Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Status Report

I've gotta say, 2015 has been one heck of a ride. A heck of a lot has happened, and has perhaps been the most eventful year of my life. I became independently published, got my first taste of love, my first taste of tears resulting from heartbreak, purchased and played Fallout 4 and finally got a copy of Tombstone on DVD. Pretty darned eventful!
There has been plenty of stress and strife too, but that comes with the territory. I aim to make 2016 even better! I'm not doing New Years Resolutions, since I tend to forget about them, and instead just keep on with the plans I've already set and do all I can to accomplish them. Y'know, things like moving out, writing more books, making enough to live off of, finding my One True Love, taking over the world, getting someone with half a brain into office, that sort of stuff!

I have noticed however that this year really took a toll on the entertainment industry, as we lost some absolute titans. Leonard Nemoy, Christopher Lee and Akira Toriyama are now sadly laid to rest, but left behind massive legacies that will continue on.

Let us all be thankful for all that we have, all that we have accomplished and look forward to what we can do in the upcoming year! Things have been mighty dark in 2015 at home and abroad, but we can always do something, even something small, to improve ourselves and those around us. So let's hop to it! Happy New Years Eve everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Here I sit upon my chair, clacking away when I should be spending time with my family, but I did my good deed for the day so I should be okay.
Today is a plain old jolly day, and I hope it is for all of you too! Merry Christmas everyone! Or whatever winter-time holiday it is that you participate in! :D

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Weird Weapons of the Wild West

The Winchester, Sharps, Remington, Colt, Smith and Wesson and Ballard guns are all almost synonymous with the weapons they produced in excess throughout the 1860's on. Thousands of reliable rifles and revolvers were produced by all, producing robust and effective designs that won the hearts of countless explorers, hunters, lawman and criminals alike. But few people realize that behind these firearm behemoths was a plethora of guns that run the gamut from strange to just bizarre. Dozens of inventors began cranking out creations that would have caused any mad scientist to salivate. Most of these inventors were crushed under the heel of Oliver Winchester who wanted to corner the market on lever action rifles, an onslaught that only Marlin would survive. Others were just too strange to truly thrive, but are more than worthy of mentioning.

Here I'm going to cover some of the most unique guns ever produced by the eccentric brains of the American inventors.

At first glance the Bullard repeating rifle doesn't seem that unusual. Not to be confused with the Ballard rifle company, the Bullard rifle company produced a series of single shots and one of the most unique repeaters ever designed. Unlike the Winchester 1873 cousin which operated on the toggle-link action, the Bullard used a rack and pinion design which was infinitely smoother and very advanced for the time. According to many owners it is one of the fastest and smoothest actions out there, and perhaps the smoothest of all lever actions. It was produced in both a frame for pistol cartridges and full sized rifle cartridges, both being of very high quality. The design was also wonderfully strong for its time, and wouldn't be surpassed until the invention of the 1886 by Browning. Another feature that makes this rifle completely unique among  leverguns is that it is loaded through a loading gate on the bottom of the receiver, much like modern day shotguns. All Winchesters and Marlins are fed through a loading gate on the side of the receiver.

If one takes a look at the Bullards assembled by collectors you'll quickly notice that no are exactly alike. Each has some variation that makes it different from its brothers. A different barrel, different magazine tube, lengths, stocks, sights, all vary slightly. This indicates that these were produced as high quality custom guns for highly discerning customers. While an admirable and certainly appreciated business model, it may have helped lead to its downfall, as the high prices would have put it beyond the means of most frontiersmen.

The inner workings of the Bullard
Unlike the Winchesters, the Bullard never gained major popularity, with only a few thousand made. Another factor against it was the lack of chambering in more common and popular cartridges such as the 45-70 Government. Oddly it was chambered almost exclusively in privately patented cartridges. This would have made it far less appealing from a logistics angle. As an interesting note, the 50-115-300 Bullard was the very first rimless cartridge ever developed in the United States, and most likely the entire world! Even with these factors against it, one model made its way into the hands of Teddy Roosevelt, although little is known about it.

Although its chamberings were uncommon and made little logistic sense, they were by no means weak. The 50-115-300 would have been one of the largest cartridges ever able to be stuffed into a repeater, putting even the 1876 Centennial to shame. A fifty caliber three hundred grain bullet pushed by one hundred and fifteen grains of black powder would have been capable of slaying anything on the continent. It would have been able to take down the largest brown bear, moose or bison with ample authority. It's a testament to the versatility of the design that it was able to handle such long, fat cartridges while still being so compact and handy.

Perhaps the most important factor in the fall of the company was the designer himself, James Bullard. He appeared to be an impulsive, artistic type in that he would focus on one project obsessively for several years and then move onto something completely different. His firearm designs were nothing short of brilliant, and had he stayed on with the company he developed and continued making designs the company may very well have been one of the major competitors to Winchester and Marlin. But in just a few years he abandoned the company and began working on a steam powered car, among other things. He was extremely prolific in his designing, but never stuck with one thing.

Overall the Bullard was a weapon ahead of its time. It was elegant, powerful, and one of the most gorgeous rifles produced during the era.

One would think that with the introduction of guns like the Spencer repeater or the Henry that the US military would be licking their chops. On the contrary, the head honchos showed suspicion and fear towards the fast firing weapons. They worried that soldiers would waste ammunition uselessly in rapid fire. Seven or sixteen shots available at the same time? Heaven forbid! I can only imagine these gentlemen suffering multiple simultaneous heart attacks when in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War a most ambitious inventor presented them with the Meigs rifle in 1866 which somehow boasted a fifty round tube magazine!

The darned Western gun they load on Sunday and shoot all month!
While the Spencer and the Henry were undoubtedly the first true combat rifles invented, the Meigs here was perhaps the first assault rifle ever invented. Utilizing a sliding trigger assembly that worked back and forth and a butt-stock magazine, the rear tube was stuffed to the gills with potent 50 caliber cartridges, very hot stuff for the time. A soldier had the potential to unravel all fifty in only nineteen seconds. This was light years ahead of the three shot per minute muskets that had been employed by the tens of thousands of troops just the year before. Even more impressive, once the gun had run dry a soldier could simply replace the spent tube with another, not unlike the Spencer, but on steroids.

The generals of the time recoiled in horror at the idea of men armed with these, which would have put even the impressive Gatling to shame. Unlike the Gatling, the Meigs wouldn't have required a crew and extra gear to set up the weapon. But the idea of spray and pray apparently haunted their dreams, and the Meigs swiftly fell into obscurity. Only three were ever made which now reside in museums. Although it never saw the face of war it is an extraordinarily potent and fascinating piece of engineering, certainly not something one would have expected during the time it was made.

Although only in prototypes, they supposedly discharged 38,000 rounds for tests without malfunction. If so, then this was a remarkably reliable design that would have been a terror to face down at close range.

The Burgess shotgun, developed much later in the late 1800's, is one of the most fascinating and innovative shotgun designs ever made. Aside from the 1887 Winchester lever action shotgun, the pump actions reigned supreme in the hands of law enforcement and hunters in the 1890's. Then the Burgess arrived. At first glance it appears to be nothing unusual, with perhaps a slightly stubby frame and an odd grip. But these details are deceptive, for the Burgess is perhaps the fastest shooting shotgun besides the semi and full autos. Like the Meigs it used a slide action in the grip. When rolling with the recoil one naturally pulled the slide back, and once they were on target again slid the action up and were ready for a follow up shot. An experienced shooter could unleash five or six rounds of twelve gauge fury in the time it took for his hat to fall to the ground.

The designer, Andrew Burgess, was, like many other inventors on this listing, a prolific inventor. His method of making a sale with this gun however was certainly unorthodox. His salesman, Charlie Dammon, did an exhibition for a notable New York Police big wig who boasted a pair of glasses and an unmistakable walrus mustache. Haven't guessed who it is yet? Well, it was Teddy Roosevelt, one of the overall most hard core and awesome gentlemen to have ever set foot on this dirt ball. Now, most salesmen would have shown some schematics or perhaps shown his new fancy gun in a well-manicured case. This gent went a little further than that. While talking with one of the coolest men ever he pulled the weapon free from under his coat and rattled off an entire magazine of blanks. Somehow avoiding getting perforated for his shocking enthusiasm, he was instead rewarded with a bulk purchase. Teddy loved his guns and was thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of this shotgun.

But what made this weapon even stranger was that it could be folded in half, like something out of a cartoon. Even coming with a special holster, a New York officer could walk around with a full length twelve gauge riot gun under his coat and have it ready to go in no time at all. The images below, borrowed from Forgotten Weapons, show just how elegant and compact this design is.

Sadly it didn't get as much traction as its competition, but it made a distinct imprint on history and will never be completely forgotten.

Yet another queer repeater that will certainly leave a few people scratching their heads is the Evans repeater.

Developed in Maine in 1873, the same year as The Gun That Won The WEst, by a dentist by the name of Warren Evans and his brother, they, like so many other weapon designers of the time, sought the coveted military contract. And like so many others, didn't get it and switched to giving it to sportsmen and frontiersmen. Like the odd Meigs it had a hollow tube magazine sandwiched between two pieces of wood for the stock. With a barber-pole screw mechanism the lever would twist the cartridges up and into the receiver. Depending on the model, it could hold between 24 or 36 rounds, an astonishing capacity for the time, surpassed only by the Meigs. Firing stumpy .44 Evans rounds it was a decent short range fighting gun.

Around 15,000 were produced in different models, which wasn't a bad number at all at the time, but not enough to keep it afloat.
Apache with Evans rifle.jpg
An Apache with an Evans. Note the decorative brass tacks driven into the fore-stock, a common feature among guns owned by Native Americans of the time.

Although not one of the strangest guns, the Merwin Hulbert revolvers were innovative but were also some of the most finely crafted and fitted guns of the entire 19th century.

Unlike its contemporaries, the Merwin Hulbert didn't have an ejection system like the brake open or SAA models. Intead the barrel was twisted to the side and pulled forward along with the cylinder, popping all of the spent cases free. It was a very swift way to get rid of shells, although after unloading them with the rapid double action it might have been a royal pain to grab that barrel for unloading.

Mechanism for unloading

What truly sets them apart though wasn't just the design, but the almost unmatched quality. The machining and metal fitting were extraordinarily precise. The metal fitting was so close in fact that when trying to unload a vacuum was formed and would pull the gun part way closed by itself! I've never heard of this happening with any other gun. The Merwin Hulbert company it seems wanted to not just produce pretty guns, but some of the best working-man guns out there. Most were shorter barreled .38 and .32 caliber pocket guns, meant more for being in the pockets of city folk rather than trading fire on the prairie. Some models even had a hammer spur that folded forward to avoid getting caught on clothing when being drawn. Mighty clever!

A fair number of these were produced and made a decent dent in the market considering their competition with companies such as Smith and Wesson, Colt, Remington and others, but never earned the same respect or love.

I hope to find more such oddballs and bring them to your attention. The Europeans especially came up with some queer designs during this period which differed drastically in concept and design, illustrating the different thinking and priorities from their Western neighbors.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Krampus movie

Krampus poster.jpg
Either that's one small house or Krampus is huge
Holy crap. Hoooooly crap. I always associated terror with Halloween or high school algebra, not with Christmas, the holiday of celebrating the birth of Jesus or selfless giving to others or being grateful for all that you have. I've known about the folklore of the Krampus for a few years, and even wrote last year that I scared some of my siblings with stories of him to keep them in line. And then this movie comes out. You can bet just mentioning it to them gets them pretty freaked and promising to be good.

This movie is basically National Lampoons Christmas Vacation Horror Edition. It starts out similarly, abrasive and conflicting family all bottled into one home during the holidays and emotions are brought to a boil. But instead of ending with a kidnapped boss resulting in a huge bonus and a pool for the whole family, they get Krampus, and he doesn't pull any punches just because there are children present. They are fair game in this movie.

I want to avoid spoilers for this movie, so if you think it's worth checking out, go for it. It has one of the most jarring slap to the groin endings I've ever seen, and makes this movie darker than I thought it could be, which is saying a lot. It also has a bit of a Gremlins vibe. I swear they used some of the voices for some of the minions.

I have to give points because this isn't an idiot plot. I mean, there are idiotic moves, but they make sense and isn't purely a case of 'well, need to keep the plot moving, gotta off someone.' Most of the time anyway. They actually do have weapons in this story and use them to good effect, but at the same time it doesn't relieve the tension at all. It's rare when you're well armed in a story but it's still scary. They pull that off. Instead of feeling confidence when they investigate a noise with a shotgun at the ready, you want them to pull back and stay within safety. Sure, the shotty might work, but you don't know what's around the corner. Krampus isn't afraid to unleash a horde of minions on you. He doesn't just want to kill you either. He wants you to be terrified to even breathe. He wants to watch you squirm and watch as everyone you care about is picked off one by one before he moves in for you. That should give some understanding of the horror-craft at work here.

Before I move beyond guns, I would like to give them points for shooting a revolver six times and then ending on an empty chamber. Most movies usually let you get off with nine or twelve, depending on who's directing. Then again later on someone gets off around eight or nine shots with a shotgun that has a six round tube magazine. But hey, they tried. Tried harder than most others.

I think that the characters all come through pretty well. They start off of course as mean-spirited, abrasive, annoying and at points really do go too far and push other characters over the edge. But as the movie progresses and things get bad they do ease up and actually show the better parts they have to offer. I like it when a movie puts characters under pressure and it reveals the best in them, not the worst, although I'm not against that. It's very humanizing and makes them feel more real, apologizing and showing affection even though things aren't peachy. That just sucks you in more since everyone is at risk of dying. I really didn't know how far this movie was going to go. As far as I knew, everyone was fair game, and knew killing everyone, including the kid main character wasn't off the table. That really built up the tension.

Jump scares? There's a few. But I don't think they were abused. Except at the very end. I haaaaaaate it when a horror movie just has things catapulted at your face with a loud burst of music. That's not scary. That's jumping out of a closet and slapping you across the face. Here? They build up the tension nice and slow. They seem to take Alfred Hitchcock's advice to heart: Tension is when there's a bomb under the table and it doesn't go off. Here's it's like there's a bunch of bombs hidden throughout the house, except they go off silently and scurry around cackling as they get ready to mutilate you.

One of the scares actually made me feel physically ill. It was actually pretty disturbing imagery and I flashed back to The Thing when it first tries absorbing the dogs. Brrrrr! I sort of have an issue with clowns, or things that are clowned theme, and this movie didn't help with that. All I can say is if you are a professional clown and you're in my midst, please keep your distance and your hands where I can see them. I can't promise that I won't inflict harm by reflex. Clown stuff just naturally triggers the animal part of my brain that kicks in when my life is in immediate danger.

The imagery, lighting and mood are fantastic. Well, most of the lighting anyway. At points you get strobe lights that make you feel like you're at a rave and I was worried someone was going to get an epileptic seizure. But at points the lighting is amazing. I especially love when it's early in the morning but in only a matter of seconds the light dims and goes dark. It really feels like some onyx cloud moves across the sun and blots it out, rather than just set lighting being turned low.

Only real complaint I can think of is that we see Krampus's face. Chances are he'll come after me for that crack, so if I vanish this Christmas then you'll know what happened. His face isn't bad so much as it is just obviously a mask. It's creepy at first, but it never changes expression and gets a tad silly at certain moments. If it had been a Jim Henson animatronic with shifts in expression it would have been terrifying. However a friend of mine suggested that it might be adhering more to the German tradition of Krampus masks at festivals. If true, then that's actually another point in its favor for getting more of the real lore and tradition down.

I should also mention that they actually try to get real German spoken for the grandmother. They call her Omi which is German for grandmother, although my colleague tells me its Oma, but hey, again, they tried. The flashback scene is also frigging fantastic. They actually have a stop-motion flashback scene explaining how the grandmother knows about Krampus and crap is it good. If it isn't stop-motion but actually animation then holy crap, give those animators some awards cuz I couldn't tell.

It also felt frigging cold in that movie. I really could believe that the actors were freezing their faces off. There are a lot of outside shots and the snowfall and wind effects make it feel like you've really stepped into the middle of a blizzard. It's like frigging John Carpenter's The Thing where you could only see a few feet in any direction because of the snow fall.

Overall, this thing really did get to me. I won't have nightmares, but I actually had to force myself to relax at points because my muscles began tensing in the theater. This whole thing is really solid in my opinion and I'd absolutely go see it again. It may have ruined Christmas for me a bit though. I'll get over it. Nothing cheers the spirit like watching It's A Wonderful Life!

Happy Holidays and Spooky Salutations! Have fun watching the best Christmas horror movie since The Nightmare Before Christmas!