George Wallace
George Wallace, who portrayed "Commando Cody" in the classic Republic serial "Radar Men from the Moon," died from complications that developed after he fell during a recent trip to Europe. He was 88. Wallace was born in New York City. He moved with his mom and her new husband to a coal-mining town in West Virginia, where the 13-year-old George began working in the mines. He joined the Navy in 1936, got out in 1940, then signed up for another hitch when World War II began. After eight years in the service, he settled in Los Angeles and supported himself with an array of odd jobs, from meat packing to lumberjacking in the High Sierras. A stint as a singing bartender attracted the attention of Hollywood columnist Jimmie Fidler, who helped him get his showbiz start. Wallace enrolled in drama school in the late 1940s, while earning his living tending the greens at MGM.

Wallace soon began landing jobs in films and TV. The role of Commando Cody in "Radar Men from the Moon" was one of his first credits. He was one of three actors who donned the silver helmet and jetpack (the others being Tristram Coffin and Judd Holdren), which inspired a legion of serial lovers, and the "Rocketeer" comic books and film of later decades. Wallace later made his Broadway debut in Richard Rodgers' "Pipe Dreams," replaced John Raitt in "Pajama Game" and was award-nominated for his leading role in "New Girl in Town," with Gwen Verdon. Other stage roles included "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," opposite Ginger Rogers, "Jennie" with Mary Martin, "Most Happy Fella" (during production, he met his wife, actress Jane A. Johnston), "Camelot" (as King Arthur), "Man of La Mancha," "Company" and more. In 1960, his career was stalled when a horse fell on him and broke his back during the making of an episode of TV's "Swamp Fox." His painful recovery took seven months.

His film and television credits eventually spanned six decades. A veteran of hundreds of television episodes and more than 80 feature films, Wallace was working as recently as 2002, when he appeared in director Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report." Among the TV programs in which Wallace appeared were "The Adventures of Kit Carson," "Gunsmoke," "Tales of Wells Fargo," "Maverick," "Rawhide," "77 Sunset Strip," "Perry Mason," "Planet of the Apes," "The Bionic Woman," "Newhart," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "The X Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." His feature film credits include "The Human Jungle," "Man Without a Star," "Forbidden Planet," "Texas Across the River," "The Towering Inferno," "Defending Your Life" and "Bicentennial Man." "He was a wonderful guy and the last Commando Cody that was still living," recalls film historian Bob Burns. "I took my original Cody helmet and had him sign it for me. I'm so glad that I did now. A special event was held in his honor a few months ago at the Cecil B. DeMille Barn Museum in Hollywood. I'm so glad that this happened for him why he was still with us. Over a hundred people showed up, and George was absolutely thrilled about it."

James Doohan
James Doohan, the actor beloved by legions of "Trekkies" as "Star Trek's" Scotty, the cranky engineer with the Scottish brogue, died at his Redmond, Wash., home from pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. He was 85. Doohan was an established and prolific television actor when he read for the role that made him famous, trying out several different dialects at the audition. "The producers asked me which one I preferred," Doohan once told the AP. "I believed the Scot voice was the most commanding. So I told them, 'If this character is going to be an engineer, you'd better make him a Scotsman.'" Doohan was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1920. He fled a tumultuous home life and joined the Canadian army at 19, eventually becoming an artillery lieutenant and part of the Canadian force that landed at Normandy on D-Day. Following the war, Doohan took drama classes and won a two-year scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Fellow students included Leslie Nielsen, Tony Randall and Richard Boone.

Doohan appeared in dozens of television series in the 1950s and '60s, including "Tales of Tomorrow," "Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans," "Gunsmoke," "The Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," and "The Fugitive." One interesting early credit was the 1953 Canadian space opera, "Space Command." "Star Trek" debuted in 1966 and Doohan's portrayal of the feisty Scotty eventually won him a legion of devoted fans. Although the show was cancelled in 1969, it had developed a cult following, and enjoyed a prosperous afterlife in the wake of the overwhelming success of "Star Wars." A new series of "Star Trek" feature films began, spinning off sequels, television series and lucrative merchandising. Doohan claimed that he long ago made peace with the fact the he would forever be known as Scotty and always expressed his gratitude to "Star Trek's" multitude of often obsessive fans. Last June, he made his last public appearance at "The James Doohan Farewell Convention & Tribute," an event publicized with the tagline "Beam Me Up Scotty, Once Last Time."


They didn't teach this stuff when I was in school. The University of Washington offers a course in horror films. C LIT 272 addresses the "conventions, institutional history and ideology" of the horror film. "We scream and laugh at horror movies," says the course introduction, "we sometimes love them and sometimes think they're too low-class. How did horror films develop into a distinctive form of cinematic experience? What are the formal conventions, historical factors, and cultural assumptions that define the horror film as a genre? We will look at works from early expressionism and the Frankenstein cycle to Hitchcock and East Asian productions to clarify -- and often challenge -- the definition of the horror film." Those who tackle this quirky curriculum are advised to take it seriously. "Students are very strongly advised to attend all lectures, discussion sections, and the scheduled in-class screenings. Quizzes are based on all of the above."

The assigned texts for the course are as follows:
-- Rick Altman, "Film/ Genre"
-- Louis Gianetti, "Understanding Movies"
-- Barry Glassner, "Dubious Dangers"
-- David J. Skal, "The Monster Show"
-- Stephen Teo, "Ghosts, Cadavers, Demons, and Other Hybrids"
-- Fatimah Tobing Rony, "King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema"
-- Linda Williams, "Gender, Genre and Excess"

All these years I've been a horror film devotee and I'm still woefully ignorant of the monster's relevance to "Ethnographic Cinema." I'd better hit the books. Fortunately, I'm caught up on the course's required viewing list:

-- "Alien"
-- "Bride of Frankenstein"
-- "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein"
-- "The Eye"
-- "Face/Off" (It's a stretch to call this one a horror film)
-- "The Fly" (Cronenberg version. Why not the original?)
-- "Godzilla, King of the Monsters"
-- "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
-- "Nosferatu" (The original)
-- "Peeping Tom"
-- "Phantom of the Opera" (Also the original)
-- "Psycho" (Ditto)
-- "Ringu" and the American remake "The Ring"

See you kids around campus!

The SF Ball Ltd. is the British organization staging this September's "Reunion" convention, catering mainly to fans of contemporary sci-fi. "We aim to provide the very best in fan-run sci-fi events," say staffers in a statement posted on the official Web site. "The SF Ball in the South of England and Reunion in the Midlands are run as not for profit events where all money raised (over and above our running costs) is donated to our supported charity." As he has done in the past, the B Monster lauds this highly commendable practice of utilizing proceeds from this hobby to aid worthy causes. It's a precedent that all conventioneers should emulate to whatever degree they can manage. This year's "Reunion" con, which benefits the Rainbow Children's Hospice supporting terminally ill children and their families, happens Sept. 9-11 at the Holiday Inn, Leicester City. Celebrity guests confirmed as of this writing include:

-- Armin Shimerman, best known as Quark of "Deep Space Nine," and "Buffy's" weaselly Principal Snyder
-- Celeste Yarnall, who portrayed Yeoman Landon on "
Star Trek" and starred in such cult horrors as "Beast of Blood" and "The Velvet Vampire" -- Michael Sheard, who appeared as Admiral Ozzel in "The Empire Strikes Back" and carved out a curious career niche playing Nazi's, portraying Himmler AND Hitler three times each!
-- Richard Arnold, "Star Trek" consultant and former assistant to Gene Roddenberry

For the very latest, keep an eye on:
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The fourth Monster-Mania con happens August 26-28 at the stately Hilton Hotel in beautiful Cherry Hill, N.J. Hot on the heels of their successful May gathering, the fourth MM fest has a "Halloween" theme. "Halloween" the movie, that is. Call it a pre-Halloween "Halloween" celebration. The festivities encompass "Halloween," "Halloween II," "Halloween IV," "Halloween V," "Halloween VI," "Halloween H20," and "Halloween Resurrection," featuring screenings of all of the films, many introduced by cast members. Not to be out-gored, the man who brought life to the "Living Dead," George Romero, will be on hand to spearhead a "Romero-thon," encompassing "Night of the Living Dead," "Dawn of the Dead," "Day of the Dead" and "Creepshow." Other celebrity guests in attendance include:

-- R. Lee Ermey of "Full Metal Jacket" fame
-- Chris "Fright Night" Sarandon

From "Halloween I"
-- Nancy Loomis
-- Jim Winburn

From "Halloween II"
-- Jim Winburn
-- Charles Cyphers
-- Dick Warlock
-- Lance Warlock
-- Pamela Susan Shoop
-- Tawny Moyer

From "Halloween IV"
-- Tom Morga
-- George Wilbur

From Halloween V"
-- Don Shanks

From "Halloween Resurrection"
-- Brad Loree

And, from "Halloween IV and V"
-- Danielle Harris

There will also be a special tribute to "Halloween" vet Donald Pleasance with remembrances from Dick Warlock, Danielle Harris and others. All this, plus a cram-packed dealer's room, celeb Q&As and a midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." For more info, check out:
And make a point of saying the B Monster sent you!

Many B Monster readers recall Jan Merlin as Cadet Roger Manning of the pioneering TV series "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet." You might also recognize Jan from his many villainous portrayals in numerous feature films into the late 1980's, and just about every television series that aired in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s (A veteran of many Westerns, Jan will be appearing at the "Jesse James Days" festival in Northfield, Minn., Sept. 10-11). You might also be aware that, masked and anonymous, Jan stood in for Kirk Douglas in "The List of Adrian Messenger." What you might NOT know is that Jan is an Emmy-winning writer with several novels to his credit. "I started writing when I was aboard my destroyers in the Pacific during World War II," says Merlin. "I didn't take it up seriously until the last decade of my film work. I write a variety of plots and periods, and end up using almost everyone I've ever known as characters in them, often twisting what was a true tale into one I can turn into a novel." The following are among Merlin's works, as described by the author himself:

"Shooting Montezuma": Celebrated stars and a legendary director make a film with a secret they cannot keep. (Really about the making of "The List of Adrian Messenger," in which I was the secret they kept. A fact-based fictional monster story.)

"Gunbearer, Parts One and Part Two": These two volumes concern actual historical safaris in Victorian Era Africa, as told by an African who was present, and far more revealing than the published journals of the British explorers. (What Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke did NOT say in their journals, and a description of my own travels in Central Africa.)

"Ainoko": The tragic criminal existence of an AmerAsian boy born and raised in occupied Japan,1946 thru 1952. (The things I encountered in Japan after we entered at the end of the war led to this story.)

"Gypsies Don't Lie": An immigrant woman struggles to raise her son and daughter in New York City during the Great Depression and World War II. (Based upon people I encountered during the 1920s and '30s.)

"The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth": Was he a young Rebel deserter? An American Lincoln myth haunts and scandalizes as it explodes into final moments of guilt and horror. (A different view of the Lincoln tragedy based on how some servicemen behave in strange cities during wartime.)

"Crackpots": Two separate tales of odd treasures in the 1950s, having nothing in common but Pacific Ocean shores: "The Bakla's Cross" (about a film company in the Philippines) and "The High Priestess" (about residents of a notorious hillside in Hollywood).

"Troubles in a Golden Eye": A study of the making of the John Huston film, "Reflections in a Golden Eye," which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Brian Keith and Julie Harris (mentioning a number of my acquaintances along the way. This one comes out this Fall).

Merlin's books are available from Xlibris
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Jean-Noel Bassior, author of "Space Patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early Television," recently announced the debut of her Web site. Along with some eye-catching graphics, the site offers passages from the book's preface, describing the way "Space Patrol" shaped the author's life. You can also peruse sample chapters from this thoroughly researched volume published by McFarland & Co. For more info, check out:
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Monsters from the Vault has begun their 10th year of publication with a new issue packed with the nostalgic frights and studiously researched ephemera we've come to expect from their dedicated contributors. Highlights include an "Appreciation Lionel Atwill 1885-1946" by Greg Mank. Mank provides a brief overview of the actor's life and career as a lead in to his article, "The Mystery of Lionel Atwill," in which he interviews the actor's son for the first time in print. The article is illustrated with many rare, never-before-published family photos. Also included is a transcription of a brief 1933 interview of Atwill published in the Los Angeles Evening Herald Express. Author Gary Rhodes looks at the contest Paramount Studios conducted in 1932 (there were more than 60,000 contestants) to cast the part of the "Panther Woman" in their 1933 classic "Island of Lost Souls." This is supplemented by an "Island of Lost Souls Manimal Gallery," featuring great close-ups (many of which have never been published before) of some of Dr. Moreau's "Manimals" from the classic film. Ib Melchior, the 1950s and '60s, writer/director of such cult classics as "The Angry Red Planet," "Reptilicus" and "Journey to the Seventh Planet," talks with Tom Weaver about creating the 1960s TV series "Lost in Space," only to be robbed of his idea (and profits) by producer Irwin Allen. Melchior is still battling to get the money owed him by the makers of the 1998 feature film version. Finally, Mark A. Miller and Tom Johnson look at the production history of the Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee chillers "Corridors of Blood" and "The Crimson Cult." All this, plus the usual editorial comments, letters and DVD, CD and book reviews. For ordering info visit them at:
As always, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

A revamped, expanded and graphically enhanced version of Michael H. Price's 1991 "Carnival of Souls" graphic novel, originally produced by Price's Cremo Studios for Malibu Graphics, is soon to be published by Midnight Marquee Press. According to Mike, it's been, "substantially re-inked at the drawing table, and then digitized to achieve more of that eerie soft-focus effect that co-illustrator Todd Camp and I had sought with the original pen-and-ink version." Originally published as a 64-page graphic treatment of the film, the new edition runs 96 pages and includes a new introductory text, an expansion of the "Carnival" story, and what Price calls "a handful of bonus-tracks yarns from various other projects of that same early-mid-'90s period. Three of these additions -- a traveling-carnival horror story called 'Creatures Great and Small' and two one-page entries -- are hitherto unpublished. There is also a small selection of 'Carnival of Souls' parody-pages that had been prepared for my studio's first anthology, 'Holiday for Screams,' and for the annual swimsuit issue of 'Amazing Heroes.'

Price, one of the dogged researchers and film scholars responsible for the "Forgotten Horrors" volumes, worked in collaboration with "Carnival of Souls" director Herk Hervey to produce the original edition. "I had undertaken the 'Carnival of Souls' adaptation at the behest of Herk Harvey and Gordon K. Smith. Gordon is the chap responsible for the film's general rediscovery. The comic-book version came together at a time when 'Carnival of Souls' was moving from the film-festival circuit into a more generalized series of art-theatre bookings. Herk provided me with his and John Clifford's shooting script and a separate cutting continuity, both of which differ from the finished film in various particulars. These elements and Herk's direct participation helped immeasurably to enable a distinctive approach to the comics version. The book proved a strong seller for Malibu Graphics, but the company did not last sufficiently long into the 1990s to keep 'Carnival' in print."

The "Carnival of Souls" graphic will published by Midnight Marquee Press:
The fourth volume of "Forgotten Horrors" is to be published by Dinoship:

B Monster readers should get a kick out of Zep Hopper's music video tribute to B movies. Based on the song "Science Fiction Double Feature" form the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" soundtrack, Hopper created his animated tribute with an emphasis on RKO productions. "I love RKO," writes Hopper, "because they always had money for these low-budget movies to develop talents in acting, writing and directing." Hopper produces the "In-Sect" Web site, which celebrates pop-culture's diversity with links to dozens of esoteric Web pages, everything from "The Monster Survival Guide" to "The Parade of Unfortunate 'Star Wars' Costumes." Hopper's video can be viewed here:
Drop by and let 'em know the B Monster sent you!

Cult-movie favorite Celeste Yarnall, whose acting credits date to a 1962 episode of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," is a woman of surprising diversity. In addition to her career as a performer, she's managed screenwriters, brokered commercial real estate, hosted her own radio show and lectures regularly on nutrition and pet care. In fact, the girl adored by the B Monster as the heroine of "Beast of Blood," earned a PhD in nutrition and serves as an adjunct professor at Pacific Western University. What's more, she's authored two best-selling books, "Natural Cat Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Care for Cats" and "Natural Dog Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Care for Dogs." This is the same swinging chick Elvis salaciously serenaded with "A Little Less Conversation" in the 1968 film "Live a Little, Love a Little," the same tune that became a remixed hit all over again only recently. Even while managing a thriving, L.A.-based cat and dog care practice, she still finds time for acting, having recently appeared in the video shocker "Skinwalker: Curse of the Shaman."

"Evil Dead" star Bruce Campbell hopes to add "Talk Show Host" to his resume. Campbell recently expressed his desire to host a radio call-in show while on 44-city tour promoting his new book, "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way." "I think it would be fun to take questions and to just rag on Hollywood," Campbell told the AP. "They haven't got a new idea to save their lives. It's like 'Batman Begins' again, and again, and again. It finally took five tries to get it right." Campbell's previous book, "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor," recounted his early collaborations with "Evil Dead" and "Spider-Man" director -- and frequent Campbell tormentor -- Sam Raimi.

We warned you some time ago that it was coming. Now, the American Cinematheque's 6th Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction is upon us. From August 5 to 21, the Egyptian Theater in historic Hollywood will offer what they describe as a festival of "all things supernatural, space age and sinister [with] more brand new, classic and obscure treasures from the U.S. and around the globe!" This year's fest includes a retrospective of the films of Alex de la Iglesia, sneak previews of "Ju-on 2" and "Eye 2," a 20th anniversary screening of "Return of the Living Dead" with cast and crewmembers in attendance, a tribute to Boris Karloff and more.

This programming is concurrent with festival screenings at the Cinematheque's Aero Theater in Santa Monica, running through August 14. Features include Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (in 70mm), "The Shining," and "A Clockwork Orange," Spielberg's "Jaws," Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (with Hooper in person) and Nicholas Meyer's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (with Meyer attending). Ray Harryhausen will be on hand when "First Men in the Moon" and "Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" are screened as a double feature tribute to the legendary animator, and director Curtis Harrington will reflect on his friendship with "Frankenstein" director James Whale. For more info, check out:
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Retromedia presents another double-barrel salvo saluting the Roger Corman of the Deep South, Larry Buchanan. (Their previous Buchanan twin bill, "It's Alive!" and "Year 2889" was evidently a strong seller.) Buchanan, whose other efforts include "Mars Needs Women" and "Curse of the Swamp Creature," filmed VERY low-budget, color remakes of American International classics in his native Texas. "Zontar" was Buchanan's overhaul of Corman's "It Conquered the World," while "Eye Creatures" was a color retread of "Invasion of the Saucer Men."

"Eye Creatures," filmed in 1965, is inexcusably long at 81 minutes, and suffers from some decidedly forced, lewd humor on the part of two soldiers in an Army command post who spy electronically on the smoochers in the local lover's lane. Let's just say the suggestive banter won't have you slapping your knees. The film does benefit marginally from the presence of former AIP teen heartthrob John Ashley, who at 31 is still passing for a high schooler. Following "Eye Creatures," Ashley made a handful of American films before heading to the Philippines, where he churned out such enterprising shockers as "Mad Doctor of Blood Island" and "Beast of Blood." (A video tribute to Ashley, "Beast of the Yellow Night" is a bonus feature in this package.) Ashley is the only redeeming virtue to be found in "Eye Creatures." That is, unless you watch such films just to laugh at the trite dialogue, wobbly sets and crude monster costumes, in which case we couldn't recommend a double feature more highly. The more enlightened may choose to view the film as representing a precarious and important point in B-movie history, when television began siphoning off the drive-in audience. Films such as Buchanan's breeched a gap between the black and white atomic shockers AIP produced in abundance in the 1950s, and the 1970s drive-in cheapies produced by the prolific Sam Sherman and William Grefe, up to and including the blaxploitation actioners that ushered out the drive-in era. With that in mind, you should watch this terrible movie.

The plot of "Zontar," filmed in 1966, follows exactly the premise of Corman's "It Conquered the World." It would be easy to dismiss the film by saying, "If you thought 'It Conquered the World' was cheap ..." but that would be an accurate assessment. The sets are shoddier, the lighting poorer, the dialogue goofier. But, attempting to provide the whole ragged affair with some center of gravity is John Agar (who would star in Buchanan's threadbare "Curse of the Swamp Creature" the same year). Here, he assumes the role of the rational, collected scientist assayed by Peter Graves in the original. Opposite Agar, in the Lee Van Cleef role, is Tony Huston, who appeared in a batch of Buchanan's turkeys and not much else. He's given lots of juicy dialogue in "Zontar," but he is something less than convincing. We gotta call a spade a spade and, at 80 long minutes, "Zontar" is pretty tough going. That having been said, let's credit a scrappy bunch of filmmakers with little money and even less experience, but who possessed enough pluck to get a monster picture made, one that still draws an audience 40 years later. And salute John Agar; he was 45 at the time this film was made and arguably at the nadir of his career, but delivered a respectable performance notwithstanding.

For better or worse, "Jaws" changed forever the way most people go to the movies. Before this bellwether "summer blockbuster," few movie patrons gave a hoot about movie budgets, box office returns, profit margins and star salaries. The staggering revenue generated by the "event" that was "Jaws," and subsequent "event" movies that became pop-culture touchstones ("Star Wars," "E.T.," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," right on up to the "Terminator," "Matrix" and "Lord of the Rings" franchises) begat a new breed of movie-going bean counters. Aided by such fawning flak machines as Entertainment Tonight and Premiere Magazine, the public's focus shifted from backstage romances to opening weekend grosses and the cost of special effects. Predicting which summer releases would bomb or go boffo became a part of the office water cooler gab. None of which detracts from this film's status as a darned good thriller.

Peter Benchley's mega-selling book had the public stoked for the film's debut. With "Jaws," up-and-coming director Steven Spielberg came into his own as an audience button-pusher without peer, channeling such disparate influences as the French "New Wave" and "Creature From the Black Lagoon." His prior work, particularly the TV thriller "Duel," showed terrific promise. "Jaws" signaled the arrival of an expert filmmaker. It may just be his best all-around film. The story takes place at a New England island resort suddenly and mysteriously plagued by a series of deadly shark attacks. The town fathers want to stifle panic and keep the beaches open, it being the height of their lucrative vacation season. Roy Scheider plays the new Chief of Police into whose lap this terrifying problem is dumped. Along with a young scientist (Richard Dreyfuss) and Quint, a crusty old sailor with lots of shark experience (Robert Shaw), he stalks the great white menace to the strains of John Williams's throbbing, trendsetting score.

You could argue that "Jaws" was the first and last time that the stars of a summer blockbuster were as important to the success of the film as the scares and special effects. It just doesn't seem to be critical anymore. These days, audiences are dazzled -- even bludgeoned -- with computer effects and deafening soundtracks. Star power and acting chops would seem to be low priorities. Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw deliver singular performances and display a prickly chemistry that greatly enhances the tension in "Jaws." They have distinct personalities, failings, virtues and idiosyncrasies. They're like us. Consequently, we vicariously experience their jeopardy. (When did scary movies forget how to do this?) The chomping shark and fleeing beachgoers are the most familiar images from the movie, but veteran screenwriter William Goldman (who did not write "Jaws") rightly pointed out that the film's most frightening scene was Robert Shaw's measured, harrowing description of the shipwreck he experienced, sharks silently picking off the bobbing survivors one by one. It's just the camera on Shaw (with an appropriate reaction shot or two), a powerful actor delivering great dialogue. While the "Jaws" screenplay is credited to Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, Shaw's speech was initially conceived by Howard Sackler, then fleshed out by John Milius. Shaw, himself an accomplished playwright, then rewrote the Milius version.

This anniversary edition features two disks. The first contains the film in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (I have no idea what that means, but the film sounds REALLY good). There are deleted scenes and a feature called "From the Set," a "never-before-available" interview with Spielberg. Disk two features the two-hour documentary "The Making of 'Jaws,' " with Spielberg, Scheider, Dreyfuss, producers, designers and others sharing stories and insights. It's 90 percent talking heads, but for a change, the talking heads know what they're talking about, a rarity in my experience, and the documentary is better for this straightforward approach sans intrusive video gimmickry. "The Jaws Archives" contains production photos and storyboards, and includes the slide shows "Marketing 'Jaws'" and "The 'Jaws' Phenomenon," featuring lobby cards, posters and other ephemera from around the world. A 60-page, limited edition photo journal is also included. All in all, a pretty nifty package.

I can only guess that the makers of this strange, protracted and ultimately unsatisfying horror story thought it so palpably unnerving that they could bank on atmosphere alone to carry the day. They were wrong. This film is very somber and very dull, and unless you like Michael Gough -- and I mean REALLY like Michael Gough -- you'll dig long and deep before unveiling anything of intrinsic merit other than his performance. "Crucible of Horror" is a stone bore. Borrowing heavily from director Henri-George Clouzot's 1955 classic "Diabolique," the filmmakers have concocted the story of a mentally abused wife and her equally distressed daughter, who plot revenge against Gough, the father doing the abusing. They hatch an elaborate murder scheme to eliminate the sadistic dad once and for all. The supposedly tantalizing possibility dangled before an eager audience -- that Gough may NOT be dead after all -- well, it isn't all that tantalizing. I suppose it looked intriguing enough on paper, but it takes 91 mordantly boring minutes to unspool this intrigue. We barely get to know the characters along the way, and therefore are not invested in their fates. Is it unfair to compare this programmer to the superior "Diabolique?" Maybe. Are the makers of "Crucible of Horror" begging for criticism by echoing the French masterpiece? Absolutely.

For the uninitiated, Michael Gough was in every British horror film ever made. OK, that's an exaggeration, but check out his resume: "Horror of Dracula," "Horrors of the Black Museum," "Konga," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Black Zoo," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors," "The Skull," "They Came From Beyond Space." Not to mention his appearances in such bona fide classic as "Anna Karenina," "The Man in the White Suit" and two versions of "Julius Caesar." He even won a Tony for 1979's "Bedroom Farce." And he's still going strong, appearing as Alfred the butler in the Tim Burton Batman films, as well as that director's "Sleepy Hollow" and forthcoming "Corpse Bride." Like his American counterparts John Hoyt, Whit Bissell and others, he always brought a touch of respectability to the productions in which he appeared, no matter how shabby. This one, however, is a lost cause. Also known as "The Corpse," the film was scripted by Olaf Pooley, a character actor in dozens of films ("The Gamma People," "Naked Evil") who wrote only a handful. Director Viktors Ritelis worked prolifically in television, helming such series as "The Onedin Line," "Blakes 7" and "The Flying Doctors." Gough's son, Simon, who as near as we can tell appeared in just three films, costars in "Crucible of Horror" as ... Gough's son.

I can say with some confidence that this is probably the only Samurai werewolf movie we'll review all year. "Kibakichi" is a Japanese horror/fantasy imported by MTI Video through an arrangement with Saiko (rhymes with "Psycho") Films. It would seem to owe much to the Hong Kong horror/fantasies of Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung and others, what with its whirling dervish, mid-air swordplay and acrobatic stunt men slung across sets on invisible wire. The Japanese horrors with which I'm familiar are more cerebral and less action-oriented, but then maybe I just haven't seen enough recent Japanese horror films. The story begins with voiceover narration (yes, unfortunately, the review copy of the film is dubbed rather than subtitled) that quickly brings the viewer up to speed. It seems that normal folk have coexisted for centuries with vampires, werewolves and assorted goblins in separate societies. But one day the normals perpetrate a bloody purge to rid the country of the supernaturals. Kibakichi is the naive young werewolf swordsman who leads the humans to the previously hidden home of his monster kin, thinking the normals are on a mission of peace. Years later, Kibakichi wanders the dusty roads on what looks to be 19th century Japan, brooding, dressed in tatters, his hair an unruly mop, his sword lightning quick. He wants to be left in peace yet, not unlike "Yojimbo," he finds himself embroiled in intrigue, caught between warring factions.

One thing should be made clear: the makers of Asian action cinema do not consider the descriptive "over the top" to be pejorative. Rather it is high praise, and the makers of "Kibakichi" pull out all the stops. Limbs are severed resulting in outrageous geysers of blood, decapitations are common and ghouls are seem gnawing on the necks of recent "decapatees." Seductive geishas transform into gigantic, fly-like creatures, devouring their clientele before being sliced and diced. And when swordplay at last proves unequal to the task of vanquishing their enemies, the warlords wheel out Gatling guns recently imported from the West and open fire. This sends Kibakichi into a frenzy. He sprouts hair, fangs and a snout and transforms into an outlandish hybrid of the "American Werewolf in London" and one of the flying Walendas, flipping, tumbling, clawing, gnawing, dodging bombs and bullets. Truth be told, it isn't a bad-looking werewolf from the neck up. Unfortunately in long shot, Kibakichi looks more like a "Star Wars" Wookie than a werewolf, but if you buy into this premise at all, why split hairs ... so to speak? Some of the effects are cheesy, some are convincing and, on the whole, the picture is rather handsomely photographed. Fans of Asian action and fantasy will see past its inadequacies, just as Kaiju fans see past Godzilla's baggy rubber trousers and just "go with it." If you like horror and you're not scrupulous in your demand for credibility, you just might enjoy "Kibakichi." Fans of the Asian horror-fantasy genre will love it no matter what is written here.


Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal Press or at

Classic Sci Fi

Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at

Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc.

Jan Merlin

Bryan Senn, whose books are available at and at

Tom Weaver, whose books are available at and at


"What weird accident of science created it?" -- Tarantula

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