Review of “Perpetua’s Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman” by Joyce E. Salisbury

image from goodreads

The use of the word “passion” in the title reflects an old meaning, that is, “suffering.” It’s often used religious terms, as in the present book.

Vibia Perpetua (c. 182- 203 CE) was a young noblewoman of Carthage (present-day Tunisia) in the Roman province of Africa, executed in the Carthage amphitheater after converting to Christianity. During her imprisonment, she wrote a first-person account of the days leading up to her death and recorded a series of vivid dreams. The diary was completed by an anonymous Christian who observed Perpetua’s death along with those of a slave named Felicitas and several others.

Author Joyce E. Salisbury writes, “I wanted to try to understand the mentality that would allow someone to walk confidently into an arena knowing that he or she would die violently.”

Salisbury’s book on Perpetua examines the diary in the context of Roman and Carthaginian history, society, and religion. Romans traditionally detested human sacrifice, but Carthaginians were said (…by the conquering Romans…) to have practiced it widely, particularly on infants. Salisbury uses this history—which only has to be believed to make the difference—as a framework to make martyrdom a viable path.

Perpetua’s father visits her in custody and tries to persuade her to renounce Christianity. He brings her infant to her as if to remind her the boy’s survival would be unlikely if she died. He begged her to renounce Christianity, but she remained firm.

“Would you call a lamp anything but a lamp? Neither can I call myself anything else but a Christian,” she tells him.

The diary does not mention Perpetua’s husband, but the reader is told she is “respectably married.”

Salisbury interprets Perpetua’s dreams as the young woman’s way of reconciling herself with her approaching death. None of the group fear death; it was the means of achieving glory. Indeed, near the end, one young man actually denounces himself as a Christian and joins the group.

Among the Christians of the classical and later the medieval world, the story was seen as inspirational. Perpetua and those with her were willing to sacrifice not only their lives, but give up their infants. In Perpetua’s case, she also defied her father, the pater familias, whom traditionally even adult children depended on and had to obey—all this in service of being a Christian.

The book is relatively short at 230 pages and is aimed at the general reader. It does not assume familiarity on the reader’s part with ancient Rome, Carthage, or early Christianity.

Author Joyce E. Salisbury is a retired professor of history from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where she held the Frankenthal Professorship of Medieval History and Humanities.

I found this book interesting but mostly sad.

Title: Perpetua’s Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman
Author: Joyce E. Salisbury
Print Length: 231 pages
Originally published: 1997

Review of “Indestructible Man” (1956)

Trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering.

Plot:

Told in flashback by the investigating detective, Lt. Dick Chasen (Max Showalter billed as Casey Adams), this depicts the last days of convicted criminal  Charles “Butcher” Benton (Lon Chaney Jr.). Benton’s *cough* lawyer, Paul Lowe (Ross Elliott), breaks the news to him in San Quentin that his last appeal has been turned down. He’s going to the gas chamber the next day.

Benton is more angry than surprised. Lowe set the whole armored car robbery up (there’s a lawyer joke in here somewhere…). Benton blames Lowe for talking his two partners into turning state’s evidence and leaving him to twist in the wind. Lowe blames Benton for hiding the money—$600,000, a lot of money in 1956—and trying to keep it for himself. The boys got sore.

“What about Eva?” Lowe asks. “You tell me where the money is, and I’ll see she gets your share.”

“I’ve got a different idea,” Benton says. “I’m gonna kill you and Squeamy and Joe.”

Ungraciously, Lowe reminds him he will die the next day.

In a Los Angeles bar, Benton’s erstwhile associates Joe Marcellia (Ken Terrell) and Squeamy Ellis (Marvin Press), listen to a radio broadcast recounting the news of the execution.

Later that same day, Dr. Bradshaw (Robert Shayne), a “distinguished biochemist,” is getting ready to conduct an experiment that he hopes will lead to a cure for cancer. He’s had some success with laboratory animals. Now he needs a human. He and his assistant (an uncredited Joe Flynn, apparently retire from his naval service in the Pacific and Commander McHale…) run 287,000 volts through his body. I mean, why not?

To their surprise, his heart starts beatings. He starts breathing. Even more surprising, he’s immensely powerful. Hypodermic needles bend rather than penetrate his skin. Bullets have no effect on him. However, he’s unable to speak and walks with a shuffling gait.

Feeling a disturbance in Force, maybe, Lowe, Squeamy, and Joe…?

Thoughts:

This odd combination of horror and gangster flicks works, even if much of it is predictable. The viewer also cares about Benton. He got a raw deal. After he is brought back from the dead, and the body count starts adding up, it becomes harder to feel sympathy for him. The feeling is more of a tragedy that must play out, step by sad step. Does Benton regret any of his killings? Hard to say because he can’t talk. He communicates feelings with his eyes: anger, disappointment.

Lon Chaney was most famous for his werewolf roles (The Wolfman (1941), House of Dracula (1944), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)), but also play Dracula, a mummy, and the Frankenstein monster.

Using both gangster and horror/sci-fi tropes, the movie stays true to both genres. The detective narrates the tale, noting this one as “unusual,” but otherwise, he’s just an ordinary detective and Benton is just a usual criminal who happened upon unusual circumstances.

The film used Los Angeles locations often used in TV and movie, namely the famous Bradbury Building and the Angles Flight funicular railway. I didn’t grow up in the area and wasn’t around in 1956, but my dearly beloved, who did grow up in the area sometime later, loved the shots of old L.A. (“Bunker Hill” conjures up a whole different landscape for me.)

Indestructible Man is not a bad film. It is entertaining, if not surprising. I enjoyed it.

This can be watched on YouTube for free here.

Mystery Science Theater treatment


Title: Indestructible Man (1956)

Directed by Jack Pollexfen

Writing Credits
Vy Russell…(original screenplay) and
Sue Dwiggins…(original screenplay) (as Sue Bradford)

Cast
Lon Chaney Jr…Charles “Butcher” Benton (as Lon Chaney)
Max Showalter…Police Lt. Dick Chasen (as Casey Adams)
Marian Carr…Eva Martin (as Marion Carr)
Ross Elliott…Paul Lowe
Stuart Randall…Police Capt. John Lauder

Released: 1956
Length: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Review of “The Third Man” (1949)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. The pizza and wine were good, and so was the movie, which we borrowed from the library.

Plot:

American writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) arrives in post-war Vienna at the invitation of an old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Lime has promised Martins a job, something the author of westerns of middling success looks forward to. He’s rather surprised that Harry isn’t at the train station to meet him.

Post-war Vienna, like post-war Berlin, is divided into sectors, each controlled by the Allied Powers and the USSR: the American, the British, the French, and the Soviet Union. The Center of Vienna is under joint control. The black market flourishes.

Martins makes his way to Harry’s apartment, where the porter, Karl (Paul Hörbiger), who speaks a little English, tells him he’s fifteen minutes too late. Harry’s coffin has been taken away. He was knocked over by a truck and died instantly.

Martins goes to the funeral. He notices a beautiful woman (Alida Valli) grieving. As the ceremony concludes, a man in a British uniform approaches him, offers him a ride and a drink. He introduces himself as Maj. Calloway (Trevor Howard), a police officer in the British sector.

Over that drink, he tells Holly he’s glad Harry is dead. He was a racketeer and a murderer. Drunk and maudlin, Holly takes a swing at him but is knocked onto his rear by Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee). The Sergeant apologizes and assures him he likes his books. Calloway then agrees to put Holly up in a nearby hotel and get him a ticket on a plane out of Vienna the next day.

Of course, Holly stays.  He wonders about Harry’s death. A mutual friend, Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), tells him he and Harry were out walking. He was struck when he crossed the street to talk to a Romanian friend, Popescu (Siegfried Breuer). As he was dying, he left instructions for the welfare of Martins and his lover, Anna.

But, if he died immediately… He talks again to Karl, who tells him—against his wife’s wishes—three men carried Harry’s body to the side of the road, and he was killed instantly.

But there were only two men in the area, Kurtz and Popescu.

“Who was the third man?” Martins asks.

Thoughts:

This portrays the sadness and destruction of post-war Europe nicely. One gets a sense of nihilism, particularly in the character of Anna. She says at one point she is glad Harry is dead. She doesn’t love him, but he is part of her.

Holly seeks to do right. At first, he seeks justice for his friend. The theme of friendship runs through the movie, as does the idea of morality, of choosing the higher good over the expedient. The choices are not black and white but shades of gray.

One of the most famous scenes of the movie takes place between Lime and Martins as they ride the famous Ferris wheel in Vienna, the Wiener Riesenrad, located at this time in the Soviet-controlled sector. Where else would someone go if they were hiding from, say, the British authorities?

Watching the people on the ground below them, Lime tells Martins, “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax— the only way you can save money nowadays.”

Lime offers to cut Holly in on his racketeering business but doesn’t wait for an answer. He does, however, give Holly another speech. “Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love—they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.”

For most of the movie, Martins is disregarded for writing westerns. Sgt. Paine admits to liking them. Many of the men pass them around. Still, the genre is the butt of jokes. And yet, the movie itself, particularly with its themes of friendship and betrayal, bears more than a passing resemblance to a western. This is most notable in its ending.

The film’s music was performed on a zither and written by a local Viennese musician, Anton Karas. Some people find it annoying, but it made Karas famous, much to his dismay.

In 1949, this film won the Grand Prize of the Festival at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1950, it won the National Board of Review (USA) Top Foreign Film NBR Award for Top Foreign Film. Also in 1950, Director Carol Reed was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures by the Directors Guild of America. BAFTA awarded The Third Man Best British film and nominated it for Best Film from any source. The following year, it won an Oscar for best black-and-white cinematography and was nominated for Best Director (Carol Reed) and Best Film Editing (Oswald Hafenrichter).

I could not find this movie for free as a download, but if you can get it from your library, it’s definitely worth a look-see.

Title: The Third Man (1949)

Directed by
Carol Reed

Writing Credits
Graham Greene(by)
Graham Greene…(screenplay)
Orson Welles …(uncredited)
Alexander Korda…(story) (uncredited)
Carol Reed…(uncredited)

Cast:
Joseph Cotten…Holly Martins
Alida Valli…Anna Schmidt
Orson Welles…Harry Lime
Trevor Howard…Maj. Calloway
Paul Hörbiger…Karl (as Paul Hoerbiger)
Ernst Deutsch…Baron Kurtz

Released: 1949
Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Review of “The Ancient Mesopotamian City” by Marc Van De Mieroop

photo is my own

According to received wisdom, ancient Mesopotamia gave rise to not only the city as we know it but a specific type of city, one that lasted from approximately 3000 to 300 BCE in the Middle East. While cities appeared in places such as the Nile River Valley, nowhere does urbanism seem to play such an integral part of civilization as it does in Mesopotamia.

The Mesopotamian city is not a uniform institution but possesses a constellation of common traits with variations in Babylonia (southern) and Assyria (northern). Universally, the urban-dweller regarded the world outside as one of poverty and exile. Author Marc Van De Mieroop writes, (p. 42) “To an ancient Mesopotamian, city life was civilized life. The city was the seat of cultured life and non-urban life was uncultured.”

The book has eleven chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. Each chapter deals with a single subject such as “Feeding the Citizens” (Chapter 7), “Craft and Commerce” (Chapter 8), or “The Eclipse of the Ancient Mesopotamian City” (Chapter 11). Each chapter also concludes with a short bibliography in which Van De Mieroop discusses several source books. Along the way, the author describes what’s known of Mesopotamian religion, civic organization, and patriotism. It’s common to come across Mesopotamians with a name like “[The city of] Uruk preserves.” The book also contains a chronology and an index.

While Van De Mieroop’s writing may be too specialized for the casual reader, the interested reader will find it easy to read if replete with warnings that Mesopotamian history contains many gaping voids. Yet there is enough information for the author to tackle questions regarding how the temples functioned as administrative and distribution clearinghouses, and centers of worship, liturgy, and celebration; of the logistics of trade; getting food and clean water to the population; in addition to the workings of providing housing. Regarding the latter: apparently, there is no archaeological evidence for latrines in private residences, nor do there seem to be public facilities. One has to wonder about the river.

In the conclusion, Van De Mieroop writes at some length what amounts to an essay on epistemology. Overall it is abstract, taking on the thought of German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920). This is primarily for academics.


On the off chance that someone is interested in reading this book, I suggest checking out the library or used books outlets. The prices at the usual places online are heart-stopping for both new and used copies. I’m not sure what I paid for my copy, but it was nothing approaching what they want for this now. IIRC, I got it through some history book club that has (ALAS!) no longer exists.

Bio:

According to his faculty page at Columbia University, Marc Van De Mieroop specializes in the history of the ancient Near East from the dawn of writing to the age of Alexander. He’s written numerous books. The latest is Philosophy before the Greeks. The Pursuit of Truth in Ancient Babylonia, published in 2015.

____

Book: The Ancient Mesopotamian City
Author: Marc Van De Mieroop (b. 1956)
Published: February 12, 1998
288 pages

Review of “Alien Species” (1996)

This is not a trailer, but the first several minutes of the movie. So. Can’t say you weren’t warned.

Plot:

This opens with a white blob approaching earth from space and a voiceover about a prophecy about a mighty armada dominating the earth in the year 1999. A whole lot of trouble happens. The destruction of all mankind, blah, blah, blah…

Max Poindexter (Aaron Jettleson) (good character name) and Holly Capers (Barbara Fierentino) are holed up watching a bunch of monitors. Poindexter bears a passing resemblance to a young Jeff Goldblum. Holly notices something on one of the monitors I couldn’t see. They plot the trajectory—right to earth, of course. Holly asks how long they have.

Max considers. “They’re traveling really fast.” He places a call to Professor Chambers.

Alien ships leave the motherships (which bear more than a passing resemblance to the motherships in 1996’s Independence Day) and begin to attack.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Nate Culver (Charles Napier) has to arrange transport for two prisoners, mouthy Aaron Doyle (David Homb) and morose Paul Towers (Marc Robinson). Riding shotgun is the Sheriff’s brother-in-law, Deputy Harlan Banks (Kurt Paul). Deputy Ty Larsen (Robert Thompson) drives—until he slams on the breaks to avoid a car stopped in the road. A woman (Carol Nelson (Jodi Seronick)) stands under an umbrella with perfect make-up and asks for help. Is it a trap? Deputy Banks calls for help for the injured and stranded motorists.

Sheriff Culver has his hands full. Seems a couple of squad cars have mysteriously blown up while he was on the phone. Doncha hate when that happens? Plus, it draws the media, even before the fire department shows up.

The prisoner transport takes on three extra passengers: an injured Professor Edgar Chambers (Hoke Howell), Carol Nelson of the perfect make-up, and the professor’s granddaughter, Stacy Chambers (Ashley Semrick).

Meanwhile, Denise Justice (Lisa Donette May), a farmer’s daughter, is abducted. The farmer (Roger Glugston) is vaporized and his farm leveled. The aliens vaporize Denise’s boyfriend, Tommy (Michael Tremont), too. A farmer (Michael Reed) hears his horses are restless and grabs his gun, thinking a mountain has gotten into the stable. Something runs past the farmer. He shoots but ends up knocked onto this back.

The prisoner transport wrecks, and the people flee. Seven miles from town, they head into a cave, but they’re not alone. It’s a big cave.

Thoughts:

Besides an Independence Day wannabe, this indulges in just about every horror movie trope. The obnoxious characters are the first to bite the dust. The heroes are pretty good shots. Women quickly become hysterical and must be roughly handled before they endanger the whole group. They also make ready alien kidnap victims. Guys, on the other hand, get vaporized.

There’s a lot of blood and a lot of booms. However, all that fire rained down from the sky seems to damage few buildings, leaving the skyline intact. The viewer is treated to invading aliens and zombies, plus a lot of swearing.

 “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in a bad episode of the X-Files?” asks one of the characters.

Who said anything about the X-Files?

The acting is, by and large over-the-top. The story is just this side of comprehensible. All the ending does is set up a sequel that has yet to come into existence. So…look to the skies…

The screenwriters did follow at least on dictum: they saved the cat.

Having said all that: one fun thing is the alien shooting gallery. These guys have lasers (…or something) that will vaporize people, but they come running out, apparently one-by-one, at a cop armed with a shotgun, which he doesn’t need to stop to reload.

This movie, in all its glory, can be watched here.


Title: Alien Species (1996)

Director:
Peter Maris

Writer:
Nancy Newbauer

Cast:
Charles Napier as Sheriff Nate Culver
Hoke Howell as Professor Edgar Chambers
David Homb as Aaron Doyle
Jodi Seronick as Carol Nelson
Marc Robinson as Paul Towers
Robert Thompson as Deputy Ty Larsen

Released: 1996
Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Review of “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster” (1965)

Trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. Good thing the pizza and cabernet were good.

Plot:

Bald Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell) informs Princess Marcuzan (Marilyn Hanold) that they continue to hear “a modulated hydrogen frequency signal of twenty-one centimeters.”

When the Princess asks what that means, Dr. Nadir replies he’s not sure, but it’s the same signal they’ve been following since they left their planet. The source is the planet they’re approaching and seems to indicate intelligent life.

Oh, look! They’re firing a missile at them! The Princess orders the crew to destroy the missile.

Oh earth, NASA is confounded by yet another missile going kerflooey. Never fear! Dr. Adam Steel (James Karen) has an answer to that: a robot astronaut named Col. Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly). We know he’s a robot because we’re given a (not terribly) convincing glimpse of a vacuum tube under his scalp.

While traveling in space, the extraterrestrial ship looks like a spinning globe surmounted on a visible axis. Upon seeing a parachute, the aliens realize they’ve destroyed a spaceship and not a missile. They must land and kill the pilot. (…makes sense…?) The extraterrestrials shoot him down, and he lands somewhere in Puerto Rico.

When the alien ship lands, it no longer looks like a spinning globe but like the Jupiter II from Lost in Space.

An extraterrestrial in a spacesuit attacks the robot pilot who’s already having a bad day, injuring him. The attacker, in turn, receives a good thumping and limps back to the spaceship.

The Princess is not happy to hear the pilot lives. She feeds the unfortunate crewman to the Mull, the space monster of the title. The Mull looks like an ape with long claws and a Skeletor’s head.

The damaged pilot/robot wanders around Puerto Rico, scaring and killing people. No little girl gets thrown in the lake, though. In the meantime, NASA officials fly to Puerto Rico, and the aliens get about the mission: kidnapping women to help repopulate their planet.

Thoughts:

According to IMDB, this was originally supposed to have been a comedy. There is enough goofiness in it a comedy would have been feasible. On the other hand, too little of it made sense to be anything but what it was. The aliens (they’re called Martians, but their planet is never named) want to kidnap women, “good breeding stock,” because their planet was wiped out in a nuclear war. The only woman left is the Princess.

Why sacrifice a crew member to the Mull for such a trivial shortcoming? What is the purpose of keeping the Mull in the first place?

Not to mention the convenience of everyone speaking English—except for one guy in a kiosk in Puerto Rico. Adam Steele then had to make his wishes known by asking for “el teléfono.”

At one point, Adam Steele and his assistant Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall) hop on a scooter to go looking for the injured robot. Tender-hearted Karen is concerned. Steele doesn’t want to lose ten years of his life’s work. In the background, a romantic love song—with maracas and a Spanish guitar—plays: “To Have and to Hold” by someone called the Distant Cousins.

The lyrics have lovers “walk in the rain,” “two by two,” “To have and to hold you, this, I’ve often told you I love you, yes, I do…”

Not even remotely appropriate. Nor is it the last instance of weird musical choices for this flick.

Another instance of weirdness is Princess Marcuzan “inspecting” the first girl they’ve kidnapped for their breeding program. She happens to be wearing a polka dot swimsuit. The aliens have killed her male companion. (Father? Boyfriend? It’s never specified) The Princess has the girl raise and lower her arms several times, then turn around. I was waiting for, “You put your right foot in, You put your right foot out, You put your right foot in…”

That’s not even mentioning the group of women kidnapped from a party and laid out on a conveyor belt of cots for evaluation.

It’s just not credible. Oh, hell. It’s barely coherent. But there is delightful goofiness about it that makes it watchable—the glee Dr. Nadir shows in blowing up Earth vessels, for example.

If for some reason anyone wishes to watch this, it can be seen here:





Title: Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)

Director:
Robert Gaffney

Writers:
R.H.W. Dillard (story)
 George Garrett (story)
John Rodenbeck (story)

Cast:
Marilyn Hanold as Princess Marcuzan
James Karen as Dr. Adam Steele
Lou Cutell as Dr. Nadir
Nancy Marshall as Karen Grant
David Kerman as Gen. Bowers
Robert Reilly as Col. Frank Saunders

Released: 1965
Length: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Review of “House of Frankenstein” (1944)

From YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it with Svengoolie and just about every frigging Universal monster.

Plot:

From the slot in his jail cell in Neustadt Prison, Doctor Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) grabs the throat of a jailer (an uncredited Charles Wagenheim) and demands chalk. From inside, the viewer understands why he’s run out. The walls of his cell are filled with (*cough*) scientific diagrams and formulae. He describes to his hunchback assistant, Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), how he placed a human brain into the body of a dog, an act that landed him in jail.

Imagine that.

Daniel asks if this is how he could get a new body, a normal body. Dr. Niemann assures him he could give Daniel a perfect body if he had Frankenstein’s records.

While they’re talking, lightning strikes the castle in which they’re imprisoned, bringing down the walls of their cell. They are free.

Imagine that.

Along the way, they meet up with a traveling horrors roadshow run by Professor Bruno Lampini (George Zucco). One of Lampini’s exhibits is the bones of Dracula, complete with the wooden stake through the spot where the heart once was. If someone were to remove that stake…

When poor Lampini refuses to take Dr. Niemann to Reigelberg, the first step toward those for whom Niemann has “unloving memories,” Daniel dispatches Lampini and his driver. Niemann assumes Lampini’s identity. Wouldn’t a revived Dracula (John Carradine) be just the thing to help one get vengeance on the respectable citizens for being pitched in jail? Especially since the vampire knows you could un-revive him at any time? Yeah, it could work.

But nothing lasts forever. So on to Visaria to hunt for Dr. Frankenstein’s records. Before long (I so wanted to see the title How I Did It by V. Frankenstein). Daniel again asks for a new body. Niemann says if they find Frankenstein records, “I’ll make you an Adonis.” Daniel is sweet on Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), a gypsy girl he rescued.

Daniel falls through a floor, and they find an ice cave. Frozen in the cave are the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange) and the wolfman, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.). What are the chances?



Thoughts:

This bizarre flick tries to shoehorn in as many of the classic monsters as possible, using the mad scientist Dr. Niemann as a framework. In seeking his revenge, he briefly controls Dracula (John Carradine), who goes by the name Baron Latos (a bump in rank!  Social climber!) and sends him on out to assassinate those he holds responsible for his imprisonment.

On to find Dr. Frankenstein’s papers to help Niemann with his projects—er, Daniel’s surgery, right? To be honest, he has a full slate. There are still two solid citizens he wants to work his vengeance on. He has to revive the monster and solve the werewolf problem. All this involves a series of brain transplants. Even with the lab equipment back home in Visaria working, taking care of all that is a mighty tall order.

In the meantime, the viewer gets treated to Lon Chaney getting hairy, John Carradine becoming a bat, and a bat becoming John Carradine, townsfolk with torches running through the woods, a lab full of electrical doohickeys going buzzzzz vooop-vooop, a stumbling monster with a vacant look on his face wreaking havoc, and a proper castle burning.

Is this meant to be taken seriously? Or is this just a good romp? Does it matter? It’s fun, silly, and a bit much to swallow.

This can be watched for free here. (Thanks for the heads up, Tommi!)



Title: House of Frankenstein (1944)

Director
Erle C. Kenton

Writers
Edward T. Lowe Jr. (screenplay)
Curt Siodmak(story)

Cast:
Boris Karloff…Doctor Gustav Niemann
Lon Chaney Jr…Larry Talbot (as Lon Chaney)
J. Carrol Naish…Daniel
John Carradine…Dracula aka Baron Latos
Anne Gwynne…Rita Hussman

Released: 1944
Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Viewed: October 24, 2021

Letter to Santa

*Unlike my usual reviews, this is a joke for a friend.*

Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay


Dear Santa:

I hope you and Mrs. Claus and the elves and reindeer are all doing well. I hear the North Pole may be a bit warmer than usual. Does this interfere with your operations?

I have been a good girl. I don’t smoke and drink only on Saturday night with pizza and a bad movie or maybe as a secret ingredient with some hot chocolate. As for swearing—well, at least I’ve paid all my bills on time this year. And my cat gets fed on time regardless of what he tells you.

I want to thank you for your presents last Christmas of another year of good health with my dearly beloved. The roof over our heads and a full, working fridge were also good things. I’d like to keep those going for next year. Now about the slender me and the fat bank account—it seems you confused those two.

The first item on my list this year is for my friend of many years, A. D-G. He asks for a winning lottery ticket. It will make him happy, and I’m sure he’ll put the winnings to good use.

The next item is to remind our elected officials that they work for us, the people, the demos in democracy. The demos come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. English may not be our first language. We may practice a religion other than evangelical Christianity—or no religion at all.

Those who don’t like working for the demos can get other jobs, preferably ones that involve a shovel, a mop and bucket, or phrases such as “Would you like fries with that, sir/ma’am?” Not that these jobs are anything to be ashamed of. It’s just that the ex-officials haven’t learned the dignity of those jobs and could really use the gift of that understanding.

I think that about wraps my letter up for this year. Will I promise to work on the swearing? Of course, if you want me to, but with this much practice, I think I’ve nearly perfected it.

Please give my best to Mrs. Claus!

Review of “The Cosmic Code”

from goodreads

I read this book on a dare some time ago.

This is the sixth book in the late Zechariah Sitchin’s (1920-2010) Earth Chronicles series detailing his ideas on how humans and human culture are the byproducts of ancient extra-terrestrial meddling. He sees evidence of this in Sumerian mythology, in particular, positing that Sumerian gods were, in fact, aliens from other worlds.

I will go out on a limb and say that cosmologists don’t see much in his cosmology, nor do sumerologists think highly of his interpretation of Mesopotamian mythology and/or history.

But that isn’t to say his works are without an audience. Even the History Channel has disseminated programs that support the ideas we’re all here because of some clever ancient aliens. Despite little evidence, narrators always ask, “Could it be…?”

A thumbnail sketch of Zechariah Sitchin’s ideas:

Aliens from a planet called Nibiru came to earth in the distant past to mine gold. (Hey. It could happen). The name of their planet, which takes 3600 years to orbit the sun, is a word based on the Sumerian for the city of Nippur. Their reason for going to all that trouble must be explained in another book. Their “splashdown” in the Persian Gulf is recorded in the Sumerian myth Sitchin refers to as “Ea and the Earth,” which may or may not be the myth more commonly known as “Enki and the World Order.”

Sitchin also refers to a myth he calls “The Erra Epos,” which he claims describes a nuclear holocaust. Because the winds blew the right way, it destroyed the older cities and allowed newer ones, like Babylon, to flourish. I could not find anything with the title “Erra Epos,” either in print or online, but there is a story in From Distant Days by Benjamin Foster titled “How Erra Wrecked the World” (pp. 132-163). While it talks about destructive winds (Tablet 4, lines roughly 38-40), it is rather a leap to assume they must have come from a nuclear blast.

I offer a single sample of Sitchin’s writing:

Indeed, as we contemplate this limitation to twenty-two [letters in the Mosaic-Semitic alphabet]—no more, no less—we cannot help recalling the constrictions applied to the sacred number twelve [Huh? 22 equals 12? Granted, math was not my strongest subject, but I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe I was out sick that day.—Ed. Note ] (requiring the addition or dropping of deities in order to keep the “Olympic Circle” to precisely twelve). Did such a hidden principle—divinely inspired—apply to the restriction of the original alphabet to twenty-two letters?

The number ought to be familiar in this day and age. It is the number of human chromosomes when The Adam was created before the second genetic manipulation had added the sex chromosomes “Y” and “X”!

Did the Almighty who had revealed to Moses the secret of the alphabet then, use the genetic code as the secret code of the alphabet?

The answer seems to be Yes.

(pp. 148- 149)

I found most of the writing to be this tedious and overblown, not to mention, well, nonsensical. It is the only book of this author’s that I have read. I will not be reading another. It is sad because the man was obviously quite bright but inextricably caught up in a personal mythology that facts can’t reverse.

I cannot recommend it unless one wants to read it out of curiosity.

Title: The Cosmic Code Book VI of the Earth Chronicles
Author: Zechariah Sitchin (1920-2010)

Review of “Contamination” (1980)

trailer from YouTube Yeah, I couldn’t make much sense of it either, and I’ve seen the movie

Plot:

A cargo ship speeds toward New York Harbor. The crew is not aboard, although the life rafts remain. Half-eaten meals sit on tables. The log book reveals nothing. But the investigators find corpse after bloody corpse looking as if they’ve exploded from inside.

Spilling out of boxes marked “café” (coffee) are what look like giant green coffee beans. The investigators find one pulsating, turning orange, and… singing. One member, NYPD Lt. Tony Aris  (Marino Masé), warns another not to pick it up. “Oh, don’t worry,” says the other.

Yeah, it explodes, and all but the guy who warned the others die in agony, spilling their guts, despite their protection suits.

The viewer next sees the surviving man in an isolation unit wearing nothing but a blanket, understandably upset about his treatment. Through a window, he complains to Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau). The news of his rank forces him to salute and drop the blanket.

The giant coffee beans turn out to be not eggs per se but a “concentration of bacteria of unknown type.”

Our heroes trace the shipment of the “coffee” to a warehouse and get a warrant. While serving the warrant, they are met with gunfire. Our heroes do the only logical thing—drive their truck through the warehouse door. Realizing the jig is up, the three warehouse workers (the uncredited Nat Bush, Angelo Ragusa, and Martin Sorrentino) kill themselves. Worm-like beings explode from their chests.

Yeah, that rings a bell.

Holmes orders that all the green coffee/eggs things be burned. After consulting with the scientific team, she concludes that the eggy/bacteria thingies must come from nearby. There was that expedition to Mars two years earlier. One man is now dead, and the other, Commander Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch), mentally unfit to serve.

She pays him a visit.

Commander Hubbard has seen better days. He stumbles over the empty beer cans in his apartment but recalls his expedition to Mars. It differs materially from his partner Hamilton’s (Siegfried Rauch). But Hubbard drew pictures of the eggy bacteria when he first arrived back. He’s seen them.

Our heroes find the shipments of coffee come from a plantation in South America. There, they find the biggest coffee beans you ever did see growing on the ground.

Thoughts:

Other than the Alien borrowing/rip-off, this suffers from a whole lot of speechifying and some terminal misogyny. When Col. Holmes tries to get Hubbard to end his pity party and help the fight the alien, she tells him she wonders if he’s a man—a pretty miserable thing to say to anyone. He slaps her across the face. They then agree they understand each other.

Down in South America, Col. Holmes wants to shower before getting some dinner, much to the annoyance of Hubbard and Aris. The evil coffee plantation owners are watching them, though, and slip an egg into the bathroom while Holmes is enjoying (…yes, enjoying…) her shower and lock the door from the outside. For a pièce de résistance, they hang a “Do not disturb” sign outside her room.

Holmes realizes someone has been in the bathroom. She sees the egg, pulsing and singing to her. Frantically, she pounds the locked bathroom door, screaming for help. Poor helpless woman, even if she’s a colonel in the military. Going through her cosmetics bag, she finds a nail file and other implements to try to pick the lock. Rescue comes via the disgraced/crazy Commander Hubbard, who breaks down two doors to get to her.

Pro tip: if you’re locked in a bathroom with an alien life form that’s about to explode and kill you, you can do any of the following as the situation demands: 1) douse it with caustic cleaner, 2) set alien life form afire with a scented candle, 3) throw the plastic shower curtain over it and/or, 4) use the top of the toilet tank to break down the door.

The movie is known by the alternative titles Alien Contamination, Toxic Spawn, and Larvae.

The English dubbing from the original Italian is obvious, but I find this forgivable. The acting is fair. The script is abysmal. Why does Holmes need either Aris—a NY cop—or Hubbard—a disgraced and reinstated astronaut—to help her investigation the eggs? Why is she investigating the eggs? The special effects as gory but fall short of convincing. People’s chests explode regularly with a lot of blood to show, but it’s clearly a costume rig.

And the dialogue… the kindest things I can say is that there’s a lot of it. People flap their gums. Controlled by the alien and does its bidding, the bad guy gives a speech about how the meaning of life is to kill or be killed, the strong control the weak, yadda, yadda, yawn. The closing scene is supposed to be profound. Perhaps there is some thought in it. Holmes says she’ll never look at the night sky the same again, wondering what else is out there.

I cannot recommend this. It takes itself too seriously to be fun. I guess the exploding torsos earned it the R-rating.

If, for some reason, you want to watch this, it is available for free on YouTube



Title: Contamination (1980)

Director:
Luigi Cozzi

Writers:
Luigi Cozzi (screenplay)
Erich Tomek (screenplay)


Cast:
Ian McCulloch as Cmdr. Ian Hubbard
Louise Marleau as Col. Stella Holmes
Marino Masé as NYPD Lt. Tony Aris
Siegfried Rauch as Hamilton
Gisela Hahn as Perla de la Cruz
Carlo De Mejo as Agent Young


Released: 1980
Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Rated: R