Cimmerians, Crustaceans & The Good Doctor

Being a Musing of Absolutely No Consequence involving Vintage Paperbacks, Dr. Fredric Wertham, Robert E. Howard, and Guy N. Smith

Today’s post emerges from my having just finished reading John Harrison‘s fine, informative new book Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks (2012, Headpress), which I wholeheartedly recommend to all (like me) who love vintage paperback fringe genres, including adult, biker, blaxploitation, occult, counterculture, horror, etc. paperbacks from the 1950s-1970s.

John‘s book prompted me to take an hour this weekend and peruse my own vintage paperback collection, which I’ve written about aspects of in the past here at Myrant. Among the goodies that I—ahem—fondled anew were my Dr. Fredric Wertham odds and ends, including his own books and those he contributed too (left) and the scattered sampler of vintage early 1970s fanzines in my collection featuring either Dr. Wertham letters of comment or articles on Wertham.

Wertham made no secret of his intensive enjoyment and research of the American fanzine scene in the 1960s and early 1970s, yielding his wholly unexpected book The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication (1974). And, I must humbly assert, his fanzine letters (read on) imply that Wertham was pretty well versed in paperback fiction, too, including authors and titles few would associate with such an outspoken critic of violence in comicbooks, paperbacks, movies, and television. I wrote extensively in Teen Angels & New Mutants (2011) about Wertham, his anti-comicbook crusade, the aftermath, and what The World of Fanzines revealed about Wertham‘s real agenda.

The good doctor has long been caricatured for his anti-comics screeds, and I’ve dedicated much of my reading and research efforts since 1984 (when my own creative collaborations with Alan Moore and John Totleben lost Saga of the Swamp Thing #29 the Comics Code seal of approval) to reading all I can of what Wertham actually wrote, and fully grasping his extensive love/hate relationship with the popular culture of his day (you want to know more, read Teen Angels & New Mutants, folks).

Right: Amra Vol. 2, #58 cover art by Roy Krenkel, January 1973.

Due to space considerations, I cut most of my original Teen Angels text on Wertham‘s extensive interaction with fanzine culture per se, including this bon mot from the Robert E. Howard fanzine Amra (“so named because Conan the Cimmerian called himself ‘Amra’ when he was a pirate,” the zine editor helpfully asserted in his indicia).

It’s a fascinating artifact, revealing Wertham‘s attentive, insightful reading not only of fanzines, but of pop culture in general: here, for instance, he revealed a real love and understanding of Robert E. Howard‘s Conan stories (!!); I’ve been meaning to share this with my old Kubert School amigo Tim Truman for some time now, so here goes, Tim, and sorry for the delay.

The latter was responding to an article by Jan Strnad (still one of my all-time favorite writing collaborators with Richard Corben) entitled “The Psychology of Conan” (Amra v2, #57). Genuine Freud scholar and expert Wertham wrote:

“May I say a few words in Amra in defense of Conan? The article ‘The Psychological Conan’ in v2#57 reduces Conan to a composite cliche of Freudian terminology. This is not the image Howard created and thousands of readers enjoy. The real Conan is anything but that. He cannot be reduced to such a lifeless formula.

The article goes in for all the superficial, mechanical applications of static psychoanalytic labels, without any dynamic clinical evidence: Conan‘s broadsword is, of course, a “standard phallic symbol,” his armor is “an extensive erogenous zone,” he is alleged to suffer from an unconscious “not resolved castration complex,” his attitude towards his companions and women shows “tendencies towards homosexuality,” his investigations and exploring of tombs and secret passages shows a “desire for heterosexual relations.”

Psychoanalysis of living people and of literary figures requires not the labeling with Freudian terms but an interpretation based on concrete data. This article represents a misunderstanding of both psychoanalysis and Conan. Howard and Conan deserve better.”

-Dr. Fredric Wertham (misspelled “Frederic” in the zine), Route 1, Kempton PA 19529; Amra Vol. 2, #58, pp. 13-14

Fascinating, yes?

Now, this has nothing directly to do with John Harrison‘s Hip Pocket Sleaze volume, save that his book prompted my sifting through my own collection and stumbling upon such goodies. There’s more, much more I could get into just from this past weekend’s shelf-searching, but that’s enough distraction for now.

I must add, though, that the only errors or oversights I caught in John‘s excellent book had to do with movies, not paperbacks: John knows his publishers and paperbacks, for sure.

  • Well, with one notable exception; Moonshine Mountain is the missing Herschell Gordon Lewis paperback in John‘s (and Herschell‘s) coverage of those classic 1960s movie tie-ins; I mentioned it here a couple of years ago.
  • Still, the nattering little voice in my head the perks up when I’m reading and catching some cine-glitch spoke up a couple of times, catching as incorrect the fact that the banned-from-theatrical-runs-by-Dino-DeLaurentiis curio Queen Kong (yes, I have two copies of that, too, John!) indeed did have an official, legal DVD release some years back, and that my favorite crustacean-splatter maestro Guy N. Smith did enjoy a sort-of feature film ripoff of his infamous, beloved Crab novels.

    I didn’t apologize for my abominable taste in reading then, and I certainly won’t be today (especially in the context of John‘s book). These are still delicious reads, and if nothing else, John‘s writeup of the Smith Crab novels reminded me that I’m still missing one of those gems and should track it down sooner than later.

    Guy N. Smith may have been ignored by movie producers, but his crabs were not.

    Alas, what resulted—the shot-in-Florida fly-by-night knockoff (not a legit adaptation of Smith, and eschewing all the sex/gore) ISLAND CLAWS (1980) barely kissed any theater screens, if any. It must have had some sort of release oversea, yes?

    I caught it on late-night CBS-TV broadcast here stateside. As a monster or horror movie (of any era), it was timid as hell, even in its uncut video release; it certainly eschewed the bloody delights of the Smith novels, which positively reveled in sex, dismemberment, and gore. Robert Lansing starred, shortly after his outing with Bert I. Gordon‘s EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (in a similar vein: they’re all invertebrates, after all). Still, it was as close as we came to a Smith Crabs movie at the time Smith‘s Crabs paperbacks were everywhere on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

    Some reviews and sources claim it was a Smith adaptation

    I dug out my videocassette copy (purchased in a sale bin in the 1990s during a video-hunting expedition with my pal G. Michael Dobbs); the box art and the movie didn’t credit Smith, so take that claim with a grain of salt. Nor was it “made for TV,” per se, so take that with a pound of salt.

    The writing credits—bylining Colby Cardenas and director Hernan Cardenas along with Jack Cowden and the Gillman himself (when in water), Ricou Browning—reveals all. This was a for-sure made-in-Florida production, stem-to-stern; Browning wasn’t just THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, he was a frequent Ivan Tors fixture as player, writer, co-producer, and director.

    The crustacean menace is kept offscreen for most of the running time, and most often manifest just as a giant prop claw (right), though we do get a pretty long, leisurely look at the barely-mobile full-sized model in the final act (below). By comparison, Roger Corman‘s ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957) remains the more imaginative, ambitious, generous (with its monster effects), and far more horrific effort.

    Still, ISLAND CLAWS is what it is, and I love it for that.

    Besides, I’m a cheap date. The Ricou Browning connection is enough for me; Browning worked on and co-created FLIPPER, and Ricou‘s son Kelly and former FLIPPER teen star Luke Halpin (also the hero of SHOCK WAVES) are among the stunt players credited. ISLAND CLAWS is pretty much like all the low-budget indy efforts Browning was part of, like ISLAND OF THE LOST (1967). That forgotten “lost island” opus wasn’t much to write home about, either, with its customized-alligators and rubber-head-crest-wearing ostriches standing in for “prehistoric monsters.

    I know—now you want to see it, too, right? That curio is even more impoverished than any of the other Ivan Tors productions (even when Tors had MGM‘s backing), and as tepid warmed-over tea dramatically as ISLAND CLAWS. In fact, I’d offer up ISLAND CLAWS and ISLAND OF THE LOST as articles #1 and #2 in passionate defense of the very kind of shamelessly explicit fiction delights writers like Robert E. Howard, James Herbert, and Guy N. Smith offered their readers.

    Well, I told you right up front this was of absolutely no consequence…

    among other venues, and spark your own rambling, useless revery.

    Later, fellow claw-clackers!

    Discussion (2) ¬

    1. Harvey Chartrand

      ISLAND CLAWS is a hell of a way for actor Barry Nelson to end his long and distinguished career in movies. Should have quit while he was ahead – with his wonderful monologue in THE SHINING (1980). For horror genre enthusiasts, Nelson is best remembered for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode THE WAXWORK (in which he was brilliant as a reporter locked in the Murderers’ Gallery for the night), and for the eerie 1964 Twilight Zone episode STOPOVER IN A QUIET TOWN. Barry Nelson was also the first James Bond in the TV version of CASINO ROYALE (1954), with Peter Lorre as his antagonist Le Chiffre.

    2. Henry R. Kujawa

      I have a particular fondness for ther TV version of “CASINO ROYALE”. I never liked the 2nd half of the novel, and the TV version ends where I always thought the book should have. (Decades later, after seeing VERTIGO, I realized CASINO ROYALE had the identical story structure. Did Fleming’s novel inspire Hitchcock’s film?) Hilariously, Barry Nelson had a guest-appearance in the dumbest episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, “The Magnificent Warriors”, and when we first see him, he’s hanging out in…. a casino! (When I watched the entire BG series from start to finish last year, for the first time in decades, I swear, I wound up enjoying it more than when it was first-run… and this included the “stupid” episodes! The show really had so much potential, squandered by ABC relentless interference up-front, and their cancelling it after one season despite solid ratings, because someone decided, at that late date, that it was “too expensive”. WTF!!!)

    Comment ¬

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