Saturday, December 31, 2011

The State of the Blog in 2011

Just a short post to wrap up 2011 here at Kaijuville. At the beginning of the year I had the goal of increasing the frequency of posting, which I did accomplish. I started the year strong, but by mid-year my real-life schedule got more packed with responsibilities. I hope to get back to a regular schedule next year.

Regarding site stats, the pages with the most search hits continue to be my list of Free RPG Day PDF downloads, my DVD review of The Green Slime, the Bruce Timm birthday post and the obituaries for Julie Ege and Elisabeth Sladen (not Ingrid Pitt?). I didn't imagine that this would be a destination for Julie Ege fans but that's the power of Google, I suppose.

My series of movie reviews, the Cult Classic of the Week, started in January with the goal of publishing at least two reviews a month, if not once a week. It became difficult to make the time to watch the films and properly research the reviews, so I ended up posting only 14 reviews this year.

In May, I was granted membership in the RPG Blog Alliance during their first week of operation. I really enjoy the sense of community that the RPGBA has produced, and I would like to get more involved with that aspect next year. One blogger wrote that a great exercise would be the goal of posting at least three comments on blogs read each day. I wish I could remember who wrote this so I could give proper credit. I don't always post three although I make that a goal for each day. I believe it's a great way to build the blogging community.

In August I ran a series of daily posts for "Conan Week", leading up to the release of the new movie.

I posted my GM merit badges here.

In December, I was invited to write a guest post at Age of Ravens, where I examined two important popular culture influences on my gaming life.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone who follows Kaijuville and takes the opportunity to read what I post here. I hope you find it worthwhile. There are many, many bloggers out there writing dynamite material every day, and I hope that I can add to that wealth in at least some small way.

Next post: What to expect from Kaijuville in 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My First Time...Gaming on G+

Two weeks ago I played my first game using Google+ Hangouts.

This was a D&D 3.5 game based on the computer game Dwarf Fortress, so all of the PCs are dwarves. Many of the players were also in my True20 Freeport campaign. The reason for running over G+ is because half the players are out of town -- C. moved to Ohio before the Freeport game ended, and D.W., the DM for this game, moved to Mississippi shortly after it ended.

To play, we needed to join the same G+ Hangout. Additionally, D.W. set up maps with tokens for PCs and NPCs using the free Maptools software, which required each of us to connect through a VPN.

I did have some technical issues, but none of them were the fault of D.W. He and C. had worked out the bugs during their initial session. All I had to do was follow the emailed instructions. At first I tried using my usual desktop machine. I picked up an inexpensive webcam after work, brought it home and plugged it in. The camera test worked fine. Maptools worked fine, but I could not get into the G+ Hangout.

Mrs. Kaiju wasn't home, so I moved the webcam and the Maptools and VPN files (including my token) over to her Win 7 laptop. I was able to finally connect to the Hangout and see/hear everyone, although now Maptools would not load. Since it is a Java program, I tried to update Java but the update failed. It took a complete uninstall and reinstall of Java for Maptools to work.

Maptools is an impressive bit of software. I was concerned about how it might work, but it ran great, and D.W. put a tremendous amount of work into the maps for this session. The maps loaded quickly and token movement was easy and fast.

Overall, my experience with G+ Hangouts and Maptools was very positive. Once I moved to the laptop, the only issue was that I kept being dropped from the Hangout about every 15 minutes. The Google error messages kept saying it was a server error, but I was the only one being dropped. Once I can get that settled (and upgrade my desktop PC), things should work well. It's no substitute for face-to-face gaming, but being able to video chat with friends across the country in real time is terrific. I'm looking forward to more G+ gaming with them and local friends, and maybe some gaming with other bloggers too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blog housekeeping

One area that I'd like to work on in the new year is the look and layout of the blog. Generally I like the layout, but I think there might be some areas for improvement. My main priority is readability, and while the black text on light grey seemed OK at first, I believe the readability could be improved. I'll also try other some other colors throughout. I always welcome suggestions, too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Link: SOPA and the RPG blogging community

I rarely ever post anything here about politics. This blog is meant for important things like games and movies. However, this is a topic that requires more attention than it has received in the mainstream media. Michael at Neuroglyph Games posted an excellent article about the possible effects of the Stop Online Piracy Act on RPG bloggers (and everyone else). There is a committee vote scheduled for tomorrow.

Update: "Markup postponed due to House schedule."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monster Stand-Ins

I missed out on some interesting Kickstarter/IndieGoGo gaming projects: Far West, Stealing Cthulhu, Crypts and Things, and Writer's Dice. One project that's really caught my attention but hasn't closed yet is Monster Stand-Ins. This is a project by Joe Wetzel, the talent behind Hexographer, Dungeonmorph Dice and others.

For me, miniatures make any game better. I enjoy miniature gaming and using minis in RPGs. It is frustrating to not have all the minis that you might need for a scene, or not the matching minis. Pre-painted plastic minis have helped with this issue, but even with super-cheap common figures it can be expensive to get a solid collection of monster minis.

The Monster Stand-Ins are a set of over 150 fantasy monster images scaled to 28/30mm and printed on plastic flat tokens that can be stood up on bases. Foamboard is included with the plastic flats for creating the bases. I don't mind flats at all -- I like using printable PDF flat figures such as those from One Monk -- so I don't see that as an issue. And no cutting and gluing required! Flats are much easier to store and transport too, with removable stands. The plastic should hold up very well with use.

150 creatures on plastic card for $30, plus the PDF file? Sign me up.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Site update

I've added a sub-page titled "Currently...", accessible from a tab at the top of the main page. This is a little list of what I'm playing, running, reading, watching, and so on. I've wanted to add this to the blog for a while but the main page layout is full with links and blog rolls. The sub-page gives it a bit more room.
The titles are pretty self-explanatory. "The New Hotness" highlights new things I'm thinking about, interested in, and wanting to play/read/watch/whatever.
For some reason, the spacing on that page has some weird issues, even when trying to edit the HTML directly. Those problems don't show up on the normal Blogger pages. I also need to re-size an image or two.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Mongoose Legend Core Rules for a buck

Legend is Mongoose's revised and updated version of RuneQuest II (with the "RuneQuest" bits removed), and the Core Rules PDF is available at Drivethru/RPGNow for just one dollar. Thanks to Late to the Party and Billiam Babble for posting about it recently. I really enjoy the BRP/d100 system, so I might finally check out the RQII Legend rules.

For more gaming on the cheap, check out the $1.35 PDF sale on Lamentations of the Flame Princess titles this week (the Grindhouse Edition doesn't appear unless you activate the adult content filter on your RPGNow account), and of course Stuart Robertson's Weird West is a single dollar as well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Out sick

I have been out sick with a nasty head cold the last couple of days. While that might mean that I have free time to post here -- between hours and hours of sleeping -- my brain has been fuzzier than usual and I haven't been able to write anything at all. I hope to have more this weekend or next week.

Hey, this is my 400th post. Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

All (Turkey) Flesh Must Be Eaten

On Sunday I had a chance to play All Flesh Must Be Eaten for the first time in several years, since D's Viking Horror game. D is the Zombie Master for this game as well, and it's great to be back at his table again. Other players include J (husband of Girly Nerdy Gamer) who was in my True20 Freeport game along with D, and also PJ.
There are two other players I know but I have never gamed with before, so it will be an interesting mix and a discovery of gaming styles. Nothing like a little zombie attack to get people working together...cooperation and teamwork, right...? I'm really looking forward to what happens when we pick up again in two weeks.
I should finally have some time over the Thanksgiving break to post more, or at least write up new posts for later. I'm wondering if the gaming blogosphere will be active, or in a tryptophan-induced slumber?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Dungeon Master, steam tunnels, and gaming stereotypes

Reading this recent post at Skyland Games last week reminded me that I have a mass-market paperback copy of The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, written by private investigator William Dear, somewhere in one of the boxes here in the Kaiju Lair. I may need to do some real-life dungeon delving to find it, although I will avoid the steam tunnels.
The last time I read the book was at least 15 years ago. The two things I remember most about it were the sureness and smugness of the author, and the scene where he plays D&D with some of the college students, packed with an abundance of stereotypical gamer behavior.
Thorynn's post made me think that I should revisit the book and see how it reads with even more distance, and in light of both Forge-style indie-game trends and the OSR. I'd like to give it another read-through now with a critical eye and post my observations here on the blog. This might be a good project for the Christmas break.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Busy, busy days

Real life has been intruding more and more into the blogging world here in the Kaiju lair -- fix-it projects, getting the house/yard ready for winter, the mid-term point of the semester... I've been too worn out to put two coherent thoughts together for ye olde Blog (one thought more than usual). With luck, I'll be posting more here very soon.
A "thanks for reading" bonus: Haven't checked this myself, but I've read that Deep Discount DVD is having a 25%-off sale until November 20th. Enter the code "25More" at checkout.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

50% off Criterion discs at Barnes and Noble

November 1st kicked off the semi-annual Criterion Collection sale at Barnes and Noble. This month online and in the store (at least until the 21st, I believe), Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays are 50% off MSRP. Other stores' regular discounts (Amazon) might be about the same on some titles, so check accordingly. I'd really like to get Island of Lost Souls and Kiss Me Deadly on Blu-ray... in addition to all the Kurosawa films I still need... and so many others.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The 50 Scariest Movies of All Time

As a Halloween treat today I want to highlight film critic Glenn Kenny's list of "The 50 Scariest Movies of All Time" that was posted to as a photo slideshow.

Normally I'm a bit dismissive of lists like this, but from the start at #50, you'll see why I'm sharing it here. Whereas most "top X of all time" lists seem to be written by people with memories that cover only the past 15 or 20 years, Kenny does review the whole gamut of horror cinema with his list. Universal and Hammer horror, Mario Bava, Georges Franju, J-horror, Nosferatu, Coffin Joe, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and even Dreyer's Vampyr -- I can't fault a list with entries like these. On his blog he confesses to the one film he forgot and left out. Crucial to the success of this list is the overriding philosophy that "scary" does not automatically mean bloody slasher violence. Much more often it is the threat, or the unseen threat lurking, left to the imagination, that can cause real terror in the aisles.

Any others that he left out of the list? What are your favorites?
To give you an idea of the range of the audience MSN Movies is addressing, I'm told that the gallery got something like 20 million page views first day up. Any day I can possibly get 20 million people interested in Mario Bava and Jose Mojica Marins isn't a bad one. -- Glenn Kenny

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Free DriveThruRPG treats (and tricks) for Halloween

Just saw the post on Stargazer's World about the 13 Halloween freebies available at DriveThruRPG. Click around the site for hidden pumpkins and find a random treat (or trick!). Plenty of horror-themed goodies among the list of found items so far.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Different cover art for Destroy All Monsters

Why does Mothra get top billing?
An interesting story about the cover art for Media Blasters' DVD and Blu-ray re-issue of Destroy All Monsters can be found at Sci-Fi Japan. The cover that was released for distributors -- and is still in use on Amazon -- is a temp cover. The actual cover is the original 1968 Japanese poster art. Good news! For comparison, the US poster from AIP is at the left.

The original soundtrack CD is out November 8th.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brainstorming a list of game management ideas

The following are the total contents of a Word file titled "General Game Ideas" from my RPG folder. The file is dated New Year's Eve, 2006. I think I just started free-typing and this was the result: 
  • Get agreement from the group (vote?) concerning character danger/death
  • Character background as ~3 Hooks
  • Request for “what the player considers a good role-playing experience”
  •  Request for “what the player wants for his/her character”
  • Request for “what sorts of events and encounters the player wants in the game”.
  • Request for “what sorts of events the player doesn't want to see.”
  • Have two or three scenarios prepared before each session.  Tell players that they can go anywhere, but if they go too far on a tangent, then ask for time to prepare.
  • Create 10-20 cool set pieces or locations that come immediately to mind in the campaign world.
  • For the beginning of the game:
    • Have the players point to a spot on a map to begin.
    • Have the players decide how they want to begin.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Film critic David Edelstein subbing this week on Turner Classic Movies

On my short list of dream jobs, one near the top is introducing the movies on TCM (or perhaps writing the introductions). Read David Edelstein's short blog post about substituting for Robert Osborne this week -- a week that includes four horror movies that shaped his life -- here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's official: Criterion Godzilla

The Criterion Collection made their official January title announcements on Friday, and among all the great films listed is the 1954 original Gojira, also known as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. It appears that it will be a hi-def digital restoration from one of Toho's interpositive prints.  Long rumored for years, and often times thought to be wishful fan thinking, this DVD and Blu-ray release is the more important of two recent kaiju events, the other being the possibility of getting the AIP audio track for Destroy All Monsters.

Check out the product page for more detail on the specs. The U.S. version is confirmed as an extra. Criterion is creating a new hi-def transfer of Godzilla from a 35mm fine-grain print in the hands of a collector, and it should look like an entirely different film compared to the poor-quality video transfer that has been used for years. More information about that is on August Ragone's blog.

It's great to see Ishiro Honda take his place among other great Japanese directors like Kurosawa, Ozu, Oshima and Suzuki in the Collection.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More upcoming British horror films on DVD

Peter Sasdy was born in Budapest, but made his career as a film and TV director in England -- notably with three films for Hammer: Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hands of the Ripper, and Countess Dracula with Ingrid Pitt. After these, he hit his stride as a director of thrillers, including Nothing but the Night in 1973.

Going into the 1970s, it was clear that the glory days of Hammer were past, and several members of that community were looking for new opportunities. Christopher Lee formed his own production company, Charlemagne Productions, with producer Anthony Nelson-Keys, in the hopes of creating interesting science-fiction and horror films with intelligent scripts. Charlemagne's first -- and only -- film, Nothing but the Night, teams Lee with his long-time friend Peter Cushing and Diana Dors in a thriller about possessed children on a remote island. It's finally out on DVD next week from Scorpion Releasing. Extras include a trailer and liner notes by Cushing biographer Christopher Gullo.

Countess Dracula has previously been available on an MGM Midnite Movies double-feature disc with the other Ingrid Pitt vampire film, The Vampire Lovers. Synapse Films is currently in the middle of releasing several Hammer films as Blu-ray/DVD combo packs, and plans to offer Countess Dracula next year after finishing Twins of Evil and Hands of the Ripper.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Upcoming Godzilla DVDs (and Blu-ray)

Now that October is here, the season of monsters, I thought I better post some DVD release news that I've been sitting on for weeks, before it's no longer news. I've mentioned these before, and now it's official with pre-orders and release dates.

Destroy All Monsters is getting a DVD re-release and its first Blu-ray release on October 25th from Media Blasters. This is great news, as MB has done terrific work on a host of Toho kaiju and sci-fi flicks in their Tokyo Shock line, including The Mysterians, Matango, Latitude Zero and many others. It was previously released on DVD by the now defunct anime label ADV Films. I have read elsewhere that the cover art MB chose was used on a Japanese DVD of Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster.

A commentary track by kaiju experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski appears to be just the starting point for the extra supplements on this disc. Some cryptic posts on Media Blaster's Facebook page has lead many to believe that one of the two English dubs on the disc will be the superior American International Pictures audio track done by Titra Studios. An official release with the AIP track has been a Holy Grail for kaiju fans.

The real surprise is the Media Blasters' release of Godzilla vs. Megalon on DVD and Blu on November 22nd. This was a staple of discount store tape bins in the VHS era, and it seemed unlikely that a company would want to license it for an official release. The terrible public domain prints released on tape damaged Megalon's reputation over the years. It's not a Destroy All Monsters; however, there are some neat things happening in this underrated movie, especially the robot Jet Jaguar. I'm excited about finally seeing the original Japanese version of this childhood classic.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The witching season

Fall is here, and tomorrow the first day of October. As a kid, I wasn't a big fan of the fall season. It meant that summer vacation was over and it was time to go back to school. It would feel like such a long time between the start of class and Christmas vacation. What I looked forward to most was October, because that meant Halloween. Not because of the candy -- we never really went door-to-door except for people my parents knew, and usually only to the candy giveaway at the mall (where Radio Shack would give out batteries).
What was really fun about Halloween to me was on TV -- Halloween specials like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and monster movies. It also wasn't just one night, or a week. I remember Halloween-themed shows throughout the month. Back at the time when there were only three or four networks, a few local stations and a handful of cable channels, October was a time when many stations would roll out more monster films than usual and have them on earlier than the normal late night time slots. It was a chance to see nearly-forgotten classics or new (to you) favorites.
It's great to have the near-instantaneous access to a particular film we enjoy today -- and I wouldn't want to give that up -- but there was also something very special about having to wait until a movie was shown on your local UHF station at 1 in the morning on a school night because "you might not ever see it again". Back then, it was an event, the magic of light and shadow on a flickering TV screen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Out-of-print DVDs through the Warner Archive

One of the new releases from the Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD program last week was the Hammer "space western", Moon Zero Two. In addition to having another Hammer film available, this is also significant because it had been previously released on DVD several years ago, on a Warner Sci-Fi Double Feature disc along with the Hammer prehistoric epic When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. This DVD went out-of-print quickly, presumably because of an incorrect rating.

The set of new releases for this week include several more Warner Brothers titles that had been previously released on DVD, including more from the Warner Sci-Fi collection. A few weeks back Akira Kurosawa's Dreams went up on the Archive.

It appears that WB is moving toward using the Archive as a way to re-release catalog DVD titles that have gone out-of-print. With any luck, that means we'll see Dinosaurs... on disc again. It's too bad that they aren't being given a regular DVD release, but the made-on-demand discs are so much better than not being available at all.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


September is shaping up to be more busy than I had expected. Updates will be sporadic for the short term at least.
On today's date in 1966 Star Trek first premiered on NBC. The 45th anniversary is deserving of its own posting here at some point.
The teaser photo from last Friday was for Criterion's as-yet-unannounced disc of Gojira, a Holy Grail for kaiju film fans. A 35mm fine-grain print of the U.S. version (Godzilla, King of the Monsters) has been located so it appears that the U.S. Godzilla will be included. More details can be found at August Ragone's blog here and here.

Friday, September 02, 2011


Because this is the start of the holiday weekend, I'll just leave this photo here as a teaser. I plan to write more about this and some other news next week.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A call to post about your geeky hobbies

The start of the semester has kept us hopping here at the Kaiju Lair, so I haven't been able to post at all this week. Even so, I wanted to point out this call for bloggers from author and game designer Monica Valentinelli. In reaction to some negative perceptions of gamers recently, she's suggesting that bloggers write passionately and positively about the hobbies they love during one week in September. From her site:
Here’s what I propose:
Sometime during the week of Monday, September 12th to Friday, September 16th post about what geeky hobby you love. Then, tell us why we should try it, too. Leave your fears (and edition wars) at the door. Forget about your latest rant. Tap into that well of positive energy and share in the excitement of all things geek.
Let us invite those who would stereotype us to sit at our table and share our interests.
Should be easy for the gaming blog community. Originally this was proposed just for girl geeks, but it was suggested that it be more inclusive. Let everyone raise their geek flag high!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My GM Merit Badges

I didn't take up the Better GM Challenge posted at the Hill Cantons blog, mostly because I'm still trying to figure it out some best practices for myself. Every campaign I run could be considered an experiment in technique, trying to build on past successes to run the best game possible.

On the other hand, the excellent set of GM merit badges that Stuart at Strange Magic made are great shorthand symbols, and I think I can easily put together a set that represents my own GMing style -- or at least what I aspire to when I run.

  • My games will tell an interesting Story. It may not be the story I intend to tell, but it's the one I hope the players want to be in.
  • My games will be Scary -- or at least I try. I usually sneak in Lovecraftian things-man-was-not-meant-to-know whenever I can, even outside of Call of Cthulhu games.
  • My games focus on Exploration & Mystery. I enjoy setting up places for the PCs to explore and mysteries for them to solve.
  • I will Mirror back player ideas I think are interesting in the game. I am very open to player input, and I try my best to encourage players to add to the narrative, whether that means describing attacks in detail, monologuing, embellishing the current scene or adding NPCs and places to the world.
  • The GM is In Charge and "Rule Zero" is in effect. For this, what I mean is that I reserve the right to ignore the rules as written, but only if it's for the overall fun of the group. If it seems like a rule will prevent a PC from doing something awesome, that rule is getting in the way of the fun. I also hope that I have the trust of the players to know that I make decisions as fairly as possible -- most of the time in their favor.
  • My games use a pre-made Map and pre-scripted content. I like to have locations and scenes planned in advance like movie set-pieces whenever possible, and plan and follow a loose flowchart for the overall campaign storyline. These could be invented or from published material. Which leads into the seemingly contradictory badge...
  • My games rely on a lot of Improvisation rather than pre-scripted content. I like to throw out several plot threads and let the players pull on whichever ones they like. Because of this, I'm trying to plan more loosely and take a more improvisational approach to let them roam where they wish.
  • My games focus on interesting Characters and Drama. I try to populate the game world with NPCs that will be interesting for the PCs to meet, ally with, plan against, fight, and sometimes exist just for background and local color. I hope that these interactions create strong connections that will then lead to conflict and drama.
I wouldn't say that this is locked in, and would vary depending on the system, the setting and the group's own play style. If I am running Call of Cthulhu or a distinctly horror-related setting, I'd add the Run! badge.

Thanks to Stuart for a cool idea!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jimmy Sangster, RIP

Producer, screenwriter and director Jimmy Sangster passed away on Friday. He was 83. His scripts for both Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (Horror of Dracula in the U.S.) were absolutely essential for the rise of the Hammer Horror aesthetic.

This almost wasn't the case. In Sangster's version of the story, he was approached to write the script for Curse after suggesting several ideas for the studio, even though he wasn't going to be paid for it beyond his role as production manager. After the success of Curse he wrote the script for Dracula, The Mummy, and several other early horror classics for Hammer. In the Seventies, he wrote Hammer's remake of Curse starring Ralph Bates, The Horror of Frankenstein, but only on the condition that he could direct. His main interest was always with psychological and crime thrillers; he also produced most of those scripts including two films with Bette Davis, and directed Fear in the Night with Joan Collins.

He later wrote for U.S. television, including The Night Stalker, Ghost Story, The Six Million Dollar Man and Wonder Woman.

Sangster was one of the last major creative crewmembers from the "golden age" of Hammer Horror. Most recently, director Roy Ward Baker passed away last year.

Read horror media expert Kim Newman's excellent obit for Sangster here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

121 Years of Howard Philips Lovecraft

I am Providence.
As Conan Week 2011 draws to a close, it's fitting to take time to remember another of the "triumvirate" of Weird Tales, H.P. Lovecraft, who was born 121 years ago today. His reputation stands as a close second to Edgar Allan Poe among American writers of horror, the supernatural and the macabre.

Today, his form of "Yog-Sotherey" -- what we today call the Cthulhu Mythos -- has become a prevalent form of horror for books, movies, games, even plush Cthulhus and other toys. It's a well-known fan meme. Ken Hite has suggested that all of this absorption into fan culture proves that Cthulhu and his otherworldly ilk are iconic figures, like Superman.

What is Lovecraft's lasting legacy? Others on the 'net have expressed this in a more erudite form than I could. I believe it is not only his own brand of "cosmic horror", the idea that there are things in the universe so completely strange and alien to us that our fragile minds cannot fathom them, not only the idea that humans are as insignificant to them as an insect might be to us, but the true message is that human beings are fully capable of reaching those same heights of inhumanity. I often wonder what H.P. would have thought had he lived to see the scale of atrocities during the 20th century.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Issues with the Conan Chronology

With a few exceptions, Howard didn't write about most of his characters in chronological order. He wrote the Conan series of stories as the ideas presented themselves, much in the same way as someone would tell yarns around the fire: "...and that story reminds me of the time that..."

The first Conan story to be written and to see publication was a tale of Conan as King of Aquilonia, "The Phoenix on the Sword", which is in fact itself is a re-working of the Kull story "By This Axe I Rule!". Howard started writing Conan at a point near the end of the character's career. As Howard wrote and published more Conan yarns, the settings and Conan's age and career would change -- king, pirate, mercenary, adventurer, thief.

In early 1936, Howard received a letter from P. Schuyler Miller, a fan praising the Conan stories and presenting his own ideas about the order of Conan's adventures.  In Howard's reply, his pleasure at Miller's enthusiasm over the stories can be felt. He suggested that the outline was "pretty close" and offered other suggestions. Miller and fellow fan John D. Clark compiled and published a new chronology later that year. If I remember correctly, Howard didn't make notes for himself about the chronology of Conan's exploits, at least none that are known to survive. He surely thought about it as he wrote, but the letter back to Miller is the only known affirmation by him about a possible order.

Howard doesn't reveal many details about Conan's early life in his stories. Conan was born on a battlefield (literally or metaphorically?); in his youth he broke the neck of a Cimmerian bull; by 15 years of age his exploits were talked about around the council fires; and he fought at the siege of Venarium. These milestones all take place before the events in the stories proper.

The problem with the Miller/Clark timeline is that not all of the Conan stories had seen print yet. There were more submitted but not yet published, still others that were not chosen for publication, and also various fragments and synopses.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when L.Sprauge de Camp and Lin Carter began to compile first the Gnome Press edtions and later the Lancer editions, they had access to these unpublished and unfinished works. As part of their editing and compiling process, de Camp, Carter, and Bjorn Nyberg finished the fragments, re-worked tales of other Howard heroes (for example, the long version of the El Borak tale "Three-Bladed Doom" was re-fashioned by de Camp into the Conan story "The Flame Knife"), and worked in their own stories to create a chronology that fit the material on hand. By finishing fragments and working in their own original stories, it also strengthened their claim of rights over the Conan works. This official timeline would be used for many years, eventually incorporating the various pastiche novels as they were published.

In 2003 Howard scholar Dale Rippke proposed his own version of a Conan chronology, meticulously going over only the stories and fragments written by Bob Howard, and using the clues therein to piece together a coherent structure. It has the benefit of incorporating many stories that Miller did not know about, and the objective view of only using those tales by REH. Trying to form a complete, concrete chronology is a difficult task. Rippke's textual evidence convinces me that his makes the most sense. Many other Howard fans must agree, as it was his chronology that has been used by Dark Horse for the comic series and appears to be the de facto "official" timeline adopted by Conan Properties.


Many fans enjoy having the object of their interests codified and explained. This can be seen going back to the first Star Trek fan projects like Enterprise bridge blueprints ("every function of every button explained") and technical manuals, through to books such as The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, or The Atlas of Middle-Earth, and now today with sites like the Harry Potter Wiki. Fans enjoy knowing how things in the stories work and in what order their favorite characters' adventures take place. It also brings those places and people to life, and lets one imagine everyday life there.
"Any world-creator in a fantasy role-playing game setting can tell you about the hours/days/weeks spent building a working fantasy universe; immersing one's self in minutia and fine tuning the whole thing. There comes a point when the "Created-world" takes on a kind on life inside one's head. You are able to describe any part of it as if you had actually been there and experienced it. The whole thing transcends its origins and becomes (from a purely mental standpoint) a real place.

Every sense I get from reading Howard's Conan stories informs me that he experienced something very similar from his creation of the Hyborian Age world. He mentally lived in this place when creating and writing his Conan stories. Perhaps it was part of his putting on a persona as many authors do. All I can tell you is that he wrote these stories like he believed it. And, as any damned fine author does, he makes you believe as well." -- Dale Rippke, The Dark Storm Conan Chronology.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Howardian Movies without Howard Characters

Here's a short list of films that I feel exude the same sort of mood, atmosphere or style that you might find when reading a Robert E. Howard story:
What others did I miss?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conan the Destroyer: A Re-Appraisal

My Conan Week post for today isn't quite ready for public consumption yet, so this is a on-topic re-post originally from last year. This week's theme might stretch into the weekend...

Several months ago, I had the chance to watch Conan the Destroyer again for the first time in quite a while. For years this film had the reputation of being "The D&D Movie". The title fits -- a motley group of adventurers are brought together for an epic journey...under false pretenses and with a stinging betrayal.

I know, I know, it's not Shakespeare. It's not even proper Howard, but it's fun. And it's all we had in 1984.

Even though it's less about Howard's Conan than even the first movie, there are still many things to like about it. Roy Thomas's involvement with the original story lead to the comic-book feel of the movie, even if he was disappointed with the final product. I'm not sure what to make of Richard Fleischer's work on the movie. He directed such great films as Tora! Tora! Tora!, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Soylent Green. I think more of the blame should go to the script.

One of my biggest disappointments with the movie is the score. Surprisingly, because the composer, Basil Poledouris, created one of the all-time best motion picture scores for the first Conan film. Some of those same cues are reused here, and the new music is rather pedestrian.

Despite its flaws as a whole, there are so many things to like about the movie. During this last viewing, I made some notes on the bits that I love, and the classic fantasy tropes that are used through the film:
  • A thief counting his coins
  • Soldiers "sneaking" up on our hero
  • A leaping backstab
  • Conan punches-out a horse, Mongo-style
  • A sorceress-queen who hires our hero for a quest
  • A fortress-city on a mountain
  • Evil-looking warlocks reading golden tablets
  • "Dagoth, the Dreaming God"
  • The Scrolls of Skelos
  • A prophecy of a virgin sacrifice
  • The threat of death/treachery
  • Rows of giant statues
  • The Queen's Guard following behind
  • Cannibal tribesmen
  • Decapitations
  • Gladiator pit fights
  • A crystal castle on a misty mountain lake
  • A wizard transforms into a bird of smoke
  • An impenetrable door with the only entrance being underwater
  • An enormous spiral stone staircase (this and the underwater entrance are my favorite scenes in the movie)
  • A hall of mirrors
  • "Out!!"
  • A sword fight on horseback
  • An ancient tomb in the desert (this entire sequence is another great scene)
  • Akiro nonchalantly lighting a torch with magic
  • Zula afraid of...a rat
  • Some really brutal swordplay against hordes of bad guys
  • A magical wizard duel
  • A secret entrance to the city behind a waterfall (my second favorite scene)
  • An arcane magical ritual
  • Sneaking in to stop the ritual
  • A giant Cthulhu Mythos beast (designed by Carlo Rambaldi, who won Oscars for E.T, Alien, and King Kong)
  • Conan tearing the magic artifact horn out of the monster's head and throwing it away with a priceless superstitious look
  • The new queen handing out rewards to the group

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Whole Wide World (1996): the forgotten Conan/Howard film

The Whole Wide World is not a Conan movie, but it is the Robert E. Howard movie. The marketing may have suggested to many that this was just another "chick flick", but it is much more than that. This romantic drama is chiefly based on the book One Who Walked Alone, the memoir of Howard by Novalyne Price Ellis, who was friends with and briefly dated Howard in the mid-1930s. Screenwriter Michael Scott Myers and director Dan Ireland worked closely with Mrs. Ellis to tell her side of their story.

We see the relationship distinctly from Novalyne's point of view, however it's still a great look into the thoughts and writing style of Howard. It's not completely accurate, and it is a dramatization. Even so, it's a pleasure to see these real-life characters brought to the screen.

Beyond the fun of watching a pulp legend portrayed on film -- shouting out the dialogue while typing a story, or passionately describing the history rooted in West Texas -- we also have the emotional connection to these characters and we feel the joys and sorrows of their relationship. TWWW is a great true story about this doomed relationship, told in a very real, well done and convincing way.

Could Novalyne have saved Bob Howard? Perhaps if the social conventions of the time were different, or if their obligations to others hadn't kept them apart. It's a heartbreaking look into the inevitable demise of a relationship between two different people who shared one passion: writing.

Vincent D'Onofrio shines in this film. He rarely disappoints in his acting roles and in TWWW he is so convincing as Howard. I can only guess what he was like based on written accounts by those who knew him. Having watched this film several times, it's easy for me to imagine Bob Howard as D'Onofrio portrayed him.

Rene Zellweger is fine as Novalyne. Her upbringing in Texas probably contributed to her performance. Unfortunately for me, I always see her as "Rene Zellweger" instead of the character she is playing, but that's just me. Zellweger and D'Onofrio have an uneasy chemistry on screen that does fit with the characters.

Zellweger's performance in this was overshadowed by the other little film she was in that year, Jerry McGuire. When she won the Oscar in 2004 for her performance in Cold Mountain, she thanked D'Onofrio for "teaching [her] how to work."

If you haven't seen TWWW, you've been missing a real treat.

Howard describes Conan from 1:04 to 2:30. The look on Novalyne's face is priceless.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Conan Week: Introduction

With high hopes for the new Conan movie being released on Friday (*fingers crossed*), I wanted to have a series of postings here this week about the character of Conan and his creator, one of my favorite authors, Robert E. Howard.

I should probably note any of the inherent biases that I have here. When talking about Howard and Conan, there's a sort of continuum of fans, and you can plot out fans on that continuum based on what appeals to them. On one end, you have a Howard fan who is a "purist", for want of a better term. He or she might acknowledge only the works that were directly written by Howard, and does not follow the movies, comics, pastiches by other authors, and so on. At the other end, we might have a person who is really a fan of the Conan character specifically and follows everything related to the character. Of course, I can't speak for everyone, but this has been my experience.

I like to compare this to the fans of two other long-running iconic characters, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. There are Holmes fans who acknowledge only the Doyle canon, and other fans who also enjoy the pastiche work like other authors' books, the movies and the Jeremy Brett TV series. Likewise, we see fans of Ian Fleming's original Bond stories, then there are the fans of only the Bond movies, which are of course different from Fleming's books. One type of fan isn't better than another, and I'd like to think that all the fans can find at least some bit of common ground.
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." --"The Tower of the Elephant", 1933.

For myself, I tend toward the Howard "purist" end of the spectrum, but I still enjoy many of the pastiche works. As long as Howard's original stories are readily available in print (as is the case with the marvelous work by Howard scholars for Wandering Star and Del Rey), then there is plenty of room for expansion of these characters' adventures. In my opinion, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter's  work on the Lancer/Ace series (and those Frazetta covers!) was very important for making Conan -- and by extension, Robert E. Howard -- popular with a wider audience in the late 1960s and the 1970s, and should be recognized for that accomplishment. Even so, the integration of their own writing into the Conan "mythos" and their rather brutal editing of the originals are difficult to forgive. I hate to even bring up such contentious work like Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp's psychological biography of Howard that introduced some erroneous facts and outright baseless conjecture. Scholars are still trying to repair lasting damage to Howard's reputation 40 years after the Lancer series first appeared.

There are great stories in some of the comics and pastiche novels. The novels tend to be hit-or-miss, depending on the author. Some are great (John C. Hocking, Karl Edward Wagner), others not so much (Leonard Carpenter, Poul Anderson, Steve Perry). The movies, for the most part, are fun and have some cool parts in them -- more on that in a later post. If you exclude some of these works out of hand, you'll miss out on some really good entertainment.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Next week is Conan Week

In the lead-up to the release of the new Conan movie on the 19th, I'll be posting each day next week about the character and his creator, pulp writer Robert E. Howard. I continue to bat around ideas for a Conan RPG campaign, and I hope this series of posts will help with that process and inspire others to take a look at the source material: Howard's original stories.

In related news, Dark Horse Comics is offering a bundle of the electronic versions of Conan issues #0-19 (by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord) for $20! I'm not sure how long the sale lasts, but their Facebook page seems to suggest that it runs through this weekend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lulu coupon codes

 Good until this Friday night:
Enter coupon code SINK305 at checkout and receive 20% off your order. The maximum savings for this offer is $100. Enter coupon code DIVE305 at checkout and receive 25% off your order of $500 or more. The maximum savings for this offer is $500. Sorry, but these offers are only valid in US Dollars and cannot be applied to previous orders. You can only use these codes once per account, and unfortunately you can't use these coupons in combination with other coupon codes. These great offers expire on Friday August 12, 2011 at 11:59 PM, so don't miss out! While very unlikely, we do reserve the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Back from Gen Con

Actually got back Sunday night but I've had no time to process it or report on it. I'm also trying to catch up on everyone else's reporting from the show. I'll be back with some thoughts later this week.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Dice Dice Baby

I haven't posted as much as I had intended to this week (not at all...), so I'll jump on the polyhedral bandwagon that Tim started over at Gothridge Manor. Here are two themed sets of dice from my collection for the "Show Me Your Dice Marathon".

I picked all but two of these d20s out of the Chessex dice-scoop bin at Gen Con several years ago. I wanted a set of "ugly" d20s to use for my True20 Freeport campaign. I only used the location die one time in a combat. We made up better damage effects on our own.

 This is my 40K dice cup. The red d6 brick for my Ork Speed Freek Pirates, and the grey and green brick for my Necrons. I also inherited some unit and vehicle condition dice from a friend and fellow player when he upgraded to markers from Gale Force Nine. I use the casino die as a turn marker, and the d4 is for tracking character wounds.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Lulu coupon code

25% off your order, good through this Friday night. The fine print:
Enter coupon code TIME305 at checkout and receive 25% off your order. The maximum savings for this coupon is $400. 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 July 29, 2011 at 11:59 PM so try not to procrastinate! While very unlikely we do reserve the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so. Transaction must be in US dollars.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What I'm looking forward to at Gen Con

Following on from Monday's post, I thought I would mention some aspects of this year's Gen Con that I am thinking about the most. Unlike some previous years, there isn't a must-have item for me that is being released for the show. Shadow, Sword and Spell was the big one for me last year. Even so, I am looking forward to:

The OSR booth -- Although there was an small Old School presence among the items at the Tabletop Adventures booth last year, this is the first time we will see an entire booth of OSR publishing at Gen Con. I welcome the chance to browse through some of the items that I wouldn't normally see in the local shops, like OSRIC and some of the modules. I hope someone at the show will have copies of OpenQuest.

Indie/Story Games -- Whatever term you want to use, I would like to (eventually) pick some of the games that I've missed out on so far -- Fiasco, My Life with Master, Microscope, Spirit of the Century, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, just to name a few. I didn't see IPR on the exhibitor list this year, however.

Chaosium -- This venerable publisher is back at Gen Con after some years. I'd like to take a peek at the 30th Anniversary Edition of Call of Cthulhu, check out any generic BRP books and, with luck, they will have their scratch-and-dent Mythos fiction sale.

Demo games -- I generally do not sign up for games in advance, preferring to keep my schedule open for pick-up games. It also gives me time to check out demonstrations from publishers. One in particular that I'm eager to try is the new Star Trek deck-building card game from Bandai... even if it isn't the Original Series.

Getting books signed --  I enjoy having the chance to talk to some of my favorite game creators and have my books signed. I still need to check the lists of artists and other special guests.

Finding some out-of-print treasures -- You never know what you might find in a dusty, forgotten bin at one of the booths.

Sales on older overstock/warehouse deals -- I'll miss Titan's "Buy One, Get Three Free" sale, but Chimera Hobby Shop always has some great hidden treasures.

Late night gaming in the hotel bar -- Last year we found a booth to play Descent, it was Munchkin the year before... this year we're thinking Castle Ravenloft.

Whatever it is that you enjoy about Gen Con, make the most of it, and have fun!

Friday, July 22, 2011

More Godzilla discs in October

Back in April I mentioned that Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock was rumored to have the rights for Godzilla vs. Megalon on DVD. Since then, they have announced the official release of not only Megalon but also Destroy All Monsters on both DVD and Blu-ray on October 25th. Media Blasters posted on their Facebook page that the CD soundtracks for both films are also on the way.

A flyer given out at G-Fest in July has preliminary box art for both, although it appears that MB is still deciding what art to use and what supplements will be on the discs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Upcoming books of interest

Tom Stewart's highly anticipated but often delayed book, Robert E. Howard: The Battle for the Legacy of Conan, was due this month. It appears to be delayed yet again as Diamond Comics Distributors cancelled orders for the book. This is the first book-length work on Howard's literary rights after his death and the course that his work followed through various editors and rights-holders.

The novel adaptation of the Solomon Kane movie was released at the end of June by Titan Books. I still haven't seen the movie yet--I'm holding out hope for a US theatrical release. My interest in the novel is because the author is Ramsey Campbell, who finished some of the Kane fragments for publication in the Bantam paperbacks in the 1970s.

Still no official word on the contents of Conan the Barbarian: The Stories That Inspired the Movie, the paperback collection of original Howard stories. Comments from associate editor David Pomerico indicate that there will be five stories, printed in publication order. A marketing blurb from the Borders website was re-posted on the message board and suggests that "Shadows in the Moonlight" and "A Witch Shall Be Born" are two of the five stories. Update: a review of the UK edition was posted on 7/21 at the Conan Movie Blog, although the page count and story list seem to be different.

It appears that at least the first volume of the H.P. Lovecraft omnibus editions is getting a new cover in September. This one seems to be listed as a "Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition", as compared to the previous 1999 black-band Penguin Classics edition, although the page count is exactly the same.

Monday, July 18, 2011

ENnies vote suggestion: Old School Hack

I believe that the ENnies Awards are important for the hobby, perhaps more so now than the Origins Awards because the votes are made by the general gaming public.

With that in mind, I'd like to take a cue from Risus Monkey and The Free RPG Blog and ask that you consider Old School Hack in the Best Free Product category. Not only because it is a great free game (not a quickstart, the full complete rules), but it is the only product from the OSR community eligible for an award this year. Vornheim is an Honorable Mention for Best Aid/Accessory and Stars Without Number is an Honorable Mention for Best New Game.

If you have never voted for the ENnies before, it isn't necessary to vote in every category if you don't know those products. Take a look, however, because one of your favorites from this past year just might be listed. I'm rather partial to Bookhounds of London and The Unspeakable Oath, myself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A random thought

Is there some reason that DVD prices on Amazon seem to fluctuate like the price of gasoline? I could understand price changes if they were on newer releases, but these are prices on older catalog titles. Amazon can display different prices to different customers based on cookies, past buying habits, etc. Is that part of it?

Monday, July 11, 2011

RPG blogger badges at Gen Con

There has been some discussion in posts and comments on several RPG blogs about meeting up in some way at Gen Con. I wondered about a way for bloggers to identify themselves in the crowds at the con. Some years back at an early G-Fest, one member of a Godzilla e-mail list generously offered to print up color badges for any list members who wanted one.

I thought about something like this, maybe using the RPG Blog Alliance logo. Sniderman from The Savage AfterWorld made the comment that he was incorporating his blog header image into the badge holder, which then gave me the idea for this:

I used plain paper as a test. For the real thing I might use thin cardstock and attach it with double-sided tape.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Freeport Adventure Seeds: Kraken Atoll

Kraken Atoll is a ring of sharp, broken volcanic rock in the Southern Ocean approximately 12 days sail due south of Freeport and the Serpent's Teeth. There are several breaks in the atoll allowing ships passage into the calm shallow waters of the lagoon within. The lagoon itself is about 350 yards across.

The Atoll occupies an important location as one of the few islands in that area of the ocean. Due to the lack of solid flat land on the rocky atoll, early visitors began to lash ship hulls to the rocks. Over time a line of hulls were strung across the lagoon two hulls deep, strapped together by lines and held in place by anchors. Most are without masts and far from seaworthy, given over to ramshackle extra decks built over the 'castles and main decks, tarpaulin roofs, built-on stairs or ladders, or portals cut from one gun deck to another with rope bridges in-between. The hulls are in various states of disrepair, although not from barnacles, which are crowded out by the abundant mussel and starfish populations.

This floating city has built up into an important trade settlement and temporary haven for people constantly on the move. It flies no flag. Although Hexworth has recently patrolled the nearby waters in its search for pirates, Kraken Atoll maintains a neutral status and is a frequent stopping point for travelers, merchant traders, fishermen, privateers and smugglers. No questions are asked and answers seldom given--except for the right amount of coin or trade goods. Gossip is a frequently-traded commodity.

Notable personalities:
  • Rebick -- forger; can be found aboard the Wandering Storm
  • Verbeek -- goblin fisherman; in reality the local agent for the goblin information network
I will get back to more of my True20 Freeport post-campaign report, but I also wanted to post a few of the locations, personalities, items or scenario seeds that I used during the campaign.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

You've got D&D in my Warhammer Fantasy

"Stereotypical Brit Gamer" Chris posted his Basic/Expert D&D/Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rules mash-up yesterday. Thanks to Jeff Rients for pointing this out. Aside from being a super-cool idea on its own, Jeff also points out the tone of how the text is written and the way Chris notes where his rules bits are originally from and why he used them. I've downloaded the rules but have yet to check them out for myself.

I've been a long-time 40K and Warhammer Fantasy fan. Other than 1e and Red Box D&D, the original Rogue Trader rulebook and White Dwarf magazine were my early entries into the hobby--the last few issues of the Dwarf when they had scenarios for WFRP and still covered D&D and Call of Cthulhu. The British gaming scene of the mid- to late-Eighties really stands out strongly in my consciousness as a gamer.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Star Trek, Avengers, X-Men episodes now streaming on Netflix

Just in time for the long holiday weekend (in the US): Engadget is reporting that the Star Trek episodes promised earlier this year are available starting today. The second and third seasons of the Original Series, all of The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise are up now, with Deep Space 9 appearing in October.
Also of interest is the mid-90s X-Men cartoon, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and... Power Rangers.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Almuric and the "Posthumous Collaborator"

In my last post, I mentioned Almuric, Robert E. Howard's only foray into the sword-and-planet genre. I have a feeling that we may see a resurgence in sword-and-planet stories with the impending release of the John Carter of Mars movie from Pixar next year.

I wanted to point out Al Harron's great introduction and overview of Almuric's publishing history and Keith Taylor's overview of Almuric and the sword-and-planet genre. The story of how it was published is almost as interesting as the story itself. Most of its published instances make no mention that the original first draft manuscript is lost and what we have of the story, as published in Weird Tales over three months in 1937, is likely to have been completed by another author. The last chapter doesn't read as if it were written by Howard. Many of the words and phrases used do not appear in any of his other stories. Harron writes about the work done by another Howard scholar, Morgan Holmes, who discovered evidence that points to Otto Binder--another author managed by Howard's agent Otis Kline--as the person who completed the story.

These details shouldn't diminish anyone's enjoyment of the book by any means. It's a fun ripping yarn and a great read. Anyone who loves "planetary romances" and other fantastic planet stories would like Almuric.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The lost book of Almuric

Earlier this year, I saw a post on Paizo's blog listing items that were in short supply and soon to be sold out. One of the items on this list was the Planet Stories edition of Almuric, Robert E. Howard's sword-and-planet novella in the style of Burroughs. I thought to myself, "Self, you better get a copy before it goes out-of-print," so I ordered one from our local Barnes and Noble. It was a little shelf-worn but I was glad to have it.

This weekend, I was looking through a box of books that we had packed up last year when we painted the living room of the Kaiju Lair. I didn't find the book I was looking for, although there was something else--a minty-fresh brand new copy of the Planet Stories Almuric.

I think the lesson here is that I need to unpack and display my books. The only other time I remember this happening was when I accidentally purchased another copy of GURPS Egypt from the "3 for $10" shelf at the Adventure Gaming Retail booth at Gen Con a few years ago. You can never have too many GURPS sourcebooks, right?

Did you ever accidentally buy a book (gaming or otherwise) because you forgot that you already owned it?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cult Classic of the Week: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Hammer Film Productions was formed in 1934, but by the end of the Thirties it was primarily a distributor of films produced elsewhere. After World War II in-house film production resumed, mostly consisting of crime and mystery films. In the mid-1950s Hammer would rise to prominence with two film adaptations of the television series Quatermass and the first of their horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein. These proved so popular that Hammer continued with a series of films using the same characters--Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein--including The Revenge of Frankenstein in 1958 and The Evil of Frankenstein in 1964.

Baron Frankenstein continues his grisly experiments until the local clergyman discovers his "blasphemy". Fleeing with his assistant Hans, the Baron decides to return to his home in Karlstaad, thinking that the residents will have forgotten him after a ten-year absence. They make their way back to his abandoned and looted chateau using the local carnival festival as cover. With the assistance of a deaf and mute beggar girl, they find Frankenstein's original creature frozen in a mountaintop glacier. The Baron enlists a carnival hypnotist to get though to his creation's damaged mind. The hypnotist, however, has other plans for the monster...

Along with the later film Horror of Frankenstein (1970), Evil... is usually set apart from the other movies in the Hammer Frankenstein series. Horror... is a remake of Curse of... with a dark comedic bent. Evil... started out as an unproduced script from the TV series Tales of Frankenstein. The plot device of a hypnotist who can get through to the creature's damaged brain carried over from that script.

Because of the distribution deal with Universal Pictures, the production had more money to work with in its budget. This arrangement also allowed Hammer to use Universal's intellectual property, whereas in the previous films they were prevented from doing so for copyright reasons. The creature makeup in Evil... was the most similar in the series to Jack Pierce's famous makeup design for Boris Karloff. The machinery in Baron Frankenstein's lab is modeled after Kenneth Strickfaden's electrical set pieces. The monster is found frozen in ice, as seen in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The backlot set of the village is like the German village set from the Universal backlot. In look and feeling, the film itself was much more like one of the Universal Frankenstein films.

This similarity to the Universal monster films became a sticking point among fans at the time of its release. Hammer had charted their own new course with the previous films, and this return to a more standard style of storytelling appeared to be a step backward. Another point of contention was its place in the timeline. Evil... has a flashback sequence to a different set of events that were not in the first two movies. The creature wasn't shot and chased into the mountains in the first film; there's no mention of the Baron's escape from the guillotine or his "escape" from the authorities at the end of the second film. Frankenstein's personality is also different in Evil... In the first two films, he is cold, calculating, and clever enough to evade his pursuers, including the police and the medical association. In this film, the Baron is less in control of situations.  He flaunts his superiority over the villagers and can't control his temper in a local inn, leading to his arrest. He also trusts a sideshow hypnotist with his greatest creation. For reasons such as these, many fans see this as a stand-alone film apart from the normal series.

The Evil of Frankenstein is essential viewing for anyone watching the entire Hammer Frankenstein series. On its own, it's a good Frankenstein movie, harkening back to the classic Universal films. Peter Cushing is great as usual but limited by the material he's given. He still manages some standout scenes. As far as interesting movies that do something different, Curse of... and Revenge... are the better films. I watched this on DVD as part of Universal's terrific 8-movie, 2-disc set The Hammer Horror Series.