Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Only Man To Leave The Mafia And Live!


From Pinnacle, the publisher that brought you the Executioner, the Penetrator, the Destroyer and the Death Merchant, comes...the Butcher. The Butcher's real name is Bucher, an ex-Mafia chieftain who grew a conscience and left the mob...which nobody does and lives. With a $1 million bounty on his head, the Butcher is recruited by a super-secret government agency known as White Hat, which not even the FBI or the CIA is aware of. Turning to White Hat as a way to atone for his sins, Bucher doesn't even take a government salary, living off his blood money stashed away in Swiss bank accounts and traveling the world righting wrongs and killing a whole lotta bad dudes.

In 1980's SEPTEMBER SLAUGHTER (also known as SLAUGHTER IN SEPTEMBER), written by Stuart Jason (who may be prolific paperback author Michael Avallone), the Butcher is in Reno, where he teams up with lovely red-haired CIA agent Susan Raintree to investigate labor uprisings across the West. Someone, presumably mobsters, is inciting union strikes and rioting in an attempt to knock off small businesses and leave the field wide open for their own fronts to thrive. After a shootout in Nevada, Bucher and Raintree hop a cab driven by avuncular Turkey Tomlin to Stockton, California; who woulda guessed that Stockton was such a hotbed of crime?

A lot of shooting and a little bit of sex gussy up this fast-moving thriller, which seems little more than "Executioner Lite." It's a breezy read, however, and, like most of its ilk, can be zipped through in just a couple of hours.

As you have probably already noticed, among the best parts of these novels are their painted covers. This one is by Fred Love, whoever he is.

Robert Goulet, R.I.P.

The star of ABC's shortlived spy drama BLUE LIGHT--and, of course, the great singer--Robert Goulet is dead at age 73.

Nerd Herd

NBC's CHUCK is my favorite new show of the fall season. Okay, so I've only seen a handful of new shows, but CHUCK is officially my favorite. It's THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (if that show was centered around the civilian sidekicks spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin recruited in every episode) updated for the 21st century.

I wrote about my favorable impression of the pilot in an earlier post, but another reason I'm really digging this well-crafted combination of slacker comedy and campy spy action is its opening titles. Yep, not only is CHUCK a throwback to the light action shows of the 1970s and '80s, but it's also one of the few current hour shows to feature a full-fledged title sequence. It's funky, happy and fully encapsulates the style and tone of the show. Set to Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," here's CHUCK:

Time Has Just Begun

Ever wondered where ABC swiped the concept for its hit TV series LOST? It just had to go back to its own fall schedule, 35 years earlier. Meet THE NEW PEOPLE.

In the fall of 1969, ABC attempted a bold experiment. Breaking away from the normal block of 30- and 60-minute series, ABC scheduled two 45-minute shows to air back-to-back on Monday nights: THE MUSIC SCENE and THE NEW PEOPLE. Neither show lasted the whole season, but were valiant attempts to program directly at the youth audience. Unfortunately for ABC, those viewers were watching ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN on NBC.

THE MUSIC SCENE is on DVD, and you can check it out if you like. It consisted of the week's top pop songs performed on stage or in video clips, and it was hosted by several hip young hosts, including Lily Tomlin and David Steinberg. The hosts could occasionally be downright nasty concerning songs they didn't like--The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" received several raspberries, and guest star Tom Smothers was downright rude to Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee". Only Steinberg lasted the entire run anyway, but the music was frequently great.

On the other hand, THE NEW PEOPLE is practically a lost show. Its 45-minute (with commercials) length made it impossible to rerun, and only the pilot seems to be available in bootleg form. Aaron Spelling was the executive producer, and THE NEW PEOPLE was created by Rod Serling, who penned the pilot episode using the name "John Phillips", which likely means it was futzed with by either Spelling or ABC.

A disparate group of American college students, on their way home from a tumultuous tour of Asia, is caught in a violent storm, and their plane crashlands on a remote island in the South Pacific. The only adult survivor is Hannicek (Richard Kiley), the State Department liaison. Luckily for the castaways, the island is not completely deserted. While exploring, the kids discover an empty city that closely resembles a Hollywood backlot (enabling ABC to shoot on an actual backlot, rather than going on location every week). It turns out they have landed on Bonamo, an abandoned U.S. atomic test site, which the government left loaded with food, water, shelter, weapons, even dune buggies. But no radio.

At first, the students turn to alcohol and partying to alleviate their stress at being stranded on an island, which turns bad when a redneck football player gets drunk and destroys their signal fire just as an airplane flies overhead, just to spite one of the black students. Hannicek, aided by ex-Marine George Potter (Peter Ratray), just about the only level-headed youth on the island, manages to quell a lynch mob before dying of the wounds he sustained in the crash. At the pilot's end, it appears as though Hannicek's passing has sobered up the group enough to realize that they're on Bonamo for the long haul, and it's time to start their new civilization.

Although several dozen youths survived the crash, like LOST, it appears as though the show would have focused on just a few, including Potter, icy rich blonde Susan Bradley (Tiffany Bolling), angry black Gene Washington (David Moses), bigoted Southerner Bob Lee (Zooey Hall) and Ginny Loomis (Jill Jaress). Also like LOST (and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, for that matter), being stranded on a deserted island didn't stop guest stars from stopping by.

While the pilot suffers a bit from Serling's preachy writing and unlikable characters (appealing to the youth audience is difficult when the U.S. government authority figure is the smartest and most sensible character, though that may be my age talking...), THE NEW PEOPLE is obviously a great premise that allows for the examination of a myriad of social issues, including race, war, feminism, gun control, classism--undoubtedly all of which became sources of episodes. Competition was too strong, however, and THE NEW PEOPLE barely made it into 1970, getting canceled after sixteen episodes.

For all of LOST's success, it is still inferior to THE NEW PEOPLE in one regard, in that the '60s series attempted to be about something in a way in which no modern television drama can match.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stay Away Or Die


Now here is a major badass. Brett Wallace is the Ninja Master, a former San Francisco restaurant owner whose parents and Japanese wife are murdered by vicious bikers. When the courts set the killers free, Brett murders them, then heads to Japan, where he trains under the tutelage of master Yamaguchi to become the first American ninja, a few years before Michael Dudikoff did the same in the Cannon film series of that name.

That all happens in the first Ninja Master novel. In Warner Books' second, MOUNTAIN OF FEAR, published in 1981, Wallace travels to a small town in Virginia where female travelers are being abducted by the corrupt local sheriff and his deputies, who rape them and then send them "up the mountain," where they become subjects for inhuman experiments being carried out by former Nazi scientist Nathan Tyler. Author Ric Meyers, writing as "Wade Barker," establishes the Ninja Master as a fighting expert not at all squeamish about gore. Limbs fly, skin is flayed, blood spurts, and the body count is astounding. If MOUNTAIN OF FEAR has a weakness, it's that Wallace's opponents are mostly redneck ex-cons grossly outmatched by the Ninja Master's powers. On the other hand, the racist villains are so hateful and cruel that it's a pleasure to read of their callous destruction, usually at the point of Brett's kitana, shuriken or samurai sword.

According to John Charles, Meyers wrote a dozen Ninja Master novels, and if they're all as sleazy and blood-soaked as this one, I'm going to have to read the rest. They must have been successful, as Meyers claims the Ninja Master series was the only one to outlast Warners' "Men of Action" line of paperback thrillers.

Stranglehold

"The Penetrator" is Mark Hardin, who, unfortunately, did not acquire his nickname because of his skills with the ladies. 1979's SHOWBIZ WIPEOUT is the first of Pinnacle's Penetrator paperbacks I have read, but I was able to ascertain that Hardin is a half-Cheyenne Vietnam vet who turned to anonymous crimefighting after the murder of his wife. He isn't connected with any official government agency, but he has U.S. backing, operating out of a secret base in California. In addition to his fighting and firearm skills, he carries a few gadgets, such as smoke and tear gas bombs. He also wears ultra-thin plastic "second-skin" gloves with fake fingerprints on the tips, so that he can never be traced.

One interesting aspect of the Penetrator novels is that the hero apparently has his own Javert, an FBI agent named Goodman who is obsessed with capturing Hardin. SHOWBIZ WIPEOUT opens with Goodman frustrated because, after one year of chasing the Penetrator around the country, where he is suspected of murdering dozens of mobsters and other assorted bad guys, the bureau has pulled the agent from the case, no closer to the Penetrator's identity or whereabouts than he was when he started. I presume Goodman also appears in several other Penetrator entries.

SHOWBIZ WIPEOUT is more like a traditional private-eye novel than a typical men's action novel. The violence is not graphic, and the sex is nil, as Hardin refuses to get close to anyone, so that they can never be used against him as bait or objects of vengeance. It moves briskly enough at 164 pages, and finds the Penetrator in Hollywood, where a mysterious new talent agency appears to be strongarming major stars into signing with it. It's a ploy by the agency's owner, an embittered ex-producer who was blackballed by the movie industry after an embezzling scandal, who plans to anonymously sign the biggest stars and then hold them out from the studios for huge salaries. The Penetrator, aided by a beautiful private investigator named Angelina Perez, disguises himself as a potential matinée idol named Lance Lansing to ferret out the killer's identity.

Credited to Lionel Derrick, SHOWBIZ WIPEOUT (and, apparently, all the Penetrator's even-numbered novels) was written by Chet Cunningham.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rise: Blood Hunter

Yeah, I don't really know what that title means either. In fact, not much about 2007's RISE: BLOOD HUNTER rates very high on the comprehension scale, and I'm afraid we're seeing the true colors of writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez. I liked his first film, 1998's JUDAS KISS, which was an unusually cast crime drama with some style. Carla Gugino, then best known for her short run on the sitcom SPIN CITY, and Gil Bellows were part of a gang of kidnappers who murdered the wife of a U.S. senator, putting Louisiana cops Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson on the case.

Gugino became Gutierrez's muse on- and off-screen, as he went on to direct her in the cable thriller THE SHE CREATURE, write a script for her KAREN SISCO television series, and co-star her once again in his third and most recent film as a director, RISE: BLOOD HUNTER. Samuel Goldwyn Films dumped it into a few dozen theaters for two weeks over the summer. Hardly anyone saw it, and its U.S. advertising campaign (that poster is from the Japanese release), which focused on Lucy Liu (CHARLIE'S ANGELS) as its sole star, didn't help it (sorry, Sam, but no one has ever gone to a movie simply because Lucy Liu was in it). As a writer, Gutierrez's name appears on the box-office flops GOTHIKA, THE BIG BOUNCE and the fun campfest SNAKES ON A PLANE, and it's beginning to look as though JUDAS KISS was a fluke, rather than the beginning of a promising career.

It doesn't help that RISE, which played theatrically at 94 minutes, is not only nearly a half-hour longer on DVD, but has also been re-edited out of chronological order, making an already confused storyline play incomprehensively (there's even a dream sequence inside a dream sequence). The material just isn't strong enough to hold up over two hours, and Gutierrez doesn't appear to know how to use his cast, which isn't bad for a junky vampire movie.

Liu plays Sadie, an L.A. WEEKLY reporter who is turned into a vampire by Bishop (miscast James D'Arcy), the leader of a small sect of bloodsuckers. Unlike most of her new kind, Sadie doesn't take kindly to being a vampire, forced to kill innocent humans to feed. Custom-built crossbow in hand, Sadie reluctantly teams up with a drunken cop (THE SHIELD's Michael Chiklis), who accuses her of being the murderer of her daughter, a crime actually committed by Bishop.

As you can see, the plot is rather thin, which would be fine if it was faster and made more sense. Hell, the film barely even identifies most of its characters; the name of Chiklis' cop comes as a throwaway during the climax, and when Liu mentions someone named "Harrison," I had no idea who she was talking about until the credits rolled. The prologue featuring iconic Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) as a horny conventioneer (who gets a laugh), Cameron Richardson (NATIONAL LAMPOON PRESENTS BARELY LEGAL) as a hooker who is stripped and hung upside down, and veteran character actor Allan Rich (SERPICO) as--I think--a perverted vampire immediately gets the audience scratching its head in confusion.

I don't know who Gugino is playing; she's a vampire named Eve who helps Bishop turn Sadie, but Eve's motivation is weak, and the character accepts her fate surprisingly calmly. Gugino's part is such a throwaway (one could say the same about most of RISE's name actors) that one wonders whether Gutierrez removed footage from his longer "Uncut, Undead" DVD version. Also (barely) appearing are Samaire Armstrong, Nick Lachey, Marilyn Manson and the late Mako (THE SAND PEBBLES) in his final role. No movie ever got better by hiring good actors Carla Gugino and Robert Forster (who played daughter and father on KAREN SISCO) and giving them nothing to do. I kept wondering how RISE: BLOOD HUNTER would have been with Gugino playing Sadie. Actually, I know. Not good.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Deeds, Not Words

Watching someone play this shitty Atari game for twelve hours would be more entertaining than watching MEGAFORCE again. I can't swear to it, but I'm almost positive this is BREAKING BAD star Bryan Cranston, formerly of MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, playing the MEGAFORCE game on the 2600.

The "H" Bomb!


Wow. I just read #10 in the long-running series of Death Merchant men's adventure paperbacks, and if the rest of them are anything like this, I'll have trouble putting them down, which will be bad, since I normally read just before bed. I have six or seven more already that I'm looking forward to getting into.

As in the previous nine novels, also published by Pinnacle Books, home of the legendary Mack Bolan "The Executioner" novels that inspired the Death Merchant series, 1974's THE MAINLINE PLOT finds antihero Richard Camellion battling a three-way drug cartel with branches in Marseilles, North Korea and New York City, where the Mafia plans to distribute a powerful new strain of heroin that addicts its user after just one shot. Camellion, better known as "The Death Merchant," is a freelance mercenary and master of disguise who takes on tough jobs for the U.S. government (or, presumably, anyone else who can afford him) for a pricey fee of $100,000 per mission. Judging from his modus operandi in THE MAINLINE PLOT, that appears to work out to well under $1000 per kill.

Author Joseph Rosenberger, who is credited with all 71 Death Merchant novels (and may actually have written them all), may not be much for characterization or elaborate plotting, but he sure knows pacing. Of THE MAINLINE PLOT's 184 pages, I'd estimate that 125 of them are action setpieces, as Camellion busts caps into bad guys in his hotel room, a Hong Kong restaurant, a French mobster's country estate and wine cellar, a Brooklyn wrecking yard and a hospital supply building used as a front for Italian-American mobsters (Camellion disguises himself as a black mailman to gain entry, including "cocoa brown" face mask, "kinky" hairpiece and gloves that resemble skin). Many of these locations house dozens of armed men who are slaughtered by the Death Merchant in spectacularly bloody fashion. For the climax, the Death Merchant arms himself with a special CIA-created submachine gun called the "Blaster," which uses a clip that holds over 3000 (!) bullets that explode on contact, so that Camellion's enemies are not only shot dead, but also missing hands, legs, faces, heads...

I can't believe nobody ever made a Death Merchant movie (or an Executioner movie, for that matter). In the '70s when these novels were at their height (Pinnacle released about four per year), Joe Don Baker would have been great casting for a taut, gritty, succinct potboiler directed by Phil Karlson or John Flynn, who directed Baker in the very good WALKING TALL and THE OUTFIT, respectively.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

John And Paul Meet Joe

Sure looks like an odd assemblage, doesn't it? That's John Lennon and Paul McCartney guesting on THE TONIGHT SHOW at the height of the Beatles' popularity--May 14, 1968, to be exact. Johnny Carson was off that night, and the photo shows sportscaster (and former major league catcher) Joe Garagiola guest-hosting with actress Tallulah Bankhead on his left and Ed McMahon on the edge of the couch. Amazingly and tragically, this episode no longer exists, as NBC destroyed almost all of the early TONIGHT SHOWS, as well as its game shows, other talk shows and just about every other videotaped shows from the time period.

Thankfully, some photos and a transcript exists of the interview, which is presented here. Garagiola, who had a good sense of humor, comes across as something of a clueless though amiable square, but he probably had a good time with Paul and John, who are as irreverent as always. It would have been fascinating to see how they would have interacted with Carson, a master of televised conversation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Satan Has Created The Perfect Killer

I used to have this 1-sheet hanging on the living room wall of my trailer years ago when I lived in Carbondale after college. A real conversation piece, wouldn't you say? I might even still have it in my basement someplace.

I saw THE FIRST POWER when it came out in 1990. Like everyone else who saw it then, I didn't remember very much about it, except that it was stupid, but kind of entertaining. Revisiting it on DVD, it turns out I was correct. It's very stupid, but, man, is it ever entertaining? This is Crappy Moviemaking, my friends.

27-year-old Lou Diamond Phillips is ridiculously miscast as a badass Los Angeles homicide detective named Russell Logan, who is L.A.'s King of Serial Killer Tracking. Some baffling police work somehow leads Logan to the Pentagram Killer, Patrick Channing (hideous Jeff Kober, perfectly cast as a creepy bastard), who sacrifices his victims to the Devil and carves pentagrams in their chests. An anonymous tipster warns Logan not to send Channing to the gas chamber (like an L.A. cop has anything to do with the decision), and after the killer's execution, one of Logan's fellow detectives is found murdered in an identical manner, right down to the knife wounds on her chest.

Reluctantly teaming with the anonymous phone caller, a beautiful red-haired psychic named Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith), Logan slowly comes to realize that Channing has returned from Hell and is possessing human bodies to carry out his murderous vendetta. What's really funny about Phillips' character is that, despite what the other characters tell us about him, he's really an inept cop. Nothing he does has any positive impact on his investigation or pursuit, even though we're supposed to identify with his lone wolf. When he captures Channing at the beginning, he runs out of bullets (and throws his gun at the villain!), then is stabbed several times in the stomach before help arrives to apprehend the killer. Logan gets his ass kicked by just about every opponent, including a ninja-like bag lady right out of a Ronny Yu movie who floats up to the cop's loft and perpetrates some kung fu on Lou's not-bad self.

Writer/director Robert Resnikoff, whose only film THE FIRST POWER is (I'm curious as to who he was and what happened to him), does have a knack for handling stunts and action scenes. The pacing is good, and the chases and action is brisk. There's a cool spinning car jump and crash, and a stuntman playing Channing leaps off a tall building, lands on his feet, and runs off, all in one shot. I don't know how he accomplished this, unless it was an early example of visual effects using computers to "wipe away" the stuntman's bungee wires.

Between the silly plot, Logan's incompetence and the lousy acting, THE FIRST POWER provides much to laugh at, but the ending is a real howler. Once you learn that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power keeps gigantic vats of boiling acid (!) in its basement, you'll be wondering whether this movie was being written as it was being filmed. Maybe Resnikoff was a big BATMAN fan, who the heck knows?

THE FIRST POWER is not a good movie, but if you enjoy lovable crap, you need to check it out.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Who Is Huntington Cage?

Here's a high-concept novel that has "made-for-TV pilot" written all over it. I'm thinking Christopher George and Jennifer O'Neill as the leads with John Llewellyn Moxey directing. Let's see what you think.

THE LADY KILLERS, published by Popular Library in 1975, is the first novel in Alan Riefe's CAGE series about twin detectives in New York City. The gimmick is that nobody knows they are twins. Each brother keeps the other's identity a secret, so that they can (literally) be in two places at the same time. Hunt Cage is the real private eye, operating out of Manhattan, while twin Hadley (or "Lee) works as a painter in Palisades, New Jersey. Whenever Hunt gets into a tight spot, he signals Lee to help bail him out by posing as Hunt somewhere else. Honestly, I didn't really understand the advantage of pretending to be the same person, as it takes a lot of work for the two men to pull off the charade, and it seems as though they could be more effective working in the open as partners.

Riefe's novel is basically a straightforward crime drama with Hunt tracking down The Chain of Silk: a five-member team of hired assassins, all of whom are beautiful young woman. Their leader, Marie Visconti, is the daughter of a Mafia chieftain who put out a hit on Hunt. Cage survived four bullets to the chest, but Lee killed the senior Visconti out of revenge. Marie retaliated by blowing up Hunt's apartment, which resulted in the death of his cop girlfriend.

No graphic violence or sex in this one, but Riefe presents plenty of action scenes: gun battles, chases, car crashes, pursuits through the wilderness. Its 173 pages move very quickly at the expense of characterization (we learn almost nothing about the five villainesses, and most of them aren't even given names). Riefe penned at least six CAGE novels during the 1970s, but THE LADY KILLERS (the clever title takes on a meaning different than what I expected when I began reading it) is the only one I have.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nothing Will Prepare You

THE HAND is the only DVD in Warner Brothers' TWISTED TERROR COLLECTION that offers an audio commentary track. Oliver Stone, who adapted a novel by Marc Brendel, provides his running thoughts on THE HAND, which was his second feature as a director (after 1974's SEIZURE) and his first for a Hollywood studio. I don't think it's a very successful film, though it does have its moments of suspense and develops themes of obsession and paranoia that run throughout Stone's later, more famous films.

1981's THE HAND is a "psychological thriller" starring Michael Caine as Jonathan Lansdale, a comic-strip artist whose career is jeopardized when he loses his drawing hand in an auto accident (re-created in an excitingly edited and brutally realistic manner by Stone and his special effects crew). Frustrated by his employers' attempt to keep the strip alive with inferior artists and by his wife Anne's (Andrea Marcovicci) lack of interest in their marriage, Jon, on the verge of cracking up, moves alone out West to teach art at a small college. There he becomes involved with a sexy student (Annie McEnroe) amid a series of murders that may or may not be the handiwork of Caine's missing hand, which was never found after the accident. Could the five-fingered fiend have a mind of its own, killing indiscriminately? Could Caine be manifesting his own inner rage in the form of the hand? Or maybe it's all a figment of his--and our--imagination?

THE HAND's strength lies in its ambivalence between Grand Guignol horror and psychological terror, not letting us know exactly what's going on until the very end. When Stone throws us another curve. Caine is excellent in the lead, registering confusion, rage, paranoia and dementia in a manner we hadn't seen before, at least not from Caine, who normally played good guys. Stone used to disclaim his early horror movies in print, often considering SALVADOR his "first movie," though he seems to have come around, judging from his commentary track. As with any of a director's early work, Stone finds faults here and there, but seems to overall be quite fond of THE HAND. He originally filmed it with less overt horror scenes than are in it now, the product of studio-ordered reshoots he willingly complied with. I think THE HAND would work better with either more straight horror or less, but the fence-walking approach tends to water down the suspense, I think.

THE HAND is not a bad picture, but a frustratingly obtuse one. I recommend it for Caine's performance and for the thrilling stunt sequence.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tim McCarver Is An Idiot

Goddamn it, why does Fox continue to employ Tim McCarver as a commentator on its postseason baseball telecasts? McCarver is far and away one of the worst baseball announcers in broadcast history, and you can count on him to say something stupid every time he's on the air.

Tonight, during Game 2 of the Boston/Cleveland American League Championship Series, McCarver said Mike Lowell, who had 120 RBIs during the regular season, "drove in more runs batted in...more runs...than any other Boston third baseman." Considering Lowell played 154 games and 1324 innings at third, and the runner-up with Kevin Youkilis at 13 games and 108 innings, I'd say that's about the most useless analysis McCarver could have come up with. Lowell tossed the ball around the horn between innings more than any other Boston third baseman too. You know why? Because he's the only Boston third baseman!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pulsar #1


THE LONDON SWITCH is nowhere near as oddball or kinky as the other paperback thrillers I've been reading lately. It's the first novel in Robin Moore and Al Dempsey's Pulsar International series, and it was released by Pinnacle Books in 1974. It must not have been successful, because there was only one more Pulsar novel, which I also own.

THE LONDON SWITCH is a straightforward chase thriller starring Tim Kyle, the vice-president of Pulsar, an international security agency that develops and sells elaborate surveillance and security systems to governments and corporations all over the world. Kyle is in business with his old friend Glenn Luther, whom he met during the Korean War. Kyle's gimmick is his computer brain, which he uses to calculate probabilities and risk equations in the blink of an eye whenever he gets into physical trouble. It isn't much of a gimmick, really, though Moore (who penned THE FRENCH CONNECTION, which was later adapted for the Oscar-winning film) and Dempsey get right into it, starting Chapter 1 with an attempt on Tim's life and his lightning-fast analytical response to escaping.

On a visit to London for a top-secret meeting with Pulsar's competitor, whom Tim and Glenn believe is pirating clients from them, Kyle is accused of a murder he didn't commit and goes on the run. The chief cop on his tale is Lar O'Brien, another old friend of Tim's. The international adventure jumps borders to take us into Ireland and Luxembourg, where the climax plays in a beautiful old castle fortified with the latest security technology.

THE LONDON SWITCH moves briskly enough and is written competently, but without much excitement. You won't have any trouble anticipating the plot twists, and it feels like I've seen this movie several dozen times. If you're into sex and violence, you won't find them here either.

Pulsar International #2 was THE ITALIAN CONNECTION, published in 1975, but that was it for Tim Kyle's adventures. And I doubt anyone misses them very much.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sorry, Your Party Is Dead

I'm going to try to post several reviews of horror movies during October. However, this is customarily the month in which I watch the fewest films, as the new fall TV season and the baseball postseason horn in on much of my viewing time. I do want to at least get through Warners' recent TWISTED TERROR COLLECTION, which packages together six fright films on DVD for the first time in nice-looking presentations. Five of them are SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME! (a John Carpenter made-for-TV movie made just before HALLOWEEN), DR. GIGGLES (with L.A. LAW's Larry Drake as a mad cutter), DEADLY FRIEND (directed by Wes Craven), THE HAND (including an audio commentary by director Oliver Stone) and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, an Amicus anthology based on EC Comics stories of the 1950s along the lines of TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR.

The sixth is EYES OF A STRANGER, a 1981 thriller directed by Ken Wiederhorn, a reluctant horror filmmaker who nevertheless made the marvelously creepy SHOCK WAVES in 1976. He followed it up with the cult comedy KING FRAT, a cheap, raucous ripoff of ANIMAL HOUSE that has its fan base, and, yeah, I'll admit it, I'm one of them. I'll have to write about KING FRAT one of these days.

Wiederhorn's third film was EYES OF A STRANGER, which encountered turbulence during production and again right afterwards. When Warner Brothers originally released this Miami-lensed thriller, most of Tom Savini’s gory makeup effects had been excised to appease the MPAA and induce an R rating. Ironically, the screenplay by Ron Kurz (who, as Mark Jackson, also worked with director Wiederhorn on KING FRAT) was supposed to be about a strangler, but the producers brought in Savini at the eleventh hour and made the killer a psycho slasher in order to capitalize on the success of FRIDAY THE 13TH and its many imitators. Since little of Savini’s work remained in the film, one wonders what the point was. Now you can figure it out for yourself, as Warners has released on DVD the uncut version with all the gore for the first time in the U.S. Although the DVD box carries an R rating, it actually contains the violence that was cut out before the film's theatrical (and later home video) release. While Savini’s work is very good, if not particularly flashy, I think it may actually work against the film. Wiederhorn made a suspense thriller--not a slasher flick--and the graphic killings feel out of place, though I am happy to finally see them.

It was during principal photography or maybe shortly before that the director received word from Warner Brothers that the studio was sending Savini down to the Florida location to add graphic gore effects to the film. Wiederhorn resented it, but he doesn't appear to have phoned in his direction. EYES OF A STRANGER is no classic, but it's a good-looking suspenser with fine performances and unsettling violence and nudity.

Tewes, then a regular on THE LOVE BOAT making her only starring appearance in a feature, is top-billed as Jane Harris, a crusading Miami television reporter. She lives in a high-rise apartment with her younger sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, receiving “Introducing” credit), who has been deaf, blind and mute since she was molested as a child. While investigating the recent serial rapes and murders of young women, Jane accidentally discovers--or at least suspects--that one of her neighbors, a portly, bespectacled man named Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti, the John Belushi-like “Grossout” of Wiederhorn’s KING FRAT), is the killer. We know that he is; Jane only thinks so, so she begins taunting him with threatening phone calls and breaks into his apartment to search for evidence, which leads to a REAR WINDOW-like climax.

The screenplay by Kurz, who went on to help create the character of Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, offers nothing new or substantive to the slasher genre. The performances are stronger than usual for the genre, however, with DiSanti quite effective as the seemingly normal murderer and Leigh--in her film debut--demonstrating the poise and courage that made her one of Hollywood’s most in-demand young actresses. Although it cost less than $1 million to make, it looks more expensive with its polished production values and nice Richard Einhorn score.

Warners delivers a nice-looking DVD, though it has no chapter menu (what's up with that?), and it doesn't even have a trailer (I think including a trailer is the least a studio could do with a catalog title). Something I noticed that I don't recall seeing on the (dark) VHS is that Jennifer Jason Leigh has a black eye during the last half of the film. This is on her face before anything has occurred on-screen that could have caused it. There must have been a scene that Wiederhorn cut that explains her mouse. I wonder if it still exists.

Part of the fun--for me--of watching EYES is counting the number of KING FRAT actors that show up. I saw at least three in the first five minutes, and I think there are a total of four in the film. DiSanti is quite good, and the way he dresses and moves tells us as much as we need to know about his character. He's mysterious, and Wiederhorn adds an important touch by subtly showing us the porn collection stashed away in DiSanti's closet. It brings up some intriguing questions, one being, why does a single man have to hide his porn? I think it makes the viewer wonder a bit about the character's background. Perhaps I'm putting more thought into it than Wiederhorn did, but I wish Warners had tabbed the director for a commentary.

Lauren Tewes is fine. Looks like being the female lead on a hit sitcom didn't necessary translate to important film roles back then either, though I wonder whether she knew she was signing on to a slasher movie when she agreed to do the film. It doesn't appear to have done anything for her career. Of course, what really killed her career was her highly publicized drug problem that caused her to become unreliable and forced her LOVE BOAT producers to can her while the sitcom was still very popular. She eventually straightened herself out, but Tewes never did very much on television after her LOVE BOAT firing, and she certainly never again headlined a feature, not even a slasher flick.

EDIT: EYES OF A STRANGER is the latest entry in Final Girl's Film Club, so see Stacie's site to find out what the other cool kids think of the movie.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Live White Cargo

In 1974, Leisure Books released the first in its SHANNON series of trashy mens adventure paperback novels penned by Jake Quinn. #1, titled THE UNDERTAKER, introduces Patrick Shannon, an American secret agent who works for a government agency called MORITURI, which is based beneath a Catholic church in New York City where his boss, Number One, poses as a priest. Shannon lives in a two-story penthouse apartment with his houseboy/assistant/sidekick/cook Joe-Dad, who is half-Chinese/half-black.

Shannon investigates the disappearance of his latest girlfriend, Gilly, whose fate appears to be tied to a mysteriously indolent funeral parlor in his neighborhood. Deducing that Gilly's kidnapping is tied to the disappearance of several other famous, beautiful, blond women from New York, Shannon convinces Number One to let him officially look into the case, of which he does a poor job. First, the Russian ice skater he's bodyguarding is swiped right from under his nose (Shannon is rescued from drowning on a melting ice rink by her pet seal!). Then, after he is given a physical makeover in order to disguise himself as the lover of a prominent Swedish actress, they both are kidnapped while frolicking nude in a fountain.

This is where THE UNDERTAKER really kicks in and becomes kinky. Shannon and the actress, Risa, are taken to a private island near Jamaica, where the owner, an unusually hairy Italian dwarf named Viserba, holds prisoner one beautiful blonde for each day of the week (Risa is Sunday). Every day, he has sex with the woman designated for that particular day. Also on the island are Frau Berger, a German plastic surgeon who is developing a method that will not only allow her to remove Viserba's legs and replace them with full-sized prosthetics, but will completely change the little man's features to make him handsome. When he discovers Shannon on the island, he not only wants the gorgeous agent's face, but his magnificent member as well. However, Frau Berger, a lesbian, is torn by Shannon's awesome masculinity, and becomes a ravaging nymphomaniac who not only falls prey to the agent's manipulative seductions, but vows not to let her boss take away his you-know-what. The other member of Viserba's team is Gator, a hideously malformed brute with sharpened teeth and bumpy skin who looks forward to tossing Shannon into his pit of hungry alligators.

Although it took THE UNDERTAKER awhile to really get going, the second half has enough goofy kinks in it to make it worth reading. Shannon has an absurd amount of sex--ten different partners in fewer than 200 pages--with Quinn really piling on the silly prose to describe the encounters, which are surprisingly conservative--one might think Shannon might want to spice things up on occasion. The violence factor is quite low, and even when the villains get their comeuppance in the final chapter, Quinn handles it quickly without much muss. Leisure calls THE UNDERTAKER "rollicking adventure with the wildest secret agent since James Bond," which isn't true in the slightest, but it is a fast, fun read.

And One More TNT

Okay, one more TNT novel, the last one I have (though I need to track down more). In the fifth in Doug Masters' paperback series (I missed #4, THE DEVIL'S CLAW), KILLER ANGEL, Tony Nicholas Twin is vacationing in Greece, where he receives a message that October, his retarded 16-year-old daughter, is ill at the Twins' Ireland home. His charter plane is diverted to Albania, where he is arrested for spying (it's a long story) and ends up a prisoner of Giallica Kadar, the young wife of the impotent president of Albania who entertains her husband by having sex with men who resemble Joseph Stalin while he watches from behind one-way glass. Giallica is organizing her insidious version of the Olympics, which she calls the Hercules Games. To train her athletes, she has enlisted Wolfgang Amadeus, a madman who floats above the ground on his metal legs which contain a radio, tape recorder and even a laser that fires from his left kneecap.

Of course, Twin becomes one of Giallica's athletes and must compete in her diabolical events, like outracing a tank before a hail of machine gun bullets mows him down or swimming in a pit of carbonic acid while a scuba-suited killer with a flamethrower filled with napalm stalks him. TNT is also forced to make love to a dozen women one at a time while Giallica watches; if he fails to bring one to orgasm, Giallica will kill her.

Yep, it's another incredibly screwed-up TNT novel, though I suspect someone else besides the original "Doug Masters" wrote this one. It's not unusual for quickie paperback series to be written by different authors under a house name, and KILLER ANGEL's style is different than the others I've written. TNT's thoughts are revealed more often, and Arnold Benedict is written to be almost likable, more like comic relief than the sick, paranoid, murderous pervert we've seen in previous books.

I believe there are at least seven TNT novels, and I don't see any way I can avoid reading the rest of them. I'm hooked on the crazy.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More TNT

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Doug Masters' novel TNT, which I described as "perhaps the craziest book I've ever read." I'm not surprised to note that its sequels are also in the running for that title. Also from 1985 is the second TNT book, THE BEAST, which establishes Masters' routine of placing his hero into highly imaginative and frequently sick deathtraps. I'd be curious to know who "Masters" really is (I presume it's the pseudonym of an author whose "day job" was something more respectable), as he is blessed/cursed with a gloriously sick mind. I imagine he used these TNT books as a fun way to let his imagination run wild, as they seem to have been written very quickly, and his editor at Charter Books must have given him a free hand--I can't imagine an idea too far out for a TNT book.

In THE BEAST, Anthony Nicholas Twin (whose middle name was Nelson in the first book) is once again waylaid by wealthy scumbag Arnold Benedict, this time by drugging Twin and placing him into a twin-engine Blackbird on auto-pilot (flying at 200,000 feet!) and sending it into Soviet air space, which is where TNT is when he awakens and is given his reluctant mission. He is to infiltrate an awful Soviet gulag and rescue a prisoner who wishes to defect to the U.S.--a prisoner who has invented some sort of incredible weapon that nobody knows about, not even what form the weapon takes. Twin, who was imbued with superhuman senses after exposure to a nuclear explosion (including advanced sight and hearing and the ability to pleasure women for hours!), attempts to skip out on Benedict's folly, but his Soviet contacts have their own reasons for wanting Twin inside the prison, and their influence is stronger than Twin himself.

The deathtrap is a large dome inside the prison where the weapon, called The Beast, is hidden. At the top of the dome is a graveyard of sorts where thousands of tortured, flayed bodies are hung from the ceiling by wires with flesh and blood dripping off. It's also the setting for TNT's sex scene with a 20-year-old virgin guerrilla, and where he escapes in The Beast, which turns out to be an airplane-hangar-sized flying vehicle painted bright pink that weighs 700 tons and is impervious to all weaponry, including a nuclear bomb. That's the way Doug Masters rolls, folks.

In SPIRAL OF DEATH, the third of four TNT novels Charter released in 1985, Twin is sent to Bolivia to find out what criminal mastermind is destroying the world's Cuban cigars. It's a bad dude named Torquemada, who is using his Black Army to find a legendary mountain of gold located somewhere in South America. TNT infiltrates the Black Army and encounters another deathtrap, this one a giant building shaped like a spiral, in which he has only one hour to reach the top. Obstacles include gas, buzzsaws and razor blades. Since Twin's incursion into the Spiral of Death occurs in the middle of the book, I couldn't wait to discover how the hell Masters would top it in the second half. And talk about a twist! Twin and a sexy teenage temptress named Epifania (Masters has a knack for absurd character monikers) discover an underground society of pacifists who do nothing but make love to each other. The valley lies beneath a lake bed with a crystal bottom, allowing the sun's rays to provide heat and light. The huge valley includes trees, lakes, waterfalls...and, yes, more gold than any hundred men could ever spend.

Nothing in these books is to be taken seriously, since nothing and no one within them behaves with any real-world logic. I've got one more TNT book on the shelf that I can't wait to get to. Believe me when I say that Masters' novels are much stranger than I have indicated.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Feed Me, Seymour

Screenwriter Charles B. Griffith has passed away at age 77. For those of you with a passion for Crappy Movies, Griffith was a master of writing them, including LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (which Roger Corman directed in just over two days!), A BUCKET OF BLOOD, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, DEATH RACE 2000, THE WILD ANGELS, ROCK ALL NIGHT, NOT OF THIS EARTH, IT CONQUERED THE EARTH and so many more genuinely entertaining and often surprisingly thoughtful low-budget genre pictures. Most of Griffith's scripts were either directed by Corman during his heyday as an exploitation filmmaker or produced for Corman's New World Pictures during the 1970s. Late in his career, Griffith became a director, though EAT MY DUST! (Ron Howard's first starring role) is his only memorable picture in this regard.

If anyone besides Corman himself (and perhaps American International Pictures president Samuel Z. Arkoff) can take credit for Corman's legacy as a director, it would likely be Griffith, who wrote most of Corman's biggest successes. THE WILD ANGELS basically created the short-lived biker movie genre of the late '60s/early '70s. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS was remade both as a film and a Broadway musical, and DEATH RACE 2000 is currently being remade for the big screen as DEATH RACE 3000. ROCK ALL NIGHT is a thoroughly entertaining picture that takes place all on one set and includes musical numbers by The Platters. Griffith's scripts were noted for their oddball scenarios and clever dialogue that outclassed most of what was playing at drive-ins then, though Corman was a bright enough filmmaker to recognize Griffith's wry subtext and take advantage of it.

Not much has been written about Griffith, to the best of my knowledge, but Aaron W. Graham interviewed him about his work three years ago. You can find it here, and I highly recommend it to fans of his and of Roger Corman's.

George Bush Hates Young People

Today, Dubya vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed health coverage for approximately five million children around America whose parents are too poor to buy insurance. I was going to write a longer post on the subject, but Mark Evanier says it all quite clearly and concisely. I recommend you read Mark's quick post, and then do some heavy reading on the subject, because it's a very important issue that, of course, the mainstream media is not covering as well as it should.

It's worth pointing out that Bush has cast four vetoes during his presidency, and all four were for bills that would have saved countless millions of lives.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Shatner's Bikini


No, unfortunately William Shatner is not seen in 1963's OPERATION BIKINI, but he does play a part in its memorable (but stupid, as Arte Johnson might say) finale. AIP house editor Anthony Carras made his directing debut with this very inexpensive black-and-white war drama with a beach party cast. It is not good at all, but I’m glad I stuck it out to the better end. Note my surprise when the closing narration was read by none other than William Shatner, who probably recorded his speech during one of his sessions dubbing star Mark Damon in AIP’s THE YOUNG RACERS. I’d be curious to know how Shatner landed these voiceover gigs, as he never starred in an AIP production and was at the time an in-demand television and stage actor too busy, one would think, for voice roles.

Lt. Hayes (Tab Hunter) and his underwater demolition team hitches a ride about a submarine captained by Carey (Scott Brady), who takes them to Bikini Atoll, so they can destroy a sunken American sub before the Japanese can salvage it. Carey’s crew resents being used as a taxi, especially because they’d rather be out firing torpedoes at the ship that sank their buddies, and Hayes’ men are uncomfortable cooped up in the sub’s tight quarters. Eventually, they get to the atoll, where Hayes’ team run into more of the enemy than they expected, as well as native girl Reiko (Eva Six), who rubs lotion on Tab’s back as foreplay the night before the big mission.

Slow pacing and dumb scripting seriously hobble this cheapie, which had to have played the back ends of AIP double bills. Carras digs a ton of stock footage out of the library to try to hold this movie together, but the tiny budget producer Sam Arkoff stuck him with meant he had to shoot everything on small sets and familiar backlots (actually, I think the GILLIGAN’S ISLAND lagoon may have been a location). At least the cast is a capable one; Frankie Avalon, Gary Crosby, Jim Backus, Jody McCrea and Aki Aleong (who still acts!) play Hunter’s team, and Michael Dante and Richard Bakalyan are on Brady’s crew. However, John Tomerlin’s screenplay makes little attempt to provide the characters with any background, outside of Crosby’s story about hunting with his dad and Avalon being girl-crazy.

Oh, yeah, Avalon. The most bizarre moments of this otherwise humdrum drama are Frankie’s musical fantasies, in which he sings two songs while he and two girls are superimposed over color jungle scenery. And for this, Frankie’s manager, Bob Marcucci, receives a “Technical Advisor Dream Sequences” credit! Even stranger is the end, where Shatner’s monologue first plays over an atomic bomb blast, which cuts to color footage of two contemporary honeys frolicking in bikinis on a beach, while the credits flash. I have no idea what Carras was doing here, except AIP probably used the bikini girls in the trailer to trick unsuspecting moviegoers. Carras, by the way, never again directed for AIP, but he did receive a promotion from editor to producer of several Beach Party movies.