Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page: Creepy #32

"Rock God" is one of the all-time greatest comic book stories that has rarely or never been reprinted. Apparently, writer Harlan Ellison owns it, and has only allowed it to be reprinted in his 1996 Dark Horse anthology DREAM CORRIDOR QUARTERLY. This 1970 classic has a story behind it that's almost as interesting as the story itself.

As the story goes, Ellison had penned a prose story called "Rock God." Somehow, Frank Frazetta had either gotten ahold of the story from Ellison or was maybe just given a verbal synopsis, but he painted a CREEPY cover to illustrate it. Ellison then prevailed upon CREEPY publisher Jim Warren to hire Neal Adams to adapt "Rock God" in comics form. Despite what Adams' prologue says (read below), I'm pretty sure Ellison's story came before the Frazetta painting

The result appeared in CREEPY #32. It's a little obtuse, but mostly fascinating and certainly head and shoulders above the typical superhero fare in the DC and Marvel color comics of the era. Comic book historians will probably recognize Adams' use of Jim Warren's features to illustrate the corporate baddie in the story.

To point out how special "Rock God" was, Adams contributed a special one-page prologue to partially explain the story's origin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Exterminator Is Dead

As you know, 2009 has been a bad year for drive-in movie-star deaths, and actor Robert Ginty is the latest to journey to the Big Grindhouse in the Sky. Ginty was just 60 years old when he died of cancer yesterday in Los Angeles.

Ginty co-starred on BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, THE PAPER CHASE, and HAWAIIAN HEAT, and later became a director of television shows and low-budget features, such as 1989's THE BOUNTY HUNTER, in which he also starred.

However, Ginty is best known for playing the title role in the 1980 grindhouse classic THE EXTERMINATOR. This Avco Embassy release plays like two different films spliced together, as if director James Glickenhaus (SHAKEDOWN) had already finished the film, and then received word from the studio that it had retained actor Christopher George (THE RAT PATROL) for ten days of work and could you please create a part for him in the movie, thank you.

Ginty made his exploitation debut as John Eastland, a Vietnam vet who stalks the streets of the Big Apple, tracking down the street scum that paralyzed his best pal, Army buddy Jefferson (James). Glickenhaus, who also wrote the screenplay, has a firm grip on the tackiness and despair that permeated 42nd Street at that time, and captures the worst aspects of New York City with his camera, shooting in locations squalid enough to make Andy Warhol vomit.

He also stages some shocking action sequences, including a prologue set in Vietnam that opens with an exploding body vaulting off the top of a hill and Eastland’s merciless revenge against a mobster by lowering him into a meat grinder.

Unfortunately, nearly half the film is taken up by George’s character, a cop named Dalton assigned to investigate the serial killings, which the media have attributed to a vigilante called “The Exterminator”. As much as I like George, Glickenhaus gives him very little of substance to do, and, in desperation, tacks on a superfluous romantic subplot between George and a nurse played by Samantha Eggar (THE BROOD). These scenes are so pointless and dull that they make Ginty’s scenes seem more interesting than they actually are when Glickenhaus cuts back to them. Late in the game, the film also throws in a CIA conspiracy and a bummer ending that serve little dramatic purpose. George’s novel method of roasting hot dogs is funny though.

THE EXTERMINATOR was quite a hit in 1980 and eventually led to the sequel EXTERMINATOR 2, which I saw at Market Place Cinemas in Champaign, Illinois in 1985. Ginty returned with his trademark flamethrower to broil the asses of more inner city bad guys, but without Glickenhaus' skill at creating kinetic energy (Mark Buntzman directed the sequel), EXTERMINATOR 2 fizzled.

Make sure you watch the original EXTERMINATOR on Anchor Bay’s DVD, which restores the film to its original X-rated cut with crucial moments of gore that provide the film with extra kick. the well-known Stan Winston and Tom Burman provided the bloody squibs and makeup effects.

R.I.P., Robert Ginty. The original theatrical trailer for THE EXTERMINATOR follows.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random TV Title: The White Shadow

In honor of Ken Howard winning an Emmy tonight for GREY GARDENS, here's the opening titles to his brilliant CBS drama series of the late 1970s. THE WHITE SHADOW ran three not-so-highly rated seasons and starred a toupeed Howard as Ken Reeves, a former Chicago Bull who left the NBA after suffering a knee injury and moved to Los Angeles to coach basketball at an inner-city high school. The series dealt with serious issues, such as racism, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and gun violence, but there was also a bit of humor and a lot of warmth and realism to its characters. In many ways, THE WHITE SHADOW was quite similar to LOU GRANT, another MTM production airing on CBS at the same time.

The first two seasons are on DVD, and I urge you to track them down and give THE WHITE SHADOW a shot. Hopefully, its third and final (and weakest) season will get a release soon.

Torch Of Vengeance

Johnny Rock returns in STILETTO, Leisure's ninth Sharpshooter novel, and he has a supporting cast this time. Iris Toscano, Rock's lady friend from the first Sharpshooter book, is back to assist Johnny on his mission to murder as many mobsters as he can. Also, his uncle Vito joins the crusade after Vito's wife is killed in a barrage of bullets meant for her nephew.

The plot, which may have been written by Peter McCurtin, who introduced both Johnny and Iris in the first book, KILLING MACHINE, meanders for 215 pages, but still manages to be less sloppy than most previous entries. I wouldn't be surprised if STILETTO was intended to be two separate adventures, but Leisure and/or McCurtin decided to push them together. The fact that I don't think any actual stilettos appear in the book leave me wondering too.

Rock (formerly John Rocetti, who hunts the Mafia as revenge for the murders of his family) starts out by planning the destruction of one million gallons of stolen gasoline the Mob has stashed away in the woods of New Jersey. After several pretty cool chases and shootouts, some of which are quite graphic and approach Death Merchant levels, Rock and Vito end up pursing a Mafia gunrunning operation.

It's too long and feels padded in spots--particularly a few pages in which Rock and Vito talk about their shotgun shells and where they shot them--but STILETTO is one of the better Sharpshooter entries I've encountered so far. I recently managed to land the entire Sharpshooter series in one lot for a mere $1.00, so I'm looking forward to catching up with them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

RIP, Dalton

The star of DIRTY DANCING, GHOST, POINT BREAK, and the greatest movie ever made--ROAD HOUSE--is dead of pancreatic cancer at age 57. You can read the New York Times obituary of Patrick Swayze here.

I wish now I had watched Swayze's recent A&E crime drama, THE BEAST, when it was on. Knowing he was in treatment for his cancer while shooting a grueling action series on the snowy streets of Chicago makes his battle all the more impressive.

Above image from I-Mockery's hilarious review of Swayze's early ABC cop series THE RENEGADES.

Dial 1119

Gerald Meyer, a thoroughly mediocre television director, made his feature debut with the 1950 noir DIAL 1119, thanks to his status as the nephew of Louis B. Mayer.

Marshall Thompson, of all people, plays a sociopathic escaped mental patient named Gunther Wyckoff who murders a bus driver and takes a barroom hostage. His only demand is to face the psychiatrist he blames for his stint in a padded room, Dr. John Faron (Sam Levene). While waiting for Faron to show up, Wyckoff waves his stolen gun around and strikes fear into the other inhabitants of the Oasis bar, including rumpot Virginia Field, two-timer Leon Ames, naïve Andrea King, and bartender Keefe Brasselle.

The title refers to the telephone exchange for the police. What’s really interesting is the use of television as a plot point. The Oasis has a large-screen set (did they make ‘em that big back then?) above the bar that cost $1400 (!), which must have seemed almost like science fiction to audiences of the time. Live TV news broadcasts are a staple of the hostage genre, but I haven’t seen it used in a film made this early.

Also ahead of its time is the narrative’s clash of old-fashioned police work, represented by Captain Keiver (Richard Rober), which wanted to send Wyckoff to the electric chair, and newfangled psychological profiling by Dr. Faron, whose testimony sent the killer to a life sentence in an asylum instead. It’s evident which side the movie sides with.

Better known for bland nice-guy roles, such as veterinarian Marsh Tracy on the TV series DAKTARI, Thompson is flat as a board and almost as expressive. There’s nothing wrong with his decision to underplay a crazy killer, but he’s barely there, which also describes Mayer’s direction.

Be on the lookout for glimpses of Barbara Billingsley (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER), Paul Picerni (HOUSE OF WAX), Frank Cady (GREEN ACRES), and 29-year-old William Conrad (CANNON) as a bartender named Chuckles.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Exit Speed

From the director of CRUEL INTENTIONS 3 and ROAD HOUSE 2 comes EXIT SPEED, a non-sequel that plays like a hybrid of JOY RIDE and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Scott Ziehl’s high-concept, low-budget thriller may have gotten into a few theaters, but its small scale and relatively unknown cast fit better on your home screen.

A soccer mom (CAROLINE IN THE CITY’s Lea Thompson), an Iraq war deserter (Julie Mond), an abusive high school football coach (Gregory Jbarra), a Mexican handyman (Everett Sifuentes), a vegan videogamer (Alice Greczyn), and a deadbeat dad (WRONG TURN’s Desmond Harrington) are among a handful of strangers riding a bus across Texas on Christmas Eve. A crackhead outlaw biker gang attacks the bus and forces it into an abandoned wrecking yard, where the strangers have to work together to defend themselves. Scene-stealing Fred Ward (THE RIGHT STUFF) puts in a few days work as a military detective on Mond’s tail.

Writer Michael Stokes does an okay job creating characters for everyone to play, and Ziehl guides his cast through some suspenseful moments. The characters are types, for sure, though that’s de rigueur for the genre, but they’re at least fairly interesting types. You find yourself rooting for even the less sympathetic types, due to each performer’s care, and when one is picked off by the baddies, it hurts. Lea Thompson going all LORD OF THE FLIES with a machete on some biker is pretty effective stuff, and Ziehl knows how to deliver the gore when it counts.

Unfortunately, Stokes and Ziehl spent much less effort building up the bad guys. They seem inspired by the crazies who menaced Mel Gibson in THE ROAD WARRIOR, but are little more than cartoon villains without even names. Giving the antagonists more personality might have put this little picture over the top. EXIT SPEED is no DTV classic, but it’s worth a rental.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cop Killers

Walter Cichy, an associate producer of FLESH GORDON who also worked on that 1974 sci-fi spoof’s visual effects, wrote and directed this trashy crime drama. The actor who played Flesh Gordon, Jason Williams, also stars here as Ray, one-half of the titular antagonists, along with Bill Osco, who also produced both FLESH and COP KILLERS, as Alex.

These two yahoos, accompanied by a Rolls Royce and an inexplicable soft rock soundtrack, encounter the Border Patrol while smuggling four kilos of cocaine from Mexico. Despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and outtrained, Ray and Alex manage to kill all the cops and continue their journey. Their crime spree goes on to include carjacking an ice cream truck and abducting a young woman named Karen (Diane Keller).

Sleazy and violent COP KILLERS may be, but well-acted it definitely is not. Osco (later to star in his director wife Jackie Kong’s THE BEING) and Williams are plenty woeful, but the squeaky-voiced performer playing the irritating ice cream man is so pathetic that you’ll cheer for the villains to rub him out. The bad acting, working in concert with the slack pacing and numb screenplay, makes it impossible to generate any suspense. Why do these guys, on their way to collect $100,000 from drug dealers, stop to rob $33 from a gas station?

COP KILLERS may be one of the most obscure films ever to receive a deluxe DVD treatment. Shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its drive-in engagements, COP KILLERS may not have played very much, if at all, on television and was certainly forgotten by almost everyone except those who made it. Sometimes you find a diamond in the rough, but COP KILLERS is just rough. Eegee’s, the proprietor of the ice cream truck Ray and Alex steal, is a real business still active in Tucson, Arizona, where COP KILLERS was filmed. Rick Baker provided the gory makeup. General National Enterprises released it in 1977.

I can’t say that COP KILLERS is all that deserving of a nice DVD, but Shriek Show did a pretty nice job with it. The key extra is the audio commentary track featuring Williams and a moderator calling himself Adam Trash. It’s a good thing Williams is an animated speaker with a good memory, because Trash is a hesitant, uninformed moderator who fails to ask Williams the most obvious questions and relies on the actor to initiate discussion points. Williams tells us that COP KILLERS was shot in 12 days for $50,000 by porn filmmakers looking for a quick buck until FLESH GORDON’s release. He’s also a good sport about the film’s technical deficiencies, pointing out the occasional visible microphones and an amazing shot of the soundman sitting in the backseat of a car driven by the stars.

Williams also pops up on camera for an interview that hits the points not touched upon during the commentary. A ridiculous image gallery features a whopping two (!) images, neither of them all that interesting, and a trailer collection features not just the spot for COP KILLERS, but also several other drive-in flicks on DVD, including GRIZZLY and Bill Osco’s THE BEING.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Good, The Bad And The Beautiful

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful
February 16, 1980
Music: Stu Phillips
Writer: Robert L. McCullough
Director: Christian I. Nyby II

In this BJ AND THE BEAR episode, writer McCullough and director Nyby bring back straight-arrow Captain Cain (Ed Lauter), one of BJ McKay's many authority-figure foes, last seen dressed as Father Christmas in "Silent Night, Unholy Night." What's interesting is that a couple dozen episodes of the show have finally caught up with BJ (Greg Evigan). It makes sense, after all the robbers and crooks and white slavers he's battled as a vigilante, that news of his exploits would get back to the public at large. When BJ shows up in Cain's hometown to drop off a load, a cute young thing, Missy (Susanna Dalton), recognizes his name as somebody who can help her out of a jam.

More meanspirited than usual (BJ is badly beaten, and Missy is the victim of a rape attempt), "The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful" finds BJ caught in a war between two biker gangs: Heaven's Devils (real original) and the Road Runners. Cain and his men are surprisingly hapless against the Devils, the bad gang, whose leader Danny Delano (Michael Mancini) is hanging around town to retrieve his impounded cycle, which contains a stash of cocaine. The finale, featuring motorcycles jumping and crashing into each other, is effective.

Lauter gets a lot of humor out of Cain's rigidity, and his talent as an actor makes Cain more likable than he would be in a lesser performer's hands. Cain isn't a bungler, like Sheriff Lobo, and usually gets his man. With BJ's help, of course. It's funny when Cain warns BJ not to take the law into his own hands, since there wouldn't be a show if he didn't do it every week. A big showdown between the bikers and the cops is filmed in Bronson Canyon. McCullough and Nyby both worked with Lauter in "Cain's Cruiser," which is referenced directly by Cain and BJ.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

35 Years Ago: Evel Knievel

September 8, 1974: daredevil/American folk hero Evel Knievel attempts to jump Wyoming's Snake River Canyon in a rocket. One of the few Knievel jumps not televised on ABC's WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS, the Snake River stunt was broadcast over closed circuit. How many people paid to see this live in a movie theater?

So, did he make it? Check out this cool 1974 footage to find out (this YouTube clip is unable to be embedded here)!

Click here to see Evel Knievel jump over Snake River Canyon.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Interested In Comic Book Writing?

THE COMICS JOURNAL LIBRARY 6: THE WRITERS is essential reading for anyone interested in Marvel and DC comic books of the 1970s and 1980s. Published in 2006, this mass market paperback collects several outstanding Q&A interviews of important comic book writers from that period.

I'm not a fan of THE COMICS JOURNAL, where these in-depth pieces first appeared (my impression is that editor Gary Groth doesn't even like comic books, at least mainstream books), but he and his staff did a terrific job here.

One of the book's best chapters is its chat with HOWARD THE DUCK creator Steve Gerber, which THE COMICS JOURNAL has made available for you to read here on its Web site. Other authors grilled are Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Alan Moore, Chris Claremont, Denny O'Neil, Archie Goodwin, and Steve Englehart--all among the tops in their field.

The most notorious interview collected here is a 1980 chat with Harlan Ellison, which led to a rancorous lawsuit filed against the cantankerous author and THE COMICS JOURNAL by JONAH HEX writer Michael Fleisher, who claimed he was defamed by some of Ellison's remarks (apparently, Gerry Conway had less of a problem with being accused of single-handedly ruining the comic book industry!).

Ellison's five-hour interview is the book's longest, running nearly eighty pages, and is probably worth the cover price by itself. The other chapters are just gravy.