Saturday, January 29, 2011


I have added a few links  to nearly all of the left sidebar categories and trimmed a dead link to Gaming Report. The site was purchased by Scrye Magazine several years ago, then by Comic Buyer's Guide who promptly killed it. Alas, it once was a great one-stop-shop of gaming news.

Here's one of my favorites from the new links. Take a look at this blast from the past. I like to imagine them drinking Manhattans and listening to Xavier Cugat or Esquivel on the hi-fi.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Howard's Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures

In the previous post I neglected to mention that the next volume in Del Rey's Robert E. Howard Library is out this coming week.

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures collects the majority of Howard's medieval-era historical fiction stories, poems, synopses and fragments. Some of the earlier Celtic hero stories are not part of this collection, so there's a hope that they might be included in a future Del Rey volume (or a collection from the Foundation, at least). A list of contents can be found at REHupa.

From the publisher's description:
The immortal legacy of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian, continues with this latest compendium of Howard’s fiction and poetry. These adventures, set in medieval-era Europe and the Near East, are among the most gripping Howard ever wrote, full of pageantry, romance, and battle scenes worthy of Tolstoy himself. Most of all, they feature some of Howard’s most unusual and memorable characters, including Cormac FitzGeoffrey, a half-Irish, half-Norman man of war who follows Richard the Lion-hearted to twelfth-century Palestine—or, as it was known to the Crusaders, Outremer; Diego de Guzman, a Spaniard who visits Cairo in the guise of a Muslim on a mission of revenge; and the legendary sword woman Dark Agnès, who, faced with an arranged marriage to a brutal husband in sixteenth-century France, cuts the ceremony short with a dagger thrust and flees to forge a new identity on the battlefield.

Lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist John Watkiss and featuring miscellanea, informative essays, and a fascinating introduction by acclaimed historical author Scott Oden, Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures is a must-have for every fan of Robert E. Howard, who, in a career spanning just twelve years, won a place in the pantheon of great American writers.
In particular, I'm most interested in "Blades for France" and the other Dark Agnes stories, and finally reading "The Shadow of the Vulture", about the Siege of Vienna. This is the story with the character Red Sonya of Rogatino, whose name and red hair was the basis for the Marvel Comics character Red Sonja.

I'm not too sure about the cover painting, but the samples I've seen of the interior illustrations look great.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Two-Gun Bob!

Saturday marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of pulp writer Robert E. Howard. It has become a tradition on this date for Howard fans to read a favorite story and toast to his shade with a favorite beverage.

It's hard to go wrong with any of the stories, and there should be one to suit your preference: sword and sorcery, hard-boiled detectives, weird horror, historical fiction, boxing, westerns, pirates and sword-wielding puritans. One of my favorites that I often choose for a birthday reading is "Worms of the Earth", a story of Bran Mak Morn, last king of the Picts, and a weapon "to terrible to use, even against Rome". It's available in many publications but I would suggest the text found in Del Rey's Bran Mak Morn: The Last King.

For more information on his life and career, start with the following sites:

I would also recommend Mark Finn's Howard biography, the Locus and World Fantasy Award-nominated Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. An expanded edition is due this year from the REH Foundation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cult Classic of the Week: Black Sunday (1960)

Much like Kurosawa, Mario Bava made his early reputation by ghost-directing films for more prominent directors. He started as a cameraman and director of photography. His first major directing jobs came when he directed part of Hercules (1957) and most of Hercules Unchained (1958).  Riccardo Freda tricked Bava into taking over directing duties on Caltiki the Immortal Monster, and the producer rewarded Bava's good work by allowing him to choose his own film for his official directorial debut. That story became The Mask of Satan, better known by the American-International Pictures release title of Black Sunday.

I grew up watching horror and science-fiction movies on TV. I was well-versed with the standards shown in late-night and Saturday afternoons. Black-and white Universal monster films, giant bug movies of the 50's, the color Poe films that Roger Corman made for AIP -- it was a rare treat to catch one of those -- Godzilla (of course) and even the oeuvre of Edward D. Wood, Jr. It wasn't until I discovered a copy of Cult Movies Magazine (either # 5 or 6) in a bookstore around 1991 that I really started reading about and studying this strange and wonderful world of movies outside the mainstream, and that included learning about the works of Mario Bava.

It's surprising just how prolific Bava was. In addition to Black Sunday, highlights of his directing career would include Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), Black Sabbath (1963), the first true Italian giallo Blood and Black Lace (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Kill, Baby...Kill! (1966), Danger: Diabolik (1968), and Baron Blood (1972). The filmography on the DVD suggests that the full extent of his fill-in work still continues to be discovered.

Black Sunday answers the age-old question: If you are a doctor, a professional, and you know that the coffin that you find in a crypt has a window on it so that the corpse will forever see the stone cross standing above it, do you just leave the coffin alone if you accidentally break the cross? What if you reach into the coffin to pull off the mask that has been hammered onto the face and, in doing so, you leave behind enough blood on the broken glass to bring the corpse back to life?

Bava intended to film Nikolai Gogol's story "The Vij", but little remains of the original story. Instead we have family curses, cobwebbed castle corridors, villagers with torches and pitchforks, and witches brought back to life, acting more like traditional vampires. Instead of a stake through the heart, they get a stake in the eye!

The atmosphere of the film is a mix of the Universal Monster and the British Hammer movies: lots of old, dark castle and crypt scenes with unexpected gore. It's a bit of a surprise to see a spiked mask hammered onto the face of a witch (with the resulting blood spurts), or tiny scorpions crawling out of a corpse's empty eye sockets. Tame by today's standards, but shocking enough to be trimmed from the AIP release (and you couldn't use "Satan" in the title, either). Bava's familiarity with the camera is on display here. Even at this early point in his career the shots are composed beautifully, and there is a great 360-degree pan around the crypt in the ruined chapel.

This is the film that started Barbara Steele's career in horror films. She's quite popular as the first real "Scream Queen" of horror movies, but I must admit that I'm not that familiar with her work other than The Pit and the Pendulum.

I watched Image's 1999 DVD release of the original Italian director's cut with English dubbing. It includes three pages of liner notes and an audio commentary by Video Watchdog Magazine's Tim Lucas, who is the foremost authority on Bava and literally wrote the book on him.

Update: Kino Lorber released a new edition of this film on DVD and Blu-ray in September 2012.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cult Classic of the Week: An Introduction

This is one of those new blog features that I mentioned around New Year's Day. My main purpose was to find another way to talk about movies I'm interested in. Also, I wanted a system for making decisions on what movies to watch.

I was inspired to try this because of two items I read recently. At the end of last year, I discovered a fairly new blog on horror and other genre films, From Midnight, With Love. I appreciate The Mike's sense of humor and his writing about film, but my favorite part is his Midnight Movie of the Week posts. A weekly review is a great format and a schedule that I could perhaps keep up with. "Midnight Movie of the Week" is such a perfect title for what I have in mind, but I don't want to steal it.

Second, there was a posting on the Home Theater Forum titled "How do you decide which DVD to watch from your collection?" This might seem like a silly question but I understand exactly what the initial post author means when he asks it. Often when I have the time and the inclination to watch something, I look at the shelves and have "decision paralysis". Usually I'll watch a DVD because it came up in a conversation, or we were reminded of it by a news item (as in the case when we watched Forbidden Planet after Leslie Nielsen passed away), or it's a new DVD that I just purchased. I'm a collector, so I have DVDs of favorites because I enjoy owning them and watching them whenever I like. Deciding which one to watch, however, can be difficult as I tend to revisit some discs and neglect others.

The solution? Leave it up to chance! First, I'll roll a d6 to see if the movie is from my DVD collection or from Netflix. Next, I'll check a list of random letters to choose the title. I used the random letter generator at to make a list of two-letter character strings in Excel. For the second letter of the string, I chose only the more frequently used letters. I didn't think that any film titles would start with "Zq".

There's a certain amount of fudging that will probably go on. I'll look for the film title that's the closest to the random letters, but it is not an exact science. It will depend on what titles are available, and if that film meets my criteria for a cult classic.

I haven't found a satisfying definition for "cult movie". It's a very subjective term. To paraphrase Judge Stewart, I know it when I see it. The definition that Peary used in his landmark book on the subject was a movie that is taken to heart and championed by segments of the movie audience. That's part of it, certainly, but to me that is incomplete. It may have been true in film studies of the 70s and early 80s, but since then I think that a more specific definition is in order, one that includes the relative obscurity or strangeness of the film. Look at the list of movies from his book and ask yourself what you would consider to be a "cult movie". I Married a Monster from Outer Space? Pink Flamingos? Caged Heat? Definitely cult movies. Singing in the Rain? The Searchers? The Wizard of Oz? I'm not so sure.

There are films in my collection that I love, that are considered classics, but not necessarily "cult classics". For this project, I want to shine a light on more obscure titles, the sort that the average person on the street wouldn't know about. So it's a random choice to a point, but then I might need to move one way or another on the shelf, or in the Netflix Instant search box, to find the right title.

Because of the open-ended nature of this project, I'm hoping to avoid the problem of not being able to finish, as was the case with my 100 Films in 100 Days project. I'll do my best to review a movie each week although it won't disrupt the schedule if I need to catch up later. "Review" might be a strong word for it. They may not be as detailed as my Green Slime DVD review, but I hope to cover some history and my own general impressions about the movies that I watch. I might entertain requests, too.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Arrrrr! Treasure from

Another code, this time a pirate treasure theme (maybe a chance to buy a Freeport book) with 20% off any order:

Enter coupon code TREASURE305 at checkout and receive 20% off your order. The maximum savings for this coupon is $100. Offer good towards print costs only - shipping and tax amounts are excluded. You can only use the code once per account, and you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. This great offer ends on January, 17 2011 at 11:59 PM so try not to procrastinate!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Best DVDs of 2010

I didn't personally see enough of the films or DVDs/Blu-rays released last year to competently comment on the best of the year. I'll leave that to the professionals:

Adam Jahnke's "The Best Discs of 2010"

Adam Jahnke's Best and Worst Films of 2010

DVD Savant Picks the Most Impressive Discs of 2010

2010: The Year They Finally Got Blu-ray Right

And a bonus: DVD Savant's 2011 DVD Wish List

After a couple of years with few real gems, it's heartening to see so many great discs released in the year that streaming video was labeled "the death of the disc".

To any "Best of 2010" DVD list I would add Vampire Circus and The Green Slime (Stuart Galbraith IV's review), but that's just me.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A phrase for the New Year

With the start of the new year, I thought about writing a recap of last year with some ideas for this one, but I could probably write the same post that I did last year at this time without many changes. I do have a few ideas for new blog features that I'm still thinking through.

Instead, I would like to point you towards a posting from Fred Hicks (via Stargazer's World) with a simple but profound message: Play More. Run More. Share More.