Vintage Pulp Nov 26 2014
COMING OF AGE
The shape of posters past.

More Swedish poster art, this time for Alexander Korda’s Things to Come, aka Tider skola komma. This design, with its art deco touches, is by Mauritz Moje Åslund, an illustrator who was most active during the 1930s, and who also worked in commercial art, set design, political propaganda, and animation. Things to Come was adapted by H.G. Wells from his sc-fi novel The Shape of Things to Come, and the movie reached Sweden today in 1936.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 18 2014
SPACE INVADERS
Spain conquers the cosmos.

Above, assorted covers of the Spanish science fiction series Luchadores del Espacio, or Space Fighters, from Editorial Valenciana, created and written by Pascual Enguídanos Usach under the pseudonym George. H. White, with other authors like Alfonso Arizmendi Regaldie, José Luis Sanchis Benet (writing as Joe Bennett), and Pedro Domingo Mutiñó (as P. Danger) also involved. Art is mostly by José Luis Macias, with a few contributions from Vicente Ibáñez Sanchís and José Lanzón Piera. A couple of these images came from audiolibrosdebolsillo (where you can download audio copies), so thanks to them. 

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Vintage Pulp Feb 21 2014
A MILLION TO ONE
Raquel Welch shows what survival of the fittest is really about.


The official poster for Hammer Film Productions’ smash hit One Million Years B.C., which was painted by famed British illustrator Tom Chantrell, is one of the most famous pieces of promotional art to come out of the 1960s. You  see that just below. The piece above is also Chantrell's work. Dated 1965 and signed at lower right with his familiar  block printing, it would have been made the year before One Million Years B.C. premiered, which perhaps explains why Raquel Welch isn’t yet the focus of the art. Good decision, eventually putting her on the poster, but we like this one too, especially that not-quite-big-enough tiger skin the character is wearing. Too bad we never saw Welch in that.

As for the movie, you’ve all seen it, right? Well, if not, just know that it’s the ultimate Anglo-Saxon, lost world fantasy, with light-skinned humans running around in a Neolithic wilderness living off the fat of the land. The fact that the women have shaved armpits and hot bodies is a bonus. There’s a plot involving early man’s inhumanity to early man, mixed in with threats from various giant amphibians and some pretty convincing stop-action miniatures from efx guru Ray Harryhausen.

But of course Welch is the focus of the movie, and it’s a bit of surprise she ever agreed to star, considering she was already pretty well established as an actress. Credit her for career savvy, though—One Million Years B.C., complete piece of cream cheese that it is, made her the top sex symbol in the world. We’ll leave you with a still from the film, but trust us—it’s nothing compared to Welch in motion. One Million Years B.C. opened in Europe in late 1966 and premiered in the U.S. today in 1967.


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Modern Pulp Jan 14 2014
THAI SCI-FI
Who knew doom and destruction could look so pretty?

Something a little different today, above are five Thai sci-fi and horror posters, showing the baroque stylings that make them so visually pleasing. The movies are, top to bottom, The Hidden, Scanners, Hex, Lifeforce, and The Believers.

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Modern Pulp Dec 11 2013
PROMETHEUS UNSOUND
We had no idea so many would disagree when we called Prometheus incoherent. We better explain ourselves.


Who’d have thought we’d stir up a hornet’s nest by criticizing Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus? We were simply making what we thought was a self-evident statement, but perhaps we’re off in left field on this one. We guess we better explain ourselves, and if you actually have the time and/or inclination to read this, we’ll be extremely flattered. First, note that defenders of Prometheus often hail the script’s unanswered questions as a virtue and suggest that haters just need everything spelled out for them. But our dislike of the film had nothing to do with unanswered questions—it had to do with failures of craft. Having been paid during our time in L.A. to write a few scripts, we know a little about story construction. Not that our opinion is any more informed than a perceptive non-writer’s, but for those who require pedigree from their pundits, we have a smidge.  

Alien worked well for many reasons, but foremost among them was its characterizations. The Nostromo’s crew is intelligent, educated, and experienced. Once they are confronted with a difficult situation, they take appropriate steps—based on the information at hand—to solve the problem. Of course, the true nature of the threat is hidden from them due to the machinations of the science officer Ash, who not only works for the faceless, heartless corporation that has arranged the entire scenario, but is not even human. Thus they never know Kane has an alien embryo in his stomach, which is why they never put him into stasis. This results in Kane’s death. Later they don’t know the alien grows at a miraculous rate. This results in Brett’s death, as he wanders the dark corridors of the Nostromo mistakenly thinking the alien is about the the size of a badger.
 
When Brett is killed the crew realizes the threat is something uniquely lethal—Parker, who barely glimpsed it, says. "Whatever it was... it was big and..."—but they still don’t know the creature is intelligent, or at least cunning. They decide that, like any animal, it will flee in a panic from fire. That’s why Dallas ventures into the ship’s ducts with a flamethrower and a plan to force the beast into an airlock. It’s only once he’s in there that the maneuvers of the creature make clear not only that it’s intelligent (or cunning), but that it intends to attack him. But it’s too late to get out. That results in Dallas’s death.
 
After this loss, Lambert quite rationally suggests fleeing—but the problem is the shuttle only has room for three. Rather than draw straws and leave one person behind, they decide to continue—with considerably more caution—trying to force the alien into an airlock, but first Ripley seeks more information from the ship’s computer. This is quite rational. Before, it was Dallas who interfaced with the computer. But his loss makes Ripley the captain and she must seek all available information. Ash, fearing either that he’ll be exposed or Ripley will ferret out something useful, decides to stop her, and in the struggle he’s decapitated and unmasked as an android. Now the crew knows the full scope of the challenge. Not only is the monster against them—so is the corporation. But with Ash gone there’s no problem with room in the shuttle, so the survivors make the rational decision to get the hell off the ship. But the alien massacres them as they make the attempt.
 
You’ll note that every link in the chain of decisions is solid and logical. The crew faces a steadily mounting problem and they devise shifting solutions—move, countermove, move, countermove—to deal with that problem as more information becomes available. And having made alogical decision at every turn, they fail. That’s a big reason why Alien is scary. The characters’ logic in dealing with the problem is unassailable—as it should be, considering their education and experience—yet they still lose. Our sympathy as viewers doesn’t derive from cheap sentiment but from our admiration for the characters’ smart approach to tough circumstances, and our horrific realization that brains isn’t enough to ensure survival. We don’t need to know more about them because they are rock solid consistent in their behavior and at no point do they deserve scorn.
 
Contrast this with Prometheus. In this you have a group even more steeped in science, yet they behave like teenagers on a field trip to Yellowstone. The entire away party irrationally takes their helmets off because the air in one part of the ancient structure they’re exploring is breathable, but they have no concern for microbes, bacteria, or airborne pathogens. The geologist Fifield irrationally freaks out at the sight of an ancient corpse, and in so doing gets lost in the charnel depths, there to later meet his demise. The zoologist Millburn irrationally approaches and attempts to touch an aggressively behaving unknown species, triggering his demise. The archaeologist Holloway sinks into an alcoholic depression because no living Engineers seem to remain, also leading to his demise, because remember, David spikes a glass of booze with organic goo and gives it to him. Would Holloway have been pounding liquor at all if he’d had enough sense to simply go about his job?
 
We could go on in this vein, but it’s clear to see that Alien relies upon its characters’ intelligence to create the framework for horror, while Prometheus relies upon its characters’ stupidity to set them up as part of the body count. In this way Prometheus doesn’t differ from Friday the 13th, which is why when advocates defend the movie as intelligent we have to chuckle a little. It’s not intelligent—it’s colossally dumb, and wefind it quite impossible to sympathize with stupid characters. While Shaw doesn’t do anything overtly ridiculous, neither does she show any analytical genius (at most, we can give her credit for intestinal fortitude and a strong will to survive). She’s a scientist, yes, because the script labels her as such, but the writers couldn’t be bothered to demonstrate her intelligence within the framework of the plot. The same can be said for all the other cardboard cutouts populating the movie.
 
We have a couple more points to make. Why does the prequel have infinitely more advanced technology than the original, which takes place later? The idea of Prometheus as retro-futurism is a tantalizing missed opportunity, not just in terms of production design, but because a lower-tech future similar to Alien’s would have been scarier. But no, the front office types say lights and bells dazzle the masses, so the movie has floating laser probes where Alien, which takes place later, has mostly bolts, jury-rigging, and wishful thinking. It’s pure Hollywood logic. A big budget movie must have gadgetry—period. Thus we have David spying on Shaw’s dreams. What purpose does this intrusion serve? It reveals to him how Shaw’s father died, but he could have gotten that info from a sheet of paper in a manila folder. The scene exists only to flaunt pointless fx.
 
There are a hundred other problems with the movie, from its unneeded intro sequence to its outro of a full grown semi-alien emerging from an Engineer’s body to Meredith Vickers’ hilarious inability to dodge left or right, but we’ll leave all those alone for now. But we do have one last question. When Fifield gets his face burned off and Millburn gets to deep throat an alien worm, why is it Fifield who comes back as a homicidal monster, rather than something that gestated inside Millburn? It’s a very minor point, but it highlights the sloppiness of the script. If the ship must be attacked, why not have it attacked by something that grew from within the character that was obviously implanted by something? This would be consistent with the established alien life cycle. Having the weaponized goo turn Fifield into a monster is extraneous. The movie was so desperate to show an alien that it tacked one onto the end. Why not instead simply have an alien grow inside Millburn and use that creature as the centerpiece of the attack against the ship? Utterly baffling.
 
Are we hard on the film? Yes, and everyone should be, because the difference between Prometheus and a low budget sci-fi throwaway is the same as the difference between a street magician guessing your card and David Copperfield making a limousine disappear from onstage at Caesar’s Palace. The breadth of the ambition determines the intensity of the scrutiny. It has always been that way with art, it always will be that way, and it’s completely appropriate. The world expects more of thosewho show great ambition. That’s why a dinky little pulp cover can be praised with the same vocabulary used for the Mona Lisa. Before art can be great it must first meet or exceed expectations. That doesn’t mean expectations can’t be misplaced. It happens all the time. But not in this case. Prometheus was promoted as a scintillating piece of deep-thinking entertainment. While it looks amazing, two viewings of it (we watched it again last night) only make us more certain that it's just a loud, shiny failure.
 
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Modern Pulp Oct 3 2013
FONDA EMBRACE
In space no one can hear you orgasm.

It isn’t often one finds new material on Jane Fonda’s 1968 sci-fi classic Barbarella, so we were surprised to run across this item. It’s a guide booklet for the movie’s 1993 re-release in Japan, and we managed to steal a few images and clean them up in Photoshop. See below.


 
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Vintage Pulp Jun 6 2013
FATHER BLOWS BEST
Godzilla’s kid is a real son of a beast.

Above is an unusual poster for the 1967 Toho Co. flick Kaijū-tō no Kessen Gojira no Musuko, aka Monster Island's Decisive Battle: Godzilla's Son, which was shortened in the U.S. to Son of Godzilla. Below are eight lobby cards. Probably the centerpiece of the film is the proud rite of passage when Godzilla’s son, named Minilla or Minya, learns to gout radioactive fire. At first he can only manage what looks like a smoke ring. Pretty much harmless, we gather. In order to get his boy to blow a stream of proper radioactive chaos Godzilla resorts to stepping on the little one’s tail. That does the trick, but certainly such a move would constitute child abuse today. But you know what they say: Spare the claw, spoil the child. Anyway, we’d like to recommend Godzilla’s Son, but there’s no way—it’s laughably cheesy. But if you tend to be entertained by utterly ridiculous vintage sci-fi, well then, maybe it’s your cup of radioactivity.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 14 2013
AMAZING YEAR
1941—when the future was just twenty cents away.

Amazing Stories was launched in 1926 and was the first publication devoted solely to sci-fi. These issues span January to December 1941. Most of the pieces (those that prominently feature figures) are by the excellent J. Allen St. John. Leo Morey painted February, Stockton Mulford painted July, Robert Fuqua painted September and November, and Rod Ruth painted December. We have a hundred and thirty-three fully scanned issues of this magazine, which is pretty cool, though we’ll probably never have time to read them. But we’ll certainly share more down the line. 

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Modern Pulp Dec 13 2012
MOTHRA TO THE FLAME
Love him or hate him, there’s only one Godzilla.

Above is a colorful Japanese poster for the monster epic Mosura tai Gojira, aka Mothra vs. Godzilla. It was originally released in 1964, but we’re guessing from the big “93” at the bottom of the art that this piece was made for a nineties re-release, though we can’t find any info on that. For many Godzilla fans this is their favorite entry in the series. We tend to agree. But is it even appropriate to talk about best when referring to Godzilla movies? No matter what, it’s still just a guy in a rubber suit. Like satire, you either enjoy it or you don’t. It isn’t a matter of intelligence, but of temperament (which in this case can definitely be made more amenable to rubber suit chaos by psychoactive compounds, if you’re inclined). Anyway, maybe give this one a try. 

Update: We recived an email from Dekk, who informs us that this is a poster for a competely separate Godzilla/Mothra movie that was made in the 1990s, which helps clear up our confusion about the 93 on the art. It was actually entitled Gojira vs. Mosura, aka Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth. Thanks Dekk for straightening us out on that.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 2 2012
STAR QUALITY
Some movies just can’t be improved upon.

Somehow, the fact that this original Star Wars promo photo is filled with pinholes and dings adds to its charm, since it mirrors the condition of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder. There are some who would say the franchise drowned in cynicism, that it collapsed under the weight of fast food tie-ins, and fuzzy toys, and ill-considered digital revisionism. Those people would be right. Like this photo, and like Skywalker’s landspeeder, the original Star Wars had some scratches and dings, but cinematic believability derives from a well-known viewer psychology aptly described as willing suspension of disbelief. The key word is willing. You can’t bludgeon people into acceptance, no matter how slick the fx are. People willingly believe because the story and characters work. And in Star Wars, the simple story of a boy rising from his dusty roots to battle impossibly powerful galactic foes—and yet win—worked on every level. It still works. That’s why people who loved it as kids still watch it today as adults. Anyway, we’re just going to go ahead and call this photo one of the coolest artifacts we’ve ever found. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 26
1922—Egyptologists Enter Tut's Tomb
British Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon become the first people to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. Though sometimes characterized as scholars, Carter and Carnarvon were primarily interested in riches, and cut up Tut's mummy to more easily obtain the jewels and gold affixed to him.
November 25
1947—Hollywood Blacklist Instituted
The day after ten Hollywood writers and directors are cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the group, known as the "Hollywood Ten," are blacklisted by Hollywood movie studios.
November 24
1963—Ruby Shoots Oswald
Nightclub owner and mafia associate Jack Ruby fatally shoots alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. The shooting is broadcast live on television and silences the only person known for certain to have had some connection to the Kennedy killing.
1971—D.B. Cooper Escapes from Airplane
In the U.S., during a thunderstorm over Washington state, a hijacker calling himself Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper, parachutes from a Northwest Orient Airlines flight with $200,000 in ransom money. Neither he nor the money are ever found.

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