Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse


 

(pb; 2013, 2014: graphic novel, collecting issues 0-3 of Resident Alien Volume 2 of the six-volume Resident Alien graphic novel series, published by Dark Horse Comics.)

From the back cover

“An alien explorer, stranded in the Pacific Northwest years for his home world, but he’s enamored with ours─especially when it comes to solving murder mysteries! Undercover alien, Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle seeks to clear the name of a friend who’s blamed for a college girl’s death, so he leaves the safety of small-town Patience, USA, to hunt for clues in Seattle. He doesn’t know that several federal agents are obsessed with Harry’s crashed starship and the possibility of capturing the compassionate extraterrestrial!”


Review

Like its previous graphic novel, Welcome to Earth!, Blonde is an intriguing, fun, short and character-interesting read, with a solid, possible murder mystery thrown into the mix. Dry humor again underlines some of the characters and situations as well as other nuanced emotional elements with story turns that are mini-twists and natural character progressions─a further indication of Resident‘s excellence (thus far). Things appear to be heating up for Harry although he doesn’t know it yet. Looking forward to the next entry in the six-volume series, Alien Resident: The Sam Hain Mystery.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Final Conflict by Gordon McGill

 

(pb; 1980: movie tie-in novel, based on Andew Birkin’s screenplay. Third book in The Omen pentalogy.)

From the back cover

“Around the globe, drought, famine, and flood are striking down helpless millions. And everywhere there is trouble, Damien Thorne’s followers can be found─almost before disaster strikes─ready to offer aid to the pitiful survivors.

“Damien, the handsome, thirty-two-year-old head of one of the world’s most powerful corporations and certain to be president of the United States by the time he’s forty, Damien, believed to be the son of Satan, who is relentlessly reaching out to claim the Earth for the forces of darkness. . .

“Now is the time of prophecy, the beginning of the end for mankind. But where is the promised Messiah to save the world from ultimate evil. . .?”


Review

Final is a solid second book sequel to David Seltzer’s The Omen. Like its predecessor movie tie-in novel, Joseph Howard’s Damien—Omen II, it has the same virtues and play-it-safe drawbacks of its subgenre: Final is well-written, the characters and their relationships are well-sketched, its pacing is a deft, series-consistent balance of backstory, characterization, action, and horrifying death scenes. Despite that, the book adds little to the story or characters, although its tone is more perverse (e.g., Damien’s Black Chapel inside his Pereford house, where he was raised by Robert and Katherine Thorn), and McGill, when writing about one of The Omen’s satanic priests, calls him “Father Tassone” (Edgardo Emilio Tassone), Seltzer’s book-version name for the priest. In the 1976 film version of The Omen, Tassone was called Father Brennan.

One obvious thing─possibly an egregious flaw─is that most of the priests in the movie tie-in sequels (aside from Carl Bugenhagen) think they need to stab Damien with one of the Crucifixion-hilted daggers, when they need to use seven, in a cross-like pattern. How did that vital information escape the priests’ attention?

Final’s ending has an abrupt, low-budget B-movie finish, appropriate when one considers the hard-cut, not-quite-choppy cinematic feel of Final. While not a standout entry in its series or subgenre, it’s modestly entertaining, a good writer toeing the line of his work-for-hire subgenre.

Followed by Gordon McGill’s Omen IV: Armageddon 2000, a non-movie tie-in, and related to the 1991 television movie (Omen IV: The Awakening) in series name only (their storylines are completely different).

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Final's film version, bearing the same title, was released stateside on March 20, 1981. Graham Baker directed it, from a screenplay by Andrew Birkin.

Sam Neill played Damien Thorne. Lisa Harrow played Kate Reynolds. Barnaby Holm played Peter Reynolds.

Rossano Brazzi played DeCarlo.

Don Gordon played Harvey Dean. Leueen Willoughby played Barbara Dean.


Friday, February 12, 2021

Evidence of Love by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson

 

(pb; 1984: crime nonfiction)

From the back cover

“They were two suburban mothers who attended the same church, went to the same parties, looked after each other’s kids. In the small-town Texas world they shared, liefe seemed peaceful and pleasant. Yet underneath the surface, pretty blonde Candy Montgomery and schoolteacher Betty Gore were simmering with unspoken frustrations, unanswered needs. And one hot summer day it would all explode in the laundry room of Betty Gore’s home─as the concrete walls rang with the blows and screams of an ax striking forty-one terrible times.

“Here is the incredible true story of the murder trial that made headlines across the country. . . the unthinkable crime that ripped away the serene façade of a quiet Texas community to show the passions and jealousies that boiled underneath. You will come to know the world of Candy Montgomery and her friend Betty Gore and you will wonder how such a monstrous thing could happen.”

 

Review

Evidence is an excellent, detailed-with-a-hint-of-mystery true crime book that is an immediately reader-immersive work. Bloom and Atkinson provide just enough─a lot of─background about those who experienced Evidence’s events as well as background on the places and institutions where they happened. This is an intense, fact-driven, steadily paced, and occasionally grisly-but-non-exploitative read, one of the more emotionally involving books I’ve read recently, and easily one of the best true crime books I’ve read in a long time. I can see why Bloom (a.k.a. Joe Bob Briggs) and Atkinson are award-winning journalists. 

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The resulting television movie, A Killing in a Small Town, aired on CBS on May 22, 1990. Stephen Gyllenhaal directed it, from a teleplay by Cynthia Cidre.

Barbara Hershey played Candy Morrison. Brian Dennehy  (First Blood, 1982) played Ed Reivers. John Terry played Stan Blankenship. Richard Gilliland played Dale Morrison. Lee Garlington (Cobra and Psycho III, both 1986) played Peggy Blankenship.

Hal Holbrook played Dr. Beardsley. Matthew Posey (Mr. Brooks, 2007) played Norman Billings. James Monroe Black, billed as James Black, played Dr. Giles. Dennis Letts (A Perfect World, 1993) played Chief McAlester. Marco Parella (A Perfect World, 1993) played Rick Slocum.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Damien—Omen II by Joseph Howard

 

(pb; 1978: movie tie-in novel, based on Stanley Mann and Mike Hodges’s screenplay. Second book in The Omen pentalogy.)

From the back cover

Little by little, one of the world’s most powerful families is close to being destroyed. And no one seems to know why. Those who suspect the truth do not live to reveal it.

“Only thirteen-year-old Damien Thorn seems immune from the bizarre accidents claiming the lives of those around him. Damien, whose own father tried to kill him seven years ago. . . Damien, whose loving foster family is learning the meaning of hellish fear. . . Damien, who is leaving behind the seeming innocence of youth to fulfill the terrifying prophecy foretold long ages ago. . . Damien, who is discovering that it is not, after all the meek but the master of ultimate evil who shall inherit the earth!”


Review

Damien is a solid, less dread-atmospheric follow-up to David Seltzer's The Omen. The writing is good, the characters and their relationships are well-sketched, the pacing of the book is an entertaining balance of backstory, characterization, action and kill scenes. Having said that, this first sequel is not as heady a B-movie thrill as its predecessor, a movie novelization that does little, if anything, to expand on the screenplay on which it’s based.

Damien is a fun, blast-through read, one that does not transcend its movie tie-in genre, but is still mildly entertaining─just don’t expect the over-the-top, beyond-its-source-flick thrills that Omen, a high-mark for movie tie-ins, trafficked in. Followed by another movie tie-in novel, Gordon McGill’s The Final Conflict (1981).

Additional note: In Damien (book and film) Richard Thorn’s brother is called “Richard,” the name given Damien’s human father in the film version of Omen. The book version of Omen calls Damien’s human father “Jeremy.”

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The film version of Damien was released stateside on June 9, 1978. Don Taylor and an uncredited Mike Hodges directed the film, from a screenplay by Hodges and Stanley Mann.

William Holden played Richard Thorn. Lee Grant played Ann Thorn. Jonathan-Scott Taylor played Damien Thorn. Lucas Donat played Mark Thorn.

An uncredited Ian Hendry played Michael Morgan. An uncredited Leo McKern reprised his role of Carl Bugenhagen. Sylvia Sidney played Aunt Marion. Elizabeth Shepherd played Joan Hart. Allan Arbus, billed as Alan Arbus, played Pasarian. Meshach Taylor played Dr. Kane. Nicholas Pryor played Charles Warren. Lew Ayres played Paul Atherton.

Robert Foxworth played Paul Buher. Lance Henriksen played Sgt. Neff. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

The Omen by David Seltzer

 


(pb; 1976: movie tie-in book. First book in The Omen pentalogy.)

From the back cover

“A young nursemaid dies for the sake of little Damien. . .

“A priest is speared to death for revealing the horrifying truth about the birth of Damien. . .

“In a peaceful zoo, animals rend themselves to bits in a death frenzy caused by the sight of Damien. . .

“For a world-renown diplomat and his wife, ‘accident’ follows ‘accident,’ from Rome to London to Jerusalem, as they are stalked by a terror they cannot understand, a terror that centers on their son Damien. . . and his ominous hidden birth mark. . .”

 

Review

Seltzer’s movie tie-in book (from his own script) for The Omen (1976) is an above-average work for the genre. Seltzer fleshes out the melodramatic, B-flick structure of the movie’s paranoid and creepy storyline by providing backstories for several characters in the book version (e.g., Edgardo Emilio Tassone, shown as Father Brennan in the film version). Not only that, more Biblical-based background is provided─most of it made up by Seltzer. This, like the expanded characterizations, is effective, further suspending reader disbelief regarding Omen’s over-the-top events, overall tone, and characters. It helps that Seltzer couches Omen’s events in a way that it’s possible that the satanic conspiracy might be a cultic delusion─at least up to certain points (thank film director Richard Donner for insisting that the script, upon which the book is based, be written this way).

Omen, for its genre, is an excellent, B-flick entertaining potboiler of a satanic conspiracy thriller with over-the-top notions and characters, elements that were reflected in the blockbuster, wildly silly and fun film.

Those who read the book and compare it to the movie may also note name changes to the some of the characters (e.g., Chessa, the book-version/suicidal nanny, is called Holly in the film, named after the actress who played her, Holly PalanceIMDb, in its listing of her character, simply calls her “Nanny”).

Followed by four book sequels, the first of which is another movie tie-in, Damien—Omen II by Joseph Howard.

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The film was released stateside on June 25, 1976. Richard Donner directed the film, from David Seltzer’s screenplay.

Gregory Peck played Robert Thorn (book version: Jeremy Thorn). Lee Remick played Katherine Thorn. Harvey Stephens played Damien Thorn.

Holly Palance played Holly/Nanny (book version: Chessa Whyte). Billie Whitelaw played Mrs. Blaylock/Sister Teresa/B’aalock. Martin Benson played Father Spiletto.

David Warner played Keith Jennings (book version: Haber Jennings). An uncredited Leo McKern played Carl Bugenhagen.

Patrick Troughton played Father Brennan (book version: Edgardo Emilio Tassone). Anthony Nicholls played Dr. Becker. Robert Rietty played Monk.Tommy Duggan played Priest. 


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A remake was released stateside on June 6, 2006 (get it?). Directed by John Moore, IMDb attributes its source material to David Seltzer’s 1976 screenplay.

Liev Schreiber played Robert Thorn. Julia Stiles played Katherine Thorn. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick played Damien Thorn (ages four to five).

Giovanni Lombardo Radice played Father Spiletto. David Thewlis played Keith Jennings. Pete Postlethwaite played Father Brennan. Michael Gambon played Bugenhagen.

Mia Farrow played Mrs. Baylock. Harvey Stephens, who played Damien in the original film, played "Tabloid Reporter #3."


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The television show Damien aired on A&E on March 7, 2016. On May 20th of the same year, A&E cancelled it after one season.

Damien, ignoring the storylines of Damien: Omen II (1978) and The Final Conflict (1981), reimagined Damien Thorne as a thirty-year-old war photographer who─after years of not being aware of his satanic destiny─is confronted by it during a photo shoot. This drawn-out, angsty, cultists-grooming-Damien-for-hellish-majesty show had Damien (played by Bradley James) resisting the insanity of the situation, though he was slowly succumbing to it.

Other actors in the show included: Megalyn Echikunwoke (as Simone Baptiste); Omid Abtahi (as Amani Golkar); Barbara Hershey (as Ann Rutledge); Robin Weigert (as Sister Greta Fraueva); and Scott Wilson (as John Lyons).



Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Resident Alien: Welcome to Earth! by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse

 

(pb; 2011, 2012, 2013: graphic novel, collecting issues 0-3 of Resident Alien. Volume 1 of the six-volume Resident Alien graphic novel series, published by Dark Horse Comics.)

From the back cover

“Surviving a crash landing on our planet, a stranded alien seeks refuge in the small town of Patience, USA, where he hides undercover as a semiretired doctor. Masking his appearance using his unique mental abilities and now known as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, all the alien wants is to be left alone until he’s rescued. However, when the town’s real doctor dies. ‘Dr. Harry’ is pulled into medical service─and also finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery!”

 

Review

Welcome is a fun, intriguing, short and character-interesting read, with a solid murder mystery element thrown into the mix. The artwork is pleasing to the eye, not too busy with unnecessary details, reflecting the quiet, (relative to cities) simplicity of small-town life, and the quick flashbacks and ending promise more interesting Vandespeigle-centered stories. Followed by Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde.

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Created by Chris Sheridan, the resulting, different-from-its-source-comic-book SyFy Channel show debuted on the network on January 27, 2021.

Alan Tudyk played Harry Vanderspiegle. Sara Tomko played Asta Twelvetrees. Gary Farmer played Dan Twelvetrees. Corey Reynolds played Sheriff Mike Thompson. Elizabeth Bowen played Deputy Liv Baker.

Levi Fiehler played Mayor Ben Hawthorne. Meredith Garretson played Kate Hawthorne. Alice Wetterlund played D’arcy. 


Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Blooding by William Darrid

 


(pb; 1979)

From the back cover

“Simmering under the Kansas sun [in 1944], Crowley Flats looks like a typical prairie town. Now comes the time of the stalker─relentless, violent, death-dealing. Fear trembles like the dust, stirring up naked emotions and lustful passions long held in check. . .”


Review

Blooding is an excellent, cinematic-vivid novel with well-rounded characters, steady pacing, clear explanations of the literal disease (rabies) that brings to the surface darker passions and resentments within a small town. There are no bad guys in this well-written, measured work, just people who afraid and act on those fears. Blooding is one of those rare books that is at once many things: a love story, a coming-of-age story, a home-front-during-wartime [1944] story, a lone-hero-doing-the-right-thing story. A book worth owning, this, and one of my favorite reads this year.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dirty Harry #7: Massacre at Russian River by Dane Hartman

 

(pb; 1982: seventh book in the twelve-book Dirty Harry series. Sequel to Dirty Harry #6: City of Blood.)

From the back cover

“A lot of grass─the illegal kind─grows in the hills of Northern California. Where there’s marijuana, there’s money. Where there’s money, there’s murder. And where there’s murder, there’s ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan. In a wilderness where even the local cops are criminal, Harry must live─and kill─by a law higher than the law of the land: his own.”


Review

MASSACRE is an entertaining, waste-no-words and action-focused read, excellent for its hyper-masculine subgenre. This is a near-impossible-to-set-down B-movie book, with its sketched-out characters (aside from Callahan), rapid-fire developments, danger-and-corruption-all-around storyline. MASSACRE does not have any egregious, troubling-in-2020 politics and social attitudes like the giallo-esque The Long Death (third book in the series). This is a blast of a read, worth your time and cash.

Followed by Dirty Harry #8: Hatchet Men.

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According to Wikipedia, Dane Hartman is the pen name of “several writers. . . [including] martial arts expert Ric Meyers and Leslie Alan Horvitz.” 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Babies by Christopher Keane and William D. Black, M.D.

 

(pb; 1991)

From the back cover

“Dr. Josh Heller can’t explain the alarming rise in difficult labors among his patients at Tampa Memorial Hospital. Many of these women─young, low risk, in perfect health at noon─are dying in the delivery room by midnight.

“And then there are the babies, tiny infants distinguished by wisps of red hair and luminescent green eyes.

“Pat Heller, Josh’s wife and a seasoned medical reporter, begins to unravel the enigma of ‘Christmas Babies,’ and uncovers a dangerous alliance between a Florida senator and a brilliant, psychopathic doctor. They share a deadly secret: a genetic experiment utopian in premise but horrifying in practice. From the seeds of corruption, greed and madness, their fearsome creations are entering the world.”


Review

Christmas is an entertaining, solidly written if melodramatic and largely by-the-numbers medical thriller. Keane and Black deliver a burn-through read, with plot-convenient dumb characters (particularly Josh Heller, who deserves a Bad Parent of the Decade award for leaving his kid with a woman he barely knows─I haven’t seen such dumbf**k parenting since the storyline of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 crap-film The Visit).

Christmas sports sly humor as well, e.g., the headquarter address of the ethically questionable, computer-hacking DNA, Inc. is 405 Border Lane. Cute, yes, but still an indication of playfulness.

This thoroughly familiar but fun medical thriller is worth the two dollars I paid for it, a two-hour distraction while I waited for my sleeping pills to kick in─a solid work by a solid writer (or writers, if Black provided more than medical information).

Monday, December 21, 2020

Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland

 

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover

“A . . . novel of the bizarre lives of twin doctors─bound together by more-than-brotherly love, damned together to a private hell of unspeakable obsessions.”


Review

Twins is one of the creepiest, ickiest novels I have read in a long time. It’s also one of the most memorable. The twin doctors, the outgoing, possibly sociopathic David and the quiet, sensitive Michael, have a relationship that goes to made-this-reader-squirm extremes, especially at the end, which is hauntingly sad after the (morally) stomach-churning events pass.

I read this excellent book in one sitting, staying up late into the a.m. hours─not something I normally do─to see what came next, even though much of the outcome was shown at the outset of Twins. Wood and Geasland did a great job of imbuing even the most extreme characters with a relatable and often-bleak humanity (especially the twins), with events and pacing that made this near-impossible to put down (much like Wood’s 1984 novel The Tribe, which was equally addictive).

This is a great book if sexual taboos don’t put you off too much, with characters you won’t soon forget, and further proof that Wood and (possibly) Geasland are writers to put at the top of your reading list if you like your thriller/horror kicks thoughtful, unsettling and morally icky.

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The resulting film, retitled Dead Ringers, was released stateside on September 23, 1988. Directed and co-scripted by David Cronenberg. Co-scripted by Norman Snider.

Jeremy Irons played Elliot and Beverly. Genevieve Bujold played Claire. Heidi von Palleske played Cary. Barbara Gordon played Danuta.

Stephen Lack played Anders Wolleck. An uncredited David Cronenberg played Obsetrician.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Saga, Volume One by Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples and Eric Stephenson

 

(pb; 2016: graphic novel, collecting issues 1-6 of Saga)

From the back cover

“When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old world. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in the first volume of this sexy, subversive ongoing epic.”


Review

Saga, thus far, is an impressively imaginative story with equally imaginative and distinctive characters, taking science fiction and fantasy tropes and turning them on their heads with impressive ease. Its balance of humor, romance, action, strangeness and heart is deftly handled and shown, the artwork solid and not off-putting, and its tone relatively light, making for a landmark comic book/graphic novel read. Worth owning, this.

Followed by Saga, Volume Two.