Thursday, April 18, 2024

Penthouse April 1980

April 1980
April, 1980, and the number-one song in the land is 'Another Brick in the Wall' by Pink Floyd, off their number one LP The Wall. Also in the top 5 is an excellent track from Christopher Cross: 'Ride Like the Wind'.
The latest issue of Penthouse magazine is on the newsstands, featuring Annie Hockersmith, this month's Pet, on the cover.

This issue is a little strange, in that it doesn't feature the traditional softcore photoshoot of boy-girl or girl-girl erotic activity. We do get a feature article about a man named 'Othello', who author Ernest Volkman claims was an FBI operative and informant on the Black Panthers. Although Volkman doesn't disclose the name of Othello, it's likely he was William O'Neal.
There is a fine portfolio of a petite, raven-haired Eurasian woman named Loni 'Haiku' Sanders. I like Loni. I think you will, too.
Bob Guccione was an artist and appreciative of art, so it's not unusual that we get a large portfolio of 'erotic' art as created by everyone's most famous eccentric artist of the early 1980s, none other than Hans Rudi Giger. 

Giger was more than a little calculating in the way he presented himself to the public, and he doesn't disappoint here, with his bizarre remarks that accompany the portfolio. Whether it's 'erotic' art, is up to you to decide. Personally, I think it's stuff that is just too fucked-up to be published in Omni or Heavy Metal.
There is a lengthy excerpt from actress Brit Ekland's memoir, 'True Brit'. In the excerpt, Brit tells us about her boyfriends Warren Beatty and Rod Stewart. While Warren was a come-and-go affair, Britt fell deep for Rod the Mod, despite his skin-flinty approach to money. 

Unfortunately for Britt, Rod (who called her 'Poopy') had too many side chicks, and Brit eventually left him for a man with more self-control.
Let's close with a couple of cartoons that likely would not pass muster nowadays..........
And that's how it was, in the pages of Penthouse, 44 years ago............

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Book Review: Eclipse

Book Review: 'Eclipse' by John Shirley
2 / 5 Stars

John Shirley (b. 1953) was an established novelist of science fiction and horror titles when, in 1985, he entered the genre of cyberpunk with his trilogy, 'A Song Called Youth', that consisted of the novels 'Eclipse' (1985), 'Eclipse Penumbra' (1987) and 'Eclipse Corona' (1990). All three books were issued in paperback by Questar. The Questar edition of 'Eclipse' (310 pp.) features cover art by Joe DeVito.
Perhaps the most economical way to access the trilogy nowadays is via the omnibus edition, titled 'A Song Called Youth', published as a trade paperback by Prime Books in 2013.
The novel is set in 2020. Western Europe has been devastated by a 'limited' nuclear war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, and amid the ruins, NATO has abdicated local authority in favor of a Blackwater-style mercenary outfit known as the Second Alliance (SA). The SA, in turn, is operated by Rick and Ellen Mae Crandall, a brother and sister pair of evangelical, fundamentalist Christians (during the 1980s, fundamentalist Christians were favorite villains of sci-fi writers, the only exception being Mike McQuay's 'Jitterbug', where the villains are - gasp ! - Muslims). The SA is a fascist entity, dedicated to restoring white supremacy over North America and Europe through means both overt and covert.

A Marxist organization called the National Resistance (NR) is determined to bring down the SA. Led by the enigmatic Steinfield, the NR maintains revolutionary cells throughout western Europe, these cells conducting low-level guerilla warfare against the better-equipped and better-funded SA.

'Eclipse' documents the antics of a large cast of characters belonging to either the SA or the NR. Few, if any, of these personages are heroes in the traditional sense, as all have flaws of one sort or another, but Shirley makes clear that the morally upright party in this contest is the NR.

'Eclipse' has its moments when the cyberpunk ethos comes through in a stylish way:

His name was James Kessler, and he was walking east on Fourteenth Street, looking for something. He wasn't sure what he was looking for. He was walking through a misty November rain. The rain sharpened the edge of the cold wind that slashed at his acrylic overcoat. The street was almost deserted. He was looking for something, something, the brutally colorless word something hung heavily in his mind like an empty frame.

Unfortunately, for the most part, the novel is a disappointment. There are too many subplots and characters competing for attention and as a result, just when it seems as if the narrative finally has gained momentum, the action cuts away to another thread and so doing, restores inertia. William Gibson has the ability to craft a cyberpunk novel where the simultaneous subplots work in concert, but Shirley isn't as adept.

The most interesting character in the book is Rick Rickenharp, an alienated rock guitarist and a stand-in for John Shirley himself. However, Rickenharp is on-screen only for limited portions of the novel. Much text is devoted to the goings-on aboard 'FirStep', a space colony, where a rebellion by the workers against management allows Shirley to expound on Class Struggle. But this sub-plot doesn't contribute all that much to the book, serving more as filler than content that improves the novel.

'Hard-Eyes', the closing chapter of 'Eclipse', brings a greater sense of urgency as the subplots all coalesce in scenes of strife and horror amidst the ruined environs of Paris. But the reader has to wade through too much empty prose to get to 'Hard-Eyes', and I finished 'Eclipse' comfortable with a Two-Star Rating, and in no hurry to access the next volume in the series.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Suburban Grindhouse

'Suburban Grindhouse' by Nick Cato
'Suburban Grindhouse' (2019; 249 pp.) is a print-on-demand trade paperback publication from the UK publisher Headpress. You can order the book direct from the Headpress website, or order it from

This book compiles entries in the ‘Suburban Grindhouse Memories’ column, devoted to psychotronic / trash / transgressive movies, that Nick Cato authored from 2010 to 2018 for the 'Cinema Knife Fight' website (which folded in 2018).
Cato is a trash film fanatic, who has contributed articles both to print, and online, media. He also has written a substantial body of self-published fiction. His Goodreads blog page gives a sense of where he lies in terms of his appreciation for transgressive media (some of his interests are rather obscure).
I don't usually review psychotronic movies, since there are plenty of websites and print media that do this. I occasionally will write a post about a book or magazine devoted to the topic, that I find particularly noteworthy: for example, my post about the magazine Shock Cinema is here, and my post about a biography of Bill Landis is here.

I was motivated to post an overview of 'Suburban' because of its nostalgic character. Cato, who was born in 1968 (eight years younger than me) wisely frames his reviews in the context of seeing the films at any number of theatres in Staten Island (and sometimes on 42nd Street) from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Boomers who remember filmgoing from that era will find much to identify with, in the pages of 'Suburban'.
Cato reviews roughly 80 movies, from a variety of genres, in the pages of 'Suburban', these reviews accompanied by rather low-res scans of advertisements appearing in print media of the day.
Cato avoids letting nostalgia interfere with his judgments of the merits of these films; most of them are Godawful duds and, as Cato advises, will appeal only to those hapless souls who have a quasi-religious devotion to schlock cinema. 
But Cato does have gems in this compilation, and learning (in some cases reminding me) about these productions kept me paging through 'Suburban'. Some of those gems will be familiar to Boomers: for example, Cato gives high marks, and affection, to the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal.

Other gems, of which I am only now aware, include Blood Tide, which features super 80s chicks Lydia Cornell (Too Close for Comfort), Mary Louise Weller (Animal House), and the stunning Deborah Shelton (Body Double, Dallas). 

Also piquing my interest are such films as Chained Heat (a 'women in prison' drama starring Linda Blair), Spring Break, and Friday the 13th Part 2, which I didn't pay much attention to when it came out, but which, according to Cato, is a great slasher film.
One problem that comes up while perusing the films profiled in the pages of 'Suburban', is how to see them. In the 10+ years since Cato first penned these reviews, DVDs have started to recede as a media packaging format, to be replaced by streaming video. (Although, that said, Something Weird apparently is going to cease offering downloads later this year and focus solely on DVDs.)
It's possible to see Blood Tide on YouTube and Tubi for 'free', in its somewhat grainy glory. Chained Heat also is available on YouTube, in a much better quality. For its part, Galactic Gigolo is available for rent from amazon prime for a modest fee ($2), and free at Tubi.

Granted, watching a movie from the grindhouse era on your TV, PC, smartphone, or tablet is nowhere near the same experience as seeing it in a twinplex theatre in the early 1980s, but one must roll with the times, so to speak.........
Summing up, if you're over 50 and you fondly recall those long-ago days when seeing a movie meant going to a theatre with sticky floors, and bits of popcorn mashed into the sole of your shoe, and the at-times agonizing decision about when to run to the bathroom, and miss some of the film (as opposed to peeing in your seat), then 'Suburban Grindhouse' will be a fun read. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Greatest Science Fiction Hits by Neil Norman

Greatest Science Fiction Hits
by Neil Norman
DMG Records, 1979
If, by chance, you opened up the June, 1980 issue of Questar magazine, inside you would see a column-sized advertisement for an LP titled Greatest Science Fiction Hits, by Neil Norman. 

The advertisement touted the LP as 'The greatest science fiction album ever made !!!.'
At that time only in his early twenties, Neil Norman was the son of impresario Gene Norman, who owned GNP records, an independent record company located in Burbank, California. A musician and ardent science fiction fan, in the 1970s Norman formed 'Neil Norman and His Cosmic Orchestra', to perform science fiction-inspired rock instrumentals (while dressed in costumes mingling both glam, and science fiction, stylings). 

In 1979 Norman and his band released Greatest Science Fiction Hits as a GNP production on its DMG Records label. 
The album focused on covers of instrumental tracks from such well-known films as Moonraker, Alien, and Superman, as well as original compositions by Les Baxter, who scored horror films for American International Pictures. While Moonraker, Star Trek and Close Encounters receive a straightforward disco sensibility, Norman's treatment of the Star Wars theme has a marching-band arrangement that works quite well in evoking a martial atmosphere. 

Norman's rendition of the theme for Space 1999 not only incorporates the chucka-whucka rhythms of Isaac Hayes's theme from Shaft, but the quintessential seventies guitar affectation, the 'wah wah' pedal. For the theme from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, 'Also Sprach Zarathustra', Norman leads with an orchestral treatment, before segueing into a disco beat overlaid with an unrestrained guitar solo.

It's all available for your nostalgia, and listening appreciation, at this link to Rumble. Complete with all the scratches and pops and crackles that made vinyl so special, way back in 1979. Enjoy !

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Book Review: The Ice Monkey

Book Review: 'The Ice Monkey' by M. John Harrison
4 / 5 Stars

'The Ice Monkey and Other stories' first was published in 1983 in hardcover by Gollancz. Copies of that book have very high asking prices, but a trade paperback edition published in 1993 in the UK by Flamingo (above) is affordable. The cover artwork is by Carol Fulton.

‘Monkey’ contains seven short stories that first appeared in the interval from 1975 – 1982 in magazines (such as Interzone) and anthologies ('The Year's Best SF').

Soon after his first novels, 'The Committed Men' and 'The Pastel City' were published in 1971, Michael John Harrison (b. 1945) emerged as one of the most accomplished of contemporary writers of sf and fantasy. Adept at both the novel and the short story, he brought a New Wave sensibility to his prose, yet skillfully avoided the self-indulgence that tended to mar so many New Wave fiction pieces from authors well-known and lesser-known.  Unfortunately, over the past 25 years or so, Harrison’s output has centered more on novels, and his sporadic short stories have adopted a Speculative Fiction style that I find too diffuse to appreciate.

Most of the stories in ‘Monkey’ are set in nondescript English landscapes, urban or rural, where it is always drizzling, and, along with the chilly mist, entropy shrouds the terrain. The characters in these tales are depressed and adrift, yet unable to salvage themselves; we can only look on as their destinies unfold within underlit rooms with worn rugs and sagging furniture; dilapidated apartment houses with dusty windows; and deserted streets marked with overflowing rubbish bins. 

My capsule summaries of the contents of ‘The Ice Monkey’:

The Ice Monkey (1980): in a London suburb laid waste by urban renewal and passivity, the narrator tries to negotiate a meeting between an estranged couple. More of a story about rock climbing (Harrison’s favorite pastime) than anything else.

The New Rays (1982): in a dreary northern England town, the first-person narrator seeks treatment for her incurable illness from Dr Alexandre and his mysterious New Rays. Creepy, and threaded with a proto-steampunk consciousness, this is one of Harrison’s best stories.
The Incalling (1978): As a favor to Clerk, a promising writer (albeit one with an unpleasant personality) the narrator agrees to participate in a strange religious ceremony staged by immigrants, whose intentions have more to do with greed than altruism. The narrative delivers a growing sense of unease, and a revelation that surprises, without being contrived. 
Settling the World (1975): God has come to the UK, and erected a massive, otherworldly  superhighway across the length of the country. Oxlade, an agent with the British Secret Service, is tasked with finding what lies at the highway’s end. Among all the stories in ‘Monkey’, this one is frank sf, or fantasy, or even magic realism; but there is a downbeat, unsettling note to the discovery that lies at the end of the highway.

The Quarry (1983): An invalid finds restoration in the English countryside. This is  the only tale in the anthology with an optimistic note, derived from a pantheistic perception of nature.

Running Down (1975): Lyall is infected with entropy; the narrator, his onetime classmate, can only look on as Lyall’s life winds downward in a trail of growing decrepitude. Despite the inclusion of too much rock-climbing activity, the story remains one of the most original to come out of the New Wave movement in sf.

Egarno (1981): Lucas is the proprietor of a small shop in a rundown neighborhood in Manchester. He  tries to give meaning to his increasingly disordered and shabby life by believing in the existence of the mythical land of Egarno. Not really sf or horror; more a tale of urban anomie. 

In summary, 'Egarno' really is the only entry that detracts from this anthology, and the anthology is deserving of a Four-Star Score. If you are a fan of Harrison’s work, then you will want to have a copy of ‘The Ice Monkey’. If you are new to Harrison’s work, this is worth picking up, as it offers a good overview of his short stories.

Monday, April 1, 2024

National Lampoon April 1981

National Lampoon
April, 1981
April, 1981, and the top single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart is 'Kiss On My List', by Hall and Oates.
The April issue of National Lampoon is a 'chaos' themed issue. I can't say it's a very good issue overall, although it does have some amusing content.

As far as advertising goes, we get a full-page ad for the latest album from Journey, a live, double-album LP titled Captured. This LP features the Old School Journey, back when the band still was a progressive rock outfit, with Gregg Rolie, Steve Smith, Russ Valory, Neal Schon, and Steve Perry in the lineup. The entire contents of Captured is available here; I suggest the best place to start is by going to the 1:107:22 mark for the only track that is not a live track, but a studio track: 'The Party's Over', one of the very best of all Journey songs (in my opinion).

And also, we have one of the most striking movie posters of the 1980s, the one for The Howling.
There is a comic book satire, titled 'Young Ron', aimed at Ronald Reagan Jr., known as 'Ron' Reagan. 

The son of president-at-the-time Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis Reagan, Ron was a ballet dancer (eyebrows raised), and politically, openly sympathetic to liberal causes. Although Ron was married at the time the comic was published, that didn't stop the Lampoon's Ted Mann, Tod Carroll, and Frank Springer from depicting him as a Dainty Dude........
We get some boobies (!) in a Foto Funny:
And we've got some black-and-white comics, too. All of this, back in April of 1981...........