DEBUG

(KETCHUP ENTERTAINMENT/COPPERHEART ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

Debug 2D

When actor David Hewlett decided to write a Sci-Fi movie, I’m sure the concept looked pretty good on paper and – you know what? – even with a couple of black holes in the plot and unspoken back stories (due, no doubt, to time and budgetary constraints), the finished product looks pretty good, too. Hewlett’s script is equal parts 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY, TRON, WAR GAMES and just about every slasher movie ever made; toss in some nifty KILL BILL style fight scenes and a cast of beautiful – if limited – actors and you have a rollicking good time of a space opera with DEBUG.

DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)

The concept is relatively simple: Convicts on a work release derelict spaceship clean-up detail (got that?) are dispatched for one final debugging assignment before returning to lock-up; the debugging is of the computer kind, as long dormant vessels with still-functioning systems tend to become infected with various viruses and need to be cleaned before a reboot and a return to active service. We get a glimpse of just how corrupt the system is in a prologue that sees the sole survivor on-board, one of 1,200 prisoners (a terror-fraught cameo by Tenika Davis), stalked by a physical manifestation of the infected security program (malevolently played by future Aquaman, Jason Momoa). Suffice to say, bad things happen. The cleaners are under the supervision of a no nonsense (though somehow good-natured) guard named Capra (Adrian Holmes), who gets hijacked by the virus, doing its gruesome bidding. Capra’s eventual demise is kind of a side-splitter.

DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)

Of course, each member of the convict crew has their own little secret: Lara (Sidney Leeder) and team leader Mel (Kerr Hewitt) are – if not romantically – sexually involved; Diondra (Jaydn Wong) is looking for a quick score, but ends up with a splitting headache for her troubles; Samson’s exit (and, by extension, CARRIE’s Kyle Mac) was so quick, I’m not too sure I can even tell you what his secret was or what happened to him; tough-as-nails scarey chick Kaida (who really has a heart of gold, much like – I’m sure – the actress who portrays her, Jeananne Goossen) is all business, as she hacks into the rogue system for a bit of virtual butt kicking; James (played by Adam Butcher, Momoa’s co-star in WOLVES) is a former cadet whose dreams were smashed after pleading guilty to a cyber-crime committed by his younger brother. Each, seemingly working against the others, are given their own little vignette, as they are assigned different sections of the ship to work on; most interact with various “creature comfort” programs, all under the control of the evil “I Am” (Momoa), leading to varying degrees of pain and suffering. The final confrontation with the I Am and the ultimate sacrifice by one team member is right up there with other such selfless gestures for which the genre is so well known (Spock’s final moments in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN remain untouchable in that area).

DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)

There are a plethora of direct-to-DVD Science-Fiction movies released every week, most of which are totally forgettable and many of those are utterly regrettable; DEBUG rises above the dross with an imaginative script and cold, antiseptic sets that add to the creepy machines-in-control aspect; the small blasts of color (the convicts’ orange jumpsuits and, yeah… a whole lot of blood) tend to be rather jarring against the bright lights and stark white of the spaceship. This is a movie that would have benefited from another 20 to 30 minutes. That’s something that I very rarely say about any movie but, here, the extra time would have definitely made an already strong feature into a great one, allowing the characters to be fleshed out more fully (we don’t really know why most of the crew are in prison or what motivates their actions on this mission), as well as offering a more in-depth examination of just how the ship’s computers became so corrupt.

DEBUG is unrated but, due to some strong language and some fairly brutal scenes of violence and death (a couple of which are quite imaginative), this one probably shouldn’t be viewed by anyone younger than, say, twelve. It’s not really a great date flick or family movie night fare… in fact, it may not be anything that the female of the species will find appealing at all. Having said that, it’ll play really well for a bunch of guys just hanging out in a man cave somewhere.


AFTERMATH

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/EASTLAKE FILMS/LIGHTWAVE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)

AFTERMATH

While not perfect, AFTERMATH is still a brilliant examination of the human condition, a world teetering on the brink of elimination. This is more than just another apocalyptic zombie movie, it’s a character study of nine disparate souls, brought together after a well-orchestrated terrorist attack levels every major city, military installation and government facility in the United States; the attacks also target the USA’s allies and, of course, there are retaliatory strikes, leaving the entire planet a cesspool of nuclear destruction and fallout. As with any good tale of the apocalypse, things start as they should… at the end. Things very quickly move to “One month earlier,” where we meet a doctor named Hunter (played by CJ Thomason, we never really know if it’s his first or last name), on a walking tour somewhere in Texas. The first blast hits just as he meets a vehicle with a young woman (Christine Kelly) and her young charge (brother, student, baby-sittee?).

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

There’s plenty of science to go along with the (very realistic) fiction, as the car dies because all of the electronic components are fried and, as the second blast occurs, the boy turns toward it and basically burns out his retinas. Hunter quickly rallies the troops as the search begins for, first, a vehicle with a diesel engine, then, supplies and a place to wait out the radiation and nuclear fallout; the doctor says that the refugees have approximately ten hours before the radiation settles. Along the way, they pick up another traveler (Monica Keena) and, four hours in, are greeted by a frightened youth with a very big gun. Hunter is shot before he can convey the urgency of the situation.

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Just at the ten hour mark, the quartet comes upon a house, knowing that this must be the place they wait out the devastation. Again, Hunter is met with resistance, another gun in his face. The outcome involvesfar less blood, as the doc disarms the would-be killer. We soon find that Brad (Edward Furlong in a brilliantly unhinged role) and his pregnant wife (Jessie Rusu) are at the house of their neighbor, Jonathan (Ross Britz) and his diabetic uncle, for the same reason that Hunter and the others stopped: It’s the only house for miles around with a cellar. More science as Hunter tells the others what they need in the cellar and what they can expect to happen before they can leave the shelter of their new home, a period of at least 30 days.

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

As the characters wait for the fallout to dissipate, a very real sense of claustrophobia sets in (for the characters and audience, alike) and we – to paraphrase THE REAL WORLD – find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. By this time, the film has taken on a cinema verite aspect, a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to great effect. The final member of the “family,” a friend of Jonathan named Rob (Andre Royo) makes his way to the house to check on his comic-reading and role-playingbuddy, only to be shot in the wrist. The pair share a few moments that are quite poignant, including Rob volunteering to go outside to bury the uncle and, later, the two discussing which Green Lantern is the best, ending the discussion with the Lantern’s oath. Jonathan and Rob aren’t the only ones with those emotional, human moments, though. Everyone is devastated by the death of the uncle, the first of their group to go; Brad, in particular, is riding a roller coaster of emotions, worrying about his wife and unborn child.

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Having never been in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I can’t say for sure, but the emotions and circumstances seem impressively real… which, of course, was the intent of writer Christian McDonald and director Peter Engert. AFTERMATH (which was originally titled REMNANTS) may not be a primer to prepare you for a nuclear holocaust, but it does make you think about how close we are on any given day to this kind of annihilation. Obviously, not everyone in the cellar survives and, the final BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID fight-to-freedom scenario against what appears to be an infectedfamily of homicidal lunatics (or, maybe, they’re a motorcycle gang who are only interested in how much damage they can inflict on others) really tells the story of man’s desire for survival against any odds. There aren’t a lot of zombies here (in fact, Hunter refers to them as being “infected” by the radiation and fallout), just nuclear-charged emotions. And, for me, that’s more than enough to recommend this flick.


AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY

(NASSER ENTERTAINMENT (90 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

Amber Alert 2D_Flat

This movie (which, apparently, was originally released in January 2009 as DESPERATE HOURS: AN AMBER ALERT) is one-half police procedural, one-half infomercial for the Amber Alert System and… one-half AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL cautionary tale, one-half Lifetime movie melodrama. So, that’s… what? Five-eighths of what this movie’s about. That means that the other two-sevenths of the flick are all about Tom Berenger, who – of course – starred in the greatest movie ever made (make that “The Greatest Movie Ever Made”), RUSTLERS’ RHAPSODY (who you gonna believe… those stuffed shirts at the AFI or yours truly?).

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Tom Berenger) (publicity still)

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Tom Berenger) (publicity still)

Alright… seriously, AMBER ALERT… is co-written and co-produced by reserve police officer Joseph Nasser, so he knows what he’s talking about. Of course, without everything else (teen angst and teen relationships that would embarrass Stephenie Meyer; good looking but woefully misunderstood kids, creepy looking but woefully misunderstood three-time-loser bad guy, highly driven but woefully misunderstood chief of police; horribly dysfunctional family dynamics), this movie would be a very dry educational film for police academy cadets. I’m not gonna kid you; there’s plenty wrong with this movie (mostly in the editing and an overtly melodramatic script) but… I found myself engrossed in the story. I mean… I knew how the thing was gonna play out, I just wasn’t sure how we were gonna get there. I think the fact that someone with police training had a hand in writing and producing the movie gave it a more realistic feel – at least outside of the histrionics heaped upon us by a couple of truly over-the-top performances and one “better check her pulse… she may be dead” performance. So, here’s the who, what and why about the good, the bad and the ugly of AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY:

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Britt McKillip and Genevieve Buechner) (publicity still)

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Britt McKillip and Genevieve Buechner) (publicity still)

Berenger stars as Edward Larsan, the newly paroled loser who, determined to take back what was his (wife, daughter, house, beer), begins his new life by robbing some campers, stealing a car and holding up a convenience store (his haul is two bottles of booze, a carton of smokes, a handful of money, a bouquet of flowers and a rag doll belonging to the clerk’s daughter). He shows up at his ex-wife’s (Dana McLoughlin) door with the flowers and the doll for his daughter… it just happens to be her birthday… her 18th birthday. Rebuked by his ex, Larsan takes to the road again to clear his head. A blow-out seems to be the last straw but, thankfully, he’s still got the booze. Because that fixes everything, right? While drowning his sorrows at a local lovers’ lane kinda teen hangout sorta place, Larsan watches as a couple of girls pull up, hoping to run into a couple of cute guys. These girls have just what ol’ Larsan needs… and, we all know what that is, right? Yup, you got it: A ride. He snatches the driver (Jessica Parker Kennedy) out of the front seat, telling the other girl, Debra (Genevieve Buechner), to get to the back of the vehicle… or else. A lot of whimpering ensues, as the first girl’s mouth and eyes are duct-taped shut and she’s led away, to be duct-taped (man, that stuff sure is handy, huh?) to a fence. Before Larsan can do the same to Debra, another vehicle arrives on the scene: A truck containing Pete and Katie (Tyler Johnston and Britt McKillip). Katie is upset that her mother won’t allow her to go to Italy with her friends over spring break; Pete is pretending to be sympathetic… hey, he is a 17 year old boy, after all. Larsan introduces Pete to his weapon, takes the kid’s money and his girl (after duct-taping him to the steering wheel of his truck and threatening to come back, find him and kill him if the cops are called). But, what 17 year old ever listens to their elders? Certainly not Pete, who somehow manages to dial 911.

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Torri Higginson and Alexander Mendeluk) (publicity still)

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Torri Higginson and Alexander Mendeluk) (publicity still)

An incredulous dispatcher (BJ Harrison) takes the call, prudently deciding that “better safe than sorry” should be the ruling axiom in this instance and dispatches (thus, her title) a squad car. Enter: Police Chief Geiger (played by Torri Higginson, who’s performance is so laconically laid back, it makes Cesare, the somnambulist from THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI look like an excited chihuahua by comparison), who agrees with dispatcher Carla that it’s more than likely a prank. Nonetheless, she asks to be kept informed, as any good chief of police would. The cops are shocked… shocked, I tell you… when they find the 911 caller duct-taped to his vehicle. They eventually find the other driver and her duct tape. At this point, Edward Larsan is in possession of a (second) stolen vehicle, this one with the added feature of two teenage girls – one of them only 17 years old – duct-taped and cowering in the back floorboard. Back at the make-out rendezvous, Chief Geiger pulls out all of the stops: Since one of the girls is still under-age, she calls her superiors to get the okay for an Amber Alert. As she’s jumping through some rather obnoxious hoops, Larsan is just discovering the error in judgment of kidnapping two teenage girls. And, I’m not talking about their incessant giggling and air-raid-siren-level squealing whenever their favorite song comes on the radio; nope, upon hearing that an Amber Alert has been issued after the carjacking and kidnapping, he realizes that he may have, indeed, managed to cook his own goose. He curses and beats the steering wheel as one girl whimpers in the back and the other plans his demise and their escape. Needless to say, except for some truly bad acting and unintentionally humorous dialogue, hilarity does not ensue. That’s where I stop telling you what comes next because I don’t wanna blow the ending for you. Except this: In a totally bizarre plot twist/secondary storyline, Chief Geiger has an estranged son (Alexander Mendeluk) who is – I am not making this up – dating Debra but, as far as I can tell, the little light bulb of recognition never goes off over anybody’s head that these people have a connection. So… there ya go: AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY ain’t great but, it ain’t totally without some merits; view at your own risk.


SAVING GRACE B JONES

(NEW FILMS INTERNATIONAL/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (115 minutes/Rated R), 2014; Original Theatrical Release, 2011)

Saving Grace B Jones_2D

The instant I saw the title, I knew that SAVING GRACE B JONES was going to tug at the heart strings. It does. The first thing that usually comes to a guy’s mind when he sees those words is: “Chick Flick.” However, I gotta tell you, that definitely is not the case with this movie. Actress Connie Stevens (HAWAIIAN EYE and a butt-load of TV and movie appearances) acts as director, executive producer, co-writer and narrator on what turns out to be a thrilling – and, yes, heartbreaking – tale of a perfect Central Missouri family driven to the brink of desperation by a confluence of events that they have no control over. Without giving away too much, here’s the plot of the “inspired by a true story” film:

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Tatum O'Neal (publicity still)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Tatum O’Neal (publicity still)

Set in 1951, Rylee Fansler portrays 10 year old Carrie (Stevens narrates as the adult Carrie). Already traumatized by the death of her mother, she becomes even more withdrawn and noncommunicable after witnessing a brutal stabbing. Her father makes the decision to send her to a small rural town called Boonville to spend the summer with an old Army buddy and his family. As Carrie settles in with Landy and Bea Bretthorst (Michael Biehn and Penelope Ann Miller) and their free-spirited daughter, Lucy (Evie Louise Thompson), she seems to be putting the gruesome memory behind her. She and Lucy even tag along when Landy travels to Oklahoma to bring his sister, Grace (Tatum O’Neal), home to live with the family. Grace had suffered horrible injuries when she was hit by a truck on her wedding day in 1935. The grueling recovery process drove Grace over the edge and she had spent the past sixteen years in a mental institution or, as they were commonly called then, an insane asylum. An underlying concern, hinted at throughout the movie, is a seemingly Biblical rain that constantly threatens the town, close to the Missouri River.

There are also hints of the abuse that Grace has had to withstand as a patient in the institution… all in the name of healing. Piper Laurie appears, in a delightfully wicked turn, as the asylum’s director, Marta Shrank. She is of the opinion that anyone ever admitted to such a place can never be released, as they are a threat to themselves and those around them (a sentiment, by the way, shared by most of Boonville, including the pious Reverend Potter): “… the best doctors and judges we have said that people who come here will never be right again. Maybe the doctors are smarter than you and me.” She isn’t very fond of her charges or of the two children that have accompanied Landy Bretthorst to bring Grace home and, with one of the best lines in the movie, she declares: “Tommy, it’s been so many years since I’ve seen children. They’re almost like little people, aren’t they?”

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Evie Louise Thompson and Rylee Fanser (publicity still)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Evie Louise Thompson and Rylee Fansler (publicity still)

Grace’s homecoming isn’t the smooth transition that Landy envisioned. Things are complicated by the fact that her groom lives across the street from the Bretthorsts with his pregnant wife. The rains continue to fall intermittently adding to the feeling of isolation, as Landy is constantly called away to help with sandbagging at outlying areas. However, both Lucy and Carrie have found a kindred spirit, as they grow close to the troubled woman. In one particularly poignant scene, Grace and Lucy are sitting on the roof of their porch (apparently, a sanctuary for both). Grace opens up a bit about her life, saying, “I wonder if anyone will ever know why I existed? I am crazy, you know.” She tells her niece about some of the things she did in her youth, concluding with the insightful line, “It’s funny… the hard thing about being crazy is, you don’t get to do crazy things anymore.” This tender moment, of a completely lucid Grace interacting with one of the few people in her life that doesn’t judge her, is – literally – the calm before the storm. She’s still fighting her demons but, the one person who may be able to help her is too busy to see how much she needs him. Everything comes crashing down for Grace and the family after a tragic accident that…

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Connie Stevens, Evie Louise Thompson, Rylee Fansler and Tatum O'Neal (publicity photo)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Connie Stevens, Evie Louise Thompson, Rylee Fansler and Tatum O’Neal (publicity photo)

But, that would be telling! From this point forward, the narrative takes on a considerably darker tone. Relating the events of the last half of the film would ruin an excellent movie if you haven’t seen it. So, just let me add these few thoughts: The acting throughout is top notch and – I could make some crack about her family and upbringing here – Tatum O’Neal displays, for the first time in a long while, the skills that made her the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for 1973’s PAPER MOON). Penelope Ann Miller, as the harried sister-in-law, also delivers a solid, low-key (for the most part) performance. SAVING GRACE B JONES skillfully addresses the stigma that the mentally ill continue to face today, with a forthright depiction of the patient, as well as the problems and decisions faced by the family that loves them, while still managing to incorporate an exciting secondary story. Guys, don’t be afraid of this flick; it will actually hold your attention to the end. You may want to have a box of tissues handy, though.


LOCKER 13

(BROTHERS’ INK PRODUCTIONS/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (103 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

Locker 13 KA 15-1

LOCKER 13 is good. It’s not the “Greatest Movie Ever Made” (that would be 1985’s RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY starring Tom Berenger… don’t argue… I’m a professional… you know I’m right!) but, it starts with an interesting premise and each of the NIGHT GALLERY style vignettes builds the tension via sharp right turns (and, in some cases, a complete reversal) in the plot (plots?), keeping the viewer guessing and invested in the story (if not the occasionally seedy characters). That’s quite a feat. Add in the creepy, horror/thriller elements that – like all of the best movies of the ilk – are more implied than actually seen (very little blood and mayhem and no creepy-eyed little kids crabwalking on ceilings) and you’ve got a nifty little film. It may not break any box office (limited US release was March 28, 2014) or sales records (DVD releases exactly one month later), but it’s cult status is virtually guaranteed!

LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

The movie starts with a beautifully shot exterior scene, apparently of an Old West town. As it becomes obvious that we’re actually looking at an Old West theme park, we’re introduced to the principals: Skip, a new nightshift janitor and ex-convict (played by Jason Spisak) and Archie, his philosophical supervisor (Jon Gries). As Archie takes Skip on a tour of the park, he recounts stories regarding various items the two come across on their rounds.

LOCKER 13 ( Ricky Schroder andTatyana Ali) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Ricky Schroder andTatyana Ali) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

An old pair of boxing gloves are oddly out of place in a church pew and, when Skip asks about them, Archie’s tales begin. “Down and Out” follows a washed-up fighter (Ricky Schroder) who’s looking for one more shot at the big time. He gets his shot, leaving a path of death and destruction in his wake. Is his success (and notoriety) due to those old, borrowed gloves? The always beautiful Tatyana Ali is the girlfriend/moral compass of the story.

LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson andDavid Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson and David Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

Booger from the REVENGE OF THE NERDS franchise (Curtis Armstrong, who most recently has had a recurring role as the Angel, Metatron, in SUPERNATURAL) presents an acquaintance for initiation into a seemingly innocuous organization, “The Benevolent Byzantine Order of the Nobles of the Enigmatic Oracle.” Death, mayhem and blood sacrifices are all, apparently, part of the ceremony… or is it all a joke and, if so, who is the joke aimed at? The great character actor David Huddleston plays an integral role.

LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

In an odd act of the “pay it forward” maxim, a suicidal man (Alexander Polinsky) is coached by a stranger (Jason Marsden, who also produced the fourth segment and may be best remembered for his portrayal of Nelson on FULL HOUSE) who intimates that he prefers a more spectacular ending than the boring dive from a rooftop. Everybody needs help, but what kind of help is thihs member of “The Suicide Club” offering?

LOCKER 13 (Krista Allen) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 (Krista Allen) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

Have you ever wondered how those mystery writers are able to think up such believable stories? In “The Author,” a philandering husband and a contract murder make for a great mystery novel: was it the wife, the girlfriend or the private secretary? The one with the best confession goes free but, like all good murder stories, this one has a twist ending.

Another twist brings us to the final episode, “The Other Side,” in which the janitor Skip takes the lead. It all ties in with Archie’s stories about futures and probabilities and making the right decisions in your life. It may have you asking, “Can you see the real me?”

There are psychological twists and turns throughout the 103 minutes (that’s an hour and 43 minutes for those who are too lazy to do the math) of the film which is very reminiscent of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE and previously mentioned NIGHT GALLERY series. I must admit to being suckered by a couple of the twist endings, making the edge-of-your-seat experience that much more enjoyable. A note of interest: The first three stories were actually released as short between 2007-2011 (or there-abouts) but work exceptionally well within the framework of the over-all anthology style of LOCKER 13.


MATT MORING: PULP MASTER GENERAL

Altus Press logo

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. I loved the comics then, especially the early 1970s Marvel stuff. I used to make the 20 mile trip to the closest comics repository to buy every Marvel (and, eventually, every DC) title the day they came out. THE AVENGERS is and always will be my favorite book, but there was a lot of – for the time – cutting edge material being released back then, also. Some of my other favorites included books based on characters and series from the age of pulp, an art form that was – if not the father of the comic book, then at least, the cool uncle. These comics based on the pulps included Robert E Howard’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN (and, later, KULL THE CONQUEROR) and DOC SAVAGE from Marvel and THE SHADOW and TARZAN (and other Burroughs characters and worlds) from DC. During that same period of time, paperback publishers like Bantam, Ace, Lancer, Del Rey and Tor were reprinting a lot of the original pulp stories and, naturally, I had to have those, too. Of course, I knew that those few characters weren’t the only ones to ever star in pulp magazines. It was just that I had no access to any of the other stories or series. Now, obviously, I’m older, but I still love those old comics and those old pulp stories and, thanks to publishers like Altus Press, a whole new world of pulp adventure has opened up to me.

Pulp magazines were so called due to the quality of the paper they were printed on. The same paper used for comic books, by the way. The stories (more like novellas, actually) offered exciting adventures, exotic worlds, charismatic and mysterious heroes (and villains) and set the standard for 20th Century horror, sci-fi, detective, fantasy, western and crime stories. The list of those writers who toiled for the pulp magazine publishers reads like a who’s who of popular fiction: Howard and Burroughs, mentioned above, as well as Dashiell Hammett, Sax Rohmer, L Ron Hubbard, F Scott Fitzgerald, Louis L’Amour and HP Lovecraft. These men (and others like them) have placed their indelible marks on every form of entertainment since the early 1900s, from movies to radio, from television to comic books. Sadly, however, like early comics, these magazines weren’t intended to be kept and cherished by fans of a particular genre, writer or series. They were cheaply made and totally disposable. Thankfully, some forward thinking individuals saw the inherent beauty within the pages of such fare as WEIRD TALES, SPICY DETECTIVE, AMAZING STORIES, and DOUBLE DETECTIVE. Thank you, all!

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

There are several publishers dealing in reprinting classic pulp stories (aside from the major writers, like Burroughs, Lovecraft, Howard, and others). None, however, had convinced me that what they had to offer was worth spending money on. Altus Press changed that. I became intrigued with the Green Lama when I purchased the first Dark Horse Archive edition of the character’s comic series, based entirely on the artwork of Mac Raboy. As I read the blurb on the volume’s back cover, it became evident that I would have to search out the source materials – in short, those DOUBLE DETECTIVE stories. A quick web search led me to the Altus Press site and an amazing array of some of the best characters, stories and collections of the pulp era. Obviously, I knew immediately that had to begin my relationship with Altus by ordering hard cover copies of the first two volumes of THE GREEN LAMA: THE COMPLETE PULP ADVENTURES.

Matt Moring receives the 2012 Munsey Award (uncredited photo)

Matt Moring, on the right, receives the 2012 Munsey Award (uncredited photo)

A little more digging and I had a quick history of the publisher. Matt Moring, a long time fan of the genre, started Altus Press in 2006 as an outlet for reissues of several out-of-print pulp histories and “new pulp” stories. Since then, Mister Moring has published more than 100 titles, including a very popular series of new Doc Savage novels. Matt is the 2012 recipient of the annual Munsey Award, awarded to the person who has done the most for the betterment of the pulp community and presented at PULPFEST, the genre’s equivalent to San Diego’s COMIC-CON. He will be presenting the award to another deserving person at this year’s convention, scheduled for July 25 through July 28 at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio. The Mule is proud to present the Matt Moring interview.

THE MULE: These magazines, like comic books, were cheaply produced and deemed disposable at the time of their publication. Obviously, though, someone thought enough about them that they took care to preserve them. Now, with publishers such as your own Altus Press, many of these exciting stories are finding new life and a whole new audience. What drew you to these amazing magazines and stories and how did you become involved in the reprinting of these series in book form?

MATT: I’ve long been a fan of the pulps. I think I was first turned on to them when my parents were pushing me to start reading something besides comic books all the time. So one day at the antiquarian bookstore I bought many of my old comics, I saw a copy of this incredible-looking paperback called THE FLYING GOBLIN. That Bob Larkin cover really drew me in and that purchase really started me on the path I’m on now. It was cemented even further when I saw all those seemingly unobtainable pulps in THE STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS. At the time, they looked so foreign, so old, that I was certain I’d never get the chance to own one. But, that eventually proved not to be the case.

THE MULE: What was your favorite pulp magazine, series or character, who was your favorite writer – the ones that made you want to read and explore more?

MATT: That FLYING GOBLIN paperback led me to eventually collect all those Doc Savage paperbacks, and the Avenger ones, too. Doc will always be a favorite, thanks to Lester Dent, but in recent years I’ve really gotten a lot more enjoyment out of the genre titles like SHORT STORIES, ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, and detective titles like DIME DETECTIVE and DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY.

DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, MAY 1947

DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, MAY 1947

So I’ve been buying and collecting pulp material since my teens. Of course, apart from the Doc, Avenger, and occasional Shadow or Spider paperback, there wasn’t much to buy. And in the days before the internet, it was really tough to find information on other material coming out. The only place I knew to look was an occasional article in THE COMICS BUYERS’ GUIDE, which led me to the PULP VAULT fanzine. Still, not a lot of cohesive reprints were coming out. However, I kept in touch with what fandom there was from afar.

THE MULE: For each successful pulp series or writer, there are probably three less successful or marginally successful. What and who are some of the lesser known series and writers that you discovered later on?

MATT: There were a lot of successful pulp series, but there are many more that are inventive enough or by good writers that they deserved to be returned to print. I’ve tried to concentrate on these more than anything else, so finding more gems is what I always look forward to. My favorites include Old Thibaut Corday of the Foreign Legion by Theodore Roscoe, The Griffon by Arch Whitehouse, and The Whirlwind by Johnston McCulley. I should qualify these series, though: I’d consider those series I mentioned as “successful,” as they all ran for many installments… they’re just not well-known in 2013.

THE MULE: What prompted you to jump into the publishing business?

Matt Moring (uncredited photo)

Matt Moring (uncredited photo)

MATT: Fast forward a number of years. I’d been working as a designer for a number of years, and I read an article about some low-cost online printers specializing in print-on-demand publishing. I’d long considered doing some collections of pulp material, but I didn’t want a basement full of unsold books. With this new option, I could handle all the production on my own and assemble the type of collections I personally wanted on my bookshelf. So with a few projects in mind, I reached out to some other pulp fans who were much smarter than I to help put these together. I was determined to make the kinds of books people would be proud to display on their bookshelves, and that meant not just good design, but also including new, authoritative introductions and articles. The pulp fandom world is filled with so many generous, kind, and enthusiastic members… really, these books are from them, not me.

THE MULE: How much work – editing, layout, design, etc – goes into each book you publish? Run us through a basic timeline from decision-making to publishing.

MATT: Every book’s timeline is different. Sometimes things take years; conversely, there was a recent book that was assembled in just two days. Then there are other things that take more planning… for example, when planning a complete reprinting of a series. Take Frederick Nebel’s Cardigan series from DIME DETECTIVE. It ran for 44 installments, many of which were really tough to track down. There’s that aspect. Then there’s the scanning, OCRing, and initial proofreading. Cardigan turned out to be almost half a million words, so that was a task in itself to go through all that material. Once that was done, I had a book design in mind, and I blocked that out. At about the same time, I needed to commission a new introduction. And then there was an issue of locating a quality photo of Nebel himself… all those that had seen print weren’t the best. So there’s a lot of research that goes into these, too. Once the books were laid out, I had to have them proofread by careful people who are much more detail-oriented than I. Proofreading is a really under-appreciated art. Once that’s done, then they’re ready for release.

THE MULE: More recently, Altus Press – and you – have been involved in a new series of Doc Savage adventures. How did that come about? What obstacles – licensing and so forth – did you encounter leading up to the publication of that first new story? Do you have plans for more originals featuring other characters?

DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND (cover by JOE DIVITO)

DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND (cover by JOE DIVITO)

MATT: Publishing new Doc Savage stories is a dream come true, especially when I reflect on that FLYING GOBLIN paperback. Author Will Murray had been shopping the new stories around for some time before we came to an agreement on publishing them. I’m quite pleased with how they turned out, and they’ve generally been received with glowing reviews and feedback. In packaging them, I tried to keep some echoes of the Bantam editions that most of us read, but also bring in some of the original pulps’ influence in order to play up the “wild” part of the “Wild Adventures” tagline on the series. I also got to do a new, de facto Doc Savage logo, which was a privilege.

THE MULE: Where can our readers purchase Altus Press books? What’s next for Matt Moring and Altus Press?

MATT: What’s coming up for Altus Press? We’ve got dozens of titles in various states of completion… from initial planning to actual production. We’ll continue to put them out as long as people like them.

You can always find our books at www.altuspress.com. The softcovers and e-books can also be found at Amazon.

Thanks, Matt. The man has been working overtime on a whole slew of new Altus Press titles for the 2013 edition of PULPFEST. Here’s the list of 13 books that will debut the final weekend of July:

HIDDEN GHOSTS: THE LOST STORIES OF PAUL S POWERS

HIDDEN GHOSTS: THE LOST STORIES OF PAUL S POWERS

DOCTOR THADDEUS C HARKER: THE COMPLETE TALES
ADVENTURES ON HALFADAY CREEK
HIDDEN GHOSTS: THE LOST STORIES OF PAUL S POWERS
THE COLLECTED TALES OF SANGROO THE SUN-GOD
SKULLDUGGERY ON HALFADAY CREEK
THE SAGA OF HALFADAY CREEK
DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE
WORDSLINGERS: AN EPITAPH FOR THE WESTERN
THE MASKED DETECTIVE OMNIBUS, VOLUME 1
THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF HAZARD AND PARTRIDGE
THE COMPLETE TALES OF DOCTOR SATAN
THE COMPLETE CASES OF MAX LATIN
THE MASKED RIDER ARCHIVES, VOLUME 1

Oh, my! Looks like I’m gonna hafta start savin’ up for some of those hardcovers… they’re looking pretty good! Keep checkin’ the Mule for reviews of these and other releases from Matt and Altus Press.