Paul Mann

Paul Mann 1

In the preceding post, Daniel Kraus’ new Blood Sugar from the Hard Case Crime line depicted a Good Girl Art pinup style Halloween witch on its cover, done by Salt Lake City, Utah artist and illustrator, Paul Mann.

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In fact, Mann seems to be Hard Case Crime’s current go-to artist, if you check out their site. You can also go to paulmannartist.com to find out more about this talented artist and his traditionally styled work.

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Just Ignore The Witch.

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Snowing again this morning, looking more like December than October for the second day in a row, but a great big Happy Halloween to you too…

I’ve bought most of the Hard Case Crime line’s titles, from before and after their Titan acquisition. I may have a soft spot for the earlier releases reintroducing us modern readers to forgotten postwar paperback original crime classics, and for having the why-didn’t-someone-think-of-this-before bright idea to package them just like the rack sized pocketbooks they emulated…right down to the cover art.

Daniel Kraus’ Blood Sugar is still on order from my local bookseller and not in yet, whether because it’s sold so well that it’s already out of stock, or the early October publication date wasn’t met…or maybe the counter clerk’s just fibbing to me. Who knows? Clearly it won’t arrive before Halloween, though I did want it for a holiday read.

Apparently, Paul Mann’s fun cover art is a fooler, though. The line is called Hard Case Crime. But Blood Sugar isn’t a retro-pulpy mystery with a fetching witch up to some kind of criminal or even supernatural hijinks. Look closer and you’ll note that the illustration only depicts a calendar’s October pinup. The story actually deals with that most familiar Halloween urban myth (or is it just a myth?): A twisted recluse, aided by three outcast kids, seeks revenge on the neighborhood children with trick-or-treat candy boobytrapped with razor blades, broken glass, drugs and poison.

Chicago author Kraus is the cowriter, along with Guilermo del Toro, of the Oscar winning The Shape of Water. Let’s hope no quirky oddballs get any ideas this year after reading Blood Sugar. Which, it seems, everyone else might do before me.

Mark of The Vampire.

Inside Detective - Mark Of The Vampire April 1939 copy

Mark of The Vampire? No, it’s not a feature on MGM’s 1935 Todd Browning film with Bela Lugosi donning the black cape (only the second time onscreen, I think).

This “Mark of The Vampire” is from the 1939 issue of Inside Detective magazine with cover art by illustrator Albert Fisher, and is a lurid ‘all-true’ story about an Oakland, California ‘vampire killer’, his victim found in a lovers lane.

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I’d been planning on something goofy for later Halloween evening, once the trick-or-treaters stop ringing the bell, that is. Instead of watching creepy classics (and I have a few on DVD), maybe just a horror comedy like Victoria Justice in The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (what, you don’t have any guilty pleasures?) or perhaps the first Elvira movie with…well, Elvira, of course.

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But I know I have MGM’s 1935 Mark of The Vampire lurking somewhere on my shelves. Bela Lugosi, ultra-creepy Carrol Borland as his vampire daughter Luna, the two Lionel’s – Barrymore and Atwill – as an investigator and police inspector in a mid-1930’s visual delight of gothic eeriness, despite Todd Browning’s insistence on inserting intrusive comedic bits that really…just…aren’t. Originally titled The Vampires of Prague, adapted from Browning’s silent era London After Midnight (the Holy Grail of lost silent era films) and based on a scenario by Guy Endore, the film deals with the death of a Bohemian nobleman, apparently a victim of Count Mora and his daughter Luna, the local vampires. But near the film’s end, it’s all revealed as an elaborate ruse to catch a very human murderer with his eye on the victim’s daughter. I’ve never decided if Todd Browning was a genius or a hack (most likely a little of both) but the man sure could set up some stunning visuals, and Mark of The Vampire, for all of its flaws, is classic horror eye candy.

Hmmm…I could go gloomy and gothic instead of ‘goofy’, couldn’t I?

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Pulpy Vampire Noir

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Happy All Hallows-Eve-Eve. Doesn’t quite look like Halloween hereabouts today. More like Xmas-Eve, with the snow falling this morning.

The preceding post looked at the “blurred lines” between horror and noir, as addressed by Zach Vasquez in a 10.29.19 Crime Reads article. Crime and horror often go hand in hand, with some ‘suspense’ novels more accurately billed as horror and some horror novels devoid of anything remotely supernatural but chock full of grisly stuff being done by sadistic crazed criminals. ‘Noir’ and horror can intersect, sharing hopeless quests, battles between indistinct shades of good and evil, shadowy figures in long cape-like coats emerging from the fog and evil seductresses tricking fools into (figuratively, at least) selling their souls.

Within the horror genre, vampires seem to be cyclical, dominating bookshelves and movie screens for a stretch, only to crawl back into their coffins to lay low till agents, editors and readers crave them once again after overdosing on the traditional castles-capes-n-fangs crowd, twinkling puppy-love teens, undead zombie style ghouls and various (and seemingly countless, at least in the E-book and self-published scene) sex-crazed vampiresses who prefer to do their imbibing in bed. Naked. Or, gussied up in period lingerie inevitably described in infinitely minute detail.

Oh yeah, and usually with another woman. (Don’t blame Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, blame those 1970’s Hammer movies.)

If “The Stiletto Gumshoe” is a home for quirky noir culture, there’s also a fondness here for most things retro-pulpy, so let’s peek at P.N. Elrod’s (Patricia Nead Elrod) The Vampire Files series, where hard-boiled meets horror, with vampires, no less. Elrod, a writer with a truly prodigious output in horror, fantasy, gaming tie-ins and more, wrote an even dozen titles in this series, I believe, the first published nearly thirty years ago. No, make that twelve and a half – I spotted a self-published version of The Devil You Know from Elrod’s own Vampwriter Press.

The Vampire Files novels are set in 1930’s Chicago (in the beginning), where ace newspaperman Jack Fleming must solve a murder in the first book, having awoken as a vampire after a gangland slaying. As in, his own. Ultimately, Fleming becomes a kind of undead hard-boiled private investigator (later a nightclub proprietor) aided by human pals and his new girlfriend Bobbi as they grapple with various mysteries, mobsters and supernatural villains, with a crew of determined vampire hunters always on his tail.

I no longer have any of Elrod’s books on my shelves, but if I recall, I had two or even three of The Vampire Files books at one time, including the first. Ace published new editions in 2010-2012 or thereabouts, with five volumes combining multiple novels from the original series in each. As I write this, I’m making a mental note to either track down some used bookstore originals or to order up the re-issued versions. As I recall, they were fun reads, with a good mix of supernatural vampiric-ness and retro-pulp style hard-boiled crime fiction, all punctuated with bits of wry humor.

Vampire detectives have been done by others, of course, particularly on television. Canada’s Forever Knight starring Geraint Wyn Davies ran from 1992 through 1996, based on a dropped 1989 CBS pilot starring Rick Springfield, and had a late-night cable run in the U.S. before going into syndication. I’m sure I’ve seen episodes on one of the many cable rerun channels (there are a few of those, aren’t there?). Blood Ties (2007 – 2008) originated in Canada as well, airing on Lifetime in the U.S., based on Tanya Huff’s Blood Books series and starring Christina Cox as a former Toronto cop turned P.I. who’s teamed up with a vampire. Moonlight (2007 – 2008) was a CBS prime time series starring Alex O’Loughlin as a private eye turned into a vampire. I’m sure there are more, and more vampire-as-investigator books and book series that I’m not mentioning here. P.N. Elrod’s Vampire Files deserved being singled out, its familiar retro crime fiction turf a good fit for The Stiletto Gumshoe’s world.

Now, get back to work on your Halloween costume.

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Blurred Lines.

The Leopard Man

The Leopard Man (1943)

Crime Reads may not be the first place you’d turn to for talk about horror, even at Halloween time. But it’s definitely worth a visit to read Zach Vasquez’ look at 20 essential films which blur the line between horror and noir (link below). Myself, I’ve always been surprised that more films do don’t do precisely that, the two ‘genres’ sharing some common roots and any number of familiar tropes and stylistic cues. Want to quibble with some of Vasquez’ choices, or toss in your own instead? Go right ahead. I fully concur with several of the article’s selections.

Crime Reads

After all, anything produced by Val Lewton might qualify, and Vasquez’ chooses 1943’s The Leopard Man. Similarly, while the article singles out David Lynch’s 1997 Lost Highway, most anything in Lynch’s body of work will likely merge something horrific with the vaguely noirish, the possibly anachronistically retro, and certainly the just-plain-weird. Vasquez also points to The Eyes of Laura Mars from 1978, that Helmut Newton fashion-kink photo suite brought to life on the big screen, its screenplay adapted from a spec script penned by John Carpenter (Halloween). Or there’s Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro in Angel Heart from 1987, and of course, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 dark classic Les Diaboliques.

Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Some can argue that many films billed as horror are really just particularly gruesome serial killer thrillers. And others might assert that the moment a film (or story or novel) includes anything remotely supernatural, it no longer qualifies as ‘noir’. But then some people get too hung up on genres and classifications, and I’m not getting into those arguments. Rather, I’ll just encourage you to read Zach Vasquez’ 10.29.19 Crime Reads article “20 Essential Films That Blur The Line Between Horror And Noir” and see for yourself if you don’t find a film you might want to watch come Halloween night.

 

https://crimereads.com/20-essential-films-the-blur-the-line-between-horror-and-noir/

 

The Lady Is A Witch.

Startling Stories Earle K. Bergey

It’s almost Halloween, so let’s get witchy with an impractically attired sorceress perched on her flying broom for Norman Daniels’ “The Lady Is A Witch” from the March 1950 Startling Stories pulp magazine.

The cover illustration’s by Pennsylvania artist Earle K. Bergey (1901 – 1952), who’s better known for fetching female space adventurers who — like our witch here — tended to be on the scantily clad side. I’ve read that his many sex-i-fied sci-fi sirens, who often sported inventive metal breastplates of one sort or another, were the inspiration for Princess Leia’s ‘slave girl’ costume from Return Of The Jedi. True or just online myth, who knows?

Norman Daniels’ complete novel appeared in this nearly 70 year-old pulp with interior illustrations by famed fantasy pulp artist Virgil Finlay.

 

Bullets On Broadway?

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Mixing murder and mayhem with romance, sixties-style damn-the-man social justice and humor was an odd if inspired choice in Warren Beatty’s and Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde (written by David Newman and Robert Benton). It may not have had very much to do with the real-life escapades of the Depression era crooks, but it made for one hell of a good film that still stands up today.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow singing?

Now that may be pushing it a bit, even straining the notions of sympathetic anti-heroes past the broadest definitions.

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No, I’ve never seen the Broadway musical Bonnie And Clyde (script by Ivan Menchell, music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, with Emmy, Tony and Oscar nominations and awards among them). No one’s a bigger fan of dark, flawed anti-heroes than me. Do I fall for hapless fools in over their heads? Yep. Do I have a soft spot for mid-twentieth century crime sagas? If you stop by here at this site, you know better than to ask. But Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (to say nothing of Buck, Blanche and sundry lawmen) bursting into song after a bloody shootout? Hmmmm.

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Well, apparently it played well, starting in 2009 in La Jolla, California and then Sarasota, Florida, though the musical’s 2011 Broadway run was short-lived, closing after only 36 performances. Still, there was enough popular and critical interest to warrant overseas productions in Japan, South Korea, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic through 2016.

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No one’s saying gangsters and music don’t mix. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 Cotton Club is but one example, and I for one look forward to seeing the fully restored version of that film.  I honestly never minded the 1967 Bonnie And Clyde film’s romanticizing of those two rural southwest 1930’s nut-jobs, guilty of killing at least nine police officers, four civilians, and more inclined to rob small town grocery stores and rural gas stations than banks. I simply choose to appreciate the film as an entertaining work of art in its own right, divorced from the much more banal evil of the real-life crooks.

But sometimes theatre creatives have to understand that not everything makes for a good musical.

Crime Really Doesn’t Pay…

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Somebody sure scored, even if they’re counting their loot in a fleabag no-tell motel. But the law, rivals or even badder bad guys look determined to bust up these modern-day Bonnie & Clyde clones in this photo suite by Pieter Henket.

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Crime Does Not Pay: The First issues

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 1

A while back I mentioned Blackjacked And Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer,  a handsome 2011 Dark Horse Books trade pb with a sampling of stories from that notorious early 1950’s pre-comics code authority era title, which also included a detailed, multi-page history by Denis Kitchen.

Crime Does Not Pay: Volume One is a 2012 hardcover reproducing complete intact issues, ads and all. Much of Crime Does Not Pay’s legendary status – and why it attracted the attention of censors and the newly appointed Comics Code Authority — is due to its gruesome covers more than the actual stories and art, some of which can be surprisingly tame. But oh, those covers…yikes! The Charles Biro art shown here is pretty indicative of some. Crime Does Not Pay was packaged by Charles Brio and Bob Wood, the latter coming to a nasty end a few years after Crime Does Not Pay’s demise, doing time for manslaughter (which by all accounts should have been a second-degree murder charge), his girlfriend the victim. Out after only three years, Wood hit the skids, and died in 1961…run over by a truck when drunk, or as the rumor mill tells it, taken for a one-way ride by some former prison acquaintances. Either way, Wood’s story is a Crime Does Not Pay tale in itself, and worthy of its own post later.

This 279-page book is a visual treat, with crisp and vibrant colors throughout that really make the sometimes-stilted vintage artwork pop. Volumes Two and Three were right beside this book when I bought it a week ago. I have a feeling they’ll be going home with me on my next trip to that particular comix shop.

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