4 Beastly New Books on Popular Culture

klauskinskibeastCuriously, two new books are about the idiosyncratic and ill-mannered German cult actor Klaus Kinski. The one to get is Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews, edited by Matthew Edwards and including the perspectives and talents of several others. (It takes a village, people!) Edwards — whose excellent 2007 collection, Film Out of Bounds, also was published by McFarland & Company — separates the book into thematic thirds: essays, interviews and reviews. In doing so, he and his contributors approach their subject from a variety of angles and points of accessibility. Covering everything from his iconic collaborations with Werner Herzog to his late-in-life residency in B-movie hell, the essay portion finds Beast of Cinema at its most buttoned-up, whereas the book loosens up considerably for Edwards’ Q&As with those who worked with Kinski and lived to tell about it — most notably, Schizoid director David Paulsen and actress Flo Lawrence, both rife with tales of the actor’s bad behavior, physical and sexual. By the time Beast hits the section of approximately 50 reviews, it has its shirt unbuttoned and feet on the table. Pour yourself two fingers of your hard liquor of choice and peruse the reviews, heavy on spaghetti Westerns, sexploitation, spy adventures and scary fare — unsurprisingly the reason I’ll return to this text in years to come.

katzmancormanHaving written the history of American International Pictures in 1984’s Fast and Furious, it makes sense the ridiculously knowledgeable Mark Thomas McGee would be the one to write Katzman, Nicholson, Corman: Shaping Hollywood’s Future. Available from BearManor Media, the book spotlights the careers of “three pioneers in bargain basement entertainment,” primarily in the 1950s: producer Sam Katzman, AIP co-founder James Nicholson and multihyphenate content machine Roger Corman. Rather than tie them together in one narrative — which would make sense, given their crossed paths — he handles each man separately. In his usual easygoing style, McGee is less interested in sharing their stories than he is leaping from one anecdote to another, not always stopping to ensure transitions for smooth sail-through. The result is highly conversational, as if you’re seated at the corner of a bar with the author, but he’s a good drink or two ahead of you, so forgive him if and when he rambles. While I would have preferred a tighter-told work — or at least one with consistency in presentation among its thirds — fans of the AIP era should find enough behind-the-scenes nuggets to chew on, not to mention capsule reviews of select films and a smattering of photographs. KNC is not bad, but it’s not essential, either.

theatrefearFew things have influenced the horror film more than the Grand Guignol, aka that theater in France in which characters were rather graphically tortured and killed onstage; it’s not uncommon to see “Grand Guignol” used as a descriptive adjective in film criticism today. Short of catching some brave local theater troupe in your area staging a tribute show, Mel Gordon’s Theatre of Fear and Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897-1962 is as close as we can get to experiencing this late, great art form. (And having sat through one of those tribute shows, I much prefer this book.) Gordon quickly but satisfyingly dispenses with the origins and history of the place so he can dig into the real meat of the piece: single-paragraph descriptions of 100 Grand Guignol classics, supplemented with a more-than-generous helping of photos, playbill covers and revealed tricks. Originally published in 1988, this expanded edition from Feral House arrives with an additional script (“Orgy in the Lighthouse”) and, in the trade paperback’s center, 14 color pages, all but the last of which reproduces the original illustrated posters, both lavish and ghoulish. Thriving on visual stimulation throughout, the volume is a gorgeous package of garish content. Following Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks and It’s a Man’s World: Men’s Adventure Magazines, Feral House continues to knock these new-and-improved reissues out of the park.

giallocinema10The genre of the giallo is so voluminous by now, it is all too easy to fire off a bad book in search of a quick buck. Mind you, Michael Sevastakis’ Giallo Cinema and Its Folktale Roots: A Critical Study of 10 Films, 1962-1987 is not that book. (This is.) With each chapter devoted to a particular film, the McFarland book makes the case for the giallo’s artistic merit — an idea most mainstream critics scoff at once the blood runs running. Rather than focus on the usual suspects (in titles and directors), Sevastakis spreads the wealth, with no filmmaker repped more than once; while the names you expect are indeed here (Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, etc.), the work chosen for each is not necessarily the anticipated default selection — for instance, Umberto Lenzi is featured by neither Eyeball nor Spasmo, but Seven Blood-Stained Orchids — and damn, does the author break it all down with aplomb. His discussion is detailed, insightful and intelligent — perhaps a deeper dive than you’d like for leisurely reading, but hey, it backs up his point that there’s much more to these films than meets the (gouged) eye. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Last Days of Night

lastdaysofnightThe fictionalization of the history of electrification in the United States. Starring a young, inexperienced lawyer who has no scientific background. In a legal battle that revolves completely around 19th-century patent law. Snoozer. Borrr-inggg. And yet.

And yet. Somehow Graham Moore makes THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT an unbelievably thrilling adventure. I stayed up late into the night reading, rallying with the upticks in the success of lawyer protagonist Paul Cravath, and grumbling frustrated at his minor failures as he attempted to wade through the legal morass caused by two giants of the field: Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.

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The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection

yearsbestSF33The 33rd and latest collection of THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION (representing 2015) confirms that the short story format is very much alive and well in science fiction, and that Gardner Dozois is as skilled an editor as he’s ever been. A total of 36 stories, by both veteran and up-and-coming authors, are featured here with “more than 300,000 words of Fantastic Fiction” as the cover boasts. All packed into 720 pages, making another generous, if somewhat cumbersome, collection.
 
Among the many notable stories is “The Falls,” one of two stories in the collection by Ian McDonald. Life on a recently settled moon of Saturn is relayed by the personal memories of a psychologist to artificial intelligence, who also recalls the events of her daughter’s expedition to another lunar surface. The subtle, almost laconic narration makes the often-frightful recollections resonate long after the story’s conclusion.

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I Shot the Buddha

ishotbuddhaColin Cotterill actually has two (at least) detective series set in Southeast Asia featuring unusual detectives, and written in comic overtones so broad one can’t help chuckling while reading. I came to Cotterill through his series starring female detective Jimm Juree and her wildly strange family in titles like KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT; GRANDAD, THERE’S A HEAD ON THE BEACH; and THE AXE FACTOR.

But he has a much longer-running series starring Laotian retired coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng. Though Siri is in his 70s, he and his wife still get into some marvelous scrapes and adventures, of which I SHOT THE BUDDHA is the 11th book to tell their tales.

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EURO COMICS ROUNDUP >> Ghosts of a Chance

ghostsinverlochSince Luc Besson just got a rousing reception for the few minutes of VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS footage he showed at this past week’s San Diego ComicCon, it’s only appropriate to continue reviewing the original series of comic books that not only inspired and instructed the career and ambitions of Besson, but through an extensive visual influence on George Lucas’ original STAR WARS trilogy, the majority of modern science fiction cinema as well.

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Charcoal Joe

charcoaljoeThings have changed a lot for Easy Rawlins, the star of Walter Mosley’s long-running and popular mystery series. But like the saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s the impression fans are likely to get when reading CHARCOAL JOE, the 14th title of the series.

The setting is Los Angeles in the late1960s, the same as ROSE GOLD, the previous series novel. Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins has taken the money from the Rose Gold case and started a detective agency with partners Saul Lynx and Tinsford “Whisper” Natly. And, he is about to propose to his girlfriend, Bonnie Shay. Then a new case gets in the way.

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The Dragon Round

dragonroundI’m not a fan of high fantasy. I’ve admitted this in previous reviews. But I’m a sucker for revenge stories.

Some of my favorite books include THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, THE STARS MY DESTINATION, and RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK. So when Stephen S. Power’s THE DRAGON ROUND was recommended to me as a “cross between THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and GAME OF THRONES … well, I decided I had to give it a try.

I can’t speak to the comparison to GAME OF THRONES because I’ve never read the books or watched an episode of the series (I know, I know, it’s great. I have to watch it. Blah, blah, blah…). The only thing I know is that the series contains dragons, incest, and lots of deaths. THE DRAGON ROUND had two of those things, so I suppose the comparison is apt. It also has a plot that is equal parts THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY:

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SoHo Sins

sohosinsIf the promotional copy on the back cover and inside blurb page didn’t proclaim that SOHO SINS was author Richard Vine’s debut novel, you’d never know from reading it. Rarely has a first novel shown such confidence in its prose and such insight into its characters and setting. You’d swear it was the work of a seasoned novelist with national renown.

But these traits did not come naturally. Vine has been the managing editor of the respected fine arts publication, ART IN AMERICA, for several years. So he knows what makes good writing and he has an intimate knowledge of the New York art scene of the 1990s, the setting of this first work of fiction.

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My Father, the Pornographer

myfatherpornCrazy-family memoirs are a distinct genre and they can certainly be enjoyable such as Cameron Castle’s MY MOTHER IS CRAZIER THAN YOUR MOTHER or perhaps the genre’s pinnacle, the absolutely hilarious LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny Lawson. Well, Chris Offutt’s MY FATHER, THE PORNOGRAPHER has the suitably quirky title (and a lovely book design by Keenan), and an extremely quirky central figure, Chris’ father, Andrew J. Offutt, noted science fiction author and indeed prolific pornographer.

But it’s not funny. It’s not even charming. In fact, it has a melancholy tinge and some definite cringe-inducing moments that make one wonder about the sanity of the Offutt family. In short, it’s a brutal expose of both father and son.

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Dark Horse

darkhorseDARK HORSE is the second novel in Rory Flynn’s crime fiction series featuring Boston narcotics detective Eddy Harkness. Like its predecessor (THIRD RAIL), the title refers to the street drug featured in the story. Unfortunately this second entry can’t decide where its narrative focus lies.

A late summer hurricane slams into Boston as the novel opens. Detective Eddy Harkness and his Narco-Intel crew are examining the rain soaked streets of Boston’s Lower South End when another menace rears its head. A new, extraordinarily pure and deadly brand of heroin, known on the street as Dark Horse, has taken the lives of several residents and shows no sign of diminishing.

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