I really love a certain type of genre movie: The stripped-down thriller/horror/mystery that didn’t cost a ton to make and isn’t trying to do a whole lot other than give you a few twists and turns. The sort of movie where someone casually mentions how a general anesthetic works, and you immediately know someone’s getting a syringeful of it dramatically stabbed into their neck during the third act. Gimmicks are very welcome in these things, too, whether it’s “alligators in a hurricane” or “a home invasion, but the victim can’t hear or speak.”
Part of my love for this type of movie is definitely rooted in my interest in stories that play with genre rules — “high school drama but it’s film noir for no reason” is a more obvious example. Perhaps a little counterintuitively, originality isn’t really that important for this sort of thing, since it’s more about the execution than the idea — a super-soldier here, a super-soldier there, don’t worry about it.
Another part of my interest in these movies might be a reaction against the modern blockbuster, where the stakes are always, like, an alien invasion destroying the world.
Granted, these movies still have to be okay enough for me to like them, too. By the standards I just laid out, I should have loved Tremors, but it turns out I’m not in the mood for loveable gun nuts and gender norms these days. I know I’ve mentioned this type of movie before in this newsletter — I’d consider The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Deathtrap to be a couple, although, eh, that’s really blurring the barrier between “stripped-down” and “movies that were just considered totally normal in the 70s and 80s.” I think I’ve stretched my definition as far as it can go here.
Anyway, I saw a couple recently. I really enjoyed the 1986 version of The Hitcher. You know how a lot of thrillers spend half their runtime trying to make the audience wonder if the protagonist is just paranoid and there’s nothing wrong, even though the protagonist always turns out to be right? The Hitcher gets all that out of the way in the first five minutes. It also goes pretty heavy on the homoerotic subtext, which I thought worked well enough until I looked up the Ebert review, where his big complaint was that they left it as subtext. From his pan: “I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.” Fair enough.
I also saw Body at Brighton Rock on Hulu, which was a little slower than I expected but still good. I’m interested in more underrated genre movies, particularly any from the 70s-90s. If you have an recommendations, feel free to jump in the comment section and let me know!
Here’s an interesting obscure art book that’s going straight to my interlibrary loan list: The Ides of Octember: A Pictorial Bibliography of Roger Zelazny
And here’s another: The Weird World of Eerie Publications. I was sold by this review:
The Weird World of Eerie Publications: The Siren Song Of Trashy Tabloid Horror
Don Guarisco, Schlockmania
You get all the available info about the strange history of Eerie Publications. However, the thing that puts it all across the plate is Howlett’s authorial voice. He can deploy some playful, tongue-in-cheek humor when the moment is right but he shows respect for his subject matter by doing quality journalism about its origins. He also displays a nice knack for artistic commentary when discussing the styles of the different artists. His nimble approach carries the reader nicely through the various topics covered by the book and the book’s appeal is completed by a slick, colorful layout that makes excellent use of art from the Eerie’s different publications.
Next up: This fun video essay that explains how Jack Kirby’s style evolved out of a need for comics-drawing speed.
The Style of Jack Kirby
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Strip Panel Naked
Speaking of Jack Kirby, here’s the art that he submitted as an option for the plaques sent up with the Pioneer space probes in the early 70s.
Boing Boing has more on that here, but here’s what Kirby said about it: “It appears to me that man’s self image has always spoken far more about him than does his reality-figure. My vision of the plaque would have revealed the exuberant, self-confident super visions with which we’ve clothed ourselves since time immemorial.”
Today, in retro sci-fi art book research: The Bigfoot Files, by Peter Guttilla, 2003. One of the most fun parts of writing is diving into incredibly obscure books and digging up interesting paragraphs. I’ll let this one speak for itself:
On the topic of book things, how weird would it be if I got in touch with this guy to get permission to re-use this joke in my book? Too weird, right?
Interesting thread here, with a bunch of concrete examples of how tough it is to write outside of your experience:
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Next time, on Retro Sci-Fi Art: Paying subscribers get a closer look at what is possibly my favorite Jack Kirby art of all time, but is definitely my favorite Valentine of all time.