Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Richard Matheson: He is legend

My one-sided relationship with Richard Matheson (I knew who he was, he never heard of me) goes back to at least 1959, when I read his novel, I Am Legend. Until that point in my life I did not realize a novel could take me and place me a setting, in a series of circumstances, and make me identify to the point it felt like I was the one experiencing it all. That's how real that novel was to me.

This is my copy of the original printing of I Am Legend, published July 1954 as a paperback original.

I Am Legend has been filmed three times. It was made as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, and under its original title in 2007, starring Will Smith. Frankly, none of them ever captured the true feeling and spirit of the novel, and that even includes the last, even though the screenplay was written by Matheson.

The most successful adaptation of the novel wasn't really an adaptation at all; it was that it helped inspire George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968. (Romero also claims he was inspired by EC Comics of the fifties, but his movie looks more like Matheson’s story than it does Tales From the Crypt.)

You could draw a line from Matheson to the recent movie, World War Z, the megabuck picture starring Brad Pitt. An inspiration like that may not even know the genesis of its inspiration, but everyone making a movie about walking dead people owe a debt to I Am Legend. (Incidentally, the characters in I Am Legend are not walking dead; they are vampires, who became vampires from a virus. But the feelings of human beings at being besieged by people who are no longer human is the same, whether vampire or zombie.)

You could say that Matheson inspired Stephen King. Stephen King and I are the same age. We, and everyone else our age, grew up reading the same literature, watching the same movies (like Matheson-scripted versions of Poe for Roger Corman) and watching the same television shows (Matheson wrote some of the most popular episodes of The Twilight Zone (episodes like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Little Girl Lost.”)

We saw Dennis Weaver trying to outrun a pissed-off semi-truck driver in Duel, shown as a TV movie in 1971, and directorial debut of Steven Spielberg. It came from Matheson’s short story in Playboy, which in turn he claims was inspired by his own highway encounter with a truck.

We saw the movies made from Matheson’s books (besides the aforementioned versions of I Am Legend), like The Legend of Hell House, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, or What Dreams May Come.

Matheson wrote some Western novels, and at least one novel set in World War II, The Beardless Warriors, which I read when I was in the Army in 1968.

Richard Matheson published dozens of short-stories. Before he hit the big time as a writer, his work mainly appeared in the science fiction magazines of the early 1950s. There were a lot of those magazines, and Matheson’s name on the cover meant people would buy the magazine just to read his latest story. He wasn’t as famous then as Ray Bradbury, but as time went on Richard Matheson built his own success, story by story, novel by novel, screenplay by screenplay, until his name was definitely on the A-List.

Some of my favorite short-story collections by Matheson:

Matheson, born February 20, 1926, died June 23, 2013 at age 87.

Richard Matheson bibliography:


    Someone is Bleeding (1953)
    Fury on Sunday (1953)
    I Am Legend (1954) filmed as The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Omega and I Am Legend
    The Shrinking Man (1956); filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man and subsequently reprinted under that title; also the basis of the film The Incredible Shrinking Woman
    A Stir of Echoes (1958); filmed as Stir of Echoes
    Ride the Nightmare (1959); adapted as an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and later filmed as Cold Sweat (1970 film)
    The Beardless Warriors (1960); filmed as The Young Warriors
    The Comedy of Terrors (1964), with Elsie Lee; filmed as The Comedy of Terrors
    Hell House (1971); filmed as The Legend of Hell House
    Bid Time Return (1975); filmed as Somewhere in Time and subsequently reprinted under that title
    What Dreams May Come (1978); filmed as What Dreams May Come
    Earthbound (Playboy Publications, 1982), as by Logan Swanson[4] — editorially abridged version; restored text published as by Richard Matheson, 1989[citation needed]
    Journal of the Gun Years (1992)
    The Gunfight (1993)
    7 Steps to Midnight (1993)
    Shadow on the Sun (1994)
    Now You See It ... (1995)
    The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickock (1996)
    The Path: A New Look at Reality (1999)
    Passion Play (2000)
    Hunger and Thirst (2000)
    Camp Pleasant (2001)
    Abu and the 7 Marvels (2002)
    Hunted Past Reason (2002)
    Come Fygures, Come Shadowes (2003)
    Woman (2006)
    Other Kingdoms (2011)
    Generations (2012)

Short stories:

    "Born of Man and Woman" (1950)
    "Third from the Sun" (1950); adapted as a Twilight Zone episode (1960)
    "The Waker Dreams" (a.k.a. "When the Waker Sleeps") (1950)
    "Blood Son" (1951)
    "Through Channels" (1951)
    "Clothes Make the Man" (1951)
    "Return" (1951)
    "The Thing" (1951)
    "Witch War" (1951)
    "Dress of White Silk" (1951)
    "F---" (a.k.a. "The Foodlegger") (1952)
    "Shipshape Home" (1952)
    "SRL Ad" (1952)
    "Advance Notice" (a.k.a. "Letter to the Editor") (1952)
    "Lover, When You're Near Me" (1952)
    "Brother to the Machine" (1952)
    "To Fit the Crime" (1952)
    "The Wedding" (1953)
    "Wet Straw" (1953)
    "Long Distance Call" (a.k.a. "Sorry, Right Number") (1953)
    "Slaughter House" (1953)
    "Mad House" (1953)
    "The Last Day" (1953)
    "Lazarus II" (1953)
    "Legion of Plotters" (1953)
    "Death Ship" (1953); adapted as a Twilight Zone episode (1963)
    "Disappearing Act" (1953); adapted as a Twilight Zone episode (1959)
    "The Disinheritors" (1953)
    "Dying Room Only" (1953)
    "Full Circle" (1953)
    "Mother by Protest" (a.k.a. "Trespass") (1953)
    "Little Girl Lost" (1953); adapted as a Twilight Zone episode (1962)
    "Being" (1954)
    "The Curious Child" (1954)
    "When Day Is Dun" (1954)
    "Dance of the Dead" (1954); adapted as a Masters of Horror episode (2005)
    "The Man Who Made the World" (1954)
    "The Traveller" (1954)
    "The Test" (1954)
    "The Conqueror" (1954)
    "Dear Diary" (1954)
    "The Doll That Does Everything" (1954)
    "Descent" (1954)
    "Miss Stardust" (1955)
    "The Funeral" (1955); adapted as story segment for Rod Serling's Night Gallery
    "Too Proud to Lose" (1955)
    "One for the Books" (1955)
    "Pattern for Survival" (1955)
    "A Flourish of Strumpets" (1956)
    "The Splendid Source" (1956); the basis of the Family Guy episode "The Splendid Source".[22]
    "Steel" (1956); adapted as a Twilight Zone episode (1963); loosely filmed as Real Steel (2011)
    "The Children of Noah" (1957)
    "A Visit to Santa Claus" (a.k.a. "I'll Make It Look Good," as Logan Swanson) (1957)
    "The Holiday Man" (1957)
    "Old Haunts" (1957)
    "The Distributor" (1958)
    "The Edge" (1958)
    "Lemmings" (1958)
    "Mantage" (1959)
    "Deadline" (1959)
    "The Creeping Terror" (a.k.a. "A Touch of Grapefruit") (1959)
    "No Such Thing as a Vampire" (1959)
    "Big Surprise" (a.k.a. "What Was in the Box") (1959)
    "Crickets" (1960)
    "Day of Reckoning" (a.k.a. "The Faces," "Graveyard Shift") (1960)
    "First Anniversary" (1960); adapted as an Outer Limits episode (1996)
    "From Shadowed Places" (1960)
    "Finger Prints" (1962)
    "Mute" (1962); adapted as a Twilight Zone episode (1963)
    "The Likeness of Julie" (as Logan Swanson) (1962); adapted into "Julie" in the 1975 TV film Trilogy of Terror
    "The Jazz Machine" (1963)
    "Crescendo" (a.k.a. "Shock Wave") (1963)
    "Girl of My Dreams" (1963)
    "'Tis the Season to Be Jelly" (1963)
    "Deus Ex Machina" (1963)
    "Interest" (1965)
    "A Drink of Water" (1967)
    "Needle in the Heart" (a.k.a. "Therese") (1969); adapted into "Millicent and Therese" in the 1975 TV film Trilogy of Terror
    "Prey" (1969); adapted into "Ameilia" in the 1975 TV film Trilogy of Terror
    "Button, Button" (1970); filmed as a The Twilight Zone episode in 1986; filmed as The Box (2009)
    "'Til Death Do Us Part" (1970)
    "By Appointment Only" (1970)
    "The Finishing Touches" (1970)
    "Duel" (1971); filmed as Duel (1971)
    "Big Surprise" (1971); adapted as story segment for Rod Serling's Night Gallery
    "Where There's a Will" (with Richard Christian Matheson) (1980)
    "And Now I'm Waiting" (1983)
    "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (as The Twilight Zone episode in 1963; as segment four of Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983; first published in 1984)
    "Getting Together" (1986)
    "Buried Talents" (1987)
    "The Near Departed" (1987)
    "Shoo Fly" (1988)
    "Person to Person" (1989)
    "Two O'Clock Session" (1991)
    "The Doll" (as Amazing Storiesin 1986)
    "Go West, Young Man" (1993)
    "Gunsight" (1993)
    "Little Jack Cornered" (1993)
    "Of Death and Thirty Minutes" (1993)

Short story collections:

    Born of Man and Woman (1954)
    The Shores of Space (1957)
    Shock! (1961)
    Shock 2 (1964)
    Shock 3 (1966)
    Shock Waves (1970) Published as Shock 4 in the UK (1980)
    Button, Button (1970)
    Richard Matheson: Collected Stories (1989)
    By the Gun (1993)
    Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2000)
    Pride with Richard Christian Matheson (2002)
    Duel (2002)
    Offbeat: Uncollected Stories (2002)
    Darker Places (2004)
    Unrealized Dreams (2004)
    Duel and The Distributor (2005) Previously unpublished screenplays of these two stories
    Button, Button: Uncanny Stories (2008) (Tor Books)
    Uncollected Matheson: Volume 1 (2008)
    Uncollected Matheson: Volume 2 (2010)
    Steel: And Other Stories (2011)
    Bakteria and Other Improbable Tales (2011) (e-book exclusive)

Richard Matheson Filmography:


    The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
    Beat Generation (1959)
    House of Usher (1960)
    Master of the World (1961)
    The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
    Burn Witch Burn (1962); a.k.a. Night of the Eagle (screenplay co-written with Charles Beaumont and George Baxt) based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
    Tales of Terror (1962)
    The Raven (1963)
    The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
    The Last Man on Earth (as "Logan Swanson", based on Matheson's novel I Am Legend)(1964)
    Fanatic (1965)
    The Young Warriors (1967)
    The Devil Rides Out (1968)
    De Sade (1969)
    The Legend of Hell House (based on his novel) (1973)
    Somewhere in Time (based on his novel) (1980)
    Twilight Zone: The Movie: Fourth segment "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1983)
    Jaws 3-D (1983)
    Loose Cannons (1990)
    What Dreams May Come (film) (1998)
    The Box (2009)
    Real Steel (2011)

    Buckskin: "Act of Faith" (1959)
    Wanted Dead or Alive :"The Healing Woman" (1959)
    Twilight Zone: (16 episodes) (1959–1964)
    Have Gun Will Travel: "The Lady on The Wall" (1960)
    Bourbon Street Beat: "Target of Hate" (1960)
    Cheyenne: "Home Is The Brave" (1960)
    Lawman (Six episodes) (1960–1962)
    Thriller: "The Return of Andrew Bentley" (1961)
    Combat!: "Forgotten Front" (as Logan Swanson) (1962)
    The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Ride the Nightmare" (1962)
    The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "The Thirty-First of February" (1963)
    The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.: "The Atlantis Affair" (1966)
    Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater : "Time of Flight" (1966)
    Star Trek: The Original Series: "The Enemy Within" (1966)
    Duel (1971)
    The Night Stalker (1972)
    Night Gallery (1972): " The Funeral" (1972)
    The Night Strangler (1973)
    Dying Room Only (1973)
    Circle of Fear (originally titled Ghost Story (1973))
    Bram Stoker's Dracula (1974)
    Scream of The Wolf (1974)
    The Morning After (1974)
    Trilogy of Terror (1975)
    Dead of Night (1977)
    The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977)
    The Martian Chronicles mini-series (1979, 1980)
    Twilight Zone: "Button, Button" (as Logan Swanson) (1986)
    Amazing Stories: "One for the Books" (1987)
    Dreamer of Oz (1990)
    Rod Serling's Lost Classics (1994)
    Trilogy of Terror II (1996)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Someone is listening, someone is watching: The Anderson Tapes

The recent flap over government surveillance via Internet and cell phone interception by the NSA, should be nothing new to anyone who has lived in this country during the second half of the twentieth century. Someone watching us on camera or even listening to us via various devices has been going on a long time.

I read the novel, The Anderson Tapes by Lawrence Sanders when it was published in 1970, and saw the movie version the next year. To tell the story of a major burglary the novel is constructed as a string of various recorded transcripts made by the government: the IRS, district attorney, and even a private detective,. It would have been difficult to make a movie using that format, so the film is told in a more traditional fashion, with interjections to show that ex-con Duke Anderson (Sean Connery), is caught on audio tape and surreptitious filming as he goes about his business of arranging a heist.

Watching the movie again a couple of days ago I was struck by how modern it seems in its storytelling and location photography, but with scenes of outdated technology. It was 41 years ago, and while technology has gotten more sophisticated, the ideas have remained the same. They record people saying and doing things that will incriminate them in order to prosecute them.

The big leap forward in today's technology is the ability to track cell phones via cell phone towers, and cameras that are so small that they can be hidden virtually anywhere. It doesn’t hurt to have easy access to e-mail, where lots of people say lots of stupid things.

There has never been a technology developed that someone, somehow, can’t figure how to turn to their own advantage; especially governments and law enforcement. We often say that “Big Brother is watching,” after the famous paranoid novel, 1984 by George Orwell (“Orwellian” having entered the language, meaning that sort of constant surveillance), but how much is Big Brother, and how much might be called Little Brother, where private businesses do the work of government? They watch us in places of business, and provide a record of what we were doing (sticking up the place, for instance) to the police.

Being watched is nothing new. Privacy concerns aside, the technology is here, it’s being used, and used against us. And there doesn’t seem to be one damn thing we can do about it.

All of that being said, so Postino, you ask, how did you like the movie?

Well, I loved the movie. It’s directed by Sidney Lumet, one of my favorite directors. It has Sean Connery, stepping away from his James Bond persona.

 Christopher Walken, in his movie debut, is “the kid.”

There’s a tantalizing glimpse of Dyan Cannon’s superhot hardbody.

Martin Balsam, the great character actor, is a very gay interior decorator who helps with the heist.

There are other actors like Alan King (a comedian playing out-of-type as a Mafia boss) Dick Williams and Ralph Meeker. There is even a juicy part as a cop by Garrett Morris, in his pre-Saturday Night Live days.

The movie is tight, fast-moving, intricate, interesting and exciting.

It’s also, with the use of the surveillance devices, paranoid. I don’t remember how much that affected me when I saw it during its theatrical release. I may have thought, “Oh well, they’re all criminals. That couldn’t happen to me.” Four decades later I’m not so sure of that, anymore. We may have gotten more used to the idea that when we walk out of the house to do our daily business we could be watched. Maybe most folks just don’t care.

But I do. There are a lot of things I say in private conversation or on a telephone I wouldn’t want to be made part of a database on me, a file on my private thoughts or even idle chat. What are the chances of a collection like that being made on me? None, I hope.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Island of Lost Souls

“Are we not men?”

 Although I’m familiar with H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, and I’ve seen screen versions with both Burt Lancaster and Marlon Brando in the title roles, I’ve never seen the 1932 version starring Charles Laughton,Island of Lost Souls. I watched a restored version issued by the Criterion Collection in 2012, and was much impressed at how an 80-year-old motion picture can affect a modern viewer.

First, the story is classic. John Landis, who gives his opinions in a 2012 feature with the DVD, says Wells’ original story was meant as an anti-vivisectionist tract. Vivisection is part of the story, and was shocking to audiences in 1932. The House of Pain, where vivisection is performed, is shown, and a creature tortured by surgery without anesthesia is shown on the table. Dr. Moreau is a sadist, who enjoys inflicting such pain.

The story is about bypassing evolution, and turning animals into humans. Because the story has been told so many times the phrases, “What is the law?”* and “Are we not men?” have been worn out. But here they are given in their original, and sinister forms, as the beastmen cower before the whip of Moreau. They are forced by intimidation to worship him, and the Sayer of the Law, (Bela Lugosi), gives him the feelings of godlike power. Moreau puffs himself up at the Sayer’s obedient flattery.

There is a strong aura of sex in the story. Lota, The Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke) is pushed at the other male lead, the marooned sailor, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), with whom Moreau expects her to mate. He tells Parker she is Polynesian.

Too bad “the beast flesh creeps back,” as Moreau puts it, and Lota begins to return to her animal self. Parker probably realizes this after he has kissed her (did he feel her raspy tongue in his mouth?)

What I didn’t expect from this version of the movie was the darkness, not only within the story, but the photography. Cinematographer Karl Struss made a shadowy world of Moreau’s island. The darkness is everywhere, and the film is a superb example of film noir.

John Landis, in additional comments, said that director Erle C. Kenton was something of “a hack” in his later career. Landis was surprised at the excellent job he did with this movie. Landis also said that in the twenties and thirties horror movies were A-movies, but by the forties, with budgets reduced, had been downgraded to B-movies. It’s evident in Island of Lost Souls that much precious Depression-era money was spent on this film. There are many extras in makeup and costumes, and the sets, built especially for the movie, are wonderful.

Something Landis did not mention was the undertone of homosexuality that Dr. Moreau exhibits. Laughton, who was gay in real life (although married to Elsa Lanchester from 1929 until his death in 1962) uses somewhat effeminate mannerisms, and appears to be attracted to Parker.

But the work comes first. He expects Parker to be sexually attracted to Lota, rather than him. There is one scene that seems clumsy, even laughable, when Laughton hops onto a table to talk to Parker. It is  ridiculous because his corpulent body just isn’t comfortable there.

Moreau’s actions are coquettish. I wonder if this scene was filmed as planned, or was an ad-lib by Laughton? It is just so odd in context that it doesn’t look like it was part of the original script.

The script was written by Waldemar Young, from an adaptation of the Wells book by novelist Philip Wylie.

The power of the movie was such that it was banned in twelve countries, including England, from whence the Wells novel came. Individual states in the U.S. were allowed to make their own snips and cuts for censorship purposes.

The booklet accompanying the DVD explains how the technical staff at Criterion was able to take various versions of the movie (both 35mm and 16mm) and restore the original motion picture. The negative is long gone, and what you see in this DVD is probably the best-looking and the most complete version we are likely to ever see.

*Incredible Danny Elfman and his former band, Oingo Boingo, did a very stirring song,  “No Spill Blood,” based on the story.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Get well quick to my fellow Madman, Eddie

My friend, Eddie, is not feeling too well these days. He’s having some medical problems that we all hope can be taken care of soon. Ed and I met through the old Prodigy service, in 1992, when both we and computer technology were young. We introduced ourselves on a DOS-based bulletin board devoted to EC Comics and specifically Mad, of which we were both lifetime fans.

Eddie, like me, loves the inspired craziness of editor/writer Harvey Kurtzman and artist Will (then known as Bill) Elder.  The title of Eddie’s blog, Chicken Fat, comes from the old Mad comics.

Here’s one of my favorite Mad stories, a spoof called “Frank N. Stein!” I scanned it from a comic book called The Nostalgic Mad. From 1972 through 1980 the publishers of Mad magazines produced eight issues reprinting the best of the classic comic book Mad, which they bound into their issues of Mad Special. This is from issue #15, 1974.

I hope it’ll help Eddie on his road to recovery. Get well soon, Ed!

Copyright © 1974, 2013 E. C. Publications, Inc.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man has sex with unconscious woman to “save her life”

I’ve been looking at a newspaper article, “Cops: Man said he had sex with unconscious woman to ‘save her life,’” trying to think of something to say about it. The least is to give the guy credit for being original with his excuse.

The copyrighted article, by Janelle Stecklein for the June 11, 2013 Salt Lake Tribune, says Rodger William Kelly, 50, of St. George, Utah, was arrested for raping an unconscious 29-year-old woman he found on her apartment doorstep. He brought her into his apartment. He placed her on the bed, laid down next to her to warm her up, and inserted his penis to bring up her body temperature.

When police arrived on a report of an unconscious person, they found Kelly giving her CPR. It was only later when the woman saw bruising that she came to believe Kelly had penetrated her. The article ends by saying that the woman and Kelly had been intimate at some point in their relationship, but Kelly admitted she had told him she didn’t want to have sex with him again.

I guess when he found her passed out he saw his opportunity to give it one last go.

Having sex with an unconscious person would be like masturbating with a doll. But Kelly’s “doll” is a human being. The unfortunate victim, in need of medical attention, had no control over the situation. By not calling 911, yet committing a sex act, he multiplied his offenses against decency.

People try to mitigate their guilt even while admitting to a crime. A guy who puts another guy in the hospital by hitting him with a baseball bat might say,“Sure I was mad, sure I swung the bat at him, but if he hadn’t been standing close by he wouldn’t have got whacked upside the head.” Ariel Castro in Cleveland blamed the three girls he kidnapped and held as sex slaves in a house for ten years. If they hadn’t gotten in his car, he claimed, they’d have been okay. It's human nature to try to put the blame elsewhere rather than where it really belongs, especially when it belongs to us.

But how would the guilty party go about mitigating his actions in inserting his penis into the vagina of a woman who is clearly out? “I thought I could bring up her temperature.”

Wow. That might be original, but it’s also the worst excuse I’ve ever heard.

He left out the part about being aroused at the sight of her unconscious body, and his decision to take advantage of the situation. It clearly turned him on.

Some people are twisted like that. In my own case I would need my partner awake, in the moment, and above all, willing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shallow Grave now part of Criterion collection

Criterion has released a beautifully restored version of Danny Boyle’s 1993 debut film, Shallow Grave. It is a dark comedy, and so dark sometimes the comedy barely shines through. In 2012 interviews with the lead actors done for the DVD, the movie is described by actor Christopher Eccleston as being about “the corrosive effects of money.”

It is also inspired by the success of the Coen brothers first film, Blood Simple, and while the movies are miles apart in many ways, the audaciousness of the filmmaking sets them both as trendsetters.

David, Alex and Juliet are flatmates in an affluent area of Edinburgh, Scotland. They interview applicants to be their fourth roommate. They are rough on the applicants, unnecessarily cruel and sarcastic, and turn them down one by one. (Before the final title was chosen, at one point it was called Cruel.)

Christopher Eccleston is David, an accountant, Ewan McGregor is Alex, a tabloid journalist, and Juliet, a hospital doctor, is played by Kerry Fox. It was McGregor’s first major movie role.

Enter Hugo, who applies with Juliet and passes one of her tests.

Juliet tells any men in the flat to answer the ringing telephone, and if a man asks for her to tell him she’s not in. Hugo handles that job for her readily. Juliet is something of an enigma, as is the relationship of the core three. None of them are having an affair, but both of the men desire her sexually. In one brief scene, Juliet steps out of the shower, nude, in front of Alex, and he is sort of stunned, but nothing happens.

Hugo is given no time at all in the flat. He locks himself in his room and when he doesn’t answer the men break down his door. They find him dead, apparently of a drug overdose.

The group opens Hugo’s suitcase and find a million pounds in cash. If they report the death the money will come to light, and they decide to keep it. It’s how they go about it that drives the plot from then on.

Sneaking the corpse, wrapped in black plastic, down several flights of stairs is a tricky business. Luckily none of the neighbors sticks a head out of their door to ask why all the noise in the middle of the night. Later in the movie Alex plays drums  loudly  yet no one complains. They either have neighbors who keep to themselves, or the rooms are soundproof.

They take the corpse to a wooded area, and draw straws to see who will go about the grisly business of burying Hugo, and also cutting off his hands and feet and smashing out his teeth. David gets the job, and in a fit of total revulsion, vomits when cutting off body parts.

Unbeknownst to our three friends is that two very bad men are torturing and killing anyone whom they think can lead them to the money. In one scene a guy is drowned under interrogation. Another man ends up locked in a freezer, alive.

The group does not realize someone is looking for the money. Alex and Juliet, in a frivolous mood, spend £500. Angry, David decides to take charge of the money. He moves himself into the loft (attic), and hides it, with himself sitting as guard.

We don’t know how the bad men learn where the money is, but they burst in to the flat, and after banging Alex’s shins with a crowbar he gives up the location of the money, “in the loft.”

The bad guys aren’t told that David is up there. He has heard the commotion. He is prepared.

What we learn is how much the “corrosive effects of money” has affected David, and what he is willing to do to keep it. The friends become pitted against each other.

Director Danny Boyle has distinguished himself in theater, movies (he directed Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, and the cult zombie thriller, 28 Days Later (2002). He was also the artistic director of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Boyle’s follow-up to Shallow Grave was Trainspotting in 1996, and cemented his reputation as a director to watch.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Welcome to my new neighbor, the NSA Datafarm

The National Security Agency is set to open its new datafarm at Camp Williams in Bluffdale, Utah, in October of this year. It’s a hugely expensive project, and yet it has gone largely unnoticed by Americans, even Utahns. That doesn’t mean it’s been hidden. It’s just that I hadn’t heard any alarm bells go off from the public until the recent news broke about the NSA keeping phone records of Americans.

Artist’s conception of the finished building.

In its official website, the NSA links to articles like “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center,” which leaves no doubt that the purpose of the complex is to house information used in high-tech spying. The NSA calls it “the Utah Data Center, code-named Bumblehive.” Bumblehive! That’s a joke on the Utah state motto, “The Beehive State,” and someone with a sense of humor came up with that one. They further describe the data center as “designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to monitor, strengthen and protect the nation.”

Here’s where it gets interesting (and scary): “The steady use of available computer power and the development of novel computer platforms will enable us to easily turn the huge volume of incoming data into an asset to be exploited, for the good of the nation. (Emphasis mine.) I’m drawn to key words like “novel computer platforms,” “huge volume of incoming data,” and especially “asset to be exploited.”

I’m not a numbers person, so “huge” in terms of incoming data doesn’t really compute in my brain, and adding to my confusion are the terms they throw around for capacity of data storage, using words I’m sure someone sat up nights coining: “The storage capacity . . . will be measured in ‘zettabytes”. What exactly is a zettabyte? There are a thousand gigabytes in a terabyte; a thousand terabytes in a petabyte; a thousand petabytes in an exabyte; and a thousand exabytes in a zettabyte.”

Oh, well, now that they’ve explained it that way…

That same sense of humor pops up again in the last sentence of the paragraph: “Some of our employees like to refer to them as ‘alottabytes”. The employees could refer to them as breakfast biscuits and it would make as much sense, but then, that’s just me. “There are a thousand breakfast biscuits in a terabiscuit…”

Edward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on an operation called PRISM, which is collecting information on Internet use, and comes on the heels of the news of cell phone info gathering, is now in deep. Snowden is in Hong Kong right now. He admits he did it, is proud to be the guy who blew the whistle, and expects reprisals. If he was hoping to escape extradition he might have chosen a place other than Hong Kong, which has an extradition treaty with the U.S. It has exceptions for someone being charged for a “political reason.” We’ll have to see whether they consider dishing American secret spy operations as being political or not, and hand him over.

“Bad boy, bad boy, what ya gonna do…what you gonna do when they come for you?”

Since the NSA is building its Bumblehive so close to my home (it’s not computed in miles, but time, so my route map says it would take twenty minutes to drive), maybe I’ll apply for a job! As Snowden explained, anyone can access any information (that’s disputed, but he claims it’s so). By working there I could look up all of my enemies or old girlfriends, see what Internet sites they access. If I wasn’t keyboarding right now I’d be rubbing my hands with glee just thinking of it. But then, someone might want to do the same to me. Bummer. I don’t want that. So, NSA Human Resources, on second thought never mind. Tear up my application.

The main thing that comes out of these revelations of cell phone info and Internet info gathering is the further erosion of the holy American “right” to privacy. All the new technology is just so tempting for spies to access and use for whatever purposes they envision. As with a lot of other things about Internet and cell phone technology, many rules and laws have yet to be written. The damn gadgets and things are showing up so fast we haven’t figured out a precedent for how to handle the “alottabytes” of stuff out there floating through the ether, ready to be picked up by whomever, for whatever purpose.

Who watches the Watchmen?

Copyright © 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Sometimes answers are known only by the dead

Where is Susan Powell? Wife of Josh, mom of two very young boys, Charlie and Braden. She disappeared on a very cold December night, 2009. The next day when he reported her missing Josh said he took their sons camping at midnight in below freezing weather, and when he returned he found her gone.

A likely story, the skeptics said. Camping in December? He’s gotta be lying.

News reports say when West Valley City, Utah, police checked the Powell home there was a wet spot on a rug where a red stain had been removed. Josh was using fans to dry it.

Blood. He killed her and then he cleaned up.

Police impounded his van, looked for evidence. Josh rented a car, logged hundreds of miles on the odometer. Where did he go?

He took her body, dumped it somewhere far away.

It’s frustrating for the public. People called the West Valley City cops to demand they arrest Josh. “We don’t have enough evidence,” the cops told the news media. They also had no body. No body, no real evidence, no case.

Josh moved back to Washington State to live with his father, Steve. He had Charlie and Braden, and Susan’s parents were upset. They are media savvy. They kept the case public, and the heat on Josh.

In 2013 the cops said they had given up. The West Valley police said they had no more leads, they’ve searched and they’ve talked to people and they’ve examined evidence and yet Susan is still missing, and oh, by the way, Josh, the main suspect, is dead and so are his boys.

Josh fought Susan’s parents for custody rights. The boys were removed to Susan’s parents’ custody, and Josh was granted limited visitation rights. On Super Bowl Sunday, 2012, the social worker brought them to a house Josh had rented solely for the purpose of seeing his boys. He took the boys, slammed and locked the door in her face. Then he took a hatchet and in an inhuman act so egregious I can hardly write it he struck the boys down and set fire to the house. He had enough gasoline in the house that it exploded. He and the boys were dead.

That’s your proof of guilt. By his actions he admitted he killed his wife.

Josh’s father, Steve, was in prison. He is a pervert, a voyeur. He took sneaky-pete photos of little neighbor girls and was charged and sent up. When Josh and Susan lived with him Steve was obsessed by Susan. He wanted her, and made no bones about it. He asked if he could share her with Josh. It was why Susan wanted Josh to move them to Utah, where they could be away from Steve and his obsession.

Steve had something to do with it. He is a sick bastard, lusting after his daughter-in-law. Josh killed Susan, and Steve had something to do with it. We don’t know what, and maybe he’ll tell us what he knows.

Steve remained tight-lipped.

Josh’s brother, Michael, rented some woodsy property in Oregon. Cops searched there, just like they had searched other areas, campgrounds in Utah, the desert in Nevada. They found nothing.

They won’t find her because Josh was too smart. He threw her down an old mine shaft or a well and no one will ever find her body.

Josh’s brother, Michael, killed himself by jumping from a Minneapolis building.

He knew what happened. He was covering for Josh. His conscience got to him. He couldn’t stand the guilt.

It’s infuriating. Four people (at least that we know of) are dead, and probably Susan, also, and the mystery of where she is is not solved. The mystery is a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces. People are taking the pieces, turning them this way and that, trying to figure where they all fit together. But when they put the pieces on the table there are too many missing.

When West Valley Police announced they had nowhere else to go with the mystery, they had other problems unrelated to Susan Powell. The Attorney General was throwing out cases because West Valley’s narcotics squad had screwed up.Cops were suspended. The police chief retired. The city advertised for a new chief, someone to come in and clean house and put the department back into a position of public trust.

Too bad they had some bad drug cops, and a high profile missing person's case that had dragged on and on and on and cost the police department millions to investigate, according to them, and still went nowhere. On TV and in mystery novels somebody would have figured it out, the public thinks. They’d have found her skeleton and identified her through DNA. You know, like CSI or Bones. Fiction is just so much more satisfying.

But this isn’t fiction. Too bad for the image of the West Valley Police that because of television programs people expect mysteries to be solved quickly and conclusively. Quick resolution — or any resolution at all — is sometimes impossible in real life. And so the question is still out there, where is Susan Powell?

She’s in heaven, say her faithful fellow Mormons. Shes in heaven with Charlie and Braden, free from care, in the loving arms of Jesus. And Josh...? Well, hes somewhere else.