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.

You'll 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?"

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, Space Cadet"
-- 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 out:
Tell 'em, without hesitation, the B Monster sent you!

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 credits
-- 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" vet
-- Felix Silla; you loved him as Cousin It!
-- Kevin Spirtas of "Subspecies" fame
-- Leonard Stone, featured in "Soylent Green" and "Willy Wonka"
-- 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?

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!

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, check out:
Tell the nurse the B Monster referred you!

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:

The Web site to see for news concerning all things Kong-related is 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.

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!

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 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 someone:

-- 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."


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 conjuring.

"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.

"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 rewarding.

"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 der Shmid.")

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.

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.

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" serial.

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.

Disc 1
"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"

Disc 2
"The Birthday Letter"
"The Mind Machine"
"The Secret of Superman"
"No Holds Barred"
"The Deserted Village"

Disc 3
"The Stolen Costume"
"Treasure of the Incas"
"Double Trouble"
"Mystery in Wax"
"The Runaway Robot"
"Drums of Death"

Disc 4
"The Evil Three"
"Riddle of the Chinese Jade"
"The Human Bomb"
"Czar of the Underworld"
"The Ghost Wolf"
"Crime Wave"

Disc 5
"Unknown People, Part 1"
"Unknown People, Part 2"


Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal Press or at

Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at

Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc.

Bryan Senn, whose books are available at and at

Tom Weaver, whose books are available at and at


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