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1joan

"You're crazy, the late Feudal period was a time of great social upward mobility for most people. Europe was going through constant change."

"Joan, that's only true after the Black Death opened up so many possibilities by wiping out most of the population."

"Well, I didn't say it was a HAPPY time..."

Or that's my guess, anyway.
 
 
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This is one of the "first wave" Universal horror movies that really deserves to be better known. I honestly don`t know why it isn't as popular or as often discussed as, say WEREWOLF OF LONDON or THE RAVEN from the same period*.(After this and DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, the studio took a horror break until the monsters came back bigtime with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1939, launching the "second wave".)

Obsessive scientist Janos Rukh tracks down an enormously powerful source of radioactive energy in Africa and accidentally contaminates himself with it (d'oh!). Now he glows like phosphorus in the dark and anything he touches literally drops dead. And, in accordance with the rules of Mad Science, the radiation poisoning also affects his mind, making him a murderous maniac who inevitably sets out to avenge himself on his colleagues who have used his discovery. Adding to the mayhem he can cause, Rukh has harnessed the Invisible Ray of the super-radium into a very cool looking zapgun, which distintegrates boulders and people alike.

There's a satisfying amount of suspense as he stalks his former comrades, culminating in a midnight assembly of scientists where they hope to trap him by turning off the lights. But the madman is a cunning devil and his final fate is to be determined only by a most unexpected intervention....

Visually, THE INVISIBLE RAY is a complete delight. The laboratories and ray-guns and protective suits look like early science-fiction but everything else is absolutely classic horror style. An imposing castle in pouring rain, the madman lurking about gloomy Paris streets with his collar up and widebrimmed hat pulled low, it all looks very Germanic and evocative.

The mad scientist Rukh is played by Boris Karloff (with wild kinky hair and an Edgar Allan Poe mustache) and his chief rival and antagonist is Bela Lugosi with a stylish goatee. It's facial hair war! Now, at first, you might think the casting would have been better served by having Lugosi as the sinister ranting killer and Karloff as the more benevolent colleague, roles they seem more suited to play. But what the heck. Actors deserve to try something different now and then, and you never know when a comedian will make a terrific psychokiller or an action star could turn in a sensitive performance as a victim of some disease du jour. Karloff and Lugosi both do perfectly good jobs here, and Bela in particular seems be really trying to comes across as sympathetic and likeable.

Also enjoyable is Frances Drake as Rukh's much underappreciated wife. She had an expressive face and good presence, and it's too bad that this and the Peter Lorre thriller MAD LOVE were her only gifts to us horror fans. Then there's Rukh's mother, whose blindness is dramatically cured by her son's new Radium X zapper, giving their final confrontation extra poignancy. Cooper might have had that silent film style that audiences regarded as dignified, but really Jack Pierce should have been able to do something about the mustache.

One moment that struck my interest was when Lugosi's character is investigating the mysterious death of a member of his African expedition. He takes a photograph of the dead man's eyes and (sure enough) there's a little image of a scowling Karloff preserved on the retina. This idea was taken seriously in the 19th Century, that the eye retained an image of the last thing it saw in life. I believe that Scotland Yard tried it out in the search for Jack the Ripper with unhelpful results.


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*Actually, watching THE INVISIBLE RAY again just now, one reason does occur to me. Searching for the Radium X in Africa, Rukh hires a crew of shrieking, trembling, easily panicked natives. To edit them out would also remove the explanation for what`s going on here, so the movie seems likely to miss out on regular showings on American Movie Classics.
 
 
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pangolin"Soon, the time will come to STRIKE!"
 
 
dochermes
20 October 2014 @ 01:31 pm

untitled

<b>"Sha la la la la..."</b>

Here's the LIVE FROM THE BBC version:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEPQc8qmq9w

Listening to this a few times just now left me in a happy daze of nostalgia for the girl groups of the early 1960s. Now there's a genre of music I haven't heard in ages. The Shirelles ("Soldier Boy"), the Ronettes ("Be My Baby"), the Shangri-Las (most melodramatic songs ever, "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," "Leader of the Pack"), the Crystals* ("He's a Rebel"), the Chiffons ("One Fine Day"), maybe the Supremes (although they somehow don't seem to fit in). And here were the Beatles doing a cover of a song by one such group. "Baby It's You" was a hit for the Shirelles in 1961 (the year that looked the same upside-down), and the Beatles followed their version closely. That the band did a few covers of songs by girl groups certainly didn't hurt their appeal to their teenybopper fan base. (The Beatles also covered "Chains" by the Cookies and "Please Mr Postman" by the Marvelettes, as well as another song by the Shirelles, "Boys" (which actually does seem a bit odd as sung by Ringo, come to think of it).

As far as the lyrics go, it's pretty standard romance pop, with one interesting blip about the girl having a bad reputation ("You should hear what they say about you/They say never ever ever been true" with "cheat, cheat" in the back-up vocals). So there is maybe a little more weight to the song than you might expect, as the narrator is going against everyone's advice and taking a chance to follow his heart.

The Beatles had used this song in their live shows for a few years, which helped them record it quickly. The drums and guitar work seem competent but uninspired for once, as if the boys were just tired and wanted to go home.John sang lead, with Paul and George adding back-up vocals. (You wonder if at least ONCE they teased each other over which of them was which one of the Shirelles, you know, taking the mickey). I honestly wasn't sure who was singing lead because John's voice sounds so atypical, but I have been informed he was hoarse after the marathon recording session for the PLEASE PLEASE ME album. Actually, I like the edge it gives his voice and it may seem funny, but I kinda wish he had done a few more songs while hoarse. Maybe every time he had a cold, he could have rushed to the studio or something.

And here is the original by the Shirelles, just fifty-three years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRrxjk3qgRc
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*The Crystals also released "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)," which was not a big hit (so to speak)

 
 
dochermes
cosplay batgirl

Honestly, I think they should skip yet another reboot of dark, grim, depressing ol' Batman and give us a Batgirl movie. Something bright and colorful and fun, with lots of narrow escapes and henchmen wearing matching T-shirts. Batgirl is snarky and makes fun of the crooks as she gets out of deathtraps and pulls the fuse on the bomb at the last possible instant. Okay, Yvonne Craig is maybe a little past playing the role but I'm sure someone appropriate could be found.

...PS Check out the less than thrilled expression on the person behind Batgirl.

PPS This image clicks up to much larger size for closer study!
 
 
dochermes
19 October 2014 @ 02:06 pm
a604024_(0002)

Looking a little dehydrated, might be time for a swig of Gatorade. I'm just saying.
 
 
dochermes
Art by Brian LeBanc

the-frost-giants-daughter4b

COMPLETE SPOILERS AHEAD
Seriously, I'm going to discuss the ending, so if you haven't read this story, you might want to skip the following.

One of the more subtle and ambiguous Conan stories (especially compared to some later rushed-out slaughterfests), "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" is a haunting little vignette. It also features some of Howard's most vivid imagery. I'm not wild about poetry in general and Howard's particular brand leaves me flat. But the urge toward poetry is what gives his prose such wonderful word choice and rhythm, and makes it sometimes scan so impressively:

"The clangor of the swords had died away, the shouting of the slaughter was hushed; silence lay on the red-stained snow. The bleak pale sun that glittered so blindingly from the ice-fields and the snow-covered plains struck sheens of silver from rent corselet and broken blade, where the dead lay as they had fallen. The nerveless hand yet gripped the broken hilt; helmeted heads back-drawn in the death-throes, tilted red beards and golden beards grimly upward, as if in last invocation to Ymir, the frost-giant, god of a warrior race." (Some echoes of Shelley's "Ozymandias" there, don't you think?)

We're up in the Northern lands of the Hyborian age, after a battle where both sides were completely wiped out. Stepping over the scattered corpses, two last survivors approach each other; the man with the red beard asks the other for his name, so he can tell his brothers in Vanaheim who was the last enemy to be killed. The beardless and blackmaned youth gives a great retort as he charges, "Not in Vanaheim, but in Valhalla will you tell your brothers that you met Conan of Cimmeria."

Although Conan does slay this final opponent, he takes a hefty clonk to the head as his opponent's sword shatters on his helmet. Exhausted by a long day of swordfighting, stinging with wounds and now a head trauma, the Cimmerian drops to the frozen ground and struggles to stay conscious. Then the laughter of a woman rouses him.

Rather unexpectedly, he looks up at Atali, the most gorgeous young thing he has ever seen; almost completely naked in the snow (just a little gossamer veil), pale and slim, with red-golden hair. She taunts him mockingly. As Conan stirs with anger and lust, the strange woman sneers, "Lie down and die in the snow with the other fools, Conan of the black hair. You cannot follow where I would lead."

Grrrr. More dead than alive a moment ago, Conan lurches to his feet and chases after her. He plows through the heavy snow with brute tenacity, where she glides over it and hardly leaves footprints. The chase goes on for miles and, although the Cimmerian hardly notices, he strays from the mundane battlefield to "a shimmering realm of enchantment" where "the skies glowed and crackled with strange lights and gleams." Then he suddenly is introduced to the girl's big brothers. (oops!).

Two giants rear up out of the snow, covered with ice and frost. (I picture them maybe eight or nine foot tall, big enough but not kaiju-sized.) Atali has led him to the slaughter, but the towering brutes are in for a rude awakening. Even weary and wounded, an enraged Conan with a sword in his hand is no one's easy victim. *Slash! Hack! Thump!* As the barbarian turns from the two new carcasses, suddenly the girl loses her poise, "staring at him with wide-eyed horror, all the mockery gone from her face." This time, her flight is panic-stricken and, eventually, Conan wears her down and seizes her like a tiger grabbing a deer.

The Cimmerian grapples roughly with Atali, kissing her all over and preparing to claim her in the most direct way. ("I will warm you with the fire in my own blood –") With one last effort, she breaks free and calls on Ymir himself to save her. Well. There are blinding fireworks of blue and crimson flame; the girl is gone and Conan drops to the ground like a side of beef. He awakens to find some of his AEsir allies trying to revive him. They had followed his tracks from the battle and (as you might expect) there is no sign of the dead giants or the little sword-tease to be seen.

One man thinks Conan was just delirious from his concussion and wandered away, but another is sure he met the legendary Atali, daughter of the frost-giants. "She lures men from stricken fields into the wastelands to be slain by her brothers, the ice-giants, who lay men's red hearts smoking on Ymir's board." As for Conan, he doesn't know what to think – maybe he was lost in a daze – until he notices he still holds in one hand "a wisp of gossamer that was never woven by human distaff." (I have loved this literary touch, where there's a bit of concrete evidence after what seems a dream or hallucination, ever since first encountering it at the end of Wells' THE TIME MACHINE.)

It's an interesting thought that, since Atali appears only to those who are dying, her enticing Conan to pursue her through the twilight zone between this world and the next was actually what saved him. If she hadn't scampered along, most likely he would have ended up just one more frozen cadaver on the field. So he owes her a toast the next time he's chugging ale in some tavern.

This story has the evocative feeling of genuine folklore, as a legend retold by a skilled hand. It's sort of like a dark version of the Sirens or Valkyries, with a grim twist. Its most notorious aspect, though, seems to be the dogma that Conan just would never have raped a woman. In some of the stories, he is described as having a rough, crude sort of chivalry. Well, I suppose. The character after all spends much of his life as a bloodthirsty pirate and mercenary soldier. Even if he didn't participate in rape himself, he certainly led various groups to rob caravans, burn villages and castles, kill all the inhabitants and carry off the loot. Mass rapes and gangbangs would be a big part of the incentive for the fighters under his command. If he tried to deny his corsairs or raiders this fringe benefit, he would be deposed as quickly as if he had ordered them to just knock the victims out instead of cutting them to shreds.

What should be remembered is that Conan is after all a fantasy figure, not at all what a real barbarian was like. He's about as similar to a genuine Aechean or Viking as the Rawhide Kid was to a real cowhand. Robert E Howard often seemed to harbor an unrealistic attitude toward chivalry, as in his Western THE VULTURES OF WHAPETON where the gunfighter is shocked that the outlaws would dare harm a woman, who were inviolate to even the lowest riff-raff. So Conan is able to possess this rather idealized trait, which makes him more palatable to readers. He may cheerfully murder a merchant on the road for a few gold coins or lead the sack of a city whose people have done nothing to him. That's fine. Massacres and pillaging are okay, but sexual assault is just crossing the line.

"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" was one of the earliest Conan stories which Howard wrote; he submitted it to WEIRD TALES along with "The Phoenix On the Sword". Editor Farnsworth Wright accepted the second tale (which appeared in the December 1932 issue and launched the series) but returned this one. Howard later sent it to an amateur magazine, where it was published with the hero's name changed to Amra – and of course, Amra was the name which Conan himself used while raiding villages under Belit, Queen of the Black Coast, completing the self-references.
 
 
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handstand

Not QUITE what we mean by "doing a headstand," I think.
 
 
dochermes
19 October 2014 @ 01:35 pm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwR7H7AY08U

Speaking of Herb Alpert..
 
 
dochermes
18 October 2014 @ 02:26 pm
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