Julius "Julie" Schwartz
A towering, benevolent and influential figure in the fields
of science fiction literature and comics, Julius Schwartz,
died at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, Long Island.
He was 88. Schwartz had been hospitalized for several weeks
following injuries sustained in a fall. Hailing from the
Bronx, "Julie" was fascinated from an early age by science
fiction. Beginning in 1932, he edited, along with Mort Weisinger
and others, one of the first science fiction fanzines,
"The Time Traveler." Two years later, he embarked on a career
as a literary representative, forming the Solar Sales Service
Literary Agency. His clients included Ray Bradbury, Alfred
Bester and Robert Bloch. (The company promos boasted "Bradbury,
Bester, Binder, Bracket, and Bloch and that was just the
B's. We also represent H. P. Lovecraft for the L of it.")
In 1939, Schwartz helped organize the first "World Science
Fiction Convention" in New York City.
According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
America, it was Bester who introduced Schwartz to the comics
field. When Schwartz was told of an opening as an editor
at D.C. Comics, he applied for the job, later claiming that
the first comic book he ever read was one he picked up on
the way to his job interview. As the "Silver Age" of comics
dawned in the late 1950s, Schwartz emerged as one of the
medium's most important figures, editing such titles as
"The Flash" (whose re-emergence under Schwartz's guidance
-- with a new secret identity and an eye-catching red costume
-- is largely regarded as the herald of comics' new age),
"All Star Comics," "Green Lantern" (overseeing that character's
"Silver Age" overhaul), "Mystery in Space" and "Strange
Adventures." In addition, he edited every one of D.C.'s
many "Superman" titles for 16 years. His association with
comics spanned six decades as he continued to appear at
conventions until relatively recently. Honors bestowed upon
Schwartz include the "Eagle" and "Jules Verne" Awards and
induction in the "First Fandom Hall of Fame." The DragonCon
convention's "Julie" award "for universal achievement spanning
multiple genres," is named for him. Schwartz's autobiography,
"Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics,"
co-authored by Brian M. Thomsen, was published in 2000.
Bernard McEveety Jr.
Prolific television director Bernard McEveety Jr., who is
perhaps best known for directing 31 episodes of the classic
TV series "Combat," has died of natural causes. He was 79.
McEveety was the son of director/production manager Bernard
McEveety Sr., and the uncle of Stephen McEveety, whose collaborations
as a producer with actor/director Mel Gibson include "Braveheart"
and "The Passion of the Christ." Cult-film fans may recognize
McEveety as the director of the 1971 shocker "The Brotherhood
of Satan," which starred Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones,
who also wrote the picture. One of McEveety's earliest credits
was as the assistant director of "The Return of Dracula,"
the atmospheric 1958 thriller that starred Francis Lederer
as the bloodthirsty Count. McEveety worked primarily in
episodic television, directing episodes of "Gunsmoke," "Rawhide,"
"Bonanza," "The Untouchables," "The Virginian," "Hawaii
Five-0," "Planet of the Apes," "The Incredible Hulk," "Buck
Rogers in the 25th Century" and many others.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
The results of the second annual Rondo Awards, an honor
originated by the denizens of the AOL Classic Horror Message
Boards, have been tallied. Organized and overseen by the
indefatigable David Colton, monster fan and nostalgia-holic
without peer, the online voting was open to all fans of
classic horror and science fiction. The big winner was "Monster
Kid Memories," the memoirs of the original "monster kid"
himself, Bob Burns, as told to film historian nonpareil,
Tom Weaver. The success of this volume bodes well for the
young publishing house, Dinoship (who also publish "The
Crater Kid Collection," and the forthcoming "Haunters of
the Dark" and "Dead Travel Fast."). "Monster Kid Memories"
(with cover illustration and interior design by some guy
whose name escapes me at the moment) has garnered unanimous
rave reviews and broad recognition.
Video Watchdog won Best Magazine for the second straight
year. The World 3-D Film Expo at the American Cinematheque
in Los Angeles was cited as Best Fan Event. "20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea" was named DVD of the year, while Bernard
Herrmann's soundtrack for "The Day the Earth Stood Still"
won the Best CD award. Sideshow Toy's 12-inch Creature figure
was named Best Toy, while Vincent DiFate's Creature painting
for the Monster-Mania Convention program won Best Cover.
Gary Don Rhodes' two-part article for Monsters From the
Vault, chronicling the horror movie controversy of the early
1930s was named Best Article, while Tom Weaver smoked the
competition for the second consecutive year, walking off
with the Best Writer honors. (Time for Weaver to buy a bigger
mantel; the awards are only in their second year, and Tom's
won four of them!) Emmy Award-winning makeup ace, Michael
F. Blake, won for the eloquent and edifying audio commentaries
that accompany the Lon Chaney Collection DVDs.
An episode of the new "Twilight Zone" series featuring
Billy Mumy in a sequel to the classic 1960s episode "It's
a Good Life," (in which Mumy starred as a moody kid with
frightening powers), was named best TV program, while "Lord
of the Rings: Return of the King" was named best movie.
The Count Alucard's Controversy of the Year award went
to Fox Movie Channel; bowing to political correctness, FMC
dumped their lineup of Charlie Chan films last summer following
complaints that they showcased negative Asian stereotypes.
California schoolteacher, Arnold Kunert, was named Monster
Kid of the Year, owing to his tireless five-year campaign
to secure Ray Harryhausen's star on Hollywood's Walk of
Fame. According to co-coordinator Colton, so many names
were suggested in this category, that a "Monster Kid Hall
of Fame" was established this year. The first inductees
-- Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren, whose Famous
Monsters of Filmland magazine influenced a generation.
-- Bob and Kathy Burns, not only for being involved first-hand
in the making of genre-movie history, but for salvaging
so many of the artifacts, props and movie paraphernalia
that are a part of our fantasy film legacy.
-- Zacherley and Vampira, horror movie host and hostess
who helped make the late-night presentation of classic monster
films an American institution.
And finally, The Astounding B Monster was named best Website.
The B Monster is humbled, and extends his sincerest gratitude
to all those he crushed in his remorseless climb to fame.
Just joshing. My heartfelt thanks to one and all.
Once more, special recognition should go to Dave Colton,
for readying the ballot and tallying the vote, and Kerry
Gammill for sculpting one humdinger of a statuette.
KOGAR AND THE RETURN OF THE KING (KONG, THAT IS)
Everyone's favorite creature curator and prop preservationist,
Bob Burns, recently met with director Peter Jackson, arguably
the most powerful man in the movie biz at the moment, owing
to the staggering success of the "Lord of the Rings" films.
Following a series of photo ops with what is perhaps Burns'
most valued artifact, the original 1933 "King Kong" armature,
Jackson sought Bob's counsel regarding the "Ring"-master's
forthcoming "Kong" remake. The two pored over dozens of
production sketches with Jackson soliciting Bob's opinions
and advice regarding the look of the great village wall,
the foreboding jungle and its dinosaur denizens. This seems
only fitting, as Burns spent half his life in a gorilla
suit as the cuddly, quarrelsome Kogar, and is likely the
most knowledgeable "Kongaphile" alive. It's a testament
to Jackson's dedication to the project that he's recognized
this. The lauded director even extended an invitation to
Bob and his lovely bride Kathy (whose generosity and patience
have made possible what is probably the greatest accumulation
of fantasy film memorabilia in existence) to visit the set
(with the skeletal Kong in tow) once shooting commences
in New Zealand this summer.
WOOD IN THE WORKS?
Cult-film fans know by now that Buena Vista cancelled the
much-anticipated released of the "Ed Wood: Special Edition"
DVD. So why are reviews of it turning up all over the place?
According to some reports, copies had already been shipped
to some stores -- a few actually had the title on their
shelves -- only to be hastily recalled. High-profile mags
like Premier may have rated a screener before Buena Vista
changed their minds. In an editor's note, the DVD Authority
Website claims that "though this wasn't sent to us for review,
we managed to track down a copy." The IGN Website says that,
"some [copies] made it to the shelves, which is how we got
one at IGN, thanks to a helpful insider." A customer reviewing
the film at Review Index.com says, "[they] goofed and actually
sent out a limited number to some unspecified number of
independent video stores!!! Or at least that's the story
I got from the mom 'n pop joint in Phoenix where I rented
a copy!" The same site asserts that "this title will be
released on January 1, 2010." This is reiterated word-for-word
at the AAA Movie Search Website. Ditto TheADman.net. Who
confirmed this date for them? Buena Vista hasn't uttered
a peep of official explanation or offered any rescheduling
info. The B Monster took the bull by the horns and called
Buena Vista Entertainment. They were extremely courteous
but maintained that their computer records cited no reason
for the recall, only that it was officially listed as postponed.
No release date has been established. They were quite surprised
when informed that copies had fallen into the hands of a
few, stating -- very politely -- that no copies should be
WARM UP FOR WONDERFEST
Make it on down to Louisville, Ky., this May 15-16 for Wonderfest,
a friendly con for and about modelers, movie maniacs and
miscellaneous monsters. This year's guests include Ben (the
"Reel" Gill Man) Chapman and Julie Adams, stars of the classic
"Creature from the Black Lagoon," Emmy Award-winning makeup
artist John Goodwin, movie prop archivist and film historian
Bob Burns (and, of course, his better half, Kathy, the woman
behind the incorrigible collector), Bill Campbell, designer
of the infamous "Weird-Ohs" model kits of the 1960s, "Enterprise"
production artist John Eaves, artist William Stout, cartoonist/screenwriter
Frank Dietz and more. Chapman and Adams will introduce a
3D screening of "Creature," and Burns will be signing his
critically acclaimed, Rondo Award-winning book, "Monster
Kid Memories." And, our favorite Southern Fried spook, UPN's
Dr. Gangrene, will host a late-night showing of the Alex
Gordon-produced, AIP classic, "The She-Creature." Burns,
who collaborated behind the scenes with 1950s creature creator
Paul Blaisdell, will introduce the film and offer some first-hand
"Monster Kid Memories." Watch the Wonderfest site for developments
And don't hesitate to tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
BUTLER BRACES FOR THE BASH
You can likewise begin gearing up for the "Monster Kid"-friendly
con, Monster Bash. The show commences June 25 at the Days
Inn Conference Center in beautiful Butler, Pa. This year,
the "International Classic Monster Movie Convention and
Expo" is "dedicated to the memory of Evelyn Ankers," and
the daughter of Ankers and actor Richard Denning is a special
guest. Ron Chaney and Forry Ackerman will also be on hand,
as will members of "The Old Dark Clubhouse" and "The Lugosiphilia
Society." You can scope out the convention dope for yourself
By all means, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
THE HAUNTING OF (CHERRY) HILL HOUSE
And if you're the kind that REALLY likes to plan ahead,
the folks behind the Monster-Mania con, which takes place
August 27-29 in beautiful Cherry Hill, N.J., have already
posted a data-packed preview of their second annual show.
"If you don't have fun at this con," says the hype, "you're
already dead!" The show's official site features scheduling
and hotel info, and an intriguing lineup of guests. Perhaps
the most interesting of the attendees is Lupita Tovar, star
of Universal's 1931 Spanish "Dracula." Other guests on the
impressive roster include:
Candace Hilligoss of "Carnival of Souls" fame
Freddy himself, Robert Englund
Ricou Browning, the man who swam as the "Creature From the
Robert (Count Yorga) Quarry
Betsy Palmer, probably best known today as Mrs. Vorhees
of "Friday the 13th"
"Spider Baby's" Sid Haig
Three queens who presided over Hammer horror's Halcyon days;
Hazel Court, Ingrid Pitt and Caroline Munro
Artist Vincent DiFate
Filmmaker/publisher Ted Bohus
AND, billed as "The Grand Poobah of Classic Horror" (and
we're not about to argue his right to that title), author
There will, of course, be a dealer's room, multiple film
screenings and a special tribute to Vincent Price hosted
by Hazel Court, Caroline Munro and horror wax museum curator,
Cortland Hull. For more info, check out:
It should go without saying; tell 'em the B Monster sent
HUNT VALLEY HORRORS
Okay, one more you can get a jump on: Horrorfind Weekend
IV is happening August 13-14 at the Marriott Hunt Valley
Inn just outside Baltimore, Md. Billed as a "one of a kind
horror Halloween and spooky convention," the celebrity guests
"Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero
Adrienne ("Swamp Thing") Barbeau
Actor/stuntman and former "Jason," Kane Hodder
Barbara ("Space Truckers," "Castle Freak") Crampton
"Dawn of the Dead's" Scott Reiniger
Dee Wallace Stone of "Howling" and "Cujo" fame
Sid ("Spider Baby") Haig and more to be announced.
The convention Website features ticket, scheduling and
hotel info, as well as a message board and pics from previous
You know the drill: Tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
In 1999, Hollywood voice actor Doug Higley self-published
"Scary Dark Rides: One Hundred Years of Spooks, Fantasy
& Adventure," which featured "the personal recollections,
reflections and observations of a Darkrider (with a flashlight)."
A "Darkrider," apparently, is one who loves to be scared
in the dark, particularly when riding the gut-stirring mechanical
contraptions found on America's midways. Higley's nostalgic
ode to theme park thrill rides -- particularly those with
a macabre motif -- sold out multiple printings and garnered
the unqualified praise of screenwriters, Disney "Imagineers,"
thrill ride historians and theme park freaks in general.
Higley is currently putting the finishing touches on an
update/rewrite. "It's about the past, present and a bit
of the future of entertainment in the dark," says Higley.
"It's about perception, it's about growing up in an America
of the 1950's and beyond. It is for those who ride, rode
or will ride." Higley will be releasing the volume packaged
with an audio CD. For more information, you can check out:
Tell Darkrider Doug the B Monster sent you!
SONY SNAGS "LOST SKELETON"
It's been two years since we first told you about the loving
sci-fi send up, "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra." This cult-movie
parody is unique in that it doesn't descend to outright
ridicule. It was made by people with enough humility to
poke fun of themselves as well as the genre, and their nostalgic
affection for 1950s fright-films is evident. Sony Pictures
picked up "Cadavra" and it will soon be in wide release,
turning up in major market multiplexes across the country.
We just wanted to take a little space to congratulate producer
F. Miguel Valenti, writer-director-star Larry Blamire and
the whole "Cadavra" crew. You owe it to yourself to visit
the official Website:
Click on "Virtual Skelectables" and check out the "vintage"
Be sure and give 'em the B Monster's regards!
DARK CASTLE'S "WAX" STANDARDS
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dark Castle Entertainment,
the spawn of producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis,
will be releasing a "House of Wax" remake this November.
Previous Dark Castle offerings have included absolutely
dismal re-hashes of William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill"
and "13 Ghosts," which were bereft of fun and larded with
mean-spirited gore. Maybe they'll do a better job on this
"House," but the B Monster's expectations are not high.
A television commercial director, Jaume, (full name Jaume
Collet-Serra), whose previous credits include ads for 7Up
and Budweiser, has been assigned to the project. Teen fave
Chad Michael Murray, who stars in the WB series "One Tree
Hill," will play one of the leads. And no, it will NOT be
filmed in 3D as was its eye-popping predecessor.
PAYTON'S PLACE IN HISTORY
Fans of the sultry, star-crossed B-movie starlet Barbara
Payton will be pleased to discover John O'Dowd's Website,
devoted to the life and films of the 1950s bombshell. O'Dowd,
a film scribe and frequent contributor to such cult-movie
periodicals as Filmfax, has recently completed a Payton
autobiography that's piqued Hollywood's interest in her
tragic story. Payton starred in a handful of B pictures
and genre-films, including "Bride of the Gorilla" and "Four
Sided Triangle." Her career as a contract player was derailed
in part by a real-life love triangle involving actors Tom
Neal and Franchot Tone, which led to a much-publicized brawl
that landed Tone in the hospital. Payton eventually drifted
into obscurity, took to drinking, passing bad checks and
prostitution. According to the site, "a feature film project
... based on the work and research of John O'Dowd, is currently
being developed by producer Barrett Stuart in Los Angeles."
The site, part of which is still "under construction," also
showcases a Payton filmography, a selection of photos, and
an update on O'Dowd's concurrent projects, "including collaborating
with legendary cult movie actress and fan favorite Yvette
Vickers on her memoir, tentatively titled 'A Lusty Wench
With Dignity.' " The Payton bio is scheduled for a 2005
release. You can find out more at:
As always, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
THEME'S ABOUT RIGHT
Some time ago, we turned you on to the swingin' surf sounds
of a B movie-inspired Chicago combo called The Moon Rays.
Their forthcoming CD, "The Ghouls Go West," features "Thrillville,"
a theme composed for the B Monster's Bay Area buddy and
Parkway Theater spook show host Will "The Thrill" Viharo."
Sporting a kitschy, creepy, comic art cover, the disc, pays
"homage to 50's B Sci-fi movies, Spaghetti Westerns, Surfing
Bulls, Horror Television, Martians, and our favorite honey,
Vampira." You can glom a sneak peek at:
Sing it loud ... the B Monster sent you!
MTV'S RETRO MONSTER RALLY
MTV's next original, made-for-cable movie is called "Monster
Island." While it seems to bear no resemblance to that favorite
stomping ground of the Toho Studios crew, producers do say
that it will have a retro feel. According to hype, the film
"will be a tongue-in-cheek, comedic send up of the classic
'monster movies' from the 50s and 60s as well as MTV events"
(No, I don't know why they put "monster movies" in quotes).
The film stars Adam West, who's made a cottage industry
of camping it up at his own expense, and Carmen Electra.
Publicity says that "to give the film a unique and fresh
visual style, 'Monster Island' will feature special effects
techniques used in the classic creature features of the
50s and 60s such as stop-motion animation and puppetry,
as opposed to the more contemporary special effects methods
used today." We've seen stills of Electra in the clutches
of a "Them!"-like ant and, well, we'll reserve judgment
until we've seen it in context. It airs March 7 at 7:00
PARKER'S BARBED COMMENTS
It was just a matter of time before somebody pointed out
that Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch (you may have heard
of it) is situated in Los Olivos, Calif., adjacent to the
property of B Monster favorite Fess Parker. A recent edition
of Parade Magazine's "Walter Scott's Personality Parade"
points out that Parker, whom Walt Disney spotted during
a screening of the big-bug classic "Them!" (subsequently
casting the strapping Texan as Davy Crockett), has a winery,
spa and much real estate in the mountains above Santa Barbara.
"I share a barbed-wired fence with Michael Jackson," Parker
told Parade. For those too young to recall, the obsessive
fan base inspired by "Jacko" is NOTHING compared to the
Crockettmania that peaked in the mid-1950s. What a difference
a little dignity makes. (Fess never dangled a baby over
the Alamo wall.)
Some salient trivia: The next town over from Los Olivos,
Solvang, was the setting for William Castle's twisted cult
classic "Homicidal," which involved gender-bending and obsessive
Evidently, the ad for "Van Helsing," Universal's forthcoming
monster rally film, due for release May 17, raised a few
hackles when it aired during the Super Bowl. Since critiquing
and analyzing the advertisements that air during the big
game has become every bit the vacuous spectacle the game
itself has become, it's to be expected that this particularly
gory promo for the as-yet-unrated film would raise some
eyebrows. The Washington Post, for one, pointed out that
"it contained extremely disturbing and graphic images of
brutality and gore. ... If the film were eventually to be
rated NC-17, it would be contrary to [CBS] policy to carry
any commercials for it." Noting that the promo aired in
what was once dubbed "the family hour," the article continued,
"The ad was "wall-to-wall with monsters baring fangs and
implied horrific violence." A 30-second ad spot during this
year's Super Bowl cost $2.25 million. Do you know how many
movies Richard Cunha could make for $2.25 million?! Judge
for yourself. You can view the spot at:
Filmmaker Andy Kumpon is proud to point out that his horror
short, "Last Stop Station," was made for under $1,200. Kumpon's
indy quickie is a part of the anthology of horror shorts
called "Monstersdotcom." You might recall that, some months
back, the B Monster plugged "Shadows in the Garden," a spooky
no-budget short from Kumpon's friend, "mentor" and "Station"
co-star Wayne Spitzer, which is also a part of the "Monstersdotcom"
collection. "Station" concerns a pair of seedy tabloid journalists
(perhaps there's a redundancy in that description) who happen
upon a decrepit gas-and-go operated by faceless, supernatural
ghouls. It's shot on tape in glorious black and white and
is not without its VERY budget-constricted innovations.
To find out more, drop 'em a line at:
Classic monsters continue to rear their hideous heads in
comic book form, and while some might say it falls a bit
beyond the bailiwick of the B Monster (they'd be wrong),
we shall, nonetheless cite several pertinent examples:
We've told you on several occasions about the Todd Livingston,
Bob Tinnell, Neil Vokes graphic novel "The Black Forest,"
a heady mix that posits classic monsters amid the all-too-real
terrors of World War I trench warfare. h
And, we salute the ongoing efforts of artist Todd Tennant,
whose American Kaiju site showcases artwork influenced in
equal parts by Jack Kirby, Dan Dare and all things Toho.
Ted Seko produces "Attack of the Super Monsters," featuring
the likes of Monster Monolith and Fusion Man, for Big Umbrella
Comics, publishers of Javier Hernandez "El Muerto: The Aztec
Artist/film designer Bill Stout's lovingly detailed comic
renditions of Kong are available at his Website:
The prolific Frank Dietz's mirthful renderings of the
monstrous movie stars of horror's Golden Age can be found
at his Sketchy Things Website:
Mark Wheatley combines classic monsters and gangland intrigue
in his Image Comics series, "Frankenstein Mobster."
And fans of classic sci-fi can do no better than Steve
Conley's long-running "Astounding Space Thrills."
Tell 'em all the B Monster sent you!
NEW ON DVD
LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION
This head-spinning mix of live action and animation was
unjustly overlooked by theatergoers who either heeded the
singularly poor advice of snobbish critics, or just didn't
know about the film, owing to extraordinarily inept marketing.
If you didn't see it, you missed a treat that boasts likable
leads (particularly Brendan Fraser, who plays a stuntman
doubling for ... Brendan Fraser!) and spirited character
turns from Steve Martin and Joan Cusack. Director Joe Dante
wrangles his actors -- both flesh and animated -- with distinction,
crafting an adventurous confection that's funny, nostalgic
and breathlessly paced. Dante indulges his monster kid proclivities
in a sequence staged at "Area 52," a government enclave
more closely guarded even than Area 51, as it houses the
Metaluna Mutant, Triffids, the "Fiend Without a Face," "Robot
Monster's" Ro-Man, and any other cult-film icon deemed worthy
of homage that could be crowded into the sequence. Especially
noteworthy is Kevin McCarthy -- standing out from the color
backdrop in startling black and white -- still issuing his
signature "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" warning, "They're
coming!" (Veteran monster manipulator Bob Burns was on hand
to help operate props.) Thank Ramboona that Dante is willing
to display his love of these characters at any opportunity.
In fact, "Back In Action" strikes me as a salute to what
ought to be conserved by a neglectful filmland -- snappy
pacing, clever scripting, winning protagonists, memorable
characterizations and actors with enough humility to laugh
at themselves. Even if you don't like the film, there's
no denying its unbridled energy. There's scarcely a wasted
frame. Making the picture was surely arduous; the intermingling
of live actors and cartoon characters was doubtless painstaking,
the editing process laborious. And we can safely assume
there was front office tampering by suits far too young
to recall Marvin the Martian or "This Island Earth." Notwithstanding
these injurious circumstances, the film entertains. Isn't
that the very nature of showbiz professionalism?
Suddenly, it's all the rage to remake contemporary Japanese
horror films. There are at least three that I can think
of currently in the works, all hoping, no doubt, to duplicate
the success of "The Ring," a sleeper hit if ever there was
one, based on the Japanese horror gem, "Ringu." If you've
yet to explore Japanese horror films -- beyond Godzilla
and his Toho brethren, that is -- begin your education with
"Onibaba," a 1964 masterwork directed by Kaneto Shindo.
This is a terrific film. "Haunting" is a descriptive that
critics toss around indiscriminately, but it's an understatement
where "Onibaba" is concerned. It's long been a B Monster
favorite, and it's surprising that more critics and horror
movie-lovers don't cite its achievement. Its release on
DVD is long overdue, and Image Entertainment by way of Criterion
are to be saluted for making it available to a broader audience.
Set in samurai-era Japan, "Onibaba" presents the desperate,
harrowing predicament of a peasant widow and her mother-in-law,
who ambush and kill warriors returning from combat, robbing
them of their armor and dumping their bodies in a hidden
pit. They sell the armor, and whatever other belongings
can be scavenged, to keep from starving. Greed, suspicion,
jealousy and an overwhelming fear of abandonment come into
play as the young widow takes up with a wandering samurai
and the mother-in-law will stop at nothing to prevent her
leaving the squalid home they share in a grassy swamp. This
field of head-high grass is a major player in the film.
The ambient sound of the unceasing wind, wafting and wailing
through the stalks provides a spine-tingling undercurrent.
(Some might compare it to the way sound was utilized in
a sequence from "I Walked With a Zombie," as a frightened
nurse leads her somnambulant charge through a wind-blown
cane field on their way to a voodoo ceremony.) The tall
grass is employed visually, of course, acting as a curtain
that might be torn away at any moment to reveal a hidden
horror. But what lingers in memory is the sound of that
wind, disturbing the cloistered, desperate lives of the
two women, pushing them relentlessly toward their fate.
I realize I'm getting all poetic on you. Indulge me. Indulge
yourself. See this movie. http://www.image-entertainment.com
COLD CREEK MANOR
I won't concoct a clever lead; this thing just plain stinks.
Directed by Mike Figgis (who made "Leaving Las Vegas," one
of the most relentlessly depressing, annoyingly overrated
and terminally pointless films in history), this mish-mosh
of horror movie cliches is predictable at every turn. Stop
me if you've heard this one: With a strain on their marriage,
a couple decides to move to the country and ... oh, you
have? When they arrive at the seedy small town, the locals
act suspiciously about ... oh, you have? You see, something
terrible happened in their new house many years ago and
... oh, you have? The grubby handyman makes lascivious eyes
at the wife and ... oh, you have? One of the family's animals
turns up mysteriously drowned in ... oh, you have? Turns
out, the redneck locals are trying to scare the family by
... oh, you have? When the hero finally gets the best of
the bad guy, he sneers a snappy one-liner that ... oh, you
have? Juliette Lewis plays a loose woman ... oh, you have?
Well, Stephen Dorff plays the surly redneck who... oh, you
have? Sharon Stone plays the high-strung wife, who ... oh,
you have? Dennis Quaid is the ineffectual father who finally
summons enough courage to ... oh, you have?
It's as though Stephen King got drunk and hammered out
a first draft screenplay for "Cape Fear." Want another analogy?
Somebody said, "Well, we've got this creepy old house, so
everybody take a piece of paper, write down a plot contrivance
from a horror movie you've seen, and drop it in this hat."
This is an overwrought, cliche-filled, fleabag of a film
with absolutely nothing to recommend it.
FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER/THE BAT/CARNIVAL OF SOULS
The Good folks at Good Times Entertainment are regurgitating
these three cult classics (okay, two-and-a-half cult classics)
as a triple feature. So, we've regurgitated prior reviews
and peppered them with illuminating quotes and trivia:
According to director Richard Cunha, makeup man Harry
Thomas, working with NO budget, had all of two hours to
transform a male stuntman into "Frankenstein's Daughter"
(1958). "We just hadn't given the Daughter of Frankenstein
enough preparation, time or thought," Cunha told the B Monster.
"What the hell does the daughter of Frankenstein made from
a squashed Sally Todd look like? I thought to myself, 'Not
like this,' but the show must go on so we put her in front
of the camera and kept filming. Never was any blame put
on Thomas for his creation. The fault was entirely on poor
pre-production planning. I remember the crew applauding
when Harry proudly presented his creation." Another of the
film's highlights is Harold Lloyd Jr. singing "Daddy Bird,"
poolside, backed by the swingin' Page Cavanaugh Trio.
"The Bat" (1959) is uphill sledding for Vincent Price
fans. There's little life in writer-director Crane Wilbur's
tedious adaptation of the classic story by Mary Roberts
Rinehart. All the ingredients are there -- the spooky house,
the hooked-handed killer and a solid story that had already
been filmed three times before. But Price is wasted as the
prime red herring, as is Agnes Moorehead as the family matriarch.
Watch for Our Gang's Darla Hood in an adult role, and dig
that crazy "Bat" theme by steel guitar ace Alvino Rey.
"Carnival of Souls" (1960) has accrued an estimable reputation
among some cult-film enthusiasts as an eerie testament to
budget-conscious innovation. Others find it startlingly
overrated. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The film
echoes the classic story "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,"
as Candace Hilligoss survives a car crash (or DOES she?)
and wanders a surrealistic, Midwestern landscape, menaced
at every turn by zombie-like figures that, while repellant,
seem to beckon her to her destiny. Clearly, the filmmakers
had no budget to speak of. They nevertheless wring some
suspense from what is, essentially, a rumination and not
a plot. You'll find it spooky or stilted, endearing or just
plain laughable. Everyone seems to regard it as either great
or lousy. I may be the only one who thinks it's just okay.
Producer/director Eli Roth says that, in making "Cabin Fever,"
he set out to make a film that was even grosser than "Dead
Alive." For the uninitiated, "Dead Alive" is director Peter
Jackson's homegrown New Zealand "slashterpiece," which made
a mockery of all gore films, depicting the grisly with such
abandon that subsequent slasher films can have virtually
no visceral impact on you once you've seen it. (Jackson
contributes a promotional blurb for the "Cabin Fever" box
art.) Making a grislier film is no mean feat, and for the
record, "Cabin Fever" is NOT gorier than "Dead Alive." Nor
does it tap the wellspring of humor that is latent in the
now played-out genre the way Jackson so ably did. It does
attempt a few yucks, but they're fairly sophomoric. Let's
put it this way: The filmmakers set out to make a commercial,
teen-horror-sex-romp and succeeded. Is it more scary than
funny or vice-versa? That depends on how many of these types
of films you've seen. To its credit, I went in thinking
I'd be able to easily predict the order in which the coeds
would die based on their cliche personality type. They fooled
me. And, instead of a rampaging, chainsaw-wielding wildman,
the menace in question is a flesh-eating virus. This is
a novel turn, but not as scary as a rampaging, chainsaw-wielding
wildman. In one of the "making of" DVD extras, Roth explains
that he got the idea for the film when he actually contracted
a flesh-eating virus. Evidently, it wasn't as aggressively
virulent as the one in his film, the effects of which are
depicted in very graphic fashion, no imagination required.
Other extras include no less than FIVE audio commentaries
(sheesh, "Citizen Kane" only got two!) and a gag reel labeled
"Family Friendly Version."
THE RAVEN/THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
Dinoship CEO and film historian Bob Madison weighs in with
MGM presents another in its series of double-features
with the release of "The Raven" (1963) and "The Comedy of
Terrors" (1964). Many genre fans have nostalgic feelings
for both of these horror comedies, so it's something of
a disappointment to see them again in the harsh light of
adulthood. Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff
star as rival wizards in "The Raven." Price on the side
of the angels, Karloff the villain and Lorre the wild card.
Of the three performances, Lorre easily comes off best,
with a natural comic timing and an energy his co-stars lack.
Price, usually excellent in comedic roles, seems curiously
flat, while Karloff's delivery is tired. The major set piece
of the film is the climactic duel between Price and Karloff.
This, again, does not quite live up to memory (or expectation),
and seems weak tea indeed.
"The Raven" is significant today mostly for its look at
a young Jack Nicholson. Nothing in his performance would
indicate that one day he would be a major American film
actor with a dozen Oscar nominations to his name. Here,
he seems somewhat cowed by the stars of the film, and, perhaps,
by the threadbare quality of the proceedings. "The Raven,"
directed in record time by Roger Corman, is guilty of comedy's
greatest sin -- it's not funny. The set-ups are clumsy,
the script laugh-free. The extensive campaign art (once
a staple of long-gone horror movie magazines) was the best
thing about it.
Some of the same malaise infuses the companion film, Jacques
Tourneur's "The Comedy of Terrors." This film, with much
the same cast plus a terrific, dynamic Basil Rathbone, is
never quite as funny as it should be, but is a much better
film than "The Raven." Price and Lorre play undertakers
who re-use the same coffin, and sometimes commit murder
to build their customer base. Karloff is Price's vague father-in-law,
and Rathbone their landlord. Joyce Jameson (in a performance
that nearly sinks the picture) is Price's would-be opera
Most of the comedy revolves around Price and Lorre plotting
to kill (and almost killing) Rathbone, in order to evade
back rent, and Rathbone's unwillingness to stay dead. In
between some of the clunky scenes are moments of real comic
inspiration: Karloff delivering a eulogy when he clearly
cannot remember what he was going to say or the name of
the deceased; Lorre building a makeshift coffin; and, Rathbone's
over-the-top vengeful Macbeth. It's dangerous to dissect
humor (nothing is unfunny like a joke explained), but "Terrors"
works so much better than "Raven" simply because the premise
itself is funny, and the jokes progress naturally. In addition,
Price, Karloff, Lorre and Rathbone play characters who are
ridiculous in and of themselves -- so there is none of the
forced "humor" of the "Raven" performances. (Also -- for
what it's worth -- in this film Price has a remarkable and
inexplicable vocal resemblance to James Garner. I don't
know if it's his relaxed, "drunken" delivery, or some trick
of cadence and script, but the similarity is uncanny.)
MGM has released both films in beautiful, widescreen transfers.
The colors are lush and vibrant, and it is the best representation
I have ever seen of either film. They are packaged complete
with Corman interviews, still galleries and trailers. But
don't say you haven't been warned ... if you have fond memories
of either film, perhaps this is one purchase you shouldn't
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
"Roaring guns against raging monster!" -- Jesse James Meets