true_1My initial concerns regarding True Detective Season 2, as expressed in the previous blog, HOW GOLDEN IS THE NEW GOLDEN AGE OF TV, reasserted themselves with last night’s episode #6, Church in Ruins. While the HBO cable series is delivering a first class murder mystery/conspiracy tale that seems to involve all the corrupt powers that be in the town of Vinci, Calif., it is being sabotaged by the soap opera format, which is the current rage in television series writing.

The development of a vast plot involving almost all the characters delivers what was missing in Season 1, which promised more than it delivered. In this season we have a nice, sordid tale of money, power, corruption and pure evil, and I expect the end will be more satisfying than the end of the first season. But the over-sized cast of characters, with all their own individual stories and backstories is becoming too confusing.

Episode 6 veered from one set of characters to another so often, in some cases bringing in new characters, or bringing back characters from earlier episodes that you barely remembered that you needed a scorecard to keep track of what was going on. It’s distracting and undermining the tension that writer Nic Pizolatto is building up for the big finish.

All the scenes with Vince Vaughn are played much too slowly. Is it him? The direction? The staring contest between he and Colin Farrell was actually enough to put you to sleep.

One huge plus was the scene at the orgy with Rachel McAdams. Not that it was believable at all. But the background score reminded me of Jerry Fielding and some of the lush, nightmarish music he wrote for Sam Peckinpah films. Maybe that’s what’s lacking– a director with the blood instinct of a Peckinpah. Sam would have known how to ratchet up the tension in the kitchen scene at least.

Nevertheless, regardless of these criticisms, Season 2 is still must see TV. That’s how I see it. Feel free to comment.

Hunting Monsters final frontThanks, everyone. The Mordecai Slate books are currenty #6 and #9 on Amazon’s Top 100 Kindle Best Sellers (Horror/Western).

Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto debuted October 2013 and continues to attract new readers.

Hunting Monsters Is My Business was released November 2014 and is doing better than the first book

I can only conclude this is due to unprecedented word of mouth and great critical reviews.I haven’t spent a dime on advertising or promotion.

So I have to thank you the readers, and most of all my fellow authors who have been very gracious in helping to spread the word. I want to mention Keanan Brand, Heath Lowrance, Craig T. McNeely, Craig Russette , D.W. Jones, James Reasoner, Bill Crider, Fred Blosser and others who have helped get the word out.

“No matter how a man alone ain’t got no bloody chance.” Sized Cover

That’s the latest news. Stay tuned. More to come.

BMRCOVER61c-477x677Blood Moon Rising Magazine has released it’s 15th Anniversary Special Issue and to my delight, it contains a really stellar review of HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS– THE MORDECAI SLATE STORIES. THANKS to D. W. Jones, who wrote the review, and is evidently a Mordecai Slate fan, and to BMR Magazine, for putting out such a great publication. Many more years of continued success!

Rather than quote snippets of the review, here it is in its entirety.

Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate
Stories by John M. Whalen
      When I was first approached to review this book, I was
looking forward to it.  I met this character, Mordecai Slate,
first in Showdown at Midnight  in the short story “Samurai
Blade” and then in his own novel Vampire Siege at Rio
Muerto. So to see a whole collection of stories with this
character plus a new novella, I couldn’t wait to read it.  And I
was not disappointed.

For those not familiar with Mordecai Slate, he is a monster hunter in the wild\ wild west willing to take any job for his price of $1,000.  Take Sam or Dean from Supernatural and mix them with Lee Van Cleef from the old westerns and you got Mordecai Slate. Hefaces any job offered him and faces any demon, monster and creature out there withthe help of some American Indian friends.

One of the stories I liked are actually two stories connected.  They are Rancho Diablo and The Shape of a Cage.  The first story follows Slate chasing a man wolf onthe run.  After tracking him to a outlaw hideout, he finds more than he could deal with. The second story is a continuation of the first as Slate has to deal with the aftermath of Rancho Diablo and it forces him to deal with things he thought he would
never have to think about.  I liked these stories because it take the Slate character beyond the badass monster killer and shows another side to him.  Can’t say muchmore without giving anything away but it’s a must read.

Hunting Monsters final frontThe other story I liked was the novella Hunting Monsters is My Business. It actually takes place shortly after the event at Rio Muerto and Slate is having doubts about his hunting.  But when he is contacted by a fellow hunter’s wife to say that heis missing, he goes to help.  But he is up against what might be his biggest foe, Pierre LeCoulte.  A mysterious man who bought a defunct mine that suddenly is producing but strange things are happening there, including Slate’s friend disappearing there.  When Slate arrives there, he is captured and sees things that he believed impossible. Will Slate rescue his friend or better yet, rescue himself and survive to fight another day?

Whalen did a great job rounding out the character Mordecai Slate, making him not only a terrifying monster hunter, but a person who has secrets, doubts and feelings that flesh him out and making him that much more realistic.  His writing keeps you enthralled in the story and makes you want to know more about the mystery man of Mordecai Slate.  I definitely recommend this book for anyone into a mix of action, horror and thrills. You can find this book at Amazon.com.

creaturewalksamongus

This Saturday Night you can watch Svengoolie ruin another classic Universal horror film on Me TV. THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. This is probably the most poignant entry in the series. The Creach gets burned up in a fire and loses his gills. A gill man with no gills! Very sad to see him looking out at the ocean, wishing he was back swimmin’ with the fishes.Wait! Wrong metaphor.

There’s a potboiler subplot about a jealous husband and an all-star Universal B-movie cast, including Rex Reason, Jeff Morrow Leigh Snowden and Gregg Palmer.

A real highlight is the score for this film which was composed for the most part by an uncredited Henry Mancini. He did some music for all three of the Creature films, but this time they let him do a lot more. There’s a pretty nice romantic ballad played throughout.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is my favorite of all the Universal horror monsters. So much so that I paid tribute to him in my short story, “Little China,” which appears in the HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS collection.

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2011 file photo, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gestures as he addresses the Mumbai University students in Mumbai, India. The Dalai Lama said Thursday, March 10, 2011, that he will give up his political role in Tibet's government-in-exile, shifting that power to an elected representative. The Tibetan spiritual leader, speaking on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese control, said the time has come

(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)

Here’s a wild story in the Washington Post. Today is the Dalai Lama’s 8oth birthday. But if his troubles with China get any worse he may be the last of the Dalai Lamas. Here’s the interesting part of the article:

“With the Dalai Lama turning 80, a contest is already developing over his succession. In Tibetan Buddhism, reincarnation is a fundamental tenet, and only the Dalai Lama has the authority to choose whether and through whom he will reincarnate. Yet Beijing has already approved guidelines giving the communist government control of the process. This contest takes place against the background of Chinese authorities having kidnapped in 1995 the 6-year-old boy identified by the Dalai Lama as the incarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, and replaced him with another boy.

The fact that the Chinese-imposed Panchen Lama continues to be categorically rejected by Tibetans should indicate how inflammatory it would be if Beijing tried to impose its choice for the next Dalai Lama. But that’s exactly what it intends to do, except that the Dalai Lama has hinted that he might not reincarnate at all.”

So the Dalai Lama is telling the Chinese, you want to mess around with me and my line of succession? I’ll show you. I won’t reincarnate at all.

There’s no comment that could possibly be made on this story. Way too metaphysical. Except to say it’s a pretty sorry world when the day has come when even the Dalai Lama refuses to reincarnate back into it. Have a nice day.

It’s that time of year again. Every Fourth of July I bring back this blog I wrote back in 2012, which extols the virtues of Mr. Jean Shepherd and his famous story of Ludlow Kissell and the Dago Bomb that struck back. This year in the last few days I found there were a lot of searches for this particular blog entry, which is really great. More people should know about Jean Shepherd and what he wrote and talked about. As a special Independence Day treat, I’m including an audio recording of Shepherd on WOR Radio reading the story. You can download it here. So without further ado, have a great Fourth and enjoy this classic, and very funny story.

Hey, Gang, How’s it hanging? The Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our Independence in the U.S., is here once again.  Amidst the continuing threat of terrorism, war in Afghanistan,  some of the worst hot weather we’ve had in recent years, wildfires out west, a society fragmented by political differences, and a struggling economy, we’re still hanging in there.

For me part of the Fourth of July tradition includes family gatherings, patriotic movies on Turner Classic Movies, a barbecue, some time at the local swimming pool, fireworks of course, and a reading from Jean Shepherd’s classic book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Some of you may know who Jean Shepherd is, others may not. Most people familiar with the name know him from the classic holiday film, A Christmas Story, which is based on Shepherd’s book. This is the movie about Ralphie (who is really Shepherd as a kid), growing up in Indiana, and wanting more than anything in the world a Red Ryder BB gun. The movie is shown in a 24-hour marathon every Christmas on one of the Turner Cable Channels. It’s Shepherd’s voice you hear narrating the story.

The real insiders know Shepherd from the nightly radio show he had from the late fifties to the mid-seventies on WOR radio in New York. Every night he would come on the air, alone and unscripted and talk. It wasn’t like talk radio today, though. He didn’t take phone calls. And he didn’t have a political ax to grind. He just sat alone and told stories. When he wasn’t telling stories, he did social commentary, or read haiku to “cheap guitar music.” Some of the stories he told ended up later as short stories in Playboy magazine and became the basis for the novel and two films: A Christmas Story, and My Summer Story. 

Among the many tales Shepherd told of growing up in the Midwest, one about an historic incident that took place in his neighborhood on the Fourth of July is one of my favorites. Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb That Struck Back, describes one hot Independence Day when the town drunk (the term alcoholic wasn’t widely used back in the 1930s) showed up in the middle of his street carrying a lethal looking firecracker that in those days was known as the Dago Bomb. This was not an anti-Italian appellation, Shepherd explains, but was actually pro-Italian, the ne plus ultra of fireworks. In more effete circles is was known as an aerial bomb. It was big and looked like one of those non-existent firecrackers that show up in cartoons. It had a warnings on it, that indicated it should only be used by professionals.

So this one Fourth of July Ludlow Kissel appeared on the heat-shimmering horizon, “weaving spectacularly, and carrying a large paper bag as carefully as a totally committed drunk can. He was about to celebrate the founding of our nation, the nation which had provided such a bounteous life for him and his.” No one paid much attention as he inched his way from lamppost to lamppost and fire plug to fire plug and went into his house. He came out minutes later with the largest Dago Bomb anyone had ever seen. It was the first all-black Dago Heister anyone had ever laid eyes on and was suspected of actually being made in China!  Later some witnesses would argue that it wasn’t a firecracker at all, but was some sort of mortar shell.

Kissel staggered out to the middle of the street, set the firecracker on the ground and tried to light it. Neighbors peered nervously through windows, others came out on their front lawns. Several attempt to light the fuse with a match failed and a kid came up to Kissel with a lit punk and handed it to him. A crowd gathered. He lit the fuse, the crowd drew back. The fuse sputtered out and Ludlow lit it again but being too soused to know what he’s doing, he just stood there. “Hey Kissel, for god’s sake! It’s lit,” somebody yelled. “What’s lit?” Kissel said. He staggered around and knocked the Dago Bomb over and it went off.

Do I have to tell you what happened next? The expelled cartridge shot through the crowd, which ran for cover, and landed under Kissel’s front porch. It blew the porch off, then skittered next door, took down a neighbor’s rose trellis and ended up finally exploding under another neighbor’s car. Total devastation!

When it was over Kissel was still there in the middle of the street, on his knees and made his statement, which is even today part of the great legend. “My God! What a doozy!”

That was Jean Shepherd’s America. A different America in many ways from ours to be sure, but in some ways maybe not that different. We still watch fireworks, have barbecues, eat too much, and drink too much on the Fourth. We still have that urge to light that fuse and see the ultimate firework display of all time. Shepherd died in 1999 and I often wonder what he would say about our world today if he was still sitting behind the mic in a radio studio. He always knew that life was insane and that civilizations come and go, and most of us will be unremembered after we pass on. Probably he’d advise us to keep our sense of humor about it, and remind us,  as he always did to: “Keep your knees loose, and your duff close to the ground!”

I hope your Fourth is a doozy.

The-Long-Goodbye-poster-square

“Marlowe, I’m in a jam.”
“You’re always in a jam, Terry.”
“You gotta help me out, pal.”
“I thought I killed you.”
“That was the movie.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“You were a better person in the book.”
“A real sucker, you mean?”
“No. A real friend. A knight of the round table.’
“Those days are gone, my friend. They went out with dial telephones.”
“I need to get across the border.”
“Commit another murder?”
“No. I need a sex change operation. My new wife won’t stay with me unless I transgender and we have a same sex marriage. They do it cheaper down there in Old Mexico.”
“She mean that much to you?”
“Yeah, dammit.”
“Got it bad, huh?”
“Think I’m crazy, Marlowe?”
“It’s okay with me. “

***SPOILER ALERT***

The premium cable movie channels have hit the wall. In an effort to present drama you won’t find on free TV or basic cable, HBO, Showtime, and Encore are providing what is being ballyhooed as “cutting edge” drama, Shows like True Detective, true_1Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan, and Penny Dreadful are part of what some critics are calling a new Golden Age of TV. But how “golden” and “cutting edge” is it?

Let’s start with the format of these shows. It is far from original. The format is basically the same as the average daytime soap opera. Multiple story lines revolve around a group of interconnected characters, each with his own specific “problem.” The problems are weirder than you find on daytime television but as taboos fall the gap between them is shrinking.The cable shows have the benefit of being able to be more graphic in image and language than network TV.  And with the extended time they have, the creators of these shows can kill the better part of an hour with long, overwritten scenes that would bore anyone to tears, if they didn’t throw in a big helping of weirdness mixed with violence along with all the endless, despairing dialogue.

One thing the characters in these shows can do is talk. Talk, talk, talk. And when the writers get bored with the tedious conversation, they try to revive a sleeping audience by ending the episode with a totally incongruous, almost senseless cliffhanger. The most outrageous example of that was last night’s True Detective ep which finished with Colin Farrell’s police detective character Ray Vercoro getting two point-blank blasts from a shotgun right in the chest. A guy in a Birdman outift shot him. Speculation is that somehow he survives (maybe it was rock salt!). Maybe he will, but I don’t care. For me the series cannot survive a cheap stunt like that.

The original True Detective was a novelty. Nic Pizzolato’s script was daring, and fresh. But by the end of its run, even the novelty of Matthew McConnehy’s abstract dialogue full of off-the-wall philosophical musings, wasn’t enough to save a weak, unsatisfying ending. And seeing him do his act on Lincoln Navigator commercials really left a bad taste.

But in the end, that’s what we have to remember. Commercialism is what it’s all about. The gory, violent spectacles of Game of Thrones, the weird sexuality of Penny Dreadful, the moral malaise of Ray Donovan don’t do much in terms of shedding any light on the human condition, but they bring big ratings.

These dramatic series are being hailed as the new Golden Age of TV. But there seems to be one important ingredient missing from the new era. Writers of the original Golden Age of the 1950s through the early sixties, writers like Rod Serling (Requiem for a Heavyweight) Paddy Chayevsky (Marty, Network), Stirling Silliphant (Route 66 and Naked City)– these writers dealt with difficult subjects, even took some controversial positions (Silliphant once wrote a story that semed to condone mercy killing). But no matter what the story was about, they always looked for some kind of affirmation by the end of the tale. They almost always gave the viewer some hope that no matter how rotten things were someday they might be better. And there was usually a warning that if they don’t get better, it’ll be our own fault.

The writers of the current crop of cable dramas seem to have thrown in the towel, and are enjoying their despair. Maybe that’s not really the fault of the writers. Maybe it’s just a reflection of the times we’re living in. We’ve all thrown in the towel. Things are going to hell, and unlike previous generations we don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. That sense of powerlessness, compared to the optimism of the past, could be unconsciously what these shows are revealing to us. Art imitates life, after all.

Mordecai

ON THE ROAD TO RIO MUERTO

When the long shadows of day turn into night
And the Wolf Moon climbs the ebony sky,
Out of their crypts and tombs they rise
Thirsting and hungry — the vampire riders.
.
On fearsome steeds they thunder
Searching for prey on the haunted road.
The unwary traveler, the late-night reveler
Must beware when the vampire outlaws ride.

For when the riders come
Galloping demon-like down the terrible night.
All they meet will die.
All they meet
On the road to Rio Muerto.

(c) Copyright John M. Whalen 2015

Get your copy of Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto here.

(For Flashback Friday I thought I’d reprise this piece from August 2012. A look at a weird little movie with Johnny Weissmuller and Ann Savage, one of the queens of low-budget noir.)

The other day Turner Classic Movies featured a full 24 hours of movies starring Johnny Weissmuller. Of course the majority of the films shown were his MGM and RKO Tarzan flicks. That’s cool. Seems appropriate for a hot August day with the locusts clicking outside and the temperature and humidity in my neighborhood not much different from what you might find in the African jungle. But what made the Weissmuller tribute interesting was what happened in the wee small hours of the night, after the kids had gone to bed and only the hopeless insomniacs were up.

When they ran out of Tarzan movies, TCM started showing a couple of the less-often-seen Jungle Jim movies Johnny made when he got too old to play the Lord of the Jungle. Around 5:00 a.m they rolled out Pygmy Island, perhaps the wildest, craziest, strangest movie in the 15-film series.

Jungle Jim was originally a comic strip character created by the legendary Alex Raymond, who also created Flash Gordon. Universal made a serial based on the comic back in the 1940s, starring Grant Withers. The character didn’t reappear in film until the late 1940s when Columbia started cranking out the low-budget features starring Johnny W. The series as a whole is entertaining, but they were definitely made for the Saturday matinée crowd, back when they had Saturday matinees, and Columbia stuck to the usual jungle movie formula for the most part. But when they got to Pygmy Island, the fifth film in the series, something happened. I don’t know what, but this particular entry isn’t like any of the 14 other films at all.

The story starts when the U.S. government sends Major Bolton (David Bruce) to the jungle to find a missing pilot, whose dog tags were found by Jungle Jim floating on a raft alongside a dead white pygmy, killed by an arrow presumably shot from the bow of a Bush Devil, a member of an evil jungle cult. There is also a rope found on the raft made of some mysterious plant fibre that won’t burn or break that the U.S. government wants to get its hands on as a defense weapon. However, a “foreign power” also wants the plant that the fibre comes from. Steven Geray plays Leon Marko, the owner of a jungle trading post, who is really a secret agent for the unnamed “foreign power.” His henchmen are played by Tris Coffin and William Tannen, veteran actors who worked in numerous old serials and low-budget films.

When you’re watching movies like this you have to make allowances—overlook little technical glitches. For instance at the beginning of the film, a newspaper flashes on the screen with the headline: OFFICER BELEIVED VICTIM OF INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACY. That’s right, the word “believed” is misspelled in the headline. But that’s a minor point. Next we have a flashback scene showing Jungle Jim’s discovery of the dog tags and the raft with the dead pygmy. Clearly visible is a string that some off-screen crew member is pulling to bring the raft toward Jim over on the river bank. I blame high def TV for that. You weren’t supposed to see that. Probably wouldn’t have noticed it on standard def.

But things pick up right after that with a crocodile in pursuit of the raft, and the dead pygmy, who probably looks to the croc like a good before lunch snack. Jim dives in and fights the crocodile with a knife. Good crocodile fight. You have to give one star right off the bat to any film featuring Weissmuller fighting a rubber crocodile.  Nobody did it better.

Then Major Bolton arrives and teams up with Jim to find Captain Kingsley, the missing pilot. Well, get ready for the first shocker. The pilot turns out to be Captain Ann Kingsley. “She’s a woman?” Jim asks in deadpan surprise. (Johnny wasn’t the most expressive actor of his time.) Not only is she a woman but she turns out to be played by none other than actress Ann Savage! You know who Ann Savage is, right? She played the most evil femme fatale in all movie history in another low-budget classic, “Detour.” Yeah, that Ann Savage. I guess her movie career didn’t go so well after “Detour,” to end up in this turk— er, I mean classic.

Here Ann plays the heroine. But she looks just about as fed up and disgusted with life as she did in Detour. From the look on her face, she probably wanted to kill her agent for getting her the part. We first find Ann amongst the titular pygmies of Pygmy Island, a tribe of about a thirty midgets. Judging from their ages, it would seem that perhaps director, William Berke, got day passes from the Woodland Hills Nursing Home for the retired Munchkins of The Wizard of Oz. The pygmy leader, Makuba, is played by Billy Curtis and you can spot an uncredited Billy Barty in some scenes, as well. In order to get off the island and join up with Jungle Jim and Major Bolton, and to avoid the arrows of the Bush Devils, Makuba tells Ann to lie down on a raft and  he’ll cover her up with branches. There is something so weirdly hilarious about this scene, and the way she lays there while Billy Curtis piles the branches on her and himslef—and something so pathetic that her career had brought her to this–I can’t begin to describe it. Makuba says: “Now look like driftwood. But we not!” It’s a wild moment and worth another star. Give Ann Savage some credit. She stuck it out.

The pygmies in this movie, by the way, are another weird touch. For one thing, they all wear long black wigs and leopard skin loincloths. And they are very adept at swinging through the trees on vines, like a bunch of mini-Tarzans. There are several scenes of them doing so, with Johnny Weissmuller looking up at them nostalgically, perhaps remembering the old days. He too may have been wondering what the hell happened to his movie career.

Truly one of the highlights of the movie comes later when Jungle Jim must cross a wide ravine on a rickety rope bridge stretched between two cliffs. He and his pet chimp, Tamba, start across, but all of a sudden what comes out of the jungle on the other end of the bridge??? You guessed it. A killer gorilla. Okay, any film with a guy in a gorilla suit automatically gets another star. So we’re up to three stars already. The fight scene that has Jim hanging from the swaying bridge with Tamba jumping up and down on the gorilla’s head as the beast stomps on Jim’s fingers with its feet is mind-blowing. It is also probably the scene that inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when they were putting together “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”– if they would only man up and admit it.

Well, I  could go on and on about “Pygmy Island.” There’s a great elephant stampede scene, mucho fisticuffs and shoot outs between Jim, Major Bolton, and the vine-swinging pygmies and the evil trader/secret agent Marko and his men, who by the way were really the ones posing as Bush Devils.  Finally during a climactic battle, Jim and one of Marko’s henchmen fall into a pool of quicksand. Another star for scenes with quicksand in them.

As you can see, Pygmy Island is a film not to be missed. A whacked out, four star classic. I urge you to keep checking your TV listings for TCM’s next showing of this bizarre little movie. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers