Found-Again Friday: Bloodlist—Vampire Files #1

Remember when vampires weren’t polarizing?

That isn’t quite accurate: they were, but in a horror-nerd-versus-mundane-person kind of way. There were no sparkling vamps outside of Anne Rice’s novels, no one had any overwhelming interest in Dracula as a media property, and the renaissance of the horrific, Nosferatu-style demon-faced predator everyone knows from Buffy and the like was slow.

This was the world I grew up in, fascinated by the fanged few from the moment I saw the Count on Sesame Street. But when you’re a squeamish horror fan, you have to choose your hobbies carefully, and it was with trepidation I picked up the first little paperback with what looked like a Dashiell Hammett vampire on the front. The book was Bloodlist, the first in P.N. Elrod’s series about 1930s reporter-turned-vampire detective Jack Fleming.

How much did I love these books? I went on about them at length in my college interview, to the point that it was mentioned in a speech about the diverse interests of the incoming freshman class, that’s how much.
I wonder if that lady from admissions ever picked up the books?

Why Found-Again? You’d think that after all that, these books would be on my yearly reread list, but I always forget. There are probably a lot of factors playing into that: it’s hard not to feel saturated on the whole vampire idea at this point, and there have even been a few vamp detectives since Bloodlist came out in 1990  (*shakes fist at Forever Knight, but somehow not at Lacroix*—it seems especially fitting that Vampire Files author Elrod went on to collaborate with actor Nigel Bennett, given that he portrayed the only character on that show who didn’t make me want to throw garlic at my television).

The Premise: Former reporter Jack Fleming awakes in Chicago with a newly developed taste for blood, but no memory of the murder that put him among the ranks of the undead. When mortal detective Charles Escott discovers Jack’s secret, they join forces to solve the crime—no mean feat when it turns out to be mob-related.

It’s always interesting when reading a vampire book to figure out what kind of a vampire you’re dealing with, and Jack could perhaps be described as a modified Dracula type: yes to stakes, home soil and turning into mist, no to garlic, crosses and holy water.

The Verdict: A thousand times yes! It’s got action, humor, vampire lore, lounge singers, a fun noir sensibility, and a detective named (presumably*) after one of Sherlock Holmes’s pseudonyms.

 

Might go well with: Torch songs, The Thin Man, Bloody Marys

 

 

*I haven’t read the later book where we find out more about Escott’s past. Pleasepleaseplease let that be his name for a reason.

 

Next time: Leaving the scene of the crime, immortal-style.

 

 

Personal and Pointless: Fighting Like Cats And Sillier Cats

This is what I come home to every afternoon. Apologies for the poor video quality:

 

Incubus is 9 years old, looks like a stuffed toy, and believes himself to be a finely tuned fighting machine, even though he sounds like a very limited set of bagpipes. Jasper is 17 and deaf, so he can’t even hear whatever feline threat all that noise is supposed to convey (given that they watch movies with me much of the time, I assume at least part of that was “There can be only one!” ETA: Yep, I think that’s it around 0:26.).

There Can Be Only Monday! Talking About Highlander… A Lot, Part 5

Last time: Improbably, none of the people involved in this battle had ever heard a ballad before, or were just too polite to mention it. There’s something about staring at a skull helmet that just encourages good manners, I guess.

Also, I promised we’d get to the good stuff.

5. Did somebody have a primitive insurance policy out on Connor or what?

Finally, the plan is working and all the Frasers avoid stabbing our hero, who is standing on the battlefield with an extended look of consternation. Why he is standing on the battlefield, I’m not sure: earlier we see Connor and his kinsmen Angus and Dougal all riding horses. In Connor’s flashbacks during the wrestling match, it’s clear Angus has been unhorsed, and we see the same happen to Dougal in the course of the battle scene.

If no one is attacking Connor, where did his horse go?

Perhaps that explains the look.

I have to think that an ordinary guy raised in a culture of frequent clan warfare, who is in battle for the first time, would take more initiative—if not to attack the Frasers, then to help his friends and relations who are getting walloped on the battlefield for the greater glory of the MacLeods.

That's it. That's his move.
That’s it. That’s his move.

Instead, after a few abortive efforts, Connor stands and gapes—at least until the Kurgan, after a bit of a blood-soaked warm-up, rides up on his/Zorro’s horse, dismounts with a snarl, and with minimal effort (and further snarling) stabs the ever-loving shit out of the Highlander.This part seems to go on forever and reminds me what I like best about the Kurgan: he loves his job.

I assume Connor raises his shield that high because the Kurgan was on a horse and he got momentarily confused, but if you watch this often enough, you begin to wonder if no one taught him what shields were for. The fact that Ramirez later has to train Connor in a lot of swordcraft only makes it odder that the people who presumably love him would send him into battle with so little training: the whole thing looks like the olden-day equivalent of someone raising  a defensive arm and getting stabbed in the armpit with the kitchen knife. Connor is left weltering on the ground (bleeding from a wound that doesn’t look like it’s quite where it’s supposed to be, but that’s movie magic for you), and the Kurgan raises his sword and falls victim to what a wise man once called one of the classic blunders: he says something.

As villain monologues go, “There can be only one!” is quite short, but not short enough, as the Kurgan is tackled and Connor gets to keep his head, at least until a later movie and a more popular MacLeod.

 

Read the next one: The cunning of an immortal. We’re bound to see some eventually, right?

Next time: I will play the sap for you, sweethearts.

Next time on TCBOM: Why you should never watch Highlander and Police Squad! close together.

 

 

 

Found-Again Friday: The Moon-Spinners

Settle in, children—here, near the fire. (Not that near, little Timmy—whoops, there he goes.) I’m going to tell you all the story of what it was like to have the Disney Channel as a premium channel in the mid-1980s, in the days before ubiquitous original programming. Would someone please pour some water on Timmy?

I suppose that characterization is a little off, both because I have yet to roast a small child and because, in addition to things like their aerobics show Mousercise, technically EVERYTHING on Disney at the time was original programming in the sense of being Disney. It’s just that it was original programming of old Disney movies and even older cartoons, many in heavy rotation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Ichabod and Mr. Toad more than I have seen The Thin Man, one of my favorite movies ever.

And so one summer I came into near-constant contact with The Moon-Spinners, the caper film with a nearly grown-up Hayley Mills and Peter McEnery, who seems to have been told “Just do your best Connery Bond swagger: it’ll be fine.” (And it is.)

Why Found-Again? The simple answer is that I took a few decades off between viewings of The Moon-Spinners until tracking down the DVD a few years ago. The honest answer is that, between Blue Labyrinth coming out this week and my local library’s complete dearth of books I may well hate rereading (though seriously, who checked out ‘Salem’s Lot?), none of us are quite getting the F-AF post we deserve.

The Premise: Nikky Ferris (Mills) is a young English girl traveling Greece with her musicologist aunt. While on Crete, she meets a nice young man named Mark who’s being stalked by their innkeeper’s crooked brother (Eli Wallach, who in an unintentional bit of hilarity resembles nothing so much as an evil Walt Disney). Mark is eventually shot, and Nikky’s attempts to help eventually start the caper in motion: can she find out what’s going on and get them both out of this alive?

In case it wasn’t clear from my post on Hart to Hart, I grew up so steeped in the mystery genre that my 10-year-old self watched The Moon-Spinners—the romantic setting, the danger, the bronzed young Englishman—and essentially decided this was a suitable life plan. (If that didn’t work out, late in the movie Pola Negri appears as a fabulously wealthy woman with a yacht and a pet cheetah, which to this day seems like a decent fallback position.) When I rewatched it, I fully expected to be cynical about all those things, but in my opinion The Moon-Spinners still holds up, even now that I can recognize all the unflattering English-tourist-abroad stereotypes.

The movie is based on Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novel of the same name, and as always, I marvel at the instinct Disney movies of this era had for adaptation. Clearly some of the things in the novel—a dead child, a religious conflict—weren’t likely to stay in the script for a Hayley Mills vehicle, but it would never occur to me to move the pieces around the way Disney did and still come up with a coherent heist movie.

The Verdict: Even now, from the moment the weary travelers open the shutters and the sparkling water stretches before us, I am a goner for The Moon-Spinners.

Might go well with: Greek food, early Bond films…and possibly earplugs, because that song is going to be stuck in your brain for a while.

Next time: Hack (of some definition) and slash.

There Can Be Only Monday! Talking about Highlander… A Lot, Part 4

Last time: The Kurgan invents an early form of Where’s Waldo?

4. Why would anyone expect this to work: The Musical!

There’s a case to be made for calling this part 3a, because it’s hard to let go of just how silly this plan is. Even setting aside that we’re expecting an entire clan of rough ‘n’ ready Scots to ID one of their bitter enemies’ D-list from a name (or a photo shared through the Google Glass skull helmet, but somehow I have doubts), the middle of a battle is a terrible place to do this. Ballads are written about it, for heaven’s sake.

Admittedly, ballads will also give you the impression that half the soldiers are actually women who disguised themselves to loyally follow the other half, but that’s my point: confusion reigns, and someone as smart as the Kurgan is supposed to be—we’ll talk about that later—should know better.

Heck, here’s a song in which adverse weather conditions cause a guy to mistake his girlfriend for a game bird, no battle needed:

Listen to this, then look at the sky in the battle scene in Highlander and tell me what’s about to happen has any real chance of happening. It’s probably statistically less likely than the existence of immortals.

 

Read the next one: Connor flails and is impaled.

Next time on TCBOM: Finally, stabbing (Kurgan) and weltering (Connor)!

 

Found-Again Friday: the 1980 Goldblum The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

If I’d only known this was available on YouTube, I’d have done this one for Halloween; still, better late than never…

Watch it here!

Why Found-Again? …which might as well be the motto for this particular movie. The last time I saw this, I was a nerdy 12-year-old with a massive crush on The Fly-era Jeff Goldblum. I have a tendency to “collect” movies when an actor comes to my attention, and so I spent my tween years watching (among others)  Into The Night more than any other person who didn’t have family involved in the film. At one point, I could watch Silverado and count down from 10 (Goldblum’s character gets stabbed) to 0 (Goldblum’s character finishes dying … er, spoiler alert?) with consistent accuracy.

If dorkiness ever becomes the most desired trait in a leader, I promise to rule you all with justice and mercy.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was the only time Goldblum was freely and consistently available on network television at the time, and so it held a special place in my warped little heart. Watching it again, I can see why: he looks good.

The Premise: If we all cast our minds back far enough, we can maybe remember a time when this story was about a schoolmaster, a love triangle, and a headless guy who occasionally chased people in the autumn. This version sticks pretty close, with rival Brom Bones (Dick Butkus—you read that right) and love interest Katrina (Meg Foster) joined by a pretty widow who has her sights set on Brom, a community full of believers in ghosts, a previous schoolmaster who may or may not be (un)dead, and an owl who lives in the schoolhouse for no discernible reason*.

Did I mention it’s not even set around Halloween?

By the standards of 1980, this might have been considered a fairly crazy adaptation of the Irving story; in the intervening years, of course,  Tim Burton and Len Wiseman have taken the story out, gotten it loaded on absinthe, and tied tinsel around its naughty bits, so to 2014 eyes this seems like traditional fare.

The Verdict: It’s cheesy and silly, of course, but rather sweet—sort of Jane Austen with ghosts and Dick Butkus and just a touch of Farmer Boy from the Little House books.

Might go well with: mulled cider, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and the SNL Jeopardy! skit with David Duchovny as Jeff Goldblum, because all the mannerisms are already there in this movie.

 

*The owl is supposed to be a reincarnated Native American, which is still no reason to hang around a school full of kids who can’t conjugate worth a damn.

Next time: I continue picking at Highlander, possibly with musical interludes.

 

 

What I Did With My Halloween: Pumpkinhead and Belphegor

I’m writing about the horror movies I watched last Friday in part because they provide an interesting study in contrasts and in part to avoid dwelling on the near-complete lack of trick-or-treaters this year. I’m only half joking when I tell people I save all my extroversion for October 31, and this time it had nowhere to go. (I am filled with the urge to do a loud musical number and then barely speak for a while, like an AU version of Michigan J. Frog who knows the lyrics to “Different Drum.”)

Anyway, on with the show!

Pumpkinhead has all the stereotypical marks of a certain kind of 1980s horror movie: group of psychologically varied young people takes a trip to hillbilly country, does something terrible, and is served with swift vengeance. The movie takes the unusual step, however, of making its characters fairly well developed and realistic—from genre giant Lance Henriksen as a man who loses his son and learns the lessons of revenge the (extremely) hard way to the group of outsiders, whose responses to the titular monster’s onslaught meet with varying degrees of success.

The friend with whom I watched the movie kept saying, “I don’t remember this from the last time,” as the plot unfolded, and I think that’s why Pumpkinhead doesn’t always get the credit it deserves: it’s an elevated slasher, but one that hits its beats so well as a slasher/monster-in-the-woods movie that sometimes that’s all people can remember about it.

Next up was Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre, a 2001 French horror film with Sophie Marceau and Julie Christie (and subtitles, if anyone is averse to such things) in which an ancient Egyptian spirit possesses a young woman in an attempt to cross over to its promised afterlife. I can’t really speak to whether it’s “good,” because frankly, my goodwill as a viewer can be almost completely bought with mummies. This is the second movie with French-speaking mummies that I have enjoyed this year—the other being The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec—and at some point one just has to admit to having a weakness other people don’t have.

The reviews of this I’ve found online haven’t been complimentary, and it is apparently a remake of an earlier film that people also disliked. Perhaps some of this stems from stereotyping, though: most American viewers expect a French film to be artsy, and horror-savvy viewers likely associate French film with Haute Tension and the like. For my part, I fully support the right of any nation to make slightly silly horror fare, and thieving mummy-spirits amok in the Louvre is a lot of fun indeed.

 

Next time: In which I am briefly twelve again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Can Be Only Monday! Talking About Highlander… A Lot, Part 3

We last left off in a battle in 15-something Scotland, where we met the Kurgan and wondered how you hire the Big Bad to fight your little wars.

No matter how you do it, the MacLeods’ enemies have pulled it off. The Kurgan’s price: Connor, whom he names by name.

This seems improbable for several reasons, the biggest of which is the question of how much immortals can sense about each other; the movie’s Wikipedia page implies a lot of leeway here, which would explain several things in the movie, but has the side effect of making Connor look a bit underpowered.

We know from the opening scenes that they can sense each other’s presence, but anything else is uncertain. Later, when Ramirez catches up with Connor, he knows things about him, but so much that it gives the impression Ramirez has been doing some good old-fashioned detective work in addition to any superpowered knowledge. Connor can sense other immortals to the extent that he knows when one’s around…sort of (I understand the scene late in the movie where dude, he’s like twenty yards away from you! We can all see him! may have originally been cut from the US theatrical release and then added back to the version on my DVD), but there’s no suggestion that he’s getting any sort of comprehensive telepathic news wire.

How, then, does the Kurgan get this information? By asking around? About some 18-year-old kid nobody knows from Adam, and who at the beginning of the battle scene it is strongly implied has never really been anywhere? Because nothing says “unobtrusive surveillance” like a large, ferocious barbarian?I can’t even imagine him beating the information out of people for once, because I can’t imagine anyone having the information.

My frivolous fanwank explanation is simplicity itself: early adopter, Google Glass Skull Helmet.

So the whole thing is like a word problem from hell. “A train leaves Chicago, may actually be a stack of pancakes, and crashes off a bridge. How long until the entire opposing army figures out which one is Connor?”

Read the next one: Connor Is Not Well-Known: The Musical!

Next time: It might still be Pumpkinhead.

Next time on TCBOM: More on this, possibly with reference to balladry. Hey, I’m as eager to get to the stabbing as anybody.

 

 

 

Found-Again Friday: the Hart to Hart TV Series

It’s no exaggeration to say that culturally, I was raised on mystery: the first grownup TV show I remember being around was Baretta (which went off the air when I was 4), and by age 8 I had a special dispensation to stay up late for Remington Steele. I whiled away my childhood reading time with Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators and irritated my peers by quoting extensively from The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook, which was the pride of my book collection for an embarrassing length of time.

Why Found-Again? In light of all this, it’s surprising that I’ve only watched Hart to Hart, the husband-and-wife detective series, a few times. The first time was in real time, when I was a little kid and a couple of millionaires might as well run around punching people and solving mysteries as not, so long as they had an adorable dog to keep them company. The second time was in 2008, when it was on the newly developed Hulu site, and it turns out that watching the show at 1 in the morning is a lot like watching it as a child: stove bombs? Why not? Dognapping? Bien sûr! This is my third time.

The Premise: Robert Wagner plays millionaire-with-spare-time Jonathan Hart, who apparently made his fortune on “two transistors and a dream,” if I remember the quote correctly. With his beautiful wife Jennifer (Stefanie Powers), who is nominally an ex-reporter but hardly does anything journalistic in the course of the show, they solve mysteries that usually involve a chase, a corpse, and the realization that yet another person in their social circle is a killer. (The Harts could possibly stand to make different friends.)

Add to the main pair the rough-around-the-edges servant Max (Lionel Stander, whose opening voice-over may be the most memorable thing about the show) and pup Freeway, and what you have is a recipe for some harmless fun.

The Verdict: All this notwithstanding, Hart to Hart is far goofier than I remembered—there is a dog-food mind-control plot in the second season!— and I don’t know if there will be a fourth viewing. Know what you’re getting into if you decide to watch this series.

Might go well with: The Love Boat, pink wines, cheese.

 

Next time: If I’m ambitious, Pumpkinhead for Halloween; if not, well, the tag is called  “Oh Good Lord More Highlander” for a reason.