Wah Ming Chang
Artist and Academy Award-winning animator Wah Chang has
died. He was 86. Chang's most remarkable work was accomplished
for Walt Disney studios, where he created posable figures
of Pinocchio and Bambi from which animators could draw,
and for producer George Pal, working on such films as "The
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm," "Tom Thumb" and
"The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao." He also created costumes for
"Can-Can," "The King and I" and "Cleopatra," and created
monsters for such television series as "Star Trek" and "The
Outer Limits," fashioning, among many memorable props, Romulan
warships, Tribbles and phasers for the former, and the infamous
Zanti Misfits for the latter. He even sculpted the first
models of the Pillsbury Doughboy. He earned his Oscar for
the spectacular special effects that were integral to Pal's
landmark film "The Time Machine."
Born in Honolulu, Chang and his parents, both artists,
moved to San Francisco in the 1920s. Following the death
of his mother, his father left him in the care of a guardian
and moved away. Local journalist Blanding Sloan took the
young Chang under his wing. The two traveled to Texas and
created a historical pageant for the Texas Centennial. There,
Chang met his future wife Glenella. Their marriage lasted
60 years. (Glenella Chang passed away in 1997.) Chang became
a sought-after talent, developing his design, animation
and puppetry skills. By the age of 16, he was designing
sets for shows at the Hollywood Bowl. After landing a job
with Disney, he was diagnosed with polio. He battled the
illness and continued to work. (For the rest of his life
Chang especially cherished a letter of encouragement sent
to him by Walt Disney at this time.) Chang also worked at
the George Pal Puppetoon Studio, helping to create Pal's
memorable stop-motion animated series. Eager to produce
films of his own, Chang invested all of his money in camera
equipment and produced educational films and television
spots. In 1987, Chang was commissioned by cartoonist Hank
Ketcham to sculpt a life-size statue of his "Dennis the
Menace" to be displayed in the Monterey park named for the
character. Film historian and prop preservationist Bob Burns
was working with Paul Blaisdell on "Invasion of the Saucer
Men" when he first met Chang, who was then sharing the same
studio while working on "The Black Scorpion." Burns has
cited Chang as one of his greatest inspirations. At the
time of his death, Chang's work was on display at the Chinese
Historical Society of America in San Francisco.
[Tom Weaver contributes the following obituary/appreciation]
Jack Pollexfen, an independent writer-producer of 1950s
B movies and the co-creator of the 1951 science fiction
classic "The Man from Planet X," has died. He was 95. Pollexfen
and his writing-producing partner Aubrey Wisberg collaborated
on a number of low-budget films in the early '50s, several
based on works of classic literature or on real-life historical
figures, but their best-remembered credits were sci-fi thrillers
like "Captive Women" (1952), "The Neanderthal Man" (1953)
and "Man from Planet X," the first "man from space" movie
of the era. Directed by legendary low-budget wunderkind
Edgar G. Ulmer, "Planet X" re-used sets from the big-budget
Ingrid Bergman version of Joan of Arc" (1948) in this story
of a diminutive, bubble-helmeted alien, the advance scout
for an invasion fleet, prowling the foggy moors of an island
off the coast of Scotland.
"The amazing thing was that Jack and Aubrey managed to
make this picture in six days, and for only $50,000, and
shot the entire thing inside one soundstage at Hal Roach
Studios," recalls "Planet X" co-star William Schallert,
a Pollexfen-Wisberg "discovery." "Casting me in 'Planet
X,' Jack was taking a gamble on me -- I didn't have much
of a track record in movies yet. In addition, he backed
up his initial belief in me by casting me in five or six
pictures after that. I was a beginning movie actor at the
time, and that was a real boost to my morale and to my belief
in myself. I owe Jack a LOT for that."
Born in San Diego, Pollexfen was raised in Mill Valley,
Calif. Fascinated with newspaper work, he began in that
business as a copyboy on the Los Angeles Express, then moved
up to reporter and feature writer on other dailies. Magazine
writing assignments led to scriptwriting chores at MGM and
Universal before Pollexfen served the World War II effort
as an Air Force noncom, writing training films and manuals.
Pollexfen and the English-born Aubrey Wisberg teamed in
the late 1940s and by 1950 had formed their own production
company, Mid Century Films, to make "The Man from Planet
X." "Planet X" star Robert Clarke later became a regular
in Pollexfen-Wisberg productions. "Jack was a workaholic
before the word was coined," Clarke recalls. "Aubrey was
big on talking -- you never had to encourage him. But, as
I observed it, it was more talk than elbow grease. Jack
was the one to always take the heavier end of things. Jack
was someone who deserved everything nice that could be said
about a man."
The Pollexfen-Wisberg films included "Sword of Venus"
(1953), with Clarke as the son of the "Count of Monte Cristo,"
"Captain John Smith and Pocahontas" (1953), "Captain Kidd
and the Slave Girl" (1954) and "Return to Treasure Island"
(1954), a follow-up to the Robert Louis Stevenson novel.
In the latter half of the 1950s, and now operating on his
own, Pollexfen continued in the sci-fi/horror vein, producing
and directing "Indestructible Man" (1956) with Lon Chaney,
Jr., and producing and writing "Daughter of Dr. Jekyll"
(1957), again directed by Ulmer. After co-producing his
final film "Monstrosity" (released in 1964), Pollexfen went
into semi-retirement, marrying for the first time at age
55 and moving back to the Mill Valley area where he had
grown up. Impaired in recent years by diabetes and failing
eyesight, he came down with pneumonia just days before his
death at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Rafael. He is
survived by Lee, his wife of 39 years.
[Thanks to Lee Pollexfen, Robert Clarke and William Schallert.]
Marguerite ("Maggie") McClure Bradbury, wife of author Ray
Bradbury, has died. Married to Ray for 56 years, Marguerite
worked tirelessly as the family breadwinner in the early
years of their marriage, while Ray stayed home and wrote,
honing his talents and becoming one of America's best-loved
and most successful authors. In the mid-1940s, following
her studies in English and Spanish at UCLA, she worked at
a bookstore where she met her future husband who was, at
the time, writing for pulp magazines. She initially mistook
him for a thief, according to Bradbury biographer Sam Weller.
Following a brief courtship, they were married in 1947.
Ray's best man was his best friend, stop-motion movie animator
Ray Harryhausen. That same year, Bradbury's first book,
"Dark Carnival," was published. It was Maggie, who, in 1949,
typed up the original manuscript of Bradbury's classic "The
Martian Chronicles." Though she came from a wealthy family,
when she married Ray she took a "vow of poverty," Bradbury
once said. Her vow paid off as his career ascended. Her
passion for books led to a collection of at least 7,000
and the Bradbury house was, at one time, home to 22 cats.
She is survived by her husband, four daughters and eight
Actress Ellen Drew, who began her career as a starlet earning
$50 a week before graduating to starring roles opposite
such actors as Ronald Colman, Dick Powell, Jack Benny, Bing
Crosby, Pat O'Brien and Joel McCrea, died of a liver ailment
in Palm Desert, Calif. She was 89. Drew may be best known
to genre-film fans for her appearances in the Val Lewton-produced
"Isle of the Dead" with Boris Karloff, "The Mad Doctor"
opposite Basil Rathbone, and "The Monster and the Girl,"
which featured movie gorilla man Charles Gemora as a simian
with the transplanted brain of Drew's brother (Phillip Terry).
Drew never achieved breakout stardom, but worked steadily
in films of all genres, delivering solid performances for
such directors as Preston Sturges ("Christmas in July"),
Samuel Fuller ("The Baron of Arizona"), Andre De Toth ("Man
in the Saddle"), Gordon Douglas ("The Great Missouri Raid")
and Jacques Tourneur ("Stars In My Crown"). Drew was discovered
while waitressing at C.C. Brown's on Hollywood Boulevard,
where character actor William Demarest encouraged her to
pursue a film career, a notion she originally laughed off.
She appeared in dozens of films from 1936 until her final
big-screen appearance in "Outlaw's Son," a 1957 Western
with Dane Clark and Lori Nelson. She also made several television
appearances on such programs as "Science Fiction Theater,"
"The Millionaire," "Perry Mason" and "The Barbara Stanwyck
Prolific film and television director Earl Bellamy died
at a hospital in Albuquerque, N.M. following a heart attack.
He was 86. He had lived in Rio Rancho, N.M., since the early
1990s. Bellamy directed innumerable television episodes,
particularly westerns. In 2002, he was awarded the Golden
Boot from the Motion Picture and Television Fund for his
contribution to the western genre. Bellamy began his film
career as a messenger boy at Columbia pictures in 1935,
working his way up the production ranks as a clerk, a second
assistant director and an assistant director. His first
feature as a director was "Seminole Uprising" in 1955. Other
feature direction credits include "Blackjack Ketchum, Desperado,"
"Toughest Gun in Tombstone" and "Incident at Phantom Hill."
But it was in television that Bellamy made his mark, becoming
one of the most prolific and in-demand directors in the
medium. "I got hooked on television," he once told an interviewer.
"If you were doing features, which were a lot of fun, it
was a long and drawn-out process. With TV, you're through
with one show in six days, and now you've got another one
to do with a new script, and off you go again." Bellamy
directed programs as varied as "Lassie," "M Squad," "Bachelor
Father," "McHale's Navy," "Leave it to Beaver," "The Munsters"
and "The Mod Squad." Among the western series he directed
were "The Lone Ranger," "Tales of Wells Fargo," "Rawhide,"
"The Virginian," "Wagon Train," "Annie Oakley," "Tales of
the Texas Rangers," "Daniel Boone" and "The Iron Horse."
His final directing assignment was the alien invasion miniseries
"V" in 1984. He retired in 1986.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
THAT'S A LOT OF MONEY FOR A SUIT YOU CAN'T SEE
The black velvet suit supposedly worn by Claude Rains in
"The Invisible Man" was recently up for auction on eBay.
Effects man John P. Fulton allegedly devised the suit. To
achieve Rains' "invisibility," the actor was filmed against
a black screen background while wearing the suit. Rains'
gloves and bandages stood out against the backdrop while
the part of him covered by the suit vanished into the black
screen. The same suit was supposedly used in each of Universal's
Invisible Man sequels, which starred Vincent Price, Jon
Hall and others as the unseen protagonist, as well as the
Invisible Man cameo at the close of "Abbott and Costello
meet Frankenstein." According to the official Profiles In
History auction listing, the suit "consists of a hood, sleeveless
cape, long sleeve tunic with zipper front closure, and drawstring
pants. The tunic and pants each have Universal International
labels (added later)." The pants have the name "Arthur"
handwritten on them, perhaps referring to actor Arthur Franz,
who played the part in "Abbot & Costello Meet the Invisible
Man" in 1951. (I don't know who authenticates this stuff,
but how did short-statured Claude Rains and long, tall Vincent
Price share the same suit?)
The starting bid was $30,000. Auctioneers said they expected
it to go for as much as $50,000. It didn't. There was reportedly
one bid for $30,000 and the auction was over. What's that
you say? No one would be crazy enough to blow 30 grand on
a tatty velvet suit? Check out the prices these film-related
items fetched at Profiles in History's "Hollywood Auction
-- Superman costume worn by George Reeves nearly 50 years
-- Derelict ship from "Alien" and "Aliens": $47,200.00
-- Jim Carrey Riddler costume from "Batman Forever": $10,620.00
-- Harrison Ford pistol from "Blade Runner": $20,060.00
-- Clint Eastwood blank-firing pistol from "The Outlaw Josey
-- Dr. Zaius costume and display from "Planet of the Apes":
-- Dr. Milo Ape-o-naut suit from "Escape from the Planet
of the Apes": $64,900.00
-- Mel Brooks' handwritten lyrics for "Springtime for Hitler"
from "The Producers": $26,550.00
-- USS Enterprise bridge railing segment from "Star Trek":
-- USS Enterprise bridge chair from "Star Trek": $26,550.00
-- Nichelle Nichols' personal scripts from "Star Trek":
-- Collection of storyboard drawings from "The Ten Commandments":
Wasn't one of those commandments "Thou shalt not covet?"
HERITAGE FUND SHELLS OUT FOR SHELLEY
Thirty grand is chicken feed! You wanna talk REALLY pricey
collectibles? The Bodleian Library at Oxford will acquire
Mary Shelley's original manuscript for "Frankenstein." Britain's
National Heritage Fund has awarded the library $5.2 million
to purchase the 1818 manuscript from a private collection.
Shelley, wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, left her
papers and the manuscript to her son whose widow donated
some of Shelley's papers to the library in 1893. The Bodleian
acquired more of the papers following the Second World War.
The remainder was on loan to the library of the eighth Baron
Abinger, who passed away last year. The Bodleian's purchase
of the Abinger collection will gather all of Shelley's papers
in one place.
The death last month of art director, designer and all-around
movie visionary, Allbert Nozaki, prompted heartfelt remembrances.
One close friend of Nozaki's was Academy Award-winner Robert
Skotak. Speaking to the L.A. Times, Skotak recalled, "The
last time I saw him he said, 'I guess 'The War of the Worlds'
is my masterpiece.' He said this in a very humble way because
everybody had been telling him that. Al was very modest.
He was a sweet, very special person." Skotak cited as "remarkable"
the fact that Nozaki "story-boarded the entire movie himself,
meaning he drew every camera angle, including what's in
the shots. He also designed all the technology -- the war
machines, the meteor, the Martians -- all the special things
that are in the movie that don't exist."
Film historian and movie prop preservationist Bob Burns,
a friend of Nozaki's, told the B Monster, "Al was a shy
and humble man and one of the nicest guys I've ever met.
Robert Skotak brought him over to my place a few years ago.
Al was totally blind but could feel objects and "see" them
in his mind. I have the spaceship from "When Worlds Collide"
(the one shown in the film under construction), and the
miniature of the plane from "The War of the Worlds." He
touched and felt them and actually teared up as it was the
first time since he worked on the films that he'd "seen"
them. He had very warm feelings toward George Pal so it
brought back very fond memories for him. Al was one of the
true giants of the film industry working on such films as
"The Ten Commandments," "The Big Clock," "Houdini" and others.
I feel blessed to have met him. He will be missed."
HORROR ON THE HEATH
Letchmore Heath, the quaint village in England where the
horror film classic "Village of the Dammed" was filmed in
1959, recently hosted a special screening of the film at
the Letchmore Heath Village Hall. The unsettling premise
of the film involves a mysterious slumber, perhaps extra-terrestrial
in origin that overtakes the village. The women folk awake
to find themselves pregnant and, nine months later, they
deliver evil offspring possessing unearthly powers. Many
locals took part in the making of the movie and were on
hand at this commemorative screening to recall the filming.
Barbara Shelly, who co-starred with George Sanders, was
the guest of honor. To be specific for our well-traveled
readers, Letchmore Heath is the first village in Hertfordshire
going north out of London, near Edgware and Elstree.
UFO'S LAND IN LONDON
If you're traveling to the Brit side of the big pond, you'll
want to take in Sci-Fi-London, the British film and fan
convention now in its third year, taking place Jan. 29-Feb
1 at the Curzon SOHO and The Other Cinema. Previous London
confabs featured the world premier of Ken Russell's "The
Fall of the Louse of Usher" and the European premiers of
Mamoru Oshii's "Avalon" and "Mark Pellington's "Mothman
Prophecies." Scheduled to debut at this year's festivities
are "Starship Troopers 2," "Spectres," starring Marina Sirtis
and Dean Haglund, "Full Metal Yakuza," "Robot Stories" and
many others. Workshops, seminars, debates and all-night
screenings will be held and, according to organizers, this
year's fest also includes "an international sci-fi short
film programme, rounding-up the best sci-fi shorts from
the UK and around the world ... and we are still looking
for submissions!" You can learn more at:
By all means, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
Some time ago, the B Monster did a piece on author Steven-Elliot
Altman's unique project "The Touch." Altman sent writing
guidelines to an aggregation of writers and performers,
soliciting their take on the effects of deadly fictional
epidemic. Contributors included Janet Asimov, William F.
Nolan, Harry Turtledove, Sean Stewart, Tananarive Due and
Kit Reed. The collected stories were published and the proceeds
donated to HEAL (Health Education AIDS Liaison, and F.A.C.T.
(Foundation for Advancement in Cancer Therapies). It was
a unique and ambitious idea that sold well enough for Penguin
Putnam to commission a novel from Altman. The result was
"The Deprivers," which is currently being developed for
television. According to Altman, "A starred review in Publisher's
Weekly on 'The Touch' prompted a Hollywood bidding war over
the rights to 'Deprivers,' with people like Laura Ziskin
and Ridley Scott making generous bids on the property. I
decided to sell the rights to Columbia TriStar and remained
aboard as co-executive producer and wrote the script with
my director Andy Wolk ["The Sopranos"/''The Practice").
"Twin Peaks" co-creator Mark Frost has called "The Deprivers"
a "book that gets under your skin and on your nerves. The
science is impressive; the fiction is haunting." Says Altman,
"As I await greenlight to production on our series pilot,
I'm overseeing a grassroots 'War Of The Worlds'-type PR
campaign around the book." Altman is working with Columbia
on 15 ancillary Websites that will be a part of the promotion.
To find out more, check out:
You know the routine; tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
THE FUTURE OF FANEX
The folks at Midnight Marquee Press have decided not to
hold any more Fanex conventions. According to publisher/conventioneers
Gary and Sue Svehla, "There are just too many conventions
splitting the limited fan base and we just can't compete
with conventions that offer huge guest lists and modern
stars. Fanex was never about making money (we just don't
like losing money) but about honoring the stars who brought
fans so much enjoyment and sharing our love of films with
other fans." Fanex was known in past years for its cozy
atmosphere allowing greater access to guest celebrities.
The Fanex folk maintain they aren't bowing out of the convention
scene completely. "We hope to convince Chiller Theatre to
come Baltimore which will enable us to do a mini-Fanex whereby
we would run the film program and panels and guest talks."
The Chiller Theater con is a massive, twice-yearly, New
Jersey-based undertaking that attracts throngs of horror
film fans. Midnight Marquee Press will continue magazine
publishing, and many book projects are reportedly in the
pipeline. For more info, visit:
GANGRENE NEEDS CASH TRANSFUSION
The good Dr. Gangrene, host of Nashville UPN 30's "Chiller
Cinema," is soliciting sponsors. The Doc, aka Larry Underwood,
needs advertising to maintain his sinister cinematic practice,
carrying on the horror host tradition every Thursday (actually
the wee hours of Friday) at 1:30 am. His program reaches
49 counties throughout Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.
"We will produce a commercial for a business if they don't
have one," says Underwood, "and in fact will make one for
free if they come onboard as a sponsor for at least 3 months."
So, if you know of a savvy, mid-South businessmen who might
be interested in "some good, cheap advertisement," contact
the Doc at email@example.com Visit the Chiller
Cinema site at:
http://www.chillercinema.com Tell the good Doctor the B
Monster sent you!
RETROMEDIA EXPLOITATION UPDATE
The gang at Retromedia has recently posted the latest additions
to their roster of exploitation treasures, as well as some
alluring and lurid coming attractions. Billed as "one of
the hardest to find Scream Queen titles around," "Nightmare
Sisters, Special Edition" stars Linnea Quigley, Michelle
Bauer and Brinke Stevens. The disk includes two audio commentaries,
one with Bauer, Stevens and co-star Richard Gabai, and another
featuring director David DeCoteau and producer John Schouweiler.
One of Retro honcho Fred Olen Ray's early efforts, "Biohazard"
is also now available. Aldo ("Riot on Sunset Strip") Ray,
Angelique ("Mad Doctor of Blood Island") Pettyjohn and Carroll
("Mark of the Vampire") Borland star in this 1984 tale of
"science gone very, very bad." Retromedia also offers "Werewolf
in a Girl's Dormitory," which we reviewed here last month.
Coming soon are the 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of "Scalps"
(also featuring Ms. Borland), publicized as "one of the
most censored films of all time," as well as "Gamera vs.
Monster X," which is double-billed with "Monster From a
Prehistoric Planet." There's also a "Larry Buchanan Collection
Double Feature" on the way, showcasing "It's Alive!" and
"Year 2889." This package includes the bonus featurette,
"Hangin' With Paul Petersen," featuring the former "Donna
Reed Show" heartthrob and star of "Year 2889." You can find
out more at:
But of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
A PASSING THING
Ready for your first foray into the sub-sub-sub-genre of
"scatological horror?" "Monsturd" may just be the most ambitious
film about a piece of mutant, rampaging human feces ever
made. The plot concerns a serial killer who busts out of
the slammer, gets himself shot and plops headlong into a
sewer full of toxic chemicals and human waste. In the finest
tradition of B-movie mutation, chemical and excrement co-mingle
to spawn the startling stool called "Monsturd." This horrific,
roughage-and-radiation-fueled fiend wastes no time in terrifying
the local environs. This deadpan (dare we say "tongue-in-cheek?")
horror parody was written, produced, edited and directed
by Dan West and Rick Popko, and is available through Image
Entertainment. We recommend you watch while reading the
morning paper. If the first viewing doesn't do it for you,
try a bran muffin and coffee. To procure your copy, visit:
Naturally, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
Somewhere, the real-life person who inspired "The Simpsons"
"comic shop guy" character, is holed up in a dark basement,
hunched over a computer, grinding out rumors concerning
the soon-to-be produced almost but not quite ready for production
any day now maybe perhaps if all goes well someday for sure
"Superman" feature film. The latest? Natalie Portman will
portray Lois Lane. Portman is perhaps best known as Princess
Off-a-dollah, or whatever, of "Star Wars" fame. And they're
apparently still playing musical directors. First, it was
going to be "Charlie's Angels" director McG. Then McHe was
off the project. Then a HOST of big names were supposedly
in contention. Then McG, again. Now, Richard Donner, director
of the 1978 "Superman" feature starring Christopher Reeve,
has allegedly replaced McG. And, word is production has
now been delayed until 2006. There is a silver lining; by
the time they get around to making the film, Ben Affleck
will be too old to play the Man of Steel.
LEE MUM ON CUT FROM "KING"
So, why were all of Christopher Lee's scenes in "The Return
of the King," including the climactic sequence involving
the demise of Lee's character, the evil Saruman, whacked
from the final cut of the film. Suraman gets a passing mention
in the third installment of director Peter Jackson's elephantine
filmization of J.R.R. Tolkien's elephantine Hobbit epic
and then, well, it's on to other pressing Middle Earth matters.
According to Jackson, Saruman was summarily excised because
the character's fate, "seemed like an anticlimax ... it
didn't work in the theatrical cut of 'Return of the King'
... it felt like we were finishing off last year's movie
instead of jumping in and setting up the tension for the
new film." Jackson's decision angered die-hard Hobbit-heads
who spearheaded a petition to have the footage reinstated,
gathering more than 40,000 signatures. "Please Peter Jackson,"
pleaded petition organizer, Matt Shuster, "at least consider
putting this scene back into the theatrical version, and
give us Saruman fans/haters some much needed closure." (If
only such power could be rallied to combat REAL problems,
like poverty and crime, or employed to quell tensions in
the Middle East instead of Middle Earth.) Realizing the
effort was in vain, Schuster later stated that "signing
the petition now will only serve to breed ill will against
the filmmakers and that is not my intent." Jackson says
the pared footage will appear on the extended edition DVD
version of "The Return of the King." Lee told a British
TV show that he was "shocked" by Jackson's decision, but
maintained that a confidentiality agreement prevented him
from commenting further.
NEW ON DVD
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD
There was a time in genre-film history (mid-1960s-early-1970s)
when anthology films were all the rage. Before "Creepshow,"
before "Tales from the Crypt" and "Tales from the Hood,"
there was "Gallery of Horrors," "Gallery of Terrors," "Dr.
Horror's Gallery of Terrors," "Dr. Gallery's Terror of Horrors,"
etc. "The House That Dripped Blood" should have been the
best of the lot, what with top-flight production values,
star power and stories by Robert Bloch. In fact, it's pretty
humdrum stuff. (David L. Hewitt's ultra-low budget "Dr.
Terror's Gallery of Horrors" is more perversely -- albeit
unintentionally -- entertaining than this collection.) The
four stories are tenuously linked by a framing device that
features John Bryans as real estate agent A.J. Stoker (Stoker,
get it?) who peddles the property wherein the horrific happenings
occur. The tales unfold in flashback as a police inspector
investigates the disappearance of a horror movie star.
"Method For Murder" features Denholm Elliott as a troubled
mystery writer with a devious wife. "Waxworks" stars Peter
Cushing and Joss Ackland as former romantic rivals who discover
the head of the woman they once loved on display in a local
wax museum. "Sweets to the Sweet" features Christopher Lee
as the cold-hearted father of bad seed daughter, and "The
Cloak" stars Jon Pertwee as a hammy horror actor whose longtime
co-star, Ingrid Pitt, is eager for him to live out his role
as a big-screen vampire. "The Cloak" is probably the best
of the lot. The story takes us "behind-the-scenes," as it
were, milking Pertwee's egomaniacal behavior for laughs
as he rants about shoddy sets, shabby costumes and hackneyed
scripts. There's even a good-natured jab at Lee, with Pertwee
complaining that they don't make monsters like they used
to; he cites Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera and
Dracula. "Bela Lugosi," of course," he points out, "not
this new fellow."
The other stories lack suspense. In each case, there's
15 minutes of dull preamble, followed by a too-brief, five-minute
build up to a spooky twist ending. Compounding this failing
is the irritating habit, unique to British horror of this
vintage, of over lighting every scene. There's zero atmosphere.
For a house that drips blood, this mansion is one cheery
little nest, with warm sunlight or a crackling fire brightening
every corner. Director Peter Duffel seems determined to
make the most of his expensive color film stock, with most
of the scenes taking place in bright daylight, including
strolls along babbling brooks and quaint country lanes.
When the "action" does take the occasional dark turn, garish
greens and pinks come into play.
The DVD release features an interview with producer Max
Rosenberg, whose credits include "Scream and Scream Again,"
"They Came From Beyond Space," "The People That Time Forgot"
and the "Cat People" remake.
HULK/JURASSIC PARK 3 SET
I have no idea why these films are coupled. Maybe because
they're both mediocre. I tried to like "The Hulk," I really
did. But it's just bad. The ludicrous computer animation
is insurmountable (in fairness, the non-computer effects,
including a mutant super-poodle, are impressive), the casting
is wrongheaded and the resulting performances unconvincing.
Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly generates some sympathy,
and I'll even cut Sam Elliott a little slack as he seems
to be playing a cartoon of himself. But the choice of Australian
actor Eric Bana to portray the tortured scientist who turns
into the muscle-bound green giant is bewildering. He conveys
no emotion: not angst, not sympathy, not rage, not horror;
no gravity whatsoever. And ZERO chemistry between he and
Connelly. And who pumped Nick Nolte full of speed and pushed
him in front of the camera? Talk about shameless scenery
chewing. Ang Lee's direction is likewise giddy and gimmicky,
with comic bookish panels slipping and sliding across the
screen. Why not just have the actors wear sandwich boards
that say, "based on a comic book?" Which begs the question
we never tiring of posing: Why does it HAVE to be a movie?
It was a terrific comic book in its prime. Why wasn't that
enough? Is it supposed to be more rewarding artistically
as a film? I've listened to the argument that film and comic
are separate entities and should be judged accordingly.
Why then is Lee determined to remind us constantly, by introducing
two-dimensional print elements, that "it's only a comic
I suppose comic lovers are thrilled to bits when Hollywood
validates their hobby ("They noticed us! They noticed us!"),
charging them 6-to-10 bucks a pop to see their fantasies
"brought to life." In any event, there's little life in
this film. (Maybe even the geeks caught on; the film did
huge business its opening weekend, and the box-office take
plummeted dramatically its second week in release.) All
they had to do was remake "The Amazing Colossal Man" and
maybe improve on it a bit. That ISN'T a very tall order.
All the same, they blew it. Its most egregious capitulation
to contemporary comic fans is significant; in the comics
I read way back when, Dr. Bruce Banner was a hero who raced
into the teeth of a gamma bomb explosion to save a life.
Today's Hulk is just a victim. He does nothing heroic. Circumstances
beyond his control have conspired to make him an alienated,
bitter monster, which is arguably the way most Gen-Xers
see themselves. Life is so much easier when you resign yourself
to this position.
As for "Jurassic Park 3," well, in keeping with its derivative
theme, we'll simply clone the review we wrote the first
time it was released: Let's run through the checklist: CGI
dinosaurs? Check! By-the-numbers script? Check! Good actors
in undemanding roles? Check! Predictability fully deployed!
Engage automatic pilot! The preceding could well have been
said on the first day of shooting this utterly unnecessary
film. The dinosaurs look cool, the cast is likable for the
most part, and director Joe Johnston is a snappy storyteller.
But before you've even opened your Junior Mints you'll be
able to predict who gets killed and who doesn't. And you'll
learn once more of the inherent dangers of genetic engineering
(for the record, the lesson to be gleaned from all three
"Jurassic Park" films seems to be that manufacturing gigantic,
ferocious, uncontrollable monsters is a bad thing). William
H. Macy plays a wealthy exec whose son has disappeared on
the infamous isle of cloned dinosaurs. Scientist Sam Neill
is conscripted to lead Macy and his ex, Tea Leoni, back
to Jurassic Park in an attempt to find their kid. They see
dinosaurs, run, see more dinosaurs, run, see still more
dinosaurs, run. With a Godzillion dollars' worth of technology
at their disposal, the film's makers bring absolutely nothing
new to the terrain. It's predictable at every turn. But,
if you really enjoy watching people run from dinosaurs --
or if you want to leave the screening feeling like the Amazing
Kreskin -- this is the film for you.
THE GHOST CLUB
This is a cute little movie filmed entirely on location
in South Carolina with a cast of unknowns. Its goals are
modest, as is its budget. The filmmakers set out to entertain
kids and in this regard the film is reminiscent of the PBS
series "Ghost Writer," and to a lesser degree, the "Ghost
Busters" series that starred Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch
and, of course, our buddy Bob Burns as Tracy the gorilla.
The filmmakers target a young demographic -- maybe 7- to
12-year-olds -- who should find it a pleasing way to spend
70 minutes or so. The lead characters are derivative of
the famous "Scooby gang," archetypes that kids will easily
identify; a feisty, tomboyish ghost-hunter, a Valley-girlish
type as concerned about her hair and makeup as the supernatural,
a geeky inventive wiz who devises all manner of spook-catching
gadgetry, and the nominally normal pre-teen guy, brother
of the aforementioned tomboy, who finds himself coerced
into hairy situations by his ambitious sister. While no
spooks appear on camera, and special effects play little
role in the film, there are supernatural elements involving
a benevolent spirit. The plotting is pretty solid; the kid's
Mom stands to lose the family store to a conniving developer
and the IRS. The spirit-stalking siblings, vacationing on
Grandma's farm just outside of town, pull out all the stops
to rescue the family business from greedy clutches. They
establish a cool fort in the forest (what kid wouldn't love
that?) and manage to hack into the crooked businessman's
computer records. It is while wandering Grandma's woods
that the friendly ghost intervenes and, through a series
of rather clever -- not to mention sentimental -- revelations,
helps the kids keep the wolf from the door.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc. http://www.dinoship.com
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"See the doll messengers of death!" -- Curse of the Doll People