Nathan Juran, an Oscar-winning art director who helmed numerous
science fiction films in the 1950s, died of natural causes
at his home on Oct. 23. He was 95. Juran began his career
in the late 1930s and earned an Academy Award for art direction
for 1941's "How Green Was My Valley." He also served as
art director on such films as "Dr. Renault's Secret," "The
Loves of Edgar Allan Poe," "Free for All" and the 1950 fantasy
classic "Harvey." In the early 1950s, Juran began directing
films, helming such features as "The Black Castle," "The
Golden Blade," "The Deadly Mantis," "The Brain from Planet
Arous," "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman," "Flight of the Lost
Balloon," "Jack the Giant Killer" and "The Boy Who Cried
Werewolf." Juran also worked often with special effects
master Ray Harryhausen, directing the films "20 Million
Miles to Earth," "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" and "The First
Men in the Moon." Juran also worked often in television
from the late 1950s, directing episodes of "World of the
Giants," "Men into Space," "Voyage to the Bottom of the
Sea," "Lost in Space" and "Land of the Giants."
Veteran character actor Jonathan Harris who starred as the
cowardly saboteur, yet somehow lovable, Dr. Zachary Smith
in the 1960s science fiction television series "Lost in
Space," died at an Encino, Calif., hospital from a blood
clot in his heart while he was undergoing treatment for
chronic back pain. He was 87. The son of Russian-Jewish
immigrants, Harris was born Jonathan Charasuchin in New
York City, on Nov. 6, 1914. He began his career on the New
York stage and worked in live television in the early 1950s.
Harris appeared in episodes of "The Web" and "Lights Out"
(including an adaptation of Poe's "Masque of the Red Death"
in 1951) before going to Hollywood in 1953. He worked often
in television, guest starring in episodes of "Twilight Zone,"
"Bewitched" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." He also starred
in an adaptation of "The House of the Seven Gables" on "Shirley
Temple Theatre" in 1960. To the delight of some, and the
dismay of others, Harris' comic villain character became
the star of Irwin Allen's "Lost in Space" series during
its three season run from 1965 to 1968. He continued to
appear on television in episodes of "Land o the Giants,"
"Get Smart," Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" and "Ark II."
He also starred as the elderly mentor Gampu in the Saturday
morning children's sci-fi series "Space Academy" from 1977
to 1979, and was the voice of the evil Cylon villain Lucifer
in "Battlestar Galactica" in 1978. Harris remained active
as a voice actor in animated television series and features,
including "Superman: The Animated Adventures," "Pinocchio
and the Emperor of the Night," "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story
Character actor Lawrence Dobkin died of heart failure at
his Los Angeles home on Oct. 28. He was 83. Dobkin was seen
in small roles of several science fiction films during the
1950s, including "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Riders
to the Stars" and "Them!". He narrated the 1958 film "The
Lost Missile" and was featured in the 1962 psychological
thriller "The Cabinet of Caligari." Later in his career,
he was featured in 1991's "Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal
of Time," and the 1994 cable tele-film "Roswell." Dobkin
also appeared on television in episodes of "Superman," "Space
Patrol," "Mission: Impossible," "Space Academy," "Voyagers!,"
"Knight Rider," "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Profiler."
Dobkin also worked in television as a director beginning
in the 1960s, helming episodes of "The Munsters," "Star
Trek" ("Charlie X"), "Tarzan," "Wild Wild West," "The Six
Million Dollar Man" and "Fantasy Island."
John Meredyth Lucas
Television producer, director and writer John Meredyth Lucas
died of leukemia in Los Angeles on Oct. 19. He was 83. Lucas
served as a producer for the Star Trek television series
in the 1960s and directed several episodes. He also helmed
episodes of such series as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents,"
"Night Gallery" and "Planet of the Apes." He was credited
with the original story for the 1965 psychological thriller
"My Blood Runs Cold," and scripted Irwin Allen's 1971 tele-film
"City Beneath the Sea." He also wrote episodes of "Starlost,"
"The Six Million Dollar Man" and "Logan's Run." Lucas was
a producer for the short-lived 1980 "Westworld" spin-off,
Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith
1970s cult film actress Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith died in
Los Angeles of complications from hepatitis on Oct. 25.
She was 47. Smith starred in the off-beat 1973 vampire film
"The Legendary Curse of Lemora." She was soon appearing
in such cult classics as "The Swinging Cheerleaders," "The
Phantom of the Paradise," "Massacre at Central High," "The
Incredible Melting Man," "Laserblast," the 1977 soft-core
version of "Cinderella," "UFOria" and "Parasite." Problems
with drugs reportedly largely ended her film career in the
Leading Irish actor Richard Harris died of Hodgkin's Disease
in a London hospital on Oct. 25. The twice-Academy Award
nominated actor starred as King Arthur in the 1967 film
version of the hit Broadway musical "Camelot." In recent
years, he was best known for his role as the kindly wizard
Professor Dumbledore in 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone," and the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Chamber of
Secrets." Harris also starred in the bizarre 1974 sci-fi
crime film "99 & 44/100% Dead" and was Gulliver in the
1977 version of "Gulliver's Travels." He starred in the
1977 killer whale film "Orca," which introduced Bo Derek,
and later appeared in a small role with Derek in her version
of "Tarzan the Ape Man." Harris' other credits include the
1979 science fiction "The Ravagers," 1993's "Silent Tongue,"
the 1997 mystery "Smilla's Sense of Snow," and the 1997
television version of "The Hunchback" as Archdeacon Frollo.
Antonio Margheriti, the Italian film director who helmed
numerous horror and science fiction films from the early
1960s, died of a heart attack near Rome, Italy, on Nov.
4. He was 72. Margheriti, who often directed under the name
Anthony M. Dawson on films released in the United States,
was best known for his early science fiction films, including
1960's "Battle of the Worlds" and Assignment Outer Space."
He remained a leading figure in Italian cinema over the
next two decades, directing "The Golden Arrow," "Horror
Castle," "Castle of Blood," "Hercules, Prisoner of Evil,"
"Long Hair of Death," "Wild Wild Planet," "War Between the
Planets," "Snow Devil," "War of the Planets," "The Killers
Are Challenged," "Lightning Bolt," "The Young, the Evil
and the Savage," "The Unnaturals," "Mr. Super Invisible"
and "Seven Dead in the Cat's Eye." Margheriti was also involved
in the creation of 1974's "Blood for Dracula" (aka "Andy
Warhol's Dracula"). His later films were often action thrillers,
many with horror or science fiction overtones, including
"Killer Fish," "Cannibals in the Streets," "The Hunters
of the Golden Cobra," "Yor, the Hunter from the Future,"
"Ark of the Sun God," "Jungle Raiders" and "Alien from the
Actress Teresa Graves died as a result of a house fire at
her home in Hyde Park, Calif., on October 10. She was 54.
Graves was best known for starring in the 1970s police drama
"Get Christie Love!". She also starred as Vampira in the
1974 horror-comedy "Old Dracula" (aka "Vampira") with David
Niven as Count Dracula.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
DOWN ON THE COUNT
The proposed Dracula theme park in Sighisoara, Romania,
continues to foment unrest among the villagers -- global
villagers, no less. A Website called Sighisoara Durabila
-- boldly displays an open protest. "This site is dedicated
to the opposition of Dracula Park," reads the home page.
"Sighisoara Durabila is a NGO committed to the preservation
of Transylvanian culture and ecology." The Romanian tourism
ministry maintains the park will be good for the economy
and create thousands of jobs for the depressed populace.
Sighisoara Durabila says the proposed Draculand will be
the "biggest theme park in S.E. Europe. Dracula Park will
be built on a plateau close to the town, in a protected
nature reservation containing 400-year-old oaks. The people
of Sighisoara have not been consulted." The site features
a photo gallery showcasing the historic region, contact
info and a place to e-mail your personal letter of protest
to Minister Agaton. Should words fail you, a preamble is
provided that begins, "As future tourists and concerned
world citizens, we oppose the Dracula Park on ecological,
cultural and spiritual grounds." There are also links to
many articles concerning the park and accompanying controversy.
Strangely, the site is also linked to the official Dracula
Park promotional site. Read on ....
IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY BITE?
At the Dracula Park Website --
-- we're greeted by Minister Agaton's smiling face and personal
message: "Dracula Park -- the most spectacular tourism project
at this beginning of this millennium -- is about to become
reality under the 'Made in Romania' brand. From 'Financial
Times' to 'Rooskaia Gazeta', from CNN to Euronews, BBC or
New China -- a media 'scoop' that propels Romania to stardom."
(Agaton neglects to mention the B Monster's ongoing and
exhaustive coverage.) Visitors to the site can view the
proposed park layout, described by Agaton as "a juxtaposition
orchestrated à l'américaine, on a 100% Romanian
score." I'm not sure what that means, but it's bound to
tick off Europeans already predisposed to dislike the "ugly
Americans." There's a picture gallery, a link to myths and
legends, some background on Vlad Tepes, and lucky Romanians
can scope out a share prospectus and get in on the ground
floor. (Sorry, the English-language prospectus isn't ready
yet.) Agaton rationalizes that the park is, "a reason more
to save the city of Sighisoara, a geometrical area for legend
and a jewel of the Romanian cultural patrimony." He doesn't
directly address the controversy. His spiel concludes with,
"all I can say is 'I believe in Dracula Park!"
KERRY'S STILL KIDDIN'
The moment you finish reading this newsletter you should
do two things:
1. Patronize our sponsors, repeatedly and with abandon.
2. Make a mad dash to Kerry Gammill's nifty new edition
of "Monster Kid."
Are you a Monster Kid? If you're reading this, odds are
the answer is yes, and Kerry's site is right up your dark
alley. Each update has been more fun than the last, and
the latest is no exception. You'll find a welcome message
from Count Gamula himself, reviews, letters, links, and
some offbeat features that cover, among other things, Ben
"Creature" Chapman's appearance opposite Abbott & Costello
on TV's "Colgate Comedy Hour," sordid speculations concerning
the lineage of "Son of Dracula's" Count Alucard, the devilish
draftsmanship of cartoonist Frank Dietz, games, official
"Monster Kid" merchandise and more. The topper is an absolutely
mind-blowing ghastly gallery of 3-D monster pics. Don't
have your anaglyphic glasses? Two bucks gets you a pair
of official "Monster Kid" 3-D goggles. Take it from the
B Monster, horror-lovers will have a tough time finding
more fun on the Web. Thanks, Kerry.
TURNER'S REPTILES RISE AGAIN
Film historian and cartoonist Michael H. Price has been
hard at work meticulously restoring and redesigning "The
Ancient Southwest," a comic strip originally drawn by Price's
late collaborator, George E. Turner, 50 years ago. The strip,
which first appeared in 1951 in the Amarillo Globe-News,
chronicled the dinosaur denizens that once inhabited the
Northwest Texas region. Samples had been reproduced in a
recent edition of Turner and Price's "Spawn of Skull Island."
The serial publication will appear in the Fort Worth Business
Press beginning Dec. 6. "George had begun envisioning such
a restoration shortly before his death in 1999," says Price.
"Most of the original art had long since vanished, and so
George found it necessary to work from yellowed newspaper
clippings, in which many nuances of detail had been lost.
I've carried the process further, with a combination of
digital scans and manual restoration and re-lettering."
Turner and Price are perhaps best known to comic and cult-film
fans for collaborations that include the "Southern-Fried
Homicide" comic anthologies and the "Forgotten Horrors"
series of film-history books.
TROMA'S IN FOR A POUND
Depending on your point of view, you'll find this news either
alarming or heartening. Troma Entertainment ("The Toxic
Avenger," "Terror Firmer") is poised to release a children's
film. That's right, according to publicity, Lloyd Kaufman,
president and co-founder, wanted to make another shift back
to the kid's market. Is this a heartfelt effort at family
entertainment or a savvy recognition that the audience for
breasts and blood is finally growing up and it's time now
to target their kids? You'll have to judge for yourself.
In any case, "Doggie Tails" is a short (45 minutes), live-action
film starring real dogs slated for a Feb. 4, 2003 release.
"It's Lucky's first night away from her family," says the
ad slick, "and she is feeling a little scared and lonely.
That is until she meets a doggie orphan named Patches and
other kennel friends who share their amazing imaginary adventures
to wonderful places like Doggie Paradise." This from the
producers of "Nuke Em High"!
PAEANS TO PIERCE PART 1
Writer, producer, director Scott Essman's tribute to makeup
legend Jack Pierce, "The Man Behind the Monsters," is now
available on DVD. The live stage show, performed June 17,
2000, in Pasadena, Calif., features actor Perry Shields
as Pierce at age 79, recalling his career and memorable
creations. As Shields speaks, actors wearing costumes and
makeup created under the guidance of Robert Burman and Jennifer
McManus bring the classic characters to life, restaging
scenes from vintage Universal horror pictures. In addition,
there are tons of extras, including rare stills, sketches,
an audio interview with Pierce and a 1957 clip of Pierce
with Boris Karloff. You can find out more about this video
valentine to Pierce by visiting:
PAEANS TO PIERCE PART 2
2002 certainly seems to have been the year Pierce was destined
to get his due. The late, great makeup legend will be given
the 2003 Honorary Makeup Academy Award in a special ceremony
to be held in Beverly Hills in February 2003. The aforementioned
filmmaker, Scott Essman, placed Pierce's name in nomination
for the award. As of this writing, Sara Karloff, Bela Lugosi
Jr. and Ron Chaney are scheduled to accept the award on
Pierce's behalf, with Essman documenting the proceedings
for video release. In related news, the U.S. Post Office
will issue a cinema series of stamps early next year with
achievements in makeup as one of the featured categories.
Pierce's 1931 Karloff/Frankenstein monster will be depicted
with Pierce's hand visible in the image. For more info,
ALL DAY'S TERROR TRAILER-THON
All Day Entertainment announces the release of a massive,
two-hour DVD compilation of classic monster movie trailers
called, appropriately enough, "All Monsters Attack." From
"The Amazing Colossal Man" to "Varan the Unbelievable,"
more then 50 vintage coming attractions are included. Also
included are "The Making of ..." featurettes, chronicling
"The Land That Time Forgot" and "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,"
as well as selected shorts such as the 1954 atomic cautionary
film, "Operation Plumbob." The packaging itself is an amusing
homage to the Aurora model kits of the 1960s. For more info
And, of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
CAMPBELL'S SCI-FI CONTRACT
Our old buddy, "Evil Dead" star Bruce Campbell, has recently
cinched a two-movie deal with the Sci Fi Channel. One of
the films will be Campbell's long-talked-about "Man With
the Screaming Brain," a pet project that Bruce will write,
direct, produce and act in. As Campbell told the B Monster,
"'Screaming Brain' has been 'an on-again, off-again' hobby
of mine. It's almost been made several times, but for whatever
reasons, it fell through." The second film, tentatively
titled "Earwigs," involves nasty, mind-controlling worm-like
SODERBERGH: BOTTOMS OUT?
Hollywood's hottest director, Steven Soderbergh, is watching
George Clooney's back. He recently appealed the R rating
the Motion Picture Association of America had slapped on
his remake of the Russian sci-fi epic "Solaris." The problem
stemmed form Soderbergh's depiction of two moons -- both
belonging to George Clooney. It seems the MPAA objected
to two nude scenes wherein Clooney's derriere is on display.
Soderbergh stuck to his buns and lodged a protest. Sure
enough, the censors relented. Not one crucial frame containing
Clooney's posterior will be cut. Enjoy, Cloon-atics!
NEILL'S "JURASSIC" SPIEL
Actor Sam Neill says that the plot pitched to him by Steven
Spielberg for the proposed "Jurassic Park 4" (oh, come now,
you can't possibly be surprised that they're making a "Jurassic
Park 4") is possibly the best in the dino-franchise's four-film
history. "There is a chance you'll see me in it. I'm as
surprised as anyone," Neill was quoted in Dark Horizons.
"Steven just blew me away with the story ... something frightening
is happening concerning those dinosaurs that doesn't necessarily
bode well for us humans." You don't say? This is groundbreaking
stuff! "You know that feeling when you first saw the original
film," Neill continued, "and you were so in awe, and felt
so swept away and mesmerized by the sheer majesty of it
all? I believe this premise has the potential to elicit
that same kind of response." And if you think THAT sounds
exciting, wait until you see the "Happy Meal!"
NEW ON DVD
BEAST OF BLOOD
The fantastically grisly and unique poster art that heralded
this film shows the monster tearing his own head off. Why
would the monster rip his own noggin from his shoulders?
This question has vexed me for years. More on that in a
minute. But first, let's get our history straight: American
International teen heartthrob John Ashley ("High School
Caesar," "Hot Rod Gang") split Hollywood in the late 1960s
and headed for the Philippines. There, he hooked up with
Filipino filmmakers Eddie Romero and Gerardo DeLeon. They
produced a spate of outrageously gratuitous horror films
under the auspices of executive producer Kane W. Lynn, which
were marketed in the states by Sam Sherman via his Hemisphere/Independent
International Pictures. This formidable cabal concocted
the infamous "Blood Island" films (which actually began
in 1959 with a Filipino-produced take on "The Island of
Dr. Moreau" called "Terror is a Man," but, be that as it
may ... ). In order, they were "Brides of Blood," "Mad Doctor
of Blood Island," and the entry we're about to address,
"Beast of Blood," each more giddy, more gory and gimmicky
than the one that preceded it.
"Beast of Blood" is ostensibly a sequel to "Mad Doctor
of Blood Island," and man, does it begin with a bang! The
flick is barely 60 seconds old before the monster busts
loose, slaughtering the crew of the sloop he's stowed away
on. Ashley bounds into the fray, and they do battle with
machetes, axes, clubs, blood is flying and the ship is in
flames -- all in the first three minutes of the movie! Unfortunately,
the remaining 88 minutes never live up to the promise of
this overture. The plot is about as linear as they come
(which is not to say some interesting things don't happen
along the way). The natives are being killed, so Ashley
and company must brave the treacherous jungle in search
of the lair of the villainous Dr. Lorca. Ashley has a buxom
native admirer who's frighteningly handy with a knife, and
who displays her buxomness without inhibition. Celeste Yarnall
is along as a reporter-cum-damsel in distress (her formidable
feminine attributes are lasciviously displayed, as well).
There are some frantic chases through tangled undergrowth
and quicksand, all culminating in an "A Team"-style commando
raid on Lorca's compound. (The resemblance is not entirely
coincidental. Ashley produced "The A Team" upon returning
to the states in the '80s.) Now, back to that vexing question:
Dr. Lorca's previous experiments are what transformed poor
Don Ramon into the titular "Beast." For reasons that aren't
entirely clear to me, Lorca now has the monster's head alive
in a laboratory jar. The monster's headless cadaver is strapped
to a nearby operating table. Presumably, Lorca's fiendish
work involves reuniting the two. Therefore, I conclude that
the monster in the poster is not tearing off his own head
but is, in fact, putting it back on!
BRAIN OF BLOOD
First of all, don't ask what a "Brain of Blood" is. If that's
the first question that comes to mind once you've glanced
at the cast, credits and lurid packaging, you're probably
reading the wrong newsletter. There is a brain and lots
of blood (which looks more like Testors enamel model kit
paint than plasma). B-movie legend Sam Sherman, who kept
drive-in screens aglow with gore throughout the 1970s, produced
this dubious classic. Some consider it the best film to
emerge from his partnership with director Al Adamson. (The
B Monster's personal preference is "Horror of the Blood
Monsters.") It opens with a slow zoom in on a picture postcard
of the Taj Mahal, standing in for the royal palace of the
fictional monarchy, Kalid. (The fact that there are motionless
people in the photo's foreground apparently didn't give
the filmmaker's pause.) Inside is dying King Amir as portrayed
by Reed Hadley. His personal physician, Grant Williams,
is all set to fly his ailing body to the states, where wacko
surgeon Kent Taylor plans to plop the monarch's still-fertile
brain into a healthy young body. Hadley ("Racket Squad,"
"I Shot Jesse James"), Williams ("The Incredible Shrinking
Man," "PT 109") and Taylor ("Boston Blackie," "The Crawling
Hand," "The Mighty Gorga" and too many more to mention)
were all finishing out their once-promising careers (this
was Williams last film). Sherman gave these guys work when
they needed it. He needed their fading names to lend legitimacy
to his outlandish output. They needed each other. This happy
reciprocation is perhaps the most interesting facet of gory
costume jewels such as "Brain of Blood."
And, of course, the Hemisphere Pictures regulars are present
and accounted for. Vicki Volante is the captive female who
escapes her chains only to wander the same six feet of scenery
for an interminable period. Zandor Varkov (Dracula of "Dracula
vs. Frankenstein") and John Bloom (the Frankenstein monster
of "Dracula vs. Frankenstein") play a swarthy bodyguard
and a hulking brute, respectively. Angelo Rossitto, Hollywood's
evil dwarf go-to guy, has a great time in what is probably
the meatiest part of his career, and busty Regina Carrol
is on hand as ... come to think of it, I have no idea what
she's supposed to be or why she's in the picture. Be assured,
gore-lovers, there are lots of laboratory scenes. The Testors
red No. 2 bathes the screen as Taylor saws into one cranium
after another. You'll find no better specimen than "Brain
of Blood" to demonstrate where B-movies were heading as
the '70s dawned and the drive-ins were dying. Sam Sherman
& Co. gave them their last jolt of juice before they
all but vanished. Thanks, Sam.
This movie stinks. Dreary, muddled, larded with childish
in-jokes and altogether pointless. Director Roland Emmerich's
"Independence Day," was rousing fun, blemished though it
was, with corn and strident cliche. He utterly fails this
time out, taking some talented actors down with him. I don't
care how jaw-droppingly lifelike special effects can be
these days, films have still got to tell stories. This one
has nothing to say. Yech.
It's as though someone tapped Steven Spielberg on the shoulder
and said, "Hey, you've done everything else, why not crank
out one of those bleak, steely gray futuristic films where
everyone is corrupt, dehumanized, bereft of hope and wears
black leather?" Sure enough, with "Minority Report," Spielberg
chases a parade that got under way about 15 years ago. (Sadly,
the end of the procession is nowhere in sight.) He's playing
sci-fi catch-up with this Matrixy muddle when he should
be establishing NEW trends as he did 20 years ago. The contemptible
"A.I." wasn't morbid enough? Do we really need to be told
-- AGAIN -- that the future is going to be terrible? We
know Spielberg can do "serious." Didn't he prove it with
"Schindler's List?" "Minority Report" LOOKS good, but they
can make anything look good these days when they throw enough
money at it. And, there are some good performances by Max
Von Sydow, Colin Farrell and Peter Stormare. The original
story was, of course, written by Philip K. Dick, who seems
to be the only science fiction author anyone in Hollywood
reads. It's bleak stuff about "pre-cogs" who predict future
crimes, allowing authorities to nab criminals in advance
of their crimes. Top cop Tom Cruise is framed for murder
and spends much of the film on the lam. There's sort of
a quasi-semi-pseudo happy ending -- at least I think that's
what they were going for -- but it just doesn't wash, and
I was too depressed to care by the time the film dragged
to a close. Maybe someday, when optimism is once more in
vogue, we can look back on "Minority Report" and enjoy the
novelty of it, and appreciate the skillful filmcraft. In
the meantime, for God's sake, can somebody PLEASE write
an upbeat science fiction story?
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Scott Essman http://www.jackpierce.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Bob Madison, whose books are available at http://www.amazon.com
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
"The only people who will not be sterilized with fear
are those among you who are already dead!" -- The Flesh