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.
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, 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
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
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
BONE UP FOR SINISTER SYLLABUS
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
-- 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:
-- "Bride of Frankenstein"
-- "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein"
-- "The Eye"
-- "Face/Off" (It's a stretch to call this one a horror
-- "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!
BALL BENEFITS KIDS
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:
Without hesitation, let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
4: "HALLOWEEN" HOMAGE
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
-- 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!
MERLIN'S LITERARY WIZARDRY
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
"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
"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
As you're browsing, let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
SPEAKING OF SPACE HEROES ...
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:
Make it clear that the B Monster sent you!
STEADY CELLAR: "MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT" TURNS 10
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!
COMIC: QUITE A RIDE
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
The fourth volume of "Forgotten Horrors" is to be published
A BUG'S-EYE VIEW OF Bs
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!
YARNALL'S PRAISEWORTHY PET PROJECTS
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."
STAR READY TO DISH DIRT
"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.
CALL: CINEMATHEQUE'S GENRE FEST
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:
You know by now to tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
NEW ON DVD
THE THING FROM VENUS, THE EYE CREATURES
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.
30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
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
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
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.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Classic Sci Fi http://www.classicscifi.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
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"What weird accident of science created it?" -- Tarantula