Friday, November 21, 2014

The Navigator (1924)



Who's In It: Buster Keaton (Sherlock Jr, The General) and Kathryn McGuire (Sherlock Jr).

What It's About: A couple of rich kids are stranded on an empty ocean liner that's lost at sea.

How It Is: Hilarious. I've seen it a few times now and there are still bits that get me rolling every time. A while back I decided I wanted to experience all the classic silent film comedians like Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, but I started with Keaton and have never been able to move past him. It's hard for me to make time for Chaplin and Lloyd when there are still Keaton movies I haven't seen. His physical ability combined with that deadpan face and just good, solid gags make his films a joy to watch and my whole family is hooked on him.

The Navigator of course combines Keaton with my love for the sea, so it's one of my favorites. Kathryn McGuire is amazing in it too and it's remarkable that she's able to keep up with Keaton. No one's going to upstage him, but she's a great partner for him and The Navigator showcases her talent better than Sherlock Jr (though I love that movie, too).

Here's an early scene, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. This particular version is missing any music, but it's still a nice taste of the film:



Rating: Five out of five silly, sailing scions.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Manly Banister's Werewolves [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

At the age of 13, Manly Banister (March 9, 1914 - June 1986) like many Science Fiction writers began in the fanzines. In the 1950s he wrote for Science Fiction standards like Astounding and Thrilling Wonder, but a decade earlier his output was exclusively for Weird Tales. Manly wrote seven stories for WT from September 1942 to May 1954. Of these seven tales one theme dominates: werewolves.

Pulp werewolves are a strange lot. Unlike in earlier fiction, the werewolf was no longer bracketed with solid rules. Pulp writers wanted to explore their boundaries. So, a traditional lycanthrope might appear in Manly Wade Wellman's "The Werewolf Snarls," but the same rules might not apply in a Seabury Quinn story like "The Blood Flower." The movie The Wolf Man in 1941 might have curtailed this experimenting, but writers like Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, and GG Pendaves put the shape-changers to their own purposes.

"Satan's Bondage" (September 1942) is an unusual debut for Weird Tales. The story got the cover but instead of the title and author by-line it bore the words "New - Utterly Different - A Werewolf Western." This is a bit of a misnomer if you are expecting a High Noon-ish tale. The story is set in cattle country, but in the present. (Perhaps more surprising, Banister has a scene with a very naked werewolf girl, but she does not appear on the cover, though this was after Margaret Brundage's day.)

Kenneth Mulvaney comes to the town of Wereville because he finds his mother's diary. He discovers a community under siege, for the ranchers outside the valley war with the town. Mulvaney also meets Joan Jordan, attractive but possessing the same weird quality as the other inhabitants of Wereville: strangely flat colored eyes. Mulvaney goes to his family's old home and soon learns the secret. It is the full moon and Joan comes to him naked. Taking him to a pond close by she shows him how to transform himself into a wolf. In wolf form, Kenneth attempts to defeat Bock Martin, the black wolf who rules the valley. He learns that Martin is no man-become-a-wolf but a demon from Hell, who holds all the inhabitants in bondage because of an ancient deal between the demon and their witch ancestors. Martin has summoned Mulvaney back to Wereville to lead the wolf people to greater evil.

Mulvaney wishes to find some way to save the souls of his kin, but is powerless. He takes the werewolves out into the nearby cattle herds to feast. Unfortunately for the lycanthropes, Sam Carver and the other ranchers have taken up with a French Canadian priest who has armed them with holy water and silver bullets. The ranchers block the wolves from the creek where they must transform before daylight. Mulvaney sees his chance and leads the werewolves to their doom.

In his debut, Banister is offering up some pretty familiar werewolfery. The man who returns to the old homestead was a good, mysterious start but the name Wereville is much too obvious. A town full of lycanthropes is not new. Algernon Blackwood had a town full of were-cats in the John Silence tale, "Ancient Sorceries" (1908). H Warner Munn had written his tales of a clan of werewolves lead by a dark demoniac figure in "The Werewolf of Ponkert" (Weird Tales, July 1925) and this must have been familiar to long-time readers of WT. But Banister's biggest problem is that the story is structurally weak. He brings Mulvaney to Wereville, sets him up as leader quickly, has him go on his first adventure, then kills him off almost as the story feels like it is beginning.

On the plus side, Banister combines much of the folklore of vampires with the werewolves. They cast no shadows in the light of the full moon; in a silver mirror, the wolves appear as their human selves; and last, they can not endure sunlight in their enchanted forms. To a stickler on previous werewolf lore these might seem like transgressions, but they actually make the story more interesting because they are novel and less predictable. Banister also has the werewolves transform using water which is different and a key element of the story.

"Devil Dog" (July 1945) is very much a tale of its time, which was the end of WWII. Set in the Pacific theater, it follows soldiers who use dogs to sniff out Japanese traps and machine gun nests. But something is killing the dogs, ripping their throats out. Lieutenant Barkis is in charge of the dog squad and goes to investigate one of the dead animals. He is attacked by a large, black, wolf-like beast and receives a bite in the arm. He knows he shot the creature point-blank four or five times but there is no blood at the scene. Later, while recuperating from his wound he finds that the dogs whimper and cringe in his presence. He receives the army chaplain, Father Murphy, with a sudden, new hatred.

Meanwhile Sargent Stranger approaches the priest and they make preparations to deal with the werewolves. Barkis goes to a pool at night and transforms. The original werewolf, probably a shipwrecked sailor long ago, comes and Barkis and he have a duel to the death, with Barkis winning. The Sargent and the priest lie in wait and put holy water in the pool. This traps Barkis in wolf form as the sun rises. Stranger kills his officer with a silver bullet and the two men cook up a tale of a Japanese patrol to explain the two corpses.

Like "Satan's Bondage," Banister has his werewolf requiring a pool of water to transform and again the light of morning is lethal to the creature. Better written that the previous story, "Devil Dog" has as its central conflict the same idea, that of werewolves being trapped away from water. This time Banister sets it up better and plays it for all the emotional value it deserves. As with "Wereville," calling his main character "Barkis" is an unfortunate giveaway. Banister's tale may have influenced later war-werewolf tales such as "Best of Luck" (1978) by David Drake or The Wolf's Hour (1989) by Robert R McCammon. Like Drake (who served in Vietnam), Banister saw real warfare in Guam during WWII. He wrote this story shortly after his return. I had hoped that Barkis would become a good werewolf (as Michael Gallatin does in McCammon's novel) and use his powers to fight the Japanese, but in Banister's world lycanthropes are always intensely evil.

"Loup-Garou" (May 1947) changes tone entirely. A men's club has a visitor who regales them with an ancient tale of a French governor who is faced with the problem of the loup-garou. Hubert du Montreuill is a man of power and his passion turns to a beautiful woman named Clarisse, whom he finds naked in the road. She spurns his advances until Hubert discovers her secret. She is the lycanthrope that is savaging the countryside. He arranges with the commissioner of police to ambush her then falters and tells her that he saw her change form in the fountain. She bites his lip when they kiss, infecting him with lycanthropy. Now they can be lovers for all eternity. They transform then set off into the night. Hubert has forgotten his ambush and Clarisse is shot with silver bullets. He will have to endure eternal life alone. The stranger leaves and the club members think his tale is a fiction, but the narrator sees a wolf leave the building.

This tale is perhaps Banister's least interesting and is certainly his most predictable. The club frame is traditional and the tale of old France is pretty standard stuff. Unlike the jungle, which he knew from his service in the Pacific, there is nothing about this setting that makes it special. Hubert is unlikeable and Clarisse only become fascinating moments before her death, as we see her loneliness within her curse. Like the previous two stories, Clarisse has to use the water to transform, but no one traps her away from it this time.

"Eena" (September 1947, only five years after "Satan's Bondage") is without doubt Banister's most famous tale, often anthologized. The story portrays a werewolf sympathetically which was not usual in the Pulps. It is also filled with other unconventional ideas. Eena begins life as white wolf (Banister's female werewolves are always white). She is a foundling pup raised by Joel Cameron, who comes to the woods in the summer to write and hunt for bounty money. Eena escapes into the woods when he leaves to go back to the city. She becomes the scourge of the area, leading the wolf pack with an almost human cunning. Cameron is cursed out for allowing her to live.

When he returns the next summer, he feels obliged to spend his time trying to hunt down the she-wolf, which he fails to do. But Eena returns to him, for she remembers him kindly, coming back in the form of a beautiful, naked woman (like Joan and Clarissa before her), and becomes a woman by the power of desire and moonlight. While Cameron hunts the she-wolf, he is also falling in love with the wild woman of the woods. The tale ends when a thousand dollar bounty brings hunters to the area. Hunters dog her every step and she only wants the man who has finally taken her in. Wounded, she flees across Wolf Lake back to Cameron's cabin. Joel, not quite understanding, takes up his gun and kills the white wolf. She transforms into her human self just as night falls and Joel is devastated to see the truth.

"Eena" does several things the three earlier tales did not. Banister reverses the wolf-human relationship, making it a tale of a wolf that becomes a woman. Bruce Elliott would use this idea seven years later in "Wolves Don't Cry" (Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1954). Banister also eschews the folklore of lycanthropy, the need for water to transform, the silver bullets, etc. Instead he focuses on the powerful emotions of the two lovers: Eena wanting the man she was raised by, and Cameron falling for the beauty from the woods. He makes Eena's transformation by moonlight into a woman feel orgasmic while her return to wolfishness is painful. Like Peter Beagle's "Lila the Werewolf" (New Worlds of Fantasy #3, July 1971) twenty-four years later, Banister shows the emotional power of the human-wolf conflict. It most likely took Banister's writing of "Loup-Garou" to show him the way to "Eena", for we have a small, tantalizing glimpse of the werewolf experience just before the death of Clarisse. The two stories were only three months apart and it is not hard to imagine Banister jumping from one tale to the other with a flash of inspiration.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kill All Monsters reviews at Bag and Bored, Oh My! Omaha, and Geeks with Wives



There's a small backlog of Kill All Monsters reviews that I've been meaning to post, starting with a beautiful one from last July. Kim is a mom in Ohama, Nebraska who writes the Oh My! Omaha blog, a parent's guide to happenings in and around her hometown. She also runs a Little Free Library and when someone took all the books out of it, my friend Jay - who runs the Library of Justice here in Minnesota - helped her restock with a bunch of stuff, including a copy of Kill All Monsters.

Kim tells the whole story on her blog, but the short version is that her son claimed the comic as his own and "[devoured] this book every chance he got." Jason and I both have sons and one of the things we wanted to do with Kill All Monsters was to be sure it was accessible to kids. So month's later, Kim's story still makes my day whenever I think about it. Thanks to Jay for sharing the book with her and to her for sharing her story and the photos.

Going back even farther to June, I don't think I ever shared this fantastic review from Bag and Bored. Brad Gischia calls Kill All Monsters "the greatest Monster vs. Robot story since Godzilla vs. Megalon" and praises the human elements of the story while noticing the enormous task Jason has of "not getting lost in the fight scenes," something that he says Jason does "with rocket boots on." Thanks so much, Brad!

Most recently, Cory Anderson from Geeks with Wives included KAM in his "Introducing Indies" series. He writes about being drawn in by Jason's style and then hooked by some of the plot revelations. So, thanks to you too, Cory! We're very glad you enjoyed it and we're hard at work on broadening the Kill All Monsters world and continuing the story.

Friday, November 14, 2014

After the Storm (2001)



Who's In It: Benjamin Bratt (Demolition Man, Miss Congeniality), Mili Avital (Stargate, Dead Man), Armand Assante (Judge Dredd, The Odyssey), Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride), and Stephen Lang (Avatar, Terra Nova).

What It's About: A scavenger (Bratt) and his girlfriend (Avital) form an uneasy alliance with a boat captain (Assante) and his wife (Simone-Élise Girard) to salvage treasure from a sunken yacht. Beals has a small role as a passenger on the doomed yacht and Lang plays the British sergeant major who leads the local law enforcement.

How It Is: Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, After the Storm is really good, old-fashioned noir set in the Bahamas. It's easy to imagine the same story being shot in the '40s with Humphrey Bogart in the lead role. All of the characters are complex and none of them are completely trustworthy, so it's a lot of fun seeing the events that force them together and then trying to predict who's going to double-cross whom.

The only drawback is a CGI shark that protects the sunken yacht. I wish director Guy Ferland (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) would've filmed a real shark instead, but other than that the movie looks great and makes excellent use of its scenery in Belize.

I really don't want to say more than that, but fans of classic noir should check it out.

Rating: Four out of five treacherous treasure-hunters.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Abyss (1989)



Who's In It: Ed Harris (The Rock), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), and Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens).

What It's About: Close Encounters of the Wet Kind.

How It Is: For two hours, it's a perfectly constructed thriller. It's the characters' actions that continually ramp up the tension and lead them from set piece to set piece, so the story feels very organic and holds together wonderfully for most of the movie. Ed Harris plays the foreman of an underwater drilling team that's tasked with helping some Navy SEALs find a missing submarine. The SEAL commander (Biehn) grows increasingly unhinged as the story unfolds, but the best drama is between Harris and his estranged wife (Mastrantonio), who's also recruited to assist in the mission since she designed the drilling platform.

Harris and Mastrantonio's relationship is what anchors the whole story amidst all the craziness. It's hard not to get the feeling that Cameron is working through his own relationship issues, but the two characters feel like a real couple who have disconnected from each other because they're both so stubborn and independent. If there's a negative aspect to the way they're presented, it's that Harris is clearly the good guy in their relationship at first, but that becomes less true as the movie progresses and Cameron lets us get to know Mastrantonio better. By the end, all I want is for these two to survive and have a second chance at working things out.

As strong as most of the movie is though, it doesn't quite stick its landing. I'm enough of a scifi nerd to appreciate that undersea aliens are somehow responsible for most of what's happening, but honestly, The Abyss would be a stronger film without that aspect. It works best when it's focused on the characters' trying to survive. And though the aliens' appearances are mysterious and exciting during the first two hours, the resolution of that plotline in the movie's last fifteen minutes feels tacked on and hokey. It's like the special edition of Close Encounters where you get to see inside the ship. It's unnecessary and works against what the rest of the film has been building towards.

But man, those first two hours...

Rating: Four out of five water tentacles.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Door to Infinity: Mythos without Lovecraft [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I got my start in the Mythos business by playing Call of Cthulhu, a role-playing game in which private detectives, soldiers, dilettantes and hobos face off against cultists with one goal: to return the Great Old Ones to the earth. This fun blend of adventure and horror was created by Sandy Petersen and Gene Day and based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

The game led me to read virtually every story Lovecraft wrote. And what you don't find are adventures featuring private detectives, soldiers, dillentes and hobos facing off against cultists with one goal: to return the Great Old Ones to the earth. Lovecraft's protagonists are usually people much the same as Lovecraft himself: New England gentlemen, librarians and writers. A few stories - such as "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror" - feature "cultists," but usually in the background.

So what gives? Some of this is the gamification of the Cthulhu Mythos by Petersen. To make the game fun to play, you have to DO something. He included the 1920s Private Eye and other historical professions such as the Hobo and former veterans of WWI. But this was all the way in 1982. Did anyone ever try the Mythos adventure back in the day? Plenty of people wrote pseudo-Lovecraft including August Derleth, Robert Bloch, C Hall Thompson, Henry Kuttner, and Frank Belknap Long. And these were just the ones in Weird Tales. But did anyone ever write a Call of Cthulhu (referred to as CoC from now on) style story to inspire Petersen fifty years later?

Just one writer, a contemporary of HPL with a long list of credits all his own, Edmond Hamilton. The story was "The Door to Infinity" and of course it appeared in Weird Tales (August-September 1936), six months before HPL's death. Hamilton got his start in WT in August 1926 with "The Monster-God of Mamurth", a tale of an invisible temple and its giant spider god. Most of Hamilton's reputation in 1936 rested on his Science Fiction which included gigantic space battles, giving him the sobriquet of "World Wrecker Hamilton". So why would he write a CoC style tale?

The reason is simple. Hamilton was versatile. He wrote all kinds of Science Fiction and Fantasy for WT. He wrote Heroic Fantasy in "Lost Elysium" and "Twilight of the Gods", monster SF in "The Metal Giants" and "The Star-Stealers", lyrical Fantasy like "He That Hath Wings" (inspiring Angel of the X-Men), Animal SF in "Day of Judgment" (Kamandi before Jack Kirby), horror tales like "The Vampire Master" as Hugh Davidson, space opera in "Corsairs of the Cosmos", and every kind of fantastic story you can think of. Hamilton was a writer up for anything, even a Mythos romp.

"Door to Infinity" has two heroes, Inspector Pierce Campbell of Scotland Yard and handsome, young American, Paul Innis. Campbell and Innis have to track down the dangerous Brotherhood of the Door when they steal Innis' wife, Ruth. The agent of the Brotherhood is Chandra Dass, an evil Malay with plenty of henchmen. The two heroes are captured and sent to their deaths down a trap door to the Thames. Only Campbell's resourcefulness saves them, allowing the duo to chase Dass along the river and discover the secret headquarters of the cult in a limestone cliff. Once inside, posing as cultists, the two men find that the Brotherhood has several sacrificial victims, including Ruth, who will supply the energy to open a dimensional door. Paul Innis sees:
The spherical web of wires pulsed up madly with shining force. And up at the center of the gleaming black oval facet on the wall, there appeared a spark of unearthly green light. It blossomed outward, expanded, an awful viridescent flower blooming quickly outward farther and farther. And as it expanded, Ennis saw that he could look through that green light! He looked through into another universe, a universe lying infinitely far across alien dimensions from our own, yet one that could be reached through this door between dimensions. It was a green universe, flooded with an awful green light that was somehow more akin to darkness than to light, a throbbing, baleful luminescence.

Ennis saw dimly through green-lit spaces a city in the near distance, an unholy city of emerald hue whose unsymmetrical, twisted towers and minarets aspired into heavens of hellish viridity. The towers of that city swayed to and fro and writhed in the air. And Ennis saw that here and there in the soft green substance of that restless city were circles of lurid light that were like yellow eyes.

In ghastly, soul-shaking apprehension of the utterly alien, Ennis knew that the yellow circles were eyes—that that hell-spawned city of another universe was living—that its unfamiliar life was single yet multiple, that its lurid eyes looked now through the Door! 
Sax Rohmer
Out from the insane living metropolis glided pseudopods of its green substance, glided toward the Door. Ennis saw that in the end of each pseudopod was one of the lurid eyes. He saw those eyed pseudopods come questing through the Door, onto the dais.

The yellow eyes of light seemed fixed on the row of stiff victims, and the pseudopods glided toward them. Through the open door was beating wave on wave of unfamiliar, tingling forces that Ennis felt even through the protective robe. 
Campbell's trusty revolver takes out the web-wires and the door closes. A big shoot out and a fiery escape and there you have it. One quality CoC adventure.

Was this Hamilton's best work? No, CoC aside, the whole set-up reeks of Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu. Campbell is Weyland Smith-fantastic and Paul Innis is too handsome and too American. Weird Tales readers in 1936 would have been quite familiar with Fu Manchu, since Rohmer had resurrected his 1917 character and had been writing new Fu's all through the 1930s: Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933), The Trail of Fu Manhcu (1934), and President Fu Manchu (1936). Rohmer's racism is also evidenced by the dastardly Chandra Dass.

What I find so interesting about this story is how close Hamilton comes to Lovecraft but does not cross over into the Mythos. Was this because Lovecraft hadn't invited him to join his circle? (I wonder what HPL's reaction to the tale was?) Was it because Hamilton had had no real interest in the Cthulhu Mythos? Did Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales request this tale? Perhaps Hamilton just got there on his own, for Wright never rejected any story by Hamilton in their twenty-four years of working together. Wright allowed Hamilton great freedom and the rewards were many. The tentactular beasties are squamous and eldritch enough for Lovecraft but in the end they are aliens coming from another dimension. The Mythos magic just isn't there. For us time-traveling back to the days of the Pulps, "The Door to Eternity" makes a great "what could have been". Who knows, I just might get that old box set out and chase some cultists around London or Arkham or even Hamilton's own Ohio.

Read "The Door to Infinity" at Project Gutenberg.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nerd Lunch, Star Wars, and Kill All Monsters news



Last Tuesday, Nerd Lunch dropped its 153rd episode in which CT and Pax sat down with me and Kay from FANgirl Blog to talk Star Wars. (I've still never recorded a full episode with Jeeg, so that's a lifegoal yet unfulfilled.) Aspects of Star Wars have come up a few times on Nerd Lunch, but this was their first time talking about the series as a whole, so it was an honor to get to participate. We talked about our favorite and least favorite things about the movies and some surprising opinions came out.

It was a great conversation and you should totally listen to it either in the link below or through whatever way you prefer to listen to podcasts. I always enjoy hanging out and talking with the Nerd Lunch fellas and it was a lot of fun meeting and visiting with Kay. You should also check out FANgirl Blog for some great thinkpieces on Star Wars and genre storytelling in general.

One last thing is that I also dropped a little Kill All Monsters news during the show. People have been patiently waiting for Volume 2 and it's coming, but we've got a couple of other treats first. Early next summer, Jason and I are debuting a brand new Kill All Monsters story in an anthology comic. More details on that as we get closer, but we're very excited about it. Then, next autumn, we're planning to do a one-shot, single-issue comic funded by Kickstarter. That will also be a brand new story as we expand the Kill All Monsters world beyond the characters that were introduced in the graphic novel. And then finally, very early in 2016, we'll finish the graphic novel we started in Ruins of Paris. I know that's a long time to wait, but we think it'll be worth it and we hope you'll agree.


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