Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reading John Carter of Mars

I have now read the last of Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels and it's been a long trip.

I read the first John Carter of Mars novel 'A Princess of Mars' at the age of 11 or 12 and now more than 35 years later I finally finished all 12 stories. If you've ever read one of these books you know they're very fast reads so why did it take me almost four decades to finish the entire run? Quite simply, I did not want it to end. I knew that once I finished the stories that Edgar Rice Burroughs had originally pinned between 1912 and 1943 I would be done with them which I considered a sad event. But I also knew that finishing them would free me up to be able to read some of the authorized continuations done by other writers. The various pastiches are a field of great interest to me and I have one collection of them called Under the Moons of Mars already in the To Read pile.

Another reason that I didn't finish the novels much faster than I should have is that I was trying to collect the entire run of 11 books from one particular printing - the printing that I bought when I was a youngster first discovering these pulp adventures. These are the Del Rey versions printed in 1979 or 1980. These had cover artwork by Michael Whelan and a more eye catching series of images I can hardly conceive. The depictions of John Carter and the various creatures of Barsoom have always been how I've pictured those characters and beasts when I read the books and I really wanted to have the entire set of that run. But since I couldn't find book 8 for years I read up to that tale and held off. For some reason 'Swords of Mars' is very difficult to find - I suspect because it features John Carter returning to the series as the main character instead of a background presence. I hunted for years thinking that I would eventually run across a copy for a decent price but it never happened.

So, a couple of years ago I finally gave up, decided I was tired of waiting and bought a different edition just so I could read the story and get on with the rest of the run. I still hope to eventually find a copy with the Whelan cover but that can wait.  

These two finals stories were both shorter than average and were an odd way to end the series. Not that ERB planned to end the series this way but it's still kind of odd. The first of the stories is 'John Carter and the giant of Mars' and I really enjoyed it. The story is completely insane but as it is a fun sequel to a previous story - 'The Synthetic Men of Mars'. How could I not get a kick out of a story that climaxes with several thousand rats being dropped onto an army via parachute! Madness! It turns out that this particular story might not have even been written by ERB but by his son John Coleman Burroughs. It still has enough of the flavor of the previous tales even if it is pretty short. The last story is 'The Skeleton Men of Jupiter' from 1943 and was intended as the first in a series of novelettes to later be collected in book form the same way the previous John Carter book was. It ends with the plot completely unresolved and the intended sequels were never even written. That makes it a little frustrating but since there have been several attempts by other writers to craft endings for the story I now get to dive into those! This should be fun.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Bloody Pit #54 - THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Fu Manchu is author Sax Rohmer's most famous creation and one that he returned to repeatedly over the years eventually writing a total of thirteen novels detailing his insidious plots for world domination. From the first serialized section of the first Fu tale published in 1913 the stories were very popular, well regarded adventures tales. Such a widely known villainous character was sure to inspire filmmakers to adapt him to the screen and from 1923's THE MYSTERY OF DR. FU MANCHU to 1980's comedic take THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU different producers have brought his evil machinations to cinematic life with varied levels of success. For a longer time than seems plausible the specter of the Yellow Peril loomed large enough to make an Asian master criminal bent on conquest seem a credible threat for both page and film.

In this episode of The Bloody Pit Brian Lindsey and I discuss the character's various film incarnations with special concentration on Karloff's scenery chewing villainy in MGM's lavish THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) and Christopher Lee's 1965 to 1969 five film run as a more accurate version of the character for producer Harry Allan Towers. We also touch on the novels, the 1940 Republic serial and the last (so far) big screen attempt to use Fu in Peter Sellers' final film in which the star plays both Fu and his nemesis Sir Nayland Smith. We both fear that the possibilities of a modern adaptation of these Sax Rohmer stories are next to nil but we do give a few suggestions about what would be necessary to accomplish such a difficult (and probably financially ruinous) task.

So, if you know very little about the character or even if you know quite a bit we think you'll enjoy listening to the two of us talk about the various film versions of the great evil criminal genius Fu Manchu. If you have any questions or comments please write the show at and let us known what you think. Also, there is a FaceBook page for The Bloody Pit and we encourage you to join for occasional updates and show notes. Thanks for downloading and listening.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Haunt of Horror Covers

This short lived Marvel horror magazine sported some pretty amazing covers and a fine list of contributing writers. I've only been able to read a few in reprint form and I can only image how they looked on the racks in 1973 and 1974. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

New Commentary Tracks for Naschy Films!

As I have already gleefully announced here, 2017 is turning out to be the year Paul Naschy came to Blu-Ray in a serious way! Last year got things off to a good start with CRIMSON (1976) and COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (1973) getting special edition releases with beautiful new transfers and some tasty extras. But this year promises to be even better as the Naschy trickle becomes a flood with Mondo Macabro's INQUISITION (1978) due any day now along with the forthcoming set of five Naschy classics from Scream Factory streeting in late June. It's a great time to be a fan of Spanish Horror!

Of course, for Troy and myself, these releases are of special significance. We were asked to contribute a commentary track for INQUISITION and were thrilled to do so. It was hard, headache inducing work and we are still nervous about the reception our efforts will receive. Overall, we're confident we've produced an entertaining, informative track that will add to the viewer's experience.  INQUISITION is a great film and one that has been very hard to see for the last few decades. We're very excited for people to finally get a chance to see this lesser known Naschy film especially in hi-def!  It's a gorgeous looking movie that has been hidden behind fuzzy VHS transfers for far too long. This is the work of a mature filmmaker exploring dark religious history and the insidious nature of fear meaning there is more than just thrills and shocks to engage the audience.

Adding to the Naschy news a few weeks ago Scream Factory quietly updated their website's listing for the upcoming set and, much to our surprise, announced that some fresh extras had been added. That's right! Your favorite Naschy podcasters have also recorded three new commentary tracks for the films in The Paul Naschy Collection! We were asked to add our voices to the new Blu-Rays and we leapt at the opportunity. In a way, we've kind of been prepping for this for seven years.

The tracks are for HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972), BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974) and NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981). We chose these because they are some of Naschy's best, showing different sides of his screen persona and also a bit of his range. Discussing these films allowed us to dig into Waldemar Daninsky, Carlos Aured's excellent giallo and our personal favorite of his horror movies. How could we refuse?

We would've liked to have recorded tracks for all five films in the set but we had to carefully manage our time to get them done and in a form we could be proud of - even if, when listening, I will always hear the things left out, the side roads not explored and the anecdotes left unrecorded for a lack of time. But, in general, we're very happy with the finished product and can't wait to hear fan reactions to these loving audio tributes to our cinematic hero. Who knows what other Naschy movies might get new high definition releases if these sell well! Fingers crossed, fellow Spanish Horror aficionados! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Jess Franco Poster Art - Part 35!

This is another in the long line of poster images for the mind-bendingly awful film OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982). The film is an epic of boredom and idiocy but the posters used to advertise it are often amazing.    

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price #77 - Percy's Progress (1974)

Would you believe that Vincent Price appeared in a film about a penis transplant? Of course you would! It was the 1970's and the shackles of censorship were (mostly) off. Madness! 

Monday, May 15, 2017

What I Watched In April

The James Gunn scripted THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (2017) is a blast of high concept horror that, with a less commercially successful pedigree, would have been a low budget film that turned up on NetFlix and slowly built a cult following. As it stands, the movie is a low budget effort with very good actors that flopped theatrically and will slowly build a cult following. See the difference there? Yeah, the actors in this one make all the difference in the world. In fact, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a great example of how a strong cast of solid character actors can elevate a piece of exploitation cinema. 

The plot is basic and brilliant - an office building full of employees is locked down so that no one can leave and then an impersonal voice over the intercom system informs everyone that a certain number of them must be dead in a certain amount of time or all of them will be killed. As you might expect, mayhem ensues. Part Office Space, part Battle Royale the film is well written and tightly directed with enough depth of characterization to make events more tense than average. As stated, the cast is excellent and the dark progression of violent demands on the trapped co-workers twists many everyday annoyances that haunt all of us in our work lives into grim signifiers. The ending is well played and carries a couple of good surprises making this a dark ride but one I can recommend.

I'm an unabashed fan of the super-silly Fast & Furious franchise films! With each entry in the series they become more and more ridiculous and less credible but, perversely, more fun. What started as a story about sophisticated thieves using fast cars to facilitate their crimes has morphed into a tale about a government sanctioned, ever expanding super-spy team. Madness!

This time out the twist is that, at the behest of a mysteriously threatening lady (the amazing Charlize Theron), model of dependability Dom (Vin Diesel) turns traitor to his friends running off with an EMP weapon capable of wiping out the electronics of an entire city. The rest of his team have to figure out why he has done something so contrary to his personality and stop his new cohorts from carrying out whatever bizarre plan they have in mind.

It plays out with speed, humor and insane car chases while the central mystery's solution makes all things clear and provides for another deepening of the emotional manipulation at the heart of the series. Playing on the heartstrings is part of this series' structure and family is the core driving characteristic in these movies now, reflecting producer Diesel's way of looking at life. It's a positive element that allows for relationships to grow and the group of friends to enlarge even if it requires some selective memory from film to film. Don't get me wrong - I like seeing Jason Statham brought into the action on the side of the angels (and he gets a great John Woo inspired sequence here) but didn't he flat out murder a member of their team a couple of movies back?

Still- these are perfect popcorn munching, drive-in evening action flicks that I'm glad are still being made. Dumb fun can sometimes be exactly what is needed, especially if it can be done without being too insulting to the viewers intelligence. Bring on number 9!

The List 

BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974) - 7 (rewatch)
FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK (1941)- 8 (Errol Flynn comedy mystery)
THE UNCERTAIN DEATH (1973) - 7 (Larraz drama of plantation madness in India)
JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1962) - 4 (rewatch)
WOMEN OF SAN QUENTIN (1983) - 6 (TV movie about prison guards)
THE SPELL (1977) - 5 (evil witch-child TV movie)
THE BEYOND (1981) - 9 (rewatch)
WORLD WITHOUT END (1956) -6 (rewatch) (silly, sexist, colorful SF)
BATMAN: BAD BLOOD (2016) - 7 (animated tale)
MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (1985) - 4 (terrible Italian made cannibal film)
THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) - 6 (rewatch)
PLAY MOTEL (1979) -4 (ridiculous sexploitation/crime story) 
IT (1990) - 6 (rewatch)
PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1956) - 3 (rewatch on Blu)