We know it's August, and it's hot and you're cranky, but
there seems to be no end to the flak we encounter whenever
we question the veracity of a recent fright film. We're
accused of favoring vintage films over contemporary fare.
This is a valid criticism for which we have a rational response:
New movies stink (well, okay, not ALL of them). Castigate
older films for their flimsy sets, wooden acting and questionable
scientific postulations, but, by and large, they were innocent
fun and filled with, what were at the time, fresh ideas.
Nowadays, filmmakers take notions borrowed from "Blade Runner,"
"Alien" and any given Stephen King story, toss 'em in a
pot, stir 'em up and smear the resulting concoction onto
the big screen. (Granted, the pot now costs $70 million
dollars.) Of paramount importance to modern producers is
that it LOOKS like a good film. Whether or not it IS a good
film is a secondary concern. Anyhoo, why must we agree?
I'm hot and cranky, too, y'know!
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
A PIERCE-ING LOOK AT HORROR HISTORY
In their tireless efforts to preserve our horror and sci-fi
film heritage, genre-film historian Bob Burns and walking
encyclopedia Tom Weaver have actually reached beyond the
grave to enlighten lovers of cult films everywhere. As a
young man, Bob worked at the L.A. TV station that aired
"Million Dollar Movie." Featured films included many of
the Universal horror classics. Bob's excitement could not
be contained when he learned that one of his longtime idols,
Universal's makeup ace, Jack Pierce, would be guesting on
the show. The aloof makeup maestro warmed to Bob (as everyone
who meets Bob does) when Bob mentioned his friendship with
Glenn Strange, who'd appeared as the Frankenstein Monster
under Pierce's makeup. Following the show, Pierce reached
into his bag of accoutrements and produced the Kharis mask
Lon Chaney had worn in "The Mummy's Curse." "I guess I was
kind of oohing and aahing over the thing," Bob recalls,
"because, out of the blue, and to my great surprise, Jack
said, 'Would you like it?' I said, incredulously, ' ... Y-y-yeah. Yeah, I'd like it!' " Fortunately for us, Bob
had the presence of mind to have a friend tape record the
broadcast. After 40 years, Bob still has the tape -- perhaps
the only existing interview with the man who brought Universal's
classic creatures to life -- and at last report, Weaver
was busy transcribing it. With Bob's personal memories and
an additional interview with Alan Young of "Mr. Ed" fame
(Pierce worked on the show late in his career), it promises
to be an astounding trove of backstage lore. The complete
package will be published in "Monsters From The Vault" magazine
sometime in the near future. Watch for it! For more information,
check out: http://www.monstersfromthevault.com
BURNS AND WEAVER EVERYWHERE!
And if that weren't cool enough, the work of Burns and Weaver
has been selected to appear in the 2001 edition of "The
Best American Movie Writing," the annual publication that
reprints important articles on movies and movie history.
The Burns and Weaver piece on makeup ace and gorilla suit-maker,
Charles Gemora, was one of 26 pieces chosen from articles
appearing in more than 320 books and magazines, including
"The New Yorker" and "The New York Times." Previous volumes
have included pieces by Gore Vidal, Steven Spielberg, Rex
Reed, Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese. Burns and Weaver
share the 2001 edition with Lawrence Kasdan and Stanley
Kubrick, among others. Pretty smart company. Congratulations,
ARNESS AUTOBIO AT LAST
The long-awaited autobiography of Big Jim Arness, who played
"The Thing From Another World" and went on to international
fame as Marshal Matt Dillon on television's "Gunsmoke,"
will be released next month. "James Arness: An Autobiography,"
by Jim with James E. Wise, Jr., will be released September
15. With a foreword by friend and fellow "Gunsmoke" castmate,
Burt Reynolds, the book features never-before-seen photos
from Arness' personal collection. Jim recalls his early
years in Hollywood, addresses his roles in "The Thing From
Another World" and "Them!," and talks about the three years
he worked with the legendary John Wayne in such films as
"Big Jim McClain" and "The Sea Chase." Intriguing anecdotes
abound: Audie Murphy shooting craps between takes, a young
Harrison Ford stumbling on the "Gunsmoke" set and knocking
out a few teeth with his own gun, and the Georgia boy shocked
into a catatonic state upon seeing "The Thing" (Arness was
preparing to fly to boy's bedside to convince him that it
was only an actor in monster makeup when word of the kid's
recovery reached him). And, of course, "Gunsmoke" is covered
in depth. The seminal series ran for 20 years and made Matt
Dillon a figure of near-mythic proportions. The book is
everything you'd expect from Arness (although his passion
for surfing may surprise fans of the frontier lawman) --
forthright and conspicuously lacking pretense, like the
man himself. In other words, these are the recollections
of a human being who happened to be a star. You should buy
Arness will make one personal appearance to promote the
book, November 3, 2001, at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage,
where he will personally autograph copies. For more information,
visit: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com Or call 1-800-253-2187
FREDDY-O'S TALE OF THE TAPE
We're not exactly sure when horror flicks, pro wrestling
and rock music all congealed in the pop-culture pot, but
B Monster buddy Fred Olen Ray (that's right, the man who
brought you "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers," "Attack of the
60 Foot Centerfold" and "Invisible Mom") personifies the
amalgam. "ACW Wrestling's Wildest Matches!" is now available
from Retrovision Entertainment, featuring the buff, B-movie
impresario (using his ring handle, "Freddie Valentine")
taking on an assortment of contenders in hellacious rows
taped live at Los Angeles-area arenas. With real-life wife
Kimberly working his corner (riding crop in hand), Freddy
goes head-to-head with the likes of Mando Guerrero (brother
of WWF's Eddie Guerrero) and Terry Funk. In the best tradition
of the old Republic serials, none of the furniture is spared,
with chairs, tables, ladders -- even "exploding barb-wire"
-- coming into play. Visit www.retromedia.org for ordering
info. Tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
A CATCHY TOMB
Cineaste, scholar, tunesmith and finder of "Forgotten Horrors,"
Michael H. Price, has only recently sealed a deal with our
friends at Midnight Marquee Press to distribute his "Cemetary
Toons" CD. Originally released in 2000, the popular disk
is now in a second pressing. It's a rollicking collection
of fright-themed, "gallows humor" ditties collected throughout
the curious course of Price's career as a Bluesman-cum-Poverty
Row-movie maven. The 17 sinister tracks ravage the musical
gamut from Doo Wop to Hip Hop. Among the more memorable
melodies is "Up Jurassic Park," which was featured prominently
on the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Demento" radio show a
few years back.
For more info, contact: http://www.midmar.com And, of
course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
REMEMBER KIDS, THIS FILM IS NOT FOR YOU
Joel Silver, the producer who brought you "Xanadu," "Action
Jackson" and "Hudson Hawk," as well as "Predator," Predator
2," "Die Hard," Die Hard 2," "Lethal Weapon," "Lethal Weapon
2," "Lethal Weapon 3," "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Richie Rich,"
is adamant in his refusal to tone down the violence in his
upcoming sequel to "The Matrix." "There's greater freedom
in an R-rated picture for doing the kind of movies we like
to do. These pictures are not for children," Silver said,
safe in the knowledge that every child on the face of the
planet has by now seen "The Matrix" at least eight times.
"I'm proud that we do not make these pictures for children."
No kiddin', he actually said that.
DON'T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE ...
And in an unrelated, related story, Kathleen Kennedy, producer
of Steven Spielberg's "A.I.," a movie about a kid, starring
a kid, is warning kids not to see the film. "This is where
I wish more parents paid attention to ratings," Kennedy
said. "I think that it is a perfectly defined PG-13 movie,
and I think [that for] kids that are anywhere from 8 to
13, it's questionable." (Stupid parents! If only you knew
what these millionaires go through to bring the violence
and nihilism you enjoy to the big screen.) Even child star
Haley Joel Osment is making the rounds of chat shows to
tell kids -- OLDER than he is -- that the film may be too
dark for them to endure. "You can't make movies that you
know are going to appeal to young adults and adults," Kennedy
added, "and then feel that you have to make choices that
are OK for 6-year-olds. It's a really tough dilemma."
Kennedy's contention that the film was never intended
for a young audience is contrasted by a report in "Variety,"
which says The Hollywood Foreign Press Association was forced
to sit through a screening of the family film "Cats &
Dogs," before viewing "A.I." The "Variety" story also reports
on complaints "that 'A.I.' commercials have keyed too much
on child star Haley Joel Osment, leading auds to expect
a kinder, gentler picture. ... Part of the ambiguity of
the marketing campaign was intentional. Steven Spielberg
withheld key images and plot points from the marketing campaign,
hoping to entice viewers. Originally, the film was targeted
for a wider appeal, but that's been changed to an adults-and-college
So, you make a violent, dismal film heralded by misleading
advertising, accuse the very people you think should pay
to see it of irresponsibility, then send a kid out to take
the heat when the public dares question your judgment. Hooray
THAT'S IT! GO TO YOUR ROOM!
And finally, director Guillermo del Toro promises that his
sequel to "Blade" (another film -- this one based on a comic
book -- which we're sure was NEVER intended for kids to
see) will be scarier than the 1998 original. "I was attracted
to the idea of making vampires scary again," the director
told "Screen International" magazine. "[Vampires] have become
almost gothic romance heroes. I wanted to find the animal
component again: Something that just wants to drink your
blood and kill you."
OUR RANT, IN SUMMATION
What do the preceding three items have to do with B movies?
You can dress 'em up as fancy as you like, but there's scarcely
an original notion in the bunch. The dearth of ideas lands
these filmmakers smack on "Poverty Row." The future will
be dreary and dehumanizing -- now there's a fresh concept!
Vampires running amok is a bad thing -- you don't say! The
production of artificial beings could lead to moral and
emotional dilemmas -- Get out of town! Top-notch directors,
good actors, brilliant designers with millions of dollars
at their disposal, and what are they proudest of? The fact
that nowadays they can get away with more violence.
(And by the way, isn't it great to live in a country where
popcorn, a soft drink, a candy bar and two tickets to "Pootie
Tang" costs $40? I think that's fair. Who am I to complain?
I'm not complaining. I'm sure those movie folks have a darned
good reason for charging so much. I think it's great. Really,
really great. So, don't complain. Just put up with it. Whatever
you do, don't complain. For God's sake, don't complain.
Conform. It's all good.)
NEW ON DVD
Gimmick king William Castle directed this dubious 1960 schlocker
that is oddly enjoyable despite having nearly everything
wrong with it. The script is corny and predictable, the
effects are on the Bert I. Gordon level, and the actors
deliver every line as though they were speaking to a five-year-old.
But even a toddler would find credibility strained by the
contrivances herein. It plays more like a Mickey Mouse Club
Hardy Boys segment than a horror film. For all its faults,
it is possessed of Castle's unashamed gusto for thrill films,
shot in "The Magic of Illusion O." And how could you not
like a kid named Buck Zorba?
THE WICKER MAN: LIMITED EDITION
This one's an acquired taste no matter how you slice it.
It's spawned a clique of snobbish adherents as well as a
smaller cadre who can't get past its dripping Britishness.
In fact, it's just a pretty creepy, fairly unusual film
that refuses to give an inch where its dark agenda is concerned.
No one walks away smiling from this one. Christopher Lee
is happily cast as Lord Summerisle, leader of a secret pagan
society inhabiting a remote British isle. TV's "Equalizer,"
Edward Woodward, is a straight-laced copper who comes into
their midst, his beliefs challenged, his life endangered.
Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt round out the cast. The special
features that make up this "Limited Edition" include interviews
with Woodward, Lee and Pitt, director Robin Hardy, writer
Anthony Shaffer and others, as well as the theatrical trailer,
TV and radio ad spots and bios of the stars.
IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE
We'll tell you up front, this is one of the B Monster's
favorite films, and we'll brook no disparaging comments!
Those in the know have long acknowledged it as the bare-bones
run-through for Ridley Scott's "Alien." Director Ed Cahn
churned out B films at a feverish pace, but this one boasts
a charged atmosphere not found in much of his work (owing,
perhaps, to the nifty premise cooked up by screenwriter
Jerome Bixby). Marshall Thompson is a space pilot wrongly
accused of murdering the crewmen who were actually victims
of the titular "It!" Ray "Crash" Corrigan in a Paul Blaisdell
rubber suit (B Monster buddy Bob Burns was Blaisdell's aid-de-camp
throughout the shooting) is the bloodthirsty Martian menace
who sneaks aboard a spacecraft bound earthward from Mars,
stalking the crew through dark corridors and air shafts
(sound familiar?). Supporting players Dabbs Greer and Ann
Doran elevate any movie in which they appear.
MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD
The eponymous challenger is a giant mollusk shaken from
the depths of California's Salton Sea by a temblor. Former
western star and ex-Magnificent Amberson Tim Holt leads
a likable cast that prominently features Hans Conried in
a serious turn as a frazzled scientist. Max Showalter, Audrey
Dalton and Gordon Jones all lend sturdy support. Scenes
of the king-size caterpillar capsizing boats are quite effective.
Director Arnold Laven keeps his mollusk moving in this energetic,
applaudably atmospheric film. The B Monster finds it puzzling
that this movie is so often overlooked by genre critics.
Don't make the same mistake.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY
Lovely Marie Windsor is easily the best thing about this
desperate effort on Universal's part to pump new life into
the sagging careers of the comic duo. The one-time box-office
champs are paired with another of Universal's franchise
monsters in a tired plot (Lou sees scary stuff, Bud slaps
him around) involving a murdered archaeologist and a mystical
medallion. Windsor is Madame Rontru, the exotic femme, who
is the film's singular redeeming feature. Michael Ansara,
Richard Deacon and Eddie Parker co-star. The people in the
movie are funny, but nothing very funny really happens in
THE DUNWICH HORROR
Let's see a show of hands: How many of you remember the
H.P. Lovecraft fad that flashed across the pop-culture landscape
in the late-60s? It lasted about six weeks. But it spawned
a spate of films, comic book stories, short fiction and
novels (Lovecraft provided the blueprint for the Clive Barker
brigade), all aping the reclusive author's mordant tone.
There are still vestiges -- references in movies and comics
to Arkham, The Necronomicon, The Old Ones and Cthulululu
or whatever. Ex-Corman art director Daniel Haller directs
this, one of the better attempts to bring Lovecraft to the
big screen. He's aided by an able cast featuring the eminently
suitable Dean Stockwell -- who's really good at "creepy"
-- as Wilbur Whateley, the wacko who needs the Necronomicon
and, for some reason, Sandra Dee, to open up a portal for
the Old Ones to enter our dimension. Seasoned oldsters such
as Ed Begley, Lloyd Bochner and Sam Jaffe lend credibility
to a script by Curtis "Wonder Boys" Hanson.
INVADERS FROM MARS (1986)
Holy Samoly, what a bad idea! Whether or not you like the
films of director/designer William Cameron Menzies, no one
else could have made them. If ever there was an argument
for the "auteur" theory -- that any given film is primarily
the result of the director's "vision" -- Menzies was the
proof. Even "Drums In The Deep South," his Civil War drama,
has an otherworldly, inimitable veneer. So, why remake what
is arguably the best of his films? I dunno. But I do know
that director Tobe Hooper's take on Menzie's sci-fi fairy
tale is dull, labored and pretty much pointless. Karen Black,
Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman lead the
cast, and watch for original "Invaders" star Jimmy Hunt
as the police chief. Hooper's "Poltergeist" was scary. His
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was scary. This wrongheaded overhaul
ain't. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the name "W.C. Menzies"
on the local school, a clue that perhaps the filmmaker's
intentions were good.
MARS NEEDS WOMEN
Well, they can't have Yvonne Craig! The buxom Batgirl is
the only reason to watch this seedy, under-budgeted snoozer.
Publicity describes this dud as a "vintage sci-fi classic
filled with riveting action and suspense." Anyone who's
seen one of director Larry Buchanan's films can tell you
why there are so many things wrong with that statement.
Buchanan, sort of a Bible-belt Roger Corman, whose legacy
includes "The Eye Creatures" and "Zontar, The Thing From
Venus," produced films that were by turns, funny, campy,
lurid -- some even fitfully entertaining. But words such
as "riveting" and "action" would come from only the most
generous critic. The title IS the plot, and Tommy "Old Yeller,"
"Son of Flubber" Kirk leads the Martian expedition bent
on breeding with Earth maidens.
No monsters but one helluva kitchfest! If you dig Elvis,
it's a very sad film. If you view The King cynically as
a fallen pop-culture icon, this is the film for you. He'd
played a cowboy, a carny, a race car driver -- I guess water
skiing instructor was the only occupation left. Elvis sleepwalks
through the proceedings, rousing long enough to "Do The
Clam." But let's not let Shelley Fabares, Will Hutchins,
Bill Bixby and Gary Merrill off the hook. Mention "Clambake,"
and I'm willing to bet that all of 'em fought the urge to
slap a little white-out on their resumes. For God's sake,
rent "King Creole" or "Jailhouse Rock," and let the "post-Army
Elvis" rest in peace.
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
"Shuddery things from beyond the stars, here to breed with
human women!" -- I Married a Monster From Outer Spac