Friday, April 30, 2010
I well remember going to the video store and looking for something interesting to watch. I rarely rented tapes, preferring frankly to spend a few more dollars and buy a cheap copy when I could. Then I had the movie for all time and could enjoy it at my leisure. But still there are movies you just want to see once and that will suffice. So the video store, a relic now of a bygone age, was a frequent stop in my travels.
One video I saw tucked away in the horror section was Evil Dead 2, the box featuring a skull staring at you sideways. It stuck in my memory, but it seemed to be just one more slasher movie, and those bloody things just bore me to tears. So I let it alone. This went on for a long long time. Finally for some reason, I became aware that this movie might be interesting, I forget how and I at long last rented it.
It was a revelation. I'd already by this time seen Sam Raimi's Darkman in the theater and loved it. So when I realized this was more of Raimi's vibrant moviemaking, I was very anxious to see it and a bit miffed at myself that I'd overlooked all those years. It proved to be a real hoot, a horror movie that offered up a few shocks, but mostly offered up an engaging story that never let up and was extremely funny. It's a wonderfully paced effort, with great visual gags and a really different kind of story. The ending I never saw coming the first time, though later I realized it was decently foreshadowed.
That began the search for more. Soon Army of Darkness was in the theaters and I enjoyed this one too though it's not really a horror movie at all, but a fantasy of a broader type. I became a Raimi fan. Bruce Campbell also was in my sights, having starred in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., I found he was also in Darkman in a cameo. The smart nature of the vehicles these guys found themselves involved in really made me hanker to see the original Evil Dead.
When at last I did get hold of a copy, I was surprised. It's not like the others really at all. Of course this is a movie from a different era, filled with plenty of gore and horror cliches, but much more rugged and straightforward than its ironic sequels. I didn't quite know what to make of it. Clearly Evil Dead 2 was both a remake and a sequel at the same time while Army of Darkness was purely a sequel to that movie.
The original Evil Dead seemed not of the same brand. It's taken repeated viewings over the years but I've grown to really like this movie. It's crude for sure, but it's got a thematic sting that the later movies for all their craft lack. This one is horror, it's for real. Ash is buffoon for sure, but he's still a guy. Later Campbell takes him into a more surreal place and we care about him less while enjoying his hijinks nonetheless.
Recently I found Within the Woods, the short film by Raimi and Campbell that they used to get funding for Evil Dead. It's the same movie almost on an even smaller shoestring budget, but one which follows essentially the same plot, this time with Campbell as the monster and not the hero. It's rugged, the only print a bootleg, but if you want to see it follow this link.
I'd have to say that the original is now my favorite of the three, and that's not something I thought I'd ever say.
I read they might be making a remake of this original cult classic. I can see why they'd want to for financial reasons, but like most of these "remakes", it isn't really necessary. Just watch the original, it holds up quite nicely.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
There's no denying who rules the world, for all the blather to the contrary. As to whether they cause earthquakes, I'll leave that unusual assessment to the clergy.
But for all that, the greatest power any woman has is a girl's power over her dear old dad.
Take it from a father of two young women, I'm their thrall through and through and they know it well.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Word is spreading that Bill DuBay, longtime Warren editor and writer has passed away.
He broke in doing fan press stuff, and showed up at Charlton in Go-Go drawing Blooperman with Roy Thomas.
The name first came up on my scope when I started reading Warren magazines, especially Vampirella. But the first thing I think of when I hear the name DuBay is The Rook. That time-traveling hero, much forgotten these days, was a real pulp throwback in a time overwhelmed by angst-ridden sots, the Rook was full of good old fashioned derring-do and big time fun.
I also remember DuBay writing for lots of the early direct sales books too. He seemed to me to be an indicator of a solid reliable script.
There is also a remnant of a series he wanted to do for the Atlas-Seaboard outfit called Wonderland. All that exists of that aborted project is some unpublished artwork.
Here's a link with more details about his career.
Thanks for some great comics Mr.DuBay.
Are they serious? Can it be they don't know they are walking in an armpit? Wouldn't the hair be a clue? What about the smell? What other parts of the "cave" have they been in? This is getting too icky!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
In another related story of sorts, I regret to report the passing of George Scithers. Mr.Scithers was an important force in my life as he was the very lively editor of many of the science fiction digests I absorbed as a young man discovering the genre in the late 70's and early 80's. When Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine started up, I anticipated a short life for it, playing as it did off the fame of the sci-fi's most famous writer of the time. But thanks to Scithers it became a vital read, one filled with a bit more blood and thunder than its more ascetic companions like Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Even more important was his revival of Weird Tales the venerable title which debuted so many wonderful fantasy concepts like Solomon Kane, King Kull, and Conan by Robert E. Howard.
Scithers was a force in Howard fandom, the force behind Amra, the central fanzine for the genre. Out of that source he helped put together two volumes of sword and sorcery material called The Conan Swordbook and The Conan Grimoire.
As it happens I just came into possession of these two volumes thanks to a friend who knew I lusted after them, but didn't have the needed nickels to land them. He gave them to me as a gift, a much cherished present indeed. With the passing of George Scithers, I will treasure them even more.
For more on George Scithers see this link and this one.
I've been wanting to see this movie ever since I read about it. I missed it in the theater, but then so did everyone else from what I gather. This is the kind of small movie that is ideal for home viewing. Set in Texas during the Great Depression, it tells the story of an almost romance between Novalyne Price and Robert E. Howard. Howard of course is the famous pulp writer who created King Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and most famously Conan the Barbarian. Only Conan rates a mention in this story as we meet Howard in 1933 and he's found success with the brawny Cimmerian in the pulps and some small bit of fame.
A lovely young woman named Novalyne wants to meet the famous writer and finds "Bob" Howard, a galoot of a writer, backward and charismatic, who lives at home with his dad and mom and writes with a gusto unmatched. The two talk and drive and talk some more and the romance begins to grow as she becomes fascinated by his peculiar but compelling nature and he seems finally to have found someone who can take him for what he is, at least in small doses.
But the story is a spare one with lots of chatting. If you're expecting action, this ain't the movie for you. We get a few snatches of lines from various Conan stories, but that's as close to blood and thunder as it gets most of time.
What you do see is a sweet performance by Renee Zellweger that shows a woman who wants more than the world normally allows a woman at this time, and she's not afraid of the eccentric fellow who most of the town dismisses as mad.
Vincent D'Onofrio gives his all to the role of Howard, a guy who is full of conflicts and passions and has a deep yearning to find a woman to share his life with, but who cannot bring himself to tear away from his mother who at once needs him and seems also to want to keep him near.
There are some beautiful scenes in this movie and some lovely understated music. This is a sweet movie, that can be difficult to watch as you know what is going to happen to Howard ultimately. When the worst does occur, the way the movie handles it is surprising and consistent with the flick to that point told from Novalynne's perspective.
That's the thing about this movie, it's not really about Howard. It's derived from a book by Novalyne Price titled One Who Walked Alone and it is through her eyes that we behold the tragedy that is Howard's life. She knows but cannot stop him from shambling toward his fate. Even knowing how it must end, you find yourself hopeful in some scenes that he will choose differently than he does, but it cannot be.
Great little movie, but don't go expecting Conan, he makes only a small appearance and by proxy then through Howard's imagination, where he came from originally. That is unless you count the cover of the Weird Tales pulp that shows up in the movie several times.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I doubt it's possible to slam together any more cliches for showing "evil" than are jammed into this image. You have a Nazi U-Boat Captain with an eye patch, a pointed goatee, a thin mustache, a jagged scar, and a vile leer on his mug. He even clutches himself in what seems a fit of vile glee. This screams evil, but then that's the point isn't it.
Charlton offered up some intriguing and even complex war comics in its time, even giving us Vietnam stories while the conflict was raging. But they also made war comics with the clarity of perspective that informed most war comics from most publishers. WWII was the "good war", the one we were clearly the good guys in, and which conversely had plenty of villains. This image ices that down for sure.
There's no signature, but this is likely the work of Bill Montes and Ernie Bache, especially the latter.
I love this movie! I don't remember if I saw it in the theater at all, likely not since I rarely go to the movie theater anymore. But from the first moment I did see Tremors I've been a fan of this smart monster movie. And the keys are really the characters and exquisite storytelling.
The movie is a love story. The main character's name is "Valentine McKee" for goshsakes! He and his partner Earl Bassett are down and out "handymen" in Perfection, Nevada a tiny isolated town populated by eccentrics, adorable eccentrics admittedly. The community comes under attack by an unknown foe, which of course turns out to be a monster which moves under the ground, a "landshark" of sorts. "Landshark" was in fact the working title for the movie for a time.
But if this were just another monster movie, it would be fun but I doubt it would have hooked so many fans or yielded so many sequels. It's a movie about smarts, the fundamental All-American smarts that we celebrate. It hearkens back to Howard Hawks' The Thing which also shows a stranded group of people having a battle of wits with an invader. What's really on display is the ability of people to think and work together to solve problems. It's classic and very appealing stuff.
On another level this is a love story. Val is a man "looking for love in all the wrong places" as the song says. He stumbles across Rhonda LeBeck a lovely girl who doesn't fit his prototype honey, but who nonetheless attracts him. It's a movie that is about a man finding himself and discovering his real needs. The symbolism of the monsters only reinforces this tale. I long ago developed an overly complex analysis of the symbols of the movie, but I've forgotten most of them and while still valid are less interesting in themselves than what they add to the fiber of this story.
Tremors 2 : Aftershocks is Earl Bassett's story. His partner Val has found love and relative success but after the "Graboids" (it's what they called them) have gone Earl is still down on his luck after some poor investments. He is called upon by a fan named Grady Wilson to go to Mexico to battle a Graboid infestation. There they call upon another holdover from the first movie, Bert Gummer, a survivalist and gun expert. The guys battle the monsters but have to deal with some surprising changes the creatures undergo.
This movie is less complex and less compelling. What is smart is that the moviemakers know that fans want monster lore and they offer it up. The monsters are more front and center in this one with the love story taking a backseat. But love does find a way and we get a satisfying solution to Earl's saga.
Tremors 3 : Back to Perfection gives us the story of Bert Gummer eleven years after the first outbreak. Bert has become a "specialist" in monster hunting, but it's cost him his personal life and he lives increasingly isolated in his bunker. But the monsters return and once again undergo some surprising changes that demand the community to think of ways to solve this latest threat.
There are some intriguing new characters in this one, a little girl from the first movie Mindy who is all grown up, a guy who runs bogus tours of "Graboid" country and a Chinese-American grocer who is trying to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather who was among the first people killed by the monsters in the first flick. This is a fun action movie, but doesn't have the complexity of personality the others had.
Tremors 4 : The Legend Begins is a real hoot. It takes us back one hundred years to the valley where before the town of Perfection there was a mining community named "Rejection". The mine comes under attack by "land dragons" and the silver stops flowing. The owner a man named Hiram Gummer (Bert's great grandfather) appears and the story follows him as he learns what it means to become a worthy member of a community and essentially become a man.
This is clever, witty, and fun movie. The story neatly echoes the original in many ways but adds plenty of fresh takes on now vintage expectations. Of all the sequels this one has the most compelling characters since the original. Billy Drago as the gunfighter "Black Hand Kelly" is especially entertaining.
At the same time they were making the fourth movie, they were shooting a television series. There are thirteen episodes of Tremors : The Series, a Sci-Fi Network offering. Bert is back as the core of the story and the valley of Perfection has become a national wildlife preserve where a single protected graboid named "El Blanco" (from the third sequel) lives out his life. Being an albino he cannot mutate as other of his kind does, so he lives on and on and on.
The show gives us the by now usual gang of townfolk, but realizes that weeks of the same monster will get pretty lame quick. So a hidden, secret, abandoned bio-tech lab is discovered and the result is a compound named "Mixmaster" which plays havoc with wildlife, blending the traits of all sorts of living things.
Christopher Lloyd shows up in this one a few times as a bedraggled scientist, a bit loopy of course. He's fun and the series in general is a lot of fun. The forty-five minute episodes being just the perfect space for the stories told. They are tight and well acted bits of entertainment.
Sadly the series does become a bit about the monsters, which denies the key to the success of the series as I understand it. The monsters don't matter. They are what the creators and the audience need them to be to force the characters to do interesting and compelling things. That's what makes a Tremors movie or show work. It's not what's underground, it's what's in your heart. That's the tremor that matters.
If you want to find out more about the Tremors movies, check out this very rich link from the producers of the movies. There are FAQs for every flick with all sorts of neat trivia.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I was trying to think of the comic books dedicated to firefighters.
There's Danny Blaze from Charlton which ran two issues in 1955.
There's "Firefighters" from the 1956 debut issue of Showcase by DC Comics. Here's a link with more on that story. Fireman Farrell only ever showed up one more time, in Showcase #100 as far as I know.
Emergency was a hit TV show in the middle 70's and spawned two series from Charlton, one a regular size comic and a magazine.
Both series ran for four issues. Here's a link with much more on that show.
And after 9-11 Marvel published several comics in a group titled The Call of Duty which dealt with first-responders. One series of six issues focused on firefighters.
But that's all I can think of.
The fireman is regarded as the iconic hero in domestic American life, the person who puts his or her life on the line when help is needed and there's no time to ask. During lean economic times it's easy to forget the essential nature of a fire department. During 9-11 these guys were deified, now I sense this public servant and public service in general is about to be coming under fire as money for such services tightens. It's now when times are tough that we need to remember those who put their lives on the line.
This nation is great at spouting platitudes about heroes, but many of the most boisterous are very grouchy indeed when the taxman comes to pay the bill to support those heroes. No one debates taxes when the house is afire.
But that's enough of my rant.