Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

05/28/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 48, Whole Number 2173

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Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,

Lectures, etc. (NJ)

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in June (comments

by Mark R. Leeper)

A Nancy Drew--Tom Swift Teamup (television review

by Dale Skran)

PIRANESI (letter of comment by Gary McGath)

This Week's Reading (THE STEPFORD WIVES) (book comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,

Lectures, etc. (NJ)

While the last year's meetings have all been Zoomed, we are hoping

to resume in-person meetings in Old Bridge this month (albeit

outdoors).  People who are "officially" part of the group will

receive details as to time and place.

I'm not sure about the Middletown meetings, but I'm reasonably sure

that participants need to watch the film on their own ahead of time

as well as reading the book.

June 2 (MTPL), 7:30PM: SECONDS (1966) & novel by David Ely (1962)

    movie: **

    book: **

    book: **

July 1 (MTPL), 7:30PM: A SCANNER DARKLY (2006) & novel

by Philip K. Dick (1977)

   movie: DVD MTPL; rent on PrimeVideo, Vudu, YouTube


   book: **


TOPIC: My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in June (comments by Mark

R. Leeper)

The 1950s could be thought of as the Golden Age of giant arthropod

films and frequently giant arthropod films are mis-categorized as

science fiction.

Some of the Fifties science fiction films are not as good as they

once seemed.  THE BLACK SCORPION, on the other hand is actually a

better monster movie than I had remembered.  True, there are a few

embarrassing touches that leave a bad impression.  But there are

also some subtle touches in the script.  It boasts the effects work

of Willis O'Brien, best known for creating KING KONG.  In fact, in

that film when Kong shakes the men from the log, they were

originally supposed to fall into a spider web.  The decision was

made not to use the spiders in that film and they finally get used


One of the bad touches accounts for why the scorpion had to be

black.  The film ran out of money in production so no image of the

scorpion could be super-imposed over the matte silhouette of the

scorpion in many of the later scenes.  The producers assumed the

imagination of the audience would fill in just a very dark scorpion

so the eye cannot find the details.  In these scenes the monsters

are shown in silhouette.

The plot of THE BLACK SCORPION borrows a lot from THEM!  The film

starts with an apparent news announcement of a huge volcano, the

largest in modern times, striking Mexico and bringing with it a

powerful earthquake.  Two main characters, geologists (played by

Richard Denning and Carlos Rivas), are studying a volcano in Mexico

when they get involved first with a beautiful rancher and then some

mysterious disappearances.  It seems a number of people including a

police officer have disappeared.  Also, the scientists hear some

mysterious sounds that are a lot like the ant calls from THEM!  The

locals think that the cause is a demon bull.  It takes a long time

to establish that the real menace is a breed of twenty-foot

scorpions released by the volcano from being sealed in rocks.  Uh,

that is the premise of this film, that arthropods sealed in rocks

for millions of years can remain alive.  The idea was used in many

Fifties science fiction films and is probably based on the fact

that some animal embryos can remain viable for long periods of

time, but the idea that you could break a scorpion out of obsidian

and it would be alive as is portrayed in one scene is complete

balderdash.  But in this case we are led to believe that this

particular volcano and quake released a pocket of prehistoric

monsters who had been sealed in rock.  If that were true, why

hadn't it happened with any previous quakes anywhere in the world?

Our heroes find the cavern and enter it to use poison gas on the

scorpions, a plan that fails but they do get to see a variety of

giant insects, spiders, and some thing that looks like an unknown

worm-like relative of a scorpion.  The humans have to struggle to

get out of the cavern.  They seal it with dynamite only to have the

creatures escape to cause more havoc with an attack on Mexico City.

Richard Denning (who played an over-ambitious scientist in THE

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) plays Dr. Hank Scott, and Carlos

Rivas (of THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN) is Dr. Artur Ramos.  Mara

Corday (of TARANTULA) provides love interest as a local rancher.

The acting is not great, but sufficient.

The film shows the signs of a quick production and a bit of sloppy

script construction.  The worst faults of the film are use of

mattes and the silly face of the scorpions.  The face is not at all

scorpion-like and is made even less so by its teeth and the fact

that it is drooling.  At one point early on we and the scientists

hear a rattle that frightens the scientists but turns out to be a

baby with a rattle.  When we see the baby it seems too small and

quiet to have been doing the loud rattling.  The occasional use of

under-cranked camera to speed up the action is too transparent and

unconvincing.  Generally, however, money-saving corner-cutting is

cleverly concealed.  In a scene of a line of scorpions leaving a

cave, footage is repeated, but it take a really close examination

to notice.  The scene is used once again when the scorpions attack

a train and here it is more noticeable.  A helicopter rendered in

stop-motion looks wrong because the of the difficulty of showing

its fast-spinning blades by using a motionless model repositioned

between frames.  Ray Harryhausen had the same problem when he tried

to represent fast-spinning flying saucers.  A familiar voice-over

voice is heard too often in the film.  The same voice narrates the

opening footage, is heard on the police radio, and is heard again

toward the end of the film.  We see a swarm of scorpions attack a

train, but are told shortly thereafter that only one is left alive

and are left wondering what killed all the others.

On the other hand, the script is at least reasonable, making the

film watchable by adults, and it never seems overly silly or

juvenile.  Corday plays a rancher woman who is quite capable and

repeatedly impresses the men, somewhat against the stereotypes that

were common in the Fifties.  One nice touch is that the scientists

make mistakes.  Most notable is that they accidentally electrocute

a soldier helping them fight the largest scorpion.

The screenplay was written by David Duncan, a sometimes writer of

science fiction novels.  He also wrote the screenplays of THE CURSE


(best known) THE TIME MACHINE.  The Willis O'Brien scorpions are

fairly nicely done and have motion like the kind Ray Harryhausen

gave his creatures.  O'Brien apparently used the scene of the

attack on the phone linemen to sell the film to Warner Brothers.

That was then used in the film and for a scene shot later in which

we see the linemen, doubles were used and kept in shadow.  Overall

it is not too shabby for an enlarged creature film.

[THE BLACK SCORPION, June 18, 2;00 PM]



TOPIC: A Nancy Drew--Tom Swift Teamup (television review by Dale


I've been thinking of doing a review of NANCY DREW, a relatively

new CW show, for a while, and now I've found the perfect excuse at

last. The most recently aired episode [May 13, 2021, of Season 3],

titled "The Celestial Visitor" is the perfect hook since it

introduces Tom Swift into the Nancy Drew CW universe.  This is a

really big deal if you're a fan of Tom, and I am. The various

printed versions of Tom Swift, but mainly the original series

(1910-1941) and the Tom Swift Jr. series (1954-1971), are the

foundational texts for countless SF fans, scientists, and

engineers--the books that made science and engineering both really

exciting and tangibly real. In retrospect, they are mostly hack

pulp adventures, but when you are 10, they open a door to a new


There have been a lot of attempts to create live action Tom Swifts,

but all of these have been unsuccessful, almost as though a curse

was in operation.  By unsuccessful I mean that either nothing was

ever made, or a pilot was filmed and then lost.  So, when Tom Swift

walked into the Bayside Claw to meet Nancy, I just about fell out

of my chair.

First, a word about NANCY DREW, now in its 3rd season on the CW.

NANCY has been "Buffy-ized" in a variety of ways.  In the original

books, NANCY has friends, but mostly operates on her own. In this

modern version she has her own version of a super-team, the "Drew

Crew."  The basic idea is that this Nancy is the same Nancy from

the kid's books, but now over 18 (allowing for *sex* in the show),

and with the addition of various supernatural entities.  She does

catch a variety of ordinary criminals, and in some cases the

stories are "Scoobie Doos" where the criminals are pretending to be

ghosts. But there really are ghosts in the fictional town of

Horseshoe Bay, Maine, which is more along the lines of Lovecraft's

Arkham.  Not every supernatural entity is a ghost--in one episode

the Drew Crew is pitted against a rogue Viking god--but mostly they

are ghosts.  Horseshoe Bay has a long history of the supernatural,

with secret societies, covens of witches, and all manner of things,

including the powerful and terrifying Agleaca, a kind of ocean-

based "Crossroads Daemon" that you really don't want to make a deal

with.  Of course, Nancy does.  There is also a town historical

society that turns out to be a storehouse of magic objects with a

caretaker who is sometimes helpful to Nancy and her friends.

Nancy is well played by Kennedy McMann, who manages to look the

wholesome Nancy Drew, while portraying well someone growing into

adulthood and confronting some difficult facts about who she really

is.  This Nancy is the ultimate girl detective, brave to a fault, a

puzzle solver, code-breaker, lock-picker, safe-cracker, burglar,

social engineer, and skulker in dark corners. Her powers of

observation are stunning, and she at least equals Patrick Jane (THE

MENTALIST) as an escape artist.  In one episode she is arrested,

handcuffed, and brought to the police station.  When the action

gets going, the cop who arrested her notices the cuffs are missing.

She replies, "I'll put them back on if it makes you feel better."

The Drew Crew includes:

-- Georgia "George" Fan, the manager of the Bayside Claw, a local

diner.  George is a minor medium with some knowledge of Chinese

spiritualism, and a mother who is a powerful medium that drinks to

drown out the voices.  At some point in the 2nd season George is

possessed by Oddette Lamar, a lesbian ghost, and they end up

sharing her body at least up to the current episode. This sounds

trashy but is very well motivated in the plot.

-- Bess Marvin, a fashionista city girl who also works at the

Bayside Claw, and conceals a mysterious past.  She eventually turns

out to be an excellent thief who had a previous life as the partner

of a con man.  Her "super powers" are fashion and expertise in

social media.  She likes girls, and has a relationship with Oddette

for a while.  This later situation is, to say the least, complex.

-- Ned "Nick" Nickerson, is a former football player and Nancy's ex

who served time for killing a man in a fight unintentionally.  He

is a skilled mechanic. As one of the few blacks in Horseshoe Bay,

he is often viewed by the police with suspicion.

-- Ace, the dishwasher at the Claw, is an expert hacker who was

blackmailed into spying on the Drew Crew, but eventually joins them

There are a lot more characters, but you get the idea.  The

structure is very similar to that of BUFFY, except that the

characters are not in school and there is more of a blue-collar

vibe. Also, the plots are very local. The world is not at stake,

but the future of Horseshoe Bay is often in doubt. The mythos is

rich and complex, allowing for a wide range of crime, suspense, and

supernatural adventures.

In this already entertaining mix throw a new version of Tom Swift,

with Tian Richards playing a black, gay, and super-rich version of

Tom.  This is in sharp contrast to Nancy Drew, who in spite of

having a diverse, modern set of friends, looks and acts like she

stepped right out the original books. These kind of character

inversions do not sound that auspicious, but Richards creates a

credible version of Tom Swift, and reminds us that what makes the

Tom Swift series exciting and entertaining has nothing to do with

Tom being white or straight.

Together, Tom, Nancy, and the Drew Crew battle ancient magic,

dangerous technology, and a gang of robed ghosts using Tom's super-

science, and Nancy's detective skills and growing knowledge of

magic.  To some old Tom Swift and Nancy Drew fans, this may sound

like the woke take-over of their favorite characters, but at least

for me, it worked.  It's my understanding that the CW will be

bringing to the small screen a full-on TOM SWIFT series built

around Richards, with LeVar Burton voicing his AI side-kick.  This

may or may not work as well as NANCY DREW, but I'm certainly going

to give it a chance.

NANCY DREW is the most interesting fantasy/SF show the CW has

running these days.  To me, it's respectful of the original series

(and by the original series, I mean the initial set of books where

Nancy was very independent and strong willed, not the later revised

versions where she is re-written to be "nice") while allowing Nancy

to function as an adult character.  I'm not rating it right now,

but if you liked BUFFY, SABRINA, or TEEN WOLF, you'll probably like

NANCY DREW.  Although there is sex (very discreet sex) in the show,

I find it less violent/scary than the other three, especially TEEN

WOLF, which is heavy on the violent horror.  Fine for kids 12 and

up.  It should also be noted that NANCY DREW is not an "action"

show--there are no martial arts scenes, little gun violence, and

any violence that occurs is brief. There are scary scenes and

"adult" situations.  [-dls]


TOPIC: PIRANESI (letter of comment by Gary McGath)

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of PIRANESI in the 05/21/21

issue of the MT VOID, Gary McGath writes:

For anyone interested in a second opinion, here's mine:


I agree it's an excellent book.  [-gmg]


TOPIC: Plague of Mice (letter of comment by Scott Dorsey)

In response to Evelyn's comments on the Australian plague of mice

in the 05/14/21 issue of the MT VOID, Scott Dorsey writes:

If you think the plague of mice is bad, just imagine the plague of

cats that will come next.  [-sd]


TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

THE STEPFORD WIVES by Ira Levin (William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-060-

08084-6) was the choice for our book-and-film club this month.

(The film was the 1975 version, not the 2004 remake.)  The novel--

well, not a novel really; at 35,000 words, it's really only a

novella--was written in 1972, just as the women's movement was

taking off in a big way, and it's fairly obvious.  From a

perspective fifty years later, there is nothing very compelling

about it.  Indeed, it seems to owe a lot to BRAVE NEW WORLD in the

sense of conditioning or brainwashing people to be content in the

position *someone* has chosen for them.


The book is not clear on how this conditioning is done, although I

suppose that the speech recording and sketching imply a replacement

rather than a modification.  The film is more specific about using

replacement by robots/androids (which is similar to INVASION OF THE

BODY SNATCHERS, but with robots instead of biological entities).

So the film loses that "Brave New World" connection, but I guess

the producers thought that robots were more topical than some sort

of chemical conditioning.

Of course, one problem is that in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

the children realized their parents had been replaced, and reported

this.  They were also eventually replaced, which solved the

problem, but in THE STEPFORD WIVES there is apparently no plan to

replace the children, which would seem to leave a major loose end.

(A 1987 television sequel/remake had the children replaced as well,

though that makes little sense either.  There were also REVENGE OF


Also, one of the men talks as though the change is merely a

modification to her.  While one can argue that he is purposely

deceiving her to minimize her resistance, seeing her "double"

almost immediately after would disabuse her of this.

The film adds some backstory about Joanna and an old boyfriend,

which is totally unnecessary.  William Goldman, the original

screenwriter, points out that if the men were given free rein in

designing their "new" wives, they would be dressed more like

hookers than Southern belles, and they would be spending a lot less

time cooking and cleaning, and a lot more on other activities (not

named here because this is a family publication).  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          You think dogs will not be in heaven?  I tell you,

          they will be there long before any of us.

                                          --Robert Louis Stevenson