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 loyal Norman to 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

World Horror Con 2012

Next week I’ll be at the World Horror Convention at the Radisson in Salt Lake City.

http://www.whc2012.org/World_Horror_2012.html

I’ll be hovering all over the place starting Friday morning, likely commiserating with my fellow Damnation Books authors Tim Marquitz (Dawn of War Trilogy) and Lincoln Crisler (WILD, Corrupts Absolutely?). Hope to rub elbows with a couple of authors I’d admire as well. Excited to see Joe R. Lansdale and Robert McCammon will be there.

Specifically though, if you wanna find me, I’ll be reading one of my works at 5:30pm on Friday, March 30th.

I’ll also be at the mass book signing from about 8-10pm pushing copies of Merkabah Rider.

After that, 10PM or so Friday night I’ll be jumping between the Dark Moon Books (the story I wrote with my daughter Magnolia, The Better To See You, appears in Dark Moon Digest #7 and my story The Wrath of Benjo is in their charity anthology Slices of Flesh) and Damnation Books (publishers of Dubaku and The Merkabah Rider series as well as Corrupts Absolutely? the dark metahuman anthology my story Conviction appears in) parties.

Then Saturday at noon I’m on the Vampires Through The Ages panel with Leslie S. Klinger, James Dorr, Hal Bodner, and Thomas Roche.

The rest of Saturday and Sunday I’ll be bopping around all over or taking in the sights of Salt Lake City.

Hasta pronto!

 

Merkabah Rider 3: Have Glyphs Will Travel Notes

Before I jump into this post, Chag Urim Sameach/Happy Hanukkah.

My gift to you is, first three readers to send an email to emerdelac (AT) gmail.com get a free e-copy of Merkabah Rider 3: Have Glyphs Will Travel in .epub, .mobi, or .pdf.  Just state which you prefer. I’ll post on here when I get enough responses. (GIVEAWAY’S OVER, FOLKS. Thanks for looking – hope it was a happy holiday.)

Now on with the rest of the shew….

I like reading the thought processes and inspirations behind stuff I read by other authors. Joe R. Lansdale did this for his High Cotton collection, prefacing each story with a short bit about how it came to be. When I wrote for Star Wars I did something like this on the official blog, a sort of key to the easter eggs and references I put in the story for fans, something guys like Dan Wallace and Jason Fry still do on there.

Anyway, I’ve done one for each of the Merkabah Rider books, and it being Hankukah, felt like time to sit down and whip up one for the latest installment, Have Glyphs Will Travel, which came out at the beginning of December.

These might be partly spoiler-ific, so if you haven’t read the book yet, you might hold off and come back later.

Still here?

OK.

In Episode 9, The Long Sabbath –

Really not too much homaging in this one. The critters the turncoat riders put in the hapless adjutant and his scout are meant to be Mythos spawned of course, but they’re my own creation, sprung from me reading about the phenomenon of kamikaze ants and their last ditch method of defending their colony from invaders.

Exploding ant traps an enemy worker

Cattle stampedes are the most harrowing, violent danger I can think of for an old-time cattleman, from what I’ve read and seen. The stampede scenes in Lonesome Dove and Red River have always stuck with me. The only thing I could think of worse than being in one was being immobilized in the middle of one.

There is one extra-Rider allusion. Abe Lillard, the Rider’s best friend from San Francisco, is meant to be the half-Jewish son of Tommy Lillard, a character portrayed by Harrison Ford in a western that was a huge inspiration for The Merkabah Rider series. I would assume Abe was named for Tommy’s best friend.

Avram Belinski (L) and Tommy Lillard (R)

In Episode 10, The War Shaman –

Lots of history easter eggs in this one. It’s actually my favorite of the book as it was clearest in my head from start to finish and includes a cameo by some of the greatest of the Chiricahua Apache warriors, a people whom I have an unadulterated admiration for.

Goyaala is Geronimo of course, and stuttering Juh (pronounced ‘whoa’ if you were wondering), Vittorio and the warrior woman Lozen are all real individuals. Lozen’s purported seeing Power and the chant she uses to activate it was documented as well. As a matter of fact, all the named Apache are taken from historical record, even the outlaw Bedonkohe, Inya.

Faustus’ extra-dimensional origins have been delved into by me in an earlier post here….https://emerdelac.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/merkabah-rider-author-notes/

Of the various stories he mentions as being real, of course the whaler with the Indian figurehead is the Pequod of Moby Dick, the boy with the sword from the stone is intended to be Arthur, and the thirteen heroes with two hearts between them, well, you don’t need a ‘doctorate’ to know ‘who’ that is.

Thirteen heroes (eleven pictured) with two hearts between them.

The company of cavalry Faustus, the Rider, Belden and Kabede meet on the road are commanded by Adna Chaffee, who was an actual Civil War veteran and later became a General, seeing action in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion and the Phillipine Insurrection.

Tom Horn

Riding along with him is the famous German scout Al Seiber, who was General George Crook’s chief civilian scout during the Geronimo campaign. Tom, the boy accompanying him, is Tom Horn, the infamous range detective later hung for murder in Cheyenne,Wyoming (perhaps unjustly) and portrayed by Steve McQueen in the titular movie. Togo-de-chuz and his ‘kid’, the Apache scouts Seiber mentions as his preferred companions, were real Apache scouts, the ‘kid’ being Has-kay-bay-nay-ntayl, later known as ‘The Apache Kid.’

The Apache Kid was an interesting character who was a longtime friend (and very nearly a surrogate son) of Seiber. When a drunken scout killed his father, the Kid retaliated and became an outlaw.  He surrendered to the Army and was sentenced to a year in Alcatraz and later Yuma Territorial Prison, the latter of which he is one of the only known escapees from. He and three others overpowered some guards and fled into a snowstorm, never to be seen again. One of his pursuers was future author Edgar Rice Burroughs, then a member of the seventh cavalry!

The Apache Kid

Nacozari and the Moctezume Mining Company are both real, but the existence of the Apache stronghold of Pa Gotzin Kay is debatable. It’s tangled up with the story of the Lost Adams Diggings, a legendary gold vein, also the inspiration for MacKenna’s Gold. I’ve moved it from the traditional location of New Mexico.

Oh there’s lots of Lovecraftian stuff in this one as well. Misquamicus of course, also the subject of Graham Masterton’s great Manitou series of novels. I’ve made him a sort of endless being, on par with his brother, and tied him into most of the major Native American doings from the dawn of recorded history and on that I could find, from the early treacheries of Cortes to the Maroon rebellion in Jamaica, where I had read some of the captive Indians involved in the burning of Providence, Rhode Island had been shipped off as slaves, and I imagined Misquamacus would have found work to his liking. The Sand Creek Massacre was one of the worst acts of genocide enacted by the United States against the native populace. It was actually the basis for the original weird western stories I wrote in high school, some of which evolved into Merkabah Rider.

A deformed Misquamacus in the future, from 'The Manitou'

Misquamacus’ dealings with the Billington clan of New England are documented in Lovecraft’s The Lurker At The Threshold, where his devotion to Nyarlathotep and conjuring of Ossodagowah are both mentioned.

 The supernatural aspects of the bad guys who side with Misquamacus are mostly my own invention of course, though the Pawnee did at one time practice a somewhat infamous human sacrifice ritual, and the Tonkawas did believe they were descended from wolves. Any misrepresentations are of course my own fault, but I make no apologies portraying skinwalkers in a negative light.  I don’t think any Navajo would take issue with it.

 The Rider’s likening his claustrophobia to the various mental afflictions of an old friend from his yeshiva in San Francisco named Aloysius Monkowitz is a shameless (or perhaps shameful) allusion to a probable ancestor of a certain neurotic modern day San Francisco detective with a similar name of whom I’m a fan.

Aloysius Monkowitz's famous descendant.

In Episode 11, The Mules of The Mazzikim

This is another one short on easter eggs, but there are a couple.

The scalp the Kwtsan Indian tries to sell the Rider on the bridge going into Yuma is the scalp of Joe (John Joel) Glanton, the leader of the band of vicious scalphunters hired by the Mexican government to collect bounties on Apache Indian scalps in the 1840’s and vividly portrayed in one my favorite novels, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or, An Evening’s Redness In The West. Glanton and his gang took over the ferry over the Gila River at Yuma and regularly robbed and extorted crossers. They were later slaughtered by the Kwtsans on that spot.

The Rabbi Belinski the Rider mentions as having overseen his bar mitzvah was the aforementioned Tommy Lillard’s best friend, a rabbi who once undertook an amazing journey across the west to deliver a Torah scroll to San Francisco.

The lawman, Marshal Books, who arrests the Rider is the same ailing Books (or perhaps the brother of) who years later has it out on his birthday in an El Paso(or perhaps Carson City) saloon with several of his nemeses.

Happy birthday, Books

In Episode 12, The Man Called Other

Every aspect of Yuma Prison I could realistically portray I did, from the color of the cots to the processing of prisoners, to the rings in the floor and The Dark Cell. I visited what’s left of the place last year and the museum that sits on the site. Judge Berry was real, and the warden of the time was the real guy, Captain C.V. Meder (though not the acting warden, obviously).

In Episode Thirteen, The Fire King Triumphant

The title of The Fire King Triumphant is paraphrased from the headline of the Tombstone Epitaph (‘The Fire King Reaps A Harvest’) about the May 1882 fire that actually swept through the town of Tombstone. It really did start in the outhouse behind Tivoli’s as depicted. If you get yourself a street map from the time, I’ve done my best to keep the layout of the story true to the town.

W.W. Spates appeared in the last book, and I talked about the inspiration for him. His colleague, the linguistic expert Warren Rice is intended to be a younger version of the silver haired linguist who accompanied Harry Armitage in The Dunwich Horror.

 China Mary, the shrewd entrepreneur with ties to the Chinese Benevolence Society (or tong) in Tombstone, was a real lady, as was her Can Can Chop House. The word her man uses to describe the amorphous beasties in Lepsy’s barrels is hundun, which does mean dumpling, or wonton, but also refers to a legendary faceless, formless beast from Chinese folklore. The hundun is primordial chaos, a lump of flesh or thunder egg from which creatures of reality are born, or a featureless creature lacking the seven openings which mark humanity.

hundun

The villain of this story Lepsy himself is a reference to a ghost story from Dudleyville or Pinal, Arizona. Lepsy supposedly did hire Chinese workers and burn them as remuneration. When a sheriff and his posse went after them, Lepsy did the same for him. In the canyon where these crimes supposedly occurred, you can see scorch marks and smell burnt flesh.

Camillus Sydney and Mollie Fly did own the photography studio in Tombstone at 312 Fremont Street. On October 26 1881 the Gunfight at the OK Corral took place in the alley between his boarding house out back and the next house over, and it was inside his place that Ike Clanton and Sheriff Johnny Behan took cover.

Fly and Mollie both took photographs in their studio and abroad, Mollie being one of the most prominent female photographers of her time. Fly took the famous photos of the Billy Clanton and the McClaurys in their caskets. Fly also accompanied Crook to Canyon de Los Embudos in 1886 and took pictures of Geronimo in the field – the only photographs of Native Americans actively engaged in resisting the US government.

Mollie Fly took this picture of the CS Fly studio as it burned for the second time in 1912.

Finally, Moon Fugate and his peculiar pigmentation condition are a reference to the famous Blue Fugates a hill clan from Hazard, Kentucky, born with methemoglobinemia or met-H, a genetic blood disorder which results in blue skin.

The Blue Fugates of Kentucky

That’s about all this time out, kiddies. Whew!

Soon, news about the final chapter in the Merkabah Rider saga. It’ll be something special.

Don’t forget the giveaway.

Happy holidays, whichever holiday it may be, and good new year on you.

-Hasta pronto,

EME

An Excerpt From Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel

The Merkabah Rider series from Damnation Books follows the weird western adventures of a Hasidic gunslinger tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers across the demon haunted Southwest of the 1880’s. Along the way the Rider (so called because he has hidden his true name to protect himself from his enemies) confronts half-demon outlaws, animated windmills,possessed gunmen, cultists, a bordello of antedeluvian succubi, Lovecraftian entities and various other dangers.

To evoke the old Zebra/Lancer/Bantam paperback collections of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane  and Conan, the novels are presented as collections of standalone but sequential novellas. The series currently consists of two installments, Tales of a High Planes Drifter and The Mensch With No Name, both available in print and ebook formats on Amazon.com.

This year will see the release of Have Glyphs Will Travel, the third book in the series. Included are five novellas, detailing the Rider’s dealings with extra-dimensional angels, zombies, turncoat Riders, the wrath of the Demon Queen Lilith, Navajo skinwalkers and Native American shapeshifters, fire demons, a future instructor at a certain infamous Massachussetts institution of higher learning, and his greatest enemy.

Here’s an exclusive taste of what’s to come.

In this excerpt from one of the five novellas, The War Prophet, the powerful Native American mystic (and the Rider’s old acquaintance) Misquamacus has gathered an army of vengeful warriors from various castout tribes in an effort to unify them against the white man’s encroachment and depradations, all under the power of his dark magic.

Seeking to add the might of the Chiricahua Apache nation to his own, he has called their greatest leaders to a secret meeting high in the Sierra Madres, where he has made them a tempting offer. Turn away from their traditional religion and embrace the dark gods of Misquamacus and the white nation will be rubbed out….

*

Many of the frightened rurales were cursing, wide-eyed, shaking their heads. Many more were praying. Some were even kissing crosses that dangled from wooden bead rosaries around their necks, tucked into their dirty shirts so that the Lord did not see the terrible things they did, but so that He could be gotten to in a pinch if needed.

One Mexican among them, an old vaquero on his knees, was laughing. The Rider saw Mendez, the corporal. He stood bewildered, hands snatching at the empty holsters on his belt.

“They are for you, my brothers!” Misquamacus hollered above the din of the jabbering Mexicans, his voice powerful, resounding off the great rock walls. “Do with them what you want to do!”

And they did.

Almost as one body the Indians fell hungrily upon the cringing Mexicans like a great mouth closing. Some gamely fought back, but they were unarmed and outnumbered and quickly dragged down. Not a single bullet was wasted. Those with rifles came at the rurales with the heavy butts of their weapons, dashing skulls open at a swing. Stone axes whistled and sunk into pleading faces, and were drawn out to scatter brains and teeth and then fall again. Knives flashed, passing through scalps pulled so tight they came free in the bronze fists that held them with a single swipe and left glaring patches bereft of hair and flesh, the faces of their howling victims swiftly vanishing in a curtain of blood. Machetes swept off hands and fingers interlaced in desperate prayer.

Big Anger and his Pawnees straddled their victims and worked vicious arts with their knives, slashing away age, race, and sex, leaving behind only meat, indiscernible from a butcher’s wares. Organs leapt into the air like hats on New Year’s Eve.

The Rider/Piishi saw Slim Ghost and the skinwalkers walking among the dead and dying with curved knives, stooping to extract eyes, hearts, livers, fingers, genitals, even twisting free bloody bones, all of which they stuffed into their hide satchels, for later use in their foul practices, no doubt.

The Ishaks and the Tonkawas fell wholly upon their kills, burying their faces in the cavernous wounds they ripped open with their fingers. Piishi’s digestive system reacted with violent disgust at their display, and the Rider put the back of his hand to his lips and swallowed rising bile as Moon Cloud and Bloody Jaw wrestled over the bloody corpse of a fat rurale. One end of a rope of intestines twisted in-between each man’s teeth, the two of them snarling at each other like wild dogs. Indeed, they looked very much like animals. Their eyes grew wide and black , and they seemed hairier than before. Their ears elongated, sharpening in elfish grotesqueness, and their teeth were suddenly pointed and jagged, wolf-like in their gory mouths, extending in some kind of perverse, ravenous arousal. They were changing before their very eyes, something in their doing bringing out their true, inhuman natures, until Bloody Jaw was more wolf than the black hide and cowl trappings that hung from his bulky, misshapen shoulders. Moon Cloud matched his bestial visage.

The Rider looked through the massacre and found Goyaałé. The Bedonkohe war chief had made his way to the still laughing old caballero, and hoisted him to his feet. He raised his bloody knife to end him.

“Goyaałé!” The Rider called in as loud a voice as he could manage, which was considerable, given the acoustics of the canyon.

Goyaałé heard, and paused to look. A moment’s searching and he found the source.

“Look!” The Rider yelled, pointing to Moon Cloud and Bloody Jaw.

Goyaałé followed the indicatory gesture and his lip curled when he saw the two transformed chiefs. He let the old caballero fall and backed away. His eyes flitted all around the killing ground, and he saw the other Ishaks and Tonkawas changing into wolf-beasts.

The Rider watched as Goyaałé rushed through the crowd and found Lozen and Vittorio. He snatched the rifle from Lozen’s belt.

Before she could react, he levered it and fired it into the air.

It was a startling sound, and every man and woman stopped. Even the hairy beasts that had once been Indians raised their elongated doggish muzzles from the bellies of their kills and regarded him with feral eyes.

Lozen moved to take the rifle back, but Goyaałé said something and pointed.

Lozen and Vittorio saw.

All the Apache, their attention momentarily lifted from their bloody work to the two leaders, followed their shocked gazes and saw.

And as one, just as they had closed upon the Mexicans, they now recoiled and withdrew. Not a single Mexican was still alive.

“What is this, Mis-kwa-macus?” Vittorio yelled, pointing to the wolf creatures. “What are these?”

“They are the Rugarou Ishaks and the True Tonkawas. The last of their kind,” said Misquamacus. “Just as I told you.”

“They are monsters!”

The blood spattered Apache voiced their agreement with angry and frightened shouts.

“Not so! Not so!” Misquamacus yelled over them. “They are your brothers, ready to fight the white man at your side. Does Usen not teach you that the beasts are your kin? Do you not emulate the ferocity of the puma and the cunning of the beaver?”

One of the skinwalkers was nearby, and Goyaałé rushed at him without warning and cut his satchel from his shoulder with his knife, then shook out its grisly contents on the ground, where all could see them. The shriveled fist of a child rolled out among the fresh trophies.

“Usen does not teach us this!” he called.

“You have said that we must turn from Usen to defeat the white man,” Vittorio said. He pointed to the transformed Ishaks and Tonkawas. “Is this what happened to them when they turned from their god?”

“I offer you the death of the white man and the Mexicans for all time,” said Misquamacus. “I offer you a thousand nights like this one, with your enemies beneath your knives. With the power of my god, I can snatch the Great Father in Washington from his house and bring him to us. I can pull the rails out from under the iron snakes and fling them into the air. I can put my hand over the soldier forts that rise like ugly boils across all the land and send you in to cut their throats in their beds. I can turn the weapons of the enemy against them, make their ponies burst into flame between their legs, turn their bullets to raindrops. I can geld the white man and seal up his women. I can make it so your children will never know those people but from the stories told around your fires.”

“Who is your god that promises us these great victories, Mis-kwa-macus?” Goyaałé demanded. “It is time you told us.”

“Yes,” said Vittorio. “Who is your god that is so great but would bother with us?”

In answer, Misquamacus raised his arms for silence.

Slim Ghost and eight of the skinwalkers went to the base of the stone and knelt in a circle. They upended a series of small black pouches from their satchels into their hands and closed them into fists. Colored sand ran through their fingers, and with measured care they began to let the sand fall in ordered patterns on the bloody red earth. It was wondrous to see them work, ten men making a large vaguely circular picture, each acting independently, and yet their labors taking on a unified pattern, as if they possessed one mind, one vision. Silently, and without pause or consultation, they worked, forming mystic shapes and figures incomprehensible to outsiders and yet obviously inspired. As they worked, the colored sand drank up the spilled blood beneath, darkening in color where it fell.

The others watched them restlessly. The sun sank, and campfires had to be lit. All this was done in silence. No one dared to interrupt the skinwalkers’ work.

When it was at last finished, they rose as one and returned to the ranks of their people, and a mesmerizing sand painting lay before the stone on which Misquamacus had stood the whole time, observing. Red and blacks and blues dominated the work, and there were dancing feathered figures, moons, stars, and geometric patterns. To the Rider, only a few of these seemed somewhat familiar, some of them not unlike the diagrams found in the Book of Zylac. Yet all were distinctly Indian in their interpretation. Central to the painting was a strange faceless humanoid shape of black sand.

Misquamacus removed something from his satchel then, a polished mirror fragment, the size of a man’s head. He placed it in the center to the sand painting, over the center shape.

Then, before their eyes, that black shape began to grow oily and to boil like hot tar.

A lump rose from the center and took shape, congealing into a man-like form, carrying the fragment of mirror with it. Steam rose from the thing, as if it was hotter than the cool mountain air around it. When it had completed its unnatural birth, it stood nearly eight feet tall, like an earthen statue, black, with bumpy skin, like a flayed corpse, faceless but for the smooth mirror.

The Rider/Piishi recognized the same being they had seen in Misquamacus’ wickiup.

The Dark Man.

Black, foul smelling smoke, like the oily stench of a machine fueled by corpses, pouring from around the edges of the thing’s mirror mask, billowing unnaturally around the figure, never rising, cloaking it in a greasy fog.

The Ishaks and Tonkawas fell to all fours and pressed their jaws to the earth like submitting hounds. They sent up a bone chilling baying and howling din, so terrible that the Apaches clamped their hands over their ears to hear it. The Pawnees put their foreheads to the earth, and even the skinwalkers knelt and bowed their heads. The Apaches moved away, frightened of the thing.

Misquamacus turned and went to his knees, arms still above his head in adoration.

“Behold Tezcatlipoca! The Dark Wind. We are his slaves. Nyarlathotep!”

Merkabah Rider 3: Have Glyphs Will Travel

Pick up the book here –

http://www.amazon.com/Merkabah-Rider-Have-Glyphs-Travel/dp/1615725539/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337669430&sr=8-1-spell

Don’t Forget Your Masks: The Greatest Halloween Movie Ever Is….

Halloween III: Season of The Witch is the greatest Halloween movie ever.  In terms of the holiday and in terms of the series.

Yeah, I said it.

Time to go to guns.

Why’s it the best in the series?

We have Jason Voorhees, we have Freddy Krueger, the other two top tier 80’s horror icons. Now in layman’s terms, I would liken Jason to Sylvester Stallone and Freddy to Arnold Schwarzenegger. One guy was the silent kill ‘em all type, the other sure killed ‘em all but always made with the snappy puns.

Michael Meyers is the Jean Claude Van Damme of horror. What does he bring to the table? Well he looks like Schwarzenegger, he talks worse than Stallone, and he can do the splits. IE, Nothing. He’s just not as interesting to watch. Jason’s mask is cooler, his motive is more compelling (just why is Michael Meyers indestructible anyway?), and Meyers shares his name with the guy who played Austin Powers. Oh and Freddy? He’s got a great look, a signature weapon, and he can enter your dreams. Forget about it.

Uh…anybody down there? It’s me. Mike.

He’s comin’ home tonight…YEAH BABY!

I know there’s a lot of love for the original Halloween, I know it was innovative in terms of mood and editing and invigorating the slasher genre and all that, but I’m gonna say it now. It’s just not very interesting. It’s a lot of stalking and cheap jump scares and glimpsed stabbings without any rhyme or reason. Psycho without the Janet Leigh subplot, or the great acting, or Hitch to pull it together.

Now I’m not knocking John Carpenter. The man is responsible for movies that are beloved in my home. Big Trouble In Little China. The Thing. Escape From New York. Christine and (see where I’m going?) Halloween III: Season of The Witch.

I know, I know, he barely had a hand in this one. Just produced and did the (awesome) score.

I maintain that had this movie been released simply as Season of The Witch and not under the Halloween series banner, it would not have been so venomously panned, so perennially derided by Michael Meyers fans, who believe me, are an angry lot when they wanna be. Nope, the Halloween series moniker actually sullies this movie.

The Night NOBODY Came Home

It’s the quintessential Halloween movie.

How can I say that?

‘Cause it’s like a really good Christmas movie. It takes place during the season, it’s decked with all the trimmings you’d expect, and indeed, the holiday is an important part of the plot. Finally, it leaves you with a feeling appropriate to the season.

But this is Halloween, not Christmas.

Does it take place during the holiday? Check. It’s even in the title, champ.

 Does it feature all the tropes and idioms we associate with Halloween? Let’s see, kids in masks getting candy? Check. Masks that kill them actually, so double check. Spookie movies on TV? How about (in a really cool self-reference move) Hallo ‘Michael Meyers’ ween itself? Spooky black magic type stuff? How’s a charmingly sinister toy company CEO whose actually grand poobah of an international witch cult bent on enacting an ages old mass child sacrifice using freaky magically charged chips of one of the Stonehenge triptychs in kids’ masks on Halloween night grab ya?

Uh…check. And is the holiday itself integral to the plot? We covered that already. Does it leave you with a feeling appropriate to the season?

Oh hell yes.

Because it’s scary (what’s scarier than the impending, grotesque death of millions of children?), it’s got a cool John Carpenter score, and it’s fun. It’s fun as hell.

The great Dan “Niceshootin’what’syournameson?” O’Herlihy as the villainous Conal Cochran

When I tell people the plot they roll their eyes. But this is a GREAT Halloween movie. It’s obviously not meant to be taken entirely serious. It’s a conspiracy based in a town of smiling Irish people who use clockwork people as muscle!! The deaths are over the top violent and bloody – one chick tampers with one of the masks and has her face melted! And they’re using a piece of freakin’ Stonehenge to cause BUGS TO POP OUT OF CHILDREN’S FACES!

How’d they get this giant triptych over to America without anybody noticing? Well, the bad guy just says you wouldn’t believe the amount of trouble it took. That’s the only explanation we get. But come on, if you watched this much of it, does it really matter?

Oh yeah, and who’s the hero? Who’s the George Bailey equivalent in a Halloween holiday movie from John Carpenter? Who’s the would-be savior of little children everywhere? Tom M.F.’n Atkins. An odious, tail chasin’ surgeon whose kids ignore him and who knocks back the sauce in nearly every scene.

Tom Atkins pleads with the networks as Dr. Dan Challis

This movie is such a cool departure from the usual chase ’em and cut ’em snoozefest that is Halloween the series! Because seriously, after Part II, what does Michael do differently?

I dare anybody to watch the video below and not be humming the jingle all day…..

Seriously, you need to re-think your avoidance of this movie. Go to the video store or get it offa Netflix. I almost guarantee it’ll
be available. I won’t be hoarding it, ‘cause I own it. Love this movie.

And I’m not the only one.

http://www.watchthemagicpumpkin.com/film.htm

Happy Halloween, y’all.