Fantasia 2019, Day 6, Part 1: Ad Astra Book Launch, and Nao Yoshigai x 4: Of Blooming Flowers and Dead Skin

Monday, August 19th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Ad AstraOn July 16 I started my day at Fantasia with a book launch. Michael Gingold’s book Ad Astra is coming out this fall, but attendees of his multimedia presentation had the chance to buy it earlier. It’s a follow-up to 2018’s Ad Nauseam: Newsprint Nightmares From the 1980s and its sequel to come in September, Ad Nauseam II: Newsprint Nightmares From the 1990s and 2000s. Those books were collections of classic newspaper ads for horror movies, while Ad Astra is subtitled 20 Years of Newspaper Ads for Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films.

Gingold, a former editor-in-chief of Fangoria, said he’d collected ads since he was 12 years old, and the book thus covered films from the original Star Wars through to A Phantom Menace. He showed some of the images included in the book while discussing trends in newspaper ads — and in movies, noting that science fiction began to perform reliably at the box office in these years with Moonraker the most popular James Bond film up to the time of its release in 1979, while in the summer of 1980 The Empire Strikes Back and Friday the 13th were the only real financial successes. Gingold went on to say he had a sympathy for smaller films, such as Mighty Peking Man, a Shaw Brothers movie first released in North America as Goliathon.

He observed that while we debate ‘special editions’ of films today, the idea perhaps began with the 1980 version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Among the ads he showed was the one for Dune packed with expository text; and variant ads for films like Excalibur and Flash Gordon. Some films had seasonal ads, as Superman II did for July 4 or ET for Christmas. On the other hand, other films (like Howard the Duck) had to change their ads in an attempt to rebrand the film. Review ads began to emerge (prompting an ad for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure that mocked the format), as did ads featuring tag lines or actor’s name — a whole sub-genre of ads for Arnold Schwarzenegger movies placed the name “Schwarzenegger” in all-caps at the top of the ad. Gingold also noted that he included in the book some of his favourite quotes from his favourite dyspeptic movie critic Rex Reed; such as, for example, Reed’s line that The NeverEnding Story was “worse than girl scout cookies.”

From the book launch in Concordia’s York Amphitheatre I crossed the street to the De Sève Theatre. There, I watched a program of short films by experimental director Nao Yoshigai. Yoshigai’s a dancer and choreographer as well as filmmaker, and her work has already met with considerable acclaim; her piece “Grand Bouquet” was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. Fantasia’s program, Nao Yoshigai x 4: Of Blooming Flowers and Dead Skin gathered four of her shorts together, culminating with “Grand Bouquet.”

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand – II: Will Murray on Doc Savage

Monday, August 19th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Savage_Magazine1EDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Back in June, I posted that A (Black) Gat in the Hand was returning this summer. Last year, from May 14th through December 31st, every Monday morning featured a new hardboiled/pulp-related post – mostly by me, but with several friends who wrote some great stuff. I love hardboiled/PI stories and I’m as proud of that series as I am of the two Robert E. Howard ones I’ve helped coordinate here at Black Gate.

So, I called on some more friends this year, and I sought out some wider-ranging topics – the pulp magazines were FAR more than just mystery and detective-based. The Adventure Pulps were the dominant ones for years, with exciting tales of derring do and discovery. Even today, Doc Savage remains the best-known name among adventure heroes. And Will Murray, who is currently writing authorized Doc Savage novels (plus a LOT more), kicks off our series with a look at the Man of Bronze.


Doc Savage was not created so much as he was assembled in much the way Victor Frankenstein stitched together his infamous monster from unconnected charnel parts.

The year was 1932. At the Street & Smith publishing company, they had a surprise runaway success in a magazine called The Shadow. Inspired by a creepy radio voice used to promote their Detective Story Magazine, the mockingly laughing Shadow captured America’s imagination in that dark Depression year. The magazine kept selling out. S&S pushed author Walter B. Gibson into producing two novels a month so they could release the pulp periodical every other week. The Shadow Magazine kept selling.

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Exploring a More Pleasant Future: A Dream of Wessex by Christopher Priest

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fugue for a Darkening Island-small Indoctrinaire-small2 A-Dream-of-Wessex-medium

Covers by Mike Ploog, Bruce Pennington, and uncredited

I like Chris Priest’s writing a lot. “An Infinite Summer” is one of my favorite SF stories. The Inverted World was one of the first serials I ever read in an SF magazine (Galaxy, in 1975 or so), and it fairly blew me away. I read Darkening Island (Fugue for a Darkening Island) at just the right age to be impressed by its non-linear narrative structure.

But for some reason, maybe because his books don’t seem to get much push in the US, I haven’t been following him lately. Recently I read his first novel, Indoctrinaire, which had some good ideas but ultimately was pretty obviously a first novel, and no better than OK. I have just now read what I believe to be his fifth novel, A Dream of Wessex (US title The Perfect Lover), from 1977. This is a very interesting novel, and a pretty good read.

The basic idea is quite “Priestian,” a (very little) bit reminiscent of Indoctrinaire: in the near future of 1977 (1985), a research project is set up whereby a group of people sort of “pool” their unconsciousnesses and create a realistic world 150 years in the future. Ostensibly this is to explore what might be done to reach a more pleasant future. The dreamed future is set on “Wessex,” which is the western part of England after it has been separated from the mainland by earthquakes, with the new channel roughly along the path of the river Stour.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 5, Part 4: SHe

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

SHeThe fourth and last movie I saw on July 16 was the most experimental movie I’d seen at Fantasia, not only this year but possibly in all the time I’ve been going to the festival. Before that feature, though, was a short almost as strange.

“Bavure” was directed and written by Donato Sansone. An animator’s hand mixes paints, makes an image, then remakes it, then remakes that, and so on through an increasingly cosmic story. A woman is made pregnant, a child comes out, and becomes an astronaut, and meets aliens, and on to a bleak climax. ‘Bavure’ means smear, or mistake, and the imagery of an animator remaking a smear of paints into a series of images fits. The animation technique’s a striking and effective way to move from image to image, the story’s cute, and at 5 minutes the film doesn’t outlast its welcome.

Next was the feature. It was called SHe, a movie directed, written, and edited by Zhou Shengwei. A work of stop-motion animation, Zhou made 268 models for the film himself, and took 58,000 photos over the course of 6 years to make it.

The film’s a staggering work of imagination. None of the characters are remotely human. They are, in fact, based on shoes. In a world of strange creatures assembled from everyday objects, entities based off of men’s shoes oppress entities based off of women’s shoes. One of the latter escapes and has a daughter, but the mother has to find a way to get the resources to feed the child. Only by adopting a disguise as a man’s shoe and entering into the dreadful danger of a pseudo-capitalist workplace can the two survive. But strange things happen in the workplace: the lady-shoe does not fit in, but turns out to have abilities the other worker-shoes don’t, attracting the attention of the boss of the shoes — who then draws her into an even stranger behind-the-scenes world where the tables start to turn.

At least that’s how I understand the basic plot. The film has no dialogue (vocal sounds come from Lv Fuyang), and the lack of human features on the characters give the audience some space to find their own meanings for things. The body language of these creatures is I think relatively clear, but it still requires some focus to follow events. Or it did for me; perhaps that’s a function of how I parse images as opposed to words.

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Gozdilla, King of the Criterions

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Criterion 1000-small

October 29th, 2019, will be a very bad day for secret mad-money stashes, vacation change jars, and even kids’ college funds, but it will be a great (shall I say monstrously great?) day for kaiju lovers everywhere. Why? Because on that day, the prestigious Criterion Collection will release a colossal blu-ray set containing all fifteen Godzilla films from the Showa Era (the Showa Era being the years of Emperor Hirohito’s reign, from 1926 to 1989.) Never before have all of these films been collected together in a uniform edition of the highest technical quality… but now they will be, just in time for rubber-suit monster enthusiasts to have the greatest Halloween film festival ever.

Criterion numbers its releases, and in recent months speculation has been mounting — what would the company choose to follow number 999? (John Sayles’ fine period drama, Matewan.) Would it be a foreign film or an American one? A silent movie or one from the sound era? A polished studio masterpiece or a raw, rebellious indie? My money was on Sam Peckinpah’s apocalyptic western, The Wild Bunch, but on July 25th the suspense ended with Criterion’s announcement that number 1000 would not be a single film at all, but instead would be an unprecedented set. Godzilla: the Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 promises to be a must-have for all Criterion completists and for every fan of the King of the Monsters.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “giANTS,” by Edward Bryant

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Sanchez

Cover by John Sanchez

The Nebula Award was created by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and first presented in 1966, when the award for Best Short Story was won by Harlan Ellison for “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” It has been given annually since then. Ed Bryant won the award in 1979 for his story “Stone” and again in 1980 for the story “giANTS,” the first time an author won the award back-to-back.

Ed Bryant’s “giANTS” is a strange work of almost fan fiction. It is set in a world in which them 1954 B movie Them! has taken on immense importance. Main character Paul Chavez dreams himself in the movie, with himself in the role of the protagonist, and upon waking has a difficult time separating reality from his dream. Chavez also finds himself the subject of a relentless reporter, Layne Bridgewell, who is seeking an interview with him, one he only begrudgingly gives.

It takes a while to determine the actual role of Them! in the story since it seems to be a film that Chavez and Bridgewell have both seen and are aware of. At the same time, there is definitely something occurring with insects throughout the world and Bridgewell has lost family to bees while Chavez’s wife was killed by fire ants.

It eventually turns out that rather than being the nightmare scenario Chavez fears, Them! provides the solutions to the problem of a world in which normal insects run amok. Bryant cleverly takes the biggest scientific inaccuracy of the film and turns it on his head, allowing Chavez to realize that creating a means of increasing the insects size is the fastest way to destroy them, due to the square-cube law.

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TKO: A Comic Book Publisher with a New Business Model

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

TKO-Studios banner-small

I get a lot of my comic news through podcasts, which means that (a) they’re mostly interview-based and (b) it may take me a month or two to get to them. But on a recent road trip, TKO Studios, a new comic book company, was advertising on a couple of my podcasts and had interviews as well. They sound different. Let me go through the things that caught my attention.

First, the company releases all its first issues for free digitally, for anyone to download. This feels very savvy to me because comic books are expensive. Being able to try some for free really reduces the barrier to engaging. You can download the first issue of each of the four first series right here.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 5, Part 3: Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Look What's Happened to Rosemary's BabyIt’s relatively unusual for me to watch a movie that I know going in is not good. But every so often, and usually at Fantasia, something bizarre comes along that looks bad but also in its way promising. So it was that for my third film of July 16 I settled in at the De Sève Theatre for a screening of the rare 1976 TV-movie sequel to Rosemary’s Baby: an opus directed by Sam O’Steen titled Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby. Star Stephen McHattie was in attendance, and would stick around to take our questions after the film.

(I had actually seen Rosemary’s Baby for the first time in preparation, and I was surprised how much I did not care for it. It was well-shot, and Rosemary’s isolation was captured well in the second half of the film. But it was difficult to believe in that isolation after we’d already seen her at a Christmas party with her friends. Atmosphere stubbornly resisted being evoked. The gothic material almost uniformly fell flat, and the Satanist coven came off as an unthreatening group of busybodies. I did not understand what was supposed to be scary in this movie, or what beyond craft was supposed to make it a classic. Disappointed as I was, I think now this viewing unwittingly set me up to be receptive to Look What’s Happened as a kind of unwitting satire, ruthlessly if unintentionally pointing out the weaknesses and absurdities of the original.)

The movie was introduced by Phlippe Spurrell of Montreal’s Cinéclub Film Society. He noted that the 35mm print came from the personal collection of Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis, and 7 or 8 hours had gone into the inspection, cleaning, and mounting of the film on a single reel. He warned us that some material was faded, but promised us surprises (which turned out to be period commercials inserted into the original commercial breaks of the film, for things like K-Tel albums and “newfangled Pringle’s Potato Chips”). Spurrell observed that O’Steen was the editor of Rosemary’s Baby, and John A. Alonzo was director of photography for both films. Ira Levin, writer of the original novel, was not involved, nor was Roman Polanski (who had scripted his adaptation as well as directed). Instead Look What’s Happened was written by Anthony Wilson, veteran TV writer and creator of shows like Banacek and one of the developers of the Planet of the Apes TV spin-off. (He also wrote what I thought was a fine episode of the original Twilight Zone, “Come Wander With Me.”)

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The Games of Gen Con 2019

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

WarChickenIslandThe summer conventions are winding down, as school starts back up. I have previously mentioned games I discovered at Origins Game Fair earlier this summer, and our intrepid leader John O’Neill has hinted at some of his own exploits in the wilds of Gen Con. John and I usually run into each other when we’re both at the same convention, but Gen Con is massive enough that it’s no surprise our ships didn’t cross paths, particularly since I’m usually busy enough moving through the exhibit hall and participating in demo games that I rarely make it these days to many of the Writer’s Symposium activities … held in an entirely different hotel, as Gen Con has spread tendrils, Cthulhu-like, throughout all of downtown Indianapolis.

This year I’d like to begin my discussion of Gen Con gaming discoveries on the weird end of the spectrum, with War for Chicken Island. This successful Kickstarter funded with over $160,000 and is slated for an October 2019 release. They had a prototype at the Draco Studios booth, but weren’t running complete demos, so I can’t speak to the game play. But this is a game where you fight for control of an island of chickens, using miniatures of crazy battle-ready chickens. I don’t need a full demo to know that I’m interested.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 5, Part 2: The Prey

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The PreyFor my second movie of July 15 I went to the Fantasia screening room to watch the Cambodian film The Prey. Directed by Jimmy Henderson from a script by Henderson with Michael Hodgson and Kai Miller, this is a film that traces its narrative lineage back to Richard Connell’s immortal “The Most Dangerous Game.” In this case, the game’s played in the wilds of Cambodia, and the rules turn out to be surprisingly complex — and the number of players surprisingly large.

Xin (Gu Shangwei) is an undercover Chinese cop with Interpol trying to bust cyber-criminals in Cambodia, despite a significant language barrier. Swept up in a raid by the local police force that nets the criminals he’s hunting, he ends up on the wrong side of a warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) of an isolated prison. Along with a few other malcontents, he’s handed over to a hunting party who’ve paid the warden for a day’s amusement: the criminals will be released into the jungle, the heavily-armed hunters will track them down, whoever gets the most kills wins. But of course it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Rather than keep a narrow focus on a deadly game with one victim and one hunter, the film starts with groups of each — but as they get winnowed down, more characters enter the fray. Xin’s Interpol colleagues come looking for him. The warden and his men take a hand. And it turns out there are locals who live in the playing field. The interplay of the different factions effectively builds a considerable amount of suspense, giving the story more heft than a straightforward action story.

Which is not to say the action’s lacking. There’s a goodly amount of it, executed quite well. There’s some hand-to-hand combat, but also a lot of gunplay and general explosions. The fights are well-planned and well-choreographed, building to a suitably brutal conclusion. Effects are largely practical; there’s a low-tech ethos to this film, the firearms notwithstanding, that plays well. The fight scenes are focussed on telling the story, not on cool moves (though there are cool moves). It’s paced well, not lingering on any given situation. Characters do not wear out their welcome, and the movie does not shy away from racking up a body count very quickly. You do more-or-less know how long each character will last, but there are some surprises in how they play out their parts. It’s familiar without being generic or even all that predictable.

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