East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The Breakfast Club in the Jungle

Two nights ago I was so desperate I watched Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle.
Now, first things first: I don’t like to original Jumanji.
OK, Robin Williams, great special effects, fun premise and all that but I guess I was too old when it first came out.
When the new movie came out, I saw the usual hue and cry on Facebook, people tearing their hair off because someone was killing their childhood, and other people complaining about the female lead’s costume.


Business as usual on Facebook1.

So, what’s this thing I’m talking about? Continue reading


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And talking about small imaginary European states…
I guess everybody out there is familiar with Brewster’s Millions, if not the original novel from 1902, at least with the Richard Pryor movie of 1985, directed by Walter Hill. One of the dozen or so movies based on that novel, that was written by George Barr McCutcheon.

Now, McCutcheon’s other claim to literary fame is the creation of Graustark, a Ruritania-like, romantic European micronation that he explored in six novels.


Indeed, such was the popularity of McCutcheon’s novels that if a whole genre is known as Ruritanian Romance thanks to Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, that same genre is also known as Graustarkian Romance. Continue reading

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Seven Stars unabridged

aa117ebe2ef23034997a167da91a67ffMy first exposition to Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars was through the Hammer classic 1971 movie, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.
Yes, the one featuring Valerie Leon.
I can’t remember where I first saw the movie – I was probably in the last year of middle school at the time, or on my first year of high school, and anything with the Hammer logo was a cherished treasure for me and my schoolmates.

Dark_detectivesI later read a cheap paperback translation, and found it somewhat boring.
I appreciated a lot more what Kim Newman did with the central themes of the novel, in his Seven Stars, which is contained in Stephen Jones excellent Dark Detectives, that I read at least a decade later.
Admittedly, I was never a Stoker fan, being more in the Conan Doyle and Rider Haggard field.

For the uninitiated,1 in what is considered to be the first modern “curse of the mummy” story, young Margaret Trelawny (daughter of a famous Egyptologist) is possibly the reincarnation of ancient (and fictitious) Queen Tera, whose astral body’s been preserved in as a mummified cat.
But it’s more complicated than that. Continue reading

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Going with the Zeitgeist

Sometimes I think I’m getting too old for comics.
One of my Christmas gifts was a complete set of the first ten issues of Flash Gordon Zeitgeist, the series by Dynamite Comics written by Eric Trautmann and Alex Ross with art by Ron Adrian.
And I said, hey, it’s Flash Gordon, right?


Now I’m somehow halfway through it, and I will do a more in-depth review as soon as I’m through, and I wonder what that will look like, because right now I am still trying to decide if I like it or not. Continue reading

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The Barbarian, 1933

“In the older days, they’d have built the Nile for you. Nowadays, films have become travelogues and actors, stuntmen.”
(Bette Davis, while filming “Death on the Nile”, 1978)

The_Barbarian_FilmPosterAnd so, on Christmas night, I went and watched The Barbarian, also known as A Night in Cairo. Not exactly a Christmas movie, as we’ll see. The movie features Myrna Loy and Ramon Novarro, and was directed by Sam Wood in 1933.
While the name might not ring any bell, Wood was the man behind the camera for A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Raffles, and The Pride of the Yankees, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Not an amateur, in other words.
The movie is a remake of a previous, silent film, called The Arab (1915), and based on a play of the same title.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to see the movie because of the reconstruction of the Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. Because, true to the Bette Davis quote above, this pre-Code movie was really shot in a time in which the studios recreated whole chunks of exotic locations in their backlot. Continue reading

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The Curse of Fantomah

This is a strange story.
It connects a pulp bad guy from 1929, a Japanese superhero from 1931, an American superhero from 1940, and an Italian master criminal from 1964.
The lot, because of my idea of doing something new with Fantomah.

Fantomah (1)

Fantomah, as you’ll remember, was the jungle queen/daughter of the pharaohs created in 1940 by Fletcher Hanks,later variously re-imagined, and currently on the public domain. In her original incarnation she was a statuesque blonde that turned into a gray-blue skinned, skull-faced super-witch.
Now here’s my idea: in AMARNA1, one of the characters is a pulp magazine reader. He always carries a folded pulp mag in his back pocket. So, I thought I’ll make him read my stories about Fantomah, as published by Spicy Oriental Adventures (a title that, as far as I know, never existed). The idea, in other words, is to write and publish a serial-within-the serial. Short 3000-words episodes presenting my own take on Fantomah, as explained in a previous post.
It sounded easy, it sounded fun.
I would call this serial-within-a-serial The Curse of Fantomah.
Then, I started thinking about Fantaman, and my project started spiraling out of control. Continue reading

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Darker than you think, 1948

41YM1RXTFGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Let’s admit it – of all the possible editions of Jack Williamson’s Darker than you think, I own the one with the suckiest cover.
It’s a fact, as you’ll see form the other images illustrating this post.
Fact is, I’ve been contacted by a friend, that asked me whether I was planning a post on Jack Williamson science-fantasy masterpiece. Which surprised me somewhat, as I was absolutely certain I had posted on this novel already.
But I was wrong.
False memories and all that.
So, to make up for my omission, I’m posting about Darker than you think both here and on my Italian blog.
It’s about a 1948 novel featuring werevolves, naked women and a sabretooth tiger. We can’t go wrong with that, right? Continue reading