Night Slaves

Night Slaves
Jerry Sohl | Fawcett Books | 1965 | 174 pages

Suffering from a mental breakdown that has reduced him to a near-catatonic state, Clay Howard slowly recuperates at a private psychiatric facility north of San Francisco. Under an intensive drug therapy program administered by Dr. Matthew Cassel, Clay recounts a strange tale that will challenge his prospects of recovery, and ultimately push him to the brink of insanity.

Clay and Marjorie’s marriage was already troubled at the time of the accident. Losing control of his vehicle, Clay crashed headlong into another car, killing the occupants. Only a heroic medical effort saved Clay’s life, leaving him with an implanted steel mesh in his shattered skull. Seeking solace from Clay’s guilt, and a chance to repair their relationship, the couple head north on a road trip. Setting by chance upon the town of Eldrid, Clay wonders why—given the stereotype of the sleepy small town—all the residents somehow seem sleep deprived.

Clay experiences a bizarre phenomenon on his first night in Eldrid. Just before midnight, he watches all the town’s citizens slowly gather in the town plaza, load up in trucks, and drive off into the night. Seemingly under a sort of hypnotic trance, they are not responsive to questions, and follow a prescribed program of actions. To his surprise and horror, Marjorie also falls under this mysterious spell, and disappears with the others toward their unknown purpose.

Author Jerry Sohl wrote several episodes for The Twilight Zone, and the core mystery of Night Slaves sets a familiar tone for viewers of Rod Serling’s anthology series. Returning the next morning, Marjorie awakes with no recollection of her nocturnal escapades. Attempting to convince her of her actions, Clay realizes that by persisting in discussing the events of the previous night, Marjorie will suspect his mental health of failing.

During another evening of night-time excursions by the townspeople and his wife, Clay meets an alluring young woman who seems unaffected by the hypnotic marching orders. Calling herself Naillil, she tantalizes Clay with her physical charms, and the possibility of providing the answers to Eldrid’s mysteries. Night Slaves actually offers the prospect of parallel romances; in addition to Clay’s infatuation with the pixyish Naillal (as recounted in the flashbacks), Dr. Cassel struggles to contain his growing attraction to Marjorie, who reluctantly acknowledges to herself that Clay is no longer the man she married. Both relationships pose some troubling questions; Dr. Cassel’s dubious medical ethics regarding involvement with a patient’s wife, and Clay’s doubtful maturity, fixated upon a young girl with whom he breaks into drugstores at night to make illicit milkshakes.

As Clay’s retelling grows more elaborate, his mental competence continues to be an open question. In a virtual validation of all the world’s tin-foil hat crazies, Clay’s resistance to mind control stems from the inherent electromagnetic-resistant properties of the metal plates in his head. He even fashions a chain-metal hat for his wife, out of a metal link purse purchased in the drugstore, in an attempt to block the signal that commands her to go out each evening. The elaborate evidence provided by the doctor supporting the delusional nature of Clay’s accounts feeds into his paranoid suspicions of vast, powerful conspiracies at work.

The nature of Eldrid’s affliction is revealed early, proving not to be the anticipated “Gotcha!” ending conditioned by so many Twilight Zone scripts. The real twist comes in response to the fundamental question, “Is Clay crazy?” Even the divisive ending remains ambiguous; is it a final act of shocking despair, or gateway to transcendental happiness?

Night Slaves was adapted into a 1970 made-for-television movie starring James Franciscus and Lee Grant.

Advertisements

Chamber of Darkness | Issue 8

Chamber of Darkness | Issue 8 | Marvel Comics | December 1970

I am the Invisible!
Professor Karlos Konak wants to rule the world. When his experiments on invisibility fail, he takes the logical next step of any self-respecting scientist—he resorts to witchcraft! Fortunately for him, the local witch possesses a pair of lenses that could potentially grant Konak his dream of becoming invisible. So after bullying his simpleton lab assistant and overpowering an old woman, will the professor ascend to his position of “King Konak”? This quick opening story retreads the all-too-familiar caution: Be careful what you wish for!

Believe It…or Not!
After his spy plane is struck by lighting, pilot Johnny Boone veers off course and crashes outside Moscow. However, the streets are strangely deserted, and he finds himself being pursued by a shadowy figure. A cold war fable that posits the notion that crossing the Iron Curtain equates to crossing the divide into the afterlife, this tale purports to shock by reviving the old chestnut of a twist, “Oh my God! He was DEAD ALL ALONG!

*Footnote for those who care about such mundane things as logic. Since Johnny disappeared into the realm of the mystical and vanished, no one could have possibly been in a position to return and tell this tale as framed.

A Thousand Years Later…
A scientist takes an immortality serum and lives a thousand years into the future, when an epic plan is hatched to save an overcrowded earth by populating the stars. Ennui around an everlasting life actually takes a backseat to the ultimate decision over staying behind on Earth while the rest of the human race escapes into space. The choice is made easier for our scientist when he discovers an alluring woman is also staying behind. But wait, is this the future or the distant past, as our Adam-and-Eve couple walk hand-in-hand into the sunset.

The Beast That Walks Like a Man!
A war rages between the populace of Jupiter and Mars. A Martian intelligence team discovers that a scientist on Earth has discovered an advanced weapon that could turn the tables of war to their favor. They send a Martian warrior to capture him, but events turn out differently than expected. Oh, and along the way the Martian crashes a Halloween party and wrestles an alligator.

To Walk the Night

To Walk the Night
William Sloane | Bantam Books | 1967 | 181 pages

Told primarily in a lengthy flashback, Berkeley (Bark) Jones recounts the strange story leading up to his best friend Jerry’s shocking suicide. Recapping the events of the last few months to Jerry’s father, Dr. Lister, Bark begins with the day of the “Big Game”.

Visiting their alma mater for a major football game with a rival team, Jerry convinces Bark to visit Professor LeNormand, Jerry’s mentor during his university days. LeNormand, an academic outcast who made many professional enemies with his controversial critique of Einstein’s Space-Time Continuum, lives an isolated existence in the university’s observatory. Upon their arrival, Bark and Jerry discover the still-smoldering remains of LeNormand, burned alive in his office chair.

The police are baffled by the circumstances of LeNormand’s death, but allow Bark and Jerry to return to New York City. Before they leave, however, they are shocked to learn that the stridently anti-social professor had married shortly before his death. Equally puzzling is Selena LeNormand herself, an alluringly beautiful, but strangely remote woman with seemingly no past life before her marriage.

Selena does not act like a grieving widow, and Bark is suspicious of her strange character and removed, out-of-sorts behavior. Jerry, however, immediately falls under Selena’s spell, and within a few weeks the couple become engaged.

With the compelling mystery of LeNormand’s death at its core, and the knowledge of Jerry’s suicide to come, To Walk the Night builds up the case for Selena’s implication through the accumulation of Bark’s small suspicions during his account to Dr. Lister. Although Bark’s tale ultimately leads to an expected conclusion, Selena’s role as a potential femme fatale leads to the examination of many individual clues as evidence of a greater, sinister purpose.

Beyond any potential cosmic or supernatural horror, however, Selena’s arrival succeeds as a drama describing the tension and insidious jealousy when a new romantic partner divides an existing male friendship. As roommates, Bark and Jerry behave like a married couple, cooking, traveling, and having picnics together. An exotic outsider changes a familiar dynamic, leaving one party resentful and full of recrimination.

Viewed as such, this disruptive template is recognizable in other stories of couple dynamics. For example, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Beatles—except for the:

***SPOILER***
breach in space/time and invasive, otherworldly presence

***END SPOILER***

Although, there are probably some who would still dubiously argue even those points.

The Torture Trust

torturetrust

The Torture Trust (Secret Agent X #1)
Brant House | Corinth Books | 1966 | 160 pages

Originally written in the thirties for a pulp magazine, several of the initial Secret Agent X series titles were reprinted by Corinth Books in the sixties. The never-named crime-fighting agent is a master of disguise, infiltrating and destroying criminal operations with his exceptional skills and ingenious gadgetry. Agent X is driven by a personal moral code, and is reviled by the police force as well as the criminal world. Intrepid newspaper reporter, Betty Dale, occasionally assists him in his campaign against evil, but she remains unaware of his true identity.

Investigating a string of acid-attack murders attributed to a cabal of villains known collectively as the Torture Trust, Secret Agent X assumes the identity of a low-level criminal to make contact with the group. Shadowing one of the black-robed members of the evil triad following an arranged secret meeting, X trails him back to an unremarkable house in the suburbs. Breaking into the man’s study, X discovers him to be Ronald Morvay, professor of psychology. Determined to uncover the motives of the Torture Trust and bring its remaining members to justice, X pursues a dangerous course of impersonations to infiltrate its inner core.

The biggest thrills in The Torture Trust derive from repeatedly placing its hero in impossible situations, trapped without hope of escape, that require use of his genius for quick-change disguise, or implementation of his unique arsenal of gadgetry. Whether caught in a police lock-down following a nightclub murder, or trapped in the secret headquarters of a criminal organization, Secret Agent X must utilize all the skills of his trade to free himself and keep his identity from being revealed. Conforming to serial adventure genre tropes, X must also rescue his colleague, Betty Dale, who is (naturally) kidnapped during the course of his investigation.

Although a certain suspension of disbelief is required regarding the equipment X must hide on his person to facilitate some of his high-wire persona changes (even Batman’s utility belt must surely pale in comparison), the pulpy fun of the escape scenarios more than compensates for the narrative convenience of having “just the right item” at hand.

Occasional footnotes by the author provide an almost exposé-like context for some of the agent’s exploits. We learn that X rarely eats regular food, but rather synthetic meals in pill form. He utilizes a radium-based paint to taunt his enemies (and the police), with the graphic letter “X” appearing on walls and phony business cards in his wake. Further, he possesses a moral code to never kill, equipping a gas gun and paralysis dart (in his shoe) that debilitates, rather than kills, his targets.

Establishing the groundwork for the series to come, The Torture Trust mixes elements from the adventure, spy, horror, and science fiction genres into a highly entertaining romp.

Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saved the World)

turkishstarwars001

Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saved the World)
Cüneyt Arkin | Aytekin Akkaya | Directed by Çetin Inanç | 1982 | 91 minutes

A blaster-hot mess of random edits, recycled musical cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and intellectual-property-be-damned scenes stolen directly from the original Star WarsThe Man Who Saved the World delivers a trampoline-jump laden delirium of “bad cinema” delights (depending upon your love of cinema cheese, or, if applicable, your level of intoxication).

After a rambling, nonsensical introduction–with repeated use of stock footage–detailing the destruction of Earth, our two Turkish heroes, Murat (Cüneyt Arkin) and Ali (Aytekin Akkaya), engage in a dogfight against a literal backdrop of projected scenes from Star Wars. Seemingly shot down (perhaps by Rebel fighters, Imperial fighters, or maybe even the Millennium Falcon), the pair instead find themselves on a vaguely Tatooine-like planet. An evil overlord called the the Magician takes responsibility for their teleportation, boasting of his immortal powers and detailing his plans to harness the power of their brains to take over the Earth–wait, wasn’t that already destroyed in the prologue?

Beyond a requisite cantina scene featuring some chop-socky action against actors wearing fur suits, the story eventually drifts away from the Star Wars source material. Murat and Ali jump and kick their way through a host of other rubber- and fur-suited enemies, but only after a long training session jumping and kicking boulders, some of which inexplicably explode upon impact. In a pocket of preserved ancient Earth religious artifacts, Murat discovers a tiny, discolored brain and magic sword (cardboard lightsaber, if you prefer) that grant him the power to ultimately defeat the Magician.

Preferring to melt down the sword into a powerful pair of bronze-colored gloves, Murat punches his way through another series of masked and suited enemies, frequently using his newfound powers to tear off their furry arms and use their severed limbs as fatal weapons. The fate of the Earth (will it be destroyed, again?) hangs in the balance as he finally confronts the Magician (who unfortunately never delivers the line, “Murat, I am your father.”), with scenes of the Death Star and random X-wing fighters projected in the background.

In the epilogue, Murat blasts off in the Millennium Falcon, perfectly summing up the nature of the human condition:

“There wouldn’t be humans without the World, and a World without humans…because humanity is the most important thing in the Universe.”

turkishstarwars003

Turkishstarwars004

turkishstarwars031

turkishstarwars005

turkishstarwars007

turkishstarwars011

turkishstarwars019

turkishstarwars020

turkishstarwars022

turkishstarwars023

turkishstarwars024

turkishstarwars026

turkishstarwars027

turkishstarwars032

turkishstarwars030

Night Gallery – Room with a View / The Little Black Bag / The Nature of the Enemy

NightGallery

Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 2 | December 23, 1970

Segment One | Room with a View

This short, chatty segment stars Diane Keaton as an impressionable young nurse manipulated by her patient into exacting revenge upon his unfaithful wife. Although a violent encounter in the nurse’s recent past is mentioned briefly, the jump to the denouement is a quick one—especially considering the romantic fulcrum is a hairy-chested chauffeur. A brief glimpse of an amazing pair of ladies’ flair-leg trousers in motion serves as a fashion bonus.

bedrest

chaffeur

the_wife

flair

Segment Two | The Little Black Bag

An accident during a time travel experiment in the distant future—a future looking suspiciously like a poorly furnished apartment—sends an advanced medical kit back in time, where it is discovered by a down-on-his-luck ex-doctor on skid row. Burgess Meredith plays it up as a pickled hobo searching for redemption, but his booze-hound pal wants the eight dollars offered for the bag by the local pawn shop to start his next bender. The bit about the bag’s trans-temporal monitoring system is pure hokum, since a self-destruct option—if at all possible— would have been employed immediately.

the_distant_future

a_rare_find

screen_shot

Segment Three | The Nature of the Enemy

NASA Mission Control watches a broadcast from a rescue mission on the moon, where one spacecraft has crashed and another has gone missing. The rescue team discovers a strange assemblage made of the ruined ship, leading to the wildly groan-inducing reveal of ***SPOILERS*** Mousetraps in Space! ***END SPOILERS***

live_from_the_moon

what_is_it

looks_familiar

omg

mousetrap