The Red Right Hand Reprinted & Recommended

Many of my latest (and future) blog posts are about novels I’ve written and am releasing.  But this post is about someone else’s novel. One I fully intend on talking up to everyone I know until I get the eye rolls that let me know I’m going on about it too much. And I need to buy a few copies and give them away. This is a 1945 novel that has drifted out of print for long stretches while, I’m overjoyed to say, it’s back in print on July 7 of this year.

Joel Townsley Rogers’ incredible novel The Red Right Hand opens with the aftermath of a crime. A young couple on a scenic trip have encountered a frightening stranger, the story beginning with the narrator trying to sort out exactly what happened.  This description is no spoiler, for it’s merely how the book opens and I will say no more about the plot or the characters. I truly want to ruin nothing about the experience of this novel for anyone who hasn’t read it.

What I will say is that The Red Right Hand is a feverish, hallucinatory nightmare, dripping with nocturnal atmosphere, recurring dread, and much more. Written by a prolific, master pulp writer, it’s much appreciated by writers and genre enthusiasts, but seems to have never crossed that far into the mainstream. Maybe now is the time for that to change. If you like mystery, crime, or the more psychological brand of horror, you need to read it, preferably on a hot summer night with open windows, a darkened screen door nearby, and all of nature’s unearthly sounds drifting in.

Don’t take my word for it, just trust Donald Westlake: “I believe Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand should be reissued every 5 years forever.”

And a big thanks goes to the great Otto Penzler for reissuing it as part of his American Mystery Classics series.

Whether in softcover, hardcover, or e-book, check out and enjoy the eerie dream-state of The Red Right Hand, one of the most unique and memorable novels ever written.

Restored T-MEN Streaming Free on Black Friday

When is an underrated classic movie restored in high definition available at no charge?

When ClassicFlix streams their restoration of the great film noir thriller T-MEN tomorrow night (November 24) on their YouTube channel.

Check it out:

ClassicFlix will also be selling their T-MEN Blu Ray Special Edition at an incredible price that night.

And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Making of ROBOT MONSTER Movie

For the better part of the past year, it’s been my privilege to be privy to a plan to make an independent movie about Phil Tucker’s making of ROBOT MONSTER. A filmmaker named Matthew Muhl has written a script and outlined a plan for making his film about the March 1953 event, and he has started a Kickstarter fund for this project. To be clear, this movie is not based on my book but is Matthew’s own project with his own script. Head on over, and check out a video he’s put together on the project with narration by original ROBOT MONSTER cast member and all around cool guy Gregory Moffett!

THE MECHANICAL UNIVERSE Unbound

After the Project: Universe astronomy telecourse, Orange County’s Coast Community College District outdid themselves. From astronomy to physics, from one Universe title to another, was The Mechanical Universe and its follow-up that added some Beyond to the title. P:U will always be my personal favorite, but MU kicked everything up so many notches that it’s the more obviously impressive show, especially with its innovations in computer graphics.

This show was once expensive to acquire and difficult to see if you didn’t catch a broadcast on PBS, but now Cal Tech has put the entire thing up on their YouTube channel for free. Amazing!

La-La Land Records Has Had Enough of Vinyl

I read over at Film Score Monthly this comment from M.V. Gerhard of soundtrack label La-La Land Records:

It’s not worth our time, space, resources or money.

[Star Trek: The Motion Picture] is our last vinyl. Don’t get me wrong — it did incredibly well (will most likely sell out by year’s end), but we would rather focus on many other cd, blu-ray and film projects.

It’s gratifying when someone in the know confirms one of your pet opinions. I’ve long believed that the decade-plus vinyl revival is a hipster affectation, motivated by the democratizing effect that high-bandwith Internet had on the availability of rare music.

To put it another way: when I was growing up, you had to pay $20 for that imported Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians CD single just to get a weird bonus track. Now those rare tracks are all over YouTube, and it’s very hard to be cooler than the other cool people. But thanks to vinyl, large amounts of money can be flushed on a cumbersome, expensive, and fragile format that takes dedication to collect.

Whatever, I still feel like it’s 1987 and visions of a large CD collection are dancing in my head.

And if you want to experience Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic and mysterious score for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, get La-La Land’s magnificent 3-CD release.

Best Ever Advice

Rudyard Kipling’s “If” has been raked over many coals for supposedly reeking of class privilege, and for its associations with having an English stiff upper lip.  In truth, it is universal in its message and ignoring its advice would be a perfect way to fail in life.

My maternal grandfather was a rancher and a completely able man in all areas and, when I graduated from high school, I got a card from him with the text of “If.”  With a strong Irish background in his family, I can guarantee that he did not love the poem for its Englishness.  He loved the poem because Kipling distilled goodness and success down to its essence as few ever have.

 

If

by Rudyard Kipling

 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The Motorcycle Boy Reigns

I saw Rumble Fish back in 1994, was stunned, and was also stunned that hardly anyone had seen it or written about it in the decade after its release.  It’s a real love-it-or-hate-it experience, but it definitely clicked for me.  Amazing visuals and sounds, and some outright surrealism in what was ostensibly a Hollywood movie.  There’s nothing quite like it, and Criterion is bringing it to Blu-Ray in April.

The Merritt Monster

“And all the valley was carpeted with the blue poppies in wide, unbroken fields, luminous as the morning skies of mid-June; they rippled mile after mile over the path we had followed, over the still untrodden path which we must take. They nodded, they leaned toward each other, they seemed to whisper—then to lift their heads and look up like crowding swarms of little azure fays, half impudently, wholly trustfully, into the faces of the jeweled giants standing guard over them. And when the little breeze walked upon them it was as though they bent beneath the soft tread and were brushed by the sweeping skirts of unseen, hastening Presences.”

merritt

Abraham Merritt was one of the most popular and influential writers of the twentieth century, which goes to show how strange and fleeting fame can be. According to Sam Moskowitz’s introduction in my copy of The Metal Monster, A. Merritt’s books had sold roughly four million copies by the late 1950s, and that does not take into account the incredible success he earlier experienced when his fiction was serialized in the long-running story magazine Argosy. Merritt was so popular that his The Ship of Ishtar was chosen by reader poll to be reprinted in a 1938 series of Argosy issues, beating out Edgar Rice Burroughs and Erle Stanley Gardner, amongst others. A newspaper man professionally, Merritt worked high within the Hearst organization, made an excellent living, and only wrote fiction because he enjoyed it.

And so did just about everyone else in the country enjoy Merritt’s writing, it seems, from how popular he was during his lifetime (the opposite fate of many writers who achieve posthumous fame). After his passing in 1943, his writing continued to sell in book form at least through the end of the fifties but at some point this leveled off. Few writers could have the longevity of Tolkien, and while Merritt is still read now, the audience is smaller and what most seem to notice about Merritt now is his overwriting. The word “tedious” is often thrown around, and it’s true that the man loved to describe. Someone somewhere noted that it’s incredible that he could detail so elaborately, and yet not repeat himself. His command of $100 words is amazing, as I found myself puzzling now and then over a word’s meaning (and in most groups I’m the one who knows the weird vocabulary words without hesitation).

The Metal Monster is not ranked as Merritt’s best by most readers, but it seems that none of his published fiction was actually bad. I went through a phase of picking up all of his books decades ago, largely because references to him in history-of-science-fiction books built him up as a touchstone to the bizarre and wonderful. I’ve yet to get through more than a couple so far, which I hope to remedy in the near future, but a little Merritt goes a long way and it would be hard to read multiple Merritts in a row. (As I’m mostly writing these days, I wish I had time for more reading, period. And I know that writers need to be readers for the sake of their writing . . .)

While Merritt’s style would stick out like a sore thumb among current writers, it’s also true that his style would never have developed today at all. For what made him cross the line from poet to verbal onanist was that he was describing things that no one had seen in the real world, and that probably no one had described in fiction either. With an extremely vivid imagination, he simply put down specifically the bizarre things he must have seen play out in his mind. And writing in a time when fiction was still closer to the elaborate 19th century than the clipped Hemingway style that became the 20th century norm, readers would not have minded. They also likely did not mind as they read his writing in serialized, weekly doses, and lived in a time without TV and where movies mostly lacked believable special effects.

The paragraph quoted above is representative of the Merritt style, with some truly beautiful descriptions and a hint of foreshadowing. But even as the story kicks into gear and its assemblage of adventurers get caught in the hidden world of an ancient kingdom of a godlike being and the living metal creatures that serve her, the sense of awe continues but becomes strained with just too much of it. (Awe-fullness, really.) But as archaic as Merritt’s style is, it’s amazing that he thought of a concept that would still seem radical at the end of the century when Terminator 2 unleashed its liquid metal bad guy. Here, there is a whole exotic land of metal things, composed of basic shapes and combining and recombining in various patterns according to their collective will.

And altogether, the upshot of this experience is that Merritt becomes tedious and yet remains exhilarating and exotic by the end. So without too much future rolling by, I’m going to have to dive into more Merritt and report back here, like one of his recurring characters.

It Came from Best Buy

“After you’ve been working out on the desert fifteen years like I have, you hear a lot of things.  See a lot of things too.  Sun in the sky, and the heat.  All that sand out there with the rivers and lakes that aren’t real at all.  And sometimes you think that the wind gets in the wires and hums and listens and talks.”

icfos_3-d_b-r

So saith Ray Bradbury, my favorite writer.

Because I wrote a lengthy book about the making of a very bad but very awesome ’50s monster movie, I’ve seen far too many of these things. But I also have an appreciation for the ones that actually aren’t terrible, and for a few that are actually good. And this is why I’ve seen IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE more than a few times over the years. With Bradbury’s involvement, this 3-D production from Universal in 1953 is one of the best of its kind. The Bradbury in this Bradbury movie was Hollywood-diluted of course, but the movie’s intelligent treatment of contact with alien life makes it unique, as does the sense of mystery and desert atmosphere. The quote above, gracefully read onscreen by actor Joe Sawyer, encapsulates the greatness of this little gem.

So when the news came out that Universal was getting IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE out on Blu-Ray as a Best Buy exclusive, I noticed it was priced like the Wal-Mart bargain bin and knew I had to own it on that basis. It could have been released by Criterion, cost $24.99, and gone into the land of ain’t-buying-because-DVD-is-good-enough. But wiser heads prevailed, despite a lot of trouble going into this release. The 3-D Film Archive did intensive work on the picture and sound, bringing its original three-channel audio to home video for (I believe) the first time.

Old black-and-white movies are tricky for me on Blu-Ray. Some enthusiasts get defensive when someone claims that old movies don’t pop all that much in high definition, the defenders pointing out that 1080p resolution will recreate that silver glow that coats the screen in black-and-white projection. While that is true, I’m not going to pretend. Without color, high definition just doesn’t define that highly to my eyes.

So when I played the disc, I had the same issue I always have with black-and-white Blu-Ray. This looks good, I think to myself, but does it really look that good? But, yes, it does. Comparing it to the 2002 DVD, the Blu-Ray blows it away with significantly more detail and contrast, and an overall brighter image. Atmospheric imagery in a cave late in the movie becomes absolutely beautiful on the new disc, and little visual details like the glittery trail left by the alien shine in a new way.

But having said all that, the audio is just stunning. There is some real channel separation going on, which is a startling thing for my ears to register when watching a movie as old as this one. And the louder moments are downright stunning, like the explosion and musical stab at the beginning.

Extra features to me are extra and not always necessary, but this disc carries a magnificent audio commentary by Tom Weaver from the old DVD. Anyone who has heard a Weaver commentary knows that he not only knows his stuff, but he has specifically prepared it in a pattern that makes sense, and he barely stops talking(!). There’s a good documentary from the DVD too but the commentary is where it’s at.

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, it seems to be selling. My local Best Buy had three or four copies, and I was surprised to see them sold out later in the week. (Shout! Factory’s outstanding Manhunter didn’t seem to be selling out in the spring.)  Anyhow, I hope Universal goes to the trouble with more classic science fiction. Being me, I have to close with a song, one that sampled this movie: