My Take on the Pulps

When I was 12 or 13 I discovered the Doc Savage novels. These were pulp adventures from the 1930s with the lead character Clark ‘Doc’ Savage and his troop is talented men that crisscrossed the globe fighting evil. For a time these were quite popular and a team of writers working under a single name churned out loads of books. There was a 1975 film, but it was lackluster and gathered no attention.

Lately it has been circling my thoughts what would it be like to write one of these pulp adventures set in the here and now? (Or at the very least a parallel here and now.) Now I can see there are people writing pulps today but they are primarily set in the 1930 and that is not what I am thinking about. I also see some novels pushed as having a pulp-like quality but in my opinion that do not quite hit that mark and are distinctly different from theses adventures books.

All of this has prompted me to formulate a set of rule for writing a pulp adventure, should I do this crazy thing.

1) Short. Perhaps it was a function of the costs of paper, or the hellish deadlines these writers worked under, but the classic pulp novel were usually around 50,000 words long and often shorter. (For comparison my military sf novels are around 90 to 100 thousand words.)

2) Third Person Objective. These novels did not get into people’s heads very much. They were plot driven with events sparking the next event in the sequence until the adventure was over.

3) Black and White. Adventures about the struggled between Good and Evil were the bread and butter of the pulps. These were not written with nuance and the villains were not the heroes of their own story.

4) No Crisis of Conscience. The Heroes of pulp adventures, fitting in with the Black and White plots, did not doubt that they were right, and they did not have temptation to do the evil thing or take an immoral short cut.

5) No Evolution of Character. The Heroes, already in their perfected form, did not grow and change due to the course of their adventuring. They ended the story exactly the same person as they went into it.

6) No Quiet Introspective Moments. These are adventures, fights between Good and Evil, not explorations into the protean nature of the human soul. Pulp book did not waste time having characters just thinking and doubting themselves for pages and pages.

7) Do the Right Thing. Heroes not anti-heroes are the name of the game and that means that the lead characters always are moral, both in spirit and in deed. They always do the right thing.

Looking over these rules, I can see writing one of these would be quite a challenge.

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Halloween Horror Movie # 15 The Exorcist

The Exorcist is the first films that I can clearly remember as something that was a big cultural phenomenon I was 12 when this R-rated film was released so I did not see it in theaters during its initial theatrical release. However I remember it was talked about, it was on the news, and it was subject to sketch comedy of the popular variety shows. In many ways it was a harbinger of the media saturation to come. Most of all it deserved that hyperbole.

Based on the novel William Peter Blatty, and adapted to the screen by the author, The Exorcist tells the story of a young girl, Regan, living in modern Georgetown possessed by a demon and her eventual exorcism. Regan’s mother Chris is a successful actress and movies star, a modern woman, a single parent, unreligious, and wholly unprepared for an ancient evil that takes up residence in her daughter. Father Karras is a Jesuit priest, trained in modernity and science, a psychiatrist and a boxer he too is a many thoroughly of the modern world of 1973 and a priest whose faith is crumbling. He too is unprepared to confront a reality of demons and possession. Detective Kinderman is a homicide cop, investigating a bizarre and nearly inexplicable death near the homes. Father Merrin is an elderly Catholic priest in poor health who has experience with this world of demons and is the films titular character. Bound together by the horror that has descended upon Regan these characters confront a world in which evil is not an vague abstract concept with the life and soul of a 12 year old girl hanging in the balance.

Blatty, principally known as a comedy writer, wrote the novel plumbing his own faith and questions as a Catholic surviving in the turbulent modern world. Excellently helmed by director William Friedkin, The Exorcist takes its time building to the ‘Roman Ritual’, which serves as the story climax. Preceding Halloween by several years, The Exorcsit does not rely upon gruesome kills and continuous violence to provoke dread and horror but rather takes the audience slowly and inexorably from a bright world of light and reason into one of darkness and the supernatural. More than 40 years old and recently revised by the director into a final cut this is a movie that still works, creating an atmosphere of dread, terror, and leaving the viewer with deep questions, it is a movie worth watching and thinking about.

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Halloween Horror Movie # 14 Dementia 13

If I were cleverer I would have worked it out so that this movie popped up as number 13, but that did not happen.

Dementia 13 is the fires mainstream feature film from acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. It is a low budget horror/thriller intended to ride the coattails of the better-known movie Psycho.

The story concerns an Irish family that is haunted by the tragic and mysterious death of the youngest child, Kathleen. On an anniversary of her drowning, when the family hold yearly funerals for her, a scheming American woman Louise, recently married into the family, plots to manipulate the matriarch into changing her will. Louise’s plot is upended when people start dying at the hands of unidentified axe murderer.

Made for Roger Corman, Coppola was never fully satisfied with the final product and it even eventually fell into the public domain. If you buy one of 50 Horror, or Thriller, or Mystery DVD set you likely will acquire a copy of Dementia 13. Of course that will be an nth generation copy off some poor quality 16 mm print. Surprisingly someone splurged for a 4k restoration and that was what was screened at the Museum of Photographic Arts last night. My sweetie-wife and I attended, thought traffic nearly made us miss the movie. I can’t recommend this movie, it’s very uneven and convoluted but I do not seeing it in a theater instead of a poor quality dup.

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Halloween Horror Movie # 13 The House of Frankenstein (1944)

Mid week movies need to be on the shorter side; what with working the day job, particularly as we swing into overtime hours during the annual enrollment period and still need to put my but in the chair and fingers to keyboard for writing there simply isn’t a lot of time left over for movie watching. Luckily those only Universal horror films, designed to fill the ‘B’ slot are often well under an hour and a half and House of Frankenstein is no exception, clocking in around seventy minutes.

House of Frankenstein, another in the let’s throw a lot of the monsters into the same movie early cinematic universe trend, also heralded the of Boris Karloff to the series that launched his stardom. This time Karloff isn’t playing the created monster but rather Doctor Gustav Neimann, a scientist obsessed with following the trail blazes by Henry Frankenstein. Caught earlier in the experimentations, Neimann has spent fifteen years languishing in a dungeon cell. God, eager to get the plot started, strike the prison with powerful lighting bolts and Neimann, along another prisoner, Daniel the hunchback, escape. Not happy with a single coincidence to start the story, the hand of god, known to us as the scriptwriter, also gives the convict pair a favor by having a traveling freak-show get stuck nearby in the storms muds. Neimann and Daniel kill the proprietor and his driver, and then assume their identities along with possession of Dracula’s actual skeleton.

A wise man would simple skulk off and restart their experiments, but Neimann is not wise. Bitter over those who sent him to prison her seeks revenge as he travels back to his decrepit lab. Neimann revives Dracula by removing the offending stake and sends him after his first target. Dracula, ever the skirt chaser, spends too much time on wine and charm and though he kills his target, he is forced to flee with the police in hot pursuit. Neimann throws the count’s coffin to the side of the road and the vampire, unable to reach it before dawn’s first rays dies in the sunlight.

At the next town they pick up an abused gypsy dancing girl and the next two victims for the doctor’s revenge. A quick stop at village Frankenstein yields the good doctor’s lab notes, the monster, and the wolf-man. The latter two entombed in ice from the flood that swept them away the in previous film. Like every other scientist in the universe, Neimann promises Talbot that he’ll cure the man werewolf curse. They travel reaching Neimann’s lab, after a quick montage the facility is restored to mad scientist ready. Unconcerned with either his promises or having a werewolf running loose, Neimann refuses to treat Talbot, instead he works on the monster. Talbot and the gypsy girls fall in love, angering the hunchback. When the werewolf kills the girl and the girls kills the werewolf, the hunchback blames, rightly so, Neimann and attacks him. That doesn’t go well as the Monster throws the hunchback from the battlements and then flees the torch-wielding peasant with Neimann in his arms. Showing a moment of intelligence, the mob forces he monster into the swamp where he and Neimann drown in quicksand.

Now, compared to most movies this is really just a series of coincidences, but if you look at House of Dracula this film has a central theme, revenge, and a coherent plot. House of Frankenstein is not a great film but a passable seventy minutes.

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An Accusation Too Far?

The police in the United States often act like an occupying force.

Libertarian Conservative: Damn Right

The Police show little respect for the citizens, treating them like ‘little people.’

Libertarian Conservative; That’s so true.

The Police often ignore the law and run roughshod over the rights of the citizens.

Libertarian Conservative: They need to answer to the law.

The Police get away with too much, killing citizens when there is no need for it.

Libertarian Conservative: Ain’t that the truth.

The Police do all this will a racial bias, principally against minorities.

Libertarian Conservative: That’s an outlandish accusation!

 

That last turn always boggles me.

Cue the Libertarian conservative to tell me how wrong I am.

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A Strange Gaming Temptation

Monday in the after meeting conversations that follow my twice-monthly writers group meetings I encountered an old role-play gaming temptation.

I was describing to a trio of writer friends how back in the day I used to run RPG that were simply feature films with players in the place of the principal characters. I do not mean inspired by the film, I ran the exact movie, usually fairly well known geek favorites, as much as possible scene by scene, and watched as the players varied or followed the plot as it had progressed through the film.

This worked because the main character was played by someone who had not seen the movie and that is where to fun laid. Watching that person navigate the good or bad plot. Often the other players would have varying degrees of familiarity with the movie and as such nudged and guided the story generally in that direct the script had taken.

I had started down this conversation rabbit hole because I was going to discuss one variation from a plot that I thought was interesting from a writing perspective but my three friends stopped me.

1) They thought the idea of the movie/RPG mash-up was fun and apparently it was something they had never encountered.

2)_None of the trio has seen the 1980 production of Flash Gordon.

You can see where this is going. I am very tempted to take these three friends and role-play gamers and run them through the entirety the 1980 Flash Gordon, after all three players and three earthlings, hurling their bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out there.

If I did this, what game system to use? Something fast and loose, not overly burdened with details, and probably t system will need drama points or such to allow for cinema’s improbabilities.

OH it is tempting.

 

 

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Negative Identities

One of the things we humans do throughout our lives is craft our identities. The process starts very early, anyone with ever a modest about of exposure to babies knows that personality, the first basis for identity, establishes very early.

As we grow we add all sorts of criteria and puzzle pieces to our identity, things we hates, things we love, people we associate with, the people we don’t associate with, and our relationship to religion and all manner of spiritualism become key elements in our understanding of who we really are.

At some point for many people, and that number appears to be growing, we add politics as a key block in our identity foundation. With that element comes the terrible temptation to define ourselves in an almost purely negative manner.

That is not to say we view ourselves negatively, but rather we identify ourselves more and more by what we are not, using political opponents and what they stand for define us by reflexively standing against them and their positions.

I have seen this play out for people all across the political spectrum. An event or controversy will pop up in the news or social media and if side A has taken one position people who are opposed to side A immediately take a contrary position without have any knowledge of the situation. If this were just isolated cases here and there for these people this would be nothing more than surrendering direction and being a team player. (Though for myself it is always important to look at the facts and not just blindly follow the team but to try to be right for the situation.) However this process happens again and again the cumulative effect if that these people start having identities crafted principally by what they react against. They have surrendered one of the most basic things about being human, deciding who you are, to others and largely they have surrendered that power to people that they disagree with. To me this is madness.

The insidious aspect to this process is that one can be so blind to the course as it runs. It is not that people make a choice to surrender these aspects but rather they reflexively take a position or leap to a conclusion and then create a post-fact justification for their action.

Don’t be the negative image of someone else’s position. Think, question, your side and yourself, dig and work it out for yourself.

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Halloween Horror Movie #12 The Haunting

Performing double duty last night as my Sunday Night Feature and the next up in the Halloween Horror Festival I watched 1963s The Haunting. (Not the terrible 1999 remake. I saw that one in the theater and once was far more than too much.)

Directed by Robert Wise, a talented and one of my favorite filmmakers, The Haunting is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s unsettling novel The Haunting of Hill House. The story concerns Professor John Markway who is investigating the supernatural. He has discovered Hill House, a 19th century mansion with a terrible past. Certain that he has found the location that will allow his research to advance to the next level he rents the house and attempts to bring together a group of sensitive persons to provoke events and document them. This is how the story point of view character and protagonists, Eleanor Lance is pulled into the plot. Eleanor is an unbalanced woman. She has spent her entire adult life caring for her bed-ridden mother, which has sparked and nurtured a deep resentment in Eleanor, and now longs for a life and a love of her own. Most of the people Markway had planned to assemble cancel leaving him with only one other sensitive Theodora, a woman with a talent for ESP and an unconventional sexual orientation. Rounding out our cast of ghost hunters is Luke Sanderson, a young man who believes not in the supernatural but rather in drink, women, and money. Luke stands to inherit the house and is on site to protect his future interests.

Filmed with a lens that presents a very mild distortion of the image, and several shots using filmstock that is sensitive to UV light, Robert Wise crafts a horror film that is built upon mood and disquiet rather than gore and monsters. The move boasts a terrific cast all of whom portray their characters with truth and credibility. It is interesting to me that I can watch Russ Tamblyn as a child in the noir Gun Crazy, a young adult man here in The Haunting, and as a senior actor in Twin Peaks: The Return, Claire Bloom as Theodora plays her character with a sublime subtlety. Yes, the production code forced all gay characters to be either coded and villainous but with this film it was required that her character be portrayed more discreetly and her attempted seductions and interest in Eleanor are better for their low key approach.

Among the classic horror films The Haunting ranks as one of the best.

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Halloween Horror Movie # 11 The Tingler

Saturday afternoon I treated myself to an at home matinee of the 1959 marketing classic The Tingler.

William Castle who made quite a name for himself with marketing ploys to attract people to his films directed this movie. His has done such stunts as offering insurance policies against dying of fright during the screening, having paper skeletons pulled on strings over the audiences heads and for The Tingler he had some seats in some theaters rigged with buzzers to surprise people during key moments of the film. Naturally all this does not translate to home video.

The Tingler stars Vincent Price as Doctor Chapin a pathologist who, in addition to his duties seeing to the remains of executed criminals, is researching the strange effects of people in acute fear. He has a dedicated lab assistant, a shrewish wife, seemingly a common character type in a Castle film, a new friendship with the brother-in-law of a recently executed murderer, and to help him with his research a nifty new drug that induces nightmares, LSD 25.

Chapin’s research not only proves that there is a previously unknown physical effect from unreleased fear, but that it is a living creature found in all of us, the Tingler. Most of the film is actually melodrama about the Chapin’s failing marriage, and mysterious scenes that keep the audience guessing just how far will he go for his research. Is he dedicated or a mad scientist?

This film is worth watching, but the concepts are rarely carried through and it does cheat with its plot twits. That is to say it doesn’t set up the twists but rather springs on the audience without the benefits of Chekov’s gun. The movie does have one fairly original set piece in it. There a sequence where a woman is driven into utter terror and in those scenes while the film remains in black-and-white the blood is a bright, brilliant, saturated red. Here’s a still to show you. Now, remember this was 1959; there were no digital effect to make this now easy process possible. Castle achieved this my making everything, including the actress, on the set monochrome so while the film is color film only the blood is appears to have color.

The Tingler is currently streaming on Shudder.

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