THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The New Vic Valentine Novel "Hard-Boiled Heart": A Murder Mystery About The Death of Dreams

Perhaps prematurely, in retrospect, but with a positive attitude I publicly proclaimed 2014 would be "my year" back when it first began. Turned out to be wishful thinking that didn't quite pay off the way I'd hoped, though I did manage to achieve my major proactive goal of relocating from the Bay Area to Seattle, something I've been planning to do for at least a couple of years. That in itself was a Herculean accomplishment.

I succeeded against many logistical and financial odds mainly because my beautiful wife, the brilliant, talented, magical Monica "Tiki Goddess" Cortes Viharo was accepted into the PhD program at the University of Washington School of Drama, awarded one of only two full scholarships out of hundreds of applicants. This gave us a valid purpose for leaving her beloved home state, and my residence for my entire adult life. Besides a change of pace and scenery, I really wanted to move because I dig the cool, cloudy climate up here in the Pacific Northwest, but there had to be more impetus than the weather (and similar progressive/artistic culture) for such an epic transition. Monica's acceptance into this prestigious program made it both possible and practical.

We're both very happy with our new home, though we miss all of our friends and family back by the Bay. I feel very gratified (and vindicated!) that Monica is finally pursuing her life's dream of becoming a professor. But, as much as I love Seattle, my own ultimate goal perpetually eludes me: success as a writer. This has been my lifelong ambition, and at this point, given present circumstances, I may just have to learn to live without it.

The sexiest, most stylish grad student on the UDub campus
Proud members of the University of Washington Club

Sure, I have a cool steady blogging gig again and have had several short stories published this year (see links down at bottom of this column), but the movie version of Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, my single biggest professional break and career-maker-or-breaker, remains in limbo, stuck in "development hell" after finally coming so close to fruition I could literally touch it.

In case you haven't heard by now, Christian Slater has owned the option on this property since 2001, and is very passionate about the project, but despite coming very close, we've yet to make it finally happen. 

Cruising with Christian off the coast of Miami, 2012 - one of my favorite memories, ever.
Another lifetime highlight: riding the original "African Queen" in Key Largo, Fl.
It's been a long, unpredictable, seemingly endless journey that may or not finally be over, with a heartbreakingly anti-climactic non-denouement instead of a triumphant finale leading to even greater victories.

Maybe I need to accept that Thrillville Theater was indeed my professional peak, even though that was never my true dream. It did provide me with my public platform, and I made a lot of great friends via the networking, but it was really just a cool gig, nothing more. It may very well be that at this stage of the game, my wave has already crested, career-wise. At least I have Monica, which is everything I could want in terms of familial fulfillment. But if you're feeling physically exhausted and someone suggests you just need to eat something, rather than rest, they're not addressing the real issue. Two totally different needs. One does not fix the other. Still, I'm very lucky I'm not alone on this strange journey, because for a long time, I was, and it was pure hell. In fact, that personal pain provided the genesis of Vic Valentine. And pain remains my main source of creative inspiration, unfortunately.

If this is truly the end of this wildly improbable story, it will be (and already feels like) the most devastating disappointment of my entire life. I am frankly having a very rough time coping with it. My depression is conditional, not chemical in nature, with only one solution I can think of, and I have absolutely no control over that. I've tried psychiatric therapy, medication and moving to a different city and totally changing my surroundings, but this unexpected turn of events has left a void in my heart and a crater in my soul that can never be filled by anything else. It's difficult to adequately explain to anyone who hasn't experienced something similar, like suddenly losing your life's savings in a market crash or Ponzi scheme. I can't think of a better comparison. After dedicating most of my life to the pursuit of this dream, the movie - which would finally give my writing official validation and "street cred," while shedding a bright light on my entire body of work - meant literally everything to me. Now...I just don't know. I really don't.

My ship seemingly sailed into port then backed out without me, for the second time, following the Judith Regan debacle in the early '90s. It was like I was lifted out of my midlife doldrums to deliriously dizzying heights, then abruptly dropped and shattered into pieces. If nothing else breaks soon, besides my spirit, I may never fully recover. That's the hard truth of the situation as it now stands. Only Monica and my cats sustain me these days. As well as the beauty of my new surroundings in The Emerald City. We had a great summer, including a trip to Portland and my own journey to Santa Fe to rendezvous with my father Robert Viharo.

But still, I am haunted day and night by this serious setback.

So how am I dealing with this deep, dark depression? Why, exactly the way I did back in the day, before Thrillville, before Monica: I wrote another book, creatively sublimating and chronicling all of my angst into a fictional format.

The result? My first new Vic Valentine novel in nearly two decades: the aptly titled HARD-BOILED HEART! I've been planning on writing a sixth book in the series for a long time, though the story has been slow to develop. Excerpts have been published as vignettes in the "Nightcap" editions of Bachelor Pad Magazine, as well as the detective story anthology The Shamus Sampler 2.

Illustration by the late Sergio Avenia for "Private Dick, Public Enemy",
Bachelor Pad Magazine Nightcap Edition #1, Summer 2012

Illustration by Scooter Harris for "Space Needle Fix,"
Bachelor Pad Magazine Nightcap Edition #2, summer 2013
I've been toying around with the idea of incorporating the movie deal into Vic's world for some time, but wasn't sure how to do it, given the constantly twisting true life saga. Finally it all came into sharp focus after a few months of harsh reflection and self-imposed exile in Seattle. I threw all my recent experiences into this steamy, pulpy stew, as you can ascertain from the eerily reality-resonant storyline:

PLOT SYNOPSIS: "Older but hardly wiser, Vic Valentine is in hot water again as he becomes embroiled with a movie star named 'Charlie' planning to make a film about the anachronistic private eye's tumultuous life. Trouble is, the alcoholic actor is also a serial murder suspect, complicating both Charlie's career and Vic's dreams of redemption and success. Meantime, Vic becomes erotically entangled with Raven, a voluptuous but vicious burlesque dancer, and is driven to despair by a seemingly supernatural stalker in the form of a mysterious sailor statue named 'Ivar.' Follow Vic through the mean, green streets of Seattle as he copes with middle-aged melancholia while confronting demons from his past that threaten the guardian angels of his future."

Sound familiar? Maybe, but fiction is stranger than truth. Above all, my aim with my pulp fiction is entertaining the reader, and I promise I won't ever let you down in that department. Still, I do confront some sticky, universally relatable issues head on with this new, "mature" work of art, which is not simply a cynical piece of exploitative commerce.

I sum up Hard-boiled Heart as "a murder mystery about the death of dreams." Two decades after his 1990s exploits as depicted in the five novels so far, a fifty-something Vic is confronting the fact he is not merely a hard-drinking ladies' man, per his self-proclaimed "job description" and the traditional macho traits of the noir anti-hero. He's actually an anachronistic, alcoholic sex addict. This may be the root of all his many problems. Not mine, mind you. I've long been happily ensconced in a very happy (and monogamous) marriage with a stable home life. There are often deliberate, definite distinctions between author and creation, and this is one of many, despite the obvious parallels. 

For one thing, "Ivar" is based on an actual sailor statue that was mysteriously left on my doorstep back in Alameda about a year ago. I finally found out the identity of the culprits once they confessed (old pals Mel Waldorf and Jessica Lindsey), following much publicly expressed paranoia, fearing it was some sort of voodoo curse or the obsessive act of a deranged stalker (turned out to be a little of both?), but this ingenious if devious prank did provide an interesting subplot, which Mel and Jessica claim was their plan all along. Glad I could play along with the gag...

I renamed this spooky stalker statue "Ivar" after this Seattle icon.
Anyway, I'm very proud of this book and hopefully it will be published sometime in 2015. Right now it's under consideration by my friend and editor Joe Clifford, superstar author in his own right (I highly recommend his latest, Lamentation) and acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, which reissued Love Stories in the summer of 2013. This rejuvenated interest in that out-of-print work and I was able to milk a lot of fresh publicity out of it, for which I am eternally grateful. But the fact remains, without a green light on the movie version, interest is waning again. Even with its "cult" status, it's still an "old" novel, initially published 20 years ago, so I figured it was time for some fresh blood. Vic's blood, that is, which I spilled liberally in these new pages. If I have to suffer, Vic gets it ten times worse. That's just how it works.

Though it's not published yet, I'm already cranking up the promo machine. I

First things first: the crucial cover. I was lucky enough to secure the services of the great artist Scooter Harris, my colleague at Bachelor Pad Magazine, for this stunningly stimulating artwork:

Scooter had already been creating some pieces just for fun, putting Vic (and Monica Tiki Goddess!) in the colorful realm of my favorite TV series Batman (which is finally available on Blu Ray, proving that sometimes impossible dreams do come true, I even created a Facebook page devoted to this effort). So I knew he was the man for the job, based on these fanciful pop art pieces:

Here are some early promo pieces for Hard-boiled Heart by Scooter, leading up to his initial drafts for the final cover:

Scooter's first piece inspired my conception of the book's main femme fatale, Raven Rydell
The image most obviously influenced by Raven de la Croix, my friend and
star of Russ Meyer's UP! (1976), who helped inform the character's, um, "development"

This piece was inspired by the photo below, taken at Noir City at the Castro in San Francisco, this past January - right after I found out the movie project was being put on indefinite hiatus...
my expression says it all.
I loved the image so asked Scooter to use it for the back cover, leaving out
the tall stranger photo-bombing the background, since I didn't have permission to copy his visage.
The final pre-pub back cover.
Fantastic "full frontal" cover art sans text.

So...we'll see what the future holds for Vic Valentine, Private Eye, a character that has been left for dead several times, but continues to get resurrected, one way or another.

Meantime, I've left behind my liquid legacy in the form of a cocktail - the "Vic Valentine" continues to be a top selling house drink down at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, CA. So if you don't like to read, you can always just drink one of my Vic Valentine books...

The long, winding history of Vic Valentine in print:

Original edition of Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me,
published by Wild Card Press; 1995, cover by Tim Racer
Fate Is My Pimp/Romance Takes a Rain Check (1994, self-published 2011)
Cover by Rich Black
I Lost My Heart in Hollywood/Diary of a Dick (1995, self-published 2011)
Cover by Rick Lucey

Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me,
Gutter Books reissue, 2013, cover by storyboard artist Matt Brown
Hard-boiled Heart, the sixth and possibly final entry in the series,
coming in 2015; cover art by Scooter Harris.

Mock poster art by Matt Brown, later used for the cover of the novel's reissue
Keeping the "Christian" faith...

I still have faith, even though I've lost hope, or vice versa. I just can't tell anymore. Happy Holidays, and all that jazz. Onward 2015! Whatever it may hold for all of us. Cheers.

Fantagraphics storie in Georgetown, Seattle 
Pike Place Market
Seattle Center Monorail

My 22nd annual Elvis holiday card

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Radio play based on my unpublished novella SHADOW MUSIC (1996)

#29 featuring my regular movie column,
this one on Classic Kaiju Cinema (Japanese Monster Movies) 
featuring my regular movie column, this time "Retro Robot Cinema"!

My story SHORT AND CHOPPY and editor Craig T. McNeely's article WILL VIHARO: UNSUNG HERO OF THE PULPS featured in the premiere issue of the new pulp magazine

My story THE LOST SOCK featured in the second issue of DARK CORNERS (Winter 2014)

My short story ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE as well as my Tribute To Ingrid Bergman

My Vic Valentine vignette BRAIN MISTRUST is included in this anthology:

My short story BEHIND THE BAR is included in this anthology:
includes my short story "PEOPLE BUG ME"
Filmmaker Jeff M. Giordano is presenting the "Director's Cut" of his documentary about my Bay Area career as a film programmer/impresario/pulp author
"THE THRILL IS GONE" in our mutual childhood state of New Jersey on December 29, 2014

Me in one of the South Jersey towns where I grew up in the 1970s, Glassboro, during a 1998 visit.

Rough cut now online!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Will the Thrill's Top 50 Sci-Fi Movies

Image by Aaron Farmer
Last month I posted my Top 50 Horror Films, so naturally this month I'm following up with my Top 50 Sci-Fi Movies. Though the genres often overlap (King Kong, Creature from the Black Lagoon, even Frankenstein), there is a clear distinction between the two. Sci-Fi is frequently more cerebral and fantastic and isn't typically as "alienating" (cough) as Horror, which has a more uncomfortably visceral impact, so its appeal is much wider, as evidenced by the contemporary box office, whereas Horror has all but vanished from movie theaters (except for all these Paranormal copycats), while Sci-Fi is experiencing yet another resurgence thanks to hits like Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Star Wars reboots. Meantime, horror seems relegated to direct-to-video/cable releases and TV hits like The Walking Dead, which I watch religiously, and Sleepy Hollow, which frankly puts me to sleep. Could be Ebola and videotaped terrorist beheadings offer too much competition. I'm still generally more of a horror than sci-fi buff, though I dig Space Age iconography the most.

Anyway, my criteria for this highly subjective list is basically the same as last time: I go for style, sex and sleaze. Don't look for any high-falutin' "big idea" movies here (though a few are sprinkled in for good measure - I always appreciate quality writing, too). This is why I call myself a "Shathead" and not a "Trekkie" - I much prefer Star Trek TOS over any of the spin-offs or sequels, mainly because of the midcentury modernism, mascara, mini-skirts, and monsters (and of course the magical main trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy). So keep that in mind.

I recommend all of these films, but this is by no means presented as a "definitive" guide to the genre. I'm no professional critic, just an enthusiast sharing my particular tastes on my own public platform. Hopefully you'll be introduced to a few flicks you're not familiar with, and you'll revel in the discovery. Bon voyage. Cheers.

1. Forbidden Planet (1956) - my all-time favorite, hands down. I really want someone to open a cocktail lounge that looks like the spectacular sets of this movie, with Robby the Robot as bartender and Anne Francis lookalikes as the waitresses.

Mock pulp cover...if only...
2. Blade Runner (1982) - the ultimate futuristic film noir. Love the Vangelis soundtrack.

3. Barbarella (1968) - damn, Jane Fonda is hot in this! That opening shot alone...and it just gets sexier and more psychedelic from there. Visually true to the Italian comic strip source. One of my biggest regular hits back in Thrillville. Wonder why.


4. Lifeforce (1985) - speaking of sexy sci-fi, Tobe Hooper's exploitative space vampire epic may be the all-time topper...and yes, Mathilda May, whenever the hell she wants

5. This Island Earth (1955) - the Metaluna Mutant is iconic, with spectacular sets in lurid color.

6. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Stanley Kubrick's visionary adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel remains as controversial and provocative as ever.

7. The Thing (1982) - I dig the 1951 original (as well as the 2011 "prequel") but IMHO John Carpenter made the greatest version of John W. Campbell's story "Who Goes There?", with a creepy Carpenter-esque score by Ennio Morricone really setting the ominous mood.

8. Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) - the poster alone is iconic, and the movie is, well, fun. Bulb-headed aliens (created by the great Paul Blaisdell) with booze in their claws attack teenagers, including a young Frank Gorshin. What's not to love?

9. Dark City (1998) - more great sci-fi noir with a fascinating concept and gorgeous retro-futuristic art design, and then there's Melissa George...WARNING: WATCH "DIRECTOR'S CUT" ONLY!

10. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) - whenever someone asks me "what does 'psychotronic' mean?", which isn't often, frankly, I point them here...babes in bikinis, horny aliens, marauding android, hairy monster, Puerto Rico, impromptu garage "music videos" has it all.

11. Videodrome (1983) - David Cronenberg meets Deborah Harry. The social commentary still resonates, in fact more than ever. "LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!"

12. Destroy All Monsters (1968) - the Ocean's 11 of kaiju cinema.

13. Humanoids from the Deep (1980) - finally, Roger Corman actually shows the audience what happens when the horny aquatic mutated monster drags the nubile female swimmer to its underwater lair (as if we didn't know)...

14. The Angry Red Planet (1959) - surrealistic stuff, especially that rat-bat-crab-spider thinging...positively hallucinatory, long before mind-altering drugs became fashionable.

15. Mars Attacks! (1996) - near-perfect cinematic interpretation of an infamous pack of bubble gum cards. I only wish Tim Burton had included the giant mutated insects, but with Pam Grier, Jack Nicholson and Tom Jones in the same movie, no real complaints.

16. Brazil (1985) - yet more ingenious sci-fi noir. Terry Gilliam's moody masterpiece will never get old or die.

17. The Road Warrior (1981) - Mel Gibson backlash often obscures the greatness of this action masterpiece. Looking forward to Fury Road, especially since it stars Tom Hardy as Max.

18. Robocop (1987) - Paul Verhoeven's satirical horror sci-fi action classic will never be matched or duplicated, so stop trying.

19. It Conquered the World (1956) - early Roger Corman classic featuring one of Paul Blaisdell's most memorable monsters, plus Lee Van Cleef, Peter Graves and Beverly Garland.

20. Tarantula (1955) - with all due respect to Them!, this is my favorite of the Big Bug movies. I just find spiders scarier than ants, plus music by Mancini and Mara Corday...

21. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) - Ray Harryhausen's amazing saucers were stolen by Tim Burton for Mars Attacks! But that only proves he has good tastes. They're definitive. 

22. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - easily my favorite of all four screen versions, though the 1978 remake is close.

23. It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) - the original Alien, Paul Blaisdell style.

24. Day the World Ended (1955) - yet another Roger Corman classic with yet another Paul Blaisdell monsterpiece.

25. Invaders from Mars (1953) - a child's nightmare beautifully captured on three-strip Technicolor film.

26. Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) - sleazy, steamy, small town/suburban space-alien sex, '70s grindhouse style. Dig.

27. Queen of Outer Space (1958) - all hail the planet of pinups! Allegedly based on a plot legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht drunkenly scribbled on a cocktail napkin, though the basic concept was previously exploited in the B classic Cat-Women of the Moon (1953). This one is in eye-popping color and it has Zsa Zsa and more high-heels so it gets the edge.

28. Wild, Wild Planet (1965) - this strange, swingin' Italian production totally lives up to that title.

29. The Time Travelers (1964) - I just really love the feel of this one.

30. 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) - Harryhausen's Ymir rules.

31. Fiend Without a Face (1958) - stop motion animated brain-sucking brains from outer space. Yea, it rocks.

32. I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) - Director Gene Fowler Jr. follows up my favorite horror movie I Was a Teenage Werewolf with this sordid saga of a strange, suburban, space alien sex cult. Well, sort of.

33. Colossus of New York (1958) - beautifully atmospheric sci-fi robot noir.

34. Escape from New York (1983) - one of my favorite John Carpenter movies/scores, with Kurt Russell in possibly his greatest role as Snake Plissken, though he made a great Elvis, too.

35. Starcrash (1979) - I much prefer this shameless rip-off of Star Wars to the original for two big reasons: Caroline Munro.

36. Death Race 2000 (1975) - brilliant satire, forget the soulless remake. Naturally I showed it in December 1999 in Thrillville at The Parkway.

37. Galaxy of Terror (1981) - another sleazy Stars Wars/Alien rip-off but with gratuitous nudity and monster sex, so it gets the nod.

38. The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) - giant bald man in diapers attacks Vegas. Love it.

39. Planet of the Apes (1968) - I dig all the sequels and even the recent reboots (everything but Tim Burton's version) but the original is still the best, IMHO. I tried showing it in Thrillville twice back in the day, but first it got help up at the depot and the second time they sent me Beneath the Planet of the Apes, with Nova's one word of dialogue, "Taylor!", inexplicably cut from the faded print.

40. The Blob (1958) - Steve McQueen was ultra-cool from the very beginning. Catchy theme song. Dig that diner, too.

41. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - have to include this one, if only for Gort and Bernard Herrmann's chilling theremin score, but its message of universal peace (through intergalactic force if necessary) is forever timely.

42. Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) - superb Southern-fried sleaze. Star Yvette Vickers was too sweet and beautiful to die so tragically, but she'll never be forgotten here in Thrillville.

43. The Time Machine (1960) - George Pal's adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel remains charming and exciting.

44. War of the Worlds (1953) - George Pal isn't as faithful to H.G. Wells' novel as the Steven Spielberg remake (which was pretty good) or even Orson Welles' infamous radio play, but it remains essential alien invasion cinema.

45. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) - New Wave rock 'n' roll comic book pulp serial classic. Now where's that promised sequel...

46. The Green Slime (1969) - c'mon, one of the greatest theme songs ever! The tentacled, cyclopic rubber monsters are cool, too. And of course there's Luciana Paluzzi.

47.  The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) - the sun has a similar effect on me. I met Robert Clarke once, too, helluva nice guy. We share similar tastes in babes, too.

48. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) - Jack Arnold's thoughtful, sensitive but action-packed adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic novel.

49. The Fly (1986) - I love the 1958 original but David Cronenberg's version is just so seductively disgusting I can't resist it.

50. Under the Skin (2014) - my favorite sci-fi flick of this century, and my favorite movie of 2014. It's very slow, strange and surrealistic, but...look at that poster. 'Nuff said.

The ULTIMATE erotic exotic sci-fi novel IT CAME FROM HANGAR 18!
Filmmaker Jeff M. Giordano is presenting the "Director's Cut" of his documentary about my Bay Area career as a film programmer/impresario/pulp author
"THE THRILL IS GONE" in our mutual childhood state of New Jersey on December 29, 2014

Work-in-progress cut
Me in one of the South Jersey towns where I grew up in the 1970s, Glassboro, during a 1998 visit.


Radio play based on my unpublished novella SHADOW MUSIC (1996)

#29 featuring my regular movie column,
this one on Classic Kaiju Cinema (Japanese Monster Movies) 
featuring my regular movie column, this time "Retro Robot Cinema"!

My story SHORT AND CHOPPY and editor Craig T. McNeely's article WILL VIHARO: UNSUNG HERO OF THE PULPS featured in the premiere issue of the new pulp magazine

My story THE LOST SOCK featured in the second issue of DARK CORNERS (Winter 2014)

My short story ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE as well as my Tribute To Ingrid Bergman

My Vic Valentine vignette BRAIN MISTRUST is included in this anthology:

My short story BEHIND THE BAR is included in this anthology:
includes my short story "PEOPLE BUG ME"