Weird Detective Stories

Solomon Kane: based on the character created by Robert E. Howard and scripted by Michael J. Bassett; directed by Michael J. Bassett; starring James Purefoy (Solomon Kane), Max von Sydow (Josiah Kane), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Meredith), Pete Postlewaite (William), Alice Krige (Katherine), and Jason Flemyng (Malachi) (2009): A second time through, and I again concluded it’s a damn shame Solomon Kane didn’t get at least a couple of sequels. Writer-director Michael J. Bassett plays a bit fast and loose with Robert E. Howard’s quasi-Puritan demon-hunter to give him an origin story with a redemptive arc, but as a whole the movie is fairly true to the character. 

For a fairly low-budget fantasy film, Solomon Kane looks great, is jam-packed with good actors who seem to be invested in their roles, and has a suitably haunted James Purefoy as Kane. In terms of both sword-and-sorcery movies and Robert E. Howard adaptations, I might actually rank this over the original Conan the Barbarian, if only because its lack of pomposity hews much closer to Howard’s writing than John Milius’s bellicose sturm-und-drang. Highly recommended.

Marlowe: adapted by Stirling Silliphant from the novel The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler; directed by Paul Bogart; starring James Garner (Philip Marlowe), Gayle Hunnicutt (Mavis Wald), Carroll O’Connor (Lt. French), Rita Moreno (Dolores Gonzales), Jackie Coogan (Grant Hicks), Bruce Lee (Winslow Wong), and Sharon Farrell (Orfamay Quest) (1969): Enjoyable, typically twisty Raymond Chandler mystery gets updated by 20 years to late 1960’s Los Angeles. James Garner is his typically low-key self as Philip Marlowe — you could see this as an audition tape for the later Rockford Files. Bruce Lee shows up as a mob enforcer; what happens to him is actually pretty hilarious. Recommended.

The X-Files: Goblins by Charles L. Grant (1994): The first original X-Files novel has its pleasures. Released midway through the second season of the series, Goblins was written by veteran horror scribe Charles L. Grant. As with Grant’s own work, Goblins is quiet horror for the most part, implying a lot and showing very little. Unfortunately, the ‘monster’ in Goblins would barely support an hour-long episode of the series, much less a nearly 300-page novel. Grant does a nice job of capturing the Mulder/Scully dynamic and the paranoid tone of the series. Suffice to say, though, that as in the dreadful movie Hollow Man, ‘invisible’ apparently means the same as ‘invincible.’ Lightly recommended.

Department 18: Night Souls by L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims (2010): Night Souls tools along for its first three-quarters as a fairly soapy occult procedural that’s light on horror and originality and really long on really short chapters, I assume because it was meant to be read in installments during every trip to the bathroom.

Alas, with about 75 pages to go, it completely craps the bed. Despite the fact that its climax is rushed and sketchy and amazingly satisfaction-light, Night Souls nonetheless finds the space for back-to-back chapters in which major female characters are raped, murdered, and dismembered in graphic detail. Then it throws in the dismemberment of an old homeless guy in a subsequent chapter because the writers seem to have lost all interest in the procedural aspects of their own narrative. As we’ve already been shown how bad the antagonists can be, these chapters don’t tell or show us anything we don’t know — and the later fate of the rapist-murderers comes and goes with so little effect that there’s no sense of catharsis or justice or really much of anything.

Oh, and one of the women is raped by a lizard-like monster which we’re told on more than one occasion has a foot-long penis with giant barbs on it. Hooray! As the only other horror-novel rape scenes involving monsters with barbed penises that I recall happen in terrible Richard Laymon novels (yes, more than once, barbed-penis-rape-scene fans!), I can only assume this is a grotesque tip of a grotesque hat. There are horror novels that effectively portray rape scenes; Night Souls is not one of them unless you’re a rape fetishist or a connoisseur of unusually large barbed penises. Not recommended.

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