Monday, November 28, 2016

Super Cop Joe Blaze #3: The Thrill Killers

Super Cop Joe Blaze #3: The Thrill Killers, by Robert Novak
August, 1974  Belmont-Tower Books

The Super Cop Joe Blaze series ends with an installment courtesy the one and only Len Levinson. When I met with Len back in June, he didn’t seem to recall this book; he thought I was referring to his Ryker novel, The Terrorists. Later on he recalled it, and was nice enough to do a writeup with his current thoughts on the novel (below), but I have to say I really enjoyed The Thrill Killers, which offers everything one could want in a piece of tough cop pulp fiction.

Joe Blaze, unsurprisingly, is basically a Ryker clone, and Len’s version of the character is the same as his version of Ryker. He’s a tough cop, gets in a lot of scrapes, doesn’t like it when people run their mouths about “dirty cops.” He even has an ex-wife, same as Len’s version of Ryker. But technically this is Joe Blaze, who already had two previous “adventures” courtesy some unknown author(s). I’ve only read the second one, #2: The Concrete Cage, and in that one Blaze was just a regular cop, not prone to any of the outrageous sentiments of Nelson De Mille’s original version of Ryker. At any rate, per Len’s comments below, The Thrill Killers likely started as a Ryker novel, before editor Peter McCurtin had Len change it to a Joe Blaze.

Len ignores the title character of the previous two volumes and makes Joe Blaze more of a supercop; he carries a Browning 9mm and, while he uses his wits in his role as a homicide detective, he’s still prone to getting into shootouts, brawls, and the pants of eager women. What I found interesting was that Len was pretty left-wing in his views when he wrote this novel, but there’s no anti-cop sentiment to The Thrill Killers. Blaze is the hero, straight up, and in addition to the titular criminals he must also contend with various armed thugs, cop-haters, the corrupt local government, and liberal lawyers. 

This one’s more of a police procedural than The Terrorists, with Blaze using his detective smarts to collar a pair of rapist-murderers, but Len keeps things moving with arbitrary action and sex scenes. Which is to say, The Thrill Killers retains the spirit of the Dirty Harry movies and doesn’t become a slow-moving procedural like other Leisure/BT cop thrillers, ie The Slasher.

The titular villains are a pair of creeps who, just for kicks, abduct a pretty young nurse off the streets of Manhattan, drug her, rape her, and then slash her throat. Len doesn’t tell us their identities, leaving the reader to discover who they are when Blaze himself does. Speaking of whom, Len provides Blaze with an action intro as our hero guns down a perp who happens to be in bed with a woman. This is just the first of many “did you have to kill him, Blaze??” moments between Blaze and his boss, Lt. Jenkins, who to Len’s credit isn’t the “stupid chief” common in most tough cop yarns.

Blaze lives in an apartment on the East River which provides a view of Brooklyn (“Why would anyone want to look at Brooklyn?” asks a floozy Blaze picks up later on). His ex-wife Amy left him six years ago, incapable of dealing with being married to a cop. One can see why, as Blaze stays in action throughout; posthaste he’s handling a holdup in the Bowery, where a cop has been shot and a bunch of bums are being held hostage. Blaze talks the Commisioner no less into a plan in which Blaze will hide in the trunk of the car the robbers demand, and the Commissioner gives Blaze his .45!

Len even gives Blaze is own Dirty Harry-esque dialog; when Blaze guns down the two robbers, after he’s promised them he won’t shoot them, he sneers, “You gave up too late, punk,” before blowing the last one away. Meanwhile Blaze is handed the thrill killer case, and another nurse has been snatched off the street, raped, and killed. Len handles these scenes so that you feel very badly for the unfortunate women, and while the sequences are certainly lurid they aren’t sleazy. That being said Blaze has two sexual adventures in the novel, and these parts are a bit more graphic, but nothing compared to Len’s outright sleaze novels, ie Where The Action Is.

While researching suspects Blaze bumps into would-be muggers and even hippie terrorists bomb his precinct, this apparently being a common occurrence, not to mention recalling the plot of The Terrorists. While out for a beer with Lt. Jenkins Blaze even goes to the trouble of beating the shit out of a loudmouth drunk who bitches about the police – while Jenkins meanwhile frets that one day Blaze is “going to go too far.”

Probably the best sequence in the novel concerns a coke-sniffing go-go dancer at a topless bar; while just a few pages long, this scene is both reminiscent of and superior to the final quarter of The Lonely Lady. Chosen as the latest target of the thrill killers, the coke-soaring babe manages to turn the tables on them, given that she walks the dangerous streets of New York with a hidden .22. She ends up killing one of the sadists and winging the other in the leg, but for her troubles she herself is slashed in the stomach and sent to the emergency ward.

By this point Blaze has already determined that the thrill killers are a pair of young interns who were notorious for getting in trouble in medical school and who even attended classes with the two murdered nurses. When the dead one proves to be one of Blaze’s suspects, he heads to the posh home of the other with a warrant…and ends up arresting the guy’s father, too, after beating him up. But thanks to a shady, Mafia-aligned lawyer, the killer, Stevens, gets off scot free during the trial four months later.

Len takes us into the homestretch with more action: turns out the mobster had his Mafia pals kidnap the child of one of the jurors, ensuring her duplicity. Blaze dispenses justice in his own brutal way, then leads an assault on a Queens bar where the kid’s being held. But given that throughout he’s had no evidence, the DA refuses another trial. So The Thrill Killers ends with Blaze pulling his own abduction – tossing young Stevens into his car and driving him to his place of execution, where he’s given a sendoff inspired by his own murders (only minus the rape part, of course). Here Len ends the novel, on a bleak but fulfilling image of justice bloodily served.

Well anyway, I really enjoyed this one. Too bad this and The Terrorists were the only two cop thrillers Len wrote for Leisure/BT. Here are his current thoughts on the novel:

All my Belmont-Tower books began with an informal discussion with either Peter McCurtin or Milburn Smith at BT’s editorial offices at Park Avenue South and 33rd Street in midtown Manhattan. After I delivered a new completed manuscript to one or the other, I sat beside his desk and received my next assignment.

THE THRILL KILLERS followed this pattern. I sat beside Peter’s desk and he asked me to write a novel for one of their cop series, don’t remember the name now 40 years later because the name was changed as explained below. Peter either gave me one or more books in the series or just described it to me, I don’t remember. 

After the meeting I walked home to my pad on West 55th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, wondering along the way what the plot would be. There were so many possibilities. 

Around that time I’d done some reading about the sensational Leopold-Loeb murder case in Chicago during the 1920s. Two young college students at the University of Chicago named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb decided that they were Nietzsche-style supermen beyond good and evil, and plotted the perfect murder to prove their thesis. So they killed 14-year-old Bobby Franks but weren’t as superior as they’d thought because soon they were arrested and went to trial, defended by the legendary Clarence Darrow who argued not for their innocence, because the evidence was overwhelming against them, but Darrow successfully saved them from the death penalty. 

The Leopold-Loeb murder definitely influenced the plot of THE THRILL KILLERS. My detective’s character profile followed the guidelines of what Peter told me in his office, a real badass cop obsessed with justice and who couldn’t care less about administrative procedures and laws that seem more concerned with protecting criminals than catching, prosecuting and punishing them. The detective is not above administering the death penalty himself to murderers, often using their own methods against them. 

After working on the novel for several days, I received a call from Peter. He said something like, “We’re spinning off a new cop series about a Detective named Joe Blaze. So change the detective’s name to Joe Blaze.” 

I replied, “But his character and personality are based on (the name of the detective in the series I had been working on).” 

Peter said, “Don’t worry about that. Just change his name to Joe Blaze and keep on going.” 

(I wrote a fictionalized version of this discussion with Peter into my semi-autobiographical novel about an action-adventure writer THE LAST BUFFOON by Leonard Jordan, because it was one of the stranger experiences of my strange so-called literary career.) 

I read THE THRILL KILLERS yesterday for the first time in 40 years. I had forgotten it almost completely and as usual when reading one of my old books, it seemed to have been written by someone else. 

At the risk of sounding immodest, I thought the book was pretty good mainly because narrative tension held steady all the way through and Detective Joe Blaze was a believable character, his anger about crime reflecting my own anger as resident of Manhattan during the high crime era before Rudy Giuliani became Mayor and Bill Bratton became Commissioner of Police. 

The novel presents a brutal view of the world which reflected what I read daily in the New York newspapers and in true crime novels. Murderers by definition don’t care about laws or rules of civility. They have monstrous minds and some are sadistic like the murderers in THE THRILL KILLERS. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all loved each other or at least treated each other respectfully? But we don’t, the human race never has, and this justifiably cynical viewpoint was the philosophical foundation for the novel. 

New York City crime is increasing again according to news reports. Where is Joe Blaze now that we really need him again?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mace #5: The Year Of The Horse

Mace #5: The Year Of The Horse, by Lee Chang
No month stated, 1974  Manor Books

It’s Thanksgiving, and if there’s one thing we can all be thankful for, it’s that this was the last volume of Mace written by Joseph Rosenberger. I’d sort of been dreading returning to this series, which is a wearying read to be sure; it’s about as fun as a “Shuto chop” to the crotch. But I finally went through with it, mostly so I could move on to the next volume, which is by Len Levinson…as if Manor were rewarding us for enduring five Rosenberger books.

Anyway, The Year Of The Horse is the same ol’, so far as the series goes, however Rosenberger (aka “Lee Chang”) drops the CIA stuff from previous volumes. Hero Mace, the “Kung Fu Monk Master” (as he’s constantly referred to in the narrative), is back to working for the Tongs, going up against rival gangs and whatnot. We meet him in action, in Chicago busting the heads of the local mob; gradually we’ll learn Mace is doing a job for one Tong, which is at war with another, one that’s aligned with this Chicago syndicate.

But the threadbare plot is really just a framework for Rosenberger to deluge us with endless, repetitive kung-fu battles. The back cover copy has it that a beautiful young woman has been kidnapped, thus setting off Mace’s rage, but in the text itself the girl, Mary Wah-hing, doesn’t even appear until over 100 pages in. The book’s really just about Mace beating the shit out of an endless tide of thugs with goofy nicknames. (Wee Willie, Cherry Nose, John the Greek, etc, and my favorite of them all: Hi-There-Moses.)

The CIA stuff may be gone, but The Year Of The Horse retains the template of previous books, in that it’s basically comprised of four huge action scenes. We start off posthaste with the first, as Mace “sneaks” into a warehouse owned by Gus Vogel, Chicago mob bigwig. In the melee of punches, kicks, and Shuto chops, Mace as ever flashes back for four pages to his training in the Shaolin temple (in Hong Kong, of all places), where his teacher instructed him about…the hypocrisy of Christian beliefs. Oh, and despite being a kung-fu wizard, Mace is also a ninja, let’s not forget, and uses all sorts of fancy ninja tricks to waste scads of Vogel’s thugs.

Humorously enough, the “Kung Fu Monk Master” is knocked out…by a metal stapler! Thrown by a geriatric night guard, no less! But have no fear, Rosenberger’s superheroic protagonists are never in danger, even when they’re uncoscious in the back of a van, being driven by several armed men to their place of execution. Mace is merely using yet another ninja trick, that of only pretending to be unconscious, and comes to life to kill the rest of them, as well as to extract intel from one thug he allows to live.

Rosenberger prefigures Rush Hour or the like with stoic Mace teamed up with wisecracking Chicago P.I. Lenny Kines, but he doesn’t do much with it, and mostly it’s just Kines proclaiming how he’s “the best P.I. in Chicago” and Mace uttering “wise Oriental” sayings like, “It is the duty of the future to be dangerous.” We also have Kines in awe over Mace’s “supernormal talent,” which is displayed in another overlong action scene, as this time Mace suits up in a ninja-like costume and storms yet another warehouse owned by Vogel.

I chose this action sequence to provide a few excerpts of the action onslaught that makes up Rosenberger’s Mace work:

Jack Daniels, the other trigger-boy in the library (he considered it a compliment when people kidded him for having the same name as a famous brand of whiskey), had never heard such a sound, the kind of moaning and gurgling coming from Joe “The Pole,” who staggered back into the library, acting as if he were possessed by the devil! He was possessed – by the Shinde shuriken, which by now had almost cut off his tongue! A number one wise guy, he had never been a man to know when he had bitten off more than he could chew. Now he knew he had a mouthful of razor blades and was choking to death, drowning in his own blood! Slumping against the wall, he became a wild man, trying to pry his mouth apart to dislodge the Shinde shuriken wedged in his mouth, while Daniels gaped at him in helplnessness and terror.


The second slob, using a stainless steel Smith & Wesson .38, did his best to jump back and empty the full cylinder – six slugs – in Mace. The only thing wrong with his plan was that Mace wouldn’t let him. The Kung Fu Monk Master chopped the .38 from his wrist with a shuto slice, blocked a kick with a Gedan Juji Uke downward X-block, and slammed the boob across the temple with a Gyaku Shuto reverse chop. Looking like a man whose taxes had just been raised fifty percent, the man toppled to the floor.


An ugly thug, Steve Macy always had the appearance of a guy somebody had hung in a closet overnight! Come morning, and Steve would jump out, his clothes all bunched up! Right now, he looked twice as ridiculous as he bravely attempted to swing his chopper down on Mace, who threw the Hokachai! Steve Macy howled in fear and pain and surprise, the three hardwood rods of the Hokachai tearing the Thompson submachine gun from his hands and breaking his left thumb. To compound his purgatory, he stepped back, tripped over the overturned table and fell heavily on his back. And when he looked up, there was Mace standing over him, staring down at him, his face expressionless as a blank sheet of paper, except for his eyes…two burning black coals…

Speaking of that “supernormal talent,” throughout the novel Mace dodges bullets as if he were in The Matrix, ducking and dodging with ease. He’s so superhuman and invicible that he becomes annoying, which is only worsened by his complete lack of humor. Kines offers a bit of levity, but is lost in the kung fu barrage. Eventually the two, along with a few of Kines’s colleagues, head to Mexico City, where it develops poor Mary Wah-hing (remember her?) has been taken, having been handed over to a Mexican mobster named Najera.

Sporting white makeup, a wig, and a “Hitler moustache,” Mace is now “Matthew Romanesh,” displaying the usual goofy penchant for disguise as other Rosenberger protagonists. But this element disappears as quick as one of Mace’s Shuto chops. Soon enough he’s wearing another of those ninja garbs and infiltrating Najera’s “Le Casa de Putas,” where women are kept in bondage to be enjoyed by paying clientelle. Rosenberger skips over the sleaze with more violence, and when Mary finally appears, she’s unconscious, sedated in one of the rooms, and Mace quickly frees her.

From there it’s to the Toltec pyramids, where Najera has escaped. Mace, Kines, and his colleagues engage the Mexican mobsters in another overlong fight, with Kines getting the honor of dispatching the villain. And that was it for Rosenberger’s time on Mace; he ends the tale with Mace taking a well-deserved nap.

Overall, The Year Of The Horse is standard Rosenberger, filled with action and not much else, overwritten to the point of banality, not even saved by Rosenberger’s usual off-hand weirdness. The series though does have a big injection of pre-PC racial slurring, particularly as ever when it comes to Mace himself. (“IT’S THE SLANT-EYED ONE – KILL HIM!” being one such example – and yes, it is in all caps…) Blacks again come off as monstrous proto-humans, and this time Rosenberger broadens his palette by including Mexican slurs, referring to some of Najera’s thugs as “tamale eaters.”

Anyway, now I don’t have to dread reading another of these – Len Levinson wrote the next one, and then Bruce Cassiday finished up the series as “C.K. Fong.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Stage Fright

Stage Fright, by Garrett Boatman
July, 1988  Onyx/Signet Books

Graced with one of those unforgettable ‘80s horror paperback covers, Stage Fright takes place in a then-future 1998 and concerns nightmares taking over reality. Despite the cover art and copy, the novel is in no way, shape, or form a “horror meets rock and roll” affair. In fact I suspect the title was changed to match the already-commissioned cover art; the book features an ad for other Onyx horror paperbacks, one of which is “Death Dream” by Garrett Boatman. Given that Stage Fright is the only novel Boatman published, it seems clear that its original title was “Death Dream.” 

The novel, which is a too-long 381 pages of small, dense print, features a great opening, one which has the reader expecting a thrill-ride. Some NYPD officers in a boat are pulling a “floater” out of the Hudson, ie a water-bloated, “cheesy”-skinned corpse. They hook the latest floater and pull it in…and then it comes to life, ripping the cops to pieces. It bites one of them, and we learn that his corpse too will soon come to life, hungering for human flesh.

Then the lights come up and we readers realize that all this has been a “dreamie,” ie a mind-movie transmitted via mindshare tech called the Dreamatron, which we’re informed was created in 1992. Izzy Stark, the director of cult horror dreamies, is the man who delivered “Floaters” via his fevered dreams, and sadly the plot of this dreamie is more compelling than Stage Fright itself. (It sounds damn cool, too, with the off-hand mention that the “street gangs” of New York end up saving the city from the floater zombies – sounds like pure direct-to-vhs trash!)

Whether by accident or design, Boatman in these opening pages captures a sort of cyberpunk vibe. The Dreamatron technology brings to mind Neuromancer, and also we get a glimpse of this alternate-future 1998, with punk horror fans in all-white makeup and “ghoul green” t-shirts and etc. It’s like a monster kid future, and it’s super cool, and it had me excited to read a whole novel in this fascinating horror-obsessed dreamie world. Unfortunately, Boatman proceeds to skip over all that. 

Instead, the novel ultimately appropriates a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde motif, with Izzy Stark using the power of his dreams to kill off people. All the dreamie-movie stuff is eclipsed. And, as is standard for all these ‘80s horror paperbacks, a helluva lot of pages are padded out with inconsequential backstory about minor characters, forgettable incidents, go-nowhere digressions, etc. There’s also way too much character-building, from Helen, Izzy’s live-in girlfriend, to Quent Hughes, an old high school pal of Izzy’s who is now a journalist and wants to do a bio on Izzy, to the elderly couple who live next door to Izzy, one of whom is going senile.

Izzy hooks up with a doctor at a nearby college who is researching the effects of taraxein, a real-life substance which is drawn from the blood of psychopaths. Constantly repeating the old “The blood is the life” saw, Izzy works with the doctor to research the effects of taraxein on his dreamies. Before you can say “I know where this is going!,” the novel goes exactly where you think it’s going. Izzy becomes consumed with the drug. Growing more and more insane, he begins to use the power of his dreams to kill off the people he thinks are out to get him. So in a way it’s all just like the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, but these taraxein dreams cross over into reality.

The kills are where the novel’s horror element comes into play, as a taraxein-soaring Izzy concocts some nightmarish scenario and sets it upon his latest victim. This ranges from zombies that call to mind Izzy’s own “Floaters” dreamie, to an army of mirror-faced soldiers who stalk the poor taraxein-supplying doctor. But we also get a surprise appearance from none other than the Creature from the Black Lagoon, always my favorite of the classic movie monsters; he smashes out of the TV when the senile neigbor is watching the movie (in 3-D, no less!) and crawls across the floor to rip out the old man’s throat and smash in his skull. Talk about a TV Casualty!!

It gets very soap operatic as Helen begins to suspect that Izzy is losing his mind. He spends all his time down in the basement of their New Jersey home, hovering over his Dreamatron, which is a console with various glowing balls that record and store the dreamer’s dreams. It all brings to mind the even-more-melodramatic Satan’s Chance, particularly when Izzy and Helen get in a hissy-fit fight and Helen storms out. But boy is all this stuff repetitive, and Izzy sure is annoying…half-drunk on taraxein, fighting everyone, beating up Helen, and puking in his sink… and then saying to himself, “Maybe I am addicted!” I mean what the hell?? We figured that out like 200 pages ago!

Izzy becomes more and more insane from the taraxein, much like Claude Rains and his monocane in the 1934 The Invisible Man. Izzy even approrpiates Rains’s look; when in his growing delusions he begins to see his skin falling off zombie-like, a panicking Izzy wraps his face in gauze so that only his red-rimmed eyes are visible. (Boatman doesn’t make the Invisible Man connection, so either he felt it was unnecessary or he just didn’t realize it.) But Izzy’s full-bore crazy now, seeing slugs and maggots in the food he tries to eat, things crawling beneath the piles of clothes on the floor, etc, and while he’s sure it’s all just the taraxein affecting his brain, he can’t be sure.

The novel gradually builds up to a big stage event Izzy’s holding on Halloween night; dreamies apparently can also be shared as live events, not just in dreamie theaters, and each Halloween Izzy puts on a special show for an audience in New York. This climactic event comprises pages 297-376 and works almost as a novella, as our disparate group of heroes find themselves within the “Boschian hellscape” that is “Izzy’s Infermo.” Having been inspired by the medieval paintings of Bosch, Izzy thrusts his dreamie audience into a nightmare of demons, zombies, monsters, and hellfire.

This sequence is cool, and definitely on the action-horror tip, with characters hacking off the heads of demons, slicing off the tentacles of demons, and in most cases being eaten or burned alive by the various monsters, but at the same time it’s a bit annoying because neither the reader nor the characters are certain if it’s all really happening. The dreamies are basically lucid dreams (a phrase not used in the text, I believe), with the dreamer, ie Izzy, coming up with the environment and the audience fully conscious as they navigate through it, even though they’re really just sleeping in their seats in the theater. So then we have a group of young dreamie fans (also the protagonists of their own too-long subplot, by the way) who get into it, wielding tridents and whatnot, confident that even though it all feels real, they’re safe and sound in a dreamie theater.

Meanwhile Helen and Quent try to get to Izzy, who appears in various personas in the hellscape, protected by demons and zombies and etc. Quent wants to stop the psychopath, while Helen is insistent upon “saving” him. Unfortunately there’s no big comeuppance for Izzy. After much setback Quent, wielding a penknife that becomes a flaming sword, and later a magical fire axe, manages to dislodge Izzy from his dreamatron, thus shattering the dreamie – and they find that the entire theater is really on fire, most of the audience burned alive in their seats. In the aftermath we find that hundreds of people have been killed, including some of the young protagonists.

However Boatman ends the tale on an unexpected ‘70s-style bummer of a note, flashing forward a year and a half later. Izzy we learn has never awoken, and is now kept asleep in a government hospital, where the CIA is using him to wage dreamie warfare on the Russians! Meanwhile Helen’s trying to free him, and also Quent’s become famous from having written a book about the disastrous Halloween event. And that’s that…after way too many pages of buildup and padding, Stage Fright sort of limps across the finish line.

Overall Boatman’s a good writer, with plentiful gore and even one explicit sex scene, but there’s just too much padding. Also, he’s guilty of some of the worst dialog modifiers I’ve ever seen – rarely do characters “say” anything. It’s always like, “Izzy intoned” or “Izzy opined,” or, my favorite of all, “Izzy intrigued.” It’s clearly an indication of a writer who felt that “Izzy said” just seemed too pedestrian and thought he’d fancy it up with bigger words…the only problem is, dialog modifiers end up calling too much attention to themselves. Never underestimate the power of plain old “said.” At any rate it’s surprising that he never published anything else.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Specialist #8: One-Man Army

The Specialist #8: One Man Army, by John Cutter
April, 1985  Signet Books

Jack Sullivan is back to kick some ass in the eighth installment of John Shirley’s The Specialist, which is easily my favorite one yet – Shirley has clearly gotten more comfortable writing straight action-adventure, and he even indulges in a bit of horror fiction this time, which adds a nice and unexpected touch to One-Man Army.

Similar to mid-‘80s action movies like Death Wish 3, this one has Jack “The Specialist” Sullivan moving into an apartment building to defend the tenants against the gang-bangers who are terrorizing them. Sullivan is in total superhero mode this time out; this guy is by far the most superheroic of all ‘80s men’s adventure protagonists, even though Shirley does a capable job of making him seem relatively human. But damn, Sullivan’s the dude Mack Bolan would call if he needed help!

Still mulling over the offer he was made last volume to head up a covert strike force for the government, Sullivan heads back to New York to help out an old flame named Bonnie, a hotstuff private eye who has gotten deep in it on her latest case. Hired by the tenants of a brownstone on the Upper East Side, Bonnie’s learned that the landlord, a crime syndicate-type named Legion (who has a penchant for taking out his glass eye and polishing it in front of his hechmen), is trying to clear out the building, raze it, and turn it into some sort of lucrative heroin-importing deal or somesuch.

After engaging Bonnie in one of Shirley’s enjoyably-hardcore sex scenes, Sullivan poses as the latest tenant and moves in. Here the fun begins; each volume of The Specialist has become more and more fun, with Sullivan the godlike figure of justice kicking evil’s ass in heroic fashion. This opening sequence is much in the Cannon Films mode, with scarred, battle-hardened, massively-muscled Sullivan moving in with the cowardly tenants – and promptly kicking the ass of the street punks Legion has hired. Given Bonnie’s “no killing” stipulation, Sullivan is relegated to using his fists, though when necessary he whips out a .44 Automag and blows a few of ‘em away in gory splendor.

As with the previous volume, One-Man Army is pretty single-minded in its sole plotline, of Legion sending more and more goons to the brownstone, either for them to disappear, get arrested, or come back in pieces. And again Sullivan demonstrates his Batman-like powers, his deadly skills so legendary in the underworld that gangsters nearly piss themselves at mention of “The Specialist.” This time though Shirley varies up the plot a bit with Tony “The Chill” Fabrizzio, a professional assassin with untold kills whom Legion hires to take out Sullivan.

Unfortunately Fabrizzio isn’t very interesting, and turns out to be the cliched pulp hitman. When Sullivan, more so due to his own innate sense of security than anything conscious, manages to avoid Fabrizzio’s attempted hits, the hitman turns coward and tries to run away. It gets even more Death Wish-esque when Bonnie is the one who gets hurt, Fabrizzio firing a grenade into Sullivan’s room in the brownstone. Surprisingly she doesn’t die, though she’s in the hospital the rest of the novel.

This of course only serves to make Sullivan even more consumed with vengeance. Desperate to find Fabrizzio and make him pay, Sullivan tears up Legion’s army of punks and gangsters. We get a great sequence where Sullivan hops into his armored van with its missile launcher and drives up an abandoned five-story parking structure in Queens, encountering a new booby trap on each level. Even though this sequence ends with Sullivan’s van destroyed, it’s still a helluva lot of fun.

Even better is the next sequence, which features the horror element mentioned above. In the highlight of the entire book, Sullivan chases Fabrizzio into the abandoned, grimy tunnels beneath the New York subway system. But it’s a setup; Legion’s henchman Crackwell has hired the Precious Ones, a gang of Satanic punks who live beneath the surface, to kill both Fabrizzio and Sullivan. The Precious Ones lurk in the rat-infested subway tunnels, and first they capture Fabrizzio – who in his panicked state thinks they’re the zombies of his victims – using him to lure in Sullivan.

This is pure pulp action-horror, with the Precious Ones mutant freaks (Shirley casually drops the tidbit that many of them are insane asylum escapees) who worship Satan and like to drop their victims into a pit of giant rats who eat people down to the bone. One of them’s even an “albino Negro,” like that scary-as-hell dude in The Omega Man. Sullivan, who thinks of them as “subway trolls,” takes them on with Automag and shotgun, massacring them, but he’s still caught – and almost thrown in the rat pit. But without surprise he manages to escape – and then he’s killing the rest of them with friggin’ ninja throwing stars!! This is the best sequence yet in the entire series, complete with Sullivan yelling “I’ve always wanted to meet Satan!” as he jumps into the rat pit.*

But after this craziness, the novel sort of drifts along to an unspectacular finale. Legion has escaped to Sicily, and Sullivan trails him there, but we get a lot of page-filler about him buying guns from an arms dealer and scoping out the villa Legion’s staying in. And even worse, Sullivan doesn’t even get to kill Legion here, instead just taking out a few Mafia thugs and then hiding on the airplane Legion hires to take him back to New York. The finale is at least memorable, with Sullivan chaining Legion up in the cellar of one of Legion’s tenements in Harlem, a place in total disrepair with a broken furnace Legion has refused to fix; the villain ends up freezing to death, while meanwhile Sullivan and an all-better-now Bonnie head off to Hawaii for a quick vacation!

Shirley’s clearly having fun with the series, even delivering subtle in-jokes. During the first Sullivan-Bonnie boink, Shirley uses the purplish prose phrase “pink steel” to describe Sullivan’s massive member. Later in the book, while stalking through Times Square, Sullivan passes heedless beneath “lurid movie marquees” for various porn flicks, one of which happens to be titled “Pink Steel!” This clear enjoyment in the writing is even more impressive when you factor in how quickly Shirley was writing the books; this one was published just two months after the previous one.

*I wonder if the Precious Ones were inspired by the titular subway-lurking creatures in Robert Craig’s 1982 horror paperback Creepers.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Man From Planet X #1: The She-Beast

The Man From Planet X #1: The She-Beast, by Hunter Adams
February, 1975  Pinnacle Books

Proving there was no limit to what book “producer” Lyle Kenyon Engel was willing to try, The Man From Planet X is a mid-‘70s take on ‘60s sleazy spy series like The Man from O.R.G.Y. and such, only with a sci-fi angle and much raunchier sex. However it does maintain the goofy vibe of those earlier spy paperbacks, to the extent that The She-Beast is for the most part a sex-laden comedy with only occasional patches of violence.

According to Hawk’s Authors Pseudonyms, “Hunter Adams” was James D. Lawrence, who around this time was also writing the vastly superior Dark Angel series for Engel. Initially I never would’ve believed this, as The She-Beast comes off as very juvenile and lunkheaded in its opening pages, despite the plethora of hardcore sex scenes. But gradually I could detect Lawrence’s tone, especially given his occasional use of ten-dollar words and literary turns of phrase. (Also the juvenile bit could probably be explained by the fact that Lawrence was also one of the authors of Tom Swift.) I now suspect that Lawrence was the mystery author of another Engel-produced sleaze masterpiece, Memoirs Of An Ex-Porno Queen.

But the reader must be prepared to accept that The Man From Planet X is not to be taken seriously, and really is an XXX-rated spoof of James Bond or somesuch…again, like those earlier spy paperbacks, but a lot more explicit. And weird! For our hero, “Peter Lance,” is in reality a friggin’ alien from the planet Tharb, his real name Pritan Lansol. Under the guidance of Dr. Kaarg, Pritan has descended to the Earth in his UFO, which hides back in the Catskill mountains as Pritan attempts to gather first-hand knowledge of the Earthlings in New York.

In his real appearance, Pritan has red skin and a hairy face. But Dr. Kraag has “biochemically” changed Pritan into “Peter,” and now he’s a good-looking stud with glossy black hair, piercing blue eyes, and tanned skin. But the biochemical stuff hasn’t extended to Peter’s nether parts, and this being a sleaze series, we get right to it; when a hitchhiking Peter is picked up by a sexy blonde named Daphne, he takes out her pursuers in somewhat gory fashion and then proceeds to give in to her demands for immediate sex, right there in the front seat of her sportscar.

Well, friends, Peter Lance has some unusual equipment. Not only is it wide at the base and pointy at the top, but in its fullest extent it goes all the way down to his knee…plus he can control it as easily as a normal man controls his finger. Oh, and it vibrates. “Man, I’ve gotta have that in me, but quick!” Daphne thinks to herself as soon as she’s gotten a gander at it. Their first boink is sleazy alien sex for the ages:

Their initial coupling had proved even more exciting than Daphne could possibly have anticipated. His pointy whatchamacallit had slid in as smoothly as a greased speculum, but its increasing girth toward the root had swiftly opened her as wide (it felt) as the Lincoln Tunnel. 

And the length of him – oh, my gosh! Every thrust felt as if he were ramming it clear up to her tonsils. 

But it wasn’t only the size and the stroke – there was something else, still more sensational, that Daphne could scarcely even put into words. She and her girlfriends had often titillated themselves or each other experimentally with electric massagers. But talk about vibrations – holy cow! His thing positively seemed to thrum at supersonic speed. She could feel shuddery, burning waves of chills and thrills radiating all the way up and down to her fingernails and toenails until her whole being seemed about to burst into fire.

Within a few pages Peter’s scoring again, in just as detailed fashion, with Wanda, hot young wife #4 of Daphne’s mega-millionaire father, BG Wyngard, who lives in a secluded mansion. Mind you, Peter’s just going with the flow throughout this; unlike your average men’s adventure protagonist, he’s on no special assignment other than gathering data on humans, in particular their sexual behavior, naturally. But Wanda (“this Earthling’s titties were something else”) comes on strong to Peter, and when Daphne almost catches them in the act, Peter reveals yet another of his superhuman qualities: he hefts Wanda on his shoulders and runs at over sixty miles an hour across the courtyard, deposting on her bed and racing back to his room in a blur of motion.

Peter Lance has other superhuman qualities as well – he’s telepathic, able to read minds and communicate with animals, in particular dogs. He has the strength of ten men. And he’s got “miniature lungs” surgically inserted in his ears or something, which is the norm for all Tharbians, having eons ago made the land, the sea, and the air their natural habitat. Oh, and he has this “third eye” gizmo he can hook up to his forehead to boost his telepathy, so he can speak with Dr. Kraag back on the spaceship, and with minor “brain waves” from other Tharbian gizmos he can become immediately fluent in any Earthling language.

Lawrence lays the groundwork for the novel’s main plot, with wily BG Wyngard untrusting of this new young stud, and yet hiding the fact that someone’s out to get him and his family – something Peter’s picked up via ESP, not to mention the two thugs who tried to kill Daphne when Peter met her. Meanwhile Daphne’s called over two of her equally-sexy friends to check out Peter’s inhuman endowmnet. After dancing to Led Zeppelin on quadraphonic stereo, Peter sneaks over for more explicit naughtiness, with the gals arguing who gets Peter’s vibrating cock and who gets Peter’s vibrating tongue. Meanwhile Daphne makes a “sex movie” with her film camera and then takes her second helping of Peter when her two pals pass out mid-climax.

Despite the goofy tone, the sex scenes here are much more explicit than those in Lawrence’s Dark Angel, which for the most part went more for a sleazy vibe than anything outrageously hardcore. Not so here, with the seeming intent of the series itself just being hardcore shenanigans with a slight spy-fy overlay. Unsurprisingly then, the main plot also has to do with sex; after our hero has staved off yet another attack on BG Wyngard and family, BG informs Peter that someone desperately wants control of a no-name company called Novitol which BG recently acquired in a business deal.

Hired as BG’s “corporate troubleshooter,” Peter is flown over to Switzerland, where he is to find out what exactly Novitol is. As mentioned, it’s of a sexual nature, having been run by a recently-deceased chemist who was looking to manufacture various sex-scents as perfumes. The book’s uber-goofy tone is displayed yet again when Peter telephathically informs a dog that it’s humping nothing more than a dummy, the dog having been fooled by the artificial scent sprayed on the dummy’s “receptacle.” The dog grumbles in shock – dogs speak to Peter in English throughout, by the way – and then pisses on the dummy.

It’s been a few pages, so Peter scores again, this time with Brigitte, 6’2” “raven-haired Amazon” caretaker of Novitol’s main company; she has “bushy black armpit hair,” “impressive mammary development,” and likes to ride men like horses. Here Peter learns that spys are afoot, tracking his moves. While speaking to BG through a Wyngard-designed “videoceiver,” which sends coded images over the phone, Peter learns that BG’s enemy is a mysterious woman of unknown age named Serafina Buonaparte, aka “The She-Beast,” as she’s known in business circles. As wealthy as BG, Serafima got her start as a hooker in Marseilles decades ago; the last photos of her appear to be from the ‘20s, and no one knows what she looks like now, though rumor has it she’s had untold facelifts. BG is certain the She-Beast is the enemy who has been trying to take Novitol from him. 

On to more sleaze! Surprised by a “Cat Woman” while snooping around a laboratory (ie a well-endowed woman in a black catsuit with mask and claws), Peter of course has sex with her…only to discover it’s Daphne in disguise. Separately and together the two run afoul of various enemies, from agents of the She-Beast to the CIA to the KGB. This latter is represented by a sexy, busty gal (naturally) who has silicone-injected boobs that secrete – brace yourself – poison “titty-milk.” (She isn’t alone, either – check out “the lady with the killer-tits” in The Enforcer #4!) More sex is to be had throughout, both with ever-eager Daphne and a host of “nymphomaniac” women who were patients of the doctor who created Novitol.

For it turns out Novitol is both a company and a chemical, a serum composed of “sex excretions” of people in the act, combined with injections of their blood, or something. But the scientist who created it, kindly Brit Dr. Chumley, has been kidnapped by the Red Chinese, while meanwhile Daphne’s been kidnapped by the She-Beast’s men. Lawrence, as in the Dark Angel books, really brings on the lurid vibe, with Peter at one point visiting a private club where white women are raped by “Third World” denizens in vengeance for all the ills white people have perpetrated upon them; it’s run by depraved Colonel Dong, yet another villain seeking Novitol.

Indeed, the titular villainess only gets a few pages of text, thanks to all the other characters. Using a contraption of his own device, Peter Lance flies to the She-Devil’s castle in the mountains of Corsica, where he’s promptly captured by the woman’s green-leotarded minions. The She-Devil herself is a ravishing brunette who walks around her castle completely nude save for a piece of golden filament that forms a figure eight around her impressive boobs; we’ll learn she can actually control those impressive boobs, to the point that all she has to do is twitch ‘em and the filament, which is really a weapon, will fire a bullet!

Of course, the two promptly go at it on the shag-carpeted floor of the She-Beast’s quarters, but having allotted so many pages to previous sex scenes Lawrence only devotes a paragraph or two here. And talk about anticlimax (so to speak); post-orgasm the She-Beast withers away to the “old hag” she truly is, the Novitol – which turns out to be a youth serum for the very old, hence why the She-Beast looks so young and sexy – having stopped working for some unspecified reason. From here it’s all too-quick wrapup, with “the hag” turned over to the CIA (who promptly get ready to gang-bang her!) and Peter having quick sex with the rescued Daphne, after which we see Peter back on his UFO, debriefing Dr. Kraag and ready for his next adventure here on Earth.

Lawrence’s writing is good, all things considered, and despite the juvenile tone, the important thing to note is that it’s all still deadly serious to the characters themselves. In this way The She-Beast escapes the mire of those earlier sleaze-spy yarns, like The Man From TOMCAT, where nothing was serious. Lawrence also, as in the Dark Angel books, really captures the groovy, shaggy ‘70s, often rattling off the names of various rock groups (even the New York Dolls get a mention!) and always discussing the funky ‘70s wardrobes of the various characters. In that way the book is almost a time capsule of the ‘70s, same as Lawrence’s other series, and I dig that.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 2


The Association (1974): This Gold Harvest flick is clearly inspired by the sleazy Japanese karate movies of the day (“Street Fighter,” “Sister Street Fighter,” etc), with copious nudity and exploitation. It’s Shanghai, apparently the ‘50s or ‘60s (not sure of the date, but one dude does drive a ‘50s Buick in it), and the movie gets off to a sleazy start with a lecherous creep murdering a rich old man – and then raping his pretty young wife! And this ain’t implied, either; it has all the creepy qualities of a Japanese movie of the day, with rampant exploitation factor, as the guy rips off the gal’s robe and starts pawing her boobs while humping her. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more lurid, the dude strangles her while he’s climaxing!!

Daughter Angela “Enter The Dragon” Mao shows ups just in time to see poor mom and dad dead; she kills the rapist/killer with a brutal head chop that makes his left eye pop out (this bit of gore another indication of the flick’s indebtedness to gory Japanese karate movies). But then our hero, an uptight cop with a sort of Chinese afro, shows up, arrests Angela – and has her shot! So what that he’s in love with her, she broke the law! This chump is our hero. The movie proceeds to get more sleazy and crazy, capped off with an outrageous scene where, with no warning, we cut to a roomful of white chicks in diaphonous robes (wearing nothing beneath them), converged before a demonic statue in a pagan temple. A nude (and very busty) Chinese gal lays on an altar, and the lead white cultist chick does a crazy dance while this awesome jazz-funk tune with blistering acid guitar blares on the soundtrack…for a good three minutes! It’s awesome.

Anyway, this is occuring in the titular “Association,” ie the Welfare Association, and the nude Chinese chick wants an abortion, and the nude dancing chicks are the abortionists! The dance is to lure her into a trance, so they can perform their grisly operation on her – but stoic cop shows up just in time to stop them. More sleaze ensues…we later cut, again with no warning, to a nude Japanese gal making out with a nude blonde gal…including closeups of the Japanese gal sucking on the blonde’s nipples! And it goes on and on, the camera lingering…later we will see this same blonde, nude as ever, riding an obese Chinese dude who has paid for her services.

But while the sleaze is phenomenal, the movie itself is lackluster…Afro uptight is a lame protagonist (the actor did nothing else, apparently), and the kung-fu fights are sporadic. Most notable is a fight between our hero and Hwang In Sik, a Korean martial artist most known for his appearance in Bruce Lee’s “Way of the Dragon.” The sleaze and exploitation goes away in the last third, and digressive plots take over, like boring hero staying with some woman who’s in danger of being the latest victim of a notorious brigand. Also, Angela Mao shows up in another role, playing a mainland Chinese cop who is the spitting image of the murdered character in the beginning of the film – this element is not much explained or explored. Also, humorously enough, after beating up the bad guys, stoic uptight cop struts off into the sunset – and is gunned down by two lowlifes!! Whether he lives or dies is not stated by film’s end, but to tell the truth I could care less. Also featuring Samo Hung as “Tiger,” a fellow cop.

Bionic Boy (1977): You’re an 8-year-old karate champion from Singapore visiting the Philipines, when your mom and dad are killed by thugs and your arms and legs are crushed. What do you do? Why, you get bionic replacement limbs and swear vengeance. This Filipino flick stars 8 year-old Johnson Yap, a prepubescent karate champion from Singapore. Don’t be mislead by the child star into thinking this is a childish movie, as thankfully “Bionic Boy” plays it straight throughout. This is funky ‘70s bell bottom fury all the way through, with fuzz guitar jazz-funk playing throughout – even the theme is a subtle lift of Oliver Nelson’s “Six Dollar Man” theme.

The highlight is the English dubbing, with all of the voices familiar from various Shaw Brothers dubs; in particular the gang of crooks are hilariously dubbed, and their bickering throughout is very funny. They’re a gang of American ‘Nam vets – we’re told some of them massacred entire villages of women and children (the memory of which causes the bastards to chuckle happily!) – and now they’re trying to corner the crime market in Southeast Asia.

The movie doesn’t waste any time on maudlin sap; Johnson’s in the car with his folks when it’s crushed by the villains, and the producers spend about 5 minutes runtime on his bionic surgery. There are no bittersweet tears about dead mom and dad, about how he’s no longer a normal young boy, etc. It’s straight to the slow-motion “bionic” running and kung-fu fighting, with a goofy synthesizer providing the “bionic noise” as Johnson beats up the gang members. He kills too, most memorably when he hurls a coconut at some dude with all his bionic might. Surprisingly, his vengeance is unsated by film’s end, with the boss of the gang escaping – we’re given an unexpectedly poignant finale, with the Bionic Boy looking angrily into the distance. And sadly we never DO get to see if he wreaked his vengeance, as the boss isn’t even mentioned in the sequel!

Bruce, Kung Fu Girls (1977): This Taiwanese kung-fu movie features all you could want from a bell bottom fury flick of the ‘70s. And more! Clearly retitled to cater to the late ‘70s Bruceploitation craze, the movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Bruce Lee. It’s about five cute kung-fu vixens who band together against an invisible criminal. Plus along the way they even get to guard the moon rock! There are five of the gals but only the main one, Polly Kuan, really has any kung-fu skills. She plays the niece of a Taiwan police inspector or somesuch, and she and her four pals (apparently visiting from America, though this isn’t revealed until the last few minutes) help out the cops for whatever reason.

The movie fumbles between chop-sockey and romantic schmaltz; Polly saves a gangly dude from thugs early in the film, and both she and her four friends fall in love with him. Cue bizarre scenes of the girls staring off into the distance while treacly Chinese pop plays on the soundtrack. Speaking of which the soundtrack for the most part is awesome, pirated from various jazz-funk LPs of the day. Three tracks in particular I was able to spot were “Whole Lotta Love” by Dennis Coffey, “Living For the City” by Ramsey Lewis, and crazily enough even a snippet of “Calypso Frelimo” by Miles David (a 30+-minute psychedelic funk tune from his ’74 double LP “Get Up With It”), which plays every time we get to see the main villain’s headquarters. The flick also dawdles too long with goofy “comedy” moments as the gals bicker over the gangly guy, who turns out to be a scientist who invented like some Maguffin serum or somesuch.

Fights break out randomly and awkwardly, with the overall cheap appearance mandatory of these kind of films; most every fight takes place outdoors. The finale gives us all we could want as Polly and pals suit up in fetish-type kung-fu gear (leather hotpants, sleeveless tops, knee-high boots, and wrist cuffs) and take on the bad guys; Polly as usual is the only one who does any real fighting. There’s no gory violence or nudity as you’d see in a Japanese karate movie of the day; for the most part “Bruce, Kung Fu Girls” is a lot of fluff, but it’s still a lot of fun. And the English dubbing is great, featuring a host of voice actors familiar from various Shaw Brothers English dubs.

The Iron Man (1975): Jimmy Wang Yu stars in this average chop-sockey from Taiwan. Somewhere I’d read that Wang Yu had a bionic hand in this one, but that’s a crock – it’s a basic false hand which he covers with a leather glove. Anyway this is a basic revenge tale; it opens in a sepia-toned ‘40s, during the Japanese occupation of China, and young Jimmy watches as his dad is murdered by the Japanese and their Chinese compatriots; afterwards poor mom is raped by the Japanese commander while little Jimmy stands there! For his trouble the kid gets his left hand lopped off by the Japanese captain…and then when everyone leaves, Jimmy’s mom blows her head off! Boy, that’s a rough day. 

Flash-forward to the funky ‘70s and Jimmy, now all grown up, is a kung-fu expert given to wearing outfits with some severe collars. He’s working his way up the chain in vengeance, aiming for the captain. Eventually he makes his way to Japan, where he falls in with a local drunk, his blind sister, and another sister, this one a hotstuff who promptly falls in love with Jimmy. Yet the Japanese captain is here as well, pining for the same gal, and in amid the lovey-dovey stuff we have more kung-fu fights than the average Bruce Li movie. And Jimmy’s just as awkward in the fights. Music cues are stolen throughout, most laughably a bit from “The Godfather.” This one isn’t recommended, even for bell bottom fury freaks like myself. Also notable for a variety of familiar voices from various Shaw Brothers movies on the dubbed English soundtrack.

The Return of the Bionic Boy (1979): This movie’s basically two sequels for the price of one – a sequel to “Bionic Boy,” again starring Johnson Yap, but also a sequel to two other Filipino action movies: “They Call Her Cleopatra Wong” (1978) and “Mean Business” (1979), both of which starred pretty, 20-year-old Singaporean actress Marrie Lee as Cleopatra Wong, a tough female cop. The producers introduce the novel concept here that Cleo is actually Sonny the Bionic Boy’s aunt, and apparently he’s visiting her here in the Philipines. This is an odd relationship for sure, though, with Cleo apparently thinking it’s okay to hang around her apartment with her ten-year-old nephew wearing nothing but a teddy! (Not that I’m complaining.) Even stranger: late in the film a captured Cleo is handcuffed to a rotating, X-shaped cross. When Sonny saves her, he first spins the cross around while Cleo’s still handcuffed to it – and starts talking to her from between her spread legs(!?). 

Despite the more comic-booky tone, the presence of Nazi villains, and even a flame-throwing tank with a dragon head, I actually like this sequel less than “Bionic Boy,” mostly because this one makes the mistake of shoehorning a lot of unnecessary “comedy” into the proceedings. This is mostly carried out via “Benny Hill”-style cranked-up film speeds, or Johnson doing goofy stuff during kung-fu fights, or the bumbling antics of the villains, one of whom is a flaming gay Chinese dude who simpers and prances during the fights. But anyway this Nazi force is doing something, apparently forcing Filipino villagers into service or somesuch, and it’s up to Sonny and Cleo to save the day.

The action’s just as firefight-heavy as kung-fu; whereas the first movie starred Johnson Yap and thus focused on his martial skills, this one cuts over just as often to Cleopatra Wong’s storyline, and thus we see her gunning down various henchmen – at one point she even dons an Afro, like a regular Chinese Pam Grier. The soundtrack this time is wholly composed of library music, and again the movie doesn’t come off like a true sequel to “Bionic Boy,” as Johnson Yap will disappear for long portions of the film and is for the most part incidental to the plot. At any rate this was it for the Bionic Boy’s cinematic adventures – and also it was the last movie with Cleopatra Wong. And both Johnson Yap and Marrie Lee also retired from the acting biz after the flick – indeed, these were the only two movies Johnson Yap appeared in.

Stoner (1974): This sleazy Gold Harvest production supposedly started life as a project between Bruce Lee and George “I used to be James Bond” Lazenby; the two became friends shortly before Lee’s passing, and Lazenby signed a contract with Gold Harvest for 3 films. The first of these was to be a part as a “spiritual adviser” in Lee’s ill-fated “Game Of Death,” followed by a larger role in this project, which after Lee’s death was revised as “Stoner,” with Lazenby in the lead role and Angela Mao Ying brought in to play a cop from mainland China. It’s debatable whether the film would’ve been this sleazy had it actually featured Bruce Lee in it; at any rate there’s plentiful boobs and sex throughout, though be warned most of the flesh is provided by unattractive white ladies who don’t sport the loveliest of shapes.

Stoner is a tough Australian cop who conveniently studied Asian languages in college, thus he’s the perfect man to head over to Hong Kong to figure out where this potent and lethal new drug is coming from. Meanwhile Angela Mao is on the same case, but while Stoner just goes around Hong Kong busting heads (and screwing gangster moll Betty Ping Tei, most remembered today as Bruce Lee’s real-life mistress – whose bed Lee died in, by the way), Angela poses as a simple country girl who keeps running afoul of the villains. Action is sporadic throughout, and as displayed in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Lazenby is very good with on-screen scuffles and throws real-looking punches.

The soundtrack is pretty great, the acid guitar-tinged jazz-funk I so love, and the movie features a memorable opening in which a cult, led by a black dude in a robe, engage in a group orgy – gross stuff here via an egregious shot of one of those unattractive babes deep-throating a popsicle. The Shout Factory DVD, released as part of the Angela Mao Ying Collection, is notable because it combines the Hong Kong version of the film (which features a lot more footage of Angela Mao) with the international cut. Thus when you watch the English dub (in which Lazenby dubs his own voice) there will be frequent parts in which people are suddenly speaking Mandarin, with the English provided via subtitles. Overall this one’s fun but a bit ponderous at times, and the sleaze is almost equal to that of another 1974 Gold Harvest production: “The Association.”

Grindhouse/Drive-in trash: 

The Doll Squad (1973): Low-budget “Charlie’s Angels” prototype about a squad of somewhat attractive, big-haired gals who work for the government. Michael “career on the skids” Ansarra plays the villain of the piece, a “criminal genius” who appears to be in a flop sweat the entire time the camera’s on him. From his South American lair he’s somehow sabotaging US space rocket launches. The CIA runs it through the computer to see who would be best qualified to handle this menace; the computer suggests “the Doll Squad.” If only real life was like this! Surprisingly there’s no nudity, not even any adult shenanigans, but there is a bit of grindhouse gore. In particular the opening half features a few doomed members of the Doll Squad being killed by Ansarra’s men; one of them is shot in the head and we see a gory exploding quib.

The movie is a bit sluggish and horribly acted; most humorous is when the various Squad members try to talk about past missions. Without a doubt every scene in the film was captured on the first take. The producers even rip off “Mission: Impossible” with “masks” that allow some of the gals to turn into other women (complete with different bodies, naturally), but things don’t pick up until the final half, when the Doll Squad launches an assault on Ansarra’s villa. This stuff is pretty good, with the various gals toting submachine guns and blowing away swarms of henchmen. Unfortunately a lot of the action is shot in the dark or awkwardly directed, but it’s better than nothing. The low-budget aesthetics extend to the explosions, with people and vehicles “blowing up” via badly superimposed flames. It’s a mystery why this one never made it to MST3K. The Squad is clearly ready for another mission by movie’s end, but apparently no more were ever filmed.

Policewomen (1974): Offering everything you could want in ‘70s grindhouse/drive-in trash, “Policewomen” is basically a more lurid version of Angie Dickinson’s TV series “Police Woman,” only with cursing, violence, and nudity. Our hero is a busty redhead policewoman who takes a special assignment to stop a female gang. First though she must deal with the usual harrassment a female cop must endure from her male colleagues, but mind you all this is done in a fun spirit and with none of the noxious “female empowerment” mandatory in today’s action crap. For our hero, Lacey Bond, has a sense of humor. The movie does, too, with most of it played with tongue in cheek; save for an egregious part where genre stalwart William Smith shows up as a gym trainer who gets his ass kicked by Lacey, the film never becomes a comedy.

The producers stick with the right vibe throughout, and while the violence is never too bloody they are sure to give us several glimpses of naked ‘70s boobs and butt. Also it must be mentioned that there are some super-foxy ‘70s gals in the female gang, which is run by a decrepit old lady and her young bodybuilder boyfriend. The stuff with the gang is the best, particularly its intro, in which a black member tries to join, much to the dismay of an Asian gal. The racial slurs fly fast and furious, and then so do the feet, fists, and claws in an awkwardly-staged brawl. Sondra Currie, as Lacey Bond, also shows off her very nice bod as she hops in bed with the craggy-faced cop she gradually falls for; the movie ends with these two being set up as permanent partners, but unfortunately there was no sequel.

There are no violent shootouts and for the most part the action is relegated to clumsy “karate” fights, but it must be stated that Lacey sure has an enjoyably ferocious smile on her face when she beats people up! She takes her own beatings too, in particular a somewhat-unsettling bit where the bodybuilder beats the shit out of her for a few minutes of screentime; humorously, all Lacey has afterwards is a small trickle of blood coming from her mouth. Overall this is really fun grindhouse flick, filled with that early ‘70s look and feel I love so much, and I really enjoyed it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Spider #14: Death's Crimson Juggernaut

The Spider #14: Death's Crimson Juggernaut, by Grant Stockbridge
November, 1934  Popular Publications

Norvell “Grant Stockbridge” Page delivers a rather muted Spider which once again sees driven hero Richard Wentworth suffer great injury. Last month he was shot more times than rapper 50 Cent; this time he gets dosed with poisoned tear gas that almost permanently blinds him. But as ever Wentworth doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and goes in with dual .45s blasting.

In the most minor of mentions to that previous volume, we learn here that Wentworth has fully recovered from his gunshots, and as a bonus he got to spend a lot of “quiet time” with ever-suffering fiance Nita van Sloan, who by the way has yet to achieve the narrative importance as in later volumes. Nita here is still reduced to spending the majority of the novels off-page, usually seeing to some menial task for Wentworth. The same can also be said of Wentworth’s loyal servants Ram Singh and Jackson, who also go nearly the entirety of Death’s Crimson Juggernaut unseen, each of them relegated to a sentence or two.

It’s all Wentworth’s show, once again, and by page one he’s already deep in the latest threat to New York City. People – men, women, and even children! – are being stripped and hammered to crosses in tenement buildings in the grungier areas of the city, left to die in misery. This horror element will ultimately go away – as most such elements usually do in the Spider novels I’ve read, replaced by endless action sequences – but the story begins as Wentworth is saving a young woman who is about to become the latest victim of these “Torture Killers,” as Wentworth dubs them.

For once in his Spider costume – ie the cape, hunched back, and ghoulish face – Wentworth makes short work of the would-be crucifiers. The girl he’s saved is Caroline Davis, pretty young blonde granddaughter of a man who has been wrongly jailed as the leader of the Torture Killers. This subplot will quickly be lost in the shuffle of the breathless narrative, which for the most part follows Page’s usual format: Wentworth will take on the threat early, chase down various red herring leads, be unjustly accused of the crime himself, lose contact with his friends and associates, become handicapped in some fashion, and finally pull it all together and kill everyone, exonerating himself. 

One thing missing here is the memorable villiain. I’m beginning to miss the whackjob costumed Spider villains; it’s been a while since we’ve gotten a good one, and the last costumed one was The Fly, who I didn’t really even like. Even though Wentworth, as is his wont, starts coining his own name for the mastermind of this latest threat – The Masterkiller – we don’t actually see such a character, and Page as usual forgets all about it. Toward the end he introduces the idea that the bad guys have their own Spider, and while this guy does appear in the final few pages, he isn’t properly exploited. This volume really could’ve benefited from a more visible villain.

It does though have a bit of a shudder pulp vibe, at least in the opening pages; when Wentworth finds poor Caroline, she’s nude and about to be hammered onto a cross, and here Page briefly recounts the gruesome fates of other women in the city, all of whom were nude and mangled and crucified. But as mentioned this stuff goes away and it’s on to business as usual, with Wentworth in his Spider getup gunning down hordes of gangsters; as ever the “Torture Killers” have a veritable army at their disposal, and it’s up to Wentworth alone to stop them.

Given their penchant for crucifixion, the Torture Killers don’t have the mass carnage-dealing attributes of the typical Spider villain. Page takes care of this posthaste, with the escaping gangsters blowing up a train track. Periodically Page will inform us of the villains committing greater misdeeds, even sinking steamers with all hands on deck, but these bastards really don’t reach the height of villainy of previous enemies. But as usual they already know Wentworth is the Spider, even if old pal Commissioner Kirkpatrick only suspects it; gangsters even try to kill Wentworth in his penthouse suite, leading to the John Woo-esque moment of Wentworth hurling a grenade into an almost-closed elevator and pulping the men inside.

Speaking of Kirkpatrick, he’s already fired as commissioner a quarter of the way through, for no other reason than warning Wentworth – again per the norm, the Spider is wrongly accused of the crucifixions and the bombs going off in the tenement district, with many witnesses even coming forward. Strangely, the cops all seem quite aware that Wentworth is the Spider this time, even though usually it’s more of a cat and mouse thing. Anyway an assistant DA named Harry Boise takes over Kirkpatrick’s job, and becomes one of the many people Wentworth supsects of either being the false Spider or the leader of the Torture Killers.

Kirkpatrick gets a chance to save Wentworth, midway through; our hero as mentioned becomes blinded by poison tear gas or somesuch, and gradually loses his sight. But this isn’t enough for Page, who as ever just keeps piling it on our hero. Blind, surrounded, Wentworth finds himself in a just-bombed tenement building and must escape without sight. Then he runs into a child, who pleads that her mother is about to be burned alive but won’t wake up, overcome by the smoke. Wentworth struggles with his own convinctions in a sterling sequence – how many times has he been willing to sacrifice Nita, he asks himself, despite her being the love of his life? If so, then what does some stranger and her daughter matter? But within moments he’s already forcing his way into the room and hoisting the unconscious woman on his shoulders, spiriting her and her child to safety with his silken web – yet another stirring moment in a series full of them.

Posing as a streetside violinist (one of his favored disguises), Wentworth briefly meets with Nita, and then is saved by Kirkpatrick, who pulls him out of yet another trap and hooks him up with his own private doctor, who gradually fixes Wentworth’s eyes. But meanwhile the fight goes on, thanks to Nita’s loyal Great Dane, Apollo, who has a bigger part here than normal, serving both as Wentworth’s seeing-eye dog and as a soldier, even ripping out throats! Once Wentworth gets his sight back, the story loses a bit of its manic pace and becomes more of a plotting-counterplotting bit, Wentworth drafting the aid of an old millionaire named Meriwell who has been caught up with the Torture Killers.

The finale is a bit underwhelming. Wentworth’s big plan is to get himself and Meriwell on a steamer, to act as bait for the Torture Killers, whom we learn have been bombing the tenement areas so as to clear out land to build on! But the plot backfires and the crew has been replaced by gangsters; somehow it all ends up with Wentworth and Kirkpatrick both bound on a reef while various gangsters with machine guns come to kill them. Here the false Spider finally appears, but he doesn’t do much other than shoot down one of his fellow villains. It’s up to Apollo to once again save the day; even the false Spider is given a cursory sendoff, his fake Spider Web unable to keep him from falling to the rocks as he tries to scale a steamer.

What makes Death’s Crimson Juggernaut enjoyable is Wentworth himself, who is especially unhinged this time, at least in the opening. He pulls off several goofy acts, my favorite being when he mimicks a young woman’s voice when the cops find him standing by the latest victim of the Torture Killers. The cops immediately assume the Spider has just nailed the woman to the cross, but after a brief firefight Wentworth mimics a female voice and fools the cops into thinking the woman’s still alive, insisting they leave so he can help her down! Even crazier is later on when Wentworth, surrounded, brands his own head with his Spider mark and throws himself out into a corridor, flopping onto the ground like a dead body. When the ruse is foiled, he then takes the only recourse possible – he pretends to be a zombie!! And Page goes all the way with it, with the dumb gangsters cowering and running as Wentworth staggers toward them.

Oh, and the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story, which is a pity. I was looking forward to reading about a little greenish-gray dude trying to pulverize the Spider with a tank.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Glorious Trash meets Len Levinson

June 8th, 2016 was the day of the “Summit Conference,” as Len Levinson called it; my wife and I happened to be in Chicago for a convention she had to attend, and since Len lives not too far away he hopped a train and met me at my hotel for a day of walking around the city and talking.

In fact we walked a helluva lot that day (17,000 steps, according to the pedometer on my phone), which is why I look so worn out in the photo above. (Len meanwhile probably could’ve kept right on walking!) We covered a couple miles as Len walked with me to my favorite record store, Dusty Groove. I’d ordered countless LPs from their website over the past 15 or so years but had never been to the actual brick and mortar store; unfortunately, it was a smallish place, and everything in the store was already listed online! I was hoping for like a store-only discount bin.

It was great to meet Len in person after so many years of exchanging emails, not to mention reading his books. And we really discussed his work; when I first saw him down in the lobby, he was busy doing some copyediting on the new edition of Shark Fighter, put out by Destroyer Books. Throughout the day Len even made periodic references to The Amazing Frapkin, which I enjoyed. 

In person Len is just as funny, insightful, and good-natured as he is in his emails and writing, and also he gave me a lot of fun backstories about the unusual assortment of people he’s known in his life. In particular I really enjoyed hearing about somewhat-famous fantasy author Lin Carter, whom Len first met in the early ‘60s, where the two were employed writing jacket copy for various how-to books at Prentice-Hall Books. In addition to providing Len with a lot of inspiration to get started in his own writing, Lin Carter himself almost seemed to have walked out of one of Len’s actual novels. Len’s stories about him nearly had me wanting to check out one of Carter’s many novels, something I’d never considered before. And in one of those instances of synchronicity, just a few days later I happened to come across one of his Thongor books.

Len also patiently waited for me while I flipped through the countless boxes of LPs at Dusty Groove, where I spent way too much money on obscure jazz-funk albums. He was a perfect guide to the city, having visited Chicago many times over the years; it was the first I’d ever been there, and the longer we walked the more I kept wondering if we’d maybe taken a wrong turn. I should’ve known better than to ask, though, as Len was correct – the store was just a lot farther from my hotel than I’d thought!

But this gave us ample time to discuss practically every subject. Ironically, one of those subjects was the obscure novel The Horrors Of Love, which I’d recommended to Len a few years ago and which he enjoyed. I say “ironically” because The Horrors Of Love is a novel that is entirely about two guys walking around a city while discussing practically every subject.

We talked about Len’s old novels and the ones he’s currently working on, and we also discussed politics in great detail. We also had some Frapkin-quality commentary on the lovely ladies of Chicago. And speaking of which, Len got to meet my wife, who found us in the lobby in the evening when she returned from her convention, still engaged in deep conversation. She snapped this photo, with us holding my just-signed copy of Without Mercy (which Len informed me was actually a Canadian edition).

Anyway, I really enjoyed meeting Len, and I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable day out.