NEW! MONSTERS FOR SALE
In this latest addition to the B Monster archives, a team
of peerless monster film historians examines the Universal
monster "Legacy Collections," the fallout from "Van Helsing,"
and the meaning and future of your "horror heritage."
DRACULA: Artist/author/historian Vincent Di Fate
reviews the Dracula "Legacy Collection"
FRANKENSTEIN: Author/editor/historian Bob Madison
addresses the Frankenstein "Legacy" set
THE WOLF MAN: Filmmaker/author/historian Robert
Tinnell provides his take on the Wolf Man "Legacy" http://www.bmonster.com/sale_wolfman.html
THE LEGACY: The B Monster delineates your "Horror
It's here! It's new! It's beautiful! The Jack Davis B Monster
poster! It ain't six feet tall (weren't THOSE the days?),
but at 23" x 35" you get more than your money's worth of
Davis' macabre magic. Printed on high-quality, heavyweight
7 mil semi-gloss paper using superior dye inks, the Davis
B Monster may one day be the sought after classic his black-and-white
six-foot Frankenstein is today. Why wait for nostalgia mercenaries
to corner the market? Here's a terrific bit of retro you
can own today. Gruesomely gussy up your den, parlor or dungeon
with this stunning portrait from the cartoon dean of the
monster scene. Buy
one ... NOW!
Max J. Rosenberg
Producer Max J. Rosenberg, who co-founded Britain's prolific
Amicus Productions, has died. The cause of death was not
immediately known. He was 89. Rosenberg served as producer
on nearly 50 films beginning with "Rock, Rock, Rock" in
1956. Horror and science fiction films became his focus
after working behind-the-scenes on the production of "The Curse of Frankenstein" in 1957. He
produced, co-produced or executive produced "City of the
Dead" aka "Horror Hotel," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors,"
"The Skull," "The House That Dripped Blood," "The Deadly
Bees," "The Land That Time Forgot," "At The Earth's Core,"
"The Incredible Melting Man," and many others. He also produced
several "Dr. Who" films about the adventurer/scientist featured
in the long-running British cult-television program. His
final film credit was 1997's "Perdita Durango" aka "Dance
With the Devil."
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
What about that "Van Helsing" fallout? Judging from our
e-mail, the great majority of B Monster readers agreed with
our assessment of the film as a hollow, perfunctory, commercial
entertainment. (See http://www.bmonster.com/sale_legacy.html
for more). But there were some who took umbrage at our negative
appraisal: "Why are you so hard on new horror films?" we
were asked. "What's so bad about two hours of action and
escapism?" (My favorite reaction among those who say they
enjoyed the film was one I heard voiced several times: "It
wasn't as terrible as I thought it was going to be.")
Central to my complaint regarding contemporary horror
films is their lack of humanity. Contemporary films excel
at providing thrills, buzz, blood and guts, to the exclusion
of humanity. The old-time monsters had great humanity and
sympathy under all that scary makeup. Today's films are
-- to invoke cliché -- very much like the roller
coasters they aspire to be; it may be a thrilling ride,
but you don't get to know the people on the ride with you.
When the ride is done, you walk away strangers. I didn't
know or empathize with a single character in "Van Helsing."
Thrills and chills aplenty, if that's what you're looking
for, but I'm looking for humanity, motivation and character,
as well. I don't think that's asking too much.
FUMES AT 9/11
Legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury referred to
filmmaker Michael Moore as "a screwed asshole" in an interview
published in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. Bradbury,
author of the sci-fi classic "Fahrenheit 451," says that
Moore, director of a controversial new Bush-bashing documentary
called "Fahrenheit 9/11," "stole my title and changed the
numbers without ever asking me for permission." Bradbury,
84, says that he sought a dialogue with Moore months ago.
"I called his publisher. They promised he would call me
the same afternoon, but he didn't." When asked if he and
Moore were on the same page politically, Bradbury responded,
"That has nothing to do with it. He copied my title, that
is what happened. That has nothing to do with my political
opinions." When reminded that Moore has garnered much publicity
by recently winning the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or,
Bradbury said, "So what? I have won prizes in different
places and they are mostly meaningless. The people there
hate us, which is why they gave him the d'Or. It's a meaningless
prize." The author maintains that he doesn't want to "make
a big story out of it. I detest all paparazzi journalism
that is so common these days. If I just could make him change
his title silently, that would be the best thing." Bradbury
did not say what further action he may take, if any, but
he made his opinion of the filmmaker clear: "He is a horrible
human being. Horrible human!"
Six months after being contacted by Bradbury, Moore finally
returned his call. Bradbury told the AP that Moore told
him he was "embarrassed. He suddenly realized he's let too
much time go by." A spokesperson for Moore said in a statement
that the filmmakers have "the utmost respect for Ray Bradbury."
Bradbury said that he is "hoping to settle this as two gentlemen,
if he'll shake hands with me and give me back my book and
title." As of this writing, there is no indication that
Moore will do so.
"A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN" SCREENWRITER DECAPITATED
Retired physician Morley Hal Engleson was making flight
arrangements over the phone when the agent he was speaking
to heard a commotion in the background and called the police.
According to Los Angeles KNBC-4 News, police arrived at
Engelson's home to find Engelson dead, and the disembodied
head of screenwriter Robert Lees lying in his backyard.
Earlier, a friend had gone to Lees' home to check on the
91-year-old, and found his headless body. Lees' property
is adjacent to Engelson's. Police arrested a suspect, Keven
Lee Graff, 27, just two miles from the scene, very near
the Paramount studios gate. Graff is suspected of stealing
some items from Lees' home and Engleson's black Mercedes-Benz.
Said Detective Brian Tyndall, who is investigating the case,
"This is one of the most horrendous crime scenes that I
have seen during my 33 years as a police officer in this
city." Lees' screenwriting credits include "Abbott &
Costello Meet Frankenstein," "Abbott & Costello Meet
the Invisible Man," (Lees wrote seven films for the comedy
team) and "The Invisible Woman." "I used to work with [Robert's]
son, Richard, at CBS," said preservationist and film historian
Bob Burns. "He was an engineer at the studio. We used to
talk all the time about his Dad writing 'Abbott & Costello
Meet Frankenstein.' I met his Dad one time when he came
by CBS many years ago. He was a very nice guy."
JAB AT THE JEDI
Filmmaker Earl Newton may just be the most devoted "Star
Wars" fan out there -- and he has a VERY funny way of showing
it. "Fall of a Saga" is a short, satirical film written
and directed by Newton that depicts how George Lucas came
to create the sluggish sequel, "Episode One: The Phantom
Menace," that left so many fans of his original trilogy
bored and disappointed. At least this is Newton's skewed
version of events. In Newton's film, a bedraggled, paunchy
Lucas sits alone in a bare motel room, hammering away on
a manual typewriter, going through draft after draft when
a mysterious visitor from his past pays a call. It is spoiling
nothing to reveal that the character is a thinly disguised
Mr. Scratch come to collect on the bargain he made years
ago that ensured Lucas's success. The Devil demands rewrite
after rewrite and, well, if you've seen "Episode One," you
can pretty much guess the rest.
For all that, the film is not mean-spirited or snarky.
Call it a cautionary homage to Lucas. I hope Gorge sees
it and gets his creative mind back on track. "Fall of a
Saga" has been met with very positive reaction, rapidly
accruing a cult status. Says Newton, "I'm continually surprised
by what $500 and six shooting days has produced." Watch
it. Laugh. Stop taking the whole "Star Wars' mythos so darned
seriously. For more info, check out:
Make a point of telling Earl, "The B Monster. Sent me, he
PHANTOM IN A FESTIVE MOOD
Joe Kane, better known as The Phantom of the Movies, is
celebrating the 50th edition of his "VideoScope" magazine.
Based in Ocean Grove, N.J., the New York Daily News entertainment
columnist started his 16-page "VideoScope" newsletter in
1993, spreading the genre-film gospel to a handful of followers.
The project bloomed into the now 72-page quarterly that
chronicles the cult-film world. The mag is filled with interviews
and reviews and the VideoScope "Special 50th Issue Survival
Celebration" edition is no exception, featuring a Q &
A with David Carradine, an illustrated tour of modern-day
Transylvania, and a retrospective of the 1970s tabloid "The
Monster Times." Kane has also compiled "The Phantom of the
Movies' VideoScope: The Ultimate Guide to the Latest, Greatest
and Weirdest Genre Videos," featuring over 3,000 reviews
and celeb interviews. It's available from Three Rivers Press/Random
House. For more info, check out: http://www.videoscopemag.com
And be sure to pass along to the Phantom the B Monster's
MONSTERS OF FUMETTILAND
Fumettis are alive and well! Not familiar with this peculiar
spin on comics narrative? When photo art is employed in
lieu of artistic rendering to tell a story in graphic narrative,
that's fumetti. (Some of you might recall the fumetti adaptations
of "Horror of Party Beach" and "The Mole People" rendered
by Wally Wood and Russ Jones in the 1960s). Prolific movie
storyboard artist Pete Von Sholly applies his skewed sensibilities
to the art form in a collection called "Morbid," published
by Dark Horse Comics. It's "morbid with a wink," as Von
Sholly likes to point out, featuring stories about "Reptitan,"
"Doctor Tricyclops," "The Astounding Shehemoth" and "Curse
of the Werewig." "I grew up on John Stanley, Carl Barks
and Jack Kirby, and I always wanted to make comics too,
as both writer and artist," says Von Sholly. "But I ended
up working in the movies as a storyboard artist, a field
which relates (but only to a degree) to comics." Von Sholly's
movie credits include "The Shawshank Redemption," "Mars
Attacks," "The Mask," "Darkman," "James and the Giant Peach"
and many others. He was also the driving force behind Moonbeam/Paramount
Home Video's "Prehysteria" franchise.
"A few years ago, when I started working with Photoshop,"
Von Sholly says, "it occurred to me to try creating comics
in a digital fumetti style. It seemed there would be no
limit to what I could accomplish." Pete points out that
his singular -- and decidedly peculiar -- vision is uncompromised
by the editorial complications inherent in mass comic book
production. "I don't need a letterer, a colorist etc. I
lay out the pages in pencil, then take my photos, make scans,
and put it all together in the computer, add the text and
I have a finished product." Citing his influences, Von Sholly
says, "I always loved Charles Addams, Doctor Seuss, Famous
Monsters of Filmland, Harryhausen, Willis O'Brien, dinosaurs,
Lovecraft, etc., etc., so what else would I be doing thematically?"
Von Sholly has also produced a monster mag parody called
"Crazy Hip Groovy Go-Go Way Out Monsters," lampooning the
periodicals that monster boomers devoured in the 1960s.
One cover blurb promises, "Endless ads for weird cheap garbage
you may never even get!" Come to think of it, there are
several Captain Company items the B Monster is STILL waiting
for! But you don't have to wait to sample Von Sholly's
idiosyncratic artistry; for more info, check out:
Pete's stuff is available at:
Tell Pete, without hesitation, the B Monster sent you!
NEWS FROM BLACK FOREST
The folks at Reelart Studios, makers of nifty collectible
busts, statues and model kits, have announced a licensing
agreement with Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell and Neil
Vokes, the creative team behind Image Comics's "The Black
Forest." "The first statue will be a multiple figure bust
featuring the heroes," according to Reelart's Michael Hudson.
"Jack Shannon, the dashing young aviator; Archie Caldwell,
the intrepid stage magician; and the Frankenstein Monster.
The paint scheme will follow the black and white wash look
of Neil Vokes' distinctive cinematic styled artwork." "The
Black Forest," a Word War One-based, monster rally graphic
novel has been a hit with comic readers and classic monster
buffs who will doubtless snatch up quality ancillary collectibles
based on the property. "Master sculptor Shawn Nagle will
be basing his dead-on design skills on conceptual action
sketches provided by the artist," says Hudson, "while each
statue will work as a stand-alone piece, when viewed collectively,
they will comprise a rousing battle scene." For more info
regarding "The Black Forest' and its creators, check out:
http://www.theblackforest.net And visit the Reelart site
while you're at it:
You know the drill; tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
According to actor Andy Serkis's Website, "Andy will play
the title role in Peter Jackson's "King Kong," due to begin
filming this August in New Zealand, for a December 2005
worldwide release." Serkis will provide "motion capture
reference." That's when an actor's movements are used as
reference for computer animators. It isn't too dissimilar
from the old Fleischer studios method of rotoscoping an
actor, that is tracing his movements for more lifelike animation.
Serkis, who provided the motion capture reference for the
Gollum character in director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the
Rings" films will render the same service as "Kong" in the
same director's upcoming remake of the classic thriller.
Jackson issued a statement saying, "I expect this time round
will be a very different experience for both Andy and myself
as we'll actually get to shoot extended drama sequences
together." Serkis will also play Lumpy, the cook on the
ship that steams into Skull Island to capture the big ape.
Also in the cast are Naomi Watts in the Fay Wray role, Jack
Black assuming Robert Armstrong's part as showman Carl Denham,
and Adrien Brody in the he-man role originally played by
THAT TRIP TO TRANSYLVANIA
According to Variety, NBC will NOT be airing a "Van Helsing"
spin-off series called "Transylvania." The network had been
so sure of the film's success that it had ordered six episodes
from "Van Helsing" director Stephen Sommers before his film
ever hit the big screen. The film has proved to be a major
box office disappointment, and NBC has backed away from
the agreement, citing "budgetary concerns." "Van Helsing"
cost $160 million to make, and was heralded by relentless
saturation marketing that was unprecedented in its expense.
It earned just over $51 million its opening weekend.
LOOK FORWARD TO FLASHBACK
Organizers of the FlashBack Weekend Event, which happens
July 30-August 1 in Rosemont, Ill., are going all out to
recapture the drive-in experience. "Our nostalgic drive-In
extravaganza will feature an outdoor full-size drive-In
screen with 35mm projection and stereo sound. The event
will feature celebrity guests, 35mm screenings of classic
short subjects, several full-length features, nostalgic
drive-in intermission trailers, vintage classic coming attractions
and many other surprises." Actually, the event is more of
a "walk-in," according to promoters, with attendees lounging
on blankets and lawn chairs. The venue will even feature
a drive-in style snack bar. The celebrity guests are a diverse
group: Continuing their barnstorming celebration of the
"Creature From the Black Lagoon's" 50th anniversary, the
Creature himself, Ben Chapman, and the "beauty" to his "beast,"
Julie Adams, will be in attendance. Also topping the guest
George Romero, lauded horror film director Joe Bob Briggs,
popular drive-in pundit Dee Wallace Stone, star of "The
Howling" and "E.T." Sid Haig, star of the cult classic "Spider
Baby" Brinke Stevens, scream queen and marine biologist
A "Day of the Dead" reunion featuring: Joseph Pilato Lori
Cardille Gary Klar A "Dawn of the Dead" reunion featuring:
Sharon Ceccatti-Hill Clayton Hill
It all happens at the Holiday Inn O'Hare in Rosemont.
For details and updates, visit:
Let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
MIDMAR'S LOOMING LINEUP
The folks at Midnight Marquee Press recently announced that
issue three of their new mag, "Movie Mystique," is available
at comic shops, Tower, Borders and Barnes & Noble. The
announcement was one of a slate of new projects the Baltimore-based
publishers are unveiling. The fourth issue of "Mad About
Movies," featuring a detective film theme, is also on the
stands. Issue 71 of their flagship magazine, "Midnight Marquee,"
will be available soon and future book projects include
"The Eurospy Guide" by Matt Blake and David Deal, which
chronicles the European spy film sub-genre, and the latest
addition to the "Midnight Marquee Actors Series," this one
covering the films of Peter Cushing. For more information,
Let 'em know for certain that the B Monster sent you!
HAS A BETTER IDEA
While the fourth Indiana Jones sequel languishes awaiting
final, final, FINAL script approval, Harrison Ford, according
to Variety, will star in "Godspeed," an outer space thriller
produced by James "King of the World" Cameron's Lightstorm
Entertainment. There is a script, but the film has no director,
nor a studio to release it. The Variety report says, "Godspeed
takes place on an international space station, where a life-threatening
situation develops that could kill all the inhabitants on
board." Wow! What a novel concept! People trapped in space
whose lives are threatened. I don't think that's ever been
done. No wonder Ford put the brakes on that Indy film. After
all, you have to have a good script.
THE WISHING HOUR
Normally, we'll leave "Buffy" and "Angel"-related items
to younger chroniclers of horror. But word of this event
caught our attention, and we've deemed it worthy of inclusion:
A "Slay-a-thon" will take place at Dave & Buster's Goldcoast
Showroom in Chicago, on Saturday, July 17. What's a "Slay-a-thon?"
It's over 12 hours of nonstop "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
episodes, screened for participants who have been sponsored
to view the daylong slaying. The proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish
Foundation. A benefit auction will also be held. "We're
able to raise money because people who attend the marathon
get friends, family and co-workers to sponsor them," say
promoters, "just like with a walkathon, or other fundraising
events of that type. Add the auction proceeds to the sponsor
dollars and we'll make a substantial donation to the Make-A-Wish
Foundation of Illinois." For more information, check out:
Why not tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
The sponsors of the CineMedia
convention have decided to cancel their show. We have no
other details at this time.
NEW ON DVD
The folks at Alpha Video continue to release films that
are otherwise hard to find on DVD. The prints vary in quality,
and I have no idea if any copyrights are being infringed
upon, but the following two disks are certainly affordable.
We'll stick to reviewing the films themselves, and leave
talk of legalities, digital transfers and aspect ratios
OF THE BLOOD BEAST
Is that not one of the great titles in B-movie history?
And how about this: "No girl was safe as long as this head-hunting
thing roamed the land!" Is that not one of the great ad
blurbs in B-movie history? This is one of my favorite Roger
Corman-produced pictures. Why? Well, it sure isn't the high-gloss
production sheen. This gritty little sci-fi shocker contains
an engaging twist or two and gutsy pretensions that exceed
its modest budget. And it's darned well acted by some of
the most familiar names in the Corman stock company, including
Ed Nelson ("Attack of the Crab Monsters"), Michael Emmett
("Attack of the Giant Leeches") and Tyler McVey ("Attack
of the Giant Leeches," "Hot Car Girl"). Of course it's cheap,
and it looks it (since when has the B Monster held that
against a picture?) but its simple premise is unhampered
by the ultra low budget.
An astronaut returning from space crash-lands near a secluded
research station (actually one of California's first television
facilities on Mount Lee near the HOLLYWOOD sign). A rescue
team of scientists discovers his dead body in the burned-out
space capsule and carts it back to their cloistered laboratory.
Plot twist No. 1: He ain't dead. He's up and talking in
no time at all. Plot twist No. 2: He's pregnant! When he's
hauled before a fluoroscope, we see -- in a decidedly poorly
executed animation -- tiny alien babies cavorting in his
tummy. Meanwhile, the titular Blood Beast, a moldy looking
alien who somehow survived the crash landing having stowed
away on the doomed capsule, is menacing the tiny lab base
and its occupants, seeking to protect its progeny, which
is gestating in the astronaut's stomach. It all leads to
a showdown in the shadows of the Bronson Canyon, that fabled
and favored B-movie locale, where we get to see the monster,
a lumpy humanoid with a parrot-like beak, all too well.
Director Bernard L. Kowalski also directed Corman's classic
"Attack of the Giant Leeches," "Krakatoa, East of Java"
and "SSSSSSS," as well as working prolifically in television.
Writer Martin Varno wrote just this one film, remarkable
in that it contains elements that have been reworked to
death in subsequent sci-fi offerings. (An "Alien" impregnating
an astronaut, for instance.) Varno, just 21 at the time,
was recommended for the job by his best friend, writer Jerome
Bixby, who penned "It! The Terror From Beyond Space." Combine
Bixby's "It!" plot about an alien stowaway hiding in air
ducts and Varno's notion of impregnated spacemen, and you've
got the blueprint for "Alien." Of course, Varno's story
was informed by "The Thing From Another World," as both
feature isolated scientists stalked by an alien monster,
and an exsanguinated victim hanging by his knees from the
This, the first of the Abominable Snowman movies, was directed
by W. Lee Wilder, the B-movie brother of big-time director
Billy Wilder. It was written by Myles Wilder, who collaborated
with his dad W. Lee on the schlock classics "Killers from
Space," "Phantom from Space" and others. It is bad. Not
because of the low-low-budget or perfunctory script, but
because, like all of W. Lee Wilder's films, it is so deadly
serious, so earnest, so lacking in humor. This is fine if
you're directing "Judgment at Nuremburg," but "Snow Creature?"
Which is not to say I don't appreciate that Wilder took
his subject matter seriously, but we're never allowed to
see the lighter side of the personalities involved. (The
humanizing fact that one of the characters is an expectant
father is shoehorned into the script late in the film.)
The actors are furniture placed on sets and given dialogue.
They exist only to move the plot to its conclusion. We don't
know them and, subsequently, don't care what happens to
them. This may be far too much analysis to apply when reviewing
an exploitation quickie called "The Snow Creature," but
it's an interesting common thread in all of Wilder's films.
In the end, we derive the most fun from such pictures
by studying the trivia behind them. Take star William Phipps,
for instance. Talk about an unheralded, seasoned movie veteran!
He began his career with a small part in Edward Dmytryk's
1947 "Crossfire." He starred in Arch Oboler's doomsday shocker,
"Five." In 1950, he was the voice of Prince Charming in
Disney's "Cinderella." In a two-year period -- 1953-1954
-- he appeared in "The Blue Gardenia," "Invaders from Mars,"
"Savage Frontier," "Julius Caesar," "Northern Patrol," "The
War of the Worlds," "Cat-Women of the Moon," "Fort Algiers,"
"Red River Shore," "The Twonky," "Riot in Cell Block 11,"
"Jesse James vs. the Daltons," "Executive Suite," "Francis
Joins the WACS," "Two Guns and a Badge" and "The Snow Creature."
Plus television, commercials and voiceover work right up
to and including the narration of the expanded TV version
of David Lynch's "Dune."
Rudolph Anders you may recognize from Richard Cunha's
"She Demons." Anders, who also appeared in Wilder's "Phantom
From Space," made innumerable appearances as assorted Gestapo
agents, SS men and Aryan scientists both in films and on
television. And if Anders was the B-movie Nazi "go-to guy,"
then "Snow Creature" co-star, Teru Shimada, was his Japanese
counterpart, appearing as various officers, diplomats and
villains in "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," "House of Bamboo,"
"Tokyo After Dark" "The Wackiest Ship in the Army," "King
Rat" and the James Bond thriller "You Only Live Twice,"
among many others. Screenwriter Myles Wilders eased into
a television career writing episodes of "My Three Sons,"
"McHale's Navy," "Get Smart," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and
Oh, yeah, the plot of "Snow Creature": A party of Himalaya
climbers captures a Yeti and brings it to the States. It
gets loose and they have to track it down. That's about
it. It runs just over an hour and feels like two because
so many scenes are milked untenably. The most egregious
and amusing example is the single shot of the Yeti emerging
from the shadows. This brief sequence is run forward, then
backward, then forward, then backward. Even on a budget
this modest, couldn't they afford just one more take of
the creature coming out of the shadows, rather than replay
this single sequence to hilarious effect?
This 2001 psychological horror from Millennium Pictures
is not unremarkable, but it suffers from too many talky
patches of vague exposition. This hinders whatever momentum
the film manages to build. Several scenes are admirably
mounted and the film as a whole has a slick and studied
look. But it's that VERY rare case where the filmmakers
should have shown a bit more and implied a bit less. (How
many contemporary horror films can this be said of?)
"The Bunker" is about a squad of Nazi infantrymen who
take refuge from battle in what they take to be an abandoned
bunker. The bunker is, however, inhabited by an old man
-- a veteran of the First World War -- and a young soldier.
It isn't long before hints are dropped about strange goings
on in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the bunker. Mysterious
sounds, visions and disappearances drive the group to near-madness.
Are the spirits of executed deserters from the same unit
-- seen in washed out flashbacks -- haunting the soldiers
to their deaths? Amid the spectral head games, internal
rivalries turn decidedly ugly and lead to a rather suspenseful
The film's central failing is that, in its attempts to
imply subtly what the menace is, it tends to unnecessarily
confuse us with too many hints, implications and misdirections.
After a while, it gets pretty hard to tell which Nazi is
which, and, as they begin searching the dark caves, just
where they are in those tunnels in relation to one another.
If you can keep track, you'll appreciate the film's moody
look and well-planned atmospherics. If not, well, you'll
just have to appreciate the fact that it is well acted by
a British cast who wisely forgo attempting cheesy German
accents. Director Rob Green previously directed an 18-minute
short film version of Poe's "The Black Cat." Screenwriter
Clive Dawson has written several series for British television
including "The Bill" and London's Burning." Should the two
collaborate again, they might strive for cohesion, tighten
up the running time and toss out an unnecessary red herring
OF DEATH" DVD TRIPLE FEATURE
Author John Brunas contributes the following (with assistance
from his "Universal Horrors co-authors Michael Brunas and
Don't be misled by the packaging. There's nothing the
least bit phantasmagoric about the three Poverty Row mysteries
contained in this Retromedia Entertainment DVD collection.
The producers of Monogram's "Phantom of Chinatown" (1940)
and "Phantom Killer" (1942), as well as PRC's "The Phantom
of 42nd Street" (1945), no doubt hoped to ride the crest
of the second horror wave by insinuating horrific/supernatural
elements in the titles of these strictly routine whodunits
-- a practice not uncommon to studios back in the '30s and
'40s. Had these programmers, at least, reached the level
of passable entertainments, this deception could be forgiven.
As such, however, the "Phantoms of Death" offer the aficionado
a triple dose of the dreariest pulp detective fiction imaginable.
The only saving grace of "Phantom of Chinatown" is that
it features a genuine Asian actor in the role of Oriental
super sleuth, James Lee Wong. The creation of author Hugh
Wiley, the mild-mannered Mr. Wong had been played by Boris
Karloff in the first five entries of this pedestrian series
of mysteries. With one film left on his Monogram contract,
Karloff was assigned a low-rent horror movie, "The Ape,"
leaving "Phantom of Chinatown," the final chapter of the
Wong series, minus a leading man. Luke, fresh from his always-welcomed
appearances as Number One Son Lee Chan in the Fox/Oland
Charlie Chan series, stepped in and took over the role.
Grant Withers returned to the series one final time as the
abrasive, bullheaded Police Captain Street. Screenwriter
Joseph West (nom de plume of ace Universal producer-director
George Waggner) tailored the script to give the impression
that Luke was playing a younger version of the Karloff character,
making Phantom of Chinatown" a prequel of sorts. The story
has the wily detective on the trail of a secret scroll uncovered
by an archaeological expedition in the Mongolian desert,
which falls into the hands of profiteers. The trite but
interesting plotline soon sinks into the doldrums, thanks
to plodding direction and uninspired writing.
As far as picture quality goes, however, "Phantom of Chinatown"
is the winner hands down. Considering the transfer was made
from a 16mm print source, the black-and-white contrast is
first-rate and the print itself shows minimal wear.
Some snappy dialogue and a good performance by Dick Purcell
can't salvage "Phantom Killer," a thinly disguised remake
of Monogram's 1933 thriller "The Sphinx," which featured
the great Lionel Atwill in a dual role. Curiously, the credits
fail to acknowledge Albert DeMond, author of "The Sphinx's"
original screenplay. Instead, Karl Brown, who later went
on to pen the sober screenplays for the Columbia Karloff
vehicles "The man With Nine Lives" and "Before I Hang" (both
1940) -- as well as the not-so-sober original story for
Lugosi's "The Ape Man" (1943) -- gets the sole writing credit.
Both versions are way below par in the plausibility department.
Assistant D.A. Edward Clark (Purcell) believes that the
recent deaths of several financial company bigwigs were
committed by renowned philanthropist John G. Harrison (John
Hamilton). But Harrison has the perfect alibi ... at the
time of the murders, he was seen in public by dozens of
people. We won't give away the surprise ending here. Hamilton
doesn't have Atwill's screen presence, and the fact that
the murders all take place off-screen won't enamor this
tepid chiller to thrill-seekers.
Clocking in at 53 minutes, the DVD of "Phantom Killer"
is missing eight minutes of its running time (specifically,
the first crucial scene following the credits). This fact
alone should discourage serious DVD collectors from purchasing
this item. The 16mm print has decent enough contrast, but
contains frequent lines running down the right side of the
Another intriguing premise is squandered in "The Phantom
of 42nd Street," a tedious talkathon whose mere 58 minutes
feel like a fraction of its running time. To describe this
bottom-budget bit of hackwork as nondescript is being charitable.
The backstage setting and the hammy theatrical types who
populate the story are a decided plus. The inclusion of
such stock characters as the comic sidekick, the loudmouth
detective and the dumb blonde waitress may be deemed endearing
or irritating, depending on your fondness for B-movie clichés.
As Tony Woolrich (a takeoff on mystery writer Cornell Woolrich),
the always affable Dave O'Brien has been promoted from newspaper
reporter (in "The Devil Bat") to theater critic in this
film. At the opening night performance of the play "Black
Friday" (!), Woolrich turns detective after the brother
of Cecil Moore (Alan Mowbray), the star/producer of the
show, is found hanged. Two theater craftsmen follow suit.
On the bodies of all three men are cryptic notes containing
excerpts from past plays staged by the repertory company.
Though based on a novel, the plot bears a distinct resemblance
to the Universal Sherlock Holmes entry, "The Scarlet Claw,"
released the previous year. Any further resemblance to that
taut chiller ends there. The movie chugs along, introducing
the usual red herrings, till it comes to an unexciting but
The print quality of "The Phantom of 42nd Street" is "dupey"
-- soft focused, with an acceptable amount of wear.
"Phantoms of Death" contains no supplementary features.
For undiscriminating movie buffs seeking a quick fix of
B-detective tomfoolery, this DVD set suits its purpose.
But for serious collectors who refuse to pay full price
for abridged material, "Phantoms of Death" is thumbs down.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
John Brunas, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Vincent Di Fate http://www.VincentDiFate.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at
Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc. http://www.dinoship.com
David J. Schow http://www.davidjschow.com/
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at
http://www.mcfarlandpub.com and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
Robert Tinnell http://www.theblackforest.net
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at
http://www.mcfarlandpub.com and at http://www.dinoship.com
"Monsters come out of screen! Invade audience!" -- Monsters
Crash the Pajama Party