Before Me

HIST Mundelein corn fieldsFirst draft chapter from a novel-in-progress.
Setting: Suburban southern Illinois, summer, 1991.
Narrator: Sixteen-year-old boy.

Before me, my mother and dad were really new at this. Today they make it seem relatively easy. I wasn’t around so I always forget that my brother wasn’t planned, that my parents were really pretty young, that there was no Mick’s Liquor and that Edenton wasn’t even supposed to be the place they ended up.

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The Friday Archives: Man, Monster, Marine

Earl "E.C." Craver at home in Royal City, Washington, in 2002. Wenatchee World photo/Don Seabrook

E.C. Craver wasn’t super-pleased when the photographer who accompanied me on this story asked to take his picture with the Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter VHS box. After all, he’d lived a varied life, fought in the Korean War, and recently self-published his own novel.

But the photo was, basically, my idea, since I’d tracked Craver down at his new home in rural Washington state and held a fondness for the kind of low-grade cinema he’d played a part in. He was renamed “Cal Bolder” for his acting career by the semi-infamous agent Henry Willson, who’d done the same for Roy “Rock Hudson” Scherer, Merle “Troy Donahue” Johnson and a host of other beefcake stars. (I never got him to confirm that Willson was the agent he pulled over for speeding, though other sources make that claim. Johnny D. Boggs’ book Jesse James and the Movies identifies the agent as Robert Raison.) “‘Cal,’ like California,” as Craver put it in his still-booming voice when I met him. “Big and strong, like a boulder.” Ironic, that, since he’d nearly been killed by a boulder in Korea when a detachment of enemy soldiers tried to drop it on him. 

The story appeared in my newspaper in time for Halloween in 2002. E.C. Craver died in 2005. My thanks to Brian’s Drive-In Theater, whose Cal Bolder page provided key info for this article and offers a fine memorial to Craver today.

ROYAL CITY – E.C. Craver may have been too nice a guy for Hollywood.

At a muscular 6-feet-4, 240 pounds, Craver was recruited in 1958 from his Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle into a 10-year whirl of auditions, studio-lot visits and film shoots. Under the stage name Cal Bolder, he played bad guys on “Bonanza,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Star Trek,” and got turned into a mind-numbed monster in the camp horror classic Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.

calbolder4But when a film agent invited him to fly to Italy to shoot a string of Western movies, Craver, out of loyalty, turned him down.

“I was doing fairly well with the agent I had,” said Craver, now 71 and living outside Royal City. “I’d had four or five things and a couple of leading roles — I hated to just go to him and say, ‘I’m leaving town.’ So I said, ‘No, I think this guy is doing me all right.’

“And so Clint Eastwood goes over there,” he said, “and you know the rest of the story.”

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Watch Out Where The Wehrmacht Goes

Dead Snow(Back in 2010, I put everyone’s favorite Nazi zombie movie on blast for the old Film Freak Central blog. The post is still extant there, with some pretty good comments, but I’ve updated it a tiny bit here.)

Good Hallow’s Eve, my children of the night, my darling spectres and succubi. Gather close. Closer still. Are you sitting comfortably? Right. Let me tell you a tale, my little sex pumpkins.

Let me tell you what a shitty movie Dead Snow is. Continue reading

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Baron Frankenstein’s Christmas Donation

Cover by Ron Evans, © 2013 Boron EntertainmentIt’s time to tally up sales of my e-book The Curse of Frankenstein: A Dissection. Hey, look at that, we sold 16 downloads in three months! That’s … well, that’s no Cum For Bigfoot, I’ll say that much. But I’m grateful for every purchase, and since it’s Christmas, it’s time to parcel out some of the proceeds to the charity to which they were designated.

At the book’s launch in September, I pledged 50 cents from every $2.99 Kindle purchase to the Family Acceptance Project — a San Francisco State University research program that studies the dynamics of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people coming out to their families, and offers tools to ease the transition. Many parents reject their LGBT children, and the consequences of that rejection can be dire.

Because an eight dollar donation seemed a tad chintzy, I topped up the fund to an even $100 and dispatched the contribution online over the weekend.

The donation pledge still stands and always will, so feel free to buy at this link and expect your portion to be disbursed in some future round of giving. If you buy, please encourage others to do so by leaving a review at Amazon, passing this blog entry around to your friends, the usual dance. And please know that profits from planned future incarnations of the book — a print edition due in spring and a possible podcast commentary track — will also go to the Family Acceptance Project at a similar rate.

My thanks to all who encouraged and endorsed this project, and best wishes for the Christmas season and for 2014.

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A Book Trailer That’s Also A Video

Chapter 5 of The Curse of Frankenstein: A Dissection spins off into its own video essay, just in time for Halloween. There’s something here for horror film fans as well as lovers of fine art — keeping in mind that sometimes the two things are one and the same. Remember that 50 cents of each $2.99 Kindle purchase of the ebook goes to The Family Acceptance Project, a research program to aid young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.

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By Its Cover: Ron Evans, Artist

Ron Evans has a ridiculous number of notches in his artistic belt. He created the comic strip Edgar Rue, about a suicide victim who finds himself taking the form of a skull and spinal column afloat in an absurdist afterlife. He founded a band called The Bloody Oranges, occasionally consisting of just himself, through which he’s distributed piles and piles of original music. And with several friends he launched the paranormal-conspiracist podcast Tales From the Spacepod, addressing every oddity from cryptids to UFOs to chemtrails.

Most importantly, though, Ron contributed the cover illustration to The Curse of Frankenstein: A Dissection, my ebook about queer undertones found in the 1957 Hammer horror movie. Ron did me the favor of submitting to a brief artist interview. Continue reading

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EXCERPT: “The Features Are Not Important.”

Peter Cushing, "The Curse of Frankenstein," 1957

(The Curse of Frankenstein [1957] spends a lot of time ruminating about physiognomy. From Chapter 5 of my new e-book The Curse of Frankenstein: A Dissection, available for Kindle.)

Victor inspects an eyeball pinched in a forceps, using a magnifying glass that inflates his own striking blue eye to a cartoonish size. He never blinks once. (Cushing himself spoofed this moment in the “backwards bookstore” scene in 1984’s Top Secret!, one of his last screen roles.)

In Curse, it’s Victor’s right eye that’s distorted — the same that will become a focal feature of his finished creation. Frankenstein sees the entire picture with this eye; in his Creature, the eye is blind.

Victor appears satisfied, but a rap at the door disturbs him. Paul announces himself, and Victor suppresses a small grin at his arrival. Despite his refusal to assist in the laboratory, despite his long-discontinued role as tutor, Paul continues to live here at Schloss Frankenstein. Victor asks him why, but her already knows the answer: his concern for — his attraction to? — Elizabeth.

It’s time to share what Victor’s built from the work they conducted together. He lifts one end of the tarp now covering the clear tank, and what Paul sees there — something we do not see — horrifies him.

Victor shrugs away the aesthetics. His creation may look ugly, but it’s the accomplishment — “creating a being that will live and breathe” — that truly matters. Paul is horrified by the revolting assemblage of parts. “This can never end in anything but evil,” he warns.

This provokes a discourse from Victor on principles of physiognomy. “One’s facial character is built up of what lies behind it.” He seizes up a skull from the workbench, an illustrative Yorick. “In the brain. A benevolent mind, and the face assumes the patterns of benevolence. An evil mind, then an evil face. For this, the brain of a genius will be used, and when that brain starts to function within the frame, then the face and features will assume wisdom, and understanding.”

Paul demands to know where this brain is to come from. Victor regards him like a predator as he answers only, “I’ll get it.” Paul turns away in disgust and fear.

Victor’s lecture draws on the best junk science of the 19th century. Aristotelian writings nodded in this direction — that the character of a man is shaped by his outward appearance; that a man’s character could be determined by a study of his face — and eventually gave rise to the popular theories of Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801). This thinker’s Essays on Physiognomy (orig. Physiognomischen Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe) became a Continental bestseller after its collected edition appeared in 1778, partly for its rich illustrations by the likes of William Blake.

Practically none of his observations are grounded in rational inquiry. The “science” of physiognomy remained in vogue during the time period portrayed in The Curse of Frankenstein, and persisted afterward in other forms, finding 20th-century expression in the ectomorph/endomorph/mesomorph body typing of William Herbert Sheldon. Some eugenics movements, needless to say, got even more distasteful.

Pete Townshend — Face Dances Part 2

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