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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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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The Digest Enthusiast: Book Five

On the first page after its table of contents, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST’s fifth issue notes that four fiction digests — those bearing the brand names of Alfred Hitchcock, Isaac Asimov and Ellery Queen — have shifted from a 10-issue yearly schedule to a mere half-dozen. The cost-cutting measure is a sign of these tough publishing times.

Luckily, it’s one that ENTHUSIAST doesn’t have to worry about, for two major reasons: First, editor and publisher Richard Krauss is more focused on covering the past history of these magazines, whose heyday is long behind them. And second, being an indie publication in today’s print-on-demand technology, pesky things like “unsold copies” do not exist. Praise be!

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Outside the Law

Author and journalist Phillip Thompson’s latest crime novel, OUTSIDE THE LAW, follows the aftermath of violence within the world of street-level drug dealers and the mobsters who control the dealers and the flow of drugs in a rural Mississippi county. While the events and characters are never less than absorbing, the novel’s overall impact is deadened due to Thompson’s leisurely pace and shifting perspective.

Colt Harper, Sheriff of a small rural Mississippi county, has a problem on his hands. Small-time drug dealers who operate in his town are showing up brutally murdered. It isn’t long before Sheriff Harper confronts Hack, a sharp dressing, intelligent talking and completely cold-blooded assassin hired by a Memphis mobster to eliminate the dealers. Hack immediately sees Harper as an obstacle to his assignment, but a very expendable obstacle.

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The Jukebox Kings

Doug Allyn’s latest crime novel, THE JUKEBOX KINGS, presents a little-known side of the music business in the mid 1960s, when recordings were made in houses renovated into studios and records were promoted more by popularity on jukeboxes in locals bars and clubs than airplay over the radio. Along the way Allyn also unsparingly presents the greed, ambition, and violence that are also parts of the professional music world.

“Irish” Mick Shannon is a professional boxer who suddenly finds himself in debt to the mob when his manager bet heavy and Shannon looses his latest match. Unable to come up with the cash, Shannon ends up working as the collector for Moishe Abrams, an aging mobster who runs the jukes and collections in Detroit’s 8 Mile area.

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The Nightwalker

Sebastian Fitzek is known for his willingness to take chances with the mystery genre, and his predilection for layering twists and turns into the story so you’re not always sure of the reality of what you’re reading.

And there’s plenty of that in THE NIGHTWALKER, a book that starts with an intriguing premise, turns it around multiple times, and ends with … well, I won’t spoil it, but frankly, the ultimate ending was far less satisfying than what had come before.

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3 New Pop Culture Books

David Thomson is one of our finest living writers, period. He just so happens to work in the field of film criticism, yet his prose sings as marvelously as any acclaimed work of fiction. Each book he releases is an event for cineastes, including his latest … although it is about the movies’ archenemy. In the Thames & Hudson hardback Television: A Biography — heavy in size, heady in subject — Thomson relates the history of TV in the same manner he did cinema in 2012’s The Big Screen: purely on his terms. That means neither chronologically nor logically by anyone’s standards, yet the book feels that way once the whirlwind tour is done. The man can pivot on a dime, going from Gunsmoke to The Rockford Files to James Garner’s Polaroid ads with Mariette Hartley to Merv Griffin — and somehow, his dot-connecting leaps work. The cover image — the iconic one from 1982’s classic Poltergeist — is as good a joke as any, representing Thomson’s sometimes contentious relationship with the boob tube. And let’s be honest: His is ours.

While not quite a runaway smash, The Legend of Tarzan performed better than expected at last summer’s box office, proving there’s lots of life left in the lord of the apes. For the life already lived, David Lemmo recounts the pulp hero’s first century of existence in Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback has the daunting task of distilling 100-plus years of content into roughly a 200-page narrative, and for the most part, the man succeeds. With Edgar Rice Burroughs writing dozens of novels starring his creation, adapted for dozens more motion pictures, there is little space for Lemmo to dive too deeply into individual works. Plus, the preceding sentence doesn’t take into account Tarzan’s adventures into TV, radio, comics, toys and other merchandising vines, all of which get covered here — just at a monkey’s-eye view. For example, the aforementioned Legend film merits one paragraph, but that’s more than is earned by Hollywood’s heretofore most recent live-action Tarzan film, 1998’s flop Tarzan and the Lost City (a vehicle for a loinclothed Casper Van Dien). Lemmo’s writing leans heavily on names and dates, so passages tend to grow arid. For those seeking a reference work on just the movies, reach for Scott Tracy Griffin’s recent Tarzan on Film; for a broad overview on the character’s wide-ranging market penetration and influence, Lemmo’s book serves as that introduction.

As you may have noticed with his previous book on Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010, when David Grove gets interested in a celebrity as a subject, he goes all in. Now, he’s gone all in on the troubled star of Damnation Alley, White Line Fever and TV’s Airwolf in Jan-Michael Vincent: Edge of Greatness. One of the best things about the BearManor Media release is that it exists at all; although once a matinee idol, Vincent is remembered more today (when he’s remembered at all) for substance abuse struggles and other tabloid fodder. I’ll be the first to admit I thought the actor already had died. Perhaps Grove’s book can help — not to rewrite Vincent’s history or legacy, but just to make certain that someone acknowledged his talent and, furthermore, mourned its loss. If you’re not already a fan, Edge of Greatness won’t change your mind; I suspect it won’t even be read by JM-V virgins. Working without input from or access to his subject, Grove guides us through each step of Vincent’s career at a quick clip, from its sharp ascent to an extended train wreck of a fall. Any fear on your part that Grove will indulge in hagiography is unwarranted, as the rather odd and sobering (pun not intended) final chapter makes clear. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Night Bird

In THE NIGHT BIRD, his latest stand-alone mystery, Brian Freeman again probes the psychological themes found in most of his previous works. Here, however, a psychologist and her unusual therapy technique are one of the main characters.

San Francisco Homicide Detective Frost Easton is investigating a series of bizarre deaths. The fact that the victims, all women, reportedly suffered psychotic breakdowns just before their deaths causes Easton to look for other possibilities connections between the victims.

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