Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home And The Dead

CARIBBEAN KILL, published by Pinnacle in February 1972, starts right where the previous Executioner novel, VEGAS VENDETTA (#9), left off. Disguised as a mobster, Mack Bolan left a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino called the Gold Duster in ruins, figuratively if not quite literally, and split with a quarter million in dough for the Caribbean on a private plane. Well, during a refueling stop in Nassau, the Mafia figured out Bolan's game and sets a trap for him at a Mob safe house called Glass Bay in Puerto Rico.

Bolan, of course, anticipates the trap and bails out of the plane, but not before aiming it at the estate, causing a giant explosion and many deaths. The first half of CARIBBEAN KILL starts to shape up like a MOST DANGEROUS GAME thing, where Bolan races through the jungle with an army of hoods on his tail. He meets up with a beautiful undercover cop named Evita Aguilar, who helps him escape. Once Bolan reaches safety, he goes on the offensive, picking up an unlikely ally and taking on a suicide mission straight into a Mafia stronghold in Haiti, where he plans to assassinate an important boss named Sir Edward.

Like most early Don Pendleton novels, CARIBBEAN KILL is a terrific action tale with suspense and clean, sometimes witty scenes of violence. The opening setpiece with Bolan diving out of an airplane before smashing it into a mansion filled with gunsels is a perfect attention-getter. The Caribbean setting is a nice change of pace from previous Mack Bolan adventures, which had taken him to Miami, London, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Pendleton also devotes space to developing the supporting players a bit, and Evita Aguilar and a reluctant Mafia chopper pilot named Jack Grimaldi apparently returned in later Executioner books.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Shot Him. You Killed Him.

Most HAWAII FIVE-0 fans will concede that "'V' for Vashon" is the series' magnum opus. The three-part episode, which CBS aired on consecutive Tuesday nights in November 1972, chronicles Five-0's attempt to destroy the Vashon crime family, the most powerful mobsters on the islands (that over 100 episodes had been produced with nary a mention of the Vashons was part and parcel for episodic TV back then). With this month's release of HAWAII FIVE-0's fifth season on DVD, you can watch one of the show's finest stories without commercial interruptions and looking better than ever.

Each "'V' for Vashon" episode carried a different subtitle. In Part 1, "The Son," Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) and his Five-0 unit—Danny Williams (James MacArthur), Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong), and Ben Kokua (Al Harrington)—look into a minor hotel robbery, when one of the victims reports he was punched by one of the three masked thieves…and has a V-shaped mark on his face to prove it. Leaving the imprint of the Vashon family crest on crime victims was a notorious tactic enforced by patriarch Dominic Vashon (Luther Adler) decades earlier, and it's easy to assume that "Nick"'s grandson Chris (Robert Drivas) is reviving the tradition.

At the end of the hour, after Chris initiates a fatal shootout with McGarrett, the boy's father Honore (Harold Gould) vows revenge. In "The Father," Honore hires professionals to arrange the top cop's assassination. After a car bomb meant for McGarrett takes out another cop instead, Honore, aided by trusted mob lawyer Tosaki (Kwan Hi Lim), brings in shades-wearing Hayward (Don Knight, who appeared on FIVE-0 six times in 12 seasons) from Melbourne and agrees to pay him $60,000 to get the job done. Five-0 tumbles to the plot and sets up a sting to trap Hayward, who testifies against Honore, who becomes the first Vashon to go to jail.

It's Dominic's turn for vengeance in "The Patriarch," who tricks three-time-loser Fred Sullivan (Robert Luck) into shooting McGarrett in a parking garage. Unbeknownst to Sullivan, his gun is loaded with blanks, and Vashon's elaborate frame makes the pistol disappear before the police arrive at the scene, making it appear as though McGarrett has killed an unarmed man. While no contemporary jury would believe McGarrett's guilt in a million years, Honolulu D.A. Manicote (Glenn Cannon) files Murder Two charges against him, which doesn't prevent the Five-0 head from asking his men to find evidence to clear him.

When they do, which involves impeaching the unimpeachable witness against McGarrett, a trusted criminal attorney named Harvey Drew (John Stalker), the confrontation involves a surprisingly mature plot point that was unusual for episodic TV at the time. The startling dénouement set in Dominic's home office is a real stunner that marks the end of the Vashons' reign over Hawaii's criminal underground.

"'V' for Vashon" was a highlight of writer Alvin Sapinsley's career. The venerable scribe had worked in television since virtually the beginning of the medium, etching credits on prominent shows like STUDIO ONE, OMNIBUS, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and THE VIRGINIAN. Sapinsley was one of hundreds of freelance writers who made early television such a diverse platform from which to tell dramatic stories of all types, basically the consummate TV dramatist. It isn't known whether "Vashon" was originally intended to be a three-parter; Sapinsley must have enjoyed the security of three confirmed paychecks from a single story.

Versatile director Charles S. Dubin bounced between comedy and drama with ease, earning three Emmy nominations for M*A*S*H episodes, but "Vashon" earned him a respected Director's Guild of America Award nomination from his peers. He lost to THE WALTONS' Robert Butler, but won the trophy the next year for directing a KOJAK. Dubin uses movement within the shot and deep focus tricks to keep the visuals lively without needing a lot of coverage. I was especially impressed with a scene in "The Father" that plays in one long shot staged inside an actual house and incorporates at least six different actors, one of whom pulls up in a car seen through the front window and enters the living room to begin his dialogue. As with any FIVE-0 episodes, particularly after the death of executive producer Leonard Freeman, star Jack Lord was the true boss on the set, and it's he and not Dubin who has to take the blame for Lord's atrocious wardrobe in this scene.

HAWAII FIVE-0 was at the top of its game during its fifth season, earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Continuing Drama Series (losing to—what else?—THE WALTONS). It was the third highest-rated television series in the U.S., behind perennial front-runner ALL IN THE FAMILY and SANFORD AND SON. With high-class scripts and productions like the "'V' for Vashon" trilogy, it's not hard to understand why.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Three On One = Cop Fun

Book #8 of the Penetrator series, NORTHWEST CONTRACT from 1975, is something of a step down, but only because there are no secret lairs or diabolical villains who want to rule the world. This time, author Chet Cunningham (as Lionel Derrick) sends his hero, ex-'Nam vet Mark Hardin, after criminals closer to reality.

After learning that an old war buddy was murdered on the job as a policeman in Seattle, the Penetrator heads north to investigate. He discovers a small ring of corrupt patrolmen and detectives are burglarizing the community they swore an oath to protect. Was his friend murdered by his colleagues in blue, because he discovered their plot? Or was he part of it?

After taking on mad scientists and global terrorists, it would seem that a handful of bad American cops would be child's play for the Penetrator, although it seems like he gets shot up a lot in this novel. It's a good little actioner that moves along quickly, and even introduces us to another of Hardin's old war buddies, the genial Zip, who doesn't let being confined to a wheelchair stop him from running his own leather shop and doing a little intel work for Hardin, whom he thinks is a private investigator.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #5

In all the decades Charlton published comic books out of its one-stop shop in Derby, Connecticut, the apocalyptic "Children of Doom" stands out as likely its more famous and powerful story. It was written and drawn very quickly for CHARLTON PREMIERE #2, after the story originally intended for the anthology book became unavailable for whatever reason. Rushing to meet a deadline, writer Denny O'Neil (using his Sergius O'Shaughnessy pseudonym) and artist Pat Boyette cranked out a Silver Age classic.

Few people noticed in 1967 when the book hit drugstores and newsstands; no one was reading Charlton comics. But in the decades since, "Children of Doom," with its mixture of color and b&w panels and reasonably provocative story, has earned much praise from comics fans, including Alan Moore. Judging from the splash page hype, it appears that editor Dick Giordano, at least, knew he had a story of long-lasting quality.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Knife In The Darkness

A television western may seem like the last place a horror fan would go for spooky thrills, but producers of the 1960s TV series CIMARRON STRIP were certainly thinking outside the box when they mounted the episode "Knife in the Darkness," which aired on CBS the night of January 25, 1968.

First, some background. CIMARRON STRIP was a co-production of CBS Television and actor Stuart Whitman, who landed the leading role of Marshal Jim Crown, who was based in bustling Cimarron City, Oklahoma and patrolled a strip of country that stretched all the way to Kansas. CIMARRON STRIP was unusual in that it was, like NBC's hit western THE VIRGINIAN, a weekly 90-minute dramatic series, which allowed the writers to explore more complex stories, provided talented guest stars (such as Joseph Cotten, Robert Duvall, Warren Oates and Tuesday Weld) with a larger canvas on which to express themselves, and lavished extra money and time upon the crew to provide uncommonly fulsome production values. In fact, it has been reported that the series' excessive budget helped lead to its cancellation after one season and 23 episodes. Perhaps airing against hits like DANIEL BOONE on NBC and BATMAN, THE FLYING NUN and BEWITCHED on ABC didn't help either.

Emphatically declaring CIMARRON STRIP's status as a small-screen epic was its opening titles. As Whitman galloped across a calico California desert, the camera swooped past him horse-high and up high into the clouds, while Maurice Jarre's sweeping theme heralded a production of some prestige. It's one of the finest credit sequences in television.

Back to "Knife in the Darkness," which is an unusually horror-themed episode for a TV western. Harlan Ellison, who has since become a renowned author of fantasy-oriented books and stories, wrote it, and journeyman Charles Rondeau directed it. Rondeau, although he did direct shows of no little style, such as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and THE WILD WILD WEST in his career, was not suited for Ellison's dark, moody story, and it is said that the writer deplored the flat, clumsy look that Rondeau brought to the episode.

Whereas producer Douglas Benton (THRILLER) and executive producer Philip Leacock (HAWAII FIVE-0) erred in using Rondeau, they positively shone in their selection of the great Bernard Herrmann to compose and conduct the "Knife" score. Herrmann had a glorious history with CBS on shows like TWILIGHT ZONE and RAWHIDE, but the favorite composer of Alfred Hitchcock's last television turn was this episode of CIMARRON STRIP. Evocative and atmospheric as hell, Herrmann helps provide "Knife" with a chill factor sadly lacking in Rondeau's direction.

Ellison's central conceit was a tried-and-true one, even in 1967 (when the episode was produced), and it had, oddly enough, been presented on an episode of STAR TREK ("Wolf in the Fold") that aired one month prior to "Knife." The idea was to take Jack the Ripper out of England and transport him to the United States, and a series set in 1888 was in the perfect position to run with Ellison's story.

Taking place over a single night, "Knife in the Darkness" opens with the bloody murder of a prostitute named Josie (Jennifer Billingsley), who had just instigated a slight brawl between a couple of cowboys at a dance. Shortly after Marshal Crown (Whitman) begins running down his long list of suspects, another prostitute is slashed to death: Maddie (Victoria Shaw), an old friend of Crown's.

Tensions run high in Cimarron, as people are either afraid to go out, causing the saloons to close early, or anxious to impulsively suspect their neighbors, which leads to the tragic lynching of an Indian (Ron Soble) at the hands of some drunken cowboys. Although "Knife" is structured as a mystery, Ellison introduces too many suspects who are underdeveloped, and Crown doesn't think much like a detective. Rondeau tries to soup up his setbound show with light and fog effects that don't compensate for the bloodless tone (of the three victims, only one is killed on-camera).

One of Crown's interviewees is a Brit named Tipton (Patrick Horgan), who believes the Cimarron slasher to be a serial killer nicknamed Jack the Ripper, who killed seven women in London before apparently leaving town the month before. Tipton believes he has followed Jack to America—from New York to Philadelphia, Kansas City and now Cimarron City. Crown finds Tipton's theory too bizarre to believe, and he has no shortage of native-born suspects, including gambler Kallman (Philip Carey), knife salesman (!) Pettigrew (Don Hamner) and soft-spoken intellectual Shelton (Tom Skerritt).

Ellison's touch is pronouncedly felt at the climax, which preserves some mystery as to the Ripper's identity and mixes in elements of Native American mysticism. Yeah, it plays somewhat like a cheat, considering the previously straightforward storytelling common to episodic television, but I think it's an effective way to end the show.

Although lacking in the location shooting CIMARRON STRIP was known for, "Knife" doesn't lack for star power. In addition to familiar TV faces then (Carey) and now (Skerritt), the show boasts a fine turn by Jeanne Cooper (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS) as a worried madam, David Canary (later on BONANZA and currently still on ALL MY CHILDREN), George Murdock, Joe E. Tata and STAR TREK yeoman Grace Lee Whitney. Outside of the busy Whitman, the series featured a small cast of supporting regulars, including the lovely Jill Townsend as a naïve innkeeper and Percy Herbert as an outspoken Scotsman, but they consistently paled alongside the more impressive guests.

CIMARRON STRIP has been airing weekly on Encore Western for some time now, so if your cable or satellite provider offers the channel, keep an eye out for "Knife in the Darkness," which is flawed, to be sure, but still an unusual and effective way to pass 74 minutes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Events Occur In Real Time

Eighteen months after the conclusion of 24's sixth season, the series continued with 24: REDEMPTION, a two-hour TV-movie designed to set up Season Seven, which was postponed due to 2008's Writer's Guild strike.

Three years after Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) saved the United States from war with the Russians and the Chinese, he appears to have found some peace in the African nation of Sangala, where he helps his old Special Forces buddy Benton (Robert Carlyle) run a boys school. That serenity is shortlived, however, when soldiers belonging to Colonel Juma (Tony Todd, recently on CHUCK) come around to kidnap Benton's boys as involuntary recruits into Juma's army.

While Bauer dodges State Department representative Frank Trammell (Gil Bellows, almost unrecognizable), who's trying to serve Jack with a subpoena to testify before a Senate subcommittee, and get the children to safety behind the U.S. embassy's bars, back home in Washington, the newly elected President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) prepares for inauguration, replacing Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe). Her son Roger (Eric Lively) figures into an unresolved subplot involving a pill-addled co-worker and government bigwig Hodges (an oily Jon Voight), who's financing Juma's revolution.

Despite the busy recap, REDEMPTION is actually light on plot and is mainly a chase movie showcasing Bauer's and Benton's desperate attempt to get their boys to the embassy before the last chopper leaves. Told in real time, Howard Gordon's teleplay keeps the suspense level high, aided by Jon Cassar's marvelous direction that includes epic action sequences of a scope rarely attempted on network television. Bauer's crackerjack shootout with Juma's men stands out as one of 24's most exciting scenes, and the production is given a tremendous boost through Fox's decision to film on location in South Africa. Cassar, cinematographer Rodney Charters and composer Sean Callery provide the film with a much-needed change of pace from the series' usual Los Angeles alleys and antiseptic government buildings.

Though the consensus is that 24's sixth season was among its worst, the REDEMPTION title applies not only to Jack Bauer, but also this movie, which demonstrates there's plenty of punch left in the bowl. 24's seventh season premieres January 11, 2009, less than two months after REDEMPTION aired on Fox.

Judas Cop

Since reading the first Narc novel back in March, I have learned that author Robert Hawkes is actually Marc Olden, the acclaimed crime novelist best known for his Black Samurai series for Signet. In fact, 1973's NARC was Olden's first fiction book following a biography of Angela Davis and an investigation into cocaine abuse. Olden wrote nine Narc novels between 1973 and 1975 for Signet, and judging from the first two, they're hard-hitting urban crime dramas masterfully rendered.

1974's DEATH OF A COURIER is a revenge tale pitting hero John Bolt against his ex-partner, a renegade D-3 agent (Department of Dangerous Drugs) on a mission to murder seven of his former colleagues in the department, including Bolt. On a routine assignment in Georgia, black Paris Whitman was picked up by two racist deputies who, not knowing he was a government agent, beat him brutally and almost to death. Whitman's mind cracked under the strain and blamed D-3 for the beating. After leaving the hospital, he burned the two deputies alive, and then, using the nickname "Apache," became a hitman and a courier for Detroit's biggest drug dealer. Between shipments, Apache begins murdering D-3 agents, one by one, waiting patiently for his shot at his former best friend, Bolt.

Exciting action sequences, such as the opening chapter pitting Bolt on horseback against four drug dealers in a snowy Central Park, are convincingly staged by Olden in a book that brooks no nonsense. At 157 pages, no words are wasted on scenes or dialogue that doesn't keep the plot moving. Like his novel, Bolt is a hero that also brooks no nonsense. While he has compassion for Paris and treasures their friendship, he isn't sentimental about killing him if necessary. John Bolt has little time for romance or even an outside life, so long as drugs are flooding the streets of America.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #4

The rare superhero(ine) to sport eyeglasses, rather than the traditional mask, to hide her secret identity, Miss America debuted in MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS #49 in 1943. I was unable to ascertain the artist who drew this splash page in SUN GIRL #1, in which Miss America played second fiddle to the title heroine, but it appears to have been written by its editor, the inimitable Stan Lee.

Surprisingly, Miss America, unlike the majority of her Golden Age Atlas/Marvel brethren, survives in today's Marvel Universe, having appeared in 2006's X-STATIX PRESENTS: DEAD GIRL

Shake, Rattle, And Yikes!

Unfortunately for me, the only thing Indiana Jones and I have in common is that we both hate snakes. Even though Florida-based filmmaker William Grefé's slithery scare movie STANLEY, new on DVD from BCI in a lovingly produced special edition, isn't very good, its slimy-looking stars practically guarantee a few squirmy moments.

Chris "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on GENERAL HOSPITAL" Robinson is very good as Tim, a Native American Vietnam vet plagued by headaches who shuns the white man's world and survives in a rustic cabin in the Everglades, where he collects rattlers for medical research. He also adopts several of them as friends, naming his best pal, which he takes everywhere, Stanley. As much as Tim digs snakes, most people hate them, particularly nasty Thomkins (Alex Rocco, who shot this while doing publicity in Miami for THE GODFATHER, which hadn't yet come out) and his bigoted henchman Crail (Steve Alaimo, who played the dull hero in Grefé's WILD REBELS), who hunt them and skin them for Thomkins' clothing line. When a crazed 'Nam vet who loves rattlers meets racist capitalists in a chintzy Bill Grefé joint, you know plenty of chomping is on the way.

Probably best remembered for one character's animated pool splashing with a few dozen water moccasins, the PG-rated STANLEY is too slow and meandering for most horror fans, even though it was a smash hit for Crown International, which released it in the spring of 1972, one year after Cinerama's WILLARD became one of the highest-grossing independent horror films ever. Robinson's contemplative and fearless (as regarding his snake handling) performance is terrific, as is Grefé's eye for swampy locations. STANLEY played double bills with NIGHTMARE IN WAX and CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, among other films.

A few years after STANLEY, drive-in impresario Harry Novak, who usually made softcore quickies, produced RATTLERS, another snakey PG horror movie that Novak's Boxoffice International Pictures released in 1976.  Nerve gas buried by the U.S. Army in the California desert stirs up a few hundred rattlesnakes, which become aggressive and slither in large groups, chomping down on kids, soldiers and whole families.  The local sheriff contacts herpetologist Tom Parkinson (familiar TV face Sam Chew) and photographer Ann Bradley (Elizabeth Chauvet) to look into the matter. 

Whether it was for budget or rating considerations, director John McCauley's reticence to show much violence or gore neuters the terror impact of his film.  We hear a lot about the horrible nature of the swollen corpses the title beasts leave behind, but never see one, and most of the snake attacks occur off-screen.  Killing children is a nice/horrid touch, since it sets up the notion that no one is safe from the rattling reptiles.  Chew, who was a steady TV actor who made many guest appearances on shows like THE BIONIC WOMAN and MANNIX, makes for a passionless leading man who strikes no romantic sparks with co-star Chauvet. 

Still, despite RATTLERS' failings, the concept of killer snakes roaming wild and striking nonsuspecting humans can't fail to inspire shivers, and a STANLEY/RATTLERS twinbill may have you checking your floor before getting off the couch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Random Comic Book Splash Page #3

The Shazam Awards were given to comic book professionals for part of the 1970s to celebrate the best in comics. 1973's Shazam for Best Humor Story went to writer Steve Skeates and artist Berni Wrightson for the outstanding "The Gourmet" in PLOP! #1, which was DC's version of MAD, a comic-sized humor mag with no ads. Wrightson autographed this particular copy.

Showdown On Castro Street

I'm finding that the Dirty Harry novels written by Ric Meyers for Warner Books during the 1980s are a lot better than the non-Meyers books. All were published under the Dane Hartman pseudonym, but Meyers seems to be the only author whose identity is known.

CITY OF BLOOD, #6 in the series, is not a Meyers book, which is most obvious in its portrayal of its lead character. Meyers appears to be the only Dirty Harry novelist who actually saw the Dirty Harry movies, which by this point had numbered four (THE DEAD POOL was still to come). It's difficult to picture CITY OF BLOOD's dialogue coming out of Clint Eastwood's mouth, and this Harry Callahan is a much more sensitive soul than the guy who pressed his foot down on Scorpio's leg wound.

The plot is properly sick, however. A sex killer is roaming San Francisco, and Dirty Harry is assigned to the case. This guy, who calls himself Teddy until the surprise ending, is particularly gruesome, as he prefers to chop off his victim's heads with a cleaver. His most memorable attack occurs inside a sex club, where he murders a woman he's been dating and the sleaze who picks her up for an anonymous tryst.

Harry's boss's strategy to catch the killer is to put Callahan on the trail of a different serial killer called the Mission Street Knifer, who stabs to death homeless people. The logic is that tracking one psycho will lead to another, which doesn't seem to make any sense, but what the hell do I know, since Dirty Harry ends up killing both murderers in the book's 192 pages. Harry also gets a partner named Drake Owens, a former Hollywood actor who uses his training in undercover work. Callahan becomes fond of Owens and his wife, which, again, doesn't sound like the Dirty Harry I know from the films. At least, not the way the relationships are built within this book.

I give CITY OF BLOOD some credit for its gruesome murders and bizarre action sequences, but the meandering plots feel like padding, and the Drake Owens character is an obvious Mary Sue that adds little. I hope Ric Meyers wrote #7 in the series.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Random Comic Book Splash Page #2

Frank Thorne does his thing in Marvel's RED SONJA #7, January 1978. Script by Roy Thomas & Clara Noto. I bet artists hated having to deal with that large yellow banner on top and the excessive space for mouse print at the bottom cutting about 35% from their splashes during this period.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More A To Z

Thanks to those of you who created your own A-Z list in response to last weekend's meme. Definitely some interesting titles here.

From Frankie:


A-Almost Human
B-Burial Ground
C-Carnival Of Souls
D-Dawn Of The Dead
E-Ex-Drummer
F-Fantasy Mission Force
G-Gore Gore Girls
H-Hell Of The Living Dead
I-Invasion De Los Muertos
J-Jack The Ripper (1976)
K-Kikujiro
L-Last Man On Earth
M-M
N-Nightmare City
O-Ogroff
P-Planet Terror
Q-Quelli Che Contano
R-Return Of The Living Dead
S-Satan's Black Wedding
T-Tenebre
U-Uzumaki
V-Virgin Among The Liiving Dead
W-What Have You Done To Our Daughters?
X-Xin Jing Cha Gu Shi
Y-Yakuza Papers
Z-Zombie

From Alan @ The Freakpit, who went with a post-apocalyptic (mostly) theme:
A Aftermath (1982)
B Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)
C Creation of the Humanoids (1962)
D Damnation Alley (1977)
E Earth Dies Screaming, The (1965)
F Final Programme, The (1973)
G Glen and Randa (1971)
H Hardware (1990)
I Idaho Transfer (1973)
J Journey to the Centre of Time (1967)
K Kaze no na wa amunejia (1993) (That's A Wind Named Amnesia, but I couldn't think of a K)
L Last Man on Earth (1964)
M Memoirs of a Survivor (1981)
N Night of the Comet (1984)
O Omega Man, The (1971)
P Panic in Year Zero! (1962)
Q Quintet (1979)
R Rats: Night of Terror (1984)
S Stryker (1983)
T Texas Gladiators (1982)
U Ultimate Warrior (1975)
V Vampire Hunter D (2000)
W Wheels of Fire (1985)
X X (1963)
Y Yasagure Anego Den: Dokatsu Rinchi (1973) (Female Yakuza Tale... I got stuck again)
Z Zardoz (1974)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Hotheaded Cop In A Violent New Series

In 1973's STRYKER from Pinnacle Books, we learn the origin of Colin Stryker, the hotheaded cop from COP-KILL. Author William Crawford did a good job providing the necessary backstory in the second Stryker novel, but it's nice to find out completely how Stryker got his rep as a "bad and brutal cop."

Like every other literary and film police detective in the aftermath of DIRTY HARRY and THE FRENCH CONNECTION, Stryker is a quick-to-violence cop with little regard for the civil liberties of criminals or even civilians, for that matter. Teamed up with a trustworthy young cop named Chino Bellon, Stryker goes after the Albuquerque mob, which is run by Sam Borchia. After Stryker meddles in his illegal affairs once again, this time by investigating a bank heist that the mobster bankrolled, Borchia hires a hitman named Kell to ice the cop once and for all. The assassination attempt fails to kill Stryker, but murders his wife instead and leaves their four-year-old daughter blinded.

Furiously, Stryker hunts Kell down and beats the shit out of him, which not only leads to a dismissal of all charges against the killer, but earns Stryker a six-month prison sentence. If you think having all that time to think led Stryker to reconsider his mission of vengeance, you obviously aren't much of a reader.

Based on the first two, I'll have to track down the last two Stryker novels. Both STRYKER and COP-KILL are tough stories told with plenty of action, vivid descriptions and a leading man we can all identify with through hundreds of films and TV shows. I wonder how this read back in 1973 when the concept of an urban vigilante was still somewhat an unusual concept. The Stryker series comes from the publisher who gave us the adventures of the Executioner, the Butcher and the Penetrator, and Crawford provides the same brutal action sequences and two-fisted hero-type.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #1

From Atlas/Seaboard's blatant PLANET OF THE APES ripoff title (as is obvious from the splash page so reminiscent of the spaceship crash in APES) PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES #1, February 1975. Art by Pat Broderick & Frank McLaughlin; script by Larry Hama.

When The Full Moon Rises...

The notion of cornpone film mogul Earl Owensby making a Gothic horror movie sounds delicious, and, indeed, from the moment we first hear his Carolina accent emerging from the mouth of a character named Colin Glasgow, WOLFMAN is a howler. It’s the turn of the century, and Colin returns to his family’s castle for the funeral of his estranged father, who was murdered by his cousins Clement (Richard Dedmon) and Elizabeth (Maggie Lauterer) and the Reverend Leonard (Ed Grady). For some oddball reason I didn’t catch, Leonard and the surviving Glasgows want Colin to stick around for the next full moon, at which time he will inherit the family curse from his late father and turn into a werewolf.

The directing debut of Worth Keeter, who also wrote the screenplay, WOLFMAN is plagued by terrible acting right down the line, particularly from Owensby, who mangles his dialogue with anachronistic colloquialisms that reflect how the Southern-born actor really talks, but a Scottish heir certainly wouldn’t. Keeter shows some visual flair, and the camerawork is occasionally ambitious, as in a chase sequence across a plain and through an old cemetery. His script, however, is weak. Potentially intriguing subplots, such as the relationship between Colin and his former girlfriend Lynn (Kristina Reynolds), whose status as a divorcee appears to have incited the townspeople, are forgotten minutes after they’re introduced. Much reference is made to Lynn’s father, whom you suspect may be playing a behind-the-scenes role in Colin’s current misfortunes, but is never even seen and ultimately has nothing to do with anything. WOLFMAN was EO Corporation’s first horror movie, and while it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, no one seems to have taken into consideration the fact that nobody in the cast is remotely well-suited for it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gasohol

18 Gasohol
November 24, 1979
Music: Stu Phillips
Teleplay: Robert L. McCullough
Story: Richard Maize & Patrick Lloyd
Director: Charles Rondeau

This BJ AND THE BEAR episode doesn't make a lot of sense, but it has pretty girls and crashing cars, so what the heck. BJ's sinister rival Hammer (Charles Napier) returns to stir up some trouble. Once again, Hammer's employer, Hi-Ball Trucking, wants to rid the highways of the independent truckers in order to land lucrative trucking contracts without having to bid. In attempting to run BJ (Greg Evigan) off the road, Hammer crashes into a nearby pipeline, cutting off all the truckers' supply of diesel fuel for at least a month. Hi-Ball's connections ensure it enough fuel to keep it going, but what will the underdogs do to keep on trucking?

Enter sexy Sue Anne Lumm (Robin Dearden) and her father Emmett's (Ford Rainey) supply of moonshine, which carries enough kick to keep everybody on the road and beat out Hi-Ball for the new construction company contract. Throw in a square Revenue agent (Jeffrey Byron), an honest sheriff with two bumbling deputies, a drunken monkey, a befuddled Mexican driver (Bert Rosario), a horny trucker (Janet Louise Johnson) after BJ's bod, and "Gasohol" has enough going on to keep you awake, if not wondering when the kitchen sink is coming up.

Newcomers Richard Maize and Patrick Lloyd must have dreamed up a wild plot that story editor Robert McCullough shaped into a rough teleplay. Don't bust your brain trying to keep up with the various plot branches, and you should do okay. Semi-regular Johnson, who had also appeared frequently on executive producer Glen A. Larson's earlier series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and THE HARDY BOYS/NANCY DREW MYSTERIES, is oddly uncredited in "Gasohol." Byron, who's no match for the rowdy Dearden and her tiny shorts, later starred in two low-budget SF/fantasy flicks for Charles Band's Empire Pictures.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Sad Day For Baseball Fans

Or at least those with a good sense of humor. One of my daily online stops, Fire Joe Morgan, is closing up shop forever. The blog dedicated to exposing the ignorance and idiocy of professional sportswriters and broadcasters who know a lot less about their chosen profession than you would think has been great fun for the two years or so I've been reading it. I wish Ken Tremendous and the rest of the FJM gang well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brain And Brain, What Is Brain?

"Spock's Brain" is simultaneously one of the greatest and one of the worst STAR TREK episodes. Penned by a very good writer, Gene L. Coon (who sought to hide his participation behind his nom de plume of "Lee Cronin") and directed by the dependable Marc Daniels, who made more STAR TREKs than any other director besides Joseph Pevney, "Spock's Brain" was chosen by NBC to lead off the series' third season--a season that nearly didn't happen. The network had actually cancelled STAR TREK after its second year because of low ratings, but a massive letter-writing campaign and vocal fan outcry lured NBC into bringing the show back. The downside is that NBC only renewed TREK with a drastically slashed budget and in a killer 9:00pm timeslot on Friday nights, a time when few of TREK's young, upscale audience would be home to watch (the days before VCRs and TiVOs).

STAR TREK's budget was low enough, as those who like to mock its visual effects have noticed, but it seems as though the show's writing budget took a major hit. Scripts no longer came from the likes of celebrated science fiction authors like Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon, and stronger directors like Pevney and Joseph Sargent who were able to rein in the performances of a cast prone to hamminess gave way to hacks like David Alexander and Herb Wallerstein, whose episodes were mostly wretched.

Their shows were not bad in a good way either, although there is fun to be had in watching Shatner play an insane woman inside Captain Kirk's body in "Turnabout Intruder". "Spock's Brain", on the other hand, is one of the most entertaining hours of STAR TREK you will ever see. Its ridiculous premise, silly dialogue, wonky science and blatant plotholes aside, the episode also gives us appearances by the entire cast, a couple of fight scenes, plenty of beautiful women, some funny-looking props, and one of the show's patented indoor/outdoor sets. In other words, the best and the worst TREK has to offer.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is cruising along through space at warp speed, just minding its own business, when another spacecraft pops up on the bridge's viewscreen. While engineer Scott (James Doohan) is marveling at its advanced technology, a hot chick in knee-high boots appears out of nowhere on the bridge. A couple of security guys rush to help out, but the purple-clad hottie pushes a few buttons on her wrist remote, and knocks out everyone on the ship. For some reason, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) collapses head first in his captain's chair with his buttocks thrust towards the audience.

When everyone awakens (and, by the way, Kirk is always the first to come to), an urgent plea from Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) brings Kirk to Sickbay, where he discovers the prone body of his Vulcan first officer, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Kirk: "Is he dead?"
McCoy: "He's worse than dead."
Kirk: "Come on, Bones, what's the mystery?!"
McCoy: "His brain is gone."

That's right--somehow the space hottie has managed to steal Spock's brain (a great drinking game would be to chug every time someone utters the phrase "Spock's brain") without even shaving his head. His "incredible Vulcan physique" remains alive on life-support, but only for 24 hours, which gives Kirk less than a day to find Spock's brain and put it back inside his head. During the entire scene, Scotty, who for some reason followed Kirk to Sickbay from the bridge, stands around saying and doing absolutely nothing. Maybe Doohan was getting paid by the scene and called Marc Daniels for a favor, I don't know. At any rate, it's funny to watch Kelley and Shatner having this serious conversation about Spock's brain while Doohan stands around with a shocked look on his face like he'd like to say something, but has nothing to contribute. Kirk leaves the meeting by demanding that McCoy and Scotty get Spock ready to travel, although he doesn't know where to.

The Enterprise crew finds an unusual ion trail and deduces that it must have been left behind by the spaceship that apparently carried the purple-wearing space hottie in go-go boots. Sulu follows it at Warp 6. Also, STAR TREK's special effects crew discovered the art of rear-projection technology this season. It used to be that whatever was shown on the main bridge viewscreen was matted in later over a blue screen, so no actor could stand in front of it. With rear-projection, they could, so Shatner wanders back and forth in front of it several times, just to show off the new effect. It does give the director a new camera angle to exploit, which was necessary after two seasons of shooting scenes on that tiny bridge set.

Eventually, the gang tracks the ion trail to one of three inhabited planets in the Sigma Draconis system. Using what information they have about each, none of them has a civilization capable of space travel. Kirk makes a guess, and a landing party beams down to a cold planet surface. The party consists of Kirk, Scotty, Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) and a couple of red-shirt security guards. Believe it or not, both red-shirts survive the episode. No drinking will be done on their behalf. The whole party ends up skirmishing with a bunch of cavemen who throw foam rocks at them. Kirk phasers them (on stun), and questions one of them, who doesn't know what a woman is, but tells them about The Others--"givers of pain and delight." Chekov finds a nearby cave stocked with food and an electric eye beam--aha, a trap!

Before they trip the trap to tangle with The Others, Kirk orders Dr. McCoy to beam down from the Enterprise with a surprise guest: Zombie Spock! That's right--it's a completely brainless, emotionless Spock, wearing bizarre metal headgear that I guess was designed by the geniuses that are Bones and Scotty and is operated by the ten-button remote control in McCoy's hand. So it's a radio-controlled Zombie Spock. Now available from Team Losi as a ready-to-run.

A few clicks of the remote, and Zombie Spock enters the cave, along with Kirk, Scotty and McCoy (Chekov and the red-shirts stay outside, warming themselves by a phaser-heated rock). The trap turns the whole cave into an elevator, which plummets, according to the apparent speed and length of their trip, several thousand feet underground. The door opens to reveal another space hottie in boots. She isn't wearing purple, though, and phaser-happy Kirk stuns her into submission. Questioning her is useless--she doesn't know jackshit about anything. Not just about Spock's brain, but anything, not even the meaning of the word "him." She only knows the crew is "not Morg or Eymorg." Heck, I knew that much.

At this point, Zombie Spock begins to talk. Well, not really, but Scotty has somehow managed to pull in Spock's voice over his communicator. Yep, somehow the disembodied brain is able to figure the communicator's radio frequency and speak in Spock's normal voice. Just go with it. Spock doesn't know where the hell he is or why he's there, so the boys trample on, just to run into…her. The space hottie who stole Spock's brain! And she's got a couple of big dudes in bad costumes with her. She quickly grabs her wrist remote again and sends the landing party, except Zombie Spock, to their knees. Kirk is, as always, the last to succumb and will be the first to wake up. Star's privilege.

They awaken in a big conference room, somehow balanced on stools and wearing large belts with round buckles around their waists. An interrogation scene commences, with Kirk getting more and more pissed off, demanding to know where Spock's brain is, and the space hottie, who appears to be the leader of the underground society, shaking her head in a cute but frustrating way, her simple mind unable to grasp the concept of Spock, his brain or anything else, for that matter. We finally learn that her name is Kara. She's played by actress Marj Dusay, a very busy television actress then and now who acts today in daytime soaps.

Kara's blathering finally elicits something Kirk can use, her reference to "the Controller". Shatner's acting is great here, as he tries to fool Kara into believing suddenly, after all his hard talk about Spock's brain, that they have come to meet the Controller. Kara calls bullshit and knocks them out again. I guess the belts are used to knock them out using Kara's wrist remote, but since she was able to knock out 430 Enterprise crewmen who were not wearing belts, I have no idea why the belts are necessary.

Kirk, McCoy and Scott wake up (Kirk first, of course) to discover the women gone and their phasers and communicators guarded by those two big dudes. They kick their guards' asses…well, actually Kirk does. The manly captain handles one, while Bones and Scotty tag-team the other. Even though they are trained Federation soldiers, they aren't enough to handle one brainless dude, so when Kirk finishes off his man, using his patented Flying Leg Kick and Two-Fisted Blow to the Back of the Neck techniques copied by kids everywhere, he handles theirs too.

Off they go, RC Zombie Spock clicking along beside them, to find Spock's brain, which is apparently being used to, um, control everything. Scotty somehow zeros in on the brain, and they follow the readings to a room containing the Controller. Somehow, Kara is already in there and hits the zapper button on her wrist remote. The three men tumble to the ground again. This is hilarious, since it's obvious that Shatner demanded to be the last to fall, but Doohan is still struggling to stay up behind him, and you just know the two actors were whispering to each other while the cameras were rolling during the scene:

Shatner: "Fall down, Doohan, I'm the star here."
Doohan: "Screw you, Shatner, I'm tired of your bullshit."

Finally, Doohan gets tired of dragging the scene out and falls to the ground, while Kirk grabs the Zombie Spock control, hits one of the unmarked buttons, and commands Zombie Spock to walk over to Kara and press a button on her control (she has only three buttons!), causing their belts to pop off. Only three buttons, and one of them exclusively removes the belts. Okay.

Here's where they figure out that they're basically in the boiler room and Spock's brain is operating all the electricity, water, life-support, etc. Kara pleads with them not to take the Controller, because then her people will all die. Kirk is all, screw that, how do I get Spock outta there? She points towards a large, glass, bubble-headed old-fashioned hair dryer and calls it The Teacher. Put on the Teacher and you'll learn all you need to about stealing brains and stuff. Kirk makes her put it on, and, presto, she's smart now. Smart enough to yank a phaser out of her skirt. How it got there and why, we don't know. I don't think even Gene Coon knew. All I know is that she's got a phaser--set to kill--aimed right at Kirk's gut, which is about three inches away. Scotty, standing three inches to the side and a master of battlefield tactics, lets out an overly melodramatic moan, distracting Kara and allowing Kirk to grab the phaser. McCoy puts the Teacher on, figuring it will give him the medical knowledge necessary to put a brain back inside a Vulcan head without marring the hair on it. "Of course…a child could do it," a slightly maddened-looking McCoy mutters.

Now McCoy is furiously operating on Zombie Spock, whose head is sticking through a hole in a partition. Why a surgical table and instruments are readily available in the boiler room, I don't know. McCoy is operating like a madman, fast, precise, until…

Scotty: "Captain Kirk, he's…forgetting!"

The Teacher starts to wear off, and McCoy starts freaking out. "All the ganglia, nerves, a million of them…what am I supposed to do?" Captain Kirk knows. He orders Bones to reconnect Spock's vocal cords. Spock, I guess, already knows advanced brain surgery, so while he's lying on the table with his head split wide open, he starts telling McCoy what to do. Put that there, attach that there, mmm, yeah, that's perfect, thanks. That this is not the stupidest part of the episode says a hell of a lot about "Spock's Brain".

Spock sits up, hair unmussed, and starts babbling nonsense about the technical aspects of running the ladies' room plumbing with his brain and all else that has occurred. The brilliant freeze-frame parody endings on POLICE SQUAD will pop into your head, as Kirk, McCoy and Scotty laugh at Spock's clueless utterings, and Shatner ad-libs an out-of-character gag by grabbing the remote control from Kelley and dramatically cranking it in a humorous effort to shut Spock up. Meanwhile, Kara and Her Space Hotties are left without a Controller to heat and operate their elaborate underground society (that we see only three or four members of), so now they have to move to the surface and freeze their asses off with the illiterate cavemen up there. Thanks a lot, Kirk, you jagoff.

Many good episodes were to come in STAR TREK's third (and final) season, but few as entertaining as "Spock's Brain".

Sadistic Maniac

Ralph Hayes, who also wrote the Cominsec series (which I have yet to review) and many other novels, penned five during the 1970s about The Hunter. John Yard was a Green Beret in Vietnam who settled down in Kenya to become a great white hunter and a guide. In Hayes' last Hunter novel for Leisure, 1975's THE DEADLY PREY, he goes after a human target in the United States.

In West Virginia, a disgraced ex-government scientist named Kroller is conducting experiments on human subjects in his attempt to create a deadly virus that can be used to cripple America's enemies. Working incognito for a pair of right-wing Washington bigwigs who don't trust international treaties, Kroller uses drifters, drunks and hippies as test subjects who don't realize their ultimate fate is a very painful death in the name of mad science.

One victim is the runaway son of the Hunter's friend, a Brit named Philip Malcolm, who hires Yard's best pal, Kenyan private detective Moses Ngala, to travel to the U.S. and investigate. An educated black man in Appalachia doesn't get far, as you might imagine, and after suffering a beating and discovering a secret graveyard on Kroller's property, Yard gets fired up enough to fly to West Virginia himself and lay down some thumpings.

THE DEADLY PREY is a pretty tough book filled with beatings and shootouts and a nifty finale. Of course, Hayes stacks the deck by creating some really evil antagonists—cruel, inhumanly corrupt racists that you can't wait to see destroyed. The cover of Yard holding that bigass penis gun is pretty awesome too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who Killed Joy Morgan?

KILLJOY or KILL JOY or whatever it is called is one of the few made-for-TV movies from the early 1980s to have reached DVD. However, don't look for it under that title. The very ugly DVD, probably just taken from an old, ratty VHS tape someone bought for three bucks at a garage sale, carries the title WHO MURDERED JOY MORGAN (sic), which is probably what it was called in syndication after its original CBS airing (October 22, 1981).

Like many television mysteries of the period, this one is awfully good, winning an Edgar for its Sam Rolfe (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) teleplay and getting nominated for an Emmy for Bruce Broughton's sensitive score. Pretty Kim Basinger, who was then still a semi-recognizable TV face five years away from 8 ½ WEEKS, is the key in a love triangle including two physicians:  hothead Stephen Macht and mama's boy John Rubinstein.

When Basinger and Macht announce their engagement, Rubinstein convinces her that her new fiancé hasn't forsaken his playboy past by creating an imaginary girlfriend for him named Joy Morgan.  Basinger buys the ruse, but all three find themselves in trouble when cop Robert Culp pops up investigating "Joy"'s disappearance and possible murder.  How can the police be looking into a missing person who doesn't exist?

Rolfe's clever script provides one neat twist after another, although the small cast necessitates that the killer's identity won't be too hard to guess.  Culp is captivating as usual the same year he began his regular run on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.  John Llewellyn Moxey, who probably directed more TV-movies and better than just about anyone else, handles the helming chores smoothly as usual. Under any name, WHO MURDERED JOY MORGAN is well worth tracking down.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The A-Z Of Crap

Blog Cabins has started a new alphabet-based meme that's going around the Internet tubes. Basically, you go through all 26 letters and pick your favorite film whose title begins with each letter. Some film bloggers are using their own set of guidelines; for instance, my Facebook pals Larry Aydlette and Adam Ross are using crime dramas and movies he hasn't seen, respectively.

I thought I would use Crappy Movies as my base. Crappy Movies is a term I use to describe what are basically "psychotronic" movies, as film-writing pioneer Michael Weldon dubbed them: horror, science fiction, rock and roll, biker flicks, low-budget action flicks, basically anything with a cult and/or could also be dubbed "grindhouse" or "drive-in" movies. Despite the name, Crappy Movies are often very good. The main difference between a Crappy and a non-Crappy movie is financial, either because it has a large budget or it was financed by a mainstream Hollywood studio and aimed at all audiences. For instance, BATTLEFIELD EARTH is an incredibly crappy movie, but not a Crappy one, whereas THE GRAVY TRAIN is both a great and a Crappy movie. It's not always easy to define, but, like pornography, I know it when I see it.

For my post, I'm picking a favorite Crappy Movie for each letter. Not "the" favorite, but "a" favorite, since, for me, Crappy Movies are like children—how can I pick a favorite? The guidelines are that it has to be a Crappy Movie I have seen and enjoyed and it has to not yet be available on Region 1 DVD. In fact, it has to be a freaking crime that it's not easily available to Americans in DVD form.

A: AVENGING FORCE (1986)

B: BONNIE'S KIDS (1973)

C: CHAINED HEAT (1983)

D: DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975)

E: ENTER THE NINJA (1980)

F: FIGHTING MAD (1976)

G: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

H: HICKEY & BOGGS (1973)

I: IMPULSE (1974)

J: JOHNNY COOL (1963)

K: KILL SQUAD (1982)

L: THE LOST EMPIRE (1985)

M: MANHUNT IN THE AFRICAN JUNGLES (1943)

N: NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1983)

O: ONE MAN JURY (1976)

P: PIER 5, HAVANA (1959)

Q: THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955)

R: ROCKSHOW (1980)

S: STARCRASH (1978)

T: TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959)

U: UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972)

V: VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)

W: THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1989)

X: THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (1967)

Y: YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1982)

Z: THE ZEBRA KILLER (1974)

Anyone who wants to make their own A-Z list, feel free to do so in the comment section, and I'll post them here at a later date.

The $1,875,920.70 Chicken Dinner

I suppose it's inaccurate to label Bantam's books about the Ms. Squad as a men's adventure series, since its heroes aren't men at all. The Ms. Squad are scientist Jacqueline Cristal, Olympic gymnast Pammy Porter and R&B singer Deena Royce, three sexy, smart, enterprising babes who team up on occasion to pull off elaborate capers. I believe only two Ms. Squad books were written.

In the second, ON THE BRINK, published in 1975, the Squad attempts to duplicate the Great Brink's Robbery of 1950, purely for kicks. Boston's Brink building is no longer standing, but since they aren't in it for the money, the ladies rip off the fast-food chicken joint built on the same spot. Imagine their surprise when the loot adds up to nearly $2 million, not knowing that Henry Jackson, the owner of the Chick 'N' Treat restaurant, is a member of a black mob run by New York's Fats Pendleton.

Author Mercedes Endfield, who may be a writer named Bela W. von Block, who also wrote as Jonathan Black and E.L. McGinnis, also spoofs the current blaxploitation craze in this light-hearted thriller by putting a super-suave black private dick named John Shift (!) on the robbers' tail. ON THE BRINK probably would have been a fun movie if cast correctly; say Jo Ann Harris, Candice Rialson and Judy Pace as the leads. The PG book is good, frothy fun with no sex or graphic violence, and Endfield's heroines are given particular quirks to set them apart. They also use silly gimmicks to cover their tracks, such as Perma-Zonk spray to knock out any guards and Tru-Skin plastic coating to cover their hands and prevent leaving fingerprints behind. The first Ms. Squad adventure, LUCKY PIERRE, also detailed a sophisticated robbery, but I haven't read that one.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Stunt Rock Coming To America

I just learned that, in addition to Madman Films' Region 4 DVD release, STUNT ROCK is also coming out next year in the U.S. from Code Red, which has done some very good work with its genre releases. I've already preordered the Madman disc, but I'll keep checking the Code Red blog to see whether I should cancel the Australian disc and get the Region 1 instead. The R4 STUNT ROCK comes out two weeks earlier, if that makes a difference to you. I suspect we can't lose no matter which version we get.

Jaws Of Grinding Death

One of the Penetrator's kinkier adventures finds our hero in Japan, relaxing on a well-deserved vacation. Probably written by Chet Cunningham (whose credit is missing from the inside cover), TOKYO PURPLE is a typically fanciful and fast-moving espionage tale with a literally explosive finale.

#6 in Pinnacle's long-running series pits Mark Hardin against a Japanese crime syndicate called Sendai Purple, which is led by a physically powerful Sumo named Kamisori—"Razor" in Japanese. Kamisori has kidnapped a beautiful American scientist and, through rape, degradation and torture, forced her to help assemble an atomic weapon that he can sell to the highest bidder. His mistake was putting out a hit on the Penetrator, who was just minding his own business with a sexy Japanese stewardess in Hong Kong before dodging Sendai bullets.

Hardin takes a generous amount of punishment this go-round, absorbing blows to the head, gunshot wounds and shrapnel, but still retaining enough strength to engage Kamisori in a climactic battle to the death using ancient weaponry housed in the Sendai's underground castle chamber. Like the rest of the series, TOKYO PURPLE is top-notch entertainment bursting with action, local color, sinister villains and outrageous gadgetry.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Jay Thomas Meets The Lone Ranger

You're probably more familiar with Jay Thomas as an actor on television and in films than as a radio personality, unless you live in California. He's had starring, co-starring and guest-starring roles on several sitcoms (CHEERS) over the years, as well as in major films, such as MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS and THE SANTA CLAUSE. I've never heard him on the radio (though he does a show on Sirius now), but I've enjoyed his storytelling skills on talk shows (he was a favorite of Tom Snyder during the 1990s). This 3 1/2-minute clip from a Letterman appearance is a terrific story with a great punchline. And I have no doubt that it's true. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Wing And A Prayer

Max Allan Collins' Nolan series is definitely badass, thanks to the author's lean writing style and his honorable hero, who may be a thief, but he isn't a bad guy. A cross between Donald Westlake's Parker and Lee Van Cleef's Colonel Mortimer, Nolan is a former Mafia burglar working his way back up through the ranks after a couple of decades in the Mob's doghouse. A cynical, tough, independent bastard, Nolan the loner took up with a wiry comic book nerd named Jon in BAIT MONEY, the first book. By #3, FLY PAPER, Nolan and Jon have evolved into a rough father/son relationship—I guess knocking over banks is a good way to bring people together.

Nolan, now running a Mob hotel in the Quad Cities, comes to Jon's rescue when Breen, an old acquaintance, gets shot up and stumbles to Jon's antique shop, which was formerly owned by his late uncle Planner, a legend among thieves. Breen was the victim of a doublecross by crazy redneck Sam Comfort and his stoner son Billy, with whom he had been knocking over parking meters for several weeks. To keep Jon out of a jam with the psychotic Comforts, Nolan works up a plan to rob the hillbillies of their $200,000 fortune.

In the meantime, Collins crosscuts to an unassuming young man named Ken, who plans to hijack an airliner from Chicago to St. Louis and parachute out of it D.B. Cooper-style with the ransom. What feels like a subplot mushrooms into FLY PAPER's big climax, as Nolan and Jon coincidentally find themselves with a suitcase of stolen cash on the same airplane.

FLY PAPER, like other early Nolan novels, was barely released, if at all, in the early 1970s and went mainly unnoticed until Pinnacle printed it in 1981. The late success of the Nolan series led the prolific Collins to continue the adventures of the irascible antihero, which, unlike most other men's adventure series, are still in print.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Attack, Sasquatch!

And sometimes you just want to see an attractive young woman fighting Bigfoot.

If Lindsay Wagner tussling with Ted Cassidy as the alien robot Bigfoot doesn't tickle your fancy, maybe a bearded and petulant John Saxon in purple does. Also in that clip are Sandy Duncan, Stefanie Powers and Charles Cyphers, the sheriff from HALLOWEEN. From the second season premiere of THE BIONIC WOMAN, "The Return of Bigfoot, Part II" (Part I was on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN three days earlier).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Murder In Music City

How could this series not have caught on? In this NBC pilot movie, aired in January 1979, future GOP Congressman Sonny "The Beat Goes On" Bono played a country western songwriter who moonlights as a private detective in Nashville. Sonny and his TV wife (Lee Purcell) stumble onto a murder that leads them across the paths of half the Grand Ole Opry, including Barbara Mandrell (who soon had her own NBC series, BARBARA MANDRELL AND THE MANDRELL SISTERS).

Writer/executive producer Ernie Frankel generated a number of Nashville-based crime dramas during the late 1970s, but none panned out. Jerry Reed and Tom Selleck starred (with MUSIC CITY's Morgan Fairchild) in CONCRETE COWBOYS, a TV-movie about Nashville detectives that spawned a shortlived Selleck-less series. Reed also starred with MUSIC CITY's Claude Akins and Lucille Benson in NASHVILLE 99, a CBS series about Nashville policemen. That one lasted about a month.

Sonny looks hilariously bored in that ad.

Finally! Stunt Rock On DVD!

If you have never experienced the awe of STUNT ROCK, your chance is coming early next year. That is, if you have a DVD player that accepts Region 4 discs. Madman Entertainment in Australia has STUNT ROCK available for preordering right now at less than $20.00. In case my earlier post to which I linked above hasn't convinced you of the genius of STUNT ROCK, Madman has the trailer online here.

Blood Games

SOUTHERN COMFORT meets RACE WITH THE DEVIL in 1990's BLOOD GAMES, a feminist revenge flick that plays better than expected. Healthy doses of violence and nudity propel the flimsy story, which pits a sexy female sandlot baseball team, coached by Midnight (B-movie vet Ross Hagen), against the beer-guzzling, sore-losing rednecks they beat 17-2. Afterwards, tempers flare, girls are molested, some people are killed—including the son of the town boss (Luke Shay, who has kind of a Luke Askew thing going)—and the chase is on, first over the road, and then on foot through the forest.

I’d be willing to bet director “Tanya Rosenberg” is a pseudonym for a male director and probably an experienced one. The gratuitous T&A shots and a somewhat graphic rape scene don’t play like something a woman would do, and the professional production values and occasional arty flairs look like a director who made more than the one film credited to Rosenberg on the Internet Movie Database. The fine score by Greg Turner helps maintain suspense, as knives, rifles, crossbow bolts and baseball bats cause damage to various male and female body parts. The implausible resilience of one lunky redneck, first seen in a hilariously dumb “Hooray” T-shirt, is entertaining.

On the downside, it’s difficult to tell the heroines apart, as they’re given zero personality and barely names. Star Laura Albert (still an active Hollywood actress and stunt performer) is certainly striking and, really, the only actress who looks as though she can play baseball. The story holes are typical of a screenplay with five credited writers, but, all in all, BLOOD GAMES is a reasonably effective chase thriller that would play nicely on a double bill with the B-star-studded HUNTER’S BLOOD.

MGM HD is playing a very nice 1.78:1 print this month, so check it out. I wonder if BLOOD GAMES ever played theatrically.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Thrillkill

Writer Jim Stenstrum and artist Neal Adams' stunning 8-page story "Thrillkill" can be read in full at The Uranium Cafe. Produced for Warren Publications' CREEPY #75 in November 1975, "Thrillkill" is among the most memorable pieces of dramatic storytelling in the careers of both gentleman, and in the case of Adams in particular, that is saying a lot. I know I often sound like the cranky old man who says, "They don't make 'em like that anymore," but they really don't make comics like "Thrillkill" anymore. Of course, pros like Adams and Stenstrum aren't making comics anymore either, and that's a damn shame. I don't believe Stenstrum, who moved into television animation, has written a comic book story in over twenty years.