East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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If this is Thursday, this must be Peking… no, wait, maybe Shanghai…

As I am planning a special podcast episode for my Patrons to celebrate both my birthday and the Feast of Long Shadows, that is, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee’s birthdays, I am re-watching for the umpteenth time the 1972 classic “faux Hammer” movie, Horror Express.

A movie I love, and I have watched thousands of times – one about which I believe I know everything.
And yet, five minutes in, the screen announces…

Peking, Russian Concession

… and my brain does a double flip, and I go…

Hold it. There was no Russian Concession in Peking in 1906. Must be Tientsin, or maybe Shanghai. You guys are playing fast and loose, here…

And then of course I kick myself for a pedantic idiot, because I’m here to enjoy the movie, not to edit it, at least until, exactly one minute later…

Peter Cushing: “Ah, professor Sexton! What brings you to Shanghai?”

There, you unknown Spanish title-writer! I was right! And Peter Cushing knows!
And that’s a little sad about me, right?
But only a little.

Onwards we go – the podcast is going to be a smash.

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Horror movies for families and other wonders

I am going to share a video-essay I just saw on Youtube, because it is really interesting and has a lot to say about writing horror and writing my kind of horror, but before we get to that I’ll have to make a little introduction and give a little explanation.

Back in the mid-80s I started getting really interested in Hong Kong movies. Up to that point I had seen mostly Bruce Lee features (lots of friends from primary school got sent to karate lessons because of that), the occasional kung fu movie and of course Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, the Hammer/Shaw Bros collaboration. In the second part of the ’80s more Hong Kong movies started being distributed more regularly in my country, and we finally got Jacky Chan and his former team, the Lucky Stars.
Then, in the early ’90s movies by Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and John Woo finally hit the screens.

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Growing up with Yoko Tsuno

Today my heart broke for the second time for something that happened a long time ago – sometimes in the mid ’90s, my collection of Yoko Tsuno comics, the first ten volumes, was lost – my mom, god bless her, decided it was time to clear some space, and gave the books away, as a gift to the son of a friend of hers.
I was serving in the Air Farce at the time, and when I found out, it was too late.
Heart broken.
And today, a friend reminded me of Yoko, and my heart cracked again.

For the uninitiated, Yoko Tsuno was the main character in a series of comics created by Belgian artist Roger Leloup in 1970 – a series of science fiction thrillers featuring a young Japanese woman, an electronic engineer, as the main character. The series had a run of 29 volumes, the last being published in 2010. Leloup also wrote a novel about the character (and that I still have – hooray!)
The first adventure was The Curious Trio – in which we were introduced to the heroine, her team-mates and the blue-skinned aliens that would become a fixture of the series.

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Binge watching

Almost everybody out there, if I must trust (and I shouldn’t) what I get through mi social media, is using the lockdown time to catch up on movies, TV series, books, comics and videogames. And really, why not?
We live in a media-rich landscape, and our old life forced us to leave behind a lot of stuff.

And while I was never a fan of binge-watching, as I mentioned previously I’ve been supporting myself on a steady diet of Chinese horror/adventure web series these days, courtesy of a Youtube channel that streams subtitled episodes. And I must say that in general I am impressed by the quality of the products I’ve seen so far.

So, the twenty episodes of The Weasels Grave gone in two nights of insomnia, I am now getting ready to start with The Wrath of Time.

Once again a story of grave robbers, monsters, curses and two-fisted archaeology, and being part of a franchise whose instalments apparently go back in time, this time the story is set in Chinese Republican times – back when warlords ruled and the China was in chaos.
I mean… it’s got to be fun, right?
I’ll keep you posted (especially considering that watching these series has given me a few ideas about writing I need to digest).

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A Grave for the Weasels

Two weeks ago I spent a weekend binge-watching Candle in the Tomb, a Chinese web-series about the exploits of a team of grave-robbers trying to find (and loot) an ancient lost city in the Gobi Desert. Despite the sometimes rough humor and the clunky SFX, it was a great fun – and for this reason, I moved on to the follow-up series, Candle in the Tomb: The Weasel Grave.

A long weekend approaches, and this is just what I need to keep my spirits up during my long sleepless nights.

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Like a ragged samurai – L’Armata Brancaleone

Mario Monicelli (1915-2010) was a genius and a true artist. He started his career in movies at 19, writing an adaptation of Poe’s Telltale Heart, and for over seventy years he was at the cutting edge of Italian cinema, with a total of 112 scriptwriting credits, and 69 movies directed. He was one of the stalwarts of the so-called “commedia all’italiana” (Italian-style comedy), a genre that, at its best, mixed broad farce, subtle satire, and sharp social observation. And Monicelli was the best in the game.

Italian-style comedy came with a bundled problem, and some friends warned Monicelli that by bringing to the screen the flaws of the Italian character in highly comedic manner, his would be perceived by many as a celebration, not as an exposé. It was a fair warning, and indeed, today a lot of Monicelli’s work is remembered for the belly laughs and the ribald double-entendres, not for the often painful underlying themes of human frailty and misplaced ideals.

In 1966, Monicelli and some friends, including actor Vittorio Gassman, decided they could not take anymore the Disney-esque popular perception of medieval times, and decided to do a movie about a “ragged samurai of sorts” in a Medieval Italy that was at the same time historically accurate and sharply modern. So they did L’Armata Brancaleone (known in English as For Love and Gold or as The Incredible Army of Brancaleone).

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Italian Low Fantasy – Kickstarting Brancalonia

The page for the Brancalonia Kickstarter is live, and the project was financed in about one hour. Color me impressed – and grateful to the fans.
There is still twenty days to go, and so the project might become huge.
But what’s this Brancalonia thing?

Brancalonia is a game setting for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a psaeudo-historical fantasy that taps the rich catalog of stories, folklore and ideas from the Italian middle ages.
Based on the same concept of the highly successful Italian fantasy anthologies Zappa & Spada (something we could translate as Spade & Sorcery), Brancalonia is a low fantasy setting, in which the players portray members of the Medieval lower classes, trying to eke a living in a world filled with dangers, both mundane and supernatural.

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