The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dead 2 Synopsis, Part 2

Okay, so I'm leaving for California late tomorrow night. The picture above is not California, but it's Utah, and it's in the west, and so's California. Nice change from those other pictures, which are a bit grim, wouldn't you say? Oh well. Back to the zombies...where were we?

Story settles down a bit.

The column commander is Colonel Milius, a crazy but impressive guy kinda modelled on Chesty Puller, the semi-psycho marine from World War Two. Milius found himself in a Fallujah type situation in Iraq, and went ahead and won the battle even after his superiors called for negotiations...they stuck him behind a desk in the aforementioned NJ base. Deeply frustrated, he got nuttier than ever....this end of the world stuff is right up his alley. He really loves it, and he’s having the time of his life. His men are of two minds about him...he’s the guy when the fighting starts, but otherwise, he’s pretty much around the bend.

Him and Max locks horns...there’s a certain amount of philosophical sparring...Milius represents a particular type of atheist peculiar to armed forces...he’s completely into Nietszche, and he’s rather cool, but he doesn’t cotton at all to Max prosletyzing about a transcendant way out. He’s also really ruthless about keeping his equipment going, and he doesn’t mind running zombies through wood-chippers for their juice, which can be used to counter the ongoing mechanical failures...Needless to say though, when the action starts, Max and Milius wind up fighting side-by side a lot.

The characters sort themselves out in various ways...about halfway thorugh, the dead start attacking in earnest. We get progressively bigger and scarier onslaughts, sometimes involving bonewolf-type monsters, and leviathan-type critters of the sort we merely glimpsed in the first book. The dead even trot out some living human prisoners and use them to negotiate...they reel them out at the end of long strings of barbed wire, then reel them back on their faces when they’re done.

The dead finally break through at the eastern end of the bridge, overunning the M1 nd the APC’s the corpses come swarming across the middle section., Milius orders the remaining M1 to swing its turret round and shoot out the bridge’s main support cables.Before the dead can close in, the bridge collapses, halves smashing down into the ice on the Delaware river...ten thousand corpses go screaming down into the drink.
But that still leaves the ones on the east side...up they come, and the worst battle yet commances...the M1 runs out of do the APC’s...Milius has it out mano-a-mano with Legion atop the M1, and loses in a very larger-than life way. Max and a bunch of survivors, including most of the original folks from Barclay’s, have no choice but to get into one of the main piers, which have little access doors down at road-level...climbing up metal rungs inside, they head to the top with the dead screaming up after them...our characterrs resolve themselves one way or least three of them remove themselves from the situation through spectacular acts of self-sacrifice, al la the first book....

Max, however, gets caught.

And since his salvation is assured in the long run, the dead can do just as they please with him...he volunteered for purgatory, and now he’s going to get it.He’s brought down to Legion, who decides to slice him up and unravel him and thread him through one of the bone-monsters...

The book ends with those three protags, the one’s who’ve made it out, deciding to go back and extricate Max...the last book, entitled “Where the Worm Dies Not,” will be about them heading straight onto into Legionland and rescuing would be a real-time sort of thing, taking place over four or five hours...that’s if anyone cares what happens to Max.

Needless to say, there’s a bunch of stuff that can’t really be shoehorned into this synopsis. There will be a whole lot more Legion... I’m also going to have a bunch of stuff with Steve Jennings, the guy who killed his wife in the first book. I haven’t decided whether or not he’s dead, or being used as one of those human matter what, he’s going to have decided that his previous outlook on life left something to be desired. He’s going to be a POV character inside the enemy camp on the eastern side of the bridge. I’ll also be serving up a whole lot of freaky details and non-zombie monsters...the whole thing, seeing as how it takes after the end of the world, will be rather more fantastic than the Dead, and a lot more violent. There will be a lot less set-up, seeing as how most of that was taken care of in the first book...most of the philosophical stuff is going to revolve around hell-fauna and infernal political arrangements....whether people who were pissed off by the first book will find this one as off-pissing, I don’t know...

I would be about as long as The Dead. There would, of course, be illos...once again, about as many as in the first book. The cover would show a grinning zombie with a “II” carved into his forehead. The title of the book would be “Dead II: Bridge of Saints.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dead 2 Synopsis, Part 1

Hello again...I'm kinda busy at the moment, because I'm going out to California on Saturday, to visit my daughter, meet her boyfriend, and hit Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite, and Monterrey. In the meanwhile, I decided to photograph a new model (her name's Hannah) and put a skazillion new pictures on my computer and print them out, and boy does that eat up your time. I did want to do a couple more posts, however, and so I'm going to use something ready made...if you're fans of The Dead, you'll probably find it pretty interesting. For what it's worth, I've been contemplating a sequel to the book for quite some time...maybe The Dead will take off sufficiently in its permuted press incarnation that they'll be able to buy a should pester them about it. Anyway, posting this stuff here might be the only light of day that any of these ideas see.

This is what I’ve been contemplating.

The book takes places two or three days after the end of The Dead. Lead character wakes up from a really nasty dream about being thrown by zombies into a swimming pool full of oily sludge and corpses who are just coming round...he’s relieved to find it’s all a dream...then remembers he actually escaped from a similar situation, and that he and six other folks are hiding in the Barclay’s US building in Wilmington, DE. Things are getting colder and darker. Wilmiongton’s already been swept by the dead, and partially burned...for one reason and another, the zombies get up to the top floor at Barclay’s.

We’re introduced to the characters...Haven’t settled on a lot of names, of course. One of the characters is going to be an’s going to be a shithead musician...he’s going to have a relatively sympathetic girlfriend...there’s also going to be a badass convenience-store Sikh who actually carries a saber. There really isn’t any debate about what’s going on...we’re mainly concerned about a wounded guy who’s about to croak.

He dies...they debate what do with him...he’s a real problem, because he’ll know where they are when he comes back. Putting him outside won’t help, and they can’t quite bring themselves to cut him up. Outside, there’s a big fire....they sneak out after dark and toss him in...but a sleetstorm puts the fire out, and the corpses sweep the city again, and bivouac near the Barclay’s building. Going back up to the fifth floor, our protags watch and wait helplessly until their friend comes crawling out of the charred ruins and rats on the to his new compadres. A horde of zombies invades the building. Our protags have given some thought to an escape route, and they manage to shoot their way free...this is all in the first forty pages or so.

For the next couple of chapters, they’re on the run...they see a lot of ghastly stuff and have a bunch of near-misses. But finally they’re caught...a platoon of corpses brings them to a giant truck-park south of Wilmington, which has been functioning as a kind of death-camp for the Dead. The corpses have maintained a few big tractor-trailors as carbon-monoxide gas-chambers, but they seem to phasing that stuff that they’ve built their army, they can really settle down and play with their victims. But the dead are also using the truck park as a place where they bring mangled zombies so they can regenerate...the ones who aren’t too messed up just come back, but the ones who’re really impossibly fragmentary are all jumbled together, and fuse to form some really horrible conglomerates...the head zombies are also creating bonewolf and Cairn type critters, and if they’re really pissed off at one of their own number, they dismember and unravel them and put the bits in with the bones...we wind up with bone-monsters with all these coprses kind of threaded through them. The fence surrounding the camp is made up of a similar arrangement...great skeins and tangles of barbed wire with corpses strung through it.

Our POV people serve as horrified eyeballs for a while, and then the dead turn their attention to them in character dies hideously...then there’s a storm of explosions and gunfire, and three guys blast through the wire and save our buddies...these intruders are well-armed and very formidible, shrugging off massive wounds, and even though two of them are brought down, enough chaos is caused for our protags to escape, led south by a very tough dude who identifies himself as Max.
Although we don’t find this out till later, this is indeed Max from the first book...all sorts of stuff gets revealed slowly. He is, however, back down from heaven...while his final afterlife disposition is assured, he required some addtional work, because of his lack of charity...offered a chance to purge some more of his sins, he’s come back down to help dimwits out...he can be fearfully mutilated, but not killed...actually, he’s not unlike the zombies in that respect.

Anyway, our ragged bloodied band keeps on heading south...something is happening at the Delaware Memorial Bridge...columns of corpses are converging on the western end of it, and our protags get driven that way. Turns out a small armored column from a fictitious army base in NJ has stalled on the bridge...they’ve got two M1 tanks and a bunch of APC’s, along with supply trucks...the tanks have broken down at either end of the central span...there’s an army of corpses, commanded by Legion, blocking the eastern approach to the bridge...and after our POV characters get up on the bridge, the western approach, commanded by a second Legion, block the Western approach. Manual systems allow the M1's to turn their turrets and aim their guns, etc, and high explosive rounds hold the dead at bay, but basically, we have a hold the fort situation set on a big suspension bridge...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Top Ten Movie Villains

Villains are very important to certain kinds of narratives. Maybe not in Jane Austen, but in action or suspense stuff, absolutely. You can get along with a shitty uninteresting hero, but you'd better have a compelling heavy...bad guys are kind of the motor. I like to think I know something about characterizing bad guys, and people who like my work seem to think so any rate, I devote a lot of thought to my villains, and try to give them distinct personalities and philosophies. Actually, once you come up with a really wack evil philosophy, it get rather easier to frame the wack evil philosopher. But enough theory.

I was watching Sexy Beast the other night with my wife, and for the umpteenth time I was knocked out by Ben Kingsley's nightmare-come-true bad guy, Don Logan; I decided write then and there that I should put together a list of my favorite movie villains, so you can approve of my judgement, dismiss it utterly, or rush right out and locate the films where these horrible customers appear.

One note: we're talking plain human bad guys here. Not devils (I'm going to do a top ten movie devil list at some point), or monsters. There's only one semi-exception, Boris Karloff in The Body Snatcher...he---maybe---comes back as a ghost at the end. But he's a purely naturalistic horror up till then.

And speaking of The Body Snatcher...

1.Boris Karloff as John Gray, The Body Snatcher, 1945. This is Karloff at the top of his very considerable form. The guy was a consummate pro...I don't think he ever turned in a lousy performance, even when he was stuck in a lousy movie; he was as watchable as anybody who's ever come down the pike, with the possible exception of Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin. The Body Snatcher was a primo vehicle for him; it was produced by the great Val Lewton, directed by Robert Wise (who'd go on to helm The Haunting), and was based on Robert Lewis Stevenson's good little short story, which was improved upon considerably in the screenplay by Philip Macdonald. Karloff plays a resurrectionist who supplies corpses to doctors for dissection; since dissection is illegal in 19th-century Edinburgh, body-snatching is a very dicey and dangerous business. He's got a nasty relationship with Dr. Toddy MacFarlane (played nicely by Henry Daniell), who really really hates him; Gray's blackmailing him, and Toddy decides to murder his partner-in-crime, with decidedly poor results. Karloff's performance is extremely well-rounded...he's scary, funny, and oddly sympathetic...when it's all over, you'll find yourself saying "never get rid of me" over and over again, until everyone's very sick and tired of it...

2. Jimmy Cagney as Cody Jarrett, White Heat, 1949. I truly love me my gangster flicks, and White Heat is one of the best, textbook rat-a-tat-tat film-making by Raoul Walsh for Warner Brothers, who've specialized in gangster stuff, all the way from Little Caesar and Public Enemy to Goodfellas. White Heat is a classic entry in the underworld's mean, it crackles, it really rips, and Cagney's Cody Jarrett suits Walsh's style perfectly. Cagney established himself instantly as one of celluoid's baddest asses in Public Enemy, but in White Heat he really surpasses himself, as a psycho momma's boy mad-dog killer frightening the living daylights out of Edmond O'Brien, who plays an FBI agent who infiltrates Jarrett's gang in prison. Once the gang busts out, poor Edmond is in for a truly hellish high-speed ride, which culminates in a shoot-out at a refinery with Cagney taking multiple slugs and screaming "top of the World, ma!" before everything blows in a series of blasts that billow up like mushroom clouds...I used the scene in Samurai Cat in the Real World, where they're watching the movie at Stalin's lair...when everyone starts turning into werewolves, Cody jarrett does too, and tries to burst out of the screen repeatedly...

3. Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, 1966. As this list unfolds, you'll notice bad guys from three Clint Eastwood movies. Eastwood was always very fortunate in his choice of cinematic adversaries, and The GBU was the movie that established the trend. Up until Sergio Leone started using Lee Van Cleef, in For a Few Dollars More, where's he's a scary saturnine good guy (who steals the show from Eastwood) Van Cleef was a Hollywood character actor who worked a lot in westerns (he's one of the baddies in High Noon, for example), but never got too much attention. But Few Dollars More changed all that, and he really cemented his reputation with GBU, this time as a very scary very saturnine bad guy. With his great lean physique, slitty shadowed eyes and hook nose, he's the very image of a western villain, right up there with Jack Palance in Shane (who doesn't get enough screen time to quite make this list), and he establishes his awful character right at the beginning of the flick, wiping out the menfolk of this one Mexican family (he shoots the paterfamilias through the nasty-looking food on his plate), and then bullet-reaming a cripple's brains out through a pillow because the aforementioned paterfamilias paid him to do the cripple before Angel-eyes did the Mex. Angel Eyes is smart, well-informed, and mean, mean, mean, absolutely begging to be shot in the face, which is what Eastwood does to him at the end.

Note: impressive as Van Cleef is, this flick is stolen from him (and Eastwood too) by Eli Wallach as Tuco, who is indeed a bad guy, but Tuco's a bit too ambiguous and funny to be on this list. You really like him.

4.Andy Robinson as Scorpio, Dirty Harry, 1971. Holy shit, another Eastwood villain, and hands down the most horrible of the bunch, maybe the most loathesome creature ever to appear in an action flick. Boy does this guy stink up the screen....Robinson's performance is so good that it ruined his career...if I saw Robinson on the street, I'd be tempted to hit him with a bat. Scorpio is kinda modelled on the Zodiac killer, but he's a very all-purpose monster, anti-catholic, anti-black, anti-cop, a vile peacenik who wears distorted peace-symbol belt buckles and shoots chicks in swimming pools...he's so all over the place that it's sorta ridiculous, except works. Robinson, with his bulging eyes and blazing blowing red hair, is slimy beyond belief, and you really can see why Harry would chuck that pesky Bill of Rights to get at such a demonic mutant psycho. A lot of the credit has to go to Don Seigel, who does a bangup job in the director's chair, and John Milius, who did a bunch of uncredited work on the script, apparently providing it with all of its most legendary lines. Bottom line? Scorpio is one of the leading contenders for best movie villain ever.

5.James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian, 1982. Another John Milius characterization...M wrote and directed this one. The movie has rather little to do with Robert E. Howard, in my opinion, but as much as I like Howard, I think Milius is a much better writer. Certainly Thulsa Doom has a lot of more personality than any of Howard's villains, and he has a philosophy to boot. Originally, Doom was a King Kull villain, but Kull stuff is pretty similar to Conan stuff, and Thulsa Doom is a very cool name....since they were chucking so much of Howard's original conception, why not slap the name on a Stygian snake-priest or whatever? In the movie, Doom first makes his presence felt after an attack-on-a village sequence that must be one of the most imitated scenes since the opening shot of Star Wars...Doom tests out a captured sword on Conan's mom, traumatizing little Conan with one of the all-time best movie decapitations (CTB is full of great beheadings), setting up the whole revenge plot. It's a while before Doom comes onstage again, but he's pretty awesome when he reappears...James Earl Jones delivers some  memorable dialogue really nicely, particularly a couple of monologues where he explains to Conan that he actually did him a favor, by giving him a purpose in life. When Conan sees through this and hacks Doom's head off and hurls it down the steps at Doom's idiot hippyshit followers, it's just plain seminal ultraviolence, although there's been a ton of that beforehand.

6.Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven, 1992. Yet another great Eastwood villain, this time with Clint behind the camera...wonderful wonderful screenplay by David Webb Peoples, with Hackman just the guy to play Little Bill, a Wyoming lawman who's really gone around the bend, even though it might not be apparent to a lot of folks.Truth is, Bill's got a lot of impressive traits...if you were living way way out in the wild west, you just might want someone like him keeping the lid on your town. But lurking behind a fairly reasonable law-and-order facade is a bastard with a mean streak a mile wide.


He is a gun-control enthusiast, and he does go after guys like English Bob, a vile hired killer who specializes in murdering Chinese laborers; for that matter, Eastwood's William Munney has a quite a horrible record, and Bill's got every right to take an interest. Munney's a broken-down Missouri ex-trainrobber who's tried his hand (and failed) at pigfarming, and comes to Little Bill's town to do a little bit of murder, just enough to revive his fortunes. But Little Bill's expecting trouble; he notices that Munney's violating the gun-control ordinance; he beats the crap out of Munney, then kills his partner, played by Morgan Freeman. A chilling final shootout ensues...lying wounded on the floor, just about to receive a double dose of buckshot from Munney's shotgun, Little Bill snarls that he doesn't have it coming, but boy, by this time, we suspect he does...

7. Kam-Kong Wong as Master Kung, Burning Paradise, 1994. I hated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as you know if you've read the Samurai Cat version, but if Indie's second outing had actually been a good movie, it would've been rather like Ringo Lam's hyperviolent masterpiece, Burning Paradise. If you like movie carnage, you gotta see this thing. Once it gets going, it delivers something lip-smackingly nasty every four minutes or so. But over and above all the splatter and grue, it's got the best bad guy in New Wave Hong Hong cinema, a demented Qing dynasty torturer who's been put in charge of brutalizing captured Shaolin rebels...the Buddhist equivalent of a satanist, he's also a crazy artist who can only stave off his fear of death by inflicting hideous torments on his fellow human beings. His paintings are genuinely disturbing, and his behavior is spectacularly ghastly; when he isn't raping poor helpless women or yanking their heads off, he's soaking them in vats of nasty red fluid...the only way you can make someone perfect is by embalming them, you see. A bit involving a bullet-spitting Buddha image has to be seen to be believed...ultimately the imprisoned heroes Fong Sai Yuk and Hung Hei-Kwan have to team up to splash him (via a flying severed stone Buddha-hand) into one of his own fucked-up pictures.

8. Tim Roth As Archie Cunningham, Rob Rob, 1995. If I were forced at gunpoint to choose my favorite movie villain, I think it would be Archie here. This characterization has it all. Tim Roth turns in a fabulous performance, his dialogue (by Alan Sharp) is fine vivid period stuff, and the direction (by Michael Caton-Jones) takes excellent advantage of Sharp's screenplay. Archie is extremely well-rendered and completely three-dimensional; we know exactly where he's coming from, and there a number of moments when we almost sympathize. But they always, always set you up to hate him more, and hate hate hate him you do. So what if you understand him. He's a bottomless pit. So what if he's kind of pathetic in some ways. When push comes to shove, you wouldn't want this hellish creature on your case. He dresses like a ridiculous fop, and he favors towering goofy wigs and cosmetics; but you guess he only does this to fake you out, and maybe infuriate you. At one point, a character suggests that Archie doesn't know "ass from quim," to which Archie replies, "It has been years since I buggered a boy, and in my defense, I thought him a girl at the moment of penetration." But all this is just the covering over a pit full of punji-sticks. He's an incredibly lethal swordsman, and When Liam Neeson's Rob gets into a climactic duel with him, you're absolutely convinced Rob's a goner...the final fight is a rare treat, exciting, plausible, and completely compelling...kinda like the rest of the film.

9. Harry Lennix as Aaron, Titus, 1999. I'm not quite sure if Aaron should be classfied as a movie villain, seeing as how he's from Shakespeare, but he owns this Julie Taymor flick, so what the hell. Back during Shakespeare's time, Titus Andronicus was just about the Bard's most popular play...people were, like, "okay, enough with this Hamlet stuff, we want to see more shit like TA." They liked revenge theatre, and they liked it really bloody, and boy, Titus Andronicus delivers on that score. True, it's absolutely batshit, totally wacky; all the characters behave in mystifying, utterly grotesque ways; and the plot is nonstop nonsense. Still, somehow, when you see it performed, It's like watching Sweeney Todd. Among others things, there's a gaggle of intensely horrible baddies, and the baddest of the lot is Aaron the Moor. He's almost like an early dry-run for both Othello and Iago, except there's nothing dry about him, and actors have known for quite some time that Aaron is the role to play. He does have one somewhat redeeming feature; he does seem to love his little son. But he's Shakespeare most deliciously evil creation, and he does lots of bad in the service of the awful Gothic Queen Tamora...he's so over-the-top technicolor panavision monstrous that you find yourself laughing out loud for delight.

Historical note: if you find Aaron just too preposterous, do a web search on Karl Panzram. He was the kind of fellow who'd go to Africa just so he could see what it was like to feed guys to crocodiles.

10A.Ben Kingsley as Don Logan, Sexy Beast, 2000. Oops, seem to have gotten carried away top ten list has eleven entries...afraid I'll have to solve that by splitting no. 10 into A and B, since it would be a crime to exclude either of these last performances.

Quite a shock to see Mahatma Gandhi acting like such a rotten bastard, but there you have it...Ben Kingsley had done villains before, but nothing like Don Logan. If some of my other picks are more frightening or disgusting, Don Logan is the most screamingly unpleasant. He's been dispatched to sunny Spain by English gangster Teddy Bess (Ian McShane, who's also pretty damn great); he's supposed to make sure that poor retired ex-con Gel (Ray Winstone) will participate in a big robbery back in Blighty. But Gel loves his Spanish life with his gorgeous ex porn-star wife and doesn't want to return to England, which he calls a real "shithole, every cunt walking around with a long face," and he becomes the immovable object to Logan's irresistable force. Logan heaps every kind of beautifully written obscene abuse on him, but Don's got a weakness, as it turns out; he had an affair with Jackie, the wife of Gel's friend Aitch, and he's come to Spain, at least in part, to harass her...between his frustration with Gel, and his lust for Jackie, things get astoundingly itchy and ugly, with Kingsley ratchetting up a performance that's hilarious and terrifying at the same time...

10.B Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, No Country For Old Men, 2007. Boy do you cringe ever time this stone-cold butcher shows up on screen. Even if he isn't three-dimensional) he's the most frightening baddie in the list; his voice is so unsettlingly low it sounds like a defect on the soundtrack, his eyes look completely dead, and his facial expressions look like he's been wacked up with novocaine. Everything about him projects the impression that he's totally removed from human experience as a normal person would know it. You can't deal with him or adopt any kind of attitude that will disarm him....he'll kill you on a whim, for no reason at all. And he's absolutely remorselessly effective. When we find out that he's looking for the money that Josh Brolin's Llewelln Moss has found, we know things are going to turn out horrendously for Llewelyn and probably everyone around him. I just wish that the Coen Brothers, in their wisdom, had chosen to show the climactic shootout between Llewelyn, those Mexicans, and Chigurh at the motel. The pressure just goes out of the movie at that point, and it's never really quite restored.

Okay, so that's that...I'll have to think about that Top Ten Devil list...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bava: Black Sunday and Black Sabbath

Noticed a dynamite new service on my pay-per-view last's the Indies and Foreign channel, and it's got all kinds of goodies, ranging from Coen Brothers to Spaghetti Westerns to nasty horror flicks which are still in theaters. They've also got some great older horror stuff as well, such as Lair of The White Worm, and Mario Bava's second-best frightfest, Black Sabbath.

In case you've never heard of Bava, he's a very heavy hitter among filmic scaremeisters. It's very unusual when horror movies are actually scary, and he helmed two of the scariest. He was also a cinematographer before he graduated to director, and his visuals stand and head and shoulders above the competition. Black Sunday is maybe the best-looking horror movie ever made; you have to go back to Bride of Frankenstein before you can find anything remotely as good. And even though color is much harder to handle, and color movies only really started to look good relatively recently, Black Sabbath is a pretty tremendous stab at making a proper looking color horror movie.

But Bava was a pioneer in a lot of ways...for one thing, even though Hammer, starting in the middle 1950's had been making relatively feeble attempts to put genuinely gruesome gore on film, Bava leaped lightyears ahead. Black Sunday came out in 1960, but it would still be rated R today, just for the first scene, where Barbara Steele is put to death with a spike-lined iron mask which is hammered onto her face with a huge mallet. Completely and utterly cringeworthy.

And as I said, the guy actually knows how to scare you. Scares were few and far between in earlier horror films...the first sequence in The Mummy, maybe, and Charles Laughton's demise in Island of Lost Souls...Val Lewton purveyed some good scares in Cat People and The Body Snatcher...The Uninvited had its moments, and Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon had some bite...Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein, oddly enough, managed to be much scarier than most of the ostensibly serious Universal flicks.

But there's just this real murderous fucked-up quality to Bava...the imagery is very unsettling, and he knows how to build a scene, and build it and build it, then milk it for all that's it's worth. There's this longish sequence, after some pretty hair-raising preliminaries (little black scorpions boiling up out of Barbara Steele's emtpied eyesockets, to name one), where Barbara's newly-resurrected servant/lover Javutich pries a Mask of Satan off his own face, then tricks a poor innocent physician into following him into the depths of the castle...Javutich gets way out ahead in the catacombs, and the sawbones shouts for him to stop, whereupon the distant swinging lamp halts. The doc runs up to the lamp, finds it hanging in mid-air.Then the door to the crypt opens, off to one side, and the only way out is past Barbara's stone coffin, which starts to shake and bounce on its slab, finally shattering (I kinda cribbed the opening sequence in The Dead from that). By this time Barbara's eyeballs have grown back, although her face is still all full of nasty spike-holes, and we get a pretty traumatizing shot of her looking up at the doctor...starting with the part where Javutich rises from the grave, the sequence is probably the scariest ten minutes ever committed to film up till that point.

The film gets less good after that, but it's still pretty strong...even the lousy dubbing and the performances of John Richardson as a young callow hero and Ms. Steele (she's scary all right, but she's not an actress) don't sink the thing. It's a pity that it's not all as good as its first two-thirds...but up until then, it's straight-up nightmare juice.

Wound up revisiting my DVD of it after watching Black Sabbath on that Pay-per-view channel...Sabbath was the follow-up to Sunday...Sunday was a big hit, very influential, and Bava responded with a three-part anthology film narrated by Boris Karloff, and featuring BK himself in Part Three. I don't think it's as good as Sunday, although there's a lot to admire, and the first and third segments really click. In the first part, an attractive blonde is called in to prepare the corpse of a witchy lady for burial; as water drips in the background, ever more unnervingly, the babe dithers about stealing a very valuable ring from the stiff's hand. The corpse, by the way, isn't some live person pretending to be dead, but an extremely creepy-looking prosthetic with really shiny eyes and grinning teeth. Anyway, our heroine buckles under temptation, steals the ring and books...later, at her apartment, with water dripping all over the place, she's scared out of her wits by progressively more awful bits of business, which culminate in a visit from the old lady, who really looks like she could frighten you to death.

The second episode is, surprisingly, kinda of unwatchable...a woman of dubious character gets phone calls from a guy she thought was dead. It's just no good at all, and doesn't really go anywhere. If I were you, I'd fast-forward, because...

Part three, The Wurdalak is pure gold. It's based on a story by Alexei Tolstoy, and it features Boris Karloff in the last of his really great horror performances. The segment unfolds in a nifty visual style that manages to retain most of the value-intensive qualities of the photography in Black Sunday while combining them with color; remarkable stuff.

Story has a poor uninteresting romantic lead stumbling into a very bad situation, becoming entangled with a blonde babe in an extremely doomed household where Karloff the patriarch sallied forth some time earlier to kill a bandit who everybody thinks has become a vampire...catch is there's a time limit, and if Karloff comes back too late, he'll become a vampire himself, a Wurdalak, a bloodsucker who specializes in going after loved ones. Well, Karloff returns with the bandit's head, but he's also got a lethal-looking wound in his chest, and arrives right as the grace period ends. After that, things get real uncomfortable in the old family home...Karloff is acting awfully odd, but no one quite has the heart to chop his head off. Big mistake. The noble young guest gets more entangled with the babe even as Boris goes after the family's youngest son...the scene where Boris is riding off with the kid is especially chilling. Afterwards, the kid comes wandering back...and dies. But even though he's deader than hell, his mom won't let the others do the needful...things just keep on deteriorating, and even though our hero tries to escape with the girl, the whole rest of the family comes after them...

Wurdalak is so strong that it actually makes you forget about the middle section, which is a genuine achievement...Sabbath and Sunday make a great double-feature. In between them, in 1962, Bava did a creepy muscle-man flick called Hercules in the Haunted World, which is uneven but well worth seeing---among other things, it was clearly an influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark! After Sabbath, he made Planet of the Vampires, which is also very watchable, if rather wacky. His movies started going downhill, however...I wouldn't give you too much for things like Baron Blood and House of Exorcism. But if you haven't seen Sunday and Sabbath, you really need to correct that deficiency.

Yark's Popped up on Amazon

I hope you guys have already taken a look at the Yark Youtube slideshow, but if you haven't, here's the link again: Anyway, the book is now available at Amazon, and it's my deeply held belief that you should buy one, enjoy it immensely, and write me a glowing Amazon review...if you feel you might write a crummy one, don't bother.