THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
"CRAWLING HAND" STAR CAUGHT UP IN MURDER CASE
Following a bizarre series of events, actor Rod Lauren Strunk,
star of the cult classic, "The Crawling Hand," may be implicated
in the murder of his wife of 22 years, Filipino actress
Nida Blanca. According to the Filipino Web site "Adobo,"
the body of Blanca, aka Dorothy Jones, was found in her
car last Nov. 7. She had been stabbed to death in the parking
lot of the Atlanta Center building in Greenhills, San Juan
in the Philippines. Three security guards who worked at
the building were charged with obstruction of justice. A
fourth man, Philip Medel Jr., was implicated in the crime
itself. Medel informed investigators that he had been hired
by Strunk to kill Blanca, but later recanted his story.
According to the "Philippine Times," Medel "broke down at
a Justice Department hearing, slamming tables, fainting
and crying that he was tortured into confessing and implicating
the actress' American husband. Medel, who earlier confessed
to killing Blanca and implicated her husband, tore up his
signed testimony. Raising his hands above his head to display
dark blue bruises circling both wrists, he said police tied
his hands and forced him to confess. He repeatedly collapsed
into semi-consciousness and arose to shout more. Many of
his words were incoherent or inaudible, but he said he retracted
his confession and called for authorities to, "'Kill me
now. I rest in peace.'" Understandably, this weakened the
case against Strunk. "Without new evidence, I think it is
premature to determine which of Medel's statements is true,"
said Justice Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee.
The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation continues
to seek evidence and, according to State Prosecutor, Emmanuel
Velasco, Strunk remains the primary suspect in Blanca's
death based largely on circumstantial evidence and statements
from family members. An umbrella Strunk carried was found
in Blanca's car after the murder, but, according to a witness,
it had not been there earlier in the evening. Blanca's daughter
claims that Strunk may have been angered by Blanca's refusal
to continue sharing her money with him. Strunk, who maintains
his innocence, is now in the United States. Attorneys may
subpoena him to return to the Philippines and cooperate
in the case. He cannot be extradited until a formal charge
is brought against him in court. Strunk referred to Medel's
breakdown as "a divine answer from my lord and savior. My
family was torn apart by this. Hopefully this can be the
beginning of the healing process. But my wife's murderer
is still alive and somewhere."
BOB BURNS IS EVERYWHERE!
Our old buddy, Bob Burns, the dean of genre-film paraphernalia
procurement and preservation, is everywhere this month,
his irrepressible spirit haunting a newsstand near you.
The current issue of "Scary Monsters" finds Bob recounting
his adventures as a "Shock Theater" co-host in the late
1950s. In the latest edition of "Monsters From the Vault,"
Bob salutes makeup maverick Jack P. Pierce, describing their
meetings and unveiling a never-before-published transcript
of a Pierce TV interview. The new "Cinefantastique" features
Bob's touching remembrance of George Pal, from the afternoon
that a school-age Bob visited the lunar set of "Destination
Moon," to the day of the legendary producer's funeral. And
the current edition of "Chiller Theatre" features Burns'
memories of shockmeister William Castle, wherein Bob recalls
his participation in the rigging of theater seats to tingle
the posteriors of patrons during screenings of Castle's
classic, "The Tingler." Like the epic poets of old who were
walking storehouses of history, Bob is a living treasure,
and all us fright-film fans are in his debt. Be sure to
tell each of the aforementioned mags that the B Monster
told you to procure a copy of their publication.
Just out of curiosity you may want to catch at least one
installment of "William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night"
on The Sci Fi Channel. That's right, starship Captain and
Priceline huckster Bill Shatner slipping into Zacherle's
shoes, tackling Ghoulardi's gig. The series, which debuted
July 20th, can extend its run indefinitely what with the
entire Full Moon library of films at its disposal. This
includes the "Puppetmaster" series, the "Trancers" series,
the "Subspecies" series -- heck, you could make a series
about their series. Shatner not only hosts such films as
"Killjoy" and "Shrunken Heads," but also interviews horror
filmmakers for the program.
Check out: http://www.scifi.com for scheduling.
KIRK'S PRICEY PERCH
And if you've got an extra 80 grand phasering a hole in
your pocket, you're one of the fortunate few who could place
a minimum bid on the Starship Enterprise chair that once
cradled Captain Kirk's caboose. Via eBay, an entity called
"Profiles in History L.A." recently auctioned off 374 memorabilia
lots culled from the collection of former "Star Trek" associate
producer Bob Justman. Costumes, scripts, props and other
items from the original series were likewise open to bids.
As of this writing, the Captain's chair was expected to
fetch at least $150,000 (roughly the cost of 214 fully-loaded
Herman Miller Aeron Chairs). When do the wigs go on the
OKAY, LAST SHATNER ITEM, WE PROMISE
Add stock car driver to Captain Kirk's diverse resume, as
he boldly goes into the field of Grand Prix racing. This
past July 20 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Shatner
drove in the Cadillac Grand Prix. "The Grand Prix people
invited me to drive in their driving school for four days,"
Shatner told The Washington Post, "and I had a great time
and wrecked three cars, and then I drove in their race and
had one of the most ecstatic experiences I've ever had."
The actor is more visible now than he was at the height
of his "Star Trek" fame, but at 71, shouldn't he be slowing
down instead speeding up? "I should be treating my arthritis
instead," he said. "It's the serotonin rush, I think, and
this thrill you get when you drive fast in somebody else's
car." He went on to characterize the race as a post-9/11
morale-booster. "I think events like the Grand Prix in Washington
is a real example of showing the rest of the world that
our country is strong."
JOHNNY DEPP'S INTO THE DARK SIDE
From the "I Can't Believe It Took Them This Long To Do This"
file: Producer/director Dan Curtis, the man behind the "The
Night Stalker" teleseries as well as laudable remakes of
"Dracula" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," is currently developing
a big-screen version of his TV cult-smash, "Dark Shadows."
The Gothic-horror soap opera made its debut in 1966, and
its devoted fan base has barely diminished since. "The show
never goes away," Curtis told TV Guide. "40 episodes were
recently put out on a four-disc DVD set. I understand they
sold out within days." The critical question is of course,
who will portray the series' central character, vampire
Barnabas Collins? "We'd heard for ages that Johnny Depp
always wanted to play Barnabas Collins," Curtis said, "so
we checked into it, and lo and behold, depending on the
script, it is something that he'd like to do." Jonathan
Frid, who played Collins for five years on the original
series, developed a fanatical cult following, and is arguably
the main reason for the program's lasting impression. "Never
in my life did I imagine that the show would still be around,"
FRAKES TAKES ON "THUNDERBIRDS"
Actor/director/Star Trekker Jonathan Frakes, who last time
we checked was busy overhauling "The Twilight Zone," is
set to direct a live-action version of Gerry Anderson's
marionette teleseries "Thunderbirds." According to Variety,
Universal will release the Frakes-directed update of the
1960s British series about a secret rescue squadron. Peter
Hewitt ("The Borrowers," "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey")
was originally slated to helm the project, conceived, at
first, as an adult action thriller. To their credit, producers
have rethought the concept, shaping it into a "family-friendly
adventure" picture more in keeping with the spirit of the
original series. Frakes, whose last project was the family-audience
thriller "Clockstoppers," will begin shooting "Thunderbirds"
early in 2003.
JACKIE AND JULES: KNOW WHAT I MEAN, VERNE?
Martial arts superstar Jackie Chan will star in a new feature
film version of Jules Verne's classic "Around the World
in 80 Days." Several studios were in the running to produce,
but Paramount bid successfully to fund and distribute the
film in the U.S. Chan will play the traveling bodyguard
to adventurer Phileas Fogg, who takes on a wager to circumnavigate
the globe in 80 days. The Oscar-winning 1956 film version
of Verne's novel starred David Niven, Cantinflas and, well,
just about every actor alive at the time. Whether or not
Chan's version will seek to duplicate the cameo quotient
remains to be seen. Chan and Verne might seem an unlikely
combination, but hey, E!Online reported at one point that
director Wolfgang Peterson wanted Matt Damon to play Superman,
so nothing surprises us anymore.
THE SCROLL OF THEBES IN A CRUNCHY TACO SHELL!
The next entry in Universal's Mummy franchise comes in the
form of a direct-to-video cartoon. "The Mummy: Quest for
the Lost Scrolls," is a feature-length adventure based on
the Kids' WB network's animated Mummy series. According
to pre-release hype, "Kids will be enthralled with the daring
exploits of clever eleven-year-old Alex and his family as
they race around the world to find the Scrolls of Thebes."
The film is slated to hit video stores Oct. 1, and the DVD
features games, a bonus episode, interviews with the voice
talent and DVD-ROM interactive activities. And as you enjoy
this video confection, in lieu of popcorn, why not nibble
a deliciously greasy Taco Bell Kid's Meal? Starting Oct.
10, Taco Bell will include one of five collectible action
toys based on the film with the purchase of every Kid's
On the subject of reprising his role as Indiana Jones, Harrison
Ford has hemmed and he's hawed and then he's hemmed a little
more, but he maintains he's only holding out for a script
that he, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are all happy
with. Rumor has it that, at Harrison's urging, said script
will now have to include a part for Ford's reported paramour,
Calista Flockhart. If the thought of Ally McBeal tangling
with mummies and fighting Nazis doesn't disturb you, the
fact that the filmmakers hope to make the fourth Indiana
Jones film "more adult" than those that preceded it SHOULD.
It's been our experience that, as Hollywood uses the word,
"adult" is synonymous with "pandering" which is synonymous
with "cheapening," which ... oh, forget it. They've got
time to come to their senses, as shooting doesn't start
until 2004 ... and Sean Connery is supposed to be in it!
That's a good thing, right?
CHICAGO'S MODEL CITIZENS
The windy city seems to be developing into a horror hub
of sorts, hosting several sci-fi, comic and horror cons
this summer. Among the fall season's first shows is the
"Kitbuilders Model and Toy Show," happening Sept. 29 at
the Hillside Holiday Inn in beautiful Hillside Illinois,
a Chicago suburb. The show features a dealers room packed
with monster collectibles and model kits. The guest list
includes scream queen Glori Ann Gilbert and Marvel Comics
writer/Aurora model designer Dave Cockrum. Admission is
just $4. For more info, call 815-334-1540 or e-mail email@example.com
That's right, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
MARCO POLO'S DEUTSCH DELUXE
The latest CD release from the folks at Marco Polo is one
of their biggest and in some ways, among their most laudable,
as it showcases the career of one of the movie's least heralded
composers, Adolph Deutsch. "'The Maltese Falcon' and Other
Classic Film Scores by Adolph Deutsch," presents 41 cues
(nearly 76 minutes of music) culled from the soundtracks
of "Falcon," "George Washington Slept Here," "The Mask of
Dimitrios," "High Sierra" (another of Bogie's best) and
the Errol Flynn WWII thriller, "Northern Pursuit." As usual,
the scores were lovingly restored by John Morgan and performed
by William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
To find out more, visit http://www.naxos.com
You know the routine: Tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
IN THE RUNNING FOR "THE WALK"
According to USA Today, these are the personalities expected
to receive a star on Hollywood's legendary "Walk of Fame"
Kermit the Frog
The Osmond family (That's ONE star for ALL of them. A star
for each would stretch the "Walk of Fame" from L.A. to Salt
And these are our suggestions:
Jo Ann Pflug
The Cowsills (They may already have a star. Can someone
NEW ON DVD
20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH
This is easily the B Monster's favorite Ray Harryhausen
film. Why? Could be the tender age at which he originally
saw it. Could be the innovative creature design. Could be
Nathan Juran's workmanlike direction. Could be that the
kid in me will never tire of seeing a monster from Venus
in a knockdown fistfight with rampaging elephants. Or it
could be that it's just a darned-good thriller in the tradition
of "Kong." The plot is wafer-thin, but that same kid in
me doesn't seem to care. The "creature in a strange land"
bit has rarely been better executed. The solid cast, led
by he-man William Hopper and lovely Joan Taylor, features
many of our favorite B-movie faces, including Thomas Browne
Henry as the General (Morris Ankrum must have been booked),
Arthur Space as, appropriately, a rocket scientist, and
Frank Puglia as Dr. Leonardo.
The story bears recapping for B-movie newbies: Hopper's
spacecraft, returning from Venus, crash-lands in the Mediterranean.
A strange, Jell-O-like egg is salvaged from the wreckage
by a waif and finds its way into Puglia's possession. It
hatches, and the ghastly hatchling (dubbed "Ymir" by Harryhausen)
begins growing at an alarming rate. It doubles in size overnight,
escapes, and is soon terrifying the bucolic countryside,
setting the stage for some of Harryhausen's most convincing
effects (a barnyard pitchfork fight is a standout sequence).
I don't think there's anything new to be said about this
pioneering film. It's still the creepiest vampire movie
ever made, filled with stunning imagery and invested with
palpable dread. Maybe the highest compliment that can be
paid the film is that it looks to have actually been filmed
in the early 19th century, so meticulous are its details
and enveloping its atmosphere. Director F.W. Murnau's eye
is unerring and, if EVER an actor were born for a role,
it was Max Schreck, whose portrayal of the desiccated vampire,
Graf Orlok, is unforgettable. Never mind the fanciful revisionism
of "Shadow of the Vampire," and all the slicker, bloodier
vampires that came after. This one set a standard that,
after 80 years (!), is unmatched.
LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
Never have so many labored so long and with such talent
and bravado to produce something so thuddingly boring. The
ingredients are all there. The direction is accomplished,
deftly balancing dazzling special effects set pieces with
adroitly choreographed battle scenes. The mystical, magical
imagery -- wraiths, demons, ogres and monsters -- are all
presented with benchmark innovation. So how is it these
elements add up to something so belabored and vacuous? Hang
on to your Bilbos, Tolkienites, because I have the answer:
It is that very rare case of a film unable to overcome the
weaknesses inherent in the source material. Tolkien's "Masterpiece"
is all exposition and NO payoff. It's just too darned much
of that faux Shakespeare medieval-speak and too darned many
wizards, goblins, elves and whatzits cribbed from the Brothers
Grimm to ever keep track of.
Tolkien's titanic tome was broken into three semi-titanic
hunks when published. This film addresses hunk number one.
It begins with a dark screen and a lilting female voice
reading either The Bible or the Paramus, N.J., phone book.
The plot? These guys have this ring and they're going to
walk to a volcano and throw it in. Along the way, they battle
every manner of evil beastie one can imagine. Three hours
later, and they STILL haven't made it to said volcano. More
significantly, we haven't learned a single thing about ANY
of these characters in the process. It's as though each
actor was assigned a facial expression and pushed out the
dressing room door. Sir Ian McKellan -- or was it Sir Richard
Harris, (for you younger viewers, they're sort of the upper-crusty
British version of Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton), wearing
Jed Clampett's hat starts each sentence at the top of his
lungs and then trails off to an unintelligible whisper:
"By the fiery hordes of Mordor, young Frodo bozo bosco calypso
figero fizzle zzzmmmm..." Give that man an Oscar! In fairness,
I could barely understand any of the actors when they spoke.
They all seemed to be fascinated with their own voices,
testing them to see how high or low they could go. In short,
all the bombastic language and Keebler-elf nomenclature
keeps the viewer at arm's length at all times.
I suppose it's unfair to address the "logic" of the story,
but ... while imprisoned, McKellen is able to tell a butterfly
to go and fetch a gargantuan falcon to spirit him to safety.
So, why then does this intrepid brotherhood have to schlep
it on foot to volcanoland? And where's McKellan's big bird
as he dangles from a precipice above the very mouth of hell.
His magical powers seem to come and go at the plot's convenience.
Even if you love Tolkien and view his "Ring" saga as a
staggering morality play of universal import, answer me
this: Why does it have to be a movie? Aren't the books enough?
How does it enhance anyone's character to see his morass
of a passion play truncated, wrestled to the ground and
turned into high-gloss Hollywood product?
This one's a stinker, and I'll be doggoned if I can explain
why I enjoy it. Oh, wait, John Carradine and Allison Hayes
are in it. That's two good reasons, but is it enough? Carradine
plays (surprise!) a demented doctor conducting glandular
experiments on hapless "patients" in his spooky, secluded
mansion. He's over-the-top even for John Carradine, with
a gleam in his eye that seems to convey, "Holy Samoley!
My vociferous oratory is the only thing that can save this
turkey!" But John's bombast is in vain. Soooo much footage
is spent showing people skulking up and down the same staircase,
peering quizzically, perhaps hoping that director Brooke
Peters, aka Boris Petroff, will give them some clue as to
what's happening in the film.
Alas, direction is not the film's strongest feature. The
confrontation between Carradine and hero Myron Healey consists
of two "two-shots," one over Carradine's shoulder, the other
over Healey's. But they look to have been shot on two different
days, in two different rooms, on two different sets. Spliced
together into what's supposed to be one conversation, the
effect is jarring. Even those with only a rudimentary knowledge
of filmmaking will recognize it as amateurish. An abbreviated
chase scene around the mansion is likewise incoherent. And
why Healey and Hayes have to hatch an escape plan in hushed
voices, when all they have to do is walk out the front door
is mystifying. Arthur Batanides and "Frankenstein's Daughter,"
Sally Todd, play two of Carradine's less-fortunate guinea
pigs. Tor Johnson is on hand as Lobo -- though this film
has no relation to the Ed Wood films in which he also played
a half-wit named Lobo -- uttering the film's best line:
"Time for go to bed!" Robert Shayne ("Invaders From Mars,"
Inspector Henderson of "The Adventures of Superman") pops
up in the last reel as a police captain. And "The Unearthly"
is the only horror film I can think of that stars two Miss
America contestants; Allison Hayes competed in 1949, and
Marilyn Berferd, who plays Carradine's lab assistant and
"love interest," actually won the crown in 1946. The accumulated
trivia may not comprise a good film, but it makes for a
Even though I've seen it, there's still a lot I don't know
about this picture. I don't why it was made. I don't know
who, other than John Travolta, thought it would be a good
idea. I don't know why the camera is always tilted. I don't
know why some scenes are all blue and others are all orange.
I don't know why the interiors AND the exteriors look completely
fake. I don't know why Forest Whitaker agreed to be in it.
I don't know why Travolta looks like a Martian Bob Marley.
I don't know why someone didn't stop him from delivering
the most ludicrously hammy performance in recent memory.
(Couldn't someone look at the dailies and say, "John, how
'bout taking it down a notch?") I DO know that "Battlefield
Earth" was written by the late L. Ron Hubbard, founder of
Scientology. I know that Travolta is a Scientologist and
that this film was his pet project. I know that, for the
first half-hour, I sat there thinking that surely they did
this as an exercise in camp. I know that by the second half-hour,
I realized they weren't kidding. I know that this is a very
bad film. There, that's all I know -- and DON'T know --
about "Battlefield Earth."
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Scott Essman, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
"Too awesome to describe. Too terrifying
to escape. Too powerful to stop!" -- Monster From Green