Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Tribe by Bari Wood

 

(pb; 1981)

From the back cover

The Tribe follows a group of Jewish people who not only survive the concentration camps but thrive. Their secret follows them to modern-day Brooklyn, where they continue their relationship and keep their deadly cabal until one day a new threat arrives.

“Drawing on Jewish mythology and folklore, the novel also combines well-drawn characters and police procedurals to create a memorable and humane horror novel.”


Review

 Tribe is an excellent, character-centric, unexpectedly sensitive (in a good way) novel that is as much cultural drama as it is horror and police procedural. It’s sensitive in that it digs deep, in a respectful way, into the Judaism and its within-the-faith cabal, as well its characters, few of which could be called truly, wholly evil or wholly good. It is also restrained for a horror novel, in that Wood masterfully keeps the “monster” of the work in the shadows, not only adding to the psychological truths of the its collective self, but making it truly scary when its is fully shown (and not just described by characters) in the briefly gory climax.

 Tribe is not only one of the best horror novels I’ve revisited this year (I read it decades ago), but one of my all-time favorite horror reads as well, one worth owning, for its themes of dark-hearted humanity, well-written characters and overall excellent writing.

Angel Heart by Alan Parker

 


(1986; unpublished screenplay for the 1987 film)

Review

Parker’s unpublished screenplay for the 1987 film which he directed is as gritty, darkly sly, occasionally grisly and pulpy as its source material, William Hjortsberg’s 1978 pulp novel Falling Angel. Parker’s screenplay is vivid in its engaging-all-senses writing, one of the better screenplays I’ve read. It distills Hjortsberg’s increasingly sinister, walls-closing-in-on-Harry-Angel claustrophobia into a palpable and effective cinematic work, one that is reflected in the resulting film that mixes horror and noir. 

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The film was released stateside on March 6, 1987. As mentioned above, Alan Parker directed the film from his screenplay.

Mickey Rourke played Harry Angel. Robert DeNiro played Louis Cyphre. Lisa Bonet played Evageline Proudfoot. Charlotte Rampling played Margaret Krusemark.

Stocker Fontelieu played Ethan Krusemark. Brownie McGhee played Toots Sweet. Michael Higgins played Dr. Fowler. Charles Gordone played Spider Simpson. Dann Florek played Herman Winesapp.

Pruitt Taylor Vince played Det. Deimos. Eliot Keener played Det. Sterne.




Thursday, September 17, 2020

Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer: Plague of Knives by James Silke

 

(pb; 1990: fourth novel in James Silke’s Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer quadrilogy)

From the back cover

“Across the vast valley that will, one day in the dim future be the Mediterranean Sea, assassins’ knives seek blood and refugees flee to the castle of Whitetree─where, according to prophecy, the White Veshta, goddess of light, will reveal her rebirth to the world. But Tiyy, sorceress, queen, and bearer of the mantle of the Black Veshta, is moving her armies toward Whitetree, for she means to have the Jewels of Light for her own vile purposes. Meanwhile, her murderers’ blades seek the life of the one man she knows will oppose her, the man she must at all costs stop before he reaches Whitetree. But Gath of Baal is the wearer of the Horned Helmet─is the DEATH DEALER.”


Review

Like its pulpy predecessor books, Plague is a vivid, hypermasculine, gory, action- and character-driven Conan-esque work, with Gath and Robin Lakehair─in a more subtle fashion─stepping up to again battle dark supernatural forces. As always, Tiyy, shadowy enchantress with multiple names, is one of the willing channels of these forces. Plague’s storyline is tight, befitting its series-up wrap-up status, with nuance that is lacking in the first two Death Dealer novels. Not only that, its characters, still adhering to the brutal rules and demands of their world, have matured, making Plague an effective, satisfying finish to the four-book series─even Tiyy, represented as a desperate, lesser threat in Plague, has matured, up to a point. She still uses her sex to beguile (as do most of the women in the Death Dealer quadrilogy), but there’s a certain tiredness in her mindset as she does so.

I especially like how Silke sidesteps the expected climactic demons-and-brawn battle, instead delivering a surprising embodiment of Robin Lakehair’s vaunted power, one that is sequel-friendly and low-key at the same time. This is an excellent “barbaric men’s adventure,” one that fans of Robert E. Howard’s Conan series might enjoy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Amityville Horror II by John G. Jones

(pb; 1982: a.k.a. The Amityville Horror Part II)

From the back cover

“When the Lutz family left the house in Amityville, New York, the terror did not end. Through the next four years wherever they went, the inescapable Evil followed them. Now the victims of the most publicized house-haunting of the century have agreed to reveal the harrowing details of their continuing ordeal. Learn about:

“The hooded figure with glowing red eyes that nearly trapped George Lutz inside the house on the day of their departure.

“The vast invisible power that battered their van as they drove away.

“The mysterious levitation and whipping that Kathy Lutz endured.

“The pig-spirit that only young Amy could see and that dogged her very footsteps.”


Review

Caveat: possible (minor) spoilers in this review.

Billed as nonfiction like its predecessor book, The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson, this─like the first book─should be read as a work of fiction. Jones, knowing this, wrote the Lutzes’ supposed experiences as a fictional tale.

As a work of over-the-top horror fiction, Amityville II is a fun B-flick read. The first book established that the demon that plagued some of the residents of 112 Ocean Avenue was a free-range hell-creature, something Jones runs wild with in the second book─the demonic energy follows George and Kathy Lutz when they move across the country, taking various forms in their lives: e.g., Jodie, the impish pig-monster “invisible friend” that speaks only to the Lutzes’ four-year-old daughter; George’s bad luck with jobs he should’ve easily landed; recurring black, swarming flies; George’s nightly 3:15 a.m. wake-up freakouts; when their dog becomes possessed with hyper-focused beaver-like energy and speedily chews away the thick base of a tree he’s leashed to.

The fun and wowness of Amityville II‘s first half takes on a defensive tone in the second. This is a surprising shift because the Lutzes, early on, admit they─had they not experienced the Amityville house─wouldn’t believe what they were saying either. However, in the second half, they shocked─shocked!─when people are skeptical (“cynical,” according to the Lutzes) when their ordeal becomes a bestselling book and blockbuster film.

At this point Amityville II is practically an all-caps WE’RE NOT LYING/CONVERT TO CATHOLICISM OR BE DAMNED work.

At best, the Lutzes come off as dysfunctional, overemotional dupes, led astray by Ed and Lorraine Warren (briefly mentioned as the renamed “Davies and Laura Harding”). The Warrens, like their next-generation familial “paranormal investigators,” are well-known con artists whose media legacy includes The Conjuring and Annabelle film series.

At worst, the Lutzes come off as scam artists.

Obviously, readers will decide for themselves what the Lutzes are.

Their couple-therapy, easy-peasy exorcism (which, according to the open-ended book, may or may not have solved their pesky demon problem) is a smug, jaunty and underwhelming finish to a mostly fun, mixed-tone and melodramatic fictional horror work. Not only that, its ending leaves key “twist” situations unresolved, e.g., the demon supposedly coming after the children, not the adult Lutzes.

It is recommended if you don’t take it seriously.

#

The first movie sequel to the original 1979 Amityville film is not based on Jones’s book. Titled Amityville II: The Possession, the second flick in the ten-film franchise is based on Hans Holzer’s book. Holzer’s work is about the DeFeos, the family that lived in the house just before the Lutzes. As trashy horror flicks go, it’s a darker-than-usual terror film, with a great cast. It was released on September 24, 1982



Sunday, September 06, 2020

Star Trek: The Enterprise Logs Vol. 3 by various authors and illustrators

 

(pb; 1973-4, 1977: graphic novel. Collects the Golden Press-published comic book series, issues 18-26. Followed by Star Trek: The Enterprise Logs Vol. 4.)

Overall review

Enterprise Logs Volume 3 is a good, entertaining collection, if the person reading it takes into the account the era it was produced in (yes, Trek was/is not always “woke” and non-sexist, but it is easily one of the most consistently progressive franchises in television and extended-media history). Not only that, its ideal reader would take into account its inherent comic-book limits, which means nuance (dialogue tone, lent warmth and humor in the show, sometimes comes off as tone-deaf and d**kish in comics). Further read-in-2020, faux-outrage issues might include: intriguing characters who might’ve been given longer lifespans and series time; innovative, (again) nuanced storylines and character-depth are sacrificed so that the work can be squeezed into twenty-something-page issues. . . This last problem might’ve been easily solved if they’d committed multiple issues to one story, but it appears that was not the creative recipe for this comic book series.

As wary as I am about presentist leanings, there were a few instances where I was initially put off by the generalized tone of the writing and characters’ dialogue (I note those occurrences in the “Issue/story arcs” section, where I mention them as caveats to those who are sensitive to that sort of thing. . . I am not suggesting that the writers/artists are bad, but that they are merely people of their age working within a then-limited medium. . . in short, doing the best job they can within their chosen work).

Its artwork ranges from reasonably good to ugh, but that is a negligible concern, given Trek’s progressive themes, at least for this reader.

Overall, this─as I wrote earlier─is a worthwhile read, if you can overlook some of the (should be) antiquated elements in the writing and are a deep-dive Trek/comic book fan without presentist pretensions. . . which most of us have, on occasion. The best of us are willing to root out our bigoted assumptions. The rest of us need to look inward and fix ourselves (and act accordingly) before screaming in others’ faces about their supposed flaws.

 

Issues/story arcs

The Hijacked Planet” [#18]: Anzar, a petty criminal, holds a miniaturized world hostage, not only threatening its inhabitants, but select crew members of the Enterprise as well.

Like a few of the earlier, lesser issues of Logs, this has a weird tone to it. The writers, for the sake of dramatic effect, imbue the characters (this time Kirk and Scotty) with dark-humored, mean-spirited humor that might have worked in a live-action episode but falls flat on the written page.

 

The Haunted Asteroid” [#19]: On Mila Xu, an asteroid with a paradisal tomb for a long-dead queen, Kirk and company are attacked and imprisoned by “zombies” (who look like regular robots).

 The same tonal problem that mars the previous issue is more prominently displayed in this one. Kirk, more than usual, comes off as thin-skinned, abusive and petty─at a key point in “Haunted” Kirk is aggressively snide to an efficient female scientist (Dr. Krisp) who’s properly doing her job. Later, the writer(s) insert a scene where Krisp becomes a hysterical woman and she is struck in the face by Kirk, which not only belies her earlier attributes and professionalism, but acknowledges Kirk’s just-beneath-the-surface notions.

 

A World Gone Mad” [#20]: The Enterprise crew returns a young prince to his planet (Nukolee), where a revolution against him is fomented by a corrupt general and a population driven mad by a cosmic event. Good storyline and issue.

 

The Mummies of Heitus VII” [#21]: Four seemingly indestructible mummies attack the crew of the Enterprise on an archeological-site planet and the Enterprise. Fun, entertaining story to this one.

 

Siege in Superspace” [#22]: A black hole shoots the Enterprise to a planet where sentient biped vegetation creatures attack the human denizens of an underground city (Caeminon). Like most mystery-structured plots in the Logs comic books, this one sports a Scooby-Doo-simple mystery─that said, it is an effective and practical setup, given its limited page constraints.

 

Child’s Play” [#23]: Kirk, Sulu and Nurse Chapel beam down to Argylus, a planet where a plague kills anyone above the age of thirteen─and the three Enterprise crew members, trapped on Argylus, have just been infected.

 

The Trial of Captain Kirk” [#24]: Kirk, victim of a conspiratorial political setup, tries to clear his name and bust the conspirators, with distant help from Spock and McCoy.

 

Dwarf Planet” [#25]: Gulliver’s Travels meets The Incredible Shrinking Man in “Dwarf,” when Uhuru, Spock and Kirk investigate a planet with a sun and atmosphere that steadily reduces its human population in size─until they’re nothing.


The Perfect Dream” [#26]: The crew members of the Enterprise encounter a ringed, sunless planet that moves like a ship, with an Asian, harmonious-with-nature society of possible clones on it. Of course, there’s a dark side to this culture─dissent, even the practice of “creating” art, is punishable by execution.

While this largely predictable work is interesting-in-a-good-way, it could’ve been better if the writers had opted to let one or two of the clones survive, become character-expansive members of the Enterprise, instead of being killed off like stock alien characters. This is a minor nit, and I understand improvements were made with later Star Trek works, but this microtale felt like a natural expansion point for the original Trek crew.

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

(pb; 1957: first novel in the eight-book Harlem Detectives series. Alternate title: For Love of Imabelle.)

From the back cover

“For love of fine, wily Imabelle, hapless Jackson surrenders his life savings to a con man who knows the secret of turning ten-dollar bills into hundreds─and then he steals from his boss, only to lose the stolen money at craps tables. Luckily for him, he can turn to his savvy twin brother, Goldy, who earns a living─disguised as a Sister of Mercy─by selling tickets to Heaven in Harlem. With Goldy on his side, Jackson is ready for payback.”


Review

 Rage is an excellent, rough, violently funny and always-on-the-prowl police procedural that “takes back” the black crime narrative from white writers, the way Himes described his intentions. All the characters in Rage are fools and marks, con artists, killers, whores (male and female) or otherwise not-innocent─to be charitable is to be taken advantage of is one of the themes of Rage, one that makes for a memorably nervous-energy and vividly described read. Worth reading, this.

 Followed by The Real Cool Killers.

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 The resulting film was released stateside on May 3, 1991. Bill Duke directed the film, from a screenplay by Bobby Crawford and John Toles-Bey, who also co-starred.

 Forest Whitaker played Jackson. Gregory Hines played Goldy. Robin Givens played Imabelle. Zakes Mokae played Big Kathy. Danny Glover played Easy Money.

 Badja Djola played Slim. John Toles-Bey played Jodie. Helen Martin played Mrs. Cansfield. Wendell Pierce played Louis. T.K. Carter played Smitty. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins played himself. George Wallace played “Grave Digger.”


Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Professionals by Frank O’Rourke

(pb; 1964 – original title: A Mule for the Marquesa)

From the back cover

“They’re past masters of the violent arts of destruction and killing. They have to conquer the bandit-infested, waterless wasteland and murderous mountains of Mexico. And they have to conquer the most ruthless, intelligent, lethal, and cunning bandit chieftain in all that harsh countryside.

“All of this to rescue a woman who might just be enjoying it where she is!”


Review

Professionals is an entertaining, good western. O’Rourke’s writing alternates between rough, bordering-on-poetic ruminations on nature and the nature of men, excellent and taut dialogue and action sequences, and detailed descriptions of the titular characters prepping for the mission’s completion even as they cross unforgiving mountains and desert to rescue a woman who might not want to be taken back to her husband. Worth reading, this.

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The resulting film was released stateside on December 13, 1966. It was directed by Richard Brooks, who also wrote the screenplay.

Lee Marvin played Fardan. Burt Lancaster played Dolworth. Robert Ryan played Ehrengard. Woody Strode played Jake. Rafael Bertrand played Fierro. Joe De Santis played Ortega. 

Jorge Martínez de Hoyos played Padilla. Claudia Cardinale played Maria. Ralph Bellamy played Grant. Jack Palance played Jesus Raza. 

Marie Gomez played Chiquita. Vaughn Taylor played a “Banker.” 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Attempting Normal by Marc Maron

(hb; 2013: nonfiction, humor)

From the inside flap

“Marc Maron was a parent-scarred, angst-filled, drug-dabbling, love-starved comedian who dreamed of a simple life: a wife, a home, a sitcom to call his own. But instead he woke up one day to find himself fired from his radio job, surrounded by feral cats, and emotionally and financially annihilated by a divorce from a woman he thought he loved. He tried to heal his broken heart through whatever means he could find─minor-league hoarding, Viagra addiction, accidental racial-profiling, cat-fancying, flying airplanes with his mind─but nothing seemed to work. It was only when he was stripped down to nothing that he found his way back.

Attempting Normal is Marc Maron’s journey through the wilderness of his own mind, a collection of explosively, painfully, addictively funny stories that add up to a moving tale of hope and hopelessness, of failing, flailing, and finding a way. From standup to television to his outrageously popular podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, Mac has always been a genuine original, a disarmingly honest, intensely smart, brutally open comic who finds wisdom in the strangest places. This is his story of the winding, potholed road from madness and obsession and failure to something like normal, the thrillingly comic journey of a sympathetic fuckup who’s trying really hard to do better without making a bigger mess. Most of us will relate.”


Review

The target audience for Attempting are readers who relate to darkly and situationally funny, blunt, existential-hell and ultimately meaningful-in-a-small-way tales told by a smart, well-intentioned and self-admitted (ex-)fuckup. If you’re looking for light, joke-a-minute setups, watch a Jerry Seinfeld standup special. I didn’t laugh as much as I hoped to while reading Attempting but I am not disappointed by this─hearing (imagining) Maron’s well-edited voice as he related stories from his life, imagined and otherwise, made this an even better book. If you’re new to Maron’s work, I’m not sure this is the best introduction to him. Watching one of his standup specials or listening to his WTF podcasts are recommended (his most recent specials are streaming on Netflix), so you can hear, know his voice before committing time and/or money to an excellent, jokes-baked-in-existentialism  and healing-for-fuckups work. Borrow this from the library or buy it used before committing serious cash to it, lest Attempting turns out to not be your idea of smart-minded entertainment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Mission to the Stars by A.E. van Vogt

(pb; 1952 – originally titled The Mixed Men)

From the back cover

“In the far distant future. . .

“The colonies of Fifty Suns have been hidden for eons from warring invaders in an ocean of stars. But now the warship St Cluster, of Imperial Earth, has found them─and prepares to conquer the colonists.

“Fifty Suns must crush the titanic Earth forces or be enslaved. But, torn by internal rebellion, it cannot mount a unified defense.

“It falls to one man, Peter Maltby, to unite the warring factions of Fifty Suns and guide them to victory.

“But first he must resolve his own crossed loyalties. For Captain Maltby is also the passionate lover of Lady Laurr, Grand Commander of the Star Cluster and a warrior of Imperial Earth.”


Review

Mission is an excellent, genre-transcendent science fiction novel that deftly moves between space war, action, political machinations, and love story, its characters largely stock, but sometimes surprising in their decisions and actions. If you’re looking for a burn-through, smart-minded and 174-page adventure-in-the-stars read, this may catch your fancy─this is not surprising, since Vogt consistently delivers on the promise of his deft, often surprising takes on stock genre tales. This is one of my favorite reads of 2020.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 2013)

From the inside flap

“Jack Parker thought he’d already seen his fair share of tragedy. His grandmother was killed in a farm accident when he was barely five years old. His parent have just succumbed to the smallpox epidemic sweeping turn-of-the-century East Texas─orphaning him and his younger sister, Lula.

“Then catastrophe strikes on the way to their uncle’s farm, when a traveling group of bank-robbing bandits murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap his sister. With no elders left for miles, Jack must grow up fast─and enlist a band of heroes like the which has never been seen─if his sister stands any chance of survival. But the best he can come up with is Shorty, a charismatic, bounty-hunting dwarf; Eustace, the grave-digging son of an ex-slave; and Jimmie Sue, a street-smart-for-hire who’s come into some very intimate knowledge about the bandits (and a few members of Jack’s extended family to boot).

“In the throes of being civilized, East Texas is still a wild, feral place. Oil wells spurt liquid money from the ground. But as Jack’s about to find out, blood and redemption rule supreme.”


Review

Thicket is an excellent, timely mix of revenge thriller and western, an often-grim work of brutal violence balanced with humor (often with quip-filled exchanges) and well-placed instances of cautious empathy. Its key characters’ pasts and other aspects are effectively established and reader-involving, without slowing up the pace of this terse, dire mission (to rescue Jack’s sister, Lula, from a trio of sadistic villains, Fatty, Cutthroat and N***er Pete).

Thicket is not a novel for those who are especially sensitive about murder, rape (not explicitly shown, but emotionally recounted), torture, brief instances of animal cruelty, racism, and other human-born horrors. Anyone else who enjoys a masterful and especially nasty-twist thriller may find this burn-through book a more-than-worthwhile read.

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A film version of this is supposedly forthcoming. IMDb lists the following information (as of December 18, 2019).

Elliott Lester is set to direct, from a screenplay Chris Kelley.

Charlie Plummer plays Jack Parker. Peter Dinklage plays Reginald Jones. Sophia Lillis is attached to the project as well as Noomi Rapace.

The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land

(hb; 2016)

From the inside flap

“Twenty-four hours. That’s all it takes for the lives of two young people to be changed forever.

“Alex Chin has the world on a plate. A football hero and homecoming king with plenty of scholarship offers, he has a future that looks bright. His tutor, Samantha Dixon, is preparing to graduate high school at the top of her class. She plans to turn her NASA internship into a career. When a football accident lands Alex in the hospital, his world is turned upside down. His doctor is murdered. Then, his parents. Death seems to follow him wherever he goes, and now it’s after him.

“Alex flees. He tells Samantha not to follow, but she became involved the moment she walked through his door and found Mr. and Mrs. Chin as they lay dying in their home. She cannot abandon the young man she loves. The two race desperately to stay ahead of Alex’s attackers long enough to figure out why they are hunting him in the first place. The answer lies with a secret buried deep in his past, a secret his parents died to protect. Alex always knew he was adopted, but he never knew the real reason his birth parents abandoned him. He never knew where he came from. Until now.”


Review

Rising is a fun, chatty, good-for-mature-YA-readers book (it has a couple of instances of mild profanity). Those who live in (or have an affinity for) the East Bay/San Francisco area of California might be especially thrilled with this novel because it’s set there. Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon, San Francisco and Alcatraz island are featured as key places in the storyline, adding to Rising’s allure.

Storywise, it’s a drawn-out, generic science fiction-lite read, a dumbed-down X-Files episode for those who are looking for something light and fast to read on the airplane or beach while that person next to you doesn’t shut up─in short, it’s something you don’t have to invest yourself too much into even as distractions abound around you. (The X-Files is mentioned in Rising as well.) This is not necessarily a criticism, it’s just how the book struck me.

The ending renders Rising a setup work, a book with a calm-moment finish that demands a sequel to answer its numerous unresolved questions. I didn’t care enough about the novel to check if there was a sequel, but there it is for those who might.

<em>The Tribe</em> by Bari Wood

  (pb; 1981) From the back cover “ The Tribe follows a group of Jewish people who not only survive the concentration camps but thrive. T...