Wednesday, July 21, 2021

William F. Nolan (1928-2021)

 

William F. Nolan

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of writer, editor, collector, and cultural historian William F. Nolan. He leaves behind an enormous body of work in a career that spanned seven decades. He died Thursday, July 15, 2021. He was 93.

Nolan (far right) goofing around with (R to L) fellow
Group members Richard Matheson, 
Charles Beaumont, and Chad Oliver 
Nolan was the last living member of what Los Angeles Times literary critic Robert Kirsch labeled The Southern California School of Writers. Known simply as The Group, Nolan was a key member of a close-knit circle of writers living in the Los Angeles area during the 1950’s and 1960’s, a collective that included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Chad Oliver, Jerry Sohl, and John Tomerlin, among others. These writers produced or contributed to many of the most celebrated works of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and horror of the twentieth century, including The Twilight Zone. An enthusiastic and pioneering chronicler of popular culture, Nolan is largely responsible for preserving the legacy of many of the writers in his circle of friends, notably the works of Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont, who died in 1967 at the age of 38.
Nolan (right) on a trip to Paris with Charles Beaumont

Although Nolan never saw his work appear on The Twilight Zone, he is a part of the show’s legacy all the same. His friendship with Charles Beaumont and the rest of the show’s writers had a substantial creative impact on both their work and his own. Nolan was the inspiration for Beaumont’s season four episode “Miniature” and the episode's protagonist, Charley Parkes, is a direct characterization of Nolan. There are also several characters on The Twilight Zone that are deliberately named after Nolan, including a character in our most recently reviewed episode, Richard Matheson's "Steel." Around the same time that his friends were writing for The Twilight Zone, Nolan was collaborating on articles, short stories, and television scripts with Beaumont, Jerry Sohl, and John Tomerlin. He raced cars with Beaumont, Tomerlin, and OCee Ritch, and edited anthologies and magazines featuring stories and essays from The Group, as well as the works of other contemporary writers. Early in their careers, Nolan and Beaumont worked together at Whitman Publishing Company, writing children’s comics under pseudonyms. Later, as The Group coalesced, Nolan and his friends often stayed out all night, driving around Los Angeles, occupying booths at coffee houses, and talking about their craft. They took spontaneous trips across the country to hang out with Hugh Hefner or Ian Fleming. Nolan traveled with Beaumont and company to Missouri to appear in Roger Corman’s screen adaptation of Beaumont’s novel The Intruder (1962). Nolan was the first archivist of the works of his friend Ray Bradbury, producing an important body of work on the great American writer, including a pioneering journal (Ray Bradbury Review), book-length studies, and an anthology dedicated to Bradbury. In 1967, he and George Clayton Johnson published the landmark science fiction novel Logan’s Run, which firmly established him as an important voice in the fantasy community. Years earlier, the two collaborated on a teleplay for The Twilight Zone titled “Dreamflight” which they sold to producer Buck Houghton near the end of the show’s third season. Due to a lack of sponsorship, however, the show was briefly cancelled--the first of three near cancellations--and “Dreamflight” was never made. It was later published in the 2005 anthology Forgotten Gems from the Twilight Zone, volume 2, edited by Andrew Ramage.

Nolan's most well-known works include his Sam Space detective series, his Bart and Nick Challis series, and his Black Mask Murders series. His 1991 horror novel Helltracks is also highly regarded. Nolan established himself as a screenwriter specializing in the horror genre with frequent collaborator Dan Curtis. Nolan wrote screenplays for several of producer/director Curtis’s films including Burnt Offerings (1976) and Trilogy of Terror (1975), an anthology film comprised of adaptations of stories by Richard Matheson.

Illustration by Rick Shelton for Nolan's story,
"The Strange Case of Mr. Pruyn,"
from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
(December, 1956).

Nolan was named a Grand Master by the World Horror Society, an Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association, a World Fantasy Convention Award, and the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.  

One of the greatest pleasures afforded us since we began this blog was the opportunity to interview Mr. Nolan, where he spoke about The Group, his memories of that heady time when The Twilight Zone was being produced, and his approach to the craft of writing. To read that interview click here.



William F. Nolan at imdb
William F. Nolan at isfdb


                     
            

                  

               

                 

                  




Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Steel"

"Steel" Kelly (Lee Marvin) and his masked android fighter
Battling Maxo, hours before the big match

"Steel"
Season Five, Episode 122
Original Air Date: October 4, 1963

Cast:
Steel Kelly: Lee Marvin
Pole: Joe Mantell
Nolan: Merritt Bohn
Maxwell: Frank London
Maynard Flash: Chuck Hicks
Battling Maxo: Tipp McClure
Announcer: Jimmy Ames
Maynard Flash's Handler: Robert McCord
Man in Crowd: Larry Barton
Man in Crowd: Slim Bergman
Man in Crowd: Lou Cavalier
Man in Crowd: Bob Peterson
Man in Crowd: Edwin Rochelle

Crew:
Writer: Richard Matheson (based on his story)
Director: Don Weis
Producer: Bert Granet
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Art Direction: George Davis & Walter Holscher
Film Editor: Thomas W. Scott
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Robert R. Benton
Assistant Director: Charles Bonniwell, Jr.
Makeup: William Tuttle
Casting: Patricia Rose
Music: Nathan Van Cleave
Sound: Franklin Milton & Philip N. Mitchell
Mr. Serling's Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:

“Next on Twilight Zone, we dabble into the manly arts with a show called ‘Steel’ written especially for us by Richard Matheson. This one isn’t just for prize fighting buffs because the story is above and beyond anything remotely involving the Marquis of Queensbury. Rather, it’s a tender, touching, and tough analysis of some very bizarre people. Lee Marvin and Joe Mantell take a walk in the Twilight Zone next in ‘Steel.’”


Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

“Sports item, circa 1974. Battling Maxo, B2 heavyweight, accompanied by his manager and handler arrives in Maynard, Kansas for a scheduled six-round bout. Battling Maxo is a robot or, to be exact, an android. Definition: an automaton resembling a human being. Only these automatons have been permitted in the ring since prize-fighting was legally abolished in 1968. This is story of that scheduled six-round bout, more specifically the story of two men shortly to face that remorseless truth: that no law can be passed which will abolish cruelty or desperate need nor, for that matter, blind animal courage. Location for the facing of said truth: a small smoke-filled arena just this side of the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

            August, 1974. The Future.

            Two men stumble out of a bus onto a scorching city sidewalk. They wheel between them a masked figure roughly the size of the average man. The figure does not speak, nor does it appear to move on its own. The men find a nearby diner and decide to grab something to eat.

            Once inside the men begin to argue. No one in the diner seems to find the masked figure unusual. Their conversation seems to derive from their lack of money. We learn that the masked figure is not a human being but a robot, specifically an android, built to fight other robots in a new spectator sport that has taken the place of boxing. The android, Battling Maxo, is an older model, a B2, and his opponent that night is a B7 and is seemingly more advanced in every way. One of the men, Pole, Maxo’s mechanic, thinks that they should forfeit and return home to avoid the certain destruction of their fighter. Steel, Maxo’s manager, says that they don’t have enough money to return home and that they need the money from the fight to pay for new parts. He believes that Maxo isn’t obsolete yet and that he can win the fight against the newer model.

            Later, at the venue, they enter the promotor’s office to see about getting paid. Insecure about Maxo’s age, Steel begins to boast to the uninterested occupants of the office that Maxo was once a celebrated fighter. He also lets it slip that he once won championships himself, under the name “Steel” Kelly, before the sport was outlawed. Nolan, the promotor of the fight, informs them that they will get their money after the fight. He also informs them that they were a last-minute booking because the original fighter couldn’t make it. He normally doesn’t accept fighters as old as Maxo. Already feeling somewhat defeated, Steel thanks him and leaves the room.

           Back in the ready room, we see Battling Maxo’s face for the first time. It is primitive in its design but resembles the face of a man convincingly enough. Steel begins to spar with Maxo to test his reflexes when something in the android malfunctions. Pole says that he won’t be able to fix it in time for the fight. Steel thinks for a moment and informs Pole that he will disguise himself as Maxo and fight in his place. No one has actually seen Maxo yet so they will not know the difference. Pole pleads with him to change his mind, claiming that it is far too dangerous, but Steel has made up his mind. He threatens Pole with violence if he does not help him.

            9:00pm. Pole wheels Steel to the ring and removes his mask. Loud boos and taunting fill the arena. His opponent, Maynard Flash, is noticeably larger and stares back at him with a calm indifference. Steel does his best to look mechanical. At the sound of the bell, the two begin to fight. Steel is beaten severely and fakes a knockout before the end of the first round.

            After Pole wheels him back to the ready room, Steel collapses on the floor. Pole goes to Nolan’s office to get the money but returns with only half of it. He says that Nolan refuses to pay them in full because the fight was too short. Physically and mentally exhausted, Steel looks at Maxo and tells the android not to worry. They will get him new parts and everything will be okay. Maxo stares back at him, calm and motionless, never saying a word.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“Portrait of a losing side, proof positive that you can’t outpunch machinery. Proof also of something else: that no matter what the future brings, man’s capacity to rise to the occasion will remain unaltered. His potential for tenacity and optimism continues, as always, to outfight, outpoint, and outlive any and all changes made by his society, for which three cheers and a unanimous decision rendered from the Twilight Zone.” 

Commentary:

            Writer Richard Matheson begins what is probably his most creatively successful season on The Twilight Zone, delivering this noir-soaked futuristic boxing tale where machines battle one another inside the ring instead of people. Matheson saw four of his scripts made into episodes during the show’s final season with a fifth script, “The Doll,” slated for production. This script was ultimately canned by the show’s final producer, William Froug, when he took over production duties from Bert Granet mid-season. “The Doll” was eventually made into a segment of Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories in 1986 for the show’s first season. It was directed by Phil Joanou and features John Lithgow as a lonely man who becomes lovingly infatuated with a doll that he purchases for his niece, a performance that won Lithgow an Emmy. Matheson’s script was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Teleplay in an Anthology series. Ironically, all of his fellow nominees were scripts from the 1980’s Twilight Zone reboot series—Harlan Ellison’s script for "Paladin of the Lost Hour" took home the prize. By this point in Matheson’s career he had made a name for himself as a writer who could produce quality material in a variety of genres relatively quickly. After leaving the show he would enjoy a highly successful career as a novelist and screenwriter and would leave behind a body of work that spans over half a century. But his work on The Twilight Zone remains the most recognizable part of his legacy.

            “Steel” is a seamlessly blended hybrid of the film noir boxing tale and of dystopian allegories that warn of the threat of artificial intelligence, two genres that were used multiple times on the show. Boxing had long been a staple of American cinema dating all the way back to the silent era but found its niche in the film noirs of the forties and fifties. Film noir was an ideal vehicle for boxing stories due to its gritty aesthetic and its pervasive elements of fear and desperation that inhabit so many of its characters. Films like Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul (1947), Robert Wise’s The Set-Up (1949), and Mark Robson’s Champion (1949) and The Harder They Fall (1956) are all often cited as some of the best boxing-related movies of the film noir era. Serling’s own masterful dissertation on boxing, Requiem for a Heavyweight, which he penned for Playhouse 90 in 1956 and again in 1962 as a feature-length film—both directed by Ralph Nelson—is also considered one of the best boxing stories of the twentieth century. Serling, a former amateur boxer in the United States Army 11th Airborne Division, was fascinated with the sport and wrote multiple boxing-related scripts throughout his career. Matheson was not a boxer and “Steel” is his only venture into the boxing world but it is flawlessly executed and is one of his best episodes of the show.                          

By the time this episode aired in 1963, boxing was entering what would become its golden age, with the advent of television providing more coverage of the sport than ever before. Due to several highly televised fights that resulted in the deaths of boxers like Benny Paret and Davey Moore and the Pope’s declaration of the sport as “barbaric” public debate concerning the violent nature of the sport and the safety of its fighters was at the forefront of the public conscience. Whether it was intentional or not, “Steel” acts almost as a commentary to this debate.

            “Steel” also offers somewhat of a nuanced approach to a genre that had, by this point in the show, been all but exhausted. The fear of artificial intelligence, specifically robots and androids, was one of the most frequently used tropes in science fiction at the time, and The Twilight Zone was no exception—there are six episodes featuring sentient machinery in the fifth season alone. The vast majority of mid-twentieth century science fiction concerning artificial intelligence is overwhelmingly cautionary and tends to comment on things like xenophobia, greed, neglect, violence, and the loss of human identity. Matheson touches on several of these themes but doesn’t attempt to force any kind of authoritative commentary on the story and simply allows it to be a story about a man and his fear of becoming irrelevant.

For the most part, there is a clear visual distinction between how the show would portray either robots or androids. Robots were usually clunky bulks of metal that fit together awkwardly in episodes such as “Uncle Simon,” “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” and “The Old Man in the Cave.” Androids, which appeared on the show far more often, were usually just actors who were revealed to be machines at some point during the episode. “The Mighty Casey,” “The Lonely,” “In His Image” and “The Lateness of the Hour” are all examples of this trend which Serling and the producers likely figured would prevent the show from feeling dated to future audiences.


Battling Maxo
Maynard Flash


            The androids in “Steel” are unique in that their physical appearance seems to aim somewhere between these two approaches. While they are played by actors Chuck Hicks and Tipp McClure, there is an effort by makeup artist William Tuttle to make them appear less than human, the result of which is quite haunting. The masks the actors wear are made of stretched latex and the eyes are ping pong balls which were painted black with a small hole drilled in the center so they could see. A mention should be made of the terrific performances by both actors in portraying the restricted movements of what are essentially early generation androids.
The Shores of Space
(Bantam, 1957)

            Matheson claimed in numerous interviews and essays over the years that this episode was his favorite of the sixteen that he wrote for the show. He first published the short story in the May, 1956 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and it later appeared in his collection The Shores of Space (Bantam, 1957). His teleplay is incredibly faithful to his short story and the episode is filmed almost shot for shot from his script. The only significant differences are that the year is changed from 1997 to 1974 and the fight is changed from a ten-round bout to six rounds. Also, in the story, Steel is given a first name, Tim, and there is a very brief mention of a woman he was once in love with. Other than these few exceptions, the two versions are very similar. 

            A much less faithful adaptation is the 2011 Dreamworks film Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo. Directed by Shawn Levy and written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, and Jeremy Leven, the film contains only the basic idea of fighting robots as a substitution for real, live people while sacrificing the emotional struggle of its main character, the element which made Matheson’s original story so powerful. In the film Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who owns a string of obsolete fighting robots, keeping each until it can no longer fight and then discarding it for a newer one. After learning that his ex-girlfriend has died, he is now the sole guardian to his son, Max, whom he has had no contact with since he was born. An avid boxing fan, Max helps Charlie find an early generation robot which is enhanced with a shadow function allowing the robot to mimic Charlie’s exact moves. So Charlie is once again able to fight but, unlike Steel Kelly, does not have to risk physical annihilation to do so. Max and Charlie pit their underdog robot, named Atom, against increasingly harder opponents until they are unofficially declared the best fighting team in the league. The film ends on a predictably happy note with Charlie realizing that he has the ability to love others as well as himself. While it is fairly clear that the basic premise of fighting robots comes from Matheson’s story, the similarities between the two stories ends there. There is so significant a difference in the film’s plot that Matheson’s opening screen credit reads: “based in part upon the short story ‘Steel’ by Richard Matheson.” The film received mixed reviews with much of the criticism directed at its uneven plot and clichéd, unrealistic ending. The film’s special effects team did receive a lot of positive mentions and was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It lost to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

            Director Don Weis makes his only venture into The Twilight Zone with this episode. Weis began his career at MGM making popular light comedies and musicals such as I Like Melvin (1953), A Slight Case of Larceny (1953), and The Affairs of Dobbie Gills (1953) and was known for being able to produce quality films quickly and under budget. He would continue to make feature-length films throughout his career, which spanned nearly half a century, including a biopic of jazz drummer Gene Krupa, The Story of Gene Krupa (1959), an adaptation of Ira Levin’s play Critic’s Choice (1963), and the World War II film The Longest Hundred Miles (1967). It was in television, however, where Weis made his mark, owing his success to the speed with which he could deliver quality productions. Over several decades he directed episodes of some of the best television series of all time including Wagon Train, The Thin Man, The Jack Benny Program, The Andy Griffith Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ironside, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, M.A.S.H., Hawaii Five-O, and Hill Street Blues to list just a fraction of his catalog. His direction in “Steel” is really good. He allows the camera to move naturally through each scene and his still shots are framed well. He also creates the illusion of a crowded arena effectively as there are only a handful of extras present in that particular scene. Considering that at this point in his career he had directed mostly light situational comedies, he captures the seediness of the film noirs of the forties and fifties incredibly well.

            This is the second appearance on the show for actor Joe Mantell who gave a great performance as panic-stricken loser Jackie Rhodes in the season two episode “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room.” Mantell was a terrific actor who unfortunately did not have as famous a career as his co-star, despite a handful of roles in very famous films. In 1955 he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ernest Borgnine’s best friend, Angie, in Delbert Mann and Paddy Chayefsky’s smash hit Marty (1955). He played the part of the traveling salesman in the café in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and was Jack Nicholson’s assistant, Lawrence Walsh, in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), where he utters to Nicholson the film’s famous final line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” The film’s sequel, The Two Jakes (1990), was Mantell’s last screen appearance. He also appeared in numerous other early anthology series including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Climax!, Out There, Inner Sanctum, Suspense, and Lights Out. His performance here is brilliant. As well written and directed as this episode is, it is the chemistry between its two leading stars which steals the show. Mantell gives Pole a seamless mix of angry frustration and genuine concern for Marvin’s troubled, washed up fighter.

             Lee Marvin carved out an enormously successful career for himself becoming one of the most recognizable actors of the sixties and seventies. He was known for playing tough, often violent characters similar to the one he plays here. This is Marvin’s second and final appearance on the show, having appeared in the star-studded season three episode “The Grave.” Less than a year after that episode, a western, aired in October of 1961 Marvin and two of his co-stars from the episode, Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin, appeared as a gang of sadistic criminals in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Considered by many to be one of the best western films ever made, Marvin’s performance as the title character is probably the role most responsible for launching him into the Hollywood A-list for the next few decades. So by the time this episode aired exactly two years after his first appearance on the show he was likely more well known to the audience.

            Marvin’s stardom took longer to come to fruition than for many of his contemporaries. After being wounded in action during World War II, Marvin returned to the states and decided to pursue acting, appearing dozens of stage productions throughout the late forties. After being famously thrown out of the Actor’s Studio for screaming profanities at Lee Strasberg he moved to Hollywood and began a career in film and television. During the first fifteen years of his career, Marvin appeared in numerous television series including Suspense, Dragnet, Wagon Train, Route 66, Bonanza, The Virginian, and The Untouchables as well as many live drama anthology series including an Emmy nominated performance on Alcoa Premiere. From 1957 to 1960 Marvin starred as gritty Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger on the NBC series M Squad. The creators of Police Squad, the short-lived series that launched the Naked Gun franchise, admitted years later that M Squad was one of the main influences for their show and that Leslie Nielsen’s Detective Frank Drebin was a direct satire of Marvin’s character.

During this time, he also racked up a number of credits playing memorable minor characters in now famous films like The Wild One (1953), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Killers (1964), and the feature-length adaptation of Serling’s The Rack (1956). Two years after he appeared in “Steel” Marvin won an Academy Award for his dual performance in Elliott Silverstein’s Cat Ballou (1965). After that he left television behind and concentrated solely on film, strengthening his image as an actor who liked playing dark and often controversial characters. Roles in films like The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Point Blank (1967) helped to solidify this image.

           His performance here as Steel Kelly is remarkable. A more restrained performance, perhaps, than some of his more well-known characters but this only adds to the level of desperation and insecurity that Steel inhabits. The scene in which he has to speak to the fight promoter inside his small, cramped office is brilliant because Marvin’s speech pattern and facial expressions perfectly convey how clearly uncomfortable and humiliated Steel is. Matheson recalled in several interviews that he was on the set during the rehearsal and filming of this episode and claimed that to help build his character and to prepare for the fight scene, Marvin would walk around the set of the boxing ring, throwing random jabs into the air, and would imitate the sound of the crowd taunting him. Marvin had actually worked with Don Weis several times before on episodes of M Squad and episodes of Schlitz Playhouse and Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre.

            While not as well known as some of the other teleplays Matheson wrote for the show, “Steel” is an incredibly powerful and moving episode about the strength of friendship and the importance of feeling relevant. It is fair to mention that there have been many who see Steel’s decision to step into the ring with an opponent that he most certainly will not defeat and who might very possibly kill him as nothing more than a death wish. This is a valid point and one that only complicates Steel Kelly’s already complex character. Steel is afraid of accepting change because it would mean that he loses who he is as a person. Boxing is all that he knows and Battling Maxo is his last connection to it. He has no money to buy another android and without boxing he is forced to live in a world he no longer recognizes with neither ambition nor purpose. So there is a part of him that probably would rather cease to exist than be obsolete. Pole realizes that fear and self-doubt have crept into every facet of his friend’s world and knows that removing him from their current environment is the only way to make him whole again. Their relationship lies at the heart of the episode. However, being a fighter is all Steel knows and as long as either he or Battling Maxo are able to step into the ring he will continue to fight for his place in the world.


 

Grade: A

 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following:

The Twilight Zone Scripts of Richard Matheson, Vol. 2 edited by Stanley Wiater (Edge Books, 2002)

Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works by Mathew R. Bradley (MacFarland & Company, 2010)

The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR, 2008)

The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (3rd ed., Silman-James Press, 2018)

Episode commentary by Marc Scott Zicree and Bill Warren, The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series Blu-ray (Image Entertainment, 2016)

Lee Marvin: Point Blank by Dwayne Epstein (Schaffner Press, 2013)

The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (www.isfdb.org)

 


Notes:

—Lee Marvin also appeared in the season three episode “The Grave.”

—Joe Mantell appeared in the season two episode “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room.” He also appeared in an episode of Serling’s western series, The Loner, in 1966 called “The Trial in Paradise.”

—Chuck Hicks appeared in the season five episode “Ninety Years Without Slumbering.”

—Merritt Bohn appeared in the season one episode “One for the Angels.”

—Frank London appears in the season two episode “A Penny for Your Thoughts.”

—Loyal extra Bob McCord can be spotted here as one of Maynard Flash’s handlers. McCord made dozens of appearances on the show, usually uncredited.

The Magazine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction

May, 1956
Cover art by Ed Emshwiller
—Richard Matheson adapted “Steel” from his short story of the same name which was originally published in the May, 1956 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It later appeared in his collection The Shores of Space (Bantam, 1957) and in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (MJF, 1985) edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Matheson, and Charles G. Waugh. It can currently be found in the second volume of his Collected Stories (Edge Books, 2005) and in his collection Duel: Terror Stories (Tor, 2003). In 2011 Tor released the collection Steel and Other Stories, a paperback movie tie-in for the film Real Steel (2011) which was inspired by Matheson’s story.

—Matheson’s adapted teleplay for “Steel” is collected in Richard Matheson’s The Twilight Zone Scripts, Vol. 2 edited by Stanley Wiater (Edge Books, 2002)

—This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Dennis Etchison starring Louis Gossett, Jr.

Real Steel 
(Dreamworks, 2011)

—As previously noted, “Steel” was the inspiration for the 2011 film Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman. The film was written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, and Jeremy Leven, and was directed by Shawn Levy. It was executive produced by Stephen Spielberg for DreamWorks Pictures. Matheson’s screen credit reads: “based in part upon the short story ‘Steel’ by Richard Matheson.”

—Former professional welterweight boxer turned stunt performer and Hollywood boxing coach Johnny Indrisano (1906 – 1968) was hired as a fight consultant to make the bout between Lee Marvin and Chuck Hicks seem as realistic as possible. Indrisano’s career as a fighter lasted from 1923 to 1934 and he retired with thirty-seven out of forty-six wins.

—Matheson’s decision to name the boxing promoter Nolan is likely a nod to his close friend, writer William F. Nolan.

 

—BD

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 24

 In which we take a closer look at each issue. For our capsule history of the magazine, go here.

Volume 3, Number 2

(May/June, 1983)

Cover Art: Artifact

TZ Publications, Inc.

President & Chairman: S. Edward Orenstein

Secretary/Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman

Executive Vice-Presidents: Leon Garry, Eric Protter

Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein

Publisher: Eric Protter

Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor: Carol Serling

Editor: T.E.D. Klein

Managing Editor: Jane Bayer

Associate Editor: Robert Sabat

Contributing Editors: Thomas M. Disch, Gahan Wilson, Marc Scott Zicree

Design Director: Michael Monte

Art Director: Pat E. McQueen

Art Production: Susan Lindeman, Carol Sun

Typesetting: Irma Landazuri

Production Director: Stephen J. Fallon

Controller: Thomas Schiff

Ass’t to the Publisher: Judy Linden

Public Relations Manager: Jeffrey Nickora

Accounting Mgr.: Chris Grossman

Accounting Ass’t: Annmarie Pistilli

Office Ass’t: Miriam Wolf

Vice President, Circulation Director: Milton J. Cuevas

Circulation Mgr.: Carole A. Harley

Circulation Ass’t: Karen Martorano

Eastern Circ. Mgr.: Hank Rosen

West Coast Circ. Mgr.: Gary Judy

Advertiser Manager: Rachel Britapaja

Adv. Production Manager: Marina Despotakis

Adv. Ass’t: Katherine Lys

Advertising Representative: Bob LaBuddie


Contents:

--“In the Twilight Zone: Cone fever . . .” by T.E.D. Klein

--Other Dimensions: Books by Thomas M. Disch

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson

--Other Dimensions: Music by Jack Sullivan

--Other Dimensions: Nostalgia by Ron Goulart

--Other Dimensions: Fantasy Acrostic #1 by Peter Cannon

--Other Dimensions: Etc.

--TZ Interview: V.C. Andrews by Lorenzo Carcaterra

--Cartoon by Thomas Swick

--“The Raft” by Stephen King

--TZ Preview Section: TZ’s Triple Bill

            -TZ Screen Preview: Something Wicked This Way Comes

            -TZ Screen Preview: Psycho II

            -TZ Screen Preview: The Keep

--“In the Field of the Dying Cherry Tree” by Curtis K. Stadtfeld

--“Confessions of a Freelance Fantasist” by Isidore Haiblum

--“Harry’s Story” by Robert H. Curtis

--“The Tuck at the Foot of the Bed” by Ardath Mayhar

--Required Reading: “A Fragment of Fact” by Chris Massie

--“Takeover Bid” by Andrew Weiner

--“Listen” by Joe R. Lansdale

--The Fantasy Five-Foot Bookshelf by Thomas M. Disch, Karl Edward Wagner, and R.S. Hadji

--Show-By-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone, Part Twenty-Four

--TZ’s Classic Teleplay: “The Lonely” by Rod Serling

--Looking Ahead: In the August TZ . . .”


--“In the Twilight Zone: Cone fever . . .” by T.E.D. Klein

-Klein begins his editorial by describing his experiences viewing Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho during its first-run theatrical release. Klein attended the film with his family and a family friend, a psychiatrist named Joan, the latter of whom, Klein relates, guessed the twist in the tale after the first murder. This recollection is prompted by the impending release of Pyscho II, previewed in this issue. Klein next discusses the highlight of the issue, Stephen King’s “The Raft,” calling attention to the fact that the story was first published in the November, 1982 issue of Gallery, a men’s magazine published by the same company (Montcalm Publishing) which published TZ. Klein felt comfortable reprinting the story so soon after its first appearance since he didn’t imagine readers of Gallery also read TZ, and vice versa. The “cone” in the title of the editorial refers to the unusual history of King’s story. More on that later.

-Commenting on the grisly nature of King’s story, Klein promises more subdued offerings from the remaining stories and provides capsule biographies of the writers along with thumbnail portraits. Klein concludes the editorial by highlighting the “Fantasy Five-Foot Bookshelf” feature in the issue, which asked three expert readers to provide the best and worst in supernatural fiction. This feature has become something of a legendary guide for horror readers down the years, prompting various online discussions, Wikipedia articles, and republications. More on that later, as well.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Thomas M. Disch

-A nifty new illustrative portrait highlights Disch’s column this issue. He begins by lamenting the publishing industry’s tendency to rely on bland, boring, or safe books (i.e. books likely to become bestsellers), or books simply indicative of a genre (western, science fiction, horror, mystery, etc.). Disch refers to comments made by Robert Wyatt, chief editor at Avon Books, at a recent PEN symposium. Disch then turns his critical eye on SF and discovers that the same situation exists in his chosen field. Disch expresses his displeasure with the latest works by Asimov and Clarke before proceeding to examine three books he feels are excellent examples of “mid-list” fiction (books not likely to become bestsellers).

-First up is The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe. This novel is the fourth volume in Wolfe’s tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun. Disch speaks at length on his enjoyment of these books, and relates a time when he called up his friend, noted SF critic John Clute, and suggested the two of them create a critical study of the series. Disch quotes Clute on several aspects of Wolfe’s series, displaying the possibilities for discussion and dissection. Disch concludes with this: “I realize this is not the stuff that blurb-writers’ dreams are made of, but most sf readers by now will already have begun to read The Book of the New Sun and will know their own taste in the matter. Nor can I imagine that any reader of the first three volumes could be prevented from continuing to the end. At this moment the whole tetralogy seems simply too large for ordinary critical epithets to apply; one might as well scrawl ‘pretty damned big!’ on the Great Pyramid.”

-Next, Disch takes a look at the latest offering from Norman Spinrad, The Void Captain’s Tale. Disch notes the differences between Wolfe and Spinrad, likening Spinrad’s worldview to that of Norman Mailer’s and completing the comparison by briefly looking at works from both Spinrad and Mailer. The Void Captain’s Tale concerns the idea of interstellar flight achieved by electronically amplified female orgasm. Disch describes the novel, and its innovative use of language, this way: “the effect of the Spinradical sprach is not so much to make commonplace speech richer, stranger, and more poetic, but to signify the artifice of all social conventions, to be symptomatic of the central thesis of the book – that the sexual grail is something that words, in their nature, cannot express.”

-Lastly, Disch looks at the novel The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica by John Calvin Batchelor. This “novel of the imminent future” depicts a Swedish prison break and a southward voyage into a war on the Falkland Islands to ultimately end at the ice camps of Antarctica. Disch likens the novel to a work of objective history while also making the comparison to older, more archetypal works of adventure, such as Beowulf, Moby Dick, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Disch writes: “Batchelor manages to make good on his promise of the highest and wildest drama precisely because he keeps a certain distance from his cast of high-voltage characters and handles their passions, crimes, and ordeals with electrician’s gloves. He anatomizes them, as a historian might, rather than presenting them always in cinematically detailed scenes.”


--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson

-Gahan Wilson also receives a nice new illustrative portrait, courtesy of the cartoonist himself. This month Wilson looks at two films which will likely be familiar to readers in the Vortex: Videodrome and The Dark Crystal.

-Videodrome is a darkly satirical horror (some say science fiction) film from Canadian director David Cronenberg which takes the television viewer’s obsession with violence to an extreme level. The film concerns a journalist who discovers a secret television channel which consists of extremely violent and sexually provocative images. The more you watch the more elastic your reality becomes. The film is a notable example of “body horror” in cinema, a subgenre of the horror film characterized by extreme physical transformation or mutation, and usually highlighted by a talented special makeup effects artist. In the case of Videodrome, the gruesome effects were created by multi-Academy Award winner Rick Baker.

-David Cronenberg can probably be credited with inventing the body horror film, at least in North American cinema, through the innovative horror/sf films he made early in his career (Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, The Fly), though there were other films, such as the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. On a side note, Dennis Etchison wrote the novelization of Videodrome under the pseudonym Jack Martin. Etchison, an award-winning writer of horror and science fiction, was a friend to several Twilight Zone writers, including Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Ray Bradbury, and also scripted the majority of The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas.

-Gahan Wilson uses Videodrome to illustrate the differences between the films of his youth, where suggestion and restraint created scary effects, and the special effects extravaganzas of the eighties, where a new and talented generation of special makeup effects artists created memorably grotesque work which will likely never be equaled for artistry or effectiveness. Videodrome is not a reticent film, and Cronenberg is not, or was not, a restrained director. “The whole movie,” Wilson writes, “as stated above, is mercilessly explicit, almost tediously insistent that you see everything no matter how repulsive it may be or how technically difficult it may be to deliver.” Overall, Wilson greatly enjoyed the film, though he found the ending to be a bit of a dodge.

-Wilson next looks at The Dark Crystal, a fantasy film from Jim Henson and Frank Oz featuring a cast of highly detailed and innovative puppets. Wilson sees the film as having a strike against it from the outset: it seeks to illustrate fairyland, which he feels is too personal a place to be convincingly rendered in a film. Wilson also found another flaw with the film. There are simply too few characters, likely due to the cost of creating the puppets. The result is that the world of The Dark Crystal seems almost desolate. Wilson also found problems with the plot, the design of the heroic characters, and the bleak tone of the film (a complaint frequently echoed at the time as the film was marketed as a family film and many viewers expected the tone of Jim Henson’s The Muppets or Sesame Street). Wilson concludes on a positive note, however: “. . .that aside, there are some really marvelous things in the movie. My favorite sequence takes place in a swamp full of grand inventions, both vegetable and animal, including flying flowers and a lovable swamp monster. It all worked so well it made me wonder if the sequel to Crystal might not be well advised to skip the trappings of plot and present itself as a travelogue.”

-The Dark Crystal did not receive a sequel but it did get a prequel in the form of the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The film has also been the subject of books, comic books, video games, cassette tapes, and other media. The film also greatly furthered the career of illustrator Brian Froud, who designed much of the film as well as Jim Henson’s follow-up, Labyrinth. Froud turned those experiences into a successful series of books.


--Other Dimensions: Music by Jack Sullivan

-Jack Sullivan returns to the pages of TZ to share his considerable knowledge of music with a look at the career of Bernard Herrmann, the composer behind the musical scores for numerous horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery films and television series, including music for director Alfred Hitchcock, stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, director Brian de Palma, and, of course, The Twilight Zone. Herrmann scored the music for the opening sequence of the first season of TZ (which I prefer over the better-known theme created from the music of Marius Constant), as well as music for several notable episodes, including “Walking Distance,” “Eye of the Beholder,” and “Living Doll.” Herrmann’s music for The Twilight Zone was recycled frequently on the series and can be heard in numerous episodes.   

-As he did with his earlier music column, Sullivan describes the musical compositions in varying levels of detail and suggests the best available recordings for readers who wish to purchase the music. Sullivan covers Herrmann’s scores for Citizen Kane, Hangover Square, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts, Fahrenheit 451, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Sullivan also briefly touches on Herrmann’s music for television on such series as Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Twilight Zone. Sullivan concludes his column with a look at Herrmann’s later career after his falling out with Alfred Hitchcock, with work on such films as The Night Digger, Sisters, It’s Alive, Obsession, and Taxi Driver. Sullivan indicates that this is the first in a new series of columns looking at film composers.


--Other Dimensions: Nostalgia by Ron Goulart

“Walking with Zombies and Other Saturday Afternoon Pastimes”

-Goulart’s column is devoted to horror films of the 1940s. Goulart feels that the horror films of the forties have long lived in the shadow of the more famous horror films from the prior decade. Goulart begins by describing the ideal viewing conditions in the movie palaces of his youth before launching into a nostalgic run of actors and films. He begins with Bela Lugosi’s appearances as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein before moving on to Universal’s Mummy films. Here Goulart spends time on the performers under wraps such as Tom Tyler and Lon Chaney, Jr. He also gives space to the (mostly) British actors who populated horror films during the decade, such as Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Basil Rathbone, and, of course, Boris Karloff. Goulart notes that American actress Evelyn Ankers appeared in virtually every Universal horror film of the decade, decries Lon Chaney, Jr.’s attempts to play Son of Dracula, and praises Chaney, Jr. Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya in Universal’s The Wolf Man.

-Goulart spends time on poverty row productions (Voodoo Man, The Devil Bat) before moving on to the Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard “old dark house” mystery films The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers, as well as other, cheaper, horror comedy films. Goulart also looks at the finest series of horror films of the decade, those produced at RKO by Val Lewton with directors Jacques Tourneur (director of TZ’s “Night Call”) and Robert Wise. Goulart’s favorite among these is I Walked with a Zombie.

--Other Dimensions: Fantasy Acrostic #1 by Peter Cannon

-It’s puzzle time again. The puzzle and answers are below.




--Other Dimensions: Etc.

-The miscellany column this month begins with a final entry from the TZ Magazine story contest, printing the shortest entry received by the magazine. Interestingly, the short-short is by Bill DeVoe, author of the 2010 book Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Next, the column shares a photograph sent in by author George R.R. Martin, who saw a restaurant sign reading: “Human Buffet Every Monday Night,” and thought of the TZ episode, “To Serve Man.” There is a brief profile of Jeff Rovin’s book, The Science Fiction Collector’s Catalog, and a look at a new contest calling for writers to create the worst possible opening lines to a story.

-The remainder of the column is (mostly) devoted to the upcoming release of Twilight Zone: The Movie. We begin with Robert Martin’s profile of director George Miller (pictured with Carol Serling), director of the Mad Max films, who directed a remake of Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” for Twilight Zone: The Movie. Miller describes how he got the job, his approach to remaking a classic, and the technical challenges of the shoot. Carol Serling is also briefly interviewed concerning her cameo as a passenger on the airplane during the “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” segment. We are also given a general update on the shooting of the film and are promised production art and storyboards in an upcoming issue.

-Mel Gibson, star of George Miller’s Mad Max and Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior), is interviewed by James Verniere. This interview has some interesting moments, since Gibson was not yet the high-profile star he became later in the decade. Gibson speaks about his being born in America but raised in Australia. At one point, Verniere asks Gibson if the actor will be appearing in Mad Max III, to which Gibson curtly replies: “No.” Gibson, of course, did appear in the third Mad Max film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Gibson also describes what is was like shooting the Mad Max films, how he got the role, and what his plans are for the future. At the time of this interview, Gibson was adamant that he did not want to become an action film star. Gibson promptly went on to become one of the most bankable action film stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s, particularly with the Lethal Weapon series.

-Finally, there is a brief update on the final segment being filmed for Twilight Zone: The Movie, Steven Spielberg’s remake of George Clayton Johnson’s “Kick the Can.” The actor Scatman Crothers is briefly profiled and Spielberg is quoted on the similarities and differences in working with children and older actors.


--TZ Interview: V.C. Andrews by Lorenzo Carcaterra

“Her bestselling Gothics are populated by child-abusers, psychopaths, and sadists. And she herself knows a thing or two about pain.”

-This interview is uncomfortable and unintentionally funny, not because there are shocking revelations or anything of that sort, but simply because V.C. Andrews clearly does not wish to be interviewed. Andrews inadvertently comes off as arrogant, defensive, surly, and shallow. Interviewer Carcaterra, a journalist-turned-novelist perhaps best-known for Sleepers, his 1995 novel turned into a 1996 film, appears to do his best to remain patient with his defensive subject. The interview was conducted shortly before the release of Andrews’ first hardcover novel, My Sweet Audrina, which was also her first novel not connected to the Dollanganger Family novels, which began with Flowers in the Attic.

-Carcaterra gives a brief summary of Andrews’ life, short on personal details but including information on her working methods and the construction of her novels. Andrews proceeds to discuss her writing methods, her disdain for her editor, why critics don’t know what they’re talking about, why she’s not a horror writer, and why no one else can write the way she writes. This last statement is ironic since another hand has been writing V.C. Andrews books in a seemingly endless stream since the author’s death. However, one can at least admire Andrews’ drive to become a bestselling author. She always loved to read and write and, when working on a new novel, showed an incredible work ethic, barely stopping to eat or sleep. Some of Andrews’ personal details vaguely emerge during the course of the interview. She’s unmarried, lives with her mother in Virginia Beach, and began her professional career as a commercial artist. She gave this up after she found she could make more money writing. Andrews took a bad fall down a school staircase as a young woman, the injures from which, despite what many people thought, did not leave her crippled but did require the occasional use of a wheelchair.

-Andrews is generally reticent to reveal anything about her personal life, including her childhood. One can understand why Andrews was so defensive if you consider that she was a best-selling author loved by perhaps millions of readers but also a writer unaccepted by any literary circle. She likely felt like a highly successful outsider in the book industry, and was openly reviled by many contemporary writers in the horror community. Nevertheless, Andrews’ name is still being used on books to this day, though she died in 1986. Films have been made from her work, as well. It is certain, at this late date, that she is a notable, if not important, figure in horror and Gothic fiction.

-An excerpt from Andrews’ novel If There Be Thorns is included with the interview. Andrews authored five books in her lifetime, with a sixth and seventh, Garden of Shadows and Fallen Hearts, completed after her death by horror/thriller novelist Andrew Neiderman, who also completed several others “inspired” by Andrews. Neiderman has written dozens of novels set within the worlds created by Andrews, all under Andrews’ name. For several years, the paperback versions of Andrews’ novels were notable for their die-cut or step-back covers, with fully painted interior covers by Lisa Falkenstern.

-If you are a V.C. Andrews fan, this interview is recommended, despite lacking any real content. It is safe to say that Andrews was not comfortable being interviewed and likely viewed the entire process as an intrusion to her privacy. She states very clearly in the interview that it is the book that matters, not the author. She was an introverted woman who valued her privacy. It is a wonder she agreed to this interview in the first place. It is also strange to find it in the pages of TZ. I suppose the magazine aimed to interview all the big names in horror publishing at the time, as they previously interviewed King, Straub, Saul, etc.

--Cartoon by Thomas Swick

 


--“The Raft” by Stephen King

Illustrated by David Klein

“There were five of them out there in the chill water: two girls, two boys . . . and something worse than their darkest nightmares. What follows is a tale of total, unrelieved horror – definitely not for the faint of heart.”

-Four college students drive out to a secluded lake in the early days of autumn. Cool weather is closing in quickly and soon it will be too cold to swim. The students swim out to a wooden raft in the middle of the lake and discover, to their horror, that there is something else in the lake. It looks like an oil slick but clearly has a mind of its own. It surrounds the raft and begins killing them one by one in horrible fashion. Soon, it becomes a frantic struggle for survival against an infinitely patient and hungry element with the unnerving power to hypnotize anyone who looks into its stygian depths.

-A lot is made in the issue about the gruesome nature of Stephen King’s story, and, for those with a weak stomach, I’ll echo the advisement to steer clear of this one. For those who like their horror straight-up, however, “The Raft” can be recommended unreservedly. Personally, I rank it close to the top of all of King’s short stories and, reading it again, find that it has lost none of its power to disturb. Although it is crude in places, it shows King at the height of his storytelling powers in creating characters, setting, and an absolutely terrifying situation.

-“The Raft” was first published as a removable insert in the November, 1982 issue of Gallery, a men’s magazine which was a sister publication of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, as both periodicals were issued by Montcalm Publishing. The story was reprinted in the pages of TZ and collected in King’s 1985 story collection, Skeleton Crew. In 1982, George Romero scripted an adaptation of King’s story for the film Creepshow 2, directed by Michael Gornick. The sequence is arguably the most memorable in the film. It stars Paul Satterfield, Daniel Beer, Page Hannah, and Jeremy Green, featuring grisly effects created by the KNB EFX Group. Romero changed the ending of the story to suit the cinematic treatment and give it a shock ending more in line with the comic book style of the film. An interesting bit of connecting trivia to the first Creepshow film is that the students are from the fictional Horlicks University in Pittsburgh, the same university featured in the first film’s segment, “The Crate,” based on a story by King also published in Gallery for the July, 1979 issue.

-The story behind the writing of “The Raft” is interesting in itself. King relates the tale in his notes at the back of Skeleton Crew but must also have related the tale at the time of its magazine publication since T.E.D. Klein repeats it in his introduction to the story. King originally wrote the story as “The Float” in 1968 and sold it the following year to Adam magazine. King states that Adam only paid on publication, not acceptance. The year following that, in 1970, King was driving his car through a construction site when a traffic cone struck the undercarriage of his car and knocked the car’s muffler loose. King was so angered by this that he got out of his car and began collecting the traffic cones so that no one else would be victimized by them. A policeman arrived to put a stop to it and issued King a citation for $250. King soon received a check in the mail from Adam magazine for that exact amount, for “The Float,” and paid off the ticket. King searched but never found the issue of Adam with his story in it. He was convinced that it was published since, again, Adam only paid on publication. King searched the newsstand for any and all publications from Knight Publishing (the company that issued Adam) but never found his story. It is very likely that “The Float” was never published. From that day to this, and despite diligent efforts, nobody has come forward with proof that King’s “The Float” appeared in any magazine. As King lost the original manuscript, it is equally unlikely that readers will ever get to see his first version of the story that became “The Raft.”

-King set about recreating the story, changing the title to “The Raft,” when he got bored on the set of Creepshow in 1981. He states that “The Raft” is far more gruesome in its effects than “The Float.”

--TZ Preview Section: TZ’s Triple Bill

 


--TZ Screen Preview: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ed Naha

 “Ray Bradbury’s magical novel is at last on film – with a little help from the magic of special effects. Ed Naha chronicles the three-million-dollar facelift.”

-Film journalist Ed Naha interviews the film’s associate producer and director of special effects, Lee Dyer. The film adaptation of Bradbury’s 1962 dark fantasy novel about a malevolent traveling carnival, which itself began as a film treatment for Gene Kelly, suffered a troubled production. Produced by Disney, the film was shot by director Jack Clayton (director of The Innocents) from a script by Bradbury. However, an early cut of the film was unfavorably received by Disney executives to the point that a three-million-dollar special effects overhaul was ordered on the production. The resultant film is a bit of a mess, and, despite the money spent, surprisingly cheap in appearance. Although the film has its fans, and I include myself among them, it must ultimately be scored an average if not below average adaptation of Bradbury’s novel. This was the judgement from critics and audiences at the time, as the film was neither a critical nor commercial success. Lee Dyer, however, is extremely optimistic in this interview. He believes the special effects overhaul virtually saved the film, and made it better than it was before. Dyer guides Naha through a number of new scenes added to the film as well as changes (read: improvements) made to existing scenes. The interview concludes with Dyer describing a sequence featuring spiders and its effectiveness on a test audience, members of whom could not believe the film was a Disney product. Dyer’s response: “That’s probably the biggest compliment anyone could pay me!” Several photographs from the film accompany the article.

--TZ Screen Preview: Psycho II by James Verniere

“America’s favorite motel-keeper is back, and he’s just as odd as ever. James Verniere talks to director Richard Franklin, the man who’s set Norman Bates free.”

-Psycho II may have had the least-troubled production of the films under discussion in this issue, and it is certainly the film that made the most money and received the highest critical acclaim. Still, the film is best viewed as a better-than-average example of the slasher film so prevalent in the eighties, and comparison’s to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho should be avoided. I recently re-watched Psycho II and, although I enjoyed it as a younger viewer, I found it pretty dreadful upon another viewing. The film is competently made, and Anthony Perkins is very good in it, but there is a sort of paint-by-numbers quality to its plotting (complete with ludicrous twist ending) and a griminess to its tone that is off-putting and badly dates the film. Plus, the central premise, that Norman Bates is released back into the community to reside virtually unsupervised at the scene of his crimes, requires more suspension of disbelief than I was willing to give. Ultimately, it feels like a completely unnecessary film, and the fact that two additional sequels, a shot-for-shot remake, a television pilot, and a television series followed is staggering.

-Still, Psycho II definitely has its fans. And those fans might be interested in James Verniere’s interview with director Richard Franklin. Franklin was best-known at the time for the 1981 Australian thriller Road Games, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Stacy Keach. Franklin brings the gritty, grounded approach of that film to bear on Psycho II. The impressive cast (Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Robert Loggia, Meg Tilly, Dennis Franz) is briefly discussed, as is the script from Tom Holland and the musical score from Twilight Zone alum Jerry Goldsmith. Richard Franklin speaks on not being intimidated by the original or by Hitchcock’s legacy, as well as the challenges of eliciting the same type of shocks as the original film. Franklin also speaks on the character of Norman Bates and offers a response to those who are automatically skeptical of the film: “I think that anybody who looks at our film objectively will not be disappointed. I think that our film evokes what we remember of the original, but, most important, it is a film in its own right. What I hope will happen is that the two films will merge and become one larger film.” The article is also accompanied by several photographs from the film.

-The article also features Verniere’s short interview with Antony Perkins. Perkins comes across as a very genial man, optimistic and unwilling to say anything negative about anything. He speaks on being typecast after Psycho, the opportunities this afforded him, and of making the most of those opportunities. Perkins also talks about working with Hitchcock, about the qualities of the script for Psycho II that captured his imagination, how Norman Bates has grown and changed as a character, whether he received correspondence from the American murderer Ed Gein (whose crimes allegedly inspired Robert Bloch’s original novel), and whether he felt that Psycho II captured the “seductive ghoulishness” of the original.


--TZ Screen Preview: The Keep by James Verniere

“In Paramount’s version of the paperback bestseller, interfering Nazis stumble on a far more ancient evil. James Verniere reports.”

-The Keep had a very troubled production, with heavy studio interference reducing director Michael Mann’s vision of a three-hour plus epic horror/adventure film into a ninety-six-minute, confused mess which the director has tried to bury ever since. Verniere profiles the story behind F. Paul Wilson’s novel concerning Nazis who inadvertently unleash an ancient evil entity in Romania as well as the supernatural warrior destined to the battle the evil. Verniere also discusses the filming locations, Michael Mann’s previous work, and the director’s resistance to the “horror” label for the film. In the latter respect, Verniere likens Mann’s resistance to director Paul Schrader’s for his remake of Cat People. One amusing aspect is Verniere’s negative view of Wilson’s bestselling novel, which he labels “run-of-the-mill” and “mediocre” in the course of the article. The article is briefer than the others since Michael Mann kept details of the film guarded against the press. Several photographs from the film accompany the article.


--“In the Field of the Dying Cherry Tree” by Curtis K. Stadtfeld

Illustrated by Robert Morello

“How long could a tree keep on dying? How long could a man?”

-An older man recalls a time when, as a boy, he first witnessed a horribly blackened corpse hanging from an old cherry tree on his family’s property. No one else seems to see the hanging man. The boy eventually learns the story from his parents, who heard it from a town gossip. The hanging body is the apparition of a wrongly murdered man, who was a stranger beset by townsfolk who believed he had stolen a horse. The hanging man continues to intermittently appear to the narrator as he grows to adulthood. He now tends the family property and has come to accept the presence of the apparition, though he still attempts to shield his own child from the vision.

-This is a pleasantly creepy ghost story with a careful building of atmosphere that gives the story its power. The description of the dead, blackened, hanging man is grisly and effective.


--“Confessions of a Freelance Fantasist” by Isidore Haiblum

Illustrated by the author

“A survival guide in the form of a memoir, by the author of The Tsaddik of the Seven Wonders.”

-This is a humorous memoir by the science fiction and fantasy writer who produced “the first Yiddish science fantasy novel ever” (as proclaimed on the paperback) with his first book, The Tsaddik of the Seven Wonders. Haiblum wrote several additional science fiction novels, noted for their wit and inventiveness, as well as mystery fiction, much of it reflecting his Jewish upbringing in New York. Haiblum guides the reader through his childhood, describing his Americanization by learning English as a second language (after Yiddish), discovering American comic books and radio, and learning to write and draw imaginative stories. Haiblum describes his school days, his days at university, his short stint as a civil servant working for the housing division of the city of New York, and ultimately his plunge into the world of professional writing, where he began his career under the guidance of editor Larry Shaw at Dell books.  

-This was a funny and interesting memoir from a SF writer unknown to me. The memoir is profusely illustrated with Haiblum’s sketches and doodles, presenting caricatures of himself at different stages of his life. It makes for a pleasing, breezy read.


--“Harry’s Story” by Robert H. Curtis

Illustrated by Nicola Cuti

“The situation was as simple as an E.C. Comic. Unfortunately, Harry was a bit simple, too!”

-Harry isn’t very bright. As a young man, he accidentally caused the deaths of his parents when he climbed behind the wheel of the family car and rammed the vehicle into a tree. Harry was disfigured but survived, unlike his parents. All grown up now, Harry has a job and has started a relationship with his beautiful coworker, Virginia, who everyone tells him is only interested in him because of the money Harry received upon the death of his parents. Harry doesn’t see it that way, though, because Harry isn’t very bright. Harry also doesn’t understand that his new girlfriend and her friend, a man named Freddie, are planning to do away with Harry to get at the money in his possession. Virginia and Freddie poison Harry but that doesn’t keep the simple man down. He comes back from the dead and surprises Virginia and Freddie while they are making love. The shock is too much for the murderous couple. They go stark, raving mad and are institutionalized. But Harry still visits them regularly. This humorous horror story was reprinted in the first issue of TZ’s sister magazine, Night Cry.


--“The Tuck at the Foot of the Bed” by Ardath Mayhar

Illustrated by Frances Jetter

“A cautionary tale on the importance – nay necessity – of making your own bed.”

-Barbara has always had a fear of someone or something reaching out from under the bed and grabbing her. She makes sure to always tuck the sheets in at the foot of the bed so that her feet aren’t exposed to reaching hands. Barbara grows up and gets married. Her husband convinces her that the fear of being grabbed is irrational. Eventually, Barbara lets go of her fear. One night, her husband makes the bed. He doesn’t tuck in the sheet at the foot of the bed. In the middle of the night, something from underneath the bed reaches up and grabs Barbara. She screams, waking her husband. He reaches out to her but cannot grab her before she is pulled down from the bed and through an opening in the floor, which quickly disappears afterwards.

-This short-short was a predictable but creepy play on a fear that many people have, that of leaving one’s body exposed while sleeping. The story was collected in Crazy Quilt: The Best Short Stories of Ardath Mayhar (2009).

--Required Reading: “A Fragment of Fact” by Chris Massie

Illustrated by José Reyes

“A curious encounter, one night in the country, with a most peculiar man . . . or something rather like one.”

-A cyclist travels far from his home along the English marshlands. He becomes increasingly tired and thirsty. As he doesn’t see an inn anywhere, he chances upon an isolated home. He sees the shape of an enormous man pass across the window blinds. He parks his bicycle, strolls to the door and pulls the bell. The cyclist is greeted by this enormous man who invites him into the house. The cyclist asks for water and is brought the dog’s water bowl. The enormous man apologizes, explains that his dog recently died, and corrects the error by bringing the cyclist clean water. The man informs the cyclist that between the ringing of the bell and his answering the door, his wife died, as well. The cyclist is greatly disturbed by this news. He apologizes for his poor timing and moves to leave the home. He tells the enormous man to see to his wife, make sure she is dead, and to call a doctor. As the cyclist pedals away, a large dog lunges from the hedges and nips at his heels.

-This unnerving story originally appeared in The Pan Book of Horror Stories (1959). Its appearance in TZ was its first republication outside of reprints of the Pan book. It is a creepily effective piece, though I’m not sure why Klein chose to include it here. Perhaps to fill a space and perhaps to resurrect an English story that was likely unfamiliar to TZ’s readers. It reminded me very much of the stories of Robert Aickman, strange stories rather than horror stories, stories of unease and disorientation. Besides “The Raft,” this was my favorite story in the issue.


--“Takeover Bid” by Andrew Weiner

Illustrated by Marty Blake

“Money, they say, makes the man. What, then, did the stock shares make?”

-Baker, a struggling workingman who carefully saves to buy a home with his wife, gets a call from his friend Lomax, a wealthy investor, with the offer of a lifetime. An investment opportunity presents itself in the form of a new company, Advanced Hurgorvia. Baker sinks all his carefully saved money in the stock and watches it steadily rise. His wife encourages him to sell but he holds out, again and again. Soon, Baker begins experiencing strange physical changes. When he meets Lomax at a restaurant, he sees that his friend is experiencing the same bizarre changes. After receiving much correspondence from the company, Baker eventually discovers the truth. This is an alien invasion, not from the skies but from the stock market. Baker and Lomax and all the other greedy investors are changing into aliens. Soon, Advanced Hurgorvia will be big enough for a full-scale takeover.


--“Listen” by Joe R. Lansdale

Illustrated by Bill Logan

“Invisibility – as the psychiatrist discovered – was just a state of mind.”

-Merguson finds himself slowly disappearing. People ignore him, forget about him, look past him. He has to constantly repeat himself and he seems to leave people’s memories as soon as he finishes interacting with them. It has gotten so bad that Merguson’s wife openly cheats on him. Merguson visits a psychiatrist to try and fix the problem. Except the psychiatrist is just as bad as everyone else. Merguson grows enraged when he realizes that the shrink hasn’t heard a word he’s said. Merguson strangles the psychiatrist to death. He’ll never be caught, though, because the secretary swears that no one arrived for an appointment that afternoon.

-Joe Lansdale returns to the pages of TZ with another humorous and grim short-short. Lansdale has always been a highly versatile writer but found a niche in the pages of TZ with these short, blackly funny shockers. The story has been reprinted a few times. It was first collected in Lansdale’s A Fistful of Stories (and Articles) (1996), included in 100 Menacing Little Murder Stories (1998), and reprinted in Lansdale’s collection Bumper Crop (2004), where he wrote: “Ever feel like no one’s paying attention? That you’re lost in the crowd? Everyone feels that way from time to time, but there are people who feel that way all the time. Shy people. Insecure people. I’ve known them. That knowledge inspired this story.”

--The Fantasy Five-Foot Bookshelf by Thomas M. Disch, Karl Edward Wagner, and R.S. Hadji

“Three unusually erudite scholars (with unusually strong opinions) list their favorite – and least favorite – reading.

-This opinionated reader’s guide to supernatural fiction features three experts sharing their picks for the best and worst in the genre. This feature, and the companion lists in the next issue, has served as a sort of underground guide for discerning horror readers since its first appearance. At the time, many of these works were very difficult to get hold of, unless one was willing to pay a large sum on the secondhand market. With the advent of the internet and the small press, many of these works have become accessible again. Particular mention should be made of Valancourt Books, which has made an effort to reprint a number of the titles on this list, particularly those selected by Karl Edward Wagner. The lists are shared below.



--Show-By-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone: Part Twenty-Four by Marc Scott Zicree

-Zicree is nearing the end of his guide to the original series. In this installment, he provides cast and crew listings, plot summaries, and Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations for the fifth season episodes “What’s in the Box,” “I Am the Night – Color Me Black,” and “The Masks.”


--TZ Classic Teleplay: “The Lonely” by Rod Serling

-Rod Serling’s teleplay for the first season episode “The Lonely” is presented here. The episode was directed by Jack Smight, starring Jack Warden, Jean Marsh, and John Dehner, with a musical score from Bernard Herrmann. “The Lonely” remains an emotionally resonant showcase for Rod Serling’s fine writing. You can read more about the episode by revisiting Brian’s review.

--Looking Ahead: In the August TZ


-If you’ve come this far, I thank you very much for reading and hope you enjoyed discovering or revisiting this issue of TZ Magazine with me. Next up in the Vortex, Brian will be posting his first episode review of the fifth season with a look at Richard Matheson’s “Steel.”

-JP