Academy Award-nominated art director, Albert Nozaki, best known to genre-film fans for his work on producer George Pal's classic "The War of the Worlds," has died following complications from pneumonia. He was 91. Nozaki's credits include "The Ten Commandments," "Appointment with Danger," "Pony Express," "The Big Clock," "Houdini" and "The Buccaneer," but, according to his friend, Oscar-winning effects artist Robert Skotak, Nozaki thought of the Pal-produced science-fiction film as "my masterpiece." Nozaki began his career in Paramount's set-design department in 1934. He shared his Academy Award-nomination with Hal Pereira and Walter H. Tyler for their work on director Cecil B. DeMille's lavish spectacle "The Ten Commandments."
Born in Tokyo, Nozaki was three years old when his family came to the U.S. He earned a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's degree in architectural engineering. A tour of the Paramount lot inspired him to apply for a job at the studio. Following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Nozaki was dismissed by the studio. Along with thousands of Japanese residents, he and his wife, Lorna, were forcibly relocated to the Manzanar internment camp. In 1943, after signing pledges that they would defend the U.S., and agreeing to relocate to the midwest, they were released. Nozaki returned to Paramount following the war. He became an American citizen in 1954.
In 1951, Nozaki worked on George Pal's sci-fi classic "When Worlds Collide." Pal conscripted Nozaki to create a contemporary visualization of H.G. Welles' turn-of-the-century novel "The War of the Worlds," which Pal planned to film. Nozaki storyboarded the entire film, designed the Martian warship and the Martians themselves. At an Art Directors Guild Film Society tribute to his work in 2000, Nozaki spoke of his innovative Martian spacecraft design, which departed from the three-legged mechanical machines described in the original script: "I took the initiative to make [them] another shape, and in July 1951 on a Sunday afternoon at home, the shape of a sea creature flashed across my mind. The mushroom-like Martian also was my design, and made life-size so a man could enter it and maneuver its extremities. The film looks as futuristic now as it did back then." In 1963, Nozaki was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Within 10 years, he was completely blind. He remained at Paramount his entire career, retiring as the supervising art director for features in 1969. When asked about Nozaki's work on "The War of the Worlds," film historian and prop preservationist Bob Burns told the L.A. Times, "they did so many innovative tricks that had never been done in a film before. It was just a unique picture, and Al's contribution to that was enormous. The look of the whole film was all his."
Actress Julie Parrish, remembered for roles in such films
as "The Nutty Professor," "The Doberman Gang" and the Elvis
Presley vehicle "Paradise Hawaiian Style," has died at 62.
She endured an ongoing battle with cancer, but died of natural
causes in Los Angeles. Parrish also worked extensively in
television, notably in the 1960s sitcom "Good Morning World"
with Joby Baker, Billy DeWolfe, Ronnie Schell and Goldie
Hawn. She guest starred on such programs as "Star Trek,"
"Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," "Gidget," "Mannix," "The Rockford
Files" and many others. Born Ruby Joyce Wilbar, she was
discovered after winning a modeling contest. One of the
judges was Jerry Lewis and her prize was a role in the film
"It's Only Money." Lewis then cast her in "The Nutty Professor."
She also appeared in the teen features "Fireball 500" with
Frankie Avalon and "Winter A-Go-Go" with James Stacy and
William Wellman Jr. She was originally diagnosed with ovarian
cancer in 1993, but following surgery and chemotherapy she
resumed her career. She experienced a relapse in 1999. She
was outspoken on the issue of domestic violence, serving
on the Board of Directors of the L.A. Commission on Assaults
Against Women, and worked as a counselor at a shelter for
Science fiction writer Hal Clement has died at his home
in Milton, Mass. He was 81. Clement, who was born Harry
Clement Stubbs, wrote for six decades, earning the title
of Grand Master bestowed by the Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America. Among his best-known works were "Mission
of Gravity," "Star Light," "Iceworld," "Cycle of Fire" and
"Close to Critical." Clement was a retired teacher and World
War II pilot who held a bachelor's degree in astronomy and
master's degrees in education and chemistry from Harvard.
His first published story appeared in "Astounding" magazine
in 1942. Following a tour of duty in the Army Air Corps,
he produced his first novel, "Needle," which was serialized
in "Astounding" in 1949.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
Remember that swinging beach band that popped up in director
Del Tenney's cult classic "The Horror of Party Beach?" They
were the Del-Aires, a Jersey-based combo that recorded for
Coral Records before being approached by Rich Hilliard,
acting as musical director for Tenney's production, which
was filming under the working title "Invasion of the Zombies."
The rest, as they say ... Their sole movie appearance so
impressed Chad Plembeck, that he organized a tribute Website.
"The feedback for the site has been tremendous," he says.
Turns out the band had quite a fan base before they performed
"The Zombie Stomp" in the schlock-film favorite. Plembeck
even tracked down original band members Bobby Osborne and
Ronnie Linares who are still gigging in Bonita Springs,
Fla., but have lost touch with their ex-band mates. While
Tenney told the B Monster that he believed a "Party Beach"
soundtrack album existed (one was announced in the film's
press kit), according to Plembeck, "after shooting was finished,
the band allegedly recorded a soundtrack album but this
cannot be collaborated because no trace of the album can
be found." Chad goes on to say, "If anybody out there has
more Del-Aires information, records or promotional material
and would like to contribute it to the tribute page please
e-mail me: email@example.com. Plembeck's site features
a history of the band, "Party Beach" anecdotes, interviews,
a complete discography ("Treble Rock," "Drag," "The Crawl,"
"Just Wigglin'-n-Wobblin'"), Del-Aires fan mail and more.
Check it out at:
Also, much to his credit, Plembeck maintains a Paul Blaisdell
Tribute page. Chad says that he's cribbed "from several
sources including Randy Palmer's biography of Blaisdell,
Mark McGee's history of AIP, Arkoff and Corman's biographies
and several magazine articles." It, too, is well worth investigating:
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you!
WHAT HAPPENED TO HALLOWEEN?
So, the B Monster gets a press release promoting the iFilm.com
"Halloween Spooktacular." I'm intrigued and I wonder if
it will feature vintage film clips, innovative animation,
perhaps a promising indie horror feature. I go to the site
to view their "Halloween Showcase" -- maybe there's some
spooky, spirited little netflick my kid and I can watch
together -- and what do I find? Films about Ed Gein ("A
chilling dramatization of his life and crimes"), Ted Bundy
and Jeffrey Dahmer. Ah, that's the Halloween spirit; trick-or-treating,
candy apples, witches on broomsticks and real-life, heinous
serial killers who mutilated their victims and destroyed
the lives of their families. By all means, let's link their
repugnancy to the innocent thrills of Frankenstein, Casper
and candy. Thanks, iFilm, for slipping a razor blade into
an otherwise delectable tradition.
The annual Williamsburg Film Festival is shaping up nicely
for 2004. "Honoring the Golden Age of Hollywood," the 2004
fest will take place March 11-13 at the Holiday Inn-Patriot
Convention Center (handy to many historical, Colonial-era
attractions), 3032 Richmond Road in Williamsburg, Va. There
will be autograph and photo sessions, movie screenings,
a dealer's room and a guest roster that, as of this writing,
Plus, every year, "The Solar Guard" stages their annual
reunion at the festival. Not familiar with the cadets of
"The Solar Guard?" See our next item. For info on the Williamsburg
fest, check out:
GET SET, CADET!
The dedicated fans behind the Solar Guard website hold a
reunion at each Williamsburg Fest, welcoming all those who
were, like them, entranced by the pioneering TV exploits
of "Tom Corbett," "Rocky Jones," "Space Patrol" and their
space-borne brothers-in-arms. The Solar Guard site is a
fabulous celebration of television's infant fascination
with space exploration and interplanetary adventure. "The
call is out for any science fiction fan who shares an interest
in early television space adventures," says Ed Pippin, known
to fellow guardians as "Cadet Ed." "This site will attempt
to preserve some of the early history of Science Fiction
Television." There's a galaxy of links to space collectibles,
salient articles, a "Space Forum," special tribute sites
within the site dedicated to "Space Cadet" and "Space Patrol,"
a page for cadet news and more. Last year's get-together
in Williamsburg featured space greats Jan Merlin, Ed Kemmer
and Frankie Thomas, meeting fans, signing autographs, performing
in live radio plays and generally having the time of their
lives. For news of this year's event, keep checking:
The splendiferous Solar Guard site can be found at:
Tell 'em Cadet B Monster sent you!
ONE RAY TICKET, PLEASE
This December 7, legendary movie animator Ray Harryhausen
will be appearing at the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford,
U.K., greeting fans and autographing his autobiography "An
Animated Life." The event is being staged under the aegis
of The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.
Ray will be interviewed by the NMPFT's Head of Film Programming,
Tony Earnshaw. The film that sparked young Ray's desire
to animate, the original "King Kong," will be screened,
as will one of Harryhausen's best-loved efforts, "Jason
and the Argonauts." You can call the theater box office to reserve your ticket:
0870 70 10 200
CAREY ON THE TRADITION
You say they don't make 'em like they used to? Don't tell
that to Harry Carey Jr., who is mounting a production that
"will be filmed in the tradition of John Ford." Carey, son
of one of the screen's legendary cowboys and veteran of
several Ford classics, will produce and star in "Comanche
Stallion," based on the 1958 novel by Tom Millstead. Carey's
co-stars include Rance Howard (father of Ron and Clint),
Hechter Ubarry and James Arness. That's right, Big Jim,
who worked with Carey in Ford's "Wagon Master" will be providing
voiceover narration for the film. You can swap opinions
and anecdotes with Harry and fans via the site's guest book/bulletin
Sign in and tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
"SOLD TO THE MAN WITH WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS HANDS!"
Proving that people will pay good money for just about anything,
the hoity-toity auction house Sotheby's recently sold a
"vampire slaying kit" for $12,000. The contents of the walnut
box -- a crucifix, rosary, pistol with silver bullets and
bottles of garlic powder and other elixirs (what, no stake?)
-- could probably have been purchased at Wal-Mart for about
50 bucks. But according to Sotheby's, such kits were widely
available in centuries past, carried by travelers throughout
Eastern Europe. Some maintain they were introduced around
the time Bram Stoker's "Dracula" was published in order
to cash in on the sensation (wow, they did that back then,
too?). The auctioneers maintain that this particular kit
was fashioned in the early part of the 20th century. Historical
importance aside, I'm intrigued by its relevance as an ancillary
item. Was there a do-it-yourself "Frankenstein" kit produced
in the early 1800s? How about a "wrap-your-own" mummy set
to coincide with the King Tut discovery?
THE SUPERCRITIC STRIKES AGAIN
Screenwriter William Goldman has often charged that the
"Supercritic" is so enamored of his own prose that the subject
of his text becomes an afterthought. "Supercritics" are
everywhere (and sadly, they're probably here to stay as
their fellow journalists keep handing them prizes for pithy,
punny writing). A recent egregious example is a piece in
the Sunday New York Times written by a movie critic for
Slate.com. The article was about director Joe Dante's battle
with studio suits over the content of his new feature "Looney
Tunes: Back In Action," wherein live actors (Brendan Fraser,
Jenna Elfman) interact with classic Warner Brothers cartoon
characters (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck). In describing Dante's
work, the critic opines, "His direction of live action is
sometimes droopy, his compositions two-dimensional, his
stories mere vessels for riffs, cameos and quotations from
other movies. But his curlicues are good enough to goose
his films to life." What, in God's name, does that sentence
mean? What the heck is a riff vessel? And how do you goose
a film with curlicues? (The critic went on to cite the "junky
science-fiction and horror pictures [Joe] consumed as a
boy.") Does this guy like Joe's work or not? I like it,
and you should see his new movie.
A NEW DIMENSION IN UNORIGINALITY
Producer Joel Silver has made demeaning classic films something
of a Halloween tradition. Seems like every year around that
time his Dark Castle production company releases another
bad, gratuitous horror film based on an old shocker. These
have included remakes of William Castle's "House on Haunted
Hill" and "13 Ghosts." Now Silver plans to remake "House
of Wax," which was, admittedly, a remake of "Mystery of
the Wax Museum" (but let's keep in mind that, at the time
"House" was filmed, "Mystery" was thought to be a "lost"
film). While promoting his new film, "Gothika," Silver told
the Sci Fi Channel, "I want to redo that. I think it would
be fun." The original "House" starring Vincent Price was
among the best films lensed in 3-D. "I want to do it 3-D,"
Silver said of the remake. "I think it might be fun. I mean,
that's what I'm thinking about now. But that's my plan.
I don't know. It depends."
MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE U.K. IN MAY
Consider this ample notice from our friends at the National
Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford,
England: Their 2004 Fantastic Films Weekend starts May 22.
Highlights this year will include a centenary tribute to
Hammer director Terence Fisher featuring screenings of three
of his films, showings of ALL THREE "Lord of the Rings"
films (bring your sleeping bags), and selections from the
museum's TV Heaven archive screened in their IMAX auditorium.
In addition, the festival hopes to showcase at least 10
short films from up-and-coming filmmakers, and they are
inviting submissions. Films must be of the fantasy genre.
You can send submissions, marked "Fantastic Films Submissions"
to Tony Earnshaw, Film Dept., National Museum of Photography,
Film & Television, Bradford, BD1 1NQ. Keep an eye on
the museum website for developments:
IT'S ALL GEEK TO ME
Did you know that the crazed crew behind the stomptokyo.com
site also publishes a print 'zine? "'B-Movies Quarterly'
is a print-only 'zine written by b-movie fans for b-movie
fans," says the official website. The emphasis is on Asian
cinema and slasher horror of more recent vintage, but these
mirthful movie mavens embrace their geekdom unashamedly.
The current issue boasts articles bearing such headlines
as "Smells Like Geek Spirit" and "Coping With Your Inner
Kenny" (a wry reference to the dubbed youngster who pops
up in any number of Toho giant monster flicks). How geeky
does it get? Check out "Versus: Horror Icon Matchups We'd
Like To See," wherein the author pits Michael Myers against
Pinhead and so forth. Other highlights include "Reel Science
in the Real World" and a piece on "Cinematic Swordsmanship."
There's even an advice column. Excerpts can be found at
the site, hard copies can be purchased for three bucks.
Pay 'em a visit at:
http://b-movies.org/ Naturally, tell 'em the B Monster sent
NEW ON DVD
WEREWOLF IN A GIRL'S DORMITORY
The B Monster once cited this film as among the worst werewolf
movies ever made, having written that: "A truncated version
of this oddball Euro-fright flick was once a late-night
TV staple. A muddled Italian-Austrian co-production, it
details the sobering story of a girl's school headmaster
who is, in reality, the slobbering werewolf of the film's
title. Of special note is the swingin' teen theme 'Ghoul
You know what? I've changed my mind, as is my prerogative.
A number of subsequent, inadequate werewolf movies have
been made since that assessment, and I've tempered my verdict
accordingly. Which is not to say this a good movie. Its
drawbacks include continuity gaffs (the story takes place
over several nights, and EVERY night there's a full moon!),
laughable dubbing, gaps in logic (the handicapped groundskeeper
has a useless arm in some scenes, in others he's smothering
girls and swinging from rafters), and unconvincing makeup
that only tenuously resembles anything wolf-like. And, although
the film is structured as a mystery, there's never any doubt
who the killer is. But the plot offers a novel twist or
two, and an ironic hitch at the climax that nearly redeems
the many VERY talky stretches we're asked to endure. There
are several engaging, shadowy scenes, but they're scenes
of people merely walking into a room or climbing stairs.
The money shots of the monster are, for the most part, wasted.
The kooky makeup should have been kept in shadow.
Curt Lowens, who stars as the headmaster of the girl's
reformatory (the exteriors of which were actually a castle
in Rome), provides the DVD's commentary track along with
author David Del Valle. Lowen's chat is most entertaining.
He's since appeared in dozens of films and television programs,
but his memories of filming this horror cheapie, which came
early in his career, are surprisingly vivid. Also featured
in the cast are Carl Schell, brother of Maximillian, and
the first Mrs. Roman Polanski, Barbara Lass. Fans of Euro-horror
will recognize Luciano Pigozzi as the aforementioned caretaker.
Pigozzi was known as the Peter Lorre of Italian cinema for
reasons that are obvious the moment you see him.
The B Monster is disappointed that "The Ghoul in School"
is not included in this cut of the film. According to Retromedia,
producers of this edition, the song itself is owned by Ted
Turner, and the licensing rights simply aren't available.
There is a disclaimer on the packaging mentioning the song's
THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER/SHE DEMONS SET
"The Astounding She Monster" is cheesy, it's cheap, it's
preposterous and portions of it are untenably talky. Would
you believe we're talking about one of our all-time favorite
films? It's true. Director Ron Ashcroft's minor alien invasion
opus is the very film from which we derive our name. What's
not to like about this premise: Gangsters kidnap a Beverly
Hills socialite, commandeering her Cadillac convertible
and repairing to a remote mountain cabin occupied by Robert
Clarke. Enter the eponymous She Monster, decked out in a
bursting-at-the-seams spandex spacesuit. She's traveled
the galaxy in her white light spaceship to bring mankind
a message, yet the touch of this spangled starlet is radioactively
deadly! According to Clarke, Ashcroft edited the film on
the fly in his living room. Evil-eyed Shirley Kilpatrick
as the She-Monster, snarling Kenne Duncan and pretty Marilyn
Harvey co-star -- an altogether unbeatable history lesson
in poverty-level, exploitation filmmaking.
Nobody exploited the exploitable quite like director Richard
Cunha. Many consider his twisted shocker "She Demons" to
be his magnum opus. It's got everything necessary to keep
a cult-film fan happy: A mad doctor, scantily clad native
gals, Nazis hoping to resurrect the Reich, and, of course,
references to race that must have seemed harmless at the
time. Tod Griffin, who'd previously starred in TV's "Operation:
Neptune," portrays a treasure hunter for hire, conscripted
by a wealthy backer to explore an uncharted Pacific island.
By the very slimmest of plot contrivances, the millionaire's
shapely daughter, as played by 1950s pin-up queen Irish
"Sheena" McCalla, decides to go along for the ride. Rounding
out the intrepid team is Griffin's right-hand man, Sammy,
played by Charlie Chan's ex-No. 2 son Victor Sen Yung, who
was soon to find lasting employment as the Ponderosa's head
chef on TV's "Bonanza." And let's not forget the Diana Nellis
Dancers as the She Demons. Easily stealing the show, however,
is actor Rudolph Anders who hams it up as the Mengele-like
mad doctor. When a script called for a wild-eyed Aryan-type,
Anders' name must have been near the top of every casting
director's list. Nobody, with the possible exception of
Martin "Flesh Eaters" Kosleck, did it better. Anders' poised
dementia and convincing delivery make you forget, just for
a moment, the cardboard sets and tin foil gadgets in the
The film kicks off with newsreel footage of a devastating
typhoon that's currently pounding the very area our heroes
are flying into. (Didn't they check the forecast? Wasn't
there a radio on board?) Ditching their plane, our bedraggled
band soon find themselves washed ashore without provisions,
and are forced to go foraging. (Somehow, they've managed
to salvage Irish's comely sun dress.) It isn't long before
they stumble upon the caged She Demons, native girls who
were subject to Anders' misguided efforts to restore the
beauty of his disfigured wife. Naturally, our friends are
captured and, according to the unwritten movie law that
states all villains must explain their motives to the victims
as they'll never live to tell anyway, Anders describes how
Der Furher himself sent him to the desolate isle during
the war to conduct Third Reich research. Aided by, of all
people, Herr Doctor's scarred wife, the trio escape in a
rowboat that had been stashed elsewhere on the island just
as the U.S. Air Force, on a test run, is commencing to bomb
the atoll. All the doc's atomic-powered apparatus goes up
in smoke, as Yung utter's the film's best line: "Let's blow
this crazy fire trap!" We could debate whether the movie
is a tongue-in-cheek exercise, or was simply the best they
could produce with the budget they had. (Maybe both?) Who
cares? It's all great, goofy, grotesque fun. http://www.image-entertainment.com
THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER/BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS
"The Beach Girls and the Monster?" Kitsch-lovers alert!
This one's got it all. Surfing, singing, surfing, a shaggy
rubber monster, surfing, go-going teenyboppers, surfing,
Jon Hall and, did we mention surfing? Not just interspersed
with the action, but a 10-minute chunk of uninterrupted
surfing footage accompanied by twanging, Dick Dalesque guitar
riffs. Producer, director, star Jon Hall was a pretty big
deal in the 1940s, very often paired with curvaceous bombshell,
Maria Montez in exotic, Technicolor B-features. In the 1950s,
he was Ramar of the Jungle (he was also the son of Felix
Locher, whom you may recall from Frankenstein's Daughter).
Hall hopped on the beach-movie bandwagon in 1964 with this
fairly shoddy, immensely enjoyable pastiche featuring music
by Frank Sinatra, Jr. (One noteworthy tune, "Monster in
the Surf," is crooned by a puppet.) Hall committed suicide
in 1979, but, contrary to rumor, it had nothing to do with
his failings as a filmmaker (he was dying of cancer). As
a kid, you may have caught it on the late, late show under
its TV title, "Monster From the Surf." As an adult living
in the miraculous era of DVD, it belongs in your collection.
Over the years, even mainstream movie buffs have become
familiar with "Brain From Planet Arous," owing to its outlandish
menace, crude effects and what is possibly John Agar's most
memorable performance. An evil brain from space named Gor
bores into Bronson Canyon. It kills Robert Fuller and takes
over John Agar's body, transforming the affable actor into
a lustful mad scientist who can blow up planes with his
laser gaze. Hot on Gor's trail is a good brain named Vol,
who comes to earth to terminate the garrulous Gor. B-movie
stalwart Thomas Browne Henry ("Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,"
"Blood of Dracula," "20 Million Miles to Earth") lends solid
support as the father of Agar's bride-to-be, Joyce Meadows.
Floating brains with bulging eyes, Bronson Canyon AND John
Agar gone wild! Anyone with a brain will want this set on
their shelf. http://www.image-entertainment.com
MISSILE TO THE MOON/PROJECT MOON BASE SET
At the suggestion of Astor Pictures, director Richard Cunha
and producer Marc Frederic mounted this remake of Astor's
notorious schlock space opera "Cat-Women of the Moon." The
film that resulted may not be intrinsically better (it COULDN'T
be worse), but it is every bit as fascinating. Cunha and
company tossed every sci-fi, B-movie cliche into the pot
— bulky rockets, giant spiders, leering juvenile
delinquents, lumpy, shambling rock men, a subterranean city
and a bevy of slinky beauties living on a manless satellite
-- and came up with a corny, defiantly entertaining hodge-podge
that never fails to make me smile. And what a cast -- Richard
Travis, Cathy Downs, Tommy Cook, Nina Bara, Gary Clarke,
Leslie Parrish. Anyone expecting plausibility will be sorely
disappointed. Anyone looking for a good time will wear this
"Project Moon Base" is just about the silliest sci-fi
film of the era. Laughably cheap and ludicrously acted,
it was originally pitched as a TV series. I suppose its
makers thought it was good enough to be a feature. It isn't.
One could charitably overlook its shortcomings if it were
one of the live, Saturday morning, "space age" children's'
programs of the 1950s ("Space Patrol," "Rocky Jones," "Tom
Corbett," "Captain Video"). But it aspires to be more and,
alas, it fails. Set in the future (1970), its novel touches
don't quite redeem its inadequacies, but are noteworthy.
The commanding officer is a woman (Donna Martell), as is
the president of the United States. These sociological breakthroughs
are undermined, however, when General Hayden "I Dream of
Jeannie" Rorke threatens to spank the female colonel for
insubordination. The "action" consists of an astonishingly
inept fight scene wherein two men roll around on the floor
like puppies in slow motion, pawing each other's faces.
These same hearty astronauts scream like little girls during
blastoff as the G-force distorts their faces. Let's be charitable;
the filmmakers had an idea. They tried, they blew it. It's
a cute piece of pop history. http://www.image-entertainment.com
VALLEY OF GWANGI
Film historian and Dinoship Publishing CEO Bob Madison weighs
in with the following assessment of an often-overlooked
Ray Harryhausen classic:
"Valley of Gwangi," long a neglected part of the Ray Harryhausen
canon, has received deluxe treatment in its DVD release
from Warner Home Video. "Gwangi" is a picture with everything:
cowboys, dinosaurs, a circus -- even a dinosaur-elephant
fight near the end. So, why has the picture never come into
its own with genre fans? The reasons for that are many.
"Gwangi" really is a fantasy western, and most genre fans
are ambivalent about westerns, at best. Also, the film's
pace is more leisurely than other Harryhausen vehicles,
and, though fierce, Gwangi himself lacks the mythic resonance
of the Ymir or Talos.
The perception that Gwangi's flaws outweigh its virtues
is a shame because -- heresy alert on! -- "Gwangi" really
is one of Harryhausen's best films. The western aspects
of the film play well, with a welcome focus on a traveling
Wild West show, there are some fine performances, and it
features some of Harryhausen's most stunning set pieces.
In short -- when some Wild West show types get their hands
on a mini prehistoric horse, they follow gypsies bent on
returning the beast to a lost valley in the American badlands
where dinosaurs still live. They rope a fierce allosaurus,
Gwangi, and take it back to headline in the Wild West show.
Needless to say, it escapes...
In synopsis, Gwangi sounds like too much Buffalo Bill
Meets King Kong, but the film is surprisingly effective.
Gwangi may be Harryhausen's most convincingly animated creature
-- it's an animal that never looks too fantastic to be unreal.
The sequence where the cowboys rope Gwangi like a steer
is beautifully done (and surpasses the similar scene in
"Mighty Joe Young"), and the elephant battle is more convincing
(and harrowing!) than the twin sequence in "20 Million Miles
The performances (usually a low point in Harryhausen films)
are particularly good, with Franciscus in great form as
the initially venal hero and Naismith as the scientist who
would also exploit Gwangi. (Like the film itself, Franciscus
never seems to have gotten his due from genre fans for this
and his other major credit, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes."
He's a good actor and one hell of a lot easier to take than
The DVD print is crisp and clear -- this is the first
time I've seen this 1969 film in widescreen format and it's
a treat. Also included are various Harryhausen trailers,
and a short featurette, "Return to the Valley." While not
bad, the featurette is in no way a "making of," which would
have been much appreciated. Instead, we are treated to Harryhausen's
reminiscences on his work in the film. Fun, but it could
have been more. Make time to visit "The Valley of Gwangi."
It's a trip you'll never forget.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Bob Madison, 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/books.html
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
"Diabolical murder monsters lusting for a death-duel!"
-- Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man