Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall

(pb; 1980: YA novel)

From the back cover

“Jan had felt it the very first day, walking up to the door of the old house. She ahd known the watcher was there as they knocked and waited for old Mrs. Carstairs to come. And the little old woman, glancing at the woods, had known it was there, too.

“No one wanted to discuss it, certainly not mom or dad. Then mirrors were mysteriously broken, the TV began to transmit strange programs, and ten-year-old Ellie began hearing strange songs and receiving even stranger messages. Jan couldn’t explain it, but she was afraid.

“It hadn’t been easy for Jan, moving to this new town and starting a new school when she was almost sixteen. Meeting Mark seemed to make it better, but would he believe her if she told him about the watcher in the woods?”


Watcher is a fun, sometimes rambling read, with its dread-lite atmosphere of constant paranoia and lackadaisical characters. Its use of supernatural/science fiction and mystery makes it worthwhile, but not great, stuck-at-the-DMV distraction.


The resulting film was released stateside on October 9, 1981. John Hough and an uncredited Vincent McEveety directed it.

Bette Davis played Mrs. Aylwood. Lynn-Holly Johnson played Jan Curtis. Kyle Richards played Ellie Curtis. Carroll Baker played Helen Curtis. David McCallum played Paul Curtis. Benedict Taylor played Mike Fleming. Ian Bannen played John Keller. Georgina Hale played “Young Mrs. Aylwood.”

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Sudden Impact by Joseph C. Stinson

(pb; 1983: movie tie-in)

From the back cover

“Rape─and revenge!

“There he was! She had never been able to forget his face. His face─and the leering, jeering gang who  had been with him enjoying her pain and humiliation as each one took his turn. Well, he wouldn’t get away. He deserved to die.

“This murder will only be a beginning. And Dirty Harry finds himself smack in the middle of revenge on a grand scale as he tracks the woman who is tracking the rape gang.”


This is a fun─as in darkly amusing, brutal and violent─lazy afternoon book (based on Stinson’s screenplay). Stinson streamlines this short, blunt, ugly, action-dominated and not-for-the-sensitive movie tie-in into a read that one should not take seriously, lest one slip into pompousness or equally unattractive attitudes. This is not high art this is well-written pay-the-bills work.

Readers who are especially sensitive about the subject of rape (Sudden suggests that a bullet will go a long way toward alleviating post-violation suffering), occasional blue collar racism (Harry affectionately thinks of a close friend, Horace, as a “darky son-of-a-bitch”) and general Dirty Harry-isms will probably not like Sudden. If you fit that description, and read it anyway and are offended, that’s on you, no one else.

I do not know if this is a collector’s item or not, but if you find a good condition copy of Sudden for a relatively cheap price─like I did─it might be worth picking up.


The film version─the fourth of five Dirty Harry flicks─was released stateside on December 9, 1983. Joseph C. Stinson, sometimes billed as Joseph Stinson, wrote the screenplay, based on Earl E. Smith and Charles B. Pierce’s story. An uncredited Dean Riesner also contributed to the story. Stinson also wrote Clint Eastwood's City Heat (1984) and was an uncredited writer on Eastwood's Heartbreak Ridge (1986).

Eastwood, who directed the film, played “Dirty Harry” Callahan. Sondra Locke played Jennifer Spencer. Albert Popwell, who appeared in two other Dirty Harry films as different characters (Magnum Force, 1973, and The Enforcer, 1976), played Horace King. Mark Keyloun played Officer Bennett.

Audrie Neenan, billed as Audrie J. Neenan, played Ray Parkins. Jack Thibeau played Kruger. Nancy Parsons played Mrs. Kruger. Paul Drake played Mick.

Pat Hingle, another Eastwood-flick semi-regular, played Chief Jannings. He, playing different characters, appeared in an episode of the Clint Eastwood show Rawhide (Season 7 episode 14: "The Book"; original air date: January 8, 1965). He also appeared in Hang 'Em High (1968).

Mara Corday played “Loretta—Coffee Shop Waitress.” She also appeared in four other Eastwood flicks as different characters (Tarantula, 1955, in which Eastwood played an uncredited "Jet Squadron Leader"; The Gauntlet, 1977; Pink Cadillac, 1989; and The Rookie, 1990).

The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943—1962 by David Meuel

(pb; 2015: nonfiction)

From the back cover

“Beginning in the mid-1940s, the bleak, brooding mood of film noir began seeping into that most optimistic of film genres, the western. Story lines took on a darker tone and western films adopted classic noir elements of moral ambiguity, complex anti-heroes and explicit violence.

“The noir western helped set the standard for the darker science fiction, action and superhero films of today, as well as for acclaimed TV series such as HBO Deadwood and AMC’s Breaking Bad. This book covers the stylistic shift in westerns in mid-20th century Hollywood, offering close readings of the first noir westerns, along with revealing portraits of the eccentric and talented directors who brought the films to life.”


Darkness is an excellent nonfiction read, the equivalent of a micro-course on noir westerns. A burn-through, engaging and informative book, it shines a light on lesser known and well-known directors and selected standout works they created in the titular period. These directors, writers and film technicians include: William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, André de Toth, Robert Wise, Sam Fuller, Henry King, Anthony Mann, Allan Dwan, Delmer Daves, Budd Boetticher and John Ford. These is a should-read for anyone interested in western and noir cinema, and a book worth owning.

That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton

(pb; 1971: YA fiction)

From the back cover

“Bryon and Mark have been inseparable best friends from childhood, but now, at sixteen, they both sense they are growing apart. Bryon is disturbed by the fights and violence, yet Mark takes all of it as a matter of course─part of the life of a kid on the street. Things seem to be changing too fast for Bryon. He is in love with Cathy─growing up and beginning to care and to realize that they are no longer kids.

“When Bryon discovers that Mark is pushing dope to young kids, he mut face a decision that might destroy their longtime friendship.”


That is a mostly excellent, character-focused, waste-no-words YA novel that deals with tricky-for-YA subject matter, drugs, rough living and criminal activity.Its characters are relatable,even─especially?─when they screw up. This is another genre milestone from Hinton, who specialized in writing about troubled teens and life on the wrong side of social expectations.

I wrote “mostly excellent” because Hinton’s near-the-end hyperbolic just say no take regarding a canary-in-the-coal-mine character (M&M) and LSD comes off as screedish. Other than that, this is a worthwhile and life-smart novel.


The resulting film, That Was Then. . .This is Now, was released stateside on November 8, 1985. Christopher Cain directed it, from a screenplay by one of its stars, Emilio Estevez, who played Mark Jennings.

Craig Sheffer played Bryon Douglas. Larry B. Scott played Terry Jones. Matthew Dudley played Curly Shepard. Jill Schoelen played Angela Shepard. Kim Delaney played Cathy Carlson. Frank Howard played M&M Carlson.

Morgan Freeman played Charlie Woods. Ramon Estevez, billed as Ramon Sheen, played Mike Chambers (Ramon is Emilio Estevez’s brother).

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

From Dusk Till Dawn: A Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

(pb; 1995: screenplay)

From the back cover

“You’d better hope you don’t cross paths with the infamous Gecko brothers─Richie and Seth. They’re fond of banks─robbing them, that is. They’re tough. Cool. Notorious. In From Dusk Till Dawn, we follow them as they tear a path through the heartland of America on their way to the borner. It is there, near El Paso, that they will meet up with their Mexican partners-in-crime to divvy up the loot they’ve acquired.

“Along the way, though, an innocent family will enter their lives─an ex-Baptist preacher, his teenage son, and sexy daughter. We watch as Richie and Seth enlist the family’s help in getting them safely across the border in the family’s Winnebago. When they arrive at their dreamed-about world south of the border, they are met with a terrifying twist.”


Cutting to the pointthere is not a lot to say about this fast-moving, character-intense heist/vampire screenplay and film, aside from: if you are a fan of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, or just like the 1996 film that resulted from this screenplay, chances are you’ll enjoy reading it. If you’re not, you probably won’t. Tarantino keeps the writing lean ‘n’ mean, with no lag in action, sleaziness and sketched-out character development, creating a screenplay/film that is a modern milestone in the vampire flick genre, one that brings to mind the trashy, Americanized thrills of a 1960s/1970s Hammer film. Worth reading and owning, this, if you appreciate Tarantino and Rodriguez’s work, or the film in general.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Chumpy Walnut and Other Stories by Will Viharo

(pb; 2016: story anthology)

Overall review

This excellent story twelve-story anthology shows Viharo’s range as a writer. There’s the sweet “Chumpy Walnut,” as well as atmospheric, existential vignette-plays (“Night Notes,” “The Inbetweeners,” etc.) and straightforward horror-pulp hybrids (“People Bug Me,” “Short and Choppy,” etc.). Whether you are a longtime Viharo fan, or just coming into his prolific, penned world, this a diverse story collection worth owning.

Standout stories

Chumpy Walnut”: A young man as tall as a ruler─the kind one measures with─goes on a wild adventure in a big city where sexy dames, gangsters, kind-hearted hustlers and musically inclined adolescents run rampant. Lots of wordplay, colorful characters and dizzying action in this ultimately warm and funny novella─this brings to mind elements and characters from Hollywood films, circa 1930s to early 1950s.

A Wrong Turn at Albuquerque”: In this one-act play, a writer gives a beautiful hitchhiker a ride, a passenger who may change his life in ways he does not expect. Entertaining, clever-conversation and smile-inducing piece.

Night Notes”: Mood-effective story about a hotel night clerk (who wants to be a sax player) and could-be poet in the a.m. hours. Haunting, great finish.

Coffee Shop Goddess”: Sweet, melancholic story spanning most of the 1980s. In it, a young man befriends a funny, smart woman appropriately named Lightbulbs (for the previously stated reason). This being a Viharo story, there’s plenty of era-centric pop music and film references as well as clever banter.

People Bug Me”: An on-the-lam reporter interviews a small town shrink for an article after the shrink has been attacked by one of his patients─a teenage “lycanthrope,” according to the doctor. Then things get really weird. . . this quick-blast, fun and excellent story has a 1950s film feel: it’s a conjoining of two 1957 films─Sweet Smell of Success and I Was a Teenage Werewolf.

This story has been published twice before this. In March 2014, it was published in the fifth issue of Nightmares Illustrated. Its second time-around was in the Spring 2015 issue of Dark Corners magazine.

Short and Choppy”: Grisly, sexually explicit tale about a dwarf (Cameron) whose hatred for his writing teacher (Sean) and lust for Sean’s wife (Sabrina) leads Cameron toward fantastic, violent acts. Excellent, black-hearted and pulpy laugh-out-loud piece.

This work appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Dark Corners magazine.

The Lost Sock”: Mood-effective desperation, dread, eroticism and surrealism highlight this pop culture-savvy and lust-crusty work about a down-on-his-luck man tried to locate a missing sock. Excellent, Twilight Zone-esque tale, this.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of Dark Corners magazine.

Friday, December 06, 2019

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

(hb; 2014)

From the inside flap

“Winfred Allen needs a vacation.

“Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on despite her misgivings.

“What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: a freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long-buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.”


River is an immersive, excellent female-centric thriller that is near-impossible to set down. The characters are deftly sketched out, as are their histories, and River’s setup and pacing makes it a great, lazy afternoon read. Check this out!


According to the May-June 2019 issue of Scream magazine, River is the basis for a forthcoming film, to be co-written with Kevin Williamson, screenwriter of the Scream quadrilogy, and possibly directed by Eli Roth.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

How to Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

(hb; 2019: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

“On October 27, 2018, eleven Jews were gunned down as they prayed at their synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

“For most Americans, the massacre at Tree of Life, the synagogue where Bari Weiss became a bar mitzvah, came as a shock. Yet anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred, commonplace across the Middle East and on the rise for years in Europe. So that terrible morning in Pittsburgh raised a question Americans can no longer avoid. Can it happen here?

“This book is Weiss’s answer.

“Like many, Weiss long believed this country could escape the risingtide of anti-Semitism. With its promise of free speech and religion, its insistence that all people are created equal, its tolerance for difference, and its emphasis on shared ideals rather than bloodlines, America has been, even with all its flaws, a new Jerusalem for the Jewish people. But now the luckiest Jews in history are beginning to face a three-headed dragon known all to well to Jews of other times and place: the physical fear of violent assault, the moral fear of ideological vilification, and the political fear or resurgent fascism and populism.

“No longer the exclusive province of the far right, the far left, and assorted religious bigots, anti-Semitism now finds a home in identity politics as well as the reaction against identity politics, in the renewal of America First isolationism and the rise of one-world fascism, and in the spread of Islamist ideas into unlikely places.”


Fight is one of the best and most intense nonfiction books I’ve read this year. It is informative, disturbing, angry, pro-active─and life-changing, at least for this reader. Weiss, with her measured use of the above elements and logic, lays out how the hatred of Jews is a distinctive, constantly morphing horror, not rooted in a few main reasons but many. If you are interested in confronting racism or interested in the subject for other reasons, this is a should-read, one worth owning.

Day of the Animals by Donald Porter

(1977: movie tie-in)

From the back cover

“No one knew what would happen when man’s chemical blundering destroyed the ozone layer in our atmosphere. But in the hills and mountains of the world the effects were already clear. The animals had turned angry─and vicious.

“High in the thin air of the Sierras, a small group of men and women were caught in a struggle that at the same moment was being waged around the world─cut off without weapons─alone against the razoring claw, the piercing beak, the crushing fang of the bird and beast─they were fighting for their lives. . .and losing.”


Day is a fun movie tie-in book, an example of a solid writer making the most of a paper-thin storyline and characters who are one-note caricatures. Porter writes his animals-attack-humans scenes with relish, easily the highlights of the novel, but the rest is merely okay, a minor and forgettable distraction for readers who do not need to care about the characters and do not mind a lot of skim-reading. Note that there are differences between this book and the film version─Porter wrote Day based on the film’s original screenplay, not the shooting script.


The film version was released stateside on May 13, 1977. William Girdler directed it.  William W. Norton and Eleanor E. Norton wrote the screenplay, based on Edward L. Montoro.

Christopher George played Steve Buckner. Leslie Nielsen played Roy Jensen. Lynda Day George played Terry Marsh. Richard Jaeckel played Professor MacGregor. Michael Ansara played Daniel Santee. Ruth Roman played Shirley Goodwyn.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson

(hb; 2019: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

“. . . Tyson invites us to go behind the scenes of his public fame by revealing his correspondence with people across the globe who have sought him out in search of answers. In this hand-picked collection of 101 letters, Tyson draws upon cosmic perspectives to address a vast array of questions about science, faith, philosophy, life, and of course, Pluto. His succinct, opinionated, passionate, and often funny responses reflect his popularity and standing as a leading educator. . .”


Letters is a good, entertaining addendum to Tyson’s previous book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Of course, you do not need to read Astrophysics to enjoy Letters. Tyson’s answers are, for the most part, concise and reflect a practical, polite (if sometimes blunt) and trust-scientific-fact attitude─because of this, those of a religious faith who hate science should avoid this book. Other nonfiction readers might well enjoy this fast, informative and short read. 

The Auctioneer by Joan Samson

(hb; 1975)

From the inside flap:

“Harlowe, New Hampshire, is a rural township still isolated from the pressures and changes of the second half of the twentieth century. It is here that John Moore works the land farmed by his family for centuries, here that he lives with his wife and daughter, and here that he expects to die when his life’s work is done. But from the moment that a magnetic stranger named Perly Dunsmore arrives in the community and begins a series of auctions to raise money for the growth of the local police force, the days of John Moore’s freedom and independence are suddenly numbered.

“Page after page, the reader is trapped with John Moore in the grip of chilling horror as he is relentlessly stripped of his possessions, his ability to resist, his courage, and his hope by the ever-growing power and demands of the auctioneer. What was initially a minor nuisance, then an infuriating intrusion, now becomes for John Moore a desperate, seemingly doomed battle against a force that has already corrupted all of Harlowe and is now systematically destroying it.”


Auctioneer is a steady build, excellent and near-perfect read, a simply stated metaphor for how people will kowtow under a legalized─even if it is oppressive─system. To say I enjoyed it might be a stretch, for it is also an endurance test, frustrating given the menace displayed toward, and dignities heaped upon, some of its characters. This would be one of my all-time favorite books, were it not for its spot-it-from-miles-away, bulls**t end twist (also spoiling an otherwise effective climactic finish). I understand that Samson is following through on her people-are-cowards-until-they’re-not metaphor with this ending but maybe she should have been more concerned with wrapping up Auctioneer is a satisfying manner. 

If you can accept its flawed denouement, Auctioneer is worth reading.

<em>The Watcher in the Woods</em> by Florence Engel Randall

(pb; 1980: YA novel) From the back cover “Jan had felt it the very first day, walking up to the door of the old house. She ahd known...