Better killing through chemistry.
Above is a 1958 Avon edition of The Death Dealers, sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's first foray into the mystery genre. When a chemistry professor's best student dies of an apparent lab accident the professor ponders taking over the protege's cutting edge research as a way to impress peers—and perhaps earn a long denied tenure. But he's deduced there's a murderer loose and is worried the police might deduce it too, and consider the valuable research a perfect motive. While Asimov lays out the killing and resulting dilemma in a methodical way, and the world of chemists on a college campus is one he knew well as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University, the linear nature of the plot and emotional coolness of the characters don't allow the mystery to truly grip the reader. Yet the book is very readable—the details of life on campus, the politics, the maneuvering for that elusive tenure, are all interesting. And the backdrop of advanced chemistry, the detailed but not overwrought descriptions of experiments and processes, the fact that most of the characters are geniuses in their field, all work well. But there are so many mystery masterpieces out there we can only feel good recommending The Death Dealers to voracious readers in the genre. Or to Asimov fans. Neither group will be disappointed. All others, no guarantees.
Imperial battleship—suddenly give me godlike powers to win this war!
Whenever the subject of the worst movie ever made comes up you can count on everyone to have an opinion. When that discussion happens Starcrash is the film we mention. Generally people are skeptical. Everyone has their beloved favorites. Sometimes we'd have to prove our point, we'd end up renting this puppy to show to friends, and by the third reel any doubters were staring agape at the colossal implosion this movie is. It was a Star Wars knock-off, obviously, filmed in Italy and Switzerland with Marjoe Gortner and Caroline Munro in the leads, and written and directed by Luigi Cozzi working under the pseudonym Lewis Coates.
Whenever we watch this with friends the question always arises: did they mean it to be a good film? Yes. They did. But no. It isn't. Not even remotely close. And that's what makes Starcrash such a treasure. Not merely that it's terrible, but that the filmmakers wrapped the production feeling good about what they'd done. They thought they'd made an exciting, visually stunning, somewhat humorous smash hit. It's the sincerity of ambition that makes Starcrash, in our opinion, the best bad movie of all time. Worse (better) than Roadhouse, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and all the usual contenders. While Cozzi does an okay job directing, his script and budget sabotage him at the outset.
We'll give you an example (yes, it's a spoiler, but in a movie like this it doesn't matter). Near the finale, with no previous indication that such a power existed, Christopher Plummer, the emperor of the galaxy, bellows this command: “Imperial battleship—halt the flow of time!” You can't just suddenly go deus ex machina like that. It would make as much sense if Plummer shouted: “Imperial battleship—make my enemies' dicks fall off!” He explains in a smirky aside, "You know, my son, I wouldn't be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn't have some powers at my disposal." That's amazing. And don't even get us started about how Cozzi forgot that space is a vacuum.
Get some friends over, get some booze flowing, get Starcrash rolling, and see if watching Gortner and Munro ham it up across a Christmas lighted galaxy isn't one of the best movie nights you've ever had. One thing that isn't terrible about it, at least, is the U.S. promo art by John Solie you see above and below. The Italian art, also by him, is different, and we'll show you that later. In meantime you can see another beautiful Solie effort here. Since Starcrash was Italian made it premiered in Italy and West Germany before reaching the U.S. today in 1979.
This is not a light saber.
This is not like Princess Leia's hologram.
He in no way resembles Darth Vader.
But to be fair, motifs in sci-fi repeat. In a universe of ideas, writers for some reason tend to think of the same stuff. Below are aspects of Starcrash that—suspiciously?—recurred in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.
Han Solo's deep freeze in carbonite in no way resembles this.
Princess Leia's slave costume is not similar to this at all.
The ice planet Hoth is near here, but is a totally different planet.
And below are more production photos from the film. If these don't make you want to watch it, well, you probably don't have a pulse. Or possibly you just have good taste and think life's too short to watch terrible films. Either way.
Outer space is a cold, empty, indifferent void. But only in places.
Way back in 2009 we shared a production photo of Italian actress Ornella Muti from the 1980 schlock space opera Flash Gordon. It was a nice shot, but we recently acquired this much better promo image of her in the same crazy costume as Princess Aura and thought we'd bring her back. As celestial bodies go she's one of the best.
So this robot and the doctor have kind of a co-dependent thing going on, don't they?
Above, an Italian promo poster for Il pianeta proibito, aka Forbidden Planet, which premiered in Italy today in 1956 with future comedy icon Leslie Nielsen in the lead role. There are a few Italian promos. On this poster you see an unconscious Walter Pidgeon being carried by Robby the Robot. This is what happens in the movie, but on most other posters, including the U.S., Spanish, and French iterations, the robot carries a female figure—which doesn't happen at any point in the film. All the posters are great, but the fact that only the Italian version showed what actually happened in the film instead of going for the damsel in distress motif is interesting. Check out the Spanish and French promos here.
Ever watch a movie that really makes your skin crawl?
The above poster was made to promote the Italian release of the sci-fi movie L'allucinante fine dell'umanità, which was originally made in Japan and called 昆虫大戦争, or Konchû daisensô. The chaotic Japanese poster appears just below. It's a mutant bug movie obviously, an angry bug movie, a swarming bug movie, a planes-crashing-because-of-bugs-ganging-up-on-jet-engines movie. Basically, these insects get into everything, including your sinus cavities. If you know the film at all, it's probably as War of the Insects or possibly Genocide, which were its two English titles. It is, amazingly, part of the Criterion DVD Collection, which consists of “important classic and contemporary films,” but we can't call it anything better than adequate.
It's interesting on one level, though. Japanese creations such as Godzilla are often called a reaction to being the victims of two nuclear bombs. If so, then Konchû daisensô fits that category too, as the rogue insects that turn on humans can only be defeated with a lost but undetonated American atomic bomb. Germany is worked into the plot as well, so with three major World War II powers involved there may be war psychology at work. Entomopohobia is at work too, so if you hate or fear insects, definitely give this one a pass. Konchû daisensô premiered in Japan today in 1968, and began its run in Italy as L'allucinante fine dell'umanità at some unknown date afterward.
All greatures great and small.
This might be our first piece of Finnish pulp. Actually, nope—we just checked. We have some Finnish items here, here, and here. So this poster is our fourth entry from that country, and it's a promo for Uga-uga ihmishirviöiden maa, aka Creatures the World Forgot. Finnish is a weird language, but even without knowing how to read it you can probably discern that the movie was re-titled. The poster says, “uga uga a country of human beings.” So we guess the creatures the world forgot lived in Uga Uga. We didn't know that. Another online translator tells us the poster actually says, "the upright country of human beings," and a third tells us it says "the land of the sea of magpie." We have a former roommate who lives in Finland, so maybe he'll help us out with this one, especially the "uga uga" part. Did we mention we went to Finland once? Try drinking with that crowd and after a couple of hours, “uga uga,” is all you'll be able to say. You may also have noticed the creatures of the original movie somehow transformed into “greatures,” at the lower right of the art, one of the funnier misspellings we've seen on a foreign version poster. The film starred Julie Ege, who's in no way uga uga, and is probably the best reason to watch the movie. We've mentioned her before, particularly the publicity stunt Hammer Studios cooked up to promote the film. Read about that here, and read a short review here. Greatures—er, we mean Creatures—the World Forgot premiered in Finland today in 1971.
Come, human female. We will go to my crib and get to know each other better.
Spanish artist Carlos Escobar painted this poster for the sci-fi flick Planeta prohibido, better known as Forbidden Planet, which premiered in the U.S in 1956 and reached Spain today in 1957. Escobar was a master of realistic figures, such as those he painted of Sharon Tate and Beba Lončar, but for this piece he used a more stylized technique to depict Robby the Robot and an unconscious figure we suppose is Anne Francis. We don't remember Robby carrying her in the film, but it's been a while since we watched it, so maybe we've spaced that. But in any case this is a fantastic piece of promo art. We especially love the trippy sky. It reminds us of this time we dropped acid in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Interestingly, French artist Roger Soubie painted an almost identical promo, which you see here also. We can only assume the studio dictated the look of the poster and each artist expressed their personal style with the backgrounds. Why not use the same poster in both Spain and France? We don't know the answer to that. We can't help but think it would have been more economical than paying two artists to reproduce the same basic image. But it's fine with us, because all these years later we have two top shelf promos to admire. As a bonus, we've uploaded a Robby and Anne Francis promo photo below. For a robot, Robby's got game. Leslie Nielsen better be careful or the far reaches of the galaxy are going to get a lot colder.
Celestial bodies discovered in California
This winners photo was made today in 1952 at a beauty pageant held at the Civic Auditorium of San Jose, California, and sponsored by Ray Van Cleef and his Gateway to Health gym. Van Cleef was a former competitive weightlifter who became a fitness guru by opening his gym, writing a column for Strength and Health magazine, and serving as a trainer for the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team. The above contest competitors were judged on “physical beauty, facial beauty, personality, and grace,” and the lucky winner, who earned the crown Miss Venus, was Beverly Jocher, a dancer from the Bruce Variety Show in Port Hueneme, north of Los Angeles. We assumed she was trying to break into movies, which is the case for most pageant participants, and indeed when we checked she possessed a single film credit—for the 1954 sci-fi flick Gog. Second place at the pageant went to Jill Gion, and third to the interestingly named Bandy Lee. No word on what any of the contestants actually won.
This is our most desperate hour. Help us Santo—you're our only hope.
We were dubious toward Santo when we learned of his movies, but after screening three features the guy has really grown on us. So last night we watched Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos, which was known in English as Santo vs. The Killers from Other Worlds. You know the basics—Santo is a Mexican luchador who is also an ace international crimefighter. Which is convenient, because an evil mastermind named Malkosh is demanding a fortune in gold bars from the Mexican government or he'll unleash a monster on the populace. This terrifying blob, which in the script has been somehow derived from moon rocks, in reality is three guys huddled under a giant shammy. Doubtless bumping heads and asses while crabwalking under this thing, the poor guys move at about the same speed as traffic in central Mexico City. But no matter—the blob is a whiz at triangulation, and its victims are agility challenged. Whoever it chases inevitably finds himself or herself trapped and, after futilely heaving staplers and coffee cups, consumed down to a skeletal state.
Santo's crimefighting technique is often to be captured. It's never intentional—it just works out that way. And just as form dictates, Malkosh snares Santo, but rather than kill him outright forces him to fight Spartacus style against ever more deadly opponents, an entertainment that of course backfires when the third gladiator accidentally flamethrowers a guard, allowing Santo to grab a machine gun and get the drop on everyone. You have to wonder why these villains toy with him so. The man is well-known as the most lethal crimefighter in Mexico, if not all of the Americas, yet the crooks insist upon underestimating him. Maybe it's just hard to be awed by a guy in a gimp mask who's wearing the drapes from a Guadalajara whorehouse as a cape. Even so, Santo's record speaks for itself, which means you ignore the brief at your peril. Malkosh, foolish lad, dies ignominiously, screaming even, but not before Santo learns from him that the moon blob grows like federal overreach. And indeed, soon there are four guys knocking body parts under the shammy, then five, looks like.
The rest of the film tracks Santo's efforts to find Malkosh's partner Licur, who has imprisoned a Professor Bernstein, the only person on Earth who knows how to corral the lunar abomination busily scuttling across the landscape. Locating Licur involves a bit of Holmesian deduction, at which point Santo gains access to the top secret high security lair by scaling a low wall. In the subsequent fistfights, he's ferociously pounded about his face and semi-soft body, yet his gimp mask never slips and his whorehouse drapes never rip. Finally he squares off against Licur himself, who proves to be no match, and at that point all that's left is to defeat the beast, now about the size of a Winnebago. We'll leave the last bit as a surprise, but suffice to say Santo is always one step ahead. In the end, the film was another satisfying outing, with all the hallmarks of the series—terrible dialogue, poorly staged fights, truly atrocious acting, and a script conceived during a blinding mezcal bender. What's not to love? Queue it. Watch it. Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos premiered in Mexico today in 1973.
You got anything to eat around here? I'm famished.
It's best not to get a head of yourself.
American actress Virginia Leith had a perfectly respectable show business career, appearing in the thriller Violent Saturday and on hit television shows such as Baretta and Barnaby Jones, but what she'll always be remembered for is her turn as a decapitated head in the 1962 schlock sci-fi flick The Brain that Wouldn't Die. Have you seen that one? You really should check it out. It's a hoot. In the film Leith is beheaded in a car accident and her scientist fiancée just can't let go. Well, looking at the rest of Leith at top, now we see why. We don't have a date on the photo, but we're guessing it's from around 1955.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
1931—Nevada Approves Gambling
In the U.S., the state of Nevada passes a resolution allowing for legalized gambling. Unregulated gambling had been commonplace in the early Nevada mining towns, but was outlawed in 1909 as part of a nationwide anti-gaming crusade. The leading proponents of re-legalization expected that gambling would be a short term fix until the state's economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, gaming proved over time to be one of the least cyclical industries ever conceived.
1941—Tuskegee Airmen Take Flight
During World War II, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, aka the Tuskegee Airmen, is activated. The group is the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp, and serves with distinction in Africa, Italy, Germany and other areas. In March 2007 the surviving airmen and the widows of those who had died received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.
1906—First Airplane Flight in Europe
Romanian designer Traian Vuia flies twelve meters outside Paris in a self-propelled airplane, taking off without the aid of tractors or cables, and thus becomes the first person to fly a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Because his craft was not a glider, and did not need to be pulled, catapulted or otherwise assisted, it is considered by some historians to be the first true airplane.
1965—Leonov Walks in Space
Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov leaves his spacecraft the Voskhod 2 for twelve minutes. At the end of that time Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not re-enter Voskhod's airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off, was barely able to get back inside the capsule, and in so doing became the first person to complete a spacewalk.
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