Remembered best as the loving Mom-turned-alien
pawn in the original classic "Invaders From Mars," actress
Hillary Brooke is dead at 84. Though she made her initial
mark as the icy, blond "other woman" in dozens of B films,
many will remember her recurring role as, ostensibly, herself
in "The Abbott & Costello Show." She also played the
part of Roberta Townsend opposite Gale Storm in the TV series
"My Little Margie," which ran from 1952-55. "Invaders From
Mars" has gone on to be one of cult-filmdom's inarguable
classics, and Brooke's chilly performance as the housewife
whose brain is overtaken by Martians is solid and convincing.
Sadly, like the majority of her "Invaders From Mars" co-stars,
Ms. Brooke rarely gave interviews or attended film conventions.
Best known to untold legions of "Star Trek" fans as the
cantankerous Dr. "Bones" McCoy, actor DeForest Kelley is
dead at 79. He had been hospitalized at the Motion Picture
and Television Country Home for some time. There are hundreds
of "Star Trek" web sites, forums and periodicals capable
of recounting Kelley's contribution to that cultural phenonomena.
As far as his film work is concerned, prior to broaching
the "final frontier," Kelley appeared in dozens of B films,
often as a heavy, and narrowly lost the lead in "This Gun
For Hire" to another newcomer, Alan Ladd. His TV credits
include "Science Fiction Theater," "Perry Mason," "Route
66," "Have Gun, Will Travel," and many others. Kelley is
survived by his wife of 55 years, Carolyn.
George E. Turner
Respected author, illustrator and film scholar George E.
Turner is dead at 73. Turner served as editor of American
Cinematographer magazine from 1985-91 and was known as one
of the most knowledgable writers on film making. Beginning
his career as a magazine cartoonist, he later produced special
effects for the classic "Zorro" TV series, as well as several
films. Among his his many books on films and film making
are "Human Monsters," "The Cinema of Adventure, Romance
& Terror" and "The Making of King Kong." He frequently
collaborated with author Michael H. Price. Their revised
edition of "Forgotten Horrors" was only recently republished
by Midnight Marquee Press. George was also kind enough to
contribute to The Astoundng B Monster. His expertise will
be sorely missed.
NEW ON VIDEO
A pair of under-budgeted, endearing oldies
highlight the video mix this time out. But lest you get
the impression that we're favoring the aged and obscure
over the metal and mayhem of more recent vintage, we've
tossed in a Trek epic, a derivative tale of marauding robots,
and a bonafide Oscar nominee.
STAR TREK: INSURRECTION
There is such a pervasive and volatile "Trekkie-bias" dominating
the genre-film world that it is pretty much impossible to
write an objective review of anything Star Trek-related.
You're bound to offend someone who prefers Picard to Kirk,
or loves the way Levar Burton looks in his Fram oil filter
eyewear. Notwithstanding, the reviewer must forge ahead.
Admit it Trek fans, this latest addition to the franchise
is paper-thin. Its a big-screen movie with a small-screen
look. Its time-honored 'quest for the fountain of youth'
plotline is predictable at every turn and its action sequences
are muddled and unappealing. There are one or two wistful
innovations (the regenerative properties of the planet the
crew visits have temporarily restored Burton's eyesight,
and Patrick Stewart finds romance with a youthful-looking
woman 100 years his senior), and the collusion between a
villainous alien race and Picard's commanding officers is
a nice hitch. But by-and-large, it's a padded episode of
the "Next Generation" series.
As directed by actor Jonathan Frakes (who makes screen
time for a romantic dalliance or two for his character),
the chase scenes and shootouts are darn-near impossible
to comprehend -- who's chasing who, who got blown up? Worse
still, the series' chief asset, its appealing cast, is under-exploited.
This installment's guest-alien is played by Oscar-winner
F. Murray Abraham. As a despotic space guy plagued with
a degenerative disease that causes blood to spurt out of
his face from time to time, he chews the scenery right down
to the marrow.
I like the basic premise of an innocent people occupying
a health-spa planet that everyone covets, but there's just
not enough substance to the notion to sustain a feature-length
picture. Given the confusing action-segments, the fleeting
appearances of some series regulars and the cheap, TV-movie
feel of the proceedings, its easy to get the impression
that producers are losing interest in continuing the big
screen series based on their cash cow "Enterprise."
GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN
Of all the giant Spanish conquistador zombie movies ever
made, this is the best. It's ultra-cheap and a little corny,
but I've always held great affection for this film and it's
great to see such a beautiful print of it moving into release.
It stars Edward Kemmer (Commander Buzz Corry of TV's "Space
Patrol") as an intrepid anthropologist who comes across
the remains of Vargas, a 16th-century Spanish explorer of
northern California noted for his cruelty. All it takes
is one errant bolt of lightning, and Vargas is revived and
begins terrorizing the surrounding environs. Following a
suspenseful pursuit through the Big Bear Lake region, the
story is climaxed by a showdown in an abandoned mill (shades
The cast is top-notch: Kemmer brings the same credibility
and earnestness to the proceedings that he brought to the
pioneering kid-vid "Space Patrol" earlier in the decade.
As Kemmer's more experienced colleague, B-movie stalwart
Morris Ankrum is on hand to display his entertaining brand
of crusty dignity, and pretty Sally Fraser, an underrated
and largely forgotten 1950s starlet, portrays Ankrum's daughter
(and Kemmer's love interest).
The film is also noteworthy as one of the last projects
for Universal Studios makeup legend Jack Pierce. After years
of groundbreaking makeup creations (Karloff's "Frankenstein"
monster being the most recognizable) Pierce was out of a
job by the 1950s. Happily, he gets a special screen credit
for designing the Vargas makeup, an inauspicious but endearing
screen swan song.
The production was plagued by technical gaffs. It began
snowing heavily during the filming of the climax, so fake
snow had to be added to scenes already shot, and some patently
phony-looking painted backdrops stand in for Big Bear on
occasion. Even so, the production is invested with a good
deal of energy. It was the first (and arguably best) film
helmed by director Richard Cunha, who churned out four of
the 50s best-known drive-in titles in quick succession;
"Giant From the Unknown," "Missile to the Moon," "She Demons"
and "Frankenstein's Daughter" all in '58 and '59.
Choppy, scratchy copies have been floating around for
years, but this is the one to pick up on. Struck form the
original negative, this print its crystal clear and hardly
seems like the same film that haunted the late show of my
I suppose the first question that comes to mind is "why?"
Didn't Hitchcock get it right? Is it supposed to be scarier
in color? Is it more contemporary because they've added
a scene of Norman Bates gratifying himself while spying
on Marion Crane as she undresses?
This shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's trendsetting
film sparked outrage among horror purists, and not without
justification. If ever a production sounded like a bad idea
right out of the gate, it was this one. Even so, it's difficult
to hate the film on an intrinsic level; it is literally
a recreation of the classic -- the tracing of a masterpiece.
Therefore, all of the shots and camera angles, the blocking
and the pacing are near-perfect -- because they were planned
that way by Hitchcock nearly 40 years ago. In addition,
producers were wise to keep Bernard Herrman's seminal score
in tact (though strangely, Danny Elfman gets a credit for
In this version, as in the original, the film stands or
falls based on its depiction of Norman, the knife-wielding
mama's boy. On this score, Vince Vaughn is all wrong for
the part. He comes off as entirely too competent, and certainly,
anyone who looks so much like a movie star would have little
trouble with the ladies. In contrast, Anthony Perkins was
wiry, weasely and a trifle effeminate, qualities that communicated
his vulnerability and volatility. (Significantly, neither
actor matches the depiction of the slovenly Norman in Robert
The actors are quite good, particularly William H. Macy
standing in for Martin Balsam as the ill-fated detective.
Anne Heche tackles Janet Leigh's role as Marion Crane (no,
the shower scene is NOT improved upon) and Julianne Moore
assays Vera Miles' part as Marion's inquisitive sister.
Supposedly, this was a pet project of director Gus Van Sant;
green-lighting the project was perhaps his reward for the
commercial success of films such as "Good Will Hunting."
Well, he does a helluva of a Hitchcock impression, but in
the end, it was a waste of his time and ours.
GODS AND MONSTERS
Not ostensibly a science fiction or a horror film, but nonetheless,
"Gods and Monsters" is a significant acknowledgment of an
important genre-film figure. This fictionalized depiction
of the final days in the life of director James Whale ("Frankenstein,"
"The Invisible Man") surprised many fans by getting made
in the first place. They were astounded when this small
film received Oscar nominations! (Ian McKellan is quite
good as Whale, as is Lynn Redgrave as his cantankerous housekeeper,
but ultimately, neither was awarded a statuette).
It's a good movie, well acted, well paced, nostalgic in
all the right places with a clever mix of scenes, real and
recreated, from Whale's best film, "Bride of Frankenstein."
But you have to wonder why the folks behind the film thought
anyone would give a hoot about James Whale. Sure, horror
buffs like myself thought it was interesting, but certainly
not the guy who plunks down eight bucks to see "Armageddon."
Further, why fictionalize Whale's relationship with a brawny
handyman (well played by Brendan Fraser), his homosexuality,
his shunning of Hollywood and decent into senility? Wasn't
his real life tragic enough without the dramatic enhancements?
While it's open to conjecture what Whale actually went through
toward the end of his life, is it ever a good idea to fabricate
events in the lives of historical figures?
The script is good in general, with many of the most incisive
scenes going to Redgrave. McKellan brings the right mix
of dignity and haught to his role as the embittered director,
but key scenes depicting physical encounters with Fraser
as McKellan comes to grips with his inner demons are muddled
and maddeningly inconclusive.
Those caveats aside, I thinks it's terrific that this
unpretentious little film about a Hollywood figure who enjoyed
a less than auspicious career raised so many eyebrows. It's
well worth seeing and may spark a desire to go back and
watch the classic Whale films that once haunted the late-night
It's been a long time since moviegoers were this innocent.
There's an endearing naiveté about this earnestly-acted
film that will either bore you or make you long for a time
when we believed that science could accomplish anything.
The film makes little attempt to disguise that fact that
it lifts its premise from "Journey to the Center of the
Earth." It's team of dedicated scientists (does anyone remember
when scientists were lauded for more than just the invention of Viagra?) sees the earth's core as the only safe haven
from the growing dangers of surface dwelling. They design an auger-nosed, earth-boring
tank (actually a pretty nifty gadget considering the film's
low budget) and take the plunge.
The crackerjack miniatures are by Jack Rabin and Irving Block. While many of the models
appear obvious by today's standards, keep in mind that these
guys helped blaze the trail, attempting audacious depiction's
of impossible events on a minuscule budget.
This dumb, noisy movie is the latest project of director
Stuart Gordon who made a lot of noise initially with his
quirky and innovative "Re-Animator" some years back. Subsequent
films of Gordon's ("Robot Jox," "Castle Freak") failed to
live up to "Re-Animator's" promise and "Space Truckers"
is no exception.
Somehow, this coy and derivative sci-fier managed to attract
a cast that's a cut above the direct-to-video norm. Dennis
Hopper walks through his role as a crusty cargo driver,
hauling freight along the space lanes of the distant future.
Stephen Dorff is the young apprentice trucker whose thrown
into cahoots with him due to some unforeseen circumstances,
and Debi Mazar is the barmaid they fight over. Charles Dance
goes way over the top as a Nazi-looking, half-cyborg-half-pirate
guy (try and picture that) and even TV's George Wendt finds
time to embarrass himself as a surly truck dispatcher.
The film is all about Hopper and company unknowingly hauling
a shipment of killer robots -- and that's about all the
plot there is. Admittedly, some of the robot effects and
spaceship models are impressive diversions. Incidentally,
many of you will be glad to hear that country music is sounding
just the same in the year 2196! ("Big wheels of rubber gonna
rub her off my mind," goes one plaintive refrain).
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Scott Essman, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
PARTING BLURB "The coolest monster shindig of chicks and
chills!" -- The Beach Girls and the Monster