Monday, October 24, 2011

French Adventures

I sent a story to Jean-Marc Lofficier at Riviere Blanche Press which is the French imprint of the same company that puts out the Tales of the Shadowmen. It's a collection of prose stories featuring characters form a French comic book line called Hexagon Comics.

The book, Dimension Super-Heroes features my story, in which Hexagon hero, Jed Puma teams with Doc Holliday to face vampires in the Old West. The story was originally titled High Noon of the Living Dead, which is a title I've wanted to use for some time. That apparantly didn't translate well so Jean-Mark changed to which translated to A Fist Full of Crucifix which is probably better title. It still plays with the title of a classic western movie, and fits with the text as Jed Puma (a cowboy who uses judo instead of a gun) finds a new use for a buddhist holy symbol called a konga or vajra.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Halloween Mood Music

I love spooky classical music, and I love music that tells a story. As Halloween approaches, I thought I'd share some of my favorite mood music.

1) "Infernal Dance" by Stravinski from The Firebird.

I've never seen the ballet, but would love to someday.

2) "Danse Macbre" Saint-Saens - The "Danse Macabre" or Dance of death was a motif in art that was really popular in Europe during periods of the Black Plague. The idea was that, when Death calls you to dance, you have to go; young or old, rich or poor, we are all equal in death.

These illustrations were dome for a PBS special in the 1980s. The music is haunting and wonderful.

3) "Mars, Bringer of War" by Holzt - Not spooky so much as ominous; I've often wondered if this was a partial inspiration for Darth Vader's theme (Imperial March),

4) In the Hall of the Mountain King - Edvard Greig. For sheer musical fun you can't beat being trapped underground with a bunch of trolls, and if the troll king's daughter wants to marry you . . . run!

I love the way this music becomes wilder and crazier by the moment as Per Gynt runs from the trolls.

5) Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorsgy (I'm probably spelling that wrong). This is the version from Walt Disney's Fantasia. The devil figure is technically Chernibog, a pre-Christian Russian god of darkness, rather than Satan, as he's introduced in the movie. Still, the image means pretty much the same thing either way. I love the drama in this from the rising of the giant devil to the way it recoils from the sound of the church bells.

By the way, the actor that Disney got to model the actions of the giant devil was Bela Lugosi.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

7 Supernatural Sleuths You May Not Know

I like scary movies, but generally don't like the traditional horror movie where you the heroes are faced with seemingly overwhelming supernatural forces, and then they all die. I much prefer movies where the characters have at least a fighting chance. That's a theme I like in shows like The X-Files (the first few seasons, anyway), Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and it's companion series Angel. In fact, I like the premise so much that I still watch Supernatural even though I think it jumped the shark after the end of season 5.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite heroes who have done their bit on film or TV to save us all from the forces of evil.

1) Carl Kolchack - In his out of date, perpetually rumpled suit, Kolchak is an everyman hero. It was refreshing to have a hero who wasn't Mr. Suave-Master-of-the-Mystic-Arts. Kolchak cared about people, but his main goal was getting a pulitzer by proving that one, just one, of his many adventures was real. Failing that he did his best to keep from getting fired from his third-rate newspaper.

2) The Duc de Richlieu - The hero of The Devil Rides Out (1968), Richelieu has the distinction of being one of the few good guys that legendary horror actor christopher Lee ever played. Lee said it was one of his favorite roles and wished that he had been able to plat the Duc in other movies. It could have happened too; "The Devil Rides Out" was an adaptation of one of a long series of supernatural thriller novels by author Dennis Wheatley featuring Richelieu and his companions. It's a shame that it didn't happen because this was a wonderfully atmospheric movie with Lee perfectly cast as Richelieu. He is a heroic man with enough occult know-how to help the heroes when they fall afoul of a diabolic cult led by the evil Mocata (based on real life occultist Alistair Crowley).

I actually like the movie better than the book in this case. Wheatley's politics comes out of the old British upper-class clubland set, and are often racist, sexist and generally offensive.

3) John Thunstone - Manly Wade Wellman's heroic champion against the forces of darkness only appeared on film once. Alex Cord played Thunstone in an adaptation of Rouse Him Not for an episode of the anthology series Monsters. It's a shame that they didn't do more of these, "Rouse Him Not" was one of the best episodes of monsters but one of the weakest of the print stories. Alex Cord did a good job as the suave and good-hearted adventurer whose silver-bladed sword cane handily dealt with the show's monster.

Alas, this version of Thunstone never got to strut his stuff against Wellman's other monsters, like the sinister Shonokins, or the evil sorcerer Rowley Thorne (inspired by real life occultist, Alistair Crowley).

It's interesting to note that two of the villains I've mentioned here, and one that I mentioned in my last post, are all inspired by Crowley.

4) David Sorrell - The hero of Fear No evil (1969) was a sauve west coast psychologist who was a little out of his depth dealing with the supernatural. Despite this, his intelligence and cool head served him well in two TV movies, though it wasn't enough to get him a series. That's a shame, because Fear No Evil, was a well written and genuinely scary story involving ghosts and a demonic mirror. The following year, Sorrell was back in another failed pilot, Ritual of Evil involving an evil cult and an immortal sorceress. Ritual of Evil was also marked by superior writing and a creepy atmosphere.

5) Tom Kovacks and Michelle Brant - In Baffled! (1973) Tom (Leonard Nimoy) is an Indy car racer who gains ESP following a crash. Michelle (Susan Hampshire) is the student of the paranormal who wants to teach him how to use his powers for good. The plot was slight and the dialogue silly, but Nimoy and Hampshire had great chemestry. It's a shame this wasn't made into a series that would have offered them some better adventures.

6) William Sebastian and "Ham" Hamilton - Spectre (1977) was yet another failed TV pilot, this time from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry featuring occult investigators in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. Sebastian (Robert Culp) is a Holmsian investigator with a brilliant mind but lacking in social skills. His Watson is Dr. Amos "Ham" Hamilton, a physician who struggles with troubles involving alcohol and women.

7) David Norliss - The last of my investigators was writer David Norliss (Roy Thinnes), kind of an upscale version of Kolchak. Norliss was the hero of The Norliss Tapes, yet another unsold TV pilot. The premise for the show was to be that Norliss had spent a year investigating occult matters only to disappear, leaving behind a box of audio tapes. Each week his publisher would listen to another tape, revealing a new adventure and, hopefully, providing another clue to what happened ot Norliss.

Looking over this list, I guess the lesson to learn is: if you create a pilot for a TV show, don't do something I'd like. It's the kiss of death.
Happy Halloween

Saturday, October 1, 2011

10 Monster Movies You Might Not Know

It's October and I decided to do something Halloween-themed with the blog this month. I am not the biggest fan of horror movies, but I love a good monster movie. There's a lot of pverlap between the two to be sure, but a monster movie always includes a monster which (in my humble opinion) is just about always better than a psychotic killer, a deadly disease, unseen demonic forces, or a number of worror elements.

Why? Because monsters are cool, of course. :-)

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite movie monsters.

1) Gargoyles (1972) This was a made for TV movie that both scared and fascinated me when I was a kid. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) is a scientist who, along with his pretty daughter, is stranded in a flyspeck of a Southwestern desert town. They discover a bizarre skeleton on display in a souvenier shop. Boley thinks the horned, clawed, and winged humanoid figure has been cobbled together from the bones of half a dozen different creatures. Of course, he's wrong; the skeleton belongs to one of a race of gargoyles that have lain dormant for centuries but are now due to reawaken.

This is a fun movie with minimal voilence and gore but a lot of tension and atmosphere. The odd mix of real folklore about gargoyles with the odd setting worked surprisingly well and Berney Casey is great as the charismatic leaders of the creatures. Watch for a very young Scott Glenn as the leader of a biker gang who decides to help our heroes.

2) Curse of the Demon / Night of the Demon (1957) This is a wonderfully scary based on a story by the brilliant English writer of ghost stories, M.R. James. The story features Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) a psychaitrist who has come to England to debunk the occult pretensions of Julian Karsewell (Niall MacGuinness), a cult leader patterned on real-life occultist Alistair Crowley.

As you might gusee, Karsewell really does have occult powers, though the movie plays this idea out with delightful subtlty. I'd love this one without the fire demon that appears briefly at the end (the producer insisted in inserting a monster against the wishes of the director and star) but it's a special treat when the beastie briefly appears.

3) The Gaint Majin (1966), Return of Gaint Majin (1966) and Wrath of the Giant Majin (1966) The three movies are all about the same monster, all very similar in plot and all came out the same year. Other than that, the plots of the movies are unrelated. The premise is simple: the majin (Japanese for "devil-god") is a supernatural being that watches over the people of a small community in feudal Japan. An evil warlord comes in, takes over, and brings great suffering. The people cry out and the stone statue of the Majin comes to life and stomps the villain out of existence.

The appeal of the Giant Majin (or Daimajin as more recent English dubs renter it) is that it is unstoppable. The warlords send their armies at it but the monster ignores arrows and musket balls, swords and spears, and brushes away warriors like they were insects. Not even explosives stop the inexprable march of the giant. It's slow, ponderous movements accompanied by the sound of impossibly heave footfalls make it the perfect embodiment of divine justice, slow but unstoppable.

4) Hellboy (2004) This one you probably know, but I had to include the Hellboy. He's a tough guy with a heart of gold; a monster cum superhero who raises kittens in his spare time; he has a fantastic character design, including an absurdly large right hand; and his movies are a rip-roaring combination of pulp adventure and old school horror. add to that the fact that Hellboy is played by Ron Perlman who has made a career of playing great characters under a ton of makeup and prostetics and you have a winner!

5) The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1957) The first of three Sinbad movies featuring special effects by legendary stop-motion animator. Kerwin Matthews is okay as the hero in this movie, which stays closer to the Arabian Nights stories than either of the sequils. The real stars are the animated skeletons, the two headed roc, the cyclops, and the dragon. The movie concludes with a rousing fight to the death between the cyclops and the dragon.

6) The Golden Voice of Sinbad (1974) The second of the Harryhausen Sinbad movies has hprehaps the best casting with John Phillip Law as our hero and Tom Baker as the evil sorcerer, Koura (the best villain in the franchise). It also features some excellent animated monsters of course, including a griffon and a one-eyes centaur. The best sequince of the movie is when a statue of the six-armed goddess Kali comes to life and engages in a srowdfight with a number of human combattants.

7) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) This is the third of the Harryhausen Sinbad movies, and possibly my favorite (though its a hard call). Ptrrick Wayne is a good Sinbad, and the young Jane Seymour is my favoirte leading lady in the series. There's also a heroic monster, a giant caveman called the Troglodyte, who accompanies our heroes and defends them in mortal compbat with a gigantic saber-toothed tiger.

That monster fight, though rousing, was actually a bit of a let down for me. I really wanted to see the Troglodytre fight the Minoton, a bull-headed mechanical man made of bronze.

8) Mighty Joe Young (1949) As you can probably tell from this list, I like monsters, but I like heroic monsters even better. You can't get much more heroic than Mr. Joseph Young, a ten foot tall gorilla who (like King Kong) is brought to civilization so the rubes can gawk at him. Poor Joe is so badly mistreated that you can't blame him when (again like King Kong) he breaks free and goes on a destructive spree. Unlike Kong, the gentle Joe can't resist his heroic impulses and risks his life and freedom when he stops to rescue a little girl from a burning orphanage.

Ahem... excuse me. I'm not tearing up, I just got an ember in my eye.

9) The Valley of Gwangi (1969) I love dinosaurs, but I doubt that anyone reading this needs me to tell them about Jurassic Park. What you may not be aware of is this much earlier, but still fun, dinosaur western. Cowboys and dinosaurs! What more do you need to know than that?

10) 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) This is the story of a little alien called Ymir (after the frost giant of Nordic myth) who hitches a ride on a probe to Venus and comes to earth. Once here, he grows into one of my favorite monsters of all time. The way Harryhausen cobbles together unique monsters and imbues them with personality is amazing. His animation may seem clumsy by our standards, used as we are to digital effects, but Ray built his creatures and then took them through the painstaking process of animating them one frama at a time. He did this by hand, and all by himself.

You've got to admire that kind of artistry and dedication.