Modern Pulp Jan 21 2014
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE
Kim Ji-woon’s thriller is hard to take but beautiful to behold.


Thanks to the wonder of downloading—er, we mean the legal purchase of a DVD at a sanctioned commercial outlet—this weekend we were able to re-screen one of our favorite recent movies, the 2010 South Korean gutwrencher Angmareul boatda, aka I Saw the Devil. Last time we watched it we didn’t write about it, but we think it’s a good time to recommend the movie because today was its official American premiere date. Amazingly, that unveiling was at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Well, nobody felt like dancing by the time the movie ended, you can be sure. Often lumped in with horror or torture porn movies, in truth I Saw the Devil is an unflinching but high-gloss revenge thriller, beautifully shot, and carefully paced. The revenge in question is directed toward a serial killer and director Kim Ji-woon’s documentation of that person’s gory exploits is where much of the movie’s early mayhem occurs.

Unlike many American films, I Saw the Devil doesn’t soften the impact of violence by turning it into a technical showcase for an fx house—the movie tries its best to make those scenes frightening yet somehow banal. No heads explode, nobody is thrown in a tire shredder, and nobody is impaled by a pair of skis. The most proximate cause of nearly every human death in history—technically speaking—has been lack of oxygen to the brain. Oxygen very often stops going to the brain because the blood needed to carry it there has gone somewhere else—the floor, for example. I Saw the Devil explores that concept with vivid clarity. Above is one of the American posters, and below is the original South Korean promo.


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Modern Pulp Jan 14 2014
THAI SCI-FI
Who knew doom and destruction could look so pretty?

Something a little different today, above are five Thai sci-fi and horror posters, showing the baroque stylings that make them so visually pleasing. The movies are, top to bottom, The Hidden, Scanners, Hex, Lifeforce, and The Believers.

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Modern Pulp Dec 11 2013
PROMETHEUS UNSOUND
We had no idea so many would disagree when we called Prometheus incoherent. We better explain ourselves.


Who’d have thought we’d stir up a hornet’s nest by criticizing Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus? We were simply making what we thought was a self-evident statement, but perhaps we’re off in left field on this one. We guess we better explain ourselves, and if you actually have the time and/or inclination to read this, we’ll be extremely flattered. First, note that defenders of Prometheus often hail the script’s unanswered questions as a virtue and suggest that haters just need everything spelled out for them. But our dislike of the film had nothing to do with unanswered questions—it had to do with failures of craft. Having been paid during our time in L.A. to write a few scripts, we know a little about story construction. Not that our opinion is any more informed than a perceptive non-writer’s, but for those who require pedigree from their pundits, we have a smidge.  

Alien worked well for many reasons, but foremost among them was its characterizations. The Nostromo’s crew is intelligent, educated, and experienced. Once they are confronted with a difficult situation, they take appropriate steps—based on the information at hand—to solve the problem. Of course, the true nature of the threat is hidden from them due to the machinations of the science officer Ash, who not only works for the faceless, heartless corporation that has arranged the entire scenario, but is not even human. Thus they never know Kane has an alien embryo in his stomach, which is why they never put him into stasis. This results in Kane’s death. Later they don’t know the alien grows at a miraculous rate. This results in Brett’s death, as he wanders the dark corridors of the Nostromo mistakenly thinking the alien is about the the size of a badger.
 
When Brett is killed the crew realizes the threat is something uniquely lethal—Parker, who barely glimpsed it, says. "Whatever it was... it was big and..."—but they still don’t know the creature is intelligent, or at least cunning. They decide that, like any animal, it will flee in a panic from fire. That’s why Dallas ventures into the ship’s ducts with a flamethrower and a plan to force the beast into an airlock. It’s only once he’s in there that the maneuvers of the creature make clear not only that it’s intelligent (or cunning), but that it intends to attack him. But it’s too late to get out. That results in Dallas’s death.
 
After this loss, Lambert quite rationally suggests fleeing—but the problem is the shuttle only has room for three. Rather than draw straws and leave one person behind, they decide to continue—with considerably more caution—trying to force the alien into an airlock, but first Ripley seeks more information from the ship’s computer. This is quite rational. Before, it was Dallas who interfaced with the computer. But his loss makes Ripley the captain and she must seek all available information. Ash, fearing either that he’ll be exposed or Ripley will ferret out something useful, decides to stop her, and in the struggle he’s decapitated and unmasked as an android. Now the crew knows the full scope of the challenge. Not only is the monster against them—so is the corporation. But with Ash gone there’s no problem with room in the shuttle, so the survivors make the rational decision to get the hell off the ship. But the alien massacres them as they make the attempt.
 
You’ll note that every link in the chain of decisions is solid and logical. The crew faces a steadily mounting problem and they devise shifting solutions—move, countermove, move, countermove—to deal with that problem as more information becomes available. And having made a logical decision at every turn, they fail. That’s a big reason why Alien is scary. The characters’ logic in dealing with the problem is unassailable—as it should be, considering their education and experience—yet they still lose. Our sympathy as viewers doesn’t derive from cheap sentiment but from our admiration for the characters’ smart approach to tough circumstances, and our horrific realization that brains isn’t enough to ensure survival. We don’t need to know more about them because they are rock solid consistent in their behavior and at no point do they deserve scorn.
 
Contrast this with Prometheus. In this you have a group even more steeped in science, yet they behave like teenagers on a field trip to Yellowstone. The entire away party irrationally takes their helmets off because the air in one part of the ancient structure they’re exploring is breathable, but they have no concern for microbes, bacteria, or airborne pathogens. The geologist Fifield irrationally freaks out at the sight of an ancient corpse, and in so doing gets lost in the charnel depths, there to later meet his demise. The zoologist Millburn irrationally approaches and attempts to touch an aggressively behaving unknown species, triggering his demise. The archaeologist Holloway sinks into an alcoholic depression because no living Engineers seem to remain, also leading to his demise, because remember, David spikes a glass of booze with organic goo and gives it to him. Would Holloway have been pounding liquor at all if he’d had enough sense to simply go about his job?
 
We could go on in this vein, but it’s clear to see that Alien relies upon its characters’ intelligence to create the framework for horror, while Prometheus relies upon its characters’ stupidity to set them up as part of the body count. In this way Prometheus doesn’t differ from Friday the 13th, which is why when advocates defend the movie as intelligent we have to chuckle a little. It’s not intelligent—it’s colossally dumb, and wefind it quite impossible to sympathize with stupid characters. While Shaw doesn’t do anything overtly ridiculous, neither does she show any analytical genius (at most, we can give her credit for intestinal fortitude and a strong will to survive). She’s a scientist, yes, because the script labels her as such, but the writers couldn’t be bothered to demonstrate her intelligence within the framework of the plot. The same can be said for all the other cardboard cutouts populating the movie.
 
We have a couple more points to make. Why does the prequel have infinitely more advanced technology than the original, which takes place later? The idea of Prometheus as retro-futurism is a tantalizing missed opportunity, not just in terms of production design, but because a lower-tech future similar to Alien’s would have been scarier. But no, the front office types say lights and bells dazzle the masses, so the movie has floating laser probes where Alien, which takes place later, has mostly bolts, jury-rigging, and wishful thinking. It’s pure Hollywood logic. A big budget movie must have gadgetry—period. Thus we have David spying on Shaw’s dreams. What purpose does this intrusion serve? It reveals to him how Shaw’s father died, but he could have gotten that info from a sheet of paper in a manila folder. The scene exists only to flaunt pointless fx.
 
There are a hundred other problems with the movie, from its unneeded intro sequence to its outro of a full grown semi-alien emerging from an Engineer’s body to Meredith Vickers’ hilarious inability to dodge left or right, but we’ll leave all those alone for now. But we do have one last question. When Fifield gets his face burned off and Millburn gets to deep throat an alien worm, why is it Fifield who comes back as a homicidal monster, rather than something that gestated inside Millburn? It’s a very minor point, but it highlights the sloppiness of the script. If the ship must be attacked, why not have it attacked by something that grew from within the character that was obviously implanted by something? This would be consistent with the established alien life cycle. Having the weaponized goo turn Fifield into a monster is extraneous. The movie was so desperate to show an alien that it tacked one onto the end. Why not instead simply have an alien grow inside Millburn and use that creature as the centerpiece of the attack against the ship? Utterly baffling.
 
Are we hard on the film? Yes, and everyone should be, because the difference between Prometheus and a low budget sci-fi throwaway is the same as the difference between a street magician guessing your card and David Copperfield making a limousine disappear from onstage at Caesar’s Palace. The breadth of the ambition determines the intensity of the scrutiny. It has always been that way with art, it always will be that way, and it’s completely appropriate. The world expects more of thosewho show great ambition. That’s why a dinky little pulp cover can be praised with the same vocabulary used for the Mona Lisa. Before art can be great it must first meet or exceed expectations. That doesn’t mean expectations can’t be misplaced. It happens all the time. But not in this case. Prometheus was promoted as a scintillating piece of deep-thinking entertainment. While it looks amazing, two viewings of it (we watched it again last night) only make us more certain that it's just a loud, shiny failure.
 
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Modern Pulp Oct 3 2013
FONDA EMBRACE
In space no one can hear you orgasm.

It isn’t often one finds new material on Jane Fonda’s 1968 sci-fi classic Barbarella, so we were surprised to run across this item. It’s a guide booklet for the movie’s 1993 re-release in Japan, and we managed to steal a few images and clean them up in Photoshop. See below.


 
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Modern Pulp | Vintage Pulp Sep 26 2013
BETTER THAN FICTION
Hiroyuki Nakano’s sword opera Samurai Fiction challenges festival audience but ultimately leaves it satisfied.


San Sebastian in general and Cinema Caravan in particular are keeping us busy, but we have time for a quick post, so here we go. Last night we attended a screening of Hiroyuki Nakano’s 1998 adventure/comedy SF: Episode One, also known as Samurai Fiction. It’s a quirky movie, imaginatively shot mostly in black and white, and involves a young samurai on a mission to both avenge a friend’s death and retrieve a priceless sword. He encounters an ex-samurai who tries to teach him the wisdom of non-violence, with limited success. The movie is set in 1689 and looks a bit like Kurosawa’s great period pieces, but subverts that similarity with its humor and modern rock 'n’ roll soundtrack. Since it was in Japanese with English subtitles, the mostly Basque audience was perhaps a bit baffled, but even those with language difficulties could enjoy the film’s visual creativity, and ultimately everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Watching Samurai Fiction got us thinking about our many Japanese posters, and because we actually have access to that stuff wherever we go, we decided to share five of the nicer pieces in our collection. In terms of  information on these, time is a little tight to research them carefully, but here’s what we know: poster one—nothing; poster two—Nawa Hada Jigoku: Rope Skin Hell, with Naomi Tani, 1979; poster three—we’re unsure on that one, but that’s definitely Kayoko Honoo in the art; poster four—Kapone no shatei, yamato damashi, aka A Boss with a Samurai Spirit, with Tomisaburô Wakayama, 1971; poster five—nothing. But check back in a week or so and we’ll have added everything we can find out to this post. See ya later.


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Modern Pulp Jun 26 2013
DIVE RIGHT IN
Lovely day for a swim, don’t you think?


Above is a poster for the Japanese comedy Shikijô ama: Fundoshi matsuri, which in English is known as Nympho Diver: G-String Festival. Yes, that’s right—Nympho Diver: G-String Festival. With a title that descriptive, it would be a disappointment if there weren’t nympho divers and a g-string festival, but the movie actually delivers what it preposterously seems to promise. It all comes about when the men of a backwater fishing village recruit five young women to serve as “amas,” which are basically topless divers that forage for pearls or abalone. The main goal is to attract tourists to the village, but if the locals’ bland sex lives receive a boost, well, that’s fine too. The girls dutifully arriveand commence their diving chores, but the expected hordes of tourists fail to materialize, whereupon one diver reads about an ancient g-string festival. The village fathers decide that such an event is just what’s needed to get the word out, and so there you have it—nympho divers and a g-string festival.

Shikijô ama: Fundoshi matsuri is packed with sex, albeit of the clumsy, boob groping, simulated type, but of course Japanese movies couldn’t show pubic hair back then, so everything had to be achieved with camera angles and physical acting. The script actually takes a moment to acknowledge this during a scene in which one diver cavorts about nude except for her hand covering her privates. As she bounces around the room, her panicked minder cries, “Stop! They haven’t lifted the ban on pubic hair yet!” Nicely done, that. The film has other, similarly clever moments, but its comic aspects derive primarily from the fact that nearly all the men of the village are goofy, middle-aged schlubs, which gives the sexual proceedings a slapstick air. We’re not big fans of badlysimulated sex or slapstick comedy, but that doesn’t mean Nympho Diver doesn’t work. It’s good-natured, moves fast, has an interesting romantic subplot, and what can’t be disputed is that lovely star Eri Anzai goes about her role with wit, vivacity and very little clothing, as you see in the below promo shots of her and co-stars Maria Mari and Kazuyo Ezaki. So, is the g-string festival a success? Does it draw those coveted tourists and their yen? You’ll just have to watch and find out for yourself. Shikijô ama: Fundoshi matsuri premiered today in 1981.
 
Today also seems like a good opportunity to mention that we have another little sabbatical coming up here up at Pulp Intl. as we head to the Greek Isles for about ten days. We don’t know if Greece will look anything like the g-string festival, but if it does, that won’t be bad, right? The Pulp girlfriends are coming too, since after Morocco they vowed never to let us out of their sight again. Can’t really blame them. Usually, when we go traveling we hope to find some pulp—this time we’re not even going to promise to search. However, rather than let the website go idle, we’ve pre-written a few things, so keep dropping by to see some great cover collections and a rare surprise involving Bettie Page.

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Modern Pulp May 23 2013
A TOUCH OF VELVET
The name’s Bondage, Kinky Bondage.


Last week we shared a few images from a new bondage collection called Strictly Bondage created by Berlin-based publishers Goliath, and mentioned that the book we received was one of two. Above you see the cover of the second collection—Kinky Bondage Obsession. How different can two bondage books be? You’d be surprised. Shot by Jim Weathers, Kinky Bondage Obsession is of course about the restraints, but more so than Strictly Bondage, it’s about color and texture. Weathers’ models are beautifully garbed—clad in metallic purples and shimmering crimsons, sheathed in skin hugging vinyl and nylon. Rubber, faux fur, PVC, and patent leather abound. The action takes place in opulent, suede-walled salons appointed with wooden accessories. In fact, the book could double as a catalog for expensive bondage outfits and shabby chic home decorations.

The press material references David Lynch and that’s easy to see. Weathers has made Blue Velvet with the lights turned up a notch, before Dennis Hopper barged in, screamed amyl nitrate-fueled filth and ruined the party. An all female party, by the way, which is another contrast to Strictly Bondage. The lack of men in this thick book may seem to bring the threat level down, but on the other hand, since most of the four-hundred-plus shots are solo—that is, they feature only a bound woman—you have to wonder who exactly is doing the restraining. Possibly it's you, you kinky devil. But some scenes do feature a dominator, always another woman, and the implicit question presented in those deals with gender expectations. Beyond the technicolor outfits and opulent interiors, do you see pure domination, mutual consent, or mere artifice?  The answer may reveal your attitudes about women and power. You can read more about Kinky Bondage Obsession at the Goliath website.

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Modern Pulp May 15 2013
BOUND FOR GLORY
Publishers provocateur Goliath release a collection of Japanese-bondage-inspired art photos.


A long while back we mentioned the Japanese art of kinbaku-bi or shibari (we won’t get into the debate over which term is more correct) and said we’d discuss it again, but of course never did. Well, we were reminded of that promise when Berlin-based rebel publishers Goliath sent us a couple of their books. Ostensibly, they’re coffee table volumes, but of a rather provocative type, dealing with bondage as art. Today we’re looking only at Strictly Bondage, and we’ll get to the other book Kinky Bondage Obsession later this week.
 
Strictly Bondage, a compact volume of black and white images derived directly from the Japanese bondage arts, was shot by longtime bdsm photographer Victor Lightworship. Like the master or kinbakushi who restrains women in kinbaku-bi, Lightworship uses ropes in some of his photos to suspend his models. He appears in many of the shots, and while he goes through the motions of dominating his models, the content doesn’t overpower the compositional beauty of the tableaux. Or put another way, while the book generates some raised eyebrows when visitors pick it up from the coffee table, they quickly become aware that they’re looking at the output of someone with talent and a finely honed aesthetic.
 
Lightworship has been at this for thirty years, even studying kinbaku-bi under a rope master, so the sharpness and cohesion of this collection is no surprise, nor is the fact that he can walk a tightrope between the disturbing and erotic so deftly. Some of his non-Strictly Bondage work goes farther, so the effect achieved here is deliberate and is partly due, we think, to the array of expressions his models wear—sometimes a sort of overacted b-movie terror, but other times a resigned serenity comically juxtaposed against the most elaborate of subjugation.
 
The book’s foreword asks: “What is art? What is erotic? What is porn? What is interesting?” Strictly Bondage is a little of all those, and it’ll be living on our coffee table for some time, or at least until our friends bring their kids by. We have several of the tamer images from the book’s interior below, and you can learn more about Victor Lightworship and Strictly Bondage at www.goliathbooks.com, and at the photographer’s site here.


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Modern Pulp Apr 9 2013
AMA BOUT READY
Usually she wears a wetsuit to work but today the dress code is business casual.


Above is a poster for Isao Hayashi’s 1978 roman porno Inzetsu ama: Uzuku, which if you run across in English will be called… well, we don’t really know. Most websites that use English call it “Lewdness Woman Diver,” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It isn’t a direct translation either, because we know that the big red characters staring you in the face say “tingling.” We also know that an ama is a female diver who traditionally foraged in the water for delicacies like sea urchins and lobsters, but these days is more famous for pearl diving.

So you have a tingling female diver here. And we’re tingling too, just a little. Anyway, we looked around for a review and all we were able to find out is that it’s about an ama in a fishing village. The movie falls into Nikkatsu’s misleadingly named roman porno genre, misleading because “roman” is actually short for “romantic” and these aren’t porn movies, but rather softcores. We mention that every time, don’t we? Well, our parents read the site. Understood, parentals? Not porno.
 
In any case, the poster is a real eyecatcher. We did an extensive search online and we’re sure this is the only place you can see it without Natsuko Yashiro’s boobs obscured, because apparently breasts are absolutely corrupting and you’ll start foaming at the mouth if you see even one. Although maybe we shouldn’t joke. We are still tingling. Okay, that’s enough rambling for today. Except to say that Yashiro, who you also see below, did at least one more of these ama movies and we’ll show you the even nicer art for that on its premier date in July.

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Modern Pulp Dec 13 2012
MOTHRA TO THE FLAME
Love him or hate him, there’s only one Godzilla.

Above is a colorful Japanese poster for the monster epic Mosura tai Gojira, aka Mothra vs. Godzilla. It was originally released in 1964, but we’re guessing from the big “93” at the bottom of the art that this piece was made for a nineties re-release, though we can’t find any info on that. For many Godzilla fans this is their favorite entry in the series. We tend to agree. But is it even appropriate to talk about best when referring to Godzilla movies? No matter what, it’s still just a guy in a rubber suit. Like satire, you either enjoy it or you don’t. It isn’t a matter of intelligence, but of temperament (which in this case can definitely be made more amenable to rubber suit chaos by psychoactive compounds, if you’re inclined). Anyway, maybe give this one a try. 

Update: We recived an email from Dekk, who informs us that this is a poster for a competely separate Godzilla/Mothra movie that was made in the 1990s, which helps clear up our confusion about the 93 on the art. It was actually entitled Gojira vs. Mosura, aka Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth. Thanks Dekk for straightening us out on that.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 16
1943—First LSD Trip Takes Place
Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, while working at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, accidentally absorbs lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, and thus discovers its psychedelic properties. He had first synthesized the substance five years earlier but hadn't been aware of its effects. He goes on to write scores of articles and books about his creation.
April 15
1912—The Titanic Sinks
Two and a half hours after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic sinks, dragging 1,517 people to their deaths. The number of dead amount to more than fifty percent of the passengers, due mainly to the fact the liner was not equipped with enough lifeboats.
1947—Robinson Breaks Color Line
African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson officially breaks Major League Baseball's color line when he debuts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several dark skinned men had played professional baseball around the beginning of the twentieth century, but Robinson was the first to overcome the official segregation policy called—ironically, in retrospect—the "gentleman's agreement".
April 14
1935—Dust Storm Strikes U.S.
Exacerbated by a long drought combined with poor soil conservation techniques that caused excessive soil erosion on farmlands, a huge dust storm known as Black Sunday rages across Texas, Oklahoma, and several other states, literally turning day to night and redistributing an estimated 300,000 tons of topsoil.

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