Friday, August 28, 2020

Quick Shots: Ed Wood's Killer in Drag

What is the worst?

Edward D. Wood Jr. was a particular kind of guy. I personally love him. The label of "worst director" ever is a short-sighted view of the man. Being a filmmaker I can appreciate that creative endeavors can go sideways for a number of reasons, film being the most susceptible. If someone makes something with a burning passion that is enjoyable on ANY level, it's a shame to call the creator "the worst,". didn't they just entertain you? "Good" or "bad" are just constructs that people assign to for lack of a better word "art," (I personally hate the overuse of the word art or artist when it comes to film making, but that's just a pet peeve) I've seen people enjoy the hell of a movie, laughing at the right times, gasping at the other and then still deride the flick after the fact. Books, movies, whatever are meant to entertain. That can mean thrills or laughs. It can also mean emotional connection, a cry session or the viewer getting an outlook they might not have ever seen. Either way the work should make you keep flipping pages or glued to the screen. Our obsession of tearing down or like something ironically is going to slowly ruin our ability to actually enjoy anything.

*Steps down from soap-box*

Ed Wood was a lot of things, but he was a GREAT creative. You don't stick around as long in the public consciousness as Ed Wood has and be worthless. As a filmmaker he crafted endless entertaining movies with a burning passion, as a writer he seemed to do the same and they are all uniquely Ed Wood. 

That's the mark of a good writer in my opinion: A finely tuned voice. And Ed had that by the bucketful.  

"Killer in Drag" stars angora-wearing mob assassin Glen Satin, or Glenda when's he's all dolled up. Glen/Glenda wants out of the killer-for-hire racket but knows that the drop-dead gorgeous Glenda is too valuable to give up in the murder business. Glen/Glenda needs someone with connections to get out alive and after a liaison with a suger-daddy ends in his murder and the hopes of their sex-changed dashed Glen/Glenda has to go on the run from the cops and the mob. They do what anyone does when they run away: join the circus. Or buy the circus is more like it. While hitch-hiking and cross-dressing though out the country plus a little ass-kicking and robbery Glen/Glenda ends up in a small town with the deed to the circus and a hot small-town hooker in their bed. There's tons of talk of women's clothes, some circus freaks, sex and real kinky folk. Glen/Glenda seem to have a real connection to the small town hooker they shack up with as they come from similar situations. People in control of them from above and society misunderstanding them. And after some initial trepidation (and a wild night) she accepts Glen/Glenda for who they are. Plus Glenda's a swell looking dame. But the cops don't like Glen too much and the whole situation boils over with a circus riot, maybe some real love, car chases and kinky sex.

This is a stream of consciousness soft-core 50's pulp novel, one written to a very niche group and meant to be hidden between readings. It was clearly written in a few settings and knowing Ed Wood with a stream of liquor. And, sure yeah there's a lot of stuff that doesn't hang together and plot lines that don't get the best conclusions plus some hokey dialog and distasteful characters. Despite all that it's very entertaining, it's got all the hallmarks of Wood's work, the booze, the women's clothes and undergarments, the sleaze, the desperation and above all the bravery. Ed Wood's work is hallmarked by being brave. It takes guts to make a movie and put yourself out there. It takes a lot more guts to make your first movie about your love of dressing like a woman in 1953. Ed was a Marine after all.

Obviously this book isn't for everyone, if you like sleaze books it's a lot of fun. If your interested in what gender fluidity/LGBTQ life (if you were a killer-for-hire) looked like in the 50's this would be interesting for you. If you can't get past the novel's "hero" wearing a skirt while shooting dudes with his pearl-handled .32 then you should skip it. It would have made a wild exploitation film, in fact I kept being reminded not of Ed Wood's films while reading it but Russ Meyer's "Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill," both are hard-bitten forward thinking crime tales seeped in the era's expectations of women and transgender people, plus the action and violence.  It's not for everyone, but as Lou Reed once said, take a walk on the wild side.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Quick Shots: Danger in My Blood by Steve Brackeen (John Farris)


A unread Gold Medal paperback is a lot like a present waiting for you under the tree Christmas morning, it's new and exciting and probably something you'll like. I only mention Gold Medal in connection to this slim Crest book because if it's an original Crest book, it's pretty much just a Gold Medal undercover. Speaking of undercover, Steve Brackeen was John Farris who's mostly unknown as a Horror writer but wrote some damned good crime books back in the the 50's. "Baby Moll" of his was reprinted by Hard Case Crime back when they really dug around for obscure vintage material instead and it's fantastic. 

A lot of the Fawcett Gold Medal super spies, like Matt Helm or Joe Gall had dry runs for their series characters. Donald Hamilton's "Line of Fire" is a spiritual successor to Helm. Gall had "Pagoda" which stars Joe before he was a spy. Similarly over at Award Books Don Smith's Phil Sherman had "Red Curtain" before he got onto his long running adventures. "Danger in My Blood" reads like "lost first" Denver Bryant book to a series that doesn't exist. Denver is a disowned rich boy who when we first meeting him is recovering in a spy hospital full or VERY broken espionage agents. Denver's had it real rough, tortured and having to have watch a good women brutally tortured to death. He's ripped to shreds, out of shape and not quite ready to leave the safety of the hospital. But that's wouldn't be a rooting-tooting 50's hard-boiled espionage thriller, so Denver gets a message from an old friend in trouble and takes off to a small Florida town that houses a top-secret government research facility, where his buddy works. He's a little late and since it doesn't pay to be friends with a spy; Denver's buddy gets knifed in the back and Denver is on the case. Tangling with Russian spies, treacherous dames, AND the mob before the mystery is solved. The 50's variety of American spy fiction generally owes a lot to the tough-guy private eye novel and indeed a lot of this reads like a Mike Hammer which could be a bit jarring if you had only read 60's or newer espionage tales. After reading it and letting it soak into my brain a bit I realized that it really reminded me of the first time I read "Casino Royale," they both have a strong nihilistic thread that runs through them and shows some light on how nasty being a secret agent would be.  

I've been reading a lot of second or third trier books lately (which I still enjoy) but it was a breath of fresh air to delve into such a tightly written thriller with an interesting broken but still tough secret agent at the head. Farris is a helluva writer, he tells you just enough for the characters to be real without slumping the slow build up of tension or bogging down the action. And boy, the action is ultra-hard burning people, shotgunning faces, etc. etc. It's a slim book but you got just what you need to have blast with it. It's a shame its the only Denver Bryant adventure, I'd have read a dozen more. So, I'm just going to have to track down some more early Farris books.

Monday, August 24, 2020

George H. Smith's Two Sleazy Occult Men of Mystery

George H. Smith isn't George Harmon Smith who wrote Men's Adventure in the 70's and sleaze in the 50's and 60's. Though confusingly they BOTH wrote "swamp noir" for a bit. Past the soft-core type sleaze  George Henry Smith wrote he is mostly known as a science fiction author. In the early 60's he started two series for Pike books, the St. Germain novels about a secret agent who may be 1000 years old and writing as Jan Hudson the Jake Reynolds, the occultist/part-time private eye. These a quick books; I read both of them in maybe three sittings with little effort, they have such a kooky-Psychotronic vibe, like a VERY adult Men's Sweat Mag version of "Scooby-Doo." 

"Baroness of Blood" was first on the chopping block. Since there's so few pages in the book Smith introduces us to Count St. Germain instantly enjoying a striptease in a club. He's a quasi-famous dude who lectures and hob-knobs and who may be like 1,000 years old. Also a spy. He's duped by a hot chick and winds up in a Castle full of Nazi's including the titular (pun intended) Baroness of Blood. There's a Little Person Nazi who's married to the lesbian Baroness of Blood and a shell-shocked Nazi War Hero brother that needs St. Germain's hypnotizing powers to take command of the second-coming of the Nazi-assholes. Along the way St. Germain sleeps with the two only other women in the Castle, dodges questions about his age, hypnotizes people, sleeps with the women again and eventually kicks some ass. 

The book was in fourth gear the whole time, as St. Germain (kinda a dick) bounced from bed to bed and pokes around the spooky castle to uncover the evil plan. St. Germain is very much in the pulp-hero mode, hints of the master-magician type including having an army of Gurkha's but at it's heart this is very much a 60's pulp-spy novel with a dash of the old-school Swashbuckler. The plot could have very easily been a "Nick Carter: Killmaster" or the like. Not that I'm complaining.  I had a lot of fun with it, of course my mind was checked at the front cover. St. Germain was a bit TOO much of a Man of a Mystery type, you get to know like nothing about him, which worked for the whole "1,000 years old bit" since you don't really know the truth until halfway through and then maybe its different in the end. It sounds like I'm complaining but that was the most fun. Spies and quasi-comic-book-fantasy rarely get mixed so this was pretty refreshing. 

The St. Germain Series: 

 Baroness of Blood (1961) {later issued as Beautiful but Brutal}

 Soft Lips on Black Velvet (1961)

 The Virgin Agent (1967)  Written as Jerry Jason

"Love Cult" written under the name Jan Hudson was the superior of the two. Jake Reynolds is the classic Peter Gunn-era type P.I. who works part-time busting cults, voodoo and other supernatural shit all while running his occult bookshop, living above it and having a swank pool outback for, you know, the ladies. One night Jake gets picked up by a lady driven to a temple and they bang. Afterwards she tells him she was only doing to appease the Goddess of the temple and she wants to know nothing about Jake. Jake leaves, confused but overall happy with the experience. But the private eye in his head wants to know more about the dame. Sometime later a Hollywood Starlet comes into his shop cause someone's trying to kill her with voodoo after she got wrapped into an all-movie-star-cult-orgy one night. Which happens all the time, I'm sure. It all wraps up together like a good 60's P.I. novel. Jake's tough, snappy with the patter and gives us some interesting tidbits about voodoo and the occult, which he believes in but not in the supernatural sense, just in the sense that its spooky shit to those who believe and it can make people do crazy things or end up dead out of fear. Jake uses fear and the intimidation of the occult to rain terror down on his enemies. He still shoots at them with a .45 too though. This all boils down into an over-the-top final fight for their lives with a "monster." Great stuff.

Jake is more fleshed out then St. Germain. No where close to three-dimensional, but hey, this is a stroke-book. The occult-angle makes this book stand out in the sea of private eye books of the era. The plot is convoluted and highly unlikely but it's written smooth and clean. I'm sure the books were written real quickly but they don't have the shoddy writing of some books of this type, Smith keeps you flipping pages to see the awesomeness that comes next. 

Jake Reynolds Series:

Love Cult (1961)

Love Goddess (1961)

All-in-all I'm glad I jumped head first into the George H. Smith pool. I did the crazy book-buyer thing and picked up a chunk of books before I read a word of his, but this time it paid off. I'm certainly glad to have the rest of the two short-lived series at my disposal. You'd have to have a love of these early Men's Adventure/Sleaze books to enjoy them I'd think. There's plenty in here that its completely inappropriate for today, again its a stroke-book, but if you can get past the terrible sexual politics of the day then they are some fun books. I can picture a St. Germain Eurospy film series made in the 60's, starring maybe Ken Clark or Ray Danton, probably directed by Jess Franco, in-between his Fu Manchu pictures. Sadly, like all the stuff I seem to dig they aren't super easy to come by, but not impossible. In fact "Love Goddess" seems to be available as a cheap ebook, maybe not legally but its on Amazon nonetheless. If you like some of the regular B-level spy or detective pulp with a new spin on it, give 'em a try.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Quick Shots: "Scarlet Goddess" by Ennis Willie (the One Where Sand Fights the Devil and Sasquatch)

Whoa. Now here's a book that puts hair on your chest, probably regrows it on your head too. It had been a rough week for me: death in the family, global pandemics, etc. etc. After finishing "Travis" by M.E. Knerr I wanted more of the same type of book. Something that would let my brain relax and enjoy the sexy violence. Something that moved, didn't care if it made a whole lot of sense and that thrilling things happened in. I returned to old acquaintances: Sand and his buddy Ennis Willie.

"Scarlet Goddess" seems to be the first Sand Shocker and boy howdy is it a shocker. A lot of people compare Sand to Mike Hammer or the single-named (like Cher) Parker. I see the similarities but I wonder how much of the pulps Ennis Willie read. Hammer's famously considered the illegitimate son of Carroll John Daly's Race Williams and maybe Sand is too. Carroll John Daly like cowboy-action in an urban setting, thrill-a-minute stuff and so did Spillane and Willie. Its easy for this leap of logic when talking about these characters, since they throw logic down in the gutter and fill it with .45 caliber holes. I bring up Pulps for another reason (other then my obsession with them) "Scarlet Goddess" reads like a hot-and-heavy "Weird Menace" pulp, you know the kind where the supernatural is bleeding into the crime story. It's something that seems to be more common in this sleaze/proto-Men's Adventure books then I had thought, more on that when some books arrive in the mail. What can I say? I'm on a tear with these smut/proto-Men's adventure books of the 50's and 60's.

Not my photo. Sorry.
So, what is Sand up to this time, you ask? Well after getting suckered by a pretty dame (been there)
and suckered into "helping" (been there) a friend Sand gets tangled into a wild caper with cults,fire opal that may contain the devil and Sasquatches running amok. Sand's his usual flippant tough guy self and really barely bats an eye at the quasi-supernatural stuff going on. He may not fully believe it but he doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on it. Though I can't say Sand spends a lot of time dwelling on much, the pace wouldn't allow it. I talk about pace and speed a lot on the blog, it's fairly obvious that I probably prefer a rapid-fire story to a intricate well-thought out one. TV killed the radio star AND the junk-food novel, but there's still a few of us banded together in pursuit of a relaxing high-octane pulp read. Sand is the perfect example of a pulp-story just a few years newer then the heyday. Sand's on a course of bloody vengeance which keeps getting interrupted by willing-saucy-dames plus plenty of opportunity to show how much of an utter-badass he is and the supernatural stuff is something that seems very fresh within the formula. It's not a perfect book, the "surprise" at the end is fairly obvious but hey, who cares when it's been this much fun getting to it. Max Allan Collins spoke of the supernatural stuff in his foreword of the Ramble House edition and I avoided the book for a bit because of it. I wasn't sure how it would mesh together. I was stupid because it's an Ennis Willie book and the man could write an entertaining book in his sleep. It rides the line with the fantastic and makes you wonder if it was going to pull a "Scooby Doo" ending or double down. I won't spoil it, but I'm happy with how it went down. Plus it's got the coolest cover of the Sand books.

Ennis Willie recently passed away at 81, I'm glad he got to see a resurgence of his work and the impact that his novels had on people, something that sadly a lot of the guy toiling away in the low-rent publishing world never experience in their life-time. You really can't have more fun with a book than you can with a Sand Shocker. It's a shame that all the stories and novel with the big guy aren't reprinted. I wonder if Ramble House is going to do another book, they'd have my money. But I'll be happy with the two awesome collections "Sand's Game" and "Sand's War" and the eternal
hunt for the original printings.