Modern Pulp Jul 16 2016
MACHINE POWERED
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.


This poster for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine was made for the movie's premiere in Bangkok. Every blue moon or so Hollywood decides to update a ’40s film noir. Sometimes these are excellent movies—Body Heat as a rework of Double Indemnity comes to mind. Sharky's Machine is based on William Diehl's novel of the same name, which is a restyling of 1944's Laura. If you haven't seen Laura, a detective falls in love with a murdered woman, focusing these feelings upon her portrait, which is hanging over the mantle in her apartment. In Sharky's Machine the hero, Atlanta vice detective Burt Reynolds, falls in love with Rachel Ward via his surveillance of her during a prostitution investigation, and is left to deal with his lingering feelings when she's killed.

When Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in her artistic choices, we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree. Reynolds' 24/7 surveillance of a high priced hooker is not near frank enough. This is where vice, voyeurism, and sleaze as subtext should have come together overtly, as it does in Diehl's unflinchingly detailed novel, rather than as stylized montages, which is what Reynolds opts for.
 
Sex and nudity aren't always gratuitous. The plot driver in old film noirs is often sex, but it couldn't be shown. Remaking a noir affords the opportunity to explore the sexual aspect further, as in Body Heat, where it's literally the lure of sex with no boundaries—exemplified in that famous (but implied) anal scene—that snares the hero in an insane murder plot. In Sharky's Machine it's sexual objectification that is the initial driver. Reynolds' loves Ward's body first and her personality later, but the surveillance that is the key to this is barely explored.

It's a missed opportunity to not only make a better thriller, but to examine this lust-to-love transition as an aspect of all romantic relationships. Reynolds doubled as both star and director of the film, and while his relative newbie status in the latter realm may be a reason he didn't push the envelope, he still manages in his third outing helming a motion picture to put together a final product that is stylish, dark, and neon-streaked—everything a neo-noir should be. Upon release many critics had problems with tone—violence and humor seemed to clash. Reynolds' was a semi-comedic cinematic figure and his previous two directorial efforts had been comedies, which may have led to jokes leaking into unusual moments of the film. But these days the mix of violence and comedy is common, so we doubt you'll be terribly annoyed by these few incongruities.

The main flaw with the movie, besides its chasteness, is not its tone, but that it feels compressed in the latter third, especially as relates to the love subplot. True, the film is already a shade over two hours long, but it's time that flies by, populated as it is by so many interesting roles and great actors (Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Vittorio Gassman, Charles Durning). Another seven minutes would not have hurt. Still, we recommend this one. It should have been as bold a noir rework as Body Heat, but there's plenty to entertain in other areas, and Hollywood may make this film perfect yet—a new version of Sharky's Machine is in development with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Hah hah—who are we kidding? They'll screw it up completely. You already know that.

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Modern Pulp Jun 2 2016
POLICIACO FORCE
Novedades Editores takes readers on a five city tour of street crime and murder.

Mexican pulp art has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the efforts of vendors and collectors. It differs from U.S. pulp in that it was produced decades later—during the 1970s and forward. The covers you see here today are prime examples of what is generally classified as Mexican pulp, made for the comic book series El libro policiaco, or "The Police Book," and published by Novedades Editores during the early 2000s. The series was so popular that, like the U.S. television show C.S.I., the books diversified into multiple cities—New Orleans, New York City, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Each city's stories centered around a local police department staffed by a multi-ethnic array of cops and support personnel. And as the banner text proclaims, the interior art was indeed in color, ninety-two pages of it per issue. All the covers here were created by Jorge Aviña, an artist who began his career during the 1970s, and has had his work exhibited in London, Switzerland, Barcelona, and Paris. We'll have more from El libro policiaco a bit later.


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Modern Pulp Apr 17 2016
ROOM IN ROME
In search of the perfect O.

There's nothing special about this poster for Mado kara Roma ga mieru, aka Roma dalla finestra, aka Rome from a Window, other than perhaps that it's double-sided, as you see at right. But the movie does feature Kimiko Nakayama, which is no small thing. Shot in Italy by a Japanese director with a mostly Italian cast and crew, it's the story of a photographer named Carlo, his wife, Nakayama's character O, and the various sexual entanglements these three experience, both between themselves and with others.
 
This being a movie from Japan's infamous roman porno genre, it's in no way a surprise that the photographer meets O because he comes across her peeing. She happens to be doing this at the monument marking the site where Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in 1975, beaten to death by an assailant or assailants then run over several times with his own car. When Carlo and O get together later for fun and games she comments upon the prodigious size of his member, to which he responds that he is of normal Italian size. As a joke, it can cut both ways, as can many aspects of the movie.
 
In general, it's all very weird, possibly because director Masuo Ikeda, who also wrote the screenplay, was foremost a painter, sculptor, ceramist, printmaker and award-winning novelist who only dabbled in film direction. The sense of artistic freedom, in terms of not being concerned with following norms, really shows. With an atmospheric soundtrack from Paul Mauriat (the sleeve is just above and right) that is better remembered than the actual movie, Mado kara Roma ga mieru, aka Roma dalla finestra premiered in Japan today in 1982. And just because we had it laying around, below is a shot of Nakayama to go along with one we shared several years ago.
 


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Modern Pulp Jan 22 2016
CANDID CAMERA
How far would you go to get the perfect shot?


A freelance photographer who has spent his career documenting the mean streets of New York City, always arriving in the aftermath of terrible events, finds himself presented with the opportunity to photograph a gangland massacre at the instant it occurs. One crime family has decided to wipe out another and Joe Pesci's Leon Bernstein, aka the Great Bernzini, knows where and when it will happen. He wants up close photos and the only way he can get them is to be in the restaurant where the killings will happen. After two decades of seeing his photography ignored by the art world, he thinks pulling off this feat will make everyone take notice of him. Bernzini is reckless the same way Jimmy Stewart is in Rear Window, but in less cartoonish fashion because we’re taken inside his thought process and made to understand it.

There's more here of course—love, loneliness, social status, musings about art—but the shootout and whether Bernzini is crazy enough to shut himself in a room where one stray bullet could end his life is what the film is really about. The Public Eye, which appeared in 1992, was a clear influence (along with the French film Man Bites Dog), on the acclaimed 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, but this one is a period piece, set during 1942. While the historical details are convincing, director Howard Franklin and cinematographer Peter Suschitztky don't aim for a true noir look. The filmscape is dark, but not technically stylish. Still it's good, and it benefits from Pesci, who has a way of inhabiting roles to the extent that you can't imagine anyone else playing them. He makes the movie work.

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Modern Pulp Dec 15 2015
MAX OVERDRIVE
The rocker, the roller, the out of controller.

Mad Max premiered in Australia in April 1979 and made its way to Japan a few months later. Significantly, the U.S. premiere came after Japan—as well as Portugal, Italy, Holland, and Spain—and when it finally happened it was at The Motorcycle Film Festival in Seguin, Texas, several months before a wide U.S. release. The point is it’s amazing how careful the filmmakers were about releasing the movie in what was the world’s most lucrative film market. They weren't sure how American audiences would react to something so leftfield, but of course it did well enough there to become a series, and now a rebooted franchise helmed by original director George Miller. The Japanese poster above, painted by Tom Beauvais, was made for the movie’s Tokyo premiere today in 1979.

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Modern Pulp Nov 13 2015
THINGS CHANGE
Survival of the scariest.

It’s appropriate The Thing is about a monster that constantly evolves, because it’s another of those ’80s sci-fi movies, like Blade Runner, where most reviews of the day were unflattering, but have since evolved to acknowledge the high quality of the film. The Thing isn’t just great—it’s visionary. The cold, the vastness, the silence, the bone weariness of a bunch of working class scientists pitted against an interstellar horror right out of Lovecraft—a movie of this type could never be made today, as the less effective 2011 prequel proved. The ’80s Thing took the ’50s original and gave it grit and terror. The 2011 version lost the grit and, with its abundant CGI, managed only a few scares. You know, here’s the thing about CGI—producers always want the cutting edge of possibility, but those effects never look real. They’d be better off asking CGI techs to do only what they’ve truly mastered. Just because you can get the computers to render it doesn’t mean it looks good, or that it’s good storytelling. But don’t get us started. The above poster and promo pamphlet were made for the premiere of the second version of The Thing in Japan today in 1982. 

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Modern Pulp Sep 24 2015
PROFIT MOTIVE
Hookers, sports cars, yachts, serious consideration as a U.S. presidential candidate—I can buy anything now!

Here’s that unidentified Mexican artist from a few weeks ago again and he’s got a theme going with the money and the cruelty. This time the tables are turned. The person with the cash in this piece entitled Matenme por Piedad, is about meet a bad end via strangulation, whereas last time the money guy was winning. We like this one better.

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Modern Pulp Sep 15 2015
FUTURE SHOCK
1982 vision of a wrecked future gets better with time.

Did we already mention that the Blade Runner sequel will suck? We did, we think, and then expounded upon Ridley Scott’s fiasco Prometheus. But Blade Runner is an undisputed classic, one of our favorite films, part of a top ten that includes for us Casablanca, Chinatown, Altered States (and a few non-pulp movies such as Dazed and Confused). It’s worth noting that the movie wasn’t well reviewed upon release. Critics have slowly upgraded their opinions over time to the point where Blade Runner now has one of the highest ratings you’ll find. The upgrades are nice, but it’s kind of funny how far over critics’ heads the movie went at the time. It premiered in June 1982, and first showed in France today the same year. The French promo poster isn’t wonderful, and that’s why we have a collection of stills below to celebrate the watershed event of Blade Runner’s creation. These augment the promos we’ve already shared here, and here. Now let’s just hope they scrap that sequel. 

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Modern Pulp Aug 28 2015
WALKING A TIGHTROPE
The makers of Female Teacher: Rope Hell needed to learn a lesson or two.


Based on a bdsm novel written by the acclaimed Oniroku Dan, Onna kyôshi nawa jigoku, aka Female Teacher: Rope Hell, is yet another Japanese exploration of the pleasures, pains, and limits of sexual obsession and bondage. Frankly, this one is a bit tedious. There’s a razor thin line between thoughtful and dangerous when dealing with this kind of material. When Japanese films, in particular, end up on the wrong side of that line, you really have a mess on your hands. We understand, yes, that bad men aren’t always punished in real life. But this isn’t real life. It's just a movie, and punishment is key. In fact, for us it’s the entire point. It’s the only thing that makes these films watchable. But in this case, the abusive male ties up the two objects of his obsession and is tormenting them when one of his candles sets an accidental fire. He and the bound women burn to death. His obsession destroyed them all. That’s the end. Roll credits. Hope we didn’t ruin it for you.

The fixation Japanese film has with sexual abuse is curious. It often occurs for pretty straightforward narrative reasons—rape, or perhaps the murder of husbands and children, or often all three, are the triggers that transform women into terrifying revenants. The mostly thirty-something writers and directors who conceived these plots were taking swipes at Japan’s patriarchal social structure by first explicitly revealing a sexist status quo, then allowing feminine power to demolish it. Or so it seems to us. In that way pinku does not differ from blaxploitation. In those, it’s a racist status quo that is revealed and demolished. However revenge movies represent only a slice of the Japanese whole. Many films feature degradation without revenge, in which case we think it needs to be very carefully done to avoid endorsing such behavior. Major fail on that account here. All respect to Oniroku Dan, but excesses such as a forced enema and subsequent sloppy evacuation onto a man’s face are not things we can get behind, so to speak. Onna kyôshi nawa jigoku premiered in Japan today in 1981.

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Modern Pulp Aug 26 2015
BACK IN THE STRADDLE
I’d love to chat, but I really have to split now.


Not all of our Japanese posters are of the vintage variety, and the eye-catching piece you see above is an example from our stash of newer promo art. It was made for Ranchijo: Bikyaku Feromon, which translates to—ready for this?—something like “turbulent slut legs pheromone.” Hey, we just work here. The movie never had a Western release, so there’s never been a Western title assigned to it, which means a ridiculous literal translation from the Japanese is all you get. Maybe one of our readers out in that part of the world will write in with a better interpretation. 

The movie is about a university professor who becomes obsessed with a rhythmic gymnast played by Sayaka Kitagawa. Basically, what you have here is an erotic production built around the idea of flexibility, because flexibility is Kitagawa’s thing—she’s gotten bent in most of her flicks and she’s really good at it. In this one she does a bit with a hula hoop that’s rather interesting and, while wearing pink lingerie, performs some standing splits similar to what you see on the poster. 59 minutes of mind- and body-bending fun, Ranchijo: Bikyaku Feromon premiered in Japan today in 2004.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 25
1943—Mussolini Calls It Quits
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini steps down as head of the armed forces and the government. It soon becomes clear that Il Duce did not relinquish power voluntarily, but was forced to resign after former Fascist colleagues turned against him. He is later installed by Germany as leader of the Italian Social Republic in the north of the country, but is killed by partisans in 1945.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.

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