May 2022

by Francis M. Nevins


   It began, I suppose, with Lord Peter Wimsey. Early in the Golden Age of English detective fiction between the World Wars, Dorothy L. Sayers’ first Wimsey novels created the sub-branch of the genre whose hallmarks were donnish wit, literary allusions and a contemporary sensibility. Near the end of the period in which this type of whodunit flourished, the mantle passed from women authors like Sayers to men, notably Nicholas Blake, Michael Innes and, a few years later, in the middle of World War II, Edmund Crispin.

   All three names were pseudonyms, the mystery-writing bylines of gentlemen with other careers. Blake, the one we are following today, was equally well known as C. (for Cecil) Day-Lewis (1904-1972), who along with his friends W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender was ranked among the foremost young poets of the post-WWI generation. Lovers of that form of literature remember him as England’s Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death, and for movie buffs he’s perhaps best known as the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

   I can’t remember when I began reading Nicholas Blake novels or even whether it was before or after we read the Day-Lewis translation of the Aeneid in high school. In any event it was generations ago. Recently I decided to revisit Blake and see how his work stands up today.


   His debut novel, A QUESTION OF PROOF (1935), opens at Sudeley Hall, a preparatory school of the sort in which Day-Lewis spent several years as an instructor. Of the eighty-odd boys that it houses, the richest and most despised is Algernon Wyvern-Wemyss. His classmates refer to him as a squit and a worm, and if THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS hadn’t taught Brits to love the sweetly singing little amphibian known to biologists as Bufo bufo, no doubt they would have called him a toad.

   On the end-of-term day when the inmates’ parents are invited to the school for fun and games, this young fiend is found strangled to death inside a hollow haystack which a few hours earlier had been the scene of a passionate rendezvous between one of the school’s instructors and the lovely young wife of its pedantic and tyrannical headmaster, who is also the dead boy’s uncle and only living relative.

   Could the lovers have been caught in the act by the kid, and could one or both of them have strangled him to keep his mouth shut? There are of course more than two suspects, including some other instructors and the headmaster, who inherits most of his swinish nephew’s money. (With his complete lack of interest in law, Blake does nothing to explain how this came about.)

   But the young man who visited the haystack is so deeply under suspicion that he sends to London for his old Oxford friend Nigel Strangeways, a Holmes-like consulting detective.

   At first Nigel comes across as something of a silly-ass character, demanding endless cups of tea, singing an aria from Handel’s ISRAEL IN EGYPT during a wild auto chase (the first of many physical action scenes in Blake novels), submitting to a schoolboy secret society’s initiation rite that involves, among other things, putting a chalk mustache on the statue of a “nimph” in the village square.

   But most of the time he plays his detective role well, preferring psychological to physical clues (of which there are none), recognizing that one unanswered question—why was the dead boy not seen by anyone in the hour or so before his death?—is the key to his murder.

   When a second murder takes place, a stabbing with an improvised stiletto during a cricket game between the students and their fathers, he concludes that the answer to another question—how was the stiletto made to disappear?—will solve both this crime and the earlier one. For Yanks there may be a bit too much schoolboy and cricket jargon but on the whole this is an excellent debut novel, deserving all the accolades it has garnered since its first publication.


   The title of the second Strangeways exploit and much of its plot are taken from an obscure (except to specialists) Jacobean melodrama. THOU SHELL OF DEATH (1936) is a quotation from Cyril Tourneur’s THE REVENGER’S TRAGEDY (1607), a play which becomes increasingly relevant as we progress through the book.

   On a recommendation from his uncle, an Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, Nigel travels to rural Somerset a few days before Christmas to investigate three threatening letters that have been sent at the rate of one a month to Fergus O’Brien, a World War I air ace who, somewhat like Lawrence of Arabia, has retired to the countryside.

   The most recent letter prophesies that O’Brien will die on the day after Christmas, also known as Boxing Day and the Feast of Stephen, the day on which good king Wenceslas in the carol went out. The reclusive war hero is uncharacteristically hosting a house party over the holidays, a party consisting of a woman explorer whose life he had saved in Africa, her financially desperate brother, a shady roadhouse proprietor, O’Brien’s discarded mistress, and an old Oxford don who had been one of Nigel’s professors.

   Sure enough, O’Brien is found shot to death on Boxing Day morning, and over the next few days there’s another death, this one by poison inserted in a peanut, and a near-fatal bludgeoning. Many chapters are filled with complex alternative theories of the crimes, propounded by Nigel and a Somerset officer and Inspector Blount of Scotland Yard, but the reasoning remains on a speculative level until Nigel travels to rural Ireland in search of O’Brien’s mysterious pre-war past.

   SHELL is more of a full-blooded detective novel than A QUESTION OF PROOF, with a particularly brilliant “player on the other side” (although how this adversary came to know so much about the works of Cyril Tourneur remains unexplained) and abundant quotations and allusions ranging from the tale of Hercules and Cacus and the epistles of St. Paul through Shakespeare (and of course Tourneur) and finally a few of Day-Lewis’s contemporaries.

   Nigel no longer guzzles tea by the potful as he did in his first outing but at one point, having missed his dinner, he snarfs a gargantuan impromptu meal—a pound or so of cold beef, ten potatoes, half a loaf of bread and most of an apple pie—-and later, just as in A QUESTION OF PROOF, he breaks into song during a wild auto chase.

   American readers might be put off by the number of minor characters who speak in regional or ethnic dialects as if they were in a Harry Stephen Keeler novel, but at least the accents are more authentic than the ones HSK dreamed up. (*)


   The poisoned peanut in the second Blake novel is (dare I say it?) a mere bag of shells compared with the murder method in the third. There were signs in that second book that Nigel was beginning to fall in love with Georgia the daredevil explorer. At the start of THERE’S TROUBLE BREWING (1937) they’re married. Nigel is still a consulting detective but has developed a sideline as an authority on poetry, and on the basis of his book on the subject he’s invited to deliver a lecture before the Literary Society in the Dorsetshire town of Maiden Astbury.

   The Big Daddy of the place is the owner of the local brewery, whom, if I weren’t so fond of Bufo bufo, I’d describe as a toad of the first water. He bullies his wife and all but cuts her out of his will (which I don’t think possible under either English or American law, but we’ve seen before that Blake has zero interest in legal issues).

   He also sexually harasses young women, requires his laborers to work inhuman schedules, makes life hell for his socially conscious younger brother, blackmails into silence the local doctor who has documented the brewery’s unsafe working conditions. He even beats his fox terrier! It’s because of this dog, who was found two weeks earlier in one of the brewery’s pressure vats, literally boiled to death, that the Big Daddy character prevails on Nigel to stay in Maiden Astbury for a while and investigate the animal’s murder.

   Nigel spends the next day touring the beer factory and interviewing its principals but his detection is interrupted by the discovery inside the same pressure vat of a human skeleton, apparently that of Big Daddy, although Nigel and the local police inspector seem to be familiar with Conan Doyle’s THE VALLEY OF FEAR and the early Ellery Queen novels since they seriously consider the possibility that the boiled corpse is someone else.

   Suspicion spreads among various characters and several highly speculative alternate theories of the crime are articulated. In due course come two more murders and a midnight climax in the eerie brewery that may remind some readers of a 1930s cliffhanger serial, although Blake is careful to keep Nigel from acting like a serial hero.

   With each chapter prefaced by a literary quotation—from Shakespeare and Bacon and Ben Jonson through 19th-century figures like Byron and Coleridge and Dickens to the poet A.E. Housman, who had died in 1936—this is a fine example of the kind of detective novel whose earliest protagonist was Lord Peter Wimsey.


   Blake’s fourth novel was the only book of his that became the basis of a feature-length film by a prestigious director. I’ll discuss both the book and the movie when I return to Blake later this year. His fifth novel was almost made into a movie by another prestigious director—or more precisely by a young man who quickly became one of the most prestigious directors of all time. When I take up Blake again I’ll tell that story too.

GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION – February, 1967. Edited by Frederik Pohl. Cover by Jack Gaughan. Overall rating: 3 stars.

HAYDEN HOWARD “Our Man in Peking.” Novella. Esks #6. Dr. West is sent by the CIA to China, where Esks have been welcomed and have multiplied to overwhelming numbers. His purpose is unknown, implanted hypnotically in his subconscious, but once they meet, he discovers he has telepathic control over Mao III. Mental torment can be worrisome. Some story was omitted since he was left frozen in a Canadian prison in the December issue; details should be in order. ***½

UPDATE: I no longer recall anything about this series, but Howard wrote a book titled The Eskimo Invasion (Ballantine, paperback, 1967) which is described on ISFDb as a “fix-up” of some or all of the Esk stories, of which there were seven. A review on Amazon says: “An Eskimo community finds an alien space probe which quickly hybridizes the locals with alien DNA, leading to a new species called ‘Esks.’ The Esks are so lovable that no one is able to say no to them. And from there, it goes straight to crazytown.” As for my unhappiness about a gap between the story in the December issue and this one, there was no story in between.

PHILIP K. DICK “Return Match.” A raid on an outspacer’s gambling casino yields a pinball machine that builds its own defenses; and the best defense… Not to be put down easily. (5)

WALLACE WEST “The Last Filibuster.” What might happen if legislators and other leaders were forced to do the fighting also. (3)

RICHARD WILSON “They Hilariated When I Hyperspaced for Earth.” Novelette. Young Harmish of Auxor seeks the help of UN Sechen Nboto to initiate progress in his homeworld, but returns with the number man. Amusing at times. (3)

UPDATE: The interior artwork for this story was by Vaughn Bodé, which seems quite appropriate for what I called an amusing tale.

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL “The Trojan Bombardment.” Warfare based on giving enemy what his wants rather than what he needs has one longrun drawback. (2)

THOMAS M. DISCH & JOHN T. SLADEK “The Discovery of the Nullitron.” Pseudo-scientific report. (1)

R. A. LAFFERTY “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne.” With the aid of a computer, scientists change the presence by altering the past. Idea not very new. (1)

UPDATE: My rating for this one is surprising. Lafferty was generally a favorite of mine.

JACK VANCE “The Palace of Love.” Serial, part 3 of 3. Look for my full review soon.

–December 1967


RUST CREEK. Premiered at the 2018 Bentonville Film Festival and was released theatrically on January 4, 2019. Hermione Corfield as Sawyer Scott, Jay Paulson as Lowell Pritchert, Sean O’Bryan as Sheriff O’Doyle, Micah Hauptman as Hollister. Script by Julie Lipson, based on an original story by Stu Pollard. Directed by Jen McGowan. Currently streaming on Netflix.

   A week or so ago, I reviewed Borrego, a female-centered indie thriller in which a young protagonist must evade nefarious drug dealers. And as I mentioned in the review, the whole affair – despite the stellar cinematography – seemed forced, artificial. That’s not the case in Rust Creek, another survivor thriller movie that has a similar premise, but which delivers vastly more satisfying results.

   Sawyer Scott (an exceptionally well cast Hermione Corfield) is a senior at Centre College in Kentucky. Rather than returning home to her family during Thanksgiving break, she decides to embark on a solo road trip to Washington D.C. for a job interview. Big mistake. What starts off as a promising venture turns into a nightmare when she stumbles upon two backwoods brothers up to no good. Although they are not nearly as grotesque as the villains from Deliverance (1972), Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) are what you might expect. Crass, brutal, and not all that bright.

   But evading these two brothers isn’t the least of Sawyer’s difficulties; she also must navigate her survival in the face of the harsh Appalachian outdoors, a leg injury, and a meth cook by the name of Lowell Pritchert (Jay Paulson) who happens to be the outlaw brothers’ cousin. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a corrupt local sheriff (Sean O’Bryan) who, as it turns out, is in business with the brothers, hoping to make significant inroads into the methamphetamine trade.

   Jen McGowan directs the proceedings with skill and a delicate understatement, never really forcing her cast to present artificial emotions or to engage in the maudlin-type moments that marred Borrego.

   Rather, she generally relies on her actors to convey complex emotions through physical mannerisms and their actions rather than through overly emotive dialogues. There is one exception to this – a monologue by Lowell (Paulson) that I didn’t find convincing given his socioeconomic and class status – but otherwise, the movie delivers the goods without forcing a message upon the audience.

   Rust Creek apparently didn’t have much of a theatrical release, having been released to video-on-demand after premiering at a film festival. But it did quite well on Netflix, which is where I happened upon it. I don’t think that I will ever particularly seek out the film for a second viewing, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Solid, steady film-making that doesn’t condescend to the audience and which provides good escapist entertainment. Which is all too much a rarity these days.




JOANNA SCOTT – The Manikin.  Henry Holt, hardcover, 1996. Picador, softcover, 1998.

   Scott is the author of four novels and a story collection, the latter of which was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Holt characterizes this is a part coming-of-age story and part Gothic mystery, and uses some other more literary terns as well.

   Outside of Rochester in rural upstate New York lies The Manikin, a baroque mansion designed by and ‘built for the man known as “the Henry Ford of Natural History.”  His business specialty was taxidermy, and the house is filled with mute and sometimes startling testimony to it. A motley crew of humans live there as well, made up of his aging widow and her servants and his former chief taxidermist.

   They exist in slowly dwindling splendor, isolated from the real world, until a house guest arrives as winter sets in one year in the late 1920’s, a wandering son returns, and everything changes forever.

   Holt misspoke; though this does have Gothic overtones, and though there are crimes including rape and animal mutilation, it is no sort of a mystery. Nor are there any genre trappings whatsoever. It is a Novel, by a Novelist, and to my eye an exceptional one. Scott has created .a strange and wonderful set of characters, and her prose is simply outstanding. The countryside and the strange old house are evoked so well as to become characters in themselves.

   Scott is a writer both lyrical and mannered, and this isn’t a book to read quickly. It’s one to read, though.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.

JOHN ANTHONY “The Hypnoglyth.” First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1953. Reprinted in Portals of Tomorrow, edited by August Derleth (Rinehart, hardcover, 1954), and A Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Robert P. Mills (Doubleday, hardcover, 1960).

   A word first, if you will, about August Derleth’s Portals of Tomorrow anthology. I never realized it before, but having recently decided to read a long-owned copy, it’s clear that its original intent was that it was to be the first of a “Best of the Year” series of anthologies, this one covering SF for the year 1953. If the subtitle doesn’t give it away: “The Best Tales of Science Fiction and Other Fantasy,” then Derleth’s introduction does, without quite saying so but obvious by reading between the words. Perhaps the publisher had a change of heart somewhere along the way.

   And so, what I’ve also decided to do is to read my way through the book and report back on each of the stories as I do. The year 1953 was maybe six years before I started reading the SF magazines from the local newsstand, so I wouldn’t have had the chance to read them while the ink was still fresh on them. These will be my opinions today, not from back then, often based on seeing them for the first time, not from later collections or anthologies.

   And at first glance, “The Hypoglyth” is a strange choice to begin a book with. Neither the title or author was at all familiar to me. Not even learning that “John Anthony” was the pen name of John Ciardi helped at all. But Derleth was right. This one’s a small gem of storytelling.

   There are only two characters in the tale. One is a returned space traveler  telling a friend about his adventures on a primitive planet he has just visited. To that end, he hands his companion a strange woodlike artifact which is not wood, but which has a small hollow on one side. As the space traveler goes on with his story, the other cannot help but use his thumb to continually stroke the hollow. It is as if he is being hypnotized by it, but if so, to what end?

   I wish I could tell you more, or even hint at more, but I can’t. Suffice it to say that if you play close attention to what the one man tells the other about life on the planet, everything is there to fall into place at the sweetly foreshadowed ending. Emphasis on sweetly, as say a Stanley Ellin story in another genre altogether.

or WILLIAM ARD’s The Diary and JONATHAN LATIMER’S Murder in the Madhouse, by TONY BAER.


   There was some review on the back of a Maigret book that said something about how many countless traveling businessmen had been comforted, salved, and assuaged in their lonely motel rooms by these books.

   So I guess that’s where I’m going with this.

   Murder in the Madhouse is the first of the Bill Crane detective novels. He’s been assigned to investigate a theft of a strongbox of one of the inmates. He enters incognito, ‘disguised’ as a crazy drunkard who thinks he’s a great detective.

   Once he arrives, a series of murders ensue, for which he serves as a chief suspect of the local stupid sheriff.

   Crane’s detection is surprisingly effective, and justice, after drinks, is served.

   The Diary (Timothy Dane #3), is pretty much a straight ripoff of The Big Sleep. Dane gets called in by a millionaire widower because he is being blackmailed over his sexpot 18 year old daughter’s stolen diary. Murders ensue, for which Dane serves as chief suspect of the stupid DA. Dane’s detection is surprisingly suspect, and justice, hold the drinks, is served.

   Both the books are well told. The authors are natural born writers, who write smoothly, entreatingly, and know how to tie a thing together.

   You finish the book, and it’s done. You won’t remember it.

   On the other hand, in the time that you’re in it, you’re in it. It holds you.

   And all of the terrible shit of the world, and of the day, it disappears.

   And the smartass detective, buzzing off highballs, poor, honest, and self sufficient, keeps punching onward against a screwed up world.

   Thank you, Mr. Hardboiled Detective, for showing us the way.

          “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” — Beckett



THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT. West Germany, 1957. Zenith International Films, US. 1959. Originally released as Nacht, wenn der Teufel kam. Claus Holm, Mario Adorf, Hans Messemer, Peter Carsten, Carl Lange, Werner Peters, Annemarie Düringer, Monika John. Screenplay by Werner Jörg, from an article by Will Berthold. Directed by Robert Siodmak.

   This fine West German film noir, by noir master Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady) is based on a true story that bears an uncanny resemblance to a similar incident in the Soviet Union, a powerful condemnation and revealing expose of the twisted mindset of totalitarian governments regardless of their political leanings.

   The time is the summer of 1944 with the West and the Russians both pushing forward and Germany under constant bombardment from Allied planes. Wounded hero Kommissar Axel Kersten (Claus Holm) has returned to Berlin from the Russian front sick of war and heroics with shrapnel in his leg and still less than enamored of his Nazi superiors, which is why he is less than happy when he is assigned a murder in Hamburg of a waitress, one Lucy Hansen (Monika John) by minor Nazi functionary Willi Keun (Werner Peters).

   It seems all rather cut and dried. Keun frequently pestered and sexually harassed the woman, is known for being free with his hands with women, and her body was found in the doorway of his flat during an air raid with her neck broken. There is everything but an eyewitness to the murder.

   But Kersten sees inconsistencies and we the viewer know Keun is innocent, however little we sympathize with him. The film is very careful not to allow the viewer to identify with Keun. He’s a small bureaucratic monster, just not a murderer. Saving him is an act of conscience and justice, not any virtue he possesses.

   For Kersten the case doesn’t hold up either, not the least problem being the fact the soft Keun could not possibly have had the strength to strangle a healthy grown woman and shatter her hyoid bone with one hand. It just isn’t possible.

   Further when he starts looking, he finds a series of murders in Hamburg dating back to before the war that suggests a serial killer, a madman, is stalking the women of the city.

   Complicating things for Kersten is a developing romance with Helga Hornung (Annemarie Düringer) who has secrets of her own and pressure in from charming cynical SS Grupenfüher Rossdorf (Hans Messemer) who informs him in no uncertain terms that in Adolf Hitler’s Germany there is no such thing as a mentally degenerate serial killer and Willi Keun’s trial and certain conviction will be expedited.

   There are a few spoilers here, but this is not a detective story or a suspense film really. It has element of those, but they aren’t the purpose here.

   Kersten continues to push though and soon enough he discovers simple minded Bruno Lüdke (Mario Adorf) who has a reputation for hanging around women, but even when he has a confession from the real killer he may not be able to save Willi Keun from a corrupt bureaucracy and the State’s unwillingness to face reality while his actions expose him and Helga to increasing danger.

   In the Nazi Germany of 1944 Bruno Lüdke simply cannot exist no matter how many women he murdered.

   Ironic and intelligent, West Germany submitted this as their 1958 entry in the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards. With a cast more familiar to American audiences than most (Messeemer, Carsten, and Peters in particular), a lean script, and Robert Siodmak at the helm having returned to his homeland after work in Hollywood dried up, The Devil Strikes at Night is a taut and cynical film that covers much of the same ground as much bigger productions like Night of the Generals, based on the bestselling Hans Helmut Kirst novel. The sheer banality of evil has seldom been as well presented.

   Holm, Messemer, Adorf, and Peters are particularly effective with Holm’s decent man caught in a moral predicament easy to identify with. The almost Orwellian lengths a society is willing to go to to deny the truth, even at the cost of an innocent life and one of their own gives added weight to the film.

   It would have been simple to make Willi Keun a sympathetic character and identify the viewer with him and Kersten’s attempt to save him, but this film chooses a more complex path with Keun a pathetic self-serving cog in the very machine that destroys him, and Kersten’s crusade to save him almost quixotic considering he represents everything Kersten loathes.

   The grim reality of a few decent people in a society where madness is the norm trying to survive when national suicide is seen as heroic and inevitable makes this a powerful film and still effective.

   It, and quite a few German Krimi films are currently available on YouTube with English subtitles, and while most of them are more along the lines of the somewhat campy Edgar Wallace films there are some gems among them worth looking into.


LAWRENCE SANDERS – The Tangent Factor. Peter Tangent #2. Putnam’s, hardcover, 1978. Berkley, paperback, 1979.

   Out of the patchwork quilt that’s the map of present-day Africa comes a dream of a united continent. Obiri Anokye is today but the ruler of the small (fictional) country of Asante, but with a little help from busily pumping oil wells, and the advice of men like Peter Tangent, nominally a representative of American commercial interests, that dream may yet become a reality.

   It’d be unfair to reveal whether this novel ends as a setback toward that goal, or as a step forward, but as a story it does suffer from the fact that the effort has by no means ended. Nevertheless, rich in detail but still aesthetically lean in dialogue and characterization, and punctuated briefly by sophisticated sex and extreme violence, this has all the hallmarks of a top seller.

Rating: C plus

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1978.

ROB LEININGER – January Cold Kill. Gabrielle Johns #1. CreateSpace, softcover, 2014. Also available on Kindle.

   Who knew that it snows all the time in Reno in January? Two to three inches at a time. Maybe more. It doesn’t interfere in any way with Gabbi’s latest case, though; it only provides an interesting backdrop to it, which involves an old school friend, Ashley Dinsmore, who’s being stalked in a very unusual way.

   To wit: he has pictures of her in a, shall we say, a very compromising way. What he wants, though, is not at all clear. Blackmail? Not a hint of it. Instead, he calls her on the phone and more, follows her around everywhere she goes, and all the while declaring his undying love for her.

   Gabbi herself is as much a part of the story as the puzzle itself. She is a statuesque blonde former showgirl who for a while was an assistant to her former father-in-law who is a PI (her name is still on the door). But even though while doing so she discovered a knack of picking locks, she is now a professional gambler and doing quite well at it. She can’t turn down an old school friend, though, especially with such a strange case to work on.

   Gabbi tells her own story, and quite wittily too. From the 77% point on my Kindle:

   I had dinner with Bill. I brought over wine and French bread and he cooked. Spaghetti. Once, in an adventurous mood or in a never-to-be-repeated fit of optimism, I tried to cook spaghetti. It congealed into a noodly-looking gray mass that might have had industrial or scientific significance, I threw it out anyway, missing out on my one and only chance at a Nobel Prize.    

   The story zips along in fine fashion, with Gabbi using a small crew of geriatric friends to come along whenever she needs backup. Until the end, that is, that takes ever so long to tie up what ends up being a very complicated case, as told by the killer who has to go into considerable detail to explain everything. I think if I were a killer, and I had the detective who is onto me all trussed up with duck tape, I’d just add her to my list of victims, right then and there.

   I’d still read another of Gabbi’s adventures, though — there are, after all, eleven months yet to go — but for reasons not known to me, there never was another one.



NINJA III: THE DOMINATION. The Cannon Group/Golan-Globus Productions, 1984. Shô Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett, David Chung, Dale Ishimoto, James Hong. Screenwriter: James R. Silke. Director: Sam Firstenberg.

   Cinema takes different forms. Some movies are certainly a high art form; others are lowbrow popcorn fare. Then there’s Ninja III: The Domination, which I got to see as part of Cinematic Void’s presentation in conjunction with American Cinematheque. Released by the Cannon Group, this schlock fest blends the 1980s ninja obsession with supernatural elements, creating something entirely new, extremely weird, and very clumsy.

   Directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja), the plot follows Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), a professional telephone lineswoman and part-time aerobics instructor who becomes demonically possessed by a deceased ninja assassin. Yes, you read that right. How’s that for a set-up?

   She’s also romantically involved with a police officer, the caring, but generally clueless Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett). He knows something is very wrong with Christie. But because he doesn’t know exactly what, he takes her to a Japanese alchemist (James Hong) who summons the hidden ninja demon within. It’s a hilariously bad – but also stunningly good – scene that pays, er, homage to William Friedkin’s classic horror film The Exorcist (1973). The audience cheered and lapped up every minute.

   A ninja film, of course, wouldn’t be a ninja film without the singular presence of Japanese martial artist and actor Shô Kosugi. Here he portrays the good ninja, an eye-patched and stoic warrior who flies in from Japan to defeat the supernatural ninja warrior spirit. Kosugi is an exceptional martial artist. His stunt scenes are compelling; he just simply didn’t have the face or persona that made someone like Jackie Chan a household name in the 1990s.

   If anyone tells you that Ninja III: The Domination is a great film, they’re most likely lying to you. But if they tell you that it’s great fun, I think they’re being honest. Who would have thought that dozens of people would have turned out on a Monday night almost forty years after it was released into theaters to laugh and to clap at one of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s weirdest movies?


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