THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
JACKSON, CAMEOS AND KUDOS
Fantasy film historian Bob Burns and his wife Kathy have
recently returned from New Zealand, where director Peter
Jackson shot footage of them to be included as a cameo in
his upcoming "King Kong" remake. Bob describes the trip
and Jackson's hospitality as "one of the best times of my
life." Also making the voyage was one of Bob's most treasured
possessions, the original King Kong armature (the metal
skeleton beneath the fur) used in the 1933 classic. It just
so happens that Jackson owns the armature of the pterodactyl
that attacked Kong and Fay Wray at the great ape's cliffside
lair over 70 years ago. Reuniting these pieces of film history
was a special thrill for both Burns and Jackson, and you
can see their awestruck expressions for yourself in the
film located HERE.
see Bob and Kathy in 1930s period costume as their cameo
is filmed, and witness the homage paid by the young filmmakers
as Burns tours the soundstages and workshops with the original
Kong model. As Bob would say, "How cool is that?"
AT THE 'BURG FEST
The Williamsburg Film Festival will celebrate their 10th
anniversary in March 2006, and they're putting together
a star-spangled guest roster to mark the event. The fest
always provides a laid-back atmosphere in which to revel
and indulge your nostalgic proclivities with autograph sessions,
star interviews emceed by film authorities, viewing rooms
showing 16mm prints of vintage classics and an impressive
dealers' room cram-packed with various memorabilia and esoterica.
Topping the guest list of the 10th annual fest are:
-- James Best, who saved us all from "The Killer Shrews"
and twanged a mean guitar on "The Andy Griffith Show"
-- Ben Cooper, veteran of hundreds of Western
-- and NON-Western -- films
-- Beverly Garland, the "Queen of the Screamers" who starred
in some of Roger Corman's best-known Bs
-- Will Hutchins, "Sugarfoot"! 'Nuff said
-- Dick Jones, once the "World's Youngest Trick Rider,"
movie star and TV "Range Rider" -- Jimmy Lydon, one-time
"Henry Aldrich," and veteran of dozens of films and TV programs
-- Jan Merlin, beloved as Cadet Roger Manning of "Tom Corbett,
-- Mala Powers, star of "Colossus of New York," "The Unknown
Terror," and myriad TV programs
-- William Smith, king of the biker films
-- Peggy Stewart, Republic Studios Western heroine and --
Frankie Thomas, "Tom Corbett," himself!
It happens March 8-11, 2006, at the Holiday Inn-Patriot
Convention Center in Williamsburg, Va. For more info, check
Tell 'em, without hesitation, the B Monster sent you!
NOBLE BENEFIT BANQUET
The First Annual Global Sci-Fi Expo happens Nov. 4-6, 2005,
at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, Calif. The new con
bills itself as a "fan-friendly Expo," and offers a diverse
roster of guest attendees, including:
-- Vaughn Armstrong, "Enterprise" veteran
-- Jason Carter, of "Babylon 5"
-- Jeff Conaway, "Babylon 5" vet and former "Taxi" driver
-- Alexis Cruz, "Stargate's" Skaara
-- Michael Dante, seasoned actor with numerous TV and film
-- Jack Donner, Romulan Tal in the original "Star Trek"
-- Samantha Eggar of the original "Doctor Doolittle," "Demonoid"
and many others
-- Mira Furlan, Deleen of "Babylon 5"
-- Mark Goddard, of "Lost in Space" fame
-- Peter Jason, veteran of 90-some films
-- Jane Kean, former "Honeymooner" Trixie Norton
-- Deanna Lund, "Land of the Giants" survivor
-- Don Matheson, also late of "Land of the Giants"
-- Janice Lynde, longtime soap, um, daytime drama star
-- Bob May, the "Lost in Space" robot, himself
-- Anthony Montgomery, "Enterprise" ensign
-- Natalija Nogulich, "Deep Space Nine" and "Next Generation"
-- Felix Silla; you loved him as Cousin It!
-- Kevin Spirtas of "Subspecies" fame
-- Leonard Stone, featured in "Soylent Green" and "Willy
-- Billy West, prolific voice artist
-- Anson Williams, that's right, Potsie in the flesh!
The con will also be hosting a charity banquet affording
attendees the opportunity to mingle with the celebs. Banquet
tickets are $41, with proceeds benefiting the "Make a Wish
Foundation." (The B Monster applauds this generous gesture.)
For more info, check out:
Why not let 'em know the B Monster sent you?
CON'S CHARITY CHANGE
If you really want to plan ahead, The 2006 World Horror
Convention is happening May 11-14, 2006, at the Holiday
Inn San Francisco Golden Gateway. Guests as of this writing
include author Peter Straub, who will act as toastmaster,
authors Clive Barker, Kim Newman and Koji Suzuki, publishers
John Pelan and Hiroki Sakai and artist Blom. There will
be a charity auction, an art show, dealers' rooms, pitch
sessions, a film festival, celeb Q & A sessions and
other special events. Originally, the con's charity auction
was to benefit the Bat Conservatory International, an organization
that seeks to "protect and preserve critical bat habitats."
Following Hurricane Katrina, however, the promoters changed
beneficiaries, stating that "we are ... changing our charities
midstream this year since I don't think anyone will fault
us for that. We have donated $120 worth of web banner ad
space to the Red Cross already. Our charity auction this
year will go to Habitat For Humanity. By next May the water
will be dried out but there will be a need to build housing
for over 300,000 in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama
and this is a very good way to help. You can start sending
your items to donate to the charity auction now, and we
will list the donation with a picture and any message you
want added on the auction page." The B Monster enthusiastically
hails this decision. Donations for the charity auction can
be sent to:
World Horror Convention attn: Charity Auction
655 Montgomery St. 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111
For more info, visit:
Leave no doubt, the B Monster sent you!
GANGRENE'S LATEST OPERATION
Big news from the practice of Southern fried horror host
Dr. Gangrene. The WB station servicing mid-Tennessee and
southern Kentucky has given the doc a weekly Saturday nighttime
slot. The macabre medico will emcee the "WB58 Creature Feature"
from 1-3 a.m., broadcasting his ghoulish gospel to 49 counties.
First to be featured is George Romero's "Bruiser," followed
by "Dreamscape," "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Piranha!" For
more info concerning the doctor and his putrid practice,
Tell the nurse the B Monster referred you!
BIG GAME HUNTERS
Weeks before the film was even completed, Ubisoft announced
the imminent release of its video game based on director
Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong." According to the
hype, "acclaimed game creator Michel Ancel and the Montpellier
studio collaborated with triple Academy Award-winning filmmaker
Peter Jackson and visual-effects company Weta Ltd. to develop
'Peter Jackson's King Kong.' " The game is impressively
rendered, showcasing dripping jungle backdrops and misty,
treacherous ravines inhabited by rampaging, man-munching
dinosaurs and, of course, the King himself. "The players
are thrust directly onto Skull Island where the dark jungles,
over-sized environment and lurking danger become reality!"
Players can assume the part of Kong, thrashing and bashing
his prehistoric adversaries or, "play as a human struggling
to avoid becoming T-Rex's meal!" To learn more, check out:
You can even sample a game demo at:
IN ON KONG: A SWEET DEAL
The Web site to see for news concerning all things Kong-related
is kongisking.net. Here, you'll find news updates regarding
the Jackson remake, Jackson's production diary, cast biographies,
message boards, live chats and more. The site would also
seem to function as a catalog of all the ancillary Kong
product tie-ins. These would include action figures, postage
stamps, credit cards illustrated with imagery from the film,
prints, posters, lithographs, books, hats and, our personal
favorite, candy bars! Not just any candy bars, these are
"King Kong limited edition candy bars" from Nestle; Baby
Ruth, Butterfinger and Crunch bars wrapped in packaging
emblazoned with a golden Kong logo.
DETAIL LOST IN LORRE BIO
Perhaps the best word to describe Stephen D. Youngkin's
Peter Lorre bio, "The Lost One," is "exhaustive." It's deep
and detailed. Barely 20 pages into the book, readers are
immersed in Weimar Berlin's fertile community of artists
and actors, learn of the origin of Lorre's perpetual battle
with drug addiction, read of his affiliations with stage
legends Bertholt Brecht and Max Reinhardt, and can glean
what they may of the opinions of the actor's siblings. Genre-film
fans will no doubt savor the detail surrounding the filming
of "Mad Love" and "Stranger on the Third Floor," and classic
movie buffs will get their fill of behind-the-scenes anecdotes
concerning Bogie, "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca."
Fans of Lorre are acquainted with the distress he endured
after portraying a child killer in Fritz Lang's classic
"M," (Lorre was the recipient of the attentions of those
who found his portrayal all too convincing), and many know
that Lorre spoke little or no English when he appeared in
Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." But how many realize
that Lorre, born Lazlo Lowenstein, fled the Nazi regime
on the same train with Oskar Homolka, Josef von Sternberg
and Jascha Heifetz? Or that a botched appendectomy prompted
his morphine addiction? Youngkin is an acknowledged authority
on Lorre, having written a previous book on the actor, contributed
to another and appeared on camera in documentaries including
a German TV production and A&E's Biography. "The Lost
One" is the capstone to years of research into the actor's
life, films, family and psyche. (Who knew that Lorre's daughter
came within a hair's breadth of being a victim of L.A.'s
notorious Hillside Strangler?) For more info, check out:
But of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
SIGNS OF INFLATION
Do you have a wish list of celeb John Hancock's autograph
you're just dying to add to your collection? Is it just
too costly for you to attend the myriad celebrity-studded
horror, sci-fi and TV memorabilia conventions? You might
be surprised by the number of actors, actresses and other
notables offering their signature for sale via such online
brokers as Collectinghollywood.com. Like the B Monster,
you might wonder how they determine how much to charge for
a particular personality's autograph? For instance, 1960s
Batman Adam West gets 35 bucks a pop, while 1990s Batman
Val Kilmer gets $45. (Burt Ward, Robin to West's Batman,
likewise gets $35.) Ty Hardin, TV's "Bronco," gets $35,
while Clint Walker, TV's "Cheyenne," gets $40. "I Spy" star
Robert Culp pulls down $30 per signature, while Mike "Mannix"
Connors nabs $35. The original "Creature From the Black
Lagoon," Ben Chapman, gets $20 per glossy while Warwick
"Leprechaun" Davis gets $30. Don Knotts gets $30 while Gary
"Radar" Burghoff gets $35. "Time Machine" star Rod Taylor
commands $30 while ex-James Bond, George Lazenby, charges
$40. Corey HAIM? $25. Corey FELDMAN? $35! As the holidays
will soon be here, we've cobbled together a shopping list
that might aid you in procuring a signature for that special
-- Ed Asner: $35
-- Gene Barry: $35
-- Shelly Berman: $20
-- Bill Daily: $30
-- Larry Hagman: $35
-- Ernie Hudson: $40
-- William Katt: $30
-- Stacy Keach: $35
-- Lorenzo Lamas: $30
-- Jay North: $30
-- David Prowse: $30
-- Soupy Sales: $30
-- Dean Stockwell: $35
-- Van Williams: $30
William Shatner usually gets $60 per autograph at convention
appearances. Various online resellers are offering the former
Captain Kirk's signature -- with Certificate of Authenticity
-- for up to $80.
Actress Elizabeth Banks, who costars in the upcoming splatterfest,
"Slither," recently voiced her opinion of horror films for
Science Fiction Weekly. "I like all that stuff," Banks told
SFW. "I'm not grossed out easily at all. So I just thought
it was all kind of cool, all of the dead animals and the
blood and the KY Jelly that they literally smother you with
all over." Nope. It's too easy. The B Monster will NOT comment
on her allusions to dead animals and KY Jelly. The actress
expressed her abiding affection for genre-films in general
and lauded director James Gunn's decision to goose up the
gore for a hard R rating. "I've been saying that if you're
going to do this genre, if you're going to make a horror
monster movie, go 100 percent," Banks said. "There's no
reason to do it half-assed. What does that mean when you're
like, 'It's kind of scary, and it's kind of gross?' It should
be disgusting. Just go for it."
NEW ON DVD
VAL LEWTON HORROR COLLECTION
The horror quickies produced by Val Lewton for RKO in the
1940s are justifiably praised for their shadowy ambiance
and economical storytelling. Some devotees think they've
been overpraised. Admittedly, many critics climbed aboard
the Lewton bandwagon late in the game, giving rise to this
impression. But if we can strip away the overblown psychoanalysis
and focus on the actual intrinsic merits of the films, we
can learn a great deal about the value of subtlety, and
appreciate the way fertile imaginations create vivid pictures
from elements only hinted at by the filmmakers. This is
the true value of the Lewton films; they innovated by subtraction,
forced by meager budgets to convey chills with shadows and
sound, letting the moviegoer's brain do the rest of the
"Cat People" came first, and many will argue that it is
the best of the batch. Directed with flair by Jacques Tourneur,
it was the benchmark for the Lewton-produced films that
followed. It features many memorable shots with shadows
exploited to maximum effect. One of the more significant
involves the heroine walking alone in silence through a
dark alley. We suspect that the cat-woman is stalking her,
and we know that SHE suspects the same thing. Suddenly,
a bus appears from the darkness, it's air brakes hissing
loudly on the soundtrack. It's one of the great startle
moments in cinema. In fact, such false shocks in horror
films came to be known thereafter as "busses." And let's
not underestimate the casts of the Lewton films. They underplayed
when they must surely have been tempted to ham it up, given
the premise. Kent Smith, Tom Conway and Jane Randolph are
fine, and Simone Simon, an odd, alluring French actress,
was the perfect choice to play the cat-woman.
Simon kinda, sorta reprised her "Cat People" role in "
The Curse of the Cat People," as did Smith and Randolph,
but this film is more fantasy than horror. (In fact, this
is a tough one to categorize, so I'm not going to try.)
There are many eerie elements present, to be sure. The story
focuses on the young couple's lonely daughter who is befriended
by the spirit of the deceased Simon. The daughter, in turn,
develops a strange relationship with the crazed old former
actress who lives in the big spooky house nearby. Despite
its lack of outright horrific elements, "Curse of the Cat
People" contains many frightening passages, particularly
the old lady's spine-tingling telling of the "Headless Horseman"
story. Film historian William K. Everson once pointed out
that the film features scenes every bit as frightening as
those in the more acclaimed Lewton shockers. Gunther von
Fritsch began directing the film, but was called to military
service and replaced by a young Robert Wise.
Next up is the B Monster's personal favorite of the Lewton
oeuvre, "I Walked with a Zombie." Yes, I know it's "Jane
Eyre in the West Indies" as detractors are ready to point
out. No arguments on that score. But "Jane Eyre" wasn't
a bad little story. Reinterpreted by Jacques Tourneur with
a voodoo backdrop, a capable cast that includes Frances
Dee and Tom Conway and ... zombies, Bronte's book is the
spooky spine of a terrifically creepy little movie. Sound
is key to the film's success as a goose bump-inducing melodrama.
Much has been written of nurse Frances Dee's midnight stroll
through the cane fields, Conway's catatonic wife in tow,
and I think the praise is justified. The rustling reeds,
wind howling through hollow gourds hung in the trees, the
distant rumble of voodoo drums and the sudden appearance
of a zombie named Carrefour. It's just a fine sequence.
More memorable still are the hypnotic and unnerving ritual
songs played at the voodoo ceremonies. The performances
are subtle, the shadows long and sinister; an unsettling
and oddly muted film.
What was I saying earlier about the importance of casting
to the Lewton success story? "The Body Snatcher" features
what has rightly been cited by critics as one of Boris Karloff's
best performances. He's unrepentantly sinister as the cadaver-collecting
coachman who delights in tormenting Henry Daniell, the doctor
to whom Karloff supplies fresh corpses for medical study.
It's also a signature role for Daniell who is simultaneously
snooty and scared stiff. Bela Lugosi fares decidedly less
well. He'd evidently hit rock bottom as this film was being
produced in 1945, and has only a few lines as a pitiful
toady. Director Robert Wise came into his own with this
finely drawn shocker, which is just as a much a study of
corrupt characters as it is an old-fashioned spooker. The
climactic sequence is a dilly, with Daniell at the reins
of a runaway horse-drawn coach, Karloff's lifeless arms
flailing, practically embracing him, as his voice echoes
on the soundtrack, "You'll never get rid of me!" Watch for
our recently departed pal, Robert Clarke, as one of the
young medical students.
"Isle of the Dead," directed by another up-and-comer,
Mark Robson, is quietly horrific, exploiting in one significant
scene, a fear that a great many share, that of being buried
alive. A central character, who occasionally lapses into
a catatonic state, is understandably terrified that this
will happen to her. I'm not about to reveal how this affects
the story, but the way the issue is handled is skilled,
subtle and disturbing. Boris Karloff again tops the cast
list as a Greek general. Plague is sweeping the countryside
in the wake of war, and Karloff is quarantined, along with
Ellen Drew, Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr. and a handful
of others, on a small, windswept island. As fear and sickness
claw away at the psyches of the stranded, a superstitious
old woman plants the idea in Karloff's head that the plague
isn't responsible for the death in the air, but that a vampire
or demon is among them and must be destroyed. As is the
case with most of the Lewton canon, emphasis is on character,
the flaws and fears that motivate the protagonists.
"Bedlam," the notorious lunatic asylum, is the setting
for what may be Lewton's strangest and, in some ways, most
sophisticated film. Once more Karloff, in a smarmy, insidious
performance, dominates the proceedings, bolstered by strong
supporting performances, including that of a young Robert
Clarke as a craven inmate with a canine complex. Director
Mark Robson and company strive with arguable success to
evoke 18th century England. Much of this is accomplished
with costumes and period bric-a-brac, but the film also
uses close-ups of William Hogarth's engraving "The Rake's
Progress" to bracket scenes and connote transitions. This
is a novel and, I think, clever and economical way to establish
period and hint at the depravity and debauchery at the core
of the story.
Don't let the arid New Mexico setting fool you: In "The
Leopard Man," director Jacques Tourneur and cameraman Nick
Musuraca render some of the most chilling scenes in any
Lewton film. The story, based on a Cornell Woolrich novel,
centers on an escaped black leopard (or perhaps a murderous
madman) terrorizing a small desert community. Dennis O'Keefe
plays a sardonic publicity agent who obtains the leopard
for use as a gimmick in Jean Brooks' nightclub act. Brooks
competition, a Latina dancer named Clo-Clo, played by Margo,
spooks the leopard, which flees the courtyard venue. "The
Leopard Man" boasts several genuinely suspenseful sequences,
but none as riveting as a young girl's tentative, nighttime
trek home from a market. (This time, the "bus" is a train!)
With the unseen leopard at her heels, she dashes for home.
Her errand concludes with her off-camera attack. We hear
the screams and see blood seeping under the door as her
mother wrestles with the lock.
"The Ghost Ship," with Mark Robson again at the helm,
is the least inspired of the classic Lewtons. It's a psychological
drama with no supernatural or horror elements. It provides
a good role for rugged Richard Dix, once one of Hollywood's
top leading men, nearing the end of his long and auspicious
career. As Captain Stone, he's most convincing as the authoritarian
skipper who may just be bumping off crewmembers. Lewton
regular, Russell Wade, signs on as one of Stone's officers,
initially bonding with the old seadog, and eventually coming
to suspect him of murder. There's atmosphere to spare with
Nick Musuraca again behind the camera, but it just isn't
a particularly interesting story.
"The Seventh Victim," directed by Mark Robson, is an unsettling
tale of Satan worship and reclamation. The film is positively
saturated with dread. Again and again, fleeting, cheery
scenes give way to menacing darkness. Otherwise normal streets
and hallways are cloaked in blackness and disturbing silences.
Jean Brooks is haunting as the tormented beauty seduced
by Satanists. Tom Conway reprises his Dr. Louis Judd character
from "Cat People" without explanation. Hugh Beaumont and
Kim Hunter each turn in effective portrayals, as does Evelyn
Brent, delivering an intimidating, caustic performance.
Especially interesting is a shadowy shower scene, which
foreshadows "Psycho" and its endless stream of filmic homages.
The film closes with a chilling, ironic switcheroo that
still delivers a kick in the stomach.
In addition to audio commentaries by film historian Steve
Haberman, this box set is complimented by a new documentary
called "Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy." Narrated
by actor James Cromwell, it features interviews with Val
Lewton Jr., Sara Karloff, George Romero, Joe Dante, John
Landis, William Friedkin and Robert Wise.
G. ULMER: ARCHIVE
"Bluebeard," "Daughter of Dr. Jekyll," "The Strange Woman,"
"Moon Over Harlem," "Strange Illusion"
Critics are often quick to brand "rediscovered" films
-- especially those directed by such erratic yet unquestionably
talented filmmakers as Edgar G. Ulmer -- as "classic." In
Ulmer's case, some of the films are classic, some are intriguing
with only flashes of genius in evidence, some are charitably
described as "interesting," others are just plain strange.
This package neatly encompasses that gamut of descriptions.
All Day Entertainment originally publicized the films compiled
in this set as "a celebration of the films of legendary
indie pioneer Edgar G. Ulmer." Without question, the celebration
is deserved, but whether or not the films featured in the
set are unqualified "classics" by virtue of having been
directed by Ulmer is open to argument.
Disc one is the standout, as it features one of Ulmer's
-- in fact, one of B-moviedom's -- minor masterpieces, "Bluebeard."
Rarely has so much been accomplished with so little. (And
never has a film been heralded so much for being unheralded.
Let the unheralding cease. Consider the film hereby heralded!)
Ulmer actually turns the film's low budget and absurd artificiality
to its advantage, creating an unsettling, otherworldly,
decidedly non-Hollywood work, tilting the camera, letting
deep shadows do the work of 20 set designers. And John Carradine,
who was born to play this homicidal puppetmaster, employs
every decibel of his bravado to maximum effect. (Is it ever
NOT fun to watch John Carradine?) If you can get past some
talky patches and protracted puppet shows, you'll find it
"Daughter of Dr. Jekyll" benefits from a cast that B-movie
aficionados will recognize and enjoy: John Agar, Arthur
Shields, John Dierkes and Gloria Talbott as the eponymous
offspring of the famously schizophrenic doctor. The trappings
and contrivances are familiar -- the eerie family estate,
the family curse -- but the uniquely weird Ulmer veneer
gives them a bit of distinction as he manages to conjure
up atmosphere, low budget be damned. Is Dr. Jekyll's murderous
bifurcation hereditary? That's the question plaguing bride-to-be
Talbott, not to mention perplexed and skeptical groom-to-be
Agar. So, how to explain Talbott awaking from nightmares
covered in blood? Scripted by Jack Pollexfen, who wrote
"Man From Planet X," "The Neanderthal Man" and, curiously,
"The SON of Dr. Jekyll," it's hokey but not uninteresting.
Disc two features "Strange Woman," a weird period piece
starring Hedy Lamarr as a Scarlett O'Hara-like schemer who
manipulates and destroys the men in her orbit. The story
is run-of-the-mill, and the film's chief virtues are Ulmer's
canny exploitation of shadow and atmosphere. Also included
is a strange, noirish, semi-musical called "Moon Over Harlem,"
which Ulmer himself once likened to "Porgy and Bess." (And
if Edgar G. Ulmer's take on "Porgy and Bess" doesn't intrigue
you ... )
Whether or not the label "classic" is too liberally applied
is an issue we'll leave to others to argue. The important
thing is that fans of Ulmer can at last SEE such obscurities
as "Strange Illusion," which is featured on disc three of
this set. The average film buff knows Ulmer primarily for
three films: "The Black Cat," "Detour" and "Man From Planet
X," each a "classic" of sorts in its own right. But he was
an incredibly prolific filmmaker. Sadly, much of his work
is lost to obscurity, and tracking down his forgotten titles
has proved an arduous task even for "well-connected" film
archivists. Judge for yourself whether "Strange Illusion"
is a classic or not, but appreciate the fact that you can
see it. (And let me know if you run across a copy of "Yankl
Bonus features include Ulmer's rarely seen one-hour color
TV pilot, "Swiss Family Robinson"; an Ulmer-directed educational
children's short called "Goodbye Mr. Germ"; the featurette
"Bluebeard Unmasked!"; audio commentary by David Kalat that
accompanies "The Strange Woman"; a video interview with
Ulmer's wife, Shirley; theatrical trailers for several of
Ulmer's films, photo galleries and more.
THE NIGHT STALKER
Let's get the obvious out of the way: The series, "Kolchak:
The Night Stalker," never approached the quality of the
original 1972 television movie that spawned it. Twenty episodes
were produced in 1974-75. Some were fine, some were middling,
some were shoddy. Over the years, Kolchak accrued a cult
following that warranted this release and inspired a recent
in-name-only TV reincarnation. There's something about this
over-the-hill reporter in a vintage seersucker suit and
porkpie hat investigating vampires, werewolves and myriad
ghouls that's endeared him to horror buffs of a certain
age. That the series premiered in prime time in the decade
of glam rock, disco and "Charlie's Angels" is remarkable.
The original 1972 telefilm was the most watched made-for-TV
movie up to that time. It was a quality show, produced by
Dan "Dark Shadows" Curtis, scripted by Richard Matheson
and directed by John Llewelyn Moxey, a prolific TV journeyman
who later directed those aforementioned jiggling "Angels,"
as well as "Ghost Story," "Kung Fu" and "Murder, She Wrote,"
among many others. He displayed an arresting flair for the
supernatural milieu and the film is rightly praised by classic
horror purists. That quality proved difficult to replicate
on a weekly basis, as these 20 episodes demonstrate. Their
inventiveness is laudable and should be celebrated, but
they just don't stand comparison to the original film. Most
of the scripts are perfunctory and predictable and the episodes
are further diminished by gimmicky camerawork and distractingly
cheesy music, including an opening theme that's completely
at odds with the supposedly scary content to follow.
Universal proceeded with the series even after Curtis
and Matheson declined to be involved. Veteran TV producers
Paul Playdon and Cy Chermak oversaw the program and turned
to such writers as L. Ford Neale, John Huff, Rudolph Borchert,
Stephen Lord, Michael Kozoll, Arthur Rowe and Hammer films
screenwriter Jimmy Sangster for scripts. Two of the more
successful "Night Stalker" alumni are Robert Zemeckis, who
co-scripted a particularly grisly episode called "The Chopper,"
and David Chase, who later created the phenomenally successful
HBO series "The Sopranos." Among the directors employed
were Don Weis, Allen Baron, Gene Levitt, Don McDougall and
Michael T. Carrey. But it is star Darrin McGavin who carries
the show. (Some accounts have McGavin acting as de facto
executive producer, often knocking heads with Playdon and
Chermak.) McGavin's Kolchak is crusty, tenacious, sardonic
at times, a little damaged (the back story, according to
an interview with McGavin, has Kolchak losing his job at
a New York paper in 1955 and wearing the same clothes ever
since). McGavin plays the part very broadly, as the outlandish
teleplays go for laughs nearly as often as they do thrills.
His enduring, prickly relationship with costar Simon Oakland
as his bellicose, skeptical editor is often amusing, if
utterly cliché. Oakland made a career of grousing
and snarling in productions big and small, and this weekly
outlet found him in fine, consistent form. "The Night Stalker"
series, not unlike its near-contemporary, "Night Gallery,"
offered work to some of our best character actors as the
heyday of the B-movie passed into memory: Julie Adams, Myron
Healey, Richard Kiel, Don 'Red' Barry, James Gregory, Fritz
Feld, Larry Storch, Kathleen Nolan, Keenan Wynn, Robert
Cornthwaite, Jim Backus, Nina Foch, Richard Bakalyan, Marvin
Miller, Henry Brandon, Paul Picerni, William Smith ... the
list goes on.
The release of the original series on DVD coincides with
the debut of a new, updated "Night Stalker" series. For
the record, it is lousy, bearing little resemblance to the
show that inspired it. Genre fans should instead watch "X-Files"
reruns, as the creators of that series often cited "Night
Stalker" as a key inspiration, and did a far better job
of reinterpreting its best aspects.
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
In May of 1951, Whitney Ellsworth, a comic book veteran
who was then D.C. Comics' editorial director, loaded his
family in the car for a cross-country trip, ostensibly to
see the Grand Canyon. Along the way, he revealed to his
wife and daughter that he was actually heading to the West
Coast to oversee story development for a feature film starring
the Man of Steel. Ellsworth's daughter, Patricia Ellsworth
Wilson, told Jim Nolt of "The Adventures Continue" newsletter,
that her father hammered out the premise for "Superman and
The Mole-Men" en route. As they cruised the southwest, Ellsworth
brainstormed ideas with his family, essentially developing
the treatment as he drove, and the film went into production
virtually the moment the Ellsworth clan rolled into L.A.
In Hollywood, Ellsworth hooked up with Robert Maxwell, veteran
producer of the "Superman" radio serial starring Bud Collyer.
Ellsworth and Maxwell collaborated on a finished script
under the nom-de-plume Richard Fielding. The result was
the strange, dark little film that spawned "The Adventures
of Superman" TV series.
Half a century after the series ceased production, following
petitions and innumerable pleas from lifelong fans, Warner
Bros. is at last releasing the first season of "The Adventures
of Superman" on DVD. The news was met with exaltation by
the nostalgic and devoted generation that cherishes the
series. Among the bonus material is the theatrical release
"Superman and the Mole-Men," the 1951 feature that presaged
the long-running series. The film was just an hour long,
and was later used as a two-part episode in the maiden season
of the show.
This first season was different from those that followed
in significant ways. It was darker, more violent. In subsequent
seasons, bumbling crooks would knock themselves unconscious
running into walls -- or each other! In this initial season,
the Man of Steel didn't pull his punches. Heavies were slugged
and tossed without hesitation. The stories were moodier,
in some ways akin to film noir, and often took place outside
of Metropolis, in secluded, spooky locales. Such episodes
as "The Haunted Lighthouse," "The Deserted Village" and
"The Ghost Wolf" are particularly memorable for this reason.
And Phyllis Coates, who portrayed Lois Lane in this first
season, was strikingly different from Noel Neill, who had
previously played Lois in the movies, and who replaced Coates
in the role on TV in subsequent years. Coates was flinty
and given to belting out bloodcurdling screams. Neill was
a bit softer (as were the episodes in which she took part)
and more of a mother figure to cub reporter Jimmy Olsen.
Jack Larson was perfect as Jimmy, playing him as innocent,
often befuddled, but not stupid. Veteran character actor
John Hamilton played the blustering, cranky editor of The
Daily Planet, Perry White. His bellowed "Great Caesar's
Ghost" and "Don't call me chief" were catchphrases hallowed
by fans of the series. Another B-movie and genre-film vet,
Robert Shayne, played stalwart, seasoned Inspector Henderson
with disarming warmth.
Casting George Reeves as Superman was a watershed decision
in the history of superherodom. Reeves was arguably the
first credible and entirely convincing actor to play a superhero
on television. (He may have been the LAST!) Kirk Alyn, who
played Superman in 1940s movie serials, was a superb choice
physically, and a decent actor. But Reeves, with a wealth
of experience (and just a bit of a self-aware gleam in his
eye), played Superman with endearing zeal. He was tough,
he was sensitive, he was kind to children and beat the tar
out of crooks. This was a guy you could hang with, share
a laugh with, a "super-pal" that any kid would want for
a friend. It would be a mistake to read too much into the
pathology of the actor. No doubt Reeves, a veteran of dozens
of films including "Gone With the Wind," overcame some chagrin
at donning tights and a cape to play a muscle man from Krypton.
But he was a pro, and his portrayal was never less than
spirited and ingratiating. For many, he is the ONLY Superman,
now and forever.
And then there are the myriad heavies, henchmen, victims,
schemers, rescuees and innocent bystanders that were portrayed
by a "who's who" of B-movie character players, including
Dabbs Greer, Pierre Watkin, Sid Saylor, Tris Coffin, Philip
Pine, Ann Doran, John Doucette, Ben Weldon, Dan Seymour,
James Seay, Larry Blake, Richard Reeves, Rudolph Anders,
Leonard Mudie, Jonathan Hale, Victor Sen Yung, Paul Fix,
Veda Ann Borg and Jeff Corey. Stephen Carr played different
roles in a dozen of the first season's episodes!
Maxwell and Ellsworth enlisted a variety of writers to
produce scripts, some experienced, some with few credits
to their name. Eugene Solow had scripted such features as
"Fog Over Frisco" and "Of Mice and Men"; Howard J. Green
wrote mystery pictures featuring Boston Blackie and Nero
Wolfe; Wells Root had adapted the classic 1937 "The Prisoner
of Zenda," and written episodes of "The Lone Ranger." Among
the writers employed in future seasons, Dwight V. Babcock
had collaborated on such Universal shockers as "The Mummy's
Curse" and "House of Horrors"; Oliver Drake contributed
to more than 130 films, most of them Westerns; Robert Leslie
Bellam wrote episodes of "The Lone Ranger" and "Captain
Midnight"; Royal K. Cole had written many serials, among
them "Captain America," "The Purple Monster Strikes" and
the 1948 "Superman" starring Kirk Alyn; Jay Morton had contributed
to the classic Fleisher "Superman" cartoons of the '40s.
There are many more, some who went on to write genre-films
and TV series that have accrued cult followings.
Every episode of season one was directed by either Tommy
Carr or Lee Sholem. Sholem had a pair of Lex Barker Tarzan
pictures under his belt when the series began, and went
on to direct such cult favorites as "Tobor the Great" and
"Pharaoh's Curse," as well as numerous TV series including
"Sugarfoot," "Maverick" and "Colt .45." Tommy Carr had directed
scads of low-budget Westerns and, more significantly, he
had co-directed (with Spencer Gordon Bennett) the 1948 "Superman"
The five-disc set contains all 26 episodes of the first
season. This includes "The Unknown People," parts one and
two, and "Superman and The Mole-Men," the one-hour feature
that became the two-parter. Some of the original Kellogg's
cereal commercials are also included.
"Superman on Earth"
"The Haunted Lighthouse"
"The Case of the Talkative Dummy"
"The Mystery of the Broken Statues"
"The Monkey Mystery"
"A Night of Terror"
"The Birthday Letter"
"The Mind Machine"
"The Secret of Superman"
"No Holds Barred"
"The Deserted Village"
"The Stolen Costume"
"Treasure of the Incas"
"Mystery in Wax"
"The Runaway Robot"
"Drums of Death"
"The Evil Three"
"Riddle of the Chinese Jade"
"The Human Bomb"
"Czar of the Underworld"
"The Ghost Wolf"
"Unknown People, Part 1"
"Unknown People, Part 2"
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
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"Only hell could breed such an enormous beast!" -- The
Giant Gila Monster