Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Sadist

I have a friend, a Finnish movie critic who started his writing career already in the late fifties, going on during all these years (he's now seventy, but he still occasionally contributes). He's an aficionado of old American B movies, and he's told many fascinating stories about films he's seen already when they were new. Surprisingly many films of this kind were brought to Finland in the sixties and seventies - many that are not on DVD even now!

One of these once rare films seems to have been available for some time now: James Landis's The Sadist from 1963. My critic friend once told me that he saw the film when it was banned in Finland (seems like this took place in 1967), but the distributor held a press viewing for those who were interested. The print was probably demolished after that. And my friend said he really liked the uncompromising little thriller, even though the Finnish censors had deemed it immoral. I was of course interested, and I was very pleased when another friend of mine lent me the pretty new DVD of the film. I was pleasantly surprised: the film still seems quite uncompromising, although made on a minuscule budget.

The Sadist is the first film that deals with Charlie Starkweather, who was made famous by Terrence Malick in Badlands. And he's played by Arch Hall, Jr. of all people! Hell, he even looks like Charlie Starkweather! Hall overacts, but manages still - or just because of that - to be scary as can be. He giggles, mumbles, grins - all the way down to hell. His girlfriend says almost nothing during the film - she whispers some lines into Hall's ear, but the rest of the time she just giggles. It's scary! The rest of the bunch - the normal folks - is not so good, but they are manageable.

The Sadist seems an important precursor to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and, Todd, I know you don't like the film!). There are only shrieks and screams on the soundtrack for the last ten or fifteen minutes - and the ending is very downbeat, foreshadowing what will happen in Tobe Hooper's film ten years later.

Crude, but effective, shot in black-and-white with verve by young Vilmos Zsigmond, ten years before Deliverance and The Long Goodbye (what a career the man had!), The Sadist is highly recommended if you like your thrillers gritty and dark.

More Tuesday films at Todd Mason's blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: Carter Brown: The Flagellator

I thought this would be more fun, but at times it felt almost a serious PI novel, which is a pity, since this is not what we expect from a Carter Brown novel, is it? And as a serious PI novel The Flagellator just doesn't work. It's not very well plotted, the solution comes and goes a bit too quickly, and there's just too much talk here and there. And the point where Rick Holman seriously thinks about raping a woman who seems to be resisting his suggestions is just plain awful. (Wouldn't have necessarily to be, but hey, Holman is a clean-cut hero!) It's great, though, that Carter Brown has come up with a name Theo Altman for a well-known art film director! There's not much, if any, flagging in the book.

Great cover, though, as one would expect from Robert McGinnis. Even the post-expressionistic painting on the background is good! The cover was used in Finland in a Nick Carter book, here's a link to the Finnish translation of The Flagellator. Might be the original Australian cover, for all I know. The Finnish title: "The Queen of Sex".

Here's a site on Carter Brown, better than his Wikipedia entry. More Forgotten Books here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Aino Kallas: The Wolf's Bride

I read this small classic of Finnish literature for the first time last week. It was originally published in 1928 and has been practically the only classic werewolf story written in Finnish language. Many friends of the book don't necessarily see it as horror. I should say it fits the genre bill, but I won't force my view down anyone's throat. The most important aspect of the story is that it's a love story, a story of a forester's wife, called Aalo, who can assume a wolf's shape and is killed in the end by her husband's silver bullet.

In Sudenmorsian/The Wolf's Bride Aino Kallas (the link is in English) uses archaic language of the 17th century and the story takes the form of a ballad, seen by an outsider, who shares his/her theological views on the side. The narrator seems to be well-educated, since he/she (most certainly "he") can talk about werewolves and the studies that's been made on them. Kallas's language and narration make a two-fold statement: while the narration and the use of old language could've been possible only in the modernist era, it also makes sure that The Wolf's Bride isn't easily dated. It still feels fresh and packs quite a punch. It's also a very beautiful story of an unfulfilled love.

The story was translated in English as early as 1930, by Alex Matson, a Finnish literary scholar and world-traveller, but the first (and only) edition from Jonathan Cape seems to be very rare: there's only one copy for measly 550 dollars on Abebooks. You can read the more current translation easily in The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy where the whole story is contained in. Most highly recommended. (Especially since the Dedalus book contains Mika Waltari's great early sword-and-sorcery story "Island of the Setting Sun" from 1926 that could've easily been published in the pages of The Magic Carpet or The Weird Tales.)

The picture above is from a high-literary paperback series called Delfiini (Dolphin) in 1979. I believe the cover illo is by Kosti Antikainen, will correct if turns out I was wrong.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Romeo Is Bleeding

Let's make it a short one: a kinky, but too quirkily told and narrated neo-noir in which Lena Olin has never been sexier than when demanding Gary Oldman prepares her a death certificate. More details here.

As I've been having problems with my back, I also watched one other film and tried to watch yet another: Gorky Park (suffered greatly from, well, lots of things, mainly from the stiff direction from Michael Apted and the stiff script by Dennis Potter) and Deadfall by Christopher Coppola. The latter one suffered greatly from being amateurish-looking hogwash. Lasted about 15 minutes.

More films here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

New book out: Marton Taiga's two pulp serials

I'm sure you are all getting tired of this (and I don't even much like blogs that are all about advertising the bloggers' own books!), but here's the cover for my new book. Calling it "my book" might be a bit of a stretch, but here goes nevertheless: it's a collection of two novella-length serials (both somewhat under 30,000 words) by the Finnish pulp fiction great Marton Taiga, put together by me. The book has also my lengthy foreword, and as an appendix the book also contains the forewords Taiga wrote for the readers that started the stories from the middle.

The serials in the book are called "Osiriksen sormus/The Ring of Osiris" (1934) and "Viiden minuutin ikuisuus/The Five-Minute Eternity" (1936). Only the latter has previously been published in book form, in 1945. Both are about time-travel, in "Osiriksen sormus" the lead character is taken to the ancient Egypt.

The cover is by Anssi Rauhala who's done some great covers for Turbator. See for yourself: Sherlock Holmes, Tapani Bagge, Tapani Maskula.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Working my ass off

I did recently a post about books I've had a hand in and that have appeared within this Fall. I mentioned therein some of the books that are still going to be published before Christmas. I seem to have forgotten some, so here goes again:

A collection of early Finnish horror stories (for Faros). This includes some dozen horror stories, mainly from the 19th century, but also some from the early 20th century, from such writers as Aleksis Kivi, Jaakko Juteini, Zacharias Topelius, Larin-Kyösti and Kyösti Wilkuna (he has four stories in this!). This was a fun book to do, even though the process has been long - I talked about this with the publisher already two (or maybe even three) years ago. This will come out as a small paperback under the title Hallusinatsioneja (Hallucinations; the title of a story by Wilkuna).

A book that compiles two long serials by the all-time great Finnish pulp writer, Marton Taiga (real name: Martti Löfberg; the link is in English, so take a look). The both stories are from the thirties and they are about time-travelling and take place in the antique world. One of the stories, Viiden minuutin ikuisuus (The Five-Minute Eternity) was published as a book in 1945, but the other one, "Osiriksen sormus" ("The Ring of Osiris"), has never been published in a book form. This includes also my foreword; comes out from Turbator. This has a cover illo by the great Anssi Rauhala, but I haven't actually seen that one yet.

I also edited a collection of erotic stories, the theme being sadomasochistic sex. (See the picture.) The book's title translates as The Agony and the Ecstacy. I grabbed the idea, when the publisher (Turbator, once again) threw a joke in the air: "If the regular erotica doesn't sell, we have to do a book about sadomasochism!" From this joke I think I developed a pretty good line-up, with some startlingly erotic stories (especially one by Essi Tammimaa, who's a revered novelist in her own right) and even some pretty deep ones, like the historical one by Jukka Laajarinne, who's been gaining fame as a novelist who's not afraid to try something new. There's also a story by one Mikael X. Messi, but you'll have to dig deeper if you want to know who that is. (Insert smiley here.) The striking cover is done by Tendril, who also has a story in this. See this link for more pictures; not safe for work!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Jericho Mile

Michael Mann is probably one of the most overrated directors working nowadays. Mind you, I've liked almost everyone of his films (of those I've seen), but I just can't see him as the visionary he's said to be. There are auteurist touches in his films, sure, but then again the films seem a bit empty to me. If there's a message or some such, I don't think it's very interesting.

So, what's the theme in Mann's first feature-length film, the prison film The Jericho Mile? Do what you want to do? Concentrate on what's best for you? Don't mind others? Be yourself? C'mon! There are interesting minor themes, like the political organizing of the prison inmates or the story of a black inmate who's been blackmailed to smuggle drugs into the prison, but the main story is thematically not so interesting.

It is touching, though, and I even wept a tear near the end. Peter Strauss is a bit autistic guy who just runs. He runs over the prison yard, over and over again, and he's very, very fast. The prison administration wants him to run officially, to run for olympics. There are two climactic running scenes, which are very exciting. Strauss has killed his dad years ago and he's sentenced for life. The film doesn't go much into that, but the scenes about it enforce the man's gotta what a man's gotta do ideology of Mann.

But don't get me wrong: for its low budget and the use of non-actors (many of them being inmates of the Folsom Prison), it's a very well-made and good-looking film. Mann has a very good feel for realism that looks good and goes beyond the mere recording, but won't evolve into a mere style, either.

The Jericho Mile was originally a TV film, but it was released theatrically in Europe and made its way into Finland as well. I saw it last night at the screening of the Finnish Film Archive. There are some scenes that have a different stock feel to them, maybe they are missing from the original TV print and added in only the European 35 mm print, who knows. The VHS and DVD releases seem to be rare, so this was a good occasion to see the film.

More Overlooked Films here.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Margaret Millar back in print!

Hadn't realized Beast in View, one of Margaret Millar's fine crime novels, is back in print from Orion Books!

William Gibson on Chandler and Hammett

This quote from a recent interview was posted to the Rara-Avis e-mail list:

I was never much of a Raymond Chandler fan, either.


Why not?

When science fiction finally got literary naturalism, it got it via the noir detective novel, which is an often decadent offspring of nineteenth-century naturalism. Noir is one of the places that the investigative, analytic, literary impulse went in America. The Goncourt brothers set out to investigate sex and money and power, and many years later, in America, you wind up with Chandler doing something very similar, though highly stylized and with a very different agenda. I always had a feeling that Chandler’s puritanism got in the way, and I was never quite as taken with the language as true Chandler fans seem to be. I distrusted Marlow as a narrator. He wasn’t someone I wanted to meet, and I didn’t find him sympathetic—in large part because Chandler, whom I didn’t trust either, evidently did find him sympathetic.

But I trusted Dashiell Hammett. It felt to me that Hammett was Chandler’s ancestor, even though they were really contemporaries. Chandler civilized it, but Hammett invented it. With Hammett I felt that the author was open to the world in a way Chandler never seems to me to be.

The whole interview here.