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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/20/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 3, Whole Number 1450
Table of Contents
Bubble Gum Memories (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Those who remember bubble gum cards of the past may enjoy seeing the photo images of the complete runs of some of the series. Central to their collection is the complete run of "Mars Attacks" cards. These cards were the lurid cross-breeding of "Horrors of War" cards form the 1930s with super-science images inspired, I suspect, by the 1953 film THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. The site is:
You can see some of the Horrors of War cards at:
Misunderstanding (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I guess I just sometimes just react wrong to science fiction films. In QUATERMASS II (here called ENEMY FROM SPACE) there is supposedly a government project to make synthetic food. An investigator sneaks around security and comes in contact with the supposed food. The contact proves fatal as he escapes from the tank screaming, "It burns!" Most of the audience seems to have gotten nightmares from the scene. I am there thinking, "When can they get it on the market and is it better than Tabasco?" [-mrl]
I AM LEGEND and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that this year we will get another film version of Richard Matheson's novel I AM LEGEND. It is no big feat to choose what would be the Great British Horror Novel. It would take most horror fans about ten seconds and they almost certainly would come back with either Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN or Bram Stoker's DRACULA. But is there a Great American Horror Novel? If there is, I think it would have to be Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND. The new version will be the first time a film is coming out with the novel's original title. (There was a Spanish short called "Soy Leyenda" (1967) I learn from the IMDB, but it is only fifteen minutes long.) In fact, I suspect that few non-fans of horror will even recognize the name I AM LEGEND.
For those who are unfamiliar with the title, this is a novel first published in 1954. As we come upon Robert Neville, he seems to be the last human in the world. But the world is not empty. It is now populated mostly by something like vampires. He lives a lonely existence, killing the vampires as they rest during the day and hiding in his house at night as the vampires try to break in or tempt him out. The situation is just reversed from Dracula. One human stalks and is stalked by a world of vampires. These are not really supernatural vampires in the Dracula sense. But they are the creatures who were probably the inspiration for the vampire folklore. A pandemic diseasehas burned through the world in the 1970s. There was no resistance to the disease.
Some of my scariest mental images of plague and what it would do to modern society come from this book. Nothing that the government can do can stop the plague in spite of ruthless measures to burn the victims as soon as it is even suspected they are carriers. Through some freak of nature it turns out that Robert Neville was the only human who somehow had a resistance. As the world is dying it becomes apparent that the death that seems to come at the end of the disease is not really death at all, but what must be a very deep coma. The victims come back to life and the disease has left them with symptoms that closely match many of the characteristics of vampires in folklore. Neville spends much of the book trying to understand the biology of the transformed humans that try to kill him each night. The book is not about violent fights and not really about the vampires at all. It is about Neville's isolation and how he copes with the loss not just of his family, but of his species. He really is the last human.
To the best of my knowledge this is only the second story to suggest that there could be natural causes for vampirism and to remove vampires from the realm of the supernatural. The only previous such suggestion I know of was in one of the final Dracula films of Universal's 1930 to 1945 series. HOUSE OF DRACULA suggested that Dracula's symptoms were the result of pressure on his brain. Of course, that was not a very satisfying explanation how Dracula could do things like turning into bats. Attempting to give a scientific reason for supernatural vampiric powers has become a common mistake. The vampires in the "Blade" series seem to have traditional supernatural powers, but they also seem to be given their condition by blood chemistry. It is hard to believe blood chemistry could give powers of so supernatural a character like the ability to turn into a bat.
To date there have been only two film adaptations of the book I AM LEGEND. There was one version that was going to be done by Hammer Films of Britain with Matheson himself writing the screenplay. Somehow they let the project get away from them and it was made in Italy as an international production, with Vincent Price playing Robert Morgan (changed from Neville). The title became THE LAST MAN ON EARTH or L'ULTIMO UOMO DELLA TERRA. The screenplay was supposedly so altered that Matheson wanted his name taken off and his name appears as Logan Swanson. That is his personal penname for works he does not want to be associated with. In retrospect this may have been a decision he might have come to regret. This is not really a bad adaptation of the book. There are a number of issues concerning who actually directed the film. There was an Italian director for most of the actors and an American for Price. Some prints listed Italian director Ubaldo Ragona and some list the American Sidney Salkow. This was a film that was unappreciated for many years after its 1964 release, but now is getting positive critical attention.
If Matheson did not like the Italian production, Boris Sagal's American adaptation, entitled OMEGA MAN (1971) was much worse and much less faithful to his story. John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington who adapted the screenplay, turned into a bad action story full of unsubtle politically correct messages. Charleton Heston played the hero with a machine gun and a motor scooter. Charleton Heston is about as far from Matheson's dark brooding survivor as is Will Smith, who will be the 2007 Robert Neville. On the other hand the 1964 version would have seemed miscast also. Curiously the film featured Vincent Price without his customary over-the-top style. I have heard it claimed that this was Price's best performance in any film.
In spite of the inexpensive production of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, it was not only more faithful to the book than was OMEGA MAN, it probably has remained one of the most faithful of the many adaptations of Matheson stories to the screen. That film version has had a long reach. George Romero openly admits that the images of the dead besieging the house of isolated living people was a major inspiration of THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. All of the films that followed in imitation of THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD owe their inspiration to THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and Matheson's I AM LEGEND. But few have handled the theme as well.
American International Pictures released THE LAST MAN ON EARTH on a throwaway double feature with UNEARTHLY STRANGER, a superb British science fiction thriller, now even rarer than THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. I was knocked over by what I thought were two such excellent films. Both were black-and-white films, probably contributing to their obscurity. Neither got much attention at the time. UNEARTHLY STRANGER has dropped from sight entirely. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH seems to have fallen out of copyright and has become one of those films that shows up on bargain DVDs that offer something like ten films for five dollars.
Unlike DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, I AM LEGEND is short and powerful and very sparely written. The book is two or three hours of sharp nightmare. Matheson himself is at once widely recognized and still under-appreciated. I hope that before he dies he comes to be recognized for the astounding length and breadth of his contribution to American fantastic fiction. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
[This continues the description of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle.]
The next gallery was "THEM!" A short video illustrated the themes of "Robots in Your Future", "Robots: Metal or Mortals?", "Robots: Our Helpful Servants", and "Robots: Friends of Foes?"
Naturally, the Three Laws of Robotics were quoted:
A display with Robbie and B9 noted that Robert Kinoshita designed both of them. As familiar as everyone is with Robbie, I doubt that one in a hundred could tell you who designed him.
Daggit in the 1978 "Battlestar Galactica" was played by a chimpanzee in a suit, which they had. They also had a giant "Alien Queen".
"SETI: Fiction and Fact" had subsections "Are We Alone?", "The Drake Equation", "Communication Across the Stars", "Are They Here Already?", and "Where Are They?" There was, of course, a video about aliens. With "A Martian Odyssey", Stanley Weinbaum was noted as the first author to present an alien as a "person" (or more accurately a being with a personality, motivation, etc.). With "Destroyer", A. E. Van Vogt was the first to write from the alien point of view.
In the center of the room was an "Interplanetary Cafe", which was not rally a cafe. It had a special section on "The War of the Worlds" which included the lesser-known work "The Martian" by George du Maurier, and a section on "Heat Rays and the Cold War". "The Invasion Continues" had various sequels and spin-offs: "The White Mountains" by John Christopher, "The Second War of the Worlds" by George H. Smith, and "War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches" edited by Kevin J. Anderson. Finishing up were items from "The Coneheads" and "Red Dwarf", and models and items from "Destination Moon".
We finished this about 1:30PM, so this room also took about an hour.
There was a separate room that was strictly an art exhibit. I think this may change periodically. Currently it was "Alien Encounters", with artists' depictions of aliens. The exhibit included:
Quotes at the end of the entire exhibit included:
"The future isn't what it used to be." [Arthur C. Clarke]
"The future is up for grabs. it belongs to any and all who will take the risk." [Robert Anton Wilson]
"That which is never attempted never transpires." [Jack Vance]
"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible." [Arthur C. Clarke]
We finished the Museum about 2PM, so the whole thing took four hours. There is a shop, but it consists almost entirely of souvenir hats, shirts, etc., with the Science Fiction Museum logo on them, and hardly any books (or even DVDs).
[to be continued, with comments on the EMP, and closing thoughts] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The best way to convince a fool that he is wrong is to let him have his own way. -- Josh Billings
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