Monday, March 31, 2014

The Blob!

The Blob starring "Steven McQueen" is a movie I've seen many times over, and each time I'm somewhat at a loss to understand the appeal of this sometimes dreadfully slow, arguably lumbering, 1958 monster flick. But nonetheless a few later there I am watching it again. There's clearly something about this movie which draws you in, not perhaps unlike the pulsing red blob from space which gives the film its title.

One of the things which always jumps out at me when I view this movie is the rather crude production quality. It's an independent movie and it's in color, a downright novelty for a movie of this kind and vintage, but it nonetheless acts like a home movie in many places. The editing is suspect as we move awkwardly from interior set to countryside especially in the opening shots. And the sound mixing is downright wretched -- I noticed that especially on the dvd I used to view the film this time, the background noises are so prominent in most of the scenes it distracts from the dialogue. The characters sound like they are walking on glass in many scenes.

McQueen makes his Case
The story for the few who might not know is a simple one. A meteor falls to Earth and unleashes a small amorphous mass of pulsing tissue which upon contact with flesh absorbs that flesh and increases its mass. The "blob" (never called that in the movie) is found by an old man who quickly succumbs and he is in turn found by uber-whitebread "teenagers" Steve Andrews ( McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corsault) who take him to the local doctor who through a series of bumbling maneuvers eventually also falls victim. The blob is unleashed on the town and only the teenagers believe while the police dither away, concerned to distraction with the menace of  teenage delinquency. The blob rolls through the night absorbing first this bar full of patrons and then that garage mechanic until finally it lands in the local theater full of midnight-movie fans. It has a weakness but it takes the ingenuity of the teenagers to discover and exploit it.

The Blob takes in a Movie
The movie rarely achieves anything one could dub pace, as it will follow a scene of violence and tension with a limp scene chatting about innocuous teenage concerns such as dodging the cops or treating your girl with proper respect or overweening concern for some bewildered mutt. The teenagers in this movie all look a little suspect too, most seeming to be in their twenties at least. McQueen looks like he actually might be thirty in some scenes which it turns out he almost was at the time.

Teens and Cops United
Looking at The Blob as a basket of movie elements there's no way you'd call this movie successful, but somehow despite the abundant evident flaws it hangs together, sometimes just barely to deliver a most memorable monster and a very remarkable ending.

If you perchance have never seen The Blob by all means do so, but stay patient with it, because like its titular monster it sneaks up on you.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Trollenberg Terror!

The Crawling Eye, which is the name under which I first encountered this above-average sci-fi monster flick has some merit, despite its infamy as one of the victims of  Mystery Science Theater 3000. First and foremost it has Forrest Tucker, a tough as nails leading man with a booming voice and commanding presence who doesn't allow any movie to disappear him. That said, Tucker has his hands full in the finale of this memorable mountaineering spectacle.

Originally titled The Trollenberg Terror (much more intriguing title I think), this tale began as a British television serial, much like the very evocative Quatermass yarns. That said, the Brits have a neat trick of infusing what is actually a supernatural story with a smidge of science fiction and the blend samples very nicely. That works here also, to a degree.

Mild spoilers beginneth. 

The story begins at the top of the Trollenberg, a mountain in somewhere-Switzerland in which we find three climbers dealing with the tragic death of one of their number which not loses him his life but also his head. Cut to the train and our hero Alan Brooks (Tucker) and two beautiful sisters Sarah and Anne Pilgrim, played by Jennifer Jane and Janet Munro respectively. The latter is a telepath and it comes clear quickly she's connected to whatever is the matter at the top of the Trollenberg.  They stop in the village at the bottom and soon we find ourselves at an observatory tucked partway up the mountain which is tracking cosmic rays and a mysterious unmoving cloud on the Trollenberg slope. Quickly we meet Professor Crevett who knows Brooks from another mystery mountain, that one in the Andes. They are coy about what happened but eventually we learn they were dealing with possible alien invaders. They suspect the same here, but before they can investigate more hideous murders begin and frosty reanmimated murderers lurk around many a corner. Eventually we get a glimpse of the aliens, but they're pretty unimpressive, giant bulbous heads with single eyes and singularly puny tentacles. There's some thrashing about but eventually mankind once again staves off the threat...for now.

Spoilers endeth.

What have here is a pretty handy mystery with some proper dastardly and vicious murderers and some top-notch suspense before the final ten minutes gives us something else again. Tucker does the best he can with the part he's given which descends into some real stupidity by the finale, though he does okay before then.

Whatever the Brits bring to sci-fi is present here, a style which I really react to, but truth told the revelation of the neatly anticipated threat is somewhat of a letdown. But getting there was a whole lot of fun.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014


There's nothing which will make you appreciate Conan the Barbarian by John Milius more than seeing one of the myriad imitations which littered the screens of America and the world after the splash of the Arnold as the Cimmerian. Whatever weaknesses some find in that movie, and I get the arguments, it's so much better than its clones that it probably makes me think of it more highly than it deserves.

That said, I'm here to talk about Deathstalker. This 1983 Roger Corman effort has the earmarks of a truly unrepentant exploitation movie. We have an amazingly personality-free barbarian played by John Hill who for reasons which escape me is called "Deathstalker" ("Stalk" to his close friends I wonder?) and who lumbers about the Argentinian-passing-for-unknown-historically-vague-but-sort-of-medieval-I-guess-fantasy countryside with near-naked and mostly-naked comrades to confront the obligatory sorcerer to gain power and free the world from tyranny.

Cast of Deathstalker
We meet our "hero" when he interrupts a rape, actually he kills some cave-dweller types who want to rape the victim of another villain. "Stalker" kills them all, then proceeds to fondle the victim himself before being interrupted by a defunct king and later a witch who puts him on a quest to get three awesome items (a sword, an amulet and a chalice). He runs off an ogre and transforms a dwarf to get a comic sidekick as well as the sword in question. Later he encounters a guy named Oghris who seems to be his buddy, but who cannot be trusted. He finds and quickly fondles a bare-breasted warrior-babe named Kaira (played by Lana Clarkson). It's sad commentary when it can stated categorically that Clarkson's boobs have more personal charisma than the dull-witted Hill, who has one expression only, that of a stunned mope. Actually Clarkson's free-range boobs probably saved the movie for me, because without them I'd have stopped watching a lot sooner.

Eventually D.S. finds a tournament held by the sorcerer Munkar and there's quite a bit of orgy-esque activity while the already slovenly plot slowly grinds to a halt. Mud wrestling and abundant lady behinds are all over, until finally something happens. Kaira is killed and I find I have lost interest in the movie. But slowly I build my strength and soldier on with Barbi Benton showing up to tempt our hero who eventually after way too much posing (you can almost hear the director say "Now hold the sword this way.") and really badly executed and inexplicable edits finds victory -- big surprise. Seriously, if you're not accustomed to this genre you will have a  hard time keeping up with the abrupt jumps in story the creators lazily inject here. On  a positive note he does actually battle a pig-faced uber-warrior like the poster suggests, but it's way less impressive.

This is a really awful movie, which I cannot recommend save for the wonderful poster by Boris Vallejo (see above) and Lana Clarkson's tits. Aside from those twin details, it's a loss. Oh Arnold, I really miss you.

Below are some of the pretty darn good  posters by Vallejo for later installments of the Deathstalker series. I cannot fathom watching these, but the posters aren't bad at all, especially the one for "The Warriors from Hell".

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Friday, March 28, 2014

It Came From Outer Space!

It Came from Outer Space from 1953 is memorable for a host of reasons. It's Universal's first big sci-fi flick of the 1950's, a genre they came to dominate with gusto during the decade. It is the brainchild largely of Ray Bradbury, who wrote an extensive treatment which came to serve with some added dialogue as the script for the movie. And it was filmed in rockin' 3-D. The movie hit screens and was a reasonable success, sufficient to for the template for most sci-fi alien-threat movies which would follow.

The story is simple enough. Aliens called "Xenomorphs" crash on Earth and need time and some supplies to rebuild their ship so they can leave. But they didn't arrive unnoticed as stargazer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) saw them through his trusty telescope and along for the ride is his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush). Putnam finds the ship moments before it is buried under tons of rock. His story of spaceships is rejected by the  local populace then strange things start to happen and people start to disappear. Among them are telephone linemen Frank (Joe Sawyer) and George (Russell Johnson) who have their bodies appropriated by the aliens to get needed materials. The aliens ask Putnam to help them by buying them time to repair their ship and he agrees, working at odds with local sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) who at first disbelieves but then feels compelled to face the threat. The aliens keep kidnapping people, including Ellen who attempts to kill Putnam. The aliens have decided they cannot stop mankind before they leave so they will destroy the Earth, but Putnam buys them a few more minutes which prove sufficient as everyone who has been kidnapped is freed. The aliens at long last leave.

Rush and Carlson Get a Grip
There's actually very little plot here. The aliens are creepy and lots of atmosphere is created with the eerie music which cues their presence and the wonderful point-of-view shots which are the best look we get of them. There was some debate that the aliens should never been shown, and that would've been a neat choice. But Universal wanted it different and after principal production was done they re-shot some scenes adding a one-eyed creature to give the aliens a bit more shape and form. It works okay, but does diminish the creepy tone of the movie just a bit.

The most annoying thing about watching this movie is Richard Carlson's character. He starts out as the usual above-average hero-scientist type, but then performs such a cavalcade of stupid things it becomes difficult to root for him. He tells the sheriff about the aliens then demands he do nothing, a problem he created by telling him in the first place. Maybe he just wanted to share the responsibility, but he seems at different points to create his own problems. The aliens try to kill him, with gusto in fact, and he seems all to willing to believe their story afterwards. It all seems a bit much after a while. Carlson is good in the role, it's just the role is annoying.

This is a well-made movie though, that's for sure. The Universal monster movies have a real big-screen gloss which elevates them, even those with the most dim-witted premises.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Angry Red Planet!

The Angry Red Planet is a tempting diversion, hopelessly mired in cliches it hopes to attract viewers with its promise of "Cinemagic", a peculiar visual technique which makes the world of Mars appear all red and weird like it was part of a blacklight poster or something. Despite this, despite the story being the product of Sid Pink, the man who would in two years time give the world Reptilicus, despite the involvement of Norman Maurer, a man who straddled the the worlds of the Three Stooges and comics often in partnership with legend Joe Kubert, this is a movie which can hold its own despite its flaws.

Hayden, Mohr and Tremayne
The story presents the usual crew: Colonel Thomas O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr who would one day voice Reed Richards in Hanna-Barbera's Fantastic Four cartoon), Professor Theodore Getell (Les Tremayne, veteran character actor and future "Mentor" on Filmation's Shazam), Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen, an amiable red-shirt), and Dr.Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden whose lush red hair seems almost a metaphor for Mars itself). 

Kruschen Reads a Pulp
The yarn begins at the end when the MR-1 returns to Earth but with only two survivors, Dr.Ryan and one injured man who remains unidentified through most of the story as we learn from Ryan's tortured memories about a mission which went reasonably smoothly until landing on a Mars filled with man-eating plants, giant bat-crab mutants, flesh-eating giant ameobas and sprawling Martian cities. These threats prove too much for the heroes who after several dangerous days of exploration try to leave and find they are trapped by intelligent forces beyond their understanding. Eventually after some of their number die they are released with a dire warning never to return.

The flashback structure of the story gives it some mild suspense, though it seems pretty obvious who the surviving male crew member is all along. One of the goofier aspects of the movie is the purile characterizations of many of the players who seem content to fill cliched roles with little complaint. Despite her technical training Ryan plays the helpless woman needing the manly hero O'Bannion to come to her aid multiple times. Getell does what scientists are supposed to do, and little else alas.  

The Angry Red Planet is a movie without the moxie to be more than a chirpy sci-fi cliche, and that's a shame because with a just a bit more ambition it could've been something a little more intriguing.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Red Planet Mars!

Red Planet Mars has been on the bucket list to watch for decades. Finally I landed a copy of the DVD and gave it a gander. It's not quite what I expected, but turned out to be reasonably entertaining nonetheless. The movie is an unapologetic condemnation of the Soviet Union, and in the midst of the infamous "Red Scare" years in America, this comes as little surprise. Many movies of the period take a knock on this du jour core threat to the American way of life, but Red Planet Mars makes this its central message.

Spoilers be below.

It begins as Chris and Linda Cronyn (Peter Graves and Andrea King) two scientists, a married couple with two sons, reveal that they have made contact with intelligent life on Mars. The means by which they did this was a bizarre device which uses hydrogen gas invented by a Nazi scientist (Herbert Berghof) who has since disappeared and is believed in Soviet hands. That turns out to be true and from a base in the Andes this scientist has his own installation similar to the Americans. The news of contact with Mars first thrills the world then causes massive disruption as news of breakthrough energy sources results in a breakdown in coal, steel, and other core industries. Then the messages turn to a more philosophical bent with the suggestion that the "Martians" have had contact with no less than Jesus Christ himself. This final revelation brings the world hope as it causes a religious revival in the Soviet bloc resulting in the fall of the Russian threat. With both the West and the East having been staggered the Nazi scientist reveals himself and says that he not the Martians was the cause of the messages and he revels in the destruction of the civilized world. Before he can wreak even more havoc by his revelation the American couple receive another message from Mars, one which cannot be from the Nazi just before they are all blown to smithereens by the hydrogen which powers the communications.

Graves and King with Berghoff between.
This is a surprisingly grim movie. The couple is supposed to be All-American, but they are shown as hard-working scientists who appear to neglect their older son somewhat, who seems to be the primary caregiver for his younger sibling. He's a bright fellow though and is shown to be the hope of the future in the movie. Peter Graves is portrayed as older than he actually was at the time, for reasons I don't really understand, unless it was to give him more philosophical weight. Andrea King plays the mother as someone really obsessed with the safety of her sons and the safety of the world under then fresh nuclear threat of Soviet occupation. She seems at times oddly hysterical with fear. It's peculiar really how often the main characters are shown to be wrong in this movie about the fundamentals of human nature.

This movie is seen most clearly as a parable, with added fairytale aspects. The Cronyns work at their home in a lab isolated from the larger world, protected by police and military when the angry displaced seek them out. The Nazi scientist seems to be a magical character cooped up in a rundown cabin but who is almost miraculously able to appear where he needs to be. His cold and rundown abode a stark contrast to the sleek modern home of the Cronyns. This is a movie that offers up the theme of personal sacrifice as a necessary tool of social transformation and the dual sacrifice of the Cronyns in the story's climax is only peculiar in that both of them die, supplying the story a strangely downbeat ending.

There are parts of Red Planet Mars I really liked and parts that still puzzle me. I'll have to give it more thought. That's pretty good for a sci-fi movie that clearly wants to be taken seriously, that's pretty good indeed.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rocketship X-M!

Rocketship X-M (Expedition Moon) is the first of what became many sci-fi flicks of the 1950's to put man into space. This lower-budget affair beat the George Pal movie Destination Moon into the theaters by a few weeks and did quite well financially, somewhat feeding off the advertising of the latter movie. It's a far less serious affair, but unusually grim nonetheless in many respects. The cast is top-notch with Lloyd Bridges in the charismatic lead and John Emery locking down the top scientist role with gravity and polish. Along for the ride are the always cheery Noah Beery Jr. and the handsome Hugh O'Brien. Osa Massen is the ice queen, the obligatory girl, but she adds to the whole quite nicely.

There be Spoilers below.

The movie begins quickly, as we meet the cast while the countdown for launch is literally going on. Within fifteen minutes the crew conduct a news briefing, give interviews, travel to the rocket, and strap themselves in just in the nick. It's no surprise when things begin to go wrong with that kind of planning. Dr.Karl Eckstrom (Emery) is the force behind the rocket along with his partner Dr.Ralph Fleming (Morris Ankrum) and they recruit top chemist Dr.Lisa Van Horn (Massen), top pilot Col.Floyd Graham (Bridges), top astronomer Harry Chamberlain (O'Brien) and top engineer Maj.William Corrigan (Beery) to fly man's first mission to the Moon.  The trip quickly goes awry and after a few errors they find themselves unconscious and heading into deep space, but not before they stumble across Mars. They land and find Martian society, both advanced and primitive which proves fatal for many members of the team. The survivors get back to Earth, but it's not a happy landing as the lack of fuel results in a deadly crash for all involved.

The ending is oddly somber for a movie of this type. The loss of life was predictable, but the ending was nonetheless a surprise for me. The trip to Mars was exceedingly well done. The crew travel across a desert landscape which has been sepia toned to perfection giving a neat other-worldly quality in the right places. The message that atomic technology has resulted in the demolition of Martian society seems quite plain and the moral for humanity is quite clear. Like so many movies of this era, the celebration of technology is paired with a romantic fear of its consequences.

Rocketship X-M succeeds largely by the dint of its excellent cast, which while they fall into appropriate cliche roles do not act as such and bring a vigor and intensity to the mix which elevates the whole affair. These are good actors in well-written roles in a story which is pretty hokey, but entertaining nonetheless. I was especially struck by Morris Ankrum, the Earth-bound partner who really has to do some heavy lifting in the acting department, the best job I've ever seen from him.

This is a movie which is pure entertainment, much zippier than the more dour Destination Moon.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

The Neanderthal Man!

The Neanderthal Man from 1953 is rather ho-hum monster movie with clearly a small budget but with some aspirations too. It reminds me a lot of the later Monster On Campus from Universal, which has a modern day professor devolve into a murderous caveman from an earlier era. The plots are remarkably similar with a few notable changes.

Robert Shayne (of Superman TV fame) plays Dr Clifford Groves, a scientist who has concocted some serum which will devolve a modern creature into some prehistorically earlier variation of itself. House cats are transformed into sabre-tooth tigers for instance. The first half of the movie involves the search for just such a tiger after it is spotted by a hunter after escaping the lab. After entirely too much talk and rambling it is eventually killed but disappears which opens up the second half of the story in which Groves injects himself and begins roaming the woods looking for men to kill and women to carry off. It's never directly stated why he takes the women, but it's certainly suggested; it's enough I guess that he doesn't actually kill them. The hero of the piece is Dr.Ross Harkness played by Richard Crane (the future Rocky Jones Space Ranger), who eventually uncovers the secret and tries to save Groves but alas fails to do so.

Along for the ride are some dames, mostly interchangeable gals. Joyce Terry plays the dutiful and rather dim daughter of Groves and supplies the obligatory love interest for the hero. Doris Merrick plays the fiancee of Groves in a confusing role which is present to I guess make his predations on her not so awful as they might be for a mere stranger. She never complains, that's all I'll say. Beverly Garland plays the local waitress, who is caught by the caveman when she's taking some scantily-clad photos with her boyfriend in the woods. She seems to have been brought under the caveman's spell too, I guess. The movie is really subtle about what happens, so much so that it's easy to miss, which is the point I guess.

Tandra Quinn plays a deaf-mute housekeeper who it is discovered Groves has been experimenting on. This really drops his stock in my estimation, moving him from mildly eccentric kook to seriously deranged madman, but the folks in the movie don't seem as upset by this development.

The Neanderthal Man is a stiff production, with lots of time spent on relatively cramped sound stages passing for the natural world. There are plenty of actual outdoor scenes but they cut into the other bits with less grace than would be considered ideal.

The moral choices made by many of the characters in this movie really make you scratch your head. The professor is for all practical purposes a villain, but is shown a high degree of sympathy. The hero seems to want to be a good guy but does really odd things like break into the lab of his host for no actual real reason that he should have at that point he does it. Later local folks pay him heed in a crisis for no real good reason that I could detect. The daughter always seems confused as to her responsibility to her dad and to the community and to the man she clearly took a shine too early on since she invited him to stay with them almost immediately.

The most offbeat thing about this weird little movie is the overwrought high-toned dialogue which has a real steady pomposity to it. The characters do not talk like real people at all, but like characters in a show with lots of exposition and folksy philosophy dripping out of their mouths. I was reminded of Ed Wood, but these lines have more of a loquacious balance to them than the typical Wood effort.

The Neanderthal Man is an entertaining enough movie for fans of the genre who can forgive the usual shortcuts such genre flicks often make. There are lots of goofy moments which keep even the dullest scenes a bit saucy.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The She-Creature!

The She Creature is yet another of those vintage monster flicks which has eluded me until I got hold of a copy and enjoyed it recently. The monster, designed by Paul Blaisdell, has been part of my imaginative world since I first got a look at on an old issue Famous Monsters of Filmland with a wonderful cover which I recently learned was by Ron Cobb.

Ron Cobb
The story is purports to be based on true event,  not quite what I expected. It has elements of The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a dash of Mandrake the Magician thrown in to boot. The story concerns Dr. Carlo Lombardi,  an unscrupulous tuxedo-wearing stage hypnotist (Chester Morris) who has under his thrall a lovely  young woman named Andrea Talbot (Marla English) and is somehow able to tap into her long-ago life as a prehistoric sea-monster and bring that monster into the modern world. The notion is that we all have lived many many lives over the eons, and some of those lives were not human. A rather severe and forlorn looking scientist, Dr. Ted Erickson (Lance Fuller) slowly discovers the situation, especially when Lombardi uses the beast to commit murders. The infamy of the murders cause mildly greedy publisher Tim Chappel (Tom Conway) to try and make Lombardi a celebrity and sell books on the back of that. Both men do quite well financially, but eventually it all goes to smash.

It's a much more complicated story than you'd actually expect for a monster movie. That is likely due to its source, the story it's based on, a notorious news item of the day in which a woman Virginia Tighe claimed to have been reincarnated many and once was known in years previous as Bridey Murphy. To be fair to the movie, there is some strong attempts to bring out some distinctive characters and explore some odd relationships. They fall short, but they try. But the story really picks up when the monster appears out of a hazy mist and wreaks whatever havoc is called for. The monster design is an oddity. It's not really good, but it's incredibly memorable and while there's little time explaining it all, the whole of the yarn does add up.

This isn't by any means a bad movie, but it's not really a good one either,not in any objective sense. But it is entertaining at times. It performs as genre flicks of this kind ought, supplying the necessary distractions at the proper moment.  It's well worth checking out.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day The World Ended!

Day the World Ended is an oddball movie. It is one of the gloomiest visions of life after the utter destruction of society and at the same time one that shows very little of that actual destruction. The latter of course because of budget concerns. This movie is famous or perhaps infamous because it was directed by Roger Corman, and it has a number of distinctive Corman touches. Likewise the movie features one of Paul Blaisdell's most ludicrous monster designs, which like many of his costumes looks pretty good on the posters but not a sharp on screen.

 Spoilers below.

The story is pretty simple. A ragamuffin collection of humans (all white) find their way into a valley after the nuclear destruction of the world. The valley has been spared immediate doom because of some geographical peculiarities, and proves to be a habitat that Jim Maddison (Paul Birch) and his daughter Louise (Lori Nelson) have chosen to ride out the end. Another man, the girl's boyfriend is supposed to join them, but doesn't make it. Those who do show up are  Tony Lamont  (Mike "Touch" Connors) and Ruby (Adele Jergens a real bombshell on the downside of a long career), a small time gangster and his stripper girlfriend. Also showing are gold prospector Pete (Raymond Hatton) and his donkey Diablo.  The final pair of survivors is made up of Rick (Richard Denning, as always earnest and dour) and Radek (Paul Dubov), the latter a man horribly mutated by the radiation which is seeps across the world, save for this pocket valley.

Rick very quickly assumes his role as hero-of-the-day, spouting Biblical musings and giving the jilted Louise someone to focus her attentions on. This gang survive, arguing in the house, amazingly untouched by the tumult beyond the valley, and in the neatly maintained yard, also amazingly untouched. They gambol in the local lake, which looks suspiciously like a set-decorated swimming pool, and they mostly pass the time while mutants roam the night killing and eating -- shock-- raw meat. Why this latter detail is so shocking escapes me, but its suggestion of uncivilized behavior strikes the folks as really really bad. There's quite a bit of talk about a nuclear test Jim witnessed which produced mutant animals, the same kind which seem to be prowling the night. The story tumbles along with Ruby going on about how she misses the stares of men on the stage and Tony wondering why he's not in charge. Then they begin to die and the story comes to a conclusion.

This isn't really a great movie by any means, but it does strangely have an effectively somber tone and a grim tale to relate, albeit at a very slovenly pace. When the marquee monster, a mutant who can communicate with Lori in some weird way, shows up the action picks up, but barely. I assume the mutant is supposed to be Lori's boyfriend who didn't make it, but this is never stated directly. The rains come, rains which promise destruction but the movie might have other plans.

It's worth a look.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Desolation Of Smaug!

I was a bit underwhelmed by the first intallment of Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic yarn about a wandering Hobbit and thirteen dwarves seeking ancient treasure.  Not because it wasn't impressive, but because to my weary eye it came across as more of an animated event than a real life movie. So I didn't rush out to see the second installment this past holiday season. I thought I'd wait for the inevitable DVD and just watch it then. That's a far cry from the burning enthusiasm I had for the original Jackson film trilogy which I anticipated with a ripe eagerness.

But with time on my hands and nice warming temperatures and a dry day, I thought I'd take it in at the local discount cinema. With soda and popcorn (each costing more than my ticket) in hand I settled into the well-used theater alongside a few others and watched what surprisingly turned out to be a rousing movie event. The computer generated elements were surely in evidence, but somehow seemed less apparent to my eye and so failed to draw me out of the adventure which picked up where last year's first installment left off.

Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions encounter Beorn the shape-changer, enter the horrible Mirkwood forest and confront the rather grim elves within, and make their way to Laketown, the domain of men at the foot of the Misty Mountain where Smaug came to drive the dwarves out generations before. They raid the dark halls and wake the dragon, a dangerous thing to do.

For a movie which lasts nearly three hours I found time flying by remarkably swiftly and was actually startled when the story ended, leaving me hanging for many months before I can discover the end. Of course we all know how it will end, but how we'll get there is the challenge Jackson has before him. He's created a rousing thrillride with this installment, less dependent on its Tolkien source material, but which does a goodly job of linking this tale to the earlier trilogy.

Good show indeed. I'm eager to see the end now, very eager indeed.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cannon Is Loose!

Cannon is in many ways Wally Wood's most mature creation. That might sound odd given the prurient nature of many of the panels laced both with brutality and with unmitigated misogyny. Fantagraphics has issued a new collection of these rough and tumble adventure comic strips originally produced beginning in 1971 for The Overseas Weekly, a newspaper for American soldiers stationed across the world. This is a mature audience indeed. I've always considered it the underground version of the THUNDER Agents.

Cannon is a "man's man", which mostly means he uses guns proficiently, is not afraid of a fight and does so, and treats women abominably in a morally ambiguous "cold war" of both personal and international proportions. That's not to say that some of the women he confronts aren't dangerous, but there's little doubt in Cannon's world that women are for screwing, whether you are screwing them or they are screwing you, both figuratively and literally.

The violence in Cannon is rugged, though hardly graphic by any modern definition. This is after all Wally Wood, and his lean craftsmanship shines through always in glorious black and white. The spare orderliness of Wood's designs give the rugged world of Cannon a handsome veneer which makes it seem less grotesque than it actually is.

I first ran across the Cannon saga in four of Wally Wood's over-sized self-published comic magazines from the late 70's and early 80's. As the covers proclaim, these are for "Adults Only" and that's true enough. The sex and violence, which blends into a sado-mashochistic mishmash at times is not for the kiddies. These are comics, but not those kind of comics.

What they are though is highly recommended and nigh essential reading for any Wood fan.

The volume also includes the color Cannon precursor stories produced independently by Wood with penciling help from Steve Ditko in Heroes Inc. Presents Cannon  There are two issues, the one below from 1969 and a later volume from 1976 from the CPLGang. Both stories, one in splendid color and one in glorious black and white are included. Given the format designed to showcase the comic strip  they reproduced somewhat smaller than the ideal, but it's good to have them.

Cannon is rough, Cannon is tough, but Cannon is worth it.

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