Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Deeper Into Wallace

I have only gotten worse with estimations of time as time has rolled on, but I must have started reading and collecting Edgar Wallace novels about 15 years ago. After reading a few of them, I thought I had sized him up as a practitioner of his genre; I liked his criminal universe, but his style didn't do that much for me. When it came to terror and mystery fiction of his era, I much preferred Gaston Leroux, Sax Rohmer and Maurice Leblanc, not to mention the Fantômas novels of Souvestre-Allain. 

However, in recent weeks, I've found myself returning to Wallace and adding prodigiously to my collection. Lofts and Adley's indispensable THE BRITISH BIBLOGRAPHY OF EDGAR WALLACE has helped me to order my collection, which presents amounts to 99 (!) different hardcovers. (When the mail comes today, it's possible I'll be adding my 100th.) On the day I finally put my collection into some kind of chronology and could see how much remained to be found, how did I celebrate? By reading one of the Wallace books I didn't have - on my Kindle.  

As someone who approached Wallace from the standpoint of someone who loves the German thrillers based on his books, I have always tended to see more than one Wallace. There is the author of the mysteries (THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG, THE SQUEAKER, THE TERROR, THE AVENGER), and then there is the one who writes about the Great War (WRIT IN BARRACKS), about British colonialism (SANDERS OF THE RIVER), about aviation (TAM O' THE SCOOTS) and race horses (GREY TIMOTHY). Does a collector of Wallace need to collect the non-mysteries, if those other subjects don't interest him? 

Of course I had to complicate things by finding out.

As I added to my collection such titles as THE MIND OF MR. REEDER, THE GOLDEN HADES and THE DEVIL MAN, I suddenly found myself feeling curious, for the first time, about his SANDERS books. After all, they were probably his most popular books at the time of their publication; they provoked quite a sensation. These are short story collections centered around Commissioner Sanders, a representative of the British government who is sent to police a territory in Africa - to subjugate native superstitions, to inspire fear and and respect for the law, and loyalty for the cause of civilization, while at the same time being careful to preserve what is unique and special about the country, its language and its heritage. These books - nine of them, published between 1911 and 1923 - tend to be little-read these days because people assume them to be racist. There was a famous filming of one back in the thirties, starring Leslie Banks and Paul Robeson, which Robeson is said to have later regretted making. I haven't seen the film, but as of the wee hours of this morning, I have read SANDERS OF THE RIVER.

I started out expecting not to read much more than the first story, because adventure fiction is not really my thing, and I thought I could imagine - from the mysteries I'd read - what strange cocktail might result with Wallace donning a pith helmet. But the surprise was on me: I think SANDERS may be my favorite Wallace book of the dozen or so I've read; it is better written than those of his mysteries I know. Each story has a fable-like simplicity that is steered, in almost every case, toward complex ironic stalemates. I found myself reading two, three, four stories in a sitting - unusual for me, who usually reads one and sets the book aside. This first collection was published in 1911 and there are instances of racist language, which I was initially disappointed to find... however, I became quite intrigued by what I noticed was the extreme specificity of its use. 

There is one racist remark that is hard to ignore because it is expressed by the author himself, when he observes that "the average black woman is ugly of face, but beautiful of figure" - but Wallace relays this opinion before introducing an African woman of rare and surpassing, indeed bewitching, beauty. The N word is never used in hate or anger in these stories, but rather in contempt of falsity or pretense - it's almost always expressed by an African looking down his nose at a rival from another tribe. It's also used once or twice by Sanders himself, as a reprimand - when one of the Kings or warriors in his territory try to charm or BS him by speaking broken English, because it is his job (besides keeping the peace and discouraging murder) to preserve the African way of life, which extends to encouraging these charges to communicate with him in the full eloquence of their native language. His authority extends to whippings and hangings, but these demonstrations of his lawful authority pale beside the evils he is actively curbing - massacres staged to abduct women for wives, the practicing of juju, cannibalism. What most impressed me about these stories is that there is no sense of caricature in them; all the characters seem profoundly human and distinct - sometimes eccentric, sometimes mysterious and even mystic, sometimes formidable, sometimes inexplicably evil or charming or both. Wallace writes about them, about their vanity, their innocence, their coyness and bravado, about their psychologies and their strange capacity to learn new things telepathically, with remarkable and persuasive acuity. 

Sanders himself is a forerunner of the sort of hero we see a lot today - he's a man with a front row seat to the slow death of the world's last vestiges of innocence as it becomes infected by inevitable exposure to the supposed civilization he at once represents and deeply disdains.

And to my surprise, SANDERS OF THE RIVER actually does encompass some fantastic content. One story is about witchcraft, one is about a voodoo curse, and another is about the way members of a certain tribe seem to "know" things that happen within their tribe, even when they happen many miles away. But all of these subjects are treated in a disarming, down to earth, practical manner, without the usual hyperbole that usually asserts and underscores their strangeness. Here, they are all another bizarre chapter in Sanders' experience. 

In related news, I think I have now finally acquired all six books that Wallace's son, Bryan Edgar Wallace, published - at least in English.  I think it's probably time I read one of those.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Some Books, Some Recently Viewed Movies, and Some Self-Promotion

There has been a lot going on here at Casa Lucas - new work coming out of my computer, new work being published, new movies on Blu-ray inundating my senses, and new books getting their hooks into me. I can't devote blogs to everything, but it occurred to me that I could just write a letter to my blog followers and touch on everything a little, and bring these cool items to your attention. Better than getting all bogged down in other new arrivals and never getting around to anything - right? Look for the highlighted passages; that's where you will find links to the various products mentioned.

First of all: SELF-PROMOTION. (Why else blog?)

My book on the film SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (Histoires Extraordinaires) is due back from the printer any day now, but pre-orders are being gratefully received here

Also, stressing this week is the horror fiction anthology NEW FEARS 2, edited by Mark Morris and published by Titan Books. It contains my short story "The Migrants" (no connection to recent news stories), which is only the second short story I've ever published; it's available from Amazon and should be in bookstores everywhere, so please do your bit by buying a copy and rewarding those who are encouraging my fiction career. I'd like to be asked to write more of it.

Streeting on October 2 is the long-awaited Volume 4 of the Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series, containing three of his best films: SIN IN THE SUBURBS (1964), CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE (1974), and the until-recently-lost WARM NIGHTS AND HOT PLEASURES (1964). I recorded audio commentaries for the first two titles, and they should give you a nice taste of what to expect from the Sarno book I'm working on.

Speaking of audio commentaries, I've recorded three in the part month, but the two I can tell you about are Sergio Leone's FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) for Kino Lorber and Mario Bava's Vampire gegen Herakles (1961) - which you may know better as HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD - for the German company Koch Media. I have not yet seen Kino's master for the Leone masterpiece, but Koch Media's master for the Technicolor HERCULES film redefines "eye-popping." I've seen the film in 35mm and it was an unforgettable experience; the master retains the hot colors and ramps up the razor focus - this should be your newest demonstration disc. At this time, I am not aware of any forthcoming US or UK release of this title, and I can assure you that it will be English friendly. It will be streeting on October 25 and can be pre-ordered here.


RENEGADE WESTERNS: MOVIES THAT SHOT DOWN FRONTIER MYTHS (FAB Press) by Kevin Grant & Clark Hodgkiss: Kevin Grant's 2011 book ANY GUN CAN PLAY: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO EURO WESTERNS more than lived up to its title, being the first truly substantial study of the genre since Christopher Frayling's groundbreaking 1981 book SPAGHETTI WESTERNS: COWBOYS AND EUROPEANS FROM KARL MAY TO SERGIO LEONE - and the first written with instant access to the films it was covering, allowing for more accurate recall. This new book, co-written by Hodgkiss (editor/publisher/essayist of the fanzine BLOOD, MONEY AND VENGEANCE), fills a gaping hole in the landscape of film criticism by organizing a history of what might be called the American "anti-Western." Beginning with William Wellman's THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943) and carrying through to more recent works like THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2016) and HOSTILES (2017), the authors focus on those films that questioned the racism and supposedly justified violence of the traditional Western, to tell stories about the troubled (and sometimes untroubled) consciousness of the characters who lived in those times. The book covers more than 100 films - including the works of Anthony Mann, Richard Brooks, Sam Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Monte Hellman and Sam Peckinpah - and devotes brilliantly conceived and written, yet concise essays of 2-3 pages to each film. It can, but certainly doesn't have to, be read sequentially; it's more fun to browse through and check what the authors have to say about one's own favorites, and then use the book to organize screenings of the intriguing titles you don't know so well, or perhaps haven't seen. Film societies could use this book as a guide to theme bookings. If you're a serious fan of Westerns, this is a rich banquet of a book that I whole-heartedly recommend - and if you're not, this is the book that could turn you. Hardcover and hefty trade paperback with wall to wall color. Also available directly from the publisher here.

ISHIRO HONDA: A LIFE IN FILM, FROM GODZILLA TO KUROSAWA (Wesleyan University Press) by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, Foreword by Martin Scorsese: While it would not be incorrect to describe this long-needed biography as a precious complement to August Ragone's book on Eiju Tsubaraya of a few years ago, it would not fully prepare one for this book's value. Working with the assistance of their subject's family and with relevant quotes from numerous colleagues and co-workers, the authors take us behind the dense curtain of a foreign language to become truly acquainted with the man who created and popularized the kaiju eiga. But it goes beyond this by covering Honda's career in toto, telling us in detail about each of his 22 non-fantastic works, and thereby putting his giant monster epics in perspective in terms of chronology and their perpetuation of consistent themes and interests. This perspective is further lent to those better-known works by refusing to assume the usual fanboy stance. The authors are consistently intelligent, discerning and credible in their coverage and criticism. They are able to tell us when Honda was working tongue-in-cheek, or in all seriousness, when he was making a political or social statement with his work, and even when it was guilty of needless exaggeration - all fine points that are easily lost when we approach his work in English, or with lingering prejudices dating from the "Made in Japan" era when these films were made. All in all, anyone who approaches Honda's films without this book under their arm is flying blind. Hardcover and Kindle, available here.  

THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (Edinburgh University Press) by Gary D. Rhodes: This is another book that instantly presents itself as sorely-needed, written by the talented and obsessive author of numerous books (always excellent) about actor Bela Lugosi and his key films. The objective of this book, obviously, is to explore the origin of the fantastic fright film in America - leaving out Georges Méliès and Segundo de Chomón and the notion of the "trick" film - but it also painstakingly lays out the genre's premonitory tremors as they were manifest in the fin de siècle literature, theater, magic lantern performances, and illustrated slides of the 1800's. Most of the films covered in this book are no longer known to exist, but Rhodes digs deep into newspaper archives for information and - more importantly - sometimes rapt, sometimes appalled descriptions of horrific scenes staged in small town theaters. This is ultimately not just a book about what it purports to be about, but a book charting the desires and misgivings, the conflicted need, of audiences to be thrilled and spooked, and how these needs were creatively met by various forgotten pioneers. Because so little of the material covered is available to us in fact, the book sometimes carries a perverse frisson of being almost novelistic, an imaginary history but everything the author says is backed up by careful footnotes. Of course, I am skeptical of how a book this valuable might be received by younger horror enthusiasts who eschew anything and everything in black-and-white, but if they had the curiosity to crack it open, I suspect they'd be thrilled and amazed by how very little they know is a new idea. Rhodes is presently working on a second volume to this book, which will cover the years 1916 to 1931. Available here in hard and soft cover. 

THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO (Wayne State University Press), edited by Antonio Lázaro-Reboll and Ian Olney: I've already noted the arrival of this anthology of academic essays here at Video WatchBlog, but now I've read the book in its entirety. Readers who come to this book without much of a pre-existing interest in the subject may find it a bit dry, but speaking for myself, as someone already fascinated by the ups-and-downs of the vast cinematic continuum Franco produced, I find it a real breakthrough that proves Franco's work can stand up to real academic scrutiny. The chapters I found especially illuminating were Nicholas G. Schlegel's essay about Franco's "re-coding" of the German krimi genre with his rarely discussed Der Todesracher von Soho and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (though I wish he had included discussion of his Mabuse film, Dr. M schlagt zu); Alberto Brodesco's examination of Franco's Marquis de Sade-derived films and where Franco stands as an interpreter of Sade; and Finley Freibert's wildly audacious defense of Franco's DTV productions as avatars of "queer cinema," on the grounds that they tend to infuriate the heterosexual male gaze and often generate narrative through repetition rather than traditional linear narrative. As I mentioned in my earlier blog entry, I am also vastly flattered to have figured so prominently in this history, as someone who helped to pave the way toward this kind of deeper discussion, and that honor also extends to Stephen Thrower, Lucas Balbo, Peter Blumenstock, Christian Kessler, Carlos Aguilár, Cathal Tohill, Pete Tombs, Joan Hawkins, Chris Alexander and many others rarely cited in such literature. The book could have been more fully informed had it partaken of the information found in Alain Petit's essential book JESS FRANCO ET LES PROSPERITÉS DU BIS, or had the contributors been aware that Petit's original attention to Franco's work in the French fan press of the 1970s was the true origin of this ongoing discussion. Hardcover (pricey!) and soft cover, available here.  


Donna and I have been watching Kino Lorber’s two-disc Blu-ray of Michael Anderson’s 1980 6-hour miniseries of Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. I was pleasantly surprised to find the teleplay signed by Richard Matheson, and Milton Subotsky listed as one of the producers. The first 10 minutes or so are a learning, or rather, forgetting curve, because it’s essential to forgive and look past the outmoded level of its special effects (particularly because they are post-STAR WARS and all the more disappointing for it). But the stories and the performances become fairly gripping soon enough, and it shapes up to be one of the more intellectually stimulating works of filmic science fiction from this period. Of particular interest is the production design of Assheton Gorton, one of the prime movers behind the Continental Op film movement of the 1960s, who brings some truly visionary props and scenics to the project. Though it has its problems - especially the first half of the third and final segment, featuring Bernadette Peters and Christopher Connelly - the whole of it feels more satisfyingly like a revisit to THE TWILIGHT ZONE than either of the revival versions, especially with TZ veterans like Fritz Weaver, Roddy McDowall and Matheson aboard.

Also spent time discovering the films of Korean filmmaker Hong Sangsoo, namely WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN and TALE OF CINEMA, which share a well-packed and worthwhile Blu-ray Disc from Arrow Academy. Hong is like a more tense and obsessive Eric Rohmer - he's into conversation, confrontation, cigarettes, scarves, casual but conflicted sex, and lots of strong drink, shared by awkward young men and centered young women. A diverting world to get lost in for a day.

Speaking of Jess Franco, DIAMONDS OF KILIMANDJARO (sic) - his 1983 answer to Tarzan movies, with Katja Bienert as Diana of the Jungle - is now available from MVD Classics on Blu-ray, as well as the Franco-associated title GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS. While watching DIAMONDS, I was surprised to see that two members of its African tribe are shown wearing bewhiskered skull masks that - unless I am sadly mistaken - once belonged to members of the Blind Dead. It is not one of Franco's important pictures, to put it mildly. Unfortunately, though the disc looks and sounds fabulous, it includes only the English dub track, which is pretty bad. I once saw a Spanish version that had a completely different (and amusing) main title sequence and was more obviously played tongue-in-cheek. Considering how vivid Daniel White's score sounds here, an isolated music track would have been welcome, too. I couldn't find an Amazon link to the Blu-ray, but I was able to find it at DiabolikDVD.

That's enough for one day! More as time and spirit permit. 

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Revisiting SHE DEMONS (1958)

The spine-jolting unmasking of Mona in Richard Cunha's SHE DEMONS.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Richard E. Cunha's SHE DEMONS (1958) on the Big Screen, or even on TV, as a kid; if I I’d had childhood matinee memories of this one, they might have scarred me for life. Fortunately, I only caught up with it on VHS circa 2002 (see my original review in VIDEO WATCHDOG #81, page 62), when Wade Williams released it - and a couple of nights ago, I discovered it hiding on Amazon Prime and watched it a second time.

For a quickie 1950s programmer, it’s a neat little (77 minutes) picture that packs a lot of entertainment: part ARGOSY-style Island fantasy about stranded adventurers coming up against Nazi scientists; ISLAND OF DR MOREAU-type experiments performed on dancing girls; a pre-EYES WITHOUT A FACE beauty restoration subplot; Victor Sen Yung shenanigans; She Demon choreography; volcanic eruptions;  Bronson Caverns; stock footage galore from ONE MILLION B.C.; a sock-o unmasking finale (pictured); and, if all that’s not enough, statuesque Irish McCalla as the spoiled and haughty high society girl who, through adversity, becomes someone more appreciable as a genuine human being.

Remarkably, in hindsight, this was Cunha's directorial debut, and he proceeded to direct just a handful of other horror cheapies that are similarly entertaining - GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN, MISSILE TO THE MOON, and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER - and, incredibly, they were all released in 1958. He subsequently made one more feature, THE GIRL IN ROOM 13, and directed the English version of WHEN STRANGERS MEET in 1964. Some TV work followed. GIANT doesn't deliver its giant until very late in the game, but it compares favorably to a number of AIP titles from the same period. MISSILE TO THE MOON is good fun, and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (which carries a bad rep for the failure of makeup artist Harry Thomas to realize that the "daughter" was supposed to be female!) may otherwise represent the screen's most radical departure from the tried-and-true Frankenstein concept up till that time. And pretty much, all four films manage to deliver one great "Did you see THAT?" moment.  

How dare Amazon Prime label this as a “schlock” classic? Richard Cunha, I salute you. I would have been proud to direct ANY of your films!

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


In today's mail I received my copy of THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, co-edited by Antonio Lázaro-Reboll and Ian Olney and published by Wayne State University Press. I am not here today to review it in detail, or to comment on anything that it says about Jess's films. I was stopped by a more personal connection and response.

I've spent the last couple of hours browsing through this collection of essays by noted film studies educators from around the world, and it would be an understatement to say that I feel very honored and moved by their mentions of my work - which extend to an entire chapter by Antonio Lázaro-Reboll on my work about Franco for VIDEO WATCHDOG (indeed his place as an avatar for the approach to writing about film that VW innovated) and Stephen Thrower's Franco reviews for his magazine EYEBALL, and another by Tatjana Pavlović addressing Franco's "Horrotica," a word that she happily notes I coined in a 1988 article for FANGORIA.

All or nearly all of the chapters make some useful reference to my notorious "You can't see one Franco film until you've seen them all" quote from VIDEO WATCHDOG #1, which I remember was initially met with some mockery and derision. Unlike the estimable Stephen Thrower, whose work is also shown great respect, I don't have a book out there on Franco to give shape to what has been my mostly spontaneous contribution to Franco research; my career has been somewhat uneven and erratic, largely because I have given vent to most of my work in magazines, audio commentaries, and even this blog - everything BUT presenting it between hard covers. Stephen and Alan Petit and so many others have filled the need for Franco books so well, that I've been telling myself for awhile that the world has all the Franco books it needs. But here is one that I needed, a work of academic appreciation that also happens to recognize my role in carving out an evolving perception of Franco and his work, which it intelligently and methodically describes in ways I couldn't begin to do, and it would hardly be my place to do.

I intend to read this book cover to cover because I can see it discusses his work intelligently, passionately, and even with some humor - which is exactly as he would wish it. For now, it is a wonderment to me to find a book in which so many contributors have taken the trouble and care to know what I do, and what I did long ago, and to show me - in place of my mess of memory - a clean line of process that helped to identify this important filmmaker as someone worthy of the attention and recognition that, thankfully, he did receive before he died.

I am reminded of what Ken Russell said in his Foreword to Joseph Gomez's book KEN RUSSELL, about the experience of reading its manuscript:

"I was holding the moon in my hands."

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.