Actor Dick Simmons, best known as "Sergeant Preston of the
Yukon," died of natural causes in Oceanside, Calif. He was
89. The "Sergeant Preston" TV series, chronicling the adventures
of a Yukon Mountie, his horse Rex and his dog Yukon King,
ran from 1955 to 1958. Prior to his television success,
Simmons appeared in bit parts and uncredited roles in dozens
of pictures including "Sergeant York," "Stand By For Action,"
"Seven Sweethearts," "Thousands Cheer" and "Rear Window."
Simmons also turned up in many of MGM's long-running series
that featured Dr. Gillespie, Andy Hardy and Maisie. It was
said that Louis B. Mayer approached Simmons about a career
in pictures after seeing him breaking horses in Palm Springs.
Simmons struggled in small roles before the "Sergeant Preston"
program began on radio in 1947, the creation of George W.
Trendle, creator of "The Lone Ranger" and "The Green Hornet."
The television version, while short-lived, was wildly popular,
spawning all manner of merchandising tie-ins including games,
gadgets, even deeds to one-square-inch of Yukon land. There
was even a Klondike Land Pouch, which contained actual soil.
All are valued by collectors today. Billed later in his
career as Richard Simmons, the actor finished out his career
with parts in such films as "The Devil's Brigade," "Robin
and the 7 Hoods" and "Lassie's Great Adventure." His final
appearance was in the 1977 telefilm "Don't Push, I'll Charge
When I'm Ready."
Comedian and paddle-ball expert, Reggie Rymal, who was featured
in the Warner Bros. 3D shocker, "House Of Wax," died following
a heart attack in La Habra Calif. He was 81. Rymal was an
entertainer and comedian in the early 1950s and was well
known for his paddle-ball skills. He performed standup comedy
and paddle-ball at hotels around the country. He appeared
on many television shows during the early days of TV including
"The Eddie Cantor Show," "You Asked For It," "Ladies Choice"
and "The Steve Allen Show." But he is best remembered for
his paddle-ball act in "House Of Wax." In the 3D film, Rymal's
paddle-balls seem to jump off the screen.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
ALL THOSE IN AGREEMENT SAY, "BAA, BAA!"
Are you a movie sheep, mindlessly grazing on whatever Hollywood
deems profitable fodder? Exactly why do people continue
to plunk down millions of dollars to see crappy movies?
Here's Robert Bucksbaum, president of Reel Source, an organization
that tracks the habits of moviegoers, as quoted in the Washington
Post: "Movie studios are doing it right; they are giving
the public what they want to see. They're not trying to
be creative and tiptoe around; they're force-feeding the
public the same reinvented themes over and over -- it's
either Cinderella, like 'Greek Wedding,' or the popcorn,
testosterone movies for the young adults -- and you can't
blame them, because that's what people want to see." Wow,
I guess he's right. Those studios know me better than I
know myself! They KNEW I wanted to see "The Adventures of
Pluto Nash." They were right on the money with "Freddy Got
Fingered" and "Formula 51." And NOTHING could stop me from
seeing "Autumn in New York!" But even more important than
their uncanny ability to read our thoughts is the fact that
"they're not trying to be creative." You heard it from Reel
Source. "They're not trying to be creative." It's right
there in the Washington Post. "They're not trying to be
creative." I feel so much better now that that's out in
COMING CONS: PART ONE
It's never too soon to get the jump on the upcoming genre-film
conventions, so let's leap into summer with news of Monster
Bash, The International Classic Monster Movie Convention
and Expo 2003 presented by Scary Monsters Magazine and Creepy
Classics Video & DVD. This year's guest roster is an impressive
one. Leading the list is Julie Adams, best known to horror
fans as the original object of the Creature's lust. Ms.
Adams rarely makes public appearances, so avail yourself
of this opportunity to see her paired once more with the
Gill Man himself, big Ben Chapman.
Also in attendance will be:
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" star, Kevin McCarthy
Boris' beloved offspring, Sara Karloff
Yvonne Monlaur of "Circus of Horrors" and "Brides of Dracula"
Original Monster Kid and horror preservationist Bob Burns
(who'll be accompanied by the armature skeleton of King
Kong used in the original film)
Regional horror hosts Chilly Billy Cardille and Dr. Gangrene
The Madame Tussaud of monster fandom, Cortlandt Hull, along
with full size figures from his Witches Dungeon museum
Monster Kid webmaster and illustrator extraordinaire, Kerry
Filmmaker Robert Tinnell Effects ace Tom Savini
Artist Frank Dietz
Authors Frank Dello Stritto, Tom Weaver and many others
And, in addition to near-round-the-clock screenings of
classic films, there will be a "'King Kong' Show and Tell"
hosted by Bob Burns, a Q&A session with Kevin McCarthy,
a 3-D screening of "It Came From Outer Space," and on Sunday,
according to promoters, "for those Catholic Monster Bashers,
so you don't have to go out looking for a church, Father
Michael Paraniuk will perform mass in the movie room (really!).
All denominations welcome." Conventioneers are likewise
happy to proclaim that "this is a family show with kids
under 12 admitted FREE with adult. There will be Monster
Kids at events and programming!" It all happens June 20,
21, 22, 2003 at the Days Inn Conference Center in beautiful
Butler, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh.
For more info, check out: http://www.creepyclassics.com/bash.html
Tell 'em, without hesitation, that the B Monster sent you!
COMING CONS: PART TWO
The Monster-Mania Con, billed as "Three Days of Sheer Terror,"
is touted by promoters as "the First Annual Philadelphia
Area Horror Film and Memorabilia Convention." Once again,
the feature attractions are lovely Julie Adams and her Black
Lagoon paramour, Ben Chapman. There is also a special tribute
to Peter Cushing planned with recollections from Cushing
co-stars, Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson and Yvonne Monlaur.
Other guests include:
Doug Bradley, Pinhead of "Hellraiser" fame
Eddie Munster himself, Butch Patrick
Scream queen Linnea Quigley
Stephen Chiodo, director of "Killer Klowns From Outer Space"
Illustrator Vincent DiFate, and more.
Screenings include a host of Hammer horrors, Tod Browning's
"Freaks," "Return of the Living Dead," "Clash of the Titans,"
"Mad Monster Party?" and a 3-D showing of the "Creature
From the Black Lagoon" hosted by the "reel" Gill Man, Ben
Chapman. The show gets under way Sept. 26 at the Clarion
Hotel and Conference Center in lovely Cherry Hill, N.J.
For more details, visit: http://www.monstermania.net
COMING CONS: PART THREE
The folks at Midnight Marquee Press plan on tossing TWO
cons in the coming months. Son of Fanex happens April 11-13,
2003 at the Days Hotel Timonium just outside Baltimore,
Maryland's "Charm City." The featured guest will be Hammer
horror star Edward deSouza featured in such films as "Kiss
of the Vampire" and "Phantom of the Opera." Then, August
1-3, it's Fanex 17. The Midmar folks entreat fans to "help
us celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Midnight Marquee!"
This seventeenth gathering of the genre-film faithful will
feature the usual rare films, panel discussions, guest Q&As
and memorabilia dealer's room, "plus a few special surprises."
Like Son of Fanex, the Days Hotel Timonium will host the
To find out more, go to: http://www.midmar.com/filmfest.html
THE RASH OF CONS!
If vintage horror just ain't your thing, fear not. Somewhere
on God's earth there's a convention for you. For instance,
you could visit balmy Orlando, Fla., home of MegaCon 2003,
billed as "three days of the Southeast's premier comic book,
gaming, sci-fi, fantasy, anime, multimedia event of the
year!" (I guess that covers everything). It's aimed primarily
at the comics crowd with a guest list longer than Bullwinkle's
"itty, bitty card." But for our money, the standouts are
Kathy Garver (Cissy of ³Family Affair² fame), "M*A*S*H's"
Klinger, Jamie Farr, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig
("Star Trek's" Uhura and Chekov, respectively), David "Darth
Vader" Prowse, Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew and Gary Lockwood
of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Geek fix still not sated? Ashford, Kent in the U.K. will
host Redemption '03, "Celebrating 25 Years of Blake's 7
and 10 Years of Babylon 5!" Guests include Chris Boucher,
Damian London, Mike Collins and Tanith Lee. Promoters promise,
"talks, videos, games, workshops, discos, competitions for
fan writing, fancy dress and anything else we can think
of!" The show has raised money for The National Asthma Campaign
and The Woodland Trust, so, smile when you call them nerds.
While you're in England, drop in on the Starfleet Ball.
"We aim to provide the very best in fan-run sci-fi events
in the south of England," promoters proclaim. "We are a
non-profit organization and all money raised (over and above
our running costs) is donated to our supported charity,"
in this case, the Macmillan Cancer Relief Trust. (Is this
charity angle unique to Britain? In any event, we applaud
them and encourage Ameri-Cons to follow the example.) Guests
include "Star Trek's" George Takei, the "Next Generation's"
Deanna Troi, Tony Amendola of "Stargate SG:1" and Alexandra
Tydings of "Xena."
"Xena" too "mainstream" for you? "Blake's 7" too esoteric?
Well, there's also Branscon, Johncon, Visioncon, Shevacon
(I swear, these are all real), PrezCon, Radcon, Orcon, Capricon
-- and that's just February! So don't hand us that "disenfranchised-outsider-just-don't-fit-in-anyplace"
routine. It sounds like a con job.
And as long as you're making your convention plans so far
in advance, why not flip the calendar to 2004? That's what
Hollywood hypemeisters are doing, specifically when it comes
to touting sci-fi-themed fare. The trend started in earnest
when Sony started hyping a 2004 "Spider-Man" sequel while
the original 2001 film was still in theaters. Other 2004
releases already being promoted include Universal's Gothic
shocker, "Van Helsing," which will bow May 21, and Fox's
sci-fi thriller "Tomorrow," opening May 28. Paramount's
"Mission: Impossible 3" opens Memorial Day followed in June
by "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." And Lucas
lovers might as well reserve a spot on the sidewalk now,
as the next "Star Wars" saga opens Memorial Day 2005, with
a fourth Indiana Jones film to follow later that summer.
Why is the advance word so, well, advance? According to
Variety, it's to minimize, "financial risk, [show] a commitment
to talent and [avoid] direct competition with other big-budget
projects." C'mon! It's so moviegoers can plan vacations
and holiday celebrations around the movies. It's only a
matter of time before you'll be able to reserve release
dates to coincide with your family's special occasions.
"Matrix 8: Commemorating the 35th Wedding Anniversary of
Bert and Ethel Fleckman."
KEEP WATCHING THE WEB!
We told you it was in the works last summer, and Bob Burns'
incredible live re-creation of the crushing climax of the
1951 classic "The Thing From Another World" was the resounding
Halloween success we predicted it would be. For those unable
to attend this incredible live spook show, primo illustrator
and Monster Kid webmeister Kerry Gammill provides an invaluable
service; the latest addition to the Monster Kid site includes
an eye-popping account of the event showcasing loads of
color pics. We won't even try to describe the Burns show;
the dedication, the authenticity, the craftsmanship. See
for yourself! Monster Kid's coverage is the next best thing
to being there.
Be sure and tell Count Gamula the B Monster sent you!
MUMY'S BACK IN THE "ZONE"
As part of the revived "Twilight Zone" series airing on
UPN, Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman will reprise roles they
originally played in 1959 in a sequel to the classic "It's
a Good Life" episode wherein Mumy played a strange boy with
the power to wish away disagreeable adults. Mumy's real-life
daughter, Liliana, will play the daughter of his original
character, Anthony Fremont. The premise finds Freemont's
offspring developing her own terrifying powers. The program
is slated to air sometime this month.
AMC YOU LATER
Nothing quite raised the hackles of B Monsterites like our
justified assertion some months back that AMC had simply
abandoned their mission as champions of classic American
films. Readers concurred unanimously. Why has AMC deserted
its post and junked their longstanding business model? A
bit of dander was also raised at a recent Winter TV Press
Tour when AMC's programming senior vice president, Rob Sorcher,
simply refused to entertain the question. Sorcher told the
press that AMC has been attracting droves of younger viewers
since they began spicing their more contemporary movie fare
with innumerable commercial breaks hawking snazzy yuppie
products. He provided no numbers but ... In 2000, AMC attracted
351,000 viewers age 25-54. In 2002, the number was 341,000.
That would be less. Likewise, in 2000, there were 499,000
viewers 50 and older. In 2002, there were 444,000. What's
THEY COULDN'T PRINT IT IF IT WASN'T TRUE
In a recent cover story, Newsweek magazine, renowned for
their two-fisted reporting and hard-hitting investigative
journalism, proclaimed 2003 "The Year of The Matrix." That's
right, even as the U.S. teeters on the brink of war, rogue
nations develop nuclear weapons and the economy sinks to
near Depression-era lows, Newsweek's focus at the start
of 2003 is a Keanu Reeves movie. One day, you can proudly
tell your grandchildren how, amid ongoing corporate scandal,
crumbling faith in the Catholic church, the AIDS epidemic
and the daily threat of terrorist attacks, the media stood
proud and helped us celebrate "The Year of The Matrix,"
championing a violent, cynical film depicting a dismal future
bereft of hope -- that you had to pay ten dollars to see.
The B Monster must really be out of the loop; turns out
that 2002 was the year of "The Country Bears," while 2001
was the year of "Pootie Tang." That Pulitzer is a lock,
HAUNTING THE HEARTLAND
They may be airing at odd hours and finding homes on cable
access stations, but it appears the Horror Movie Host phenomenon
is alive and thriving in the USA. For instance, Channel
16, in Hammond, Indiana, offers Graveyard Theatre, screening
classic horror movies every Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. A
going concern for several years now, the show is hosted
by a shrouded spook called Laslo, who, according to the
official Website, "was raised from the grave by the sexy
vampire demon Demonica. Each week, a new movie is brought
from the dungeon by the wacky neighbor Rinfield." The program's
setting is a creepy castle and, in the grand tradition of
monstrous movie emceeing, the occasional comic skit finds
its way into the mix, as well as a "Mail Call" segment and
the "Monster Hobby Corner," a "show-and-tell segment where
fans can come into the castle and brag about their horror-related
hobbies and collections." Recent special guests have included
other regional horror hosts, such as Count Gore Devol, of
Washington D.C., Nashville's Dr. Gangrene, and West Coast
favorite Bob Wilkins. Films recently screened include "Attack
of the Crab Monsters," "Black Sabbath," "The Corpse Vanishes"
and "The Vampire Bat."
To find out more, visit: http://www.angelfire.com/movies/graveyardtheatre/
Naturally, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
THESE CHARACTERS RANK
SFX magazine polled their readers to determine who were
the top 10 science-fiction characters of all time. The results
are as follows:
1. Doctor Who
2. Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
3. Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
4. John Crichton (Farscape)
5. Aeryn Sun (Farscape)
6. Han Solo (the Star Wars saga)
7. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
8. Darth Vader
9. Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
10. Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
At the risk of showing our age, we'll admit we've never
even heard of numbers four and five, but understand they
appear on a show airing on the Sci Fi Channel. And with
the exceptions of Doctor Who, Han Solo and Darth Vader,
the remainder of the list is composed of Gothic fantasy-derived
characters. With this scattershot criteria in mind, we'd
like to submit some recommendations to SFX readers: There's
this book called "Frankenstein," (I think they made it into
a movie), and its protagonist might qualify for your top
10. And an author named Verne created a character or two
-- Captain Nemo, Phileas Fogg -- who might make the cut.
And seeing as how Eastern European folklore and futuristic
fiction are co-mingled in contemporary pop culture, we'll
tout the work of a fellow named Stoker who cooked up a humdinger
of a neck-biter "back in the day," as you crazy kids might
say. You might also want to research a pair of space explorers
named Buck and Flash, who had an influence on the genre's
development not to be underestimated. But, all we can do
is recommend, and respect your assertion that, in all the
history of science fiction and Gothic horror -- Poe, Verne,
Wells, Stoker, "Doc" Smith, Doc Savage, Campbell, Lovecraft,
Burroughs, John Carter, Buck Rogers, Bradbury, Montag, Frankenstein,
Superman, Quatermass, Klaatu, Gort, Serling and Robby --
the greatest character in the history of the genre is ...
sigh ... Doctor Who.
WHO RACKED UP RONDOS?
Forget the Emmys, the Oscars, the Tonys and the Phoneys.
The results of the first annual Classic Horror Film Message
Board Rondo Awards are in: One hundred and ninety-six fans
cast their ballots in a wide range of genre-film-related
Best genre-film of 2002: "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"
Best TV Presentation: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Best DVD of 2002: "Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon"
Best Restoration: "London After Midnight," "Metropolis"
Book of the Year: "Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming
of Night of the Hunter," by Preston Jones
Article of the Year: Kay Linaker, by Tom Weaver for Video
Watchdog (Tom also finished second in this category!)
Magazine of the Year: Video Watchdog
Convention of the Year: Monster Bash
Fan Event of the Year: Bob Burns' Halloween Re-creation
of "The Thing"
Classic Most in Need of a DVD Release: "King Kong"
Writer of the Year: Tom Weaver (with over a third of the
Best Other Horror Board: Kerry Gammill's Monster Kid (Kerry's
dedication is most worthy of this recognition).
We nominated Tom Weaver for a Lifetime Achievement Award,
but he may be too young for our suggestion to be taken seriously.
Notwithstanding, thanks, David Colton, for initiating the
poll, tabulating the votes and presenting the results. Give
yourself a Rondo!
NEW ON DVD
The pretense is that "Destination Mars!" is a "lost" film,
produced in 1956 by an eccentric producer/director, and
rescued from obscurity by the producers of this package.
With that in mind, you'll find this film to be either ...
A: A loving homage to the low-budget sci-fi films of the
B: An insulting lampoon of the low-budget sci-fi films of
the 1950s I'm not quite sure which option they were going
for. Maybe both?
Suppose it's option A: A lot of work went into parsing
the Ed Woodian dialogue and re-creating the flimsy sets
displayed in so many grade Z movies of the period. The melodramatic
music, while sounding a tad too electronic, is reminiscent
of vintage shockers. They've even bothered to add hissing
to the soundtrack and scratches to the film. The plot is
distilled from sources including Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer
Space" (of course), "Cat-Women of the Moon," "Devil Girl
From Mars" and others. Does it evoke happy memories of these
and other films? It's hit and miss.
On to option B: Purists will hate it for many of the same
reasons they take issue with "Mystery Science Theater 3000"
and all those who consider themselves connoisseurs of bad
cinema. It's just too easy to laugh up our sleeves at the
Ed Woods, Phil Tuckers and other easy targets. "Destination
Mars!" can be seen as far too snide to appeal to the people
who really care about vintage films. And it is unduly cynical
to sit back and laugh at 1950s naiveté when 20 or so years
from now, junk like "The Matrix" and "Pitch Black" will
be ripe for the same type of skewering owing to their nihilism.
So, does "Destination Mars!" succeed at being a tongue-in-cheek
con job, a new film masquerading as a decades-old treasure?
I think it stood a chance, but the filmmakers commit a fatal
blunder: The film begins with a mockumentary wherein the
making of the "lost" film is chronicled, the fates of those
involved is divulged, and surviving relatives and crewmembers
are interviewed. There's some funny -- albeit dark -- stuff
here. But by the time this intro is concluded, we've gotten
the joke. The film itself is pointless. The humor is in
the fake back-story. The forced ineptitudes of the "discovered"
film just aren't very funny. If it's an, homage, it's laudable.
If it's a satire, it's a failure. The problem with the film
is that it doesn't seem to know which it wants to be.
Janusz Kaminski, is a brilliant, Oscar-winning cinematographer
("Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List"). Why he chose
as his directorial debut this derivative, half-baked thriller
is anyone's guess. There is absolutely nothing new brought
to this oft-visited table. It's tired stuff about the offspring
of Satan and the hour when he will be made manifest and
all that other Gothic gobbledygook you've seen in a hundred
other movies. (Oh, God, when will this pop-culture fascination
with the devil be over?) Add to these clichés' frustrating,
dangling story threads and plot holes bigger than the yawning
mouth of Hell.
"Lost Souls," produced, incidentally, by Meg Ryan (!) stars
Wynona Ryder and John Hurt and it is a good-looking movie
-- provided you really, really like sepia. Darned near every
scene takes place in a brownish dry-ice fog. And Kaminski's
camera meanders through scenes to no apparent purpose. People
simply entering a room do so in super-slow motion, the camera
shooting from the floor and panning up their pant legs.
Why? These distractions are insurmountable and rob the film
of any tension. It's like a big, beige Calvin Klein ad starring
Satan. We've seen "The Exorcist." Can we please move on?
We've never known quite what to make of this Japanese-American
co-production. It is by turns very silly and very disturbing,
making it difficult to determine whether it is an effective
thriller or a freakish oddity. It was filmed in Japan, produced
and co-directed by George Breakston, a one-time child actor
whose many credits include the role of Beezy in several
of the Andy Hardy pictures. The lead role of American newspaperman
Larry Stanford is assayed by Peter Dyneley, a British actor
who provided the voice of Jeff Tracy for the "Thunderbirds"
sci-fi marionette series.
The plot concerns Stanford, on assignment in Japan to study
the eccentric scientist Dr. Suzuki, who is conducting suspicious
experiments in his cloistered mountain laboratory. The mad
doc keeps his wife, subject of one of his failed experiments,
locked in a cage. He seems sincerely to regret what he's
done to her while at the same time appreciating her contribution
to scientific advancement.
Suzuki realizes that the Yank reporter is the perfect
guinea pig for his new serum, and he injects the unsuspecting
scribe who, before long, is displaying some decidedly aggressive
tendencies toward the opposite sex. This is puzzling enough,
but nothing compared with the eyeball growing on his shoulder,
which, by the film's climax, matures into a full, ape-like
head. Evidently, Breakston and screenwriter Walter Sheldon
thought this wasn't going far enough, so they have their
protagonist and his conjoined ape alter ego simply split
into two separate beings. (Imagine, a full grown ape-man
springing from your shoulder! Yuck!) And, believe it or
not, we haven't given away the ending! In summation, "The
Manster" is unconvincing yet somehow revolting, which makes
it worth seeing -- at least once.
REIGN OF FIRE
Really cool-looking dragons are taking over the world. How
did the makers of this film screw up such a simple pretense?
We're about 70 minutes into "Reign of Fire," when Matthew
McConaughey's character explains why the movie should have
concluded an hour and 10 minutes earlier. According to McConaughey,
there's one Daddy dragon fathering all the others. All they
gotta do is kill the Daddy and NO MORE DRAGONS! Why no one
realized this before isn't adequately explained. But the
dragons do look really cool. Following a short prologue
wherein the Papa dragon is unearthed, we see the hand of
some unknown person busily scribbling in a diary superimposed
over newspaper headlines, magazine articles, devastated
landscapes -- even 50-year-old footage of atomic bomb blasts
-- accompanied by a voiceover describing -- not SHOWING
-- how the dragons multiplied, spread like the plague, wiped
out armies, leveled entire countries. Hot damn! THAT'S a
movie I want see! Show us the mobilizing forces, the sweep
of destruction, the hordes of dragons breathing fiery death
on all mankind. Unfortunately, this all happens off camera,
summed up in a montage that lasts about a minute.
Instead, the film centers on a ragtag band of British survivors
led by Christian Bale who are holed up in a burned out castle,
isolated from whatever may be left of the human race, battling
the errant dragon that may threaten their charred abode.
And the dragons DO look cool. One day, along comes grizzled
American army officer Matthew McConaughey with tanks, a
helicopter, a small band of G.I.s and Izabella Scorupco
as the hottest, Slavic-accented female chopper pilot in
the U.S. military. There's tension, there's in-fighting,
there's a hint of romance, and the dragons look really cool.
For those of you contemplating military service, McConaughey
represents, we suppose, the G.I. of the future, sporting
a sleeveless leather vest with a furry collar, a shaved
head, swirly tattoos covering his arms, back and chest,
and, though he drives a tank, in lieu of the traditional
military sidearm, he carries a medieval battle axe wherever
he goes. Contradicting his ultra-macho appearance, McConaughey
whispers all of his lines, while Bale bellows all of his
at the top of his lungs. You can't understand either of
them, but that doesn't really matter because the dragons
look really cool.
The film was directed by "X Files" veteran, Rob Bowman
who, I guess, had this great idea about cool-looking dragons
and went looking for a movie to stick them in. What he ended
up with was a film that was just successful enough with
fantasy geeks to perhaps spawn a direct-to-video sequel
or maybe a Sci Fi Channel cable series. The DVD extras include
two "making of" featurettes, which pay scant attention to
the story, focusing heavily on how, using computers, they
made those dragons look so doggone cool. One effects technician
relates how they tried to make the monsters look really
"manevolent" (sic) while another describes their appearance
as a cross between, "a snake, a hawk and a bird." (REALLY
We'll start with our favorite scene in "Predator:" Arnold
Schwarzenegger and his military strike force land in the
Central American jungle and proceed to storm a rebel base.
It's a slam-bang opening: machine guns rattling, rockets
firing, bodies and blood flying, an explosion every two
seconds. The commandos kick down the door of the rebel leader's
office and, lo and behold, there's the leader and an assistant
calmly going through some paperwork. Evidently, the thatched
grass walls of their bungalow have been soundproofed. They've
heard none of the commotion outside and are taken completely
by surprise! We don't demand literacy and credibility from
a film about an invisible hunter from space stalking a group
of soldiers through the jungle, but that's a storytelling
gaff that should have been caught in the first draft.
The plot, as summarized in the previous sentence, is no
great shakes. It's "Alien" in the jungle, with victims --
including "Rocky's" Apollo Creed, Carl Weathers and the
outgoing governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura -- picked
off one by one. Director John McTiernan went on to foster
the "Die Hard" franchise, and the tone of those films is
not markedly different from "Predator," filled with manipulative
violence that will please a very forgiving, undiscriminating
crowd. Worth noting is the look of the Predator: an offbeat
variation on your typical alien -- sort of a lobster-faced
muscle man with a Rastafarian hairdo. The movie made money
and spawned a sequel as well as all manner of merchandising,
including toys, video games and comics -- excuse me -- "graphic
Publisher, author and film historian Bob Madison offers
the following erudite review:
THE LOST WORLD
Conan Doyle created an entire genre in 1912 with the publication
of his science fiction adventure classic "The Lost World."
It featured the author's favorite creation: the violent,
swaggering, conceited Professor Challenger. Doyle so loved
Challenger that his publisher had to convince the author
that it would be a bad idea to illustrate the book with
photos of Doyle in full Challenger costume!
The influence of "The Lost World" and Challenger have been
felt in science fiction and films ever since. Challenger
is the forerunner of many a science fiction protagonist,
most notably the crusty Professor Quatermass, and "The Lost
World" has been imitated by writers as diverse as Edgar
Rice Burroughs and Italo Calvino. ("Lost World" has become
such a shorthand phrase for this type of story, that it
can be argued that Doyle created and named a whole genre
with this tale.)
Such a heady mix of dinosaurs, explorers and uncharted
jungles has been a natural for movies. The first film version
of "The Lost World" was produced in 1925, with Wallace Beery
as Challenger. The film departed from Doyle's original in
providing a love interest and having the explorers return
to London with a brontosaur. Dinosaur effects were by stop
motion animation giant Willis O¹Brien, and they thrill to
this day. This version won Doyle's unqualified praise and
is the yardstick by which later (and lesser) versions are
The recent television mini-series of "The Lost World"
has just been released on DVD. Like the 1925 version, the
film includes a love interest, this one a plucky missionary's
daughter. And while it is not a patch on the silent classic,
it is a competent period thriller with plenty of fun moments
and a real Victorian flavor. It easily could have been edited
to a more compact form and distributed as a theatrical film
-- it's that good. Of course, the film takes liberties with
Doyle's story. The missionary, Rev. Theo Kerr, played by
Peter Falk, is an interesting, if useless, addition to the
film. It is Kerr's panic at the thought of proof for the
evolutionary theory that strands our adventures on the plateau
of dinosaurs. The problem is not that the addition makes
bad sense -- but the screenplay never develops this opposition
to evolution to create dramatic frisson.
Also, Challenger, a devoted family man with an equally
eccentric wife in the novel, is made a lonely bachelor here,
while Summerlee, pretty much a cipher in the book, becomes
a semi-heroic family man almost as interesting as Challenger.
However, despite these changes, "The Lost World" is surprisingly
faithful to Doyle's novel in incident and, most importantly,
spirit. There is considerable padding before Challenger
and company make it to the Lost World, but once there, the
film takes off. The dinosaur effects are believable and
exciting, and there are two set pieces -- a visit to the
pterodactyl rookery and the dinosaur attack on the native
village -- that are two of the best sequences I've ever
seen in this type of picture. The end is true to Doyle with
one improvement. Challenger and company return with a pterodactyl.
(News of the discovery of the Lost World promises to be
"the biggest thing to hit the country since Buffalo Bill
Cody.") Once the pterodactyl escapes from the British Museum
lecture hall, Summerlee and reporter Malone convince Challenger
to declare the whole thing a hoax. Doyle's Challenger would've
probably broken both of their necks for making the suggestion,
but the more enlightened Challenger of today concedes.
The cast is uniformly fine with the exception of Bob Hoskins'
Challenger. He lacks the character's egomania and penchant
for violence; in fact, at times, Hoskins strives more to
be cute than challenging. James Fox provides the film's
best performance as Summerlee, and Tom Ward makes a credible
Roxton, the celebrated hunter along for the ride. Falk's
role is little more than a scene-stealing cameo, but it's
effective despite the poor conception of the character.
Matthew Rhys is all fresh-faced innocence as Malone. Director
Stuart Orme's "The Lost World" is on par with many of the
adaptations of Victorian sci-fi classics from the '60s (think
"Master of the World" and "Journey to the Center of the
Earth") and, as such, is worthy of attention.
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, 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 fire-spitting monster predicted in the Bible!" --
The Giant Behemoth