Pulp Appeal : Clash of the Titans (1981)

(Editors’ Note: R.A. Goli is an Australian writer of horror, fantasy, erotic, and speculative short stories. In addition to writing, her interests include reading, gaming, the occasional walk, and annoying her dog, two cats, and husband. Her short story collection Unfettered is currently available at Lulu. Her fantasy novella, The Eighth Dwarf is available at Amazon and Fantasia Divinity MagazineCheck out her numerous short story publications at her  website https://ragoliauthor.wordpress.com/ or stalk her on Facebook)

Clash of the Titans is an epic tale of Olympian gods, mythological monsters and heroic mortals. Released in 1981, it stars Laurence Olivier as Zeus (Spartacus, 1960), Harry Hamlin as Perseus, (who later goes on to star in LA LAW), Maggie Smith as Thetis (Downton Abbey), and Ursula Andress as Aphrodite (who only has one line).

The movie opens with Acrisius, King of Argos, condemning his daughter, Danae and her infant son Perseus to a horrible death by throwing them into a wooden trunk/coffin and tossing it into the ocean.  Zeus had previously visited Danae and their lovemaking resulted in Perseus, so Zeus ensures they are deposited safely on a beach where they can live happily ever after. Zeus then kills Acrisius and orders Poseidon to ‘Let Loose the Kraken”, a mythical sea-creature similar to Godzilla, who destroys the kingdom of Argos.

Years later, he punishes Calibos, the son of Thetis, for many atrocities such as hunting several wild creatures – including Zeus’ winged horses – to near extinction. He transforms the once handsome Calibos into a hideous monster with horns, a tail, and a cloven hoof. Thetis seeks revenge by transporting Perseus, now a grown man, to Joppa. He eventually reaches the city and speaks to an incredibly chatty guard who tells him everything there is to know about what’s going on in Joppa. Any man can present himself for the chance to marry the beautiful, Andromeda, once betrothed to Calibos, however, the suitor must answer a mysterious riddle, which changes with every suitor, and failure to solve the riddle results in a fiery death.

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Calibos works on his villainous slouch.

When Perseus solves the riddle, the people of Joppa are delighted. Things seemed to be looking up for Zeus’ son, until his new mother-in-law, Cassiopeia, insults the goddess Thetis by claiming Andromeda is more beautiful than the goddess herself. Thetis demands Cassiopeia sacrifice Andromeda to the Kraken or she’ll destroy the city. This is where the adventure really begins and Perseus will face Stygian witches, the two headed dog dioskilos, the gorgon Medusa, giant scorpions, Calibos, as well as the Kraken in an attempt to save Andromeda.

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The Kraken prepares to feast.

Clash of the Titans is classic sword and sorcery; the story draws heavily from mythology and we have a sword-wielding hero. When Perseus is stranded in Joppa, Zeus orders the goddesses to gift him with magically imbued weapons. Perseus receives a sword from Aphrodite that can slice through marble, a helmet from Athena, that renders the wearer invisible (this will later aid in him capturing Pegasus), and a shield from Hera. The shield projects an image of Zeus who tells Perseus it will save his life one day and that Perseus must find and fulfil his destiny. There’s magic, gods, mythical creatures, swords, an epic quest, a virgin sacrifice. It’s the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

In an interview with visual effects artist and co-producer, Ray Harryhausen, he explains how he was bored of monsters destroying cities and prefers the past to the future, which is why mythology appealed.

“Cinema was made for fantasy, not normal mundane things.” – Ray Harryhausen.

Filming locations were over England and Europe. The opening scene was filmed in Cornwell and crew had to wait until there was a storm. Flood scenes of Argos were filmed in Malta, the rocky formations around the Stygian witches’ lair were filmed in Antequera, Spain and the outside of Medusa’s temple was in Southern Italy. Interestingly, some scenes from Jason and the Argonauts, (also featuring Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters), were filmed there too. The final epic battle with the Kraken is in Malta again.

Most of the special effects rely quite effectively on shadow imagery and stop-motion animation using Harryhausen’s hand-made monsters, but considering it was filmed in 1981, I think it’s pretty good. And so did audiences at the time. Clash of the Titans grossed $41 million dollars, making it the eleventh highest grossing film of 1981.

In Greek mythology, Dioskilos has three heads but only two in the movie because Harryhausen thought it’d look too awkward with three during the fight scenes.

The Kraken is not technically part of Greek mythology, there is a Greek mythological sea-creature called the Leviathan, but the Kraken comes from Norway and is a giant sea-creature similar to an octopus or crab. Calibos is reportedly based on a character from ‘The Tempest’, named Caliban.

The mechanical-owl Bubo also not from mythology, was added to the movie for comic relief and to give the audience a chance to catch their breath between epic battles. Bubo makes a ‘guest appearance’ in the 2010 version when Perseus (Sam Worthington), comes across him while looking for weapons in the armory. The remake has spectacular special effects, as do all movies made with CGI, but it will never take the place of the original in my heart. And at the risk of sounding like my dad; they don’t make movies like they used too.

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We’d be dubious about the use of a mechanical owl as well.

 (Editor:  Interested in writing a Pulp Appeal article for Broadswords and Blasters? Drop us a line through our contact page and let us know what you’re interested in contributing.)

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Pulp Consumption: Strange Economics

41XhWcD-mDLAbout a year ago, before we published David F. Shultz’s story “Jerold’s Stand” in Issue 5, Shultz ran a Kickstarter for a collection of science fiction and fantasy called Strange Economics. The concept of the collection was to marry the sf/f genres to explicit examinations of economic principles, and then to couple those stories with examinations by real world economists and discussion questions that readers could use as jumping off points to talk about economics with others. The collection was successfully funded and the fruits of that Kickstarter finally hit the presses after a small delay.[1]

The collection contains 23 stories of varying genres that have economic principles as major plot points, an afterword that examines economics in science fiction, and a selection of probing, open-ended questions about the included stories.

Each story is its own self-contained world, exploring one quirk or another about the current economic systems operating in the world today. Some are clearly advocating for one political interpretation of economics or another, left, right, center, centralized control, libertarian ideals, or some mixture of the space between extremes. Others are a little more oblique and critiquing subsystems like healthcare or copyright/fine print in contracts. But each story is an attempt in some way to take a modern day concern and spin it out in the ways that science fiction and fantasy always have.

Some stories are better than others. To wit, “The Rule of Three” by Broadswords and Blasters alum Steve DuBois[2] is fantastic, and perhaps my favorite story in the anthology. It’s about small businesses attempting to survive corporate conglomerations and takeover bids, but set in an alternate world in which witchcraft functions and in which a Walgreens/CVS analog is attempting to purchase a small alchemy shop. You could also compare with something a little more comprehensible to book readers – bookstores vs Barnes and Noble in the days before Amazon trumped them all. The title comes into play as it’s a principle of witchcraft about good or evil being repaid threefold, and in which most aspects are quantified by threes.[3]

I was also a fan of “Guns or Butter” by Wayne Cusack, about a world in which an alien takeover has waged economic havoc on society, reducing people into significant haves and have nots, all because of the strange economic principle of doing away with money. There’s more to the story than that, but the future postulated here is a fever dream of the collapse of a capitalist system. As the discussion questions note, you can make a comparison to a place like Venezuela and its economic collapse, but it’s kind of a stretch since the downfall there has more to do with the piss-poor leadership of its dictator-presidents than because of some sort of post-scarcity model of society.

Two other stories I enjoyed are “Shocktrooper Salesman” by Simonas Juodis, but to give away much more than the idea of an alien trying to sell a weapon of mass destruction to a new buyer would be to do the reveal a disservice. Suffice to say, there’s a particular ecological and existential viewpoint that I sometimes share when I’m at my most curmudgeonly. The discussion questions for this story seem to be a bit softball, easy lobs to be smacked out of the park with minimum of effort. The other story I fell in love with was “The Soul Standard” by John DeLaughter, which is told in epistolary format as memos between Lucifer and the lords of hell as they come to grips with hyperinflation in the afterlife. Venezuela was mentioned above, but maybe Dictator Maduro could take some of the advice Lucifer follows. The discussion questions about this story deal with some unanswered logical holes, but I think they’re overly critical.

There aren’t any stories I totally disliked, but I did feel as though Brandon Ketchum’s “Premium Care” was more like a bare bones treatment of a story rather than a full story in its own right. It’s also the shortest story in the anthology (unless I miscounted, in which case it certainly feels like the shortest one), and only really hits the surface level of the economic principle it’s trying to deconstruct: healthcare costs. It’s also the only story in which a typo raised its head enough to grate on my nerves. HIPAA has two As, not two Ps as presented in the story.

That one minor gripe aside, I fully enjoyed this anthology and heartily recommend it to fans of speculative fiction, whether you’re also fans of economics or not. Most of the stories are entertaining enough alone that there’s no need to be a policy wonk to enjoy them.

In the interest of full disclosure, we were provided an advanced copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.


[1] Kickstarters often run behind schedule, and this was no exception. However the delay was minor in the grand scheme of things, and far shorter than some insanely high profile projects, some of which may never see the light of day.
[2] Issue 4’s “Monsters in Heaven”
[3] Maiden, Mother, Crone, the three Furies, the three Fates, etc.

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Pulp Appeal: Story Time with Crazy Uncle Matt

Past contributor and friend of the mag Matt Spencer has a brand spanking new anthology out this month, and we were lucky enough to get our hands on an ARC. The collection is a mix of horror and fantasy, and the stories occasionally blur the line between the two. His dialogue and narrative is often stripped down and raw, provocative and profane. Spencer is more Clive Barker than Stephen King, and closer to Robert E. Howard and Joe Abercrombie in his fantasy than a George R.R. Martin. If this is your first time reading him, it will be like getting hit in the face with a bucket of ice water. If you’ve read him before, well, you already have an idea as to what you are in for, don’t you? Continue reading

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Pulp Consumption: The Dark Crystal

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This is the DVD cover for the version I own.

A race of godlike beings is shattered into two separate, disparate species when a crystal is broken. As each of the creatures ages and dies, its counterpart in the other species also ages and dies, leaving a power vacuum. The gentler Mystics pass over power by singing their lamentations. The more malevolent Skeskis engage in ritual combat to establish control. In an effort to keep themselves from aging, the Skeksis also capture creatures and drain their life essences, including the clan of the main character, a male Gelfling named Jen. Jen is an orphan being raised by the Mystics, and as his Master dies, he is told he must find the broken piece of the crystal and reunite it before a cosmic congregation or else the two races will continue to degrade, leaving the Skeksis in control of the world.

If you haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, based on that description you might assume it was made for an adult audience based on an existing book property, but you’d be wrong on both counts. The original story was written by Jim Henson…yes, the guy who created the Muppets.[1] If Wikipedia is to be believed, Henson wanted to bring some of the darkness of the Grimm fairy tales back into children’s entertainment. If that’s true, I think he succeeded. It certainly worked for me, being one of the foundational films I watched in my childhood.

Henson brought on artist Brian Froud to help design the world through concept art. Froud was already well-established in the art world, but his partnership with Henson raised his profile a bit, and they ended up working together again on Labyrinth.[2]

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Kira (left) and Jen (right) are firmly in the uncanny valley, but not as unsettling as 1990s/early 2000s CGI creations (I’m looking at you, George Lucas!)

The Dark Crystal is more high fantasy in concept than it is swords and sorcery, but it has both of the latter in some measure. The Mystics are wizards, and the Skeksis use swords. The quest that Jen goes on is closer to Frodo and the One Ring than it is to Conan and the Tower of the Elephant, but there is still action and adventure in the story of an alien world and its inhabitants. Jen has to run from the Skeksis henchmen, giant crustaceans called Garthim; meet the astronomer and junk hoarder Aughra; make friends with another Gelfling, a female named Kira; ride on the backs of swift, stilt-legged Landstriders; fight the Skeksis; and, of course, adopt a little doglike creature called Fizzgig.

While discussions about a sequel took place for years, they never came to fruition. There have been novelizations, comic book interpretations, and some prequel books. There’s also an in-production prequel series that is supposed to be hitting Netflix sometime in the near future. There’s no release date yet, and just a small teaser trailer available now, but I’m looking forward to it.

The film was a box office success, but it didn’t do gangbusters. That’s partly because it was released in the Christmas season, but mostly because a dark fantasy with puppets is hard to market. The movie itself can even be pretty divisive. Critics were split on it at the time, and modern critics consider its status as a cult classic to be more about the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia than the actual quality of the movie. I think they’re wrong, but then I often find myself at odds with critics. After all, I co-run a pulp fiction magazine, and critics are frequently none-too-kind to the pulps.


[1] Interestingly, despite what some people now might think based on current marketing, The Muppet Show was initially a nighttime show aimed at adults.

[2] It’s relatively widely known that Froud’s son Toby played the baby boy who Jennifer Connelly accidentally magicked away to the Goblin King.

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Pulp Consumption: Big Trouble in Little China

What happens when a loud-mouthed trucker decides to help his friend rescue his friend’s fiancée, recently arrived from China? Well, you get Big Trouble in Little China, the 1986 John Carpenter film that follows Jack Burton as a definite fish-out-of-water as he navigates Chinese mysticism in an attempt to rescue Miao Yin from the clutches of David Lo Pan, an mysterious figure in Chinatown’s underworld but whose true nature and powers Jack can’t even begin to comprehend. It’s one thing to go up against a street gang, but something else entirely when you are up against an immortal sorcerer and a trio of storm-related demi-gods.

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Wang Chin (the hero) with Jack Burton (the comic relief)

Along the way, Jack gets his truck stolen, they run into local lawyer Gracie Law and tour bus driver Egg Chen (who happens to be a fairly powerful sorcerer in his own right, but likes to play up the tourism part for the locals).

One of the great aspects of this film is that Jack only thinks that he’s the hero, when in reality he is the comedic relief to the real hero, Wang Chi. Even though Jack is ultimately responsible for Lo Pang’s defeat, it is only through the fact that Jack’s one party-trick skill comes in handy for beating him. Wang does the rest of the heavy lifting in the film, be it defeating the majority of mooks, going sword to sword against Rain (and beating him), and simply knowing who to go to what magic enters the equation. All of this acts as a great subversion of the typical white hero with the Asian sidekick. The movie also knows when to explain and when to just go with it. A whole story could surround why exactly the Three Storms are working for Lo Pan, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They stand as incredible obstacles for the heroes to face, and allows them to rise to that challenge. It is a good reminder that not everything needs to explicitly stated to the audience, and it can still work within the course of the story.

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When these three show up, the movie takes a hard left into the weird.

The movie also addresses the wide variety of sources it is pulling from, acknowledging that Chinese mythology is such a hodgepodge that they can pick and choose what they want and leave the rest. There’s a moral somewhere in there about stealing from where you want and jettisoning what doesn’t work for your particular story, especially if you are going for a broad stroke adventure story that doesn’t need to get bogged down in reality.

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That’s about all the explanation you are going to get from this movie.

So, while the special effects might seem dated by today’s standards, it is definitely worth a rewatch if you haven’t seen it recently, and if you haven’t… well, what are you waiting for? And while there is talk of a remake starring Dwayne Johnson I somehow doubt it will possess the same kind of charm as the original.

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Pulp Consumption: The Big Book of Hap and Leonard

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A few weeks ago I picked up a Kindle collection of Joe R. Lansdale’s, appropriately titled The Big Book of Hap and Leonard. Matt Spencer wrote an article for us about the characters Hap Collins, a liberal former hippie who just so happens to be a crack shot and martial arts whiz, and Leonard Pine, a gay black Republican Vietnam Vet with a penchant for violence. The two characters may have different social outlooks on national issues, but they are peas in a pod when it comes to helping people–for a fee, of course.

I’m not going to rehash Spencer’s article, so it behooves you to read it first if you haven’t already. In all honesty, I’d never even heard of the characters, or Lansdale, until I read the initial article, and I have to say Spencer was totally correct. You really do experience ratcheting tension and feel a visceral connection to every broken bone and bloodied face Hap and Leonard suffer–or inflict.

In this collection of short stories, not a typical outlet for Lansdale’s characters more used to longer novels, you have a couple standard fares with the titular duo getting involved in pulp machinations that are over their head – including an insurance scam gone wrong when the Dixie Mafia gets involved, complicating what seems to be a simple assignment. These two stories (“Hyenas” and “Dead Aim”) are previously published novellas, but are here collected in one edition for the first time.

There are a few slice of life shorts like “Death by Chili” and “Not Our Kind” and a vignette titled “The Oak and the Pond,” which are glimpses into the characters’ lives outside of their big adventures, These are fun to read and provide some more character development than you might expect, but the stand-out for me among these shorter stories is “The Boy Who Became Invisible.” It’s about Hap’s childhood and Hap’s failure when his friend is bullied into invisibility before the friend briefly flashes back into existence in a terrible way. It resonates in general, but perhaps because I was the subject of such childhood bullying it hit home a lot more for me.

In addition to the Hap and Leonard focused stories, there’s a third person point of view story about Marvin Hanson, a private detective and erstwhile employer/friend of Hap and Leonard. It’s an interesting contrast from the usually first-person narration from Hap’s point of view. Also included is a comic book script for “The Boy Who Became Invisible” and an “interview” between Lansdale and his characters. The latter blending of character and creator is nothing new in the world of fiction, and is perhaps the low point of the collection, but the rest of the book stands tall enough to make up for this shortcoming.

The book is 309 pages long and is only $6 on Kindle right now. That’s a steal for any book, but purchasing is compulsory if you’re a fan of the characters.

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Pulp Appeal: John Carpenter’s They Live

They LiveA pair of mysterious sunglasses, secret messages hiding in advertising, a weird religious cult preaching about the overthrow of a government, and aliens? That’s John Carpenter’s They Live at its core.

The film, starring former WWE superstar “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and character actor par excellence Keith David, is apparently loosely based on a 1960s short story called “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” though I confess I wasn’t aware of this until doing research for this article. If you read the story, you can see where Carpenter cribbed the basic concept of aliens masquerading as humans in power, but the details in the film veer quite far from the source material.

Subliminal advertising had been discussed for decades by the time They Live came to theaters in 1988, but the idea of widespread messages hiding in mass media touched upon significant fears of 1980s America. Carpenter is no fan of Reaganomics or of the wealthy elite ruling class, and it’s clearly evident in the way he shows the power structure in his dystopian America. It’s no secret Carpenter is on the liberal left side of the American political system, as this movie makes super clear, but even if you’re not on the same side, don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. It works on both the satire and meta-satire levels.

Roddy Piper plays drifter by the name of John Nada[1]. Nada finds work as a construction worker for low pay and no benefits, and is forced to eat at a local soup kitchen. Later he watches a mysterious message breaks into a television broadcast and talk about a secret conspiracy. He then runs into a preacher who spouts some cultlike phrases about the same conspiracy. The church is raided by an armed secret police force, but not before Nada takes a pair of sunglasses, and that’s where he learns the conspiracy is real.

roddy-piper-they-live-8The technology in the sunglasses allows wearers to see the secret messaging behind seemingly benign advertising. Those messages say things like “Obey,” a phrase famously co-opted by noted street artist Shepard Fairey when he super-imposed it on a painting of Andre the Giant’s face.[2] When Nada turns the glasses to look at some rich people in the street, they’re revealed to be skeletal looking aliens masquerading as regular folks. One of them recognizes when Nada sees them for who they are and alerts the authorities.

From that point on the plot becomes a relatively typical Carpenter film with plenty of ridiculous gunfights, low budget explosions, cheesy dialogue, and quippy one-liners, the most famous of which Nada delivers in the lobby of a bank. “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

(Content Warning – hilarious one-liner followed by 1980s gun violence) 

The movie would be a forgettable film if not for the one-liners and political overtones that raise it up to cult classic status. It helps that it was written, directed, and scored by Carpenter, who by this point had already established his importance to the film industry through Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing. It’s worth noting Carpenter did the music for most of his films, and as such was an inspiration to more modern writer/director/ musicians like Robert Rodriguez[3]  It’s also important not to underestimate the impact of Carpenter’s style of film-making, as many directors clearly take inspiration from Carpenter’s work, including horror directors like David Robert Mitchell (It Follows), sci-fi directors like the Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things), and auteurs like Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight).

While the movie doesn’t get as much love as Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween, or The Thing, it’s definitely worth watching. It’s cheesy at times, hilarious often, and it’s John Carpenter through and through. I wouldn’t say I like it better than the three films mentioned above (or Escape from New York, another great pulp classic we’ll likely end up covering at some point), but I think I’ve rewatched it more times than any Carpenter movie except Halloween.


[1] A nod to the nameless heroes of other pulp greats Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sergio Leone’s The Man With No Name, both of which we’ve discussed on the blog before.

[2] Fairey also designed former President Obama’s campaign poster “Hope.”

[3] Rodriquez is most famous for El Mariachi, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Machete, Sin City, and Spy Kids. While his films had more commercial success than Carpenter’s during their theatrical runs, they are also more like cult films than they are blockbusters. Side note: despite the flop status of his Planet Terror (half of the Grindhouse double feature he shared with Quentin Tarantino), I really loved it. But I also really loved the whole double-feature and the experience of seeing it in the theaters, and in that I appear to be in the minority. There’s no accounting for taste.

 

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