Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Years!

Happy New Year! If you aren't doing anything fun (and Lord knows we aren't) come to The Slumgullion and join us for our annual tradition, as we exorcise the old year with burning sage and pissy comments:

And because you're the best people in the world, here's some holiday-themed cat photos while I still have a mildly reasonable excuse for squeezing them in.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Forward! Into The Past!

Just a quick note while you're enjoying Hank's exegesis of World Without End (spoiler alert: unlike a lot of Fifties films, the title is technically true thanks to the Future's acquisition of some mid-century He-Men whose genitals still function on the principle of hydraulic expansion).

Anyway, Batocchio has kept one of Blogging's most venerable and sacred traditions going for years now, by tending to the Jon Swift Roundup (The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves), and the 2018 edition is out now.

Click here and catch up on all the cool stuff you were too busy being cool to read.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Let's Do the Time Warp Again: World Without End (1956)

By Hank Parmer

At first glance World Without End has a few things going for it: By far the trippiest poster of any of the movies I've reviewed to date, and one of my favorite actors, in an early role. Plus it can legitimately claim to be the first SF thriller filmed in Cinemascope, with a release date five months prior to Forbidden Planet.

Unfortunately, Allied Artists was no MGM, Nancy Gates was no Ann Francis, and a cheesy giant spider puppet was in no way a substitute for an Id Monster.

The movie opens with stock footage of an A-Bomb test, then a quick dissolve from the atomic fireball to a Moon's-eye view of the Earth set against a starry background, with the title blazoned in scarlet slash-script across the face of our cloudless, paper-mache globe. This Bernds guy sure isn't pulling his punches.

According to the credits, Hugh Marlowe is our lead. Not the best choice, if you ask me. Nowhere near as bad as John Agar, sure, but he does better as a supporting character. Especially when he's playing something of a dick, like in The Day the Earth Stood Still or Twelve O'Clock High.

In fact, writer/director Bernds is said to have described Marlowe as "often lazy and unprepared". Although that may be an understandable if not particularly praiseworthy reaction to the material, or sour grapes because he was consistently upstaged by far more charismatic Rod Taylor. Fun fact: The IMDB trivia page also claims the lead was first offered to Sterling Hayden, which would have been ... different, to say the very least. Then to square-jawed character actor Frank Lovejoy, before Hugh snagged it.

Nancy Gates shares the top billing. She's probably best remembered for her turn as "Ellen Benson", whose happy home is commandeered by would-be presidential assassin Frank Sinatra in the 1954 thriller Suddenly. Snark aside, she was pretty good in that one. But in today's nitwit narrative the actor is little more than eye candy slated for the "Princess Who Speaks Up for the Handsome Stranger" role.

Leith Stevens wrote the score, which will be the typical cut-and-paste of themes he composed several years earlier for George Pal's science fiction films Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds. By this point, Stevens really seems to have just given up trying. Though again, I can see why he didn't exert himself for this one.

Screenplay by Edward Bernds, from a story by Edward Bernds. Directed by -- wait for it -- Edward Bernds. (I'm getting a bad feeling about this ...)

After the credits, the movie whisks us to the not-too-distant future of [cue reverb] 1957, with an establishing shot of a towering radio aerial, which segues to the communications shack at an arctic outpost. They've lost contact with the XRM, in mid-message! At the Pentagon, a P.R. flack breaks the worrisome news to a handful of reporters, then to the wife and golden-haired children (a girl and a boy, natch) of one of the astronauts.

Oh FFS, is this a widescreen, Technicolor remake of Rocketship X-M? The fiends!

Cut to Mars, where the crew of the spaceship XRM are finishing up the first reconnaissance of the Red Planet with a polar orbit.

These intrepid explorers aren't concerned about losing contact with Earth: It's only Mars' magnetic field temporarily messing with the reception. Pilot John Borden (Hugh Marlowe) is disappointed they won't be landing on Mars this trip, but Pontificator and Commander Dr. Eldon Galbraith (Nelson Leigh) isn't willing to risk losing all the valuable data they've gathered, if they were to make the attempt and crash.

Their pole-to-pole circuit completed, Borden decides it's time to set the gyros for good ol' Terra. Flight Engineer Herbert Ellis (Rod Taylor) and Navigator Henry 'Hank' Jaffe (Christopher Dark) heartily approve. Aussie Taylor, taking his posh accent for a trial spin before he played H. G. Wells, in The Time Machine (1960), wryly jokes that it will make his creditors happy.

They blast out of orbit. Sorry, but I have to pause here to question a few things about this arrangement: The astronauts don't have safety harnesses, not even so much as a seat belt. Although their chairs recline, since the compartment clearly runs fore-and-aft, they're lying flat, parallel to the rocket's thrust with their feet pointing toward the nose. Which means once the engines fire up not only will the blood rush to their heads, they should start sliding off those slick, vinyl-upholstered cushions, to pitch headfirst onto the rear bulkhead.

It certainly must make those vertical takeoffs and landings rather tricky. Maybe their flying togs have Velcro butts.

As the XRM speeds away from Mars, the astronauts somehow adhering to their recliners, the ship unexpectedly encounters a flame hurricane.

"You should never have said Picard was a better captain than Kirk!"

(Aficionados of '50s space epics will of course recognize this iconic rocket miniature, which made its first appearance in Flight to Mars (1951) and would be trotted out more than once afterwards, most notably in the film that was one of the major inspirations for Alien: 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space.)

The XRM bucks like an emphatically goosed bronco. Considering they're not strapped in, that ought to have our helmetless astronauts ricocheting around the inside of that compartment like ball bearings in a tin can -- except, much, much gorier. And it's a wonder the actors didn't get singed by the real-life flames billowing through those portholes the production was too cheap to glaze. 

"Alright: Who left those open?" 

The spaceship accelerates uncontrollably, even though Borden commands Ellis to reverse the rockets! (He must have seen that Duck Dodgers cartoon, and thought this was a real thing.)

The hull temperature hits the danger zone as their velocity rapidly increases to an astonishing 81 miles per second. The crew blacks out.

While they're all unconscious, the space storm flames out. The XRM plunges into a planet's atmosphere. Of course, the friction heat when they hit even the most tenuous layer of the stratosphere at almost 300,000 miles per hour should vaporize their craft in milliseconds, but sure ...

Monday, December 24, 2018

You Better Watch Out!

By Bill S.

The holiday season is upon us once again, and that means it's that time of years for Christmas carols, gift shopping, tons of cookies, and of course, TV special. A few years back, Scott and I both revisited the Rankin-Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This year, I've decided to have a look at another Rankin-Bass childhood favorite, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Like the previous one, it boasts good production values, nice music...and a story so insane you wonder what they were smoking when they made it.

It begins with newsreel footage of children preparing for Santa's Christmas Eve visit, then cuts to a postman, riding a snowmobile en route to the North Pole. His name is S.D. Kruger, and he informs us that the "S.D." stands for "Special Delivery", but I'm guessing it doesn't stand for anything and he just makes up something different to fit the occasion, like T.S. Garp did. S.D. is voiced by Fred Astaire (hiring a brilliant dancer to do voiceover work makes as much sense as anything else in this special). When the snowmobile stalls in a snow bank, he has a lot of free time, so he tells us about the letters kids write to Santa Claus, revealing that he opens their mail and reads it before delivering it, which can't possibly be legal. According to him, in addition to the usual requests for toys, kids ask a lot of questions about Santa: "Why do you wear a red suit?" "Why do you come down the chimney?" "How do you know if we've been bad or good?", etc. We hear a lot of children, off-camera. They might simply be voices in S.D.'s head, which is preferable to a bunch of kids being stranded in a frozen wasteland. Real or imaginary, he tells them to settle down, and spins for us a tale of Santa's origin.

It begins in a bleak, depressing place called Sombertown, presided by the Mayor, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, a squat, ugly man with a thick German accent and a permanent scowl on his face. His dinner is interrupted one day by the appearance of Grimsley, described as "the lawkeeper" (Police chief? Army general? Ancestor of Wayland Smithers?). Grimsley sports a Kaiser helmet, a pencil thin mustache, and a prissy British accent. He also brings with him a baby, found on the Murgerbeister's doorstop. There's no identification, other than a name tag reading "Claus" and a note, asking the Burgerchedder to raise the baby. (And really, who wouldn't want to leave their kid with that guy?) Of course he refuses, and tells Grimsley to take the baby to the "Orphan Asylum", which, according to him, is "the proper place for foundlings" (I'm guessing "foundling" is a euphemism for "bastard").

Grimsley heads for the orphanage, dragging baby Claus on a sled, because I guess pulling a bulky object through the snow during a blizzard is easier than simply carrying a baby. The rope breaks, and the sled is carried away by a heavy wind. Grimsley half-heartedly races after it, calling out, "Do come back!" (Even as a kid, I thought that was a stupid thing to say). After making the barest minimum effort to rescue baby Claus, Grimsley gives him up for dead and heads back home. Fortunately, the animals of the forest are able to rescue Baby Claus, shielding him from the dreaded Winter Warlock. They bring him to the home of an elf family, the Kringles, leaving him on their doorstop. The baby is discovered by brothers Ringle, Dingle, Wingle, Tingle and Zingle, who immediately take a liking to him and bring him to the Elf Queen, Tanta Kringle, a sweet-voiced old lady with a perennially cheery demeanor. She decides they should adopt the baby, naming him Kris Kringle. There are cheers all around over this decision.

The elves raise the boy, and while they home school him, the animals of the forest are in charge of P.E., teaching him to run, jump, and laugh like a seal. They also school him in the family business: toy making. According to Tanta Kringle, the Kringles were well known for their fine craftsmanship, as she explains in the musical number "The First Toy Makers To the King". She doesn't explain how they went from being internationally known toy makers, working for royalty, to living in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere. I can't imagine the elves blowing their earning on hookers and coke. (Well, to be more precise, I don't want to imagine that). But the real reason might be that they have no way to transport the toys, so they just keep piling them up on the porch, which doesn't seem like the best way to run a successful business.

Years pass, and Kris grows into a young man, sounding like Mickey Rooney, only taller. He decides it's time to deliver the toys to actual people, which delights the family. Tanta even makes him a red suit like the ones the elves wear. He kisses Tanta, bids goodbye to Jingle, Pringle, Single, Mingle and Der Bingle, then gathers the toys in a sack and heads for Sombertown.

Along the way he meets up with a stranded penguin, who was headed for the South Pole, but apparently took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. He names the bird Topper, and adopts him as a pet. Together, they manage to get away from the Winter Warlock, who lives in the Mountain of the Whispering Wind. As a kid, I found the Warlock scary, but he doesn't actually do anything but cackle maniacally and issue threats in a booming voice.( I guess when you're six, that's plenty scary.)
Meanwhile, in Sombertown, the Burgerurger suffers a fall down the steps of City Hall. When he discovers the cause was a toy left on the steps, he decides to ban all toys, and, in a parody of Tanta Kringle's song, he describes the various ways he'd like to mutilate them. Having all toys outlawed over a minor, avoidable injury seems like a rather extreme reaction; I guess we should be glad he didn't trip on a banana peel, because then all the Sombertownians would be condemned to a life of severe potassium deficiency. 

Kris finally arrives in Sombertown, and doesn't make much of a favorable impression with his colorful clothes and cheery disposition. He seems baffled that inhabitants of a place called Sombertown are a bunch of crabby assholes. When he explains that he just wants to distribute some toys, they all go apeshit and run back home, locking their doors. He comes upon a couple of kids who are washing socks. They look completely miserable, as any kid would, and he scolds them for it. He then cheers them up by offering them toys. They spread the news to some other kids, and pretty soon they're all flocking to this friendly stranger. Miss Jessica, the school teacher, comes upon this scene and explains to Kris that toys are illegal, and at first tries to defend the law. When Kris, who finds this law ridiculous, hands her a china doll, she acknowledges that the law is stupid, and agrees to help him hand out the toys. Kris expresses the joy of giving in a song:

If you sit on my lap today
A kiss a toy is the price you'll pay
If you sit on my left knee
Don't be stingy! Be prepared to pay!

WHAT. THE. FUCK? It sounds like a pedophile anthem. Which may be the reason it was cut from the most recent televised broadcast of the special.

The Burgerchef intrudes on this happy scene. He's ready to have the children arrested until Kris rushes to their defense, claiming responsibility for the toys. He then gives the BrentMussburger a yo-yo, which delights the old man, until Grimsley reminds him that he's breaking his own law. Flustered and embarrassed, he urges the police to arrest Kris, who escapes by climbing up a tree and hopping from rooftop to rooftop until he reaches the forest, and finally racing away. The policemen take one look at the woods where Kris disappeared, decide it's not worth the trouble to go after him, and return to Sombertown. What efficient law enforcement they are. (Incidentally, while everyone is impressed by the skill with which Kris eludes capture, nobody mentions that Topper, a tiny penguin, was able to keep up with him the whole way.)

Kris and Topper make their way to the Mountain of the Whispering Wind, and are captured by a pair of Tree Monsters. The Winter Warlock threatens to destroy them, but Kris pleads with him to be let go, offering him a present. The Warlock, touched by this gesture, orders the trees to release him. When Kris hands the Warlock a toy train, his icy heart melts, and he feels reborn, He wonders how long that feeling will last, but Kris assures him that making a change from bad to good is as easy as walking, in a toe tapping number, "Put One Foot In Front of the Other".

(The lesson to be learned here is that it's easier to reform a centuries old evil wizard than a grouchy old man with a sprained ankle.) Winter (as he's now called) strikes a bargain: in exchange for more toys, he'll teach Kris some of his magic tricks, including the Magic Crystal Snowball, which allows he to see and hear people far away. Kris gazes into it, and sees Miss Jessica wandering in the woods calling for him. He finds her, and discovers that the children want more toys to replace the ones Burmashaver had destroyed. He agrees to this, and she kisses him, causing him to blush.

When the Boogiemaster discovers the children have toys again, he calls for all the homes of Sombertown to be locked during the night. Kris is discouraged by this, until Topper, through a series of gestures, gives him the idea to go down the chimney. This enrages the Masterblaster even further, so he demands that the police go from house to house searching for toys. (This might be a good time to point out that the animation was outsourced to Germany, which possibly explains why the police look like Nazis). 

With the doors locked the night, and daily searches of homes by the police, Kris wonders how he'll be able to get more toys to the children. He should probably be more concerned with the human rights abuses going on in the town, but I suppose when you have several decades worth of toys piled up in front of your house, finding a way to get rid of them might feel like a bigger priority. So he comes up with the idea of hiding the toys in the children's stockings, which are hung above the fireplace to dry, on the not unreasonable assumption that no police officer will want to stick his hand inside a wet, crusty sock. His instinct prove correct, and once again the kids have toys to play with. This proves to be the last straw for the Murkinblister, so he decides to lay a trap for Kris, arranging for police officers to lay in wait at one of the houses to arrest him. At first Kris protests, but when he looks out a window and sees another officer holding Topper in one hand and a jar of barbecue sauce in the other, he goes quietly. Meanwhile, officers are dispatched to the Mountain of the Whispering Wind, where they arrest Winter, Tanta Kringle, Jangle, Bangle, Spangle, Tangle and Dangle, as accomplices to Kris' crimes. All of them are thrown in jail. The Megabastard then gathers up all the toys in a pile and lights them on fire, in front of the children, who are all reduced to sobbing messes. (Since Kris warned against them crying, but didn't mention any exceptions to that rule, those poor kids must think they're really screwed.)

Jessica goes to the Burgermerger and tries to make plea on behalf of the prisoners, asking him to let them go. When he refuses to listen to reason, she has an epiphany: Sombertown really, really sucks. (We figured this out in the first five minutes) She expresses her newfound clarity in the song "My World Is Beginning Today", which is my favorite number in the show, partly because the song is pretty, and partly because the visuals are so utterly weird. Here, watch:

It's like tripping on acid with Petula Clark -- which is why it's my favorite number in the show. The most recent broadcast of the special omitted this entire sequence. When it was being carried on cable, the conversation between Jessica and the Meister Bräu was retained, but the song was cut down to the final two lines, which was jarring for those of us who remembered it, and probably more so for first time viewers. (Lesson learned: Cable networks are such greedy assholes they'll sacrifice plot continuity for two more minutes' worth of advertising time. But you already knew that.)

Jessica visits the jail, and asks Winter if he has any magic that might help them get out. Alas, his magic mojo is off, and all he has is a handful of magic feed corn that enables reindeer to fly. This seems like an oddly specific thing for anyone to be carrying around in their pocket, even a wizard. Jessica takes the corn and feeds it to some reindeer. Sure enough it works -- they soar into the sky and fly to the jail, where they free Kris, Winter, Topper, Tanta Kringle, Mango, Tango, Django, Durango and Fandango. (Wait, TOPPER? They threw the penguin in jail?) It's not clear how the reindeer managed to get in the jail cell, unless it has no roof, which seems like a major design flaw.

The group (along with Jessica, who has joined them) are now on the run from the Sombertown police. Wanted posters bearing Kris Kringle's likeness are plastered everywhere. But Kris has now altered his appearance by growing a heavy beard. Tanta Kringle suggests he stop using the family name, and go by his birth name, "Claus". (Oddly, nobody wonders whether that's his first or last name. I guess he's a one-named celebrity, like Cher.) 

Kris and Jessica are married in the forest, under some stars, on Christmas Eve. There's no minister officiating, but they "stood before the Lord", which I guess is enough for a trailer park-style common law marriage. Hoping to make the ceremony special by lighting up the trees, Winter prays to Jesus for a little more magic. It works. (Kids, don't try that at home -- at least not in front of your parents.)

In order to evade the police force of one little town, the group treks all the way to the North Pole, where Kris decides they should build a new home, and the best toy factory in the world. And so they do, although how they accomplished that in such an isolated region remains a mystery. (Did the Kringles assemble an entire house with their little hammers?)

Kris continues to deliver toys to all the children of the world. Because of his outlaw status, he still has to make these deliveries in the dark of night. Years pass, his legend grows, and his outlaw status changes when the Burgermeisters die off and people realize the toy ban is stupid. Now too old to keep making frequent deliveries, Kris decides to limit his trips to one night a year, and picks that holiest of night, Christmas Eve. And that's the whole...


The Burgermeisters "died off"? That was an inherited title? So, at some point, years after this story took place, the Bugermeister Majorbugfuck had a kid? Really? That fucking guy?

With who? I can't imagine anyone having sex with him. (Well, to be more exact, I don't want to imagine that.)

So, to recap, here are the answers to the questions asked by the children at the start of the show:

"Why is Santa Claus sometimes called Kris Kringle?" He was adopted by an elf family named Kringle. "Claus" is his birth name. The "Santa" part was added when people decided to canonize him even though he isn't dead, because why wait?

"Why does Santa wear a red suit?" It's the uniform of his elf family.

"How did he learn to make toys?" Again, the elves.

"How does he see us when we're sleeping, and know when we're awake?" He learned black magic from a born-again demon.

"Why does he visit homes by going down the chimney?" A penguin suggested it.

"Why does he leave toys in stockings?" To hide them in case Nazis search your house, a problem that still persists to this day.

"Why does he have a beard?" So he wouldn't be recognized by the police. Of course, today he'd have to shave it for that to happen.

"Speaking of beards, how did he meet Mrs.Claus?" After spending his entire life (well into adulthood) living with five old men and his adopted mother, and having had zero contact with any other human beings, he married literally the first single woman he met.

"How does he make reindeer fly?" Magic corn, which contradicts what we saw in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, where they were a race of metas who could fly, talk, and apply false eyelashes.

"Why does Santa visit us on Christmas Eve?" Because he figured it would be easier to deliver gifts to all the children of the world in one night, instead of spacing things out in multiple trips.

"Why didn't the parents of Sombertown rise together in disgust, and kick the living shit out of the Burgermeister?"

Oh, wait, that wasn't a question on the show. That was my question.

Merry Christmas to all of you, from all of me!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Christmastime is Here

I'm back from Miami and elbow deep in notes and audio files. And since the interviews I conducted are considered proprietary information, I can't just send them out to be dealt with by Della and her Dictaphone, but have to laboriously transcribe everything myself. So my Christmas Spirit is barely budging the needle this year.

However, my brother Miles concocted this dreamy, Island-flavored take on A Charlie Brown Christmas for his own amusement, and it perked up my sagging holiday mood considerably. And I was thinking that if you too are suffering from Seasonal Mood Sag, it might do the same. So pour yourself a Mai Tai (or spike that eggnog with a little Captain Morgan) and enjoy this tropical yuletide carol... ukulele & Hawaiian slide/steel guitar

Friday, December 7, 2018

Random Scenes of Miami

I'm in the Magic City for a few days researching a screenplay (I can't say what it's about other than it involves nefarious activities in the early 90s, when cell phones were the size and weight of paving stones, a cocaine-encrusted upper lip was seen as the natural evolution of the pre-pubescent milk mustache, and by the way did you know one million dollars in hundred dollar bills weighs exactly 11 pounds?)

Anyway, when the cat's away the mice will play, but since our cats refuse to budge I've taken on the rodent responsibilities, and my idea of play is wandering around annoying the natives by snapping photos of things no sane tourist would give a second glance. And now I'm going to share them with you, because it's lonely in this hotel room and the pizza delivery boy is taking so long that by the time he finally arrives I'll be too pooped for the traditional porn scene. So enjoy.
Chicago, O'Hare

Traditional chicken matador and Plus One keeping vigil outside a restaurant.

I can't confirm their slogan, but I can recommend the Roast Pork.

Traditional chicken condemned to salivate at a chocolatier for all eternity.

Unfortunately this ad, while clearly attempting to traffic in nostalgia, makes Cuba sound like an intestinal parasite. But with enough Havana Club, you can at least keep your tapeworm drunk AF.

Traditional chicken guarding the off-brand Dollar Store.

The tomb of Mary B Hecht (1912–1982) who I’m guessing either died without survivors, or worse, hated her family enough to blow their inheritance on a granite Sphinx and a marble pyramid.

I can't tell if this chicken is saying "Welcome!" or "Eh. Salmonella. Whaddya gonna do?"

Um...Okay. I guess the lack of an apostrophe could mean it's not the barbecue equivalent of a Sambo's restaurant, but just another BBQ joint run by avuncular turkeys.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

To Doctor Who It May Concern

Scott and Jeff return from their Strange Interlude, and are joined by Mrs. C. for this quick mini-sode about the current season of Doctor Who. And guess what?

You'll never guess.

Okay, I'll tell you.

Scott's a little grumpy.

And here's a link to the Mike and Ike video mentioned on the show.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable day, free of politics, familial strife, traffic jams, and Cottage-Cheese-and-Lime-Jello salad molds. I succeeded in screwing up my back yesterday, so I'm passing it with hot cocoa and Vicodin, while Mary is busy in the kitchen, making her famous Hollowed Cabbage with Cat Food Surprise!
Crap. I just spoiled the surprise, didn't I?

Just kidding. But there is some culinary drama afoot, since she couldn't find a turkey breast at the market this year, and instead is attempting, for the first time on any stage, to cook at entire turkey in our weirdly proportioned, dollhouse-sized oven.

I guess we'll know the outcome in a couple of hours. In the meantime, we're watching The Gauntlet, the six episode, designed-to-binge 12th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

(And after one episode, I have a theory to share about the E.T. ripoff Mac and Me. So this piece of crap has more -- and more blatant -- product placement than any film I've ever seen: Coke, McDonalds, Skittles, even Sears ponied up to take part in this disaster. It cost a reported $13 million, and while it admittedly looks like a Steven Spielberg picture -- by which I mean one of the Super8 movies he shot in his backyard when he was 12 -- it earned less than half its budget back at the box office. So my theory is that the filmmakers saw Mel Brooks' The Producers, and got a brilliant idea! They cut a bunch of cross-promotional deals, sucked up millions in corporate cash, lensed a guaranteed failure for peanuts, then pocketed the balance and moved to Togo, which has no extradition treat with the United States. Q.E.D.)

So how are you guys passing the day? Pleasantly? Or like a kidney stone?

In the meantime, let's enjoy some holiday cheesecake, as Jean Arthur and Lillian Roth demonstrate pantless turkey hunting techniques.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Scenes From a Marriage: Part 12

MARY: (Returning from the grocery store) We're going to have a delicious dinner on Thanksgiving.

SCOTT: I'm looking forward to it.

MARY: And it's a 10 pound turkey so we're gonna have another delicious dinner on, uh ... What do you call the day after Thanksgiving?

SCOTT: I think it's called Kickboxing Day


MARY: We'll go with that.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Post-Friday Beast Blogging: The "Sound the All Clear!" Edition

SHADOW: Is the election over? Is it safe to come out?

MOONDOGGIE: A lady on the TV said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can't afford to rent an apartment before her Congressional salary kicks in, and I just want her to know there's always room for a firebrand young Socialist under my dining chair dust ruffle! Because Solidarity and Shared Snuggle-Space are the watchwords of Fabianism!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

It's The Slumgullion Halloween Horror Show!

Scott and Jeff see the new Halloween (2018) movie on opposite sides of the country, but they come together to completely disagree about it. Then it's Compare & Contrast Day, as they watch two different versions of the same mid-century Italian horror film. Jeff sits through the American release, Atom Age Vampire, while Scott subjects himself to the complete European cut, entitled Seddok, The Heir of Satan. They learn that sometimes more is less, but less is more confusing.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Lobster Pinched Tom Hardy's Winky!

In honor of the first woman Doctor, Jeff and Scott recruit expert woman Mary C to give the woman's point of view on womaning. Then they try to figure out why Venom sucked so bad, and why they loved it so much.

It's The Woman Who Fell to Earth versus The Parasite That Fell to Earth, so grab your headphones and your umbrella and listen to things go SPLAT!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Nazis -- On Ice!

By Hank Parmer

The Frozen Dead (1966)

In the decades after WWII, fictional plots to revive the Third Reich were a pop culture staple. Some of these, like The Quiller Memorandum (1966) made for decent thrillers, and at least the genre went out on a fairly high note with The Boys from Brazil (1978). But the idea that somewhere Hitler's surviving henchmen were still secretly planning a comeback also spawned several lesser cinematic efforts during the mid-20th Century, some of them -- like The Madmen of Mandoras (AKA They Saved Hitler's Brain) and The Yesterday Machine -- extremely lesser.

Even though the title sounds like it could be the name of a stoner cover band from the Great White North, or a Disney sequel gone hideously wrong, The Frozen Dead is a cut above those last two films. But that's setting the bar so low a flatworm would be hard pressed to limbo under it.

The movie certainly has all the right ingredients for a cheese-fest: Walk-in freezers full of Nazis; botched experiments on human guinea pigs; a head kept alive in a box. All this, and a well-known leading man of the 1940s and 50s discovering his talent doesn't extend to faking an accent. At least they can sincerely say it wasn't typecasting, when they tapped Dana Andrews to play a Nazi expatriate and mad scientist.

Andrews had turned in some fine performances in The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura and The Oxbow Incident. And it took some guts for such a reputedly straight arrow to do that cameo as a corrupt Air Force general, in the criminally underrated The Loved One. By the mid-Sixties, though, age and alcoholism had restricted the range of roles he was being offered.

The Frozen Dead opens on a promisingly eerie note, with a half moon riding high above the treetops in the inky night sky. The silence is broken by an anguished cry, a low moan rising to an inhuman howl.

Could this mean a rare demi-werewolf is prowling about? No, it's just one of a half-dozen guys clad in the soiled, tattered remnants of Wehrmacht and SS uniforms. An individual in civilian attire smacks the noisy one repeatedly across the face with the butt of his whip, until he stops howling.

Worst. Theme. Spa. Ever.

Twitching, gibbering and groaning, the group shuffles across the lawn of a country estate. I do believe these guys aren't quite right in the head; one of them is even in handcuffs. Finished with their walkies, their attendant, Karl Essen, shoves and flogs the loonies through a wrought iron gate and down some steps, while Joseph the butler watches impassively from a second-story window.

In his basement bunker -- er, laboratory, Dr. Norberg (Dana Andrews, and I'm telling you right now there will be no O. J. Simpson/Police Squad riffs) establishes his scientific bona fides by fiddling with some equipment. He's joined by Karl for a round of "Who can recite the most awkward expository dialog?"

General Lubeck is dropping by. And he's unusually late, a whole ten minutes! While they wait, Norberg is thawing out another subject, who's been frozen for the last twenty years. I dunno, you could be looking at substantial freezer burn with this one. Wait a second: 1965 minus 20 -- I think these chaps might be up to something dubious, possibly involving Germans and the end of World War II. 
Clean 'em up a bit and stick some MAGA hats on them, and these Nazi loons would fit right in at one of our home-grown fascist rallies. In more ways than one
It's a tough call, but Dana Andrews ekes out a win in the dueling exposition with extra points awarded for his completely unconvincing accent. Be that as it may, the Herr Doktor isn't overly optimistic about his chances for reviving this one with his wits intact, considering how the last seven subjects turned out. Oh, I get it: Those are the whacked-out wretches we saw at the beginning. Although Norberg really shouldn't be such a Gloomy Gus: Clean 'em up a bit and stick some MAGA hats on them, and these Nazi loons would fit right in at one of our home-grown fascist rallies. In more ways than one.

But there were only six of those guys. Who's number seven? Fortunately, this considerate scriptwriter immediately relieves us of any anxiety on that score, when Karl objects that Joseph the butler was a semi-success. Sure -- as long as you overlook the fact he's now a creepy mute.

Norberg is suspicious about the timing of the General's visit. He coolly informs Karl he's known all along that ever since he was assigned to the doctor at the end of the war, his assistant has been snitching on him to their higher-ups in the Party. Still, he's annoyed at Karl for going behind his back to the general and telling him they're ready.

But meanwhile, they have a body to reanimate. Norberg orders Karl to fetch Muller from the freezer and hook him up to the apparatus.

Three little maids from schooool!

If you look closely, you can see these frozen Nazis are being held upright by calipers, with the  points jammed into their ears. Looks pretty painful for those extras.

General Lubeck (Karel Stepanek -- a Czech actor who at the time was the go-to guy for portraying high-ranking Nazi officers, such as the fanatical Admiral Lutjens in Sink the Bismarck) arrives, with his gaunt, quietly intimidating companion, Dr. Tirpitz. The two are shown down to the cellar lab by Norberg's zombie-fied retainer.

Lubeck reveals why this demonstration is so important: There are over fifteen hundred of the Nazi elite, quick-frozen at the end of the war and stashed away in Germany, France and even Egypt, just waiting to be thawed out and reanimated so they can get back to conquering the world. (It must have been the B-list Nazis who wound up taking the rap at Nuremberg.)

Considering it's taken the Herr Doktor all of two decades to get to this point, this willingness to stick with the project shows a remarkable degree of patience on the part of his masters, a quality you rarely associate with National Socialist big-wigs. The electricity bill alone for all those freezers must be astronomical! Especially the ones in Egypt.

And another thing: Why do these crypto-Nazi schemes to resurrect the Third Reich always sound as if they were devised by the Underpants Gnomes? Seriously, what does this fiendish plan amount to:

1. Defrost 1500+ elite Nazis
2. ????
3. World Conquest!

It's not like I'm expecting the general to provide a detailed scenario (although, given this script, it's not outside the bounds of possibility) but you have to wonder how effective these revenants will be. Even assuming the Herr Doktor ultimately works the kinks out and they'll be capable of more advanced tasks than sitting in a closet and drooling into a shoe, the guys will have quite a bit of catching up on current events to do. And then there's the inevitable jealousy and back-biting from the conspirators who haven't been on ice for the last twenty years.

Friday, October 5, 2018

You Might Already Be An Idiot! I Mean...Winner!

Somehow I've gotten on the National Rifle Association's mailing list, which is evidently a pretty easy thing to do; in fact, it took no effort on my part whatsoever. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and was struck by a stray missive fired off by Wayne LaPierre (literally, "Wayne the Peter"), who was furiously exercising Amendment Number One because he loves Number Two.
This has been the toughest year that gun owners have ever faced. 
I understand gun victims also had occasion for complaint this year, but hey, they got what they had coming (bullets, apparently).
Radical gun-hating extremists have called us vile names
But names can never hurt you, Wayne! Okay, theoretically I suppose they could hurt your feelings, if you ever decided to develop any, but let's not get lost in wild hypotheticals. 
But rather than take the easy path and give up the fight, you've stood tall with me and the NRA every step of the way. 
Wayne's made-up version of me sounds so cool and heroic I almost hate to break it to him...
And as an extra way to thank you for your extraordinary commitment to freedom, I'd like to invite you to enter for YOUR chance to WIN in our NRA Banned Guns Giveaway!
NOTE: Guns not actually banned outside fever dreams and fundraising letters.
That's right. While Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are trying to ban our guns, NRA is giving guns away – 12 world-class firearms that are sure to turn heads at the range and become the pride of any gun owner's collection.
This is a bit like those old entry packets Publishers Clearing House used to send, the ones with Ed McMahon's face declaring "You May Already Be a Winner!" You might, I suppose, although opening that envelope was far more likely to net you a paper cut than a million dollars. By the same token, Wayne (standing in for Ed's disembodied head) is offering me a chance to increase my chance of accidental death 7 times!
Entering is fast and easy. You can enter to win just one of these great guns, two guns, or even all 12 guns – the choice is yours.
Only you know how tired you are of living. Or how scared you are of dying. That's why we recommend use of the patented Old Man River Scale®.

The great thing about this metric -- from Wayne's perspective, at least -- is that whenever the slider reaches 75% on either side of the scale, you're more likely to buy a gun.
No contribution is necessary to enter, however "with the most critical mid-term elections of our lives less than seven weeks away, NRA needs your support more than ever before."
NRA went on a bit of a spree in 2016, spending $54.4 million on Republican candidates and dropping over $31 million on Trump, but apparently from an insufficient height. And for whatever mysterious, ultimately unknowable reason (the black guy is gone) the NRA has fearmongered to diminishing returns these past two years, with member dues "plummeting".

And it's probably worse than reported, because I suspect (based on purely anecdotal, but extremely irritating information) that a lot of the "Life Members" on the NRA's roster are in fact participating under false pretenses, because they're dead.

After his father -- a Life Member of the NRA -- passed away, my step-brother Miles asked that Dad's membership be cancelled, by which he meant "stop sending all these goddamn fundraising letters because you're not getting another dime out of anyone in this house! In fact, I go to the trouble of writing 'Forget It' and sending back the enclosed envelope just so you get charged for the postage!"

Despite this air-tight reasoning NRA refused to comply, implicitly laying perpetual claim to any soul who signs their book (which now that I think about it is exactly how Satan acts in any film or story where someone makes a deal with the Devil, then gets cold feet). And you can see their point, because donations to the NRA depend on results, results depend on influence, and raw political muscle depends on sheer numbers, so naturally they'll do anything to inflate their rolls, even if the actual breakdown is something like "1.8 million Active Members; 2.2 million Auxiliary Members; 2.3 million Horizontal Members".
If they win, Schumer and Pelosi will move forward with an extremist anti-gun agenda that will rip the heart right out of our Second Amendment rights – including gun registration and gun-owner licensing… 
JAMES MADISON: "When we said 'a well-regulated militia', we didn't mean go crazy and have, like, paperwork..."
The NRA is working 24/7 to get our message to gun-owning voters and STOP a gun-ban takeover of Congress. But to continue reaching out to American gun owners until the moment the polls close, we need your immediate financial support.
No, no, no, you've got this extortion thing all wrong! You don't say "I'm going to be a personal nuisance to you for the next 30 days, and I need your money to pull it off!" You say you'll do all that stuff "unless you pay me!" Hearing that you're planning to hassle me from now until Election Day and then every day thereafter because when have you ever stopped ever, whether I give you money or not so I might as well give you money, does not properly incentivize me, Wayne! I realize that's how negotiations work in The Art of the Deal, but here in the non-ghostwritten world, you gotta give Daddy a little something if you want that sugar.
That's why – even though it's not required and won't increase your chances of winning – I'm asking you to contribute $5 to NRA for each of the guns you enter to win in our giveaway.
See, that's exactly what I told you not to do, Wayne. It's almost like, despite all the times I've stood tall with you and not taken the easy way, you don't really respect me.
Please enter today for your chance to win – and to help stop a gun-ban landslide on Election Day that could cost us our FREEDOM!

ALEX TREBEK: Returning champion, Scott Clevenger.

SCOTT: What is "Things Ted Nugent would say while free-styling during a duet with Stevie Nicks"?
Thanks again for standing with me every single day of this fight.
I will stand by you as I have always stood by you, Wayne. Which is to say, slightly off to the left, wearing an expression of studied innocence and an "I'm With Stupid" t-shirt.

Post-Friday Beast Blogging: The "Protecting Muh IP" Edition

SHADOW: What am I doin'? Ohhh, just chillin'. What about you?

MOONDOGGIE: Contemplating a lawsuit, 'cause I invented chilling!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

It's Like a Lifetime TV Movie With Muff

This episode we watch The Predator (don't we have enough of those in Congress, do we really need them in our multiplexes?) and The House With a Clock in Its Walls (at least according to Zillow), and try to decide if this much "meh!" is the byproduct of an industrial accident, or whether it's cooked up deliberately in mobile Meh! Labs by renegade high school chemistry teachers.

Then they tackle the Unknown Movie Challenge -- Strip Nude For Your Killer -- and are forced to turn in their Man Cards and burn their Italian bun-huggers, much like women incinerated their brassieres during the height of Second Wave Feminism.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Rave at Pump #12!

I suppose this happens to everyone from time to time, but living in Hollywood, it seems to happen to me all the time. You know the feeling: you just need ten gallons of Regular, a caffeine-free Diet Dr Pepper, and a box of Twizzlers, but while you're fumbling for your debit card a rave breaks out in front of the mini-mart, and the next thing you know, you're waking up disoriented in the Cool Tent.

Post-Friday Beast Blogging: The Happy Caturday Edition

SHADOW: Can you believe it? According to Twitter it's "Caturday", or some such bullshi--

MOONDOGGIE: What? It's Caturday?! I better get up and start bringin' the kawaii, or I'll get totally stiffed by Japanese YouTubers! Again!

SHADOW: No, honey, stay in bed...

MOONDOGGIE: We're on top of the couch.

SHADOW: Stay...on couch.

MOONDOGGIE: But Caturday--!!

SHADOW: Don't be fooled by the hype, Orange Guy. It's just another made-up Hallmark holiday like Boss's Day, or World Nutella Day, or German Apples Day--

MOONDOGGIE: Don't you be dissing Tag des Deutschen Apfels! 
SHADOW:  Um. Sorry...?

MOONDOGGIE: If the Germans hear about your potty mouth, they might refuse to honor my gift card to Wienerwald!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Happy Birthday, Sheri!

Hello, old friends.

I've been meaning to come in and dust this place off for awhile now, but I see we're well past that point and nothing short of a good sandblasting will do, followed by a vigorous scrub-down with whatever combination of bleach and acid they use to cleanse murder scenes. It's not 100% effective, but it'll make that cheap Tallahassee motel room presentable enough that the lingering smell might be mistaken for mildew in the air conditioner and the Rorschach-like blood spatters might just be part of the wallpaper pattern. Probably. Anyway, the place rents by the hour so it's not like any phantom odors will have time to permeate your sportswear, especially if you're a Republican state legislator just looking to get your winky dinked on your lunch hour.

There're a lot of things I feel I ought to be writing about lately, but rather than inspiring, the news has been suffocating me, much like that Glad™brand amniotic sac that traps Sean Connery in Zardoz, and unlike him I lack the talent to act my way out of it (also I'm having second thoughts about people seeing me in thigh-high boots and a crimson diaper).

However, I have news of my own to share. Some of it's bad, but I'm going to put all that unhappy stuff aside and for now, accentuate the positive. Today (okay, yesterday, but I started this post on September 12th in good faith, fully intending to finish it before midnight, but they're painting the doors and hallways in our apartment building and I had to flee the neighborhood because the smell was giving me a horrible headache) is the birthday of Sheri Zollinger, co-author of Better Living Through Bad Movies, "Our Hostess" as Doghouse Riley always used to call her, founder of World O' Crap, and the person who has probably made me laugh more and harder than anyone else on Earth.

Sadly for the blogosphere, Sheri (whose health has been fragile for many years now) shifted her energies from gentle lampoonery of right wing idiots to rescuing dogs and cats and helping disadvantaged people in her community. But then, the blogosphere isn't doing all that well itself lately, so who gives a damn what it thinks? The days when blogs could have banded together, achieved self-awareness, and seized control of civilization like Colossus: The Forbin Project are long gone, and if any artificial construct is going to subdue humanity, it's probably some yet-to-be-written, yet soon-to-be-viral tweet about farts.

Imagine a tweet farting in a face. Forever.

Well, that's Trump's America, but as promised, we're not here to piss and moan about the bad stuff. We're here to celebrate the birth of America's wittiest writer (yes, I said it, and I'll fight anyone who sez different).  As someone who ought to know once said (I think it was Thers, pinch-hitting for Atrios on Eschaton), "S.z. basically invented left snark", and if that's not true, then everything is an alternative fact. Waking up each day and reading her posts was pretty much the reason I bothered to get up at all during the Bush Administration, and writing a book with her was the single most joyous experience of my professional career (and I've written several movies about fish!).

So in honor of her many hilarious posts about Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Pastor J. Grant Swank, Family Circus, Doug Giles, and Meghan Cox Gurdon (America's Worst Mother [© Tbogg] before Sarah Palin arrived on the scene), please join me -- if you're still out there -- in wishing s.z. a very happy birthday.

But wait! What would a Wo'C birthday party be without prunes?

What does this crisp, fresh salad cause a man to change his mind about? Let's read on...
Stew 4 prunes for each person. Pit the prunes and stuff with cottage cheese.
So I'm guessing that any "meat and potatoes" men who were considering self-harm will look at this recipe and decide to dispense with half-measures and just skip straight to the suicide.
Place two donuts on a lettuce leaf, fill the donut centers with cottage cheese and then top each donut with a stuffed prune.
And thus the Krispy Kreme empire fell, when the Germanic leader Odoacer showed up at the gates of Rome in drag and bearing this refreshing summer dish while pretending to be a lady from the Welcome Wagon.
Place two whole pitted prunes beside the donuts.
Because as long as you're going to commit a felony, you might as well compound it. Anyway, at least we can rest assured that this thing can't get any worse.
Serve with mayonnaise.
I stand corrected.

Okay, now please join me in wishing--

Wait.  Sorry. First we need to comb the deserts of Utah for a...
Sexy Birthday Lizard!

Yes, it's the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard. I know they're more common at birthday parties than a balloon-twistin' clown, but after all, there's a difference between a cliche and a tradition.

Okay...Now please join me in wishing Sheri the loveliest of natal anniversaries. And may all the love and self-sacrifice she has offered to homeless animals and infirm neighbors over the years redound to her a thousandfold.

Happy birthday, Sheri.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Episode 50 and The Return of Larry Blamire!

Grab a glass and join in, because it's our half-centennial episode and this time we've got a special guest: writer-director Larry Blamire, who sits down to talk about his new book of Western horror stories, More Tales of the Callamo Mountains, his upcoming book Great Scott! Rare Imaginary Comic Book Covers, and a multitude of other weird angles, tangents, and asides. Then it's time for the Unknown Movie Challenge, as we volley opinions about the unjustly neglected Val Guest classic Jigsaw (1962).

P.S. For more Larry Blamire, check out the following:

Larry on Twitter
On Facebook
On Amazon
His Books and Plays

Monday, July 23, 2018

Episode 49! Areolas of the Undead!

Angry Star Wars fans want to remake The Last Jedi, so Jeff and Scott accommodate them by doing a dramatic reading of the Angry Fans' manifesto, then hastily remaking a bunch of classic films, using modern tropes, techniques, and technologies (Lawrence of Arabia moves a lot faster when everyone's riding around the desert in those Landmasters from Damnation Alley). Finally, it's a quick detour to Jurassic World enroute to our final destination, The Playgirls and the Vampire, a 1960 Italian import that supplied mid-Century America with it's Minimum Daily Adult Requirement of imported nipples.

Here's the trailer:

And here's the new episode. Enjoy!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Gosar the Gosarian

"By the way I'm a dentist. I read body language very, very well. And I can tell you're lying, Agent Strzok, because now I'm reading your MIND, using Dental Telepathy...!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Happy National Kitten Day!

Well, even though they're no longer kittens, and certainly no Brett Kavanaugh, I would like to formally nominate the cats for Supreme Kitty of the United States!

Moondoggie 2007

Shadow 2015


Your National Kitten Council recommends you snuggle kittens at least three times a day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ninjas and Kaiju and Samurai, Oh My!

By Hank Parmer

The Magic Serpent (1966)

After slogging through so many cinematic train wrecks for you guys, I've decided it's time for a bit of a change. The Magic Serpent differs from my typical review fare because for once, this is a film I like. Mostly because it never pretends to be anything other than a gloriously bonkers mashup of kaiju and samurai flick, with a generous side of sorcerous shenanigans.

If you were a fan of MST3K in its early years, you're already well acquainted with how downright loopy Japanese giant monster films can be, from such choice selections as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster -- i.e. an enormous lobster -- and Godzilla vs. Megalon -- that is, a cockroach the size of a skyscraper, unleashed upon an unsuspecting world by the secret undersea kingdom of Seatopia.

But what really drove the point home was the deep dive Joel and the 'Bots took into the entire first Gamera series. For example, there's nothing like the sight of a five thousand ton, rocket-powered flying turtle doing a gymnastic routine on the five-kiloton-turtle-sized horizontal bar -- which brain-eating alien hotties have thoughtfully installed in their city beforehand -- to make the Western viewer conclude that the Land of the Rising Sun's approach to fantasy can be ... well, different.

The Magic Serpent (a.k.a. Kairyu Daikessen: "Mystic Dragons' Great Decisive Battle") debuted over a decade after the Big G. emerged from Tokyo Bay, in that somber, almost documentary-style first entry in the Toho series. (If you've never seen the original film, instead of the Americanized release starring Raymond Burr, you really should check it out sometime. I was lucky enough to catch it on the big screen in its 50th anniversary re-issue, and I have to tell you I was floored by how much better the original was than that staple of mid-20th-Century afternoon and late night TV.)

By the mid-Sixties, Toho Studios had accumulated quite the stable of giant monsters. Beginning with his second movie, Godzilla Raids Again, Gojira was joined by the likes of Anguirus, Rodan, Varan, Manda, Mothra and (my favorite) Ghidorah the Three-Headed Space Monster a.k.a. Monster Zero. So it was only natural other studios would be eager to get their own piece of that sweet kaiju action. Unlike the Gamera series, though, most of these were imitative one-offs like Monster from a Prehistoric Planet; Gappa, the Triphibian Monster; and the superbly screwy The X from Outer Space.

Sooner or later, given the popularity of both giant monster films and the even more ubiquitous samurai epics, someone was bound to try out kaiju in a medieval Japanese setting. And in fact, 1966 was also the year Daiei, the same outfit who gave us Gamera, kicked off its Daimajin series, starring a huge stone idol that comes to life in the last act and saves his oppressed worshipers by squishing the bad guys like bugs. (Think of it as a Japanese version of the Golem.)

The Magic Serpent, on the other hand, is a Toei concoction. The name may not ring a bell, but these are the people who had previously brought us such immortal classics as Prince of Space and Invasion of the Neptune Men, and, in the near future, would partner with MGM to produce that legendarily cheesy alien infestation flick, The Green Slime.

This was Toei's first color film, though sadly, my copy is badly faded. It was also their second picture in a widescreen format. Unfortunately, this print is the American International TV version. And forget about pan-and-scan: They simply cropped the edges, so often you'll see only a sliver of a character who ought to be in the scene.

Yet even in this washed-out and mutilated version, it's obvious Toei decided to pull out all the stops.

They certainly don't waste any time getting down to business, as a gaggle of ninjas poke their heads over a wall and immediately launch a night attack on a castle sited on a high bluff overlooking a lake. Using enough pyrotechnics to satisfy even Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok, castle guards are blowed up real good and slaughtered right and left by the ninjas.

Lord Ogata and his wife are awakened by the commotion. When his chief vassal, Yuki Daijo, appears, the daimyo demands to know what's going on. Yuki tells Ogata he's been betrayed by someone close to him. Real close. Like, standing in front of him right now.

Ogata lunges for his sword, but before he can draw it from its scabbard, he's slit up a treat by his treacherous servant. His wife tries to run for help, but she's impaled through the shoji by Yuki's ally, wicked sorcerer Orochi-Maru.

There's still one prospective victim unaccounted for, though: Lord Ogata's son, Ikazuchi-Maru. (Since I don't want to take up the space required to explain what's up with that "Maru" suffix, I encourage any reader who has some time on their hands and a yen for philological trivia to look it up. What's important is this doesn't mean he's related to the bad guy.)

While the castle burns behind them, some loyal retainers spirit the young boy to safety in a boat. Ikazuchi-Maru thinks the conflagration makes the castle look pretty, all lit up like a lantern. Which is a line that -- assuming the dubbing is a more or less accurate translation -- is actually both poignant and believable, coming from a child his age.

Pretty much your standard set-up for a dispossessed-heir-seeks-revenge adventure, right? It seems as if they're in the clear, but the lake begins to bubble and seethe. Up pops a very large and very traditional-looking oriental dragon, who is in fact our naughty wizard. ("Orochi-Maru" can be translated as "demon serpent".)

"Help me, Rocky! I seem to be a sea serpent!"

The fearsome beast overturns their boat, drowning everyone except Ikazuchi-Maru. Orochi-Maru the were-dragon is poised to finish the job, as the boy clings desperately to the bottom of the overturned skiff. Then a huge eagle appears.

It swoops down and nicks the dragon on the forehead. I know cuts to the head tend to bleed freely, but in this case the red stuff positively sprays. This critter really ought to have his blood pressure checked.

The bird rescues the child -- at least, let's hope that's what it has in mind -- and wings away with Ikazuchi-Maru dangling from its claws.

"I hope you don't mind if I make another stop at Mt. Doom ..."

Fast forward fourteen years. Fortunately, Ikazuchi-Maru wasn't eaten, but has instead grown into a strapping young lad. Out for his daily jog down the precipitous side of a ravine, with no warning at all, throwing knives come at him from out of nowhere. He narrowly avoids them, but then he staggers and topples back out of sight behind a low rise. Flames shoot up from behind the hillock -- so the guy was highly flammable?

A white-haired, luxuriantly bearded elder flies down from the top of the ravine and peers into the blaze. But not so fast: Tricky Ikazuchi-Maru sneaks up behind the geezer and puts one of those throwing knives to his throat.

The wizard, Dojin Hiki, is pleased: He congratulates Ikazuchi-Maru on finishing his training. Now, declares the Master, the boy is ready to go out into the world and make a name for himself. Dojin Hiki surprises the graduate, though, when he mentions he had another student. But this one went to the Dark Side. (He never visits, he doesn't call or write -- not even a postcard!) His mentor refuses to sully his lips with the nogoodnik's name.

Ikazuchi-Maru bounds off to the forest to gather some herbs for their farewell dinner. After he departs, the Master suddenly whirls around and chucks his staff at the cliff face. It buries half its length in the (dirt? really soft rock?) for a moment, then returns to the wizard's hand. After a dramatic pause, the spot where his staff struck the cliff crumbles away; a ninja emerges -- but keels right over.

The Master grumbles that lately these guys are getting to be real pests. And you know what they say: For every one you see ...