Actress Pamela Duncan, familiar to B-movie fans for her
roles in a pair of producer/director Roger Corman's best-known
shockers, has died following a stroke. She was 73. Duncan
starred in "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "The Undead,"
considered by many aficionados to be among Corman's best
efforts. Duncan was a native of Brooklyn who became interested
in acting while still in school. "I would bring my high
heels and a little jacket and put them in a subway locker,"
she told film historian Tom Weaver and the B Monster. "I
would cut school, and put on the high heels and go on interviews
for acting jobs." While visiting California, Duncan was
noticed in the Hollywood beauty salon owned by Columbia
Pictures hair stylist Helen Hunt. This led to several screen
tests. She made her screen debut opposite Whip Wilson in
the low-budget Western "Lawless Cowboys." She went on to
appear in Westerns, thrillers and war films, including "Two
Gun Marshal," "The Saracen Blade" and "Seven Men from Now."
While in New York appearing in Army Signal Corp films,
she landed roles in such early TV shows as "Captain Video"
and "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger." 'Captain Video' was shot
at Wanamaker's Department Store, in the piano section,"
she remembered. "We would rehearse in the ladies' room because
there were chairs and mirrors in there." She recalled that
she was surprised when Corman called to offer her the lead
in "The Undead." "I don't know what made him think of me,
except that he must have seen me in something; I was on
TV a lot. Things like that just happened in my career. Somebody
sees something and likes you, and then he hires you."
Duncan enjoyed working with Corman and appeared in another
of his best-known films "Attack of the Crab Monsters," but
she admitted she was reticent to perform some of the tasks
required in the course of the break-neck shooting schedules
-- including swimming with sharks. "They said, 'Don't worry
about it. The sharks won't attack you.' I said, 'You tell
that to the sharks! I'm not about to go swimming with sharks!'
" Following the completion of these low-budget cult-classics,
Duncan worked sporadically, appearing in smaller roles in
larger-budgeted films, including "Don't Give Up the Ship,"
"Gun Battle at Monterey" and "Summer and Smoke." She finished
her acting career in New York with stage roles and parts
in commercials. In retirement, she confessed that she was
puzzled by contemporary films. "I wouldn't say I don't like
them," she said. "I struggle to UNDERSTAND them!"
Actress Carolyn Kearney, best known to cult-film fans as
the star of the 1958 Universal shocker "The Thing That Couldn't
Die," has died. Born in Detroit and raised in New Orleans,
Kearney began her acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Under contract to the William Morris talent agency, Kearney
won the part of Jessica in "The Thing That Couldn't Die"
after demonstrating to producer-director Will Cowan that
she could portray both aspects -- sweet and evil -- of her
character's personality. "I went into a tiny little ladies
room," Kearney told film historian Tom Weaver, "and changed
my hair -- I wet it all up and pulled it back, and when
I came out, I looked sort of maybe a little seductive, a
little wild and a little weird." Cowan awarded her the part
on the spot.
Kearney appeared in just four features, but worked prolifically
in television, appearing in episodes of such programs as
"Wanted: Dead or Alive," "The Virginian," "Route 66," and
"Wagon Train." She appeared opposite Boris Karloff in the
highly regarded "Thriller" episode "The Incredible Doktor
Markesan" and appeared in the "Twilight Zone" episode "Ninety
Years Without Slumbering." While appearing in an episode
of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," the famed director considered
Kearney for the role in his trendsetting thriller, "Psycho,"
that eventually went to Vera Miles.
Following a train accident in which Kearney became trapped
in her compartment, she was prescribed Xanax to alleviate
anxiety and became addicted for several years. In 1989,
she co-founded Benzodiazepine Anonymous, a 12-step group
that aids those recovering from addiction to benzodiazepine
drugs such as Xanax.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
KOGAR SEAL OF APPROVAL
Film historian and "King Kong" fan without peer, Bob Burns,
can barely contain his excitement as the debut of Peter
Jackson's "King Kong" remake draws near. Burns, who knows
primates inside and out -- LITERALLY, from his many ape-suited
appearances as Kogar the gorilla -- says Jackson & Co.
rolled out the red carpet for him and wife Kathy, who were
recently flown to New Zealand to film a cameo for Jackson's
much-anticipated film. "It's the best trip I've ever taken,"
says Bob. "Peter was so very nice to us and gave us so much
of his very valuable time." The B Monster asked Bob to weigh
in on both the Jackson version of "Kong," as well as the
long-awaited, pristine DVD release of the 1933 classic:
"Kathy and I watched the restored print of the '33 'Kong'
on a big screen with Peter, and it looks incredible. This
same restored print is the one that will be on the DVD.
It's like seeing 'King Kong' for the very first time. There
are no bled out scenes and the footage that was cut from
the original release is in this print with no deviations
in quality. All of the other prints had scenes that were
blown up from 16mm. In one scene, Peter turned to me and
asked, 'Have you ever been able to read that sign before?'
And I saw a bird flying over Skull Island that I had never
seen before. We kept doing this throughout the entire film,
finding new bits that we had never been able to see before.
Kathy said that for the first time she could see certain
details and expressions on Fay Wray's face.
"Peter and his very talented group of artists re-created
the famous 'spider pit' scene that will be among the supplements
included on the new disk. It is awesome. I had goosebumps
when I saw it. In other words, this real old 'Kong' fan
gives the DVD a BIG two gorilla thumbs up!
"We also got to see a lot of footage from Peter's new
version of 'Kong,' and it is going to be absolutely fantastic.
Just mind-blowing. And this comes from a really hard-core
fan of the original 'King Kong.' The original version is
what made Peter want to become a filmmaker when he first
saw it at age nine. I'm so impressed by his interpretation.
I think that every 'Kong' fan will love this version of
the story. Hardly anyone even remembers the horrible 1976
remake, but folks will always remember Peter's take on it."
HERE to watch the Burns' and Jackson behind the scenes.
POST APES A CLASSIC
The entire front page of the November 9 edition of the New
York Post was a doctored "King Kong" poster with the poorly
Photoshopped head of Michael Bloomberg pasted atop the body
of the great ape. The headline blared "King Mike," as the
story concerned Bloomberg's decisive victory in the Big
Apple's mayoral election. (As far as we know, there is no
truth to the rumor that Bloomberg wants to change the name
Manhattan to "Skull Island.") We present the cover here
as a service to our non-Manhattanite readers.
AMAZING COLOSSAL LINEUP
The guest roster for the 2006 Monster Bash genre-film con,
sponsored by Creepy Classics Video & DVD and Scary Monsters
Magazine, features one of the 1950s best known monster
movie makers, Bert I. Gordon, who produced and directed such features as "The Amazing
Colossal Man," "War of the Colossal Beast," "The Cyclops,"
"The Beginning of the End" and "Earth vs. the Spider." The opportunity to meet and greet this
B-movie legend should not be missed. Also attending are
Bert's daughter, Susan Gordon, who appeared in Dad's "Tormented"
and "Attack of the Puppet People," Kenny Miller, who likewise
appeared in "Attack of the Puppet People" as well as "I
Was a Teenage Werewolf," and an assortment of horror hosts,
makeup artisans, performance artists and authors. All this,
plus multiple screenings of vintage horror and sci-fi classics
and the usual dealer's room stacked to the rafters with
memorabilia. It happens June 23-25, 2006, at the Airport
Four Points Sheraton in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Kids under 12 get
in free!) For more info, check out:
Make it clear, the B Monster sent you!
SIR, WITH LOVE: A WELL-TENDED GRAVES SITE
Sure, you all know Zacherley, the late-night horror hosting
legend who has become the mascot of the Chiller Theatre
convention. And you're likely familiar with Ghoulardi (especially
if you hail from the Midwest), Bob Wilkins (West Coast),
Dr. Paul Bearer (Southeast) or The Bowman Body (Mid-Atlantic).
And the tradition of these macabre emcees is maintained
today by the likes of Dr. Gangrene, Mr. Lobo and many others.
If you grew up on fright films, odds are, you had a local
host who presented the oldies in late nighttime slots, many
of them skewering the monsterpieces they were presenting
with gusto. And, with an unapologetic bias not unlike devotion
to a sports team, you no doubt think your hometown host
was the best. It's high time we saluted the shuddersome
master of ceremonies who hosted horror shows in the Washington,
D.C. metro area when the B Monster was just a pup. Sir Graves
Ghastly was, hands down, the most polished and appealing
fright-film presenter I've ever seen, and Keith Milford's
terrific Web site, SirGravesGhastly.com, is a thorough and
heartfelt tribute to the character and the man who gave
him life, Lawson Deming.
I found out years after Sir Graves' D.C. tenure was over
that he'd been performing double duty, simultaneously hosting
shows in Washington and in Detroit, Milford's hometown.
"In darkened living rooms, bedrooms and basements all across
Michigan," Milford writes, "and into parts of Ohio, Canada,
and for a time, the Washington, D.C. viewing area, Detroit
TV's friendly neighborhood vampire, Sir Graves Ghastly implored
us weekly to turn out the lights ... pull down the shade...
draw the drapes ... and cuddle up in our favorite spots
by the telly, to watch frightfully spooky (and sometimes
silly) monster movies with him and his eccentric Ghoullery
of wacky friends." Sir Graves, who appeared on Detroit's
WJBK for 15 years, was the creation of Deming, a Cleveland
native. Deming was an actor and radio personality who transitioned
to TV working behind the scenes on the "Woodrow the Woodsman"
children's program, producing, puppeteering and providing
voices. The operation moved to Detroit in the mid-'60s where,
"as fate would have it, about a year earlier, [the station]
had lost their popular local horror movie host, Morgus the
Magnificent (played by Sid Noel)." Milford writes that,
soon after Deming began producing the 'Woodrow' show at
WJBK, "the station approached Lawson about playing a horror
movie host for their Saturday afternoon monster movie slot.
The initial plan was actually to call this new host 'Ghoulardi'
but because that name was already being used in Cleveland
by Ernie Anderson (a former Cleveland co-worker of Deming's),
Lawson suggested that he create his own character himself."
This rich back story and detail is emblematic of Milford's
scrupulous site, which also features a message board, guestbook,
a Sir Graves FAQ, an exhaustive guide to Ghastly's TV appearances,
a news section alerting fans to just-added content, and
best of all, a media crypt stocked with dozens of audio
clips from Sir Graves salad days.
Today, at age 92, Deming resides in an assisted-living
facility. Wilford describes him as "sharp and spirited."
Deming reads the site's guestbook on occasion and is "touched
and gratified" by the devoted fans who remember him. The
B Monster still has his 35-year-old postcard from Sir Graves,
as well as a color still and homemade recordings of the
program. It's heartening to see the devoted work of another
Sir Graves fan that supplements our knowledge and rekindles
our affection for the performer. But one question has haunted
this 12-year-old for three-and-a-half decades: Why, oh,
why did Sir Graves leave D.C.? Deming himself explains:
"We got trapped into a funny thing in Washington. The man
who hired me there was the program manager. He'd come from
... Detroit. Unfortunately, he got trapped in a political
thing, so when he went, Sir Graves went ... despite good
ratings." We in the nation's capitol understand better than
most the consternation and pain inflicted in the name of
politics. Sir Graves, all is forgiven.
Tell 'em without a doubt, the B Monster sent you!
Plexus publishing is releasing their new tome, "King Kong
Cometh," to coincide with the release of Peter Jackson's
remake of the classic film. According to Plexus rep Harvey
Wiening, "This is the first book to chart the full history
of Kong containing almost a century of Kong history -- from
the earliest short animated dinosaur films of Willis O'Brien,
'father of Kong,' in the silent era, to a detailed analysis
of how Peter Jackson has been striving to remain true to
the original 1930s conception, while simultaneously trying
to make 'King Kong' his own." The narrative is complemented
by many stills, posters, book covers and model shots of
the original Kong, some never before published. There are
also rare photos of "Kong" collaborators Merian C. Cooper
and Ernest B. Schoedsack on safari in pre-"Kong" years,
as well as production artwork from "Creation," the never-completed
film that eventually led to the inception of "Kong." For
more info, write Plexus Publishing Ltd., 110 Riverside Drive
(5-F), New York, NY 10024. Or give 'em a call at 212-787-9141.
By all means, let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
CITED AT SOCIETY SOIREE
The Planetary Society, founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce
Murray and Louis Friedman, honored author Ray Bradbury and
filmmaker James Cameron at last month's 25th Anniversary
Banquet held in Arcadia, Calif. The theme of the festivities
was "Our Next Age of Exploration." Bradbury, a longtime
advocate of space exploration, received the Society's Thomas
O. Paine Award for the Advancement of Human Exploration
of Mars. The award is named for the NASA official who presided
over the Apollo 11 moon landing. Cameron received the first
Cosmos Award for the Public Presentation of Science. The
director recently completed a series of documentaries about
CROWD AT B-FEST
Chicago's A&O Productions is currently gearing up for
B-Fest 2006. The 24-hour B-movie marathon, now in its 25th
year, is held each January at Northwestern University's
Norris University Center McCormick Auditorium in Evanston,
Ill. According to promoters, "B-Fest has been likened to
an audience-participation version of an episode of 'Mystery
Science Theater 3000'; viewers are encouraged to voice their
opinions of onscreen events, especially if such comments
provide entertainment for the other festival attendees."
(I wonder who makes THAT judgment call?) One B-Fest mainstay
is a ritual midnight screening of Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From
Outer Space." No doubt the audience participation is spirited
at this showing. Sponsors provide door prizes and the Northwestern
B-Fest Players usually take the stage "to bring their own
theatrical spin to the proceedings." There's also a "sing-along
version" of the cult-convention favorite "The Wizard of
Speed and Time." If you plan on attending, B-Fest organizers
recommend that you bring the following essentials:
-- A pillow
-- A flashlight
-- A toothbrush and toothpaste
-- Some cash for meals and snacks in the cafeteria
There are also rules of decorum that must be observed.
-- "Some folks have a much more elaborate set of gear
at B-Fest, including sleeping bags or a change of clothes,
but if you have the items above, you should find your experience
at B-Fest comfortable and pleasant."
-- "You might as well leave the laser pointer at home.
As props go, little red points of light aren't well-liked
-- "No criminal behavior will be tolerated."
-- "Excessive use of a laser pointer may result in your
ejection from the auditorium. As per Supreme Court ruling,
we know what 'excessive' is when we see it."
-- "Also, please do not bring thick paper plates (i.e.
Chinet or plastic) for 'Plan Nine' -- yes, they fly much
better but it stings to get hit in the face with one."
-- "Please be considerate of your fellow festival attendees.
Point your flashlight at the floor when making your way
to and from your seat. Say 'please' and 'thank you.' Cover
your mouth when you sneeze."
As of this writing, among the films scheduled to be shown
are: "The Island of Terror," "The Swarm," "Black Belt Jones,"
"Death Wish 3," "Project Moon Base," "Robot Monster," "Earth
vs. The Flying Saucers" and "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo."
It happens January 27th and 28th, 2006. For more info, check
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!
FEATURES HOMESPAWNED HORROR
The folks behind the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia
Expo are busy fleshing out the guest list for their Spring
2006 horror celebration. The show takes place March 31-April
2, 2006 at the Holiday Inn Select in Strongsville, Ohio,
only minutes from downtown Cleveland. There will, of course,
be multiple film screenings, celeb Q&A opportunities
and dealer's rooms. A special treat for attendees is "A
Ghastlee Nite at the Movies," presented by Dayton, Ohio's
homegrown horror host, A. Ghastlee Ghoul. At last report,
the celebrity guest roster includes:
-- Priscilla Barns
-- Geoffrey Lewis
-- Kate Norby
-- Lew Temple (All cast members of the Rob Zombie splatterfest
"The Devil's Rejects")
-- Betsy Palmer
-- C.J. Graham
-- Steve Dash (All of whom were part of the "Friday the
-- "Dolemite" himself, Rudy Ray Moore
-- Visual effects wiz, Tom Sullivan
For more information, check out:
And why not let 'em know the B monster sent you?
CORRY'S FINAL FLIGHT
Our late friend Ed Kemmer, famed as Commander Buzz Corry
of TV's "Space Patrol" and star of "Giant From the Unknown,"
"Earth vs. the Spider" and myriad television programs, loved
flying and won distinction as a fighter pilot in the second
world war. The actor, who passed away last November, wanted
his ashes scattered from a plane. Recently, Ed's son, Todd,
along with a pilot friend, carried out his father's wishes.
According to Jean-Noel Bassior, a family friend and author
of "Space Patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early
Television," "Todd loved planes as a kid, but as he grew
older, he didn't care for them much and after takeoff, he
felt scared -- especially since this was a small plane.
Then, for some reason, a sense of calm came over him and
he wasn't scared at all. In fact, at one point, much to
his surprise, he felt a strange kind of confidence, took
the controls, and actually flew the plane." Ed's ashes were
scattered over Long Island Sound.
NEW ON DVD
OF THE WORLDS (2005)
It's actually pretty good. I know, I couldn't believe it,
either, but it's actually pretty good. It's far different
from George Pal's 1953 interpretation. Not necessarily scarier
but decidedly darker. As you might expect from Steven Spielberg's
best work, it is paced with precision. He manipulates the
audience to be sure, but he does his job so well, the audience
doesn't notice or, if they notice, they don't care. Spielberg
is the best manipulator in the business, exploiting details,
plot points and character traits to further the juggernaut
story. That's right, I said character traits. A big budget,
summertime sci-fi spectacle, and they actually gave the
characters stories and backgrounds, and flaws and virtues.
I even forgot for a moment that Tom Cruise is nearly as
creepy in real life as the Martians are in the film. Cruise
can be distracting, playing the "intensity card" for all
it's worth, and I couldn't help imagining how the film would
feel more humane with someone like Tom Hanks as the beleaguered
dad racing the apocalypse in an SUV full of kids. Little
Dakota Fanning appears as Cruise's daughter, and she can
turn on the tears and wrench up her face and belt out a
scream better than Meryl Streep. Producers seem to be hustling
her into every film they can before she outgrows her natural,
unaffected ability and matures into a self-conscious star.
Tim Robbins has what amounts to a glorified cameo as a survivalist,
hiding in his bombed out basement and giving Cruise and
Fanning refuge from the thundering, blood-spurting tripods.
The effects are outstanding. Of course, they must be to
live up to the hype and survive comparison to Pal's 1953
classic, which is cherished by genre-film lovers. Which
is not to mention the challenge from purists who would prefer
to preserve H.G. Wells' hallowed book without defacement.
The visuals are commanding; towering Martian vehicles wreaking
havoc, people disintegrated by death rays, cities in ruins
and a particularly well-realized depiction of a Martian
war machine rising from beneath a New Jersey street, the
surrounding ground cracking and splitting to reveal its
immensity. The cracks and crevices that rend the community
are a harbinger of the societal splintering to come. Humankind's
basest, most animalistic survival instincts come to the
fore in the face of the devastating invasion, and Spielberg
sustains a note of hysteria with precious few breaks for
humor or other respite. (I'm not the biggest Tom Cruise
fan, but he's pretty good at hysteria.) I don't want to
read too much into the symbolism and pathology at work here.
After all, Wells' original tale was an allegory pertinent
to British colonialism and that's not likely to cross anyone's
mind when they watch this film. In summation, I was all
set to not like it, and found myself caught up in it. It's
too long, as are almost all contemporary movies, and Tom
Cruise seems to have an acting switch that's stuck on the
"intense" setting, but the Martians are cool, Spielberg
is a craftsman, and all in all, it could have been much,
much worse. Watch for Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, stars
of the 1953 George Pal "War of the Worlds," in a cameo.
Much ridicule was heaped upon the low budget, 1994 "Fantastic
Four" feature overseen by producer Roger Corman, most of
it deserved. The trailers heralding its release, which were
attached to many of Corman's direct-to-video releases, were
laughable and the film was yanked from "official" circulation.
Collectors continue to snatch up bootlegs of the film at
comic conventions because it is so notoriously inept and
funny. 20th Century Fox got a hold of the property, and
fans of the Marvel Comics quartet were promised a big-budget
feature that would do justice to the beloved superhero team
created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. What they got was this
chintzy, ramshackle vehicle, larded with clichés,
blighted by bad acting and inferior effects and damaged
irreparably by miscasting. The film might have stood a chance
had they gone retro, setting the film in 1961 with the Cold
War space race as a backdrop, with vintage cars, hip clothing
and an ambitious group of reckless scientists striving to
give the USA the advantage in space exploration. In that
Kirby-Lee universe of old, our heroes were burdened with
their superpowers as a result of their headstrong ambition
to further science, whatever the cost. Alas, the 2005 film
is the post-Gen-X version with its de rigueur undercurrents
of resignation and victimization. This not-so-Fantastic
Four come by their powers as the result of wealthy Victor
Von Doom's avarice. This same victimization was imposed
on Marvel's "Hulk." In the original comic, Dr. Bruce Banner
was in the act of saving a life when his fate was forever
changed. Ang Lee's big-screen version presented Banner as
the victim of military-industrial greed that caused his
mutation. In other words, nowadays, it's always somebody
Ion Gruffudd plays Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, who
can twist and stretch his body every which way. Gruffudd
gained notoriety as Horatio Hornblower in a series of TV
movies. Here, he seems anything but heroic. For a guy playing
a scientific wiz, he looks positively befuddled in every
scene. Why would Sue Storm come to prefer this moax over
handsome, wealthy and determined Victor Von Doom? Jessica
Alba, the current geek "it" girl plays Sue, The Invisible
Woman. I know she's attempting to play a resourceful female
in a man's world, but she comes across as a cheerleader
who's recently given up the pep squad to start hitting the
books. She'd be more at home in a live-action "Power Puff
Girls" movie. Chris Evans is occasionally engaging as Johnny
Storm, The Human Torch, but a little of that smug, womanizing,
jock jive goes an awfully long way. Finally, it's Michael
Chiklis as Ben Grimm, alias The Thing, who comes off the
best of the four (which isn't saying much). Chiklis has
the voice down; he sounds like Lawrence Tierney with a sinus
infection. But the Thing prosthetics are a disappointment.
This Thing is very obviously a guy in a rubber suit, and
it is distracting.
Director Tim Story isn't entirely to blame for the film's
tentative feel and herky-jerky flow. Story, who previously
directed such comedies as "Barbershop" and "Taxi," is saddled
with a script by Michael France and Mark Frost that is rife
with holes and corny contrivances. Fans who grew up with
these comic characters deserve better. Maybe they'll pull
this one from circulation and start again. Nah. I'm sure
the sequel is already under way.
FI/HORROR TRIPLE PACK
"Aliens," "The Entity," "The Fly"
In the case of "Aliens," never was a sequel so different
from its predecessor. Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" was a
methodically paced, grisly retelling of the B-movie classic
"It! The Terror From Beyond Space." It was a film that relished
detail, exploited lingering shots, mysterious sounds and
pregnant pauses. "Aliens," directed by James Cameron, is
a rip-snorting action machine, sort of "The Wild Bunch"
meets Bert I. Gordon's "The Beginning of the End." (I know
that's a strained comparison, but it's as close as I can
get at the moment.) It's peppered with the kind of ripe
cowboy dialogue that characterized "The Terminator," the
film that put Cameron on the map. And forget methodical
pacing and subtlety, showing the Alien minimally to maximize
tension. No, this movie is a shoot 'em up, and we see monsters
getting blasted and people being devoured. The characters
are two-dimensional. Given the breakneck development of
events, there simply isn't time to reveal them. They're
types, handy ciphers that we identify and follow easily,
yet there's just enough personality there for us to care
a little. There's the bluff but cowardly guy (Bill Paxton),
the butch girl Marine (Jenette Goldstein), the scheming
company man (Paul Reiser) and of course, Ripley, portrayed
by flinty, resolute Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role
from the original film. It's a far-from-perfect film, but
consider the Alien sequels that followed it. It looks mighty
fine when compared with those miscalculations.
"The Entity" is supposedly based on the true story of
a woman who was sexually assaulted by a supernatural presence.
Barbara Hershey plays the tormented victim who turns to
a team of parapsychologists, led by Ron Silver, to determine
the origin of the phenomenon and to prove that she isn't
losing her mind. Sure enough, they discover that she is
a demon magnet. A malicious spook is for some reason drawn
to her. In fact, it follows her to the home of a friend.
It even rides along in her car and tries to steer her off
the rode. The film is based on a novel by Frank De Felitta
that was allegedly inspired by true events (and has no doubt
been the subject a Discovery Channel documentary). Directed
by Sidney J. Furie, it's pretty standard -- if very unpleasant
-- material, derivative of "The Exorcist."
Cult-favorite director David Cronenberg's 1986 version
of "The Fly" is, well, it's interesting. Obviously us diehard
B-movie purists will want to compare it unfavorably to the
1958 original, but it would be like comparing the proverbial
apples and oranges -- very gruesome, very graphic oranges.
It's essentially the same story about a headstrong young
scientist determined to perfect a means for transporting
objects from one place to another by disintegrating and
reintegrating molecules. When a fly slips into the matter
transporter during an experiment, the human and fly genes
get scrambled and, well, you know how it turns out. Although
there's no topping the cast of the original shocker -- Al
(David) Hedison, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall -- Jeff
Goldblum is the absolute perfect choice to play a human
fly. He's quirky, disturbed, strange and impulsive, exhibiting
weird ticks and idiosyncrasies -- and that's BEFORE he becomes
a fly-man! His gradual transformation is depicted in sickening
detail, with Goldblum becoming quirkier and more disturbed
as time passes. Geena Davis plays Goldblum's paramour, a
reporter who gets to utter that hoary catchphrase, "Be afraid.
Be very afraid."
"20 Million Miles to Earth," "It Came From Beneath the Sea,"
"Earth vs. the Flying Saucers"
I'm so confused! How many Ray Harryhausen "special collector's
edition classic gift sets" are there? Aren't they beginning
to overlap, duplicate content and cancel each other out?
Are there any extras that we haven't seen umpteen times
already? This three-disc release from Sony just happens
to feature the B Monster's three favorite examples of the
stop-motion maestro's work.
"20 Million Miles to Earth" is easily the B Monster's
overall favorite Harryhausen film. Why? Could be the tender
age at which he originally saw it. Could be the innovative
creature design. Could be Nathan Juran's snappy direction.
Could be that the kid in me will never tire of seeing a
monster from Venus in a knockdown fistfight with a rampaging
elephant. Or it could be that it's just a darned-good thriller
in the tradition of Kong. The plot is wafer-thin, but that
same kid in me doesn't seem to care. The "creature in a
strange land" bit has rarely been better executed. The solid
cast, led by William Hopper and Joan Taylor, includes many
of our favorite B-movie faces, including Thomas Browne Henry
as the General (Morris Ankrum must have been booked), Arthur
Space as, appropriately, a rocket scientist, and Frank Puglia
as Dr. Leonardo.
The story bears recapping for B-movie newbies: Hopper's
spacecraft, returning from Venus, crash-lands in the Mediterranean.
A strange, Jell-O-like egg is salvaged from the wreckage
by a waif and finds its way into Puglia's possession. It
hatches, and the ghastly hatchling (dubbed "Ymir" by Harryhausen)
begins growing at an alarming rate. It doubles in size overnight,
escapes, and is soon terrifying the bucolic countryside,
setting the stage for some of Harryhausen's most convincing
effects (a barnyard pitchfork fight is a standout sequence).
The animation is rarely short of impressive and choosing
to stage the climax atop the Roman Coliseum was inspired.
Harryhausen gave his creature an oddly endearing personality,
and that's what makes the film work.
"It Came From Beneath the Sea" (1955) features the famous,
budget-crimped, six-legged octopus. Surely you've heard
the story of how production costs forced Harryhausen to
limit the number of his protagonist's extremities? But when
a giant octopus is ripping down the Golden Gate Bridge,
who really stops to count legs? Missing tentacles notwithstanding,
"It Came From Beneath The Sea" has much to recommend it.
It's tough to beat this B-movie cast: Kenneth Tobey as two-fisted
Navy man Pete Mathews, comely Faith Domergue as his ladylove
scientist, Donald Curtis and Harry Lauter. It's co-produced
by B king Sam Katzman and Harryhausen's longtime production
partner Charles H. Schneer, the team that was soon to produce
"Earth vs. the Flying Saucers." Director Robert Gordon does
a serviceable job. He had only a handful of films under
his belt when it was filmed, and went on to a prolific TV
career, helming episodes of "Bonanza," "Maverick," "My Friend
Flicka" and others. And the story springs from the prolific
pen of George Worthing Yates — make that George
Worthing "Them!," "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers," "Amazing
Colossal Man," "Space Master X-7," "War of the Colossal
Beast," "Flame Barrier," "Earth vs. the Spider," "Attack
of the Puppet People," "Tormented" Yates. Whoa! What a resume.
But, it goes without saying, Harryhausen's outsized octopus
is the real attraction, in all its cruiser-capsizing, girder-snapping
glory. I suppose it's a matter of personal context (i.e.
to what degree you've been spoiled by today's seamless CGI)
as to how well the stop-motion effects work holds up. Speaking
as one who first caught it on the late show as an impressionable
lad -- and reviews it in that context -- it holds up just
dandy. Today's computer stuff is slick, all right, but Harryhausen
focused on the personalities of his creations. From the
Ymir of "20 Million Miles to Earth," to the various denizens
that threatened Sinbad, the personal investment shows. Even
six, gnarled tentacles -- without benefit of a face to convey
menace -- are imbued with personality. (Why people on dry
land would run screaming from a water-bound creature is
grist for another discussion.)
There are so many reasons to watch "Earth vs. the Flying
Saucers," (1956) one of the most ambitious and enjoyable
alien invasion films of the 1950s. Watch it for the terrific
cast of B-movie stalwarts, including Hugh Marlowe, Joan
Taylor, John Zaremba and Larry Blake, with the added bonus
of having both Morris Ankrum AND Thomas Browne Henry, the
B's leading authority figures, as the General and the Admiral,
respectively. Watch it because it is one of the best examples
of producer Sam Katzman and director Fred Sears' teamwork.
Enjoy it for the sonorous, threatening tones of Paul Frees
as the voice of the alien invaders who are eventually revealed
to be tin-covered, wizened weaklings.
But the most compelling reason to partake is to experience
Harryhausen's enterprising and altogether convincing special
effects. Nearly 50 years have passed, and his are still
some of the most impressive flying saucers ever to spin.
The audacious climactic battle in Washington, D.C., wherein
authentic replications of landmarks and monuments are destroyed
by crashing alien craft, is still mind-blowing. When it
comes to guilty pleasures, watching the nation's Capitol
being obliterated by soaring saucers mounted with death
rays is tough to top. Though it is often overshadowed in
retrospectives by his subsequent work on "Jason and the
Argonauts" and "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," I'll cite
this singular saucer attack as my favorite Harryhausen-animated
sequence. Special effects aside, the film spins a compelling
tale, but Harryhausen makes it fly, pun intended. "Warning!
Take cover," the posters warned. "Flying saucers invade
our planet! Washington, London, Paris, Moscow fight back!"
What child (or inner child, as the case may be) can resist
Director Fred Sears capped his genre-movie career with
a pair of films -- "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" and "The
Giant Claw" -- produced by cut-rate impresario Katzman that
couldn't be more disparate in terms of quality. "Earth vs.
the Flying Saucers" is terrifically scary at times and an
unqualified success. Sadly, "The Giant Claw" is another
matter altogether. (Though stars Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday
keep straight faces throughout, nothing can distract viewers
from the stunning ineptitude of its titular menace, maybe
the most laughable monster in screen history.)
Among the extras included in this set are the documentary
"The Harryhausen Chronicles," the ubiquitous "This is Dynamation"
featurette that is attached to every Harryhausen-related
release, a featurette called "The Making of Earth vs. The
Flying Saucers," a photo gallery and original theatrical
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
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"Thrills come rocketing to the screen as science smashes
a new frontier!" -- Project Moon Base