Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


“The Daemons.” A serial of five episodes from the eighth season of Dr Who, BBC, UK, 22 May 1971 through 19 June 1971 (episodes 21 – 25). Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Damaris Hayman, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin. Director: Christopher Barry.

   Sometimes it’s fun to go back and watch movies or television shows that you really enjoyed as a kid, things that really made an impression on you. I remember, for instance, watching the Doctor Who serial, “The Daemons,” on public television when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old.

   Even decades later, I still remembered how this was the serial in which a gargoyle came to life. That idea fascinated me for years and so began a lifetime interest in those stone creatures. I even went so far as taking a series of photographs of cathedral gargoyles while vacationing in France.

   So it was a real pleasure to finally get the opportunity to watch “The Daemons” again, this time on DVD, after so many years. And I have to tell you: it didn’t disappoint.

   Originally aired on the BBC in spring 1971, “The Daemons” features Jon Pertwee as The (Third) Doctor and Katy Manning as his companion, Jo Grant. In this five-part series, The Doctor faces off against his longtime nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado) as the scheming, bearded villain seeks to summon the seemingly occult power of an ancient alien force that has been using mankind as some sort of bizarre laboratory experiment.

   There’s also a giant horned beast named Azal and a gargoyle come to life named Bok. It’s a thrilling, occasionally tongue-in-cheek journey through the British occult with enough cliffhangers to keep you enthralled and watching. And the gargoyle with the power to make people disappear is pretty cool too. Even after all these years.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER. Columbia, 1933. Adolphe Menjou, Greta Nissen, Donald Cook, Dwight Frye, Ruthelma Stevens. Based on the novel About the Murder of the Circus Queen, by Anthony Abbot (Fulton Oursler). Director: Roy William Neill. Shown at Cinefest 18, Liverpool NY, March 1998.

   One of the disappointments of the convention. Menjou plays Anthony Abbot’s Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt, vacationing in a small town, where the arrival of a circus and an attempted murder draws him reluctantly into the center of a hastily conducted investigation. But not hastily enough.

   The beginning is promising and Colt’s secretary (Ruthelma Stevens) registers strongly as an attractive, smart companion, but her role is never sufficiently developed and the lame melodrama is capped by an underpowered, restrained performance by Dwight Frye that never ignites. (He’s much livelier in The Vampire Bat [Majestic, 1933], a cheap but entertaining thriller that I watched last night on a cheap video tape. He reprises his Renfield role from Dracula, even using the Renfield laugh.)

Editorial Note:  This move was also reviewed by Dan Stumpf some time ago on this blog. Check it out here.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


JOHN D. MacDONALD – You Live Once. Popular Library #737, paperback original, March 1956; reprinted as You Kill Me, G507, 1961. Reprinted several times in paperback under its original title by Gold Medal, including d1761, 1966.

   I read a lot of John D. MacDonald when I was twenty, and I always meant to get back that way someday. Well here I am. You Live Once is a tight, fast-paced and deftly-plotted thing, maybe no great shakes as a mystery, but it will keep you turning the pages right from the start.

   Ah yes, the start: That’s when Clinton Sewell, a mid-level cog in the local branch of a giant manufacturing corporation (we used to have them here) is awakened by police who want to know what happened to the missing young lady he was last seen with last night—a local heiress named Mary Olen, known (according to the back cover) for her “easy-loving” ways.

   Clint satisfies the cops that he doesn’t know where-the-hell she is, they leave, and minutes later he funds Mary’s body in his closet, strangled with his belt.

   Now that’s how to start a story!

   Clint knows he didn’t kill Mary last night, and it turns out he was only dating her as a cover for her affair with his sunuvabitch boss, but he also knows the police won’t look very far for the murderer if he calls them back, so he does what any Real Man would do in a paperback: he hides the body and tries to find out whodunit.

   The next hundred pages are the usual thing, with sexy ladies and suspects looking equally guilty, a few beatings, tough cops and a too-smart private eye, all done up in the smooth style that made MacDonald a favorite over at Gold Medal a few years later. Like I say, the solution is nothing that will make you jump up and holler “Damn, that’s right!” but it’s agreeable getting there.

   And I did notice a couple of things that lift this one a bit out of the ordinary: first, MacDonald paints a compelling picture of America in the mid-1950s, sharply-drawn and colorful, reflecting the fads and mores of the time without the fatuous moralizing that slowed down the Travis McGee books. And then there’s MacDonald’s women….

   I liked the way he did this. When Clint Sewell / John D. MacDonald describes a woman for us, he does it like a man who loves women, appreciating their flaws and perfections in equal measure without the gaping, juvenile objectification of too many pulp-writers. It’s a mature, respectful and stylish lust, and just one of the pleasures of reading MacDonald.

CRIME DOCTOR. Columbia, 1943. Warner Baxter, Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Ray Collins, Harold Huber, Don Costello, Leon Ames. Based on the Crime Doctor radio series created by Max Marcin. Director: Michael Gordon.

THE CRIME DOCTOR’S COURAGE. Columbia, 1945. Warner Baxter, Hillary Brooke, Jerome Cowan, Robert Scott, Lloyd Corrigan, Emory Parnell, Stephen Crane, Anthony Caruso, Lupita Tovar. Director: George Sherman.

   Crime Doctor began as a radio program, running on Mutual from 1940 to 1947. Four of them are available online on the archive.org website. Listening to the first of them, “Eddie Brooklief’s Money,” I was not impressed.

   After twenty minutes of story in which the killer is completely identified to the listeners, Benjamin Ordway, the Crime Doctor, comes on to give the police the evidence they need to close the case, in only a couple of minutes of airtime. Frankly, I heard nothing in this episode to explain how the series managed to stay on the air for as long as it did.

   This may or may not have been the pattern of the other three shows, however, nor for that matter, all eight years the program was on the air. The original premise, as I understand it, was that before he became a prominent psychiatrist and a rehabilitator of criminals, Dr. Ordway was a criminal mastermind who somehow came down with amnesia and became a figure of good on the other side of the law.

   Crime Doctor was the first in a series of ten movies starring an aging (and ailing) Warner Baxter as Robert Ordway, and in retelling the basic premise as I outlined it above, once again I was less than impressed. In the film, Ordway’s former colleagues in crime had a falling out with him, and tried unsuccessfully to bump him off, without, however, knowing where their $200,000 in stolen money is.

   But, hence the amnesia, which the aforesaid former colleagues do not know whether to swallow or not, even after ten years have gone by and Ordway is head of the state parole board. It all sounds kind of silly, and it did even as I was watching it. Perhaps they tried to squeeze too much story in only 65 minutes of running time, as large gaps of story are sometimes skipped over between scenes.

   The Crime Doctor’s Courage, the fourth of the movies, has a serious case of split personality. In the first half the new wife of a man whose first two marriages ended in tragedy during their honeymoons asks Dr. Ordway for help. She would like to know if she should be worried.

   Compounding her concern is the brother of the first wife, who accuses Gordon Carson outright of murder. After a confrontation, Carson goes into his room, locks the door, and is shot to death. Suicide? The Crime Doctor proves it couldn’t have been.

   At which point the brother-in-law disappears (as far I could tell), and the focus of the story becomes the Braggas, a mysterious brother and sister, the highlight of whose dancing act consists of the sister vanishing into thin air during a portion of it.

   There are also hints that they may be vampires. They sleep in coffin-shaped beds, stay away from mirrors and are never seen in the daytime. After some confusing transition scenes and lot of action in an old dark mansion, the real killer is caught. How he manged to carry out the locked room gimmick, I’ll never know.

   Keep me in the Still Not Impressed column.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


INTRUDERS. BBC2 / BBC-America, 2014. John Simm, Mira Sorvino, James Frain, Millie Bobby Brown, Tory Kittles, Robert Forster, Alex Diakun. Series developed by Glen Morgan and written by Morgan, Kristin Cloke, and Darin Morgan, based on the novel by Michael Marshall Smith. Episodes directed by Daniel Stamm and Eduardo Sanchez.

         “In the beginning there was death.”

   Intruders is an eight episode television series from BBCA based on the works of novelist Michael Marshall Smith who also writes as Michael Marshall (The Straw Man). Smith pens horror as well as crime fiction, and his “Straw Man” series is perhaps the most innovative and best serial killer trilogy penned, far exceeding Thomas Harris post-Silence of the Lambs output in the genre.

   Intruders is horror, but it is also a puzzling mystery, fantasy, and an atmospheric and often disconcerting series mindful of something that might have run in John Campbell Jr.s classic pulp Unknown. This one owes as much to Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think or Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife as Stephen King.

   Jack Whelan (John Simm) is a former cop turned writer married to beautiful Amy (Mira Sorvino), an angel of sorts who saved him from the bottle. When an old friend from high school, Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles) shows up asking for help to solve the disappearance of a man called Bill Anderson whose family was murdered, Jack has little incentive to help, but his life begins to spin out of control shortly after when Amy disappears after curious behavior.

   Meanwhile nine year old Madison O’Donnell (Millie Bobby Brown) is a strange child living on the Washington coast with her mother in a summer home and is behaving strangely herself, especially after Richard Shepherd (James Frain) turns up and shows Madison a sand dollar, giving her his black business card bearing the number 9, then threatening to kill her. Like Amy, Madison runs away, and, like Amy, she shows surprising skill at doing it.

   Jack’s world spirals out of control as he begins to unravel his wife’s lies, leading him back to Gary Fischer and Bill Anderson who are tied to Amy in ways he could not suspect, and draws him into conflict with Richard Shepherd and his mentor Frank Shepherd (Robert Forster) and the people they work for, the mysterious Rose Gilchrist, and something called Qui Reverte, a mysterious group who hands people strange business cards with a 9 on them, and an even stranger manual to surviving death.

   I won’t be giving too much away to reveal the Qui Reverte claim that no one in their group dies They believe they have lived multiple lives over the centuries. Richard Shepherd is a just that, a shepherd, a figure who helps members cross over for their various rebirths — even killing them when they resist — or rather when the other soul in the body they are reborn in does.

   Amy is somehow tied to all this, as is Madison, who is apparently possessed by Marcus Fox (wonderfully creepy Alex Diakun: “What goes around comes around.”), a long lived monster the Qui Reverte condemned but who was saved by Richard whom he bribed to shepherd him back. Under his power Madison is a deadly killer in unsuspected form, and some to the most disturbing scenes in the series involve this nine year old killer (usually shown off camera, but still disturbing) under his influence.

   Jack is a reasonable and rational man who believes his wife has been taken over by a cult following her miscarriage, but it becomes increasingly hard to remain skeptical as he delves deeper into the Qui Reverte, and finds himself sometimes allied with the murderous Richard Shepherd who for some reason twice refuses to kill him.

   I watched this first when it was serialized on BBCA, but recently binge watched all eight episodes in two days where I appreciated even more the novelistic approach of the series and how well it adapts Smith’s novel (not without some changes).

   There is little gore here, it is much more about mystery and atmosphere and the almost Woolrichian fate of Jack Whelan as his world falls apart and everything he believed proves a lie or a half truth at best. At times you may be as confused as he is, but stick to the end and all, or at least most, will be revealed.

   The plot is resolved, but left open for more, as new doors open for Jack even as old ones shut, and his journey into Qui Reverte and its secrets just begins. Intruders will draw you in deeper as the mysteries are solved and deeper ones revealed. You may never look at anyone you know the same again after watching it, though.

   Like the best of this kind of horror fiction, it is the frisson and not the gore or the monster leaping out at you that you will recall. If you wonder where intelligent horror went, after all the big screen splatter fests, gimmicky hand-held cameras, and gore, this is one place to find it.

   In its own quiet way this tough smart little horror outing is ultimately more frightening than all the Jason’s, Freddie’s and vampires creeping about and it is presented as a genuine mystery, though, like Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, the solution may be more frightening than the mystery. This hits all too close to home for anyone who has ever wondered about the stranger they share their life with, or how well you know anyone, even yourself.

MURRAY SINCLAIR – Only in L.A. A&W Publishers, hardcover, 1982. Pinnacle, paperback, 1983. Black Lizard, paperback, 1988.

   If what you’re looking for in the detective fiction you read is mood and atmosphere, this is the book for you. It’s a broody melodrama that in a very strong way, is a modern-day paean to life in the sleazier sections of southern California, although from the outside, “paean” would hardly seem to be the right word to use.

   Neither pacing nor consistency of tone is a problem for Sinclair. He hits a single note on the very first page, and he holds it throughout the rest of the book, apparently without even straining. Both he and his hero, screenwriter Ben Crandel, view Los Angeles as the ultimate symbol of a dying culture at the end of its spiritual life-line.

   A citizens’ group central to the plot attempts to make Hollywood the adult entertainment capital of the US, and foolishly so, as if it weren’t already.

   Crandel’s first appearance was in Tough Luck L. A., a paperback original from Pinnacle, and to say that the mystery involved in that earlier book, and its solution, were totally incomprehensible would be an act of high charity. Sinclair has a much better hold on his story line this time around, but only if you consider massive unexplained coincidence as the ultimate in plotting devices.

   On the other hand, it occurs to me that perhaps we’re meant only to consider it an indispensable part of the delirious madness and seedy, sour-tasting pornography that Crandel finds himself swallowed up by, as he desperately tries to find his adopted son’s kidnappers.

   It’s a point of view, and I’m sure it’s a valid one. It’s like spinach, though. You can sit and admire all its fine qualities all you want, and still be awfully glad you don’t have to eat any.

Rating:   C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982 (somewhat revised)


[UPDATE] 08-26-15.   The first book in the series, Tough Luck L. A. (Pinnacle, 1980) was nominated for an Edgar in the Best Paperback Original category. There was a third book in the series, Goodbye, L.A. (Black Lizard, 1988), which I have not read.

SANDRA WEST PROWELL – By Evil Means. Walker, hardcover, 1993. Bantam, paperback, April 1995.

   This is the first of three recorded adventures for perhaps the only fictional PI working out of Billings, Montana, a former FBI agent named Phoebe Siegel. The case seems simple enough, that of a woman who is afraid that there is something wrong at Whispering Pines, the psychiatric clinic on the outskirts of town where her daughter had recently sought help.

   Phoebe is about to turn her down, since (for many reasons) she always takes the month of March off. One of the reasons is that March is the month that her brother Ben, a cop in the local police force, committed suicide. She changes her mind, though, when the mother tells her there may have been an involvement between the girl and her brother Ben, even to the extent of a police complaint just before he died.

   Thus begins a long (over 350 pages) investigation into all kinds of secrets in her home town that Phoebe had never had an inkling of, many of them involving her family and friends, and she has many in both categories. The book is slow to start. It is not until page 130 or so, when Phoebe goes sneaks into Whispering Pines and convinces herself at last that Dr. Stroud is indeed up to no good, that the tale really starts to get into high gear.

   In some ways, this book reminded me of several of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone stories, in which the friends and family seem to be a secondary but essential sidebar to the mystery. But in Phoebe Siegel’s case, the role they both take on simply grows and grows, insidiously so. The ending is as harrowing as any that I’ve read in a PI novel in quite a long time.

   I wasn’t so sure for a while, but this one’s a keeper.

      The Phoebe Siegel series –

By Evil Means (1993)
The Killing of Monday Brown (1994)

When Wallflowers Die (1996)
An Accepted Sorrow (unpublished)

   According to the Thrilling Detective website, By Evil Means was nominated for the Hammett Prize, and both that novel and The Killing of Monday Brown were nominated for a Shamus.

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