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Monday, September 24, 2018

Help Decide the Fate of My "Redneck Da Vinci Code"

It's been a hell of a year and I'll be honest, I'm way behind on getting the next book out.  The truth is, it's been stalled due to an idea I had to make it better.  The effort to incorporate that idea is almost like rewriting the damn book but I do believe it's worthwhile.  

I've been hammering away at it, but as any author can tell you, sometimes you start to get sick of your own story.  That's exactly what was happening so I put it down for a bit.  I really like this one and the characters in it and I want to keep it that way.

So while it's sitting and gelling, I've revisited an older one that's vexed me for years.  That's the one I need your feedback on.  

Years ago, I came up with the idea for a story that just lit me up from head to toe with excitement.  I've referred to it as my "Redneck Da Vinci Code" and I've worked on it in fits and starts for the better part of a decade.  The reasons I've had so much trouble finishing it have more to do with my buckling down on it and less to do with roadblocks, etc.  However, one of the main reasons is that I've often thought it was just too "eccentric". 

Something keeps drawing me back though.  So recently, I reworked the first two chapters and read them to the Orange County Fictionaires group that I attend.  I got great feedback on what worked and what didn't, but one thing about reading to other writers is that sometimes it doesn't answer the question, "Would a non-writer read this?"

So for those of you interested, I've posted the first two chapters below.  Let me know either in the comments here or on Facebook if you'd be interested in finding out more about what happened to Lee and Jacob, or if it just doesn't grab you.

Thanks for your time.

 Chapter 1:  LSD and Willow Trees

We are sitting behind a dumpster looking at the branch of a willow tree.  You.  Me.  We’re just staring.  The dumpster stands to the left of the willow and in the small space between them, we can see down an alley that seems to stretch forever. I am here for a story.  Presumably you’re here for the same, however forget about when and where you were a moment ago.  The story doesn’t exist there.  To hear it, you have to be here with me.  It is 1991.  We’re sitting in a Buick LeSabre behind a row of condominiums along Sunset Blvd.
The willow tree is magic.  We’ll get to that.

Looking out through the windshield of my rented car, my brain is struggling very hard to make sense of a world that seems to have gone completely insane.  Lights blur, buildings melt, their bricks dripping in big glops onto the asphalt of the alley and the very air feels electric.  This is due to an unreasonably high volume of LSD (in the form of three small pieces of paper each adorned with a green peace symbol) that I placed on my tongue about an hour ago.    
Tomorrow evening, I’ll be catching a plane on my way to a new life, but that is far from the forefront of my mind as I watch the magic willow tree do its dance.  Did I mention it was dancing?  Between the breeze and the drug it seems to be doing a tango of some sort and that’s fine with me.  Like I said, I’m just here to be entertained, but I’m yearning for something big, bright and fun to kick this experience up a notch.
So, it’s remarkable that you’ve picked this instant to join me, because it’s precisely the moment when the willow tree lets me in on its secret.  You see, up until this point, everyone who has ever wandered past it, just considered the tree a decorative member of the plant kingdom, provided to help add some color to an otherwise washed out urban area.  Little did they realize that years of evolution combined with genetic modification of plant seeds had created a willow tree that not only grew a beautiful green year round, but also granted its friends and admirers the ability to travel back and forth through time. 
That’s pretty amazing when you think about it but probably even more amazing is that all a person has to do in order to be granted this fantastic power by the willow tree is to simply ask for it.  
It also helps to have a metric ton of LSD lighting up your brain prior to asking. 

So it is by pure luck that I happen to be tripping my eyelids off when I audibly ask,"Damn, couldn't this get even a little better?" 
The willow tree  practically jumps out of the asphalt with excitement.
I’d almost given up! it declares. I've been waiting for someone to ask for years!

My smile extends from ear to ear. 
“Okay.  What have you got for me?” I ask.

A true story, it says.  It’s got intrigue, suspense and even alligators.

Instantly the windshield in front of me swirls and I find myself gazing into a giant rabbit hole.  At the other end is a past I could not possibly have known existed.  I see glimpses of wooded night, bustling sidewalks and a very large man cursing at something. 
It’s a mystery, the tree says. I’ll help you connect all the strings.  You’re going to love it.  

“Who are you?” I ask.

Salix Sepulcralix is my Latin name, but I go by Manny.

And with that, his branches pluck off wisps of sparkle and tie them in a neat little bow.  It resembles a filmstrip and it loops gracefully across the brilliantly glittering sky.  I smell buttered popcorn and warm caramel. 
All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the show… and pass along what you saw to someone else.

“Pass along?” 

The story.  You need to tell others the story.  What good is a story if it’s never told?

So that’s why we’re here.  In 1991, I sat behind a dumpster as a magic willow tree told me a story.    Some of it sounds true.  I’m not really sure what is or isn’t, but here we are staring at that tree, just waiting for the opening credits to roll.

The branch nearest us bends straight up.  The willow stands majestic and then leans down.  It grins at us in a way that only a willow tree can.

How would you like to see a little something with Burt Reynolds?

Chapter 2: Death on the River

We're pulled through the windshield and there is a moment of falling but only a moment.  As if the floor dropped a foot or two.  The words, October 14, 1968 – Marion County, Florida appear in the air in front of us.  Things seem strange.  The world seems small.   

Mere moments ago, we were sitting behind the wheel of a Buick LeSabre but now, we’re most definitely lying on the bottom of an aluminum boat on a river in a forest and I’m pretty damn uncomfortable.

I complain about this to Manny but he doesn’t respond.  Instead he kind of gestures with a branch as he fades out of sight and I notice that I’m not alone.  In the boat, there are two men and both are frightened and frantic.  Hearts are beating in their chests at rapid fire paces.  

Instinctively, I know that the two men in the boat are named Lee and Jacob.  To them, everything they’ve known and all the plans they’ve made in their lives have come down to this one instant and it’s going horribly wrong.  They are hunkered down in the 20-foot craft, each clutching a rifle, but the boat has stopped dead in the water.  The engine is running and the propeller is spinning but the boat isn’t moving at all.  

At least not forward.  Instead, it's shifting.  We can feel it.  It’s no longer pointed up river.  It’s slowly beginning to turn toward the shore; its nose pivoting on something.  Lee is looking at the side of the boat.  There are dots of moonlight scattered across it.  Jacob is breathing heavy and whispering something about God, damnation and the sons of dogs. 
The beautiful, glittering, fascinating world we’d been looking at has been reduced to the inside of a boat, sitting on a river in the middle of Florida and what strikes me first is that it’s amazingly quiet.  There’s nothing moving but the water.  No crickets chirruping.  No frogs.  There’s just the sound of water moving past the boat, Jacob whispering and a feeling like the night is a heavy curtain that has come down prematurely. 
Lee grips the end of his shotgun tighter.  He pulls his knees up and shifts his weight over, cursing at how the aluminum ribs hurt his knees.  He raises the rifle and blindly squeezes off a shot into the woods.  The sound reverberates through the forest like a thunderclap.  Underneath it there is a low ‘whump’ and Lee’s left forearm explodes as he falls back into the boat.  Bones are shattered.  The wound is tattered and messy, and now there is another sound.  The sound of his heart in his ears.  The sound of adrenaline and his own cries of pain.  

We can hear all of this.  I can feel him trying in vain to hold back a yell but he fails miserably.  He half roars, half cries.  It’s the sound of a wounded predator. 
And all the while, Jacob is still lying motionless in the boat.  He’s trying not to say anything.  I can see in his eyes that he wants to reach over to help Lee but he doesn’t dare.  Lee lies on his back,  holding what’s left of that arm with his other hand; pleading out to someone he can’t see.

“You can have it!  You can have it!  Just let us go,” he cries.

Jacob stays quiet.  He grips the shotgun, rolls from his side onto his back and wraps his finger around the trigger.  

Someone yells for him to stand up and put his hands in plain sight.  Lee whimpers and pulls himself up slowly.  There is that dull thump again and he falls back into the boat.  Something wet and sticky splatters across Jacob’s face.  He’s afraid to think about what it is.

Honestly, so am I.  

The boat is still shifting, slowly. 
Someone yells out, “When it gets sideways haul it into shore!”

“Okay,” comes another voice.

The boat continues to turn and Jacob stays still.  He’s got his breathing under control but I can still hear his heart pounding.    

I try very hard but I don’t hear Lee breathing at all.

The first voice yells back, “There were two people in that boat! Watch out!”

Jacob remains motionless, cradling the shotgun.  He raises his head slightly and looks down by his feet at the metal army trunk against the back of the boat.  It’s the first time I notice it and I immediately wonder what’s inside.  Whatever Jacob is searching for, he seems to find it.  He puts his head back down. 
And then we hear something clatter into the boat.  It’s a grappling hook and as it pulls taut, we are moving again.  There’s a shudder, a rat-tat-tat-tat and I realize the bow was held by a net, the knots making tooth-rattling vibrations through the metal hull as the current and the motor keep us jammed against it. 

“They’re pulling us to shore,” I say, but Jacob doesn’t seem to hear me.  

He is looking straight up into the clear, moonlit night, trying to see more area than he has ever tried to see in his life, looking for any movement at all at which to aim.  Looking for one good reason to swing the shotgun up.   
The sour smell of swamp and decay are getting stronger as we leave the current. The buzz of mosquitoes gets louder.

There comes a tree branch, low, maybe six feet above us. 

Jacob stays silent and still, shotgun at the ready.

If this were a theater I would be on the edge of my seat but instead, I’m lying across from Jacob feeling alone, scared and sad.  

Just like that, he sits up, brings the barrel around and fires.  There’s a scream as the explosion rolls through the trees.  He pumps the expended cartridge out of the chamber and swings around in the direction of the voice.
Fire spits from the barrel again and I hear something big hit the forest floor.

“Son of a bitch!” someone yells. 

The line has gone slack now and the boat feels like it's moving backward.  He pumps the shotgun again and moves to leap over the side.  There’s the low ‘whump’ sound and Jacob flies back into the boat.  He goes to his knees, hands to his throat.  The shotgun clatters to the floor and goes off. 
The flash happens right in front of me.  I should be dead, but instead there’s just a hole next to where I’m lying and the smell of spent powder all around me.  

Jacob’s hands are wet and black in the moonlight.  I see him struggling to get a breath as he falls next to me.

He’s staring up again and I follow his gaze.  Overhead is a tree limb, Spanish moss dangling down from it and small jewels of moonlight peaking through.
“It’s an oak,” I think for no reason at all and I get a brief glimmer of a memory.  It’s Jacob under a different oak in a different time. Then it’s gone.

I turn my head to look at the army trunk and I swear it glows as the world around me shimmers and shifts like asphalt on a hot day.  
Then it all disappears.  

The river is gone, I’m back in the Buick and the dumpster is in front of me again.  Manny’s branches are waving wildly, leaving tiny traces of starlight behind them.

He’s jovial.

I just watched two men die.  

This is not what I meant by "entertainment".

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Man of "Immovable Character" - Don Kilgo

These last few weeks have been a son of a bitch to get through.  I lost someone very important to me and I’m still trying to deal with it.  While being around family and grieving together has helped, the fact is that writing is the most effective outlet for me, so here goes...  

Don Kilgo came into my life when I was about three years old.  My mother had filed to divorce my father and sued for custody of me.  The thing was, Stuart, Florida was a very small town and everyone was in each other’s business to some degree.  My mother’s actions were instantly discussed through a lot of the town and since my grandfather worked in the Martin County Sheriff’s Department, she felt a lot of pressure to keep her image squeaky clean.  She knew she had to go in front of a judge who likely knew my grandfather and if there was anything to build a case against her keeping me, then it would be held up in evidence.  Her own mother didn’t approve of the divorce and basically just stopped talking to her completely while this all played out.

However, my mother is a strong woman.  Have no doubt about that.  Had Don Kilgo not entered our lives, she would have pulled through with custody of me just as she eventually did.  It might have been harder and would certainly have been messier, but she would have done it.  The important thing for both of us though, is that right when it counted, Don came calling.

Don was raised in Augusta, Georgia.  His parents were people of their time, which is to say that I didn’t really like either of them much and don’t have a lot to say about them.  Funny thing was, Don didn’t like them much either.  They were obsessed with status, money and class.  They wanted him to dress nice, attend the best schools, marry into an important family and socialize with those who could take him to the next level.   Don wanted to hang out at truck stops, drink beer with his friends on the weekend, chase girls and see just how fast his car could go on a two lane street on a Saturday night.  He’d been a great athlete in high school, playing football, running track and earning himself a basketball scholarship to a nearby college.

That scholarship lasted less than a year as he found he was just not ready for school yet.  He bounced around to a few more colleges until he finally enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.  This was at the height of Vietnam, but Don wasn’t deployed to the jungle.  Instead, he rode out the war stateside and when he achieved his honorable discharge, he finally got his degree.  He somehow ended up in Stuart and worked in and around the same industry that my own father did.  That’s how he first came in contact with my mother and I don’t know whether it was love at first sight or if they just recognized a kindred spirit when they first met, but I do know that when the shit hit the fan and my mother was looking over her shoulder constantly wondering if someone was going to come take me away from her, Don Kilgo showed up at the door.

At first, he just offered to help with things he knew she couldn’t do easily.  He’d change the oil in her car or mow her lawn.  My great aunt, Maude, lived with us at that time and was helping take care of me.  She took a liking to him instantly and would fix dinner for him on occasion.  My mother, Don and Maude soon all discovered they had a shared love of card games and he came over pretty regularly for marathon games of Canasta, Hearts and later Bridge.  

Reading this, I’ve glossed over something that he told me years later.  He didn't just come around because he saw a woman who needed help.  He told me that he thought my mother was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever set eyes on and unlike all the girls he'd chased before, during and after the Marine Corps, he'd decided on playing the long game with this one.  He had designs on spending the rest of his life with her and after some famous prodding from a four-year-old me (who asked him point blank why he didn’t just marry her already), he did. 

From the moment he married my mother, he became “Dad”.  He never once, in my memory, ever called me his stepson.  I was just his son.  When my brother and sister were born, none of us were treated any differently from the other two.  This was despite his parents not being nearly as inviting and welcoming of our new family.  They were not at all excited about having a divorcee with a young child as a daughter-in-law.  In short though, Don didn’t give a shit what they thought.  

He as much as told them that very thing.

Just as importantly, Don never once said anything negative about my real father in front of me.  He always supported him being in my life and felt it was important that I knew who and where I came from.  He always talked about my father with respect and that made it so that instead of having a "broken" family, I just had two regular families.  One I lived with most of the time and the other I saw less frequently but which was still an important part of my life.  

Don spent the next 45 years married to my mother, who he called his "best friend".  Through all of those years, they played hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of card games.  They rarely spent a night apart.  They raised three kids and gave us a living, breathing model of how a successful marriage is achieved.  It wasn’t about social status, money or putting on the proper “look”.  It was about respect, love, teamwork and most importantly laughter.  We laughed as a family more than any other family I know. Their example is why I waited until I met my own best friend before marrying her.

When Don died, all three of us kids were together within 48 hours, this despite the fact that we literally live all over the world.  We sat in a room in my mother’s house, jet-lagged and devastated, and laughed our way through some of our favorite memories of him.  We cried too.  I’m crying now just thinking about it, but that laughter was the important part.  Don would not have wanted us to sit around crying.  He’d have wanted us to give him as close to a “going away party” as we could manage. 

No one dressed up for his memorial service.  He’d have hated that.  In the late 1990’s, he offered my sister $10,000 free and clear if she promised to elope instead of ever holding a formal wedding.  He just didn’t want to wear the tuxedo again after my brother’s wedding and then mine.  That’s why, at his service, the dress code consisted of jeans and Georgia Bulldog gear.   After the service, I sat and talked with friends, cousins and family members.  No one had a single bad thing to say about him, but if you knew him, that was to be expected.  He ended his life surrounded by nothing but friends.  Not an enemy in sight.

The amazing thing about Don Kilgo, and the thing I want to make sure to get across here, is something that my brother, Patrick, captured perfectly in his eulogy.  Dad’s greatest trait was a “quiet and kind consistency”.  He truly felt that everyone should be given the same benefit of the doubt.  It wasn’t about what a person said or what they looked like.  Don based his impression of the people he encountered on the merits of their actions and throughout his life, that's how he conducted himself.  It didn't matter if you were black, white, gay, straight or whatever, you were just another human being in his eyes and that's how he treated people, consistently.

That’s why, growing up in the Deep South, I was taught at an early age not to suffer racism kindly, not to stand by quietly when a friend was singled out by others for his race or religion.  He taught me to stick up for those who were being held down.  He taught me to love my roots and the small town way of life, but never embrace the mistakes of the region’s past.  He taught me the importance of lifting others up around you, so they in turn could do the same.  

Ultimately, we differed politically but we always agreed on those points.  We just disagreed on the way to go about achieving them.  I’m a liberal.  He was a conservative, but we continued to come together and while he would gladly argue his side of things with me, he never shut me or my view out entirely.  Ours was one of those few family relationships where we could be complete opposites politically and love the hell out of talking to each other still.

In closing, I want to say one thing.  Some may think that I’ve written this because I missed the chance to tell him how I felt while he was alive.  That’s not true.  Twenty five years ago, I wrote him a letter and in it, I thanked him for all of the same things I’ve mentioned here.  Don wasn’t much of a collector, so imagine my surprise when I found he still had it.  It was in his file cabinet, in a folder with my name on it.  It’s the most important thing I could possibly have found over these last three weeks because I know for sure he understood how much his influence meant on my life.   

There are so many stories I could tell.  So many instances where his life touched mine or another’s in a way that was unforgettable.  In his eulogy, Patrick went back to a conversation with Dad’s best friend, John, during a round of golf.  John had pulled Pat aside and told him how much he admired Dad and particularly how he admired his “immovable character”.  That’s the thing that sums up Don Kilgo more than anything.  He was one of a kind, in the best way possible and I miss the hell out of him every day.  I know that I’ve spent my life trying to live according to the example he set and will continue to do so.

I also know I’ll never meet a man like him again.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Exploring Japan, Vol. 12 - Maxell Aqua Park

Japan’s attractions and theme parks definitely seem strange to western visitors, but what about an aquarium?  Surely, an aquarium in Tokyo isn’t much different than an aquarium in the U.S., right?

Well, you’d be kind of correct, except for the jellyfish, the bar and the dolphin show, it pretty much is like any other aquarium.

The Maxell Aqua Park is located in the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.  It’s not a place you can kill an entire day in, but you can easily spend 3 -  4 hours here and not be bored.  Like any other aquarium, the exhibits are split up by region so you have Amazonian fish in one section, a giant tank full of sharks and rays that has a glass tunnel going through it, and lots of smaller interactive displays that show you where these animals live, what they eat and their life spans.  They also have a pretty cool series of rooms that the otters can move in and out of.  You can follow them from place to place which is pretty fun.

Almost all of the signage is in Japanese and English, however the interactive displays are in Japanese only.  There are also a couple of rides inside that you have to buy special tickets for.

Still, even without being able to read the language, the displays are fantastic.  Especially when you enter the jellyfish room.  

It’s like The Flaming Lips designed an aquarium.  Tube after tube of different jellies are positioned throughout the place and each has color changing lights that are synchronized, creating an almost psychedelic feel. 

Just beyond the Jellyfish room is something I’ve never seen at an aquarium before:  A fully stocked bar.  What makes this so unusual is that the room isn’t some fly by night concession.  It’s got a sophisticated atmosphere and check out these tables.

Those are real sea creatures inside.  Pretty cool, huh? 

Still, the thing that would bring me back here again is their dolphin show.  It’s completely indoors and features lights, music and narration that bring to mind a Cirque de Soleil show instead of the run of the mill aquarium dolphin show.  

Images are projected onto the falling water that inhance the action.  Dolphins flip, whales do tail stands and all the while, music and images float through the air.  

It’s a spectacular show, so much so that we stayed an extra hour to see it again. 

While there are better aquariums around, Maxell Aqua Park is truly unique.  It's one of the more expensive aqua parks though, so make sure you allow yourself enough time to check everything out and get your money's worth. You’ll be happy you did.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 16 - The Wolfman vs. Dracula

Continuing on last week’s theme of movies that were never made, let’s talk about the great (and not so great) monster mash films from Universal’s golden age.  After the success of Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolfman, Universal  got the bright idea of teaming up two monsters in one film.  The result was Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, which to be fair sounds like one is welcoming the other to the neighborhood instead of actually fighting each other.  Despite a slew of troubles, it was a hit and for the next couple of films, Universal did their best to cram every monster they had onto the same screen.

House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein featured werewolves, vampires, the Frankenstein monster, hunchbacked assistants and even a Dr. Jekyll character.  They’re hilarious and charming and to be honest, they’re two of my all-time favorite movies.  There’s one obvious team up that never happened though.  What about The Wolfman vs. Dracula?

In actual fact, it almost did happen.  Even better, it was slated to star Lon Chaney Jr. (again reprising his Larry Talbot werewolf role) and the return of Bela Lugosi as the Count.  

The script was commissioned and it’s got some pretty good ideas in it.  The story involves a woman who becomes the target of Dracula’s desire; however Talbot (always the ladies’ man in any Wolfman picture) loves her also and wants to protect her.  Dracula uses his powers of transformation to become a wolf and frames Talbot for a series of murders in order to get him away from the girl he’s protecting.  Obviously, a battle ensues and the Wolfman wins.

Except he doesn’t.

One of the biggest problems with this film was the budget.  The Wolfman vs. Dracula was slated to be a color film and due to the cost of color, the budget was tight.  This made it so the Wolfman got very little screen time and instead, Larry Talbot (in human form) ends up fighting and killing Dracula while the latter is in the form of a bat.  Only afterward, does Talbot transform in what feels like a tacked on scene in the final fifteen minutes.  The Wolfman attacks the girl he loves before she shoots him with a silver bullet.

Aside from that letdown, the other thing that ultimately scuttled the film was the aforementioned bat effect.  Universal didn’t want Talbot battling an animated bat and the script required Lugosi to be suspended by wires in the (anti)climactic battle.  Lugosi was in his 60’s by this point and in no shape for those kinds of stunts.

Universal pulled the plug and threw the money at an adventure film instead.  Some stills and the script survived though.  They’re collected in Phillip J. Riley’s excellent book The Wolfman vs. Dracula which will give you the whole story.  You can find it on Amazon. 

See you next week!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Exploring Japan Vol. 11 - Namco Namja Town's Haunted Funhouse!

Last week we looked into the weird and wonderful (but mostly weird) experience that is Sanrio Puroland.  Indoor theme parks are something that Japan does very well.  

Case in point, let’s take a visit to Namco Namja Town.  It’s kind of like going to Boomers if Boomers were actually well laid out, well maintained, had crazy foods and was actually fun to go to.

So yeah, it’s nothing like Boomers.

Namja Town is made up of three “towns” according to their website, but as a foreigner who has limited understanding of what I’m seeing, the difference between the three wasn’t super distinct.  I just thought it was one big funhouse with a great  food court.

You pay an admission to get in (500 yen = a little less than $5.00 when we were there).  That pays for you to wander around and check out everything, however there are games and additional motion simulator rides and attractions you’ll pay extra for.  There is a pass you can buy that allows you to do everything but we were just there for one reason:  crazy gelato.

See, many people come to Namja Town simply for the food.  There is a large food court that specializes in gyoza (Japanese dumplings).  Next to that is an alley filled with desserts including themed pastries, soft serve ice cream and a gelato bar with 50 flavors.  What’s so special about this gelato?

Have you ever had tomato bisque gelato?  How about Cabernet Sauvignon, blue salt, tamago, five grain rice, or mugwort & red bean?  Well, here’s your chance.  You can buy a six flavor taster set for about $7.00 and it’s perfect for sharing.

Starting at the upper left and going clockwise, this was cheese, salt, banana, apple, basil and finally tomato.  My daughter absolutely hates the flavor of tomato, but felt obligated to try it.  Here was her reaction.

Why?  Because it tasted exactly like a tomato.  In fact, everything tasted exactly as described.  We got another taster with six more flavors after that and then called it quits.  That brought us to the funhouse portion of Namja Town.  The park has a mascot (as it seems every business in Japan does) named Najavu.  

Najavu is a cat and even as a foreigner, I could tell from her look that she was up to no good.  

As you enter this gate, you enter an interactive Japanese haunted house that was one of the coolest things we did while visiting.

There are doors that bang and slam as you walk past. 

Tombstones that spin around to reveal spirits.

Witches that read you fortunes before bursting into flames and ghosts that appear on the walls out of nowhere.

Long-nosed Tengu (Japanese goblins) who will cut your hand off if you reach in to grab their food.

And much, much more.  The motion simulator rides and games are in this part of the funhouse and include zombie hunts and ghostly encounters.

If I could decorate my house for Halloween with no expense spared, it would look a lot like this place and I’d be begging my wife to let me keep it all up through November.  She’s pretty cool about that stuff so I’m sure she’d agree.

Namja Town is located in the Sunshine City Mall in Ikebukuro.  It’s very easy to get to by train and if you’re a fan of Namco’s anime lineup, you can visit J-Town in the same mall.  It’s another indoor amusement park featuring rides and games based on their most popular animes.

If you do go though, be sure to save room for the gelato place and try some gyoza.  You won’t be sorry.

Next time, we'll visit an aquarium with a dolphin show that's part Sea World and part Cirque De Soliel!

See you then!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 15 - War Eagles!

For the next few weeks, I want to focus on what never was.  Sounds confusing, I know, but it’s actually a fascinating subject when it comes to movies that were almost made but didn’t quite make it to production.  It’s especially fascinating when they’re connected to big name franchises or tried and true directors/producers.

To kick things off, let’s talk about War Eagles, one of the greatest movies never made.  A few weeks back, I posted about the true story that inspired Merrian C. Cooper’s King Kong.  The gigantic success of that picture seemed to have set up Cooper to be a major player in Hollywood for years to come.  

His next picture was an action/romance film called Flying Devils that featured daring aviation stunts and a love triangle resulting in an attempted murder.  Next up was his Kong sequel, Son of Kong, which isn’t nearly as good as the original but which I love dearly anyway.  

For his next film, Cooper had a hell of an idea and he began turning the wheels to make it happen.  

The plot involved an American pilot who crashes on a mysterious island.  He soon finds that it’s overrun with dinosaurs and while that sounds familiar, this next part takes a hard left into unexplored territory.  

You see, the island is also home to a race of Vikings who have been there for generations.  They’ve learned to tame some of the local fauna, in particular giant golden eagles who they ride into battle against the dinosaurs when attacked.

What happens next is pure 1930’s Hollywood gold!  Nazi’s also land on the island only this group is using it as a staging area to launch an attack on New York.  They have a secret weapon and if it’s deployed, it will cripple America and bring Nazi rule to the States.  

The American pilot convinces the Norsemen to help him stop the invaders and a battle between Nazi fighter planes and Vikings on giant eagles ensues in the skies above New York.

Tell me you don’t want to see that.  Seriously, it would have been one hell of a movie.

How close was it to being finished? 

The script had been polished and completed. Cooper had hired on Willis O’Brien (of King Kong fame) to do the effects work and his test footage designs and sketches had all been approved. 

Articulated models had been created and yes, the image above is one that still exists.  Sets were being constructed.  It was so close that you can almost taste it, but this time around the Nazi’s won.  

World War II escalated to a point where Cooper felt compelled to reenlist.  Once that happened, the bottom fell out and after the war ended, Cooper moved on to other things.

Still, the idea has floated around in the minds of film buffs for years and it actually reached some form of completion in 2008 as a novel.  

Carl Macek (Robotech) wrote a fully realized version that you can pick up at Amazon if you’re so inclined.  

However, if you want to read the original script as well as the definitive document on the whole project, you can.  War Eagles: The Unmaking of an Epic by David Conover is a love letter to this lost film.  It collects production notes, stills, test designs and more importantly, the finished script by none other than Cyril Hume (the man behind the script for Forbidden Planet). 

I encourage you to seek it out as it’s a fascinating read that will set your mind wandering over all the things that could have been if Hitler hadn’t pulled the rug out from under Merrian C. Cooper.

See you next week!