Saturday, March 21, 2015

When the Stars Came to Town and Others

Suntigres on location
Over the past few decades, quite a few movies have been made here in North Carolina's Piedmont region — several being of the spooky persuasion — including the upcoming The Disappointments Room, starring Kate Beckinsale, Gerald McRaney, Michaela Conlin, and Lucas Til, directed by D. J. Caruso (Disturbia), and written by Caruso and Wentworth Miller (Stoker, Prison Break). Other titles include Hellraiser III, Children of the Corn II, and The Killers Three. The thriving film industry has been a boon for the state's coffers, countless businesses, and numerous otherwise economically depressed communities, but — most unfortunately — our current legislature, which is composed of some of the densest boneheads this planet has seen since the days of the Pachycephalosaurus, has opted to kill the tax incentive programs that brought so many productions out our way. My contempt for these vile cretins hardly stems from this issue alone, but thank your lucky stars, I have other reasons for writing this blog today. I'm writing because — you guessed it — a nice little series of geocaches recently came out that commemorates some of the eclectic cinematic treasures that have come out of the North Carolina's Piedmont, and today was the perfect day to go after them, and quite a few others, with my frequent caching partner, Ms. Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget).

There are three caches placed around the little town of Ramseur, located along the Deep River River in Randolph County, where scenes from The Disappointments Room, Children of the Corn II, and The Killers Three were filmed, each cache bearing the name of one of those films and containing specific information that lead to a final cache called "When the Stars Came to Town" (GC5NZ2X). I've never seen The Killers Three, and I don't think I've ever seen Children of the Corn II, but you can bet I am now inclined to check out both of them — as well as The Disappointments Room when it comes out in September. Ramseur is a picturesque, tiny community that has retained most of the finest — and, unfortunately, some of the worst — aspects of mid-20th-century southern America, a situation too often brought on by prolonged economic hardship. However, The Disappointments Room promises to showcase the community's most atmospheric and character-laden side, which I have been fortunate enough to experience first-hand during my years of geocaching. It was a true pleasure to return there today and complete the "When the Stars Came to Town" series, which was put together by the classy and altogether mysterious lady known as "Sull427."

Our run through Randolph County today proved a good one in all respects, not only because of the "Stars" series — which was, in fact, the highlight of the day — but because we found a wealth of high-quality caches without a single DNF (Did Not Find) log, including a particular hide that took me into one of my favorite geocaching locations: the deep, dark pits of hell that run underneath the daylight world that most of you probably prefer. Throw in a fabulous Mexican lunch and, at the end of the day, drinks at a nice little place called The Smokehouse Bistro in Liberty. To me, this is pretty much what geocaching is all about.

See you at the movies.
Oh... It's just that dude.
Suntigres's screen test?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Neither Rain, nor Rain, nor Rain...

...can deter a devoted old fart geocacher from grabbing a couple of first-to-finds on Pi Day. There are umpteen 3-14-15 celebrations happening everywhere today, most involving serious amounts of pie, and for geocachers, there were numerous caching events to choose from. For me, the nearest was in Reidsville, and since a couple of new trail caches in the area had been published yesterday, it looked like the best target for the day. I decided the hell with the rain — which had been coming down non-stop all day — I will go hiking. (Sometimes I am known for being more tenacious than bright.) One of the caches is called "At Least It's Not a Stinking Puzzle Cache" (GC5PA44) and I have it on good authority that I'm at least partly responsible for the title. Well, yeah.... What with all the puzzle caches that have recently come out, requiring far more time deciphering shit on the computer than actually getting out there and geocaching, I made a few less-than-veiled threats to certain identical twin cache owners. You know, stuff like, "I'm going to kill the both of you in my upcoming horror story" (and even worse, "I'm not going to kill the both of you in my upcoming horror story"). To miss out on a first-to-find on this cache would have been lame, so I'm kind of glad all the other local geocachers were brighter than me and opted not to go hiking in the woods in the rain.

The event, hosted by the redoubtable 3Newsomes, turned out to be well attended and quite enjoyable. I won a pie at one of the contests. A great big delicious fresh apple pie. Kimberly's coming around for dinner soon, so if she's really nice, perhaps I'll share. But it's going to take some kind of nice.

I hope you got some pie too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Challenges, Stars, and Civil War Trails

Lord have mercy, after several weekends of ice, snow, freezing rain, and frigid wind, we finally had a weekend suitable for getting back out on the caching trail. I didn't add a huge number to my total find count, but there were several miles of enjoyable hiking and some top-quality hides in the bunch. For several weeks, I've been trying to solve a monstrously challenging puzzle to get coordinates for a cache called "North by Northwest" (GC5MJ0T) in Reidsville, and I finally managed it on Friday. After work, I met 3Newsomes (a.k.a. Shannon), who had also solved the puzzle about the same time as I, and we finally tackled the beast. We won, by God, and yes, that is special. An excellent dinner at a lovely Irish Pub called the Celtic Fringe with Mrs. 3Newsomes and Ms. Brugger followed. The Welsh Dragon burger, with blazing ghost pepper sauce, was just the ticket for a Japanese giant radioactively mutated flying rubber reptile.
A big ol' tree, reportedly over 300 years old,
along the hiking trail

Saturday morning, it was back to Reidsville with Mr. Newsome and Tbbiker (a.k.a Todd) to find an enjoyable series of six caches at Lake Reidsville, each of which required having met specific criteria to qualify. Happily, I qualified for all. We were first to find four of the six; along the way, we ran into Cary Owl, a cacher from Cary, over near Raleigh-Durham, who had started at the opposite end of the loop trail and picked up first-to-finds on the other two. Always nice to meet friendly cachers out on the trail. Then, after I got home and was logging my finds, notifications for a new Civil War cache series that's been placed all around the state began arriving in my email. I expected they'd be popping up at some time or another, and — sure enough — one of them was only four miles from home. I knew exactly where it would be, so I buzzed down there and picked up another first-to-find. A right happy day of it, all things considered.

This morning, Team Old Fart — Robgso, Rtmlee, Diefenbaker, and old Rodan — headed out for Danville, a little bleary eyed after the frappin' change to Daylight Saving Time. We had a score to settle with the Virginia Star series caches, which we had completed — but for a couple of the 50 caches — back in January. I had returned for one of them, but this was the chance for the lot of us to pick up that last stubborn, devious little miscreant of a micro two miles down from the trailhead. Naturally, we walked right to it and found it precisely where we had searched so diligently the first time out. I won't say much about any old guys being blind as bats, although mention the cache name "Lost Your Marbles" to us, and at least one of our number will start frothing at the mouth and grumbling obscenities.

The day's favorite was probably "Zip Cache" (GC5MTFB) by a wonderfully talented cacher bearing the name "Klaussinator." Like most of his hides, this one was quite novel and involved not falling down a very steep hill, which some of us just barely managed. We also picked up an unexpected first-to-find at a new cache that was published while we were only a few miles away. That one required some extra work because the coordinates were off, but in the end, our signatures were in the log, the truth was in the box, and I came home looking like a porcupine, what with all the briers stuck in me.

I sleep now.
Scary writer-cacher dude, Cary Owl, one of 3Newsomes
Oh, crap, that chimney just ate Shannon's head.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Bloody Pit of Horror

There's no denying it — the dreaded Drive-In Horror Movie Syndrome has seized me in its unbreakable clutches and forced me, against my will, to sit, watch, and revel in the delight of yet another monstrous melodrama from those far-off days of cinematic yore. In my recent review of Goké, Body Snatcher From Hell, I mentioned The Bloody Pit of Horror, which comprised the second half of the double bill that came round to the 220 Drive-In Theater in Martinsville, VA, sometime in 1977. I was 17 or 18 years old at the time, when horror double features were still a mainstay of the outdoor theater circuit. For me, Goké was an unsettling, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing experience; after that, The Bloody Pit was just another romp through the hallowed halls of cheap, garish horror. It's a 1965 Italian offering, made on a shoestring budget, ostensibly based on the works of the Marquis de Sade. It stars Mickey Hargitay (former Mr. Universe, husband of Jayne Mansfield, and father of Mariska Hargitay, of Law & Order SVU fame; Walter Brandi; Luisa Baratto; Alfredo Rizzo; Barbara Nelli; Moa Tahi; Femi Benussi; and Ralph Zucker (I bet you know all these folks on sight, right?). It's about a book publisher and his crew who visit what they believe to be a deserted castle in the remote Italian countryside, which they intend to use as the backdrop for bunch of cover photographs featuring scantily clad models in various S & M poses, complete with authentic medieval torture devices.

Little do these lovely people know the castle is actually inhabited by a retired, reclusive actor named Travis Anderson (Hargitay), who loathes trespassers. He orders them to depart, but then he recognizes one of the girls, whose name is Edith (Luisa Baratto), and his attitude abruptly changes. He apologizes for his rudeness and permits the crew to remain. Their good fortune, however, turns to the ultimate misfortune, for Travis believes he is the reincarnation of the Crimson Executioner, a 17th-century master of torture and death who was himself executed for his crimes against humanity, and he wastes no time demonstrating his affinity for antisocial behavior. His first victim is Perry (Nando Angelini), one of the models, who is bound on a "Pit and the Pendulum"–style killing device, which, despite the crew's "modification," actually works as it was originally intended. However, rather than flee from the castle and alert the authorities, boss publisher Max (Alfredo Rizzo) demands that work on their project continue. Before long, we have several more murder victims — one stabbed to death in a version of an Iron Maiden, another having his spine snapped, another getting an arrow through the neck. Edith reveals to photographer Rick (Walter Brandi) that she was once engaged to Travis, who was a muscle man in costume films and was, by her claim, "a little weird."
Finding the castle has been sealed off, the surviving crew members begin looking for ways to escape. In the process, Rick finds model Kinojo (Moa Tahi) shackled in an elaborate, gigantic spiderweb and menaced by a mechanical spider, whose fangs have been designed to inject poison. Although the web is rigged to release arrows at anyone who attempts to make his way past it, Rick valiantly endeavors to rescue Kinojo. He avoids tripping any arrows, but he is an instant too late to save the girl. The spider "bites" her, and she dies instantly.
Rick's attempt to save Kinojo proves a crucial diversion, for Travis now grabs Edith and takes her to the dungeons below the castle, which once belonged to the original Crimson Executioner himself. The rest of the survivors have also been rounded up here, and Travis begins to gleefully torture each one of them — one on the rack, another made to endure Chinese water torture, another scalded by boiling oil. Travis reserves the worst for Max, who is trapped inside a metal cage and burned alive. Travis chains Edith to a device that is something of an inverse of the Brazen Bull — the victim being bound atop the bull while a fire is lit inside it. But before the executioner can finish off his former fiancée, Rick appears and engages Travis in a physical fight. He is hopelessly outmatched, but in a stunning display of brains over brawn, Rick maneuvers himself behind a mannequin with lethal spikes protruding from its torso, and in his zeal to attack, Travis impales himself, thus ending, once and for all, the Crimson Executioner's reign of terror.

For a movie that, on the surface, appears to be little more than a vehicle for one gory death after another, very little graphic violence actually makes its way to the screen — most of it is merely suggested, taking place off-camera, or achieved with props so unconvincing you wonder the actors didn't cackle themselves themselves to death. Budgetary constraints allowed for little alternative, and in fairness, some of the scenes, such as the spiderweb torture chamber, manage some degree of amusing novelty. By never taking itself very seriously, The Bloody Pit of Horror, for all its depictions of depravity, by today's standards comes across as pretty good-natured. The cast members, most of whom act about as well as I do on a bender, appear to be having a fine time for the camera, which I hope is true, since they couldn't have been paid very much for this project. Mickey Hargitay, with his cinema strong man status, couldn't be much more apt for the role of a madman consumed by vanity and psychotic cruelty. He plays the part with real enthusiasm, fittingly garbed in wrestler's tights and theatrical executioner's mask.

If there's anything about this movie I really love, it's the music score by Gino Peguri. It's so very Italian and so very 1960s — lyrical, lounge-lizard music worthy of Martin Denny or Les Baxter. With its bossa nova beat, cooing female vocalist, and warbling organ, the frequently used main theme is so serene that its contrast with the mock violence on-screen is almost surreal — kind of like getting a gentle neck massage while your house is collapsing around you.

The Something Weird Video DVD, which I rented from Netflix, features several deleted scenes, which provide a little extra fun; in fact, it's quite a shame they were deleted to begin with. One of them addresses perhaps the most inexplicable moment in the movie: Max's adamant refusal to stop work and call the authorities after the first violent death. It's pretty lame, but even that is an improvement on the scene as it stands. Model and first murder victim Perry (Nando Angelini), who mostly runs around the set dressed in a skeleton costume, gets a bit more screen time than in the final cut, and he appears to be having the best time of anyone on the set. For the deleted scenes alone, I recommend the Something Weird Video DVD release over other options, though the movie can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube for free.

Without question, The Bloody Pit of Horror is one bloody bad pit but a pretty good hoot, so it is absolutely spot-on for satiating the most fearsome hunger pangs brought on by the dreaded Drive-In Horror Movie Syndrome. If you happen start feeling them yourself, do check out this movie.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Night of the Damned Big Burning Heat

If you read my review of Goké, Body Snatcher From Hell the other day, you might have inferred that I have been afflicted recently with Drive-In Horror Movie Syndrome, and there's a better-than-average chance you would be correct. Today was a good day to succumb to this malady because last night's significant snowfall resulted in the office having to close. So, between rounds of working on a new short story, I settled in to watch Island of the Burning Damned (Planet Productions, a.k.a. Island of the Burning Doomed, a.k.a. Night of the Big Heat, the latter being the title of the original 1959 novel by John Lymington), which I had actually never seen before. It was released in the U.K. in 1967, paired with Planet Productions' Island of Terror, but it didn't reach our shores until 1971, when Maron Films released it on a double bill with Godzilla's Revenge — surely one of the most mismatched roadshows ever. Like Island of Terror (which I reviewed here, back in 2008), this movie does its best to masquerade as a Hammer horror film, with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing starring and Terence Fisher directing, though Cushing's role is surprisingly small. While ostensibly a science-fiction movie, Island of the Burning Damned more resembles the era's ubiquitous gothic horror films, with believable science in short supply and melodrama in excess.

There will be spoilers....

We open on a promising note, the setting being established as a small island, called Fara, off the coast of Scotland, so that the main characters are effectively isolated once things turn ugly. They turn ugly pretty quickly, for though it's wintertime, an intense, unnatural heatwave has overtaken the island. Foreshadowed by sound effects that create a fair atmosphere of dread, not unlike 1958's Fiend Without a Face, several islanders are killed, burned to death by some unknown entity. Dr. Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee), a brusque stranger from the mainland who is staying at an inn owned by novelist Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen) and his wife Frankie (Sarah Lawson), takes an unusual interest in the bizarre killings but refuses to explain himself to any of the locals. Meanwhile, an exceptionally attractive young hussy named Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow) arrives on the island claiming to be Callum's new secretary, but as it turns out, she is a skeleton from the not-so-distant past that Callum would rather have kept in the closet. Angela makes a number of unsubtle amorous overtures toward Callum, which he is unable to resist. Further demonstrating her lack of class, she audaciously tells Frankie the truth about her husband, only to take it all back, passing off her "confession" as an angry response to the unnatural heat and her own profound loneliness. Frankie graciously forgives the young woman, only to soon witness her in Callum's arms during (another) moment of weakness.

The heat plays hell with all forms of communication, from telephones to televisions, leaving the island community with no means of contacting the mainland. As the temperature rises and the body count increases, Hanson finally reveals that he is a scientist attempting to discover the truth behind the killings and their connection to the heatwave. He theorizes that an alien species from somewhere in space — where the environment is hotter than any place on Earth — is using the island as a proving ground to determine whether Earth is a suitable planet to inhabit. The local physician, Dr. Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing) is among the few to believe Hanson, but when he attempts to reach a radar station on the far side of the island, hoping to make radio contact with the mainland, he is killed by the as-yet-unseen invaders. Hanson, determined to succeed where Stone had failed, also sets out for the station, only to witness the aliens kill a woman carrying a flashlight. He concludes that the aliens are consuming all man-made energy sources and are attracted to light, and thus manages to reach the station by driving without headlights. Alas, he is too late, for the invaders have already destroyed the radio equipment and incinerated one of the operators. Hanson formulates a plan to destroy the creatures by setting fire to nearby haystacks and then lobbing dynamite at them when they come to check out the commotion. However, the station operator responsible for handling the dynamite is killed, leaving Hanson defenseless, and soon he, too, falls victim to the aliens' onslaught.

Now the monsters, which finally reveal themselves as huge, glowing, jellyfish-like blobs, bear down on the Callums and Angela. But thunderclouds have gathered in the sky, and a terrific rainstorm batters the island. Rain, it appears, is lethal to the monsters, and they quickly disintegrate beneath the torrents.

The end.

When the Godzilla's Revenge/Island of the Burning Damned double feature played at the local drive-in theater in early 1972, it was colder than my folks were willing to suffer to take me to a movie, so the pair came and went without young Mark having the opportunity to see it. Of course, at the time, I had eyes only for Godzilla's Revenge and wouldn't have given a rotten fart about the second feature. (It's probably just as well it was years later before I got to see Godzilla's Revenge, for it might well have then poisoned my otherwise happy relationship with Godzilla, and the idea of this is even now heinous to me — here's why.) A scant few years later, though, once I had my driver's license, going to the drive-in to watch horror movies became a favorite pastime, and I'm sure that if I'd ever had another opportunity to check out Island of the Burning Damned on the drive-in circuit, I'd have done so in a heartbeat. Despite its manifold shortcomings, it's full to the brim with distinctively British atmosphere, occasionally reminiscent of Hammer horror at its best; a sense of unease heightened by the fact you mostly hear rather than see the menace; and characters that don't necessarily fit the stereotypes associated with most low-budget horror offerings of the day: the forthright, virile male protagonist; the virtuous if often helpless female; the kindly, sagacious professor who manages to save the day with his superior knowledge and intellect. Island of the Burning Damned is populated mostly by antiheroes who may be less than likeable but at least possess a few redeeming qualities. Jane Merrow, as Angela, is particularly noteworthy, not only for exuding raw sexiness, but for actually surviving to the end of the picture; she is the type more likely to meet her demise simply because she is a complication. There is the insinuation that Angela — easily distracted by the male of the species as she is — may turn her affection, at least temporarily, to one of the other few survivors, but the dicey situation between Mr. and Mrs. Callum is anything but resolved. I rather admire this little deviation from the tried-and-true formula for horror movie characters from the period.

Christopher Lee does turn in a laudable, even memorable performance as Dr. Hanson. He conveys brusqueness, eccentricity, and reluctant courage with virtuoso flair. Peter Cushing likewise portrays the conservative, straightforward Dr. Stone with sincerity, as one would expect from him. I don't think Cushing ever sleepwalked through any role, no matter how simple or shallow. As the protagonist with a serious Achilles heel, Patrick Allen is an adequate performer, with a commanding physical screen presence. And as Callum's devoted but damn-near-jilted wife, Sarah Lawson has a few shining moments, particularly when she reacts, quite believably, to Angela's merciless taunting by calling her a "little bitch," all but spitting in the younger woman's face.

The monsters themselves don't appear until the very end of the film, which is just as well. Design- and execution-wise, they are no better or worse than any number of comparably budgeted movies of the day, but revealing them sooner would have undermined any suspense that might have escaped unscathed from this not entirely suspenseful cheapie. It's easy to make fun of their simple, not-so-technically-brilliant construction, but I confess that if I were to see these big, glowing, heat-emitting jellyfish-like blobs oozing toward me, I'm pretty sure I would run like hell.

No, Island of the Burning Damned is no classic cinematic work. It didn't get much respect when it was released, and it hasn't gained an appreciable cult following over the years. It's distinctly inferior to Island of Terror, which Planet produced the previous year. Still, it's a highly entertaining relic from a period when the drive-in theater was not only a commercially viable but desirable target market — a time we'll sadly never see the likes of again.
The dangerously hot Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow) and girl-troubled novelist-cum-inn-proprietor,
Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen)
Dr. Hanson (Christopher Lee) trying to warn Dr. Stone by radio of the danger he faces in the night
Dr. Stone (Peter Cushing) suddenly becomes aware of the danger he faces in the night
The danger in the night

Monday, February 23, 2015

Goké, Body Snatcher From Hell

As a longtime fan of weird cinema, I often enjoy watching movies that prompt just about everyone I know to look at me with a pained expression and ask, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Goké, Body Snatcher From Hell (Shochiku, 1966) is one such movie. From the late 1960s through the mid 1980s, I subscribed to Greg Shoemaker's classic fanzine, The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, and sometime in the very early 70s, an issue had made mention of this movie. The article offered precious little information — just enough to almost cruelly tantalize this young fan of all forms of Japanese fantasy cinema. A few years later, in 1977, I saw in the local newspaper that a movie called Body Snatcher From Hell was coming to one of our then-ubiquitous drive-in theaters on a double bill with The Bloody Pit of Horror, and from the photo and copy on the ad mat, I was reasonably certain the former must actually be Goké. Clearly, this was an event not to miss, so when the roadshow arrived, I hied my ass out to the drive-in, picked up a delicious barbecue sandwich from the concession stand, and set about watching this long-anticipated movie.

It messed with my head, it did. More than anything, it struck me as kin to the lurid Italian horror movies of Mario Bava, which I later learned actually had inspired Goké's director, Hajime Sato. Like many of the movies that influenced it, Goké's cinematography is stylized, bright, and vivid, with color palettes limited mostly to primary and secondary colors. The storyline is bleaker than bleak, the special effects range from absolutely convincing to stunningly cheesy, and the characters rate as among the most despicable examples of humanity ever to be crowded together in a confined space. The musical score by Shunsuke Kikuchi (Terror Beneath the Sea, Gamera vs. Guiron, Gamera vs. Jiger, Gamera vs. Zigra, Kamen Rider, Mazinger, Dragonball Z, et. al.) ranges from eerie and ethereal to brassy and overwrought, weighted toward the latter. And, of course, for the domestic version, the dubbing — done by the Hong Kong studio that provided the dubbing for countless international films in the 60s and 70s — varies between adequate, merely lame, and atrocious.

A few years ago, I picked up Goké on DVD, on a double-feature with Toho's The Human Vapor (which may merit a little review of its own). Watching the movie again after so many years, I found it just as lurid, obnoxious, hokey, disturbing, and fascinating as I remembered. I re-watched it recently, and, yet again, it was like a train wreck from which one can't avert one's eyes. Familiarity with it fails to diminish its impact.
The film opens with an airliner en route from Tokyo to Osaka flying through a bizarre, brilliant orange sky, upon which the pilot (Hiroyuki Nishimoto) and co-pilot, Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida), remark in wonder. Next thing you know, numerous birds begin smacking into the windows in gory explosions. A radio message alerts the crew there may be a bomb on board the plane. Then, without warning, one of the passengers (Hideo Kô), who has apparently already assassinated the British ambassador to Japan, attempts to hijack the plane to Okinawa. But then a gigantic, brilliant UFO appears in the sky and buzzes the plane, causing it to crash-land amid a strange, desolate landscape. Only Sugisaka, stewardess Kazumi Asakura (Tomomi Satô), and a few passengers, including the hijacker, survive the disaster. The hijacker takes Kazumi hostage and attempts to escape, only to encounter the UFO nearby — which mesmerizes him and draws him inside. Here, a mysterious force causes his forehead to split open, and a blob-like organism, one of an alien race called the Gokemidoro, wriggles into his skull, transforming him into a wild, bloodthirsty vampire.
Kazumi manages to escape and return to the plane. However, the surviving passengers — rather than come together to combat their common enemy — expend all their energy fussing, fighting, arguing, gnashing their teeth, and bemoaning their oh-so-undeserved fates. One of them actually does turn out to have a bomb, though he brushes it off as just a joke because he was looking to "have some fun." There's scarcely a sympathetic character in the bunch, so when our hijacker-turned-space-vampire begins to prey upon them, one can't help but be a little glad that with each victim, that's one less loudmouth to suffer. However, finally presented with an opportunity to take on the transformed hijacker, Sugisaka douses him with jet fuel and sets him on fire. As his body burns, the Goké alien gooshes out from the wound in his forehead and enters the head of another passenger (Masaya Takahashi), a professor who had previously professed an absolute lack of faith in human goodness — justifiably so, if one were to judge by the quality of the characters traveling on this flight.

As the survivors' numbers dwindle, Sugisaka and Kazumi attempt to flee but are pursued by the transformed professor Sagai. However, the professor is swept away by a sudden landslide, allowing his would-be victims to escape. He makes his way back to the spaceship, where the alien blob exits his head, leaving his body a ruined pile of ash.
Sugisaka and Kazumi soon discover they have been trapped, not on some desert island, but in Japan proper, for they come upon a highway. But it is a dead highway, all the cars stopped and occupied by corpses. The voice of the Gokemidoro reveals to the last two survivors that the invasion of Earth has begun and that no human being will be spared. Sugisaka and Kazumi are left to wander toward their final doom, as from their orbit many miles above the earth, a fleet of alien spaceships begins to descend.

Goké, as you may have inferred from the above, tells a story that is about as grim and hopeless as a story gets, made all the bleaker by the emotionally and psychologically stunted characters. Even for the two reasonably likable protagonists, there is no relief other than death to be found at the end. This quality of human emptiness overshadows all else — the cartoon colors, the goofy dialogue, the ridiculously overdone plot elements, the cheesy special effects. Goké is not so much a movie that's so bad it's good; it's a good movie gone to hell in a hand basket, regurgitated, and splattered all over your shoes. To be sure, it's an obscure classic of weird cinema, and if you're an aficionado, you'll probably love it. I wouldn't recommend showing it to your "normal' neighbors, however, for I can fairly confidently state that they will not.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day Eclection

I've never been particularly fond of Valentine's Day — in my book, it's just another irritating Hallmark Holiday whose less-than-romantic origins have become irrelevant — but in recent years, Ms. Brugger and I have had enough pleasant February 14 experiences to actually overcome my disdain for it. This year's celebratory outing was about as enjoyable as one could be. We ventured over to Kernersville, which, if you're not from around these parts, is a fairly small community between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, with a rather classic small-town central business district that offers a handful of shops, bars, and restaurants suitable for an evening's entertainment. We had an excellent dinner at Bistro B, which we have visited on numerous occasions, all highly satisfactory. Their wine list is impressive; the chef turns out some of the best and most varied small plate dishes I've had anywhere; and the service has always been impeccable, as it was again last night. For Valentine's Day, they had a special pre-fixe menu, which suited my tastes wonderfully, but as Ms. B.'s palate can be rather peculiar (he said from the safety of his keyboard while she is many miles away), the staff happily accommodated her in substituting a couple of items on the menu. In the end, it was as good a Valentine's Day dining experience as any we've had.

A couple of years back, after a dinner at Bistro B, we discovered a little shop down the way called Eclection, which quickly became one of Ms. B.'s favorite places, well, anywhere. Its name couldn't be any more appropriate — they offer a juice, coffee, beer, and wine bar, nicely stocked; sweets and small plates from various local establishments; live music on weekends; and innumerable aisles and corridors filled with antiques, crafts, artwork, jewelry, apparel, home furnishings, and more, all provided by local artisans and vendors. You can enjoy a drink at the bar; in one of several intimate alcoves; or in the main entertainment area up front, which is relatively new — the last time we were there, it was still under construction. Or you can carry your glass of wine with you while wandering among the booths and cubbies filled with handmade and one-of-a-kind items that even an old curmudgeonly dude such as ye writer with no general interest in such things does mightily approve. Indeed, I've come away from Eclection with a few nice items myself, such as the living room lamp you see pictured above right.

Last night, live music was provided by Joey Barnes, formerly a member of the band Daughtry. It was an enjoyable one-man show, and the house was full — the first time we've ever seen such a crowd there. Back before the shop began bringing in honest-to-god live acts, I made a little guitar noise there at one of the improvised jam sessions they used to host. The folks they bring in now are much better, yes. I quite hope the shop continues to pull in plenty of customers for the long haul because it really is a treasure, the likes of which I would love to see gracing the business districts of little towns everywhere. It's the consummate small business, and supporting it benefits both the establishment and the artisans who provide their eclectic wares. If you're in the area, I strongly encourage you to stop in — it's Eclection, 221 Main Street, Kernersville, NC 27284. You'd be hard-pressed not to find something you absolutely positively just gotta have, even if it's a good glass of wine, coffee, or craft beer.
Eclection, 221 N Main St, Kernersville, NC
Joey Barnes plays to a full, enthusiastic house
One of many corners full of one-of-a-kind, locally produced goods
Ceramic Anne Boleyn, complete with axe, with a rather David Lynchian hounds-tooth pattern backdrop

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Crying Tiger (Seua Rong Hai)

Thai food is about my favorite thing in the entire world, and one of my favorite Thai dishes is Crying Tiger (Seua Rong Hai), which is grilled beef over rice with a savory, spicy sauce. It's rare to find it on the menu at most Asian restaurants, at least locally, as it's a "northern" Thai delicacy, which seems to be the purview of a select few establishments here in the Piedmont Triad. There are umpteen Crying Tiger recipes online, and as with most Asian recipes, it's hard to find two that are even remotely similar. I went with my best guess in attempting to recreate the flavor and style of the dish, as prepared at Thai Chiang Mai in High Point, NC, and Rearn Thai in Greensboro, NC. Damn if I didn't pretty well nail it this evening.

What you need (makes four servings):
4 six-ounce top sirloin filets (or similar cuts of beef)
1½ cup soy sauce
1½ cup fish sauce
1 cup cilantro, crushed
¼ cup brown sugar
tomato (diced)
clove garlic (crushed)
6 Thai chili peppers, sliced thin
½ cup lime juice
1 cup green onions, chopped
cucumber, sliced thin; dice several sections to go in the dipping sauce
rice (about 1½ cups to make 4 servings).
leaf lettuce 

What you do:
The beef will need to marinate prior to cooking. To make the marinade, pour 1 cup soy sauce, 1 cup fish sauce, ¾ cup cilantro, ⅛ cup brown sugar, ¾ of the diced tomato, ½ the garlic, about 2 of the 6 chili peppers, and ½ the lime juice into a large bowl. Stir briskly to blend and then place the beef in the bowl (I seasoned the beef with some garlic salt and cracked black pepper). Let marinate in the refrigerator for about one hour.

Mix the remaining soy sauce, fish sauce, cilantro, brown sugar, tomato, garlic, chili peppers, lime juice, green onions, and the diced cucumber; distribute in four small bowls to go with each individual beef dish.

Ideally, the beef should be grilled, but I cooked mine in a cast iron skillet in hot Thai chili oil. For this method, heat the skillet on high until the oil is hot. Drop in the meat and cover. After about two minutes, turn the heat down to medium-high and pour in the marinade with all ingredients. Let the beef cook for three to four minutes per side. When done, remove the beef from the skillet and cut into thin slices, against the grain. Serve over rice on a bed of lettuce and cucumber, with the dipping sauce on the side.

To go with mine, I made a Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetini. It took some doing, but I finally talked the neighbors out of calling the fire department.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Trail Treasures

A beautiful, spring-like day in February to go hiking along the Haw River near Glencoe, in Alamance County. Picked up a handful of caches with Robgso and Rtmlee, including my 7,800th ("Stonewall Cache," GC5M1CV). In addition to the cache, which we turned up after a brief search, we happened upon the following: one pair of sunglasses in good condition; one winter glove, like-new; and thirty-some dollars' worth of ground beef on the side of the road near the trail head. If there are other unique treasures lurking in the vicinity, we did not locate them.

We did locate an excellent lunch — authentic tacos with chorizo — at Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Burlington. Much more satisfying than the dead cow we discovered near the trail.
Dead cow on the road near the Haw River Trail in Glencoe
A picture of Rob the Elder taking a picture
Authentic Mexican tacos at Cancun, in Burlington

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Caching Historic Bethabara Park

The old writer at The Stranger's Graveyard
in Bethabara Park

The usual Sunday geocaching crew — Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, and I (signing logs as "Team Old Fart") — hit northwestern Winston-Salem this morning for a day of it mostly around historic Bethabara Park. I've done a limited amount of caching over that way, but today we covered the better part of the park on foot. There is lots of history to be discovered in those woods — not to mention quite a few caches. The park is on the land settled by the first Moravians in North Carolina, who walked to the area from Pennsylvania in 1753. (The Moravians are German Pietists, who trace their origins to the Bohemian Priest, Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake for heresy by the Catholic church in 1415.) The western reaches of Bethabara (meaning "House of Passage") are mostly wetlands, with precarious boardwalks providing passage through extensive dark marshes. Among one of the marshes, we came upon the remains of Bethabara Mill, from the late 18th century. Here, there was evidence of zombie incursion (see photo below), but we did escape unscathed, or at least damn near. Within the park boundaries, we also found the original Moravian graveyard, known as God's acre, still well-maintained, where the men and women are buried in separate areas — absolutely no after-death cohabitating allowed here. Also, just outside the park, we came to what is known as "The Stranger's Graveyard," where visitors and non-Moravian settlers were buried. While we didn't actually encounter any of the walking dead — well, apart from Elder Rob — at times we did hear rustling and sloshing in the nearby marshes, indicating that something, possibly Bigfoot or a relative of the Boggy Creek monster, had taken note of our presence and was keeping pace with us, just beyond our line of sight.

After claiming all the caches in the park that remained for us to claim, we headed to several other locations, including the underground lair of "The Hook Man" (GCYTYW), which we all somehow survived and counted as the day's favorite cache. We found a treasure chest amid a dense grove of bamboo. (Ms B: "Was it filled with silver and gold?" Me: "No, but it had a logbook!" What can I say? I have simple tastes.) We risked life and limb (or at least getting a little wet) by traipsing over broad streams on pipes and fallen logs, offering us some enjoyable physical challenges. Robgso and I finished up by going after a brand-new cache, near downtown Greensboro, which was published as we made our way home. We took a little detour and made the first-to-find, moments before some other local cachers arrived on the scene. A fittingly satisfying ending to a satisfying day on the caching trail.

Till next week, I expect.

P.S. No, I'm not watching the Super Bowl.
One of the dreaded undead, staring out at me from behind the old Bethabara Mill millstone
Yoda Rob, keeping an eye out for marauding swamp monsters
The Stranger's Graveyard. There were at least four strange beings wandering amid the stones this afternoon.
An old cabin back in the woods — we didn't explore it because we became aware of unseen
but distinctly baleful eyes watching us from within.
Yarrrr! We found the treasure!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Random Bedtime Story

Here's another random adventure tale about night caching... my first night cache, as a matter of fact. It was back in April 2008, and I had been geocaching a relatively brief time, with only a hundred or so finds to my credit. For several years, Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner and I had worked in the same office, where I knew her as "that short little copy editor," but it was only after she left the company that I discovered she was also a short little geocacher. We began getting together regularly for caching expeditions, and we eventually decided to tackle a nearby night cache called "Bedtime Story: A Tale of Two Trails" (GC112D8, which is still out there and, as far as I know, in good condition). I didn't know much about how night caches were set up, other than the fact one needed a bright flashlight, so I was anxious to get out there and discover what there was to discover. For this outing along Lake Townsend, Debbie brought her brother (a.k.a. "DSCrown") and her good friend Beth "BogTurtle" Walton, whom I had met once before, though only in passing. With this little ragtag team, we set out westward on the Laurel Bluff trail, on the south side of the lake, and soon came to a series of reflector tacks in the trees, which guided us onward like brilliant little flames in the darkness. (These actually inspired a scene in Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate, the audio drama I wrote the following year.) Periodically, we would come upon different arrangements of tacks, which signaled us to stop and look for clues that would help us fill in the missing coordinate numbers for the final stage. We spent a good many frustrating moments trying to figure out just what we had to do, but eventually we saw the light — literally. Once we had determined the latitude numbers, we had to go over to the other side of the lake, to the Reedy Fork Trail (hence the cache name), to find the longitude coordinates and, hopefully, the cache itself.

Before continuing with "Bedtime Story," we stopped for a cache called "Geocaching A to Z" (GC11P8P), which was on the way. It was hidden somewhere up a steep hillside amid a cluster of boulders, and we risked life and limb clambering to the top, examining every crack and crevice on the way, so we could sign the logbook and spell our geocaching names with the blocks inside the ammo can (witness the above photo). Find the container we did, of course, and it was just about then that a car went by not fifty feet away. What do you know? A road. Well, gracious, if we had known Plainfield Road passed so close, we could have spared ourselves the climb, the danger, and the fun, and just accessed the cache from that level. Better that we did not, of course, though from that moment on, Plainfield Road was dead to us.

Once finished at "Geocaching A to Z," we made our way back down the rocks and continued our quest for "Bedtime Story." For a time, we followed the trail of glowing tacks, but before we knew it, we found ourselves in darkness minus our trusty little guides. We knew we had not overshot any of the stages, and it wasn't long before we realized that most of the tacks on the north side of the lake had been removed — no doubt by wisenheimer or wisenheimers unknown with nothing better to do than pull fire tacks out of tree trunks. It seemed we were to be thwarted, but since we really didn't like that idea, we decided to split into two groups and look for geotrails — worn paths in the woods that tend to appear wherever there are geocaches — that might yet lead us to our quarry. Debbie and her brother went one way while Beth and I went the other. Here you must understand that Beth really didn't know me from Adam; all she knew about me was that, apart from caching, I wrote horror fiction. She did seem a trifle nervous, and even more so when I pointed out what definitely did appear to be a geotrail that led off the main trail into pitch darkness beyond. I wandered a short distance down this path, and then — sure enough — I spied a reflector. Then another and then another. Before I knew it, I had come upon what appeared to be a hundred or more reflector tacks, all stuck on the trunks of a dozen or so dead trees, fallen and piled on top of each other.

I found it all most intriguing, but Beth appeared uncomfortable. "This gives me a the creeps," she said, thinking this might be where all the stolen reflector tacks had ended up. At my reassuring best, I said, "You realize this is when Leatherface comes after you with a chainsaw, right?"

I didn't even have time to crack a smile before Beth's phone was in her hand, her voice calling out, "Debbie! Debbie, get back here! Get back here right now!"

Fortunately, Debbie and her brother weren't too far away, and a few minutes later, we were all together again. We finally concluded that we had likely found the cache's actual hiding place, and DSCrown volunteered to crawl up under the huge woodpile to see if he might find anything interesting. He seemed to be in there for the longest time, but eventually, his voice rang out: "Found it!"

And so, we were able to claim our first night cache — not quite the regulation way, what with all the missing reflectors, but when we signed our names on the log sheet, our roundabout method mattered not a whit. Over the next couple of years, Cupdaisy, BogTurtle, and I became regular caching cohorts, along with Joe "GeoDogg" Morgan and, occasionally, Beth's husband, Al. Unfortunately, their jobs required Beth and Joe to move out of the area, and our group was splintered. Happily, Cupdaisy and I — and several other regular companions — still hit the caching trail at every opportunity. Alas, they all know me a little too well for me to successfully work my most frightening of charms on them.

At least, that's what they think.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aura You Ready for Another Night Odyssey?

Robgso and Rtmlee showing off their auras on the trail
It's been a good week for some night caching, not to mention geocaching in general. I picked up find #7,777 today, which is kind of a fun number (although I ended the day with a couple of extra finds in the total). There is at least a pair of entertaining nighttime hides over in Winston-Salem, which Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, and I went after last night. The first of them, "Aura You Ready?" (GC4XYJW), in historic Bethania Village, can actually be done day or night, though it's recommended at night due to the first stage's unique properties, which — unfortunately — did not function quite as expected for us. In theory, using a special implement, one can determine the color of one's "aura," and then, with a bit of mathematical calculation, determine the coordinates of the cache. Happily, with a bit of improvising, we persuaded the stubborn little cock at the site to give up its information, and we soon afterward had the cache in hand. (I'm not sure what anomaly caused my phone camera to take what appears to be an infrared image out on the trail, but I kind of like the effect above.)
Robbin Lee, zombified

From there, we moved on to Bethabara Park and a slightly more extensive, regulation night cache called "Night Odyssey" (GCHGJ7), which had us following glowing reflectors through several stages in the woods before reaching the final stage, which was a well-stocked ammo can. We finished up with a late dinner and drinks from the cache bar at the Village Tavern in Reynolda Village, which quite hit the spot.

This morning, several of us got together to attempt a new, apparently difficult and daunting hide called "Haters Gonna Hate" (GC5KNXG), hidden in an extensive marsh over near Piedmont Triad International Airport. We were not entirely successful in this venture — beyond having a hootin', hollerin', helluva lot of fun, we didn't find the cache. That's going to require another trip, maybe with a helicopter, sonar device, and a diving bell.

If you find, expect a call from me looking for a hint.
In Bethania Village: My old eyes first read "Wolf-Monster" on this sign. I think it really should say that.
Haters Gonna Hate: "I don't care how cold it is, Rob, don't come out of there yet — I gotta take a photo!"