|| MARCH 2005
The advent of World War II prompted her return to Hollywood.
In 1941, she starred as a hell-born temptress in "All That
Money Can Buy," an acclaimed adaptation of Stephen Vincent
Benet's "The Devil and Daniel Webster," featuring Walter Huston,
Edward Arnold and James Craig. Despite the film's vaunted
reputation, Simone expressed a low regard for the film in
later years. The following year she appeared in the B-movie
classic "Cat People." Directed by Jacques Tourneur, the film
was the first of producer Val Lewton's series of low-budget,
well-crafted atmospheric thrillers. Simone reprised her "Cat
People" role with a ghostly cameo in the 1944 sequel, "Curse
of the Cat People." In between, she was cast in such trifles
as "Tahiti Honey," "Johnny Doesn't Live Here Any More" and
"Mademoiselle Fifi," Following the war, she returned to France
where she appeared in a handful of films, most notably director
Max Ophuls' "La Ronde" (1950). Her final film appearance was
in the 1973 comedy "La Femme en bleu." Always reclusive, she
became more so following an accident with eye drops in the
1970s that left her nearly blind.
The actress best known to horror film fans as the sultry
star of the Val Lewton-produced classic "Cat People," Simone
Simon, has died. While there are conflicting reports regarding
her age, the Associated Press reported that she was 93.
The confusion over her age apparently resulted from studio
attempts to make her seem more exotic and appealing, plus
her own reclusiveness. Simone was reportedly born in Marseille.
She embarked on a modeling career before turning to acting.
Following appearances in several French films in the early
1930s, producer Darryl Zanuck imported her to America. There
was much ballyhoo surrounding her arrival, and she was reportedly
squired about town by the likes of George Raft, George Gershwin
and British secret agent "Dusko" Popov. But she soon found
herself cast in a handful of mediocre programmers including
"Girls' Dormitory," "Ladies in Love" and "Love and Hisses."
Disenchanted, she was delighted to return to France to star
in director Jean Renoir's 1938 drama "La Bete humaine."
The film established her as a major star.
Dan O'Herlihy, the distinguished Irish actor who won an
Oscar nomination for his performance in director Luis Bunuel's
1954 production "The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," died
at his home in Malibu, Calif. No cause of death was reported.
He was 85. Cult-movie fans will recognize O'Herlihy from
his roles in the 1952 sci-fi thriller "Invasion USA," the
1962 remake of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," "Halloween
III: Season of the Witch," "The Last Starfighter" and "RoboCop."
O'Herlihy originally studied architecture. He took up acting
to earn money for his education. Turning to acting full-time,
he went on to appear in dozens of plays in Dublin before
being singled out by director Carol Reed who cast O'Herlihy
in the 1947 suspense film "Odd Man Out," starring James
Mason. O'Herlihy's American film debut was opposite Orson
Welles in "Macbeth." O'Herlihy's portrayal of Macduff caught
the eye of Bunuel who had been asked by producers to consider
Welles for the role of Robinson Crusoe. Bunuel preferred
O'Herlihy who won an Oscar nomination for his portrayal.
(Marlon Brando won for his performance in "On the Waterfront"
Throughout the 1950s, O'Herlihy appeared in a variety
of high-profile costumers and melodramas including "The
Black Shield of Falworth," "The Virgin Queen," "Home Before
Dark" and "Imitation of Life." He played the pivotal role
of Brig. Gen. Warren A. Black in the 1964 political thriller
"Fail-Safe." He played Franklin Roosevelt opposite Gregory
Peck's "MacArthur," appeared in the title role of the television
production "Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter" and played
Joseph Kennedy in the 1998 telefilm "The Rat Pack." O'Herlihy
worked extensively in episodic television, appearing in
such series as "The Untouchables," "Rawhide," "Adventures
in Paradise," "Route 66," "Bonanza," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,"
"Battlestar Galactica" and "The Ray Bradbury Theater," among
many others. He had recurring roles in several series including
"The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters" (1963), "The Long, Hot
Summer" (1966) and "Twin Peaks" (1991).
Actress Sandra Dee, best known for her roles as the love-struck
teenagers "Gidget" and "Tammy," died following complications
from kidney disease. She was 63 (some conflicting sources
list her age as 62 and 60). She had been diagnosed with
throat cancer and suffered kidney failure in 2000. Dee was
born Alexandra Zuck in Bayonne, N.J. She began modeling
at age 12 and was soon appearing in television advertisements.
At 14, she landed a role in "Until They Sail," a big screen
drama directed by Robert Wise that starred Paul Newman,
Jean Simmons and Joan Fontaine. She became a teen idol with
"Gidget," a love story set among the young surfing set that
co-starred James Darren and Cliff Robertson. In 1960, Dee
married pop singer Bobby Darin. The two appeared with Rock
Hudson and Gina Lollabrigida in "Come September." They were
divorced in 1967. Their marriage was portrayed in Kevin
Spacey's 2004 musical biopic "Beyond the Sea," which featured
Kate Bosworth as Dee. Of interest to cult-film fans is Dee's
appearance in the 1970 thriller "The Dunwich Horror," based
on the H.P. Lovecraft story, and co-starring Dean Stockwell
and Ed Begley.
Character actor John Vernon, whose craggy countenance and
booming voice were familiar to many cult-film and television
fans, died from complications following heart surgery. He
was 72. Vernon was born Adolphus Raymondus Vernon Agopsowicz
in Canada, where he trained as a classical actor. His first
major TV acting assignment was in the 1966 series "Wojeck,"
which featured Vernon as a crime-solving forensic pathologist.
His first prominent big screen role was in the John Boorman
crime thriller "Point Blank," opposite Lee Marvin. Vernon
went on to work with big-name directors in such films as
George Cukor's "Justine," Alfred Hitchcock's "Topaz," and
Don Siegel's trendsetting "Dirty Harry," the classic Clint
Eastwood cop drama that featured Vernon as the mayor of
San Francisco. Vernon worked with Eastwood again in "The
Outlaw Josey Wales." Vernon is also widely recognized as
Dean Wormer of the 1978 comedy hit "Animal House." Cult-movie
lovers are familiar with Vernon's portrayal of Curtis Mooney
in the Chiodo brother's campy sci-fi shocker "Killer Klowns
From Outer Space." Vernon also worked extensively as a voice
actor, providing the voices of several Marvel superheroes
in the 1960s (Sub-Mariner, Iron Man) and performing on such
animated series as "Batman" and "Pinky and the Brain" in
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
1,614 fans cast ballots in the third annual Rondo Hatton
Classic Horror Awards contest. "We thank everyone for their
votes, comments and suggestions," said awards organizer
David Colton. "The Rondos could not happen without all of
you. The Rondos are intended not only to pick a winner but
to showcase all the important, creative and fun work that
is done in the classic horror genre year after year, too
often without recognition." Winners in major categories
"Shaun of the Dead" (219 votes)
BEST TV PRESENTATION
"Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments" (226 votes)
BEST CLASSIC DVD RELEASE
"Creature From The Black Lagoon Legacy Collection" (243
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1932) (196 votes)
BEST DVD EXTRA
Universal Monsters Legacy Collection Busts (166 votes)
BEST INDEPENDENT FILM
"Flip!" (210 votes)
"Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life" (217 votes)
Video Watchdog (156 votes) their third consecutive win.
Donnie Dunagan interview by Tom Weaver for Video Watchdog
BEST WEB SITE
Count Gore De Vol http://www.countgore.com
Chiller Theatre (171 votes)
BEST HORROR COMIC
"The Black Forest" (195 votes)
CLASSIC MOST NEEDED ON DVD
"King Kong" (373 votes)
WRITER OF THE YEAR
"Tom Weaver" (127 write-in votes) Weaver is currently entertaining
contracting bids to build an extra room onto his house to
contain the Rondos he's won.
MONSTER KID OF THE YEAR
Larry Blamire, the writer, director and star of the homage
to vintage sci-fi, "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra"
And, inducted into the MONSTER KID HALL OF FAME: Ray Harryhausen,
Ray Bradbury, makeup artisan Rick Baker, the late film historian
William K. Everson and legendary producers Richard Gordon
and his late brother Alex.
For the complete tally, tune in:
Let the Rondo academy know the B Monster sent you!
HALL STILL ROCKIN' WITH THE HEAVYWEIGHTS
Who are the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau? According to
the brotherhood's Web site, they're "a secret organization
solely dedicated to the preservation and promotion of rock
'n' roll sainthood in New Orleans." To that end, they're
promoting Ponderosa Stomp #4, a two-day super-concert featuring
an astonishing roster of legendary blues, rockabilly and
Big Easy funk masters. What's all this got to do with B
movies? Also on the bill is Arch Hall Jr. The guitar-pickin'
star of "Eegah," "The Choppers" and "Wild Guitar," now 61,
will share the stage with an impressive list of roots music
luminaries including Elvis' venerated guitarist Scotty Moore,
sax legends Plas Johnson and Ace Cannon, rockabilly kings
Dale Hawkins and Joe Clay and blues giants Robert Jr. Lockwood,
Lazy Lester and Johnny Jones. "I'm both flattered and rather
terrified, but I'm going to do it," says Hall. "It sounds
like a wonderful blend of folks, and I'm grateful to have
been asked to participate." The stomping starts April 26
at the Mid-City Lanes Rock-n-Bowl in New Orleans. "I haven't
really done any performing in 40 years," Hall told the B
Monster, "but I'm going to try to get my chops up." Arch
will be backed by the festival's house band. Will he be
performing tunes from any of the aforementioned Fairway
films he made with Arch Sr. in the early 1960s? "I might
do 'Brownsville Road,' [featured in 'Eegah'] and there's
a possibility I might do 'Konga Joe' [featured in 'The Choppers'],
which I wrote when I was 13 or 14 years old."
This isn't the only big news for Hall's fans. Norton Records
has just released "Arch Hall Jr. and the Archers: Wild Guitar!"
The CD is packed with cues from the classic Fairway productions,
as well as rediscovered tracks featuring the Archers performing
live at a Pasadena night club and a Pensacola Drive-In.
"Alan O'Day, who worked with me on the old Fairway pictures,
discovered in some old boxes recordings we made in Pensacola,
Fla., back in 1962. They worked on them, kind of cleaned
them up a little bit, and put them out on a CD along with
some of the movie stuff and some commentary and comedy stuff
that's tied in to the Fairway movies." The disk is accompanied
by a booklet packed with rare stills. Watch this space for
a more expansive article on Arch, his music and his movies.
(Can you picture a young Frank Zappa sitting in with Arch
and the Archers at an L.A. club in 1962? It happened.) In
the interim, check out the Norton Records Web site:
And take a peek at the festival page:
Tell Norton and the Knights the B Monster "sends" you!
DEER DONNIE DUNAGAN
OHIO'S HORROR HEADQUARTERS
Donnie Dunagan, the actor best known as the precocious moppet who cozied up to Karloff's monster in the Universal classic "Son of Frankenstein," now has a place in cyberspace. Dunagan's official Web site features a lengthy biography, an extensive photo gallery brimming with fabulous stills, a selection of autographed items for sale, a page devoted to news regarding personal appearances and DVD releases, a links page and a guest book that we encourage you to sign. Dunagan, who spent 25 year in the Marine Corps, makes it clear that he's happily surprised by the resurgence of interest in his film career. "It's a constant joy to talk to people who have such a love and appreciation for movies that I was a part of," says Dunagan. "It makes a fellow feel pretty lucky." In addition to portraying the curly-headed son of the "Son of Frankenstein," Dunagan provided the voice of Walt Disney's "Bambi." "I didn't discuss my Hollywood days with many people over the years. I kept that aspect of my childhood a rather private, but cherished, part of my life. While in the military, my reasons for keeping quiet were obvious. Having my fellow Marines find out that I was once Bambi was something I thought it best to avoid. I wasn't exactly proud of those curly locks of hair I had in my films, either, and didn't want to invite any teasing on that front." Dunagan's site, assembled by Monster Kid maven and illustrator extraordinaire, Kerry Gammill, is handsome and easily navigable. Drop by and give Donnie your regards. While you're at it, give him the B Monster's regards, too!
"Cinema Wasteland Drive-In Movie and Memorabilia Expo Spring
Spectacular" (Whew! I'm winded just from typing that title!)
is coming to beautiful Strongsville, Ohio, April 1, 2 and
3. As usual, the focus is on the ambulatory dead, with veterans
of myriad zombie films heading a guest list that includes:
-- Robert Quarry, Two words: "Count Yorga!"
-- William Smith, movie tough guy and quintessential badass
-- Reggie Bannister of "Phantasm" fame
-- Gigi Bannister, makeup wiz and Mrs. Reggie
-- John "Bud" Cardos, 1960-70s drive-in maverick
-- Greydon Clark, B-movie quadruple-threat: actor, writer,
producer and director
-- Sybil Danning, B-movie Amazon
-- Eileen Dietz, actress and Linda Blair's demonic double
-- Kane Hodder, Jason ('nuff said)
-- Brett Kelly, who actually made a film called "Spacemen,
Go-Go Girls and the True Meaning of Christmas." (No kiddin'!)
-- Gary Kent, movie cohort of Ray Dennis Steckler
-- Tom Sullivan, "Evil Dead" makeup maven And Karl Hardman,
Bill Hinzman and Kyra Schon, all hailing from George Romero's
watershed "Night of the Living Dead"
Among the special events will be a tribute to the films
of Al Adamson. For the uninformed, these would include "Horror
of the Blood Monsters," "Dracula Vs. Frankenstein," "Brain
of Blood," "Blood of Ghastly Horror," "I Spit on Your Corpse!"
and "Blazing Stewardesses."
For more info, visit:
By all means tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
A CHILLER IN THE AIR
wafting on the spring breeze is news of the April Chiller
Theatre con. Descending once more on the Sheraton Meadowlands
in picturesque East Rutherford, N.J., the show boasts the
usual impressive guest roster, special events and dealers
rooms bursting with an unequalled selection of posters,
lobby cards, DVDs, statues, swords, busts and assorted horror
bric-a-brac. Among the scheduled guests:
-- Adrienne Barbeau, the apple of "Swamp Thing's" eye
-- Tom Atkins, whose credits include "Two Evil Eyes" and
-- Angela Bettis, star of NBC's "Carrie" remake
-- Tim DeKay of HBO's "Carnivale"
-- Andrew Divoff of "Wishmasters" 1 and 2
-- Greg Evigan of TV's "B.J. and the Bear"
-- Ken Foree, original "Dawn of the Dead" star
-- Scott Reiniger, also of "Dawn of the Dead"
-- Gaylen Ross, likewise of "Dawn of the Dead" fame
-- Joseph Ruskin, veteran of myriad classic TV series
-- Tom Savini, goremeister and makeup effects ace
-- A "Day of the Dead" 20th Anniversary Reunion featuring
Lori Cardille, Joe Pilato, Gary Klar and Antone Dileo
-- And it just wouldn't be Chiller without late-night legend
It happens April 29-May 1. You can find out more at:
And make a point of telling 'em the B Monster sent you!
BOHUS FILM SPAWNS A SITE
of producer, director, editor, conventioneer, raconteur
and Aloha shirt model Ted Bohus and his film progeny "The
Deadly Spawn" should hustle on over to Ted's recently unveiled
Web site. Deadlyspwan.net showcases a slew of rare pics,
many behind-the-scenes shots and a complete production history
detailing Ted's influences and casting a spotlight on the
many artisans that brought the cult-favorite to life. For,
instance, many B Monster readers are familiar with the art
of the Hidebrandt brothers; Tim Hildebrandt played a substantial
role in creating the Spawn, and even has a role in the film.
The site also lists Bohus' other film credits that include
"Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor," "The Regenerated Man"
and "Vampire Vixens From Venus." Bohus is also the editor
of SPFX Magazine, which focuses on cult, sci-fi and horror
films. Back issues of the mag, as well as Ted's films, can
be ordered at the site.
"I came up with the idea for The Deadly Spawn in 1979,"
Ted reveals, "after reading a National Geographic, or some
such magazine, about seed pods brought back from the Arctic.
They were thawed and grown. The seeds were thousands of
years old. Why not put a 'seed pod' inside a meteor and
have it crash, thaw and grow on Earth?" What's next for
Bohus, a friendly, fiendish fixture, mover and shaker at
each and every Chiller Theatre Convention? "I'm finishing
a book called 'Making Low-Budget Science-Fiction Films:
A Real Horror Story.' The first chapter is The Making of
'The Deadly Spawn.' I will present that here in the near
future. Thank you all for remembering my first little film
shot for about $20,000 and a lot of blood, sweat and tears."
Check out the cyber-nesting ground of the Deadly Spawn:
Make a point of telling Ted the B Monster sent you!
"SMIRK," IF YOU CAN GET IT
Mark Clark writes authoritatively on the careers of horror
film actors in his new book "Smirk, Sneer and Scream: Great
Acting in Horror Cinema." As you might expect, there are
chapters covering Karloff, Lugosi, Chaneys Sr. and Jr.,
Carradine, Lorre, Price, Cushing and Lee. There are also
well-presented assessments of the careers of Lionel Atwill,
Dwight Frye and George Zucco. Their contributions have been
documented in the past by such writers as Tom Weaver and
Greg Mank, yet they aren't singled out for commendation
by the mainstream often enough, and it's good that Clark
chronicles their work with respect and objectivity. And
speaking of mainstream, Clark also turns the spotlight on
such bankable big names as Fredric March, Charles Laughton
and Anthony Perkins, lauded dramatic actors who gave signal
performances in seminal horror films. Clark likewise examines
the contributions of actors not immediately associated with
horror, including Michael Rooker, Anthony Hopkins, Robert
Montgomery and Robert De Niro.
Genre-film buffs certainly recognize Gloria Holden as
"Dracula's Daughter," and Clark awards her unique and solemn
performance the attention it deserves. His chapter on "Leading
Ladies" also explores the horror film performances of such
actresses as Simone Simon, Bette Davis, and the relatively
more recent contributions of Mia Farrow, Linda Blair, Sissy
Spacek and Jamie Lee Curtis. I particularly enjoyed the
book's interesting appendices, including "Horror Cinema
and the Academy Awards," which cites fright film performances
that garnered an Academy nod, as well as "Noteworthy Performances
That Did Not Receive Oscar Nominations." Among these Clark
includes Lugosi in "Dracula," Karloff in "Frankenstein,"
Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man," Peter Lorre in "Mad
Love," and Chaney Jr. in "The Wolf Man." Clark also cites
horror film actors who received Academy recognition for
non-horror performances, including Rains (four nominations),
Basil Rathbone (two), Gale Sondergaard and Maria Ouspenskaya.
By presenting the genre-film work of a Dwight Frye in the
same volume as such diverse personalities as Willem Dafoe,
Ellen Burstyn and Haley Joel Osment, "Smirk, Sneer and Scream"
indirectly but interestingly addresses the shifting view
of the mainstream that once held the horror film in low
AND THE PRICE OF REVENGE
London's National Theater is presenting a stage adaptation
of the 1973 Vincent Price shocker "Theater of Blood." The
MGM thriller, which starred Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry and Price
as the vengeful Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart, has
been adapted by Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott, and is
being presented by the National in collaboration with Simpson
and McDermott's London-based theater company, Improbable.
The role of Lionheart, the dejected and ultimately deranged
thespian who exacts grizzly revenge on the snobbish critics
who dissed him, will be played by Academy Award winner Jim
Broadbent. For more info, visit:
And let 'em know for sure the B Monster sent you!
NYC'S PARK CENTRAL BECOMES HORROR CENTRAL
Annual World Horror Convention takes place April 7-10 at
the Park Central Hotel in New York City. Fans are being
enticed by a roster of horror-lit luminaries and macabre
artisans that includes authors Tom Piccirilli, Tim Lebbon,
Harlan Ellison, Joe R. Lansdale and Jack Ketchum, filmmaker
Mick Garris, artist Allen K (Koszowski), editors Tom and
Elizabeth Monteleone, and author and teacher Mort Castle.
Actress Amber Benson, best known as Tara of the "Buffy the
Vampire Slayer" teleseries is an Author Guest of Honor.
(Benson and Christopher Golden helped create the online
animated "Ghosts of Albion" series, which led to a deal
for a series of books based on the property.) F. Paul Wilson
will receive the 2005 Grandmaster Award.
Interestingly, the con will hold "Pitch Sessions" in which
aspiring horror authors can submit their work for critiquing.
"The rumors are true," say organizers, "we've wrangled a
number of editors and publishers and coerced them ... we
mean asked them, to participate in pitch sessions." The
rules are specific, so pay attention:
-- Pitch meetings are not guaranteed and are subject to
cancellation or change
-- We will NOT honor specific requests; you agree to accept
whomever you are assigned to
In order to participate in pitch meetings, you agree to
-- You must purchase an Attending Membership in advance
in order to participate in pitch meetings
-- Each author must have a complete manuscript to pitch
and should be prepared to leave whatever materials are requested
of him or her. This normally means at least three complete
chapters plus a synopsis of the complete manuscript. This
occasionally means the editor/agent/publisher wants to see
your complete manuscript. Come prepared!
-- You agree to adhere to the time-frame assigned to you
So, if you're a budding author looking for constructive
feedback and perhaps even a publisher, drop Jeannie Worthen
a line at
Got it? Good. For more info, check out:
And, of course, let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
COMBING FOR THE BEST Bs
We're often asked to define the term "B movie." Here's a
definition offered by the organizers of the "2005 B-Movie
Festival": "A production whose entertainment and artistic
value exceeds the limitations of its budget." (Many of the
B Monster's favorite films can be so described.) Organizers
have announced that entries are now being accepted for the
2005 fest. Billed as an "annual celebration of low-budget/high-imagination
cinema," the festival takes place April 8-14 in Syracuse,
N.Y. Films in competition will be screened at the recently
renovated Palace Movie Theater, a historic venue that seats
800. The judges for the 2005 festival are Ron Bonk, president
of Sub Rosa Studios, Michael Haggerty, owner of the Palace
Movie Theater, and Phil Hall, contributing editor for Film
Threat and author of "The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies:
Films from the Fringes of Cinema." There's a $45 entry fee
per feature, $35 for a short film. Three copies of the film
should be submitted in VHS (NTSC format), DVD or DVD-R. Complete
rules, an application and more info can be found at:
Why not tell 'em the B Monster sent you?
The Egyptian Theater at the American Cinematheque will present
a special tribute to director Roland West on March 20. West
has been cited as having influenced the film noir movement
of the 1940s and movie thrillers in general. His directorial
career began in 1916 and lasted only until 1931. Among the
silent suspense films he directed, "The Monster," starring
Lon Chaney and "The Bat," are standouts. The tribute will
screen "The Bat" (1926), "Alibi" (1929) and the early talky
"The Bat Whispers" (1930). The latter, which stars Chester
Morris, finds West alternating between chatty, stagy scenes
and bravura directorial experimentation, the camera swooping
and panning about the spooky old house and the exterior
miniatures. For more information regarding the tribute screenings,
Let 'em know, as always, the B Monster sent you!
"DOUBLE-D" DIRECTOR LOOKS BACK TO THE FUTURE
According to director William Winckler, "Nobody has done
an honest-to-goodness homage to classic black-and-white
horror films and monster movies." Winckler is best known
as the director of "The Double-D Avenger," the campy story
of a very generously endowed superheroine. (Somewhere, Russ
Meyer is smiling.) His new project is described as "a loving
homage to classic Universal-style horror films of the 1940s."
The yet-to-be-titled shocker will feature Frankenstein's
Monster and other classic creatures in the public domain.
Winckler is incensed that the classic monster pictures of
Hollywood's Golden Age "are mocked or parodied in big-budget
adventures like 'Van Helsing,' but no modern producer has
attempted to recapture the heart, soul and style of the
classic monster films. We're changing that: We're going
to give horror fans the type of serious monster picture
that used to be explored at length in magazines like Famous
Monsters of Filmland." Winckler's film, which began shooting
in February, stars Larry Butler, Gary Canavello, Troma honcho
Lloyd Kaufman, and features a special appearance by Butch
"Eddie Munster" Patrick. Watch for a release later this
NEW ON DVD
FROM THE CRYPT: FROM COMIC BOOKS TO TELEVISION
When I was first made aware of the pending release of this
disk, I feared yet another, hacky, poorly researched, AV-club
hodgepodge made for geeks by geeks. Geeks these filmmakers
may be, but this is not just another junky assemblage of
talking heads and stills. This documentary is first class,
several cuts above your average History Channel fare, and
far superior to the majority of hastily cobbled docs that
pass for DVD extras. This two-disk set was assembled with
great care and high regard for the subject. The story of
EC Comics, it's legendary honcho William Gaines and the
bullpen of talent that produced his books in the 1950s,
is an important one. It's likely that comics will never
again see such a roster of talent under one tent: Jack Davis,
Al Feldstein, Jack Kamen, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Joe
Orlando, Johnny Craig, John and Marie Severin, Frank Frazetta
-- the list is astounding, and the truly geeky (not that
there's anything wrong with that) will enjoy the lengthy
interviews with Davis, Williamson, Marie Severin and Kamen
that are featured on the second disk of bonus material.
It gets a little esoteric and "inside baseball" at times,
but comic buffs and horror fans will relish it.
Gaines, of course, famously stood up to the House investigation
into juvenile delinquency spearheaded by Senator Estes Kefauver.
The inquest was greatly aided by Dr. Fredric Wertham's treatise
"Seduction of the Innocent." There is footage of both Wertham
and Gaines testifying. Gaines equates explaining the innocent
thrill of a horror story to someone like Wertham to conveying
"the sublimity of love to a frigid old maid." Ouch! Gaines'
piercing comparison notwithstanding, the comics industry
buckled, instituted a self-imposed code and ruled out just
about every word EC used in their titles: Horror, terror,
blood, etc. Gaines experimented for a while, gave up, told
them where they could stick their code and went "Mad," in
a manner of speaking. Mad magazine was eventually published
ad-free, and Gaines answered to no one, converting -- and
subverting -- a generation of fans. In truth, a good many
of the EC stories crossed the line, tongue-in-cheek or not.
Even Feldstein doesn't dispute that. Davis sheepishly recounts
that he was a churchgoer, Scout master and Sunday school
teacher who had to come to terms with the potential detriments
of the grisly art he was producing. One of his stories,
the gruesome "Foul Play," was among the most visible during
the controversy. In a fit of remorse, he actually burned
some of his EC books.
The EC writing process as described in the film by Feldstein,
editor of EC's horror, crime and science fiction titles,
is one of the documentary's most interesting aspects. EC
was producing several horror and sci-fi books every month,
and he and Gaines had to produce four stories for each book.
Gaines brought what he called "springboards" to work each
morning; partial ideas and fragmented notions that he and
Feldstein molded into sharp little tales with twist endings.
Budding science fiction writer -- and EC comics reader --
Ray Bradbury recognized two such springboards as being poached
from his short stories and sent them an invoice. The story
of how this potentially prickly exchange blossomed into
a friendly and mutually respectful relationship is cleverly
and amusingly presented. Among the bonus features is a lengthy
discussion between Bradbury and Feldstein as they pore over
vintage EC pages. The camera work here leaves something
to be desired, but the filmmakers make the most of this
rare and, evidently off-the-cuff, meeting of talents. The
feature documentary, however, is exemplary. For once, the
video gimmicks are integral and entertaining, rather than
window dressing. Using actual EC artwork for transitions
and segues is appropriate and appealing, and having a talking
head appear in a comics panel where a talking head would
actually appear is engaging. Importantly, the on-camera
experts who weren't actually on the scene, but were influenced
by the EC books (George Romero, Bernie Wrightson, R.L. Stine,
Joel Silver) aren't permitted to blather endlessly. The
bulk of the talking is done by Feldstein, Davis and other
EC vets, as it should be. The packaging, utilizing colorful
EC artwork, particularly Davis's, is likewise first rate.
Kudos to writer, producer, director Chip Selby for devotion
TWILIGHT ZONE: SEASON 2
Award-winning illustrator and author Vincent Di Fate is
once more "in the zone." The noted film and sci-fi historian
provides the following exhaustive and illuminating review:
In its first full season (1959-1960), "The Twilight Zone"
proved to be an unqualified critical success, yet it failed
to garner more than a modest albeit enthusiastic viewership.
Airing on Friday nights, episodes like the first season's
"Time Enough at Last" and "The After Hours," were the main
buzz around the water cooler on Monday mornings. With word
of mouth like that, CBS felt certain that if it bided its
time the show would eventually soar in the ratings. Serling's
name brought with it the stamp of prestige and, even if
his efforts failed to attract and charm the masses, it nonetheless
served to draw sponsors eager to be associated with his
aura of class and high artistic achievement. Some of us
lament the passing of those days when the studios, TV networks,
stage and record producers and publishers of the popular
culture still cared enough to place quality above commerce.
Because of "The Twilight Zone's" less than stellar ratings,
Serling had no real expectations for his Emmy nomination
in the category of Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama
for his work on the show. Thus, as legend has it, Serling
hadn't even bothered to shave when attending the Emmy Awards
presentation on the evening of June 21, 1960, and had to
walk to the dais to accept his fourth statuette.
Remarkably, season two was as good -- and, arguably in
some ways was even better -- than season one. What had been
the principal motivation in Serling's mind for creating
the show in the first place was that the science fiction/fantasy
anthology format afforded opportunities to deal with timely
social and political issues that would otherwise fail to
get past the networks, the censors and the sponsors without
radical compromise. By the late 1950s, Serling had pretty
much had his fill of outside tampering and believed that
"The Twilight Zone," by virtue of its fantastic precepts,
offered certain intrinsic immunities that allowed him to
deal with the issues of the day. By the 1960-61 season,
the world had moved dangerously closer to potential disaster
with the building of the Berlin Wall and the attempt to
overthrow Castro's Cuba with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.
At no more opportune point in its short history had American
television offered a greater and timelier prospect for reflection
on world events through the guise of popular entertainment.
To revel in the full glory of this historic science fiction
TV show, Image Entertainment, which owns the worldwide VHS
and DVD rights to the original Serling series, is issuing
the much anticipated sequel to last December's release of
"The Twilight Zone's" first season on DVD. The season 2
boxed set is scheduled for a March 29, 2005, release, will
retail for about $100, and will feature in the six-disc
set the entire 29 shows from the 1960-61 season in the order
of their original airing. The episodes are as follows: "King
Nine Will Not Return," "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,"
"The Man in the Bottle," "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," "The
Eye of the Beholder," "Nick of Time," "The Howling Man,"
"A Most Unusual Camera," "A Thing About Machines," "The
Prime Mover," "Back There," "Dust," "A Penny for Your Thoughts,"
"The Trouble with Templeton," "The Invaders," "The Odyssey
of Flight 33," "The Lateness of the Hour," "Static," "The
Whole Truth," "Night of the Meek," "Twenty-Two," "Long Distance
Call," "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim," "The Rip Van Winkle
Caper," "Shadow Play," "The Silence," "The Mind and the
Matter," "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up," and "The
Obsolete Man." Supplementing the newly remastered, high-resolution
episode transfers will be audio commentaries by Donna Douglas,
Don Rickles, William Idelson, Bill Mumy, Cliff Robertson,
Dennis Weaver and Shelley Berman, along with vintage audio
recollections by Buzz Kulik, Douglas Heyes, Maxine Stuart,
George Clayton Johnson, Robert Serling and Elliot Silverstein.
As with the first set, this edition will also contain isolated
music tracks of scores written by Bernard Herrmann, Jerry
Goldsmith and Fred Steiner. The set also features episodes
from "The Twilight Zone" radio show, a selection of Rod
Serling's weekly promos, an interview with Mike Wallace,
rare appearances on "Tell It To Groucho" and "The Jack Benny
Show" and the complete script from the episode entitled
"Twenty-Two," replete with Serling's handwritten notes.
Even to those with only a nodding acquaintance with the
series, episodes like "The Eye of the Beholder," and "The
Invaders," will be familiar -- if not in name, then certainly
in storyline. Less well-known, but of equal quality, are
such segments as "Mr. Dingle, The Strong" (Martians experiment
on meek vacuum-cleaner salesmen Luther Dingle [Burgess Meredith]
endowing him with the strength of 300 men), "Nick of Time"
(Don Carter [a pre-Star Trek William Shatner] develops an
unhealthy obsession with a fortune-telling machine in a
diner in rural Ohio while on his honeymoon), "The Howling
Man" (David Ellington [H.W. Wynant] has an eerie encounter
with an imprisoned man reputed to be the Devil [Robin Hughes]),
"The Odyssey of Flight 33" (Commercial airline pilot Captain
Farver [John Anderson] flies his plane into the prehistoric
past, thanks to an extraordinary tailwind), "Twenty-Two"
(showgirl Elizabeth Powell [Barbara Nichols] in the chilling,
"Room for one more" episode) and "Long Distance Call" (A
highly effective "ghost" story in which five-year-old Billy
Bayles [Bill Mumy] speaks with his dead grandmother [Lili
Darvas] on a toy telephone). Even the clinkers, like "A
Most Unusual Camera" (about a stolen camera from a curio
shop that can take pictures of events five minutes in the
future) and "Back There" (in which Russell Johnson finds
himself in the past on the day of the Lincoln assassination)
contain compelling themes and are entertaining, though their
realization on film fails to linger in memory as do the
more successful segments.
The most amazing thing about the original "Twilight Zone"
is how, after some 45 years, the show still remains vibrant
and engaging. At the very least, "TZ" is a stunning time
capsule of an era in which world tensions were bubbling
up and television was proving to be a powerful new instrument
for raising the nation's social and political consciousness.
To my mind, the quality of the series began its decline
with season 3, yet it still managed to present an enormous
amount of quality programming throughout its entire five-season
run. Shows like "It's A Good Life," "The Shelter," "To Serve
Man," "Kick the Can," "I Sing the Body Electric" (all from
season 3), "In His Image," "Jess-Belle," "Death Ship," "Printer's
Devil" (season 4), "The Mask," "Night Call" (a revisiting
of Richard Matheson's "Long Distance Call" -- this time
scripted by Matheson himself) and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
still loomed in the future. But the wear and tear on Serling's
creativity with a weekly show was starting to become evident.
Although he drew scores of talented writers, like Charles
Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton
Johnson and others to his aid, as early as season two, Serling
had gone on record complaining about the difficulties he
was experiencing in coming up with new story ideas. Ironically,
and especially when compared to the shows in season one,
the output of season two was far more original, relying
less on the appropriation of plots from pre-existing stories.
If truth be told, and as dearly as I love "The Twilight
Zone," I'm really more of an "Outer Limits" man myself.
(A "bear" a week will get an old monster-loving geek like
me every time.) But that doesn't prevent me from greatly
admiring Rod Serling and his enormous impact on the quality
of early television. And in retrospect "TZ" has proven to
be far more of a mirror of the world that was. I find myself
using it in the college classroom more and more as entertaining
and exemplary evidence of the white-knuckle tensions of
the early Cold War/Civil Rights era -- easier to take and
more valuable as an educational tool than a hundred of my
own impassioned lectures. Sad that we've been exposed to
so much concerning our fundamental humanity over the past
half-century and have retained so little.
In the short list of "must have" DVDs devoted to vintage
fantastic television, "The Twilight Zone" seasons one and
two are certainly high on the list of essentials.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
David Colton, organizer of the Rondo Hatton Awards http://www.rondoaward.com
Vincent DiFate http://www.vincentdifate.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
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"It will scare the living yell out of you!" -- How To Make