Thursday, November 26, 2009

Buck's Back, Baby!

Some years ago VCI Entertainment released the 1939 Buck Rogers serial starring Buster Crabbe on DVD. As a fan of Buck, Buster, space opera and serials I bought it, of course.

Unfortunately, the source material used for the transfer was dark and murky, with considerable print damage, so the visual presentation was pretty disappointing. Also, VCI included clunky animated menu screens that were not very interesting, extremely long, and could not be skipped.... and thus, frustrating & annoying.

Well, the company has revisited the title and just sent me a review copy of the new release. It's a quantum improvement over the previous edition, both in presentation and in supplemental features.

The story has 1939 aviator Buck Rogers (Crabbe) and his young pal Buddy (Jackie Moran) crewing an airship that is held aloft by an experimental gas. There's an accident and the blimp crashes into a snow-covered peak, where it - as well as Buck & Buddy - lies undiscovered for 500 years. Fortunately, the experimental gas keeps the two adventurers in a state of suspended animation, and when they're revived, they join the freedom-loving inhabitants of a hidden city in a rebellion against the tyrannical dictatorship of uber-racketeer Killer Kane (Anthony Warde). Aerial dogfights, trips to Saturn, and the requisite fistfights provide plenty of thrills over the ensuing twelve cliffhanging chapters.

Produced between the second and third of Universal's hugely popular and financially successful Flash Gordon chapterplays, the studio had high hopes for their new production. After all, Buck had predated Flash in the funny pages, and Crabbe had proven twice over his ability to overthrow interplanetary despots. But Buck Rogers, while profitable, didn't quite hit the stratospheric heights of the Flash serials, so plans for a sequel were scrapped, and Crabbe went on to star in a third Gordon adventure.

Still, Buck Rogers is one of Universal's best serials, with high production values, good direction (by Forde Beebe and Saul Goodkind), fast, exciting action, and a slightly more adult storyline. The special effects and stuntwork are extremely well executed, and the overall quality of the serial is top-notch. It's too bad that it often gets overshadowed by the Flash Gordon serials, because Buck has a lot of entertainment to offer.

VCI's new 2-disc "70th Anniversary Edition" DVD appears to have been culled from either the original negative or a pristine 35mm fine grain print, because, unlike the earlier edition, this one looks gorgeous. The full-frame, B&W transfer is near-perfect with good contrast and sharp detail. The mono audio is clear and relatively free of hiss. It's a terrific presentation.

The supplemental material is pretty solid, too. There's a still gallery, a brief documentary on the history of the Buck Rogers character, two episodes of the Buck Rogers radio show, a videotaped presentation of the Buck Rogers panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, and a Buster Crabbe featurette that sets a series of stills and clips to an audio recording of Crabbe speaking to a college audience during the 70s. It rambles a bit, but is fascinating. The coolest bonus feature though, is a 1935 short, Buck Rogers & The Tiger Men of Mars. This ten minute, live-action film was produced by the makers of the comic strip and screened at the 1935 World's Fair. It's amateurish in the extreme, but is a fascinating historical curio as the very first filmed BR adventure, and is a welcome extra.

I'm a huge fan of this serial. Crabbe is as dashing, athletic and heroic as ever, and the pace is relentless. The effects and cliffhangers (although this serial has one of the most blatant "cheats" I've ever seen!) are delightful. If you've never seen it and have any interest at all in classic space opera, you should definitely check it out. If you own the previous VCI disc, you may want to sell, trade or throw it away and upgrade to the new edition. It's that much better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Pulp Fantastic

As I've indicated here previously, I've been going through some rough times of late (again). Fortunately, I have some good friends who have been remarkably patient and supportive and just plain awesome. (Many of them are reading this right now. Thanks)

One of these is my pal Rick Burchett, who's not only a great friend, but a fantastic artist and collaborator. So, for this week's Wednesday Cover, I've selected another one of his fine covers for the 2000 DC/Vertigo miniseries Pulp Fantastic.


(By the way - this is my 70th Wednesday Cover post!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bring 'Em Back Alive

While I am extremely excited to know that Tales Of The Gold Monkey will be coming to DVD next year, I can't help but wonder if we'll ever get 1982's other Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired television series on disc someday. I'm talking about Bring 'Em Back Alive, of course, CBS' entry in the faux Indiana Jones sweepstakes, and a show that, for my money, was just as entertaining as Tales.

The tone of the shows were slightly different - while both programs traded in pulp adventure, Tales was more character-driven, like most Donald Bellasario productions. Bring 'Em Back Alive was more like old Republic adventure serials, with exciting stunts, a likable, two-fisted swashbuckling lead, and action-packed stories. Bruce Boxleitner (Babylon 5, Tron) played a highly-fictionalized version of real-life big game trapper Frank Buck, and the show was set in 1939 Singapore. It was fun stuff, with crocodiles, Nazis, tigers, spies, monkeys with guns (okay, one monkey with a gun) and a crimeboss/spymaster who was a dead ringer for George Zucco!

I actually have bootleg copies of both shows - they look like hell, of course - and while I think that Tales was probably a slightly better show overall, Bring 'Em Back Alive was/is damned enjoyable, too. Neither show lasted more than a season, which is a shame, and I may be wrong, but I think that for at least part of that season they aired opposite each other in some sort of numbskull network counter-programming that assured that both would fail.

I'm often accused of glorifying crap, or having poor taste in my entertainment choices, but I love adventure stories, and such tales are in short supply these days in print, movies and on TV. I would be a very happy guy if I could I have both shows, in high-quality DVDs, on my shelves to enjoy whenever I needed a little escape....

Happy Birthday Boris Karloff

Happy birthday to the true gentleman of horror, Boris Karloff, born this day in 1887 as William Henry Pratt in London, England. Not every movie he appeared in was a classic, but he was always a class act.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Golgo 13

Antihero hitman Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13, star of a long-running (it began in 1969) manga series by Takao Saito, has had a spotty publishing record in the United States, despite a popularity in his native Japan that has seen the character showcased in live-action motion pictures (where he was once portrayed by legendary badass Sonny Chiba), anime features and television series, and videogames.

Golgo 13 is the ultimate assassin, an expert marksman who never fails to complete his mission, no matter how well-protected the target. He is a freelancer of apparent Eurasian heritage, who can speak 13 languages and is a master of "several of the more lethal Oriental martial arts." The main interest and enjoyment in this manga series is in seeing how he sets up and – uh, executes – his executions. Well, that and Saito's (or his studios') expressive manga cartooning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

At Last! Tales Of The Gold Monkey on DVD!

TV Shows On DVD posted the news today that one of my all-time favorite television series, Donald Bellassario's Tales Of The Gold Monkey, starring Stephen Collins, Caitlin O'Heany and Roddy McDowell, will be coming to DVD in Spring, 2010.

Here's the news item.

Requesting a Favor....

Hey, folks! I'd like to ask a small favor of the loyal readers of this blog who have supported me and my writing efforts over the last few years. If you have read the Femme Noir: Dark City Diaries trade paperback and enjoyed it, I would be quite grateful if you could click on over to the product page at Amazon and post a short review of the book.

Joe Staton and I hope to have a new volume out in 2010 collecting the original Femme Noir webcomics, and it would help considerably if we could drum up some additional sales for the Dark City Diaries trade paperback.

I don't know how much good such reviews will actually do, but it can't hurt, and with the market the way it is these days, creators have to try everything they can to create awareness of their projects... and depend on their friends to help spread the word.

Thanks. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DVD Review: Legend of the Seeker

As I’ve established repeatedly in this blog, I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre. I love me my sword and sorcery sagas. So I was pretty surprised to discover the existence of this syndicated television series based on a popular series of novels by Terry Goodkind and produced by the same bunch that made Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules The Legendary Journeys a decade ago (both favorites of mine).

Legend Of The Seeker is pretty standard fantasy stuff: a young man (Craig Horner, who looks a bit like the unholy love child of Scott Baio and Nathan Fillion) discovers that he is "The Seeker," a legendary hero who has been chosen by fate to kill an evil tyrant and save the world. He is assisted in his quest by a lovely "Confessor" (Bridget Regan), a sort of priestess with magic powers, and a wise old sorcerer (Australian character actor Bruce Spence of The Road Warrior). Along the way to fulfilling his destiny, the Seeker and his companions help the helpless, protect the innocent and fight lots and lots of the villain’s lackeys.

Like I said, standard stuff. But it’s very well done. Produced by Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi and shot in New Zealand by the same crew that made Hercules and Xena, Seeker boasts great sets and costumes, breathtaking scenery, skillful stunt fighting and superior CGI special effects.

ABC Studios’ five-disc set comes in a standard-sized case and features all 22 episodes of the first season in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Supplemental material includes deleted scenes, audio commentaries on selected episodes, a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the show, and a featurette on author Terry Goodkind.

Legend Of The Seeker is a very good fantasy series, especially once you get past the first couple of episodes. The characters are well-drawn, the stories are entertaining and involving, and the production values are top notch. If you’re a fan of the genre, I strongly recommend checking it out.


For quite some time I've wanted to get my hands on some issues of Gold Key's Dagar The Invincible by writer Don Glut and artist Jesse Santos. I have read several interviews with Glut about his short-lived sword and sorcery saga (18 issues), and it sounded like a lot of fun.

Well, back in September at the BangPop convention, I was able to pick up four of the issues. I loved them! The Santos art was unique and beautiful, and Glut's scripts were clever and contained a lot more continuity than was typical of Gold Key titles. This issue, #17, is actually a fairly witty parody of Shakespeare's Macbeth (those three young women on the cover are witches, as it happens) - but it's also a very solid sword and sorcery adventure. The cover painting is also by Santos.

I wish I could afford to track down and buy the remaining issues, but our financial situation just won't allow it. Maybe someday....

Where VHS tapes go to die...

I spent a very large part of my twenties haunting Maine's independent video rental stores. Both the small, local chains and hole-in-the-wall mom & pop video shops. If I came across a corner market with a video rental niche, I checked it over carefully. I think I intimately knew the stock of every video store in Augusta, Waterville, Brunswick, Topsham, Bath and Rockland, Maine.

What was great about these stores was the vast selection of obscure exploitation crap that crammed the shelves. Oversized boxes with some of the most astoundingly lurid art you can imagine. Titles and images that, to this day, are permanently seared into my aging gray matter.

I love DVD, and am thrilled both by the quality of the format and its relative affordability, but even with all the weird stuff on disc, there's so much more that was issued only on tape - and is all but forgotten today.

Fortunately, someone's archiving the best of those sleazy and garish box covers online. I stumbled across this page earlier this evening, and it was a genuine blast from my personal past. I can't begin to tell you how many of these tapes I rented - or simply picked up off the shelf and examined before deciding against laying out my cash.

If you're even remotely nostalgic for the VHS era of the 80s and early 90s, you should really check it out.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

New Blog - Space:1970

Because it turns out that I like having specific forums for specific pop culture obsessions, I've started up yet another blog. This one's called Space: 1970 and is dedicated to the sci-fi films and television series of the 1970s.

Stuff like Star Wars, Space: 1999, the original Battlestar Galactica, Space Academy, Jason Of Star Command, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, and The Planet Of The Apes were hugely important to me as a kid, and while I have written about some of that here at Atomic Pulp, I discovered with my Spy-Fi Channel blog that sometimes it's preferable to have a special place to write about a single subject.

So, in any case, if you're interested in that kind of material, I hope you'll check it out.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Battlestar Galactica

This painting - yet another by Frank Frazetta - first appeared in TV Guide ads for the 3-hour premiere of the original Battlestar Galactica back in September of 1978. It subsequently graced the second Galactica paperback novel by Robert Thurston, The Cylon Death Machine (Based on the episode "Gun On Ice Planet Zero.") and this Byron Preiss reprint of the Thurston novelization of the premiere episode.

Frazetta painted at least two more illustrations for use in the promotion of the series, which suggests that maybe someone at ABC knew what they were doing!

By the way... I've started another new blog.....

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Scary Movie Wrap-Up

Since I didn't quite manage to keep up here on the blog with my intended daily recap of our October Scary Moviethon, I thought I'd just check in here now that the month is over, with a quick wrap-up.

Aside from the movies I wrote about previously - Infestation, Happy Birthday To Me, Horror Express, Terror Train, Trick 'r Treat and the George Romero Living Dead cycle, we also managed to squeeze in a bunch of old Universal horror classics. Specifically, Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.

And last week, I was able to trade in a few unwanted discs at Bull Moose Music and acquire a few more movies for the marathon: the long-awaited Night of The Creeps DVD, the new Warner Brothers Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics set, and the last two Paramount Friday the 13th films.

Night of The Creeps was a joy. I love the movie. For my money, it's one of the best of the 80s. The new DVD is crystal sharp, presented widescreen and restores writer/director Fred Dekker's original ending. The bonus features a great, too.

The 2-disc Karloff/Lugosi set includes four movies I'd never seen before: The Walking Dead, Frankenstein 1970, You'll Find Out and Zombies on Broadway. The title of the set is a bit of a misnomer -only the first two are legitimately "horror" films - and only The Walking Dead is a genuine "classic," while Frankenstein 1970 is a fifties exploitation schlocker (good commentary track, though). The other two are comedies - You'll Find Out is a vehicle for now-nearly-forgotten bandleader Kay Keyser that spoofs mystery thrillers. It's pretty fun, though the one-time-on-screen teaming of Karloff, Lugosi and Peter Lorre is its most memorable feature. Zombies on Broadway features the justifiably forgotten comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney in a rather tired spook comedy. As usual in these things, Lugosi is the flick's bright spot, but he doesn't have nearly enough screen time.

Not really essentials (except maybe The Walking Dead), but for a Karloff & Lugosi nut, it's great to have them.

As to the last two Friday flix - Parts 7 and 8 - one was fun, the other boring. Part 7 (The New Blood) pitted the unstoppable Jason Vorhees against a telekinetic teenage girl (the director cheerfully admits to ripping off Carrie) in an entertaining sequel with a bit of energy and a slight twist to the formula. Part 8, though (Jason Takes Manhattan) was a tired, boring mess, with an even more nonsensical than usual script, no imagination, and a plodding pace. So, anyway, now I have the entire series, which is, I admit, a decidedly dubious achievement.

That pretty much covers the month of scary movie viewing. Mixed in there were a few Netflix rentals - some fun Mystery Science Theater episodes, the remake of My Bloody Valentine (which was pretty decent, actually), Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell (disappointing), and 1981's twisted crapfest, The Pit.

Both my wife and I love Halloween - and scary movies, 'natch - and while we're going through some rough times, it was nice to escape every evening into the shadowy alternate reality of those movies. Make-believe can be a great refuge, you know?