JACK DAVIS CREATES A B MONSTER!
illustrator Jack Davis has created an image exclusively
for the B Monster to be used on t-shirts, baseball jerseys
and other collateral material. That's right, one of the
world's most renowned cartoonists, Mad magazine, EC comics
legend Jack Davis, the man behind the famous six-foot Frankenstein
that haunted the pages of 1960s monster mags (and the bedroom
walls of many a monster kid), the man who created the "You'll
Die Laughing" trading cards, designed characters for "Mad
Monster Party" and illustrated myriad movie posters and
album and magazine covers, has rendered a mirthful, macabre
B Monster. The image will be used in promoting the forthcoming
B Monster book, to be published by Dinoship in the coming
year. Let the word go forth: The "B Monster Store" is open!
You can stop haunting eBay for pricey monster collectibles.
We're introducing NEW, retro collectibles. It's NEW monster
memorabilia by an artist who helped mold your monster kid
memories. It's JACK DAVIS, for Pete's sake! Jack's stunning,
full-color rendering, configured with the B Monster logo,
is now available on t-shirts, sweatshirts, mousepads, coffee
mugs and more! (The image will, of course, be featured on
the book cover, as well). What are you waiting for? Get
yours before they're gone! Go to: http://www.cafeshops.com/bmonster
And bring your credit card with you! As always, the B Monster
donates a portion of his proceeds to Childhelp USA, helping
abused and neglected children.
And, when your spending spree is over, check out the B
Monster's spiffy Website makeover!
Actress Frances Dee, best known to cult-movie fans for her
understated portrayal as nurse Betsy Connell in the 1943
horror classic "I Walked With A Zombie," has died. She was
94. Dee was born in Los Angeles, where her Army officer
father was stationed, and grew up in Chicago after her dad
was transferred there. In 1929, he was re-assigned to L.A.,
and (as a lark) Dee began working in motion pictures as
an extra; her debut was in "Words and Music" with Lois Moran.
After playing her breakthrough role in "Playboy of Paris"
opposite Maurice Chevalier, she met Joel McCrea on the set
of the 1933 film "The Silver Cord"; following a whirlwind
courtship, the two were married later that year in Rye,
N.Y. In 1970, she and McCrea were rumored to be worth between
$50 million and $100 million. She was married to McCrea
for 57 years until his death in 1990. Dee hadn't acted since
the mid-'50s, and maintained she didn't miss it.
At age 90, she was a guest of the 1998 Memphis Film Festival,
where she was a huge hit with fans. "I Walked With A Zombie,"
was screened at the festival, and audience members gathered
around Dee for an impromptu Q&A. She recalled that producer
Val Lewton was very introverted, but a real gentleman, and
there was something about him "that you just knew he was
an artist." She recalled one line of dialogue about the
Hippocratic oath, but remembered little else about the filming.
It was all new to her, watching it there that day. She said
she thought it was "moody" and "eerie," and that she had
put her "best face" on it. Later, sharing an elevator with
film historian Tom Weaver, she said candidly that she thought
the film was rather depressing. She did not seem at all
impressed by it, saying sarcastically of the screening,
"Well, wasn't THAT uplifting!"
IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE WE'VE RANTED
Every so often we hear from a Hollywood buzz freak who points
out that a B Monster item is relatively "old news" by the
time our newsletter reaches their inbox. "I read about Paula
Raymond's passing two weeks ago in The Hollywood Reporter,"
or "I knew Miramax had that in the works a month ago." Well,
guess what? We have thousands of subscribers who don't read
Variety every day. (Can you imagine?) They don't consult
the trades to see what Harvey Weinstein has in the pipeline.
They simply like vintage horror and science fiction pictures,
and appreciate any news related to them. This is not a Website
for tinsel town insiders. It's for the stock clerk who spends
his lunch hour tracking down the name of the dimly remembered
movie about the giant crabs. It's for the office temp or
auto mechanic who wants to share happy, childhood monster
memories with their kid. They don't hang on Jerry Bruckheimer's
every word, and they're sick to death of JLo and Ben (or
Flecklo, or BenPez, or whatever the hell they want to be
called). They like old movies and old movie-related things,
and they particularly appreciate our take on the topic.
We've gotten thousands of e-mails that bear this out. There
are film sites with boundless monetary resources that can
bring you breaking gossip about contemporary films. But
this is where you'll learn about Wonderfest, Chiller, Monster
Bash, self-published books, independent films, horror-themed
garage bands, live spook shows, film revival programs, and
read the contributions and opinions of some of the best
and most knowledgeable writers covering the genre. Got it,
Mr. Insider? Good.
And, blushing with B Monster modesty, we must add that
we're still one of Yahoo's Top 10 most popular film sites,
sharing the list with the likes of Premier, Movieline and
Boxoffice. We couldn't have done it without you. Thank you.
DEAR B MONSTER
"Time and again you trash new sci-fi movies and wildly overpraise
old ones. You point out the shortcomings of a truly awesome
film like "The Matrix," but you'll defend a piece of amateurish
junk cinema like "Giant From the Unknown." You point out
that a stylish thriller like "The Cell" is gratuitously
violent, but contend that the violence in William Castle's
movies was as innocently contrived as a campfire ghost story.
Do you honestly think that horror films are more cynical
and pernicious today than they used to be? Are you really
so myopic that you'll stand by your blanket assertion that
old horror films are superior to contemporary ones? Are
you really that narrow-minded, resolute and just plain arrogant?"
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
CHILLER UPS THE ANTE IN THE "GUEST"-ING GAME
If a diverse and impressive guest list is the measure of
a film con, few compare with the Chiller Theatre convention.
This staggering showcase, hosted by the self-described "Jerry
Garcia of Horror Fandom," Kevin Clement, is a Jersey-based
fan spectacular that attracts throngs of horrorphiles, movie
lovers and autograph hounds from around the world who partake
in celeb meet-and-greets, and plunge headlong into memorabilia-packed
dealer's rooms. Clement & Co. have built the enterprise
into a twice yearly, celebrity-studded success that jam-packs
'em in every Spring and Halloween! The Chiller crew has
also reinvigorated their Website. In addition to complete
convention info, you'll find nostalgic Quicktime film clips,
dealer and contest information, retrospectives of Chiller
shows past and links to Chiller-friendly sites.
The Spring show commences April 23 at the Sheraton Meadowlands
Hotel in beautiful E. Rutherford, N. J., and the guest list,
as we've come to expect, is eclectic and impressive:
Adam West, TV's "Batman"
Frank Gorshin, TV's Riddler and co-star of "Invasion of
the the Saucer Men"
Connie Stevens, star of "Two On A Guillotine" and formerly
Crickett Blake of TV's "Hawaiian Eye"
Martine Beswicke, of "Thunderball" and "One Million Years
Ted A. Bohus, the "Deadly Spawn"-master
Ruth Buzzi of "Laugh-In" fame
William Christopher, Father Mulcahy of TV's "M*A*S*H"
Kim Darby, star of "True Grit" and "Don't Be Afraid of the
Lou Ferrigno, the Incredible Hulk himself
Basil Gogos, monster-piece painter
Richard Hatch, late of TV's "Battlestar Galactica"
Bill Hinzman, "Night of the Living Dead," veteran
Ron Jeremy, yes THAT Ron Jeremy, celebrated (if that's the
right word) adult film star
Michael Wm. Kaluta, illustrator extraordinaire
Ted V. Mikels, director of "The Astro-Zombies" and "Blood
Orgy of the She Devils"
Caroline Munro, whose credits include "The Abominable Dr.
Phibes" and "The Spy Who Loved Me"
Betsy Palmer, who we loved on "I've Got A Secret," and adored
in "Friday the 13th"
Patricia Quinn of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" renown
Kasey Rogers, who appeared in "When Worlds Collide" as well
as TV's "Bewitched"
Tom Savini, pioneering gore effects maven
Brinke Stevens, queen of low-budget screams
Larry Thomas, who you'll recognize as "Seinfeld's" Soup
Grace Lee Whitney, who portrayed Janice Rand on the original
"Star Trek" series
Zacherley, late-night legend and Chiller Theatre mascot
Still not sated? There will also be a "Land Of The Giants
Reunion," featuring Gary Conway, Don Marshall, Deanna Lund,
Don Matheson, Heather Young and Stefan Arngrim
And a 40th anniversary celebration of "Voyage To The Bottom
Of The Sea," with David Hedison, Terry Becker, Del Monroe
and Allan Hunt
And, a 39th anniversary spotlight on "Lost In Space,"
with Mark Goddard and Marta Kristen
There are still more guests, but the B Monster's fingertips
are bloodied from pounding out this much of the roster!
That date again is April 23. Check out:
Tell Kevin and his cretinous conventioneers the B Monster
G TO STEP DOWN? (SO TO SPEAK)
Has Godzilla stomped Tokyo for the last time? According
to a BBC News report, his home studio, Toho, says it may
be time to retire the big lizard. This proves how tough
showbiz can be on a major star -- a dinosaur millions of
years old is calling it quits after only 50 years in the
film business. Executive producer Shogo Tomiyama told the
Associated Press, "We have done all we can to showcase Godzilla,
including using computer-graphics technology. And yet we
haven't attracted new fans." December will see the release
of "Godzilla: Final Wars," a Japanese monster rally starring
10 Toho titans. According to Toho spokesman, Yukihiko Mochida,
the Big G could be resuscitated if a "new generation of
directors emerge or a brand new filmmaking method is found
to create a whole new world." The B Monster isn't sure what
that statement means. A "new world?" What's wrong with the
tried and true movie magic? A guy puts on a rubber suit
and crushes models underfoot. This requires the collective
efforts of an entire "new generation?" The prehistoric star
of 28 films could not be reached for comment, as he is vacationing
on Monster Island with Manda and Baragon, but backstage
dissent has been brewing at Toho for years owing to Gamera's
uncontrollable rectal emissions.
VAN HELSING'S TOON UP
The animated companion film to Universal's much-anticipated
"Van Helsing," is not a "further adventures of" story, but
a prequel to the live-action feature. Combining what publicity
calls "cutting edge animation" with what publicity calls
"thrilling adventure," "Van Helsing: The London Assignment,"
is slated for an April 27 release. But will it emphasize
the aforementioned "edge," or cater to kiddies who won't
be able to attend the purportedly gore-filled, big-screen
version? By now, you've no doubt seen the poster art, trailer
or TV ad spot and realize that the kindly professor of the
occult has been re-invented as a cross between Blade and
Robert E. Howard's two-fisted, globe-trotting Puritan, Solomon
Kane. The plot of the animated feature -- and clocking in
at a half-hour, the term doesn't really apply -- involves
Van Helsing being sent to foggy town by the Knights of the
Holy Order to put an end to the nastiness being perpetrated
by Mr. Hyde. It features the voices of live-action Van Helsing,
Hugh Jackman, Robbie Coltrane, Alun Armstrong and David
Wenham, and is "loaded with bonus features." These include
cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes special effects
stuff. Now, if you're a classic horror purist, and find
the whole idea of adding a contemporary "edge" to your favorite
Golden Age monsters repellent, there may be an antidote.
Read on ...
The Universal mavens in charge of conceiving future collectibles
have come up with a doozy of a "Van Helsing" tie-in that
should settle the nerves of hardcore vintage monster buffs
disturbed by "Van Helsing's" retooling of the classic creatures.
It's called "The Monster Legacy Gift Set." The B Monster
told you a while back that "Frankenstein," "Dracula" and
"Wolf Man" legacy collections were being released to coincide
with Universal's newest monster rally. But you can also
get the whole shebang in one affordable (for now) set that
also includes meticulously sculpted, hand-painted miniature
busts of the horror "big three" courtesy of the folks at
All of the films have been "completely remastered," according
to the hype. And, just in case the timeliness of this release
is lost on you, the publicity goes on to state that "each
Legacy Collection features an exclusive look at how these
classics inspired the director of 'Van Helsing.'" Well,
not exactly the MAIN reason I'd buy it, but okay. Here's
a more detailed run down:
DRACULA: THE LEGACY COLLECTION:
"Dracula" (with and without a score added in 1999 by composer
Philip Glass) Commentary by film Historian David Skal Featurettes:
"Stephen Sommers' Movie Monsters" and "The Road to Dracula"
"'Dracula' Archives" Theatrical trailer Photo gallery Cast
and filmmaker biographies
"Dracula's Daughter" Theatrical trailer Photo gallery
Poster and photo montage
"Son of Dracula" "House of Dracula"
FRANKENSTEIN: THE LEGACY COLLECTION:
"Frankenstein" Commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer
Featurettes: "Stephen Sommers' Movie Monsters," "Frankenstein
Files: 'How Hollywood Made a Monster,'" "Boo!" "'Frankenstein'
Archives" Theatrical trailer Production notes Cast and filmmakers'
biographies Photo gallery
"Bride of Frankenstein" Commentary by film historian Scott
MacQueen "'Bride of Frankenstein' Archives" Featurette:
"She's Alive: Creating the 'Bride of Frankenstein'" Theatrical
trailer Production notes Cast and filmmakers' biographies
"Son of Frankenstein" "House of Frankenstein" "Ghost of
THE WOLF MAN: THE LEGACY COLLECTION:
"The Wolf Man" Commentary by film historian Tom Weaver
Featurettes: "Stephen Sommers' Movie Monsters," "Monster
by Moonlight" "'The Wolf Man' Archives" Theatrical trailer
Production notes Cast and filmmakers' biographies Photo
"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" "Werewolf of London"
"She-Wolf of London"
They got all of this on six disks (and we may have left
a few things out!), and it's beautifully packaged with the
three collectible busts. Sure, they're capitalizing on the
collecto-mania of boomer geeks like you and me. Universal
continues to recognize the value of their horror heritage.
(If only they'd invest such care and circumspection in their
contemporary films.) Whether they're exploiting our nostalgia
or honoring it is a matter of opinion. We've seen this set
listed on the Web at prices ranging from $59.99 to $79.99.
(This is actually not a bad deal.) But it's only a matter
of time before dealers begin scooping them up by the truckload,
later to resell them to hapless eBay bidders at monstrously
inflated prices. Our fear is that Universal will arbitrarily
declare this a "Limited Edition Collectible" at some point,
driving scalpers to boost prices even higher. (Remember
what happened with "This Island Earth?")
ILLUMINATING "DARK RIDE"
Doug Higley's self-published book, "Scary Dark Rides," is
officially available, and comes packaged with an audio CD
of the author, an experienced and respected voice actor,
reading his paean to the midway rides and mechanized spookhouses
of the past, present and future. Higley, a frequent contributor
to theme ride publications, eloquently and nostalgically
recounts his childhood experiences with thrill rides, and
describes in accessible prose such attractions as "Dante's
Inferno," "The Spelunker" and "The Geister Bahn." And who
knew the innocuous Knott's Berry Farm was transformed into
the foreboding Knott's SCARY Farm every Halloween? Higley's
treatise encompasses theater spook shows, midway banner
artists, the famous Zachinni Brothers (of human cannonball
fame) thrill ride pioneer, Gene Tracy, as well as Higley's
friendships with 1950s creature creator Paul Blaisdell and
Japanese monster-maker Eji Tsuburaya.
The book serves not only as a primer on the history of
dark carnival attractions, but as a firsthand chronicle
of how Americans grew up and, sadly, grew jaded. Higley
chooses an appropriate quote from Walt Disney to underscore
his point: "Too many people grow up. They forget. They don't
remember what it's like to be twelve years old." Higley
says he had reservations about including the CD. He needn't
have. It makes for an entertaining supplement, and would
make for a nifty serialized radio feature, on NPR, for instance.
From traveling, horse-drawn attractions to "Jurassic Park:
The Ride," Higley's dedication to the topic and unabashed
nostalgia are admirable. (And how can you not like a guy
who cites "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" as one of THE defining
documents of the 20th Century?) Check out:
Tell 'em for sure the B Monster sent you!
WRITE ON, RAY!
Stop-motion effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen will be signing
his new book, "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," April
22 at the Edwards South Coast Village Cinema in Santa Ana,
California. A screening of a newly re-mastered print of
the Harryhausen-animated classic "Jason and the Argonauts"
will follow the signing. Ray will be in California until
the end of April for other signing events, but promoters
point out that this is the only appearance to be accompanied
by a screening with Harryhausen in attendance. The event
gets under way at 7:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online
or at the door (cash only). Be sure and tell Ray the B Monster
DRAWN TO HORROR?
Tying in with all of the Legacy Collection and "Van Helsing"
hoopla, Universal (via Visionary Media) has initiated a
"Universal Classic Monsters Amateur Art Contest." The competition
is limited to non-pros and divided into two age groups:
Up to 14-years-old, and 15 and older. Entrants can choose
one of three subjects: Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster or
The Wolf Man. The official entry rules state that, "all
artwork must be created entirely by the submitting artist.
All two-dimensional hand-manipulated forms for art medium
are acceptable. Oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, water
colors, pencils, and crayons are acceptable. We will NOT
accept any computer design, computer illustration [ed. Why
the heck not?], or digital photography." But don't think
you can dash off a cliched rendering of a gaunt-faced, flat-headed,
bolt-necked Karloff clone. The rules clarify that "this
should be the artist's completely original conception of
the character, and not based on any previous versions that
have appeared in film, TV, or any other artistic medium."
All submissions must be postmarked by April 10. (The short
notice isn't the B Monster's fault. We were only notified
in time for our April 1 newsletter and get the impression
that the contest was a last-minute brainstorm.) What does
the big winner get? The Grand Prize is the complete Monster
Legacy Box Set. Five runners-up in each age group will win
an individual Monster Legacy DVD set for their chosen character.
The panel of judges is composed of "prominent Hollywood
makeup artists." So, if you're quick with a pen or brush,
send your artwork, along with name, age and phone number
to: Universal Classic Monsters Amateur Art Contest Visionary
Cinema P.O. Box 1722 Glendora, CA 91740-1722
"TIME" IN PRIME TIME?
DreamWorks SKG is reportedly preparing a "Time Machine"
mini-series that will pick up where the 2002, big screen
version left off. According to the Dreamworks fan site,
executive producer Arnold Leibovit is negotiating with The
David Wolper Organization and Warner Brothers to undertake
the project. Why? The feature film was an $80 million financial
disappointment that recouped $56.6 million. Directed by
author H.G. Wells' great grandson, Simon, the film suffered
through a torturous, rumor-filled genesis, resulting in
an unfocused adventure that disappointed many sci-fi fans.
But a mini-series might be mounted relatively inexpensively
utilizing existing expensive props and effects. No word
on who might return from the film's cast, but leading man
Guy Pearce made it clear at the time of the film's release
that he was fed up with Hollywood.
Rumors regarding a "Dark Shadows" feature film based on
the 1960s Gothic horror soap opera have been floating for
years. And as we mentioned some time ago, one source claimed
that Johnny Depp was up for the role of the darkly romantic
vampire Barnabas Collins. Now, Variety reports that "Dark
Shadows" will be reincarnated, not as a feature, but as
a WB television series to be directed by "X-Files" veteran
Rob Bowman. So, why did the WB cancel "Angel?" Guess there
just wasn't room on the sched for two hunky vamps.
HOPE WE DON'T GET STUNG
Miramax is making a new, feature film version of "The Green
Hornet," based on the classic radio character created in
the 1930s (who also appeared in comic books, movies, and
a 1960s TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee).
Filmmaker/comics maven Kevin Smith will direct. A sidebar:
Please, Kevin, don't make him a snarky, ironic, leather-clad
Gen-Xer with little or no moral agenda who lashes out in
tantrums of Tarantino-style violence. Make him a hero. Please?
FROM JPL TO ESF
In a move that demonstrates just how seriously the Experience
Science Fiction museum is taking its mission, former NASA
engineer Donna Shirley has been named director of the Seattle-based
facility initially bankrolled by Microsoft tycoon Paul Allen.
Shirley, who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for
more than three decades, eventually overseeing the Mars
Exploration Program, claims she's been a sci fi fan since
age 11. Shirley will act as creative director, organizing
programs and exhibits chronicling science fiction history,
and showcasing contributions made to our culture by science
fiction creators. The museum, scheduled to open in June,
will also feature a Science Fiction Hall of Fame. ESF lists
Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison and Ray Harryhausen
among its many advisers. According to the official Website,
the museum's membership program, and info regarding major
gift opportunities, will be unveiled early this month. For
more info, visit:
Be sure and tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
Writer Cheryl Duran is one of the prime movers behind TheMonsterClub.com
Website. She's also one of the publishers of the Monster
News fanzine, a nostalgic, fans-eye view of movie monsters
past and the people attempting to preserve them. The ambitious
Monster Club crew now has three trade paperback treatises
in circulation; "The Monster Club.com Guide to Horror,"
"written for fans who dig horror movies, facts about favorite
films, shows, stars and more," was followed by "Monster
News: The Book," which features select articles from previously
published issues of the 'zine. Duran recently completed
"Monster Movie Memories: From Movie Palace to Drive-In,"
which casts a wide cult-movie net covering everything "from
campy wonders like 'Billy The Kid vs. Dracula' to fabulous
Universal offerings such as 'Bride of Frankenstein.'" Each
brief write-up lists stars, trivia tidbits, a plot synopsis
and a "Spotlight On" feature offering a brief bio of an
actor, writer, director or producer. There are essays covering
drive-ins, movie gimmicks and advertising art. If your favorite
film didn't make this edition (and mine didn't; where the
heck is "Giant From the Unknown"?!), you can take it up
with the kids in The Monster Club:
Make a point of saying the B Monster sent you!
NEW ON DVD
WOOD: SPECIAL EDITION
To review, or not to review. This question is appropriate
because Buena Vista shipped this disk to stores, only to
hastily recall it and postpone the official release indefinitely.
(For the record, you can now "pre-order" it through Amazon.com
and others outlets.) A few critics claiming "insider" status
got hold of copies and reviewed the release. We simply went
to eBay, where online opportunists lay in wait for suckers
like the B Monster. There seemed plenty to be had (at inflated
cost, of course). So, we'll review this edition of the "Special
Edition," because the NEXT edition might not be the same
edition, as nobody -- not even Buena Vista -- seems to know
why this edition was recalled.
Let's start with the extras, as they seem the likely reason
for the recall. Why? Because I get the impression that no
one put much thought into creating them. Maybe somebody
(Tim Burton perhaps?) got a load of this hash of film clips
and talking heads, and said, "Whoa Nelly!" (Okay, probably
not.) The interface is a beauty; we look over the silhouetted
shoulders of a movie audience staring at a screen displaying
the feature selections and Johnny Depp's bemused, grinning
face. Click on a special features option, and the film breaks,
causing the animated audience to hurl popcorn and cups at
the screen. Then, it's on to the extras, the best of which
is simply several minutes of on-the-set home movies, in
black-and-white and color, showing Burton, Depp, Martin
Landau and crew at work. There's no narration, the only
context being Johnny Depp in drag introducing the footage,
ad-libbing humorously and self-effacingly. The lack of narration
and interrupting talking heads is this bit's chief asset.
Thank goodness no one is jabbering away about method and
technique. It's just straightforward footage of guys having
fun making a movie about a guy having fun making a movie.
Cue the talking heads. Rick Baker talks lucidly about
the makeup required to transform Landau into Bela Lugosi.
Landau speaks with admiration of Lugosi, making reference
to the many grade Z films that were unworthy of Bela's talent.
(Landau claims he screened "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn
Gorilla" several times, fascinated by its ineptitude.) It's
edifying enough, but not of substantial merit to be called
a "special" feature.
The extra about designing and creating the look of the
film will be of interest to hardcore film buffs who love
behind-the-scenes minutiae. Many production sketches and
prop concepts are displayed and discussed in depth. It's
interesting stuff for us B-movie loonies, but again, not
quite "special." Composer Howard Shore talks briefly about
the film's score, and there's a theremin demonstration that
could easily have been trimmed by a minute or two. And,
did you know there was an "Ed Wood" music video? It's part
of this package and, at the risk of repetition; it's nothing
"special." Likewise, the "deleted scenes," which are definitely
amusing, but all too abbreviated to deserve "special" status.
Call it a bow to political correctness or just plain curiosity
value, but there's also a feature on transvestism. (Is there
ANYONE reading this who doesn't know that Wood was a transvestite?)
There are interviews with transvestites and members of a
transvestite advocacy group. A male cross-dresser appears
on camera with his wife, who maintains she is accepting,
but looks like she's about to jump out of her skin.
The biggest disappointment should have been the "Special
Edition's" greatest asset; the commentary track. Instead
of commenting on specific aspects of the film as it rolls,
it would seem that several interviews were recorded at different
times in different places and then simply spliced together
and played while the movie was screened. Only writers Scott
Alexander and Larry Karaszewski ever comment on a scene
as it's occurring onscreen, and then, only rarely. Otherwise,
they yack, yack, yack away about their backgrounds and how
the project came about -- which might have made a decent
supplement, but makes for a very poor audio commentary.
Worse, Landau's comments are simply the audio track from
the "recreating Lugosi" video feature! (In fairness, several
musings that didn't make the cut of that video feature turn
up in the audio commentary.)
As to "Ed Wood" itself, director Tim Burton's quirky film
about the cult-movie critics' favorite whipping boy is also
his best (with the possible exception of his early short
film "Frankenweenie"). It evoked a mixed reaction from those
familiar with Wood and his work. For longstanding fans of
the transvestite auteur, the film validated their perverse
appreciation of Wood's incompetent filmmaking. These connoisseurs
of cult films were thrilled to pieces that one of their
own had been "recognized" by the mainstream. Others pointed
out (correctly) that the film goes nowhere; there's no plot
to speak of, just a series of vignettes depicting Wood's
aspirations and foibles. This approach -- tenuously stringing
together a series of handsome set-pieces -- is common to
just about every Tim Burton film, but it's a criticism inappropriate
to this particular subject; by most accounts, Wood's life
WAS a series of curious vignettes, struggles, dreams and
despairs. (The script does not chronicle Wood's descent
into alcoholism, porn and poverty, concentrating on its
subject's pluck and oblivious determination.)
Still others simply revile the film for its inaccuracies.
Veteran B-movie producer Alex Gordon, for instance, deplored
its depiction of Bela Lugosi as foul-mouthed and temperamental.
Gordon knew both Lugosi and Wood intimately, and recalled
Lugosi as a man who, in spite of years of drug abuse and
ignominy, remained a gentleman and never uttered a curse
in his life. (A few minutes of audio commentary are used
to justify this depiction of Lugosi as vulgar-tongued. Briefly
stated, writers Alexander and Karaszewski simply thought
it was funny to have Lugosi cursing. Landau says the same.
But they're careful to rationalize that it makes his character
"more human" and that the depiction is an "homage." The
term "a love letter to" is invoked several times.) And the
paper plate flying saucers never existed; they were actually
fairly nifty plastic props that, in the hands of a more
experienced technician, could easily have passed as alien
spacecraft. But, as they said in "The Man Who Shot Liberty
Valance," "print the legend."
"Ed Wood" is an ambiguous film. It's difficult to determine
whether Burton is celebrating Wood's optimistic drive, or
laughing up his sleeve at the filmmaker's naivete. The perspective
shifts from scene to scene. Burton shouldn't have tried
to have it both ways. This alternating posture is the film's
central failing. But, in spite of its equivocations, "Ed
Wood" is entertaining. Judge for yourself, but on balance
it would seem that Burton has more affection than contempt
for his subject. The film is beautifully photographed in
black and white (a concession for which Burton fought tooth-and-nail,
according to some accounts), and it's filled with wonderful
performances. Johnny Depp is a dynamo. He's absolutely terrific
as Wood, brimming with confidence and enthusiasm in the
face of desperate circumstances. Martin Landau won an Oscar
for his portrayal of Lugosi. Historical inaccuracies notwithstanding,
it's a great, sympathetic performance. One gets the impression
that both Depp and Landau genuinely respect the people they're
portraying and want to do right by their memories. Their
gusto never brims over into ridicule. Wisely, the filmmakers
made the friendship of the two men the heart of the film,
and these singular performances carry the movie.
Two less heralded supporting players are worthy of recognition.
The first is Vincent D'Onofrio. At one point in the film,
Wood is frustrated by meddlesome producers. At his wit's
end, he flees the set where he's shooting "Plan 9" (in full
transvestism) and dashes into a bar (Hollywood's famed Musso
& Frank Grill), where he encounters his idol, Orson
Welles (D'Onofrio). It's a dream-like, smoky sequence and
D'Onofrio is utterly convincing physically (it seems that
D'Onofrio's dialogue has been looped by another actor) as
Welles, offering Wood inspiring words of wisdom. Also largely
unheralded is Howard Shore's marvelous score, an evocative
mix of Les Baxter tiki and Ferrante & Teicher, laced
with theremin. Bongos, vibraphone and theremin -- horror/lounge,
sci-fi jazz -- call it what you will, but it complements
the film and its subject perfectly.
I hope they do release a second, "Improved Ed Wood 2.0."
Perhaps they'll put a little more thought into the extras
this go 'round. Maybe have the actors actually take the
time to sit down and watch the movie as they comment. And
perhaps they could trouble themselves to contact the Ed
Wood "survivors," veterans of "Plan 9" and "Bride of the
Monster" who actually knew the man and appeared in the films.
THE GIANT KILLER
I have great affection for this very strange little film.
It has a very non-Hollywood look that benefits it immensely,
lending an otherworldly feel to the fanciful situations
it presents. It plays genuinely like a fairy tale come to
life, putting one in a charitable mood that allows for the
film's shortcomings. It somehow got lost in the shuffle
as high-flown fantasy films that came into brief and glorious
vogue in the early 1960s, heralded by the collaborations
of animation wizard Ray Harryhausen and director Nathan
Juran. The best-known examples are no doubt the Sinbad films.
"Jack" was directed by Juran, but the film is hardly an
imitation of the Harryhausen teaming. This film is more
whimsical, more "storybook," and therefore distinct from
the Sinbad classics, even though Sinbad stars Kerwin Matthews
and Torin Thatcher reprise roles as hero and villain, respectively.
"Jack" was written by Orville Hampton, a prolific scribe
who had partnered at one time or another with such producers
as Alex Gordon ("The Atomic Submarine"), Sam Katzman ("Calypso
Heat Wave"), Ron Ormond ("Untamed Mistress"), Sigmund Neufeld
("The Three Outlaws") and Robert E. Kent ("The Four Skulls
of Jonathan Drake," "Riot in Juvenile Prison"). Kent produced
"Jack the Giant Killer" along with Edward Small. (Together,
they formed Vogue Pictures, producing "It! The Terror From
Beyond Space" and "Curse of the Faceless Man" among others.)
There wasn't a genre Hampton didn't dabble in, right up
to and including episodes of "Scooby-Doo" and "Fantasy Island."
He has a flair for the fanciful that's evident in "Jack."
He doesn't strive for the mystical or the symbolic; clearly,
they wanted kids to see this picture.
Kerwin is an able swashbuckler with a likeable mug, and
Thatcher, as the evil Pendragon, is every bit as darkly
menacing as he was opposite Sinbad. Pretty Judi Meredith,
who portrays distressed damsel Princess Elaine, later appeared
in such cult films as William Castle's "The Night Walker,"
the underrated "Dark Intruder," and director Curtis Harrington's
"Queen of Blood." Walter Burke and Don Beddoe take nifty
supporting turns, and if you're not familiar with their
faces or voices, then you need to see a whole lot more B
movies. The special effects, including stop-motion monsters
rendered by Jim Danforth and design work by the recently
deceased Wah Chang, may not measure up to Harryhausen standards
in the eyes of contemporary viewers, but there's an "innocence"
about them, an element of whimsy that amuses and distracts
from their perceived crudity. The highest compliment I can
pay the film is that it's unpretentious; salient praise
in this era of sci-fi and fantasy films that take themselves
too darned seriously.
The time it took for this turkey to breeze in and out of
theaters wouldn't register on anyone's timeline. It tanked,
and it deserved to. This flick puts the lie to the theory
that ANYTHING with Michael Critchton's name on it will sell.
He was half-asleep when he wrote this predictable hash of
time travel movies and medieval derring-do. It's as if the
Monty Python troupe staged an episode of "Time Tunnel,"
only not as entertaining as that doubtless would have been.
Big-time director Richard Donner's previous film was "Lethal
Weapon 4," and the calculated commercialism of that franchise
may have warped his sensibilities, because he's directed
a fun film or two in the past. "Superman" for example.
The plot involves a multi-mucho-mega technology conglomerate
run by Robert Doniger (David Thewlis, VERY transparently
disguised as Bill Gates, complete with matted hair and nerdy
spectacles). He's callous, he's craven, and he'll stop at
nothing to advance his time-travel technology. His matter
transporter was intended to revolutionize the shipping business,
but Thewlis has somehow poked a wormhole in the space-time
continuum. Lovable archeology professor Billy Connolly is
somehow sucked through said wormhole, which posits him in
14th century France. His team of young associate archeologists
uncover a distress note written by the prof in 1357, and
decide to avail themselves of Thewlis' cutting-edge technology
to travel back in time to retrieve him. And they couldn't
have chosen a worse time to do so, as they land in France
on the eve of one of medieval times' bloodiest battles.
You'll have little trouble predicting who gets killed,
who gets their comeuppance and who rises to the occasion
-- as well as who chooses to remain in 14th century France
to fight the good fight against whistling arrows and flame-throwing
catapults. Castes, catapults, knights and warriors? Sounds
like a spectacle, but it's spectacle on a USA Network scale.
In fact, "Timeline" looks and plays very much like a made-for-cable
movie that producers thought would pass muster as a big-screen
attraction. It doesn't. Any kid who's seen an episode of
"Sliders" or any one of umpteen takes on the whole time-travel
theme will be two steps ahead of these characters as they
stumble into predictable predicaments. And the time-twisting
"surprise" ending, intended as a sentimental coda, doesn't
wash. Even if you disagree and regard "Timeline" as a well
mounted, innocuous diversion, consider this: It cost $80
million! Where did that money go? (The 1938 "Adventures
of Robin Hood" cost $1.9 million.) On its opening weekend
-- the ONLY play date that seems to matter to Hollywood
bean counters -- "Timeline" made $8 million, eventually
earning only $19.5 million. Yikes!
Kate Beckinsale sure is cute. Just wanted to get our only
positive comments regarding this film out of the way at
the outset. "Underworld" is relentlessly dismal. A big gray
blob of a film. It would like to be profound, I imagine,
as buried deep, deep, deep in this screenplay lies the message
that vampires should try to get along with werewolves. It
seems they've been at war for centuries. A select team of
vampire hit men (and women) is pledged to exterminating
every last lycanthrope (or "lycans," as the script refers
to them). We're asked to invest in Beckinsale as sort of
a vampire Juliet to Scott Speedman's werewolf Romeo, but
there's zero chemistry between them. These are two, stone-cold
fish, and nothing approximating love ever truly materializes.
In fact, the film is bereft of humanity -- there's no one
to like, no one to root for. And before you say, "of course
it lacks humanity -- it's about werewolves and vampires,"
think again. The very best monster stories are ALL about
humanity, the loss of it and the struggle to attain it.
"Frankenstein" wanted to make a man, "Dracula" wanted to
BE a man, "The Wolf Man" was tortured as his humanity slipped
away. The characters in this film live only to kill. And
boy, do they. It opens with a bloodbath in the city subway.
But in lieu of wooden stakes and wolfbane, the opposing
teams wield Uzis, Glocks and AK-47 assault rifles. Innocent
bystanders are felled like flies, blood spews, guts spill
-- and that's in the first five minutes. Make no mistake,
this film glamorizes violence.
Throughout the movie we see heads sliced open, faces torn
to shreds and, via one tired gimmick that's been used in
prior films, we even go INSIDE the human body to see vital
organs throb, bleed and pulsate. (Just what I paid to see,
Scott Speedman's quivering spleen.) The camera careens,
whirls, twirls, tilts, spins, goes in and out of focus.
These filmmakers are true magicians; one hand wiggles and
waves, razzles and dazzles in a vain attempt to distract
us from the hand that's palming our card. They're also derivative
in the worst sense. Everyone wears black and flips and flies
through the air "Matrix"-style. Kind of a Goth Cirque de
Soleil. And there's an unceasing, techno, heavy metal drone
throbbing away in every scene, actually drowning out dialogue
in at least one instance. The acting is uniformly bad, as
is the script. Actors say things like "That's the oldest
story in the book," "Mark my words" and "I become the hunted."
Speedman, late of TV's "Felicity," whispers every line,
while Bill Nighy, strutting around in what looks like a
purple leather bathrobe, likes to go from a bellow to a
whisper and back again in the space of one line (odd, in
that he's usually a very capable character actor).
The crux of this whole noisy mess is a scheme to crossbreed
vampires with werewolves in order to create some kind of
uber-beast. Speedman's genetic composition makes him the
ideal guinea pig. The manifestation of this "werevamp" is
disappointing; he looks like a skinny Incredible Hulk. The
climax is a subterranean donnybrook with top vamp Nighy
that has them flying around on wires, slamming each other
into masonry, clawing, pawing and snarling, all to the accompaniment
of that headbanging soundtrack. Imagine a Metallica music
video directed by John Woo with Buffy flitting in and out
of frame. In fact, the worst episode of "Buffy" is better
than the best moments of this hollow film.
ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES/THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Lest you think these titles fall beyond the province of
the B Monster, I maintain that the spooky atmosphere --
steeped in shadow and appointed with Victorian bric-a-brac
-- and casts composed of horror-film veterans, suggests
otherwise. Many Sherlock Holmes fans regard these 1939 Fox
titles as the two best examples of cinema based on the work
of Conan Doyle. There has been further debate as to which
of these two is the superior film. (For the record, The
B Monster would like to cite the lower-budgeted, Universal-produced
"Scarlet Claw" and "Pearl of Death" as better entertainments
than either one of them.)
"Adventures" is impressively mounted. It looks like an
"A" film (as does "Hound"). Director Alfred Werker was an
able craftsman with credits dating to the silent era. Cult-movie
fans might know him best for "The House of Rothschild,"
which featured Boris Karloff in a showy villainous role,
"Shock," an early showcase for the languid menace of Vincent
Price, and films noir including "He Walked By Night" (which
some contend was co-directed by Anthony Mann). Westerns,
comedies (among the last films featuring Laurel & Hardy),
swashbucklers -- Werker was a worker, at home in any milieu,
foggy, 19th-century England being no exception. He turns
in a serviceable job shepherding top-flight actors through
an intriguing script. And in the end, it's the sterling
cast that makes it work. These films marked Basil Rathbone's
debut as Holmes, and he was born for it. He sure lives up
to my mental image of Doyle's detective, and I could listen
to that clipped, erudite delivery for hours. Ditto George
Zucco, another actor who could make a reading of the West
Orange, N.J. phone book sound irresistibly devilish. He's
terrific as Holmes' most noteworthy nemesis, Prof. Moriarity.
Many contend that he was the best Moriarity ever. (He had
stiff competition in years to come, with Lionel Atwill and
Henry Daniell being two of the finest examples.) Nigel Bruce's
Watson is a departure from Doyle's character as written
(he became more annoyingly bumbling with each succeeding
film), but he's the perfect compliment to Rathbone's hauteur.
A young Ida Lupino co-stars, and E.E. Clive and Mary Gordon
take nifty supporting turns.
"Hound of The Baskervilles" director, Sidney Lanfield,
also had a prolific film career. He directed scads of "Bs"
and a handful of popular Bob Hope vehicles ("My Favorite
Blonde," "Sorrowful Jones," "The Lemon Drop Kid"), but is
probably best known as a television director, helming such
programs as "Wagon Train," "The Deputy," "McHale's Navy"
and "The Addams Family." Considering his conspicuous lack
of mystery-horror-film experience, "Hound" is richly atmospheric,
and its "supernatural" elements -- phantom dog, family curse,
foggy moor -- have made it a favorite of Holmes fans. In
fact, Rathbone himself cited it as his favorite. "It was
in this picture," he said, "that I had the stimulating experience
of creating, within my own limited framework, a character
that has intrigued me as much as any I have ever played."
While Lanfield and his team successfully concoct a convincingly
damp and foreboding setting, it is, once more, the cast
that drives the whole enterprise. Rathbone and Bruce are
exemplary, of course. Add to that Lionel Atwill, John Carradine
(two mugs you wouldn't want to bump into on the dark Grimpen
Mire), Wendy Barrie and a young Richard Greene (future TV
Robin Hood), who acquits himself well as young Sir Henry
Baskerville. The film was a great critical and public success
when originally released, one of Fox's biggest grossers
of the year. Both films hold up well today. Ignore contemporary
complaints regarding careful pacing and talkiness. Sit back
and watch these actors chew the scenery as though it were
their last meal.
Dinoship CEO and film historian Bob Madison contributes
Who would've thought that four years into a new decade
the best horror film to date would be a remake of a '70s
B-flick about a boy and his rats? Not me, but here's the
scoop. The 2003 remake of "Willard," staring Crispin Glover
and directed by Glen Morgan, is a stylish, superior thriller
which was unjustly overlooked by audiences upon its initial
release. It's out on DVD from New Line Entertainment and
for the horror movie buff, it is unbeatable entertainment.
The disk is also loaded with extras that are just as worthwhile
as the film. Briefly, Willard Stiles (Glover) is a loser
de luxe -- manipulated by a sick, domineering mother, bullied
by a boss who stole the family business and imprisoned in
his dead father's old clothes. He befriends the rats which
infest the family basement and learns that he has a strange
control over them. Soon he uses them as instruments of revenge.
Unlike the 1971 Bruce Davison "Willard" (itself a more
modest but entertaining flick), Morgan's film is a stylized,
expressionist work that has all the creepy beauty of German
silent films. It takes place in some weird interstices of
reality and expressionism, reflecting the unstable point-of-view
of Stiles. The misc-en-scene is truly horrific, with Willard's
mother (Jackie Burroughs) a virtual walking skeleton and
his workplace a neon-lit hellhole. Constantly infantilized
and humiliated, no wonder Willard cracks. Glover is magnificent.
I have always been immune to Glover's appeal as an actor,
but his performance as the tormented (and dangerous) Willard
Stiles is one of the best ever found in a horror film. (I
realize how hyperbolic a statement that is -- but see the
film.) And Morgan (an "X-Files" alumnus) manages to make
a horror film both frightening and creepy with a minimum
of gore. That is a remarkable achievement in contemporary
And contemporary Hollywood comes in for its lumps with
the excellent documentary "Year of the Rat," also on the
DVD. When most studio release documentary extras for new
films, the result is little more than a video press release;
all fluff and spin, but no substance. "Year of the Rat"
follows the making of Willard, some of the changes New Line
demanded made to the final cut (including a sort of "Psycho"
homage at its end), and honestly relates the film's lukewarm
reception. The film tested poorly with teenagers -- who
initiated the alterations to the director's cut and also
spelled the film's final doom. A sad commentary on current
American filmmaking: Everything comes down to the approval
of people usually too young to drive, vote, drink or think.
Also included is a wonderful "music video" of Glover singing
Michael Jackson's "Ben." It's wonderfully funny and creepy
and worth the price of the DVD itself. Go out and buy it
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, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc. http://www.dinoship.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.dinoship.com
"Maddened mastodons wage warfare to the death!" -- Two