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Archive for February, 2011

$183.83

As is often observed regarding…certain activities, you can only ever have one first time, so it’s possible that I may remember the figure $183.83 for quite a while, since that’s the amount of my very first royalty check from McFarland for Richard Matheson on Screen.  Okay, I’ve gotten—and appreciated—third-party checks representing my slice of the royalties for contributing to The Man Who Collected Psychos, but this is the first time they’ve cut a check directly to me for work that is all my own.  I’d probably still be staring at it now if we hadn’t obeyed their injunction to “CASH CHECK IMMEDIATELY,” which I trust says nothing about McFarland’s finances.  🙂

No, it doesn’t seem like a lot to show for thirteen years of work, and it will barely pay for half of Renfield the rat’s visit to the vet two weeks ago, where he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and put on antibiotics that have apparently enabled him to hang on, albeit precariously, since that time.  But because McFarland calculates royalties twice a year, which I gather is unusual, this is only a reflection of what they had sold by the end of 2010 (minus one return—bestid!).  They tell me the book has now sold at least five times as many copies in three printings, so there’s more to come, and if you’d like to check back in here in about six months, I’ll probably keep you posted.

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WACT Alert 2/24/11

Just reporting briefly that the second half of my Jerry Sohl double-header can now be seen on We Are Controlling Transmission, and both garnered some very nice comments; in fact, the question of Milton Krims’s existence, or not, inspired an entire separate post by Outer Limits expert David J. Schow!  It’s interesting to note that as low as these episodes fall in the pecking order, a lot of people still seemed willing to line up behind “The Invisible Enemy” as a guilty pleasure, yet couldn’t wait to heap abuse on “Counterweight,” except for the stop-motion bear.  At any rate, it’s been an honor and a pleasure to participate in this outstanding blog, and I want to thank John and Peter heartily for letting me be a part of it…until they do A Twilight Zone a Day.

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WACT Alert 2/23/11

The oft-mentioned John Scoleri is a Matheson expert of long standing, who has championed my book on his own and other websites, but when he invited me to contribute to We Are Controlling Transmission, where he and Peter Enfantino hold forth daily on an episode of The Outer Limits, I was both honored and apprehensive.  Honored because the level of scholarship they, their guest contributors, and various commentators have displayed on WACT and its predecessor, A Thriller a Day, is awe-inspiring.  Apprehensive because, if the truth be known, I am neither an expert on, nor necessarily even a big fan of, The Outer Limits, a fact that I immediately confessed to John.

The usual format is for the boys to review each episode and then have one of their guests write a “Spotlight” to complement the post, generally displaying the contributor’s passionate enthusiasm for said episode.  I said that if they needed a hand, I’d be willing to tackle the two episodes based on published stories by Jerry Sohl, “The Invisible Enemy” and “Counterweight,” partly because adaptations are my stock in trade (residing at the nexus as I do), and partly because I interviewed Jerry back in 1999.  Since they were not only from the show’s widely reviled second season, but also regarded as low points of said season, I presume there was very little competition for those.

As you will see from my post, I wasn’t in a position to muster up the kind of spirited defense that many of my fellow contributors have made of “lesser” episodes, but I hope that my more literary approach will be of interest to at least some readers.  If nothing else, it will be interesting to catch what happens when the erudite WACT commentariat is unleashed on them…and me.  Judging by the comments on John and Peter’s original post, it should be a lively exchange, to say the least.

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On the occasion of 107th birthday, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

While his work epitomized the Gothic horror tales that secured the fortunes of England’s Hammer Films, director Terence Fisher (1904-80) also made his mark in the SF genre, there and elsewhere.  After unsuccessful careers in the merchant marine and a department store, he joined the industry in 1933 as “the oldest clapper boy in the business,” and worked his way up to editor.

Aptly, Fisher’s directorial debut was a supernatural comedy, Colonel Bogey (1948), while another early indication of what lay ahead was the suspense thriller So Long at the Fair (1950).  He began his association with Hammer in 1952, receiving one of his two screenwriting credits on Mantrap (1953), adapted from the novel Queen in Danger by Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor).

Fisher and Paul Tabori also co-scripted Four Sided Triangle (1953), based on William F. Temple’s novel about scientists in love with the same woman.  Bill (Stephen Murray) believes he can solve the problem by duplicating Lena (Barbara Payton), using their experimental process of turning energy into matter; unfortunately, “Helen” also prefers Robin (John Van Eyssen) to Bill.

Tabori and Richard Landau adapted Spaceways (1953) from a BBC radio play by Charles Eric Maine, whose novels became such films as Escapement (aka The Electronic Monster, 1958) and The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970).  Howard Duff starred as a scientist planning a space trip, to prove that he did not murder his wife and her lover and conceal their bodies in a previous rocket.

As with Universal in the 1930s, Hammer kicked off its successful cycle of Gothic horror films with back-to-back adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, although in reverse order.  Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, 1958) made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with their signature roles.

Hammer elected to follow the fortunes of Frankenstein (Cushing) rather than his creation (Lee) in its sequels.  Except for Freddie Francis’s The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), they were all directed by Fisher:  The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

Fisher largely left the Dracula series to other hands, with Francis following him again on Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), although he directed the first two sequels.  The Brides of Dracula (1960) brought back Cushing’s Van Helsing, but not the Count himself, who returned sans dialogue in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), due to Lee’s dissatisfaction with the script.

Also using those two stars to excellent effect was Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), with Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes among the screen’s greatest and Lee as the endangered Baskerville heir.  Soon, Fisher was revisiting horror classics left and right in The Mummy (1959), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (aka House of Fright, 1960), and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) was a remake of a more obscure film, The Man in Half Moon Street (1945).  But the box-office failure of The Phantom of the Opera (1962) led to a brief exile from Hammer, during which Fisher directed Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, 1962), with Lee taking a turn as Holmes.

He also made a pair of films for American producer Robert L. Lippert, who distributed much of Hammer’s early output in the U.S.  The Horror of It All (1963) was a spoof, written by Ray Russell, while The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) marked Fisher’s return to SF with a low-budget, star-free tale about the survivors of an alien invasion that utilized robots and zombies.

Reunited with Hammer, Cushing, and Lee on The Gorgon (1964), Fisher still continued alternating horror and SF with two projects for the short-lived Planet Films.  In Island of Terror (1966), a solid script and a good cast, headed by Cushing and Edward Judd, helped to make up for the somewhat silly appearance of its tentacled silicates, which consume the calcium in bones.

Based on the novel by John Lymington, Night of the Big Heat (aka Island of the Burning Damned, 1967) displayed similar strengths and weaknesses.  Tensions simmer among Cushing, Lee, and the romantic triangle involving Jane Merrow, Patrick Allen, and his on- and off-screen wife, Sarah Lawson, but the rock-like alien blobs besieging them leave something to be desired.

Fisher next made the outstanding Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride, 1968), scripted by the acclaimed Richard Matheson.  Sadly, health problems prevented him from following through on several Hammer projects for which he was scheduled, and helped precipitate his retirement, but not before he brought the Frankenstein series to a close.

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Another day, another title borrowed from Matheson—not that he coined the phrase or anything, but he did use it for a short story that he later adapted into a fun episode of Amazing Stories.  Be that as it may, John Kenneth Muir recently posted about the film and TV books he grew up with, and while the six years I have on John help explain the only partial overlap between his list and the one I’d compile, he makes some interesting observations about the treasured tomes that were our Bibles in the pre-Internet era.  For the record, our shared frame of reference consists of these:

  • Stephen King, Danse Macabre (although I did not acquire it until years after it was published)
  • Paul R. Gagne, The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero (where I first learned that Romero openly admitted I Am Legend inspired Night of the Living Dead)
  • John Stanley, Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again (I’ve owned several iterations of this periodically updated book, and what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in wit and breadth)

He also name-checks such mainstays as John Brosnan and Ed Naha, and mentions the books by my sometime mentor John McCarty, several of which I’d publicized at St. Martin’s Press.  Muir, you will recall, posted an incredibly generous review of Richard Matheson on Screen, and kindly cited me in this recent entry as one of those now writing quality books on the genre.  That makes up a little for the fact that—despite the recommendation of no lesser light than Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas, whose book on Mario Bava is the envy of us all—RMOS wasn’t even nominated for the Rondo Award (for which The Twilight and Other Zones got an Honorable Mention in 2009).

My own almost-200-volume reference library of film and TV books is also a sore subject, for it suffered the most damage during our recent leakage.  Nine were soaked to one degree or another, and must be considered write-offs as actual possessions, although I will probably cling to them stubbornly for whatever bits of information might still be gleaned therein.  (Because most if not all are probably long out of print, I have to decide which are worth trying to replace.)  They are:

  • Williams, Lucy Chase, The Complete Films of Vincent Price
  • Willis, Donald C., Horror and Science Fiction Films II
  • —–,  Horror and Science Fiction Films III
  • —–, Horror and Science Fiction Films IV
  • Winter, Douglas E., Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror (which I value despite Winter’s doing me a disservice years ago)
  • Wolf, Leonard, Horror: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Literature and Film
  • Wright, Bruce Lanier, Nightwalkers: Gothic Horror Movies: The Modern Era
  • —–, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Golden Age of Science Fiction Movie Posters
  • Zicree, Marc Scott, The Twilight Zone Companion, second edition (autographed “To Matthew—in friendship—Richard Matheson.”  Son of a BITCH!)

Fortunately, only one of these, the earliest Willis volume (I never did get his first), would be on my own roster of formative texts, some of which are listed below.  For simplicity’s sake, I am restricting myself not only to Muir’s time frame of books published by the time I was 21, but also to those that made it into the bibliography for RMOS.  Mind you, not every one of these books is invaluable, and many were easily surpassed by the Phil Hardys of this world in later years, but they and others such as Carlos Clarens’s  Illustrated History of the Horror Film were virtually the only game in town when the genre enslaved me.

  • Baxter, John, Science Fiction in the Cinema: 1895-1970
  • Beck, Calvin Thomas, Heroes of the Horrors
  • —–, Scream Queens: Heroines of the Horrors
  • Bojarski, Richard, and Kenneth Beals, The Films of Boris Karloff
  • Brosnan, John, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction
  • —–, The Horror People
  • Everson, William K., Classics of the Horror Film
  • Eyles, Allen, Robert Adkinson, and Nicholas Fry, editors, The House of Horror: The Story of Hammer Films
  • Gifford, Denis, Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies
  • —–, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
  • Glut, Donald F., The Dracula Book
  • Johnson, William, editor, Focus on the Science Fiction Film
  • Lee, Walt, Reference Guide to Fantastic Films: Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror (3 volumes)
  • Lentz, Harris M. III, Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film and Television Credits (2 volumes)
  • Meyers, Richard, S-F 2: A Pictorial History of Science Fiction Films From “Rollerball” to “Return of the Jedi”
  • Naha, Ed, The Films of Roger Corman: Brilliance on a Budget
  • Pirie, David, The Vampire Cinema
  • Weldon, Michael, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
  • Willis, Donald C., Horror and Science Fiction Films II

The Horror People probably had the greatest impact on me, because it’s the first time I remember seeing the creators of these films—including a guy named Matheson—actually interviewed, which led indirectly to my own attempts to get them down in their own words.  Baxter’s book is oft-mentioned on the Outer-Limits-a-day blog We Are Controlling Transmission (about which more tomorrow) as one of the first to treat genre television with some of the same respect as SF cinema.  Despite being little more than a glorified checklist, Lee’s was a landmark work of scholarship, and Lentz’s was a godsend to a guy who had been frantically dictating movie credits into his tape recorder for transcription on 3” x 5” index cards.

I remember drawing heavily on Beck’s books when the future Madame BOF and I were pining for each other at separate colleges (if memory serves me correctly, her very strict parents allowed us a grand total of one visit in each direction during the whole four years) and, just for fun, I sent her a “correspondence course” in certain aspects of genre history.  Weldon’s was a late addition but revelatory for the more, yes, “psychotronic” entries.  A final recollection:  when Horror[s] of Malformed Men gained some notoriety on its DVD release a few years ago, I remember with pride that I was the only one in my little circle who had ever heard of it, thanks to the single still reproduced in Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

Addendum:  Here’s the nice VideoScope review of RMOS in its entirety.

VIDEOSCOPE Review

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Eighty-fifth birthday wishes to Richard Matheson as we belatedly conclude the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Touch of Evil:  Beginning with a single, unbroken, three-minute crane shot following a car with a bomb in the trunk until it explodes, this is one of Orson Welles’s best films.  Welles directed, adapted Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, and plays the corpulent sheriff of a spectacularly sleazy Mexican border town; a mustachioed Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican-American cop trying to enjoy his honeymoon with Janet Leigh (and who wouldn’t?) when the explosion changes his plans.  Brilliantly shot, written, and acted, it creates a palpable atmosphere of corruption and evil.  With Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), and Mercedes McCambridge (who dubbed the nasty bits for Linda Blair in The Exorcist) in supporting roles of various sizes and a splendid jazz score by Henry (The Pink Panther) Mancini.

2001: A Space Odyssey:  Madame BOF is perhaps not the only one whose patience is put to the test by this film’s rather, shall we say, leisurely paced 140-minute running time.  But she is too quick to dismiss its technical expertise, its profound script by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (at that time an extremely rare cinematic venture by a world-famous SF writer, who expanded considerably upon his short story “The Sentinel” and, at Kubrick’s insistence, took sole authorial credit for the novel they wrote simultaneously), that famous Strauss theme song, and the sheer ballsiness of MGM in making the damn thing, which render it unique and influential.  A huge, featureless black monolith appears at various points in humankind’s development, its purpose initially unknown, and so begins Keir Dullea’s voyage aboard the aptly named Discovery.  “Open the pod bay door, Hal.”

Unforgiven:  To date, this is my favorite among Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts, and I seem to be in good company, because the Academy awarded it not only Best Picture and Director but also Best Actor (Gene Hackman) and Film Editing.  He supposedly acquired the script by Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples (who also copped a nomination, as did Clint for his performance) and stuck it in a drawer for a decade until he thought he was ready to play the part of Bill Munny, who hung up his guns out of respect for his late wife, and only reluctantly picks them up again to support his two children when times get tough.  Joined by old pal Morgan Freeman and young gun Jaimz Woolvet, he goes after a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes for the cowboys who defaced one of their own.  But things don’t go according to plan, and he runs afoul of brutal sheriff Hackman.  Clint dedicated the film to his directorial mentors, BOF faves Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; the heart-wrenching score, guaranteed to choke me up, is by his longtime collaborator, Lennie Niehaus.

Up in Smoke:  Although I think one of my brothers started it by bringing home their album Big Bambu, my late father and I shared a perhaps inexplicable fondness for the drug-(dis)oriented humor of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Thomas Chong, who made their film debut in this stoner comedy that made “Low Rider” one of my theme songs in later years.  Their next movie (titled, with breathtaking originality, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie) was followed by the likes of Nice Dreams, Things Are Tough All Over, and Still Smokin’.  Those looking for detailed descriptions of and/or penetrating insights into those later films are, at least for now, doomed to disappointment, because I haven’t seen most of them for years.  They do all tend to blend together, and quite frankly they’re probably all terrible in hindsight, but this one, at least, stands up to repeated viewings, and since my wife and daughter—who would no more toke up than ski down Everest—love it as well, it’s not just me.  In this, they unwittingly smuggle a van made of dope across the Mexican border.

Vertigo:  A Hitchcock masterpiece, probably almost neck and neck with Psycho in my book, featuring a stunning James Stewart performance (as an obsessive character whose make-over of a woman is, for Hitch, stunningly self-revelatory) and an absolutely shattering final scene.  Say what you want about Kim Novak’s acting, I think she does just fine with her dual role, and as always, Bernard Herrmann’s score is superb; the credit sequence alone is a breathtaking mix of image and music.  You’ll catch many nuances after mastering the complex plot, based on a novel by celebrated French crime-writing team Boileau-Narcejac.  “I don’t want to get mixed up in this darn thing!”

Walkabout:  Erstwhile cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (The Masque of the Red Death) made his solo directorial debut with this unique film.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), stunningly beautiful on the cusp of womanhood, and her younger brother (Roeg’s son Lucien John) are forced to embark upon an odyssey through the Australian Outback that intersects with, and in some ways parallels, the titular coming-of-age ritual of Aborigine David Gulpilil.  The bittersweet (or, per the somewhat less nuanced response of Madame BOF, “sad”) story is perfectly complemented by the film’s ravishing cinematography, also by Roeg, and its heartbreaking score by the late, great John Barry.

Where Eagles Dare:  Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite.  Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general—who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans—from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau!  Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them!  Only Ferdy Mayne, Anton Diffring (Shatter), Donald Houston (The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains!  Only Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes) could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight!  Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD!  I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released), and even the Mad magazine parody.

The Wild Bunch:  In my opinion, this is director Sam Peckinpah’s greatest achievement, although Tom is free to prefer Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (admittedly one hell of a film).  William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins, and Edmond O’Brien are among the members of this aging gang, running out of banks to rob and pursued by ex-member Robert Ryan, railroad man Albert Dekker, and sleazy bounty-hunters Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones.  The sanguinary finale is the apotheosis of Peckinpah’s “poetry of violence.”  Absolutely superb.  Even my Mom liked this, surprisingly.  My favorite quote says it all:  “When you side with a man, you stay with him.  And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal—you’re finished.”

The Year of Living Dangerously:  I don’t think anybody saw this one and didn’t like it.  Reporter Mel Gibson and diplomat Sigourney Weaver mix it up in politically unrestful Indonesia in 1965 to spectacular effect.  This exceptional thriller was directed by Peter Weir, is extremely faithful to the excellent novel by Christopher J. Koch (who also co-scripted with Weir), has a score by Maurice Jarre (although I later learned that my favorite piece was written by Vangelis for another film entirely), and co-stars Linda Hunt in her Oscar-winning performance (as a man, yet).  Note for trivia buffs—Gibson’s character is the namesake of Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton.  Coincidence?

Yellow Submarine:  I think you either love this one, as Alexandra does, or hate it, like Loreen and Gilbert.  Since the Beatles are my favorite group EVER, you do the math, even though the Fab Four did not voice the dialogue for their animated likenesses.  It features a bunch of their best songs (e.g., “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “All You Need Is Love,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Nowhere Man,” “A Day in the Life”), amidst surrealistic Peter Max-style animation, as they try to save Pepperland from the ravages of the Blue Meanies.  “O-BLUE-TERATE THEM!”

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Pumping Irony

Top 10 Post-Gubernatorial Schwarzenegger Films

Quadruplets
The Penultimate Action Hero
Terminator 5: Social Insecurity
Incomplete Recall
Conan the Geriatric
The Depend-ables
Dry Heat
Hercules in Boca Raton
Lightly Poached Deal
Shingles All the Way

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