Does anyone know what's happening at AMC? Has American Movie
Classics sold out and abandoned their mission? Since when
does the 1987 crime-drama, "Cop," qualify as a "classic?"
Or "Urban Cowboy," for corn sake? In the case of the Sci
Fi Channel, it's almost understandable. They long ago scrapped
their late-night lineup of "Thriller," "Science Fiction
Theater," "Tales of Tomorrow" and "Men Into Space," recognizing
that their demographic skews toward post-boom, Gen-X, neo-Goth
geeks. True, AMC still programs genre films, but those broadcasts
are usually cleaved by 10-minute commercial blocks, and
plastered with pop-up trivia questions and Web site links.
And we PAY to watch it. How is this any better than broadcast
TV? The difference is barely discernible. It's difficult
to believe that these commercial come-ons are effective.
How many viewers tuning in to that "classic" film, "The
Lords of Discipline," are gonna drop their beer and chips
to dash out and buy a new Lexus?
Prolific B-movie director, William Witney, died at a nursing
home in Pioneer, Calif., following several strokes. He was
86. Witney began his film career in 1933 at Mascot Pictures,
which later merged with several small film companies to
form Republic Pictures. At 21, Witney became the youngest
director in Hollywood. He went on to direct dozens of films
of all genres including some of the best-loved serials of
the 1930s and 40s. Collaborating with co-director, John
English, Witney set the breathless pace to which all other
serials would aspire. Among the action-packed, fight-filled
chapterplays Witney worked on were "Dick Tracy's G-Men,"
"Zorro's Fighting Legion," "Drums of Fu Manchu," "King of
the Royal Mounted," "The Adventures of Captain Marvel,"
"The Crimson Ghost," and many others. Witney also directed
many B-movie features, including "Santa Fe Passage," "City
of Shadows," "Stranger at My Door," "Juvenile Jungle," "The
Cool and the Crazy" and "Master of the World."
He worked extensively in television, as well, directing
episodes of "Sky King," "Wagon Train," "Zorro," "Bonanza,"
"Daniel Boone," "Branded" and others. After retiring in
the late 1970s, Witney authored two books, "In a Door, Into
a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase," about his days as a
serial director, and "Trigger Remembered," about Roy Rogers'
famous horse. Witney was married to B-movie actress, Maxine
Doyle, who appeared in "S.O.S. Coast Guard" and "G-Men vs.
the Black Dragon," both serials directed by Witney. She
passed away in 1973.
Mary Grant Price
Costume designer Mary Grant Price, who was married to Vincent
Price for 24 years, died following a brief illness. She
was 85. Born in Wales, Price came to the U.S. at age 18
to study dance. At age 21, she was greatly impressed by
a Broadway show, and wrote its costume designer, Raoul Pene
du Bois, a fan letter. He would later hire her as a designer.
Among her design credits are the stage successes, "Oklahoma!"
and "Mexican Hayride." Her film credits include "Sweet Smell
of Success," "Separate Tables" and "We're No Angels." She
married Price in 1949. (He and actress Edith Barrett had
divorced the previous year.) In 1965, the Prices collaborated
on a "Treasury of Great Recipes." They were divorced in
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
A BLOODY HIGH PRICE
Bram Stoker's original manuscript of "Dracula" could sell
at auction for as much as $2 million, according to Francis
Wahlgren, head of the book department at Christies. The
auction house had originally estimated its value at $1 million-$1.5
million. Stoker's finished script was considered lost forever
until it turned up in New England in 1980. It was acquired
soon after by its current owner, a collector of 19th century
books. The 529-page script, which took Stoker seven years
to complete, differs from the final version in several regards.
It was originally titled "The Un-Dead," but that was changed
just days before publication in 1897. It also contains a
scene describing the total destruction of Dracula's castle.
It has been speculated that this scene was excised because
publishers entertained the notion of a sequel. Stoker deleted
102 pages in all. The auction is to be held April 17.
TERROR TRIO COMES OUT OF RETIREMENT
Director Stephen Sommers, who currently oversees Universal's
"Mummy" franchise, will helm the studio's "Van Helsing."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the title character,
venerable 19th century monster-hunter, Professor Van Helsing,
will head for Eastern Europe, there to do battle with the
Universal roster of classic monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein
and the Wolf Man. Will it be an honest homage to Universal's
"House of" films of the 40s, an innovative take on the topic
with fresh ideas, or just another plotless, in-joke-laden,
CGI, slam-bang no-brainer? Remember, it doesn't have to
be a good movie, so long as it's a good "popcorn movie."
THE LOVE SHOWS AT LOEW'S
Ever wonder what it must have been like to experience a
horror or sci-fi classic in one of those old-time "movie
palaces" of yore? Well, wipe that wistful tear from your
eye and pay attention. The restoration of The Landmark Loew's
Jersey Theatre at Journal Square in New Jersey is now complete.
According to film historian Tom Weaver, "it looks like the
Paris Opera House! It's absolutely gorgeous." The Landmark's
offerings run the gamut of classic cinema. Of special interest
to genre-film fans is an April 27 double-bill matinee, "Brain
From Planet Arous" and "Doctor Who and the Daleks" (both
presented in widescreen Techniscope), followed that evening
by a screening of "Forbidden Planet" in CinemaScope and,
for the first time since 1956, Perspecta Stereophonic Sound!
If you're anywhere near the neighborhood, make it a point
to drop in.
For more info (and there's LOTS more info!), visit:
Be sure to tell the ushers that the B Monster sent you!
BLUE GRASS AND GREEN MEN
It's being billed as "Invasion: Louisville!" The two-day,
2002 Wonderfest science fiction convention gets under way
May 25 at the The Executive West Hotel in Louisville, Ky.
In addition to scads of modeling "how-to's," demos and contests,
the guest list is a nifty mix of filmmakers, artists and
authors: Director Joe Dante, actors Kevin "Invasion of the
Body Snatchers" McCarthy and Ann "War of the Worlds" Robinson,
sci-fi artist and historian Vincent Di Fate, sculptor Carol
Bauman, artist Frank Dietz and author Tom Weaver, among
others. Special seminars and Q&A sessions in Wonderfest's
"Lizard Lounge" include "Joe Dante: From Film Fan to Genre
Giant!", Ann Robinson's "Touched by a Martian" and "The
Science Fiction Art of Vincent Di Fate," to list but a few.
After-hours activities include a theatrical screening of
George Pal's "War of the Worlds," and a late-night confab
called "Dante's Inferno," featuring the director and McCarthy
watching clips and swapping quips.
For more info, visit: http://www.wonderfest.com
Better tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
TIPPACANOE AND "BLOOD HARVEST," TOO!
Here's an item that
may be of interest to the B Monster's Wisconsin constituency.
The American Reform Party's candidate for governor of that
great state is Bill Rebane. That's right, the same Bill
Rebane who directed "Invasion from Inner Earth," "Blood
Harvest" and "Monster a-Go Go," is up for the state's top
job, advocating a "safe, wholesome & prosperous Wisconsin."
And Rebane isn't playing down his B-movie past; quite the
contrary. Among his accomplishments listed at the ARP Web
site you'll find the following: "Created and directed one
of the 50 top grossing films of 1975, 'The Giant Spider
Invasion,' starring Alan Hale Jr., Barbara Hale, Leslie
Parish, Robert Easton and Steve Brodie."
The Reformists tout Rebane as "an accomplished motion
picture industry business man, well-versed in all areas
of production, marketing, financing and distribution," as
well as "a media and special trade representative for the
Free Republic of Estonia, authorized by the Congress of
Estonia." "My campaign platform is that I am a non-politician,"
Rebane says in an interview posted at the site. "Politicians
are out of touch with reality. Unless he is a real statesman,
it doesn't take a professional politician to represent people."
Check it out: http://www.americanreform.org/Wisconsin/
RARE MEDIA, WELL DONE
And speaking of Big Bill Rebane, the gang at Retromedia
are poised to release his 1975 classic, "The Giant Spider
Invasion," on DVD. Video interviews, a selection of stills
and the original trailer are part of the package. Also available
from the Retro gang is the quirky "Kong Island." This disc
features both the American version and the uncut (hubba
hubba) European version of this schlock oddity. "The Brides
Wore Red" and "Garden of the Dead" round out the lineup
of April releases. Retromedia also has announced that it
has obtained the long sought-after license for the little-seen
"Deathmaster," starring Robert "Count Yorga" Quarry. The
film will be completely restored from the original 35mm
negative and will feature Quarry's commentary audio track.
Also in the process of being restored -- from "the only
known surviving 35mm COLOR theatrical print" -- is Roger
Corman's doomsday classic, "The Last Woman On Earth," starring
Betsy-Jones Moreland who, along with costar, Anthony Carbone,
will provide audio commentary. The disc also will include
the 35mm color trailer, an assortment of stills and scenes
that were shot for the film's television release. Last,
and certainly not least, is a new digital transfer of the
poverty row quickie (I suppose that's redundant) "The Mad Monster,"
featuring an audio interview with the film's late star,
Find out more at: http://www.retromedia.org
Be sure to tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
FANS FORM FORUM FOR FREDDY-O!
And as if all the news emanating from Retromedia weren't
exciting enough, head Retro honcho, Fred Olen Ray, director
and producer of many a heartfelt and horny homage to B-movies
past, has been honored with his own Yahoo discussion group.
According to the group's founder, "Fred Olen Ray has entertained
all kinds of audiences with his talented casts and fun scripts.
This is a group dedicated to his inspiration and enthusiasm
of film. Fred has entertained us all in all kinds of genres,
from Westerns to Mobs to Horror and Science Fiction. His
goal is to entertain, and Fred Olen Ray does that and inspires
all who are interested in making and watching films." You
can chat Fred up at:
A SPIFFY NEW "SPAWN"
The B Monster's buddy -- director,
producer, writer, editor, pundit, seer, sage, soothsayer
-- Ted Bohus, has unleashed a nifty new version of his neo-cult
classic "The Deadly Spawn." Available from Synapse Films,
this special edition disc features the uncut version of
the film, new special effects, audio commentary by Ted,
and what the director describes as, "tons of extras, and
a few surprises." (What could cuddly, garrulous Ted Bohus
do at this point that could possibly surprise us? Talk about
WILL A SILVER BULLET STOP THEM?
The WB network is giving "The Lone Ranger" the "Smallville"
treatment. According to SoundwavesTV, a teen-targeted reincarnation
of the western legend, addressing his angst-plagued (we're
guessing) pre-Ranger years, is in the works. Actor Chad
Murray of "Dawson's Creek" will portray the masked man aided
by Nathaniel Archard as Tonto. (May we suggest Sonic the
Hedgehog as Silver?) Casting directors are looking for western-types
with one proviso: No one over 30 years of age.
But wait, there's more! Variety reports that Columbia Pictures
has coughed up $1.5 million for the rights to produce a
feature film version of "The Lone Ranger." (Let's charitably
forgo mentioning the 1981 big-screen debacle starring Klinton
Spilsbury as the masked rider.) Columbia says the projecte budget for the film is $70 million. Reportedly, the studio
hopes to duplicate the success of their 1998 version of
"Zorro," which starred Antonio Banderas. And it looks like
they're leaving nothing to chance: According to one Variety
source, the part of Tonto might be played by a buxom female!
(Ooh La La, Silver!) The man who brought you "Gladiator,"
Doug Wick, and his wife Lucy Fisher, will produce.
THUNDER IN THE DISTANCE
According to Variety, Peter "End of Days," "The Relic" Hyams
will direct a feature film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's
classic story "A Sound of Thunder." Reportedly, Edward "Saving
Private Ryan" Burns is being considered for the central
role of the time-traveling, big-game hunter whose carelessness
wreaks havoc with history.
R.I.P. HARRY NADLER
Here's a sad bit of news from Great Britain: Harry Nadler,
a tireless proponent of the virtues of fantasy cinema and
the driving force behind Manchester's annual Festival of
Fantastic Films, has died following a heart attack. Nadler
and friends produced their own fantasy films in the 60s
and 70s. Nadler also published the L'Incroyable Cinema fanzine.
In the course of its 12-year history, the Manchester Festival
hosted the likes of Freddie Francis, Jimmy Sangster, Caroline
Munro, Paul Naschy, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley and Val
Guest. Richard Gordon and Janina Faye were regular attendees.
Last year's highlight was a screening of "King Kong" hosted
by Ray Harryhausen.
Readers of Cinefantastique will recognize the name J.P.
Harris who, for 15 years, contributed capsule reviews of
genre-related films and television programs to the long-running
'zine. Now, Harris has collected 300 of them in a new tome
called "Time Capsule," culled from work published between
1987-1991. According to Harris, this "is not a typical book
of reviews that encompasses every single genre film, but
a snapshot of films and TV shows released in a period when
there was a huge output of genre product." You can procure
a copy at:
Or you can call toll-free: 1-877-823-9235 It's soon to be
available at Books a Million , Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com
FRANKEL'S VARIED THEMES
By some accounts, Benjamin Frankel was the highest-paid
British composer of film music in the 1950s. His versatility
might be one reason why. One need only scan the breadth
of genres showcased in the new CPO label CD, "Benjamin Frankel,
Music for the Movies." In addition to work with Noel Coward
and a 1951 violin concerto, "In Memory of the Six Million,"
dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, Frankel scored
over 100 films. Included here are cues from, "The Importance
Of Being Earnest," "Night of the Iguana," "Trottie True,"
"The Years In Between," "Footsteps in the Fog" and "Curse
of the Werewolf," as played by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Werner Andreas Albert. To track down your copy,
FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF STUNNING UNORIGINALITY: REMAKE
UPDATE "They" plan on remaking the following films, and
we are powerless to stop them:
"The Manchurian Candidate," to be co-produced by Tina Sinatra
"Solaris," featuring George Clooney in an update of the
Russian sci-fi epic
"Flight of the Phoenix," with no star yet named to replace
"Billy Jack," starring -- wait for it -- Keanu Reeves
Sam Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," with
Benicio Del Toro
"Walking Tall," (let's see, who's the Gen-X equivalent of
Joe Don Baker?)
"The Singing Detective," the terrific British teleseries
written by Dennis Potter. Robert Downey Jr. will replace
"The In-Laws," with Michael Douglas replacing either Alan
Arkin or Peter Falk, we're not sure which.
"Seven Samurai" ("Ocean's 11" minus four?)
And, not a remake but, what the hey -- Michael Myers will
star as Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat."
NEW ON DVD
It isn't exactly science fiction, and it certainly isn't
horror. It isn't exactly a comedy, nor is it a drama. Was
it is, exactly, is a film I loved that no one else seems
to have bothered with. The titular "Dish" is an antenna
located in a remote part of Australia. This antenna was
crucial in monitoring the historic 1969 moon landing. That
much is factual. I doubt that much else about the film is
100% historically accurate -- which is not to say it doesn't
feel 100% authentic. It does. The "stars" of this modest
effort are Sam Neill as an Aussie scientist and "Seinfeld's"
Patrick Warburton as his visiting NASA counterpart. The
pacing is snappy but not rushed, and the script is simultaneously
humorous and moving. The Australian locals are colorful
but not patronized (forget those Foster's beer ads and Paul
Hogan in his big, dumb hat), with every performance spot
Every character, from the local dignitaries who are proud
to play such an important role in this historic event, to
the scientists who persevere through nail-biting radio blackouts,
are conscious of the landing's importance to the morale
of humanity. Despite the naysayers and pessimists who viewed
lunar exploration as frivolous, there were those who looked
upon the moon landing and said, "Damn! We can do anything."
"The Dish" is about those people.
Some people accuse the B Monster of being too hard on modern
horror movies. Well, here's an instance where we'll step
back and let the contemporary filmmakers make our case for
us. First of all, this is not the Alex Gordon golden oldie
starring Marla English and Paul Blaisdell's foam rubber
femme. This is one of that crop of made-for-cable "Creature
Features" filmed under the auspices of effects-wiz Stan
Winston and producer Lou Arkoff. It is not a remake, nor
does it bear any resemblance to the original. It's a vehicle
to showcase the impressive creature effects. (Make no mistake,
Winston and his crew are brilliant at what they do.) As
the commentary track explains, these films are "inspired
by" the original titles. (More on that shortly.) This is
not a very good movie. The telepathic mermaid premise devolves
into "Alien" set aboard a turn-of-the-century frigate. We
even get the classic Sigourney Weaver face-to-face with
salivating Alien shot, only this time, it's the sea beastie
pressed up against actress Carla Gogino. Not a similar shot,
the SAME shot -- TWICE!
The real highlight of this disk is the audio commentary
by Winston and co-producer/effects man Shane Mahan. It is
hilarious in that they have absolutely nothing to say (although
admittedly they are very good at telling us exactly what
we're seeing on the screen at that very moment). For starters,
they explain that this film was originally based on "War
of the Colossal Beast," but they changed the title in mid-production.
They were shooting a script about a gorgeous, Victorian-era,
mermaid and suddenly realized that "War of the Colossal
Beast" may not be the most suitable title. At one point
in the film, Gogino's character discovers that she is mysteriously
pregnant, and even these guys -- who MADE the movie -- aren't
sure how this happened. ("Wait, when was she impregnated?")
Didn't anyone read the script? A crucial plot point, and
two of the PRODUCERS aren't sure when, how or why it happened.
Later, they forget a key character's name, actually calling
her "what's her name." (Couldn't they record a second take?)
Other insights include, "She's such a good actress," "She's
really good here," and "Oh, she's good." Apparently bored
themselves, the commentators descend to gossip: "Did you
know that Carla and Sebastian were a ..." "A couple? No,
I ..." "Yep. And Gil Bellows and ..." (I wonder if they
were wearing those big hair-dryer bonnets while recording?)
Okay, you be the judge: They didn't even know which film
they were "inspired by" until they were halfway through
shooting, can't recall the names of characters they expect
us to care about, don't understand what's happening in their
own movie and borrow shamelessly from other, better movies.
FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
An "ambitious bore" might be a charitable way to describe
this stale retelling of the Jules Verne tale. It's Korny
with a capital "K," and Joseph Cotton and George Sanders
chew the scenery right down to its niblets. Normally, this
would be enough to keep a genre-film fan such as yours truly
genuinely enthralled, but it hardly compensates for the
lack of excitement surrounding this tortured trek to the
moon. There are lots of fat guys in waistcoats and top hats
who harrumph a lot, and I suppose that's an attempt to give
it a period flavor. Once we're aboard the creaking, groaning,
Victorian rocketship, the film slows to an untenable pace.
(Halfway to the moon and we're out of story. What will we
do?) Director Byron Haskin was capable of much better work,
which suggests he had little control over how the film turned
out -- or maybe he just didn't care. (By the way, the "guest
cameo" closing shot is a hoot.) Skip this trip.
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON
A terrific example of just how selective The B Monster's
memory can be. Seen while a youngster, one remembers the
iron-clad sphere, the subterranean city, the rampaging caterpillar,
the bug-like Selenites. What you realize upon re-examination
is just how much of it is long-winded preamble. In fact,
your enjoyment of the film will depend in large measure
on how much you enjoy the comedic stylings of Lionel Jeffries.
Much screen time is devoted to his "absent-minded professor"
character, blustery and befuddled in that British, "pip
pip, jolly good show" sort of way. MUCH screen time!
As the U.N. embarks on its first Lunar foray, authorities
turn up an aged Edward Judd, who claims he and his party
visited the moon some 65 years earlier. Employing a flashback
to relate Judd's tale is a nifty hook, but there's just
too much Victorian palaver before we get to animator Ray
Harryhausen's cool stuff, of which there is relatively little.
Director Nathan Juran's career, including his films with
Harryhausen ("20 Millions Miles To Earth," etc.), "Attack
of the 50 Foot Woman" and, of course, "Hellcats of the Navy,"
was erratic and fitfully successful. This is not one of
Producer Richard Gordon's string of late '50s-early ;60s
British shockers is an underrated lot that includes "First
Man Into Space," "Fiend Without A Face" and "The Haunted
Strangler." All are solid efforts well worth re-examining.
Of the Dick Gordon-produced films of this period, "Devil
Doll" is the one I could never warm up to. Even viewed in
the context of its release date (1964), the "evil puppet
come-to-life" bit was timeworn (1945's "Dead of Night" probably
being the best handling of the scenario. Even 1929's "The
Great Gabbo" had its moments). And there's something about
leading man Bryant Haliday's stubbornly ice-cold performance
that keeps the viewer -- at least this viewer -- from becoming
fully engaged. Sidney J. Furie's direction is serviceable
and William Sylvester and Yvonne Romain are fine in supporting
roles, but we're kept at arm's length throughout by the
tired script and Haliday's cold-fish portrayal.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Bob Madison, whose books are available at http://www.amazon.com
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
And the good folks at Image Entertainment, http://www.image-entertainment.com
"Co-ed beauty captive of man-monster!" -- Monster on the