Friday, July 18, 2008

Comic Book Flashback # 11: Logan's Run #4: "Dread Sanctuary!"

In early 1977, Marvel Comics offered "the official adaptation" of Logan's Run, the hit science fiction movie starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter.

As you no doubt recall, Logan's Run concerned a futuristic City of Domes which was a virtual paradise...except citizens were not permitted to live past their thirtieth birthdays. This comic-book adaptation split the movie's sprawling narrative into five issues authored by David Kraft and drawn by artist George Perez (based on the screenplay by David Zelag Goodman).

My favorite issue of the bunch is April 1977's action-packed number #4, "Dread Sanctuary" which finds an on-the-run Logan 5 and his sexy companion Jessica leaving the City of Domes proper and stumbling upon the "eternal ice world" of the mad robot called Box. As it turns out, Box is a bit of a sculptor in his spare time despite his mechanical nature, and he wishes to forge (out of ice..._ an artistic representation of Logan and Jessica that he believes will prove his enduring "masterpiece."

While Box sculpts away, Jessica and Logan - still in search of Sanctuary - stumble upon a colossal ice cavern where all previous runners from the city have been frozen and trapped: entombed in the ice where they are now stored as food for the city's young denizens. "It's my job to store fish, and plankton, greens and protein from the sea," explains the chrome Box, "So I store them here. It's my job."

Logan and Jessica, now wearing "primitive" animal furs, quickly realize they must battle Box or face the same fate as the other unlucky runners. Fortunately, Logan is still armed with his Sandman handgun, and the war is joined. Box is destroyed (or mostly destroyed, anyway...) and Logan and Jessica flee the cave...only to see the sun for the very first time; and to feel the welcome warmth of it as well.

Logan and Jessica begin wandering the outdoor wasteland. "They have no specific destination...only a renewed zest for life, a developing affection for each other and a shared determination to eventually find the elusive Sancturary. They are open to new experiences, to new feelings..."

With Jenny Agutter at my side, I'd likely be open to new experiences and new feelings too. But I kid Logan's Run.

Before long, the runners stumble upon the ruins of Washington D.C. (particularly the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument), and make contact with a strange old man (in the movie, Peter Ustinov). But before these former-inhabitants of the Dome City can learn what it means to "grow old," Logan's Sandman pursuer, Francis, shows up to "terminate" them. The final chapter: End Run!

I guess I enjoy this chapter of the Logan's Run comic the most, because it encompasses some of my favorite scenes from the movie. Jenny Agutter in a barely-concealing fur wrap; Jenny Agutter wet in the water of the Potomoc; Jenny Agutter...

Umm, where was I?

Oh yeah, so this part of the story is my favorite because it reveals (some) of the mystery of what lurks beyond the City of Domes. As a kid, I was terrified of the deep-voiced Box (Rosco Lee Browne), a character depicted here -- in author William Nolan's words to me a few years ago -- as something like "a walking vanity table." I was also thrilled with the special effects depiction (mostly impressive matte paintings) of abandoned Washington D.C., with all of our national monuments overgrown with vines. These scenes of our society -- left behind and forgotten -- stuck with my young mind.

Thinking about these moments again just makes me want to watch (and review) the film here on the blog. It's been a while since I saw the movie, but it's one of my all-time favorites. I was thrilled, a few months ago, to work a Logan's Run reference into the final episode of The House Between's season three. Now if I could only get Jenny Agutter to cameo...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

NeuRODic Notions Reviews The House Between.

Money Quote:

"It’s an amateur production that has been so successful that I believe it’s been nominated for a genre award or two in the past, and is now in its third season.

I only recently discovered the show and have noticed the rapid improvement of acting and production quality as the series progresses. It’s a low-budget labour of love, but a well written thriller.."

Read the rest of the post here.

Sy Fy Radio Interview

Hey everyone, you can check out my guest appearance last night on Sy Fy Radio at the show's archives here. I had a wonderful time with Michael and Marx, and the show was a lot of fun. The chat room was great too...I made some new friends, I hope.

Check it out if you get a chance. There are some spoilers for Season Three...particularly the first episode, "Devoured."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


John on Sy Fy Radio Tonight!

Don't forget: I'm on Sy Fy Radio tonight at 10:00 pm EST with host Michael Hinman to discuss The House Between.

We'll be talking about the Sy Fy Genre Award nomination for Best Web Production, the upcoming third season (SPOILERS!) and much, much more.

You can call in to the show, so don't be shy if you have any questions about the house at the end of the universe, the stories set there, or the denizens.

See you there!

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Released nearly fifty years ago, Henry Levin's Journey to the Center of the Earth (based on the Jules Verne novel) is a classic. It's a sprawling, colorful, dynamic, "big" entertainment; the likes of which are no longer made in Hollywood. This movie is truly the whole enchilada: loaded to the brim with action, humor, romance, thrills, special effects and even...Pat Boone's singing (!).

Impressively, none of the various shifts in mode seem out-of-place or jarring in this decades-old adventure tale. I don't want to sound old and stupid or anything if I can possibly avoid it, but this is actually a movie the whole family CAN enjoy, but in a good way; not a vanilla or insipid way. I suspect this is because the film came out well-before "genre fans" were designated as such. The film's purpose is to entertain a wide (but educated...) audience, but it has no need to pander to any certain sect (except, perhaps, the Verne purists). Expectations for a film like this were far different a half-century ago. (Could you imagine Shia La Beouf stopping for a musical interlude in Indy 4? Hugh Jackman pausing for a little tap dance in X3: The Last Stand?)

You are likely familiar with the narrative here, as it has been adapted to film and television many times and in many ways. You might remember the Emo Philips version from the late 1980s (though I hope not...); or the new 3-D model playing in theaters now, or perhaps even the Filmation animated series from the late 1960s. Although I haven't seen the Brendan Fraser version yet, it's highly likely that this 1959 incarnation remains the rolls-royce of Journey adaptations; though I'd be happy to be proven wrong. (Anyone? Anyone?)

Regardless, the story follows Professor Oliver Lindbrook (James Mason) as he leads a pioneering expedition from a craggy volcano-top in Iceland to the very center of the Earth itself. His team includes his horny young assistant Alec (Boone, before he started appearing in anti-abortion films...), a muscular Swede named Hans (Peter Ronson), the lovely widow Goteburg (a smoking hot Arlene Dahl), and...a brave little duck named Gertrude.

The trip to the center of the Earth is a dangerous one for the Lindenbrook Expedition. For one thing, the team is shadowed by the evil Count Saknussem (Thayer David). For another, the group must deal with (in order): high ledges, rock falls, flash floods, giant mushrooms (!), a clutch of hungry Dimetrodons, an underground ocean (replete with magnetic whirlpools), another giant lizard that inhabits the ruins of Atlantis, and - finally - a roller-coaster ride up a volcanic chimney (with hot lava nipping at their backsides).

I hasten to add, all of these events are depicted brilliantly and imaginatively; with both superb actual locations (Carlsbad Caverns) as well as highly creative -- and massive - sets filling in for the fantastical subterranean domain. I was particularly impressed with many of the special effects/optical composites, which have stood the test of time remarkably well. Just look, for instance at the amazing "rock bridge" Alec traverses; or some of the long-shot integrations of the cast with giant lizards. It's all remarkably good stuff.

I also discovered with some interest that there are at least two moments here that appear lifted from Journey to the Center of the Earth and inserted into Raiders of the Lost Ark (admittedly a pastiche of films such as Journey). The first such moment involves a ray of sunlight pinpointing the opening in a rock wall to show the travelers the way to start the journey (operating on the same principle as the Staff of Ra). The second moment involves a large circular boulder being shaken loose in a cavern and rolling relentlessly towards the protagonists as they run for their lives. Interesting, no? Everything old is new again; then old again, I guess.

Thematically, I appreciate how the film dramatizes the notion that "the spirit of man cannot be stopped." Journey captures beautifully and poetically the glory and wonder of exploring a terrain never before broached. "Why does man freeze to death trying to reach the north pole?" one character asks rhetorically in the film, and it was at that moment I realized how much I truly love this film (a love I have carried since very early childhood). This story calls to the same human impulse to explore as the original Star Trek: to go where none have gone before. I dug that as a kid, and I dig it now. I wish there were more of it in the cinema and television of today.

Viewing this old favorite in mid-2008, I realize a film with these qualities simply not be made in this fashion today. The sexual politics are antique (though amusing); the first hour of the film plays much of the drama for laughs (particularly a scene in which Gertrude is thought to be "speaking" in Morse Code") and all the danger/terror is strictly "tolerable." In other words, the family nature of the film precludes the creatures from The Descent (2006) attacking. All these qualities are fine with me, but they don't seem timely or commercial in today's environment. That's why I'm curious to see the new version that was released last weekend. I suspect it will be "darker," more focused, shorter (this film runs two-hours and twelve-minutes), bloodier and all-together more grown-up than this classic version.

That's okay. I'll introduce Joel to the tale with this version. The one I grew up with...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Dementia 13 (1963)

If nothing else, Dementia 13 is -- at least -- a powerful reminder that everybody has to start somewhere.

All snark aside, this super low-budget horror film (approx. $22,000) is Francis Ford Coppola's directorial debut; one made under the auspices and purse-strings of Roger Corman and filmed utilizing the cast (Luana Anders, Patrick Magee and William Campbell) and locations (primarily an Irish castle and grounds) of Corman's The Young Racers.

Coppola's assignment was to create cheap horror in the psychological, violent mode of Hitchcock's runaway hit, Psycho (1960), and in that task, he succeeded rather admirably. For this is a black-and-white thriller filled with surprising axe murders, and which features the notorious "Janet Leigh Trick" (killing off a star in the film's first act). And, of course, underlying all the events is a "demented" killer boasting a surprise identity (one revealed just in time for the climax).

Dementia 13 depicts the unusual tale of the Haloran family, a moody Irish clan who - even after seven long years - reunite annually to celebrate the anniversary of a family drowning. You see, the three brothers (Richard, John and Billy) and the sick Mama all miss darling little Kathleen, the only sister among the boys...but she died under mysterious circumstances in the pond and now every year, the matriarch works herself to the point of "hysteria" at Kathleen's graveside.

This year is different, however. This year, brother John -- who suffers from a bad heart -- has brought along to the family gathering his wife: the delightfully scheming Louise (Luana Anders), a gorgeous if icy blond. She doesn't understand all the hand-wringing over Kathleen, and she certainly doesn't understand why Ms. Haloran wants to give away all the money in her estate to a charity in Kathleen's name. Louise and John could certainly use that money, for one thing, at least according to avaricious Louise.

In the film's compelling first scene (filmed almost entirely from a variety of doom-laden high angles), Louise and John go out by impenetrable night on a row boat ride, and Louise lays into John about his strange family, and how he should go about acquiring the money from their estate. To drown out his hectoring wife, John turns up a portable radio, and some weird 1960s rock/jazz music plays beneath the scene, jangling audience nerves. The combination of the heated argument and the bizarre music generate a weird tension here, and even though the film has only just begun, you'll feel yourself on edge.

When John dies suddenly of a heart attack on the boat ride, Louise promptly gets rid of the corpse (and the radio...) in the water, and returns to the Haloran estate determined to keep his death a secret and acquire her rightful share of the Haloran inheritance. To achieve this end, she will have to drive old Mama Haloran bonkers, she presumes. We thus follow Louise on a hair-raising (and dark) night-time trip into Kathleen's bedroom, which has remained untouched since the girl died seven years ago. There, amidst the detritus of a child's life, Louise tiptoes quietly and begins to gather Kathleen's dolls and toys, which she plans to cast about the grounds in order to terrify Mrs. Haloran. In a splendid bit of foreshadowing, Coppola cuts in this scene to an extreme close-up of a creepy Monkey Grinder armed with an axe. Louise is also unaware that she is being watched...

Louise's devious plan goes badly awry, however, when Louise dips into the local pond (where Kathleen died) to deposit some of the old toys. Deep beneath the surface of the water, she sees Kathleen's body apparently resting beneath a make-shift shrine with a gravestone that reads "FORGIVE ME." When a scared Louise comes back to the surface, she unexpectedly encounters an axe murderer on the grounds; one with his own twisted memories of Kathleen...

Before the film is done, this shadowy axe murderer has decapitated a local poacher (a gloriously gory head-rolling moment) and rather viscerally threatened Mrs. Haloran in an old work shed.. The family doctor, Caleb (Magee) -- here the Martin Balsam/Arbogast figure -- suspects that moody Richard (Campbell) is the culprit; that he may be insane. Caleb tries to warns Richard's hopelessly naive American fiancee, Kane (Mary Mitchel) -- a girl "raised on promises" -- that they should not be married on the family grounds. After all, Kathleen died during a wedding ceremony...and no wedding has been held in the castle since.

Kane tries to have faith in her gloomy husband-to-be, but learns of some disturbing news from Richard's brother, Billy (Bart Patton), a man-child type (think Anthony Perkins, please). After Kathleen died, Billy dreamed of being visited in his bedroom by an insane who wanted to throw him into the pond and kill him. Billy has only now just realized that the insane person is...Richard. The scene in which Billy reveals his dream to Kane ("I'm always a little boy in my room...") generates a fine sense of the creeps and is perhaps the most unsettling moment in the film. Billy describes how the "dark figure" told him he was insane, and asked anyone else in the room who was insane to "nod his head" too. *Shiver.*

All the family secrets are revealed in the third act, and if the killer's identity doesn't come as a total surprise well, you certainly can't blame Coppola for putting up a good effort with precious few resources and scant little time (the screenplay was reportedly written in a matter of days). Although the slavish borrowing from Psycho grows difficult to ignore even over the sparse running time (75 minutes), Coppola nonetheless manages some inventive touches that hint of his authentic talent; not the least of which is how his moody camera/location work suggests earthly murders and unearthly hauntings simultaneously. I also appreciate how Coppola happily spreads the dysfunction around the Haloran family. "A nightmare has disturbed this family for six years," notes Dr. Caleb, and he's absolutely right: Mom is hysterical and likely in denial; Richard is belligerent and emotionally closed-off, and Billy is so haunted he's just never grown up. One event -- the death of a child -- has impacted all of them horribly, and any of them (or all of them...) could legitimately be around the bend.

Set in and about a gloomy Irish castle ("The kind of place you expect a ghost to wander around in," says one character), and with more than a touch of the film noir (especially in Louise's hard boiled voice overs early in the film), Dementia 13 fully displays seeds of Coppola's greatness, even if they had yet to flower fully.


Monday, July 14, 2008

New From McFarland

The Great Monster Magazines

This is a critical overview of monster magazines from the 1950s through the 1970s. “Monster magazine” is a blanket term to describe both magazines that focus primarily on popular horror movies and magazines that contain stories featuring monsters, both of which are illustrated in comic book style and printed in black and white.

The book describes the rise and fall of these magazines, examining the contributions of Marvel Comics and several other well-known companies, as well as evaluating the effect of the Comics Code Authority on both present and future efforts in the field. It identifies several sub-genres, including monster movies, zombies, vampires, sword-and-sorcery, and pulp-style fiction. The work includes several indexes and technical credits.

The Truth of Buffy

Seemingly the most fantastical of television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer proves on close examination to be firmly rooted in real-world concerns. In this collection of critical essays, 15 authors from several disciplines, including literature, the visual arts, theatre, philosophy, and political science, study ways in which Buffy illuminates viewers’ real-life experiences.

Topics include the series’ complicated portrayals of the relationship between soul, morality, and identity; whether Buffy can truly be described as a feminist icon; stereotypes of Native Americans in the episode “Pangs”; the role of signs in the interaction between Buffy’s aesthetics and audience; and the problem of power and underhanded politics in the Buffy universe.

Native Americans in Comic Books

This work takes an in-depth look at the world of comic books through the eyes of a Native American reader and offers frank commentary on the medium’s cultural representation of the Native American people. It addresses a range of portrayals, from the bloodthirsty barbarians and noble savages of dime novels, to formulaic secondary characters and sidekicks, and, occasionally, protagonists sans paternal white hero, examining how and why Native Americans have been consistently marginalized and misrepresented in comics. Chapters cover early representations of Native Americans in popular culture and newspaper comic strips, the Fenimore Cooper legacy, the “white” Indian, the shaman, revisionist portrayals, and Native American comics from small publishers, among other topics.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

CINE AUTOPSIS Likes Horror Films of the 1980s

Blogger J. Thomas over at CINE AUTOPSIS has just posted a positive review of Horror Films of the 1980s. Here's the skinny (but check out the whole piece):

"THE horror tome! Every DVD collector and/or horror aficionado cannot do without this book. Period. From 1980-1989, almost every film is covered alphabetically within year of release."

"...Even if you don't agree with the final judgement Muir lays on a particular film, you can not deny he writes well on the subject. This author is a fan who operates bi-laterally as a critic and historian. Anyone who cries fowl of a "missing" film is "missing" the point of this reference guide. It is almost impossible to list or actually see every horror film! I can't imagine what Muir went through for this book...To sum up, if you think you could do better, please bestow unto us that gift.

John Kenneth Muir's Horror Films of the 1980's is a must buy..."