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The B Monster proudly accepted his Rondo Award at Louisville's
Wonderfest alongside fellow recipients Bob and Kathy Burns,
Vincent Di Fate, Tim and Donna Lucas and Tom Weaver. Many
thanks to Dave Colton, Kerry Gammill, Wonderfest organizers
and all who voted.
Actress Anna Lee, who may be best known to cult-film fans
for her roles in "The Man Who Changed His Mind," and "Bedlam,"
died of pneumonia at her Beverly Hills home. She was 91.
The daughter of a clergyman, Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface
Winnifrith. She was encouraged to pursue an acting career
by her father. After training at London's Royal Albert Hall,
she began a stage career and later began appearing in English
films, first as an extra, then working her way up to featured
parts and finally earning the unofficial title "Queen of
the Quota Quickies." Lee and her husband, director Robert
Stevenson ("King Solomon's Mines," "Mary Poppins") relocated
to Hollywood in the late '30s and Lee began starring in
stateside productions as well as becoming a fixture of the
John Ford stock company (she appeared in "How Green Was
My Valley," "Fort Apache" and a half-dozen others). Notable
TV credits include appearances on "Gunsmoke," "Perry Mason,"
"77 Sunset Strip," "My Three Sons," "Wagon Train" and "Combat!"
Lee also portrayed Lila Quartermaine on the TV soap opera
"General Hospital" for 25 years. In 1970, she became the
seventh wife of novelist, poet and playwright Robert Nathan
("Portrait of Jennie," "The Bishop's Wife"); they married
three months after they met. She was the mother of actors
Jeffery Byron ("Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn,"
"All My Children") and Venetia Stevenson ("Horror Hotel,"
" Island of Lost Women").
Screenwriter Nelson Gidding has died of congestive heart
failure. He was 84. Born in New York and educated at Phillips
Exeter Academy and Harvard, Gidding once said that he had
been interested in writing ever since he was a child and
had a poem published in the Boy Scouts magazine in the 1920s.
A POW during World War II, Gidding began writing his first
(and only) book "End Over End" while in prison camp; after
the war's end, he segued into TV work ("Suspense," "Sergeant
Preston of the Yukon," many others) and ultimately into
movies. His list of film credits includes such well-respected
titles as "Odds Against Tomorrow," "The Haunting," "The
Andromeda Strain" and (with co-writer Don Mankiewicz) the
Oscar-nominated screenplay for "I Want to Live!" the story
of the last years of real-life prostitute Barbara Graham
(Susan Hayward) and her gas chamber execution for murder.
"I Want to Live!" was Gidding's first film for director
Robert Wise, with whom he worked on several subsequent occasions.
He also taught a class in screenwriting at the University
of Southern California.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
HORROR AND A HAPPY MEAL
on the mail, it would seem that folks want the B Monster
to weigh in on "Van Helsing." After all, the top film historians
on the planet are B Monster contributors. The guys who researched
the nuts and bolts of the Universal Classics back when nobody
else gave a hoot are the B Monster's most valued correspondents,
so I suppose it's natural for readers to solicit an opinion.
I am loathe to give the film any more publicity than it
has already accrued, but our readers' demands come first,
so ... it stinks. "Van Helsing" is a big, long, lousy, fetid
stew of half-baked ideas: a paper-thin plot, uniformly bad
acting and cliche-ridden dialogue under 14 coats of computer-generated
varnish. There is absolutely nothing new in it, as anyone
who has watched television or seen a horror movie in the
last 20 years can tell you. It's a giant cow-pie of an example
of everything that's wrong with pop culture. A handful of
geeks in a cloistered office likely conceived the happy
meal and collectors' cup tie-ins before a first-draft script
was even turned in. (My personal favorite ancillary product
is -- and this is NOT a joke -- the "Van Helsing Classic
Movie Carolina Crusher Monster Truck Movie Series Adult
Diecast Collectable.") Critic Scott Weinberg summed "Van
Helsing" up as "churned off the assembly line ... an ugly
and disposable piece of ultra-expensive formula product
that exists solely to kick start a new revenue stream ...
'Van Helsing' urinates all over the beloved Universal monsters
More egregious to me than "Van Helsing" itself is the
fact that my Universal Monster Legacy Collection came with
a big sticker on the front informing me that the set contained
the films that inspired "Van Helsing." The back of the packaging
says "exclusive features with director Stephen Sommers demonstrating
key original scenes that inspired 'Van Helsing' and how
they were re-imagined for the theatrical event." On the
"Dracula" box it says, "'Van Helsing' director Stephen Sommers
hosts an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how these original
Dracula films inspired his motion picture event." On the
"Frankenstein" box it says, "'Van Helsing' director Stephen
Sommers hosts an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how
these original Frankenstein films inspired his motion picture
event." On the "Wolf Man" box it says, "'Van Helsing' director
Stephen Sommers hosts an exclusive behind-the-scenes look
at how these original Wolf Man films inspired his motion
So, bearing in mind that Stephen Sommers has said publicly
that he "couldn't care less" about your opinions, how do
you like the way your "Monster Kid" heritage has been co-opted
and "re-imagined" for his "event?"
NOTE: Next month, the B Monster's all-star review
team takes an in-depth look at those "Monster Legacy" collections
in particular, and your "horror heritage" in general, in
a special new edition called "Monsters For Sale."
THE "ARNESS" TO GOODNESS TRUTH
to Big Jim Arness, the actor beloved as both Marshall Matt
Dillon and "The Thing From Another World," the response
to his autobiography was so enthusiastic that he's planning
a second book. The new volume will offer further personal
insights and candid behind-the-scenes photos. "A lot of
interesting things, both personal and professional, will
be in the book," Arness announced. "We will have around
150 photos from our private collection including mostly
personal photos. I am having fun dictating the captions.
My wife, Janet, will be writing the majority of this book
so you will get a glimpse into our lives." Janet Arness
appeared only recently at one of Ray Courts' massive Hollywood
Collectors Shows in North Hollywood where she was overwhelmed
by the fan reception. Attending the show with Janet were
Wesley and Kathy Paul, editors of the recently launched
"Television Westerns" magazine. The second book of Arness
recollections is scheduled to debut before the end of 2004.
"Please understand that this is a major undertaking," says
Jim, "and we hope to have the books released much later
this year." To learn more about the new TV Westerns mag,
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you!
THE LINE IS A NILE LONG
into an Egyptian tomb and face the gut-wrenching thrills
of a dark roller coaster combined with state-of-the-art
effects in the world's first psychological thrill ride!"
That's the first frightening line of hype heralding the
debut of Universal Studios' latest theme park ride, "Revenge
of the Mummy -- The Ride." Well, I'm not sure that I'm ready
to have my psychological guts wrenched, but I'm sure there
will be throngs of thrill seekers queuing up to have their
tummies overturned. To promote their latest horror-themed
attraction, Universal has initiated a contest: "Two Grand
Prize winners will receive a vacation package for two to
the Universal Studios Theme Park of their choice of either
Universal Orlando Resort in Florida or Universal Studios
Hollywood in California. Package includes round-trip coach
air, hotel accommodations and much more. Three First Prize
winners will each receive a DVD Player and The Mummy Series
on DVD, five Second Prize winners will each receive The
Mummy Series on DVD."
As to the ride itself, publicity declares it's "not just
a roller coaster, 'Revenge of the Mummy -- The Ride' will
tap into rider's primal fears through immersion in a total
multi-sensory environment. Utilizing animatronics, sophisticated
motion picture technology, state-of-the-art ride, audio
and robotics engineering, the ride will play upon common
human phobias." "Mummy" actor Arnold Vosloo lends his voice
to the experience, which promises, "death will come on swift
wings to whomever violates this tomb." So, you crazy kids
with your whacky "extreme" sports and jaded worldview, have
a ball. You'll find the B Monster on a nice, tame Tilt-a-Whirl.
To enter the contest, visit: http://signup.universalstudios.com/form/102
If you're interested in downloading images, a Q&A with
Universal director Stephen Sommers, a thrill ride "Fact
Sheet" and more, visit:
Tell 'em, if you're so inclined, that the B Monster sent
ARKOFF VAULTS REOPENED
Arkoff Film Library has recently announced the release of
15 more classic American International Pictures titles in
the United Kingdom. "In 2004 we concentrated on classic
horror movies," says spokeswoman Nicola Williamson. "This
year we are releasing titles from a wide variety of Arkoff
B-movie genres including crime and mystery, horror and fantasy
and action and teenage rebellion. All of these films are
classic B-movies from the 1950s, the golden age of the drive-in."
The first five titles in this latest series of DVD releases
are "The Female Jungle," "Machine Gun Kelly," "Rock All
Night," "Shake Rattle and Rock," and "The Viking Women and
the Sea Serpent." They'll be available in the U.K. on June
28. No word, as yet, on an American release date. For more
information, check out:
Make a point of telling 'em the B Monster sent you!
Christopher Lee Filmography," an exhaustive compendium by
Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller, is now available from McFarland
& Co. Lee portrayed the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula,
The Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, The Man With the
Golden Gun, myriad heavies and one or two good guys in his
five decade-plus career. Johnson and Miller's filmography
chronicles Lee's every movie appearance from 1948-2000;
that's from 1948's "Corridor of Mirrors" to 2002's "Star
Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones." Every entry features
detailed notes regarding each film's production and is complimented
by commentary drawn from some 30 hours of interviews with
Lee himself. It's 480 pages, 161 photos (including some
from Lee's own collection), with forewords by Hammer film
vets Jimmy Sangster and Veronica Carlson, director Joe Dante,
and an afterword by Lee. It promises to be an edifying volume.
Appropriately, both Johnson and Miller are teachers. Johnson's
previous work includes co-authoring "The Mummy in Fact,
Fiction and Film," "Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography,"
"Peter Cushing: The Gentle Man of Horror and His 91 Films"
and authoring "Censored Screams: The British Ban on Hollywood
Horror in the Thirties." Miller has written for film mags
including Filmfax and Shivers, and is the author of "Christopher
Lee and Peter Cushing and Horror Cinema: A Filmography of
Their 22 Collaborations." You don't have to be a Hammerhead
to recognize that no one knows this stuff better than these
guys. Check out:
And don't beat around the bush: Tell 'em the B Monster sent
SOME TRULY "DRIVEN" FILMMAKERS
Last fall, Koch Vision and the Starlog group, publisher
of Fangoria Magazine, solicited entries in their "Fangoria
Blood Drive" short film contest. The response was so great
the deadline had to be extended to accommodate the number
of entries. Judges scrupulously weighed the many submissions,
basing their decisions on "creativity, commerciality and
technical merit." The winners:
Best film: "Mr. Eryams," by BC Furtney
Best Comedy: "A Man and His Finger," by Patrick Rea and
Most Frightening: "Disturbances," also by Patrick Rea
The Palm d'Gore: "The Hitch," by Drew Rist
Best Avant Garde Horror: "Inside," by Christopher P. Garetano
Best Musical: "Song of the Dead," by Chip Gubera
Best Editing: "Shadows of the Dead," by Joel Robertson
Honorable Mention for Achievement in Special Effects: "Specimen"
The winners will be included on the "Fangoria Blood Drive"
DVD, to be released this month. "From the likes of what
I've seen," says Blood Drive producer, Tony Timpone, "Fangoria's
readers are an awesome group of creative, talented and impressive
film artists. Look out, Hollywood!" The DVD, hosted by raucous
horror-rocker Rob Zombie, contains 85 minutes of horror
shorts plus an additional hour of behind-the-scenes material
featuring effects artist Stan Winston and author/filmmaker
Clive Barker. For more info, check out:
But, of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
SCOTTY'S PRICEY SWAN SONG
is famous for telling "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk, "I'm giving
it all I've got!" I suppose that last time, he really meant
it. "The James Doohan (aka Scotty) Farewell Convention &
Tribute" will take place June 18-20 at the Los Angeles Airport
Hilton. Affectionately dubbed, "Beam Me Up Scotty, Once
Last Time," the convention marks the last public appearance
of Doohan, a fan favorite whose autograph is one of sci-fi's
more sought-after collectible. According to the event's
promoters, "the entire, living cast of the classic 'Star
Trek' series will be on stage together for the last time
on Sunday afternoon. This momentous occasion is not something
you'll be able to catch at the next Trek convention. Or
the next one after that. Or the next. Or ever again. This
is it, folks. If you're not there to witness it, you won't
get another chance." Confirmed guests include Doohan, William
Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei,
Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, Grace Lee Whitney,
scads of "Trek" guest stars and, oh yeah, some REAL astronauts
who actually walked on the moon. No disrespect to the affable
and thoroughly professional Mr. Doohan and company intended,
but ... astronauts who actually walked on the moon! Also
among this august gathering of personalities, the convention
Web site lists "CEOs of the largest tech corporations in
the world," as guests. Who the Hell cares? Scotty, Shatner
and ... astronauts who actually walked on the moon! We're
supposed to be impressed by money-grubbing corporate CEO's!
I've waited years for just the right opportunity to invoke
this tired catchphrase, and now, that time has come: "Beam
Convention promoters hope to raise enough money by the
time of the convention to be able to purchase a star for
Doohan on Hollywood's legendary Walk of Fame. "For all he
has contributed, he still has not been presented with a
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now is the time to rectify
this oversight. Let's make Jimmy Doohan's Star a reality.
A percentage of all proceeds from this event will go toward
the cost of Doohan's Star. We hope to have enough collected
by the time our event takes place in June, so Doohan can
be presented the Star with so many of his adoring friends
and fans around him." Now, in case you're wondering about
the price of admission to this grand farewell, a "Platinum
Star Ticket," gets you reserved seats for all seminars and
events, banquet tickets with seating relatively close to
the celebrity diners, entry to the Friday night "Scotty
Party" which will be attended by "Trek" celebs, a numbered,
limited photo of Doohan "with a very special message from
Jimmy to you," autographs from all the Trek stars, your
photo with Doohan, a signed lithograph entitled "Beam Me
Up Scotty" by artist Michael David Ward, and a t-shirt and
convention program with your name listed as a "Scotty Star."
All this for the affordable price of ... $995.00! And that's
not the most expensive ticket! To get a price on that one,
you gotta call the promoters. So, round up the kids. A "Platinum"
family of four can attend for just $3,980.00! Plus travel.
Plus accommodations. Plus meals. Skip those car payments.
Blow off that mortgage. Of course, you could purchase a
"Bronze Star" ticket for a mere $150.00 and wander the convention
floor with the hoi polloi. It's all about the fans, right?
That is, the fans willing to blow a thousand bucks for the
privilege of sharing the same air with actors who once pretended
to be space men. For more info, visit:
THE DREAMCON AGENDA
that's not the title of a Robert Ludlum novel. DreamCon
is a Jacksonville, Florida-based science fiction and fantasy
convention that aspires to do something more than simply
celebrate geekdom. Organized by Ron Methvin, DreamCon also
raises funds for the American Diabetes Association. "A significant
portion of DreamCon activities are centered around fundraising,"
says Methvin in an FAQ posted at the official convention
Web site. "Our goal is to raise between $20,000 and $30,000
for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in our first
year. If 2,000 attendees pre-register, I guarantee that
DreamCon will raise $20,000 for the ADA." Billed as "a multi-genre
hotel based convention, including topics such as sci-fi,
fantasy, gaming, horror, anime, comic books, music, toys
and much, much more," DreamCon claims to be Florida's largest
hotel-based con with over 45,000 square feet of floor space
and a guest roster that includes:
Ron Perlman. "Hellboy," himself
Dean Stockwell, of "Quantum Leap, and "Blue Velvet" fame
(does anyone remember "The Boy With Green Hair?")
Brian Thompson, late of "The X-Files"
Elizabeth Anne Allen, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" supporting
Gary Graham of "Alien Nation"
Jewel Staite of TV's "Firefly"
Debi Derryberry of the "Jimmy Neutron" franchise
Tony Amendola of "Stargate: SG1"
Erin Gray, of the "Buck Rogers" teleseries that starred
Larry Niven, prolific sci-fi novelist
Don Perlin, veteran comic book artist
Alex Saviuk, who draws the "Spider-Man" Sunday comic strip
Marv Wolfman, famed comic book author And many more.
The shindig gets under way June 11. For more information,
Let 'em know for sure the B Monster sent you!
TENNESSEE FANTASEE FEST
Tennessee will host Adventure Con 3 this June 5-6. The Knoxville
Expo center will be crammed with "400 tables of collectible
toys, comics, dolls, trains, cards and TV and movie memorabilia,"
according to the official hype. The sizeable dealer's room
is but one attraction, as promoters hope to lure lovers
of sci-fi and fantasy with a guest line-up that includes:
David Prowse, Darth Vader, himself
Anthony Daniels, C-3PO of "Star Wars" glory
Alex Vincent of the "Child's Play" film series
Felix Silla, famed as "The Addams Family's" Cousin It (He
was also an Ewok!)
Tanya Roberts, big screen "Sheena" and former "Charlie's
Richard Hatch of "Battlestar Galactica"
Dick Durock, best known as "Swamp Thing"
Jackson Bostwick, Captain Marvel in the "Shazam" TV series
Brad Dourif, "Child's Play" and "Lord of the Rings" veteran
Kathy Garver, Cissy of TV's "Family Affair"
Catherine Bach, the one and only "Daisy Duke"
And an assortment of horror film players and pro wrestlers
listed at the con's official Web site:
Check it out, and let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
NOT A PRETTY PICTURE
Some devoted fans of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" series
are anxious to see a DVD release that does justice to the
classic anthology program. Universal plans to release a
boxed-set of the first season this August, but according
to Scott Skelton, coauthor of "Rod Serling's Night Gallery:
An After-Hours Tour," the studio is simply transferring
a blemished 1991 remastering of the show onto disk. This
ragged, 13-year-old compilation, says Skelton, contains,
"some clumsy commercial segues, the amputation of the first-season
'Four-in-One' fanfare, sputtering soundtrack errors and
distortion, and two blatant omissions that have never been
corrected: missing music cues from two episode segments."
And, as far as DVD extras are concerned, well, there are
none. "No commentary, no interviews, no paintings gallery,"
says Skelton, "No essays to put the series into historical
perspective, nothing. The studio can't work up enough interest
in the project to even throw its fans a bone." But fans
of the show have a chance to try to rectify this shoddy
treatment of the series. "What can you do to avert this
'Gallery' train wreck?" asks Skelton. "We have an opportunity
to change the current course and get an appropriately respectful
presentation of this classic show, but you have to act now
and make your voice heard." You can add your name to a petition
found at the following link:
CATCHING UP WITH ... VAL GUEST
of the best science fiction directors of the 1950s-'60s
era, Val Guest began his motion picture career as an actor
early in the talkie era; soon became a screenwriter; then
in the 1940s a writer-director, and ultimately in the 1950s
a PRODUCER-writer-director. Genre fans would nominate for
any list of his best movies the Hammer horrors "The Quatermass
Xperiment" ("The Creeping Unknown"), "Quatermass 2" ("Enemy
from Space") and "The Abominable Snowman" along with his
own production "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" (a Best British
Screenplay BAFTA Award winner for Guest and Wolf Mankowitz);
other SF and fantasy credits on his crowded résumé
include the all-star "Casino Royale," the stop-motion dinosaur
FX fest "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" and episodes of
TV's "Space: 1999" and "Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense."
It's now been nearly 20 years since he last directed,
but Guest -- a longtime resident of Palm Springs, Calif.
-- is having a high time in the Low Desert, making the rounds
of film festivals with actress-wife Yolande Donlan, recording
DVD audio commentaries and much more. On April 3, 2004,
Val and Yolande were on hand for the unveiling of their
star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. B Monster scribe
Tom Weaver somehow managed to catch up with the globetrotting
Guest and file this May 7 report:
VAL GUEST: Yolande and I got a joint star [on the
Palm Springs Walk of Stars]. There are some people here
called Jackie Lee and Jim Houston. They're seriously rich
and they are the most generous people in the Valley -- I
don't know HOW many charities they sponsor very quietly.
One day about a year ago they suddenly said to us, "We'd
like to give you a star." Yo asked, "Well, what do we have
to do other than stay alive?" [Laughs] And they said, "Absolutely
The ceremony was on April 3rd , and the turnout
was unbelievable! Well, first of all, they had us arrive
in a horse and buggy -- you know, "the surrey with the fringe
on top." [Laughs] There was a proclamation from the Palm
Springs Mayor; we had a statement from the California Senate,
and we had a certification of Congressional Recognition
from Mary Bono for "outstanding service to the community"!
And then they gave us a plaque for Lifetime Achievement
and for contributing to the world prominence of Palm Springs!
TOM WEAVER: Did you have any inkling as you were
making all your movies in England how much you were contributing
to the prominence of Palm Springs?
VAL GUEST: No [laughs], I didn't then, no! What
was TRULY incredible was the party they [star sponsors Lee
and Houston] gave afterwards. This was the party of the
decade -- people are still talking about it. They tried
to give us "a London setting" for the party: At their enormous
house where they have acres of ground, you went into their
main entrance and they had two Grenadier guards in full
uniform in sentry boxes. When you went by them, inside the
entrance to the house they had cutouts of Big Ben and the
Houses of Parliament. Then when you turned to your right,
there were knights in armor, and you passed through [a replica
of] the entrance to the Tower of London that they built,
and you went into this enormous tent with many, many tables.
At the other end of the tent they had "The Beatles" playing
-- a musical group in Beatles clothes and hair and everything.
And they had invited -- wait for this -- 450 people. And
what was also exciting for me was that, unbeknownst to me,
Jim Houston got in touch with the London publisher of my
autobiography 'So You Want to Be in Pictures' and ordered
300 of them. Then at the party, he handed a copy out to
everybody as they left. My God Almighty, it just shook us
-- we're only just about getting over it, a month later!
We're going to London in July, we have a home there as
well, and we're going to be there for three months -- there
are more DVDs [of Guest's movies] coming out there, and
I've got to go and do commentaries and things. But first,
on June the 16th to the 20th we're going to be flown out
to ... you'll never guess where ... LAPLAND. It's for the
Festival of the Midnight Sun [a film festival]. A while
back they showed Quatermass and they tried to whisk us out
then, but in L.A. the Hollywood Egyptian was doing a whole
WEEK of our films and Yolande and I had committed ourselves
to that, so we couldn't go [to Lapland]. So the Lapland
people said, "We'll make it next time," so that's the next
thing that's coming up now. We've got almost a week in the
TOM WEAVER: How old are you these days, and what's
the secret to your longevity? How are you able to stay as
active as you do?
VAL GUEST: When I woke up this morning, I was in
my 93rd year -- I was 92 last December. In fact, it's our
50th wedding anniversary coming up this September. And the
"secret to my longevity"? Well, part of it is that I always
say, "Just get ON with it." Three things: "Just get ON with
it"; don't read any medical books; and get married to someone
NEW ON DVD
Fans are forever discussing Bela Lugosi's ultra-low budget
Monogram pictures while little scrutiny is devoted to Boris
Karloff's work for the same seedy studio. Karloff's Monogram
films are just as perversely interesting. Just think, the
same year he appeared in the fabulous "Son of Frankenstein"
(1939), he embarked on Monogram's tedious "Mr. Wong" series,
donning ludicrous Asian makeup to portray the inscrutable
detective. As tepid as the Wong films were, "The Ape," (1940)
is even tepidier ... or more tepid, or ... man, it's just
plain dullsville! Though it clocks in at barely an hour,
it feels, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
like "a long, hard slog."
Karloff plays kindly scientist Dr. Adrian. He's lost his
wife and child to polio and is determined in his grief to
find a cure. Which he does! Experimenting on a local girl
(Maris Wrixon) stricken with the disease, he discovers that
human spinal fluid is the key. When a circus gorilla escapes
its cage and goes on a rampage, Karloff taps the spines
of the ape's victims. The girl improves, but the cure is
not certain. In the interest of science, Karloff kills the
marauding ape, skins it, makes a suit of its carcass, and
stalks the countryside himself, disguised as the ape, killing
men and siphoning the juice from their spines. Will this
crazed, ape-man medico (and evidently expert taxidermist)
be stopped? Will Maris survive? We won't spoil the ending
for you, but whenever you have an old man in a homemade
ape suit murdering innocent people for duty and humanity,
odds are it won't end well. "The Ape" was directed with
evidently little interest by William Nigh, who also helmed
the Wong series. Nigh was a workhorse, directing over 100
films beginning in 1914; everything from "Casey of the Coast
Guard" to "Zis Boom Bah." Maris Wrixon's sweet countenance
graced innumerable "Bs," including "Footsteps in the Dark,"
"The Face of Marble" and "White Pongo,"
If only Dr. Jonas Salk had seen "The Ape." Think of the
money that could have been saved on researching his polio
vaccine had he just sliced open a gorilla and slipped into
its skin. Oh, well. Both Karloff and Lugosi were making
these "kindly but misguided and tragically misunderstood
scientist" types their stock-in-trade at this point in their
careers. Who fared better? Arguably, Karloff, who played
essentially the same role in a handful of Columbia pictures,
produced with a little more polish than Monogram could afford.
Lugosi, however ... read on....
What was it about spinal fluid that fascinated B-movie scientists?
Just as Karloff donned his gorilla duds to sap victims of
their spinal secretions, so Lugosi employs the same method
to cure himself of his "apeishness" in this 1943 farago,
Lugosi plays Dr. James Brewster (the Hungarian thespian
once more saddled with an incongruous Anglo name). His studies
in evolution have led to his own, slow devolvement to simian
status. Or, could it be that he's lived so long with his
pet gorilla -- well, you know what they say about couples
who begin to look like each other. In any case, Bela develops
a Cro-Magnon brow and some rather Lincolnesqe whiskers (gasp)
and determines that the only remedy lies in the spinal fluids
of young women. That's where his ape roommate comes in.
At the risk of playing the spoiler we'll ask, could the
ending be anything other than tragic? Ape and master come
to blows and the world is forever denied Bela's firsthand
knowledge of evolutionary science.
"The Ape Man" cast is stacked with likeable players; wise
guy Wallace Ford, feisty Louise Currie, dour dowager Minerva
Urecal and Henry Hall, who also appeared in "The Ape" (gasp,
again!). And -- get out your brickbats, bad movie connoisseurs
-- it was directed by William Beaudine, that favorite punching
bag of enlightened critics. Come on, cut the guy some slack.
His career ranged from 1913 to 1976. He serviceably directed
more than 250 movies of every genre. Heck, he even appeared
in nearly 50 of 'em! This is not to mention his prolific
television career. Likewise, back off of Lugosi. His inner
demons notwithstanding surrounded by cardboard sets and
hampered by trite dialogue, he went at every role full-bore,
"The Ape Man" being no exception. Which is not to say the
film isn't ludicrous and inept. It is. But, perspective
Okay, hang on and try to follow the plotline of this ambitious,
Byzantine, enjoyably outrageous WWII propaganda horror show;
Bela Lugosi is a Nazi doctor. He is asked by Japan's Black
Dragon Society to visit Japan and work his plastic surgery
magic on six volunteers. The volunteers will be transformed
into exact physical duplicates of six leading American industrialists.
The six impostors will then go to America, bump off the
REAL industrialists, assume their identities and proceed
to sabotage their "own" munitions plants, helping to pave
the way for a Japanese victory. Sounds simple enough. But
wait. After his work is completed, the High Dragon has Lugosi
tossed into a dungeon where the secret of his surgery will
die with him. That's no way to treat an Axis ally. Bent
on revenge, Lugosi swaps places with his cellmate, makes
his escape, heads for the U.S., and one-by-one exterminates
the impostors he created. FBI agent Dick Martin, as played
by future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore, is particularly vexed
by the stunning and seemingly inexplicable murders.
It isn't exactly on a par with Frank Capra's "Why We Fight"
series, but it's so bizarre, so lurid and outlandish that
I defy you not to be entertained by Monogram's cautionary,
Poverty Row-horror contribution to national readiness. But
why take my word for it. When originally released, the studio's
own ad campaign featured testimony from "Lugosi" himself:
"I defy moviegoers not to gasp when they see 'Black Dragons.'
Never have I worked in a story so startling or so blood-chillingly
shocking. See it if you dare!" Top THAT ballyhoo! "Black
Dragons" was directed by (drum role) William Nigh, the Monogram
stalwart who directed "The Ape" and all those muddled Mr.
Wong pictures. But, let's be charitable. Nigh cranked out
seven pictures in 1943, with this one sandwiched between
"Mr. Wise Guy" and "The Strange Case of Doctor Rx," the
latter a gruesomely entertaining programmer with a great
cast that includes Lionel Atwill, Mantan Moreland and Shemp
Howard! But, back to "Black Dragons," the cast of which
is not nearly so engaging. Joan Barclay, who appeared in
darned near every film series of the 1940s (The Falcon,
Mexican Spitfire, The Great Gildersleeve, Charlie Chan),
plus umpteen Westerns, is pretty and capable. Clayton Moore
is pretty much the Lone Ranger in civvies. And Lugosi? Well,
how many Hungarian actors would approach a dual role as
both a Nazi plastic surgeon and a Frenchman with such bravado?
BLACK (WIDE SCREEN)
PITCH BLACK (WIDE SCREEN DIRECTOR'S CUT)
PITCH BLACK (FULL SCREEN)
PITCH BLACK (FULL SCREEN DIRECTOR'S CUT)
Another example of what's great about America; you can purchase
one or all of these presentations. (For the record, they
each cost about 25 bucks.) Four versions? Seems like a lot
of extra effort to lavish on a wildly over hyped sci-fi
potboiler. Are you sure you want to bother with this? Okay,
here's the "official" plot synopsis from the companion Web
site that was posted when the film was first released: "Sometimes,
what you can't see can kill you. Prepare yourself for the
new space thriller 'Pitch Black.' Learn more about the survivors
of the crashed deep space transport Hunter-Gratzner, including
psychopathic, escaped convict Riddick, and the desolate
and deadly planet where they all crash landed." Sound familiar?
It is. It's "It! The Terror From Beyond Space," "Alien,"
"Predator," "Terminator" -- even "Flight of the Phoenix"
-- well, at least they stole from proven commodities.
Big, brutish Vin Diesel plays the aforementioned whacko,
tough-guy convict -- and he's the LIKABLE character! He's
got screen presence to spare and, as the voice of "The Iron
Giant," he qualifies as OK in our book. Otherwise, take
a nap, play with your dog, talk to your wife. Don't get
us wrong; if you're looking for a movie with some nifty
effects that'll make you feel smart because you can predict
everything that's going to happen, you just might love "Pitch
Black." And yes, there is not one, not two, but THREE sequels
currently in the works. In fact, a ticket to the first sequel,
"The Chronicles of Riddick," is included with every "Pitch
Black" DVD. (If the first sequel bombs, will they go ahead
with the other two?) I never get tired of quoting my great
uncle Nunzio: "America, she's a great-a-country!"
LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (SPECIAL EDITION)
This low-rent homage to cult-films past was recently picked
up by Sony and distributed for a brief theatrical run. We
were among the first to alert fans to its existence over
two years ago, so we'll regurgitate our first impressions
now that the film is moving into wide DVD release. And we'll
begin by posing again the question the picture begs: Is
it possible to produce "intentional camp?" Certainly one
can lampoon the films of old a la "Mystery Science Theater
3000," or take off on the sci-fi genre's timeworn conventions
as in "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." But while these productions
laugh heartily at the cliches and naivete of the 1950s,
the producers of "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" were smart
enough to laugh at themselves, as well. That's what lends
charm to what would otherwise have been just another cruel
send-up of vintage science fiction cinema.
Producer F. Miguel Valenti and writer-director-star Larry
Blamire have an obvious affection for boomer-horror flicks
and have done their homework when it comes to staging and
pacing in the fashion of Corman and his contemporaries.
The plot is a hash of "Robot Monster," "Day The World Ended,"
"Cat-Women of the Moon," "The Astounding She Monster," and
predictably, "Plan 9 From Outer Space." The actors are all
pros with resumes that include "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Majestic"
and myriad TV shows. (Leading lady Faye Masterson, in her
1962 hairdo, puts one in mind of Candace Hilligoss.) A special
screening at L.A.'s Egyptian Theater recently wowed an audience
of 600. "I've seen some unsuccessful spoofs in the past,"
says Blamire, "[but] we were blessed with a terrific, talented
cast; instead of hamming it up -- acting 'bad' -- we all
play it pretty straight." They even bothered to film it
in our beloved Bronson Canyon, location of innumerable sci-fi
shoots. Next up for this production team: "Trail of the
EYES OF LONDON/THE GHOST
John Brunas, co-author (with Michael Brunas and Tom Weaver)
of the seminal volume, "Universal Horrors," contributes
While American audiences were flocking to the latest Poe
adaptations and classic horror updates to emerge from AIP
and Hammer studios respectively, our European counterparts
were immersed in their own brand of screen nightmare ...
the Italian gothic horrors ("Black Sunday," "Black Sabbath")
and the West German krimi (crime) films based on the novels
of Edgar Wallace. Released sporadically in the United States
for the drive-in horror show trade, these films enjoyed
a longer shelf life upon being packaged by such outfits
as AIP for mass TV consumption. Two fine examples of these
Euro-horrors, "Die Toten Augen Von London." ["Dead Eyes
of London"] (1961) and Lo Spretto ["The Ghost"] (1963),
were packaged by Magna Pictures in 1964 and released theatrically
as an all-horror double bill. Retromedia Entertainment has
struck new digital wide screen prints and offers them in
a single disc set, which also includes the original U.S.
release theatrical trailers, a still gallery, and a complete
reproduction of the original eight-page German movie program
book for "Die Toten Augen Von London."
West Germany's "Dead Eyes of London" is the better of
the two. It is the second screen version of the Edgar Wallace
mystery "Dark Eyes of London" and is as gratuitously nasty
as the first, the British-made "Dark Eyes of London" (U.S.
title "The Human Monster"), released in 1939 with Bela Lugosi
playing the roles assigned to two actors in the remake.
Scotland Yard is baffled by the apparent drownings of
wealthy foreign businessmen. Their bodies turn up in the
Thames bearing a bit of parchment containing a warning in
Braille. The Yard suspects these killings as the work of
the Blind Killers of London, an army of impoverished peddlers
who prey on their hapless victims in the fog-shrouded back
alleys. Through the sharp police work of Inspector Larry
Holt (breezily played by Joachim Fuchsberger) and his oddball
associate, Sergeant Sunny Harvey (Eddi Arent), it is ascertained
that all of the victims carried hefty insurance policies
furnished by prominent businessman Stephan Judd (Wolfgang
Lukschy). A seemingly benevolent reverend running a home
for the blind, a grotesque blind brute who commits murder
to the accompaniment of Beethoven's Fifth, and enough seedy
lowlifes, blackmailers and backstabbers to fill several
films, are the slow-moving, talky, yet attention-holding
film's chief assets. Also of note is the low-key, mood-encrusted
camerawork of Karl Lob, which is compromised by the rather
gray toned, washed out source print.
What the plot lacks in originality, "The Ghost" makes
up for in its dark and foreboding atmosphere. Italian horror
specialist Riccardo Freda (billed in the credits as Robert
Hampton?) had previously directed "The Horrible Doctor Hichcock;"
although the Hichcock name is retained and a '60s horror
diva stars in both of them, there is otherwise no relation
between the two.
Cruel, domineering Dr. John Hichcock (Leonard Elliott)
suffers from a form of paralysis, which makes him a virtual
prisoner in his own home. His trusted physician Dr. Charles
Livingstone (Peter Baldwin) has devised a treatment in which
the South American poison curare is used in combination
with a powerful antidote to bring feeling back into Hichcock's
limbs. The doctor's beautiful wife Margaret, meanwhile,
has been having an affair with the dashing Livingstone,
and the two plot to do away with the doctor so she can inherit
his fortune. No sooner is the deed carried out than the
lovers are haunted by all manner of hackneyed old dark house
hijinks -- the doctor's wheelchair set into motion, voices
from the grave, and the appearance of Hichcock's ghost itself.
Is it really a ghost, or has Hichcock beat the couple at
their own game?
Barbara Steele indulges in all of the irritating, hysteria-driven
mannerisms, which have earned her horror stardom in some
circles. Freda has a talent for camera compositions, and
his optimum use of the gothic settings and a rich color
palette help sustain a doom-driven mood. Except for some
occasional light vertical lines, the source print is commendable.
Whether you're looking to upgrade the quality of those inferior
bootleg videos in your collection, or wish a sampling of
the Eurohorror genre, this Retromedia release is a sure
DON'T FORGET ...
Next month: "MONSTERS FOR SALE!"
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
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
"The fire-spitting monster predicted in the Bible!" --
The Giant Behemoth