Feral

FERAL by James DeMonaco (writer/director of THE PURGE movies) and B.K. Evenson (aka “Brian Evenson,” IMMOBILITY, THE WARREN) avoids the mistakes of a lot of post-apocalyptic, zombie-esque plague stories:

It gives you a little bit of set-up, then immediately jumps to the post-plague scenario. Because really, that’s what the reader wants. Not page after page of characters wandering around pontificating about “What’s happening?” No, we want to jump ahead to the action. We want characters struggling to survive in a new, harsh, and violent world. Screw the “whats” and “whys.” But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Adrian McKinty continues his series featuring Irish detective Sean Duffy with his latest novel, POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY. Like previous series titles, this one takes place in the mid-1980s, when Ireland was in the midst of “The Troubles” – that is, the ongoing and often violent tension between Catholics and Protestants.

The setting is Belfast, 1988. A man is found dead, killed by a bolt from a crossbow in front of his house. Detective Sean Duffy of the Carrick Police Force is called away from his holiday and assigned the case. Duffy immediately recognizes the dead man as a known drug dealer.

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Spring into 3 New Entertainment Titles

Getting a nightly fix of The Twilight Zone in a syndicated run one summer in the 1980s, I was taught a couple of things: Rod Serling was a frickin’ genius, and not all black-and-white TV is boring. According to TV critic Mark Dawidziak, many more lessons await imparting, which he has detailed in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life, a “heartfelt tribute … wrapped in a self-help book.” Here, Dawidziak has taken 50 common-sense life lessons — such as “Never cry wolf” and “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is” — and discusses them in relation to key TZ episodes (even the one with Talking Tina). While the book is not an episode guide, each chapter could stand alone as a fine essay on one aspect of the game-changing series. Fully illustrated with stills from the shows in question and including “Guest Lessons” from the likes of Leonard Maltin and Mel Brooks, Dawidziak’s syllabus is infinitely more relatable than the likes of Zig Ziglar, but you’d better already be a hardcore TZ fan to gain any value.

By the power of Zeus, Italian Sword and Sandal Films, 1908-1990 is not the definitive book I wanted it to be, mostly because so little of it required actual writing on the part of co-authors Roy Kinnard and Tony Crnkovich. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback does cover what its title promises, with films of the peplum genre arranged alphabetically from Adventurer of Tortuga to Zorro the Rebel, but said coverage is largely rendered irrelevant by the existence of the IMDb, because we get a full list of the cast and crew. Comments from Kinnard and Crnkovich, unfortunately, are limited to a sentence or two, except in the rare case of a game-changer like 1958’s Hercules. Otherwise, their contribution to each entry is scant; for example, for Charge of the Black Lancers, they write in total, “It’s the Poles vs. the Tartars in this action drama, co-produced by Italy’s Royal Film, France’s France-Cinéma Productions, and Yugoslavia’s C.F.S. Košutnjak.” Gripping, no? Although illustrations are bountiful, Italian Sword and Sandal Films is more of a list than a book. I suppose if the apocalypse wipes out the internet, it may serve more purpose.

I want to get lost in Rat Pack Confidential author Shawn Levy’s latest book. Not in the sense of perusing its pages, which I’ve already done, but actually retreating to the world it depicts. Pending the creation of the time machine, I was born too late. The next best thing is the book, Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome, and while not exclusively about movies and the men and women who made them (hence the Pucci, as in kaleidoscopic fashion maven Emilio), the cinema arguably did more than high fashion to make the Italian capital a cultural touchstone around the postwar globe; Anita Ekberg’s fountain-cavorting sure saw to that. Part history, part travelogue, all intoxicating, Levy’s multinarrative work vividly recalls a jet-set splendor that, while never can be replicated, at least can be revisited through the film classics that have visually bottled that feeling forever. Or we could always throw an orgy. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade

BLOOD AND LEMONADE, the latest collection of stories about Hap Collins and Leonard Pine – Lansdale’s odd but irresistible duo of East Texas crime-fighters – is a companion to both the Sundance TV series (which recently began its second season with an adaptation of MUCHO MOJO) and the previous story collection, HAP AND LEONARD, published last year. But two noticeable differences distinguish this latest collection.

For one, the stories trace the earliest days of the partnership; all the way back to when Hap first met Leonard in high school. Also, as Lansdale notes in his Afterword, this is more of a “mosaic novel” than the earlier collection. That is, the stories convey the life and theme of its characters with new passages (or this this case entire stories) added for necessary transitions – much like what Ray Bradbury did with THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES.

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Rusty Puppy

RUSTY PUPPY, Joe R. Lansdale’s 10th Hap and Leonard novel, is another rough-and-tumble romp as the two unlikely friends and partners investigate the murder of a young black man and get caught up in a web of corruption and the lingering racism of their East Texas home.

Not long after being released from the hospital, where he was recovering from a near-fatal stab wound, Hap Collins, a self-proclaimed white-trash rebel, is approached by a black woman who lives across the street form the office were Hap works as a private investigator. The woman hires Hap and his partner, Leonard Pine, a gay, black Republican Vietnam vet, to find who killed her teenage son. Hap asks if the woman has consulted the local police – only to discover that the woman is certain the police are the ones who killed her son.

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Just the Way It Is / Blonde’s Requiem

Stark House’s Crime Classics continues to reintroduce readers to the works of prolific thriller and mystery author James Hadley Chase with this duo of novels, JUST THE WAY IT IS and BLONDE’S REQUIEM, first published in the mid 1940s under one of Chase’s several pen names (Raymond Marshall). These works demonstrate the forms and themes that fascinated Chase throughout his career of over 90 mostly hard-boiled thrillers.

JUST THE WAY IT IS (1944) traces the collapse of a gambling organization over a three-day period. Harry Duke, a professional gambler, follows a strange real estate sale and, with the help of Clare Russell, a reporter for a local newspaper, uncovers the organization’s corruption that eventually collapses under its own weight – with some murders along the way.

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3 New Movie Books from McFarland & Company

Does the world need more than one book on the movies of Mamie Van Doren? Hell, no. But I sure do! With Joseph Fusco’s 2010 book already sitting on my shelf, now there’s Atomic Blonde: The Films of Mamie Van Doren to keep it company. First published in 2008, Barry Lowe’s book now is back in print and available in a more affordable paperback edition from McFarland. Today a prolific author of gay erotica, Lowe spends the first 50-ish pages to deliver a condensed biography of the former Joan Olander, the virginal farm girl who became one of the three iconic sex bombs of the squeaky-clean 1950s and boundary-pushing ’60s, behind Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. And the rest of the text? Why, a flick-by-flick examination of her career, of course, with special attention given to her campier efforts — including High School Confidential!, Sex Kittens Go to College, Las Vegas Hillbillys, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women — and no punches pulled. Lowe wrote this breezy book with the hopes that readers might see her as skilled beyond testing the thread strength of sweaters, and yet it is populated with photos that play up those God-given talents. In my eyes, that’s not really a complaint. Recommended!

Maybe having been born in 1971 has something to do it, but I think some of the most memorable vampire movies came from that decade. (I mean, seriously, The Vampire Happening? The Vampires Night Orgy? The Dracula Saga? C’mon, folks!) Gary A. Smith agrees; as he writes in the introduction of Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between, “filmmakers everywhere jumped on the bloody bandwagon,” giving us bloodsuckers that also were black, gay, adept at kung fu, peace-preaching and puppies — just not all at once. The fun of this McFarland & Company paperback is in Smith covering their respective flicks not chronologically, but broken up into distinct groups, such as “Carmilla” adaptations, Jean Rollin works, Mexican entries, outright comedies and, yep, “Vampire Porn.” Any book that gives the likes of Al Adamson, Andy Milligan and Jess Franco chapters of their own is one worth sinking your teeth into.

One area of the movies I have yet to take a deep dive into? Ye olde serials. Other than chapters of Bela Lugosi in The Corpse Vanishes doled out across several early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, these superheroic, swashbuckling, space-patroling, spy-smashing tales remain a blind spot in my cinematic education. Because they are extinct, I’m guessing the same may be true for many of you. For a crash course, turn to Geoff Mayer’s Encyclopedia of American Film Serials. Designed by McFarland & Company as an oversized paperback, it seems ready-made for decades of referencing to come. It holds tremendous value in that it’s indexed not only by titles, but actors, directors, writers — heck, even composers! Entries are written with voluminous knowledge, with particular attention paid to concepts and cliffhangers, but the introduction gives a broad, baseline knowledge of the art form, its various studios and its eventual death. The reproductions of poster art are entirely welcome; I just wish they were in color, although the shorts they shilled were not. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

Time Travel: A History

The title alone of science and technology chronicler James Gleick’s latest work, TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY, makes it irresistible to any serious fan of science fiction. Indeed if any single theme distinguishes science fiction from other genres, it is time travel. But does it have a history?

Yes! Gleick aptly proves that the concept of going forward and backwards in time actually predates science fiction as we know it. Authors and philosophers toyed with the idea since antiquity. But one particular novel, published first in England in the 1890s, forever changed the concept of time travel for both scientists and the general public alike.

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EURO COMICS ROUNDUP >> Great Head

THE WRONG HEAD is the latest stand-alone volume in the screwball adventures of Spirou and Fantasio, two globetrotting journalists for the Mosquito newspaper. Written and illustrated by Andre Franquin in 1954, this is another gorgeous and affordable episode in this delight-filled classic series.

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Hekla’s Children

James Brogden’s book HEKLA’S CHILDREN is a deeply unsettling and complicated work, layering an intriguing mystery with a thoughtful fantasy topped by a screeching horror tale that may or may not be allegorical, but is chilling and memorable.

The mystery begins when young Nathan Brookes is leading a small troop of four adolescents on an orienteering hike through a large British park. There should be no danger involved and so Brookes lets his charges roam on ahead and he takes a shortcut to meet up with them. He sees the group in flashes and then they disappear. They are not where they are supposed to be. All four youngsters have vanished.

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