One of the last players to survive from Universal Studios'
"Golden Age," actress Fay Helm, has died. She was 94. Helm
appeared in dozens of films during the 1930s and '40s, often
cast as a victim in B movie thrillers. One memorable example
is her part as Jenny Williams, the woman bitten by werewolf
Bela Lugosi -- who later passes his curse onto Lon Chaney
-- in the Universal classic, "The Wolf Man." Also for Universal,
she appeared in such shockers as "Captive Wild Woman" with
John Carradine, "Calling Dr. Death" with Lon Chaney and
"Night Monster" with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill. Other
notable parts include the title role in the classic film
noir, "Phantom Lady," directed by Robert Siodmak, and the
comic-thriller "One Body Too Many" with Lugosi, Jack Haley
and Jean Parker. Her final film was 1946's "That Brennan
Character actor Jack Elam, who had one of the most distinctive
and ubiquitous faces in Western film history, and whose
career spanned six decades, has died at 84. Elam's gravelly
voice and sinister demeanor (made more unsettling by his
sightless, wayward right eye, injured in a boyhood fight)
won him numerous roles in "A" and "B" Western features and
myriad television programs including "Ride Clear of Diablo,"
"The Man from Laramie," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Wichita,"
"The Comancheros" and "Rio Lobo." Later in his career, he
took on parts that played his crusty image as a leering
gunman or grizzled sidekick for laughs. He worked extensively
in episodic television, appearing in "The Dakotas," "Gunsmoke,"
"Bonanza," "The Rebel," "The Rifleman," "Zane Grey Theater"
and many others. Beyond the Western genre, he appeared in
such films as "Kiss Me Deadly," "The Girl in Lover's Lane"
and "Baby Face Nelson." Elam worked as a studio accountant
before winning his first acting assignment in 1949.
Actress Victoria Horne, the daughter of director James W.
Horne and the widow of character actor Jack Oakie, has died
of natural causes. She was 82. B-movie fans will recognize
Horne from roles in The Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes entry
"The Scarlet Claw," the serial "Secret Agent X-9," "Murder
in the Blue Room" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer,
Boris Karloff." She also appeared in such "A" features as
"The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "Harvey." Her final screen
appearance was 1953's "Affair With A Stranger."
Actor Peter Miller, who portrayed Moran, one of the crewmen
who, with Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens and Jack Kelly,
ventured to the "Forbidden Planet," has died of cancer.
He was 73. In the 1950s, Miller won small parts in big films
including "Rebel Without A Cause," "The Blackboard Jungle,"
and "Tea And Sympathy." His B-movie credits include "A Strange
Adventure" with Marla English, Jan Merlin and Nick Adams,
and "The Delinquents," which was the 1957 directorial debut
of Robert Altman.
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
WEAVER REACHES THE HALL OF FAME
"The Researcher with the Atom Brain" strikes again. Peerless
film scribe and historian Tom Weaver has recently conducted
a lengthy interview with cult-movie legend Arch Hall Jr.
following some intrepid detective work. The 59-year-old
star of such classics as "Eegah," "Wild Guitar" and "The
Sadist" discussed in exhaustive detail the films he and
his writer/director/producer/actor father made together.
For years, it was rumored that Hall was reclusive, embarrassed
and unwilling to discuss his film career. The enthusiastic
tone of the material I've seen invalidates this spurious
claim. Hall couldn't be more effusive, outgoing and frank.
(Who starts these rumors?!) He's nostalgic and good-natured
about the "ups," candid and philosophical about the "downs."
Weaver is currently polishing the detail-packed dialogue
for publication. Stay tuned!
WORLD WAR WONDER
Director Robert Tinnell's nostalgic and heartfelt "Frankenstein
and Me" has become a favorite of genre-film fans and is
regularly screened to enthusiastic reception at film cons
across the country. Recently, Bob trained his talents on
the comics field, and the project he's conceived, along
with collaborators Todd Livingston and Neil Vokes, is sure
to seize the imaginations of monster lovers. Bob describes
"Black Forest" as "a World War I/monster rally graphic novel."
That encapsulation alone should pique your interest. "It's
about an American pilot and a British magician," Bob elaborates,
"who go behind enemy lines into the Black Forest to foil
a plot by occult forces to win the war. Along the way, they
encounter some variation of many of the classic monsters.
Think of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' married to 'Frankenstein
Meets the Wolf Man.'" They've got the B Monster's attention.
I was privy to a sneak peek at Neil Vokes' black and white
artwork. He's a fine fit to the subject matter, evoking
Harvey Kurztman and Alex Toth with a loose, spontaneous
style utilizing LOTS of black. Okay, so I'm getting all
esoteric on you. It's a nifty idea, it's being released
in gorgeous black and white by Image Comics and you oughta
be on the lookout.
LAUDABLE "LORE" FROM DELLO STRITTO
Frank J. Dello Stritto is one of the most eloquent and accomplished
chroniclers of horror films on the scene. His last project,
"Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," written in
collaboration with Andi Brooks, was met with critical acclaim
and is highly recommended. Frank has more recently completed
"A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore: The Mythology
& History of Classic Horror Films," which should prove
to be just as popular and critically recognized. "As the
subtitle implies," says Frank, "there's plenty of history
about the films and their era (1930s and 1940s)." But, he
adds, it's much more than just a film chronology. "The main
thrust of the book is presenting the movies collectively
as a comprehensive mythology, quite comparable to that of
classical antiquity. The recurring characters and themes
in the films particularly resonated with young people who
had outgrown children's fairy tales." Dello Stritto presents
a fascinating contention: That the monsters of the movies
were preparing kids for the dark and scary adult world they
were soon to inhabit. "From Darwinism vs. Creationism to
the 1930s' rise of fascism -- from secular vs. spiritual
to class and racial tensions to anxieties over gender and
aging." It's heady stuff, and Frank is up to the task of
rendering its meaning in stimulating language. The book
is available from: Cult Movies Press, 644 East 7 1/2 Street,
Houston, TX, 77007-1705
For more information, check out:
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you!
DRACULA PARK PULLS UP STAKES
The government of Romania, feeling the muscle of UNESCO,
the United Nations' champions of indigenous culture, has
thrown in the cape. Their Dracula theme park was originally
to have been built near Sighisoara, the Transylvania birthplace
of Vlad the Impaler, the real-life figure who inspired the
fictional vampire. But the 13th century village is protected
as a World Heritage Site (not sure what that means, but
it apparently protects the homes of guys who went around
impaling people). Following ongoing protests that the attraction
would ruin the natural beauty of the area, the Romanian
government caved in and are relocating. The park will now
be built in the Snagov Lake region and not in Transylvania
at all. (Legend holds that the headless body of Vlad is
entombed at a monastery on an island in the lake.) Sorin
Marica, who chairs the firm overseeing the project told
Reuters, "All I can say is that the Dracula project is going
ahead. We're drafting a detailed plan, subject to shareholder
approval by the end of this year." Despina Neagoe, spokesperson
for government officials who once saw the proposed park
as a boon to tourism told the news agency, "I don't have
any information on the Dracula park project."
THEIR RISE AND FALLOUT
If you're unfamiliar with Atomic Monsters, a cult-film Website
with a decidedly skewed view, now might be a good time to
acquaint yourself. "This month, we're celebrating 10,000
hits," proclaims the Atomic crew. To thank its visitors,
they're holding a free drawing, the winner of which will
be awarded an 8-inch Mole People action figure, the "Crawling
Eye"/"Killer Shrews" DVD and "a one-of-a-kind wall clock
featuring a different classic monster at each hour." The
lucky winner will be chosen randomly, and the prize package
will be shipped to them free of charge. The next time you
take a break from memorizing the sage insights of the B
Monster, you should surf on over to Atomic Monsters; they
focus on "only the most entertaining flicks from the '50s
and '60s" (a criteria that can be interpreted in any number
of ways) and the films they review are designated with a
radioactive rating (five atomic blasts is the top ranking).
They also offer cartoons in Flash format and B-movie wallpapers
for your desktop. Pay 'em a visit at:
As always, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
CURSES, CONNECTIONS AND "ALL THAT JAZZ"
Hard-core cult-film fans already realize that actor Roy
Scheider got his 1964 start in "Horror of Party Beach" director
Del Tenney's atmospheric cheapie "Curse of the Living Corpse."
By the 1970s, he was appearing in some of the highest profile
films being made, including "Klute" and "The French Connection."
Author Diane C. Kachmar has just completed an in-depth study
of Scheider's film career, "Roy Scheider: A Film Biography,"
available from McFarland & Co. The book charts Scheider's
rise in detail, from his start in New Jersey community theater
to his much-acclaimed performances in "Jaws," "Marathon
Man" and "All That Jazz." There's also salient personal
background covering the Oscar-nominated actor's contentious
relationship with his father and his multiple bouts with
rheumatic fever. For more information, check out:
By all means, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
A REAL PAGE (AND STOMACH) TURNER
Here's an item aimed at the closet "slasher movie" fans
among you: Chas. Balun, the author of "More Gore Score &
The Connoisseur's Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film,"
has recently announced the release of his latest offering,
"Beyond Horror Holocaust: A Deeper Shade of Red." The publishers
aren't exactly coy about the book's grim agenda, as it covers
"forty years of the darkest and most shocking horror movies
ever produced ... analyzed through the eyes of both critic
and fan. Each blood-splattered page is loaded with details
and information regarding hundreds of shocking fright films."
And I wouldn't describe the author as reticent, either:
"My intention here was to create the Horror Movie Book of
The Millennium -- and nothing less." The publicity says
the book covers "everything from the postmodern zombie film
to pastaland splatter featuring cutting-edge Italian Horror!
In addition, there's even a chapter on the new blood renegades."
(Okay, the B Monster is getting a little queasy.) "Order
your blood-splattered copy today!" (Ugh ... That does it!
Gotta run!) You can find out more at:
MAPLE LEAF MAYHEM
There once was a time when a general familiarization with
the Universal classics and a basic grounding in 1950s sci-fi
cinema was the extent of the knowledge cult-movie fans were
expected to possess. But over the years, we've gotten more
esoteric, more specialized (as the above titles demonstrate).
Now comes "They Came From Within: A History of the Canadian
Horror Film." Writer and filmmaker Caelum Vatnsdal is our
guide through this rarely trod terrain. Naturally, native
son David Cronenberg figures prominently in the chronology,
as does the Canadian 3-D shocker "The Mask." (No, not the
Jim Carrey movie.) Also scrutinized are "Black Christmas,"
"Terror Train," "Prom Night" and the early films of director
Oliver Stone, effects maven Tom Savini and actress Neve
Campbell. Interviews and complete filmographies are complemented
by numerous photos. It's coming to bookstores in spring
2004. For more info, visit:
MFTV'S POST-HALLOWEEN TREAT
The brand new issue of "Monsters From the Vault" is highlighted
by Richard Scrivani's "Hated, Blasphemed and Condemned:
A Defense of Son of Frankenstein" (look for Lugosi's Ygor
on the cover). It's a spirited assessment of a film that,
as the title of Rich's piece contends, has been relegated
to second-class status (for reasons the B Monster, for one,
does not understand). Scrivani also chats with peerless
preservationists John W. Morgan and William T. Stromberg,
the musical mavens behind Marco Polo's terrific series of
film score restorations (the latest of which is Korngold's
"Robin Hood"; see next item). Gary D. Rhodes scrutinizes
an obscure Fox shocker, "Almost Married," starring Ralph
Bellamy, and wraps up his "Horror Film Crisis of 1932" treatise.
Part three of "Cliffhanging Horrors," focusing on the serials
of the 1950s, completes the package, which is complemented
by scads of rare photos. You can find out more at:
Don't hesitate to say that the B Monster sent you!
JOYS 'N THE "HOOD"
You may think that "The Adventures of Robin Hood" falls
outside our scope of coverage, but vintage film preservation
of any kind is newsworthy to the B Monster, and the dedicated
folks behind this fabulous reconstruction of Erich Wolfgang
Korngold's score deserve our recognition. It ain't no B
movie, but the 1938 classic is one of THE best adventure
films ever made, superb in every aspect; the cast, the dialogue,
the staging, the swordplay and, among its most invigorating
elements, Korngold's robust, romantic score. This rousing
soundtrack (by all accounts composed in short order under
great duress) is considered one of Korngold's three true
masterpieces ("The Sea Hawk" and "Kings Row" being the others).
Twenty-five cues -- the full, 78-minute score -- is meticulously
reconstructed by John Morgan and performed by the Moscow
Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg. You can
learn more at:
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you!
INSERT SCHWARZENEGGER PUN HERE
(Yes, this is where your typical editor would succumb to
the temptation to write a stupid headline about the "Governator"
or "Total Re-Conan." Well, not ME!) Director John Milius
will proceed with "King Conan: Crown of Iron," which was
to have starred the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The role will be recast with an actor far lower on the pay
scale, freeing up cash that can be spent on costumes, locations,
swords and fake blood. Likewise, a fourth Terminator film
was being discussed prior to Arnold's entree into the political
world. According to the Dark Horizons Web site, Schwarzenegger
has recommended that wrestling star and action hero-in-the-making
The Rock replace him should the project proceed.
NEW ON DVD
HEROES OF HORROR
This two-disk set comprises five documentaries produced
under the auspices of Kevin Burns, a prolific cable television
documentarian. The biographies of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi,
Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Lorre and Vincent Price were originally
televised in the mid '90s and turned up occasionally (usually
around Halloween) on cable until relatively recently. They
vary in quality (the Price documentary is debatably the
best of the bunch), and your enjoyment of them will depend
greatly on how much you already know about the personalities
being profiled. For instance, the films about Chaney and
Lorre proved to be the most entertaining to me, as Karloff
and Lugosi have been "done to death" (pardon the unpardonable
turn of phrase), and it was interesting to see the filmmaker's
take on these rarely heralded performers. The Chaney bio
is flawed in that it devotes almost as much time to Chaney
Sr. Naturally, the shadow of his father loomed over his
erratic career, but the film should have focused more on
how Jr. acted, and less on how he RE-acted to his father's
influence. Fortunately, there are lengthy clips of Chaney
as Lennie in "Of Mice And Men" (which is too rarely seen)
as well as his "Wolf Man" and Mummy portrayals. Clips of
an inebriated Chaney as the Frankenstein Monster on the
live telecast "Tales of Tomorrow" as well as a clip or two
from the famed "Route 66" episode that featured a trio of
classic monsters will prove fascinating to those unaware
of these telecasts.
The examination of Peter Lorre's life and career contains
tidbits that even some longtime horror aficionados may be
unacquainted with, including details of his relationship
with his father, and the role of his ex-wife as a confidante
even after he'd remarried. Many mainstream film fans have
long dismissed Lorre as a pudgy little weirdo, and this
film, portraying him as a dedicated, innovative actor who
spent years on the cutting edge of European experimental
theater, will be edifying.
As previously stated, the remaining bios travel very well-covered
ground, as Karloff, Lugosi and Price have been analyzed
and celebrated in film and print innumerable times. (I should
allude to my favorite DVD "extra": Price's laid-back pep
talk for the benefit of the Sears sales staff, filmed in
the 1960s when the company introduced a line of affordable
fine art bearing the Price imprimatur of good taste.) For
novice genre-film buffs, however, it will be pleasing and
KING DINOSAUR/THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST
Director Bert I. Gordon working for producer Robert Lippert?
That should be recommendation enough! "King Dinosaur" is
a fascinating mish-mosh of ambitious and goofy ideas. I
enjoy its innocence and madcap synthesis of then-prevalent
notions. If you saw it as a kid and remember only the "dinosaurs"
and the rockets, you owe it to yourself to watch it again.
That having been said, it just couldn't be much sillier,
with inexcusable stretches of padding that will have you
scrambling for the remote. To corrupt a well-known critical
lambaste, they managed to cram 12 minutes of action into
its 63-minute running time. There are bad "Bs" that we can
watch repeatedly, but a single viewing of "King Dinosaur"
will drive nascent B-watchers to distraction. And its science
couldn't be shakier: A new "star" is discovered, and a team
of scientists, two men, two women, flies there in a process-shot
rocket. We'll overlook the fact that you can't land on a
"star" (which they name "Planet Nova") without being incinerated.
(So, they confused the nomenclature.) But after testing
the atmosphere for all of two seconds, they hop out and
Before long, they pick up a hitchhiker, a lovable lemur
named Joey, who I suppose is present to provide comic relief.
The team makes camp and, after preparing supper like dutiful
housewives, the seasoned female scientists shriek like little
girls at the site of a common snake. After forging a river,
they spelunk the cavernous habitat of the titular "dinosaurs,'
which look to be iguanas purchased at the local pet store.
They have cardboard fins pasted to their backs and are prodded
with sticks (one of which actually pops momentarily into
frame) into biting and clawing one another. Upon making
their escape, these dedicated scientists do what any educated,
rational, devoted seekers of knowledge would do: They blow
the new planet to smithereens with atomic bombs!
The program doesn't improve with "The Bride and the Beast,"
and we'll begin our assessment with three words: "Poor Charlotte
Austin." The lovely and talented ingénue needed rent
money and agreed to appear in this Ed Wood scripted oddity
about a newlywed bride with ape blood in her veins. She
struggles to live a human existence, but is inexorably drawn
back to her jungle origins -- and her original simian spouse
-- leaving her new bridegroom (three more words: "Poor Lance
Fuller") understandably puzzled. Made on a budget that makes
the production values of "King Dinosaur" look like "Titanic,"
it is a protracted, one-note (or one-joke, if you will)
endurance test for cult-movie lovers. It bears repeating:
"Poor Charlotte Austin." The actress has recounted to the
B Monster that she and Fuller would dissolve into uncontrollable
laughter, often during a scene, at the sheer ineptitude
of the production they were in.
And now, having said all of those disparaging things about
both films in this package, we'll add that you SHOULD see
them. Why? They're a part of history. Like the Edsal, New
Coke or the '62 Mets, they're fascinating and, dare I say
it, edifying cultural curiosities. That's one of the reasons
we celebrate such films; you can learn nearly as much from
the misfires as you can from the masterpieces.
HIGH SCHOOL BIG SHOT/HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR/DATE BAIT
This teenage triple bill is great fun. Not necessarily top-drawer
filmmaking, mind you, but great fun. The first and least
interesting film of the three is "Teenage Big Shot," about
a brainy bullied nerd who, like most teens in drive-in era
films, is neglected by his father and despondent at their
hand-to-mouth lifestyle. After an innocent enough start
writing essays for the conniving cutie with whom he's so
hopelessly smitten, Marvin, as played by Tom Pittman, ends
up devising ways for the local toughs to crack safes.
Like "Big Shot" director Joel Rapp, director O'Dale Ireland
directed just two films, "High School Caesar" and "Date
Bait." He wrote a third, the long lost "Dragstrip Riot"
(1958), a film that J.D. film fans have searched high and
low for to no avail (the curiosity value is considerable
as its cast includes Fay Wray, Yvonne Lime, Connie Stevens
and "Date Bait's" Gary Clarke). Meanwhile, this Ireland-directed
pair will have to suffice. In "Date Bait," Clarke (perhaps best known as
the teenage werewolf of "How To Make A Monster") and Marlo
Ryan star as an innocent couple who plan on tying the knot
the moment they're of age. They discover most painfully
that young love breeds impulsive behavior that leads ineluctably
to big trouble. Clarke's thuggish and completely besotted
high school rival gets hopped up on dope and kidnaps Clarke's
teenage bethrothed. What Ireland lacks in style is compensated
for with a frankness rarely seen in the more sugarcoated
teen films of this vintage. "Date Bait" is uncompromising,
as is "High School Caesar."
"Caesar" is easily the best of this batch. The publicity
blurb heralding the film upon its original release pretty
much sums it up; "Mob rule in a high school!" John Ashley,
the teen titan who dominated drive-in screens in the late
'50s, plays a neglected rich kid complete with a butler
and maid to wait on him hand and foot the moment the final
bell rings. He lives in a mansion, drives fast cars, wears
the best clothes, has perfect hair and is desperately unhappy.
He compensates for the void left by his never-present parents
by terrorizing his classmates, charging for "protection"
and running a stolen test answers racket with the aid of
his greaser sycophants. Ireland is not afraid to show the
tough guy openly weeping upon returning to his empty house.
Ashley's attempts to muscle in on comely Judy Nugent are
rebuffed, and when he tries to stage a takeover at the local
malt shop, his crew deserts him, he's slugged, humiliated
and left on his knees in tears as we fade to black (I told
you it was uncompromising). Ashley's American International
teen films are positively fluffy by comparison. "High School
Caesar" is bracketed by a solid gasser of a rockabilly theme
song that plays under the credits: "High School Caesar!
You gonna get it in the end! You gonna get it in the end
28 DAYS LATER
This summer thriller was a sleeper hit with a unique marketing
ploy: Two endings. The film was released to respectable
business, then RE-released with an alternate ending attached
after the original (more on that later). It was made for
$8 million and took in over $45 million at last count. Not
bad. Plotwise, the film is no watershed. The premise rehashes
"I Am Legend" and its celluloid descendents "The Last Man
on Earth" and "The Omega Man," and echoes George Romero's
zombie-fests, "Blade" and his bloody retinue, "12 Monkeys,"
"On the Beach," and too many others to mention. But director
Danny Boyle manages to skew the clichés just enough,
stylistically speaking, to make the derivation interesting.
At least he does in the beginning.
The movie features a slam-bang opening, with dizzying,
engaging camerawork that offers visual clues as to the nature
of the story about to unfold. We see monkeys in cages, obviously
experimental subjects, battering the bars in a blind rage.
We're in a laboratory that is being invaded by radical animal
rights activists who are there to free the simian subjects,
whatever the cost. A lab tech tries to stop them. They have
no idea the horror their meddling will unleash. Cages open,
blood flies, people scream, more blood and then, nothing.
28 days later, Cillian Murphy wakes up in a deserted hospital
in a deserted city in a desolate world. It's quite an opening,
and you might well think, "There's no way the rest of the
movie can live up to it." And you'd be right. The so-called
"rage virus" that was unleashed took just 28 days to ravage
mankind, instantly transforming the infected into monstrous,
mutant killers and bringing all of the aforementioned references
into play. Is Murphy the only survivor? How does he know
who's infected and who isn't? What is the military doing?
How will the protagonists survive battle after bloody battle
with the afflicted? Is there any hope for the human race?
The answers are ticked off in gory detail. Which brings
us to the twin endings. Hoopla notwithstanding, neither
ending is very good. Both feel like tacked-on cop-outs (no,
we won't spoil it completely), and their differences aren't
significant enough to warrant the existence of two.
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.midmar.com/books.html
"Yesterday, they were cold and dead. Today, they're hot
and bothered!" -- Dracula vs. Frankenstein