Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sick Day Cinema: Galaxina

Sorry my blogging has slowed a bit over the last few days, but I've been struggling to finish some stubborn writing assignments. Today didn't help much. Woke up feeling ill, and so did the wife, who ended up calling in sick and staying in bed most of the day. Me, I took up residence on the couch with the dog and suffered my own ailments quietly in front of the TV.

On the plus side, I got my comp copies of DOOMED #3 from IDW Publishing today. This is the issue that includes a special DVD Late Show column. I also received a review copy of the 1980 sci-fi spoof Galaxina, from BCI/Eclipse.

I'll be writing up a full review of this flick for my column, but man, was it a bad movie. I first read about this film – as with many others – in Starlog magazine when I was a teen, and ended up waiting 26 years to actually see it. The movie is known (by those who know of it at all) as being one of the very few film vehicles for Dorothy R. Stratten, the lovely Playboy Playmate and Bogdanovich protégé who was murdered by her husband before the movie was even released.

It's terrible. A remarkably unfunny comedy from the director of The Incredible Melting Man (another movie I only know about from old Starlogs) and good old Crown International Pictures.

Here – check out the trailer for yourself (note, the sound's a little out of synch, but really – who cares?):

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Damnation Alley for Kids: Ark II

BCI/Eclipse, the company that has the rights to the Filmation kidvid library, is beginning to dip into that studio's live-action fare, beginning with the post-Apocalyptic adventure series, Ark II: The Complete Series.

To be honest, I don't remember this show as well as I do Filmation's later live-action programs like Shazam!, Isis, Space Academy and Jason of Star Command, but I do vaguely recall the crew going up against Bob Short's Robby the Robot Replica in one episode (has anyone ever done a definitive list of Robby film/TV appearances? Hmmm....) and thinking it was cool that on Space Academy, the "Seeker" spaceships had the same front end as the Ark.

Here's part of BCI's press release:
The year is 2476, and the Earth has become a biological wasteland. Three young scientists—Jonah (Terry Lester), the leader; Ruth (Jean Marie Hon), the medic; and Samuel (Jose Flores), the young, technological genius—are joined by their sidekick, Adam the talking chimp, as they scour the globe in the Ark II. Their mission: to bring hope of a new future to mankind, while teaching those remaining earthlings valuable life lessons about ecology and social justice.
Well, I'm looking forward to this DVD (which streets on Nov. 7 with a $29.99 SRP), and even more so to the company following up with more of Filmation's live-action shows. Then I can throw away my bootlegs of Space Academy and Jason, and be able to revisit my schoolboy crush (literally) on JoAnna Cameron's Isis whenever I want...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Other Night Stalker: The Norliss Tapes

Anchor Bay is about to release on DVD – in fact, for the first time ever on video, as far as I can determine – the 1973 Dan Curtis TV movie, The Norliss Tapes.

This obvious pilot film starred Roy Thinnes (The Invaders, The X-Files) as David Norliss, a San Francisco investigative reporter working on a book debunking the supernatural. A year after taking the publisher's advance, he calls his editor to tell him that he cannot write the book. A few days later, Norliss mysteriously disappears. When the editor shows up at Norliss' home looking for him, he instead finds a pile of numbered cassette tapes. Playing the first one, he hears Norliss relate a terrifying story about his investigation of strange events in Carmel County involving a wealthy widow, her apparently undead spouse, a strange sculpture, and some bloodless corpses....

The movie plays out very much like Curtis' Night Stalker telefilms, with first-person narration by an investigator who is at first a skeptic, but is soon caught up in unexplainable events. William F. Nolan's teleplay follows the same structure and beats of Richard Matheson's Stalker scripts, the minimalist musical score is again provided by Robert Cobert, and Curtis has even cast Claude Akins in a lawman role nearly identical to the one he played in the original Kolchak movie.

The biggest difference though, is that The Norliss Tapes is essentially humorless. Thinnes' David Norliss is obviously a very serious, brooding sort of guy, where Darren McGavin's Carl Kolchak was a wise-cracking wiseass with a lot of charm. This may have hurt the pilot's chances of becoming a series back in the early Seventies. On the plus side, though, The Norliss Tapes co-stars the 1973-model Angie Dickinson, and that's a very good thing.

The DVD (which goes on sale on Oct. 3), is a bare-bones affair with a full-frame (the original aspect ratio) transfer and a few trailers for other Anchor Bay/20th Century Fox horror titles. The transfer is solid and clean, and looks fine; the mono soundtrack is clear and strong.

While not quite as memorable as the Night Stalker films, Norliss Tapes does have a good, original story and an intriguing set-up. Too bad there was never a series or sequels. And since it rarely airs on TV anymore (outside occasional showings on Fox Movie Channel) it's great to have it on DVD.

Now if someone could just dig up and release Gene Roddenberry's 1977 Spectre pilot film on disc, I'd be a very happy horror fan. And for that matter, where's The Invaders?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

80's Pulp Television: Tales of the Gold Monkey

Regular readers of this blog are well aware that my reading and viewing tastes peaked when I was around fifteen, which handily explains my obsession with comic books, James Bond, pulp paperbacks, hardboiled crime fiction, sword & sorcery and interplanetary swashbucklers. It also explains why I buy so many DVDs of late Seventies and early Eighties fantasy adventure TV shows, like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica (the fun one).

Well, one of my favorites from that era is, unfortunately, not available as yet in an authorized, licensed DVD release (and is unlikely to be). That show is Tales of the Gold Monkey, starring Stephen Collins, Caitlin O'Heaney and the late, great Roddy McDowall.

Well, I managed to get my hands on DVD-Rs of the entire series a couple years ago, as well as the entire run of Bring 'Em Back Alive, a similar show, which aired the same year as Monkey. I've pulled those discs out again recently, and have been enjoying watching them again.

Both Monkey and Alive aired in the Fall of '82, on ABC and CBS, respectively. And they were each attempts by their producers to trade off the success of the previous year's biggest movie hit, Raiders of the Lost Ark, with late Thirties settings, two-fisted heroes, exotic South Seas locales and plenty of villainous Nazis.

I never saw many episodes of Alive (starring Bruce Boxleitner as a fictional version of real-life big game trapper Frank Buck) when the series originally aired, much preferring the humor and ensemble cast of Monkey. But I've been watching those Alive shows now, and it's great fun. Period pulp adventure with all the trappings of a Columbia or Republic serial, and much better than I remembered.

Monkey holds up well, too. The stories are right out of the old pulps, with lost civilizations, missing link ape men, pirates, and lots of lost treasures just waiting to be found. The chracterizations were solid, and despite a few historical anachronisms, the show was a delightful attempt at high adventure on a TV budget. A Donald Bellasario production, Monkey had great production values for the time, a wonderful cast and a lot of charm. It should have run three or four years, but then, I think that about a lot of my favorite, short-lived shows.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Godzilla's a... Pepper?

Well, we may not be seeing Godzilla 1985 on DVD any time soon, but thanks to someone over on YouTube, the commercials that the Big G starred in for Dr. Pepper around the time of that film's American release are once again available to fans of the prehistoric pitchman/beast.

That's right – years before throwing down with Charles Barkley for Nike, 'Zilla shilled for soft drinks.

Apparently Dr. Pepper had already made arrangements to use Godzilla in their ads when New World Pictures, who had acquired the Big G's 1984 "comeback" film from Toho, contacted the Pepper people about cross promoting their (heavily edited) version of the movie with the soft drink campaign. This is why, in various scenes of Godzilla 1985, a Dr. Pepper vending machine is prominently placed in the hallway of the "Pentagon." Reportedly, the guys at New World really pushed returning star Raymond Burr (reprising his role of "Steve Martin" from the 1956 Godzilla King of the Monsters) to drink a Pepper onscreen, but iron-willed Ironside flat-out refused. (Another character is seen sipping the beverage instead.)

Two commercials were made: the one below, and another one with a cutesy female monster with a bow on her head and ray-beam eyes, whose love is won by the Big Guy with the help of a giant Diet Dr. Pepper.

I like the ad below a lot better. Aside from the unfortunately under-detailed Godzilla suit, I love the B&W photography and the humor of the spot. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

75 Years Young: Dracula

Universal is about to release new special editions of their seminal horror films, Dracula and Frankenstein, labeled as part of their "Legacy Collection" (as were the last versions they released three years ago to tie-in with that Van Helsing abomination).

These new editions feature the same sepia-toned "hardback" packaging of the studio's recent Double Indemnity set, plus a pretty fair collection of extra features. In fact, at first glance, these sets seem very impressive.

Until you realize that most of the "new" features are, in fact, old and recycled.

Let's take a look at the Dracula disc. Now, Dracula has been released twice by Universal before on DVD. The first edition featured the original 1931 Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi classic as well as the Spanish-language version shot at the same time. It also included an alternate musical score by Phillip Glass, a commentary track by David Skal, and a documentary, The Road to Dracula.

The second DVD edition of the movie, released as a Van Helsing tie-in, included all of the above, and was additionally packaged with several of the film's sequels and spin-offs: Dracula's Daughter, Son of Dracula, and House of Dracula (which is actually part of the Frankenstein series, but let's not quibble).

This latest version includes all the above extras, but not the sequels. It also includes two additional documentaries (Lugosi: The Dark Prince and Universal Horrors), a new commentary track by Steve Haberman (whose credential is that he wrote the Mel Brooks spoof, Dracula: Dead and Loving It), and new "Monster Tracks" trivia subtitles (a feature I rather enjoy, actually).

Here's the thing, though: aside from the new commentary and trivia subtitles, everything else is recycled. Even the two "new" documentaries are old. The Dark Prince Lugosi biography has aired on A&E for the last several Halloweens, and has even been released on DVD before, as part of the Heroes of Horror set from Image Entertainment. The Universal Horrors doc is nearly ten years old and originally aired on TCM, where it has also reappeared every October.

The "digitally remastered" (a phrase that really doesn't mean anything – everything on DVD is "digitally remastered") transfer does not look noticeably improved over the previous editions, (and in the case of Frankenstein, the new disc actually looks darker and murkier than the earlier releases), and the sound is still hissy and shrill; it does not appear to have been cleaned up at all.

Apparently, a restoration effort on the scale of Warner's King Kong SE was too ambitious (expensive?) for Universal. And while the overall package isn't bad, the heavy recycling does strike me as a lazy way to assemble a Special Edition ("Hey, we should do an Anniversary disc! What can we get cheap?"). Still, if you don't own the previous editions of these movies, or the Heroes of Horror biography set, it might be worth picking up these new versions. The boxes are nice.

Friday, September 15, 2006

DVD Late Show is DOOMED!

The latest issue (#3) of IDW Publishing's black & white horror anthology comics magazine, DOOMED, is now on the stands. Along with the usual bunch of terrifying stories by top comics talent, this issue contains a special DVD Late Show column by yours truly, covering several of the Fall's best and most interesting horror discs.

I've been asked to contribute another column for the next issue, too. Hopefully, this will not only be a regular gig, but will lead to some more work for IDW in the future.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kirkalot

I'm not feeling well and have too much to do tonight, so I'll forego my usual rambling and simply share this video with you. Hey, it made me laugh.

Enjoy.

Shock-O-Rama

Since late last year, I've been doing some work for POP Cinema (formerly ei Independent Cinema) designing and executing DVD covers. Well, the first one I did for them was the cover for Brett Piper's Shock-O-Rama, (pictured at left) a Creepshow/Tales From The Crypt-styled, tongue-in-cheek, horror anthology.

Well, the disc just hit the stores a week or two ago, and I thought I'd give it a bit of a plug. Here's what I said about it in my column:

When bitter scream queen Rebecca Raven (ei starlet Misty Mundae, THE SCREAMING DEAD, SPIDERBABE, in a semi-autobiographical role) is fired by the B-movie studio that employs her, she heads for a quiet house in the country to get away from it all… and battle an angry, flesh-hungry zombie.

Meanwhile, her former employers have discovered that the girl they intended as Raven’s replacement has become unavailable, and they desperately need a leading lady for their new film. They screen a couple of flicks hoping to find a new star, and these films make up two of the three stories in SHOCK-O-RAMA. In “Mechanoid,” a couple of tiny alien criminals land in a New Jersey junkyard and battle the yard’s owner (Rob Monkiewicz, BITE ME!) with a stop-motion, scrap-yard robot. In “Lonely Are the Brain,” beautiful young women in a dream research project are finding their subconscious fantasies manipulated by a sexually voracious female doctor (Julian Wells, DR. JEKYLL & MISTRESS HYDE) and a giant, evil brain from the future.

Completely tongue-in-cheek, SHOCK-O-RAMA is, nonetheless, a great ride, with excellent handcrafted special effects, beautiful girls, a witty script, and some extremely effective low budget visuals, especially during the final story’s dream sequences. Director and FX artist Piper even manages some economical but effective illusions worthy of the great Mario Bava, with ingenious combinations of sets, miniatures, lighting and accomplished camera work. The pace never drags, and the film possesses a sense of humor (especially in the Misty Mundae zombie segment) that’s reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s early work.

ei’s DVD includes a 1.78:1widescreen transfer with anamorphic enhancement, and looks great. The special features include an audio commentary track by writer/director/FX artist Piper and producer Michael Raso, a behind-the-scenes featurette, footage of the film’s NYC premiere, an on-screen Q&A with Piper from the same event, and the ever-growing Shock-O-Rama trailer vault.
Here's the trailer:

The Horror of Video Games: Stay Alive

Last week, I received a review copy of a new teen horror film, Stay Alive, from the folks at Buena Vista Home Video. Brandi and I watched it over the weekend, and for what it was, it wasn't that bad.

The premise is that there's this "underground" survival/horror video game, called – you guessed it – Stay Alive, and if you play it, you unleash the evil of the game story into the real world. Even worse – as the ad copy makes explicit – if you die in the game, you suffer the same fatal fate in reality, at the hands of the Blood Countess.

The story incorporates (and takes great liberties with) the legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who, so obsessed with maintaining her youth and beauty, took to slaughtering female virgins and bathing in their blood. According to the film, the Countess apparently fled Europe for the American South, where she resumed her sanguinary beauty treatments at a local plantation. It is this plantation that is the setting for the video game. In fact, much of the film takes place in the video game "world," and I have to admit, as a guy who's sat alone in the dark playing Resident Evil late at night, it actually looks like it might be fun – and scary – to play.

The cast is made up of your usual group of attractive, young twenty-somethings. The only face that was familiar to me was Agent Cody Banks himself, Frankie Muniz, as one of the die-hard gamers who uncover the game's sinister secret.

Sure, the dialogue can be cheesy, and you don't have to have seen as many horror movies as I have to figure out by the end of the first act which characters are going to die and which are going to survive, but it's fairly well acted (as these kinds of flicks go) and the direction by William Brent Bell is competent and occasionally suspenseful.

The movie is vailable in two different DVD editions – as a full-frame, PG-13 version which not only cuts out almost all of the (already minimal) gore and profanity, not to mention nearly half of the picture, and an unrated, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen version. Obviously, the unrated, widescreen edition is the preferable one.

Not a classic, but I found it entertaining, and will probably watch it again one of these days.

One Dollar DVD: Africa Screams

I was in Wal-Mart a while back (yeah, I know), picking up some groceries with the wife, when I came across a bin of dollar DVDs. These were the usual public domain titles – you know, old 50s TV shows, movies that the studios didn't care enough to renew copyright on, and old black and white cartoons. (Actually, I'm grateful for those last ones. Parents buy these for their kids because they're cheap, and at least the kids get to see old Iwerks and Fleischer cartoons before they get too jaded to enjoy them, so at least they won't be completely forgotten.)

I picked up a handful – hey, they were only a buck each – and figured that even if they were the usual multi-generation, beat-up, crappy PD prints that everyone else had, I wasn't losing too much. One of them was the Abbott & Costello film Africa Screams, which I'd bought on a cheapo tape many years ago but never actually watched because the quality of the tape was so bad. It's available on about a hundred video labels and, from what I've been able to discern, it always looks crappy, which is why I never tried to replace that tape.

But I'm an Abbott & Costello fan. I've bought and watched all of the films in those four great, modestly-priced DVD collections of the films that the team did for Universal (The Best of Abbot & Costello Vols. 1-4), and really wanted to take another shot at Africa Screams, one of their handful of "independent" productions, made at Nassour(?) Studios. The fact that it was directed by Charles Barton, who had directed several of the boys' better Universals (including Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein), especially intrigued me, along with the fact that two of the most famous real-life African big game hunters, Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck, were in the cast.

Well, surprisingly, the print used for this Digiview budget DVD was nearly flawless, and the transfer was great, with no visible compression problems or signs of digital artifacts. In fact, it looked as good as any of the films in the Universal sets. Already, I was pleased with my $1 purchase.

The movie's not particularly well regarded, but I thought it was a hoot. Aside from Bud, Lou, Beatty and Buck, the cast includes the lovely Hillary Brooke, the wrasslin' Baer brothers (Max and Buddy) and two once-and-future Stooges: Shemp Howard and Joe Besser. Shemp's under-utilized, although he's got a good gag or two, but Besser – nobody's favorite Stooge – has some real standout bits. His "tent's on fire" scene is fall-down funny, and he gets a lot of mileage out of his line deliveries. His voice – which kids of the Seventies (like me) heard on countless Hanna-Barbera cartoons – can be hysterically funny all by itself.

And Bud & Lou are in good form. Lou, as usual, is great when doing his "scaredy cat" routine, but Bud gets a chance to do a little genuine acting here when his character develops a Fred C. Dobbs-like obsession over some diamonds.

It's a fun flick, and better than its reputation (probably because most commercially available versions of it look like crap). Well worth a buck.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Insomnia TV: Syndicated 90's Adventure Shows

I don't know why I think about this stuff...

Between say, '95 and 2004, there were a whole bunch of syndicated adventure shows on television, usually in weird timeslots on weekends. Some were quite good: Babylon 5, Star Trek Deep Space 9, Hercules The Legendary Journeys, Xena Warrior Princess; some were okay: The Adventures of Sinbad, Highlander, Forever Knight, Poltergeist The Legacy; some were surprisingly popular: Stargate SG:1, Earth: Final Conflict, Relic Hunter; some were just disappointing: Conan, Mike Hammer Private Eye, Adventure Inc.; and some were godawful: Space Precinct, Starhunter, Sheena, Tarzan The Epic Adventures.

During that span of time, I was single and kept odd hours. I saw a lot of late night TV, and managed to at least sample most of the shows above.

Here's my thoughts on some of them.

The Adventures of Sinbad ran two seasons, and was the most creatively successful of the Hercules imitators. It starred Zen Gessner (who has also appeared in most of the Farrely Brothers movies - apparently, he's their brother-in-law), a good looking, charming lead. It was shot in South Africa, had good production values and solid CGI monsters (better than the ones on other shows).

In the first season, they managed to capture the light, swashbuckling tone of the Hercules series, and it was a surprisingly fun show. However, in the second, they made the ill-advised decision to "darken" the show, probably because the darker Xena was doing so well in the ratings. It killed the show. The first season is on DVD in Canada. I plan to get it one of these days.

Conan ran for one full season, and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger's pal Rolf Moeller as a "kinder, gentler" Conan. He was teamed up with a handful of companions (including Kramer's dwarf pal, Danny Woodburn from Seinfeld) and they wandered the Hyborian landscape (actually, Puerto Villarta, Mexico) fighting evil in the form of Jeremy Kemp's wizard, Hissa Zul.

Really poor production values really killed this show, along with bad writing. The extras' costumes looked like they were made for a high school play, and every time our heroes came to a village, the buildings looked so badly constructed that you couldn't imagine anyone actually living in them – a stiff breeze would knock them down. The CGI monsters were about of the same quality of those on Hercules.

Surprisingly, it was Woodburn that kept the show watchable – he managed to imbue his character with great dignity and warmth, even when it wasn't there in the scripts. Jeremy Kemp – a fine British actor – was just terrible here; one gets the impression they shot his entire season's scenes in one afternoon, and he just read off the cue cards. Moeller was a physically adequate Conan, and no worse of an actor than Schwarzenegger when he played the role. Had the part been written better, I think he could have been quite good.

The show did have an odd mix of guest stars, though (I'm sure they were just doing it for a paid weekend in Puerto Villarta): Mickey Rooney, Mariette Hartley, Sam Jones, Robert Culp, and Paul LeMat all made appearances.

That said, I still kinda like it (in a guilty pleasure way) and have the series on DVD.

Mike Hammer, Private Eye had Stacy Keach reprising his 80's TV role, this time with a new, younger Velda (the stunning Shannon Whirry) and a young, pretty-boy assistant (Shane Conrad). The budget was microscopic – the show was shot in Ventura, California, although still set in New York. This means you never saw Keach walking the mean streets of Manhattan, and when they did shoot exteriors, there were often palm trees poking into the corners of the frame.

Like the two 80’s series and TV movies, this syndicated series mines a lot of humor out of playing Hammer as a 40’s-50’s kind of guy a bit out of step with the modern era. This series deals with Internet crimes and similar 90s plots, but, oddly, Hammer’s a bit rougher and more violent here than in the previous series. I’m guessing that’s because it was syndicated, and didn’t have to deal with network censors. The writing’s not too bad, either – not great, mind you, but most of the stories are tough and fairly clever.

Not bad viewing though, for 2 a.m., and like Conan, I own the DVDs.

Monday, September 11, 2006

That Filmation Tarzan

Another Filmation memory: the opening titles to that studio's very successful Tarzan animated series:



The voice actor who plays Tarzan is Robert Ridgley... who also voiced Flash Gordon and Thundarr!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

That Filmation Touch

I can't remember the last time I was actually up before noon on a Saturday, but as a kid, I loved Saturday morning... cartoons.

Sitting on the living room floor eating cereal, fighting with my sister over control of the dial...

Anyway, I always preferred the adventure cartoons from Filmation. Yeah, I know they're notorious for cheap animation and recycling, but I came to love the over-familiar music, sound effects and animation (especially, the rotoscoped "hero running" footage). And I loved the character and background design on their adventure shows. Whoever designed their cartoons really made them look like comic books.

I was a big fan of Star Trek, Tarzan, The New Adventures of Batman, New Adventures of Flash Gordon and even their live-action shows, like Ark II, Shazam!, Isis, Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. Hell, I just found out this week that they were even the co-producers of the Starchaser feature film I blogged about a few days ago!

Well, BCI/Eclipse has a bunch of Filmation stuff coming out on DVD in high-quality box sets. They've already released several volumes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (which was a little after my time, frankly) and its spin-off, She-Ra.

Over the last few months, they've also released The New Adventures of Flash Gordon and Blackstar, probably the last Filmation cartoon I remember actually getting up early to watch. I was into D&D by then, and anything with a sword & sorcery theme caught my interest. Unfortunately, it aired in the same timeslot as Ruby-Spears' superior Thundarr the Barbarian on another network, so unless Thundarr was a repeat, I usually opted for the post-Apocalyptic barbarian over the sword-slinging astronaut, John Blackstar.

Watching them today as a 40+ adult, I find that Flash Gordon still holds up as one of the top four animated adventure shows ever (the others being Jonny Quest, Batman The Animated Series and the aforementioned Thundarr), while Blackstar is actually somewhat better than I remembered.

The animation still looks pretty slick and, oddly enough for a Filmation adventure show, uses very little, if any, rotoscoping. The character designs and background paintings are excellent, really "selling" the alien environment of planet Sagar. I still hate the little pink "trobbits," though, and prefer the episodes that play down their child-friendly antics.

BCI's DVD transfers are excellent; the source material on Blackstar looks much better than the prints used on Flash Gordon, with virtually no visible debris or damage. If you're nostalgic and want to revisit your childhood – or know kids who are into fantasy adventure – they're worth picking up.

Now I'm really looking forward to their live-action sci-fi shows being released next year, especially Ark II and Space Academy.

Go, go Godzilla

Driving to Free Comic Book Day at Casablanca Comics in Portland, Maine last Spring, I told Brandi that there was only one trade that had come out this year that I really needed to pick up (of course, I couldn't afford more than one!), and fortunately they had a copy in stock – Marvel's ESSENTIAL GODZILLA.

What a great book! From the days when the Marvel Universe was a wild and wooly place, fun, and anything could happen! (Am I the only one who misses those days?)

Heavily restricted by Toho Studios in regards to what they could do with the character, Doug Moench and editor Archie Goodwin slightly revamped the big G's origin (although not dramatically) and had the saurian supreme emerge from the North Pacific to take an American tour, pursued by Dum-Dum Dugan and S.H.I.E.LD. As Godzilla crossed the continent he ran into the Champions in San Francisco, battled the evil Dr. Demonicus and his monsters, fought a giant robot and giant Bigfoot in the Grand Canyon, was harassed by cowboys, trashed Las Vegas, beat up a trio of alien monsters, was shrunk by Henry Pym's shrinking gas, tossed back to the time of Devil Dinosaur (via Doc Doom's time machine), battled the FF and the Avengers... and then disappeared into the Atlantic, never to rear his scaly head in MU again.

Herb Trimpe did a great job on the art, with Tom Sutton turning in a nice two-parter, as well. Kinda surprised, considering that with Moench and Trimpe were the creative team, that Godzilla never ran into the Hulk, but maybe if Marvel had sprung for another year's license, they would have gotten around to it.

A lot of G-Fans complain about the book, annoyed with Trimpe's rendition of the character and Marvel's decision to make him green, but the tone of the series is actually very close to the films that Toho was making in the Seventies. And reading these now (I have a few issues in my collection, but not a complete run), its clear that Moench was having a grand time... and his fun was contagious!

A big "thank you" to Marvel for dusting these off, paying the license fee, and making them available again!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Casino Royale trailer 2

Van Dammit: The Hard Corps

I haven't actually watched a new Jean-Claude Van Damme movie since Knock-Off, I think. While there was a time when I made an effort to see each of the Muscles from Brussels' movies – I particularly liked Bloodsport, Double Impact, Hard Target and Maximum Risk – his transition in the early 90's from theatrical action star to direct-to-vid leading man left me behind, I'm afraid.

Well, Sony Home Video just sent me the latest action effort from the man, a surprisingly involving little movie called The Hard Corps.

Van Damme plays Phillipe Sauvage (gotta love those movie names), a Desert Storm vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Through a somewhat contrived series of events, he is hired as bodyguard for an ex-boxing champ-turned-philanthropist (Razaaq Adoti). Unfortunately, the former boxer has been marked for death by an ex-con rap music producer with a grudge, and Sauvage finds himself trying to protect an uncooperative client in the midst of a hip-hop shooting war.

There's not really all that much action in this one – maybe one hand-to-hand bout and a couple of gunfights, but what there is is fairly well-staged. Direction (by Van Damme vet Sheldon Lettich), production values and cinematography are surprisingly slick for a direct-to-DVD flick, and the story (despite how it may read above) is actually quite interesting and well-executed, with solid performances by most of the cast, especially Vivica A. Fox and Adoti.

Van Damme mumbles his lines and delivers them in his usual stilted manner, but since his character is supposed to be emotionally damaged, it sorta works.

Setting Van Damme down into the middle of a hip-hop gangsta war makes for some interesting character bits and gags; I particularly liked a scene where his character is training some young bodyguard recruits how to shoot properly, berating them for holding their guns sideways. Sure enough, in the final gunfight, only he and his team seem able to hit anybody, with the bad guy gangstas shooting their sideways sidearms wildly.

Ultimately, I found The Hard Corps (the name that Van Damme's bodyguard team is given by their employer), to be an entertaining diversion, and far better than I expected it to be. It's not a classic – but it's one of the man's better movies.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Night Driver is coming...

On September 30th, my first graphic novel, The Night Driver, published by Moonstone Books and CinemaGraphix, hits store shelves. Here's the solicitation copy for the GN:
Written by: John Cork
Comic Book Adaptation: Christopher Mills
Art/Colors: Christopher LaGasse
Cover: Attila Adorjany
96pgs, squarebound, color, mature, $12.95

A freaky read from the producer of the film Menace II Society. COMICS & FILM COLLIDE! You've read the 99cent teaser, now its time to grab onto the real deal! The FIRST full co-venture between MOONSTONE and film publisher CINEMAGRAPHIX!

An ordinary traveling salesman on an uneventful trip through the Midwest, until, that is, he picks up a seriously ill hitch hiker. That's when the pounding HEADACHES start... & bizarre HALLUCINATIONS... & the creeping paranoia... MISSING TIME... & all those MUTILATED BODIES....

A dedicated family man, all Hurdis Jones wants to do is make it home to his worried wife and kids. But his journey becomes impossibly long and fraught with horror.

"Cinematic storytelling takes you on a relentless ride in this top-notch thriller. Smart, dark, sexy, and at times brutal. -- Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition
Purely a work-for-hire assignment, I adapted a screenplay by John Cork into graphic novel form, and it was illustrated by newcomer Christopher Legasse. Although the story isn't my own, it was a real challenge for me as a writer to take a script intended for film and make it work in comics form, especially as it's a suspense story, an unusual genre for comics.

I'm hoping to do more work for the CinemaGraphix guys in the future.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Serial Box: Radar Men From The Moon

When the Earth is threatened by an advance strike force from the moon, consisting of one Moonman in a cave, two hired goons and a single ray cannon in the back of a truck, scientific hero Commando Cody soars into action with the flying suit and jetpack he evidently inherited from Jeff King (The King of the Rocket Men) to stop the inhabitants of Earth's only natural satellite from attcking in force.

This late Republic serial is pretty thin stuff – almost as thin as the Lunar "atmosphere." There are literally no surprises in the plot, and each cliffhanger is resolved in the most mundane way possible; often our heroes end up just walking away from danger!

That said, things move at brisk pace, the Lydecker Bros.' minature effects remain impressive after all these years (except for that shot of Earth casting a shadow on the sky backdrop), and I really love the Moonmen's tank and Cody's streamlined rocketship. Roy Barcroft makes a pretty good villain, decked out in the same outfit he'd worn several years (and pounds) previously in The Purple Monster Strikes, so Republic could re-use footage from that earlier chapterplay at Radar Men's climax.

For a sci-fi serial, though, Radar Men spends an awful lot of time Earthbound, with the Moon agent's thugs robbing banks and committing other crimes to finance their operations.

The late George Wallace seems a bit miscast as Cody – he kind of reminds me of Mr. Ed's Alan Young – but he handles the fight scenes pretty well, as does Clayton Moore (TV's Lone Ranger), as one of the Moon agent's hired thugs.

I've got this serial on the Roan Group's DVD, and the print is nearly flawless. It's another public domain flick that shows up on countless labels and usually looks like crap, but this disc is crisp, clean and can be bought at bargain prices online.

But if you're really cheap, and have 20 minutes to kill, here's the entire first chapter:

The Animated Eighties: Starchaser

I just ordered the DVD of one of my favorite 80's animated adventure films, Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, from Deep Discount DVD.

While extremely indebted to Star Wars, I always felt that the film rose somewhat above the derivative storyline and characters, and worked on its own merits as an interesting, involving and ultimately satisfying space opera.

I used to have the film on VHS, but that tape disappeared years ago. I think I must have loaned it to someone and never got it back. Since the DVD runs less than 10 bucks, I figured it was a good time to replace it. Besides, I've been feeling nostalgic lately.

Over on YouTube, a fan has re-created the trailer by taking footage from the widescreen DVD and synchronizing it with the audio from an old VHS tape. Very nicely done.



Is it just me, or does that spaceship look like a prototype for Joss Whedon's Serenity?

I Like This Comic: COBB

I don't buy any new comics. I'm currently living far from any decent comic book stores, and, as a struggling freelancer, I have very little money to spend on non-necessities. For a while, a comics retailing buddy was sending me books, but I owe him so much money that I asked him to stop.

So, since I don't buy any new comics, I don't read any new comics.

But... Chris Ryall, the high muckety-muck over at IDW is a pal, and he recently took pity on me and sent me a package of IDW books. In that package were the first two issues of Beau Smith and Eduardo Barreto's Cobb.

From everything I knew about this going in, I knew that I would probably like the book. Eduardo, besides being a pal and one of the coolest creators I've ever worked with (I've got one of his Mike Danger originals on my wall) is also, for my money, the best comic book artist alive, and Beau well, he's Beau. I've been aware of him since he was filling lettercols with missives and signing all twenty of his names to 'em, and I became a fan when he showed up kicking ass in Scout. I haven't liked all the comics he's done, but he's generally good at the two-fisted, action/adventure stuff.

But both these guys exceeded my expectations. Two issues in (I've yet to get my grubby hands on the third and final issue, but I will), and Cobb is my favorite comic book in years. (Well, aside from Gravedigger, of course.)

No "decompression," no navel-gazing, just contemporary hardboiled storytelling and deftly-defined characters of the type I strive for in my own work. Straight-forward, well-drawn artwork that serves the story and not the artist's original art sales (although I'd gladly buy any page of this).

Great stuff.

Eagerly looking forward to the concluding issue.

If you liked what Rick Burchett and I did on Gravedigger: The Scavengers, you'll like this, too.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Double Dip Indemnity


Just got the new Universal Special Edition of the Billy Wilder film noir classic Double Indemnity. Now, I love this movie, and the original Indemnity DVD (issued back in the early days of the format by Image Entertainment, above left) was one of the first discs I ever bought.

So how's the new version? Well, it's okay.

Universal could learn a thing or two from Warner Brothers on how to treat a classic film. While the packaging is nice, and the movie does look a bit better than the previous release with less grain and better contrast levels (still looks too soft, though), it seems a fairly half-hearted "Special Edition." The biggest disappointment is the relatively meager extras gathered by Uni for such an important and well-regarded classic.

There's a two-minute, fluffy intro by TCM host Robert Osborne, a good but short and somehow unsatisfying documentary and two dry commentaries by different film historians. That's it for disc 1.

The second disc holds only a 1973 TV remake of the film with Richard Crenna. It's pretty bad. Universal didn't even bother to put a Chapter Menu on it (but then, they only gave it two chapter breaks). This lame TV flick – only an hour and 14 minutes long – while a nice extra, could have easily fit on the first disc, and reduced the price of the set.

It's good to have a better version of the movie, as it's one of my favorites, but I really wish that Universal had more regard for their classic films. Both Fox and Warners treat their library titles so much better.

Don't even get me started on Uni's bare-bones release of This Island Earth. I'll be ranting about that in my column soon enough.

It really makes me wonder if those forthcoming Anniversary Editions of Dracula and Frankenstein will be worth spending money on again...

Kolchak: Night Stalker... of the Living Dead!

Here's the first three pages from the first issue of the forthcoming three-issue Kolchak: Night Stalker... of the Living Dead miniseries I'm writing for Moonstone Books. Art by Tim Hamilton.



About page 2 & 3, Tim sez: "In this scene we learn that age old lesson. Teenagers shouldn't have sex near haunted lakes... or creepy corn fields! You just know something bad's going to happen to them."

Well said, Tim. Well said.

Look for this sometime next year.

The Cinematic Voyages of Sinbad

As I've got the legendary Persian sailor on the brain of late, I've been re-viewing some of the Sinbad flix in my collection.

Tonight, I watched the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. version, Sinbad the Sailor, for the first time (bought a VHS copy off Amazon for 3 bucks). Although it was surprisingly talky and utterly devoid of fantasy elements, I rather enjoyed it.

As I mentioned above, it was very dialogue-driven, but what dialogue! Anthony Quinn made a fine evil Emir, and Maureen O'Hara may have been unconvincing as an Arabian woman, but was, as always, lovely to behold.

It was also fun to see some of RKO's stock film noir personalities in atypical roles -- Sheldon Leonard as an auctioneer, Jane Greer as a harem girl, and Mike Mazurski as a loyal member of Sinbad's crew.

My favorite cinematic voyage, though, is the second of Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad Trilogy, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. While the monsters in 7th Voyage of Sinbad are cooler (nothing beats the Cyclops!), John Phillip Law is the least whitebread of the cinematic Sinbads, and the only one who plays him with any depth of personality, not to mention an accent! Also in the plus column is the delicious Caroline Munroe, the slyly evil Tom Baker and the sword-slinging statue of Kali!


The worst version – although still entertaining in a twisted sort of way – is the 80's Italian film starring Lou Ferrigno, Sinbad of the Seven Seas. Yeah, that's right: the Hulk followed up his two inane/insane Italian Hercules films with an even more bizarro Sinbad adventure. It really must be seen to be believed, and it is on DVD. (It must be admitted: I own it.)

With each viewing, I become less enamored of the similarly-titled Dreamworks animated film, Sinbad, Legend of the Seven Seas, with Brad Pitt. It's beautifully designed and animated, but it grates on me that the filmmakers chose to make the classic Arabian Nights character into a European, specifically a Greek. That, and the cheesy contemporized dialogue, which really didn't work in this case.

I discovered a while ago that the first season of the syndicated Adventures of Sinbad television series starring Zen Gesner is available on DVD in Canada. I enjoyed the few episodes I managed to catch when it originally aired, so I'm going to try and scrape up the dinars to buy it.


All of this viewing is in preparation, of course, for my long-planned Sinbad comics project with Eduardo Barreto, which I hope to start scripting next month... just as soon as the promised contracts are signed.

Keep your fingers crossed for us.

The Spider Strikes!

Solicitation Copy for January, 2007:

THE SPIDER Chronicles

The MASTER OF MEN Returns!

304pgs, 6 x 9, with illustrations
ISBN: 10 digit: 1-933076-18-6 13 digit: 978-1-933076-18-8

More just than the law, more dangerous than the Underworld... hated, feared, and wanted by both. One cloaked, fanged, border-line crazy denizen of the dark force-feeding hard justice with a pair of .45s!

Moonstone is proud to present 20 new short stories of SEARING WHITE HOT PROSE starring pulpdoms most violent and ruthless crime fighter ever: THE SPIDER!

Here you will find relentless, hard-fisted action that remains true in tone to his mythic-proportioned adventures. If you crave against-all-odds breathless thrill rides, seeing great evils smashed beyond recognition, and dangers met by true heroes at break-neck speed, then this book is the must-buy event of your entire freaking life!

Take a look at this great line up of authors: Stories by: John Jakes (North and South, Kent Family Chronicles), Mort Castle, Bill Crider, Shannon Denton, Chuck Dixon, Steve Englehart, Ron Fortier, Joe Gentile, Rich Harvey, John Helfers, CJ Henderson, Howard Hopkins, Anthony Kuhoric, Elizabeth Massie, Christopher Mills, Will Murray, Rafael Nieves, Ann Nocenti, Martin Powell, and Robert Weinberg.

Interior illustrations: Tom Floyd
Cover: Doug Klauba

Intro By Denny ONeil!

1. softcover = $16.95

2. DIAMOND EXCLUSIVE: LIMITED Hardcover edition= (limited to 300)
Comes signed by cover painter Doug Klauba and has a signed and numbered exclusive (to this edition) Spider Sketch tip sheet by Doug Klauba as well! $39.95 (signed copies limited to initial orders)

The Need for (Jake) Speed


Pop:There are a few, a very few men. Remo. Mack Bolan. Jake Speed. In this case, I think Jake Speed's the man for the job.
Here's another one of those almost universally reviled films that I actually like. In fact, not only do I like Jake Speed, it's one of those little non-guilty pleasures that I find I can revisit frequently, and enjoy every time I do. In fact, I'm proud to have the Anchor Bay DVD in my collection in a quality, widescreen edition.

Sure it's got flaws. A horde of them. Bad synthesizer music when it really needs a rousing, John Williams or James Horner score. A questionable leading man. Plot problems (although they're not really problems, considering the conceit of the film). A really lame "Heavily Armed Raiding Vehicle." What really hurts the film the most though is the lackluster direction, but if you can stick with it, I think you might find this 1986 B-movie adventure to be worth your time.

The premise is brilliant: you know all those pulp and paperback heroes that we all love so much? They're real. (Doc Savage is even mentioned in passing!) And when Margaret Winston's (the delectable Erin Gray lookalike Karen Kopins) sister is kidnapped in Paris by white slavers, her grandfather recommends looking up paperback hero Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford) to arrange a rescue. Nobody takes Pop seriously, tut-tutting over the old boy's obvious senility, but later that evening Margaret receives a mysterious message... and we're off -- into a knowing, smartly written adventure.

In the mid-Eighties Wayne Crawford tried to be a movie star, writing and producing various low budget vehicles for himself. Jake Speed is the only one that approaches any level of success, and for me, it even manages to survive Crawford's dubious charms as a leading man. In fact, considering the premise of the film, Crawford's less-than-Hollywood-polished looks and acting skills are probably more appropriate for the movie than a Harrison Ford would have been. I really like Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away, Fade to Black) as Speed's pistol-packing chronicler/sidekick Des, and Karen Kopins is a delightful heroine, constantly wondering just what madness she's gotten caught up in. John Hurt is at his campy, Snidely Whiplash best as the film's villain (although he doesn't appear until far too late into the flick), complete with a pit full of man-eating tigers.

But what I really love about this film is the premise... and the dialogue.
Jake Speed: We were gonna fight our way through enemy territory. Scale the highest mountain in this goddamned place. Traverse a bridge that was about to collapse. And then if we were lucky, I mean really lucky, we were gonna fight our way through two thousand extremely poisonous snakes.
Margaret Winston: There are thousands of snakes around here?
Jake Speed: There's gotta be if you look hard enough!

Margaret Winston: So, where did you and Des meet?
Jake Speed: Volume One.

Jake Speed: Sometimes you do things the hard way.
Margaret Winston: Why?
Jake Speed: Reads better.
A lot of reviewers (online and off) don't seem to get the joke. Or maybe they do, and it just doesn't hit them the way it hits me. But the message of this film is that adventure and heroism and honor are valuable things, worth pursuing, even if the rest of the world just doesn't get it. And I'd like to think that my pulp heroes are out there somewhere, "defeating evil where it exists!"
Jake Speed: If all this were about money, I'd be working for the wrong side most of the time.
I'm not going to promise that everyone's going to like Jake Speed -- hell, I'm definitely in the minority on this flick -- but it's a personal favorite. Better direction and higher production values might have made this more successful with the masses -- but this is pulp, after all, and even in its flawed, unpolished state, I find its varied charms to be quite satisfying.
Jake Speed: Evil may triumph, Sid, but it'll never conquer.
Sid: You're a Boy Scout, Jake!
Jake Speed: REFRESHING! Isn't it?