Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Revisiting The Midnight Hour


I'm pretty sure I watched The Midnight Hour when it first aired in 1985. I don't remember much about that first viewing except an okay-fine reaction. I wouldn't have been watching for deep analysis then, and everything other than a vague notion of its plot pretty much got tucked away in my memory.

I decided to revisit it via YouTube. Because: October. And because the Pure Cinema podcast spoke highly of it fairly recently in an assessment of solid TV movies.

So, what a pleasant surprise a re-watch proved to be.  

In retrospect, it's heavily influenced by the Thriller video, coming down the pike just a couple of years after that event. It even has some of the same creative team involved in makeup and costumes.

But it's otherwise quite a bit of fun with a touch of camp and a sweet love story woven through its undead storyline with interspersed musical numbers and a comic performance by Fridays' Mark Blankfield as a zombie out to grab what he can of past life pleasures.


It also features LeVar Burton, Shari Belafonte, Lee Montgomery of Ben with Jonna Lee as a fifties teen returned to get one more chance at things she missed. Oh, and Kevin McCarthy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the flip side.  

There's one great musical number fronted by Shari Belafonte and one great horror set piece with a vintage '50s auto overrun by the undead. A few other flourishes including Jonelle Allen as a colonial vampire shore it all up. 

Wikipedia reports it received mostly negative reviews in the day. They're wrong or at least not taking everything it is now into full account.

It's not a fully satisfying feature experience for horror fans, but it's still worth a look for the intriguing package that it is. 

Check it out on YouTube here.

Friday, October 01, 2021

A Big Hand for the Little Lady and an Old Household Movie Viewing Mystery Solved

My wife, Christine, loves The Odd Couple original film, something about the combo of Neil Simon's humor and Jack Lemmon's performance as Felix. Anyway, it was streaming on Pluto the other day. I pointed it out, and she settled in to watch the what was left.

And Walter Matthau on screen suddenly reminded me of a conversation with my dad years and years ago. The, I guess, mostly forgotten comedy western A Big Hand for the Little Lady with Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward as the the "little lady" and Jason Robards came on TV, probably on NBC. This would have been the very early '70s.

As the show neared its conclusion, my dad said he'd seen it before. "But it wasn't with Henry Fonda."

An ad for the upcoming broadcast of Cactus Flower popped on the screen about that moment with a tight shot of Walter Matthau's face. "It was that fellow there," he said. 

Seemed weird, but we chalked it up to an odd coincidence or something like that and moved on.

But Walter Matthau--busy with a different set of poker buddies--was on my screen again all these years later via the Internet, which we didn't have in 1971. I thought, why not check it out? Maybe my dad had a point.  

The IMDB entry simply credits Sidney Carroll as the screenwriter, though there are mentions in the trivia of it originally being written for TV along with allusions to an alternate title or two. Big Deal in Laredo et al.

 

Let's Go the the Wiki
I moved on to Wikipedia, and gained clarity. In 1962, Big Deal in Laredo was produced for television as an installment of an anthology called The Dupont Show of the Week. It earned Emmy nominations including one for Matthau. There's even a press photo of him in character out there for purchase.  

Son of a bitch, my old man was right. It's a little thing, but that brought me a bit of joy. The TV show would have aired a month after I was born. 

My old man was a route salesman for a wholesale grocery company. When he came home from work after driving all day from mom-and-pop grocery to mom-and-pop grocery in rural Louisiana, he still had an hour or two of making changes to his price book, a heavy, leather bound thing with semi-circle holes punched for easy removal and replacement.

He would have been working on those changes or pricing order tickets from his customers as we watched anything. That was probably how he watched The Dupont Show years earlier and with a newborn in the house, more focused on the storyline than the brand umbrella. 

It's nice to have little things mined out of the memory, reconnecting with little moments from life flowing along. You never know what's going to matter. 

Some triggers on a quiet Sunday afternoon are good ones. 


Monday, August 09, 2021

The Strong Women in Science Fiction Event

 

Strong Women in Science Fiction Event!

Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse, which includes my story "The Witch of Washington Pari," is part of the Strong Women in Science Fiction Event for August 2021.

Check out all there is to see. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Short Film Based on My Flash Fiction Decoherence

 A few years back, a request came in to the writers Meet Up group Owl Goingback was running in the Orlando area. 

A student up in Gainesville needed a short mystery piece to shoot for a film class. I'd spent a bit of time teaching creative writing by then, gradually emerging from a creative coma induced by 12 years in a marketing job plus one damaging semester in an MFA program with a writing professor who'd go on to break the internet with a column on his harsh outlook on students. (I graduated with an MFA, but I still refer to that semester as The Lost Semester.)

A short time before, I'd written a bit of flash that landed at a webzine called DM du Jour.

To help out a student, I though sure, I can adapt that into a quick script, and I did. 

It was fun to do, but, as happens in the collaborative process, some adaptation of my script transpired for shooting. One character became two, and, partly for logistics I suspect, a moment in the story was reinterpreted. 

It didn't quite do what I'd envisioned in musing about timelines and mysterious visitors. 

I didn't say much about the product, which was mainly for a class anyway. The student got an A for her effort. I didn't think much about it. 

But literally as I was walking this morning, in my current timeline, I thought, maybe the reinterpretation played even more with timelines and many-worlds interpretation. 

So, look above. The short student film from my tale Decoherence can be viewed, and the short-short tale can still be read online as well.  

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Mothman and Something for the Dark Illustrations

 

As noted as an addendum on a recent post on Edward D. Hoch's story "Something for the Dark," the tale originally appeared in the June 1968 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. 

The original illustrations, in the style that appeared in AHMM for the better part of 20 years or more, further evoke the mothman allusions. 


Mothman-style Illustration - Story By Edward D. Hoch

AHMM - Mothman Illustration

Monday, May 24, 2021

Favorite Short Stories: Something for the Dark By Edward D. Hoch

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories that Go Bump in the Night
To identify one sub-category of Edward D. Hoch's fiction is to spoil a bit, I suppose. Hoch excelled at
all varieties of mystery from the locked room to the procedural to the cozy and more. His cadre of sleuths included a cowboy, a spy, a country doctor and the representative of a bureau devoted to apprehensions of fugitives. 

The collection Ellery Queen's Grand Slam (Popular Library 1970) includes a Hoch trifecta divided by mystery technique, whodunit, howdunit, whydunit. 

But there's also a significant portion of Hoch's work that falls in the realm of the fantastic uncanny alongside The Hound of the Baskervilles or the the more recent Scooby Doo. The supernatural is seemingly present in the mystery, but the solution is rational with clues neatly placed along the way to look like phenomena.

Clearly Hoch read widely in probably scientific and technical journals, mining for tidbits to serve his ongoing, incredible output. Thumbprint scanners in their infancy might provide a reason for one of thief Nick Velvet's unique pilfers, for example, and all manner of devices or small details might serve Simon Ark tales and many others.

Ark, alleged to be a coptic priest thousands of years old, tended to be called in when high strangeness seemed at hand. Even with a bit of mysticism sometimes mixed in, Ark's cases always proved to have a logical explanation.


That same style is on display in what's maybe a bit of an obscure Hoch tale, "Something for the Dark." From what I can tell it appeared only in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents collection Stories that Go Bump in the Night (Random House1977), though its roots seem to be the 1960s. That hints it may have been in a magazine earlier. 

The collection's one of a long series of anthologies spawned by the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, offering tales in a similar vein. 

Double-Action Detective Magazine
The hero's not Ark nor one of Hoch's many series characters but magazine writer Steve Foley, though he works for Neptune Magazine, which bears the same name as the publishing house for which Ark's unnamed friend and case-narrator works.

Maybe it started out as an Ark tale. (Occasional signs of Hoch's experimentation turn up in mining his cannon. The September, 1959 Double-Action Detective features a more traditional hardboiled private eye named Simon Ark narrating and solving "The Case of the Naked Niece.")

In "Dark," the human-interest angle on reports of a man's encounter with what might be called a strange cryptid piques Foley's interest. While on a camping trip with his wife, the man spied a winged creature sounding a lot like Mothman though described as similar to Lewis Carroll's Jabberwock.

Circulation's lagging at Neptune, and an October issue is coming up, so his editor dispatches Foley to Pennsylvania for details from Walter Wangard and his wife Lynn. 

Sounds maybe a little like Woodrow Derenberger, noted for encounters with alleged alien Indrid Cold in proximity to Mothman sights.

Turns out the creature may have winged away with the couple's dog.


Foley's skeptical, but a trip back to the woods and the spot of the initial sighting gets spooky, and Walt's overcome by something unseen not far from where their dog's found buried. 

For a magazine feature writer, Foley's as attuned to detail as any classic sleuth. As events seem to overwhelm Walt Wangard, Foley pieces together a different interpretation of events, drawing on a bit of science and an inconsistency or two that Sherlock himself might have noted.

It's not a terrifying tale, but it has a creepy factor and a satisfying solution. It shouldn't be overlooked by Hoch fans nor those who enjoy a tale with a few clever twists. 

ADDENDUM
Poking around a bit, I see that "Something for the Dark" appeared in the June, 1968 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Mothman sightings and related incidents occurred in 1966 and 1967. See illustrations from that publication here



Saturday, May 15, 2021

Original Publication Sites: Scars and Blue Murder


I get periodic reminders my memory is not what it used to be. 

My story "Scars" originally appeared in the online magazine Blue Murder. It's in the ebook collection Scars and Candy from Crossroad Press. I read a few flash stories from that collection the other day at the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Focus Facebook group and was reminded. 

I'm not sure the issue number any longer, and shifts from one computer to the other over the years have lost any contributor's e-copy I had.

It's a good lesson on the need to keep good records, I guess. 

The story was first submitted to the Hot Blood series, and it resulted in a freak-out rejection from Michael Garrett, I believe, and not Jeff Gelb, over something implied but not implicitly stated in the story. 

It went to some other mag of the time where it chilled one editor but not the second reader it seemed, who took it in better stride than the HB editors at least.

I don't recall Blue Murder batting an eye. Shows what a crapshoot the whole submission process is, I guess.

Wish I still had a copy of the original. I found a few others around on Planet PDF and discovered several friends in the contents pages, but haven't run across myself.

Maybe it'll turn up. At least the story's preserved in Scars


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Favorite Short Stories - The Judges of Hades by Edward D. Hoch

I first turned to 
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in the late '70s. They were in the mix and progression of interesting and eclectic things to which I was drawn once the comic books were taken away by the Eckerd Drugs powers that were of the day. 

I met Micahel Morbius on those magazine racks and Doc Savage on the nearby paperback display, so those old Eckerd bean counters nudged my reading tastes, I suppose.

I was unaware of Simon Ark's legacy in that moment. I just started to notice the contributions of Edward D. Hoch in every issue of EQMM and frequently in AHMM. I came to like police detective Captain Leopold and thief-of-obscure-and-worthless-objects Nick Velvet among Hoch's wide mix of characters. 

When Ark came to the pages of EQMM and AHMM a while after, I started reading of him as well. An introduction noted Hoch had written of him for some time, but I just picked up with the newly arriving tales. 

I sadly never ran across the 1971 paperback edition in my used book store dives. I would have snatched it up, of course. Paperbacks sold for half their cover price back then, not collector's prices. I would have snatched up a 1973 re-introduced Weird Tales too that included an Ark story too. It never made it to Eckerd's that I noticed. 

The Judges of Hades cover

Ark might almost have fit in the original Weird Tales alongside Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, I suppose. As explained by Ark's nameless Watsonesque first-person narrator from the publishing industry,  Ark was a Coptic priest, thousands of years old. But his mysteries, while hinting at the bizarre or the mystical, were of the "fantastic uncanny" school. Like The Hound of the Baskervilles or Scooby Doo, while things might seem ghostly or otherwise supernatural, the explanation was rational.

I enjoyed the Ark stories. My old man, who'd take a turn toward less fantastic tastes later in life, read them as well along with other Hoch stories. "Anything by Edward Hoch is good," he declared. 

 SEE ALSO: Favorite Short Stories: The Hospice by Robert Aickman

He liked the clever twists and turns of Hoch's plots, frequently locked rooms with Dr. Sam Hawthorne and more violent crimes with Leopold.  Often, they'd hinge on technology of some sort. I decided Hoch must read a lot about new developments as well as the inner workings of older devices. He was no stranger to minute details in other realms such as myth and folklore either. 

That hint of the arcane in Ark stories probably appealed to me more as my interest in Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft grew. The delight when Hoch revealed how a man trapped in a revolving door all alone could perish at another's hand grabbed both my dad and me, however.

Things weren't as accessible in those days as they are now. I had to wait for ebooks to bring back early Ark tales including Hoch's first published story, I believe, "Village of the Dead." In that one an entire village plunges lemming-like over a cliff. 

SEE ALSO: Ray Bradbury's October Game

"The Judges of Hades," probably novelette length, is in the Mysterious Press/Open Road ebook of The Quests of Simon Ark as well. It's nice to backtrack a bit now that so much is at our fingertips.

According to this handy list, the story first appeared in the February 1957 Crack Detective and Mystery. It's fun to have a sense at least of a tale's original trappings. 


The story takes Ark's publishing-industry friend plus wife Shelly back to his hometown, Maple Shades, Indiana. Kids are wont to strip Maple S from local welcome signs, but it seems to be one of those quiet picket-fences places, though the narrator's much happier in the canyons of New York. 

The friend's father, Richard, and sister Stella, have died in a head-on collision, each alone in a separate car. 

The narrator's strict father was a strict local judge as well. He and his brother, Uncle Phillip, also a judge, had been dubbed judges of hades by the local press, inspired by vase depicting the mythological Greek guardians of the underworld.

What made either the Stella or the Richard decide to ram the other? Dad had ruled against the sister's husband, but would that have triggered a dark impulse on her part?  

The narrator persuades Ark to look into the matter and his interest is piqued by the mythological reference. Was supernatural evil to blame? And what's up with the fact that there were three mythological judges of Hades?

Ark's interest grows as the potentially spookier side of things becomes evident.

The solution's wrapped up in fifties small town repression and more character texture than usual. All is revealed as the narrator contemplates choices and contrasts between life in Maple Shades with the glitzy life of the city. 

Are there a couple of stretches? Perhaps, but it's all clever enough and anticipates what's ahead for Ark who's a tall and heavy-set man not yet showing some of the signs of age mentioned in later tales. So is he really who he claims to be?

It should be enjoyable to fans for the likes of Carnacki, though he might have found a ghost or a logical explanation.

And, if we'd have run across it while he was alive, I'm pretty sure my old man would have liked it and held to his Hoch contention. We had our tiffs, but we got along better than Ark's narrator and his dad Richard. 


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