I watched another low budget 70s sci-fi / horror movie a few nights ago — 1976 “The Food of the Gods.” It was apparently based on a part of a lesser known H.G. Wells novel and the film bears little resemblance to the source material.
If you haven’t seen it, “The Food of the Gods” is the story of a football player and his buddies who go on a hunting expedition in what I think is British Columbia or Victoria, Canada. While hunting, one of them is killed by giant wasps and when his companions find his bloated body after he had been stung to death, one of the players, Morgan, vows to discover what happened and convinces his buddy to come along.
It turns out that there is a farm nearby where some sort of mysterious substance (that looks like oatmeal) has been bubbling up out of the ground (why is never explained) and the farmer and his wife have been mixing the substance, which they consider a gift from God, with the chicken feed. This has caused their chickens to grow to the size of horses (and, I assume, lay eggs the size of beer kegs). There is an (unintentionally) hilarious scene where Morgan the football player enters the barn and is attacked by a giant rooster. This is event is communicated to the audience by having Morgan look horrified as a giant rooster puppet head and giant rooster foot are flailed at him from off camera as his anorak is shredded. He kills the rooster with a pitchfork and then confronts the farmer’s wife, shouting, “What the hell is going on around here!?! I was nearly killed by those giant chickens!”
Morgan learns of “The Food of the Gods” (or “T.F.O.T.G.”) from the farmer’s wife. She reveals that rats and insects have also eaten “T.F.O.T.G.” and grown to enormous size. A greedy businessman who wants to make millions from the mysterious substance and his winsome, spunky female biologist employee show up, as well as a man and his pregnant wife who were ‘trapped like rats’ in their Winnebago (see above). My favorite scene involves cutting between the horrified looks on the actors faces and a swarm of rats crawling all over a toy Winnebago smeared with what looks like peanut butter. An intelligent, albino rat with red eyes seems to be the ringleader.
The humans retreat to the farmhouse where large rubber rat heads are thrust into the shattering windows as the women scream and the men blast away with shotguns. There are frequent cuts to scenes of rats crawling all over a model of the farmhouse while someone apparently shoots at the rats with some sort of paintball gun filled with what looks like a mixture red paint and raspberry jam.
Later in the film, Morgan uses home made pipe bombs to blow up a nearby dam, drowning the rats. There are several scenes of what look like live rats being drowned in a fish tank. Between drowning rats by fastening their tails to the bottom of a fish tank and shooting the rats with high velocity raspberry/paint pellets, ‘The Food of The Gods’ is the perfect document for PETA to show why it sucked to be an animal in Hollywood in the 70s.
The rats all drown and the survivors pile up the rat carcasses as well as the remaining “Food of the Gods,” douse it all with gasoline and torch it. We hear a voice over of Morgan saying what a terrible thing it would be if any of that “T.F.O.T.G.” were to get into the ecosystem as we see melting snow washing some Mason jars labeled “T.F.O.T.G” into a stream, which flows into a river, where cows are shown drinking the water (and licking up the oatmeal-like “Food of the Gods” from the jars) …then the cows are milked, and, ominously, the milk is served to school children… Oh, the horror.
The other night I watched George Romero’s 1973 film, “The Crazies.” This is perhaps (un)happy circumstance, because the next day a non-fictional group of crazies descended upon the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to demand that our socialist president let (the Christian) God back into our lives while reducing taxes on the wealthiest 10%… and many of them were wearing tricorner hats adorned with tea bags and star spangled T-shirts. Or something like that.
Cheap political potshots aside, I really wanted to like this film (it has always been on my “to watch” list; I just never got around to it). I haven’t yet watched the 2010 remake with the same name in which the previews feature a demented man dragging a garden fork around in a particularly menacing manner.
I find myself enjoying Vietnam war era films a lot more these days — perhaps because they hearken back to a time when US society was dominated by a fairly bitter cultural schism and there was a fear, in the back of the minds of many, that as a society we had become too “soft” or permissive and were under attack from within (which pretty much seems to be Glenn Beck’s schtick in a nutshell; ha ha… “nutshell!”). The parallels of social unrest and the themes of a culture war in films of the 60s and 70s are interesting to me because I see some similar expressed fears in the current media stream.
Situations created by fear and mistrust that spiral out of control had been themes in Romero’s Night of The Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), so it’s not surprising to see them in “The Crazies.” But, unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, “The Crazies” just doesn’t work very well.
“The Crazies” begins with a farmer who lives outside a small farm in Pennsylvania going mad and setting fire to his farm. One cut scene later, we are then introduced to David, a volunteer fireman, and his girlfriend/fiance Judy (a nurse) as well as ‘Clank,’ David’s buddy and a fellow volunteer fireman. David and Clank set off to fight the fire as Judy rushes to the office of the local doctor to help care for the children of the dairy farmer who survived the fire.
Judy is astounded to find the doctor’s office invaded by soldiers in tyvek suits and gasmasks. It turns out that a few days earlier, a plane carrying a supply of some sort of a top secret biological weapon codenamed “Trixie” had crashed nearby and the agent/virus had made it into the water supply. We are told that the ‘Trixie’ virus kills some people and drives others insane. The doctor, worried because Judy is pregnant with David’s child, gives her a shot to help protect her and has her hide a syringe and a vial of the resistance drug in her pocket so she can inoculate David.
At some point we get to see “Colonel Peckham,” point man for the operation, putting his socks and underwear into a garment bag while talking on the phone about the ‘Trixie’ situation. He is ordered to go to the infested village and get the situation under control. Meanwhile, bombers are being scrambled into the air to nuke the Trixie town from above if needed. There are a lot of fists pounding desks and “Goddamnits” while some government bureaucrats and army men argue what to do.
There are various scenes of tyvek clad soldiers fighting crazy villagers. One soldier gets stabbed to death with knitting needles by someone’s grandmother.
Colonel Peckham arrives and sets up a perimeter guard; anyone caught trying to leave is to be detained or shot. David, Judy and Clank are captured by Tyvek clad soldiers and her supply of the resistance drug is confiscated. They manage to escape, taking Artie, a middle aged man, and Lynn, his daughter, with them and hide in a country club. Artie and Lynn, both now crazy, have incestuous sex. Clank, who is also increasingly crazy, discovers this and beats up Artie. Artie is later discovered dead, after having hung himself. Lynn, the teenager, wanders outside and is shot by soldiers. David, Judy and Clank run off after having another shootout with the soldiers.
At some point, an irascible scientist who worked on the original Trixie virus is brought to the town in hopes of being able to develop an antidote. He finally manages to do so, but, frustrated by the slow process needed to verify his identity over the phone, he decides to just hoof it over to Colonel Peckham, taking the antidote with him. He is mistaken as a “crazy” by some soldiers and forced into the local high school (where they are attempting to quarantine the crazies). Inside the high school, he is pushed down some stairs by some crazies and falls to his death. The antidote is destroyed.
David, Judy and Clank manage to ambush a few soldiers and disarm them, but Clank (full blown crazy now), kills the prisoners while David is trying to get them to tell him what they know. Judy opines that David must have a natural immunity because he is not crazy. Clank goes gonzo and starts shooting soldiers in the woods, finally getting shot himself. Judy, now showing signs of being crazy, wanders into the crossfire between some crazed civilians and soldiers and is also killed. David, his spirit broken, is captured and led away.
The movie ends with Colonel Peckham being congratulated over the phone by some stuffed shirt bureaucrat at his success in having contained the outbreak. Peckham seems depressed at how badly things have turned out. The film ends with him boarding a helicopter because there has been another outbreak in another town, and, as the new “Trixie containment” expert, he is needed to try and contain it.
Like many of Romero’s films, the ‘messages’ of whom to trust and mistrust are a bit too heavy handed for my taste, but I can’t decide if that is a factor of the awkward dialogue or lack of character development. I try not to judge the production values of films from this era too harshly (budgets were a fraction of what they are now and there was very little in the way of post-production effects available at any price in 1973), but many of the edits and portions of the sound in the film could have been much better. One of the real problems with “The Crazies” is that they try to pack too much into one story. The discussion of what the virus is and how it got into the town require a lot of exposition by the town doctor and military officers. Stylistically, I think most horror or action films have moved away from explaining what is happening as much through the characters on the screen discussing whatever problem confronts them, so perhaps I too jaded by the more modern storytelling of films like 28 Days Later, but there are places in which “The Crazies” really kind of plods along. The film switches back and forth between three stories (1st is the story of Judy, David and Clank; 2nd is the story of Colonel Peckham and 3rd is the shorter story of the doctor and his antidote) and I wonder we (as an audience) would have been better served by concentrating on just one story. I also find that characters in Romero films tend to be pretty thin as far as showing the audience their motivation. Granted, horror and sci-fi are genres where character depth and development tend to be pretty thin as a rule, but Romero always makes gestures towards developing his characters and then just leaves his principle characters as people who can be summed up in a single sentence.
I enjoyed the film and would watch it again (if I didn’t have so many things already in my queue and not enough free nights to watch them). I’d be curious to see how the remake of “The Crazies” compares to the original, but the previews of the 2010 version make it look more like a zombie/slasher film than the original.
In case you haven’t heard, Mythmere Games (makers of Swords & Wizardry) has now partnered up with Frog God Games (an offshoot of the company formerly known as Necromancer Games). Earlier today there was a bit of a brou-ha-ha over the wording of an annoucement with comments that vary from critical of to supportive of the promises of new “professionalism” in production values that Frog God Games has sworn to deliver.
In case you don’t know (and I can’t imagine you don’t), Swords & Wizardry is orginally the brain child of Matt Finch, a fan of the older editions of D&D who used the “Open Game License” and “System Reference Document” issued by Wizards of the Coast during the 3e and 3.5e heyday to make a game that plays so much like the original D&D (with just product identity and copyrighted names and terms stripped away) that one could barely notice the difference between the two games. Read more about it here.
The thing that I find regrettable is that apparently they have decided to reissue the Swords & Wizardry rule book with some new content and a new cover. The original cover, by Peter Mullen, is above at left. You have your group of crazy adventurers, dressed in outlandish armor, hoisting the halfling up into the lap of a dead giant’s skeleton so he can steal the gem from the pommel of the giant’s sword. Not only is it a great, evocative illustration, but it also has a unique character and ‘look’ that hearkens back to TSR artists like Dave Trampier and Erol Otus without slavishly copying them. As an artist myself, I love Mullen’s work.
According to their press release, Frog God Games is going to release a new copy of the rules with a new cover (see at right). I’m not sure who the new artist is (Rick Sardinha?), but I find the decision disappointing. I know that the new cover looks more ‘current’ and ‘contemporary’ — more like the cover of a mass market paperback than Mullens’ weird, indie-looking picture, but, despite the great technique and cool, computer generated painted look, the new cover doesn’t scream “pick me up and play me” like Mullen’s cover does. Mullen’s cover recalls the spirit of the art on the Dave Trampier AD&D players handbook that featured a group of adventurers in a temple with a pot-bellied demon statue where two adventurers were prying a gem as big as a human head out of the eye socket — at least for me. The new cover? It looks professional — but also looks a little bland — like this cover could be on just about any 4e era or 3.5e era WOTC product. The new cover is technically and artistically very accomplished… and is much better than anything I could ever do. But since I think the main strength of a game like ‘Swords & Wizardry’ is that the D&D player who last played 30 years ago will be perfectly at home with this rules set, making this “retro clone” game look more like another post-Gary Gygax/Dave Arneson modern RPG game is, in my opinion, a step in the wrong direction.
I don’t pretend to know dick about how you successfully market a game. But I know what I like. Peter Mullen’s cover rocks. I wish I had a ton of money so I could buy the original artwork from it and hang it in my house.
(warning: probably NSFW)
Who does not want to play in a campaign like this one?
In my web wanderings, I recently found an artist I really like who straddles the line between art and illustration with a really cool, crazy style: http://www.theartofskinner.com
He shows in galleries and also does illustration and apparently has some comic books in the works — some of my favorite things! Sprikled throughout his drawings are all kinds of monsters — including beholders, mind flayers and goblins!
I was gonna write something moving and important today — maybe about Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s current “race relations” dilemma … or the cynical maneuverings of the US Republican party on the NYC mosque issue… or the cowardice of the US Democratic Party on the same issue… and then I just said, “Fuck it,” and decided to post this picture of how I think “He-Man and The Masters of the Universe” should have ended.
I wasn’t a fan when He-Man was on TV (being a little too old for it), but, in retrospect wonder how many of the creators of this show were chuckling behind their hands as they had the effeminate “Prince Adam” secretly save the universe every episode as his butch alter-ego, He-Man. The name, ‘He-Man,’ was especially funny because becoming a ‘He-Man’ was the goal for Charles Atlas’s skinny 90 pound weakling, Mac, who was sick of having bullies kick sand in his face. They were still running that same ad (which looks like it dates back to WW II) in comic books when I was a kid.
As I recall, He-Man stories were cribbed, plot wise, from the old Superman cartoons. Prince Adam and Teela, his female companion, are confronted by some horrible plot or disaster or villain. Price Adam then runs away in fear and secretly transforms into He-Man. The hero sets things right, earning the gratitude of Teela and the population who never suspect that He-Man and Prince Adam are one in the same even though they look exactly alike except for clothing and hairstyle. The danger averted, the hero departs, changes back into Prince Adam and comes back and asks what he missed. Teela then tells Prince Adam that he is a loser and wonders aloud why he can’t be more like He-Man. Prince Adam then breaks the fourth wall of cinema by winking at the viewer and making some self-depreciating joke while Teela rolls her eyes. Substitute Clark Kent for Prince Adam, Lois Lane for Teela and the cartoon is a direct ripoff of the Superman cartoons I watched in the late 1970s.
The “monster” of Howling Hall is actually a creation left behind by the former owner; a musician and wizard named Zann who apparently was obsessed with discovering the magical properties of sound. The “monster” is an Accordian Golem — made entirely of animate magical accordians and concertinas.
Accordion Golem (unique monster): Move 12″; AC 4; HD 6 (40 hitpoints); 2 attacks 1-6+1/1-6+1; Special abilities: 1/2 damage from blunt weapons, vulnerable to fire, regeneration, sound attack (see below).
Because the accordion golem is made up of leather and pliable wood, blunt weapons (like maces and hammers) do 1/2 damage. It can be struck by non magical weapons, but such damage regenerates at 3 hit points per round. If within the area of a silence spell, the golem cannot regenerate damage. Fire damage on the golem cannot be regenerated.
Every round, anyone within 30 feet of the creature must make a saving throw or suffer a randomly rolled effect (1d6):
- Cower in fear for 1d4 rounds. No actions possible.
- Dance uncontrollably for 1d4 rounds. Can move at 1/2 speed, AC and attacks are at -2; no spell casting possible.
- Deafened for 1d4 rounds. Is immune to the sound effect for that time, but cannot hear other players either.
- Confused: will attack random adjacent target for 1d4 rounds.
- Run away in fear at top speed for 1d4 rounds.
- Temporarily lose 1d6 points of wisdom (will regain 1 point per day of rest). If wisdom reaches 0, victim dies.
Various magical musical instruments are hidden within Zann’s Howling Halls, including a few of Zann’s “Beads of Silence.” These small fragile glass beads can be tossed up to 30 feet away, and, on impact, will create a 10′ diameter zone of absolute silence (as per the spell) that will last 2-5 rounds. There are also rumored to be various other items including a drum that can call down lightning from the heavens, a flute that can cast charm spells, a whistle that can summon a monstrous dog who will serve the whistle owner when blown and various song books and scrolls that contain the formulas for magical musical rites.
Zann had a pair of ear plugs which, if worn, made the wearer immune to aural attacks of all sorts (including the song of harpies, the sound effect of the accordion golem, etc.). However, the wearer will be 100% deaf while wearing the plugs (and spells with a verbal component are likely to fail (wisdom check on 1d20) since the caster is likely to unwitting mispronounce the formula).
The Howling Halls themselves were one of Mage Zann’s proudest achievements; he concieved the entire structure as a sort of musical instrument and aural environment. Flues are built into the walls to provide ventilation to the deepest cellars, but these flues were also designed to whistle, pipe and moan from the action of the wind, especially when certain doors are either left open or shut. It is thought that one may actually be able to ‘play’ the building like a musical instrument with different combinations of open and shut doors and that the tones produced will have different magical effects. In addition, various halls and chambers are designed to create echoes and sound effects to confuse and frighten intruders, and some of the sound effects are more than just illusions and may actually cause harm to the unwary.
Zann himself is rumored to have disappeared many years ago without explanation, although stories say that he was last known to have entered (and never returned from) an upstairs room with a curtained window which the mage would retreat to work on some of his more esoteric musical compositions for viola.
Many have tried to raid or explore the Howling Halls since Zann’s disappearance. Only one of these bold adventurers made it back. He died shortly after wandering back into town, incurably mad, raving about the ‘horrible sound of those pipes in the dark out there.’
A number of years ago I was staying with friends in Brooklyn — I was looking for something to read and I found a book called “The Mole People” on the shelf. It was a real page burner — I think I read the whole thing in one night. The author, Jennifer Toth, claimed that there were thousands of people living beneath the city of NYC in old subway tunnels, access tunnels, sewers, etc., and human habitation went up to seven levels below ground. These people were mostly hermits and the homeless, but Toth also claimed that there were some who never (or rarely) came out and had descended into a state of madness that included acts of cannibalism.
(The image above left is from the 1956 film, “The Mole People,” which has nothing to do with Toth’s book. “The Mole People” movie featured Hugh Beaumont, who I think was also the dad on “Leave it To Beaver.” The image below right is, of course, a drawing of “The Mole Man” by Jack Kirby.)
Although the book was criticized for being short on evidence and long on sensationalism, there was a brief period of time during which the book was flying off the shelves — I think people were enjoying it the same way they enjoyed a good horror film… and perhaps it was fun to imagine cannibals and genetic throwbacks living a brutish existence beneath your feet for many New Yorkers at the time.
The concept of life underground has always fascinated me. Back when I was in Gradeschool, I and my friend Eric Piccione used to draw our own comic books for our mutual amusement. One of my favorite characters was Jack Kirby’s “Mole Man” villain. He had been human but was so ugly that human society rejected him, so he set off to explore the farthest reaches of the earth since human kindness was denied to him. He eventually found his way underground, where a race of bald yellow dwarfs with bad eyesight followed him. His eyesight degenerated but his hearing and other senses became extremely sharp; the Mole Man and his minions were always using fiendish traps like pits that opened beneath your feet or boulders that fell from above to kill those who would intrude or interfere with the plots for revenge against the surface dwellers. He and his followers were blind in daylight and had to wear special glasses, like an eskimo’s snow goggles, in even the dimmest light, but to gain advantage they would simply shut off the lights. I liked Kirby’s mole people so much, I ripped them off for my own comic books — calling them “Grobes” and giving them some sparse hair. Like Kirby’s mole men, my Grobes would work with ant-like fervor beneath the ground, undermining the structures of the surface dwellers until they collapsed. Or something like that. I can’t remember. I think there are still some copies of my old comics in the attic back in my parent’s house in St. Louis.
There was also a 1951 Movie called “Superman and The Mole Men” (which I have never seen), and, one of my favorite beer-and-popcorn films, Marebito (based on the works of one of my heroes, Richard S. Shaver) with ‘Dero’ instead of mole people.
One of the heroes of my misspent youth was Guy Debord (picture at right) who was born right before WW2 and killed himself in 1994. Debord was a French film maker, artist, philosopher, sometimes poet, dreamer and social agitator whom most people would describe as a ‘Marxist’ but from what I know of him, he was more playful and irreverent than most Marxists I have met (perhaps more of a Groucho Marxist than a Karl Marxist).
I first heard of him years ago when I happened to read an excerpt of Greil Marcus’ book, “Lipstick Traces” in a magazine, got hooked and had to run out and buy the book so I could read the rest. In Lipstick Traces, Marcus interweaves history, philosophy and art criticism, going through the Surrealists and Dadaists and post war European malaise to discover the roots of punk rock, because something in his mind made him realize the world could or might be different when he heard the Sex Pistols sing “Anarchy in the UK.” When he started digging, he discovered other revolutionaries, including religious heretics, artists, madmen, ranters and predictors of the apocalypse and I discovered much of this fascinating history through Marcus’ book, which I devoured. Marcus is a music critic who has written for magazines like Rolling Stone, and he can pull this off because he is much smarter than I could ever hope to be and endlessly curious — unafraid to draw parallels between Johnny Rotten and medieval heretics and thereby trace the current in the cultural river, trying to divine where it came from and where it might go, rather than just saying, “So and so’s new record is cool so why don’t you buy it…”
Through Marcus, I discovered Debord, whom I considered a kind of artistic and philosophical kindred spirit at the time. Debord grew up in post war France, with rampant Western consumerism battling inflexible Socialist ideaology from the East — and he found both to be empty charades at best, death in life at worst. The west offered the ‘freedom’ to have whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it, but intruded in our lives with constant demands that we embrace it’s consumerist ideology. Debord found Soviet Europe similarly oppressive — both East and West offered a life of drudgery and although the bars of the social “prison” were more nicely gilded in France than in Soviet East Germany, Debord didn’t want to live in either of those places.
He wrote a book called, “Society of the Spectacle,” in which he claimed that in the west we lived in a culture of constantly created desires and projected images and messages that replaced our own dreams and imagination. I don’t know if he ever got the chance to read Pahulniak’s ‘Fight Club,‘ (I think it was published after Debord’s death), but Debord was Tyler Durden long before Pahulniak was even born. “Society of the Spectacle” was bound in sand paper — so when you put it in a shelf with other books, it would slowly destroy the other books whenever you pulled it out or put it back. Debord also made films in which he intentionally fucked with and frustrated the viewer. He wanted to shake people out of what he thought was a sleepwalker’s existence. He and his friends collaborated on projects and created an artists collective they called The Situationalist International (or S.I. for short). You can still read their stuff online. They would collaborate on poems, collages, ‘zines and activities. Debord proclaimed that the ultimate Situationist activity was just wandering the world. He said, “We drift.” Maybe that sums up what they did — the artistic freedom to do nothing. Modern day Lollards. I can relate to that.
Years have passed and I’m afraid I mellowed a bit. Unlike the Johnny Rotten of “Anarchy in the UK,’ I no longer “want to destroy the passer by…”
Right! NOW! ha ha ha ha ha
I am an anti-christ
I am an anarchist
Don’t know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the passer by cos I…
I wanna BE anarchy! (u.s.w.)
These days, I’d be reluctant to join a fight club because I’d be afraid of getting my teeth knocked out (funny how that specific fear scares me the most). Have I given up? Gotten lazy? Sold out? Or was it all just an affectation of youthful bravado on my part? I suspect all of the above.
Debord’s own story does not seem to have ended happily. Years of heavy drinking and drug use took their toll on his health. His critical stance became more and more exacting as the years passed and collaborators became enemies for having violated the groups increasingly stringent ideological standards. Once you were out of the S.I., the existing members were forbiodden to even mention your name. The society founded on creative collaboration eventually became an ideological cult with Debord at the center. I think eventually The S.I. consisted of just Debord alone. Sick, old and probably bored and lonely, he killed himself. Honestly, as much as I admire the man’s brilliant ideas, I suspect he followed them all the way to their natural conclusions…. and I don’t want to end up like that.