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Archive for August, 2010

Speaking of blogs, it looks like your humble correspondent may soon be dividing at least some of his time between BOF and Tor.com (see blogroll at right).  The latter is, of course, the online presence of Tor/Forge Books, Matheson’s primary trade publisher; Gauntlet Press releases his work in handsome limited editions and, through its Edge Books imprint, the occasional trade paperback such as Visions Deferred.  My friend Greg Cox, who has been Matheson’s editor ever since 7 Steps to Midnight was acquired in 1991 and became one of the first books they published under the Forge imprint, told me that they might want me to contribute some Matheson posts.

Seems that with so much Matheson activity afoot (e.g., Tor’s trade edition of the Gauntlet tribute anthology He Is Legend; his new novel Other Kingdoms, coming out in March; the forthcoming Hugh Jackman movie Real Steel, based on his story “Steel”), they want to do a series of posts on Matheson’s movie career.  Boing!  So, despairing of finding someone with genuine expertise on the subject—heh heh—they decided out of pure desperation to fall back on the author of Richard Matheson on Screen.  And they wanted me to start with that old standby, the screen versions of I Am Legend, effectively requiring me to condense 23 manuscript pages into a mere 1,241 words.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, when it comes to the subject of You-Know-Who on you-know-what, my brain is now analogous to a supersaturated sponge:  just poke it a little, and a huge amount of water comes gushing out.  So, writing mostly off the top of my head, I banged out a couple of pages of hyperdistilled prose that—miraculously—managed to cover what I consider the high points of three separate sections from my magnum opus, written in a conversational style more appropriate to a blog than to a quasi-academic tome.  Mind you, I don’t have the thumbs-up from the folks at Tor.com just yet, but if I get it, you can be the judge.

So by all means check out Tor.com, and of course keep watching this space (although that should go without saying) to find out when my posts will be appearing, which may begin as early as the week of September 13.  In the meantime, I’ll keep waiting for word from McFarland about when the book will actually be out and keeping you, uh, posted to the best of my ability.  Bradley out.

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Since I first reported last month on what I’ve experienced while trying to spread the word about my book in the blogosphere (see “Captain’s Blog, Stardate 64026.3”), I have visited many more sites and commented on quite a few; in fact, hardly a day goes by when my old reliable Google Alert doesn’t turn up at least one comment-worthy post, and often several.  They continue to run a fascinating gamut from quickie, typo-ridden “reviews” to thoughtful pieces that in some cases really get to the heart of what makes many of Matheson’s works such enduring classics.  I’ve seen stuff with egregious errors, and I’ve seen stuff that was surprisingly well-informed…especially considering the bloggers didn’t have access to Richard Matheson on Screen yet!  🙂

One of the things that has impressed me the most, in light of the blogosphere’s reputation for slanging, is how congenial most people have been, expressing support for the book and in a few cases inviting me to send a link to McFarland (which, as publication draws near, I have taken to including automatically).  At the worst, they’ve ignored my comments, which is absolutely their prerogative, since I’m merely throwing out information that might be of interest to those who are reading or writing about Matheson, and then again, it might not.  A few inexpressibly generous souls have devoted entire posts to my upcoming magnum opus, and others have requested review copies, which I am duly passing on to the folks in the pleasantly receptive marketing department.

I will say I’ve stopped apparently wasting my time with those sites that appear to be little more than glorified—if that is the word—selling tools; not that I don’t have something to sell myself, but I think even the harshest critic will agree that on a good day, BOF is much more than a shill for my book.  Although some solicit comments as well as wildly divergent customer reviews, the comments don’t seem to spark any actual discussion or feedback, and many of mine languished in “awaiting moderation” limbo indefinitely.  So I saw no reason to follow up on those or create new ones, especially since on some of the sites, the level of discourse, as it were, is exemplified by those half-dozen or so Rhodes scholars who trashed Duel on a post that I can’t seem to forget!

Posts on I Am Legend and its adaptations and influences—most notably the original Night of the Living Dead, natch—continue to dominate, including not one but two reviews of Robert Hood’s album Omega, inspired by The Omega Man.  (This is not to be confused with the soundtrack by Ron Grainer, composer of the immortal themes for Dr. Who and The Prisoner, a copy of which a certain Count Drax recently gave me for my birthday.)  But others have ranged from Matheson’s early collection Third from the Sun, the influence of Shirley Jackson on Hell House, and his own influences on Stephen King and Justin Cronin to his Westerns, The Stranger Within, and his ill-fated script for Jaws 3-D, which means that he is as ubiquitous as ever, and that’s all to the good.

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Concluding our eclectic selection of Boris Karloff credits from the Bradley Video Library catalog…

The Devil Commands (1941):  HUAC name-dropper Edward Dmytryk directed this misleadingly titled coda to Karloff’s “Mad Doctor” series (see The Ape in our previous installment).  Based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water, it concerns a scientist who establishes that human brain waves can be recorded, and are unique (like fingerprints), just before his wife is killed in a car crash. When Boris’s machinery picks up her distinctive waves after death, he launches an all-out effort to contact her spirit beyond the grave, and is immediately dismissed as a nut-job by his colleagues, daughter, and associate/future son-in-law.  So he sets up shop in an isolated cliff-top mansion, joined by a shady spiritualist, a snooping housekeeper, and an employee whose brain was partially cooked by a previous experiment.  Although strictly speaking science fiction, this programmer is filmed in a gothic-horror manner, complete with Dark Shadows-style narration by the daughter—who, alas, probably could not have known about some of the events she relates.  Sadly, Boris’s habit of stealing corpses from the local boneyard (since for some odd reason he needs to have dead people hooked up to his gizmo in order to contact other ones) draws the attention of the sheriff, with predictable results.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947):  An utterly routine (albeit mercifully brief) comic-strip programmer, notable only for the presence of Karloff as the titular villain.

Thriller (1960-62):  Having already covered this series in some detail, I’ll merely enumerate a few highlights besides “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” adapted by Richard Matheson from the short story by H.P. Lovecraft protégé August Derleth and Mark Schorer.  They include the atmospheric “Pigeons from Hell,” also directed by John Newland and based on a story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard; four other episodes based on stories by Derleth, written either with Schorer (“The Incredible Doktor Markeson,” an especially creepy episode in which Karloff stars as well as hosts) or without (“Mr. George,” “Trio for Terror,” “A Wig for Miss Devore”), sometimes using his Stephen Grendon pseudonym; an adaptation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” also with Boris; three based on works by Cornell Woolrich (“Guillotine” [adapted by Charles Beaumont], “Papa Benjamin,” “Late Date”); Beaumont’s other, inferior episode, “Girl With a Secret”; and a whopping ten written and/or based on works by Robert Bloch (“The Cheaters,” “The Grim Reaper” [starring William Shatner], “The Devil’s Ticket,” “The Weird Tailor,” “Waxworks,” “The Hungry Glass” [also with Shatner], “’Til Death Do Us Part,” “A Good Imagination,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” “Man of Mystery”), two of which were remade in his Amicus anthology films.

The Raven (1963):  Extrapolating from “The Black Cat,” the successful comic segment of their Poe anthology film Tales of Terror, director Roger Corman and screenwriter Matheson went all-out in this comedy; Matheson left the series afterward, saying he couldn’t take the films seriously any more.  Featuring Peter Lorre in the title role, Karloff (appearing in his second film allegedly based on Poe’s poem) bemused by Lorre’s ad-libs, the obligatory Vincent Price, the heavenly Hazel Court (who rejoined Corman and Price on Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death the next year), and a very young Jack Nicholson as the dubious—in every sense—hero, Rexford.

The Comedy of Terrors (1963):  Written by Matheson and directed by Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur, this is a black comedy about unscrupulous undertakers who drum up business the hard way, with veteran horror stars Price, Lorre, Karloff, and—carried over from Tales of Terror—Basil Rathbone.  Originally slated to play the more athletic role of Price’s acerbic landlord, which ultimately went to the ironically older Rathbone, Karloff has a hilarious scene in which he delivers a rambling funeral oration, complete with every imaginable synonym for the word “coffin.”

I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963):  Again, I won’t belabor this anthology horror film, having discussed it in multiple posts devoted to director Mario Bava, but it would be a shame to omit it.  As with Thriller, Karloff hosts and stars in one segment, effectively playing a Russian vampire opposite Mark (House of Usher) Damon in “The Wurdalak.”  Sadly, you won’t hear his voice in the uncut Italian version, only in the one re-edited by the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, AIP.  The other segments are “The Drop of Water,” as a ghost reclaims a ring stolen by a greedy woman, and “The Telephone,” in which a girl is stalked by her ex-lover.

The Sorcerers (1967):  One of three films (the others being La Sorella di Satana and Witchfinder General) on which the reputation of Michael Reeves rests; his early death of an alcohol and drug overdose ensured a kind of James Dean fame for the British director.  Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as an elderly couple who invent a machine with which they can share the sensations of, and ultimately control the actions of, a disaffected youth played by Reeves’s perennial lead, Ian Ogilvy.

La Camara del Terror (The Fear Chamber, 1968):  One of four Mexican horror films for which Karloff shot footage (in L.A., I believe) shortly before his death; behind-the-scenes machinations altered some of the resulting pictures from their original conceptions.  Hard to imagine what they had in mind for this one, which as it stands is an incoherent mishmash about scientists using blood from frightened girls to fire up a living, power-hungry rock.  At least, I think that’s what it’s about…

Targets (1968):  Peter Bogdanovich’s first and probably best film (I’m not a fan; it’s mercifully unlike his other work), this stars Karloff as an aging actor who feels his Hollywood horrors can no longer compete with real life, and Bogdanovich as a young guy who chats up oldtime filmmakers (quite a stretch for both!).  Proving his point, a seemingly mild-mannered young man suddenly goes on a killing spree, eventually konfronting Karloff (sorry, too much Famous Monsters of Filmland in my youth) at a drive-in screening of one of his films—in reality, The Terror, made by Pete’s sometime mentor, Corman.

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The Celebrated Mr. K, Part I

With his beloved anthology series making its long-awaited DVD debut (see “’Cause This Is Thriller”), what better time to reflect on the man who, perhaps more than any other, epitomized the Golden Age of horror films in the 1930s and ’40s?  True, his Universal colleague and frequent co-star, Bela Lugosi, is equally iconic, but consider this:  while both enjoyed star-making roles in 1931 with Frankenstein and Dracula, respectively, Lugosi was not allowed to reprise his until Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein seventeen years later, at the end of the cycle.  Karloff, on the other hand, built on his seminal performance with two solid sequels, and enjoyed an equally indelible hit with The Mummy (as well as having a generally higher long-term batting average than poor Lugosi).

Be that as it may, we’re not here to knock Lugosi, but to celebrate Karloff, with a typically eclectic selection from his long and varied career, ranging from masterpieces to absolute dreck.  And so we crack open the catalog of the vast Bradley Video Library, to see what delights await within its walls.

Frankenstein (1931):  Directed by James Whale, this follow-up to Dracula kicked off the studio’s most successful Golden Age series.  As hilariously dramatized in Ed Wood, Lugosi probably kicked himself forever after for turning down the role of the Monster, thus propelling Karloff to stardom; ironically, Karloff himself pulled the same schtick two years later (though without sabotaging his own career) by turning down the lead in Whale’s The Invisible Man, giving newcomer Claude Rains a chance.  With Colin Clive as the neurotic Henry Frankenstein, Mae Clarke (fresh from getting a grapefruit shoved in her mush by James Cagney in Public Enemy) as Elizabeth, Dwight Frye as the nasty hunchback, Fritz, and Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing in Dracula) as the ill-fated Dr. Waldman.  The restored version has the previously censored footage of an unwitting Monster tossing the little girl, Maria, into the river.

The Mummy (1932):  Karloff is only briefly seen in his bandaged state, in that classic scene where his revival drives Bramwell Fletcher mad, but no less effective in his superannuated identity of Ardath Bey and sans makeup in the flashbacks that explain how he got that way.  Universal mainstays Van Sloan and David Manners pretty much rehash their parts from Dracula, to which this bears more than a passing resemblance; Karl Freund, better known as a cameraman, directed this and a couple of other horror films (e.g. Mad Love), to which he brought a strong visual style.

The Ghoul (1933):  I’m the first to admit that I had trouble following the story, but it may not be all my fault.  Long thought lost, this film is now replicated from the sole surviving print, which turned up in Prague, and both sound and picture leave a lot to be desired.  What is clear, however, is that it has a great cast (Karloff, Ralph Richardson, Ernest Thesiger, and Cedric Hardwicke), and that Karloff must have generated more than a few shivers in his makeup back in the day.  He’s an Egyptologist who demands to be buried with a certain talisman; when it’s stolen from his corpse, he comes back with a vengeance.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935):  Not only that rare sequel that far outshines the original, but also one of the best horror movies ever made, easily Whale’s masterpiece.  Elsa Lanchester doubles as the Bride and Mary Shelley, picking up the story at the burning windmill.  Karloff and Colin Clive return as the Monster and Frankenstein, respectively, with Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, the surprisingly resilient Frye as yet another scuttling assistant, the unforgettable Una O’Connor as Minnie, John Carradine in a bit part as a hunter, a fabulous Franz Waxman score (reused to great effect the following year in Universal’s blockbuster serial Flash Gordon), and that wonderfully convenient little lever that blows them all to atoms.  “We belong dead.”

Son of Frankenstein (1939):  Featuring Karloff’s third and final feature-film performance as the Monster, this wonderfully moody and atmospheric film kicked off the second phase of Universal’s Golden Age.  Basil Rathbone plays Wolf Frankenstein (yeah, right), son of the Monster’s creator, with Lugosi in a plum role (repeated in the Karloff-free Ghost of Frankenstein, although for the record Boris later returned as a mad scientist in House of Frankenstein) as the broken-necked, legally dead blacksmith, Ygor (not “Igor”!); Lionel Atwill as the wooden-armed Inspector Krogh; Donnie Dunagan as Wolf’s own son, who is so annoying you hope the Monster really will toss him into the sulphur pit; a magnificently spooky house; and a super, slam-bang climax.  “He’s my friend.  He…does things for me.”

The Ape (1940):  Similar to, but a distinct step down from, his concurrent Columbia “Mad Doctor” series (e.g., The Man They Could Not Hang, The Man with Nine Lives, Before I Hang), this was the last in Karloff’s six-film Monogram contract, and the only one in which he did not play Asian detective Mr. Wong.  He’s a scientist who lost his wife and daughter to polio and has been seeking to effect a cure ever since. The experimental treatments with which he hopes to help a paralyzed girl (and surrogate daughter) require human spinal fluid, so when an abusive trainer is fatally mauled by an ape that escapes and sets fire to a traveling circus in the process, Boris develops a fairly unorthodox plan. First he uses the spinal fluid from the dying man to cook up his initial dose, and then—after the ape crashes into his house and is rather improbably done in by Boris—he dons its skin and fakes its continued presence to find fresh fodder among the townsfolk. The latter are such a suspicious, mean-spirited, small-minded lot that one is tempted to say, “Good on ya, mate”; the girl’s grease-monkey beau actually says at one point, “I don’t like things I don’t understand.” But this rather marked diversion from his Hippocratic Oath dictates that the faux ape must be gunned down in the end, although naturally living long enough to see his young patient walk.  Monogram’s ramshackle production values make the Columbia films look quite lavish by comparison.

To be concluded.

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And here is Tor’s catalog listing for Other Kingdoms, the new Matheson novel due out in March:

For over half a century, Richard Matheson has enthralled and terrified readers with such timeless classics as I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel, Somewhere in Time, and What Dreams May Come.  Now the Grand Master returns with a bewitching tale of erotic suspense and enchantment….

1918.  A young American soldier, recently wounded in the Great War, Alex White comes to Gatford to escape his troubled past.  The pastoral English village seems the perfect spot to heal his wounded body and soul.  True, the neighboring woods are said to be haunted by capricious, even malevolent spirits, but surely those are just old wives’ tales.

Aren’t they?

A frightening encounter in the forest leads Alex into the arms of Magda Variel, an alluring red-haired widow rumored to be a witch.  She warns him to steer clear of the wood and the perilous faerie kingdom it borders, but Alex cannot help himself.  Drawn to its verdant mysteries, he finds love, danger…and wonders that will forever change his view of the world.

Other Kingdoms casts a magical spell, as conjured by a truly legendary storyteller.

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Here’s an update from Locus Online with information about the new Matheson story in F&SF:

http://www.locusmag.com/Monitor/2010/MagazinesAndWebsites08b.html

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Untangled Web

The good folks at McFarland have kindly afforded me the opportunity to revise their webpage copy for Richard Matheson on Screen, and since I believe that will also serve as the basis for the jacket copy, it was a subject of no small concern to the author.  While preserving or reordering as much of their copy as I could, and strictly maintaining the same word count to fit their format, I have nonetheless clarified or introduced some points that I don’t think came through before, and in the process represented the book much more accurately.  So, without further ado, I encourage you to check out the revamped version—and hey, it’s never too soon to pre-order a copy, right?

http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4

As for the book itself…I think it’s finished, now that I’ve submitted the index at 3:35 on Tuesday morning (capping off a 22-hour day, which followed a 23½-hour day on Friday and a proverbial “lost weekend” of indexing in between), while Madame B was kind enough to ship the corrected page proofs and the copy-edited manuscript back to McFarland later that day.  As far as I know, except for the sales and marketing end of things, my work here is done.  I just have to pray that the typesetter is willing and/or able to accommodate the corrections I made, and if so, I will be content at having achieved about 95% of what I wanted, despite my early dismay over the cuts.

Bradley out (for the count).

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