Legendary science fiction illustrator and Mad magazine cover
artist Frank Kelly Freas died in Los Angeles. He was 82.
Freas' career as a science fiction artist began in 1950.
His most recent work appeared in the April 2002 issue of
Analog magazine and in an illustrated edition of George
Orwell's "Animal Farm." His art graced myriad pulp and paperback
covers, album and CD jackets and the noses of WW II bombers.
He famously illustrated stories by the best-known authors
in the science fiction field including Robert Heinlein,
Isaac Asimov, A.E. Van Vogt, Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke,
and Poul Anderson. Freas collected a total of 11 Hugo Awards
for his work. He rendered many of Mad magazine's most memorable
covers from 1955-1962. Freas was also an official NASA mission
artist. Examples of his NASA work hang in the Smithsonian
in Washington, D.C. The crew of Skylab 1 commissioned Freas
to design their official mission patch.
Freas was born in New York and raised in Canada. He settled
in Pittsburgh following a tour in the army, and studied
at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. A friend encouraged
Freas to submit artwork to Weird Tales. The magazine purchased
the art, and Freas decided to pursue a career as an illustrator.
His work appeared in all of the major science fiction pulp
magazines, and Freas received back-to-back Hugo Awards for
Best Professional Artist in 1955 and '56. He repeated the
achievement in 1958 and '59. He won five consecutively in
1972-76. In 1971, he published "The Astounding Fifties,"
a collection of the black and white illustrations he rendered
for Astounding magazine. Freas also published three illustrated
memoirs, "Frank Kelly Freas: The Art of Science Fiction"
in 1977, "Frank Kelly Freas: A Separate Star" in 1984 and
"Frank Kelly Freas: As He Sees It," co-written with his
wife, artist Laura Brodian Freas, in 2000. In 2001, Freas
received the Chesley Award for Artistic Achievement, bestowed
by the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists.
If you'll indulge a personal digression, I'll point out
that Kelly illustrated a cover for "Steve Conley's Astounding
Space Thrills," which featured a Crater Kid story by the
B Monster. I was honored to be associated with one of the
dean's of science fiction illustration.
Actor Cal Bolder, best known to cult-movie fans as the bald, brawny creation of Frankenstein's offspring in the campy 1966 shocker "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," died of cancer. He was 74. Bolder was born Earl Craver in Elkhart, Kansas. He served in the Marine Corp during the Korean conflict before settling in Los Angeles where he served as a police officer for 14 years. An agent whom Bolder had ticketed for speeding suggested that the handsome, muscular officer pursue an acting career. Bolder followed his advice and was soon appearing in small parts is such TV series as "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," "Honey West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." In "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," Bolder played Hank Tracy, a cowpoke transformed by Maria Frankenstein into the monstrous Igor. Bolder appeared in just four feature films before retiring from acting in the late 1960s. He moved to Washington state where he took up writing. His first novel, a crime thriller called "The Last Reunion," was published under the name E.C. Craver.
Renowned cartoonist Will Eisner died at Florida Medical
Center of complications from quadruple bypass heart surgery.
He was 87. Eisner's comic strip "The Spirit" figured prominently
in the evolution of graphic storytelling. His graphic novels,
including "A Contract with God" and "The Building," influenced
a generation of comic storytellers. Eisner was born in Brooklyn
in 1917, the son of Jewish immigrants. He began his comics
career in the 1930s. The stable of illustrators he oversaw
with partner Jerry Iger featured many of the finest illustrators
working in comics. "The Spirit," which debuted in 1940 and
featured more adult themes and characters than the typical
comic book of the era, was a comics supplement to Sunday
newspapers. At the height of its popularity, it was featured
in 20 papers with a circulation of 5 million. "I had been
producing comic books for 15-year-old cretins from Kansas,''
Eisner once told The Associated Press. "The Spirit," Eisner
said, was aimed at "a 55-year-old who had his wallet stolen
on the subway."
During World War II, Eisner produced instructional comics
for G.I.s featuring the character "Joe Dope." He returned
to the Spirit following the war and founded the American
Visuals Corporation, creating educational and commercial
art. In recent years, Eisner became one of the most celebrated
figures in the comics field. His graphic novels "The Dreamer,"
"To the Heart of the Storm" and the recently published "Fagin
the Jew," were highly regarded, as was his influential instructional
treatise "Comics and Sequential Art." The comic industry
awards, The Eisners, are named for him.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
Who gives a hoot about those phony baloney Oscars? It's
Rondo time again. The nominees for the Third Annual Rondo
Hatton Classic Horror Awards, recognizing the best work
in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation,
have been posted. The voting is open to all. It's your opportunity
to show an assembled cult-film fandom that you're paying
attention. All voting is by e-mail only to
email@example.com . Voting will end at midnight, the night
of Saturday, Feb. 19. Winners will be announced the following
night. According to Rondo organizer David Colton, "Write-ins
are accepted. We discourage any organized voting efforts,
including multiple blind votes or electronic duplicates.
Every e-mail must include your name to help prevent organized
voting campaigns. All votes are kept strictly confidential
and will be tallied by David Colton. No e-mail addresses or any personal information
will ever be shared with anyone." And the nominees are:
-- "Alien vs. Predator"
-- "Dawn of the Dead"
-- "Day After Tomorrow"
-- "The Forgotten"
-- "The Grudge"
-- "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
-- "The Incredibles"
-- "I, Robot"
-- "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra"
-- "Open Water"
-- "Phantom of the Opera" (musical)
-- "Shaun of the Dead"
-- "Sky Captain and the world of Tomorrow"
-- "Spider-Man 2"
-- "Van Helsing"
-- "The Village"
Best Television Presentation
-- Angel: "Not Fade Away"
-- Enterprise: "Awakening"
-- Farscape: "The Peacekeeper Wars"
-- The 4400: "Pilot"
-- "Frankenstein" (Hallmark Network)
-- Lost: "Pilot"
-- "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments" (Bravo)
-- Smallville: "Crusade"
Best Classic DVD
-- "Creature From the Black Lagoon: Legacy Collection"
-- "Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Collection" (1978)
-- "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" ('32 and '41 versions)
-- "Eyes Without a Face"
-- "Hound of the Baskervilles," "Adventures of Sherlock
-- "House of Dracula" (Dracula Legacy Collection)
-- "Invisible Man: Legacy Collection"
-- "Jonny Quest" Collection
-- "M" (Criterion)
-- "The Man Who Changed His Mind" (Karloff, 1936)
-- Tarzan Collection (MGM)
-- "Testament of Dr. Mabuse"
-- "Twilight Zone: Season One"
-- "Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland"
-- "Woman in the
-- "Boris Karloff: A Man Remembered," by Gordon B. Shriver
-- "Christopher Lee Filmography," by Tom Johnson and Mark
-- "Godzilla On My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters,"
by William Tsutsui
-- "Hollywood Gothic" (Faber and Faber, revised), by David
-- "Human Monsters: The Definitive Edition," by Michael
H. Price and George E. Turner
-- "In All Sincerity, Peter Cushing," by Christopher Gullo
-- "Jekyll and Hyde Dramatized: The 1887 Richard Mansfield
Script," edited by Martin A. Danahay and Alexander Chisholm.
Tracing a rarity.
-- "Peter Cushing: Midnight Marquee Actors Series," edited
by Anthony Ambrogio
-- "Profondo Argento," by Alan Jones
-- "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," by Ray Harryhausen
and Tony Dalton
-- "Smirk, Sneer and Scream," by Mark Clark
-- "Space patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early
Television," by Jean-Noel Bassior
-- "Up From the Vaults: Rare Thrillers of the '20s and '30s,"
by John T. Soister
-- "A Vault of Horror: A Book of 80 Great British Horror
Movies From 1956-1974," by Keith Topping
-- "Worlds of Tomorrow: The Amazing Universe of Science
Fiction Art," by Forrest J Ackerman and Brad Linaweaver
-- Amazing Figure Modeler
-- Chiller Theatre
-- Cult Movies
-- Midnight Marquee
-- Monster Bash
-- Monsters from the Vault
-- Movie Mystique
-- Phantom of the Movies VideoScope
-- Rue Morgue
-- Shock Cinema
-- Scarlet Street
-- Scary Monsters
-- Van Helsing's Journal
-- Video Watchdog
Best Web Site
-- The Astounding B-Monster
-- A Tribute to Lon Chaney Jr. Yahoo Group
-- Bride of House of Universal Yahoo Group
-- Chiller Theatre Expo Yahoo Group
-- Creature from the Black Lagoon Yahoo
-- Creepy Classics
-- Dr. Gangrene's Chiller Cinema
-- DVD Drive-In
-- DVD Maniacs
-- Horror-Wood Webzine
-- Latarnia: Fantastique International
-- Lugosiphilia Yahoo Group
-- Midnight Marquee
-- Mobius Home Video Forum
-- Monster Kid Online Magazine
-- Monster-Maniacs Yahoo Group
-- Professor Griffin's Midnight Shadow Show
-- Scarlet Street
-- Shocklines Forum (EZ Board)
-- Sinister Cinema
-- Solar Guard Academy solarguard.com
-- Universal Monster Army Yahoo Group
-- Or write in another choice:
Count Alucard's Controversy of the Year
-- Colorization returns with Three Stooges
-- Ed Wood DVD mysteriously pulled from shelves for months
-- MGM gives Best Buy exclusive on some Midnite Marquee
-- Mobius message board loses all posts
-- Munsters documentary
DVD blocked by Universal
-- Van Helsing: CGI film splits fandom
Other categories include:
-- Best Convention
-- Best Restoration
-- Best DVD Extra
-- Best Independent Film Or Documentary
-- Best Article
-- Best Cover
-- Best Fan Event
-- Best Horror Comic Book
-- Best Model or Collectible
-- Classic Most In Need of DVD Release
-- Writer of the Year
-- Monster Kid of the Year
You can also nominate candidates for induction in the Monster
Kid Hall of Fame
For more info, check out:
DON'T tell 'em the B Monster sent you (It might look like
we're trying to influence the vote!).
In the interest of keeping you up to speed on the latest
Hollywood heresies, we'll reveal that the "House of Wax"
remake is scheduled for theatrical release April 29. It
was produced by Dark Castle, a production company spawned
by Hollywood big shots Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis apparently
just so they could crank out wretched "in name only" remakes
of the films they (and we) grew up watching and enjoying.
The Dark Castle canon includes nasty overhauls of "House
on Haunted Hill" and "13 Ghosts," the deadly dull "Ghost
Ship" and the Halle Berry bomb "Gothika." It isn't so much
that the films are intrinsically bad and poorly acted (though
for the most part they are), they're just so doggone mean-spirited.
For instance, they've tweaked the "House of Wax" plot just
a tad. It's now about four college students stranded in
a hick town, the main attraction of which is a wax museum
run by sadistic serial killers. Oh, and one of the stars
is Paris Hilton.
The multi-talented Hoffman is also engaged in a burgeoning
music career. He recently toured Toronto, London and Hamilton,
Canada, with heavy metal rocker Thor, performing tunes from
their "rock odyssey" "Beast women From the Center of the
Earth." (Concert videotape is available at the artist's
Web site for $14.95 per copy.) His "Monster University"
CD is a collection of catchy monster-themed anthems such
as "Kid Frankenstein," "She's a Werewolf" and "Robot Monster"
(The cover art harks back to the EC comics heyday.) His
latest release, "Island of the Goddess," features "twelve
Tike-inspired tunes featuring birdsongs, jungle drums, burbling
lagoons, murmuring voices with cascading pianos and violent
guitars. ... Be transported to an exotic, electric Polynesian
Mike's Web site offers career updates, an online store,
links, ruminations on life, politics and philosophy and
a gallery of his lean, mean, fantasy renderings. Check out:
And make a point of telling Mike the B Monster sent you!
"VAULT" AT 10: A MONSTER MILESTONE
Heartfelt congratulations go out to the folks at "Monsters
From the Vault," celebrating their 10th anniversary with
a dazzling new issue. Behind a moody, computer-colored cover
portrait of Karloff's Frankenstein Monster lurks an array
of articles and cult-film ephemera that tops any of their
previous editions. These wonders include part two of "Kongversations,"
Bob Burns recollections of his encounter with Kong articulator
Marcel Delgado as told to Tom Weaver; a transcription of
Merian C. Cooper's and Fay Wray's recollections on the filming
of "Kong" culled from Bob's voluminous archive and transcribed
by Weaver; an eloquent and edifying excerpt from Frank Dello
Stritto's "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore";
Tom Weaver's interview with legendary producer Richard Gordon
on his problem-plagued 1955 production of "Svengali" a unique,
"What If" postulation by Gary D. Rhodes who reveals what
a 1926 version of "Frankenstein" starring Lon Chaney might
have been like; and a rather haunting and affectionate tribute
to "Dracula" leading lady Helen Chandler, whose tragic life
is recounted by Rhodes and Greg Mank. All this, plus a tribute
to genre-film fan and collector non-pareil, the late John
Parnum, DVD and book reviews and more. For more info, check
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!
DAYS FOR RAY
It seems there's no end to the honors accorded to stop-motion
animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen. His 2004 illustrated
autobiography was greeted with much praise; he's recently
made myriad personal appearances and held court at filmfests
and awards ceremonies, and recently, the American Cinematheque
held a special event in his honor billed as "An Evening
with Visual Effects Wizard Ray Harryhausen." Two evenings,
actually. The two-day mini-festival began with Ray attending
screenings of "The "7th Voyage of Sinbad," and "The 3 Worlds
of Gulliver," (along with "Gulliver" star Sherri Alberoni)
at the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the historic 1922 Egyptian
Theatre in Hollywood. Part two showcased "The Mysterious
Island" and "Jason and the Argonauts" with Ray in attendance
(as well as "Mysterious Island's" Michael Callan) at the
Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Naturally, Harryhausen was
available for book signings at both events.
A TREK TO THE CINEMATEQUE
In the coming months, The American Cinematheque, located
in the heart of historic Hollywood, will be hosting special
events sure to be of interest to West Coast monsterphiles
and frequent-flying fright film fans. On March 25 and 26,
they're presenting "A Tribute to Vincent Price," featuring
screenings of "Theatre of Blood," "Tales of Terror," "Masque
of the Red Death" and "The Tingler." (No word yet on whether
or not the seats will be hot-wired with "Percept-O!") June
24-29 they will present "The Giant Monsters Festival," screening
the best of Godzilla, Gamera and their reptilian Toho brethren.
And August 4-17 the Cinematheque presents their "6th Annual
Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction," featuring,
according to promoters, "all things supernatural, space
age and sinister ... offering up more brand new, classic
and obscure treasures from the U.S. and around the globe!"
Mark your calendars and stay tuned for any developments.
Meanwhile, check out:
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!
It was recently announced that The Creative Group, a well-known
post-production facility, had acquired Starlog Group Inc.
The deal included the company's flagship publications Starlog
and Fangoria. Most importantly, the acquisition paved the
way for the recent debut of FangoriaTV, which is available
on In Demand's INHD cable service. Norman Jacobs, who founded
the sci-fi-horror magazine empire in 1976, made the announcement.
"Starlog Group's jump into cable programming," said Jacobs,
"now that The Creative Group has taken us under their wing,
will be an exciting and challenging endeavor for us. Fangoria
the magazine is truly entering the 21st century now by having
its own cable station. It allows us to leap ahead of the
publishing industry by boldly expanding our brand into new
cable media." FangoriaTV is currently available in 4 million
homes via INHD, and reaches 5 million college dorms as a
part of National Lampoon Networks. Moe Greene Associates,
Creative Group's entertainment and programming division
responsible for FangoriaTV is presided over by president
Tom DeFeo, who said it was a "dream come true" to "be building
this 24/7 network devoted to the horror/suspense/thriller
NEW ON DVD
It isn't a great film, but it has some scary stuff in it.
The storytelling techniques employed by director Takashi
Shimizu -- shifting the chronology of events, never clearly
discerning for the audience the dead from the living or
who died when and how -- is initially intriguing, but ultimately
frustrating, seeming experimental just for the sake of being
different. There are a handful of terrific "boo" moments,
and the more squeamish in the audience may find themselves
sneaking a peak over their shoulders to make sure no skulking
wraiths are poised to pounce, but the movie is structured
in such a way as to blunt some of the tension.
"The Grudge" is a remake of the 2003 Japanese horror hit
"Ju-on." It was imported and Americanized a bit by producer
Sam Raimi of "Evil Dead" (and, more recently and spectacularly,
"Spider-Man") fame. While the remake retains the setting
of the original, ex-vampire slayer, "Buffy" herself, Sarah
Michelle Gellar, is integrated into the cast as an American
caregiver living in Japan with her student-boyfriend. Gellar
works for a visiting care service and is called in to replace
a nurse who has mysteriously gone missing. She arrives at
the home of an elderly Japanese woman who, it would appear,
is in the last stages of dementia. Hearing strange sounds,
Gellar begins exploring the house (this is when the cunningly
crafted "boo" scenes commence) and gradually, the series
of events that led to the haunting of this otherwise unassuming
Japanese household unfolds ... sort of.
There are two reasons why I won't offer a more detailed
synopsis: First, attempting to explain the layering of events,
the shuffling of sequences that each contain clues and cues
and dramatic setups, would likely spoil the film for anyone
going in "fresh." Second, I'm not so sure I COULD explain
the film. Some of it is terrifically scary in that subtle
"don't look now" kinda way. Some of it is momentarily shocking
in that "here's a ghoul in your face accompanied by loud
music" kinda way. Otherwise, I'm not exactly sure what happened
in the film (or for that matter, what happened "before"
the film begins -- that is, the chronology of events that
set the ongoing haunting in motion. And this may be just
the aura of mysterioso the filmmakers were going for. (A
comparison to the Japanese original is of passing interest,
as the first film is even more disjointed and experimental
than the somewhat more simplified American version.) What
can be stated without danger of spoiling anything is that
"Ju-on" translates roughly to "Grudge." Horrific murders
took place in the house in question and the pall of hatred
and anger that fostered the killings lingers in the house,
becoming an entity unto itself, engulfing and destroying
all who enter. The film showcases an intriguing twist on
time-worn ideas, some solid acting, some interesting storytelling
and a shock or two that will lift the unjaded right out
of their seats.
Before this movie ever opened theatrically I thought to
myself, "Everyone will compare this picture to 'The Blair
Witch Project.' " Now that it's debuting on DVD and every
critic in the English speaking world is finished comparing
it to "The Blair Witch Project," I feel comfortable weighing
in with an opinion. It does resemble "The Blair Witch Project"
in that the film was cheaply made and the camera jiggles
around a lot. What the producers and marketers failed to
do was generate the unprecedented media buzz that fueled
the success of the prior film. "Blair Witch" was not a great
movie, but I nonetheless saluted its makers for the audacity
of their idea and their skillful manipulation of the hype.
Theirs was something bold and different -- a horror film
presenting itself as a documentary -- leaving the very gullible
(or those completely wiling to suspend disbelief) to ponder
whether or not there may be some kernel of truth that inspired
The makers of "Open Water" contend that it is based on
true events, but the "you are there" conceit that made "Blair
witch" engaging is impossible to convey, as most of this
film depicts a bickering couple, played by Blanchard Ryan
and Daniel Travis, treading water as sharks close in for
a meal. These vacationing scuba enthusiasts are stranded
miles from shore when the tour boat crew that took them
diving forgets all about them and sails for home. This is
no doubt a very scary predicament. Are the filmmakers successful
in conveying the inner terror the protagonists endure? Not
exactly. Floating in shark-infested waters with no sign
of help in sight should be a terrifying proposition, but
I never much cared what happened to these paper-thin characters.
This is the film's central failing. Who's going to miss
two more privileged, overpaid, cell phone-toting yuppies?
The way I see it, that's two less SUVs stinking up the highway.
Their relationship is not adequately developed, and there's
a tenuous sub-plot or two left unresolved. The film is written
and directed by Chris Kentis, who also photographed it along
with his wife and co-producer Laura Lau. (The couple's previous
effort was 1997's "Grind.") According to hype, they spent
some 120 hours filming in the water. They pared this footage
down to a remarkably brief 79 minute run time. Unfortunately,
"Open Water" feels substantially longer.
AND THE CANARY: SPECIAL EDITION
Jaded, contemporary audiences should view this film through
1927 spectacles in order to fully appreciate its importance.
Know-it-alls will see the clichés coming, to be sure,
but imagine how startling and fresh they must have seemed
nearly eight decades ago. With this seminal silent shocker,
German director Paul Leni masterfully drafted the virtual
blueprint for most of the "Old House" thrillers subsequently
filmed. In "Classics of the Horror Film," movie historian
William K. Everson wrote, "The silent 'Cat and the Canary'
and 'The Old Dark House' so completely wrapped up the 'Old
House' genre that no subsequent films have been nearly so
successful." No arguments here.
Based on the long-running stage play by John Willard,
the film stars Laura La Plante as Annabelle West, who, if
she can prove she is sane, will inherit the fortune of eccentric
Cyrus West, who specified that his will be read 20 years
after his death. If Annabelle is of unsound mind, the fortune
goes to an unnamed recipient whose identity is sealed in
an envelope. Also in the cast are Creighton Hale, Gertrude
Astor, Arthur Edmund Carewe and Tully Marshall who, in one
the most imitated scenes in cinema, falls face forward into
the camera when the closet concealing his dead body is opened.
The movie abounds with the horror and mystery film conventions
we've come to take for granted. There's the reading of the
will, the cloaked killer, the clutching hand, the startled
heiress, the cowardly foil. Thanks to Leni's imaginative
staging and canny storytelling, what are now considered
musty clichés must have been quite alarming when
the film originally played. Cloaked villains, grasping hands,
murder and mayhem, all delivered with a wink as Leni experiments,
playfully manipulating shadows, camera angles, employing
double exposures -- even tampering with the title cards.
"Cat and the Canary" was filmed previously in 1921, and
was famously remade in 1939 as a thriller/comedy starring
Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The Hope version was a smash
hit for Paramount and prompted a half-alike sequel and numerous
imitations from other studios. A 1979 version directed by
Radley Metzger starred Honor Blackman, Michael Callan and
Carol Lynley. This "Special Edition" of the 1927 chestnut
features two music scores from which to choose; a recently
revised and re-recorded score by Erich Beheim and a newly
composed score by Franklin Stover. Also included is the
vintage short film "Haunted Spooks."
There is a line separating "bad" movies from "so-bad-they're-good"
movies. This line is a subjective and fuzzy one. Being charitable,
we'll place "Jungle Siren" in the latter category. Let's
get the obvious out of the way. It was filmed in 1942 and
takes place in "darkest Africa," hence, "political incorrectness"
abounds and will likely appear outrageous to contemporary
audiences who were not reared on repeated Tarzan screenings
and Our Gang shorts. But lack of civil equity is the least
of this film's problems. Prominent among its detriments
is stripper Ann Corio in the title role. As Kuhlaya, a white
maiden raised in the jungle, she has trouble delivering
even her Pidgin English dialogue with conviction. Oh, she's
an eyeful, but her acting makes it plain why she made just
five films before returning to Minsky's burlesque circuit.
Buster Crabbe (looking much like the "Captain Gallant" character
he later played) is the functional male hero, an American
officer of some sort assigned to what I think is supposed
to be a French detachment in Africa. It seems the Nazis
have infiltrated the jungle fiefdom of Chief Selangi. Crabbe
and his comic relief sergeant are sent to Selangi's village
to investigate. Here, they find Corio leading an uprising
to staunch the Nazi influence.
Director Sam Newfield made hundreds of films (really,
literally HUNDREDS): Western, crime, adventure, jungle,
horror, sci-fi. B Monster readers may be most familiar with
"The Mad Monster," "The Monster Maker," "Nabonga" and Lost
Continent" among other genre offerings. "Jungle Siren" is
not one of Sam's more distinguished outings. It's constructed
most haphazardly, stock footage is very crudely integrated
and much of the dialogue, when decipherable, is sophomoric.
Is it "so-bad-it's-good?" Like I said, it's subjective.
You be the judge.
"White Huntress" (which bears the alternate title "Golden
Ivory") was directed by George Breakston, the actor-turned-director
responsible for the 1962 horror oddity "The Manster." Breakston,
who appeared as Beezy Anderson in several of the Andy Hardy
pictures, moved behind the camera in 1948. The titles of
the handful of films he produced and directed indicate that
something about the African and Asian cultures excited him:
"Urubu," "Jungle Stampede," "Geisha Girl," "The Scarlet
Spear." "White Huntress" chronicles the talky trek of two
ivory hunters hired to escort a band of English settlers
through 1890 British East Africa. They have an ulterior
motive for taking the gig; they plan to use the settler's
wagons to cart valuable tusks from a secret elephant gathering
Unlike "Jungle Siren's" cardboard forest and back-lot
native extras, "White Huntress" was filmed on location and
employs actual Massai tribesman to portray themselves. Breakston
and company got lots of footage of Massai warriors taking
part in ceremonies and assembling for battle. My guess is
they wrote a script to suit the unique footage, one that
is largely a rehash of the time-honored cowboys and Indians
formula. Robert Urquart, a prolific character actor with
dozens of films and television projects to his credit, co-stars
with Susan Stephen and John Bentley. Bentley appeared in
several films as Paul Temple, the popular fictional sleuth
created by mystery author Francis Durbridge. For the record,
I have no idea why this picture is called "White Huntress."
Here's my indictment of this film: When I sat down to watch
it for reviewing purposes, I had completely forgotten that
I had already seen it in a theater only a couple of months
earlier. Fragments of it seemed familiar to me as it unspooled,
but I had completely forgotten nearly everything about it.
It's so calculated and soulless that I had virtually no
memory of having previously viewed it. It looks so much
like one more MTV-ish car commercial or an ad for GAP button-fly
jeans that it simply made no impression on me, good or bad
-- and I must modestly invoke a vaunted reputation for recalling
cult-film trivia and movie minutiae. But this one just did
not register. It breezed in and out of my brain like a blowhard
you meet at a cocktail party. You bump into the guy a month
later and draw a total blank. In short, my memory is just
fine; it's the movie's fault.
And here's why: Not only had I seen this movie before
-- I'd seen it a THOUSAND times before. Everything in it
is recycled from some earlier film. (What if Sam Peckinpah
had directed "Charles Bronson meets the Terminator?") This
is a good place to point out that they don't make science
fiction pictures anymore. I went in hoping to see a snappy
update of Isaac Asimov's watershed story about robots inter-relating
with imperious, prejudiced humans. These thought-provoking
aspects are smothered by gunfire and loud music. Casting
Will Smith, a black man, as the anti-robot, bigoted cop,
is a nifty canard that sends home the tolerance message
with expediency. But ideas and innovations are buried in
pyrotechnics. The dialogue is alternately corny and pithy.
Some of the CGI effects are masterfully executed, some look
very obviously computer-generated. Some of the performances
are credible, some half-hearted. The direction by "Dark
City's" Alex Proyas is, by turns, engaging and laughably
clichéd. It's a most uneven film.
But the important thing to bear in mind is that it is
NOT a science fiction picture. They don't make those anymore.
Today's screenwriters write action thrillers and then go
back and shoehorn science fiction elements into the scripts.
Pictures like "I, Robot" owe far more to "Dirty Harry,"
"Rambo," "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Wild Bunch" than they
do to Asimov, Bradbury or Heinlein. It's just one more mind-numbing
shoot 'em up. Smith plays an embittered, renegade cop. The
chief is always breathing down his neck, threatening to
take him off the case. Smith talks down to women and robots,
and grunts and howls like Stallone while mowing down bots
with his machine-gun in super-slow motion. This is NOT a
science fiction picture; it's a souped up "Kojak" episode.
There just happens to be robots in it. You could swap the
rampaging droids for intelligent apes, ring-tail lemurs
or walking catfish and it wouldn't substantially change
the film because the focus is not on science and speculation,
it's on a world-weary, gun-totin', hair-triggered, leather-wearin',
wise cracking cop. This is regrettable because all of the
ingredients are present for an intelligent and suspenseful
examination of the emotional and social ramifications of
science run amok. But who wants to see that? Lock and load!
They don't make science fiction pictures anymore, and that's
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
David Colton, organizer of the Rondo Hatton Awards http://www.rondoaward.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.dinoship.com
"He comes to life to the sounds of rock & horror!"
-- Teenage Dracula