Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hallo, Weenies!

It’s Halloween, the last day of October, and still in time for an “October Game.” I am happy to welcome you trick-or-treaters to my blog, but I don't have candy. What I have is a classic horror story by an acclaimed author, from its original magazine appearance.

From Weird Tales, March 1948.

Copyright © 1948 Weird Tales

Monday, October 29, 2012

“Do not attempt to adjust your television...”

My brother and I watched Outer Limits faithfully, every week, during its first run, 1963 to 1965.

Outer Limits is available on DVD. If you watch these early episodes now you can see it is firmly of its time. It was made on a low budget. The money they did spend seems to have gone into the monsters that appeared every week, and for which us youthful viewers tuned in. There were adaptations of famous science fiction stories, including two by Harlan Ellison, “Demon With a Glass Hand” and “Soldier.” In the eighties writer/director James Cameron cobbled those two together and came up with Terminator, which earned him a quick lawsuit from Ellison. The lawsuit was settled in Ellison's favor, but it showed the power that Outer Limits had in its day. It left a lasting impression on its viewers.

It was remade as a cable series in the nineties. It was slick and well made. But for me it couldn't capture whatever it was that made the original low budget series appealing. I thought about it and realized why I felt that way. Put simply, I wasn't fifteen-years-old anymore.

This article, written by Forrest J. Ackerman, is for a magazine called House of Horror (which contains reprints from Ackerman's more famous magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland). Ackerman, now deceased, was a self-promoter, and as a faithful Famous Monsters reader from it's beginnings, I wondered if the magazine wasn’t as much about him as the monsters. In this article Ackerman shows up in a photo, along with his boss, James Warren. his publisher. Pictures of Warren, who is sort of an elusive figure, are rare.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Brian De Palma's Sisters

Brian De Palma's 1973 movie, Sisters, is now available as part of the Criterion Collection.

In telling of the making of Sisters, his third film, the director claims that at least half of the half-million dollar budget went for the music. He hired Bernard Herrmann, and it made a big difference for the movie.

Herrmann, whose reputation is sealed forever by scoring films including Psycho for Alfred Hitchcock, was almost like a movie character himself, a cranky genius who had no trouble saying what he thought. He told De Palma that in Sisters, “No one gets killed for twenty-five minutes.” De Palma responded, “It took Hitchcock that long for the murder in Psycho.” Herrmann shot back. “For Hitchcock they [the audience] will wait, for you they won’t!”

That would give a filmmaker a complex, but it all turned out for the best. Sister is a gem of a movie in the Hitchcock tradition, shot on a low budget with a (then) basically no-name cast. And a great score.

It stars Margot Kidder, still a few years away from her role as Lois Lane in the 1978 Superman, as the survivor of a pair of conjoined twins. It doesn’t take the audience long to figure out that Danielle is hallucinating that her sister, Dominique, is still alive, but it’s what happens after she becomes a murderer that is important.

Kidder is backed up by some solid character actors like Jennifer Salt* and Charles Durning, and an actor who worked a lot with De Palma, Bill Finley, who stands out at a height of 6’4”, and an unusual appearance. (Finley died in April of this year, at age 71.)

De Palma has never been afraid to show violence or gore in his movies, and Sisters is no exception, when Danielle, after a night of lovemaking with a handsome man she met after they appeared on (another De Palma trademark) a voyeuristic television game show.

Not a bad premise for a  reality TV show, which De Palma based on Candid Camera. Nowadays there’s a real show called What Would You Do?

The killing of Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson), is a jolt, and is shown in some bloody detail. De Palma knocks us over the head with the symbolism when Danielle’s huge knife penetrates Philip’s groin area.

“I had the strangest dream…I dreamed I stabbed someone, and — yikes!”

Grace Collier (Salt) witnesses Philip’s death throes from her apartment across the courtyard. Grace is a newspaper reporter who is tough on police brutality, so the cops who investigate take their time arriving. It gives Danielle and her ex-husband, Emil (Finley), time to hide the corpse in the apartment and to clean up. It’s shown in a montage, split-screen of Grace’s race to get to Danielle’s apartment and the simultaneous clean-up by Danielle and Emil.

De Palma says the idea for the split-screen came from the documentary, Woodstock.

The movie takes a Hitchcockian turn by showing us where the body is, [SPOILER ALERT!] in a hide-a-bed sofa, [END SPOILER]and then having a private detective (Durning) follow it.

Grace (Jennifer Salt) and detective Joe Larch (Durning) have their own plot, follow the body until someone claims it.

It gives the movie a very memorable ending. (Even though I thought, “Wouldn’t that body be stinking pretty bad right about now?”)

Morbid modern movie fans will probably be disappointed that the gore-score isn’t higher, not enough violence, but to them I say what gore there is is well-placed, so shut up and watch the movie, already.

De Palma made no bones about being inspired by Hitchcock, and it shows. It was a movie that helped to build De Palma’s reputation. Even though later he had much higher budgets and star-power in his movies, I think what he was able to do with a small budget, a cantankerous genius to score the movie, and some solid writing and direction sold him to Hollywood. He has prospered ever since.

Two of Hermann's themes, the main title music from Sisters, and also De Palma's Obsession, are featured in this YouTube video, with a collage of images from the movies. There's graphic violence, so the sensitive are warned.

*Jennifer Salt is now listed as Executive Producer of the morbid and gruesome FX TV series, American Horror Story Asylum.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Abner Dean's Big Brother

Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell would seem an odd choice to be pictured by a cartoonist, but Life commissioned Abner Dean to illustrate its review of the famous novel in its July 4, 1949 issue.

Dean, who was known at the time as an absurdist, had several books of cartoons, not typical gag-style, but riffs on the human condition.

Two earlier articles about Dean from Life follow the Nineteen Eighty-four review.

Dean, real name Abner Epstein, was born in 1910, and died in 1982.

Copyright 1945, 1947, 1949, 2012 Time-Life Inc.

From Life, December 10, 1945:

From >Life, December 1, 1947:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

“You Can’t Cheat Death’s Demon!”

Here's a Halloween treat...

Robert Silverberg is a favorite writer of mine. He made a name for himself writing science fiction in the 1950s, and has been one of the most respected authors in the genre ever since. He was very prolific, and sometimes wrote under pseudonyms, especially when he had more than one story in an issue of a magazine. David Challon was one of his pen-names.

“David Challon” also wrote soft porn novels,* but here he has penned a nifty little tale of selling one’s soul to a demon in exchange for 21 years of “all worldly pleasures.” In some stories the person committed to such a bargain wins and keeps his soul, but here the main character doesn’t fare so well.

It’s from Monsters and Things #2 (last issue), published in 1959.

Copyright © 1959 Magnum Publications.

*A field where Silverberg made a living for several years in the sixties, mostly under the name Don Elliott.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My thousandth, and what is there to read around here?

It’s post number 1000 for Insomnia Notebook, which began its humble life as Paranoia Strikes Deep in April, 2006. My original intention was to write about what makes one paranoid. I had been going through a lot of it for over ten years, both my own and living with my mother’s overwhelming paranoid delusions.

My first posting was about a drug test I had to take, and reeked with paranoia: Paranoia Strikes Deep. When I retired most of the things that made me paranoid stopped. I understand now how much of my paranoia came from my job, and specifically my boss. I can’t say I’m totally free of the feelings, because there are still things that bother me. Even if I was totally free of it I’d still remember the bumper sticker, “Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

Now that I’ve congratulated myself for sitting down at my keyboard long enough to produce one thousand entries for this blog, it’s time for a semi-regular feature, which is showing what I’m reading right now. Since I have a short attention span I jump around in my reading. I’ve always done that. I read a few pages of a magazine or a chapter or two of a book, then go to something else and come back later to the other, then try to keep everything straight in my head. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.

John Ball is a favorite mystery writer, and of course Virgil Tibbs (In the Heat of the Night) is a great character.

I've been picking up graphic novels, both at thrift stores and library sales. When I sent this cover scan of the Battlepug graphic novel to my friend Dave, I noted that it was in a library sale, amongst the picture books for young readers. I said, “Maybe the librarian didn't see the naked girl on the left of the cover.” The book is done lengthwise. I haven't read it yet.

Marvel Comics does more than superheroes. Here's an adaptation of the Dumas novel. The Classics Illustrated versions of classic books (i.e., in public domain) has been around since comic books were invented.

Whoo! Watch out for Spinecrawler! Sex, violence and extreme creepiness. Right under the cover is a sample page. 

House of Mystery was a DC Comics title for decades. I love the Halloween cover.

Another intriguing graphic novel is Kill Shakespeare.

Getting away from graphic novels into traditional novels, this is a book that Collins completed for Spillane after his death. It lay unfinished in Spillane's files for decades.

I think it's nothing short of blasphemy for Tales From the Crypt to go from the ne plus ultra of fifties horror comics, controversial and then banned, into this kind of kiddie-parody book. Stinky Dead Kid isn't bad, but doesn't belong in anything called Tales From the Crypt. Why did they license that title to this publisher for this series? And the ad for The Hardy Boys Crawling With Zombies is appalling! Frank and Joe, what have these cretins done to you?

I can find American Heritage magazines in local thrift stores, usually for about a dollar. Done in hardcovers with sewn signatures, these issues were designed for permanence. Interesting article in this issue about Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian anarchists put to death in an American prison.

I'm interested in the article, “Mitt Romney's Mormon Ghosts,” from the latest issue of Rolling Stone. “Rod Stewart’s Wild Memoirs” also sounds like something I’d be interested in. I’m less interested in anything about Taylor Swift, except her pictures. I felt like a dirty old man looking at pictures of her when she was 18 or she's legal, in her twenties and I can be a dirty old man if I want to.

Funny cover by Koren, his hairy people lining up for the New York marathon. There's also another of the New Yorker God cartoons to add to my collection.

Who's your favorite James Bond? I didn’t think anyone ever played him as well as Sean Connery, but after seeing him as Bond I believe Daniel Craig is playing him very well. He'll never overtake Connery in my mind, but he'll be a strong second place.  I was never a fan of either Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan, but I imagine they have many fans. Maybe amongst the cognoscenti even Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby might have a vote or two for best Bond.

Richard “Dick” Lupoff was a longtime science fiction fan-editor, doing the fanzine Xero for many years. He's had a long career as a novelist, also. I love this book because it’s full of pop culture references, and I'm familiar with the locales he uses, in and around Berkeley, El Cerrito, Oakland, cities across the Bay from San Francisco. There's even a heart-tugging pang from the lead character, Hobart Lindsey, for Cody's, the world famous Berkeley bookstore that finally went out of business in 2008. The Emerald Cat Killer is from 2010.