Vintage Pulp Dec 2 2020
MURDER BY NUMBERS
Unlike a normal lottery nobody wants a ticket, and against all odds you're bound to get picked eventually.


We all know that in cinema no idea lies fallow for long. They're all reused until they've given everything of value, and plenty that isn't. Part of the fun of watching movies is seeing the lineage of ideas. La decima vittima, for which you see a nice Mario de Berardinis poster above, was known in English as The 10th Victim, and resides in the sub-genre of films about humans killing humans for sport and gain. Other movies in the group include 1932's The Most Dangerous Game, 1972's The Woman Hunt, 1975's Death Race 2000, 1987's The Running Man, 2013's The Purge, and others.

In La decima vittima's near future, violence between citizens has been made legal and placed under the auspices of the Ministero della Grande Caccio, aka the Ministry of the Big Hunt. Those who hunt are given the identities of their prey, along with their locations and personal habits. Anyone can be hunted, even those who previously were hunters. The hunted can kill their hunters in self defense, but if they make a mistake and kill the wrong person—easy to do when you're paranoid and an unknown person is stalking you—that's old fashioned murder and off to prison you go. The purpose of all this slaughter? As the film explains, “Why have birth control when you can have death control?”

Ursula Andress, whose looks kill anyway, plays an adept hunter given an opportunity by a big corporation to monetize her tenth (and by law her final) murder. Marcello Mastroianni plays a one percenter who's been computer selected as her prey, and whom Andress' corporate benefactors want to film her assassinating for a tea commercial. Andress has agreed to kill Mastroianni at the Temple of Venus in Rome. Getting him there won't be easy, but the classic honeytrap, with the sun-kissed Andress as the sticky goodness, is a sure bet to work. It'd work on us.

We said the movie is in the same lineage as The Most Dangerous Game, The Purge, et al. Nearly all those films are better than La decima vittima. There are several problems here, not least of which is emotional tone-deafness—the characters love and hate because the script requires it, but there's no spark, no believability. The movie is probably worth watching anyway because of its super sex symbol cast rounded out by Elsa Martinelli, plus its sleek, retrofuturistic ’60s fashions, but don't go in expecting a landmark sci-fi, a brutal social commentary, a cutting satire, or anything of the ilk. In the end, just like the real future, it's so-so. La decima vittima had its world premiere in Rome and Florence today in 1965.

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Mondo Bizarro Nov 24 2020
2020: A SHEEP ODYSSEY
Mysterious monolith found in desert. Local wildlife now walking upright and demanding better mobile coverage.


Someone cue Also sprach Zarathustra. In Utah a helicopter pilot from the Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau was counting bighorn sheep in a remote part of the state when he overflew a strange object, and upon turning back for a second look was astounded to sight a metal monolith planted in the desert. Estimated at ten to twelve feet (about three meters) high, the object is shiny, silvery, rectangular, and appears to be man-made. Appears to be. Advanced metalwork is assumed to be a solely human ability, but that's just an assumption. We also thought we were the only species that masturbated until we saw dolphins do it.
 
The slab story has taken on a mostly humorous life of its own, as observers reference 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie which appears to have inspired the creator of the rectangle. The film's monolith triggers a quantum leap in human evolution, which in 2020 we could really use, but since modern culture is little more than a seven-billion-person rugby scrum in which nobody has noticed the ball got lost decades ago, we don't think a comparable evolutionary leap is coming. Anyway, there's nothing out there in the desert but sheep, so maybe it wasn't made for humans at all. Everyone should keep close watch on those bighorns. Maybe they'll make an evolutionary leap and, like in the film, start using old femurs to break heads. Sheepherders beware.
 
For our part, there's little doubt the slab is actually just a piece of guerrilla art, planted in the wilderness years ago, where it has patiently waited for discovery. As a publicity stunt it's ingenious. Once authorities inevitably remove and examine the piece, they'll most likely find some identifying mark, and at that point the artist will come forward or be identified. People are already speculating it was made by deceased monolith master John McCracken. However it turns out, we think it's appropriate that this discovery, one of the most confounding in recent memory, was inspired by 2001, one of the most baffling films ever. The desert slab will eventually be explained to most people's satisfaction. The movie? Never.
Update: the monolith has vanished. Its next probable sighting will be in a barren wilderness near you.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 15 2020
STRAIGHT OUTTA THE JUNGLE
She's tougher than Tarzan, meaner than Sheena, and lustier than Gungala.


You can look at this cover and correctly assume that we've shared it because it was painted by Frank Frazetta, considered by many to be the master of sword and sorcery art. It's a beautiful piece, rightly famous. Alan Dean Foster is a master too. He isn't what you'd call a significant author in the sense that he's produced lauded original material, but he may be the king of movie novelizations. Among his output: The Black Hole, Clash of the Titans, Outland, Starman, Pale Rider, and The Chronicles of Riddick, as well as novelized series based on Star Wars, Star Trek, and Alien. We love Foster for his Star Wars sequel Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which came out before The Empire Strikes Back (notice we don't bother with that Episode nonsense) and followed Luke and Leia—not siblings in Foster's universe—as they adventured on strange worlds and discovered their love for each other. We still think the film series should have followed Foster's lead, but whatever.

His Luana is a novelization of the 1968 movie of the same name starring Mei Chen Chalais, which we talked about a while back. Sometimes novelizations are published before the film, sometimes after. Foster published Luana six years after the film in 1974 for reasons that are obscure. It was among his first published books. While template for a novelization is provided by the filmmakers, the author is who gives it color and life. Foster fulfills that duty with obvious relish, mining literary and cinematic antecedents like Tarzan, Tarzana, Gungala, SheenaShuna, and Ka-Zar for familiar tropes. A kilometer long pit filled with army ants? A lion and panther, both larger than any ever seen before, working in tandem with a huge chimp? A pitched battle between blowgun wielding Tanzanian tribesmen and an expedition of white explorers? A secret city of solid gold buildings? As lost world tales go, by standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, Foster crafts something better than average. And far better than the movie too. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 1 2020
MUSHROOM CROWD
The fallout from this situation will be lethal.


Above, an Italian poster painted by Renato Casaro for the Japanese macabre sci-fi flick Matango, which in Italy was called Matango il mostro and in the U.S. Attack of the Mushroom People. We shared the excellent Japanese posters back during the summer and you can see those here. The film opened in Italy at the Festival della Fantascienza di Trieste today in 1964.

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Intl. Notebook Oct 30 2020
HALLOWEEN 20
When is a monster not scary? When it's a guy in a latex suit.


Maybe yesterday's Halloween themed post was a bit too grim. After all, it's a kid's holiday. So, continuing along the same lines but with less macabre realism, above and below we have a collection of monsters (full disclosure: some are actually monster-fighting good guys) culled from 1970s Japanese television and shlock cinema. There are hundreds of these from the period, but we restricted ourselves to twenty. You may recognize a few. For example, we tossed Hedorah, aka the Smog Monster, into the mix just for fun. You can definitely impress friends and the general public if you dress up as one of these ferocious entities. That'll have to wait until next year, though. Which is actually good, because it would probably take that long just to put one of these get-ups together. Most of these are a bit ridiculous, so theoretically they shouldn't give anyone nightmares. Then again, that's what they say about clowns.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 1 2020
BRAIN DAMAGE
Disembodied alien has a mind to destroy the Earth.


Incredibly, the sci-fi flick The Brain from Planet Arous, which premiered today in 1957, was never featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. We scanned the episode list three times just to make sure, and we still can't fathom the omission, because the film is rife with set-up lines, humorous plot holes, and improbable leaps of logic that make it a natural for a send-up. Storywise, a hyper-intelligent floating brain comes to Earth, takes over the body of affable scientist John Agar, and transforms him into an egomaniacal sociopath right out of Ayn Rand. This alien's plan? Subjugation of the Earth or destruction. It/he also seems strangely interested in money, fame, and sex with Agar's girlfriend Joyce Meadows.

Subsequently a second floating brain arrives and reveals to Meadows that it's/he's a cosmic cop come to take brain uno back home to be punished for being such an asshole. Brain two decides it needs a perfect cover, a body to hide inside until it's time to pounce, and promptly selects the family dog. We're not kidding. We could tell you more but why bother? This is a real stinker by today's standards, but objectively speaking it's a viable sci-fi effort for the 1950s, a time when adequate budget, excellent actors, and behind-the-camera technical prowess were not generally reserved for genre pix such as these. The best thing we can say about The Brain from Planet Arous is that there's a certain comfort in its retro simplicity. Find evil, expose evil, bury axe in evil. If only real life worked that way.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2020
BEAST WITH THE LEAST
If the budget had been 10ยข for every eye they might have ended up with a good movie.


Above is a promo poster for the sci-fi b-flick The Beast with a Million Eyes, a $33,000 cheapie that premiered in the U.S. today in 1955. This film is nightmarishly bad. It has to do with an alien intelligence that can take over the minds of any creatures on Earth, and uses these animals as the vanguard of an invasion. But in one of the worst strategy blunders since Agincourt, the alien uses its power to control the animals on and around a podunk farm in Ojai, California. This alien is only briefly shown, by the way. There's a double exposure of a rubber eye and a cheap-ass foam rubber monster head from another film, and there's a pint sized spaceship three feet high that was built by efx supervisor Paul Blaisdell for $200. These were tacked onto the film after investors had conniptions upon seeing the monsterless rough cut. We suspect more money went into the poster, which is sort of interesting, in a cheap way. But the film? It's cheap, in an uninteresting way. We recommend a hard pass.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 6 2020
STAR CROSSED LOVERS
Sex with you is out of this world. Which makes total sense, considering you're from Alpha Centauri.


Lately we've been reading mid-century sci-fi novels, in this case George O. Smith's Troubled Star, from 1957, for which you see cover art by Edmund Emshwiller. It doesn't really fit the book, but this is what happens when the publisher wants good-girl-art at all costs—you get your basic horny detective novel couple, but with the guy in a silver jumpsuit and gadgety bracelets. It's nice art anyway, and there is actually a bit of human/alien sex in the book. The overall premise is interesting. An advanced interstellar civilization decides it needs to turn the Sun into a blinking variable star to mark a galactic space lane, and they decide to relocate the Earth—literally tow it across the galaxy in mere minutes and set it in orbit around a similar star. Since this new parent star is closer to the galactic center the Earth would get lethal doses of gamma radiation, which isn't discussed, but whatever. The book is big picture stuff. Details don't matter.

The aliens have used a special device to determine the most appropriate Earthling to approach about this, and this device measures human goodwill. Basically, it helps them discern who is the most respected person on the planet. In their way of thinking, this person would be a leader, but unfortunately the device picks a movie star. Interestingly, this actor, Dusty Britton, is famous for playing a space hero, and all the people on Earth thinking of Britton in this way makes the aliens think humans have an advanced space program when they really don't. In short, these denizens from the gulfs of the cosmos are smart enough to initiate and execute interstellar infrastructure projects, but they're actually not so bright. Britton is troubled by their plan, and so the title Troubled Star becomes a double entendre, because, you see, the Sun is in trouble, and Britton, a movie star, is...

Oh, screw it. Just don't bother reading this. It's for adolescents (If you're an adolescent, though, feel free, but what are you doing on this website? Get off! It's not good for you!). The last five sci-fi novels we read before this one were The Ant Men, (silly), Rogue Queen (decent), I Am Legend (good), The Body Snatchers (excellent), and Gladiator (excellent). They cover a wide range of subject matter, and are written in wide-ranging styles. Though the most recent two have been less successful than the others due to both being junior high school level in terms of their content, in general these have been entertaining forays into the far realms of imagination. As we mentioned yesterday about sci-fi movies, speculation is a major attraction. If you run into any obscure vintage sci-fi, it can serve as a nice break from hard-boiled fiction. If the stars align, you may luck into a real gem.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 5 2020
THE IT FACTOR
Desert town suffers invasion of body snatchers.


There's something about cheeseball ’50s sci-fi. The earnestness and analog efx are fun, but it's their speculative nature that makes them don't-miss cinema. How will we travel in the future? What would a trip to Mars be like? How will society have changed by the year 2000? What if aliens visited Earth? It Came from Outer Space falls into the latter category, and here's why aliens visit—by accident. The entire script can be summed up with: space ship crashes, space ship broken, space ship needs repair, aliens take over human bodies to do it. Talk about invading your personal space. Pretty soon two local menials are wandering around like zombies seeking spare parts to fix the grounded ship, while studly Richard Carlson tries to figure out what crashed in the desert.

It sounds silly, but this is a high budget flick, as such efforts go, with good direction, more than adequate acting, and lots of alien-cam shots. It's funny too, though unintentionally, for example when Kathleen Hughes, for reasons that are never clear, plays her bit part like a mink in heat, even though she's supposed to be worried to death about her kidnapped boyfriend. That boyfriend is Russell Johnson, the professor from Gilligan's Island. Can you believe this guy? First Hughes, then he's shipwrecked with Ginger and Mary Ann. Some guys have all the luck. But we're lucky too—we found numerous excellent promo images and uploaded them below. The movie's iconic poster was painted by Joseph Smith. It Came from Outer Space premiered in the U.S today in 1953.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 21 2020
TWILIGHT SAGA
The island of Doctor Morose.


There's cheese and there's Philippine cheese. Cheese is mildly fragrant. Philippine cheese is chase-you-from-the-room stinky. Twilight People, for which you see a promo poster above, was made in the Philippines and it reeks to high heaven. But all is not lost—it's also fantastically funny in parts. The story here is a scientist kidnaps John Ashley to an isolated tropical island with the aim of transplanting his personality into the members of a menagerie of feral semi-humans created as the next step in human evolution.
 
This scientist is not just mad—he's a total downer. Nuclear war, pollution, overpopulation, the ecological consequences of civilization—he's worried about it all. His ugly quasi-humans are the answer. In our opinion, anything that makes Pam Grier look less like Pam Grier is not an advancement of any kind, but whatever—she's hairy, others are hairy, and they're the next leap up the evolutionary ladder, so sayeth the script.
 
Ashley can only think of one way to escape this crazy island, which is by using his lips. He works his charms on the sad doc's assistant Pat Woodell, who's the only non-hirsute woman around, and pretty soon her hormones get to simmering and there's trouble in paradise. We really can't blame Ashley for going this route. Woodell is spectacular. Too bad the movie isn't. Think of it as a low budget Island of Doctor Moreau, then watch that film instead. Twilight People premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 28
1953—Watson and Crick Unravel DNA
American biologists James D. Watson and Francis Crick tell their friends that they have determined the chemical structure of DNA. The formal announcement takes place in April following publication in Nature magazine. In 1968, Watson writes The Double Helix, a non-fiction account of not only the discovery of the structure of DNA, but the personalities, conflicts and controversy surrounding the work.
February 27
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
February 26
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
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