Enterprising Reboot


I would suppose that everyone who is interested in the new “Star Trek” movie has seen it by now, so I won’t worry about spoilers. A long time ago, Fritz Leiber wrote a story — “Try and Change the Past” (Amazing Science Fiction, March 1958) — postulating that the space-time continuum resists change. If a time traveler alters the past, the future may be slightly changed, but soon the future finds its way to the former norm. “Star Trek” reminds me very much of this story; while the intrusion of a Romulan from the future changes the history of the galaxy in some major ways, by the end of the movie most of the crew of the Enterprise have found their way to the positions and characters that we know from ST:TOS.

First of these history alterations is the destruction of a starship commanded by James Kirk’s father. We see the fatherless Kirk grow up as a juvenile delinquent; him stealing and wrecking his step-father’s classic car is our introduction to the character. Next he is seen hanging out in a bar, hitting on the lovely cadet Uhura and getting in a fight. There is a James Dean rebel quality in Kirk 2.0, or to quote from Ted Anthony’s perceptive AP review:

[Chris] Pine’s Kirk is Shatner’s on Red Bull and vodka — rebellious and sarcastic, vaguely felonious, tragically hip, soaked in irony and maybe a bit ADD. He leaps, then — maybe — looks.

I found the scene where Kirk overcomes the Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario particularly highlights this aspect, as Kirk doesn’t even pretend not to be cheating. And somehow I suspect, egalitarian future and all, that if this Kirk had been raised by his father he would, like the 60’s Kirk, prefer blondes.

Ted Anthony paints Kirk as an iconic American character, born of the New Frontier but true heir of the old one, having a dual nature, exuberant and impetuous, yet serious and intelligent; “hawk and dove, humble and arrogant, futurist and traditionalist — and in the most American duality of all, childlike and completely adult.”

That last duality brings Breckinridge Elkins to mind, somehow.

Frontier scholar Richard Slotkin weighs in comparing Kirk with the persona George Bush tried to mould for himself, the “compassionate conservative” — but notes Kirk’s “right-wing style” is actually controlled by his “ingrained progressivism.”

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto (Spock) are well-cast as the young leads, which really helps. Add in a strong story which, from the get-go, allows the writers freedom to stray from the massive weight of Star Trek lore, a powerful villian played with dire scowls by Eric Bana, great effects and plenty of action and you have a film that should captivate old fans and new alike.

Krud Mandoon and the Flaming Pile of Poor Satire


I’ll say this: I have never liked Jerry Lewis movies. With back-handed apologies to the French, I have never found it appropriate to laugh at some poor shmuck who is indequate, inept, and pitiful, and knows it. (Of course, if he imagines himself brilliant and capable, like Inspector Closeau, then it’s funny.)

Kröd Mändoon is rather like one of those Jerry Lewis characters, it seems. So to me the very premises puts me off. Sean Maguire’s (Meet the Spartans) earnest, pleading hero is the sword and sorcery Charlie Brown, always having the football pulled away. I never thought he was a funny character either. Most of the poor reception Krod got from Howard fans seems to be because of the poor taste, the pure offensiveness of some of its humor. “Truly awful” was one succint response. And a lot of it is truly offensive. But I can accept offensive humor in such shows as Reno 911! and the long-running South Park, because these shows are funny. Unfortunately, for the most part, Krod is simply not funny.

You have Krod in a relationship with a woman whose sexual appetites he cannot begin to fill. That is funny how? You have this shaman who cannot cast spells, and a pig-man who cannot shoot straight — well, OK, that last might be a little funny. You have the flaming gay hispanic – please, if you can’t do it as well as Hank Azaria’s Agador/Spartacus in “The Birdcage“, why bother?

To castigate this show as sophomoric is to degrade sophomores everwhere. Still, there are a few bright spots. India de Beaufort is one steaming hottie, especially when stripped down to chainmail bra and the hottest of hot pants, as in episode four. And then there’s the villians.


British improv comedian Matt Lucas as Dungalor is a hoot. While he rates Dungalor as somewhere between Pol Pot and Blofeld on a scale of villianny, I see him as Baron Harkonnen on drugs. Alex MacQueen, playing his henchman Barnabas as a refugee from the staff of Slithering, is a perfect foil. When they are onscreen, the show is funny. They even succeed in making the plague funny.

I really wanted to like this show. I thought a sword and sorcery farce was something with potential. But aside from the villians, there’s really nothing much here to enjoy.

New Lord of the Rings fan film set to debut


It’s called The Hunt for Gollum, and there’s some trailers up for it right now at their website. The entire forty-minute film is set to debut on May 3.

This is the kind of thing I’m intrigued by on many levels, as a guy who has often harbored dreams of doing something similar. Think about it: they used a couple of HD prosumer video cameras in the $3000-$5000 range, some extra equipment to achieve a cinematic look (SGPro depth of field adapter, SteadiCams, computer color correction and visual effects), and a lot of donated acting, prop, and makeup help. Putting aside for a moment my loathing of the Lord of the Rings films and watching the trailer, it seems they did a good job of pressing up against true feature quality, with the usual exceptions common to fan films: somewhat subpar acting, like kids playing dress-up, along with poor choices of lenses and angles in the action scenes (too many wide lenses and not enough telephoto, odd bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views, and camera skews with no motivation or coherence) which seem to give away that it was shot on a video camera. But the long shots and general quality of the images are quite stunning, the British locations magnificent, and even the Orcs seem to mirror those in the Hollywood version, at least in the little clips I saw of them in the trailers.

The main thing I am always struck by when seeing these sorts of films (there are a lot of good Star Wars ones out there, too), is that people would spend so much time and effort aping a copyrighted world, when with a few small adjustments and a good script they could make a similarly inspired and magnificent film based in a world of their own making, which would allow them to make money off of their effort, use it as a demo reel to get a job making a more expensive feature set in the same fictional universe, or any number of other options. But I suppose that a lot of people helped solely because it wasn’t just any fantasy story but one that aped Jackson’s LotR vision. I personally can’t stand that vision — that grey and drab world of misty forests peopled by unshowered Rangers and hippie elves accompanied by a soundtrack of ghostly Enya-esque wails. I think it’s beyond silly for the orchestra to boom and the camera to swoop around every time there’s a nice view or a mountain. But these guys have clearly made a great effort, achieving enough to prove yet again that independent films of this nature can and will become as cool as Hollywood fare someday soon. Amazing new cameras and computers are coming down the pike, stuff that is going to make a good homemade video every bit as stunning as most Hollywood films, even effects-laden ones. When that happens, I wonder how many Howard stories are going to get filmed? That little Solomon Kane one that made the rounds a few years back might only be the humble beginning of a big low-budget push to get Howard’s work on screen.

Watching Watchmen


Those of us who remember the agonizing wait between new issues of the Watchmen limited series have at last endured through an even more momentous wait – the famed graphic novel has finally been released as a movie. Of course, many elements of the story had to be trimmed or chopped, but as a Cliff Notes version, it’s a very faithful adaptation, for the most part. Like the makers of the so-called Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though they are doing great right up to the end, they feel they have to have at least one really significant change. Don’t ask me why.

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The Adventures of King Burt and Prince Jason


I’m a little surprised that last year’s big-budget Sword & Sorcery epic hasn’t seen any commentary in the Howardian blogosphere, at least not in the forums I visit. Sure, Uwe Boll’s videogame spin-off In the Name of the King was a massive flop, returning around 5% of its $60 million budget on its not-even-in-the-top-ten opening weekend, apparently failing to even draw the game’s fans. (It’s world wide gross is still only $12.5 million or so.) And it undoubtedly deserved to be a flop, being a derivative, muddled and terribly cast example of how not to make a fantasy film — still, it has its moments. Like The Sword and the Sorceror, a sentimental favorite of some older Howard fans, it lends itself naturally to MST3K-style mockery. The director even picked up a Razzie for his efforts, though the film itself lost out to The Love Guru as worst picture. So why even watch this film? Well. . ..

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Wheel of Pain, Tree of Woe, Throne of Tinfoil, Or, The Daze of Highly Insulting Adventure


Here at TC Central a schism wider than the Hyrkanian steppes has long separated me from site-founder Leo Grin and Silver-Keywielder Brian Murphy. Is John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian Li’ Abner versus the Moonies, as Karl Edward Wagner discerned so many years ago, or the most stirring sword-and-sorcery epic ever filmed? Well now [redacted], who posts as “Taranaich” at the Conan.com REH Forum, has graciously given us permission to run El Ingenioso Bàrbaro Rey Konahn de Simaria, an attempt at reconciling the Howard and Milius Conans that far surpasses the L. Sprague and Catherine Crook de Camp CtB novelization. Mr. [redacted] is clearly the greatest Scotsman since Sean Connery, and Gordon Brown should knight him forthwith:

The film starts in the northern mountains of Brythunia. There, a tiny backwards village lies, far away from the rest of the world. The Simarians are a comfy folk living on the northern border, originally founded by a small community of luddites shunning the civilized wonders of Brythunia for a more “honest” rural life. Using distorted and piecemeal information gathered from drunk adventurers and senile folklorists, they model themselves after the Cimmerians, though their society leaves a lot to be desired in terms of accuracy. They worship Krumm, a mashup of Cimmerian and Nordic mythology whitewashed into a benevolent deity to suit their drippy ideals. Not actually knowing how to make proper swords, they use simple casting techniques to create attractive but impractical replicas: since they rarely meet other people, they never actually test their weapons in combat. This is the tribe of Konahn. Young Konahn has a happy childhood with his nice dad and hot mother, with no bandits or dangerous beasts to contend with, and no feudal lords to oppress them.

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Derleth Be Not Proud, Part Three: Autochthonic Masses Howling and Wet-Mouthed


Part One: Hypersensitive, Not Hyperborean

Part Two: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and Let Slip the Hounds of Tindalos

In certain surroundings our entire being is made of eyes, every atom dilates to witness the haunting of the universe.

Thomas Ligotti, “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror”

A good critical overview or survey is courteously coercive in that we feel obligated to impose some sort of order and consistency on our own opinions. Having spent the better part of two weeks thinking about S. T. Joshi’s The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos — better because the alternative was redrafting various cover letters yet again to try and suppress their ghostly, single-song soundtrack of “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — I’d like to follow up Part One, which mostly engaged with Joshi’s comments on Robert E. Howard’s Mythos work, and Part Two, a wide-ranging look at Rise and Fall‘s treatment of “everyone else,” with subjective and selective suggestions about Mythos-mining. Those who can, do, and those who can’t blog; I’m about as qualified to offer such suggestions as were the walking loyalty oaths and newly-hatched ideologues who found themselves brattily supervising entire Iraqi ministries or provinces during the heady summer of 2003. But if nothing else, this Part Three has been a pretext for some enjoyable re-reading and re-watching.

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Gunslinging Ghostbusters


“He was always a devil,” snarled old Job. “[. . .] The black dog! The fiend from Purgatory’s pits!”
“Well, we’ll soon see if he’s safe in his tomb,” said Conrad. “Ready, O’Donnell?”
“Ready,” I answered, strapping on my holstered .45. Conrad laughed.
“Can’t forget your Texas raising, can you?” He bantered. “Think you might be called on to shoot a ghost?”
“Well, you can’t tell,” I answered. “I don’t like to go out at night without it.”
“Guns are useless against a vampire,” said Job, fidgeting. . .
— Robert E. Howard, The Dwellers Under the Tombs

Not if you’ve got the right load, apparently. In the long-running CW series Supernatural, brothers Dean and Sam Winchester — I’m sure the name intentionally invokes both the gun-maker and the nation’s most famous haunted mansion — are quick to pull out their street-sweeper shotguns and blast away at all kinds of things ghostly and inhuman, usually with a load of rock salt. This is a play on the old idea of salt as a purifying substance, an idea common to pagan and older Roman Catholic rituals, but adds highly to the dramatic action quotient of the show. In other scenes, the brothers use salt to form a protective barrier that evil spirits cannot cross. This actually has precedent as supernatural lore, which is not always the case in this show. Later on, another famous gun-maker, Samuel Colt, becomes the source of two important plotlines, one involving a special gun that will kill vampires — and anything else.

We recently picked up the DVDs for Season One and Season Two, and watched them over the space of two weekends and a few rare Tennessee snow days. It probably worked out to a malevolent spirit being dissolved by shotgun blasts every 16-18 hours or so — never got tired of the effect, though. Sometimes, the beings they face don’t care for the touch of iron, so they use iron loads as well. Another effect used very commonly in the show is for the ghosts to move in jerky stop-motion cuts, an effect used in quite a few horror movies these days — I believe it started with Japanese movies like Ringu and The Grudge. I think the reason this effect is unsettling is that our primate ancestors, being hunters and often hunted, had to devote a lot of the brain to instantaneous vector analysis — the same skills we use nowadays to catch a football or safely navigate a left turn. It is against the norm that we are hard-wired to expect for something to move from one point to another without crossing the space between — it freaks our vector-based defenses. Against such an enemy — one moving through HPL’s oft-invoked “non-Euclidean geometry” — “no can defense,” like the nonpareil crane kick from The Karate Kid.

Like The X-Files and The Night Stalker before it, the show has a smorgasbord of monsters, demons, ghoulies and ghastlies to entertain. The brothers are on the road constantly, covering uncanny USA coast to coast. Due to the age of Dean’s traveling cassette collection, the show has an 80’s soundtrack ranging from punk to pre-Silver-Bullet-Band Bob Seger to Southern mullet rock, with the latter predominating.

I’m surprised Steve Tompkin’s feet weren’t burning with eagerness — a little Blackwoods humor there — to tell you about the Supernatural episode “Wendigo” when he mentioned the show in his post about the Fear Itself episode “Skin and Bones,” which I’ve been hoping to catch ever since. Other good stand-alone episodes include “Scarecrow”, about a fertility god who requires annual sacrifices, “The Benders,” about the family of cannibal hillbillies, and “Something Wicked” which features an Eastern European witch called a “shtriga” — a word strikingly similar to “Stregoi-“, the first part of Howard’s Stregoicavar, the “Witch-town” of “The Black Stone.” The writers on this show are obvious fan-boys and girls, judging from all the movie paradigms they pilfer, from haunted asylums to invisible hook-handed killers, to creepy little girls to killer clowns, just to name a few.

But while all the episodes were good, what I enjoyed best were those which dealt with the overlying story arc that ran through both seasons, finally culminating in a two-part finale. It’s a very dark theme of long-sought vengeance against the demon that killed the mother when the younger brother, Sam, was still an infant — a quest that has consumed their father and made him a night-stalking “hunter” who insists on them following in his footsteps.

Since they seem to be making it up as they go along, sometimes the supernatural “lore” is shaky. When asked about the significance of the number 40 in “Phantom Traveller,” Dean replies curtly, “Biblical numerology. It means death.” Um, not exactly. The reason 40, as in “40 days and 40 nights”, appears so frequently in the Bible is that it is a Hebrew idiom, best translated as “an indeterminate, but pretty long time.” I think it really means something like “I counted all my fingers and toes, and you counted all your fingers and toes, and then we gave up counting.”

Sometimes, it’s almost brilliant, though, as in “What Is, and What Should Never Be.” Here the writers reconcile the Western idea of a genie as a powerful being that can grant any wish with the Near Eastern idea of a djinn as a deadly evil spirit. They do this by having the djinn induce a fantasy in its victim that makes him believe his wishes have come true, while it feeds on his life-force ultimately causing his demise. I’d be more impressed if I didn’t suspect the idea was taken from Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” in which Superman is stuck in a fantasy based on his heart’s desire by a sorcerous parasitic plant called the Black Mercy. In Superman’s case, he is normal and living on a Krypton which never exploded — in Dean’s case, he is normal and living in a world where his mother never died, and he never became a ghostbuster. At any rate, it’s a very poignant episode and shows the tensions within the characters very well.

Like Josh Whedon’s Angel and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the show deftly flits between humor, horror, action and angst, and it’s well worth the time spent. Since Robert E. Howard’s ghostbuster stories get about as much respect as O’Donnell’s decision to bring along his .45 — which does turn out to be a lifesaver when the “dwellers” emerge — it’s good to see stories in a similar vein making good on the small screen.

Night Falls On Whoheim


The bite of the wind was as nothing compared to the teeth of his own hate, gnawing him ceaselessly. Clouds and gusts of snow danced before him like the ghosts of his kinsmen, hounded to what would be extinction when he at last joined them. Unless he could effect tonight’s rescue — and at the thought of his mission, the cold and ice and driving sleet that would have frozen a sleighful of his enemies only steeled his resolve.

Every Who’s hand was against him, and for his part he took bitter pleasure in the fact that his only garment was a ragged Who-skin, dyed red and lined with white scalps of the elders he’d visited in their bedchambers. In truth he had been a strange, bitter creature even before Whoheim’s campaigns to clear the caves of Mount Crumpit, a feral fighter and dwimmer-crafty strategist, but one preyed on by black moods that set him apart even from his fellow green-furred cragsmen. The Who-word for the people of the peaks was Grinch, from the Latin Grinchii, but this was merely a clumsy-tongued truncation of Garrinch, a word as old and sharp-edged as the mountains the aboriginals had stalked for ages as numberless as the snowflakes. His own name, when there had still been a reason to have a name because others of his race still survived to call him by it, had been Garrinchogh Dubh. The Whos, when they could bring themselves to refer to him at all, called him The Grinch, as one might say The Devil.

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Larry Fessenden and the Spirits of the Lonely Places

Deep silence fell about the little camp, planted there so audaciously in the jaws of the wilderness. The lake gleamed like a sheet of black glass beneath the stars. The cold air pricked. In the draughts of night that poured their silent tide from the depths of the forest, with messages from distant ridges and from lakes just beginning to freeze, there lay already the faint, bleak odour of coming winter.

Algernon Blackwood, “The Wendigo”

The small screen can deliver big scares; Eric Kripke has been proving that more often than not for two full seasons and a strike-shortened third with Supernatural. That show, in which two brothers drive the unluckiest backroads of the American night while being driven by a family mission that asks too much of them, crashes through The CW’s sugar-and-spice-and-spite like a classic rock power chord. And at least half the episodes of Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror were good unclean fun; sixty minutes without commercials can amount to the functional equivalent of a novelette, if not a novella. When Showtime wasn’t interested in a third season, the MOH auteurist anthology approach lived to affright another day as Fear Itself, eight episodes of which aired this summer before NBC switched to scaring us with flexi-dwarf gymnasts instead. As soon as the opening credits of “Skin and Bones,” the episode shown on the night of Thursday, July 31, revealed that the director du semaine was Larry Fessenden, I began hoping for a particular monster with which Fessenden has worked almost as often as did Scorsese with De Niro. . .the rottenest tooth in a knowing primordial grin, the blackness at the core of the rampaging blizzard.

At the start of “Skin and Bones” (written by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. who also scripted one of my favorite Masters of Horror episodes, the John Carpenter-directed “Cigarette Burns”), the ranch-owning but city-dwelling Grady Edlund has been missing for 10 wintry days. He returns as the only surviving member of a party that unwisely elected to ride the high country in the teeth of a storm, and even while indoors, bed-ridden and being cared for by his wife, sons, and brother, reeks of . . .externality, of having come back wrong. If Famine rather redundantly put itself on a starvation diet, the result might look like Grady, who is played by Doug Jones, an actor-turned-human-canvas worthy of the best efforts of a Bernie Wrightson or Gahan Wilson, perhaps even a Goya or Bosch; as Larry Fessenden proudly notes of his “Skin and Bones” work “He is the special effect.”

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