes a while to get the mayhem started as the filmmakers bide their time with tomb-robbery and goofy picture-taking in the desert (this was actually filmed in Egypt, so they have to take advantage of the location), but there's incidental gore along the way, such as a severed head they find in the sand, people with faces melted by poison gas, and a girl getting her hand burned by embalming fluid from an organ-jar. Luckily none of this is enough to phase our idiot prey, and they stick around and have the revived mummies eat their intestines, hack cleavers into their heads (the head's a bad fake but it's still better than CGI), bite chunks out of necks, cause flesh to rot (the mummy's been bound with resin that's apparently corrosive), and turn a wedding feast into a bloody riot. It takes a while to really get geared up, but it pays off with carnage eventually. The gore's not on the level of Fulci, but they try. The director used to be a surgeon in Egypt... how'd you like to be operated on by a gore hound?

Death Wish 3 (C, 1985) What a mind-bogglingly stupid and violent film? How can you not love it? I worship this thing! A bunch of criminal thugs who go out of their way to give their victims a fair chance at providing police with identifying marks (if you've a perpetrator it's really good sportsmanship to have painted signs on your face) go around doing truly heinous things. Breaking into apartments, beating up old people, raping couches, taking naps, stealing, saying bad words. And then bleeding all over everything when vigilante Charles Bronson shows up, riding a wave of evil Jimmy Page riffs into town. Charlie gets there just in time to see one of his old friends die, and he gets arrested as a suspect in the case. In the lock-up he gets in a fight with a guy who has a reverse mohawk (they don't look nearly as cool as the regular ones) and the cops let him go so he can drive the crime rate down by killing every creep in sight... which would seem to be at least 90% of the population in this city. Bronson buys a new car and an expensive camera as "bait," and makes friends with all the nice folks in town. Bronson finds footprints in his apartment (all side-by-side; apparently some bastard broke in and hopped around!) so he leaves a nail trap for 'em, and sets up giant mousetrap contraptions in other apartments (which end up with teeth stuck in 'em, to Charlie's delight). Then he orders a .44 AutoMag through the mail (sure, you could do that in the 80's, if you saved yer box tops), and when he uses it, everybody cheers. The scum come after him with machineguns, but they're terrible shots. Luckily, one of the guys in the building has a .30 caliber machinegun he brought home from the war (oh, yeah, they let you keep squad automatic weapons after the war, everybody knows that), and those will come in handy because the scumbags kill Bronson's girlfriend and blow up his friend's shop, so they all must die. They do... with the aid of a mail-order rocket launcher! Thank you, Johnson-Smith catalog! It's just one of the many prizes you can win by selling Grit! More gangs obligingly come to town so the body count can verge on the four-digit zone. Lots of idiotic noise and destruction and mayhem with not much plot to slow it down... it's sure not Bronson's smartest film, nor the classiest, but it's easily one of the most action-packed and stupidly-fun, and it delivers the goods if you're willing to suspend (or completely toss out) disbelief. More of the entertaining stuff without all the protracted sickness of part II.

The Hi-Riders (C, 1978) Automotive assholes are on the rampage in this Greydon Clark drive-in 70's scuzzflick. A gang of drag-racing hot-rodders and bikers meet a beachy blonde couple with a hot Pontiac, who become hang-arounds with the gang after getting in a conflict with a Hi-Rider who looks a little like a fat Jon Voight (who wasn't fat -- or a bugshit crazy lunatic - at that point in his career). Once they join up nothing really happens for a while other than a lot of filler where they all have orgies (which aren't really sexual so much as just pouring beer on each other, and themselves), or hanging out in Neville Brand's bar, being obnoxious while he (with uncharacteristic patience) tries to make them behave. Then there's more fun-in-the-sun filler with cars, and goofing around to obscure 70's rock (well, obscure other than David Essex's minimalist classic "Rock On," which makes a brief appearance) Then they decide "let's have a story in our movie!" and a drag race ends in a fiery crash that kills all participants, including a local kid. The kid's rich father wants revenge and offers 50 grand for the destruction of the gang... an offer so good that the town rednecks (and crooked cop Ralph Meeker, who really seems to enjoy roles where he gets to be an asshole) can't refuse it. Most of the Hi-Riders are massacred at a gas station, and the rest try to get revenge even while they're being hunted down. There are a lot of good, dangerous-looking car stunts (one of which resulted in a death) and you get the feeling that Tarantino may have been trying to copy some of this in Death Proof. Nothing fancy story-wise, but delivers what you'd expect.

Murphy's Law (C, 1986) One of those Cannon Group Charles Bronson vehicles that you have to be in the mood for. Bronson is Jack Murphy, a cop whose main law is "don't fuck with Jack Murphy." But my oh my how he does get fucked with; his car's stolen by a girl who promptly crashes it into a building and then kicks him in the balls. Then he gets threatening phone calls from a woman who promises to put him through hell before killing him. At work he gets in fights because the other cops wise off to him because he's such an alcoholic slob. Plus, the mob wants revenge on him for a hood he killed. Then he gets framed for the murder of his stripper ex-wife and he ends up handcuffed to the oldest-looking 14-year-old girl (the actress was 22) in the world, who constantly yells strings of creative-but-lame insults, most of which seem to be about boogers, brains, or breath, with the occasional sperm tossed in just to spoil the alliteration. So, it looks like the real Murphy's Law overrides the "don't fuck with Jack Murphy" deal. Luckily he's pretty tough despite all his other shortcomings, so he manages to cowboy his way through the rest of this standardly-dimwitted action flick. If it wasn't for Bronson's screen presence, this would probably have never been heard from again. You gotta feel for ol' Chuck, though, being stuck with a sidekick like he's got here. Boy do they have chemistry. Like ammonia and bleach. Not really dull, at least, with Bronson getting to blast plenty of bad guys at the end.

Pilot X (B&W, 1936) aka Death in the Air, The Mysterious Bombardier, Death in the Sky. A guy in a black biplane with an X on its wings is shooting down commercial airliners. The authorities believe it’s probably a WWWI ace gone psycho-schizo and trying to add to his wartime body count. In an attempt to trap him, they gather the top six air vets who fit the killer’s profile and recruit them to hunt Pilot X. They’re all from different countries so they argue about whose country had the best pilots. They all look suspicious, but Pilot X is thought to have a split personality, so that could be misleading. On their first day in the air, Pilot X guns one of them down. Each time they go up, more are shot down; I guess that’s one way to eliminate suspects. They keep you guessing by having people sneak off a lot and one guy throws a really unhinged screaming fit you’ll have to see to believe. Decent pulp-magazine-plot mystery livened up by pretty good dogfight footage (albeit too brief, and the filmmakers don’t do a very good job at helping the viewer keep track of who’s shooting at whom). It’s pretty creaky but worth checking out if you’re a fan of biplane combat. Good climactic battle, and although Lona Andre is a pretty bad actress, she makes nice eye-candy with her kitten-face.

Scorpio (C, 1973) aka The Scorpio File Tough-to-follow spy film by Michael Winner. Burt Lancaster is Cross, a top CIA agent who's suspected of going over to the other side. To get him, the agency blackmails French assassin Scorpio (Alain Delon) by planting heroin on him. Scorpio is kind of an apprentice of Cross's, but agrees to track him down and kill him if they'll give him Cross's job once he's out of the way. Why he'd want it, I don't know, since he's getting to witness the way they treat their agents. Cross tries to work out a deal with a Russian agent, but finds that he's got nowhere to go, and has no option other than to keep running. Anyone who gets between Cross and Scorpio end up getting violently eliminated. My problem was trying to keep track of who all those people were and what they were doing, and why they needed killing, and I failed to do that. In a movie that expects you to fill in a lot of the blanks, that's not a good thing, but I still wasn't bored; what was lost in tension was made up for by tough action scenes and good style. Gritty espionage thriller that will likely require a few viewings before everything falls into place, but that won't be painful. The trailer is especially good.

Trailer here (worth watchin')

She-Gods of Shark Reef (C, 1958) aka Shark Reef. Cheap lil' Roger Corman adventure flick that's saved from being typical only by the fact that it's in color (although versions you'll see nowdays are just barely in color, since the prints are fading out). A couple of brothers on the run from the law get shipwrecked on a reef and nearly eaten by sharks before they're rescued by some Amazon pearl divers who live on a nearby island. The guys aren't wanted there, but there won't be a boat to take them away for ten days. Chris is the blond brother (and therefore the good one). The dark-haired one is Lee, who's he's wanted for murder, and he quickly gets himself in trouble on the island by stealing a cache of pearls. Chris, meanwhile, cozies up to a cute native girl, but that's taboo, so he gets in trouble, too. The girl's going to be sacrificed to the sharks that swim around an underwater stone idol, but Chris saves her, which leads to - guess what? -- more trouble. Nothing astounding, but moves quickly enough, especially since it's only 63 minutes long.

Watch the whole thing here

Serpent's Egg, The - (C, 1977) Bizarre, dark film from Ingmar Bergman, set in 1920's Berlin, where anti-Semitism was ramping up as the Nazi party struggled to seize power. Jewish trapeze artist David Carradine finds his brother has shot himself, and he stays drunk every night in little cafes where they do creepy, decadent cabaret shows. Unemployment is rampant and the black market for dollars is through the roof, since German money is nearly worthless. Jews are blamed for everything, and Carradine is harassed by authorities and forced to identify corpses in the morgue. It becomes hard for him to find places to live, and he tries to stay with his brother's widow (Liv Ullmann), who is suffering guilt about her husband's suicide. The whole atmosphere of the city is dreary and toxic with fear of political clashes, and money becomes so worthless they exchange it by weight, but there's nothing to buy anyway. The terror and misery drives everyone insane and surreal moments accumulate (such as people butchering a horse in the street in the middle of the night), and people around Carradine turn up dead; he even decapitates a guy himself, using an elevator! Even with desperation setting in, Carradine resists accepting help from a smarmy German he knew as a child, who liked to cut open live cats for fun. Eventually he learns that the German still has an evilly inquisitive mind, but his experiments involve humans now, and he may be a subject. This film is regarded as a misfire from Berman, mostly due to the odd casting of the limited-talent Carradine (who's not really that bad, but who does revert to his Kwai Chang Caine speech pattern whenever he has to play meek), but I was pretty impressed with it and found it more compelling than some of Begman's other work. Bergman uses a lot of horror film elements (the trailer certainly sells it like one) and masterfully builds an atmosphere of oppression and dread that becomes weirder and more claustrophobic as it goes. I wonder if some critics were put off just from the depressing morbidity of the whole thing; not that Bergman's ever been a sunshine-and-light kind of guy, but this is pretty doomy even for him. One interesting trick: since Carradine's character can't speak German, none of the German is subtitled, leaving us in the same confused position (unless, of course, you're fluent). Nightmarish, strong stuff that deserves re-evaluation.

This has a creepy trailer:

Vacancy (C, 2007) A bickering couple (Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson) who've drifted apart since the accidental death of their child have car trouble on a backroad off the interstate in the middle of the night. With little other choice, they check into a run-down, nearly-abandoned motel, even though the manager is a weirdo, slightly more creepy than goofy. Their room is filthy and the TV doesn't pick up any stations, but there's a VCR and some dirty old videotapes, so they try watching some, only to discover snuff films of previous guests getting attacked by creeps in a room that looks a helluva lot like the one they're staying in. Then they find the hidden cameras... Creepy horror that sets up a very weird vibe and then turns up the intensity until you're really not sure if they're going to make it out alive or not. I was a bit hesitant to give this one a shot because it sounded like it'd be another Hostel -style torture-porn thing, and I've gotten really bored with those. This one's very different, though; it doesn't take the lazy approach, even to the point of having very little gore or graphic violence. It manages to be more effective by suggesting things and keeping the menace realistic, concentrating on winding up the tension instead of using splatter as a crutch. Pretty scary stuff with good instincts for when to underplay things, and when to become overbearing.

Wanda The Sadistic Hypnotist
(C, 1969) aka The Sadistic Hypnotist, Wanda the Hypnotist. A guy wanders into a grindhouse to watch a nudist-camp flick. The camera pans over a bunch of unattractive women sitting around reading magazines while a narrator tries to convince us it's exciting. Then a movie starring "Miss Dikey Dikeman" starts up, and it's about two girls taking a guy home after a budget-saving offscreen car crash. Dikey, or Wanda, is 6' 2" and wears evil eye makeup, and she can't act worth a weaselfart but tries enthusiastically anyway. She does some of the most unconvincing-looking whipping ever (when she really starts flailing it looks like go-go dancing) and makes the guy walk around the swimming pool in his underwear -- he complaints like it's torture and Wanda's girlfriend worries that they're going too far! The guy's just walking, for Christsakes... you're probably tortured as badly going to your mailbox and back. Then a bunch of girls drop by and skinnydip while Wanda grins and twirls her whip. An Avon lady visits and Wanda hypnotizes her into go-go dancing. Another girl becomes a karate expert, and a lesbian becomes a man-crazed nymphomaniac who goes after their captive (even though he protests, "But, lady, I'm a Republican!"). Then a sex-maniac rapist escapes from a nearby funny farm and invades the party after getting into Wanda's secret stash of LSD. He ties everybody up, lets the captive guy loose, and they all have a body-painting orgy. O' course, Wanda eventually prevails. Even the guy in the grindhouse seems to be made restless by this typical nudie-flick tedium, but if you stick around there's a twist ending. Despite promises of kinkiness, this is as tame and vanilla as you'll find, and delivers nothing but some wacky 60's atmosphere.

War Hunt (B&W, 1962) Robert Redford's film debut is an intense Korean war film about the line between heroism and psychopathia. Redford arrives in Korea and finds it a pretty crazy place, but craziest of all is John Saxon, who likes to sneak across enemy lines at night and kill the enemy with a knife. It soon becomes evident to Redford that Saxon's not just a dedicated soldier, but a psychopath, and Redford may become one of his victims, because he's been friendly with a young Korean boy that Saxon's adopted. And when the war ends, that's bad news for Saxon, since he's gotten hooked on killing. So he sneaks out as usual, putting the cease fire at risk. Strong tension level and some magnificent black and white photography make this a standout war film, and proof that John Saxon does have talent that's too often squandered on junkier films. For instance, he was also a psychotic soldier in Cannibal Apocalypse, and compare the quality of that to this sometime.


Seth McFarlane: King of Prime-Time Blasphemy!

So, Family Guy last night featured some new footage, including an unheard song (excised from the "Fat Guy Strangler" episode) that really ups the blasphemy-ante something fierce... I remember being completely blown away at blasphemy in prime time when Homer Simpson proclaimed, "I don't even BELIEVE in Jeebus!" Well, this song of Peter's certainly puts Homer J.'s take on religion into a new perspective...
The Anthem of the National Association for the Advancement of Fat People
"Stand up, all fat men, stand up straight;
Stand up because no chair can hold your weight.
If God created us to be so big,
That's proof He must be a big, fat pig.
God's so flabby with an ass so wide,
His arms look like pillows with cake mix inside.
God's man-boobs are flabby and they hurt when He jogs,
And the back of God's neck looks like a pack of hot dogs."

...Wow. Don't think there's much left to say after that...


Jack Kirby + Stephen Hawking in "Martians Go Home!"

Jack Kirby, quoted circa 1972:
"I see no wisdom in the eagerness to be found and approached by any intelligence with the ability to accomplish it from any sector of space. In the meetings between 'discoverers' and 'discoverees,' history has always given the advantage to the finders."

Kirby was referring to the Jupiter Plaque, an early-70s project to send humanity's contact information into space for alien lifeforms to discover...

Kirby's belief, much like that of noted super-physicist Stephen Hawking, was that any lifeform capable of finding us would most likely see us as some pitiful indigenous creatures standing in the way of some healthy colonial resource-stripping...

The accompanying Kirby art piece is his interpretation of what he'd've offered to the project if asked; West magazine did a piece asking various creative types for their spins on the concept + this was The King's contribution, showing Man as a race of powerful superbeings as a sort of 'Back the fuck up' to the rest of the Universe...

A 2010 quote from Stephen Hawking (seen here in his rarely public animation form):

"If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." (You kinda gotta hear it said in yer head in his voice to get the real impact...)
Clearly an excellent case of great minds thinking alike...
And a tv series - Ghost King + the Hawk - featuring Jack "The King" Kirby's Ghost and Stephen Hawking (+ his intelligent BattleChair9000, which'd sound as much like Kit from the original Knight Rider as is possible) battling aliens would be better than any number of shitty Fringe + V + the like shows that dribble like babyshit across my tv screen...

Ghost King can, of course, draw anything into existence with his magic pen, like monsters or armies or walls or doors or holes, all the while chompin' down on an ectoplasmic cigar... And The Hawk can use his physics-powers to create wormholes, harness quarks, confuse + hypnotize others with his super-intelligent make-me-sleepy-talk, and woo another lovely guest-star every week... Heroes, powers, aliens, BattleChair9000...all's we need now is a gorgeous lab assistant who also happens to be a trained assassin or something... played by Bai Ling?