Angler In Darkness by M. Wayne Miller

I was gonna wait till the titles were in place and all, but rather than mar it with my name, I thought I’d give you all a sneak peak of M. Wayne Miller’s art for my forthcoming short fiction collection Angler In Darkness.

I love working with Wayne because while the development of my own art skills was arrested somewhere around my Freshman year of high school, I can float him a meager sketch of what I want and he delivers it so close to how I actually see it in my mind it’s uncanny. He may as well be mind melding with me. The late great Norm Rubenstein introduced me to Wayne when he got him to do the awesome wraparound cover for my Van Helsing novel Terovolas. I only sent him a text description, but he absolutely nailed what Norm and I both envisioned.  

Later, I was nervous sending him a sketch of what I envisioned for my story The Boonieman in World War Cthulhu as I didn’t want to offend him as an artist, but he took the bare bones I sent him and just…well, turned it into art. 

Anyway, without further ado….

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Awesome.

Check out Wayne’s work here.

http://www.mwaynemiller.com/

 

Andersonville On Tour

andersonvilleReviews for my new Random House-Hydra novel Andersonville are coming from Lit Reactor, Publishers Weekly, and Examiner as well as Goodreads and so far they’re pretty positive across the board.

Gef Fox interviewed me about the book at his blog and the always friendly folks at Fantasy Book Review lent me some space there to talk about the development of the novel, so please check those out.

Andersonville is doing the rounds of a slew of blogs across the ether, so please take a look at these fine sites. They’ll be featuring reviews at the appointed times or thereabouts.

TOUR STOPS:

Monday, August 17th: Stephanie’s Book Reviews….100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, August 18th: Fourth Street Review

Tuesday, August 18th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 19th: The Reader’s Hollow

Wednesday, August 19th: Tynga’s Reviews

Thursday, August 20th: A Book Geek

Monday, August 24th: Bewitched Bookworms

Tuesday, August 25th: Kissin’ Blue Karen

Wednesday, August 26th: Kari J. Wolfe

Thursday, August 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, August 28th: Vic’s Media Room

Monday, August 31st: It’s a Mad Mad World

Tuesday, September 1st: SJ2B House of Books

Wednesday, September 2nd: Historical Fiction Obsession

Thursday, September 3rd: Kimberly’s Bookshelf

Friday, September 4th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, September 7th: From the TBR Pile

Thy Just Punishments in That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do from Angelic Knight/Ragnarok

Today editor and author Lincoln Crisler delivers another bouncing baby anthology, THAT HOODOO, VOODOO THAT YOU DO: A DARK RITUALS ANTHOLOGY with the help of Angelic Knight/Ragnarok Publications, the same fine folks who’ll be bringing you my novella collection WITH SWORD AND PISTOL this August.

Hoodoo-Front

The book has a great lineup (and an excellent cover by Shawn King and Joe Martin) –

“Sa fè lontan / Long Time, No See” by Sarah Hans
“Young Girls Are Coming to Ajo” by Ken Goldman
“Into the Mirror Black” by Tim Marquitz
“Severed” by Brandon Ford
“Afflicted” by A.J. Brown
“A Little Bit of Soul” by Craig Cook
“Coughs and Sneezes” by James K. Isaac
“Secret Suicide” by Amy Braun
“Wounds” by Greg Chapman
“Sturm und Drang” by Jeff C. Carter
“Shades of Hades” by E.J. Alexander
“For Love” by DJ Tyrer
“Gingerbread Man” by Rose Strickman
“Johnny Two Places” by Mark Mellon
“The Seed” by N.X. Sharps
“Late Payment” by Jake Elliot
“Masquerade” by C.A. Rowland
“Lessons from a Victory Garden” by Jason Andrew
“The Projectionist” by Timothy Baker
“The Right Hand Man” by J.S. Reinhardt
“Paper Craft” by Leigh Saunders

For my own offering, THY JUST PUNISHMENTS, I reached back into my own Roman Catholic upbringing for a tale of murder and (I hope) laughs.

It’s inspired by a throwaway line by Ward Bond in THE QUIET MAN (“I’ll read yer name in the Mass!”) which refers to the old belief that reading the name of a live person in the requiem for the dead portion of the Mass will result in their untimely death.

I was an altar boy in a Polish parish, and for this story, recalled a lot of the various draconian sisters, slightly inebriated priests, and disapproving old parishioners I have known.

THY JUST PUNISHMENTS concerns the matter of South Boston pastor Father Tim O’Herlihey, a bitter old racehorse aficionado who feeds his gambling addiction by regularly enacting a dark and blasphemous ritual under the noses of his parishioners, reading the names provided to him by a contract killer for the Southie Irish mob and then splitting the profit with him when the victims wind up dead. But when the neighboring parish closes for renovations a crotchety old lady named Mary Ladhe starts paying peculiarly close attention to his doings, and Father Tim finds himself matching wits with a lady of the Old Country, of the Old Magic….

Here’s an excerpt.

————————-

Twenty bucks later he had a black rooster in the kitty carrier and was on his way back to the church.

The sun had gone down and Eladio had locked up the church, but Father Tim had his keys.

He locked the door behind him, went into the sacristy, and changed into his vestments, taking the old red iron knife that had been his great uncle’s from the lock box at the bottom of his closet. He took the carrier out to the altar and lit the candles.

He laid out the chalice, missal, and the black corporal, and began the orate fratres.

“Orate, fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipotentem.”

The greatest injustice to the Roman rite had been the Vatican’s abandonment of Latin. His uncle had always told him that old words had power, and English diluted that power.

sanctuaryHe had loved the old Latin mass since his boyhood, and as an altar boy had not confined himself to the responses, but memorized even the priest’s words. Indeed, he had imagined himself not a mere server, but a kind of acolyte in the sacred traditions, a boy-priest on a mystic path. He sometimes fancied in his most blasphemous moments that the opulent house of God with its marble floors and golden accoutrements was his own throne room.

Then once during a particularly early mass, he had mistakenly dashed the silver paten against the edge of the altar and the Holy Eucharist had fallen to the floor. Just a clumsy, daydreaming boy’s mistake, but the entire congregation had let out a collective gasp that had colored his cheeks and ears.

The disapproving scowl of Father John as he stooped over to retrieve the Host by hand had solidified his embarrassment, and to make matters worse, Sister Doligosa had slapped him in the sacristy when he’d returned to change out of his cassock after mass.

“You serve like a cowboy,” the wrinkled old woman had scolded.

He’d been eleven, and run from the church with stinging tears.

He’d been something of a bad boy after that, smoking, profaning, drinking, fleeing wholly from the church in frustrated anger. He had decided that in that moment of innocent clumsiness, he’d been afforded a glimpse at the true nature of so-called believers; that they put more stock in pomp and ritual than in the true love of God.

Hypocrites.

Yet his dear mother had been worried at his turn around, and sent him off to spend time with his great Uncle Patrick, a priest himself from the old country, though of a decidedly different kind than any he’d ever met before or since.

Uncle Patrick had seen the anger in the boy, and one day coaxed the story of why he’d all but abandoned his faith.

To Tim’s surprise, Uncle Patrick had said;

“It’s entirely right you are, Tim. The world is populated wholly by dumb bleating sheep with no understanding whatsoever of the power of the Mass. The Mass is nothing less than magic, Tim. Magic passed down to us from the agents of the gods. And through it,” he said, touching the side of his red nose and winking one sky blue eye, “those with the knowing can bend the will of the angels to our own purpose.”

Tim recited the sursum coda,  sang the trisanctus and the hosanna, and then unlocked the carrier and took out the twitching black cockerel.

Now, with relish, he lifted the clucking chicken high with the iron knife and recited the consecration, the ultimate blasphemy, naming the fowl the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The knife was a relic of the Old Religion, Uncle Patrick had said, given to a monk named Finnian by one of the legendary Tuatha De, the magic folk of Old Ireland, Tuan mac Cairill.  The story was that the monk had sought out Tuan and preached the Gospel to him. Tuan had told the monk of his own gods, and that the monk Finnian had realized the folly of Christianity, and pledged himself to Tuan’s instruction. Tuan, knowing that Christ had conquered his people, saw an opportunity to keep their memory alive and strike at the Church from within. He bestowed Finnian with the sacred sacrificial knife, and the monk became the first of a secret line of priests who paid lip service to Christ but honored the old gods, and perverted the Mass to their ends whenever they could.

And so Tim had become the latest of that ancient line.

He passed the sacred knife of Tuan beneath the beak of the rooster and lets its blood piddle into the chalice.

When it was drained, he raised the brimming cup of blood and the dead animal carcass again to the empty church and proclaimed;

 “Per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti in unitate Spiritus Sancti omnis honor et gloria per omnia saecula saeculorum.”

He recited the rest of the rite of transubstantiation, broke the chicken’s neck symbolically, and laid it on the paten.

Then, he recited in Gaelic the age old curse;

“Michael O’Bannon –

No butter be on your milk nor on your ducks a web

May your child not walk and your cow be flayed

And may the flame be bigger and wider

Which will go through your soul

Than the Connemara mountains

If they were a-fire.”

He raised the cup to his lips and downed the warm iron-tasting blood.

That night, as ever, he roasted and ate the chicken.

—————————-

I’m very proud of this story and hope enjoy it.

It can be gotten here –

http://www.amazon.com/That-Hoodoo-Voodoo-You-Anthology-ebook/dp/B00SQG9FFQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1422302407&sr=8-2&keywords=that+hoodoo+voodoo

Sláinte chuig na fir, agus go mairfidh na mná go deo!

DT Moviehouse Reviews: Aliens

Continuing my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s my take on James Cameron’s celebrated Alien sequel, Aliens.

(1986) Directed by James Cameron, Screenplay by James Cameron, Story by Walter Hill and David Giler.

Tagline: This time it’s war.

What it’s about:

57 years after the original Alien, navigator Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) life pod drifts into deep space and is picked up by a group of salvagers. She awakens from her overlong hypersleep (with Jones the cat) on Gateway Station in orbit above the earth, where company man Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) debriefs her on her predicament. She is stripped of her piloting license over her admitted detonation of the Nostromo and her testimony about the alien that killed her crew goes ignored. The planet where the Nostromo picked up the alien is now LV-426, a terraforming colony of over a hundred fifty souls who has never reported any encounter with any hostile organism. Then, almost as if Ripley’s awakening has roused the aliens, the Company loses contact with the colony. Burke approaches Ripley about going back to LV-426 with a contingent of Colonial Marines to act in an advisory capacity. Plagued by nightmares, she finally agrees, and sets out with a platoon of heavily armed but cocky troops to investigate. They find the colony partially destroyed and deserted but for a small girl, Newt (Carrie Hen), who survived the alien onslaught by hiding in ventilation ducts. And then the motion trackers start beeping….

Why I bought it:

Simply put, I know this movie from “Bio-readouts are all in the green” to “High-firmative.”  When I first discovered it on HBO around 1987 or 88 I must’ve watched my VHS recording of it in a constant loop for a couple weeks.

As I said in my Alien review, I had never seen the original prior to this, but this induced me to first read the Alan Dean Foster novelizations of both movies, and then see the original movie.

So which is better? Well, it wholly depends on who you are, what kind of story you’re in the mood for. My personal favorite (and it’s gonna sound like a copout) is whichever one I happen to be watching. Alien is mood and tension. It’s a cold, detached sci-fi horror movie. Aliens takes that tension and flicks it like a taut rubberband. It’s an amusement park ride. It’s a thrilling, kick ass action movie in the vein of Predator (which is why the crossover between the franchises always seemed so inevitable) and Rambo.

But at its core, it’s got more heart than Alien. In fact, Alien is like Ash, the synthetic humanoid in that movie. Cold, analytical, calculating and cruel. Aliens is Bishop (Lance Henricksen). Artificial sure, but with a strong humanistic streak that you’re not quite sure is genuine until the end.

It’s been said a million times by better critics than me, but the soul of Aliens is the relationship between Ripley and Newt. A surrogate mother and an orphaned daughter. Ripley is Soft Mother and the Alien Queen is Wire Mother and they’re at war over Newt. All the posturing of the Marines, the excellent violent action, is tertiary to this conflict.

Now when I was twelve years old, I didn’t see that. It was all about the Marines, so allow me to channel my younger self and gush a bit.

Oh Hicks…you look just like I feel.

Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn, who I’m pretty sure I had some kind of man crush on in my formative years – it was his Kyle Reese in Terminator that got me wearing a trenchcoat in high school, not any misanthropic ‘mafioso’ devotion to sheer outsider-ness), brilliantly loud mouthed Hudson (the inimitable Bill Paxton who my friends and I used to just laugh at whenever we saw him anywhere – now I can see what a great, affable actor the dude is – and a director! Have you seen Frailty???), kick ass Latina lesbian Vasquez (Jeanette GOLDSTEIN – yeah, in my youth I had no idea. But Joel Grey as Chiun fooled me for years – my Remo Williams copy had been recorded on SLP and was pretty blurry), hard bitten Sgt. Apone (Al Matthews), and their stick up his ass, over his head, but ultimately heroic leader Lt. Gorman (William Hope), to say nothing of Crowe, Frost, Wierzbowski, Drake, Dietrich, Spunkmeyer, and Ferro.

Yeah and that was without opening another window. Entirely from memory. How many movies are there where the minor characters (and I mean so minor they’re introduced and they die in the span of about a half hour) are memorable enough that you can name them all? Given a little time and space I could probably attribute each character to their lines (except for poor old T. Crowe, who I don’t think had any).

Private T. Crowe….the quiet one.

That’s a testament to the writing and the acting in Aliens.

You take to the Marines almost immediately. They’re cocky, self-assured, gung ho jackasses all, with Hudson reigning supreme. Hudson is the loudmouth complainer every job, every sports team has. The guy that if you work with him you’re either shaking your head at his antics or turning around and telling him to shut the hell up already. They don’t believe in the aliens (xenomorphs, as Lt. Gorman calls them) any more than the company does, and though they quickly discover evidence of their existence, in true post-Vietnam war movie fashion, as soon as they come face to face with the enemy, their technology amounts to a precise ratio of doodly/squat. In fact, they’re thrown into an utter panic, three quarters of them die outright (in a memorable scene, Lt. Gorman stares at his remote mission monitor in disbelief as a marine’s bio readouts flatline before his eyes.) like stormtroopers against Ewoks, like the US cavalry at Little Big Horn.

We ain’t in space. Scream all you want.

The aliens literally emerge from the hive walls in which the colonists are found cocooned and snatch them one by one. They even torch each other in their confusion. And you realize that although you’ve been waiting for this to happen the entire time, you’re suddenly saddened to see the unit get their asses kicked so thoroughly. Going back and seeing the first Alien, there’s a definite added thrill in knowing how tough to kill one xenomorph was on a single ship and then seeing a slew of them cut loose with an entire colonial outpost to hide in.

But then Ripley comes in, piloting God knows how many tons of armored APC through the wall and Hicks musters the broken survivors and they spin wheels the hell outta there, running down aliens and sending their acidic blood spraying everywhere in the process. Ripley comes into her own in this scene. In Alien, as I said, she came off a bit cold and unlikeable, but in Aliens, as soon as she comes in contact with Newt, the orphan girl, we see a side of her we didn’t see in Alien, and she’s a stronger and more interesting character.  There’s a great moment after their initial meeting where they’re watching the Marines’ camera feed of the hive interior and Ripley sees the people cocooned in the walls. She immediately tells Newt to leave the viewing area, like a parent who knows something inappropriate is coming (and it does).

The music in the forementioned ambush scene is my favorite in the whole movie. James Horner apparently felt Aliens was a rush job, but he really turned in some great work here. The music is alternately rousing and eerie.

I also have to talk up the technical aspects a little. Aliens is slicker looking than Alien, but it makes sense, and not just because we’re in the 80’s now. We’re fifty years more into the future, and we’re mainly aboard a military ship, which you have to assume is kept cleaner and more presice than a commercial towing rig. Go on the bridge of a cargo ship and compare it to the bridge of a Navy vessel and you’ll see what I mean. The Marines’ gear is functional and believable (the personalizations scrawled on their guns and armor and helmets are cool touches), with the mecha-suit loader and the rapid sound of the pulse rifles being a particularly imaginative standout. Futurized enough to plant us firmly in sci-fi territory, but readily idenitifable as to each thing’s purpose.

Most of the menacing subtleties of lighting in Alien are exchanged for more dramatic and mood enchancing reds and blues (LOTS of blue – I’d lay money on what Cameron’s favorite color is…and Michael Mann’s too).  But it all comes together nicely.

In rewatching it, I noticed this time around how many tricks Cameron used to great effect. I saw the same alien blow apart maybe three times, and you rarely see more than four aliens on screen at a time (and then only briefly), yet you really get the sense there are hundreds slavering in the shadows. Lots of reaction shots. I guess Cameron was working under a lot of constraints, monetary and professional (he had notoriously bad relations with the British crew), but he proves himself a massively talented and ingenious filmmaker, just as he did with the relatively low budget original Terminator.

They mostly come out at night…mostly.

The alien queen is a brilliant piece of puppetry, the real ‘money shot’ of the movie. The practical FX in this film are heads and shoulders above most CGI stuff you see nowadays. There’s just something about seeing a real person go head to head with something right there in front of them in the same light that can’t be topped. Hicks rolling backwards to ‘carry’ a leaping alien on a bed of automatic fire, or Vasquez pinning one of the things to the side of the shaft with her boot and firing point blank into its head, or (of course) Ripley in the loader ducking back as the queen’s jaws come snapping at her face.  All infinitely more visceral and engaging than watching what’s essentially a video game cut scene.

You get another fake out ending in the tradition of the first Alien, and it’s a doozy. All in all it’s a brilliant addition to the franchise, probably the one that really insured its future.

And don’t get me started on the stuff Aliens has inspired in look and story. Surely a whole generation of FPS video games owe their plots and feel to Aliens.

“I like to keep this handy…for close encounters.”

A word on the Director’s Cut. It’s a little overlong and makes the pacing hiccup a bit. There is some absolute gold in there in terms of character development. We learn Ripley had a daughter who died on earth two years before she is rescued from the lifepod, and this greatly informs her character, ehancing the relationship with Newt. At the same time, we see the colony (Hadley’s Hope) in full bloom of activity, learn a little bit more about Burke’s treachery, and best of all, see Newt pre-disaster, as her parents stumble upon the same derelict spacecraft and unwittingly unleash the xenomorphs. There’s a cool little time waster with the Marines setting up a bunch of robot sentry guns to discourage the aliens from overrunning them. Nothing much gained, but a neat sequence, and again very much on the cheap. We’re literally watching ammo counters click down and hearing the bullets and alien screeches. That’s it. But still a tense scene. There’s a short but sweet parting exchange between the acid-burned Hicks and Ripley before she goes off to rescue Newt and he succumbs to painkillers. Though it does seem just a tad out of place considering the situation and the breakneck progression of the sequence, it’s nice to hear them exchange first names, something we don’t canonically get in the rest of the movie. It’s also a proper goodbye to Hicks. Finally there are some slight dialogue additions here and there, and what I have to admit is a kind of embarrassing sequence with Hudson regailing Ripley on their armaments in the drop ship. One too many uses of the word ‘badass.’

Anyway, let’s hope Prometheus is even a third as good as Alien/Aliens.

Now you’ll notice Alien 3 is NOT next in my queue. You won’t find it or any of the other entries in the series in my collection. While I like David Fincher (Se7en is amazing, and Alien 3 really isn’t a bad movie, per say), Alien 3’s opening totally rips the heart out of Ripley’s storyline. By killing Ripley’s hardwon surrogate family offscreen, the producers pretty much destroyed any interest I had in seeing Ripley any more.  They very cheaply SNAFU’d her character progression, and actually tried to set her back on her own emotional timeline. It just doesn’t work, and worse, undercuts all the great drama of this movie. There’s also a major leap in logic involving an egg somehow making its way onto the Sulacco that I just can’t forgive. And I won’t even mention the abyssmal Alien: Resurrection. For me the series ends here and picks up again with Aliens vs. Predator.

For a better continuation of the series post Aliens, I’d heartily recommend Mark Verheiden’s ‘Aliens’ comic book, published in the very early days of Dark Horse, before Alien 3. In that comic, you get a grown up and deeply disturbed Newt, a scarred and angry Hicks, a great take on the space jockeys, and a simultaneous invasion of the aliens’ homeworld by a troop of synthetic marines led by Hicks AND contamination of the earth by the aliens (due to a really fascinating subplot involving religious zealots stealing the alien from a government facility and willfully impregnating themselves).  The first two volumes have some amazing writing, and it really takes the series in much more natural progression, though I think it would’ve benefited from the presence of Ripley earlier on – she doesn’t appear until much later, and by then Alien 3 had been announced and the continuity was already on its way to being abandoned. Newt’s and Hicks’ character names were actually changed in later reprints!

Best bit of dialogue:

There are great lines galore in this movie but my favorite is at the commissary table on the Sulaco just after Bishop does his knife trick with Hudson. Early in the meal Spunkmeyer throws down his food and exclaims ‘What’s this crap supposed to be?’

FROST: Cornbread, I think.

HICKS: It’s good for you boy, eat it.

While at the big boy’s table, Bishop sits down and observes a trickle of milky synthetic blood running from a nick in his thumb.  Ripley is instantly upset, remembering her violent encounter with Ash in the first movie. Bishop tries to placate her by assuring her it’s physically impossible for him to harm a human due to his programming. He passes her a tray of food and she angrily slaps it out of his hand with a huge clang, drawing the attention of the other Marines.

RIPLEY: Just stay away from me, Bishop! You got that?

The Marines return to their dinner.

FROST: Guess she don’t like the cornbread either.

Best scene:

The second alien attack in the colony’s Operations Center. The surviving Marines and Ripley, Newt and Burke had welded the corridor doors shut and are confident they have blocked off every possible way in.

There must be something we missed….Something not in the plans.

Hudson’s motion tracker start beeping off, multiple little flashing dots, and he counts down the meters as the tremendous body of creatures advances. They huddle up and lock and load their weapons, watching the door, the only possible entryway, waiting for the impact of the creatures. Six meters, and Ripley declares….’That can’t be – that’s inside the room!’  Still, the signal gets closer. Necks crane to the ceiling, and the sinking feeling is palpable. Hicks grabs a light and climbs up on a desk, poking his head through the vent, illuminating a shaft crammed with aliens, crawling silently forward on the walls, floor and ceiling.

“Come on you bastards! Come on you too! Oh you want some of this?”

The close action sequence that follows as the aliens crash through the ceiling sees the rapid deaths of Hudson (one of the most memorable and surprisingly game bow outs I’ve ever seen in an action movie – for all his bitching and moaning he goes out like a boss), Burke, Vasquez and Gorman.

Would I buy it again? Yes.

Next in the queue: The Apostle

DT Moviehouse Reviews: Alien

Continuing my infrequent blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s my take on the movie that kicked off the Aliens franchise, Alien (coincidentally just in time for the release of this movie’s supposed prequel, the much-anticipated Prometheus).

(1979) Directed by Ridley Scott, Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Ronald Shusett

Tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream.

What it’s about:

Sometime in the far future the crew of the Nostromo, a deep space commercial towing vessel, awakens from their months long sleep to respond to a signal beacon on a nearby uncharted planet. Three of the crew members, Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Kane (John Hurt) explore the source of the mechanical beacon, an alien spacecraft with a dead extra terrestrial pilot (the mysterious space jockey purported to be the basis of the new movie Prometheus) and a payload of eggs. A creature hatches from one of the eggs and attaches itself to Kane’s face, impregnating him with a savage predatory organism which gestates and then bursts from his chest, stalking the crew among the labrynthine corridors of the monolothic starship.

Why I bought it:

This is a seminal work of science fiction horror. I only saw stills and commercials of this movie as a kid in the seventies and it haunted me into young adulthood. How can a green glowing hen’s egg conjure such dread in a kid? Maybe it was the eerie music by Jerry Goldsmith in the commercials. I actually saw the sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens before I finally saw Alien, and for years I preferred it. I actually only saw Alien to enrich my ribald love of Aliens (and I read the Alan Dean Foster novelization before I even saw it). Now….well, I’m not sure. That’s a question to ask in answer in the next review, which is of that movie.

If there is such a thing as science fiction cinema verite, it’s Alien. The bizarre, unsavory subject matter is right out of an EC horror comic, but the movie works because it’s somehow entirely realistic and believable. The characters (played by an ensemble of extremely naturalistic and talented actors, all in their prime, all deserving a mention – Sigourney Weaver -in a star making debut- Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Koto, Veronica Cartwright and Ian Holm) mumble and engage in crosstalk, bitch about un-cinematic things like finder’s fees and payroll shares, and so look genuinely hysterical when one of their own suddenly keels over at dinner and expels a slithering toothy horror from his broken, bloody chest cavity (There’s an oft-repeated rumor that Veronica Cartwright had no idea the creature was gonna pop out – this isn’t entirely true. Obviously John Hurt is not actually laying on the table at the time of the burst, so you know there was a lot of FX set up – but the actors apparently weren’t warned about blood squibs going off and when Cartwright gets sprayed with fake blood, she apparently really did have a conniption).  This is the only sci-fi movie I can think of where I’m drawn into a secure lull. Except for a few interjections of Goldsmith’s superb score (I can’t think of a good way to describe it – somehow ‘non-orchestral’), it’s actually like The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez in that I don’t remember I’m watching a movie in the first half.

The FX and set design are made to compliment the performances, not perform themselves. Everything, though insanely complex (the coolant room in which Harry Dean Stanton’s character is killed looks like some kind of mechanical alien cathedral, or a room in Harlan Ellison’s ‘Martian Pyramid’), looks entirely lived in and functional, and no set piece ever really intrudes on the action.

Brilliant acting and set design (and music) aside, the central piece of Alien is the xenomorph itself, designed by H.R. Geiger. The thing is indescribable. Part carpenter ant, part beetle, part lizard, part sexualized human skeleton. And it changes in subtle ways every time we see it. It’s horrific reproductive cycle speaks directly to the innate male discomfort with the human reproductive process itself (or at least, to mine anyway), and then perverts it to the extreme, rendering an instantly unforgettable image in the mind.

The scenes where the crew alternately hunts and flees from the growing creature in the dark bowels of this immense ship are methodical and claustrophobic, slowly building the tension to deliver maximum fright when something does happen. Perfectly directed. This may be the last hurrah of seventies cinema.

Also of note is the performance by Sigourney Weaver as of one of moviedom’s most believable action heroines, Ellen Ripley. She’s not quite the ass kicker she is in Aliens here, but by the end of the movie she’s well on the road. She’s already a bit of a ball cracker, and it’s cool that the script has the daring to make her not entirely likable. Stanton and Kotto’s affable engineers don’t much care for her, and at first audience sympathy naturally sways against her. She’s the one who wants to play by the book and keep the infected Kane off the ship, despite it coming off as inhumane. Ian Holm’s Science Officer Ash instead lets him in, but it becomes obvious that he wasn’t motivated by his humanity…in a shocking later scene in which Ripley discovers he’s endangered them all on orders from the shadowy ‘company,’ we find he doesn’t have any to speak of.

As a matter of fact, it’s at that point that sympathies really start to swing toward Ripley as a character and as the heroine of the movie. Her percieved cold bitch facade drops tearfully in the face of Ash’s uncrupulous android. I love Holm’s detached creepiness. He comes across as out of touch with everybody else, possibly due to the nature of his job, or perhaps due to some social or scholarly standing (noticeably, he’s the only Brit aboard). There’s a great aside right after the alien kills Kane where Ash refers to it as ‘Kane’s son.’

Then at last there’s the famous fakeout ending, which supposedly duped a lot of overeager-to-beat-the-parking-lot-traffic movie watchers into missing the real climax. It’s possible Alien singlehandedly created a generation of moveigoers who sit through the end credits….just to be sure.

I’ve seen both the theatrical version and the director’s cut of this movie. Scott prefers the original. I guess I do too, but it’s interesting to see Ripley’s discovery of the cocooned Dallas, and I don’t know who Veronica Cartwright pissed off, but every single scene that gives her mainly shrill and panicky character depth wound up on the cutting room floor, so it’s worth watching to see Lambert shine.

Best bit of dialogue:

This is a tough one. As I said, the dialogue is so natural it’s hard to pick out any real Hollywood lines. I guess the closest is in the scene immediately after the decapitation of the company android Ash.  Parker wires up his paste and lubricant covered head on the table top, and the reanimate but harmless Ash answers a few questions about the nature of their mission and what he knows about the alien. He admits to deliberately seeking to impregnate the crew and deliver the specimen to the company, and even allows that he ‘admires it’s purity.’

He winds up the revelations with –

‘I can’t lie to you about your chances…but you have my sympathies.’

‘He’s a robot! Ash is a goddamn robot!’

And then a ghoulishly patronizing grin spreads across his face and Parker knocks loose his power source and torches the synthetic flesh off his artificial skull.

Best scene:

‘Nuff said.`

Would I buy it again? Yes

Next up in the queue: Aliens

Music To Murder By: Aural Pleasures In Gully Gods, The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues, And The Merkabah Rider Series

A lot of writers I know talk about the music they listen to while they write, how it inspires them. I have never been musically inclined and I need almost total silence to write most of the time. I find music distracting, particularly if it has lyrics, or if I associate it with something else, like a movie soundtrack or something.

There have been three notable exceptions, Gully Gods (from Four In The Morning) The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues, and Merkabah Rider.

I still don’t listen to music while I’m writing, but for these three works there are certain songs I’ve found myself listening to (usually in the car) to get me in the mindset. Particularly for Gully Gods and Crawlin’ Chaos, which both mention a couple of these tracks in the body of the story.

‘It was real hot that night, August in Houston. Me and B and Cripto was chillin’ in the Subway parking lot smokin’ beedies and eatin’ footlongs over the trunk of his ride (a tricked out two toned black and grey’92  Buick Roadmaster nigga called The Batmobile – had chrome bats on the dub spinners) and listenin’ to ‘Face when a pickup full of Southside Cholos pulled up and got out…’

‘Face is Brad T. Jordan, the Houston rapper Scarface, formerly of the Geto Boys. If you’ve seen Office Space you’ve heard him. Apparently like me,  Mike Judge is a big fan. He even appears as the pimp Upgrayyde in Judge’s Idiocracy.

Something about Scarface’s voice and delivery reminds me of one of my all time favorite musicians, Chester Burnett AKA Howlin’ Wolf. But I’ll talk about him later. Like the Wolf, Scarface has a distinctively deep voice, almost like a minister’s. I would call him a minister of rage and darkness. His lyrics are vivid and emotionally evocative (‘I’ve got this killer up inside/of me I can’t talk to my mother/so I talk to my diary – and ‘Outside I see the cop cars flashin they lights/Raindrops symbolizing God is saving the life/The sun shining so they say the devil beatin his wife/The body bloody underneath the sheet is waitin for Christ/The streets is hungry- so I know they watchin -waitin to strike/But anything you ever got for easy came with a price’), and he swings wildly from violent, reprehensible glorification of a violent life, to deeply spiritual condemnation – but in the latter, never preachy or accusatory. He’s a pioneer of the southern Dirty South sound, something the movie Hustle & Flow portrays pretty well.

The song J-Hoss and Bruce Wayne are listening to in the parking lot is an old but a goody that sets the tone for the entire novella – Scarface’s Never Seen A Man Cry Till I Seen A Man Die –

Another one from Scarface that I listened to again and again and sort of informed the mentality of my protagonist and the various characters was G-Code –

‘She so damn fine. She move perfect. Like a curtain in the breeze, her hips be swayin.’

She smile and come in close and we be grindin’ up against each other. She smell real good.

“You like this music?” she ask. She got to lean in close and talk in my ear, and her breath is hot and sweet like gum.

“Uh huh,” I say. “It’s old ain’t it?”

“Yeah,” she say. “A couple years. Tres Delincuentes. You know what they’re saying?”

She cross her wrists behind the back of my neck and watch me and I put my hands on her waist, feel it sliding side to side, warm under my hands.

“Uh uh,” I say.

The song in this passage is Delinquent Habits by Tres Delincuentes. It’s kind of a West Coast Mexican hip hop tune, but it’s a great party song. I love the incorporation of the mariachi brass.

‘Then I hear the music. It ain’t from the party. It’s this heavy 808 thumpin,’ comin’ down the ave. Ain’t no oompa doompa, neither. It’s somethin’ old school. Familiar.

  I turn my head, cheek to the street, and see a pair of headlights comin’ slow down the block. Brights be on, bright as a pair of suns. They higher off the ground than a car.

It stop a couple feet away.

All of us be in the headlights, but nobody lay offa me. They just all of ‘em turn and look.

The doors open and the music gets louder. I ain’t heard that shit in forever. It be The D.O.C. My pops used to play that shit in his ride. Ridin’ with him with the stereo bumpin,’ be one of the only memories I got of him.

A couple dark shapes get out and stand in front of the headlights. Them lights is so bright you can’t see shit but two motherfuckers standing there like a couple of shadows.’

The song in this passage is ‘It’s Funky Enough’ by the D.O.C. It’s pretty old, but I figured the Liberians might’ve just been getting into it. It’s got a menacing beat, very aggressive sounding, well suited to the scene, but it’s probably one of the most G-rated songs on this page, funny enough. The D.O.C. is one of hip-hop’s great tragedies. He did one promising solo album and promptly lost his voice in an injury sustained in a car accident. He’s gone on to be a successful producer and I heard he might be at last getting some kind of corrective surgery this year.

Stallone and Merciless throw Pocho in the chair and grab hold of him. Gravefilla take the guns over to a table and start layin’ ‘em in a drawer.

 I go over with the pliers. The brown brown make me feel like this a video game or somethin’ – like I ain’t even in my body. I ain’t even doin’ what I doin.’

Hitler turn on the boombox, and some heavy shit old school shit come thumpin’ out. Music to murder by.

“Yo, fuck you mayates,” Pocho yell. He sound all fucked up ‘cause his teeth busted. “You just better fuckin’ kill me. ‘Cause I get loose I’ma kill me some niggers.”

I reach out with the pliers and I catch that piece of skin and bone between his nostrils. His whole body lock up like I got him by the nuts.

“You like movies, mayne. How you like the Three Stooges?”

For that scene I had two songs in mind. Firstly the Boston-born group Gang Starr and their Take It Personal.  The world lost a real talent when MC Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) passed away recently. Talk about your distinctive voices.

The other was NWA’s Real Niggaz Don’t Die – possibly one of the angriest, most intense and vitriolic mainstays in their catalog. If you’re easily offended, don’t click on this one.

I’ve already talked about Howlin’ Wolf’s influence on my Lovecraftian blues short story The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues over at Greg Mitchell’s blog. I hate repeating myself, so go take a look at it.

Back?

OK then.

Songs that show up in The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues –

When I first seen King Yeller, he was leanin’ on a beer sign watchin’ that Lake Street L clackin’ overhead, one bent Kool stuck in his lips, beatin’ out ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ as best he could on a rusty ‘ol National with a pocket knife for a slide.

Crammed into the corner with a jumpin’ band was the man hisself, Howlin’ Wolf, all three hundred pounds of him, black as pig iron and sweatin’ like a steam engine, crawling on all fours, rollin’ his eyes, and flickin’ his tongue like a snake. He was wailin’ ‘Evil’ into a microphone and he sure looked like a man possessed by a devil. He was too big for the place, so goddamned big when he stood up and put his harp between his hands and blew he looked about to swallow it whole.

Yeller had picked out one of them fine biscuits in the crowd and was singin’ straight at her. She was that devil-eyed type woman lay her business on you, make you forget your own name, how much money you got in your pocket. She seen what Yeller was about right off, and she give him a smile over her man’s shoulder. That gap in her two front teeth let you know she liked to get her jelly rolled. He played ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ at her, and then ‘One Way Out,’ and by the time he finished up, her man had took notice.

Now for The Merkabah Rider series, there are a few tracks I listen to to put me in the mood, though of course, none of them actually appear in the books.

As you might suspect, most of them are Ennio Morricone pieces. In particular these.

And legendary bluegrass mandolin master Bill Monroe’s My Last Days On Earth. If any song encompasses the entirety of the series and the feel I’m trying to portray, it’d be this one.

My friend Ryan Gerossie also put together this book trailer using music we both composed and played (I did the Jaw harp and the monotonous guitar tune) for the indie film we did together in 2009, Meaner Than Hell (you can watch the trailer on the sidebar). This tune is sort of my default Rider theme (though if I had my way I’d find a way to mix some kind of klezmer or Hebrew chanting in there).

Anyway, listen. Broaden your horizons. Enjoy.

Bigfoot Walsh In Welcome To Hell: An Anthology Of Western Weirdness

Coming at you from E-Volve Books is WELCOME TO HELL: AN ANTHOLOGY OF WESTERN WEIRDNESS, edited by the maestro of all things Sasquatch, Eric S. Brown.

First take a look at this cover. I think it’s one of the best my work’s ever appeared under to date.

Reminds me a still from the opening credits of a Leone movie.

I’m told the title of the anthology is a direct reference to the words the stranger paints over the Lago town sign in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, a movie I’m a tremendous fan of.

I’m in great company here – Stoker Award Winner Joe McKinney, fellow Dark Moon Books alum Max Booth III, Aaron J. French, Franklin E. Wales, Suzanne Robb and more.

My own offering, BIGFOOT WALSH, takes place inFredericksburg,Texas around 1849. A troop of Texas Rangers rides into town seeking one German doctor Wilhelm Keidel, to accompany them. They have received reports of Comanche Indian depredations in the hill country, and want to bring a doctor along as they investigate the remote settlements in case of wounded survivors.

Discovering a burned out cabin with its goods and weaponry largely untouched but its horses brutally butchered and womenfolk stolen, the Rangers are also joined by legendary Texas Ranger Lieutenant ‘Bigfoot’ Walsh (no relation to real-life ‘Bigfoot’ Wallace, though they are acquainted), a tremendously large and hairy individual who is said to be of Lithuanian extraction. He rides no horse, goes barefoot upon a pair of huge feet, and sports a Brand Rifle loaded with a broomstick lance, a weapon usually reserved for killing whales.

Brand Rifle

Bigfoot Wallace

He also dismisses the Rangers’ assertion that they are tracking Comanche Indians, pointing to a set of overlarge tracks in the mud. Their quarry is something altogether more dangerous, something Walsh himself has a certain connection to….

Fredericksburg is a real community, called Fritz Town by the old-timers, as it was established soon after the Mexican War by German immigrants, and named for Frederick of Prussia.

Fredericksburg was interesting and perhaps totally unique in their dealings with the local Penateka Comanche tribe, in that they settled for peace early on, and enjoyed a lasting armistice the surrounding Texans did not.

One cool tradition dating back to the signing of the treaty which purportedly continues inFredericksburgtoday is the lighting of bonfires on the surrounding hilltops during Easter Eve.

During the negotiations, the Comanche camped on hilltops all around Fredericksburg, and their fires could be seen at night. To alleviate the fears of their children, the German mothers told them the fires were the Easter Bunny boiling eggs to be painted for the morning’s hunt.

Dr. Wilhelm Keidel, who appears in my story, really was the first licensed doctor practicing in Gillespie County. A veteran of the Mexican War himself (in the First Texas Foot Rifles), he also became the county’s first Chief Justice, and founded the nearby town of Pedernales. He never refused treatment based on creed, race, or loyalty, even during the War Between The States, and was called ‘Butcher Knife’ by the Comanche whom he often treated (maybe something is lost in the translation).

Chief Santa Ana (who is mentioned in BIGFOOT WALSH) of the Penateka Comanche was a modestly renowned war chief, having participated in the Council House Fight and the Great Raid Of 1840, in which the Comanches burned out two anglo cities and conducted bloody raids all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Nevertheless, he was one of the instrumental parties of the Penateka band in the signing of the Meusabach-Comanche treaty inFredericksburg.

In 1849 the Penateka Band dissolved, reportedly due to a severe outbreak of cholera (which Dr. Keidel and the Germans of Fredericksburg were also dealing with at that time). Chief Santa Ana was one of the victims, though his son Carne Muerto (Dead Meat) survived and joined the Kwahadi Band of Quanah Parker.

My story says different, of course…

Not afraid? You will be….you will be.

The climactic scene of the story takes place on Enchanted Rock. AKA Spirit Song Rock, it’s a huge pink granite monadnock where the renowned Texas Ranger Captain John C. Hays supposedly singlehandedly held the high ground against a superior force of Comanches in 1841.

Legends about the area say that Comanche and Tonkawa bands held sacrifices on its summit in prehistoric days, and that it was a portal to other worlds. There is also a story of a Spanish priest who fell into a hole in the rock and was lost in underground tunnels for days, where he encountered hordes of mystical beings before finding his way out again.

Enchanted Rock (or Spirit Song Rock)

Just a few of the real life ingredients that went into BIGFOOT WALSH.Now go pick up the anthology and sip the brew I came up with.

http://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Hell-Anthology-Weirdness-ebook/dp/B0080JBAQ6/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336577735&sr=1-5

I’m told the print edition is forthcoming.

Hasta pronto,

Ed

DT Moviehouse Reviews: The Adventures Of Robin Hood

Continuing my infrequent blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD

(1938) Directed by Michael Curtiz

Written by Norman Reilly Raine,SetonI.Miller, Rowland Leigh

Tagline: None originally (The Best Loved Bandit Of All Time! – rerelease)

What it’s about:

When Norman King Richard The Lionheart (Ian Hunter) is taken prisoner while returning from the crusades, his treacherous brother Prince John (Claude Rains) conspires with Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) to buy his way to the throne by hiking taxes against (and in the process, violently oppressing) the poor Saxon serfs. One loyal knight, peerless archer Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn), organizes a revolt against the prince, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor with the aide of his merry guerillas Little John (Alan Hale, father of The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island), Will Scarlet (Patrick Knowles), and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), wooing the true king’s ward, Maid Marian (Olivia deHavilland) along the way.

Why I bought it:

I was raised on this movie. Sunday mornings in the Chicagoland area, WGN channel 9 had a show hosted by Frazier Thomas (a local TV personality and the creator of Garfield Goose) and later Roy Leonard, called Family Classics.  The list of great movies I was exposed to through Family Classics is about as long as Eel O’Brian’s arm.  Ben Hur, the George Pal sci-fi classics, the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, A Christmas Carol, and most of the Errol Flynn swashbucklers, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, but most vividly, this movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

 Errol Flynn in this and the aforementioned movies embodies my concept of a classic hero probably to this day. Upright and handsome, swift in action and wit, a daredevil who literally laughs in the face of danger. We first meet Flynn’s Robin Hood when he protects hungry Saxon serf Much The Miller (played by Herber Mundun), who shoots a deer on the royal lands to keep from starving and is nearly executed by the villainous Sir Guy. Sir Robin immediately claims Much as his servant to take the heat off of him, and Guy informs him killing the king’s deer warrants the death penalty. Robin coolly slips and arrow into his bow and draws down on Sir Guy.

“Really? Are there no exceptions?”

 But Flynn really shines when he carries the dead deer on his shoulders right into Prince John’s crony-filled dinner party at Sir Guy’s castle and plunks it down on his dinner table. The guy exudes confidence, even in a pair of Technicolor green tights and a feathered cap. He plops down in a chair, eats the Prince’s food, puts his feet on the table, and even manages to insult Sir Guy and the Lady Marian (Robin: I hope milady had a pleasant journey. Marian: What you think can hardly be important. Robin: Tsk. It’s a pity her manners don’t match her looks, my lord.), just in from London.

Playing Robin entirely as a swashbuckling smartass wouldn’t have enamored me to the performance. When Prince John announces his plan to declare himself Regent, Robin spits his food out on the table and wipes his hand on the cloth. (Prince John: What’s the matter? Have you no stomach for honest meat? Robin: For honest meat, yes. But I’ve no stomach for traitors. Prince John: You call me traitor? Robin: You, yes. And every man here who offers you allegiance.).

Melville Cooper, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains: Them’s fightin’ words.

This triggers the movie’s first action sequence, when one of the traitorous knights pitches a spear through the back of his chair. Robin kicks out of the chair, and proceeds to dodge and brawl his way through the party guests, getting up on the balcony at one point and killing four guards with arrows before making his escape.

To my five or six year old self, Robin Hood was amazing. Outnumbered about a hundred to one, he still jumps into his enemies without hesitation and comes out unscathed, proceeding to Sherwood Forest where he rounds up the peasantry and organizes an armed revolt ‘exact a death for a death’ and ‘to strike a blow for Richard and England.’

The archery scenes in the movie are all fantastic. No CGI arrows here. Just stuntmen taking real arrows to the padded chest and back (in one memorable scene, a bearded Norman guard pulls a screeching Saxon girl into his lap. The camera trucks in to a candle positioned on the table directly behind the guy. There’s a hiss, and Robin’s arrow streaks out of the night, puts out the candle, and buries itself in the would-be rapist’s back), and an arrow actually being split in the famous archery tournament.

Howard Hill as Owen The Welshman

The archery stunts are mainly performed by Hollywood’s patron saint of bowmen, Howard Hill, who appears onscreen as Owen The Welshman one of the archers in the tournament. He shot the arrow that splits Phillip of Arras’ bullseye arrow from nock to head to win the whole shebang. In DC comics, Hill is the idol of young Oliver Queen. In one story Queen actually meets Hill and Hill gives him the bow he used on Adventures of Robin Hood. Queen uses this bow throughout his career as the masked Emerald Archer, Green Arrow.

Now everybody knows the story of Robin Hood, how he proceeds to rob from the rich and give to the poor, how he romances Maid Marian and gets his butt whipped by Little John in a quarterstaff fight, thereby gaining his lieutenant. The Robin Hood story is pretty pervasive.

This movie is the reason. It informs every depiction of Robin Hood from 1938 onwards. To be fair, its look was inspired by NC Wyeth’s illustrations of Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood and Douglas Fairbanks’ 1922 silent action outing of the same name.

But there’s something about Technicolor that brings The Adventures of Robin Hood indelibly into the collective unconsciousness. It’s like The Wizard of Oz in that regard. People who have never seen this movie think of Errol Flynn in green tights when they think of Robin Hood.

Like Wizard of Oz, there’s an inherent four color goodness to The Adventures of Robin Hood that I find appealing. The bad guys are suitably dastardly, and they get their comeuppance. When the Norman Maid Marian seeks out the men of Sherwood to warn them about Robin’s pending execution, the thing that convinces the Saxons to trust her is simply Friar Tuck asking her to swear by her love for the Blessed Virgin that she’s telling the truth. She swears, and the whole room breathes a sigh of relief. That’s all it takes.

And I have to talk about Olivia de Havilland as Lady Marian Fitzwater.

In doing that, I have a confession. I’ve written exactly two unabashed fan letters to celebrities in my entire life.

The first was to The Muppets when I was six, inviting them all to come stay at my house. They sent me back an autographed group photo and a handwritten note thanking me for the invitation, signed by Kermit.

The second was to Olivia de Havilland.

Every hero needs a reason to fight beyond the greater cause, and Robin’s is Maid Marian. De Havilland was my first ideal for feminine grace and beauty growing up. She’s just effervescent in the role of Marian, charming, lovely, intelligent (and open to change – she goes from a loyalNormanto sympathizing with Robin’s cause) strong without being crass. A lot of the time writers can’t seem to conceive of strong women without putting a gun or a sword in their hand, basically writing them as men. Marian at one point is the damsel in distress, but she’s also instrumental in saving Robin when he’s arrested after the archery tournament, and decries John’s policies even in the face of her own execution.

I’m an avid admirer of Ms. de Havilland’s career. Besides doing great turns in Gone With The Wind and Captain Blood, she avoided the obscurity of other aging starlets later in her career by taking on some heavy, interesting roles in movies like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Snake Pit and the incredible Lady In A Cage (where’s she’s stuck in a personal elevator and terrorized by a young James Caan in his chilling debut performance as a violent sociopath).

I’ve also got to mention a pair of minor but brilliant performances in the persons of Much The Miller (Mundun) and Una O’Connor’s Bess (Lady Marian’s maid), both funny (‘You’ve never had a single sweetheart in all your life? I’ve had the bands on three times!’) and at turns heroic. Much’s intervention in the assassination really turns out to be one of the most important deeds in the movie.

And Lady Marian’s horse? That’s Roy Rogers’ famously brilliant steed Trigger.

Best bit of dialogue:

He fights like three of us too.

Obviously this movie has great lines to spare, but the one that never fails to crack me up is when, after recruiting Friar Tuck (following an awesome sword duel with the deceptively fat clergyman – by Our Lady of The Fair Swordsman!), Will Scarlett rides up to the gathering and dismounts, doing a quick double take at the presence of the portly newcomer.“It’s alright, Will, he’s one of us,” says Robin.

“One of us? He looks like three of us,” Will quips, to the uproar of the Merry Men.

Best scene:

Hands down the climactic duel between Sir Guy and Robin at Prince John’s would-be coronation.

Up to this point, Sir Guy has come up short and been outshined by Robin in every endeavor, but as soon as they go to blades, Basil Rathbone displays his real-life fencing ability to the nth degree. For most of the fight he actually gets the better of Flynn, nicking and cutting him up maybe five times.

The fight takes them all over the castle, down into the dungeons, and incorporates most of the scenery. They kick over tables, pitch chairs and candelabrums at each other, and basically put on a helluva show. 

The duel in Adventures of Robin Hood is one of the best in cinematic history, right up there with the ones in Captain Blood, The Princess Bride (which is a clear homage to the Flynn/Rathbone matchings), Highlander, The Mark of Zorro, and any of the Star Wars films. You can clearly see its influence in everything that came after.

The rousing, triumphant (and deservedly Oscar winning) score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold perfectly compliments every ring of steel on steel, every feint and leap in the entire movie, but especially in this scene, right up to the final stab and fall.

Would I buy it again? Yes.

NEXT IN THE QUEUE: The Agony And The Ecstasy

Happy Star Wars Day! May The 4th Be With Youze

Four years ago on Halloween, my first professional writing work was published. It was a milestone in my career. The first.

I also managed to fulfill another lifelong aspiration at the same time….I wrote for Star Wars.

A recent website revamp unfortunately disintegrated everything I contributed to Lucasfilm, but the good folks at wookiepedia remember me…

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ed_Erdelac

Art by Cat Staggs, logo mockup by my buddy Greg Mitchell

Fists of Ion was a little short story I did for the exclusive content that ran on the Star Wars official website.

The Rebel Alliance: Where everybody knows your name.

It took place in the New Republic era (after Return of The Jedi) on Reuss VIII, an industrial nightmare world of acid rain and toxic sludge that was hosting the Galactic Shockboxing Championship between defending champion Tull Raine (a Barabel – a kind of thick skinned lizard man) and up and comer Lobar Aybock, a red skinned near-human from the planet Shiva IV (a planet that appeared in the Marvel Comics Star Wars run).It was a nifty little boxing pulp caper story transplanted to the Star Wars universe, involving New Republic Intelligence agents using the televised (or rather holovised) fight as cover to take down an ex-Imperial Moff and his slimy crime lord partner Torel Vorne, who was exploiting the downtrodden populace via an illegal organ trading ring. It had appearances by a lot of sideline Star Wars characters (like Bren Derlin – Cliff from Cheers, who a lot of people don’t realize was in Empire Strikes Back). The name of the main character, Lobar Aybock, was a portmanteau of Rocky Balboa, and his trainer, Eedund Cus, was partly Angelo Dundee and Cus D’amato, amalgamated into a Chevin – that’s a fugly pachyderm-like alien. I also managed to name a minor Rebel character after my wife, Dransa Beezer (Dransa or Sandra), which was nice because the piece ended up seeing the light of day on October 31st, the day we first started going out.

You can read a summary of the story here. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lobar_Aybock

Here’s an excerpt –

The ninth is a world of pain and blue-green lights. Tull’s a black and red blur.  Then I’m on my hands and knees watching my own blood spotting the Tuffweave. The Rodian’s voice is counting. Since I can’t understand him I forego the downtime and get right back up. Tull puts me down again, good naturedly.

Catch your breath, redssskin.

The buzzer cuts off the Rodian’s count. I lean on Cus all the way back to the vertex.

Tenth and last phase. My head feels like it’s on a flexicoil. I see flashes of Cus’ pachyderm face, hear snatches of Stitchy’s worried gibbering. Moff Ammar’s lighting an afterdinner cigaretti. No wonder he needs my lungs.

Across the way, Tull sags in his own vertex. It feels like I’m getting killed, but I must’ve done some damage. There’s a brand new gap in his pointy grin. His pretty red armor is scuffed and dented, the primer showing gray beneath.

They march us out to the center.  We touch shockmitts. Tull hisses something at me. Doesn’t anybody speak Basic?

Cus tells me on the walk back,

“This is it, kid.” Is there something in his throat?

“Yeah,” I manage.

I turn to face this monster one more time. He’s a shining pillar of darkness, stitched out of solid black leather. I look past him at the real monster. Vorel Torne looks put out and Moff Ammar’s giving him a sour glare.  All I have to do is live through this phase and he’s done.

Then I hear it.

Way up in the nosebleed seats, where they’ve opened the vent shutters to cool the place despite the murderous air and the hard rain outside, where the fans have to pack masks or permanently damage themselves sitting through an hourlong contest, they’re calling a name, and it isn’t Tull Raine’s.

It’s mine.

Lobar Aybock: Gonna fly now.

Then I remember. I’m not fighting for the purse or the sash, I’m fighting for those sickly kids who braved a run in killer rain to show me they had my back. Whether it was all just a publicity stunt of Derlin’s doesn’t matter any more. When this fight’s over, it’s all over. The slums, the orphans on the street, the slime, the smog, it all goes away.

What’d Derlin say? We wanna make you a hero, kid.

Heroes don’t die. Well, maybe sometimes, but not like this.

It’s the Reussi up there cheering, stamping their feet and chanting, “Lo-bar!  Lo-bar! Lo-bar!”

The swells are turning in their seats and squinting up into the shadows.

I never got the chance to fight the Empire. But I know about the battle madness, what my people call the ryastraad. When we’re up against the wall, sometimes something takes over, makes us into more than we are.

My whole skeleton is charged. My muscles constrict. I feel like I could throw off my shockmitts and batter Tull to paste. My legs have been gone. I’ve hardly felt them the last three phases, but now they catapult me the length of the wedge even as the buzzer’s sounding. I don’t even see Tull. I see a black wall I have to tear down to get at something precious on the other side.

My heart’s like a battery, charging up my arms, sending them out and snapping them back like chains of white lightning. I’m aware of pulses of blue from Tull dancing on my armor, making it sieze up. I fight past it. His mitts go green and I match him and batter down his guard. My shoulder joints won’t move. I force them. My head is swimming in molten iron. I can’t think, just react, and force reaction.

When I come out of it, I see Tull dancing on the shockwire. I see his hub shield go black. My left shoots forward like a speedertrain, and his hub explodes in a spray of sparks along with the emitters on my mitt. Most of the bones in my hand shatter. The blow drives him inbetween the bouncewires. He goes tumbling out of the wedge and lands on one of the pricey tables, shattering glasses and dinnerware, sending food and swells flying. I almost go with him. I grab the vertex post and totter there.

It’s Torel Vorne’s table and I’m serving Barabel. Vorne’s standing there trembling, his suit spackled with micromite pâté. Moff Ammar’s flat on his back, spluttering through a busted cigaretti.

I look right into Torel Vorne’s eyes….and I laugh through the blood, through the count.

* * *

It was everything you wanted to know about boxing in the Star Wars universe (I even created a short lexicon of shockboxing terms and rules), and even featured nifty illustrations by Cat Staggs.

Eedund Cus and his protege, Lobar Aybock

I also did a trio of backstories for some minor onscreen characters. The first, a droid in the sandcrawler I named m-HYD 6804, is named for my daughter Magnolia’s birthdate. Again, those are gone from the Databank (the feature isn’t even on the Starwars.com site anymore), but you can read the wookiepedia summaries of the articles I wrote over on the right hand side links on this page, under Look On My Works Ye Mighty.

One of ’em, Bane Malar, got turned into a Star Wars figure. The only one I own still in a package.

I’ve loved the original Star Wars trilogy from the time I saw it in the theater as a kid with my parents, and no matter where the series goes, those three original movies still hold a special place in my heart.

So the obervance of May the 4th holds a particular meaning for me.

My professional debut took place in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

MTFBWY,

-Ed

DT Moviehouse Reviews: 300

Continuing my infrequent blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s Zack Snyder’s only good movie, 300.

(2007) Directed by Zack Snyder, Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael B. Gordon, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

Tagline: Prepare for glory!

What it’s about:

The monument to Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae

In 480 B.C. the Persian emperor Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) invades Greece and stubs his well pedicured pinky toe on the militant nation of Sparta, whose forward thinking monarch Leonidas (Gerard Butler) defies convention and logic and leads three hundred soldiers and a couple hundred Athenians to a narrow canyon pathway to bottleneck the million man invasion force in an ultra-heroic do-or-die last stand.

Why I bought it:

300 is the movie that for me, saved modern film.

I had just completed a rotten string of bad luck at the theater. I had seen, in rapid succession, Superman Returns, Nacho Libre, Lady In The Water, (and I could’ve sworn, though the dates don’t seem to bear it out, a Nicholas Cage movie which among my moviegoing friends is now known infamously as ‘that flaming skull biker movie’ and shall remain forever nameless on this blog).

I was pretty disillusioned with Hollywood. I’d gotten to the point where I had to be in the mood to watch anything new.

I was familiar with the story of the Battle of Thermopylae from Larry Gonick’s treatment of it in his seminal Cartoon History Of The Universe, but I hadn’t read Frank Miller’s graphic novel, although I’d been aware of it for some time.

Forget the Spartans...go tell Nanny 911.

I had zero expectations about this. Though it looked visually interesting, I had seen the same extensive green screen technique already used by Robert Rodriguez in his Sin City adaptation, and felt the whole thing had turned out kind of silly. I lovedSinCitythe comic (particularly The Big Fat Kill), but like Watchmen, it worked better as a comic. The exaggerated look of the characters in the film was ridiculously literal and the dialogue just sounded goofy when spoken. I didn’t hate it, but it was pretty forgettable.

I went down to Palm Springs to see 300 with an old buddy who was staying down there for a couple weeks while he worked on the wind turbines (DON’T say windmills in his presence).

From the opening scene, this movie positively arrested me in the theater. It’s baroque style brutality (featuring children no less – something that’s almost NEVER done), it’s Wagnerian music and staging (I love the strangely ominous swelling of the chorus at the return of the majestic young Leonidas wearing the skin of the wolf he killed), and most especially David Wenham’s voice, which drips with the same kind of classical, grand guginol theatrical quality of narration by Vincent Price or Christopher Lee. It’s perfectly matched to the overblown, overdramatic, hyper-realism of the movie’s imagery.

I’m a tremendous fan of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan. I was drawn to seek out Howard via the 1980 Milius movie, but it was the amazing cover art that graced the various Zebra and Lancer paperbacks of Howard’s work that drove me to obsessively collect them. The art of Boris Vallejo, Jeff Jones, and most especially Frank Frazetta set fire to my imagination.

Frank Frazetta - Seven Romans

300 is obviously meant to reflect the style of Frank Miller, but I can’t help but think of Frazetta watching it. The female figures are voluptuous and sensual (spearheaded by the beautiful Lena Headly as Leonidas’ Queen Gorgo – the woman projects maturity, strength and soft and cuddly womanhood at the same time, without being either a waif or a tomboy.  She really should’ve been tapped to play Wonder Woman), the males tigerish and virile in the extreme, and the various ‘monsters’ suitably hideous yet disturbingly humanoid, bolstering the idea that they’re not quite monsters, just corrupt offshoots of humanity.

Which they are.

I’ve heard the cries of homoeroticism leveled at 300. I guess people see what they want to see. Of course the real life Trojans practiced institutionalized homosexuality (it could be argued, pedophilia – which always makes me cringe ruefully at the ‘boy lovers’ line Leonidas directs at the Athenians at one point), but this is only lightly touched upon if at all, mainly in hints in the friendship between the Captain’s son and his best friend.

For my part though, 300’s unabashed maleness appeals to the 12 year old in me that flexed his skinny arms in the mirror hopefully and dreamt of rescuing the cutest girl in class via some act of extreme, righteous (and somehow impressive) violence. It’s a gung ho, unapologetically un-PC guy movie, promoting esprit de corps, nationalism, and the supposed virtues of war, but God dang it if doesn’t pull it off masterfully.

And it’s a helluva a lot smarter than it lets on (perhaps even smarter than its director knew judging from his other work). Consider that the entire movie is narrated by the lone survivor of the Battle of Thermopylae, Wenham’s Dilios.

Leonidas has defied the Ephors (insanely corrupt, bestial oracular priests who molest virgins are part of their ceremonies) and his own government (being maniuplated by Dominic West, who is on the Persian payroll – and looks like an evil Harry Hamlin/Perseus) in taking the fight to Xerxes because he knows the Persians must be defeated. So he tells the wounded Wenham to return and tell them what’s happened. It’s then revealed in the end sequence that Wenham has been narrating the entire movie to a new force of Spartans and free Greeks who have amassed to deal with the Persian threat following the destruction of the 300.

This immediately puts all of the movie’s gross exaggerations (Xerxes is a giant, the Persians are monstrous and use magicians, the traitor Ephialtes is a subhuman, the corrupt Ephors look like C.H.U.D.s, Sparta itself is a sunblessed paradise) into perspective. Wenham’s Dilios intends to relate a heroic, larger than life tale to spur the Spartans to war.

LEONIDAS: ‘You have another talent unlike any other Spartan. You will deliver my final orders to the council with force and verve. Tell them our story. Make every Greek know what happened here. You’ll have a grand tale to tell.’

Dilios spins his tale.

Thus, the movie we’re watching is a tall tale, a grand, glorious bit of propaganda spun by Dilios, the most eloquent of the three hundred, and every fantastic bit of nonsense becomes completely justified. The bomb throwing ‘wizards,’ the monstrous inhuman Immortals, the incredible martial art death dealing of the individual Spartans (ignoring the fact that most of them break the phalanx that was the most crucial component of their defense), all of it.

300 becomes, in this context, a fantastic Greek hero myth, as lusty and bloody and beautiful as anything Homer might’ve recited to get the audience’s blood pumping.

As I said, 300 made me love movies again. At the time I saw it, it was practically unlike anything else that had come before it, a brilliant moving Frazetta painting with larger than life heroes and action.

Best bit of dialogue:

This movie is endlessly quotable, some of the lines actually coming from the original historical accounts (‘Fight in the shade,’ ‘Spartans! Lay down your weapons!’ ‘Persians! Come and get them!’, are both purported to be true exchanges), but my personal favorite is the final curse Leonidas lays on the traitorous Ephialtes just prior the final stand of the 300. Spartan law decrees that any infant born too weak to be raised as warriors, be left to die, and Ephialtes is a twisted, deformed hunchback. Yet his parents, out of love for him, chose to spare him, and we presume left Spartan society. Ephialtes returns, wearing the warrior garb of his late father, claiming his father taught him how to fight. He offers his service as a soldier to Leonidas. Leonidas rejects him due to the practical reason of his not being able to raise his shield arm to maintain a phalanx with the other Spartans. The spurned Ephialtes goes straight to Xerxes and betrays Leonidas, guiding the Persians to a secret pass by which they can circumvent the Spartan defense and surround the 300 in exchange for wealth, sex, and a ridiculously clownish Persian uniform.

In one simple, almost offhanded remark, Leonidas cuts the traitor to his soul, alluding to all the cultural lessons Ephialtes’ father tried to instill in him about seeking honor and a warrior’s life (which of course must end, by a Spartan’s way of thinking, with a warrior’s death on the battlefield). All in five heavy words.

‘Ephialtes. May you live forever.’

If you play it in slow mo, you can see the exact point where Ephialtes' heart breaks...('oo')...right there.

Best scene:

Again, almost too many to cite.  I love the opening sequence, but there is another scene that really sticks with me.

The Spartans are on a bluff overlooking the ocean as a tremendous night tempest unleashes all it’s fury on the horizon-to-horizon Persian fleet, capsizing the great ships, smashing them into each other, and sending thousands of Persian sailors (and we presume, warriors) sinking slowly to the bottom.

The Spartans lose all their previously established discipline and match the storm’s violence with their own apparent exuberance. They beat each other’s shoulders, ball their fists, and scream their exultation at the drowning Persians as the slanting silver rain drives against their bare skin, plastering their hair and cloaks.

The music reaches a tremendous crescendo, utilizing as never before, weird, crashing electric guitar strains that capitalize the barbarity of the moment -men abandoning themselves to extreme joy at the death of other men.

Dilios narrates:

‘Zeus stabs the sky with thunderbolts and batters the Persian ships with hurricane wind. Glorious.’

The camera cuts to Leonidas, who alone stands grim and subdued, frowning at the destruction, not because he doesn’t share in his men’s appreciation at seeing the enemy so destroyed, but because he knows that ultimately, it’s not gonna be enough.

Dilios continues,

‘Only one among us keeps his Spartan reserve. Only he. Only our king.’

Would I buy it again? Yes.

NEXT IN THE QUEUE: The Adventures of Robin Hood