Saturday, October 31, 2009

Monster Mash-Up

Trick 'R Treat!!!

Happy Halloween to all my friends and readers! Today is not only my favorite holiday, but my ninth wedding anniversary. And since we were together for almost a year before we tied the noose - er, knot - this means that Brandi has actually managed to put up with me for nearly a decade. Through good times and a lot of bad ones. I'm a very fortunate man.

So, have a great holiday, and if you're looking for the perfect flick to catch after all the little masked extortionists have scattered back to wherever they were spawned, I highly recommend Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat, just recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray after being shelved by Warner Brothers for almost two years because they were scared to release it to theaters in competition against those inexplicably popular Saw films.

It's great fun, though. An old-fashioned horror anthology that borrows the non-linear storytelling structure of, say, Pulp Fiction, with four or five interconnected little tales of terror. Good performances, creepy stories, and a real understanding of Halloween. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Creepy

Another great Creepy cover by Frank Frazetta. Interesting personal note: this painting actually partially inspired my short story "The Beast of Bava Pass," which appeared in last year's Werewolves: Dead Moon Rising prose anthology from Moonstone Books.

Legends of Swords & Sorcery

I've been in a sword & sorcery mood lately. It was triggered by the arrival in the mail if the first season DVD set of a syndicated fantasy series called Legend Of The Seeker. Based on a series of fantasy novels by author Terry Goodkind, the television show is produced in New Zealand by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, and the rest of the crew that made Hercules the Legendary Journeys and Xena, Warrior Princess a decade ago.

The storyline is pretty standard fantasy fare, but the cast is good, the stunts and swordplay skillful, and the special effects superior. It's a fun show.

Watching the season with my wife over the last couple of weeks also prompted me to hit my sword & sorcery bookshelf and delve into some of the paperbacks I've bought over the last couple of years that I hadn't yet read. Among these was the second "Prester John" novel by Norvell Page (author of The Spider pulps), Sons Of The Bear God.

It was great, and a solid follow up to the other Prester John novel, Flame Winds. The only problem I had with it - and it sure wasn't any fault of the story or Page's writing - was that I had just recently read Roy Thomas and John Buscema's adaptation of the same story, where they turned it into a Conan adventure for Marvel Comics' Conan The Barbarian series back in the early Eighties (and reprinted by Dark Horse Comics in Volume 17 of their Chronicles of Conan collections).

Right now, I'm zipping through Lin Carter's Thongor And the Dragon City, the second (revised) book in the Thongor of Lemuria cycle. I've said before that I'm a big fan of Carter and believe him to be an underrated author; his predilection for pastiche has hurt his reputation, but I can't fault the guy for writing what he loved.

After I finish this one, I'll probably read through the rest of the Thongor books I have while I'm still in a fantasy fiction mood. It makes for a pleasant - if temporary - respite and escape from the seemingly overwhelming real-world problems that my wife and I are tryuing to deal with lately.

But then, that's why they call it "escapist literature," right?

(And the beautiful Jeff Jones cover paintings are appealing, too.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kingdoms to Save and Women to Love!

Back in January, I posted that the long-awaited sequel to 1982's The Sword And The Sorcerer, Tales of an Ancient Empire, was finally in production. Well, a couple of days ago, the director of both films, Albert Pyun, posted a comment to that blog entry with a link to a film clip from the new movie.

The clip features sword & sorcery vet Kevin Sorbo (Hercules The Legendary Journeys, Kull The Conqueror) and can be found here.

There's also a new official website up for the production. Here's the Link.

Obviously Pyun was Googling for blog references to his film, and found this blog. This makes him the second fantasy film director to post comments here, after Mark Atkins of Merlin & The War of The Dragons/DragonQuest. Man, this internet thing is pretty amazing.

Wednesday Cover: Creepy

I've been delinquent with my Wednesday Cover posts of late, but this week's Halloween-themed installment should make up for it somewhat. Creepy magazine #4, by Frank Frazetta, of course. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Bela!

The immortal Bela Lugosi would have been 127 years old today.

Born October 20, 1882, as Béla Blasko in Lugoj, Romania, the handsome actor gained screen immortality as Dracula in the 1931 Universal film of the same name. Although his career had more than its share of peaks and valleys (or, perhaps more accurately, "peaks and chasms"), Lugosi's filmography is an embarrasment of riches for the dedicated horror movie fan.

Regardless of the quality of the production, Lugosi nearly always delivered a memorable performance, and, in potboilers like Bowery at Midnight, The Invisible Ghost, Voodoo Man, Scared to Death, The Corpse Vanishes or Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, it is often only Lugosi's presence that makes them watchable at all.

With Halloween around the corner, it's the perfect time to pay tribute to the legendary actor by watching one or more of his remarkable performances. May I humbly suggest White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Return of the Vampire (1944), or Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)?

When There's No More Room In Hell...

Our October Scary Movie Marathon continues. For the last week, we've been watching the zombie movies of George Romero (pictured at right) - and some of the better remakes and rip-offs.

• We started, of course, with 1968's Night Of The Living Dead. I don't know how many times I've viewed this, but it still has the capacity to truly creep me out. The stark, black & white photography, the old-fashioned stock musical score... it all works. My DVD is the out-of-print Elite Entertainment "Millennium Edition," released in 2002. Beautiful, rock-solid, crystal sharp transfer.

• The next night was 1978's Dawn Of The Dead. Not as creepy, but the film manages to sustain this air of despair that's palpable. Few movies are as bleak. We watched the "Extended Cut" from Anchor Bay's, massive, 4-disc, 2007 "Ultimate Edition." This one has a few more scenes expanding on the characterization of the survivors, but seems to be missing a few brief bits that I remember from the theatrical version. I'll watch that one next year.

Day Of The Dead is, for reasons I can't quite explain, my personal favorite of the original trilogy. I wouldn't go so far as to call it the best movie, but I just like it best. The zombie effects are the finest (and most gruesome) that Tom Savini ever did, I like the cast and characters, and find the scenario particularly tense. The conflict between the characters under extreme pressure is marvelously portrayed - this one always puts me a bit on edge. We watched the Anchor Bay "Divimax" edition from '03. The transfer on this one is gorgeous, and much improved over the earlier DVD release.

• Next, we watched George's 2005 return to the genre, Land Of The Dead. A lot of fans don't like this one, and I have a few minor problems with it myself, but for what it is - which is Romero's "action" film - it's not bad. It has some great bits, the cast is good (especially Asia Argento and the big Samoan guy), and it moves fast. We've got the unrated DVD from Universal.

• The multitude of fans that don't like Land are outnumbered by the ones that outright hate Diary Of The Dead - but Brandi and I aren't among them. We actually like it. The Blair Witch-influenced, subjective "camcorder" conceit is handled pretty well, I think, and gives the zombie attacks a certain extra punch. Admittedly, this is the most annoying bunch of characters to yet appear in a Romero film - this is the only one focusing on modern horror's requisite cast of irritating young dolts - but that just makes it more fun when they get chomped. The DVD from the Weinstein Company is fine, with some decent features.

• As Romero's next zombie flick hasn't been released yet, we moved on to the 1990 remake of Night Of The living Dead, written by Romero and directed by Tom Savini. This is one of the rare remakes that is actually good - extremely respectful of the original, but with some new twists and surprises. I'm not sure it would have turned out as well if George hadn't been involved, though. The decade-old 1999 Columbia DVD holds up well with a beautiful transfer.

• Last night, we watched Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead. Another decent remake, with a clever script by James Gunn that takes the basic premise but spins a completely different story from the original. This one features "fast zombies" and some great action sequences. Since I generally distrust remakes, I probably would never have bought it back when it came out, but I read an interview somewhere where George praised it. I don't think it's as memorable or thoughtful as the original, but it's pretty good.

• Tonight, we'll be watching Dan O'Bannon's Return Of The Living Dead from 1985, and tomorrow, it'll be Edgar Wright's Shaun Of The Dead from '04.

After that, I plan on spinning all four installments of Don Coscarelli's Phantasm series - since Universal finally released part 2 on DVD....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Interview & The Airfighters

Richard Vasseur of Jazma Online recently contacted me about doing an interview for his site. That interview, which covers my work on Femme Noir, Kolchak and Captain Midnight, among other things, is now posted and can be found HERE.

Speaking of Captain Midnight, artist Rich Clark and I will be contributing CM adventures to Moonstone's upcoming Airfighters series, where the good Captain will be joining new versions of such Golden Age aviation heroes as Airboy, The Black Angel, The Iron Ace and Sky Wolf. You can see Rich's Captain Midnight in the upper left-hand corner of the Airfighters promo art above. (Click on it for a larger view.)

This is in addition to the forthcoming Captain Midnight one-shot comic and prose anthology.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stuart M Kaminsky, RIP

It has just come to my attention that mystery writer Stuart M. Kaminsky passed away today at age 75.

I was a huge fan of his "Toby Peters" mysteries, the tongue-in-cheek adventures, set in the 1940s, of a schlubby Hollywood private eye whose cases always involved big-name cinema celebrities. From the first, Bullet For A Star (which involved the P.I. with Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart), I enjoyed the series both for its eccentric cast of recurring characters and its author's obvious love for Hollywood's Golden Age. My favorites include Never Cross A Vampire with Bela Lugosi, Buried Caesars with Dashiell Hammett, and You Bet Your Life, in which Peters must help out the Marx Brothers. All of them are fun, though.

I also enjoyed and collected his "Lew Fonesca" series (even if they were often depressing), and his two Rockford Files original novels. He was a film historian (his book on John Huston has been on my shelf for decades) and even worked on movies like Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America.

I met Kaminsky briefly about a decade ago at the Private Eye Writers of America convention in St. Louis. At the time, he'd stopped writing the Peters novels, and assured me that he was finished with the series. Fortunately, it turned out that he was wrong, and a few years later, another book in the series hit the shelves and was followed by several more.

I really enjoyed his work. The Peters books were among those that really got me into private eye fiction in my early 20s, and remain among my favorites. It saddens me that there won't be any more.

Rest in peace, Mister Kaminsky.

Expendables Trailer


Looks like a lot of fun to me! Just having Statham and Stallone in the same film gives my inner action geek a thrill, and when you add in Li, Lundgren and the rest....

Monday, October 05, 2009

October Scary Movie Fest: Days 3 & 4

Our Sunday night "fright" flicks were the animated The Batman Vs Dracula and the 1980's horror comedy, House II: The Second Story. The first was a decidedly mediocre adventure of DC Comics' Dark Knight, which - considering the premise - should have been so much better. The second, well, it's just a goof about a haunted house, alternate universes, zombie gunslingers, a crystal skull, and colorful 80s fashions. Not even remotely scary, but entertaining enough.

Obviously, we were in the mood for some lighter entertainment.

Tonight, we watched a themed double feature of 1973's Horror Express, starring horror legends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and 1980's Terror Train, starring 70s scream queen supreme, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Horror Express is an old favorite with Cushing & Lee as rival scientists trapped on the Trans-Siberian Express with a powerful alien entity that can possess people's bodies. Shot in Spain on a low budget with an International cast, Horror Express is a genuinely chilling, claustrophobic little genre gem.

My DVD of Horror Express is the old "Euroshock Collection" edition from Image Entertainment, which is out of print. The movie is in public domain, so a number of versions are available, but this one has the best picture and sound of any I've seen.

Terror Train was one of Curtis' "slasher" film follow-ups to Halloween, and tells of a bunch of college kids renting an old steam train for a New Year's Eve party. Too bad for them that there's a killer on board with a grudge. Not the best of its sub-genre, but far from the worst. The claustrophobic train setting works to its advantage in keeping the viewer on edge, and veteran character actor Ben Johnson helps bring a little dignity to the proceedings.

The Fox DVD includes both full-frame (which I haven't looked at) and widescreen presentations and the theatrical trailer.

Tomorrow night? Maybe Zombies.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

October Scary Movie Fest: Day 2

My wife and I skipped Friday in our October nightly film fest (as I mentioned before, we've been watching a James Bond movie every Friday) but Saturday's Scary Movie was another DVD that I'd been sent for review, the 1981 bodycount flick Happy Birthday To Me.

Again, I'll be writing a full review for my DVD Late Show column, but I have to say that I liked it better than I expected. Competently helmed by journeyman director J. Lee Thomspson, whose credits include everything from the original Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone to Battle For The Planet of the Apes and Death Wish 4, and starring Little House on the Prairie's Melissa Sue Anderson (in an ill-fated bid for feature film stardom), HBTM is a fairly effective little thriller that may not have much splattering of blood, but does have a moderately clever script that managed to keep me guessing until the end.

The "kills" are imaginative, though clearly trimmed to minimize gore, and the cast acquits themselves well. Hollywood icon Glenn Ford even shows up in a supporting role, bringing a little class and gravitas to the low budget Canadian production.

It's not a great movie, but it's an entertaining enough couple hours of formula fun.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Kolchak: Monsters Among Us

Moonstone Books will be collecting my Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries, illustrated by Tim Hamilton (Fahrenheit 451), in the forthcoming trade paperback collection Kolchak the Night Stalker: Monsters Among Us.

Along with the Living Dead miniseries, the volume will also contain the Kolchak Tales: The Frankenstein Agenda, by David Michelinie and Don Hudson. That's the wraparound cover above, by artist Woodrow Hinton.

Here's the official info:

Kolchak the Night Stalker: Monsters Among Us

Written by David Michelinie, Christopher Mills

Art by : Don Hudson, Tim Hamilton

Cover: Woodrow J. Hinton III

188pgs, 7” x 10”, $18.95

10 digit: 1-933076-59-3

13 digit: 978-1-933076-59-1


TV’s premiere paranormal investigator returns!

“Mills' purple prose narration evokes Darren McGavin's voice and gives the book the verisimilitude necessary to contrast the premise as well as serve as a catalyst for comedy.” -comicbulletin.com

Two, two, TWO titanic and terrifying tales, collecting the Kolchak "Frankenstein Agenda" and "Night Stalker of the Living Dead" miniseries!

The farmlands don't always hold peace and quiet, as these two complementing Kolchak tales illustrate with an eerie clarity. In one town, Kolchak stumbles across a hulking mutation of a man-gone-wrong, and becomes as wanted by the U.S. Army as the creature they are stalking! And in yet another small town, there is a secret behind the silent, endless acres of corn... a secret that is turning townsfolk into decaying, walking dead! Kolchak had best use his... BRAAAAINS... if he's going to get out of this one!

It's already available for pre-order at Amazon.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

October Scary Movie Fest - Day 1

For the month of October, my wife and I intend to watch a "scary movie" every evening through Halloween (our ninth anniversary, by the way). The only exceptions will probably Friday nights, as those evenings are already reserved for our ongoing, weekly James Bond marathon (we're up to The Man With The Golden Gun). We'll be mixing it up with as much variety as possible; I'm planning on watching all or most of Stuart Gordon's horror flicks, a bunch of classic Universals, some 80s slashers, and probably all of the George Romero Dead films.

Tonight, to kick things off, we spun a newly-released DVD that arrived in the mail today, sent to me for review in my DVD Late Show column at Forces Of Geek. It was called Infestation and starred Chris Marquette and Ray Wise. The story was about giant alien insects attacking the Earth (or at least Colorado).

Since I'll be writing up a full review for my next column, all I'll say here is that it was a pretty decent monster flick, several cuts above the usual direct-to-video effort. Writer/director Kyle Rankin managed to make the most of his budget and balanced the humor, scares and monster action pretty nicely. And, of course, Ray Wise makes anything he's in more entertaining.

I'll give it a solid four Jack 'O Lanterns out of five.