Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Merry Christmas! Happy Winter Solstice, and all the other seasonal holidays, including the Aztec festival of Atemoztli, the Coming Down of Waters, in honor of the Tláloques (the Rain God's assistants), and holy mountains: Popocatépetl, Ixtacchiuatl, Mt. Tláloc, and Matlalcueye.

This time, at La Bloga, I'm doing a simple Chicanonautica Feliz Navidad, and providing links to Juan Pablo Zaramella's Viaje a Marte, a film destined to become a classic, just the thing to get you ready for the New Year.

I think we're in for interesting times . . .


I saved the weirdest Christmas selection for last, the 1925 silent Maciste in Hell. Yes, we're going to Hell for Christmas! And it's gonna be fun!

Maciste is a character created by Italian filmmakers as a stand-in for Hercules. His advantage over Hercules is that he isn't tied to any particular time period, so (depending on the movie) he can be in the Ice Age, ancient Greece, Arabian Knights-land, Mongol-ruled Asia, mole-men menaced Africa, or even helping out the facists during World War One. He's got incredible strength because he's supposed to be related to Hercules. The dubbed American versions of the Maciste films from the Fifties and Sixties were called the “Sons of Hercules” series.

He's the hero of some of the strangest movies ever made – and Maciste in Hell is one of the most bizarre of the batch.

It's hard to say what time period it takes place in. The clothing in the Earthbound scenes could be from the twentieth, or an earlier century. This is also one of the few movies where Maciste wears a shirt.

The plot has lost a few things in translation. The reason a devil wants to bring Maciste to Hell is tied up with Maciste's girl cousin who was wronged by a nobleman – and oh yeah, she has a child but no husband. Maciste beats up the nobleman and his powdered-wig-wearing minions.

The devil sent to Earth turns his attention to Maciste, finally transporting him to Hell with some special effects that are like old woodcuts come to life. Primitive, but they still tickle the brain through the optic nerve.

Wild imagery -- and what's with the Jesus-looking guy nailed to the ground in crucifixion position? There is also television in Hell. And a dragon that serves as “Hell's airplane.”

Then it becomes Dante's Inferno with muscles and a sex drive. Any mortal man is permitted to come to Hell, hang out and see the sight for three days, and go home, as long as he doesn't kiss a devil woman. This would make for an interesting vacation, except that the devil women are hot babes in skimpy outfits who throw themselves at Maciste, and of course, the infernal liplock happens.

This transforms Maciste into a devil, and damns him to . . . you know.

When King Pluto, who rules this Hell asks, “Who kissed you?” Maciste points to the devil who brought him from Earth, and says, “HE!” And all the devils laugh at their compatriot.

The humiliated devil then leads a spectacular cast-of-thousands revolt against King Pluto. Fortunately, Maciste in his devil form is stronger than ever. In an amazing fight scene involving hordes of stuntmen, he quashes the rebellion. The leader of the revolt is nailed to the ground, just like the Jesus-looking guy.

King Pluto is so grateful that he makes Maciste human again, and lets him walk toward the gates of Hell.

But this is not the end! The devil woman who kissed Maciste ambushes him, and chains him to a boulder from where he can see the way out. Then she kisses him again, demonizing and damning him.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Maciste's cousin has gotten married, and is celebrating Christmas, has her son say his prayers, he blesses Maciste – who becomes human and joins the party! Seems a child's Christmas prayer can free a damned soul.

Ho-ho-ho -- Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


We return to our look at weird Christmas movies with one that is more Christmas-oriented, and that most people would consider more conventional. After all, it stars the beloved comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, is based on an operetta by Victor Herbert, and features all kinds of old fashioned things from bygone eras. How could it help but be traditional?

But it is the traditional elements that make the1934 March of the Wooden Soldiers (AKA Babes in Toyland) one of weirdest movies of all time. These traditions go way, way back, down to the Winter celebration's pre-Christian, pagan roots. Come to think of it, Jesus Christ isn't even mentioned.

Sure, Santa Claus does a cameo, but in this context he's closer to what Phyllis Siefker wrote about in Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicolas, Spanning 50,000 Years -- a book you need to read to know what's really going on with these December rituals.

It takes place in Toyland, a town populated by characters out of Mother Goose, though some have been tweaked in peculiar ways. The Three Little Pigs are similar to those in 1933 Disney cartoon. The Mouse (who ran up the clock) looks like a caricature of Mickey, though his body looks like a premonition of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth's Rat Fink. He also throws bricks at the Cat (and the fiddle), like Ignatz in the comic strip Krazy Kat. It's hard to tell if it's homage, corporate sniping, or early pop culture referencing.

The wooden soldiers, made man-sized due to an accounting error, are more like robots than toys.

And Toyland has frightening medieval aspects: The stocks and dunking stool are used as public punishment/entertainment, overseen by hooded “executioners.” If that isn't enough, offenders are banished to Bogeyland.

After a same-sex wedding to fool the villian, Bo Peep and Tom Tom the Piper's Son get banished to Bogeyland, after which there's an odd quiet scene with transparent gnomes and the Sandman -- and then things really get wild.

Bogeyland turns out to be the subterranean home – with stalagmites, alligators, bats, spider webs, and built-in stairs -- of the “Bogeys,” classic half-animal Wild Men with fright wigs, horns, animalistic masks, claws, and furry suits with visible zippers and grass loin cloths, in the tradition of characters who scare children in festivals and rituals around the world.

Led by the villain, the Bogeys attack Toyland -- and (for a children's Christmas movie) All Holy Hell breaks loose. A horde of Bogeys flood the streets, knocking down doors, grabbing women . . . and children.

Fortunately, Toyland has its defenses. The Mouse drops bombs from a miniature airship – foreshadowing the underground comic book Mickey Mouse Meets the Air Pirates. Laurel and Hardy send out the wooden soldiers, who like an army of robots, defeat the invading horde, snatching Bo Peep from the arms of a Bogey. One wooden soldier even fights on with a little girl clinging to him after his head has been knocked off. Technology saves the day, as the wooden soldiers march from the fairy tale into science fiction.

It's wild holiday entertainment!

Monday, December 13, 2010


'Tis the Season. We're all running around doing the obligatory gift-rituals. At the same time, I have something new out, Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs, another adventure of Victor Theremin, in the anthology 2020 Visions ,edited by Rick Novy.

There's also a story by my wonderful wife Emily Devenport, and contributions by some of the wildest minds on the planet, all running amok in the free-fire zone we call the "near future."

You can also get "Plan 9 in Outer Space," a collaboration I did with Emily, that asks, "Can a man with ambitions of being another Ed Wood find happiness on a spaceship full of zombies?" It's in Full-Throttle Space Tales #4: Space Horrors, edited by David Lee Summers, which features an assortment of the kind of tales that show the universe as a scary place, and remind me of the sort of movies, comics, and stories that got me hooked on the genre.

And still available, through the modern miracle of print-on-demand, "Human Sacrifice for Fun and Profit," the first Victor Theremin story, in Voices for the Cure, edited by James Palmer. And all the proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association, so you can get some of that Peace On Earth, Goodwill Toward Men action in while you're at it.

So go forth, buy, spend, get your friends -- or even yourself -- some mind-blasting reading, get the economy rolling, save the world!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


This time, Chicanonautica on La Bloga investigates the Virgin of Guadalupe, in honor of her December 12 holiday, finds a UFO connection, and as usual, more stuff that makes for extras over here at Mondo Ernesto.

A few days before my posting, La Bloga reproduced a poster from the National Hispanic Cultural Center that translated her actual name, Tlecuahtlacupeuh (she spoke Nahuatl, not Spanish), as “She Who Comes Flying From the Region of Light Like an Eagle on Fire.” Talk about strange lights in the sky!

In Passport to Magonia, Jacques Vallee, siting the research of Helen Behrens and Ethel Cook Eliot, suggests the the Virgin called herself Tetlcoatlcaxopeuh, “Stone Serpent Trodden On.”

Ah, the complications of transcultural transliteration!

I also noticed two Mexican actors who appear in La Virgen Morena (1942) who deserve to be mentioned:

Abel Salazar, who plays Temoc, Last King of the Aztecs, went on to produce, direct, and act in many films. These included a lot of deranged horror films that were dubbed into English, and blew peoples minds when they appeared as part of Saturday afternoon monster movie programs in the U.S. of A. He starred in Brainiac (AKA El Barón del Terror) that influenced Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

Alfonso Bedoya is famous, or rather infamous, for his part in the 1948 Humphrey Bogart/John Houston classic, Treasure of Sierra Madre. His portrayal of the bandit Gold Hat offended Chicano activists back in the Sixties, and for years the film was banned for the airwaves of Los Angeles. As for me, “We don't need no stinkin' badges,” has always sounded like words to live by.

And getting back to UFOs, here's a musical tale the suggests what really may be going on with the Drug War:

OVNI, being Spanish for UFO, as in Objeto Volador No Indentificado.

Keep watching the skies!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The President's Analyst doesn't have as much Christmas in it, but give it some time. Once we get there, it'll be worth it.

It didn't see it when first came out. I wanted to see ultra-cool James Coburn in another Derek Flint movie, saving the American Way of Life from absurd, comic book-style threats while surrounded by all the near-naked women my junior high school eyes could stand. What was this? Coburn running around looking uncool, with hippies?

By the time The President's Analyst came to television, I was in high school, the Seventies had begun, and the American Way of Life was seeing threats that even Derek Flint couldn't defeat. By then, I could identify with Dr. Sidney Schaefer, and his freaking out at the consequences of taking on a job too big for any one human being.

The film's basic plot could have been a standard secret agent movie -- but instead, it deconstructs the genre, going satirical beyond the jabs of the Flint movies, charging into sci-fi. It could be considered one of the few New Wave science fiction movies, and for my money, it out- does the entire French New Wave, except for Godard's Weekend. The ending can only be described as pre-cyberpunk.

It begins with a black man in a DIZZY GILLESPIE FOR PRESIDENT sweatshirt stabbing a white man on a New York street in broad daylight. Godfrey Cambridge then brilliantly performs a speech about the N-word. This was years before the blaxploitation craze.

After Sidney Schaefer accepts the presidential analyst job surrounded by modern art – the DVD I have doesn't have the Warholian underground movie sequence – he goes on a walk through New York to a bossa nova soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin, who also provided the rest of the fantastic score. Bits of “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells” are sampled. But this is not the mind-blowing Christmas connection. Not yet.

It's both funny and disturbing to see James Coburn blow his trademark cool. He escapes through the world of conspicuous consuming, gun-toting, white middle-class liberals, into hippieland. His roll in the tall grass with Snow White while spies from all over the world kill one another, and Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire sings about changes re-arranging his mind, captures the appeal of wanting to escape into a counterculture. And such dreams eventually come crashing down.

Once Schaefer is back in the hands of spies, it gets futuristic. The end of the Cold War through developments in telecommunications, and the East getting more capitalistic as the West gets more socialistic, is predicted. It seemed like far-out satire at the time.

In the days before cell phones and the Internet, when the phone company was monolith, computers were room-sized monsters, people like Marshall McLuhan said strange things about how it would all change how we all live. The President's Analyst offers an idea of where it could all go. Remember, it warned of the Cerebrum Communicator long before the word “nanotechnology” was coined.

And it all ends with a Christmas celebration, news of the president negotiating with the phone company while, through hidden cameras, a horde of androids watch as “Joy to the World” plays. Let Earth receive her King . . . buzz . . . click!

But I wonder if the younger generation wouldn't think that the Cerebrum Communicator isn't such a bad idea. Would they want it for Christmas if it was available? And who would they trust to inject it into their waiting carotid arteries?

Monday, December 6, 2010


We blasted through the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/CyberMonday weekend. The Season is upon us. Bad commercial Christmas music fouls the air. To make matters worse, you're going to need a blindfold and earplugs to avoid some of the most sickeningly sentimental movies of all time.

As a public service, my next few posts will about some alternative selections for Yuletide viewing that put a different spin on the Season of Joy.

Let's start with, I, the Jury, from 1953, based on the novel by Mickey Spillane, the first screen appearance of the immortal tough-guy private-eye, Mike Hammer, portrayed by Biff Elliot. And it was originally in 3D!

No, this is not a surrealistic non-sequitur, this version of I, the Jury is a Christmas movie!

It takes place on the days before the holiday. It opens with a closeup of a Christmas card, and traditional Christmas music, then there's gunshots -- and it goes stark, raving noir. Throughout the film, Christmas cards and music are used as transitions between scenes. The mayhem is punctuated by Christmas carols, which are interrupted by gunfire – a two-fisted, gun-toting celebration!

Sure, the heroin of the novel is replaced buy stolen jewelry (because in the early Fifties you couldn't mention such things on the Big Screen), but glorious, insane mayhem comes through:

In the opening scene a man's prosthetic arm is torn off. He fights for his life, thrashing at the camera that seems to have attacked him. The credits keep shooting out of his armpit – 3D, remember? Later Mike/Biff holds the arm, and explains that the man, an army buddy of his, “would give his right arm for a pal.”

There's also a kiss that results in the longest, thickest saliva string in the history of motion pictures. Imagine what it must have been like in the third dimension!

Unfortunately, there are no trailers or clips from this film available. But to get a feel for it, here's some of Spillane's prose set to some funky animation:

And here's Duke Ellington doing the tune that Spillane always considered to be Mike Hammer's proper theme song, “Harlem Nocturne” composed by Earle Hagen in 1939.

And if you think this has been outrageous, wait until you see what's coming!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Some folks like stories that are easy to follow. Not me. I prefer to jump on a story's back, give it a taste of my spurs, hang on for dear life, and see where the hell it takes me. If it's a wild ride, I'm happy.

Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs” was a wild ride from the git-go, and that was just writing it.

It started out totally different -- shorter, in a different genre, with another title: “Atomic Grass.”

I even wrote it like a true professional, with a specific market in mind: Murdaland: Crime Fiction for the 21st Century. No sci-fi here. I was out to write noir for the new millennium! A few years earlier I heard a security expert joke about the easiest way to smuggle plutonium into the country was to hide it inside a bale of marijuana. And I was collecting bits and pieces about the border situation. Throw in some post-modern Chicanos, and there it was – a new kinda noir!

Unfortunately, Murdaland folded before they could even get around to rejecting “Atomic Grass.”

Undaunted, I sent it to other classy markets – even The New Yorker. But soon there were no more markets.

Instead of getting depressed, I noticed that there are a lot science fiction markets these days, and I was finding it easier to sell to them. I got the fiendish idea of sci-fizing the story. Besides, I had gathered more bits and pieces about the border conflict, had some ideas about the singularity issue -- and then there was Victor Theremin.

I created Victor in a story called “Human Sacrifice for Fun and Profit” that can still be purchased in James Palmer's Voices for the Cure anthology. Then I sold “Hindenburg's Vimana Joyride” to Jetse de Vries' DayBreak Magazine. It was a case of a character taking on a life of his own. He also acts as catalyst for my imagination. I plugged him into “Atomic Grass” and – KERBLAMMO!

Also, by this time I had given up on commercial considerations. Writing for The Market failed for me. Besides, The Market was changing with new technology and social configurations. The Market didn't know what it wanted.

On the other hand, I was curious about what kind of wild ride I could get.

And what a ride it was! I generated the line, “radiation is groovy, kill the pigs,” which screamed to be the title. And the border war gave me more bits and pieces.

I also developed my idea of creating mad scientists as gonzo heroes for our age – when I was a kid watching monster movies, I identified with the guys who made the monsters. I know scientists, they tend to go mad, but not that way they do in the movies. I try to encourage their madness. It just might save the world.

And yes, Edgar Rice Harrison is a tribute to Paul Riddell, though don't expect any more resemblance between the two of them than there is between Victor Theremin and me. After all, this is fiction, and the whole point is for it to come to life, wreak havoc on the environment, and provide a wild ride.

And I've managed to publish it! Thanks to the Rick Novy and the folks at M-Brane Press, you can get it in 2020 Visions through Amazon.That means that the ride has just begun. Hang on, it's going to be wild!


Got the official email from M-Brane Press: 2020 Visions, edited by Rick Novy, has been released into the this planet's frenzied environment, and can be purchased at Amazon.

It includes my story, "Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs" and "If the Sun's at Five O'Clock, It Must be Yellow Daisies" by my wife Emily, and a host of others that will get you reconfiguring your concepts of where we're all going in the coming decade. Buy and read it now, or seriously blow your cool in the coming pandemic of future shock.

For all you booksellers, the ISBN is 978-0983170907.

We now return to our regularly scheduled deprogramming.