The Secret Origin of Ultron

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Avenges-67-August-1969-cover

With the entire world counting down to an imminent and inevitable event that may shake the entire world and light up Twitter like nothing previous – no, not a Trump impeachment, but the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War – an Avengers robot column may be the only thing to soothe and distract the hordes long enough for the rest of us to stock up on survival gear, water, and dark chocolate.

For that I need to go back one movie to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Every good comic historian knows the origin of Ultron. He’s introduced in the pulsating pages of Avengers #55 (August 1968) as Ultron-5 and his back story is laid out in delectable detail in Avengers #58 (November 1968). Some indefinite time in the past Hank Pym – Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, pick one – was noodling around in his workshop tinkering with “a crude but workable robot .. A faltering step on the path to synthetic life!” For reasons never explained, the robot turns itself on and its brain evolves from infant to adult in a matter of magnificent moments, giving it more daddy issues than all the Miss Golden Globes titlests combined. He, now definitely a gendered he, blanks Hank’s memory while he spends time off-page continually upgrading his body so that when readers get their first glimpse he introduces himself as Ultron-5.

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Peplum Populist: The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema (2015)

Saturday, April 14th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

maciste-films-of-italian-silent-cinema

The mighty muscleman Maciste has battled his way across millions of cinema screens around the globe, toppling tyrants, aiding the oppressed, vanquishing monsters, and taking on evil armies. Yet most of the world doesn’t even know his name. Instead, Maciste has gone undercover with pseudonyms such as Colossus, Atlas, Goliath, and most often, Hercules.

Maciste first appeared in the Italian sword-and-sandal (peplum) boom of 1957–1965 in Maciste in the Valley of the Kings (1960), which became Son of Samson in English-speaking territories and started the tradition of erasing the character’s name outside his home country. Maciste featured in twenty-four more pepla over the next five years, placing him second only to Hercules in the pantheon of sword-and-sandal strongmen. Since I started these “Peplum Populist” articles a year and a half ago, I’ve examined four Maciste films — and just one has “Maciste” in its English title, Maciste in Hell (1962), and that was only in the U.K. It became The Witch’s Curse in the U.S. I’ve come across only two Maciste film that use his name in the English dubbing, and in Colossus and the Headhunters he still lost his name in the title. 

So who is this brawny Italian superman? Why did everyone in Italy seem to know who he was and hold him almost equal to Hercules at the movie palaces?

The short answer: Maciste is a hero created not from myth, folklore, or poetry, but from movies. The long answer: well, it’s a long answer, hence why this article exists. I’ve wanted to explore the whole “Maciste issue” at length, and discovered the best approach was to go right to the source — Maciste’s roots in the silent films of Italy. The most extensive English study on the topic is The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema by Jacqueline Reich (Indiana University Press, 2015). Consider this your history of the origin of Maciste by way of a book overview.

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Dead and Looking Great: Night of the Living Dead Gets the Criterion Treatment

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Night of the Living Dead Karen Cooper-small

Kyra Schon as Karen Cooper in Night of the Living Dead

When George Romero, the Don Corleone of zombie movies, died last year, I did what I’m sure countless others did: I turned off the lights, boarded up the windows, laid in a supply of popcorn and Molotov cocktails, and settled down to watch Night of the Living Dead.

I first heard about the movie in the early seventies, when I came across an outraged condemnation of it in a Reader’s Digest I was flipping through while waiting to get my hair cut. When the flabbergasted critic said that the film’s monsters actually ate their victims — right there on the screen, I thought, “Oh, man — I have got to see this!” I caught it very soon thereafter on late night TV; it did not disappoint. It left an indelible mark on my psyche, and as a result I spent the next few years ignoring the teachers I was supposed to be listening to because I was too busy sketching out ways to defend my high school from a zombie attack. A typical American adolescence.

I have always considered Night of the Living Dead to be the most frightening of all horror films, and this most recent viewing revealed the movie to be as great as it ever was. In the years since 1968, other movies have certainly gone farther, but no movie has ever had as much impact; Romero’s nightmare vision can make your skin crawl in all the right places even now, and the hopeless, downbeat ending still packs quite a wallop. I watched with the same mounting dread and finished with the same feeling of lingering unease that I always experience after spending a claustrophobic evening with this soulless, hungry crew.

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The Quatermass Experiment: The Shakespeare of Sci-Fi Television

Sunday, April 1st, 2018 | Posted by David Neil Lee

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One of the most influential series in early television has actually made its way into science fiction history as a book. You can see my copy below: The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale, a plain 1959 paperback with the classic Penguin orange, cream, and black cover.

Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, the very existence of Doctor Who, not to mention 1980s-1990s films such as Life Force, Species, and The Astronaut’s Wife, and contemporary films such as Under the Skin, Life and The Cloverfield Paradox, where alien invasion takes the form of infection and transformation – all these are different faces of a genre that began with The Quatermass Experiment in the shaky, static-filled first days of black-and-white television – back with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the years after World War II.

In 1953, Nigel Kneale was a young writer and actor on the make. He had won an award for his 1949 short story collection Tomato Cain (a book which includes, among more naturalistic tales, portraits of vengeful nature and ancient supernatural evil that foreshadow his later works for TV and film). After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Kneale did some acting, but he had more success as a writer in the emerging field of television.

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Godzilla Acid Trips Thru Tokyo: Godzilla ‘77, a.k.a. Cozzilla

Saturday, March 31st, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

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Do you remember the time Godzilla dropped the brown acid while watching Mothra’s colored wings, and then Raymond Burr joined him and they tipped back a few cases of wine from Burr’s personal vineyards, while Burr told the plot of Perry Mason episodes backwards, where Mason would undo a court decision, Paul Drake would put evidence back in place, and at the climax a dead body would return to life?

None of this actually happened — but something close to it did. It involves the Italian film industry (doesn’t it always?) and the director of Starcrash and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies. It’s called Godzilla il re dei mostri (“Godzilla the King of Monsters”), a.k.a. Cozzilla after its creator, Luigi Cozzi — and it’s one of the strangest and least known chapters in Godzilla history. Not as much an acid trip as Godzilla vs. Hedorah, but in that ballpark.

It starts with the 1976 King Kong. The Dino De Laurentiis remake of the ‘33 giant monster classic may not be much good (I’ll give composer John Barry a hand for his score, and I like Jeff Bridges’s beard), but it took in such a big overseas haul that it triggered a mini-monster boom in Europe and Asia. We can thank its success in Japan for getting the momentum going to restart the Godzilla series, resulting in The Return of Godzilla in 1984 and the better Heisei movies that followed.

But King Kong ‘76 also shocked into life an Italian take on Godzilla that most people are unaware exists. Godzilla il re dei mostri isn’t exactly a “new” film. It’s an Italian colorization and re-edit of the 1956 U.S. reshoot and re-edit of the 1954 Japanese Godzilla, only now with tie-dye colors, a mishmash of stock footage, and Tangerine Dream-esque electronic music. Because that’s what those two earlier versions of Godzilla were missing.

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Chasing The Immortal

Monday, March 26th, 2018 | Posted by John Searle

The Immortal 1

The Immortal (1970)
ABC Television
TV Movie and 15 episodes, based on The Immortals by James Gunn.

John Wayne’s real name was Marion Morrison. I know this because my father told me. Along with a hundred other small stories he told me while we watched television together. Whatever was on the screen would almost always prompt him to tell me something about the cast or the production or even, rarely and more precious because of it, what the particular story meant to him.

He often ended the little tale with a question as to what my five or seven or ten year old self thought about it. We did not interact like that anywhere else in our lives; two solitudes meeting in the one place we shared. So whatever was on the screen at the time filled the silences between my questions and his tales.

I believe I was prompted to track down The Immortal, at the risk of being maudlin, by moving my father who is suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s from our family home to a care facility permanently. In times like these mortal thoughts rise from your subconscious like Grendel from his cave. Sometimes you do things and you don’t really know why at the time. Nostalgia can find you paying for things on a whim, and in this Amazon is a ready enabler.

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The Complete Carpenter: Prince of Darkness (1988)

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

prince-of-darkness-original-posterThis is where I came in. I’ve reached the point in my John Carpenter career retrospective where I’m writing about a movie to which I’ve already given a full Black Gate article. In fact, it was writing about Prince of Darkness for its 2013 Blu-ray release that planted the idea in my head of surveying the full Carpenter filmography. I’ll make my best effort to offer new insights on Prince of Darkness, but overlap with the previous article is inevitable as I look at the second of John Carpenter’s self-proclaimed “Apocalypse Trilogy,” which starts with The Thing (1982) and ends with In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

Prince of Darkness was Carpenter’s return to indie filmmaking after a series of financial disappointments and general aggravation with the big studios. Carpenter made the movie as part of a multi-picture deal with Alive Films that would also include They Live. Universal picked up Prince of Darkness for distribution, and in the fall of 1987 it achieved that rare distinction among Carpenter films: it was a financial success during its initial theatrical run.

The Story

An English priest (Donald Pleasence) discovers a secret that for centuries has been under the protection of an enigmatic monastic sect called the Brotherhood of Sleep: a giant cylinder of swirling green energy held in the underground vault of a church in downtown Los Angeles. The priest calls on his professional acquaintance, physics professor Edward Birack (Victor Wong), to investigate the bizarre phenomenon, which the priest believes is beginning to “awaken.” Birack gathers a team of his graduate students and other researchers for a weekend camp-out in the church to make observations.

To make a long and often baffling story short and perhaps more baffling … The team learns from a medieval volume filled with Latin, Greek, Coptic, and quadratic equations that the cylinder contains Satan, an energy entity that is the son of the Anti-God from an antimatter dimension. The Catholic Church kept the physicality of the evil disguised for two millennia behind religious symbolism. Satan’s essence escapes the containment cylinder and possesses members of the observation team, while a horde of zombified homeless people encircles the church to prevent escape. Nightmare visions possibly sent from the future through tachyon particles portend an apocalyptic nightmare if the Anti-God isn’t prevented from crossing into this reality. Alice Cooper impales a tech nerd on a bicycle and it only gets stranger from there.

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Goth Chick News: The Satanic Nuns of the Chattering Order of St. Beryl Rejoice! Good Omens is Drawing Closer

Thursday, March 8th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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David Tennant and Michael Sheen as lead characters of Crowley and Aziraphale

A little over a year ago I brought you the nice and accurate prophecy that Amazon was adapting one of my favorite books of all time, Good Omens, into a mini-series.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel stands as the only book that ever made me laugh out loud the first time I read it, and still gets me every time. I only recently delved into the audio book narrated by Martin Javis, and nearly drove off the road when I snorted my coffee out of my nose.

In my humble opinion, the story is sheer genius.

Good Omens takes place when the Apocalypse is near and Final Judgment is set to descend upon humanity. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, and tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan — except a somewhat fussy angel, and a fast-living demon are not looking forward to the coming war, and someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.

This week we have new casting news in addition to Michael Sheen and David Tennant playing the lead characters Aziraphale (the angel) and Crowley (the demon) respectively, and John Hamm as Aziraphale’s jerk of a boss, the angel Gabriel. Plus we have some new production stills to share.

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The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot title card

Those who complain that today’s movie obsession with sequels and spinoffs is different from yesterday’s Hollywood should be strapped into a chair and forced to watch Dr. Goldfoot and His Bikini Machine. If you don’t remember this epic, Vincent Price at his feyest played Dr. Goldfoot, modeled after Bond supervillains Dr. No and Goldfinger.  “My aim is diabolically simple. I am going to control the world. I have invented the ultimate in ultimate weapons, the one weapon that can positively destroy man: woman.”

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Peplum Populist: The Colossus of Rhodes (1961)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

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The Colossus of Rhodes may be my personal favorite Italian sword-and-sandal (peplum) film. This one has everything: epic scope, gigantic ornate sets, devious espionage fun, bizarre gizmos, numerous brawls and sword fights, amphitheater challenges, secret passages, a sadistic torture chamber, a dungeon with lions, ceremonial dances, an evil temple, a femme fatale, an earthquake, a slave uprising, copious practical special effects, a gratuitous ape costume, and the insane super-weapon statue at its center. The only thing it doesn’t have is a muscleman hero. But it has the best possible substitute: one of the all-time great directors of world cinema, Sergio Leone. A guy with director muscles to rival Steve Reeves’s actual muscles.

Before you get too excited, I must explain that The Colossus of Rhodes (Il Colosso di Rhodi) is the seventh best of the seven movies with Leone as the credited director. However, the other six are A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Duck, You Sucker!, and Once Upon a Time in America. No shame coming in seventh to that bunch. The Colossus of Rhodes isn’t a baroque masterpiece, but it’s a solid neo-classical success.

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