Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Wolf Man vs Dracula: An Alternate History For Classic Film Monsters

The Wolf Man vs Dracula: An Alternate History For Classic Film Monsters, by Philip J. Riley
No month stated, 2010 BearManor Media

I’ve wanted to read this for a long time. The story on this slim trade paperback is that The Wolf Man vs Dracula is an unproduced script written in 1944 by Universal Studios screenwriter Bernard Schubert, who went on to write the Universal picture The Mummy’s Curse. The script then sat in a box in Schubert’s garage for “forty years” before he and book editor Philip J. Riley got it out. 

The curious thing of course is that Schubert’s name is not printed on the cover of this publication, only Riley’s. Also, Riley has copyrighted the book himself – even though he himself does not contribute anything to it (other than finding the script and talking to the people who worked on it, that is). What I mean to say is, there is no introduction from Riley, or summary of the project, or anything. Indeed this book would have greatly benefitted from a bit more background. As it is, we get a few short introductory pages comprised of the hazy, decades-later memories of two men involved with the aborted project: Schubert (who died in 1988), and special effects man David S Horsley (who died in 1976). 

So in this regard we are presented with the thoughts of men who are no longer around to support the claims. I only note this because apparently Philip J. Riley has come under heavy fire from the Monster Kid community for such stuff: see the Classic Horror Film Board thread on this publication for more on that. The majority of the thread is nothing more than character assassination of Riley, accusing him of everything from plagiarism to theft. To his credit, Riley briefly appears on the thread to defend himself, acknowledging his occasional gaffe (it would appear his greatest “sin” was mixing up the names of a few actresses) and stating that he is merely a fan, publishing material for other fans. 

One of the biggest accusations is that the script for The Wolf Man vs Dracula is shall we say fake, a product of Philip J. Riley’s mind and no one else’s. This is because none of the “major” Universal historians (ie David J. Skal, Gregory Mank, etc) had ever heard of it prior to the publication of this book, and apparently there are no mentions of Schubert’s script in the official Universal records – though some people on that thread I linked to did find a trade announcement from 1944 which confirmed that Bernard Schubert was working on a script of this title. Of course, the answer is that the script sat in Schubert’s garage, and Riley kept the discovery of it to himself. And also, all those accusing Riley of making it up could have saved themselves some trouble and just read the damn book: it is quite evident that this script was written by a Universal screenwriter in the mid 1940s. 

Anyone who has seen the “monster rally” films of the ‘40s, ie Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, House Of Frankenstein, and House Of Dracula, will know one thing: the monsters seldom actually appear in the movies, and when they do it’s brief. And the producers never take advantage of having all these monsters together in one picture; indeed, the monsters will usually have their own separate plots and never come together. Only in the final minutes of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man or the finale of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein do the monsters really interract. Compare to a modern-day approach to the concept, a la Return Of The Wolf Man, in which the monsters share a lot more “screen time” with one another. 

But that ‘40s mindset is front and center in The Wolf Man vs Dracula. I mean first of all, and I apologize for any spoilers, but the title itself is misleading. The “Wolf Man” doesn’t fight Dracula at all in this script! Instead, it’s Larry Talbot, ie the man who is cursed with being a werewolf (Lon Chaney Jr), fighting a giant bat in the climax. There is no scene where the actual Wolf Man fights the actual Dracula. And, true to the underwhelming vibe of the monster rally films (at least insofar as actual monster stuff goes), Talbot is human for the majority of the script, only turning into the Wolf Man at the very beginning and the very end. As for Dracula, he turns into a “giant bat” a bunch of times, but spends the majority of the script trying to get his fangs into some random countryside girl, for reasons never properly explained. 

Here's where more of those accusations come in, because in that hazy-recollections prologue, special effects guy David S. Horsley claims that The Wolf Man vs Dracula was to be shot in technicolor, and that color test photos were taken of Lon Chaney Jr. These photos have never been seen, though Riley intimates in the intro that he has seen them – however they are not reproduced in the book. Also, the historians claim there’s no indication Universal had any plans for a technicolor film in this genre at this time. But Horsley’s claim is backed up by the hazy-recollections of screenwriter Schubert, also in the prologue, who states that he was hired for the job precisely due to his work on a technicolor picture, thus he knew how to cater his script to the increased cost involved with color. 

What this means is that The Wolf Man vs Dracula would look pretty cheap, only taking place in a few locations (re-used sets from previous pictures, as thriftily noted by Schubert in his script) and only featuring a few actors. Oh and I forgot – another claim is that none other than Bela Lugosi would once again play Dracula, playing him for the first time on screen since the 1931 film. Horsley in his recollections says he’s unsure if color photos were taken of Lugosi, but one thing insinuated is that Lugosi was too old at the time for the physical action of a monster fight, thus the necessity of replacing him with a giant bat in the action scenes. This is where Horsley came in, trying to work up a giant mechanical bat to look realistic in technicolor. 

So there’s your buzzkill early in the review: the cover (created by Philip Riley and taken from period illustrations – and in fact I seem to recall a thread once upon a time that he was even accused of ripping this illustration off!) is a total lie. The “Wolf Man” does not fight Dracula. I mean technically he does, but it’s Larry Talbot in his non-wolf form. And he’s fighting a giant bat, not Bela Lugosi in a cape. Interestingly, the actual Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man did indeed fight the actual Bela Lugosi Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, one of the saving graces of what I consider an altogether annoying movie. Also that film established Larry Talbot as a vampire hunter…and curiously the seeds of that idea are planted in this unproduced script. Oh and that’s another thing…throughout the book it is “The Wolfman vs Dracula.” Every Monster Kid worth his salt knows the Universal character is referred to as “The Wolf Man,” ie two words. 

Another thing to handle straightaway is that the intro features a more serious goof, and again it’s “voiced” through the recollections of Schubert, who died many years before this book was even published. Schubert – or Riley speaking for him – states that The Wolf Man vs Dracula “would have been a natural sequel to Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.” Within the first few pages of the script we realize how innacurate this is: The Wolf Man vs Dracula is actually a “natural sequel” to 1944’s House Of Frankenstein. According to that Classic Horror forum I linked to above, Philip Riley apparently acknowledged his mistake in this regard on some social media forum. But goofs like this are no doubt why he is disparaged by the Monster Kid community. 

Anyone with even a passing interest in the Universal monster rally films will recall that Larry Talbot “died” in the finale of House Of Frankenstein after being shot by a silver bullet, fired by a gypsy girl who loved him. This is how Talbot is discovered in the opening of The Wolf Man vs Dracula, lying beside the skeleton of a girl in gypsy clothes. So in other words the script picks up right after the climax of that film…several years later, but still. It sure isn’t a sequel to Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, which ended with Talbot as the Wolf Man being swept away in a flood beneath Frankenstein’s castle while fighting the Monster. 

So here is the plot of The Wolf Man vs Dracula in a nutshell: Larry Talbot is revived, briefly turns into the Wolf Man in the hospital and kills a guy, then escapes into the countryside. When next we encounter Talbot he is back in human form, still in Transylvania, and has, apropos of nothing, hunted down a local man named Anatole. This is because Anatole, we learn, is the town hangman, and somehow Talbot thinks the hangman will be able to kill him. For good. Meanwhile, none other than Count Dracula has designs on Anatole’s “dowdy” young daughter, Yvonne, if not for that pesky crucifix she wears. Talbot marries Yvonne to force her dad to kill him(!?), and Dracula claims he can “help” Talbot die…if only Talbot will get rid of Yvonne’s pesky crucifix! The action climaxes with Talbot fighting Dracula (in giant bat form) and saving Yvonne from the vampire’s clutches. After this Talbot turns into the Wolf Man and runs roughshod over the local gendarmes in Dracula’s castle, finally being gunned down by Anatole. 

In the opening, Schubert implies that his script went unfilmed because Universal had met their picture quota for that year or somesuch. I think another reason might be that his script is subpar. Sure, this is likely his first draft, but as it stands, Schubert’s The Wolf Man vs Dracula is pretty lame (and pretty tame), and it makes even the most maligned monster rally film, House Of Dracula, seem like Citizen Kane in comparison. Maybe an inventive director could have brought some life to the proceedings, or maybe just the novelty of seeing Chaney and Lugosi in color would have sufficed. But the story itself just sucks. (If that’s too lame of a monster rally pun for you, you could instead say it lacks any bite.) 

And I’m judging the script by the merits of its filmed contemporaries, not from a modern-day perspective. I mean the monster rally films weren’t exactly grounded in logic. Look at Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, which detours into nonsense in the middle half: Larry Talbot starts the picture wanting to die, but halfway through he’s suddenly maddened to revive Frankenstein’s Monster. Even considering that, The Wolf Man vs Dracula suffers from illogical plotting. Like most notably, Larry Talbot barges into Anatole the hangman’s home, announces that he is a “murderer” and wants to die…and Anatole is like, “You can stay here for the night! Oh, and this is my daughter, Yvonne!” It’s just ridiculous. 

Even more ridiculous is Dracula’s fixation on Yvonne, which makes no sense. Actually, Dracula’s presence itself makes no sense. He’s not introduced in any grand fashion; literally we are just informed he happens to be sitting in Anatole’s home when Anatole himself is introduced in the script. Dracula’s just dropped in to chat with the town hangman. That’s literally the guy’s big introduction. And also the dialog, later in the script, intimates that there’s some confusion at play…that this Dracula is only a “relative” of the Dracula who caused all that trouble in London some years ago, ie the events of the 1931 film. Of course it’s the same vampire, though none of the locals realize he’s a vampire. 

And why Dracula is obsessed with Yvonne is a mystery. The impression I got was that she must be the only attractive young woman in the area. But the script makes it clear that Yvonne is not attractive…at least in how she presents herself. Only Dracula can see how hotstuff she really is…something we viewers get to see when Talbot marries Yvonne and she suddenly transforms into a mega babe. But then in the actually produced monster rally films, Dracula (as played by John Carradine) was also a bit of a lothario, so I guess the whole Yvonne storyline makes sense in that regard. What I’m trying to say is it’s so unexplored and unexplained…and so humdrum. We’re talking about Count Dracula here. Literally all he does in The Wolf Man vs Dracula is try to get some young Transylvanian girl to remove her crucifix so he can bite her neck. 

Another thing is that Dracula doesn’t even have any good dialog. In fact, the dialog throughout is without note, though Schubert does successfully capture the whining of Larry Talbot. I could see Lon Chaney Jr. delivering all of Talbot’s lines, so Schubert succeeds in capturing his voice; in Schubert’s comments in the intro, he notes that the Wolf Man was screenwriter Curt Siodmak’s “baby,” but again Schubert got this particular writing gig due to his experience writing to technicolor. There are very few speaking roles in the script; it really is almost a situation horror-drama concerning the core characters of Larry Talbot, Count Dracula, Anatole, and Yvonne. A character who briefly appears is “The Commissioner,” and it seems evident that the role was written with Lionel Atwill in mind; by this point in his career a beleaguered Atwill mostly just had supporting roles in Universal horror pictures. The Commissioner only appears in two or three scenes, but his dialog has a very Atwillian bent. 

Monster action is almost nonexistent. Early in the film Talbot turns into the Wolf Man; given that he’s in the hospital when this happens, the scene comes off like a retread of a sequence in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. After this Talbot doesn’t transform again until the finale, when he again becomes the Wolf Man after fighting Dracula(!!). Schubert does present a little more “Wolf Man carnage” than was seen in the other films of the day; the Wolf Man tears into several gendarmes in the finale before being brought down, yet again, by a silver bullet. Schubert not only recycles sets in his script but scenes as well. Throughout The Wolf Man vs Dracula Talbot pushes Anatole to make a silver bullet to kill him with…which again is more illogical stupidty because Talbot goes to Anatole because Anatole is a hangman! Why the hell would he suddenly expect him to craft a silver bullet? But anyway Talbot as the Wolf Man meets the exact same end as in House Of Frankenstein, gunned down by a silver bullet. 

Other monster action: Dracula transforms into a giant bat a few times, flying back to his castle. There’s also a part where he turns himself into a wolf and attacks some townspeople, trying to frame Talbot. Now a curious thing here is that Dracula, like everyone else in the script, tells Larry Talbot he’s crazy to think he’s a werewolf, because werewolves don’t exist. I thought this would go somewhere, like Dracula of course knowing there are werewolves and looking to turn the Wolf Man into his vassal. Like for example in the contemporary Bela Lugosi flick Return Of The Vampire. But Schubert does nothing with the setup. About the most we get is a part where Talbot ventures into Dracula’s castle and discovers some monster lore in Dracula’s library; in an uninentionally humorous scene, Talbot spends all night reading the books, suddenly becoming an expert on vampires! In fact it is Talbot who keeps insisting to Anatole and Yvonne that Count Dracula is a vampire. This means that Talbot spends the majority of the script trying to convince people that monsters exist: that he himself is a werewolf and Dracula is a vampire. 

But it’s the biggest miss that the Wolf Man and Dracula never actually meet, at least in their monster forms. Talbot heads into Dracula’s castle in the final scene, battling the giant bat and staking it – another special effects shot which would see Dracula dissolve into dust. But it is an ignoble end for Dracula for sure. Even Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein realized the value of having the actual monsters fight one another. My assumption is Schubert was writing under the notion that Lugosi would be physically unable to handle an action scene, but this too is odd because Lugosi, as the Frankenstein Monster, battled Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, released just the year before. Who knows. The long and short of it is that it’s underwhelming, not to mention a letdown given the title of the script. 

So in conclusion, it is not to the loss of the Universal horror franchise that The Wolf Man vs Dracula never came to be. The titular characters come off poorly and the story hinges on one illogical development after another. I wonder though if the script made the rounds in the Universal screenwriter department. Curiously, Larry Talbot is suddenly alive and well in 1945’s House Of Dracula, which turned out to be the actual film that followed House Of Frankenstein. As mentioned, that earlier film ended with Talbot “dead” from a silver bullet. He’s alive again with no explanation in House Of Dracula. Almost makes one wonder if someone goofed and thought Talbot had been reborn as in Schubert’s script. But that doesn’t pan out, for as mentioned Talbot meets the same end in The Wolf Man vs Dracula as he did in House Of Frankenstein.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Kane’s War #7: Killer Cruise

Kane's War #7: Killer Cruise, by Nick Stone
March, 1988  Ivy/Ballantine Books

The final volume of Kane’s War is notable for one thing: the friggin’ perm Kane now sports on the cover. I mean check that shit out! I remember my brother got a perm in 1985, when he was 17. I was 10 at the time and even at that young of an age I knew it was a bad idea. So by 1988 perms must have really been out of fashion. Anyway, Kane’s perm wasn’t enough to save the series, as with this installment Kane’s War came to an end. 

I never did find out who served as “Nick Stone” on this series, but I stick with my theory that it was (at least) two writers who traded off on volumes. To wit, some installments of Kane’s War are 350-page doorstops of dense prose, sticking to realistic plots, with most of the sexual material occurring off-page. Other volumes are also around 350 pages, but with big print, plots that get a little more fanciful, and often quite graphic sexual material. Initially Killer Cruise seems to be one of the latter; it’s 348 pages but sports very big print, and in the first pages we’re reading all about Michelle’s Mullraney’s jigglin’ “thirty-eights” as Ben Kane checks her out. 

Michelle is a recurring character in the series, one of Kane’s two bedmates, the other being prissy British socialite Jessica. A developing thread in the series is that the two women are aware of one another; there’s some genuinely funny dialog here as Michelle makes fun of Jessica to Kane – and how Jessica throws herself at Kane. (Also as an FYI, Jessica does not appear in this volume, so her final appearance in the series must’ve been in the previous volume – which I don’t have.) But when Kane and Michelle get around to their inevitable tomfoolery, the author cuts to the next scene. The same will hold true for the few other sex scenes in Killer Cruise. This is very much at odds with the sleazy a-doings of the “Nick Stone” who did the big-print volumes, a la #5: Depth Charge, which was filled with graphic banging. So could there have been a third writer on the series? 

Speaking of “banging,” that word is used here as a sexual euphimism; I know it was well in use by the ‘80s but wanted to note it for any armchair etymologists. We get a lot of exploitative detail on Michelle’s ample charms (not a complaint), but when it gets down to the “banging” it’s all off-page. But as mentioned the author gets trashy in the dialog, at least, with Michelle mocking rich-bitch Jessica, pretending to call for her butler to “perfume my muff.” This sort of aggressive rivalry between the two women is new to the series…in fact I don’t believe Michelle or Jessica have ever been together in the series, but I could be wrong. Or maybe it happened in one of the volumes I don’t have. 

Another thing new to the series – which also makes me suspect a new author worked on this one – is the sudden focus on Cord Weaver. Kane’s former CIA contact in ‘Nam and current annoyance here in the Caribbean, Weaver has appeared in every volume. But always as a peripheral character; here he’s almost a supporting character, with several scenes focusing on him. In other words, it’s like he’s an integral part of Kane’s War now, whereas previously he was just a foil of Kane’s. We also learn that he’s relatively good-looking, and Michelle taunts Kane about him – Michelle does a lot of taunting in the book, coming off as a more vibrant character than in previous volumes. Perhaps more indication this one was written by someone new to the series. 

As usual though, Weaver is the one who brings Kane into the latest situation. The US and Cuba are looking to trade some prisoners, as a sign of thawing relations, but the USSR is not happy with the prospect. So Weaver asks Kane to consider transporting the US prisoners to the exchange point and provide necessary security. Clearly this isn’t enough plot for a 348-page book, so at the same time, in a completely unrelated plot, we learn that there’s a new cruise ship about to hit the scene, with a hotstuff Puerto Rican babe named Chita Vargas acting as the PR rep for it or somesuch. That’s her on the cover; the uncredited artist got some good direction, as Chita even sports an Uzi at one point. Ultimately the plot of Killer Cruise will be more concerned with Chita and her cruise ship, as terrorists hijack the ship while Kane is aboard, leading to a sort of nautical-themed Die Hard

It takes a long time for this to happen, though; to be exact, the hijacking doesn’t occur until page 123. Before that Killer Cruise is page-filling of the most egregious sort, going for more of a “happenings at the marina” vibe than any previous volume. And also Kane comes off as a bit of a lothario; as soon as he sees Chita he starts hitting on her hard. “I’ll charm your ass off,” he promises her, but Chita is initially frosty. Of course she ends up giving him the goods, but once again it happens off page. Curiously though Kane falls hard for Chita – at least for the convenience of the plot. When the hijacking occurs on Chita’s ship, Kane puts himself and his erstwhile companions (who can forget Ganja? And, uh, the others?) in danger, desperate to save her. Hilariously enough, though, Chita is barely an afterthought in the finale and Kane’s back with Michelle. 

The author tries to meld the two plots; the cruise ship hijacking is ostensibly by a group of Puerto Rican rebels, but the Cubans might be behind it so as to foil that prisoner exchange which is supposed to be the main plot. But it’s this nautical Die Hard that takes up the brunt of the novel’s action, with Kane and his pals going aboard the ship disguised as an emergency crew to evac the wounded. This entails Ganja carrying a stretcher with a “stretcher tube,” which apparently is a LAW rocket or somesuch. He blows up several people real good, and the main bit of gore in Killer Cruise is copious description of the blasted-up body parts on the ship. Indeed, Chita (who has come along for contrived reasons) pukes her guts out at the carnage. 

Once the hijacking is cleared up, it’s as if the author realizes, “Oh shit, this novel’s supposed to be about a prisoner exchange!” So off Kane and his pals go in Kane’s new boat, and we get a lot of stuff about this boat as they speed along and get in chases with rivals who are trying to foil the exchange. But after the cruise ship action it seems underwhelming. In fact, “underwhelming” is a fair assessment of Killer Cruise. As mentioned the author even forgets about poor Chita, who seemed to be “the one” for Kane; by novel’s end he affords her nary a thought and is looking forward to more time with Michelle’s “thirty-eights.” And honestly, who could blame him. 

And folks that was it for Kane’s War. Overall I found the series pretty tepid, with the novels too long for their own good. Yet at the same time there was a good attempt at melding marina mystery with men’s adventure – I mean the series was certainly better than an earlier attempt at this: Killinger.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Texas 27 Film Vault

I only recently discovered this show, which ran on Saturday nights from 1985 to 1987 on Channel 27 in Dallas. Unfortunately not much of the show survives, but there are some clips on Youtube (like this one above), and I’ll link to them in the post. 

So basically The Texas 27 Film Vault was a locally-produced “horror host” program, more notable than most because it was a precursor to MST3K with its sarcastic vibe and its elaborate host segments. Obviously The Texas 27 Film Vault never achieved the fame of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it did at least precede it; the show was already off the air before Joel Hodgson and crew began MST3K on Minneapolis public access in 1988. 

While the vibe might be the same, what elevated MST3K from the other horror host shows was that Joel and the Bots inserted themselves into the films, riffing on them; other horror hosts had done similar things in the past, but usually for just a random joke. None of them had done anything on the level of MST3K. The Film Vault is only similar in its high-concept setup; whereas Joel, per his show’s story, is a janitor who is sent to a satellite to watch “cheesy movies” with a pair of robots and riff on them (all for science, of course), in The Film Vault we have a pair of hosts who live in a massive vault beneath Dallas and whose job it is to protect cheesy movies.

But here’s the thing. I discovered MST3K around the summer of 1991; I was flipping channels one Saturday afternoon and came upon what I thought was a rerun of Dynaman, a show that had played on the TBS (or was it TNT?) show Night Flight some years before. Dynaman was a redubbed Power Rangers-type show from Japan, the dubbers – some of whom were from The Kids In The Hall, I seem to remember – giving the shows surreal/goofy plotlines. But in reality what I’d stumbled upon that Saturday afternoon was the MST3K episode Time Of The Apes…yet another Japanese production, but this one a Planet Of The Apes ripoff. And the comedians weren’t dubbing it – they were appearing in silhouette in the lower right corner of the screen and making fun of it. 

Needles to say, I became a fan…and even though I have tons of MST3K DVDs and episodes recorded on tape from back in the day, I still haven’t seen every episode. And most importantly…to this day I have never watched one of the host segments. I always skip right through them (and when the show was “live” on TV I’d surf other channels). The Joel years, the Mike years, it makes no difference. I find the host segments on MST3K irritating and unfunny, and I just want to watch the movie riffing. 

It’s the complete opposite scenario with the The Texas 27 Film Vault. In this case, I want to see the host segments and I’m not that interested in the featured films. This is because, instead of going for the goofy vibe of the MST3K host segments, the Film Vault crew went for more of a surreal, action and horror-themed setup, with the hosts blasting machine guns at giant rats and stop-motion dinosaur things. The special effects were very impressive for a locally-produced show in the mid-‘80s…indeed, the host segments in The Film Vault look even better than the professional productions MST3K featured in its latter Sci Fi channel years. 

This comes down to the show’s special effects guy, Joe Riley. When I saw his name upon discovering The Texas 27 Film Vault it really took me back – when I moved to Dallas in 1996, public access was still a thing. I soon discovered a show called The Hypnotic Eye, in which a one-eyed puppet hosted a gonzo program of Japanese monster movies, old commercials, random features on local areas of interest, and etc. The show was created, produced, hosted, and everything else, by someone named Joe Riley. Now at the time I briefly got involved with Dallas Public Access courtesy a friend named Taylor Hayden, who did his own show on there: Voodoo Plastic Arm. This show was nothing like The Hypnotic Eye, just Taylor and a random selection of local wanna-be actors doing skits (or “sketches,” as Taylor insisted on calling them). There was no theme to the show, but sometimes the skits got surreal. 

However, Joe Riley himself was a fan of Taylor’s show, and indeed snippets of Voodoo Plastic Arm can occasionally be seen on The Hypnotic Eye (for example the sixth episode; that’s Taylor at the 2:36 mark). I recall Taylor told me that he never actually met Joe Riley; Riley contacted Taylor via the Dallas Public Access community board and asked for Taylor’s permission to include some Voodoo Plastic Arm bits in his show…and of course Taylor said sure. 

Actually now that I think of it, both Taylor and I did briefly meet Joe Riley. It was at the Crystal Awards in the summer of 2000…the Crystal Awards being for Dallas Public Access. I think both Taylor’s and Joe Riley’s shows were up for “Best,” and of course The Hypnotic Eye won. I was only there because I’d written a few “sketches” for Taylor’s show…none of the ones featured in The Hypnotic Eye, though (my one chance at fame, blown!). As I recall there was a big group there with Joe Riley…in fact he might have been wearing a costume, I can’t really remember. I know I have the event on VHS somewhere. 

Well anyway I went into this digression because Joe Riley’s work is key to the high-dollar look of The Texas 27 Film Vault; there’s some cool stuff in the video above, from miniature work (including a Ray Harryhausen-type monster and a guy flying across the massive vault in a jetpack helicopter) to submachine guns that blast real fire. What makes this all the more impressive is that Riley was only 22 or 23 years old at the time, but he was capable of all these effects. Also key to the look is the set design of Ken Miller, who apparently killed himself in 1988. And speaking of which, Joe Riley himself came to a too-soon end; he died in 2007, still living here in Dallas, and he was only in his early 40s. 

Pretty much all I know about The Texas 27 Film Vault I learned from Balladeer’s Blog. Proprietor Balladeer has done a huge amount of research on the show, and even interviewed co-host Randy Clower, who per the credits wrote and directed most episodes, if not all of them.  Also the credits of the show are a lot of fun, poking fun at the people involved.

Speaking of Randy Clower, he appears to be the “RooMan296” who has created a Youtube Playlist with selected clips from The Texas 27 Film Vault, including a full episode of the show. I haven’t watched all of the uploads on the playlist yet, but one that deserves mention is the 1st Rat Attack clip, which is a compilation of host segments from two episodes in which hosts Randy and Richard, as well as the other “technicians” in the vault, go up against invading rats in a storyline that predates Aliens. But talk about super-random: a little halfway through the clip, sci-fi author John Steakley shows up, sporting a copy of his novel Armor. That paperback was ubiquitous in the ‘80s; as a sci-fi geek kid I recall seeing it everywhere, though I never read the book. 

That’s another thing that separates The Texas 27 Film Vault from Mystery Science Theater 3000: it has a bigger cast. Not only that, but there’s some definite “eye candy” in the Film Vault; with pretty women often posing as egregiously as possible in the background (not that I’m complaining). Some of the humor is also more risque than MST3K; as I say, it was certainly a more “adult” or at least “mature” show, and it easily could have become huge if it had been picked up for syndication or gotten onto cable. But if it had, it’s interesting to wonder if MST3K would’ve ever happened. 

Well anyway, this is a somewhat random post, but given the Halloween season I thought it might be a bit topical. Here’s hoping more footage is found and put up on Youtube – I think the show’s pretty great, and plus it’s a nice reminder of the lost art of original programming on local television. (Me personally, I grew up with Count Gore Vidal/Captain 20 out of Washington, DC.)

Thursday, November 10, 2022


Shade, by David Darke
May, 1994  Zebra Books

Yet another horror paperback I picked up some years ago but never read, Shade is a (sort of) latter-day Zebra PBO that is copyright Ron Dee. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Anne Rice herself was a vampire, this might be the book for you. The only problem is, Dee is a pretty clunky author, with a tendency for confusing sentences and vague description. That said, the novel is filled with depraved, graphic sex, so there’s that! 

Not sure why Dee even bothered with his “David Darke” pseudonym, as his name’s stated on the copyright page, and he also craftily mentions his own novels in Shade. But it looks like he was pretty prolific under either name, however this is the only of his novels I have (I think). He certainly tries to bring to life the world of sci-fi and horror conventions, but I’m assuming there must be some tongue-in-cheekery at play because, in Dee’s world, only total losers read horror novels, particularly vampire novels…and all of them dream of being vampires themselves. This I found so puzzling that I immediately had a disconnect with Shade; I mean vampires are cool in novels, but I’ve never read say Salem’s Lot and thought to myself – “Hey, I wish I was a vampire!” 

Dee calls this subset of horror readers “convamps,” ie vampire novel enthusiasts who congregate at horror conventions and pretend to be vampires themselves. Only, in the case of this novel they’ve been killing themselves at the conventions…all so as to become real vampires…all at the inspiration of the wildly popular horror novels of Scarlett Shade. The Anne Rice analog of the novel, Scarlett Shade – we learn on the first page, not to mention on the back cover – is herself secretly a vampire. What’s more, one that uses her vast network of fans for her own personal blood supply. Dee doesn’t waste any time bringing us into this sordid tale; literally the first 50 or so pages are comprised of various one-off characters having sex in fairly graphic fashion and killing each other in the process. 

And it’s so weird as to be jarring, because as mentioned Dee’s powers of description often fail him and the reader (at least this one) often has to re-read sections to figure out what the hell is going on. For example, the book opens with a convamp guy dressing up as Count Downe for a convention, the vampire protagonist of Scarlett Shade’s famous series of novels. Then a hotstuff gal comes over, the spitting image of Countess Showery, the female vampire co-protagonist of the Shade novels, and this dude can’t believe his luck. Then “Countess Showery” turns out to be his buddy, dressed in drag for the convention…and after a chuckle the two dudes look in the mirror, see themselves as the “real” Count Downe and Countess Showery…and start having sex! “He slipped inside her hot, tight hole,” and etc. Uh, okay… 

Dee is just getting started with the depravity. I mean Shade is kind of wonderful in how grimy it is. We get another one-off character, this one an unhappily married woman whose husband forces her to suck him off every night(!), and she too imagines herself as Countess Showery, also seeing herself as the “real” vampire-babe in the mirror. “Suck me, please,” instructs her husband, and next thing you know the unhappy housewife is imagining she has fangs and then she’s, uh…biting it off… 

Even crazier is an ensuing sequence in which a wanna be reporter named Teresa, who used to be a stripper (and who had casual sapphic flings with other strippers), gets the coup of interviewing Scarlett Shade herself. A hotbod beauty with long red hair, Shade has been reclusive for the past three years; we’re informed she went out of the public view once so many of her fans began committing suicide. Also, Shade herself supposedly has sapphic tendencies…so Teresa starts unbuttoning her top during the interview to show off her cleavage. This leads to a full-on lesbian sequence between the two, one which of course has an unhappy end for poor Teresa – Scarlett Shade has gleefully admitted to Teresa that she is a vampire, and cannot let the truth out. 

Our heroes, such as they are, turn out to be a pair of casual lovers named Phil and Connie. Folks these two were about enough to make me toss the book. A pair of more self-centered individuals you will rarely meet in fiction. Phil, who runs a genre-themed bookstore in Oklahoma, was witness to all sorts of horrors as a child in Czhechoslovakia, and lately he’s been having nightmares and headaches about it. Phil suffers from a lot of nightmares and headaches in Shade, to the extent that he starts to come off like a Southern Belle suffering the vapors. I mean this dude is pure prima donna in the book, just as annoying as shit. 

But Connie’s even worse. She makes jewelry, but also works at a WaldenBooks (remember those??), and she’s just gotten divorced (as has Phil) and she’s had casual sex with Phil, but she’s not sure…she kinda likes good-looking but going-nowhere wanna-be writer Gary. Connie’s had a few abortions in the past (Phil asks her exactly how many at one point and Connie throws a fit!!), and Dee ultimately uses this to reinforce the theme of Connie’s self-centeredness, that she actually “killed the life” that was growing in her (dangerous ground for a writer to tread upon in today’s world!). Oh and when we meet her, Connie’s dining at the Y with her galpal Vicki…the latter’s been pushing for a little lesbian action for quite a while. I mean seriously, there’s a lot of dining at the Y in Shade

So anyway, long story short – all these people, we soon learn, are victims of Scarlett Shade. Like Phil, for example. He briefly met the famous author at some convention, and now Phil’s having all those flashbacks and nightmares, and plus he’s got these bite-like wounds on him that only show up in the mirror. This I thought was the one novel element of Shade, though it takes forever for the reader to figure out what’s going on: Scarlett Shade uses mirrors in her vampiric pursuits, flitting in and out of them like a ghost and emerging into the lives of her victims. This is why all those one-off characters were seeing themselves as Shade’s characters in the mirror in the opening of the novel, it was Shade possessing them. 

Dee stuffs Shade with a lot of in-jokery. He mentions a few “out of print books by Ron Dee” at a horror convention, and genre personalities like Tim Powers and Edward Bryant are mentioned. Dee also namedrops several real-world horror novels in Shade. However he does not really bring to life the novels of Scarlett Shade, and why exactly they’d be so wildly popular is not very clear…cause they sound lame as hell. Actually we don’t know much about them, other than that there are several of them and they seem to occur in the past, with castles and whatnot. They’ve got titles like “Vampire Bordello” and stuff like that, and they’re billed as “erotic horror.” We do get the first chapter of one of the books, printed in almost unreadable italics, and it’s all so goofy that it has to be more in-jokery on Dee’s part. 

One of the highlights of Shade is the subplot concerning Teresa, the aforementioned reporter who has sex with Shade. So as it turns out, when Scarlett Shade terminally sucks someone’s blood, the victim wakes up in their coffin…and will be stuck there for eternity unless they can use their dwindling power to project themselves as a corporal being aboveground and suck a victim’s blood. Teresa is one of the few Shade victims who figures this out, and the most fun part of the book concerns her gradual aims for revenge. She also figures out how Shade uses mirrors. But even here Dee can’t refrain from the goofiness, with Teresa projecting herself in clothing similar to a TV reporter she loved as a kid: Kolchak the Night Stalker! 

Indeed, Teresa is so fun that it only makes you hate loser Phil and self-centered Connie even more. Gradually they too figure out what’s going on (that is, once Phil’s bothered to get out of bed), but it takes too many of the book’s 348 pages for that to happen. (Though true to Zebra tradition, those 348 pages are some big ol’ print.) The problem is, they’re not just self-involved but also stupid. Denial seems to be a trope of the horror genre (ie “There’s no such thing as vampires!” and such), and boy does Dee drive this trope into the ground. Despite their increasing torpor, strange wounds that only appear in mirrors, and increasing taste for blood, these two morons still refuse to believe that Scarlett Shade is really a vampire. 

It's hard to say which of the two is the more annoying. When he isn’t passing out or popping aspirin, Phil acts like a petulant child. Connie meanwhile ignores all mounting evidence that vampires exist, fully buying the story that these “convamps” are committing suicide…even though their bodies are drained of blood. Even when casual bedmate Gary “kills himself,” right after meeting Scarlett Shade, Connie still doesn’t put two and two together. Only after she’s had yet another dining at the Y session with her galpal Vicki does Connie realize something is going on…because Vicki loses control of herself and starts biting Connie “down there.” I say, there are some squirm-inducing parts in Shade. However it isn’t too outrageous, because Dee’s tongue is clearly in cheek throughout: 

Or even:

Dee has a much better plot with Teresa putting together an army of the undead to take on Scarlett Shade, but instead he puts more focus on Phil and Connie. Teresa is by far the more interesting character here; her discovery of how Shade uses mirrors trumps anything Phil and Connie manage to do. Unfortunately it’s Phil and Connie’s bumbling that makes up the lame climax; even in the finale Phil manages to pass out. But then the entire novel is preposterous, and it’s to Dee’s credit that he doesn’t try to make things “seriously.” In sum Shade is a sordid horror novel positively filled with kinky sex, only undone by its unlikable characters and Dee’s sometimes-confusing prose. 

Since finishing Shade I’ve started reading another horror novel I picked up years ago, one that turns out to have a very similar plot: Warren Netwon Beath’s Bloodletter, also from 1994. It too deals with the author of a wildly successful series of vampire novels who himself might be a vampire. However it’s vastly superior to Shade.

Monday, November 7, 2022

New Book Listed At Tocsin Press

FYI a new book’s been listed at Tocsin Press – The Triggerman: Brains For Brunch, by one Bruno Scarpetta. Fans of The Sharpshooter will revel in this action and sex-packed tale in which The Triggerman, Johnny LaRock, blasts his way through 1970s New York in his never-ending quest to shed Mafia blood. 

Curiously, “The Triggerman” was the name of the pseudo-Sharpshooter in Len Levinson’s The Last Buffoon. Even more curiously, Len’s Triggerman character was named Johnny Ripelli, and we’re informed in Brains For Brunch that Johnny LaRock’s real name is…Johnny Ripelli. Very curious indeed! 

(Just to clarify, Brains For Brunch was not written by Len Levinson!!) 

So if you like The SharpshooterThe Marksman, or even Bronson: Blind Rage, I think you’ll really dig The Triggerman: Brains For Brunch

And let’s not forget the other books currently available at Tocsin Press… 

The Undertaker #1: Death Transition, one of the best books I read this year – and with its funeral parlor shenanigans, the perfect post-Halloween reading. 

The Undertaker #2: Black Lives Murder, which was another of the best books I read this year – I mean if you get the first one you should get this one, too! 

The most sleazy and grimy book at Tocsin (so far!), Super Cop Joe Blitz: The Psycho Killers is also great Halloween-time reading, what with its rapist-freak zombies… 

And hey, if you like thigh-boot wearing Nazi She-Devil vixens, and you like John Eagle Expeditor, then you’ll certainly enjoy John Falcon Infiltrator: The Hollow Earth

And like the old Pinnacle house ads said, there’s more to come…