A “pirate novel” that’s actually a 90-page sledgehammer of gore, dismemberment, cannibalism, pedophilia, and perversity. It wants to shock and offend, and since I wanted to be shocked and offended, I enjoyed it greatly.

Donald Trump reputedly owns an edited version of the film Bloodsport that contains only the fight scenes. White Skull is like an edited version of the 17th century that only contains nothing except vileness. Call it the Golden Shower Age of Piracy. The sheer depth and density of Havoc’s perverse invention is impressive – nearly every paragraph provokes a “wait…what?” reaction at some point.

White Skull is derived from corruptions of pirate tropes. A young man called Misson (who may have actually existed but probably didn’t) incites mutiny on the high seas, helped by an insane monk called Carriacole (who considers himself “the shit of Christ”). He takes command of a ship, renounces all ties to God and Government, and becomes free. Free to do what, exactly? His will. The idea that pirates were early anarchists is a familiar one, and not original to Havoc. They were men who tried to solve their problems not by learning new concepts, but by purging their minds of concepts already there. And while the analogy can only go so far, there has to be a correlation between men who defy earthly authority and those who defy any authority – that of Christianity, or that of basic human decency.

The newly-made pirates cut a swathe of destruction across the main, destroying slaving ships, whaling vessels, and everything else they consider an affront against liberty. Real life pirates such as Billy the Kid, Thomas Tew, and Jean Lafitte play roles in the story (the fact that these men lived decades and sometimes centuries apart doesn’t trouble Havoc). Eventually, Misson and friends establish a stronghold on the island of Madagascar, hoping for a pirate paradise. However, corruption and decadence soon attack the pirate community from within.

Things take on an interesting allegorical edge here. Beneath the gore and human debris, White Skull is the story of what happens when men throw off the chains of society…and then find that those chains were the only things keeping them tethered to sanity. As the pirate paradise grows increasingly vile and repugnant, Havoc sketches Misson’s growing disillusionment with the project – even though he might secretly be the worst of all of them.

This is the closest James Havoc (a pen name for someone else) came to writing a genuine novel. His previous works include Raism (an unreadable Burroughs-style experiment), and Satanskin (a Clive Barker-style short story collection). To see Havoc tackle a traditional beginning-middle-end Story is surprising. The writing is incantatory: as foul and colourful as gems expelled from bowels. It’s both realistic enough to shock and surrealistic enough to float, and it’s one of the fastest-paced stories I’ve read. White Skull doesn’t just move, it spins crazily forward like a unmasted ship before a gale, and the finale is ridiculous but satisfying.

No Comments »

Ishiro Honda’s 1954 monster movie Godzilla isn’t scary now. Maybe it wasn’t scary then.  It possesses a certain eerie power, though, because of what’s outside the frame: its context. You’re watching two of Japan’s deep cultural fears (the deep ocean, and nuclear weapons) collide on the screen, in the form of a huge mutated creature rising from the sea, destroying city.

Forty years later Roland Emmerich resurrected the franchise and shot it full of steroids.

The good part is that there’s no phoned in “humans are the REAL monsters!” subtext, a’la every other monster movie from the period.

The bad parts can be generally defined as “the rest of the film”. The CGI Godzilla is never even slightly believable. There’s never the sense that it’s a skyscraper-sized colossus that weighs a hundred thousand tons. It dives into the sea and makes a tiny splash. It sneaks around New York as inaudibly as Solid Snake.

The film’s best moments are the ones where the monster is outside the shot, or barely seen. This is an effective touch. It gives the impression that we’re looking at a beast of uncontainable size, a beast too big to film. But that’s also an indictment of how shitty Godzilla looks in this. His every appearance does to our faith in the film what the monster does to buildings.

The movie is badly cast and written. About half the cast is from the Simpsons, and there’s comedic moments (such as the Roger Ebert mayor) that ruin the tension and aren’t even theoretically funny. The characters are extremely stupid – deciding to lure the monster to one of the world’s most densely populated urban metropolises, where mass civilian casualties are almost guaranteed. It’s also one of those movies full of shots of marines firing magazine after magazine at a monster that we’ve long-since established isn’t hurt by gunfire.

I was into kaiju shit when this movie came out. Godzilla caused me to go out of it again.

No Comments »

This was the film covering Arnold’s surprise comeback (and surprise victory) at the 1980 Mr Olympia bodybuilding contest after five years in the abyss. Stories abound about The Oak’s final appearance. He broke the rules by entering, nearly started a fist-fight backstage, and caused the retirement of Mike Mentzer, who was convinced the contest was a fix.

This video covers none of that. In fact, it doesn’t cover anything much. We have some gym footage, some contest footage, and some interviews with Arnold and his compatriots, in no particular arrangement or order.

Let’s get it out of the way that if you’re expecting a riveting clash of titans like in Pumping Iron, this isn’t for you. This isn’t about a story. You should watch Total Rebuild because it’s a slice of Arnold’s life. It seems like a more honest and “real” documentary than Pumping Iron, although maybe that’s because they didn’t have time to edit it properly. Apparently, Total Rebuild was filmed by an Australian promoter, using equipment borrowed from some friends, and as a result it has a gritty indy quality. Unfortunately, the contest footage here is the best we have of the 1980 Mr Olympia (I’ve heard that CBS filmed the entire contest at great expense, and then threw the footage away because like Mentzer, they felt the contest was clearly rigged in Arnold’s favor).

The interviews with celebrities such as Bill Pearl and Tom Platz are fascinating. Tom hero worships Arnold, while Bill gently tries to cut him down to size. Arnold is his usual Alpha Male self. This guy could start a successful cult. He injects some humor into the proceedings, too, such as when he sees a bodybuilder put a 10 pound plate on a barbell without making enough noise. “We’re on camera! You have to make it sound like a thousand pounds!”

The training scenes are lackluster. I’ve heard that Arnold suffered a shoulder injury, which restricted his training poundages. He does some smith squats and cable rows. There’s nothing as awe-inspiring or intense as Pumping Iron’s training sequences here (in the order they appear in my mind: Ed Corney’s squats, Lou Ferrigno’s military presses, Arnold’s dumbbell flys, etc).

So…was the 1980 Mr Olympia rigged? There’s no question, Arnold wasn’t as good as his previous contest appearances. But in my opinion, he still took down the other guys with his trademark Arnold body parts: big arms, big calves, huge chest. His weak points (such as quads) were his weak points in previous contests, too. It might be true that Arnold at 90% power is better than anyone else from his time period at 100% shape, weak legs and weak shoulders be damned.

So, this is very different to Pumping Iron, and mostly the bad sort of different, but it’s still well worth looking for. This is an important part of old-school bodybuilding, just like the guy who stars in it.

No Comments »