Name-Checking Some Fantasy Greats

Neil Gaiman. He figures into this, eventually.

Been a while. Been busy. You know the drill by now.

My writing contract work¬† proceeds apace, and pretty much on schedule. The sad part being, we are now approaching the part of the schedule where I should start work on Part Three, and there is no plan for Part Three. This is, apparently, where the Creative Department comes in, which becomes a bit irksome when I’m writing educational fiction for a field with which I have very little parlance. I suppose when our hero starts fending off zombies with a chainsaw, I’ll be informed I am in the wrong.

One bright spot, if it can be called such, is that freed from a page count for the next week or so, I actually have what I’ve been craving for a while: free time. This started yesterday evening, and I’m embarrassed to say I have no idea what to do with it. Or, rather, I have too many ideas. So instead I just read, and went to bed at, for me, an early hour. I was dead tired. Rough couple of weeks. Car troubles, deaths in the family, you know: all the stuff that makes life so thrilling.

Actually getting a decent amount of sleep is an extraordinary circumstance for me, so I can count last night extraordinary. It was filled with hideous nightmares – my subconscious needed to take out a lot of trash, apparently – but surprisingly consistent nightmares. I did awake at approximately 3:30AM, as usual, for a nocturnal visit to the bathroom, but went back to sleep and back to the same nightmare. Since I’ve been reflecting that it’s time to return to fiction writing for myself, I’m going to take this as my brain serving up the raw fuel for what I need to write. We’ll see.

(Homer Simpson Gurgling Noise)

I cannot, in good conscience, blame my reading material for the nightmares. A lesser person might, as I have been consuming Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons, a typically gorgeous Fantagraphics piece of publishing pulchritude, a three-volume slipcased monster. It is one of those editions I looked at, then looked at the $125 price tag, sighed, and put on the “After Winning The Lottery” list.

I had not, however, counted on Twitter, or the irrepressible and fantastic Neil Gaiman. One night last week, Gaiman tweeted that Amazon had the aforementioned huge tome for sale at $29. I squashed several photons that got in my way as I clicked the link, and my poor UPS driver grunted the hefty package to my door two days later. Say what you will about Neil Gaiman (I tend to prefer his earlier work, but he is never less than entertaining), I officially pronounce a gesund on him, may his tribe proper and increase. He is the gift that keeps on giving.

Because I looooooves me some Gahan Wilson.

If you’re one of the three people reading this blog, you know Gahan Wilson. If not: his heavily cross-hatched cartoons epitomize bizarre, black humor. Or to put it another way, he’s the one who’s not Charles Addams. In Hugh Hefner’s intro to the first volume, he talks about looking for a Charles Addams-type for his fledgling Playboy (Addams being under exclusive contract to The New Yorker), and finding Wilson in Colliers. Thus begins the legend.

Okay, I looked at my father’s Playboys quite a bit when I was a kid. I don’t remember the nekkid women doing that much for me at that early age (that would come later), but I really loved the cartoons, especially Wilson’s. I have a few of Wilson’s smaller collections, but revisiting these in volume one, from 1957-1968 (that’s from memory, I may be correcting this later) was like talking all evening to an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages. Cartoons I had forgotten and suddenly recalled in a splash of memory.

The best part is, I have two more volumes to go through, which promise equal joy. The only bad part is, now I’m hungry for the collection of Nuts from National Lampoon, and that’s not coming out until July. But I do note that there is a hardcover edition of the Classic Illustrated Poe he did the art for, and The Devil’s Dictionary. Both of which I own in their “floppy” incarnations, and both buried in a longbox somewhere. Hm….

Raquel, Please Come Back

So. After The Kid With The Golden Arm, Dave decided that he was ready to hurt us, by which I mean he was also drunk enough to not mind too terribly much when the stray shrapnel from his offering hit his chair. And I have to admit that this time he was prepared, for his choice was the infamous Troll 2.

The first remarkable thing about Troll 2 is that the original Troll apparently made enough money to warrant a movie attempting to piggyback on its “success”. The second remarkable thing is common knowledge: there are no actual trolls in Troll 2; they’re all identified as goblins, though one or two have a superficial resemblance to the title character of the first movie.

So this suburban family is taking a vacation by swapping houses with another family for a week. The other family in question live in a town called Nilbog, which is, of course, Spanish for “spider”. Haha, I am kidding of course, Nilbog is actually German for “witch”. Hoho, fooled you again, Nilbog spelled backward is actually “Natures”. No, no, I’m having you on, Nilbog spelled backward is Goblin.

And it takes seeing a street sign backward to cue the kid main character in to that fact. He would also likely be stumped by the genteel foreign chap wearing a cape whose name is “Alucard”. This is the same kid who keeps talking to his dead grandfather, who is apparently also not so good at reversing odd-looking names but knows a hell of a lot about goblins. For instance, if you eat goblin food, you turn into a human-vegetable hybrid, which the goblins will then eat.

There are two incredible acting jobs in Troll 2. One is the store keeper, Don Packard, who looks like Ernest’s more intense older brother. Seems the guy was actually in and out of mental institutions, and when he saw the finished movie, verified that during his scenes he was not having a good day, if you catch my drift.

The other is Deborah Reed as the Goblin Queen, who, in her guise as Hell Librarian, effects the most amazing pseudo-Romanian accent that DRRRRRRRRRRAAAWS out EVVVERRRRRRRRRRRRRY THIRRRRRRRD WORRRRRRRRRRRRD or so. She also turns into a way uglier version and, at one point, into a corn cob wielding hottie. Really.

There is apparently a robust fan community for Troll 2, one big enough to support the making of a documentary, Best Worst Movie:

Well, all you folks who babble about how Troll 2 is the worst movie ever? You are a bunch of fucking dilettantes. Oh, it’s not good by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, anyone who comes to me sniveling about how Tron: Legacy or The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is “the worst movie ever made” is going to be strapped in a chair and forced to watch a double feature of Troll 2 and Dondi. I am the goddamn bad movie cenobite, and I have such sights to show you, asshole.

Well, I touched a nerve there, didn’t I? I always knew that some day I was going to have to watch Troll 2, and now I have. Not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, by any stretch. But it is amazingly bad.

At this point, as we have come to expect, Paul and Alan wussed out and left. Leaving just me, Rick and the two Daves. Ergo, it was time to watch something with female nudity in it, so we could abuse the two wusses with that knowledge later. We eventually caved to Rick’s whinings and put in my shiny new disc from Warner Archives (a company formed solely to vacuum money out of my wallet): Pretty Maids All In A Row.

My sweet lord.

A major flop in 1971, this sometimes known as the movie that killed Roger Vadim’s career (although Vadim himself seemed unaware of that). Hell of an odd pedigree: Produced and written by Gene Roddenberry. Rock Hudson is a high school guidance counselor/football coach/former football star who seems to spend most of his time screwing the female population of the high school, when he’s not manipulating a new teacher (the ever-toothsome Angie Dickenson) into deflowering his proteg√©, who most of the time seems to be the only male student in Awesome High School.

The plot gets under way when one of the cheerleaders shows up dead in the boy’s restroom, to be followed by two more in rapid succession. It’s pretty common knowledge among filmgoers that Hudson’s character is the killer – hell, it’s right there in the poster- which is something a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas can’t prove, but the incompetent Sheriff (and Corrupt Authority Figure) Keenan Wynn seems to know, but the coach is just too valuable to arrest.

This is jet-black comedy, the free love movement of the late 60s taken to a ludicrous extreme, violating the taboo against teacher-student sex, and violating it hard. Vadim makes sure every girl in the school wears short-shorts and mini-dresses, and damn few bras. Not only would this movie not be made today, it couldn’t be made today.

As Rick said afterwards, “There are immoral movies and there are amoral movies – and that had to be one of the most totally amoral movies I have ever seen.”

Well, there’s not much I can add to that. Except I would have totally slept with Angie Dickenson while I was a senior in high school. I’m amoral that way.

How Raquel Welch Helped Me Conquer The World

This has been the busiest couple of months I’ve had in quite some time. A rational person would point out that I’m working two part-time jobs and am in the middle of a time-sensitive writing contract, which works out to, at best, the equivalent of two full-time jobs. But then the lie to that is that the part-time jobs take more than the hours clocked in, what with research, rehearsing, learning lines, etc. Well, the hell with all that rationalizing and quantifying hoorah. I’ve been busy. I needed a break. i needed crap.

So the last Sunday in January, I was determined to be free and ramrodded a Crapfest into everybody’s schedule. I was not able to attend this year’s B-Fest, neither financially nor time-wise (we opened a show on that Saturday). Just as well, since there was apparently some plague going around, and if the plague did not get you, the scheduled showing of Skidoo would.

So we gathered at Dave’s, who had been largely incommunicado, or at least uncommunicative, due to household projects (and, truthfully, Fallout New Vegas). Most of us made it on time, remarkable for us; with only the Other Dave missing, we started the pizza and, for warm-up, put on one of my recent acquisitions, Raquel Welch’s 1970 TV special, titled, with elegant simplicity, Raquel.

This went a long way toward verifying my discovery of Dave’s Achilles Heel: 70s variety TV. Nobody likes Pink Lady & Jeff, it’s impossible, it’s like saying you like having your gonads repeatedly smashed with a meat tenderizer. No, the real clue was Dave allergic reaction, a few Crapfests ago, to The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, which even (for Pete’s sake) featured KISS, one of Dave’s favorite bands. I do believe this was immediately after Dave tried to harm everyone with Battlefield Earth. Piffle. He was dismayed that I harmed him more with Paul Lynde than he had harmed me with John Travolta (again, piffle). This has begun a fearsome rivalry.

Raquel is shot on film, and they want you to know it was on location all over the world. The first segment is Raquel walking around Paris in a gorgeous red cape and singing California Dreaming. Oddly, the lyrics have been rewritten, and once she stops into a church along the way, she does not get down on her knees and began to pray. Nonetheless, you have a gorgeous woman wearing gorgeous clothes in a gorgeous city, and all Dave can do is groan and bitch. Even when the screen blurs into some odd animation and suddenly things get interesting. Did I say Interesting? I meant awesome:

And what does Dave spend the entirety of the dance number doing? Wondering what the guys are wearing on their heads. “You’re looking at the guys?” is the rational response to that, so that is what I said. By the time Dave had figured out what they were wearing, we were back to Paris and the odd, rewritten California Dreaming, which was cause for more complaints. Not that he wanted to run it back.

This only means that next time I’m bringing my disc of the 1967 Nancy Sinatra special Movin’ With Nancy, complete with RC Cola commercials. It was the taste of a New Generation, you know.

The definite high point of Raquel! is the “Age of Aquarius” number, in which Raquel capers about with various signs of the Zodiac, including Leo, Cancer, Scorpio, Cthulhu, and the Baphomet Demon.

Rick: “Those dancers aren’t moving very much.”

Me: “I don’t think they CAN move.”

Raquel’s a good dancer. Her voice is pleasant but untrained. After the Aquarius number, we watch her try to rock out with Tom Jones (which leads to most of us agreeing that Tom Jones is still amazing 40 years after this twaddle), and then… Raquel teams up with Bob Hope to do “Rocky Raccoon”.”Do” in the sense of “hold it down and make it squeal like a pig.” Raquel had already done a few Beatles songs, but this one, which serves as the final number in the special, brought a special form of agony to the proceedings. Here it is, because I hate you:

(or here it would have been if some joyless a-hole hadn’t taken it down)

You would have noticed that version of the song was longer than the Beatles’ rendition by several years. Lucky, lucky lucky

I will admit that this special has a special place in my personal history, because along with Diana Rigg in The Avengers, Raquel Welch was responsible for quite a few stirrings in my young loins, and the special was… well, special indeed, in that respect. Dear sweet Lord, that woman was gorgeous, and she is still gorgeous. That’s some good genes, right there.

After this, Dave put on something he’d picked up from TCM or something, a comedy from 1951 called Kentucky Jubilee, starring Jerry Collona. Little comedy and littler Jublilee on display. We finally gave up and watched my new copy of the remastered Kid With the Golden Arm, ’cause who don’t like kung fu?

I love flicks with lots of different weapons. It’s also nice to finally know that the banners that the bad guys keep leaving simply say ” Kill kill kill kill kill kill.”

After that, shit got serious. And the next two movies were so extraordinary, they deserve their own column. I’ve made you suffer enough for today.

Hey! Is Ann-Margaret’s 1968 TV special available? What? Why the hell not?