Movie Reviews 264 – Fermat’s Room (2007)

May 26, 2016

Fermat's RoomPierre de Fermat was a 15th century differential calculus mathematician that created a few proofs and theorems in his lifetime but one of which was lost in time. It took another 350 years for another scientist to provide the correct calculations that re-proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, a goal mathematicians salivatingly tried to puzzle all those years. (There is a great PBS Nova episode called “The Proof” that describes Fermat’s last Theorem and how it was eventually solved. Highly recommended viewing.)

The movie Fermat’s Room (La habitación de Fermat) has nothing to do with any of the above except the use of the mathematicians name. But puzzles, brainteasers, mathematical formulas, and multiple mysteries are at the crux of the plot. And like any good puzzle, there are layers to the plot that quickly becomes a race against time, and failure to solve puzzles will result in the ultimate price… death.

A bunch of world renowned mathematicians receive a letter in which a complex mathematical link between a series of numbers must be deciphered by a given deadline. When four of them solve the challenge they receive an invitation by the mysterious “Fermat” to a desolate meeting point at a specific date and time, and are asked not to identify themselves to one another, but are each provided the name of famous historical mathematicians of yore. Thus “Pascal”, “Galois”, “Hilbert” and “Oliva” meet in a secluded forested area and while still quizzing each other begin to solve puzzles that lead them first to an abandoned mill and then to a room inside.

The elder subject “Hilbert” (Lluís Homar) seems thrilled to be part of the challenge, asserting that mathematicians have had a tradition for such mysterious encounters before as a friendly social gathering of like-minded deep thinkers. Others like “Pascal” (Santi Millán) who solved the initial question with only hours to spare is only curious about the identity of their unseen host. The young “Galois” (Alejo Sauras) who recently solved another great mathematical problem but whose room was later vandalized resulting in the loss of his celebrated solution is more interested to know if this Fermat was somehow connected. Finally “Oliva” (Elena Ballesteros) seems more interested in “Galois” than the mystery at hand.

When “Fermat” finally makes his entrance he soon receives a call on his cell (despite all the others being warned not to bring one) that forces him to tend to an emergency. No sooner does he leave that the other find themselves trapped in the room with an electronic PDA from which they receive instructions from “Fermat”, and then the puzzles start arriving. As they try to solve the first riddle they notice that all four walls are slowly closing in and only a solution will temporarily halt the closing in.

From that point every piece of information is turned on it’s head as they group tries to figure out who is trying to kill them and why. The layers start to unravel, connections to the past are exposed and the truth slowly, beautifully emerges. Things taken for granted are revisited from another perspective, and yet completely logical. Almost nothing is as it appears and every shocking discovery seems to raise new questions.

The Spanish dual directing and writing team of Luis Piedrahita (also a comedian and magician by trade) and partner Rodrigo Sopeña is both amazingly complex and yet simple once understood, just like to small puzzles the group must solve to stay alive. But unlike solving brainteasers yourself where you struggle for a solution, watching this movie will be satisfying as all those riddles are clearly explained, including Fermat’s puzzle.

The Humans – TPB Vol.1 (2015)

May 20, 2016

The HumansPierre Boulle’s original novel La Planete des Singes which was the basis for the 1968 Planet of the Apes, did not feature the primitive ape society that we ended up seeing in the film. His original concept presented a simian society which used contemporary advanced technologies, only suited to ape physical features and with slight differences to those of modern man. (OK, 1960’s modern man.) His simians had cars, planes, helicopters and television. It was only for budgetary reasons the filmmakers decided to regress the apes to x sciences and adobe housing.

As much as I loved the film versions and the many sequels and spinoffs that followed (the Tim Burton abomination excluded), many of my fellow ape-o-philes and I have often wondered what could have been had Boulle’s original concept been realized on film or expanded with continuing stories as they did with the version that was filmed.

The creative team behind Image comics’ The Humans (artist Tom Neely and writer Keenan Marshall Keller) now fill that void with panoramic alternate Earth world set in the late 60’s and early 70’s in which apes, suitably garbed, deal with the issues, culture and events of the day. One key point of interest is that the main characters are members of an outlaw motorcycle gang.

Brandishing a middle finger salute as their gang patch, The Humans, while wild at times are one of the more calm, cool, collected biker gangs. Their stoic leader Bobby makes sure they keep their nefarious deeds under a threshold, but don’t thread their Bakersfield California territory or they will unleash their full animal fury. Sporting leather duds, rawhide boots, sleeveless jean jackets, and all manner of 60’s fashion trimmings, the Humans ride hogs and choppers proping their bouffant hairdooed, miniskited ape gals in tow. Members include a beatnik poet, a burly gorilla, and an tag-along orangutan named Clyde (obvious homage to Clint Eastwood’s “Any which way…” series of movies). Their prime nemesis are the Skabbs, a rival gang constantly provoking the Humans, but with neither the brains nor brawn to best them.

The storylines in this first trade paperback volume entitled “Humans for Life” (collecting the first four issues) include confrontations with the Skabbs, a funeral for a departed Human, a Human that has just returned from the equivalent of the Vietnam war and dealings with a corrupt official leading a drug distribution ring serviced by many gangs including the Humans. There are non simian humans are in a few scenes, often depicted enslaved, but there is nearly no mention of them, much less any explanation of the upside-down universe.

As can be expected with a gang centric cast, the stories are action packed and the mature nature of the comic includes unabashed simian sex (you get to see plenty of monkey boobs and weenies) denoting the ‘free love’ spirit of the times. The funky art accurately depicts the glorious groovy threads of the day while the characters are rich and interesting, either one of which are sufficient to recommend reading. My one grumble was the inclusion of a mosh pit at a concert which contrasted with the otherwise faithful rendition of the era.A minor slip in an otherwise great comic.

Movie Reviews 263 – The Innkeepers (2011)

May 11, 2016

The InnkeepersHorror movies by their very nature tend to be shot in dark brooding scenes that evoke a sense of peril and anticipation. On the other side of the coin are the horror comedies that dispel the need for that ambiance as the goal is chuckles more than screams. With The Innkeepers, writer and director Ti West tries to narrow that divide, presenting a movie that has mostly brightly lit scenes with a frenetically fun principal character and minimizing the dingy, shadowy scenes until the latter half when things do start to get creepy. But the fresh take ultimately fails in the most basic of horror storytelling needs, and leaves viewers hanging around looking for some sort of unfulfilled finality, much like the ghosts in these movies.

With imminent closure just around the corner the two remaining hotel staff at the Yankee Pedlar Inn are more interested in capturing evidence of the Inn’s resident ghost than tending to the few remaining guests. Energy filled Claire (Sara Paxton) puts all her energy in trying to elicit the ethereal presence of the late Madeline O’Malley, who when spurned on her honeymoon sometime in the last century, hung herself at the Inn, but whose keepers at the time decided not to report the incident to the authorities and opting to dispose of the body themselves. Assisted by her coworker Luke (Pat Healy) who even designs a website documenting the story and, hopefully one day include their own findings, the two have only a few days left in their quest.

One recent guest is former movie star and now a spirit drinking spiritual guide Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) who reluctantly helps Claire. The only other Inn guest (after Claire manages to scare off the rest) is an elderly gentleman who insists on staying in one of the rooms already permanent closed. With video cameras in hand and high tech sound recorders set, the two embark on a frenzied last chance to capture their poltergeist prey.

While the chase is appealing at first the few interesting side stories of the guests never amount to anything. McGillis’ role, the only one substantially developed aside from the two main characters, is criminally neglected after a nice setup. The plot has ridiculously evident holes like the fact that while the Claire and Luke have been hunting Madeline for some time, they never bothered to check out the basement room where she died until their last day in the Inn. But those brunt of dissatisfaction goes to flaccid ending, without any answers or new mystery left for thought. It’s by-the-numbers, and the numbers don’t even add up.

Like the ghost haunting the Inn, this movie isn’t going anywhere. I regret that it made it as far as my DVD collection.

Movie Reviews 262 – Carnival of Souls (1962)

April 28, 2016

Carnival of SoulsWe’re all familiar with those cheap DVD sets that are chock full of movies that have made their way to public domain oblivion for one reason or another. But those dustbins of disregard do hold a few gems. Some, like Night of the Living Dead, are well known and have even attained cult status however most of the movies are in those bins deservedly, having little or no cinematic value, and are now mere curiosities. But in between those extremes are a few movies that have many failing points but at the same time have unique qualities that raise them above their sloppy siblings. At the top of that list is Carnival of Souls.

What it lacks in fine scripting and quality production values it more than makes up for with a distinct mood and ambiance. On the surface it is a simple story of a young woman named Mary (Candace Hilligoss) who emerges from an accident in which the car she was riding in with friends plunges over a bridge railing killing her companions. She miraculously emerges from the mucky waters as the rescuers look on, but from that day forward suffers from haunting dreams and apparitions of an ashen faced figure.

Driving to a small town to work as their new church organ player, she is intrigued by an abandoned roadside carnival as she drives by. She takes up residence in a boarding house where she has to deal with a simple minded shift worker who immediately starts making advances. Almost as soon as she arrives at the church and practices with the organ, she enters a trancelike state and begins playing a high intensity music piece that has her being fired for playing ‘devil’s music’. She later runs into a doctor who briefly tries to help her with her nightmares, but is constantly drawn to the carnival which she eventually visits, only to have more nightmares, the last finally revealing her true destiny.

Hilligoss’ somewhat stilted acting proved to be a gratifying point as her unassured manner fit in perfectly with her character, uncertain of her place in the world. Her tenuous grip with reality is at the forefront of all her encounters with the landlady, fellow boarder, church pastor and the doctor she meets. Accompanied by a haunting score emphasizing the grand pipe organ imagery throughout, it enhances the subtle yet sincere terror, lending the audience to sympathize with Mary.

A shame that this was director Herk Harvey’s first and only feature as his career afterward was concentrated on industrial and educational films. Casting himself in the role of the ashen ghost figure that traumatizes Mary, Herk displayed a knack for pacing and tension.

Once an obscure oddity itself, the movie has steadily grown in reputation over the years and has cast aside the disparaging label associated with most of the other bin buddies. Easily found as there are many public domain collections and single releases of the movie, it is certainly one to look out for.

Invaders from the North – John Bell (2006)

April 15, 2016

Invaders of the NorthI’ve always enjoyed reading books about comic history almost as much as reading comics themselves. Whether it be the trials and tribulations of Superman’s creators (Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero), the indignities endured by Jack Kirby (Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution) or even essays on select comic runs or graphic novels (Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!). But while my reading on comics history has been diverse, it has also been fairly negligent when it comes to the comic legacy of my own native Canada.

Invaders from the North – How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe is a compilation of essays that capture the history of comic publishing here in the Great White North. This includes the faltering starts and stops during the early years (largely due to economic and protectionist measures in those days) right up to the time the book was published. Author John Bell documents the state of comic affairs over the years with near academic precision and the research to match.

Beginning nearly at the same time as the more prodigious American counterpart publications, the history of Canadian comics since the end of the nineteenth century (embryonic newspaper strips) is well covered including even the smallest of publishers, the titles that were available and, for the most part, the individuals or creative teams responsible. The detail is admirable ranging from the better known titles to the most obscure ones that lasted only a few issues.

One of the most Interesting aspects was learning how Canada was not impervious to the anti-comic hysteria rampant in the US during the 50’s and how events here even led to an entire chapter in Dr. Frederic Wertham’s notorious Seduction of the Innocent which triggered the entire debacle. The events here eerily mimicked those in the US.  I never realized that Canada also held senate hearings of our own and much like famed EC comics (and later MAD magazine) publisher Bill Gaines who spearheaded the defence of the comic industry in the US, we had publisher William Zimmerman doing the same here.  The uproar was national news with even Prime Minister Mackenzie King voicing his jaundiced opinion. Sadly, the end result was also pretty much the same with the establishment of our own Comics Code self imposed by publishers as compromise solution. As much as events here shadowed what was happening across the border, the biggest surprise was we even participated in narrow minded comic burning episodes, the most famous occurring at St-Bernadette, a school in Gatineau, Quebec, which is just a few kilometers from where I live now. All fascinating material!

Other chapters plod through the decades capturing all the high points like Dave Sim’s Cerebus, as well as the more esoteric echelons like the underground comix scene, indie creators, the successful Drawn & Quarterly, and of course some of the French language endeavors over the years, some bridging the language divide that seems omnipresent when discussing Canada on any issue.

Nestled among the essays are two spotlight chapters, the first on uniquely Canadian heroes including Johnny Canuck, Captain Canuck, Nelvana, Canada Jack, Northguard, and all the rest of the more iconic heroes. The second spotlight features Chester Brown, discussing his much lauded Louis Riel graphic novel as well as his earlier Yummy Fur.

With a snazzy Dave Cooper art cover, there are plenty of illustrations, clips, and cover art within. Perhaps the best treasure are the many vintage posed and candid photos of most of the writers and artists discussed in the book, sometimes jarringly reminding me of how time flies having met a number of these artists today.

One issue that was a bit of a sore point was how the book was cobbled from various essays  written over the years that in some cases, if not all, evidently contained previously published material. Read as standalone segments, the essays are informative and concise. But when presented as a compiled tome as was done here the segments contain a lot of overlap and are annoyingly repetitive on some points. A much better job could have been done to edit out those portions already documented in other chapters. Another lesser gripe was how the volume bounces through the history and is not presented in any clear chronological order as one would expect of a historical accounting.

If your views on Canadian comics were confined to nothing more than Captain Canuck and Captain Canada, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn of the vast history captured here. A must read for any real Canadian comic fans, young and old. Something to keep in mind as we scour the shelves at our local comic shops today and come across yet another rebirth of Captain Canuck!

Movie Reviews 261 – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

April 9, 2016

What Ever Happened To Baby JaneExhibiting the greatest sibling rivalry and betrayal since Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis, silver screen divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford give landmark performances in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a movie that not only delivers a thrilling drama, but borders on horror, both on and off screen.

Davis and Crawford, both former screen vixens that were themselves aging legends at the time of filming, perfectly fit the roles of Hollywood stars past their primes and now long forgotten. Sporting golden curly locks, “Baby” Jane Hudson (Davis) was a cherubic vaudeville child star on the scale of Shirley Temple who not only had adoring children panting for Baby Jane dolls but boasted a signature hit song “I’ve written a Letter to Daddy” that had adults tearing up as well. Conceited and vain, Jane’s later Hollywood career did not amount to much and ended on a scandalous note. Her sister Blanche (Crawford) was overshadowed on stage and bullied by Jane as a child, forever standing in the wings as Jane basked in the glow of her adoring fans, all the while simmering and vowing not to forget. In contrast to Jane, Blanche later blossomed into a headline Hollywood star, eclipsing her sister’s languishing career.

Both sister’s fortunes came crashing to halt one faithful night when a car accident leaves Blanche a paraplegic and bound to life in a wheelchair while sister Jane took the rap as the driver of the car that rammed Blanche. Now, years later and living together in a shared house, the women are all but forgotten when a retrospective of Blanche’s movies airs on TV, regenerating interest and fond memories by Blanche’s fans.

The combination of seeing Blanche’s resurrected fandom and the impending sale of the house they share becomes the tipping point for surly Jane. Her former mere annoyance now becomes outright terror as Jane first toys with her sister, now a captive, and then as she spirals down in  drunken insanity, begins to plan a more permanent deadly solution. Delusional and reminiscent of her past glory, Jane also decides that Blanche isn’t the only one that can rekindle a stagnant career and hires a musician via the want ads so that she can practice her signature song again. She entices a burly session player (Victor Buono) looking only for a quick buck who plays along with her off key parlour rehearsals. But it isn’t long before Jane’s every more complicated conniving becomes deadly, leading to a final scene on a beach where Jane creepily dances on the sand after being subjected to one more shocking surprise.

The screen sibling rivalry was nothing compared to be behind the scenes maneuvers exercised  between two combative divas. The studio tried to make light of that strain even going so far to try to dismiss the friction with select quotes in the DVD extra features, but over the years many other sources have documented the on-set battles. Knowing that Crawford was married to the president of Pepsi Cola, Davis had a contract stipulation that a Coca Cola vending machine be made available on the set. Not to be outdone, Crawford donned hidden lead weights prior to shooting a scene where Davis had to lift her. So celebrated was this feud that books and even a documentary capture the public jabs and taunts they inflicted one another over the years.

Despite the animosity, or more likely because of it, both women gave the performances of their careers, which for a time rekindled their own Hollywood postures, Davis even getting a Oscar nomination for her portrayal as Jane (as did  Buono). Sporting a ghoulish caked makeup and shriveled braids, Davis’ menacing look is unforgettable especially in one scene where she seems to undergo a physical transformation after seeing her own horror in the mirror. Swaying from  utter calm and the voice of reason to flat-out caged terror, Crawford elicits compassion and sympathy as the duel escalates.

So positive was the response to the movie that director Robert Aldrich and the writing team  planned to reunite the diva duo in Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte again in 1964, only to have Crawford exit the film shortly after production started.  Oh, what could have been…

Movie Reviews 260 – Perkins’ 14 (2009)

March 31, 2016

Perkins 14Despondent over his son Kyle’s abduction over ten years ago, constable Dwayne Hopper (Patrick O’Kane) leads a despairing life with a mundane marriage and a rebellious teenage daughter. His son’s disappearance was the last of 14 kids who disappeared at the time, victims of a serial abductor and a crime that was never solved. Haunted by the events of that night long ago, he replays the minutiae of what happened over and over in his mind. His obsession has led him to prior false assumptions and accusations in the past, further damaging family bonds and blemishing his career.

While processing local cell inmate Ronald Perkins (Richard Brake) for release for a minor infraction, Dwayne becomes convinced that he is his son’s abductor when he lets slip some unrevealed information and some of his statements turn out to be outright lies. When two constables sent to the Perkins household to check out Dwayne’s outlandish claims fail to respond, Dwayne goes to investigate himself.

Not only do Dwayne’s suspicions turn out to be accurate, but Perkins’ crimes go far beyond mere abduction. As Dwayne peruses videotapes found in a secret lair he learns that the kids, now absent, have not only been kept penned all these years, but that Perkins, a pharmacist, has been subjecting his captives to a cocktail of drugs that have transformed them. As Dwayne and the entire town of Stone Cove soon learn, the Perkins’ 14 now under zombie like trances, are intent on inflicting Perkins’ revenge on the town.

While the beginning storyline is solid, has great characters, presents a fairly original plot and promises a great movie, the latter half deteriorates into a cliché zombie onslaught. After developing complementary side plots tackling marital infidelity, teenage insecurities and other daily grind complications, once the kids run rampant the focus quickly becomes the story of the detached and trapped group trying to escape the mindless horde. Some of the central conflicts still remain, but it’s mostly about dealing with locked doors, crawling through ductwork and the other usual shenanigans of entrapment.

The fact that we know that one of the rampant kids is Kyle is enough to figure out where the story leads (and the inevitable conclusion). Not a terrible movie by any stretch, but it could have been so much better if it didn’t fall into the well trodden zombie path. Also sad that they could not come up with a title that doesn’t give away one of the main questions posed until it is divulged that Perkin’s is the real culprit.

Movie Reviews 259 – Bitch Slap (2009)

March 24, 2016

Bitch SlapThis movie was recommended to me by a friend following my review of Sucker Punch, a similar movie featuring a group of girls teaming together in a surreal world. While Bitch Slap presents itself as a ‘real world’ movie, it’s over the top action, characters and situations border on a fantasy world, at least on a male hormonal level if you get my drift.

It’s hard to say that Bitch Slap is solidly grounded in reality for many reasons starting with the improbability of three of the most stunningly, drop-dead gorgeous women, each contrasting in character, could possibly find themselves banded together. The arcane opening scene presents our girls in a remote near desert setting on some sort of common mission. The ambiguity of that mission is slowly pieced together as the movie goes back chronologically in time from scene to scene, each time answering one question posed by the last scene, only to pose another that requires yet another flashback. The pieces slowly fall into place until we understand the whole picture.

Our three vixens are the redhead leader Hel (Erin Cummings) commanding the boisterous Camero (America Olivo) and the fragile glamour girl Trixie (Julia Voth). They seem to be on the run and are looking for something, but that is all we know. Trying to figure out their next move standing by their car in the desolate landscape with only an abandoned gas station within sight, they pop the trunk to try to get answers from an agitated prisoner (Michael Hurst).  His tortured testimony begins the flashback voyage (with intermittent returns to the desert present) which brings us to dance halls, strip joints, gangster lairs, street parties/brawls, and at least one gratuitous wet T-Shirt contest. The varied characters we meet along the way include a lusting Deputy Fuchs (with the obvious name jokes), the deadly duo of Hot Wire and his sidekick (literally) Kinki the Japanese Harajuku girl, and nuns (!) to name just a few.

While Camaro ingests pills becoming ever more agitated as the movie progresses, the girls relive past events throwing their hair back and modeling a string of ensembles that would be apropos of any cat walk fashion list. The flashback sequences not only reveal the past interactions of all the characters to piece the story together, but also brings to light how each of the girls have their own hidden agendas and even past interactions amongst themselves. The flashback scenes make continual reference to another mysterious big wig named Pinky who is never seen, but embodying all the girls greatest fears.

The triumvirate of girls provide a parallel triad of an endless stream of action, violence and titillation. Despite the R rating the sexuality, while extremely hot with a touch of some lesbian steam (not just from the hot summer sun beating down on them), stops short of vulgar nudity. And just as we near the end and think we have it all figured out, the story throws in one final not so surprising twist.

If all of the above wasn’t enough to convince you to watch this movie I doubt adding the fact that there are cameos from Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless, and Zoë Bell (who also assisted with the stunt choreography) will change your mind. Then again, if you haven’t been hooked yet then this movie is probably not for you. I find measly 4.5 IMDB rating is criminally uncalled-for and misleading and those giving it such a low rating probably warrant a bitch slapping of their own. Sure it’s all fluff, but also a lot fun.

Memos from Purgatory – Harlan Ellison (1961)

March 21, 2016

Memos From PurgatoryI’ve always enjoyed, if not loved Harlan Ellison’s writing. Always controversial, sometimes golden hearted, sometimes grade A  jackass, a leading social rights crusader and staunch supporter of the ERA only to them negate all that credence in a shocking infantile public display of sexual objectification (by groping fellow science fiction grand master Connie Willis onstage at a Worldcon awards ceremony no less). Spanning a career over 60 years and garnering every conceivable genre award imaginable, his talents extend to award winning television screenplays and even comics.

He is vocal on every subject that touches rights and freedoms, a voice for writers and pay equity, and with a litigious bent, he’ll make sure you notice him if you ever cross him in any way. He’s pretty hard to ignore and while you may disagree with some of his ideals, you have to respect the writing.

He’s one of the few authors for whom I can read any of his speculative fiction as well as essays (for example his discourses on television, The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat).

His introductions are sometimes just as entertaining (and volatile) as the book’s content. All this to say that he is one of those writers for whom I will read (and enjoy) anything he writes, on any topic, in any genre or style.

Memos from Purgatory is one of his earliest books, following in the vein of his first book Web of the City where Ellison revisits the topic of juvenile delinquency and street gangs. But this time it is a non-fiction recounting of his few weeks infiltrating a New York gang for the sole purpose of documenting the goings-on, and indeed writing this book. As circumstances would later dictate, the book became a two-parter, when years later the remnants of his gang days come back to haunt him.

He begins by moving into hostile neighborhood in 1954 where he quickly wriggles his way into a teen gang, The Barons. He rapidly digests the culture, rules, and roles of all the hopeless souls that inevitably fall prey to such gangs, sometimes because there is nothing else to occupy the time, sometimes by sheer necessity and choosing the lesser of alternate evils. There among the others with nicknames like Pooch, Flo, and Fish he transforms into ‘Cheech’ Beldone for a number of weeks. But in order to be a member of the gang he must endure several initiation rites, making new friends and enemies along the way. His final initiation test is to take part in a rumble against a rival gang, and when that day arrives, having absorbed all he could handle and then some, takes a beating and an exit to gang life, in that order.

The world of the gang life is richly described in terms of the anguish and misery that most if not all of his new found ‘friends’ toil in. A world of homemade ‘zip guns’ (when the real thing is not available), junkie fixes, ad-hoc leadership and stringent turf boundaries. A grimy existence, temporary for the author, but not those who have to live in the ghettos. Above all else is the violence from both within and outside the confines of his gang Harsh,unrelenting and sometimes deadly.

Once Harlan wrote the book the first time around, he then took to holding public lectures about his experience and even going on television at some point. Part of his lectures included shocasing his cache of weapon which included an unregistered gun. It was holding onto that gun that led to his arrest five years later and then being thrown in jail overnight because of that illegal (yet explicable) faux pas.

While he did garner some sympathy even from the arresting officers, he then met a foe that for a time seemed just as fierce as his gangland rivals; the mind bending legal system and how ‘justice’ is meted. The latter half of the book (now edited to include this second chapter) describes in sordid detail the de-humanization sustained once caught by the system, where “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t mean you have to be treated with kid gloves until you get that verdict. Abased equally with some real criminals, drunks, psychotics, and others probably just as innocent (if not just as stupid) people as he was, they are all human trash for that time.

The one common thread to the entire book is the utter despair he found in both situations, neither of which some innocent people can escape as he was able to do, freely being able to simply move back to a decent neighborhood when it was time to leave the gang, and having friends being able to come up with a sizeable bail when he needed out of jail (the crime subsequently being stricken from his record).

I have to admit that while the reading was interesting, I found it nowhere nearly as compelling as all his other books and stories I’ve read over the years (over a dozen books including The Essential Ellison, a massive collection of his then 35 year career of short stories and novellas). While the energetic dynamo of a writer is in evidence, he was still a bit green at this point in his profession. A good book but not as nuanced and seasoned as the writer most of us are familiar with. So with some caution, I would say that this book is fine for Ellison fans, but if you’re not familiar with him there are many other books of his you really should be reading before this one.

While I have not seen it myself, the initial story was optioned and picked up as an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, however it was significantly altered from what he wrote.

And last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not include a link to my one and only bizarre encounter with the man himself and how that encounter presented it’s own typical Ellison dichotomy. You can find it here, but you’ll have to scroll way down into my lengthy 2006 Worldcon report (and excuse my early faltering attempts at blog writing): https://lazaruslair.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/7/

Movie Reviews 258 – The Tingler (1959)

March 10, 2016

The TinglerThe Tingler is as much an event as it is a literal spine tingling movie. Directed by master showman William Castle who was renown for promotional gimmicks, Castle promised the film would shock viewers who watched it. And ‘Shock” them he did, reputedly placing buzzers under the seats of unsuspecting audience members in select theaters at the time of the release.

Given both the title and the histrionic laced background of the film it would be easy to conclude that it would be nothing but more that a humble B movie, created as a quick cash grab and meant to fade into obscurity once it’s theatrical run was over.  But The Tingler should not to be overlooked as a mere stunt and delivers on more than one account.

Dr. Warren Chapin (played by the legendary Vincent Price) and his protégé David (Darryl Hickman) are obsessed with the study of fear and have been researching the matter by capturing stray animals and subjecting them deadly fright. Warren notices that when death is induced by fear, the spines of the subjects are sometimes mangled by an unexplained force.

When not dealing with his research Warren’s has to contend with his adulterous wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts), a vixen who constantly taunts her husband, openly gallivanting every night with other men. Fed up, Warren awaits her one night and quickly dispatches her, much to her own surprise and shock. Having planned ahead, he uses the occasion (such a professional) to x-ray her spine in a series of consecutive shots. What he discovers is the temporary presence of a sluglike creature that has quickly grown out of nowhere to envelope the spine, then receding back to nothing in a short period of time.

The two scientist postulate that this creature, the Tingler, takes form when subjects are prohibited from expressing their fear, the unspent energy thus manifesting itself as the creature. With the knowledge that a scream prohibits the emergence of the Tingler, Warren believes he can capture one before it can recede by having a subject unable to scream at the time of death by fright. When he befriends a tranquil movie house owner whose wife is a deaf mute, the opportunity to gather a Tingler becomes obvious. But how that creature comes about is not as straightforward as you would think. And therein is just one of the many surprises this movie has in store.

Beginning with a somewhat plausible plot, we’re also treated to fairly neat creature look for the Tingler itself. Aside from a few shots where the guide wires are clearly visible, the Tingler looks quite realistic and creepy, and can put up a mean fight. While the movie was shot in black and white it has select few scenes involving blood where the screen is convincingly colored red only for the blood portions. But best of all is that the audience is really thrown for a loop storywise with a well thought out and genuine surprise towards the end.

So don’t let all the silliness fool you. This is actually an entertaining movie and well worth watching even if you aren’t just a Vincent Price fan. If you can get your hands on the 40th Anniversary DVD (shown above), be sure to watch the special features that document the history of both Castle and the film itself.

Hold on, I’m sensing a tingle under my seat! Nah, it just the Black Russian I’m sipping on as I write this…


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