Invasion of the Killer B-movie Robot Monster from Mars

It CameB-movies meet P.G. Wodehouse in the 2014 graphic novel It Came!, ‘directed’ by Dan Boultwood. Boultwood previously illustrated a series of graphic novels about The Baker Street Irregulars which were written by Tony Lee, who has also written for IDW’s Doctor Who Comics.

Before the main ‘feature’ there are a number of 1950’s style advertisements. For example, the top of one page sports an illustration of an attractive, stylish woman declaring, “I like my men like I like my bacon: Smokey.” At the bottom of the page: “Smoke & Choke’um Cigarettes: For that discerning odour.”

Just before the ‘feature attraction’ begins there is a ‘trailer’ for another ‘feature’ (and possible future comic, according to interviews with the author): The Lost Valley of the LostLost Valley features the two stars of It Came!, Dick Claymore and Fanny Flaunders, as well as Cecil Herringbone and Sir Rutherford P. Basingstoke as Caveman. The trailer features views of canyons with our heroine, played by the lovely Fanny Flaunders, in perilous situations: being attacked by a snake, a plant and a spanner. The trailer’s climax sees the heroes being confronted by a rather cuddly dinosaur.

On to our ‘feature’, It Came!, presented in Eyeball-O-Rama-Vision! A colorful poster-style page depicting a giant robot clutching a beautiful woman proclaims, “Something is coming round for afternoon tea…and it isn’t the vicar!” Then our story begins. In 1950’s England an old farmer drives his tractor under the stars. Suddenly, a robot monster attacks!

Two days pass and Dr. Boy Brett, dashing pipe-smoking British scientist, and his lovely assistant Doris Night are motoring down a country road in what appears to be a Morris Minor. Brett is very English, with rather Wodehousian speech patterns. For example, complimenting Doris, Brett says, “You know, Doris? For a girl, you’re a good egg!”

Doris and Dr. Brett stop at a pub in a quaint country village. The village is deserted. Our heroes are chased by an alien robot. They escape to the next quaint village, which is inhabited by people who appear to be living in the 1940’s. Dr. Brett makes a very British phone call to Colonel Willie Warwick Wilberton of the British army, who sends out some troops in exchange for two pints and a pork pie.

And that’s just the first quarter of the book!

Earth vs Flying Boultwood is inspired by American B-movies of the 1950’s, the type one might see on Mystery Science Theater 3000, such as Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and Attack of the Crab Monsters. However, It Came! is more of an homage than a send-up. Boultwood has lots of fun with the genre (for example, when the flying saucer is revealed there is a string attached!), but the fun is never cruel.

It Came! has everything: beautiful women, flying saucers, soldiers, politicians with really big pipes, explosions, tea and crumpets, and, of course, science! It’s enjoyable, funny reading and I highly recommend it.

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 2

In Part 1 of Adventures in Time and Space we looked at the history of that epic TV show, Doctor Who. In part 2 we will examine some of the books written about this pop culture juggernaut.

Hundreds of official and unofficial books exploring the show’s history and mythology are available. Here are a few of my favorites that are available at Everett Public Library.

Visual dictionaryDoctor Who: The Visual Dictionary is a large, glossy, colorful, official guide to the first four seasons of the revived series. The book is published by Dorling Kindersley (DK), who is known for their oversize illustrated books on hundreds of topics such as Ancient Egypt, Forensic Science, Marvel Super Heroes and Star Wars. The books often have top-to-bottom and head-to-toe illustrations of their subjects, with detailed descriptions of the function of the various parts. So as one might expect, the Doctor, as well as foes such as the Cybermen, the Daleks, and the Sontarans are pictured from top-to-bottom with descriptions of the functions of uniforms, casings, and weaponry. There are also cross-sections of a few items from the Doctor Who universe such as the inner workings of the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, the Dalek Mothership, and a look inside a Dalek.

Lives and timesAnother slightly smaller but thicker official volume is Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times. Each chapter in the book tells the story of one of the 11 incarnations of the Doctor, first from a fictional point-of-view using diaries, memoirs, letters, and newspaper clippings written in the world of Doctor Who, and second from a real-life, behind-the-scenes point of view with quotes from each actor who plays the Doctor, co-stars, production team members and others connected to the program. For example, Harry Melling, who played Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin Dudley, is quoted about his grandfather Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, and the ‘wackiness’ and ‘boldness’ of Troughton’s acting. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is also quoted in the chapter on the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, in reference to Douglas Adams and the humor he injected into Doctor Who. Adams was the script editor on Doctor Who during the show’s 17th Season in 1979, just as his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was growing in popularity. Dawkins met ex-Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward (who was briefly married to Tom Baker in the early 1980s) at a party given by Douglas Adams: they were married in 1992. Dawkins also made a very brief appearance, being interviewed as himself on a news program, in the 2008 Doctor Who episode The Stolen Earth.

The VaultThe book that has captured my attention recently is the brilliant Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn. It’s a year by year celebration of the 50 years of Doctor Who and one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who books I’ve read. Right away the reader sees something that, as far as I know, has never been published before: a ¼ scale floor plan of studio D of the BBC’s Lime Grove studios, from the archive of Doctor Who’s first director, Waris Hussein. The floor plan shows the studio as it was laid out for the very first Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child. Doctor Who was taped in the cramped Lime Grove facility for most of its first season between 1963 and 1964 and most of seasons five and six between 1967 and 1969. Each chapter starts with a summary of a year in the history of Doctor Who, followed by a topic relevant to that year such as the creation of Doctor Who, the role of the assistant, the concept of regeneration, violence in Doctor Who, Doctor Who fandom, the marketing of Doctor Who in the USA and so on. The book is illustrated with photos, artwork, production drawings, office memos, merchandise, costumes and props from the show and more. Doctor Who: The Vault is an impressive, beautiful, colorful book. It is a fitting celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who.

And still, this barely scratches the surface of what’s available. If you’re interested, take a look in the EPL catalog to find more material on Doctor Who. The catalog might appear small, but it’s bigger on the inside than you might think.

Watching the (Flawed) Detectives

Some viewers like their television detectives to be close to infallible: Perhaps a dashing Sherlock Holmes, in all his variants, or a fastidious Hercule Poiroit who can stride into a room and suss out the killer by using only a few cigarette butts and a train timetable. I’ll admit that there is a definite fascination in watching a well-oiled intellect spring into action and I’ve enjoyed series with a super sleuth at the center, but in the end I find these characters a bit off-putting. Maybe I’m intimidated by their ability to figure things out so much better than me (admittedly not a major accomplishment). Ultimately, though, I think it is their ‘small details are everything’ attitude to fictional crime detection that tends to irk me. This approach suggests a world that is well-ordered and rational. Evidence points to the contrary I’m afraid.

Instead, I tend to prefer a television detective who views the world with a more jaundiced eye. In the world they inhabit, solutions are hard to find and justice can be elusive. Also a world-weary attitude and a tortured past are a plus. Luckily, there are plenty of shows with characters that share these attributes. Here are a few television series I’ve come across that just might be of interest if you also have a weakness for flawed detectives.

Broadchurch
broadchurchDetective Inspector Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) has plenty of issues. Reassigned to the small town of Broadchurch, after a high-profile botched investigation for which he was blamed, he not only takes the job promised to Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) but is also dealing with an illness that he has to keep hidden in order to maintain his position. Things go from bad to worse when a boy’s corpse is found on the beach and he has to find the killer in this tight-knit, and closed mouthed, community. This entire series revolves around the one investigation, which allows for a lot of complex character development of not just the inspector but all of those involved.

Vera
veraSet in the gorgeous, yet a tad desolate, North East of England this series centers around DCI Vera Stanhope (played by Brenda Blethyn). While Vera is in comfortable middle age, you would be making a grave mistake to consider her the motherly type. With a fondness for living alone, alcohol, and self-destructive behavior, she could most kindly be called a curmudgeon. She is a master at using others’ false perceptions of her age and status when it comes to interrogations however. Another nice twist in this series is having her second in command be a youthful family man, Joe Ashworth (played by David Leon), who tries to offer up some opposing viewpoints. Good luck with that.

Wallander
wallanderThere are several television adaptations that feature this famous Swedish detective, but in the BBC production Kenneth Branagh plays the role in a subdued and humane way. Each episode would not be out of place in an Ingmar Bergman film, with the silences and landscape shots adding to the sense of existential ennui. While Wallander does try to rise above it all, most of the time it feels like an exercise in seeing how much emotional damage a character can take and still remain standing. If you are up for it, it is great stuff. The relationship he has with his father, played by David Warner, a painter who is slowly succumbing to dementia is particularly strong.

Justified
JustifiedDue to some rather unorthodox ideas concerning the proper use of lethal force, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) finds himself transferred from Miami to rural Eastern Kentucky where he was raised. While Raylan at first resembles a classic American lawman, his character and those around him become more complex with the show evolving into a character study of the people in hardscrabble Harlan County, with story arcs lasting a season or more. Raylan himself has plenty of skeletons in his closet including his relationships with his estranged father, his  former ‘friend’ Boyd Crowder, and his ex-wife among many others. The writing is a standout as well with rapid fire banter and a fun sense of false civility.

So if you don’t mind your fictional crimes investigated by detectives that are a bit dysfunctional, definitely check out a series or two. Just don’t expect the perpetrator to be Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick.

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 1

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1985, back when budgets were low and one had to stay up until 1am (or later) on Saturday night to get a weekly Doctor Who fix. The character of the Doctor appealed to me, generally using his wits rather than weapons to defeat his foes.

general Dr Who picWhat or who is Doctor Who? It’s a British science fiction TV serial that first aired on November 23, 1963. The ‘Who’ in the title refers to the mystery surrounding the main character, known only as The Doctor, his real name never being revealed.

The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. His people mastered the mystery of time travel but chose to observe rather than interfere in the lives of other people and planets. The Doctor, however, as he put it in the 1969 story The War Games, ‘got bored’. So he left his planet in a stolen time machine called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), became a self-imposed exile, and travelled time and space fighting injustice in the Universe.

The Doctor has the ability to regenerate, to die and be reborn, and with each regeneration his appearance changes. This allows different actors to play the role. So, every three years or so, one actor leaves the show and another takes over, which accounts for the program’s longevity. Thus far 11 actors have starred as The Doctor in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running show, and a 12th recently made his first appearance in the 2013 Christmas episode.

Doctor_Who_1996_posterThe ‘classic’ show ran continuously from 1963 to 1989, a Saturday tea time staple until the early 1980s when the BBC began experimenting with time slots. Seven actors played the role during this period. Later, a US/UK coproduced Doctor Who, featuring an eighth actor in the role, was attempted in 1996. It was a big hit in the UK but not in the USA and so remained a standalone film rather than a series.

In 2005, the program was revived by the BBC, with Russell T. Davies acting as executive producer and head writer. Davies created the TV series Queer as Folk  for Britain’s Channel 4 network, which was later reworked for the American cable network Showtime. Steven Moffat, who co-created the hit series Sherlock, a contemporary reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes story, is the current executive producer/head writer for Doctor Who. The revived Doctor Who has currently run for 7 seasons and is one of the top rated dramas on British television, as well as the highest rated show on the US cable channel BBC America. Amazingly, November 23, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who!

EPL holdings include:

Individual story arcs from the ‘classic’ series

Classic
 Specials

Specials

Seasons of the revived series

Revived

Audiobooks

Audio1

Fiction

Fiction

Graphic Novels

Graphic

So whether you’re new to Doctor Who or a seasoned veteran, a veritable gold mine of treasures awaits you. And stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Time and Space, which focuses on books about The Doctor.

House

houseIf you want to meet a real jerk watch House. I’ve gone through 5 seasons in a little under a month- don’t judge me! I do so have a life. It just involves watching a lot of TV. And let me tell you, House is never dull.

Gregory House and his team work out of the Plainsboro-Princeton teaching college. To say he’s a genius would be like saying Beethoven was kinda good on the piano. He’s a genius without a filter and even though he has an unusual way of finding out what’s wrong with people, he can say things that would drop a Hell’s Angel in his tracks. He’ll insult your mother even if she’s been dead for ten years. He’ll tell you your kid is ugly and that’s why no one wants to be friends with him. He’ll tell a married couple that one of them has an STD and leave them screaming at each other in the doctor’s office, each of them professing fidelity.

House says these things because they’re basically true and when he’s said them, he usually finds out the mystery illness. And holy biggoly are those illnesses mysterious. I’m talking about diseases so rare that it hasn’t been heard about since the 1600s or it’s a disease that might affect 1 in 6 billion people. It’s up to House’s team of doctors to figure out what’s going on with the sick person and with each other.

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that House is a pill popping doc. As a distraction he likes to shake his prescription bottle around to listen to the rattle of the pills. I thought he got shot and that’s why he walks around with a cane and is addicted to pain killers. It takes a couple of seasons to find out the reason behind House’s illness and that his injury makes him a better doctor. But I counted once how many times he took Vicodin in an episode. I counted 6.

Wilson is an oncologist and House’s best friend. He enables House’s behavior and is often an unwitting companion in House’s revenge plans.

Dr. Cameron is a right fighter. She’s incapable of lying and is also a pawn in House’s plans. And she’s kind of in love with him. I think I kinda love him too. Except he’d yell at me, probably something with the ring of truth, and then I’d hide in a supply closet and cry. Like I do in real life.

Dr. Foreman was a troubled kid who landed in juvie when he stole a car. He made a life for himself by going to med school and becoming part of House’s team. He starts off aloof and then thaws a bit and then does something 2 seasons later that will have you throwing magazines at the TV.

Doctor Chase is Australian and pretty. I mean really pretty. Kind of FML pretty. He’ll do anything to get ahead. He fascinates me because manipulation is a skill. Not a nice one but still. I can wiggle my ears. Does that mean anything?

I became disgustingly attached to everyone on House. I would go to work and wonder how they were doing. I called my mom once because a character had died and I needed to talk about it. And now I’m in mourning because I’m finished with it. I’m still in mourning for Dexter as well.

If you don’t mind seeing someone throw up blood or get a flesh-eating infection or discovering that the bubonic plague still claims a handful of people each year, watch House. Okay, I’ll warn you. Somebody throws up at least 8 times during an episode. And it’s always unexpected. A patient will be lying in bed, joking around with the nurse and then BAM! Projectile vomiting. This is a show that sticks with you. Don’t be afraid to start diagnosing your friends and family after watching a couple of episodes. Just remember to always stand back two feet in case there’s some liquid shooting your way.

Nilbog is Goblin Spelled Backwards!

Some movies are so bad that they‘re good.

Troll_2_posterOne such movie is Troll 2. The movie’s original title was Goblins, but the studio thought it could cash in on the success of the movie Troll, despite the fact there are no trolls in the movie. Troll 2 has absolutely nothing to do with Troll.

In this 1989 movie, the Waits family swaps homes with another family for the summer, moving from the big city to the small farming town of Nilbog. The citizens of Nilbog, vegetarian Goblins disguised as humans, feed the people food tainted with a green potion that changes them into plants, plants which the Goblins then eat.

The movie was directed by Italian director Claudio Fragasso (under the pseudonym Drake Floyd) and written by Fragasso and his wife Rosella Drudi.  Drudi was inspired to write the movie because of her frustration with a number of friends who had recently converted to vegetarianism. It was filmed in Utah with a cast of unknown actors and an Italian film crew, most of whom didn’t speak English. At the time, neither Fragasso nor Drudi spoke fluent English and as a result the script was difficult for the cast to understand in certain places.  However, the director insisted that the cast follow the script verbatim rather than correct grammar and syntax. This led to some very awkward dialogue.

Troll 2 by-passed theatrical release and was quietly released to home video in 1989.

On Christmas Day 1989, Michael Stephenson, the child star of Troll 2, unwrapped a present: a VHS copy of the movie. He hadn’t yet seen the completed version. Stephenson played Joshua Waits, the hero of the movie. The young, aspiring actor popped the video into the family VCR and watched dreams of stardom fade away.

Troll 2 does not grace the shelves of the Everett Public Library.

Best Worst MovieMore than 20 years have passed since the release of Troll 2 and it has developed a sizeable cult following. Fans hold viewing parties and dress up like characters from the movie. Art House theaters screen the movie and invite cast members to discuss the movie and sign autographs.

The documentary film Best Worst Movie is available at Everett Public Library. The film is directed by Michael Stephenson and explores the making of Troll 2 and its cult following.

This documentary, produced over a four year period, follows Utah dentist George Hardy who played the part of Michael Waits, father of Joshua, as he travels to various Troll 2 events and autograph shows. Hardy showed up at the Troll 2 casting call for fun, hoping to be cast as a non-speaking extra. He ended up with one of the largest speaking parts in the movie.

In one memorable segment, Stephenson and Hardy visit the home of actress Margo Prey who played Diana Waits, wife of Michael and mother of Joshua. In Prey’s living room, the trio reenacts a scene from Troll 2 which took place in the family station wagon, while Prey’s elderly mother looks on bemusedly in the background. Prey is interviewed in the documentary, and, with complete seriousness, puts Troll 2 in the same class as Casablanca. She also appears to have become a bit of a recluse, refusing to  leave her home when Stephenson and Hardy invited her to accompany them to the ‘Nilbog Invasion – A Troll 2 celebration’ in Utah.

Another cast member, Don Packard, who played a rather creepy store owner in the town, spoke during the panel discussion at ‘Nilbog Invasion’. He recalled being cast one weekend and filmed during the next while on day-passes from a nearby mental hospital.   He’d also smoked an enormous amount of marijuana prior to filming and didn’t really know what was going on around him. So, according to Packard, the store owner’s disturbing, creepy behavior was not acting.

Director Claudio Fragasso also appeared at the event, having been tracked down in Italy by Stephenson. During the panel discussion, members of the cast recalled that the script to Troll 2 was incomplete when filming began, and that script pages were handed out as scenes were being shot. Fragasso declared that the actors were lying and referred to them as ‘dogs’.

Despite the fact the cast and crew of Troll 2 made one of the worst movies ever, most of them seem to look back at it with fondness.

Best Worst Movie is very enjoyable viewing on its own and as a companion piece to Troll 2.

David

De-tech-tives

detechtives

Recently I’ve noticed that television detectives’ detection skills have been replaced by technology. Between cell phones, email, tracking devices and the multitude of cameras that cover every nook and cranny of the earth, it’s nearly impossible for a modern TV criminal to operate in anonymity. This is a strange and drastic change from Dragnet days when phone dialing, ledger collation, footwork and thinking were involved in any arrest.

The YardThe Yard by Alex Grecian
What fascinates me is that, before modern techniques and technologies were created, police could catch criminals at all! In the novel The Yard author Alex Grecian portrays a squalid, horrifying London of 1890 where five-year-old children work dangerous jobs, living conditions for many are abysmal, and human life is held in little regard. Scotland Yard’s murder squad consists of 12 detectives who have roughly 400 murders per year to crack, and after the unsolved Jack the Ripper killings of 1888 public opinion of the police force’s skills is extremely low. Then the unthinkable occurs. A member of the murder squad, one of the men attempting to keep London safe, is brutally slaughtered. The team’s newest member is put in charge of the investigation, but there seems no hope in unearthing the crime’s perpetrator. Even after the Ripper murders, the idea of killing for pleasure is foreign to the detectives and they don’t know where to begin to find this new type of killer. But with the aid of Dr. Kingsley, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist (and somewhat of a Sherlockian figure) the squad makes slow progress, although the murders do continue. This is crime solving at its most basic – follow paltry clues, cogitate, and find a killer.

keystone-kops-granger

These 1890’s were a time when it was relatively simple to be a successful murderer. Police had few tools-of-the-trade and criminals were able to easily disappear in obscurity. Here are a few titles that examine various aspects of the infancy of crime fighting.

Devil in the white cityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
While examining the amazing feats that went into constructing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Erik Larson also describes the activities of H.H. Holmes, a Chicago serial killer who used the draw of the World’s Fair to murder somewhere between 27 and 200 people in relative anonymity. In fact, it wasn’t until he left Chicago, continuing to commit homicides and other crimes, that Holmes was finally arrested in Boston a year later. His Chicago killings, however, remained unknown until the custodian of Holmes’s Chicago murder castle (you’ll have to read the book for those details) tipped off the police and Holmes’s murder victims were found. This true story shows how easy it was to operate as an invisible killer in the days before advanced technologies.

Great Pearl HeistThe Great Pearl Heist: London’s Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard’s Hunt for the World’s Most Valuable Necklace by Molly Caldwell Crosby
This non-fiction account of an early 20th-century jewel heist details both the plans of the thieves and the methods used by Scotland Yard to catch them. In addition to being an engaging read, Crosby’s book highlights the importance of this case to the future of British crime fighting.

Poisoner's handbookThe Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
This entertaining book looks at the careers of New York’s first medical examiner and toxicologist. Surprisingly, these positions didn’t even exist until after World War I. Blum makes a potentially dull topic intriguing and understandable.

police corruption

As police forces moved into the 20th-century, corruption came to be accepted as a normal facet of law enforcement.

Breaking blueBreaking Blue by Timothy Egan
In 1935, during the dust bowl years, a spate of dairy robberies in the Spokane area resulted in the shooting death of Marshal George Conniff. Decades later, Sheriff Tony Bamonte of Pend Oreille County tried to shed light on the robberies and Conniff’s death. Author Timothy Egan paints a vivid picture of Spokane’s dirty underbelly and the role that law enforcement played in these crimes.

LA ConfidentialL.A. Confidential
This Oscar-winning movie portrays a shady LA police force that is rife with injustice and brutality. At a time when Hollywood was king, justice was elusive (put that on your movie poster!) and criminals often dwelt on both sides of the law.

victorian police

Certainly TV policing has little in common with reality, but then again, reality is far more interesting. So set aside your new-fangled DVDs and give an old-timey police investigatory book a try. At the very least, you’ll gain an appreciation for the accomplishments that were made with minimal means in less-than-hospitable conditions.