Moved to Weebly

I’ve moved to Weebly:

While that’s true, it’s also true that I’m in the process of moving, especially the short stories.

Weebly (free Weebly, at any rate) seems to have no way to connect with other users, so it’s definitely lonely over there, even after four months.  But it’s clean and neat and I think I’ll be there for a good while.



JustineJustine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue

from an unfinished review:

…by the Marquis de Sade and his book Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, which might just as easily have been called The Philosophy of Psychopaths.

The story is about a virtuous girl, Justine, orphaned at 12, who, over the course of the next 14 years or so, falls one after the other into the clutches of the most depraved men in France. She is raped in every way imaginable, repeatedly beaten nearly to death, tortured at every stop, and generally treated as though her only value as a human being lies in her ability to please those stronger than herself — in whatever grisly or sexually violent manner that might be. Yet, through it all, Justine perseveres, preserving her piety and, spiritually if not physically, her virtue.

Sade opens the book with a dedication to Constance Quesnet, his companion and lover, in which he declares his aim to be to exalt virtue while condemning the crimes against it. It is, initially, a puzzling statement in the face of all that happens to poor Justine and in spite of her reactions to it. In fact, it isn’t until we have finally realized that we aren’t meant to feel compassion for Justine but rather contempt that it makes sense, as a joke, one to which Sade returns at the end of the novel.

Nevertheless, this is a philosophical work, even if it is about equal parts philosophy and violent pornography. Essentially (as laid out during long dialogues between Justine and her various tormentors), Sade believes that Man, being a product of Nature, not only comes by his baser instincts naturally, but ought to give full reign to them. Religion, law, morality, these are refuges of the weak, unnatural constructs that are abhorrent to the only law that matters, the law of Nature…

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarkefallofmoondust

Trust me, I get it. I get that Clarke, as a boy, found astronomy, and the moon in particular, so fascinating that it shaped his entire subsequent career. For most of the rest of us, however, the moon — in and of itself — is a pretty barren and uninteresting hunk of rock and dust. Tourists on the moon. Well, sure; I’m certain that if things worked out a particular way, we would indeed see tourists on the moon. But the tourists — that’s the problem. What the tourists would see is a lot of uninteresting rock and dust. So Clarke tries to liven it up with a moonquake and the sinking of a “tourbus” into moondusty quicksand. With characters that about as dry as their environment. (In spite of one married man with the hots for a female tourguide. Clarke seems to have been enamored with the idea of plural marriage — that is, one man, multiple wives — yet it always comes across as a bit adolescent.) I gave up on this one a little past the one-third mark.

Have you seen that U-verse commercial that asks, “When a human lands on Mars, where will you be?” My guess is, I’ll be exactly where every other human currently living will be: in his grave.

Vanishing (Golden Egg)The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe

I’ll give Mr. Krabbe one thing: he can title a story. This one — touted these days as the “novel” that inspired two films, the Dutch Spoorloos and the later American version The Vanishing — called his book (which is really a novella) “The Golden Egg,” an excellent title. “The Vanishing” is a different story altogether, since the disappearance of the young hero’s girlfriend isn’t what this tale of obsession and horror is really about. After Spoorloos, this became a “cult” book, but Spoorloos is a great deal better. The Vanishing, which turns the ending on its head and thereby justifies its title, is, on the other hand, a great deal worse. Worth reading (if occasionally lax), but be smart and watch Spoorloos, as well.

Captivity (2007), story by Larry Cohen, written by Larry Cohen and Joseph Tura, and directed by Roland Joffé


Fashion model Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert) is kidnapped and tortured by mysterious Saw-like serial killer. Even dumber than Saw. Cohen and Tura treat believability like Jack the Ripper treated women. With characters who have no discernibly human psychologies and a torture house that would confuse M.C. Escher. See Elisha forced to drink puréed body parts. Or better yet — don’t.


Four Girls in White (1939), written by Endre Bohem and Nathalie Bucknall, directed by S. Sylvan Simon

Short (73 minutes) melodrama about a group of young women who enter the nursing profession for very different reasons. One of them, Norma Page (Florence Rice), hopes to find a stable, wealthy husband, and she inadvertently ruins the career of another who genuinely wants to help people. Buddy Ebsen, as an orderly named Express, is along for comic relief.

I can’t imagine anyone going out of their way to see this film, which is at best a painless way to blow an hour. That’s really why I watched it. One of the great things about early cinema is all the sub-90-minute movies. And sometimes these short ones are quite good: She Done Him Wrong, for example, at 66 minutes, or Detour (68), Cat People (73), or Attack of the Puppet People, at 79.

According to Wikipedia, one of the titles considered for this movie was Women in White, which would have been more accurate. Norma — that is, Florence Rice — was 32 when the movie was made and Pat — i.e., Ann Rutherford, who plays her younger sister — was 22. The other two were 31 and 21. Even the kids weren’t “girls” anymore. But you know what? I never would have recorded a movie with this plot and these actresses called Women in White. (See what I did there? I said, “actresses” instead of “actors.” I’m losing feminist points right and left.)

Diva by DelacortaDiva

I was sure Diva was the first in the Alba/Gorodish series of novels by Delacorta (Daniel Odier). But I was wrong. It was, however, the first translated into English, so I guess that explains my error.

Alba is a fourteen-year-old living with Gorodish, who is in his forties and has a thing for little girls. Their adventures began in Nana (when, I believe, Alba was just 13). The English editions are labelled as “mystery” novels, but this was from a time before the Great Genre Split. Nothing — and I mean nothing — is a mystery in Diva, other than the sorts of things that are unknown in all novels, like, I don’t know, how it’s all going to turn out. What it is, in today’s terminology, is a crime novel, or a crime thriller. (Although I’m not sure this is a good thing. Back in the day, one could get a variety of works all under the same general umbrella, thereby, perhaps, expanding one’s literary horizons a bit. Nowadays, it’s rather too easy to find a niche and bury yourself in it.)

It’s sort of tangentially about Alba and Gorodish, although they certainly play major roles. But the main plot is about Jules, a young Parisian motorcycle-riding courier for RCA in Paris, who suddenly finds himself being pursued by cops and criminals alike after a cassette tape containing incriminating evidence against a local mob boss is surreptitiously slipped into one of his saddlebags. Significantly, this isn’t the only illicit cassette tape in play. Jules is an opera lover who secretly captures high-quality live recordings of his favorite operas — and divas. Singing in Paris at the time is American diva Cynthia Hawkins, famous for her refusal to sign a recording contract. That doesn’t stop Jules, though, who happens to record what many believe is Hawkins’ single best performance. When this becomes known, record companies from all over the world desperately want that tape. With all this, plus the Alba/Gorodish relationship, as well as that of Jules and Cynthia Hawkins, there’s never a dull moment in this short book.

And, thankfully, I have the wonderful pink edition.

JustineJustine Redux

I stopped writing the review for Justine because I knew Sade’s aggravating philosophy was driving me toward a negativity I didn’t feel. Reading another genre novel doesn’t really take you anywhere new, but a classic…sometimes a classic will open new possibilities and ideas, and that’s what Justine did for me. Philosophical porn was something new for me, but of course it goes deeper than that. Yes, it becomes more difficult to take as the tortures Justine suffers become more outlandish, but Sade sprinkles it all with an exaggeration that, if not exactly humorous is at least calculated to distract you from taking it all too seriously. After all, he wants to make a point, not simply gross you out.

Then, too, his point isn’t entirely wrong, not to my way of thinking. He gets it partly right, even if his conclusion is egregiously off-base. He, an atheist himself, does what many atheists do. He denies Man the specialness he enjoys in religious constructs, relegating him to Nature, but then forgets that if Man is a product of Nature, then so, too, are all his feelings of good, virtue, responsibility, morality, and, indeed, religiosity. In other words, if Man is part of Nature, then Nature can’t be defined solely by what one sees outside of himself; its definition must be expanded to incorporate what he uniquely brings to the table. For Sade, though, it’s all a Darwinian struggle in which the weak — particularly women — must always submit to the strong.

But, again, that’s okay. I don’t have to agree with what you’re saying to be interested in hearing it.

Hostel (2005)


Written by Eli Roth
Directed by Eli Roth

Quentin Tarantino co-executive produced this film which, given that Eli Roth substitutes quirkiness for narrative, isn’t difficult to understand. It’s about three young men who travel to Slovakia in search of easy, anything-goes sex and end up the victims of a
much different flesh trade involving kidnapping and murder. Roth, however, does nothing with this intriguing premise, preferring to distract us from the superficiality of his ideas with sex, torture, and snappy lines. So bereft of imagination is this story that Roth can end it only by stacking one convenient coincidence on top of another. Responding to Slovak officials who complained the film in no way reflected the reality of their country, Roth blamed his own ignorant fantasies (which include kids who kill for bubblegum!) on Americans: “Americans do not even know that this country exists. My film is not a geographical work but aims to show Americans’ ignorance of the world around them.” Presumably by perpetuating it. Offensive and badly written — but flashy — torture porn.

Postcoronary Drift

I sorta saw Macabre, Witness to Murder, and Perfect Sisters. It was a bit like watching the traffic behind the ambulance, which was there one minute, gone the next. I finally had to ask. Turns out ambulances these days come equipped with patient stealth technology: one flip of a switch and the rear windows instantly fog over into opaque whiteness. Why we don’t have these things in our homes is a mystery to me. Especially at night.

Whole chunks of the movies disappeared like those 15-20 minutes during which I was having a metal tube inserted into my heart. Well, I told ’em up front I didn’t want to be around for that. And they were as good as their word: I wasn’t.

It’s kind of a shame. Two of the movies, I think, had a little something going for them.

I don’t know where I go from here, what with one thing and another (the other being that I start a new job on Monday).

Eden (2012), directed by Megan Griffiths


Human trafficking crime drama — about Eden (Jamie Chung), an 18 year old Korean-American girl who is kidnapped and forced into prostitution by a corrupt lawman (Beau Bridges) and his young crack-smoking assistant (Matt O’Leary) — confuses intelligence and resourcefulness with selfish opportunism, squandering all the sympathy we have for the girl immediately following her abduction.  Based on the lies of a woman named Chong Kim, whose story evidently was taken at face value by the filmmakers and only later shown to be fantasy when it was investigated by Breaking Out, an anti-trafficking non-profit organization.  The movie, however, retains the “based on a true story” title which, ironically, is more accurate here than in some other cases, as Kim appears to share the same vile personality traits as Eden.  For those who think making us hate inherently hateful people is an accomplishment.  Also known as Abduction of Eden.

Sphere (1987) by Michael Crichton


One of the fun things about reading is coming across echoes of other books you’ve read. I recently finished After Worlds Collide, and in one scene, a couple of characters discover a kind of plaque or road marker left by an alien civilization. On it is a design; not words or any real picture, just a design. In some inexplicable way, that design seems somehow un-human. And now, in Sphere, etched upon the titular object, is another strange design, one which, again, the hero finds to be un-human. Now, these are basically two-dimensional abstract patterns. Humans, of course, are very familiar with both these dimensions, which have been well explored not just by artists but by billions of doodlers throughout history. I kind of figure just about any design imaginable has been rendered by someone at some time in history. And I sure can’t get my mind around such a drawing being so odd that it is essentially inconceivable, and therefore un-human. Nope, with all due respect to the authors, I’m just not buying it.

Happily, this being a Michael Crichton novel, that’s about the only thing that isn’t, on some level, believable. The guy was a master of milieu, whether the setting was a large corporation, a dinosaur theme park, or a deep sea Navy habitat.

That’s where we find ourselves here, a thousand feet down in the Pacific ocean, where the Navy is investigating a very large, very strange vessel at least 300 years old. But it isn’t any boat; it’s a spacecraft.

Though the Navy is in charge of the overall mission, the primary investigators are a group of civilian scientists — a mathematician, an astrophysicist, a zoologist, and a psychologist. This allows Crichton to attack the problem of the ship, and the mysterious sphere found inside, on a number of different fronts. But Norman, the psychologist, is the hero. He’s there to keep everyone working together smoothly, a decidedly difficult job under the best of circumstances, given the egos and insecurities of the other scientists.

But these are hardly ideal circumstances. First of all, there’s all that crushing water above them. Farther up still, a cyclone blows in and sends the support vessels running for safe haven. Meanwhile, down below, strange things begin happening. And then the monsters attack.

In broad outline, that might sound like any number of other books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen, and it is. The difference is that Crichton handles it all ridiculously well. In an early scene, Norman discovers that Harry, the mathematician, tried to make out his will shortly after arriving in the habitat. It’s a small detail, but one that pays off not once, but twice during the course of the story, in two different ways. A Crichton thriller is anything but ham-handed  (State of Fear being, perhaps, the exception that proves the rule).

In fact, it’s Crichton’s subtlety that can make him difficult to synopsize: everything connects and whatever you might mention comes off sounding like a spoiler. The truth is, beneath the outline, the details of the story aren’t the typical blend of science fiction and horror. There’s the ship, for example, and the sphere, and the monsters…but I’ll just have to leave it at that.

This is one of Crichton’s best books, and Crichton at his best is exciting, suspenseful, funny, and perfectly plausible.

The Seventh Victim (1943), directed by Mark Robson


Fascinating, exceedingly low-key noir horror film about a young woman (Kim Hunter) whose search for her missing sister leads her to an odd cult of satanists in Greenwich Village.  From the producer (Val Lewton) and writer (DeWitt Bodeen) of Cat People and Curse of the Cat People, so expect the off-beat.  The sister (Jean Brooks) says things like, “I’ve always wanted to die.”  This haunting, depressing film is not recommended for the suicidal.

Leprechaun (1993), directed by Mark Jones


If this movie had come out a decade earlier I might have seen it before now. I went to a lot of horror movies in the 80s, which was my heyday for theater-going. Saying that isn’t to say I would have liked it, though. I may have consumed much, but even back then I didn’t just eat it up. Most of it sucked, and I knew it. The Boogens, My Bloody Valentine, Final ExamLeprechaun would have fit right in. So why now?

Two words: Jennifer Aniston. In her first starring role. That these words now have a magic more powerful than a leprechaun’s is obvious. What was originally a poster showing the little gremlin peeking through a doorway is now a large photo of Aniston, with the little monster tucked away in a corner or shown, in silhouette, in the foreground. Even the tagline has changed: it used to say, “Your luck just ran out”; now it says, “Her luck just ran out.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wild about Aniston. But I do miss Friends. And this movie was made the year before Friends started, so we’re talking about a very young and pretty Jennifer Aniston. I’ve seen movies with much less inducement, believe me.

Is she worth it? I mean, does she make the movie watchable? I thought for awhile she might. When we first see her, she’s wearing a short dress, and there’s a lovely shot of her walking up a flight of stairs — with the camera, of course, at ground level. Before long, however, she’s changed into an awful pair of shorts and, well, the magic was gone. Permanently.

Leprechaun made money, though, quite a lot of it. I suppose Mark Jones, who both wrote and directed the film, deserves kudos for coming up with an original monster. But I was never one of those who believed that the monster was the star. I stopped watching Hellraiser because it became all about Pinhead (or that’s my sense of it, anyway). I was disappointed (and a little disgusted) that Hannibal Lecter became the focus of the sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Even when I continued to watch — I saw Friday the 13th up to about #7 and I’ve seen four or five of the Halloween films — it wasn’t because of the monster, it was because of the scenario. That my enjoyment even then generally continued to decline is probably because I was missing the point: I was supposed to root for the bad guy. And I didn’t. So, yeah, evil leprechaun, that’s different. But who cares?

This movie isn’t any dumber than others of its ilk, but it isn’t any smarter, either. It’s about a leprechaun who wants to retrieve the gold that was stolen from him and who will kill anyone standing in his way. I guess it’s too much to ask that Jones do something clever with that idea, to do for leprechauns what Stephen Chiodo did for clowns in Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Too much — because what is there really to say about leprechauns? What are the jokes? I don’t know, and Jones clearly doesn’t either. In fact, he lifts a few from clowns: we see the sprite riding a tricycle and a toy motor car. It’s kind of pathetic.

Ah, but then, so am I. Why do I still think tilting my head will make the camera go lower?

The Man From Planet X (1951), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer


Sally Fields’ mom (Margaret Field) sees an alien on the Scottish moors and is told by her astronomer father to have a hot drink and go to bed.  The pasty-faced alien — yes, dad, there really is an alien and I really did see it — turns out to be a spotter for a race of beings whose world, swiftly approaching Earth, is dying.  The nearby townspeople scurry off to lock their doors and the Constable admits that even if the men wanted to help defeat the alien, their “lasses wouldn’t let them.”  So it’s up to an intrepid American reporter to win the day for humanity.  With lots of fog and absolutely no atmosphere.  Bland.

The Legend of Hell House (1973), directed by John Hough


The Legend of Hell House, like the novel on which it is based, Hell House, was written by Richard Matheson. Watching it, you feel as though it almost had to be. It seems more like a companion piece than a work in its own right. The body of the story is there, but the connective tissue is missing. The individual parts aren’t so much scenes as vignettes, each of which imparts another important plot point. I suppose for that reason it’s comprehensible without having read the book, but it’ll probably leave viewers who haven’t feeling as though they missed something.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a terribly good one either. It is, however, different, unusual. And all of a piece. Because each scene is, really, equally important, it doesn’t build the way a narrative should. On the other hand, if the peaks are missing, so, too, are the troughs. It comes at you like a truck on a flat highway moving at a steady 45 mph. Relative to other traffic, that isn’t very fast. But if you’re standing still…

The story, of course, is the same, relocated to England. A dying rich man hires three investigators to settle the question of survival after death in the only place he knows where such an answer might be found: Hell House, a haunted mansion that has already defeated the efforts of two previous teams to solve its mysteries. The team consists of physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and physical medium Ben Fisher (Roddy McDowall). Accompanying Dr. Barrett is his wife, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt).

The primary team members are all professionals, all experienced in dealing with hauntings. This helped make the book atypical in that fear wasn’t driving the characters. It’s the same thing here, but now it’s just another part of the overall tonal flatness of the film. Oh, there’s some yelling and there’s some screaming, but it’s all just bumps in the road. This isn’t a scary movie. It’s ominous, from beginning to end.

Matheson unfortunately kept his ending more or less intact. I thought it was simplistic in the book; it’s sillier here, although it has some nice special effects as one of the team members gets pushed around. The special effects, in fact, are good throughout.

The actors do well across the board and the movie is well-made. The real reason to see it, though, is for a taste of something different.