Sunday, March 16, 2014

Another Look: IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958 movie)

I'm sure I wasn't the first viewer of 1979's ALIEN to notice the plot similarities between that big budget mega-hit and those of the low budget sci-fi/horror gem that is the title of this post … but in my particular circle of friends at the time ALIEN came out, I surely was. This was largely due, of course, to the fact that no one else I knew had ever seen or even heard of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (and, let's face it, that's hardly a title likely to slip one's mind once encountered).
What was more, I not only had seen and remembered IT!, I actually recalled it rather fondly --- quite ahead of and apart from ALIEN. Oh sure, the acting was mostly wooden (except for veteran Marshall Thompson, who was really pretty decent, especially in the early parts of the film where he plays a stunned, desperate Space Command officer bluntly accused of murdering his whole crew).
And the special effects were nothing very special, not even for a grade Z movie of that era. But hey, it did have Ray "Crash" Corrigan playing the monster. (For the uninitiated, Crash Corrigan was a popular B-Western actor, best known for his recurring role as Tuscon Smith in the Three Mesquiteers series cranked out by Republic thrugh the late 30s and into the early 40s. The concept was a play on words "borrowed" from Alexander Dumas's classic Three Musketeers novel. There were 51 of these films in all, with a pre-STAGECOACH John Wayne playing another recurring character, Stony Brooke, in eight of them.) In addition to his work in Westerns, Corrigan created his own "gorilla suit" and utilized it playing an ape or gorilla in several films such as APE, WHITE PONGO, UNKNOWN ISLAND, and in numerous Tarzan and Jungle Jim features. 

The IT! monster was his final appearance as an ape-like creature. Noteworthy about this is the fact that designer for this monster "suit" was not Corrigan himself and, in fact, Crash could not be present for a proper fitting. Therefore, when filming was ready to start, the head of the monster was too large and Corrigan's rather prominent chin protruded part way out its mouth. The fix? Corrigan's chin was painted bright red (even though the movie was shot in black and white, they wanted the right color effect) and the impression was given that it was the monster's tongue.

As for the plot of IT!, it is pretty straightforward and basic and makes for a nice, tight bit of suspense, with "monster" overtones. A spaceship journeys to Mars on a mission to bring back all surviving members of a previous expedition that crash-landed there. Trouble is: There is only one surviving member of the earlier crew. He is the commander (Thompson) and he is being returned to Earth to undergo a Court Marshal for murdering the others for the sake of claiming all of their provisions in order to increase his odds of survival until a rescue arrives.
Just as the rescue ship gets ready to blast off for its return home, an air lock is discovered to have been left open. It is promptly sealed and the ship departs the Red Planet.
Before long, with the return trip underway, a crew member disappears. Then another. It is soon realized that the open air lock allowed a visitor to board before take-off … and now that visitor is proving to be a prowling, very powerful creature who kills and then drinks the blood of its victims. (The working title of the film was IT! THE VAMPIRE FROM BEYOND SPACE.)
The balance of the movie is taken up with efforts by the surviving crew to hold off the ever more aggressive and savage attacks from the monster, while at the same time trying to find a way to kill it. In the process, everyone comes to realize that it was this monster
---  not Thompson --- who killed the previous crew on Mars.
When the monster is finally defeated and the spaceship makes it back to Earth, Thompson receives a full pardon.

While there is no acidic blood or chest-burster here, I trust you can still see the similarities between IT! and ALIEN. No direct steals, but certainly some influences. "I didn't steal ALIEN from anybody," script writer Dan O'Bannon is often quoted as saying, "I stole it from everybody!"

There's no denying that ALIEN is superior to IT! THE  TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE in every way. But I still maintain a special fondness for the latter. If you grew up on schlocky, Roger Corman-like drive-in movie fare like I did (the ones you actually watched when the car windows weren't too fogged-up to see the screen), then you know that in the midst of the schlock there were a handful of real gems. In my humble opinion, this was one of 'em. If you've never seen it, keep an eye peeled. If you've already had the pleasure … well, then I'm betting you agree with me. If you get a chance to catch it again on cable or DVD, I think you'll find that it still holds up pretty good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Noteworthy Reads: DENNY THE DENT - 5 Tales of Street Justice by Thomas Pluck

For regular followers of this blog, you'll remember I did a long interview here with Thomas Pluck  back in November of 2012. I warned everybody then to keep an eye peeled for this guy. Subsequently, he published his first novel, BLADE OF DISHONOR, and I covered it here, too. Now, in addition to editing the popular PROTECTORS charity anthology for and his continuing output of short stories for various publications, he has released a collection of shorts featuring his protagonist, Danny the Dent.

For starters, Denny the Dent is one of the most original characters I've read in over five decades of devouring crime/mystery fiction. What's more, while some writers who strive mightily to make their protagonist somehow unique and memorable too often forget the basics of good writing and/or simply telling a good story, author Pluck's writing talent is more than up to the task.

Each of the five tales contained in this collection are complete in and of themselves. But, at the same time, Pluck skillfully layers in scenes that tell more and more of Denny's backstory, gradually bringing into sharper focus this deformed, tormented hulk who dishes out his brand of street justice by means of violent acts that may take your breath away yet is filled to overflowing with so much compassion for the vulnerable and abused it'll break your heart.

Pluck often describes his writing as: "Unflinching fiction with heart." That has never been more in evidence than in this collection.

If you're unfamiliar with the Pluck byline, for crying out loud correct that as soon as possible! In addition to DENNY THE DENT, his first novel, BLADE OF DISHONOR, is available through various outlets and his next, BURY THE HATCHET, is due out soon.
I highly recommend DENNY THE DENT, as well as anything else you can find by this author.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Another Look: STREETS OF FIRE (directed by Walter Hill, 1984)

This is one of my all-time favorite films, but I can't say exactly why.

It is a quasi-retro, quasi-futuristic mix of music, violent action, romance, and rough-edged comedy.
When it first came out, it was billed as "a rock and roll fable". I'm not sure what the hell that's supposed to mean --- didn't know back then, still don't today. My description above might be a bit of a mish-mash, but I like it better. And as far as that "fable" business, maybe a lot of other people didn't get it either. Because the movie tanked at the box office.

STREETS OF FIRE was geared to be a big-budget summer blockbuster coming on the heels of writer-director Hill's smash 48 HOURS, and plans were in place right from the beginning for it to be the first in a series of Tom Cody (the hero of STREETS, played by Michael Pare) adventures. And although STREETS has since gone on to become something of a cult classic (largely due to the musical score) its initial poor performance quickly squelched chances for any follow-ups. (However, a small-budget "unofficial sequel", also starring Pare, was released in 2012.)
It is my contention that STREETS might have been the big hit it was intended to be right from the get-go if Hill had found a way to incorporate into his tag line the personal feelings he has since stated were his goals. To make what he'd thought would be "the perfect film" when he was a teenager, containing: "custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles,  jokes in tough situations, leather jackets, and questions of honor."
Okay, then. Now I understand why I like this movie so much!

Plot-wise, STREETS is pretty simple and straightforward.
It starts with fast-rising music star Ellen Aim (played by a very young yet very sultry Diane Lane) returning to her home turf in an unnamed city to perform a benefit concert. The show is interrupted by the Bombers, a notorious motorcycle gang led by Raven (played in menacing style by Willem Dafoe in one of his earliest villain roles), who arrive to wreck and ravage and kidnap Ellen right off the stage. The authorities are helpless to do anything. Until Tom Cody (Pare), Ellen's former boyfriend and now soldier of fortune, is contacted by his sister to come back home. 

He returns and agrees to go and bring back Ellen --- for a price, to be paid by her manager and current boyfriend, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). With the help of McCoy, another soldier he runs across who also happens to be "between wars" (played by Amy Madigan in a show-stealing performance in a role originally written for a pudgy, middle-aged male), Cody stages a daring raid into the heart of Bomber territory and rescues Ellen. 
This only results in the Bombers coming after her again in full force. When the police are unable to hold off the motorcycle horde, it falls once more to Cody (backed by a mob of angry, well-armed, defiant citizens) to square off against Raven in a one-on-one battle with sledge hammers to settle the conflict. When Cody wins the savage fight, the Bombers ride off and it is over. So is the almost-rekindled romance between Cody and Ellen. Telling her how it has to be, Cody says, "Your music is going to take you places and, let's face it, I ain't the kind of guy who's gonna go around carrying your guitar case."

Yep, pretty much the basic plot from a hundred B-Western movies where the loner shows up in town to take on the black hat bad guys that the law can't handle and then rides off into the setting sun when his work is done.
In STREETS OF FIRE it's all presented with a few new twists and top quality production values, including the custom cars and neon and rain and the rest of the elements from Hill's "perfect teenager" movie, all driven by a pulsing, pounding "Wagnerian rock" score.

A fable? A mish-mash? Retro? Futuristic?
Hell, I still don't know for sure.
All I know is that I like it. A lot.
If you've never seen it or haven't seen it in a while, it plays on the various cable channels fairly frequently. You might want to check it out. I think you'll find there are a helluva lot worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Available Now: STARLESS MIDNIGHT (a Noir Thriller by some guy named Dundee)

Live on Amazon Kindle today is my new stand-alone short – a quick, nasty little tale of greed, desire, deception, duplicity, and murder.
As the sales copy says:

Chance Smith was an ex cop who had traded the world of crime and other people's trouble for a quiet life of semi-retirement in a remote corner of Nebraska's panhandle … or so he thought.
Then came the stormy night when he was driving home on a lonely stretch of narrow highway and the nearly-naked, startlingly beautiful woman he would come to know as Esmerelda Barkley sprang from out of the ditch to flag him down. She told a tale of domestic strife that sounded more embarrassing than threatening. Smith gave her a lift to shelter and thought that was the end of it, once again shedding himself of other people's trouble.
The tragic and sensational double murder that took place later that night, however, made it impossible for him to stay out of it. But the good news about the bad news—maybe—was that part of staying involved also meant additional time spent with the mesmerizing widow, Esmerelda …

I know, I know, I'm the guy who's been bitching and bellyaching over the past couple of years about the overuse of the word "noir" when a good share of the time the subject matter really is "hardboiled". I know hardboiled when I see it, noir I'm never quite sure … Yet here I am calling this opus "a Noir thriller". By no means am I trying to jump on the Noir Train, it's just that I think in this case it's accurate. Nevertheless, there's bound to be a hardboiled element here, too, because there is in everything I write, no matter the genre.

Mainly, I hope you give STARLESS MIDNIGHT a try. If you do, I think you'll enjoy it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The FIGHT CARD Series: New Title & More Exciting News

The popular FIGHT CARD series keeps expanding and gaining acclaim and is well worth time and attention from anyone seeking a jolt of excitement and hard-hitting action in their reading diet.
Here's the latest update from one of Fight Card's founders and tireless promoter, Paul Bishop:

Our latest Fight Card novel, RISE OF THE LUCHADOR, with Jadon Ridler writing as Jack Tunney, has just gone live with a brilliant painted cover by Carl Yonder.
Like last month’s FIST OF AFRICA, RISE OF THE LUCHADOR takes Fight Cards readers into a new and different culture.  This time it’s the world of the luchadors – Mexican masked wrestlers. These individuals who put on the mask of the luchador have become cult heroes in Mexico and continue to inspire fans today.  RISE OF THE LUCHADOR eloquently captures the mystique of these masked heroes and provides an electrifying look at the world of Lucha Libre.
San Diego 2014 … Carlos may be the deadliest vale tudo street fighter in Brazil, but he’s no match for the drug lord on his tail. Haunted by the death of his best friend and on the run from a Mexican hit squad, Carlos is forced into hiding with a traveling carnival crawling its way from San Diego to LA.  Within this world of freaks and con-men, Carlos has no choice but to become the one thing he hates – a masked luchador wrestler.
However, once he has donned the mask, Carlos finds there is much more to being a luchador than fake wrestling moves and cheesy showmanship. There is a mystique and a responsibility carried by those who become true luchadors.  But will being a fake hero, no matter how inspired or mystical, save him from the drug lord’s henchmen…Can it erase his tortured past…Or will he be forced to once again become the killing machine he has always been?
Rise of the Luchador is the next installment of the acclaimed Fight Card Series.

As many of you know, our crop of 2014 Fight Card tales garnered a slew of nominations for the 2014 New Pulp Awards.  Congratulations to Carol Malone (Fight Card Romance: Ladies Night), Terrance McCauley (Fight Card: Against the Ropes), Derrick Ferguson (Fight Card: Brooklyn Beatdown), Anthony Venutolo (Fight Card: Front Page Palooka), and Andrew Salmon (Fight Card: Sherlock Holmes) all nominated in the category Best Novella, Carl Yonder for Best Cover Art (Fight Card: Sherlock Holmes), and Anthony Venutolo again for his nomination as Best New Writer (Fight Card: Front Page Palooka) and for creating Best New Pulp Character (Nick Moretti, Fight Card: Front Page Palooka).  Fight Card author Bobby Nash was also nominated for one of his non-Fight Card works in the Best Short Story category.  Again, congratulations to all.
Coming up in 2014 Fight Card: Copper Town Champ (Brian Drake), Fight Card: Monster Man (Jason Chirevas), Fight Card: Guns of November (Joseph Grant), Fight Card: Bridgeport Brawler (David White), Fight Card: The Adventures of Tom Sharkey (Mark Finn), and more …
Until then … Keep punching …

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Take: NEBRASKA (starring Bruce Dern, 2013)

I am writing this on the morning of 3/2/14, ahead of tonight's Academy Awards ceremony. So I don't know if NEBRASKA will win in any of the multiple categories (best picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay, and cinematography) for which it has been nominated. Having seen absolutely none of the work representing its competition, I have no basis upon which to judge/predict how it will fare … other to say that, if it wins for any or all of the above, it wouldn't be a bad thing.

NEBRASKA is a small, quiet, subtle, serio-comic, ultimately sweet film. That's right, sweet. Hardly the sort of movie-going fare that I normally seek out … although, in my dotage, I have been a bit more open to such. Frankly, if not for two factors, I likely would have paid little or no attention to this one. Namely: First, since Nebraska has been my adopted home state for the past fifteen years and I've grown to love and appreciate it a great deal, anything that casts a positive light on my much-maligned cornhusker turf is likely to get my attention; Second, having been a fan of Bruce Dern ever since the days of the old "Stony Burke" TV rodeo series (and even forgiving him for brutally killing John Wayne in THE COWBOYS), I was pleased to see the ol' Dernster getting this kind of attention and praise.

The plot of NEBRASKA is simple. It tells the story of Woody Grant (Dern), a retired auto mechanic now living in Billings, Montana, who has received a Sweepstakes letter in the mail informing him that he's won a million dollars and only needs to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, to collect it. It is obvious to everybody --- everybody but Woody, that is --- that this is strictly a scam, a come-on for him to place some magazine subscriptions. Woody is old and weary, a little feeble-minded, and by-God convinced that a million dollars is waiting for him in Lincoln and he intends to go get it, even if (since he's no longer allowed to drive) he has to walk --- which he strikes out to do, every time backs are turned on him and he gets the chance.

Ultimately, when David, the youngest of his two sons, agrees to take Woody to Lincoln for the sake of shutting him up by proving that the letter is a scam, the movie becomes a road trip story of sorts that allows father and son to form a tenuous bond, something lacking up until now due to Woody's long work hours and hard drinking when his sons were growing up. When the pair stop over in Woody's home town, Woody's wife and other son join them there for a rather impromptu family reunion. During this, layers of Woody's past are gradually revealed … and (subsequent to learning of Woody's "million dollars") the true, greedy colors of some of his more remote family members and old friends are revealed. In the end, Woody's immediate family --- his two sons and even his shrewish wife, who rather unexpectedly rises up as her husband's champion and turns her acid tongue to cutting down the gathering vultures by telling them, among other things, they can "all go fuck yourselves" --- find a greater strength of unity in themselves than they ever realized.
And, even though he's finally brought to face the fact that his million dollars was never meant to be, Woody's last ride through Hawthorne on the way back home is done with a final flourish of pride and dignity that was really what he was after all along.

A fine, thoughtful, and --- look out, here comes that word again, folks --- sweetly memorable film. No matter how the academy members vote, NEBRASKA is a winner in my book.
Highly recommended.