Monday, May 26, 2014

So Awful It's Awesome: The Vulture (1967)


My friends... Can your heart stand the shocking facts of atomic vultures from out of the past?

I never saw this 1967 British-made horror movie as a kid; I was in my 30s, I believe, and it was on a late-night picture show on television. I ended up falling asleep on it periodically, but I saw enough to later recall that it was weird and mostly terrible, yet strangely atmospheric, featuring a character or two that damn near gave me the creeps. The Vulture has never been released domestically on VHS or DVD, and since the early 90s, I've never seen it listed on broadcast television. For years, I've been hoping to catch it again just to satisfy my occasional (certain of my acquaintances might say frequent) craving for bizarre entertainment. Just today, I discovered that the entire movie is available to watch for free on YouTube, and though the video quality is none too great, the film is there, all right, in all its ridiculous glory.

To describe the plot might suggest that I have reverted to my college days when my fondness for mind-altering substances ran rather high. (The statute of limitations for such things has expired, right?) Regardless, I'll run through it here, and there be spoilers. On a rainy night in Cornwall, a lady gets off a bus and takes a shortcut through an old graveyard to get home. As she passes though, a gravestone falls over and something that makes nasty screeching sounds comes out and takes to the air. Lady ends up in hospital, hair turned all white. The police pay a visit to local nobleman Brian Stroud (Broderick Crawford) to inform him that the ruined grave belonged to one Francis Real, an 18th century practitioner of black magic who was buried alive by the Strouds' ancestors. Stroud's niece, Trudy (Diane Clare), and her husband, Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton), an American nuclear physicist, decide to investigate this strange case, and they learn that Francis Real revered the Easter Island god, Tongata Manu, a half-vulture, half-human creature, and even owned a vulture as a pet, which — along with a crapload of Spanish doubloons — was buried with him. The police, and most everyone else, conclude that the grave was despoiled by someone who was aware of the old legend and intended to relieve the grave of its treasure. Lutens, on the other hand, comes to the quick conclusion that a sophisticated nuclear experiment has revived the long-dead Real and transmutated him and the vulture into a half-man, half-bird monster bent on killing the descendents of the family that buried him alive.

No one believes Lutens, of course, except Trudy and a good friend of the Strouds — the elderly, kindly, crippled Professor Koeniglich (Akim Tamiroff), who is, coincidentally, one of Francis Real's direct descendents. Sadly, Brian Stroud and his brother, Edward (Gordon Sterne), are brutally murdered, the only clue left behind some vulture feathers. Occasionally, the local church's creepy sexton (Edward Caddick) appears for the sole purpose of warning everyone against interfering with this murderous, supernatural force from the past. Lutens believes that the guilty party can be tracked down by discovering whether anyone has been using vast amounts of electricity to carry on the suspected nuclear experiments. As it turns out, the guilty party is none other than the elderly, kindly, crippled Professor Koeniglich. According to Lutens, the nice professor had intended only to resurrect Real to pick his brain about how they did things back in the day, but Koeniglich hadn't counted on the vulture being in the coffin. Thus his experiment transformed him into a half-human, half-bird monster, bent on wreaking vengeance against the Strouds.

In a very brief scene in the final minutes of the movie, the vulture-man Koeniglich appears and menaces Trudy. Lutens, just in the nick of time, arrives and shoots him dead. Rather than preserve the creature's body so he might prove his wild theory correct, he takes the body out to sea in a rowboat and dumps it overboard. Then he and Trudy go back to New York on a ship.


It's probably fair to say that The Vulture is one big plot hole. By far, its most appealing aspect is that it drips with eerie atmosphere. Since I first saw the movie all those years ago, the creepy sexton has stood out in my memory, and though the character is essentially pointless, his manner does provide an authentic shudder. The story is part mystery, part science fiction, part traditional horror. Apart from sheer zaniness of the plot, though, there are also numerous unintentional laughs, such as the "driving theme" that plays whenever a character is in a car. It's a rambling, orchestral motif with a shunting rhythm, like a train passing over the rails. Dr. Koeniglich is really too sweet to make a convincing murderous vulture, and apart from his ludicrous bird outfit, he doesn't even get any scary facial makeup. He's just too damn cute.

So, if after all that, you feel you're up to it, you can watch The Vulture right on YouTube. Here it is below, in fact, Scream away, do.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Young Blood: Evil Intentions — The Novel

Zoe Cox and Autumn Ward in Young Blood: Evil Intentions (2012)
In 2012, brothers Mat and Myron Smith made a fun little indie movie called Young Blood: Evil Intentions, in which I had a bit part as a Highly Concerned Citizen of a little town that gets overrun by a veritable horde of juvenile vampires. Alternately grim and hysterically funny, Young Blood has played in numerous theaters around the region, appeared at film festivals, and been released on DVD. With cameos by The Munsters star Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster), Troma Entertainment founder/actor Lloyd Kaufman, and horror host/musician Robert "Count Smokula" Miles, the movie has gained a sizable cult following.

And it's about to become a book.

I have been contracted to write a novelization of the movie, and this fun endeavor is currently well in progress. A teaser chapter will soon be foisted upon the public at large, and you will be encouraged to run screaming... for a whole lot more. Be afeared. Be very afeared.

The Smith brothers are currently wrapping up their latest movie, Invasion of the Killer Cicadas, in which I play mad scientist Dr. Werner von Schwartztotten. Look for it this summer, and you can become even more afeared.

For now, be sweet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

THE MONARCHS — Daily Deal on Amazon.com


Not much time to jump on it, but The Monarchs, my most recent novel, is one of today's Daily Deals on Amazon.com, which means you can purchase it for your Kindle for 99¢. You're dying to be scared, aren't you? Well, here you gothis one ought to fix you all nice and proper.

A bit of the story:

"After her husband murders their daughter and then commits suicide, Courtney Edmiston, devastated and homeless, accepts an invitation to move in with her old college friend, Jan Blackburn. Jan lives with her brother, David, and eccentric Aunt Martha in the town of Fearing, North Carolina, at the edge of the Dismal Swamp. The Blackburn family has suffered its own recent tragedies — and Courtney learns that Jan and David have more than their share of enemies in the town. Because of her association with them, Courtney soon finds Fearing a very dangerous place to live. For reasons Courtney cannot comprehend, many of the townspeople fear old Martha Blackburn. However, she begins to understand why when Martha threatens the Surbers with swift retribution — by way of a ghostly entity known as the Monarch — and gruesome death does indeed visit the Surbers. And to her horror, Courtney, caught between the two feuding families, at last becomes the focus of Aunt Martha’s fury.

In desperation, two of the Surber brothers abduct Courtney and Jan and threaten to kill them unless the Blackburns meet their demands. However, Martha unleashes the horrific Monarch against her family's rivals. And Courtney, whom Martha now considers an enemy, becomes as much a target for its inhuman wrath as the remaining members of the treacherous Surber family...."

Check it out: The Monarchs by Stephen Mark Rainey

"I would recommend The Monarchs to anyone who enjoys their horror intelligently written, character driven, and bloody. Without giving too much away, I can say that The Monarchs has one of the most exciting endings to a novel that I’ve read in the last year. You really shouldn’t pass this one by."—TT Zuma, Horrorworld

If you miss out today, fret not overmuch. On any given day, the Kindle price is only $4.99 — you won't go broke. Or if you do, you can at least have a grand old time in the process.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

No Acercarse

River rats
Some geoaching milestones come and go without me paying much notice, but for my 7,000th find, I figured I should attempt something memorable. A kayak run down the Yadkin River with a number of friends seemed just the ticket, and a boat park-n-grab hide — "Another 'DAM' Skirt Lifter" (GC3W0G6) — struck me as agreeably whimsical. Ms. B. and I met up with Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, and a couple of Mr. Lee's friends in Greensboro, dropped a car at the Old 421 boat access point, and made our way up to Rt. 67. At first, we figured we were going to have a chilly day on the water, but it wasn't long before the sun came out and the temperature warmed up to just about perfect. We enjoyed a mostly leisurely paddle down the river to the dam where the cache resides. Here the current was enjoyably challenging. On the upper and lower sides of the dam, there are concrete ramps and a walkway for boat portage, and a big sign that reads "No Acercarse" admonishes you not to go over the dam in your boat (it would be bad). Once we were all feet-dry... more or less... on the walkway, I drew the cache from its hiding spot and laid my moniker on the log. Find #7,000 — yay! We soon got ourselves back in the kayaks and started on our way, only to realize that Mr. Lee's boat was going downriver without him. Where's Mr. Lee? Oh, there he is... a wee bit wet. Or perhaps more than a wee bit. Anyway, it wasn't long before we were all properly mounted up again to make our final run back to the Old US 421 River Park. Indeed, #7K was a memorable cache — an excellent day on the river, followed by wine and good company at nearby Flint Hill Vineyards.

I sleep now.

Photos by Scott Hager:
Ms. B. stylin' with paddle.
Hey, Rob! Wait... where's Rob?
Merrily, merrily, merrily...
Mandatory portage
No acercarse.
Team 7K

Return of the King?


The spectacular trailers and advance positive reviews of Legendary's new Godzilla led me to feel guardedly optimistic that director Gareth Edwards' big-ass monster romp might be a real Godzilla movie, an effort worthy of the sixty-year-old iconic monster that I have loved beyond the bounds of reason ever since I saw the 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters around age four. I purposefully shied away from spoilers so I might go in with as open a mind as possible, and, on this count, I succeeded. Knowing relatively little about what I might actually be getting into, I caught Godzilla in IMAX/3D yesterday, which did provide me with an agreeably stimulating sensory experience.

It was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.

Though I'm not revealing much of the plot here, there are some spoilers, so if you don't want 'em, don't read 'em.

Director Edwards does a lot right with the monsters. By dropping hints and offering only glimpses of the creatures before revealing them in all their glory, he capably builds suspense leading up to their appearances. The pair of Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) creatures work exceedingly well; in fact, it could be argued that they have the more substantive monster roles. Godzilla does not appear in full until about halfway through the film, and though I've heard a few complaints about this fact, I find its slow revelation effective in context. While I remain far more enamored of the traditional suitmation monsters and miniature sets that have been the mainstay of Godzilla films over the decades, the special effects work here proves to me that a CGI Godzilla can, in fact, ultimately succeed. However, the Godzilla design, while endlessly superior to the silly big iguana in Roland Emmerich's insipid 1998 Godzilla, still falls short of the Toho's best suitmation Godzillas. This one looks like a big scaly grizzly bear with dorsal fins and a long tail, and its stubby, non-functional-looking feet, which ought to be reserved for a quadrupedal creature, actually annoy the hell out of me. Not to say Godzilla as a monster isn't oftentimes visually impressive; it is, sometimes with a vengeance. Its powerful bellow, which retains at least some of the contrabass-produced rumbling-and-scraping timbre of the original Toho monster, couldn't have been more well-done.

The best aspect of the monster scenes is that, unlike many of this film's contemporaries — including Pacific Rim, a movie I generally enjoyed — they aren't all presented with jump-cuts, super-fast action, and close-ups that are so close you have no idea what you're looking at. Most of the time, you get long, lingering shots of the creatures, a stylistic touch perfectly in line with longstanding Godzilla movie tradition. In the Toho films, you always got to see plenty of monster. No ridiculous, dizzying camera work but real, honest-to-god cinematography that shows you exactly what you want to see: majestic, impressive, larger-than-life daikaiju.

In the story, Godzilla and the Muto creatures are revealed as essentially products of mother nature in her earliest days; unlike the original Japanese monster, Godzilla is not a result of nuclear testing gone horribly wrong. Though the creatures in the film thrive in a radioactive environment, none of the allegorical elements about the horrors of atomic energy that formed the heart of the original Godzilla remain here. If anything, nuclear weaponry is retained as the last hold-out of hope for the American military. This downplaying of a once-crucial tenet has more in common with the Heisei-era (1984–1995) Godzilla films, in which nuclear power is generally reduced to a convenient catalyst for monster appearances (most egregiously in 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah).

Alexandre Desplat's musical score for Godzilla complements the visuals well enough, and there are a few motifs that effectively underscore the emotions conveyed in any given scene. A brief portion of Gy├Ârgy Ligeti's "Requiem for Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano," originally made famous in 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, provides a dark, ethereal backdrop to a dramatic scene in which a Special Forces team makes a HALO drop into San Francisco to recover a nuclear bomb scavenged by the Muto creatures. However, as with most contemporary film scores, Desplat's incorporates few memorable themes or full-fledged compositions that go beyond controlled cacophony — certainly nothing like Akira Ifukube's original classic monster themes or Michiru Oshima's rousing, distinctive scores to several of Toho's Millennium-era Godzilla movies. At the risk of portraying myself as the consummate old fart... I so miss the good old days of movie scores, when they were truly music, not just staccato blasts of orchestral noise to punctuate the action on the screen at any given time.

The real test of a daikaiju picture... or most any picture... is whether the story holds up. Do the actors portray characters you can relate to on some level? Do the moviemakers create a world you can believe in? Do you want to believe in it? In Godzilla, the human drama runs perilously thin. None of the actors — even the capable Bryan Cranston as nuclear engineer Joe Brody (who meets his demise much sooner than I might have expected) and distinguished Ken Watanabe as scientist Ichiro Serizawa — manage to overcome the inherent flatness of their characters. Juliette Binoche is wasted Brody's wife, who meets her demise within minutes of her introduction. Brody's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a likable enough heroic character, and he actually gets to do some stuff, rather than stand around watching the action, but even he is at the mercy of a script that takes us down too many familiar boulevards. In fact, most of the timeworn disaster movie conventions can be found here: the devoted scientist whose warnings of dire events on the horizon go unheeded; an element of strife between family members (in this case between Brody and Ford, who believes his father has just gone over the deep end); the young child separated from his parents and the inevitable quest for a reunion. It's by-the-numbers people plot, and while it beats the hell out of the 1998 Godzilla and even some of the later Toho Godzilla movies, particularly those from the Heisei era, it falls distressingly flat in a movie where every resource was in place to make the drama riveting from top to bottom. Shinichi Sekizawa and Kaoru Mabuchi, two of the premier screenwriters of the original Godzilla series, offered plenty of lessons in great monster stories. No one seems to have noticed.

In the end, Godzilla succeeds on many levels, particularly in the spectacle department, yet, despite its clear aspirations, from a dramatic standpoint, it is neither moving nor engrossing. It offers no real thematic depth, especially compared to many of the early Toho Godzilla films, which, even at their simplest, addressed real human issues, such as unchecked use of atomic weaponry; rampant human greed; the need for people to respect each other and view even those with whom they differ as brothers; the dangers of spreading toxic pollution over the face of Mother Earth. Gareth Edwards may be a true fan of everything Godzilla stands for, and he clearly sets out to entertain audiences, at which, on many counts, he clearly succeeds — yet he also stops right there. Coming up so thematically empty is a disservice to audiences, not to mention the legacy of one of the longest-lived icons in cinematic history.

I kind of liked this Godzilla. But I surely didn't love it. I may be completely wrong — I rather hope so — but I have a feeling the Godzilla to love exists only in the past.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Darkness Falls, Cache On

"Okay, we know it's up there. How the hell do we get it down?"

Back in February of this year, I spent several nights out on the Greensboro watershed trails restoring Darth Sketcher's ingenious but aging and decrepit night cache, "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB; see "Restoring 'Darkness Falls'" and "Darkness Falls Restored"), and last night, a group of brave geocachers went out to see if they might conquer it. They invited me to accompany them — in case they became lost in hyperspace — and I gladly accepted, figuring I could throw a monkey wrench into all their best-laid plans. So, as the sun began to set, I met a passel of creeple people bearing the aliases Cantergirl, Jamestown Pastor Jay, Jesusfreaks33, Charlie Alpha Lima, Kenzielaken1102, and 3Newsomes, at the Bald Eagle trailhead at Lake Higgins and set out for the first target. There are five stages spread over five trails, extending all the way from northwest to northeast Greensboro, the first stage being relatively easy, the others varying in difficulty but all presenting unique challenges. I vowed to offer only moral support, no significant hints (unless the group started to head for the wrong trail, which looked to be in the offing until the old man did step forward to set them straight). I was quite curious to see how a group would fare on the stages, especially because this is the first bunch to hunt it since I completed the restoration work.

Happily, the team made it all the way to the final stage and conquered the last challenge: putting together the information gathered at each stage so they could access that all-important logbook. Although there was some fierce wildlife out there, such as radioactively mutated millipedes, giant frogs, and something that might have been a Sasquatch, everyone survived the venture, completing all five stages in just about three hours.

I will say, if I had not been there, they might have discovered Berwyn, and from there, no one ever returns.

Most interestingly, as we were making our final egress from the woods, at the Townsend Trail, we came upon a most curious arrangement of reflectors tacks, which spelled "CACHE ON" on a tree near the trail head. I'm told it's probably a remnant of an older night cache, no longer extant, set up by the Pirates of the Carolinas. I'd love to see them do another one, as I quite like the reflector artist's style.
These rather larger crawlies were all over the trail.
Jesusfreaks33, Kenzielaken1102, and Cantergirl sorting out the vital info from one of the stages
Cantergirl puts her signature on the logbook at the final stage
Victorious, they are. L to R: Jesusfreaks33, 3Newsomes, Kenzielaken1102, Charlie Alpha Lima,
Cantergirl, Jamestown Pastor Jay
Cache on.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Auf Wiedersehen, Mad Prof!


Some of you regular visitors may recall that, in addition to writing tales meant to be read late at night and occasionally utilizing multi-billion dollar satellites to hunt little containers hidden in the woods and elsewhere, I have also offered my not-necessarily-considerable thespian talents to a couple of indie movies made by Martinsville, VA, natives Mat and Myron Smith. In their most recent offering, Invasion of the Killer Cicadas, I play the role of Professor Doctor Werner von Schwartztotten, the twisted genius responsible for genetically engineering the malevolent title creatures. In the Smith Brothers' first movie, Young Blood: Evil Intentions (2012), which told the story of numerous child vampires running loose in a small southern town, I had a weenie part as an outspoken citizen. In Cicadas, the mad prof doesn't have much more screen time than the loudmouthed old fart, but, as creator of the title monsters, he provides a tad more substance to the storyline. Several months ago on the set, I delivered a rousing lecture about the nature of monster insects to a committee of concerned townsfolk; today, the good doctor spoke his final lines for the movie, which is now wrapping up shooting.

I expect the movie will be entirely in the can by the end of June, and — hopefully — it will soon afterward follow in the footsteps of Young Blood and make an impressive circuit of numerous theaters around the region and elsewhere, as well as play at film festivals and see a DVD release. Both movies are a hootin' holler — just the kind of productions to appeal to fans of Troma Entertainment movies and such (in fact Young Blood features Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman as a hysterical news reporter). Young Blood: Evil Intentions is available on DVD and may be purchased here: Young Blood: Evil Intentions

Here's the official trailer for Invasion of the Killer Cicadas. Enjoy.

Friday, May 2, 2014

No Birthdays for Old Grumps

"It has been written since the beginning of time,
even unto these ancient stones, that evil supernatural
creatures exist in a world of darkness."

Per my personal tradition, I took my birthday off from work and went geocaching, among other things. Last night, I headed up to Martinsville for a nice birthday dinner with Mum, and then, bright and early this morning, took off for Fairy Stone Park to hunt a relatively new cache. I found the hide readily, but I also discovered a ton of trash scattered around ground zero, which is the barest remnant of an old stone foundation, for what was at one time a fairly sizable structure. It would be interesting to find out what the place was back in its day. In any event, being the ever-grumpy but always civic-minded geocacher, I went back to my car, grabbed a garbage bag from my stash, and spent about 20 minutes picking up litter. I filled up most of the bag and left the area about as close to pristine as it can be left, so that was my good birthday deed. (I hope no one expects any more today, as they are liable to be disappointed.) On the way home, not far down the road from Fairy Stone, there was a major traffic checkpoint, with numerous local sheriff's deputies and the Virginia State Patrol running license checks. A bit later, on my way back to Greensboro, I encountered another one one near Sandy Level, VA, on the backest of back roads. I gather someone did something bad, but this time, at least, I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.

The real bad ones are the human garbage that called my mom the other night, impersonating my daughter, claiming to be in trouble and needing money to be bailed out of jail. Apparently, the scam was uncannily convincing, for Mom would swear she was actually talking to my young 'un. If you have elderly relations, please, please warn them against believing such a story; these scammers hit you right where it counts, emotionally, and they're sophisticated enough to make a trusting person believe it's true. Here's a website that explains the scam in detail, and it matches down to the letter what happened to my mom: Grandparent Scam

Don't believe it. Not for an instant.
A portion of ancient Kadath showing just above ground?
Cache in, trash out.