The Curator of Schlock #178: The Reptile

The Curator of Schlock #178 by Jeff Shuster

The Reptile

Because The Amphibian just doesn’t sound as sinister. 

Your Curator of Schlock is back from his one month hiatus that everything to do with planning hard for the future of schlock curation and nothing to do with visiting Disney theme parks in the Orlando area. I know. I know. Liar. Liar. Pants on fire. Some observations. Those spinning toys that spew out soap bubbles need to get banned before some kid gets soap in someone’s eye. Still, no TRON ride, but I did get a glimpse of the super cool TRON ride they’ve got in Shanghai Disneyland. I’m going to cry now. At least, the Carousal of Progress is still in play. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

But I’m not here to yack about great, big, beautiful tomorrows. I know many of you have been asking why haven’t more Hammer movies been covered on this blog and to that I say, “I don’t know.” May is Hammer movie month over here at the Museum of Schlock. Tonight’s entry is 1966’s The Reptile from director John Gilling.


This is pretty good one. I’ll never say that every Hammer movie is a gem, but as a studio, the films are collectively great. Just look at the poster. It’s got a half-snake woman hissing and baring fangs. That gives me the willies!

This movie starts out with some bearded guy getting attacked by something or someone in this old dark house. Before I can figure out what’s going on, his skin is turning black and blue and then the guy starts spitting out white puss. That’s a fairly horrible way to die. Anyway, this gentleman had a brother named Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) who is married to Valerie (Jennifer Daniel). Harry’s brother wasn’t a rich man, but he did own a quaint little cottage in a town called Clagmoor Heath. Not much of an inheritance, but a free house is a free house. I’d like a house.


Apparently, people have been dropping off like flies in Clagmoor Heath, all due to a mysterious disease the locals call The Black Death. Ummm…yeah. It’s the snake woman.


Harry Spalding and his wife find the cottage ransacked. Harry then goes down to village pub and starts accusing the locals of trashing his brother’s place. They don’t take too kindly to accusations and I half expect the scene to devolve into some sort Straw Dogs fiasco, but they just leave the pub, insulted over the accusation. Harry befriends the pub owner, Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper) and the town crazy person, Mad Peter (John Laurie). They invite Tom Bailey over for breakfast and Mad Peter over for dinner. A good time is had by all. Until Mad Peter gets bitten by the snake woman and dies!


The Reptile (1966) Directed by John Gilling Shown from left: Jacqueline Pearce, Jennifer Daniel

Tom Bailey helps Harry dig up his brother’s grave and, wouldn’t you know it, there are two fang marks on his neck. Harry has a neighbor named Dr. Franklin (Noel Willman) that Wikipedia describes as sinister, but that I would only describe as unpleasant. Dr. Franklin has a beautiful young daughter named Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) that plays the sitar and turns into a snake woman at night to kill the townsfolk.


I think we find out that it’s some kind of curse a cult from India placed upon her. I think if a cult placed a curse on me, I’d turn into a duck-billed platypus man. The movie could be called The Platypus.

Duck-billed Platypus

Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 258: A Star Wars Roundtable!


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Episode 258 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Banner SW show 1

In this week’s episode, Julian Chambliss, Dianne Turgeon Richardson, Tod Caviness, and Kevin Hutchinson join me in a roundtable discussion of Star Wars. We talk about the questionable genius of George Lucas, the role of Disney in anticipating the needs and desires of the SW audience, the imposition of romance in war narratives, and the profound role of play in our development of self. A lot of beer was drunk. We made fun of each other.


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Check out Kevin Hutchinson’s podcast, Nerding Out About.

Episode 258 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Episode 257: A Craft Discussion of Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds with Vanessa Blakeslee!


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Episode 257 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination.

Vanessa and John 2


In Other Worldshandmaids tale

Oryx and CrakeHaggard SheIsland of Dr. Moreau

Episode 257 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #52: Tempest (1982)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

52. Paul Mazursky’s [The] Tempest (1982)

Let’s start with a necessary observation: Paul Mazursky’s Tempest has very little of Shakespeare’s play in it. There is none of Shakespeare’s words. This film is about a Manhattanite architect’s midlife crisis, with some loose associations with Shakespeare’s themes and (vaguely) characters. There’s no magician, although the architect might be insane. The Shakespearean allusion is almost a weird distraction, for the first hour and forty-five minutes, after which the connections to The Tempest swell into the film, pulling at all of these surging plots that have been seemed so unlike the Shakespeare story.

As I have said before in my treatment of Japanese and Indian films, non-English adaptations of Shakespeare tend to be breathtaking, but I am really suspicious of English film adaptations that avoid Shakespeare’s language.

I was prepared to loathe this film, but I didn’t.

Tempest 1

Mazurksy was responsible for a lot of mainstream dramas that were funny, and manages to find a surprising middle ground between Woody Allen’s wallowing in neuroses as if they are inevitable and clownish, and Alan Alda’s pointedly smart, funny, earthy earnestness, say, in The Four Seasons. In this Tempest, Leon Capitanos’s and Paul Mazursky’s dialogue is evocative, revelatory of character, and believably oblique and strange and intuitive. Here is Phillip, his wife Antonia, and his daughter Miranda stuck in traffic in New York on New Year’s Eve:

Tempest 10


I should have stayed home and watched Guy Lombardo on television. 


Guy Lombardo’s dead.






How sad.




Who’s Guy Lombardo?

Or here’s Phillip talking to his love interest, Aretha.


That’s how I’m working my way back. Getting singing jobs.


Back to New York?


Unless I fall in love with you, which is a distinct possibility.


That would be a mistake. I am right in the middle of a nervous breakdown.


Who’d she run off with?


Oh, she didn’t exactly run.


You’re in a lot of pain, huh?


So are you.

In some ways, this non-Shakespearean Tempest moves more directly than the source material towards the emotions of its main characters.

So the architect decides to quit his job working for a gangster who is building a casino, with whom his wife, frustrated with his mid-life antics, will have an affair. He exiles himself to Greece with his daughter, and eventually they, Aretha, and her dog Nino, will retire to an isolated Greek island populated only by the wild man, Kalibanos, who is perhaps rather overfamiliar with his goats.

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The acting seems so surprising and real in this film. Kalibanos is played by the exquisite Raoul Julia.

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Phillip (our Prospero) is played by John Cassavetes. Gena Rowlands plays Atonia (our Antonio).

Molly Ringwald Tempest

Molly Ringwald, in her first film performance, plays Miranda, in an electric performance.

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Susan Sarandon plays Aretha, who is perhaps our Ariel. When she sings, you can hear hints of Janet from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The ensemble cast is exquisite: their performances clearly feed off one another.

Should you track down and watch this film, there are a few surprises I feel compelled not to spoil for you. Let me just say that some of what happens in the last act makes up for how pat and neat the final conclusion turns out to be. In a Shakespeare film this messed up, some shocks are in order.



John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 256: How to Get Published in Lit Mags!

Episode 256 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I shut up and let Ephraim Scott Sommers, Vanessa Blakeslee, and David James Poissant discuss how to get published in lit mags,

Litlando How to Get Published

plus Tiffany Fussell discusses how The Secret Garden changed her life.

Tiffany Fussell


The Secret Garden

Episode 256 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Buzzed Books #52: The Atheist Wore Goat Silk

Buzzed Books #52 by Amy Watkins

Anna Journey’s The Atheist Wore Goat Silk

Much art is made to elevate mundane things. Think of Georgia O’Keefe demanding that we look again at humble flowers. Think of Neruda gazing at a slice of lemon and seeing a cathedral window, or finding the poetry in a suit or a pair of socks. An artist like Neruda or O’Keefe makes the mundane sacred. Anna Journey’s new collection, The Atheist Wore Goat Silk (LSU Press, 2017), is full of poems about vulgar, even ridiculous things, but what is extraordinary about them is not that they are holy, but that they express what is so naturally strange about the human condition.

The Atheist Wore Goat Silk

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Dildophone,” about a joke musical instrument “played” onstage by a prank-loving musician ex-boyfriend. The dildophone (a sex toy taped to a funnel) may not be an everyday object, but if we use the second definition of “common”–“showing a lack of taste and refinement”–it’s about as common as it gets:

                        […] between

the banjo and mandolin players, red-

bearded and wiggling and he swung

the dildophone’s cock. For a solo

he’d jack off the shaft as if to alter

the instrument’s pitch.

Journey doesn’t pretend that the dildophone is anything more profound than a vulgar sight gag, but she uses its vulgarity as a starting place for a meditation on abuse, autonomy, and art:

They didn’t know

how his mother slapped him when,

at fifteen, he traded his violin

for an electric bass, or the way she’d pop

another codeine and make him–three

years old–balance a pencil against

the spruce body of a toy fiddle

for an hour each day so he could practice

holding a bow […]. Sometimes

if she looked away, he’d start to hum

and feel the body resonate.

The dildophone is elevated by what it represents to the poet: personal and artistic freedom. She doesn’t claim that the dildophone is sacred, but she forcefully shows us that a thing can be both vulgar and significant.

The book is full of poems like this: poems about vulgar, absurd objects and experiences imbued with personal significance. For instance, two separate poems about a prom corsage made of fried chicken drumsticks–a novelty spotted online–use the bizarre object as occasion to ponder maturity, aging, and death. In the first of these, “Fried Chicken Prom Corsage: Ode to My Thirties,” she likens the object to the “brutal extravagance” she possessed as a younger woman. She writes, “I should throw / myself a party for having / even survived.” In a poem about the ordinary experience of receiving maternal advice, she uses the ridiculous image of hanging a slice of bread out of her mouth while chopping onions to begin a litany of loss:

[…] the white oak swamp’s

wafts of methane, the idling pickups, the fuck yous

I spat and left hanging in the air. The man

I left there. Or the flare of my dead

closeted grandfather–brandy cobbling

the bottom of his breath as he crawled out

of his ground-floor window for weeks

to wander the neighborhood after his lover’s

suicide, drunk, muttering, still wearing

Bob’s tweed hat.

Each poem launches from its triggering image into something bigger, more significant, yet it remains firmly grounded by that image.

On the whole, the poems are original, personal, and funny. Because they are so specific and because they often include something truly weird, they also feel absolutely honest in a you-can’t-make-this-shit-up kind of way. The world Journey writes is strange, but recognizable.

Pair with: the dildophoner’s favorite beverage, a common rum and Coke.



Amy Watkins (Episodes 124161164192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.

Pensive Prowler #6: At Flinders Street Station I Sat Down and Wept

Pensive Prowler #6 by Dmetri Kakmi

At Flinders Street Station I Sat Down and Wept

Since you asked nicely I will tell you what’s been happening in my life lately.  It will interest you if you’re a writer. If you’re not a member of the very sozzled you might like to block your ears until I finish talking.

Long story short. About seven years ago, I wrote a short story appropriately entitled The Long Lonely Road. Loosely based on a tale I heard while growing up on an island in the Aegean Sea, it’s about what transpires when a boy and his mother take a day-trip to the countryside. The end result is a genre mash-up, with tonal shifts and unexpected byways.

When I was reasonably pleased with it and knew I couldn’t do more without damaging its delicate spine, I sent it into the world — to be rejected over and over again. Finally, broken and dejected, the poor thing limped home and refused to go out again.

‘It’s a jungle out there,’ it screamed.

Seven years had indeed taken their toll on my baby. It was a mere shadow of itself. It was now a skanky teen who hadn’t shaved and needed a bath. Gone was the lustre of the newborn, the shimmer that convinced me that if I love it then surely others will too. Now I looked at it with pitying and, admittedly, pitiless eyes. The only solution was to lock it up in the attic and forget about it.

By this stage I had amassed numerous rejection letters in the name of said story. Normally editors, if they bother to answer, say thanks but no thanks. Not this time. (I should add they were all from Australia.)

Here’s three of the best:

‘’Thank you for sending us your sweet story, but it might be more suited to an ethnic magazine.’

‘It’s not wise to mix genres and change pace like that in a short story.’

And by far the best: ‘Guy can’t write. Suggest English lessons.’

You can understand why I started to think that maybe I’d written a pile of crap. It’s possible. It happens. You write something. You love it, but you’ve lost perspective. You’re so close to it, you can’t see it’s a withered foetus that ought to be flushed down the toilet. It’s up to an outside party to see it for what it is and put it out of its misery. (I guess I just lost the pro-lifers among you.)

In my delusional writerly hubris, I thought I was being clever. Take a simple story, play with genre expectations and then toy with the outcomes through variation of perspective, mood and tonality. Editors, I believed, will instantly recognise my genius and fall over themselves to publish. How wrong could I be?

The rejections weren’t just nasty. They were hostile and patronising in ways I hadn’t seen before; and that’s coming from someone who’s been in publishing for almost three decades. Now that I think about it, the only other time I received such negative feedback from editors was for a story called Haunting Matilda. That too was trounced for going to places writers aren’t supposed to go; however, when it was finally published, it was shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards for Best Fantasy Novella.

You’d think there’s a lesson there for me. But no. I’m too full of self-hatred to draw positive instruction from anything. Say hi to Negative Nancy. As far as I was concerned, The Long Lonely Road had reached the end of the road. It was time to ditch it.

And then, about a year later, in an idle moment, I took it out and had another squiz.

I still liked it.

Off it went, this time to an online publication in Croatia. ZiN Daily is the public face of a writers’ residency on the Istrian peninsular on the Adriatic coast, an area of particular fascination for me because of its history and architecture.

The editors’ letter popped up on my iPhone on a Wednesday evening as I waited for a train at Flinders Street Station.

Thank you for sending us your beautiful story. It is with great pleasure that we will publish it … The way you succeed in combining the atmosphere of the traditional oral history/mythology with the pace of modern fantasy genre is really powerful. The classic tragic drama that is at the core of the story opens an amazing artistic dialogue between the Mediterranean culture … and that of the authorial faraway Oceania. The characters are drawing the reader into the depths of archetypical settings where everyone is invited to get mesmerized, frightened and overwhelmed…

I was overwhelmed, too. After seven years, an editor who knows how to read and sift through layers of meaning connected with a piece I had almost given up on. She didn’t think I was nutty and untrained. She read with respect and care and she understood.

I was so relieved, I sat on a bench on train platform number 12 and wept.

When I recovered, I saw yet again the small-mindedness of the Australian literary scene; it’s not as switched on as it thinks it is and it’s still in the grips of ‘the garlands of journalistic prose,’ as Patrick White observed.  Anything that takes risks with language and tone in a storyline is rejected. Beyond that I saw that my chief virtue — perseverance — had paid off. No matter what, I always bounce back and I believe the ability to do so is paramount for a writer. If you don’t have determination in this industry, you might as well not get out of bed.

That and a thirst for revenge. I love the sound of sharpening knives in the morning. Don’t you?

You can read ‘The Long Lonely Road’ here.



Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #51: Prospero’s Books [The Tempest] (1991)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

51. Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books [The Tempest] (1991)

Prospero's Books 8

Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books is the most visionary adaptation of Shakespeare that I have ever seen, and that declaration is made with all due consideration to Julie Taymor’s amazing film of Titus Andronicus. Prospero’s Books may be the most underrated film of all time. And yet your rogue has taken more than a year to get to this gem in this blog, in part because of the demands that the film makes upon the viewer. The Tempest is such a strange play—any straightforward adaptation must fail because of how sublime Shakespeare’s conception was in his final outing as a solo playwright.

Prospero's Books 11

Peter Greenaway understands that the storm in this play is a metaphor for the psyche of a wise old man approaching the end of his life. This Prospero’s story may be happening entirely in his own mind. Either that, or this is a metaphysical projection of one man’s mind onto the temporal world. Greenaway has meticulously committed to this aesthetic, and if I try to think of another director who comes close to making the psychological most of the fantastic, for the strange revelation of character, I would have to come up with the example of Jean Cocteau.

Prospero's Books 4

After Prospero has enacted the tempest, the credits sequence features a grand processional through this mage’s palace. There are a pair of naked women dancing mechanically, spastically, like they are demonically possessed. Michael Nyman’s lush, chromatic score is stirring, punctuated with the clanging one might associate with a factory, a blacksmith’s, or industrial music. There is such abundant imagery here, such abundant sonic provocations, with Prospero at the surrealistic heart of it all.

Prospero's Books 1

Peter Greenaway has framed the scenes with his own imaginative explanations of the pages of the magical tomes that Prospero has owned (and written) over time. I presume that this extra-textual aspect of the adaptation is the reason why the film has a different name than the play, although this also indicates that Greenaway saw the themes of the play in a different way than The Tempest might ordinarily indicate.

Prospero's Books 6

Prospero lives not so much on an island, but in the mansion of his book, and this mansion is like a disordered Eden, teeming with nakedness and social transgressions and mischief, but not sex or violence. It is a dream-state that fully suggests the sublimity of The Tempest, exceeding the grasp of anything like human understanding.

Prospero's Books 9

The film is a little like watching a weather documentary while suffering a fever dream. Greenaway has set the cultural world of this Tempest as that of Italy (the plot involves Milanese politics) with ruffs the size of Ferris wheels fringing men’s heads. This culture is confronted by the Edenic innocence and non-erotic nudity of the island.

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The staggering strength of this film is one reason why it might take me this long to reveal that Prospero is played by John Gielgud, who would have been about 86 at the time of filming. This is his best performance of Shakespeare on film. Gielgud was a traditional Shakespearean actor of his time, whose emphasis was on his voice as an instrument, and whose chief decisions as an actor would have been about where to stand, and (obviously) understanding one’s lines. He generally made such a process work, but in this film, his advanced age shows that he never stopped getting better.

Prospero's Books 2

If this is your first Tempest, you may feel quite lost. The cinematography, special effects, and complex editing can be quite puzzling. But the work is joyously masterful, and the fantastical elements of this play have never been better envisioned. If you watch this as your not-first Tempest, I challenge you not to love it.


John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 255: Holly Tavel!

Episode 255 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to fiction writer Holly Tavel about the urge to experiment in fiction, the need to subvert grand narratives, and the joys of the avant-garde and children’s schlock and obsessions of all kinds,


Plus I chat with Michael Martin about the fascinating ways poetry finds itself entering Miami during the month of April.

Michael Martin

Photo by Gesi Schilling.



Learn more about the O Miami Poetry Festival, including its schedule of events, here.

O Miami Bus

Photo by Gesi Schilling. Special Thanks to The Children’s Trust and Miami-Dade Transit.

Episode 255 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #50: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode 1009 [Hamlet] (1999)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

50. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode 1009 [Franz Peter Wirth’s Hamlet] (1999)

I am going to pause amidst my round of tempesting to honor an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, in honor of this show’s return.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode devoted to Franz Peter Wirth’s 1960 German television version of Hamlet is rather dreamlike. The sparse set filmed in black and white is reminiscent of the Olivier version, but feels more like some sort of generic old film reel of Hamlet. That the film is dubbed into English makes it seem otherworldly, like a 1960s kung fu flick (Attack of the Flying Bodkins, perhaps).

Some of the acting and voice-overs seem adequate if not good, which makes the generic nature of this Hamlet seem almost pleasant. (The voice-over for Claudius was performed by Ricardo Montalbán.) The problem is that the title part is played by a young Maximillian Schell. If the name sounds familiar, then think of Dr. Hans Reinhart from The Black Hole.

In Hamlet, Schell looks like an especially manic and greasy incarnation of Klaus Kinski, and my guess is that he was performing the voice-over himself, and the vowels sound like he is chewing on them.

I will confess, though, I really enjoyed Gertrude’s wig in a totally non-ironic way.

Obviously, this Hamlet could not be truly good to serve MST3K’s purposes. The premise of the program is that a janitor of The Gizmonic Institute has been installed in a satellite in outer space and is forced to undergo scientific experiments involving him watching B movies—mostly horror and science fiction. This experimentation has been made tolerable with robot companions, with whom the janitor jokes about said putrid movies in order to make the experience entertaining. On Mystery Science Theater, one watches the janitor and robots watch the movies.

As I have stated in my essay, “Mystery Science Theater 3000, Media Consciousness, and the Postmodern Allegory of the Captive Audience,” published a decade ago in The Journal of Film and Video, I prefer the episodes with Joel (the first janitor to undergo the experiment) to those featuring Mike (the second janitor). As MST3K episodes go, this Hamlet isn’t bad, and if Joel were the experiment subject of this one, there is no reason to expect that the media-conscious criticism would have necessarily been more acute.

One can see this meta-Hamlet as being in a continuum with Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead and Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis’s Strange Brew. Since this is a deeply truncated version of the play to fit the time constraints of MST3K, one disappointment is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (the two idiots, forced to be observers, rather like the janitor and robots) barely appear. As Claudius is addressing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Crow asks (as if the voice of Claudius) “which one of you is Squiggy again?”

Some of the jokes are high-minded, and others are delightfully low, kind of like Shakespeare himself. With such a generic Hamlet airing on The Satellite of Love, Shakespeare’s play is rendered doughy and the opposite of sacred, which is, on the whole, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.