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Dec 1

Forgotten Films: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

The Brain That Wouldn't Die: It's bad but not Plan 9 bad.

By Scott A . Cupp

This is the 144th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Sandi and I did our usual thing of having some old friends over then we went down to the Riverwalk and did the Thanksgiving buffet at the Hilton Palacio del Rio. Great food, great company and conversation, and some not-so-great football afterwards.

As we were doing all of this, I was reminded of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 Thanksgiving Turkey marathons and remembered that I had this lovely film queued up on my DVR. Somehow when the MST3K folks showed this, I always ended up missing it, so I went in unsullied.

I got this off of Turner Classic Movies (the wonderful TCM, perhaps the greatest channel on cable). Ben Mankiewicz, one of the TCM hosts, did an introduction where he mentioned that some films are just so bad that they can achieve cult status. This is one of them.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers, though he was billed as Herb Evers) is a brilliant but flawed surgeon. He is assisting his father (Bruce Brighton) when the patient died. After his father gives up, Bill asks to try something on him and manages to bring the corpse back to life. Bill has been doing some experimentation on transplanting human tissue, though not through normal research channels. The hospital has been missing parts and pieces from the morgue and the elder Dr. Cortner feels that Bill has probably been committing the thefts.

Bill receives a message that there is a problem at his mountain cottage. He decides that he needs to go there and takes his lovely fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) with him. On the way, after a truly boring series of moving vehicle and traffic sign shots, there is an accident. Bill is thrown from his convertible. Dazed he returns to the burning car and finds Jan has been decapitated. He wraps the head up in his jacket and walks/staggers some distance (probably miles) to his cabin where he hooks the head up to a contraption.

He is helped with the head installation by Kurt (Anthony LaPenna, billed as Leslie Daniels. I guess nobody wanted to use their real name…). Jan wakes up and finds she is a disembodied head, sitting in a pan of liquid. She must have suffered some brain damage from oxygen deprivation during the period when she was being transported to the cabin because she just wants to die.

Bill wants to transplant her head onto a new beautiful body, because he wants a beautiful wife. So, obviously, this means going to strip clubs to find a woman he can then kill and transplant Jan’s head onto it. So we get several scenes of Bill talking up strippers, trying to determine who he can kill without anyone recognizing him or remembering him as the last one being with them.

He gets talked into judging a bathing suit contest where one of the strippers reminds him of Doris Powell (Anne Lamont) who is now only working as a photo club model who keep a portion of her face covered to hide a disfiguring scar. Great body and scarred face = potential murder victim.

Jan, meanwhile, has been talking to something — the thing that Bill and Kurt have previously experimented on — and is being held captive in a locked closet. Jan wants nothing to do with the murder/transplant and is communicating with the closet thing. As you might expect, things do not go as planned and Bill, the mad scientist, does not accomplish his murder.

The dialogue gets pretty florid or awful or both. The story was developed by Joseph Green (the director and screenplay author) and Rex Carlton (the producer). Special effects are pretty weak. The strippers are pretty. The film was originally shot under the title The Black Door according to IMDB. According to Ben Mankiewicz in his intro to the film, the original release title was going to be The Head That Wouldn’t Die and that this was not changed on some of the end credits.

The version TCM showed ran just under 70 minutes. Apparently the original release was 82 minutes which included a great deal of gore not shown in the film I saw.

It’s a bad film – maybe not Manos or Plan 9 bad, but still not good. So I’m glad I got to see it and without the MST3K dialogue, though I would like to see that now. Well, maybe not now, but sometime.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Nov 26

Forgotten Book: Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon (1961)

Posted on Thursday, November 26, 2015 in Forgotten Book

Theodore Sturgeon is known more for his sf short stories than his novels, but Some of Your Blood is exceptionally good.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 167th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I have read and enjoyed the work of Theodore sturgeon for nearly 50 years. I really loved his short stories, particularly “It,” “Killdozer” (which had a fun made-for-TV movie made), “Slow Sculpture” and perhaps my favorite short story, “The Man Who Lost the Sea.” When North Atlantic Books decided to publish the complete Theodore Sturgeon short stories, I went for the hardcover versions of all 13 volumes. They make a wonderful set and look great on the shelf. I dip in there frequently savoring the texture of his work.

I met Sturgeon only once, at an AggieCon in 1979 (which also had Boris Vallejo as a guest). Like a durn fool idiot I did not take all my books to get them signed. I had a copy of each of his books, maybe not all first editions, but I had the words. I don’t know why but a few years later he was gone. Among the things I did get signed were a copy of the Unknown pulp with “It” in it and a paperback edition of his Ellery Queen novel The Player on the Other Side. Of the many folks who did pseudonymous Ellery Queen novels (and that list included Jack Vance, Avram Davidson, and more) Sturgeon was the only one to get to play in the Ellery queen universe, using both Ellery and his father in the book. The others all did regular mysteries attributed to EQ. Apparently he also may have done a Saint novel The Saint Sees It Through though this is absolutely not substantiated. I like to believe it though so there.

As a general rule, I like Sturgeon’s short fiction much more than his novels. His most famous one, More Than Human left me pretty cold. The Dreaming Jewels was OK but not up to his best work.

But Some of Your Blood is different from all of those others. This is a work of pure horror and like much of his shorter work it is subtle and succinct. The novel begins with two psychiatrists exchanging notes about a soldier referred to one of them. The soldier was in a war zone (maybe Korea) where mail home is censored for sensitive data. A censor reads a letter and forwards it to a major who immediately recommends the man be taken into custody and evaluated. The contents of the letter are not shown to the shrink.

The soldier “George Smith” (this may be an alias) seems somewhat slow but not particularly violent or psycho. He begins a long term analysis by two psychiatrists, who are trying to evaluate each other’s opinions off the record. Smith has grown up in a loveless home where his mother died fairly young. The family lives in a shack in the backwoods and the father is the town drunk who can get abusive. George frequently goes into the woods and hunts using his hands, a knife and his backwoods skills. He is not particularly bad, just not really good, an average-or-lower student who does not fit in well.

One night he is arrested for breaking into a store and stealing some food — something he had done for a while. He is sentenced to go away to a juvenile prison where he remained a fairly model student. When his two year sentence was up, he is informed that his father has died. Rather than go home or go live with his mother’s sister, he stays for another year. At the end of that he is taken to a new home with the aunt and her husband. He still doesn’t fit in well but he finds some affection from a local girl eight years his senior whom he meets secretly for sex. When she gets pregnant, he knows her father will kill him so he joins the Army. Here he has an undistinguished record until the letter incident.

The accounts of George either by himself or the interaction with the psychiatrist are fascinating. There is no moral compass and the answers to the Rorschach test are creepy as hell. The big secret is not revealed until the final few pages, including the contents of the letter — and it is wild.

This was a revolutionary book when it came out, as wild as Silence of the Lambs, but since it was a paperback, it went ignored beyond the science fiction and horror circles. Its reputation as a horror classic is well deserved.

For years, copies of this book were hard to find and cherished by those who had them. It appears to be in print at the moment and copies are available on ABE and eBay for varying prices as well as for Kindle.

I think you should check it out if you have not read it. And read it again if you have before. And have a Great Thanksgiving.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Nov 25

Speculative San Antonio: Renee Babcock and Jonathan Miles discuss World Fantasy 2017 in the Alamo City

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 in Conventions

Texans Michelle Villafranca, Vincent Villafranca, Jonathan Miles and Renee Babcock celebrate FACT's successful bid for the 2017 World Fantasy Convention at the 2015 World Fantasy Convention, held earlier this month in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo by Meg Turville-Heitz.

Just four years after serving as site of the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention, San Antonio will play host to yet another major speculative fiction show: World Fantasy 2017.

The World Fantasy board made the venue selection this month at 2015 WFC in Saratoga Springs, New York. Austin’s Fandom Association of Central Texas (FACT) — which hosts the annual Armadillocon and ran two prior World Fantasy cons — placed the winning bid.

While World Fantasy draws a smaller attendance than media-heavy shows such as the Alamo City Comic Con, it dependably pulls major star power from the world of fantasy literature and gives fans rare opportunity to interact with favorite authors, artists and editors. It’s a con that’s less about the dealer’s room and photo ops than professionals and aspiring professionals doing business, networking and talking craft.

I asked longtime FACT members Renee Babcock and Jonathan Miles, the convention’s co-chairs, to talk about how the site selection process went down and what fans and pros can expect from WFC 2017.

FACT knows its way around a World Fantasy Convention, having run one in 2000, then in 2006. Why bring this one to San Antonio rather than Austin, where you had success in 2006?

We wanted to bring World Fantasy back to Central Texas so we took a look at the cities that were appropriate — both in having the facilities necessary and having a reputation that would make people want to go to World Fantasy there. Pretty quickly, we narrowed the candidates down to San Antonio and Austin. While we have run a World Fantasy in Corpus Christi before, the distance caused a lot of problems and we preferred not to go that far afield again.Sadly, it’s become increasingly more difficult to find hotels in Austin that meet the unique space requirements of World Fantasy and that are able to work with us in the Fall, due to the various festivals and the F1 race happening in the same time frame. San Antonio has a vibrant cultural and restaurant scene, appropriate hotel space, easy access to an international airport, and it seemed obvious to us that San Antonio would be perfect. It also helped that a lot of the World Fantasy Board knew San Antonio from the two previous Worldcons, so we didn’t have to explain how good a fit it would be for World Fantasy. 

World Fantasy is a considerably smaller show than WorldCon, but as we all know, attendance isn’t the only measure of a con’s significance. Why should South and Central Texas fans be excited World Fantasy is landing in San Antonio in 2017?

World Fantasy is unique because it’s primarily an industry event, despite being run by fan organizations. This means there is an unusually high number of writers, artists, editors, publishers and agents from all over the world who will be in attendance. It’s a tremendous opportunity to meet some of your favorites working in the field of fantasy. At the most recent World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., you could have seen over a hundred authors and artists, including Steven Erikson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Julie Czerneda, L.E. Modessit and Charles Vess.World Fantasy is a fairly intimate convention, despite still being a major convention. There are so many opportunities to sit and talk to people about the field, about books, art, the things we love, often over a drink in the bar. 

Programming in general is lighter at World Fantasy than at a lot of other cons, which allows for those opportunities. Our hotel in San Antonio has a spacious bar, and we will have a large overflow room that is attached. That’s because a lot of business gets done in the bar, both professional and social.  World Fantasy is one of those conventions where you are as likely to find well-known authors at the bar chatting as you are to find them at panels. There is also a single mass autographing on Friday night, which is a lot of fun. It’s a great chance to meet your favorites and get books signed.

Can people already pay for memberships? If so, how do they grab one, and what’s the advantage of doing so early?

People may buy a membership online now for $150 at This is the cheapest our membership rate will ever be, and the rate will be going up sometime in the late spring.  In addition, World Fantasy has a strict attendance cap. Once we’ve reached that cap, we will no longer be able to sell memberships. Several of the last World Fantasies have sold out their cap well before the convention, so we recommend getting in while you can.

Do you know who the guests will be, or is it too early to discuss that?

We are in discussion on who we want to bring in as guests. Once we have guests to announce, they will be announced on our website as well as our Facebook page (

Any thoughts on the flavor of this particular show? How might it be different from previous World Fantasies? Are there any past mistakes you’re hoping to avoid?

It’s hard to say what the flavor of this particular World Fantasy will be this far out. Part of the joy of World Fantasy is how the feel of the convention changes depending on the location. While there are a lot of authors who will go to almost every World Fantasy, there are also a good number of authors who will only go when it’s nearby. Since we haven’t had one in Texas for a while, we expect to see a lot of authors who live in the area to come on down.

Our theme is secret history, and that will inform at least one track of the programming. One of the best things about World Fantasy is how enthusiastic authors can be when you have interesting panels and we believe we will have great programming. Also, given the location, we’re hoping to show off San Antonio a bit to convince more authors to visit more often.

Sadly, just as all happy families are alike and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, every convention will have areas that will be seen as not as good or could have been done better. There are plenty of past mistakes that we will seek to avoid; however, we just as arduously hope to not make any new mistakes, though we probably will.

The two of you oversaw FACT’s bid for the show. Could you talk about the challenges of putting the bid together?

It’s a little harder putting a bid together in a different city from where you live. We had a lot of help from Charles and Willie Siros, who initiated contact with the Wyndham and really got the ball rolling for us with the hotel and fleshing out our theme. The four of us went to San Antonio to tour the hotel and meet with them, make sure it would fit our needs. And then of course, we had to put together a bid packet for the World Fantasy board and email it to them prior to our arrival in Saratoga Springs, so that they had enough time to review the materials and ask any questions prior to the board meetings on site at WFC.

What was San Antonio’s and FACT’s ultimate selling point to the committee?

They were impressed with the completeness of our bid presentation. The bidding requirements are available on the World Fantasy website (, and we made sure we hit all the requirements in our proposal. In addition, we have a track record of having run two successful World Fantasy conventions in 2000 (Corpus Christi) and 2006 (Austin). Finally, the Riverwalk area is known to and liked by a lot of people in the fantasy community, because of the two WorldCons that have been held there. The last several World Fantasies have been in the Northeast, and I do think the World Fantasy board are also looking forward to bringing WFC further west in 2017.

Will you be looking for volunteers and program participants in San Antonio? If so, how does someone get in touch?

We will absolutely be looking for volunteers! A con this size does not run without a strong group of volunteers. We will put up information on our website and our Facebook page about reaching out for volunteer opportunities in the near future.

There’s a website but it’s pretty bare bones at this point. When can folks expect it to expand and include more information?

The current website is and was only intended to be temporary. We wanted to make sure we had a web presence and  the ability to sell memberships immediately if we won the bid for 2017. We are in the process of securing our permanent domain and we hope to have our permanent website up and running early in the new year.

Nov 24

Forgotten Films: The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2015 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

The Mad Miss Manton — both the movie and the character — are full of wacky hijinks.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 143rd my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

When I was doing the Forgotten Films over at the Missions Unknown blog (RIP!), one of the things I always wanted to do was to expand the films and books I was reviewing to more than just the science fiction, fantasy and horror fields because I read in lots of different areas. I wanted to do some mystery or Western or other types of reviews. However, Missions Unknown was designed to attract readers and fans to the World Science Fiction Convention which was held in San Antonio in 2013.

That’s two years gone now and so is Missions Unknown, so I am going and doing the films and stuff I want to review. Now, that is not to say that I am abandoning the sf/f/h field, because that would be silly. They are an integral part of who I am and what I read and watch. But they are not the only things.

This week, I want to go for a screwball mystery comedy from a bygone era. Barbara Stanwyk was an actress I never really appreciated when she was alive. My first exposure to her was on the TV screen as Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley. She was an imposing presence there, but as a young teen, Linda Evans was much more appealing to me. Later, I discovered her work as a femme fatale in film noir classics such as Double Indemnity. Her comedies came into my scope much later when I found Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve. A very versatile actress, she was never one of my favorites until I first saw The Mad Miss Manton.

This is a screwball comedy that is not quite up to the standards established in Katherine Hepburn’s Bringing Up Baby, but it’s not far off those standards either. Melsa Manton (Stanwyk) is a socialite who has a history with the police involving “pranks.” Early one morning she sees a friend exiting an abandoned home owned by other people she knows. Inside, she finds a diamond pin and a dead body. She leaves the house and calls the police, who are less than pleased when they arrive and find no body. Melsa was dressed for a costume party and has left the pin in her cloak, which was left at the house. And, surprise, it’s not there when she returns.

The incident garners a front page editorial in The Daily Clarion from Peter Ames (Henry Fonda, reteaming with his The Lady Eve co-star). Melsa files a million-dollar libel suit against the paper. Ames, having never met Melsa, finds himself falling for her. Melsa and her cohort of rich, young, single gal pals go to the friend’s home and find the missing pin. They also discover the friend’s dead and stuffed into the refrigerator.

When the police refuse to come, the ladies put the body in Peter’s office and inform the rival newspaper, which makes it the front page story. Ames is clearly falling for Melsa, and she wants nothing to do with it. She’s not really sure if he is truly in love or is trying to get out of the lawsuit. Hijinks ensue and everyone is running around with no concept of due process or anything legal.

Fun is had. Ames is shot. There is deceit and laughter. There are more murders and love abounds. Lunch is had by Pat (one of the gals) who is always hungry.

I watched it again today and absolutely enjoyed it. You might check it out. It shows on TCM fairly often, as they truly adore Barbara Stanwyk and it’s not hard to see why.

Of course, you might think today’s crop of comedians that top the box office are funny. I’m talking Melissa McCarthy, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Seth Rogen and the like. If that’s the case, there is no hope for you, so you can avoid this one, an actual funny film. Your mileage may vary too.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.




Nov 20

Cocktail Hour: The Fortunato, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”

Posted on Friday, November 20, 2015 in Cocktail Hour

An illustration of poor Fortunato that appeared with the 1919 publication of Poe's short story.

Last month, my wife and I went as Poe characters to a Halloween party — she as the Raven and myself as Fortunato, the poor sap who gets bricked up in the catacombs in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Before the big night, I reread the source material to make sure I hadn’t omitted anything from the costume. After all, it’d been a couple decades since I’d last taken a look at “Cask.”

Turns out, I should reread Poe more often. While I vividly remembered the story’s creepy atmosphere and swelling sense of dread, I didn’t recall “The Cask of Amontillado” having such sharp dialogue.

As writers, we sometimes fall into the trap of writing dialogue that’s too transparent, too truthful to the characters’ real motives. For one, it’s tricky to capture the subtle obfuscation we engage in during everyday conversation. Also, we tend to underestimate readers and assume they’ll take untruthful dialogue at face value.

In “Cask,” neither of Poe’s characters speaks the truth. They verbally mislead each other (or at least attempt to) from the opening to the point when Fortunato’s fate is literally sealed. And it works because Poe, master that he is, gives us cues to guess what lurks beneath the characters’ lies, boasts and half truths.

It’s a lesson any writer could learn from.

The nobleman Fortunato presents himself as an expert in wines and spirits, yet Poe provides us enough hints to show he’s simply a blowhard. Early on, for example, he derides another purported connoisseur for being unable to “distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.” Amontillado is, in fact, a type of Sherry.

Montresor, the revenge-minded rival who bricks up Fortunato, guides his victim to doom by appealing to his ego and falsely extolling his expertise. Even though Fortunato should pick up on countless hints something ghastly lies in store, he can’t resist the lure of Montresor’s flattery.

When Fortunato raises a toast, Montresor’s response drips with both irony and menace. It’s clear his response, like so much of the story’s best dialogue, has a dreadful double meaning.

“Thank you, my friend. I drink to the dead who lie sleeping around us.”

“And I, Fortunato — I drink to your long life.”

Bravo, Mr. Poe! I raise my Fortunato cocktail to the long life of your work.

This installment’s “Cask”-inspired mixed drink is a twist on the Teenage Riot, originally devised by New York bartender Tonia Guffey. In honor of poor Fortunato, I increased the amount of Amontillado and substituted the bitter and citrusy Italian aperitif Campari for the original’s Cynar, another Italian liqueur.

While the Riot’s Cynar imparts a nice herbaceous quality, the Campari used here plays against the Amontillado’s raisiny sweetness with bitter orange-peel notes. (Isn’t revenge supposed to be bittersweet?) The sherry and Campari, combined with the rye, create the sensation of scarfing down a really boozy slice of fruitcake.

The Fortunato

1 1/2 oz Rye Whiskey
1 1/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Lustau Dry Amontillado Sherry
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of orange rind.

Nov 19

Forgotten Book: Magnus, Robot fighter 4000 A.D., by Russ Manning (2015)

Posted on Thursday, November 19, 2015 in Books, Forgotten Book

Magnus goes toe-to-toe with a robot oppressor. Because, after all, he's the Robot Fighter.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 166th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Sorry for missing you all last week. I had many things going on and nothing specific to review, so rather than trying to fake it, I decided to pass. This week I had another book, but I have not finished reading it, so I went with something fast and furious.

When I was younger I loved comics and bought them. I bought a lot of comics. They were mainly DC and Marvel but not all. I loved Classics Illustrated books and bought more than a few of them. I was there at the beginning of the Silver Age of comics and had a number of those early key issues. But I was limited by whatever passed through the revolving rack at my local 7-11 or TG&Y. Marvel and DC controlled a lot of those slots. Occasionally, though, another company would land a few. I looked at Harvey comics and the rare Gold Key and Dell. I would see the rare Tarzan, Dr. Solar or Space Family Robinson — and even rarer was Magnus, Robot Fighter.

Magnus is a comic I would have loved. It was science fiction. It was Russ Manning, whom I loved for his work on Sea Devils, a comic I cherish to this day, and his work on Tarzan. But I never saw enough of these to make an impression. If the choice was an odd issue of Magnus or an issue of The Avengers, the superheroes were going to win.

So, let’s talk a little about this title. Magnus is a young man, raised by the robot 1A to be a free-thinker and to fight for the rights of people. Mankind has developed a number of different robot types and taken up a life of leisure. The robots have attained some sentience and have begun to start repressing any thoughts of individuality and rebellion. Mankind has to do whatever the robots tell them or suffer the consequences.

At the time this comic started up in 1962, Russ Manning approached the editors at Gold Key with the idea of a future science fiction Tarzan. A young man raised by a robot rather than an ape. He fights against despotic robots rather than some of the great apes. Manning had been doing the Tarzan newspaper strip for a while and he had the stories and ideas down pat.

Magnus has a transmitter in his head that allows him to receive robot transmissions. In his first issue, he incites a riot and meets up with Leeja Clane, a beautiful woman with ideas of her own and a wardrobe that was amazing to my pre-teen eyes. Magnus has been trained in martial arts and can damage a robot with his bare hands. Pretty heady stuff in the pre-Bruce Lee days.

Issue one introduces the main characters of Magnus, Leeja and 1A. Leeja’s father, Senator Clane, is introduced in Issue 2, and he aids in the war against robot oppression. The stories have some, but not a lot of originality. Issue 2 introduces a robot Magnus that fools some. Issue 3 has alien invaders; Issue 4 has an underwater menace. With Issue 5 there is the “immortal robot” that has tyrannical aspirations. Issue 6, we have a concentration camp/brainwashing issue and Issue 7 features the return of Xyrkol, the alien from Issue 3.

These are comics and the stories are not great, but some of the ideas are. And the art is always fun.

Dark Horse re-issued Magnus in two formats. There was a nice hardback edition at about $50, and later, there were some paperback ones at $20. I had the first hardback collection prior to my big book sale in 2007, so now I have the paperback collections. The art is in color, and there are seven issues here, encompassing 204 pages plus a few pages of extras. I think it’s a great value.

And, of course, depending on your love of the character, Russ Manning, Gold Key comics and other factors, your mileage will definitely vary.

Is this as impactful as the first seven issues of Spider-Man? Oh, absolutely not. Or how about The Defenders? Yeah, I like this better than that one. And, if the idea of a futuristic Tarzan in robotland doesn’t appeal to you, I can only ask that you do a self examination and figure out what is wrong with you. Or, maybe me.

Have a great week, and remember Thanksgiving will be here very soon. Enjoy the season no matter how you celebrate.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Nov 18

Moments of Wonder: Enceladus and Dione

Posted on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 in Moment of Wonder


NASA's shot of Enceladus and Dione

NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn continues to amaze. Check out this shot of its contrasting moons, Enceladus and Dione.

The surface of the brighter, smaller Enceladus receives a constant rain of ice grains from its south polar jets. Its surface, therefore, is white like fallen snow, while  bright, Dione’s older surface appears to have darkened as it gathered dust and radiation damage in a process scientists call “space weathering.”

Sixty-two moons orbit Saturn. Only 53 of them are named.

Check out out NASA’s Cassini page for more information on the mission and a bevy of breathtaking photos.


Nov 17

Forgotten Films: Doctor Strange (2007)

Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

While the Benedict Cumberbatch Dr. Strange is in production, fans may want to check out this 2007 animated DVD to tide themselves over.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 142nd my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week, I am looking at a movie based on a comic book. Comic book movies have been around a long time. And Doctor Strange was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I had the early issues as they appeared in Strange Tales. First it was the art of Steve Ditko over Stan Lee’s stories. Then the art went through Bill Everett, Marie Severin, Dan Adkins, Frank Brunner, Gene Colon, Marshall Rogers and others. They were all interesting artists. The writers, including Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neill and Steve Englehart, had fun too dealing with weird and alien dimensions.

As many of you know, a live action Doctor Strange film is in production with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. And there was a CBS series pilot in 1978 starring Peter Hooten as Dr. Stephen Strange, a psychiatrist turned sorcerer. But, to date, the 2007 animated Doctor Strange film with Bryce Johnson stands as the most recent adaptation available.

For this film, they go back to address the origin of Dr. Strange as presented by Lee and Ditko, with Stephen Strange as a brain surgeon with great skills and a materialistic ego. When a traffic accident damages his hands to the point he can longer handle a scalpel, he begins searching for a second or third or fiftieth opinion that his hands can be repaired and his life regained.

He eventually finds himself in Tiber searching for “the Ancient One” (voiced by Michael Yama) who accepts him as a pupil and assigns him menial tasks. And, as clichés go, it is the usual one. Strange’s attitude is “I want the world and I want it now,” which does not fit well with mystic instruction. Aiding the Ancient One are Wong, a magician and servant (voiced by Paul Nakauchi), and Mordo, second only to the Ancient One in power (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). Mordo is a mighty mystic and powerful warrior, but the Ancient One seeks someone who wants peace not war.

Menacing Earth is the Dread Dormammu (Jonathan Adams), a being of pure evil magic from another dimension trying to break into our own. He is using the dreams of children to break through the magic bonds binding him away from our world.

The mystic elements are well portrayed in the film, which is why animation was an ideal medium for this version. The 1978 TV version lacked somewhat in the special effects budget. This version has a good sense of it, though not nearly as wild and amazing as Steve Ditko’s comic versions of the 1960’s. Those comic pages had an almost psychedelic tinge to them. And Stan Lee was never more bombastic than when writing of the Eye of Agamotto or the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth. It made his work on Thor seem like a Weekly Reader title.

The choice of the Dread Dormammu was an expected one, though I might have preferred some other characters like Nightmare and then move to Dormammu. But, since Dormammu is to Doctor Strange like Doctor Doom is to the Fantastic Four, this was not going to happen.

All in all, I liked the film. It ran about 76 minutes, which I liked. I would have liked to have seen another film in this series. This was from the period that gave us two Iron Man and two Avengers made-for-video films in the mid 2000s. They all have their moments and are worth searching out.  Copies of the DVD and Blu-Ray are readily available online for less than $10, new or used. So, if you are interested, check it out. And be ready for the 2016 live action one next year. I’ll be there early.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Nov 13

Cocktail Hour: Guest bartender Mark Finn serves up the Blood and Thunder

Posted on Friday, November 13, 2015 in Books, Cocktail Hour, Uncategorized

The Blood and Thunder cocktail and its literary inspiration.

Mark Finn is many things: author, actor, essayist, playwright and renown Robert E. Howard scholar — his Howard biography, Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, was nominated for a World Fantasy award in 2007. And I learned at the 2011 Armadillocon that Mark Finn also is one hell of a bartender. He took his role of toastmaster literally that year, shaking up signature cocktails during one of the room parties while wearing his signature fez.

As such, it only seemed natural for Mark to serve as my first Cocktail Hour guest bartender. Here, he pours us a bacon-spiked cocktail called the Blood and Thunder, inspired by Marly Youman’s recent novel Maze of Blood. Bottoms up!

Conall Weaver is tired. His mother is terminally ill, and he’s the only one who can care for her. His father, Doc Weaver, is one of several doctors living and working in Cross Plains, and he’s always making house call, delivering babies, tending to oil field injuries, and so on. So Conall has spent his adult life, scant as it is, tending to his mother’s needs as tuberculosis eats her away from the inside out. When she’s better, he can relax a bit. He can write. See, Conall Weaver is one of the greatest pulp writers of all time. His stories have appeared in Weird Tales and…oh, wait, you’ve heard this before, huh?

Well, think again. In Marly Youman’s Maze of Blood, we find the somewhat familiar life and times of Texas writer Robert E. Howard borrowed heavily from to prop up Youman’s magical realism novel, a dense and rich prose poem mash-up that reads fast and stays with you afterward.

If you don’t know anything about the life of Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), that’s okay. I wrote a book, and you can check it out here. For those of you who do know something about how one of Texas’ greatest writers spent his days in Cross Plains, this will feel oddly familiar to you. Youmans didn’t so much as borrow from Howard’s life and times as she simply filed off the serial numbers. This may only have been a problem for me, and I acknowledge that fully.

For fans of Conan, Bran Mak Morn, and the rest of Howard’s body of work, you’ll find no new insights here. Instead, you’ll see a man struggling with creative exhaustion, with his mother’s impending death, with rejection, and the grind of day-to-day living in a small Texas town as its sole creative artist. Divorced from Howard’s biography, Youmans has leave to explore some uncomfortable truths about those final days in a way that would be anathema to any die-hard Howard fan. But these are human truths, grounded in sweat and blood.

Youmans’ language is exquisite. She is clearly and obviously a poet, and her skill at choosing simple words to evoke complex pictures is well-served here. And, if I may be so bold, she knows a lot about Howard’s life, as well. I’m not sure if she’s a closet fan or an avid researcher. I’d like to find out what drew her to the subject matter. But Max of Blood is a transformative work, as each even in Conall’s life is given resonance and stories told to him are filtered through his experience and retold on the printed page. That’s the essence of understanding Robert E. Howard, and Marly Youmans gets it.

It was also nice to see her treating the delicate subject matter of Howard’s suicide with respect and gravitas. Her Conall Weaver isn’t so much like Robert E. Howard as the book goes on. Some of the more outlandish myths around Howard serve the fiction better than the man.

In the end, Maze of Blood is a book I would tentatively recommend to less-sensitive Robert E. Howard fans, and unreservedly recommend to lovers of magical realism and stories about writers telling stories. There’s a lot of layers in Maze of Blood, but it’s that complication that makes the novel so rewarding.

In Honor of Maze of Blood, I’m calling this twist on the Old Fashioned a Blood and Thunder. It uses bacon and more bacon. I shouldn’t have to explain to any of you why that’s wonderful.


2 ounces bacon-infused bourbon (See recipe below)
1/4 ounce Grade B maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
A twist of orange
Optional cherry for garnish
Optional bacon slice for garnish

In a shaker, add 2 ounces bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, and bitters with ice. Shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass filled with ice. Squeeze the orange for a touch of acid, and garnish with the cherry and bacon.


4 slices of bacon, thick cut (I use Wright’s Applewood Smoked Bacon)
1 bottle of bourbon (common wisdom says buy a cheap bottle, like Four Roses, but I think a Texas brand is appropriate for this. Pick Something you like.

Cook your bacon in a skillet and reserve rendered fat. When bacon fat has cooled a bit, pour off the fan into a non-porous container, like a glass bowl. Pour the whole bottle of bourbon into a non-porous container. Don’t worry if you have some bits of bacon in there. You can even add a cooked piece of bacon to this mix. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it hang out overnight at room temperature, at least 6 hours. Put the bowl in the freezer for at least 24 hours. I like 72 the best. Very bacon-y. Strain the fat off of the bourbon and run the bourbon through some cheesecloth to catch the globs and bits. When the bourbon is clean and free of debris, put it back in the bottle and be sure to label it with a “B” for bacon on the cap, or you will get a surprise if you’re not careful!



Nov 10

Forgotten Films: Scared to Death (1947)

Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

Scared to Death marks the only time Bela Lugosi appeared in color.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 141st my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Some of the films I watch here I have never seen prior to their magic appearance on my TV or in my DVD player. This week is one of them. (Actually all of them except one since I restarted my columns here were new to me.) I mean, I want to see things I haven’t seen and then tell you about them.

This week’s movie was part of a double film set that I got quite a while back. The film was included with a Boris Karloff film, The Snake People, but I decided to try the Bela Lugosi one first. As with most people of my generation, I first encountered Mr. Lugosi when he wore the cape and ring of Count Dracula on an afternoon movie show which frequently featured Universal horror films. There he was with that accent, talking about the children of the night.

I saw those films when I lived near Wichita Falls, Texas, and the afternoon films were hosted by some local guy called Pinto Bean. The common variety stale jokes and puns were bearable as I got to see The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman and, of course, Dracula. And, in 1981, when I attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver I met Mr. Science Fiction, Forrest J. Ackerman, who owned the Dracula crest ring. And, since he was wearing it, I got to see it. I didn’t get to wear it, but I stared at it up close and contemplated removing his finger and making a run for it. I was wearing a badge around my neck with my name on it in 36 point type, however, so I didn’t think I could get away with it. Saner thoughts prevailed.

Lugosi was not a great selector of roles. He had a few good roles, but nothing ever equaled that initial role. And, as the films Plan 9 From Outer Space and Ed Wood showed us, Lugosi lived much of his life in drug-addicted poverty.

So, on to Scared to Death. Lugosi was entering the final phase of his career when this was made. The film was from 1947 and Lugosi only made one more of any quality (1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). He was soon headed to the Ed Wood stable for film internment.

Scared to Death features Molly Lamont as Laura Van Ee/Laurette La Valle. A beautiful young woman, she narrates this tale from a slab at the morgue where she is the subject of an autopsy. Laura is in an unhappy marriage with Ward Van Ee (Roland Varno). The couple lives at the mansion/office of Dr. Joseph Van Ee (horror great George Zucco). Dr. Van Ee is assisted by Lilybeth (Gladys Blake) who serves as a combination nurse/receptionist/maid. Lilybeth is hounded by lovesick moron Bill Raymond (Nat Pendleton), a former homicide detective with the IQ of a lightbulb and the character of one of the Dead End Kids. Dr. Van Ee’s cousin, Professor Leonide (Lugosi), shows up with a deaf mute midget, Indigo (Angelo Rossito).

Leonide is a former vaudeville hypnotist who was a former inmate at the sanitarium that would become Dr. Van Ee’s mansion. Rumor has it there are hidden passages that he was able to create without anyone noticing.

Laura is being threatened by someone who has sent her a mannequin head with her face. And there is a floating blue head (it’s supposed to be green, but it’s actually blue). And there’s a nosy reporter, Terry Lee (Douglas Fowler), with a dumb blonde girl friend, Joyce (Jane Cornell).

The plot is convoluted and not very good. The comic relief is not very funny. The flashbacks from the corpse are muddled and not very well handled. There are two saving graces to the film. At 65 minutes, it is short. And, according to the documentation of the DVD box, this is the only color film with Lugosi. All my memories of Bela are grainy black-and-white. So that excuses some of the issues.

Don’t go out of your way to find this one. The interesting things about it aren’t. I’m hoping the Karloff film is better, but I know it is also from late in Karloff’s career and I have my doubts there also.

But, your mileage may vary. As for me, I’ll watch Dracula or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.