Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Fear Over the City

A grinning serial killer is hunting the women of Paris, inspector Le Terrier is hot on his trail. This is the basic and simple premise behind Henri Verneuil's Fear Over the City (Peur sur la ville) that came out in 1975. I just saw it last night on a 35 mm print, though it was somewhat faded and full of scratches.

There's much of Italian giallos in this film, and indeed it was partially financed by Italian producers. The Italian feel was heightened by English dubbing, which, while it wasn't badly made in itself, also added to the feel of unintentional humour. The film is at times an uneasy mix between serious thrill-seeking suspense film and a comical, almost self-parodist slapstick. Jean-Paul Belmondo in the lead as Le Terrier made his own stunts and one never really knows whether the scenes are thought to be funny or not, even though Belmondo was clearly at risk here.

In the end, it's only a middling film, with some nice touches here and there, but also with some ludicrous stuff here and there and everywhere. Some of the latter parts are very funny, some aren't. There are some beautiful women to be killed later on, which always makes me squirm a bit. The character of the serial killer is quite intriguing, though, his grin is scary. (I was told that the actor doing the killer's part was Italian, which also may have something to do with the giallo atmosphere.)

The best thing about the film is Ennio Morricone's eerie music. Check out the trailer below. Might've been better in the original French.

More Overlooked Films here at Todd Mason's blog. [Though seems like no post is up yet.]

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Overlooked Film weekend at the cabin: Stake Land, Leonard Part 6, Angst, Samurai Cop etc.

Stake Land
We spent a movie weekend at a cabin, me and six friends of mine, watching 14 feature-length films and an assortement of short subjects in a row. Fun was had by all, but I didn't get much sleep and am only now recovering. The films were a really mixed bunch, with some true oddities thrown in. Here's the lowdown.

Jim Mickle: Stake Land: pretty good gritty vampire apocalypse film from the director of Cold in July. ***½

Steven Knight: Hummingbird: tedious noirish film about an Afghanistan veteran (Jason Statham) trying to make wrongs right. Statham can't act serious stuff, but that's not the only problem here. Knight has done better stuff before (writing Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) and since (directing Locke), but this is just boring. **

Paul Weiland: Leonard Part 6: truly absurd Bill Cosby vehicle that Cosby has tried to keep off the air,.The film has some great moments, but is simply too long, some scenes seem to go on forever. * or ****

Ben Kamras: Life on the Line: shitty home video released in 1995 on VHS and later on DVD, with Finnish people speaking (bad) English. Everything is horribly wrong in this film by the son of a Finnish film mogul and theater owner. The film has some very, very bad fight scenes, the hits miss by a mile. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to die. * or *****

Aurora Productions: S.O.S.: some truly weird moments were had with this: catchy pop songs about Christians being harassed by a mob of soldiers and bar codes being tattooed on people's foreheads in praise of Satan, anti-evolutionist praises and what not. I'd found this on VHS not knowing what to expect, but this was truly something. Possibly shot in Australia. I understand the Family cult behind this has been accused of child abuse and other sex crimes. Some truly disturbing shit on them in the web. Can't really give stars to this.

Michael Bay: Pain & Gain: too long, but still up there with Spring Breakers as one of the essential neo-neonoirs of the 2010s: slick and shallow, full of spectacle, with a heart of pure satire. ***½

Jan Svankmajer: Surviving Life: I've liked Svankmajer's wild and surreal animations, but this didn't satisfy me much, seems like he's not very good with feature films. **

David Ayer: Sabotage: it's no wonder Schwarzenegger's comeback movie didn't make much impact with the audience: all the characters are unpleasant and the story line is botched (possibly because of the producer's interference), but there are still some of Ayer's trademarks: fast and meaningless dialogue and the tension between the bad cops and the worse cops. **½

Gerard Kargl: Angst: intimate and disturbing depiction of a serial killer released from prison and going on a killing spree in an isolated house. Banned in many European countries and possibly in the US as well, but still very intricately shot by Zbigniew Rybczynski and well acted. ****½

Anthony Mann: Strange Impersonation: strong noirish melodrama with an identity switch, suffers from a slack ending. ***

Arim Shervan: Samurai Cop: laughably and entertainingly ridiculous straight-to-video cop flick from the early nineties, shot possibly with a VHS camera. Lots of very bad acting and editing. Still a bit too long. A sequel is being made as I write. * or ****

Efren Pinon: The Killing of Satan: incomprehensible Philippine horror/fantasy film. Might've been a contender, but wasn't, save for some scenes here and there. * (After this we watched a Finnish VHS video from the early eighties in which a Finnish escape artist talks about his faith. I don't know why we bothered.)

Franck Khalfoun: Maniac: intelligent reworking of the dubious slasher classic by William Lustig. The POV technique works well: we almost never see Elijah Wood's face. ***½

Joseph Zito: Invasion USA: inept and stupid Chuck Norris vehicle with a wildly implausible plot to overthrow the US government. Yeah, right. Other guys seemed to love this. *½

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Joe R. Lansdale: The Thicket

Joe R. Lansdale's The Thicket (2013) is a bit like Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel from a treatment by Robert E. Howard: it's a weird, brutal and merciless story that moves on with the speed of a bullet, set in the desolate wasteland of the early 20th century Texas.

The Thicket is a western that pulls no punches. Everything is dirty and violent, but Lansdale makes the people he writes about come alive. The reader cares for them and really wishes no harm would come to them - and then Lansdale makes the worst happen. The bad guys are really scary. The Thicket is truly a gripping read.

The book loses some of its momentum after the first half, and some of the characters lose their spark a bit (especially prostitute Jimmie Sue, who seems very vibrant at first), but the first half and the climax just before the end is some of the best stuff I've read all year. Can't wait for the movie to come out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

100 American Crime Writers out - already in 2012!

I hadn't earlier noticed that 100 American Crime Writers, edited by Steven Powell, is out - has been actually already from 2012! The book looks good based on the Google Books page and some blog reviews I came across (here and here, for example). I was mentioned, and still I didn't notice!

I haven't received my contributor's copies, I'll have to get in touch with someone! Wonder if this is still doable. Now if only I'd remember if I wrote something for 100 British Crime Writers - I have a nagging feeling such a book was in the making at the same time...

Here's Steven Powell's interesting crime-oriented blog Venetian Vase.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Everybody Lies out

My newest book, the short story anthology Everybody Lies, is finally out. It's available here - and of course it's in Finnish and the actual title is Kaikki valehtelevat, which is the literal translation of James Reasoner's story in the book.

The book consists of some 20 criminous short stories from writers like Reasoner, Jason Starr, Kevin Wignall, Duane Swierczynski, Vicki Hendricks and Patricia Abbott. All of the stories came previously out in my mags Isku, Ässä and Seikkailukertomuksia (= Adventure Stories), that were self-published pastiches of old-time crime rags. All the translations have been edited and proofread carefully. It's a nice and varied collection of new hardboiled and noir writing, especially since almost none of these writers are available in Finnish at the moment. Most of the stories were translated by me, but some of them were translated by some of my talented friends, namely Antti Autio, Tapani Bagge, Sonja Lahdenranta and Lotta Sonninen. Thanks for them for the big help! 

The beautiful cover was envisioned by a friend of mine, Jenni Jokiniemi, who works as a designer. This was her first book cover, if I understood correctly. I hope to collaborate with her more in the future. 

Here's the table of contents. 

I'm actually doing another collection in the same vein, of the flash fiction stories I published in Ässä. I've been asking for permissions from writers, but not all have responded. If you read this and remember having received an e-mail or a Facebook message from, please do respond! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some sword and sorcery stories: Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, Manly Wade Wellman

A week ago I had a feeling I'd like to read something that wasn't work-related in any way. As usual, I had some trouble finding something suitable to read even though I have some 5,000 books in my shelves.

However, I picked up a Finnish anthology of old sword and sorcery stories, mainly from Weird Tales, but also from some other pulp mags. The book is called Mustan jumalan suudelma AKA Black God's Kiss after the story by C. L. Moore in the book. Of the stories I read, Moore's was the best. It's full of surreal images and still it moves with a breakneck pace. Very beautiful and thrilling. The story came out first in Weird Tales in 1934.

The other stories I read were Robert E. Howard's novella-length "The Black Stranger" (1934-1935, unpublished in Howard's life-time, published in 1953 in abridged form and in 1987 in original form) and Manly Wade Wellman's "Thunder in the Dawn" (Amazing Stories 1939). Wellman's story was a bit slow and dated, I didn't feel the thrill of adventure in this, even though the premise is pretty good: a stone age warrior is really the Hercules of the Greek lore and is the cause of Atlantis sinking in the ocean. Howard's story pits Conan against some pirates and settlers, in the story everyone deceives one and another. It's a great read, though I still preferred C. L. Moore.

The striking cover in the book was drawn by Jukka Murtosaari, a friend of mine, who's studied classical American illustration art for decades now - and it clearly shows. The editor of the book is one Markku Sadelehto, who's done a good day's work bringing American pulp fiction to Finnish readers, as he's edited tons of anthologies for different publishers for over 20 years now. His magnum opus is the edition of the collected stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The sixth and final volume came out just two months ago.

Alas, I didn't have time to read more of the stories from the book. I've read this when it came out some 20 years ago, but don't remember much of it.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Laura Lippman: The Innocents

I was looking for something easy to read between some work-related books and grabbed Laura Lippman's The Innocents I'd bought from a thrift store earlier. I'd read one or two of Lippman's Tess Monaghan novels and thought they were pretty good. I knew this wasn't part of the series, but I knew it was a stand-alone book, and thinking I'd read it in a jiffy started to read it. (Tess Monaghan makes a short appearance, though, giving the story an extra boost.)

Instead it turned out to be a serious mainstream novel, with an episodic and a bit labyrinthine structure, with people's lives mingling with each other's lives, criss-crossing in time and place. Lippman gives hints there's something bad in the past of people she writes about, but she reveals it a bit by bit, very slowly, but enticingly. I didn't read this in a jiffy, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It could've been shorter, but that's just me.

Seems like this was published in the US as The Most Dangerous Thing. I found a British edition that has an alternate title. (Explains why this can't be found from Lippman's site with that title.)