Character actor and voice artist Mel Welles, perhaps best
known for the handful of cult-films he made with producer
Roger Corman, died following a heart attack. He was 83.
He had been suffering from Hodgkin's' Disease. Welles had
been a clinical psychologist, a writer and a deejay before
heading to Hollywood following some theatrical work. He
appeared in his first film, "Appointment in Honduras," in
1953. He began appearing as cowboys and minor heavies of
various ethnicities in mid-'50s features including "Abbott
& Costello Meet the Mummy," "Duel on the Mississippi,"
"Hold Back Tomorrow" and "Flight to Hong Kong." He first
worked with Corman in the 1957 cult-classic "Attack of the
Crab Monsters." A master of many dialects, Welles played
Frenchman Jules Deveroux. The same year, he appeared as
gravedigger Smolkin in Corman's "The Undead." "I have become,
laughingly, an icon in the horror-film genre," Welles once
told the B Monster. "If you look at my credits, only about
six of my films even fall remotely into that category. I
did over 65 films and 300 television shows and produced
and directed 12 films." Also in 1957, Welles appeared in
Corman's "Rock All Night," stepping into the role of Sir
Bop when his friend, hipster comic monologist Lord Buckley,
failed to appear. "I was a voice of the beatnik era," Welles
said. "I was definitely a beatnik, and proud to be. I get
a kick out of it when young people today think they invented
pot and dirty words." Welles helped Buckley write some of
his best-known comic monologues, including "Hipsters, Flipsters
and Finger-Poppin' Daddies," a hip-talking spin on Shakespeare's
"Friend, Romans, countrymen," speech.
In 1960, Welles appeared in the film for which he is best
known, and one that he cited as among his favorites, Corman's
"Little Shop of Horrors." Welles portrayed shopkeeper Gravis
Mushnik in the low-budget quickie that rapidly accrued cult
status. According to Welles, Corman had to be persuaded
to make what may be his most famous picture. "Roger didn't
like comedy," Welles told the B Monster. "He didn't believe
in it. He had tried with 'A Bucket of Blood' and it failed.
So he didn't want to do 'Little Shop' at all. We had to
beg him and cajole him. Ironically, it's his most famous
picture." The film was made in two days and nights for a
total cost of $27,500.
Welles left the States in the early 1960s to begin a prolific
career acting, producing, directing and dubbing films in
Europe. "I got into adapting and dubbing European films,"
he recalled. "I was one of the major voices [in the business]
— I dubbed over 800 films." Perhaps the best known
of his European pictures is "Lady Frankenstein," directed
by Welles and starring Joseph Cotten and Rosalba Neri.
"Little Shop of Horrors" was turned into a successful,
campy stage musical, and later a big-budget motion picture.
Welles loved the play, but was disappointed in the handling
of the feature: "When Frank Oz came on board as director,
he decided that no one from the original movie could participate.
Unfortunate, because I was probably the only member of the
original cast who could have conceivably reprised his role,
and, of course, I would have loved to play it." But Welles
had fond memories of his days as part of the "Corman Stock
Company." "Everybody did everything," he remembered. "It
was a collaborative effort. We could make suggestions. It
was a fun time. In those days, the so-called horror film
was more fun than it was scary. There was a warmth to those
kind of pictures that does not exist today."
NOTE: B Monster readers should also refer to Tom Weaver's
Mel Welles obituary written for Fangoria magazine:
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
The DraculaTour of Transylvania, staged by International
Tours and Events, is now in its eighth year. Catering to
roughly 40-50 morbid curiosity seekers each trip, the horror
safari visits castles, fortresses churches and burial sites
linked in legend and history to the notorious Vlad, the
Impaler. The cost of this sinister sortie covers roundtrip
airfare, deluxe hotel accommodations, all transfers, ground
transportation, and admission to all events, attractions
and parties. For those unable to book passage to the land
of Vlad, we'll crib from the official Web site, and touch
on the itinerary's highlights in an attempt to convey the
flavor of the tour:
Day 1: Depart U.S. on a Transylvania-bound transatlantic
Day 2: Land in Romania, Bucharest, specifically, "first
mentioned by this name in a document signed by Prince Vlad
Dracula himself in the year 1459." Here, you meet and mingle
with your fellow Drac-trekkers in a group orientation meeting
and spend your first night at the gothic Bulevard Hotel.
Day 3: You're carried by "luxury coach to the mysterious,
secluded island, which is the home of the Snagov Monastery,"
crossing a moat by rowboat to arrive at Vlad's tomb. From
there, it's on to Bran, site of Vlad's Castle, passing through
the Bistritza River en route. Next, you tour Castle Bran.
The surrounding park area is home to an open-air gypsy bazaar
selling all manner of Dracula dolls, shirts, souvenirs and
memorabilia. Then, off to the Aro Palace Hotel in Brasov
to bed down. Day 4: You explore beautiful Brasov,
a city dripping with Old World charm. Here, Vlad wined and
dined as his enemies were put to the stake on Timpa Hill.
You tour the "Black Church" before departing to Sighisoara,
"the best preserved medieval town in all of Europe, and
birthplace of Vlad." A walking tour includes stops at the
"torture room" and the site of witch trials, outdoor gravesites
and a historic clock tower. Next, you trek up the famed
Carpathian Mountains, following in the footsteps of Jonathan
Harker, as related in Stoker's "Dracula." Classic horror
movies are screened on the coach and, come suppertime, you
dine at Jonathan Harker's Golden Crown Restaurant. Wash
down the meal with "blood-red liquor, an exclusive beverage
of the Golden Crown Restaurant." Then it's back on the coach
for a trip through the legendary Borgo Pass. End the busy
day at the Dracula Castle Hotel in Piatra Fantanele.
Day 5: Following breakfast, you can "explore every nook
and cranny of the castle. Scarf up souvenirs in the lobby
shop, peruse the outdoor market and local cemetery, "and
just spend your day leisurely preparing your costume and
make-up for the party." That evening you attend the Halloween
gala costume ball, "witness an actual 'vampire' wedding
ceremony," indulge in drinking and dancing and visit a coffin
located in the depths of the castle's dungeon. The Discovery
Travel Channel will be there to chronicle these festivities.
Day 6: Back in the luxury coach, head to Sibiu for another
walking tour that includes stops at the Liar's Bridge and
Central Square and the Evangelical Church, built circa 1300.
Its burial vaults hold one of Vlad's sons and the body of
Valentini Frank, a Romanian physician "considered one of
Mary Shelley's inspirations in her creation of 'Frankenstein.'"
Spend the evening at Sibiu's Imparatul Romanilor Hotel.
"Late-night activity to be determined."
Day 7: You're bound for the Argus Valley, home to Poenari
Castle, which many historians consider the true Castle of
Dracula. You'll have to climb some 1500 stairs to reach
the top of Vlad's fortress, built in 1459 by Turkish prisoners.
Then prepare for dinner at the Club Dracula restaurant and
spend your final night of the tour back in Bucharest's Bulevard
Day 8: Off to the airport, homeward bound.
The tour Web site is filled with enthusiastic testimonials:
"What a GREAT trip. I loved every minute of it." "It was
the experience of a lifetime." "The whole trip was unforgettable."
You can apply for a full brochure or get more information
Should you make the trip, give 'ol Vlad the B Monster's
DOOZY OF A PALOOZA
Our pal, Will "The Thrill" Viharo, the Bay Area's fez-wearing
frightmaster, provides us with the following update regarding
his annual Thrillville Horror Host Palooza, which commences
October 13 at the Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland.
"This time," Will promises, "we're pulling out all the stops
and the spooks, so along with regulars John 'Creature Features,'
Stanley, Doktor Goulfinger, and Mr. Lobo, we're joined by
San Francisco's cable access horror hottie Ms. Monster.
Plus, all the way from the Mad Midwest, my fez beatnik brother
Rock 'n' Roll Ray, and the Ohio 'daddy-o of doom' himself
Son of Ghoul. All here to co-host two sleazy vintage monster-rama
classics: Al Adamson's legendary 'Dracula vs. Frankenstein'
and Ted V. Mikels' cult favorite 'Astro Zombies.' On top
of all that ... live Theremin by Robert Silverman!" As Will
proudly proclaims, this might just be THE Halloween party
of the year. Will takes the show on the road, stopping at
Copia in Napa, Calif., to present Thrillville's Halloween
Fiesta, "featuring the gothic lucha libra classic 'Santo
vs. the Vampire Women, with special celebrity guest, Napa's
own homegrown horror legend John 'Creature Features,' Stanley,
plus Doktor Goulfinger, and Mr. Lobo with special musical
guests, psychedelic surf band Pollo del Mar." For more info,
check out any and all of the following URLs:
Leave no doubt the B Monster sent you!
The Mid-South's macabre movie medico, Dr. Gangrene, invites
one and all to get a jump on the Halloween season at the
Second Annual Horror Hootenanny. The festivities take place
in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, September 16. The gangrenous
host of TV's Chiller Cinema "has lined up four bands from
Tennessee and Kentucky to bring a night of howling horror
to Nashville: The Codenames, The Exotic Ones, The Creeping
Cruds, and The All-American Werewolves." The program will
be emceed by the good doctor and the Chiller Cinema cast
who will be doling out giveaways and raffling off prizes.
The sinister shindig happens at Nashville's The End nightclub.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m., tickets $6.00 per person, ages
18 and up. For more about the doc and his dastardly practice,
Don't hesitate to say the B Monster referred you!
Have you ever wished you could have lived in those heady
days when Ed Wood gathered his friends and acquaintances
-- and every penny he could scrounge -- and made a movie?
Apparently, Florida-based film critic Steve Bailey has.
Bailey only recently finished casting his new play, "Plan
Nine From Outer Space ... The Rip-Off." Auditions took place
in late August for 30 speaking parts in Bailey's show, which
is inspired by the "classic" Wood film. "I first saw the
movie in 1980," Bailey says, "and have been in love with
it ever since. Just as it is with movie classics, you can
watch 'Plan Nine' over and over and see something new in
it each time -- even if the 'something new' is a conspicuous
wire or a tombstone falling over." Bailey claims he experienced
a "revelation" when re-watching the film on DVD recently:
"My head practically exploded. My brain started shouting
'responses' to the terrible dialogue, as though I was watching
'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' instead of 'Plan Nine.'
The more I watched it, the more I thought, 'There's a play
in this.'" Bailey transcribed Wood's dialogue, adding his
own unique twists. Not unlike Wood, Bailey went "hat in
hand" to local theaters looking for backing. He was turned
down by several before the Boomtown Theater in Jacksonville,
Fla., gave him the green light. The play will debut in late
October. For more info, visit:
Be sure and let 'em know the B Monster sent you!
MUCH DO YOU LOVE LOVECRAFT?
The promoters of Portland, Oregon's "H.P. Lovecraft Film
Festival" make plain their unabashed love for the author
of such brooding works of fiction as "The Dunwich Horror,"
"Dagon" and the whole "Cthulu" mythos. Their purpose is
to "promote the works of H.P. Lovecraft, literary horror
and weird tales through the cinematic adaptations by professional
and amateur filmmakers. The festival was founded in 1995
by Andrew Migliore in the hope that H.P. Lovecraft would
be rightly recognized as a master of gothic horror and his
work more faithfully adapted to film and television." Festival
guests include director Stuart Gordon, whose "Re-Animator,"
"Dagon" and "From Beyond" have accrued dedicated cult followings;
actor Christopher Heyerdahl, who appeared in the "Highlander"
and "Blade" franchises, and portrayed Lovecraft in the Bravo
telemovie "Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft";
Emmy-winning television and screenwriter Joseph Dougherty
of "thirtysomething" and "Judging Amy" fame, whose HBO film
"Cast a Deadly Spell" was nominated for a Ray Bradbury Award
by the Mystery Writers of America; rocker and poet Patti
Smith. Lovecraft lovers who dabble in the arts are encouraged
to submit original artwork and independent films. Guidelines
are downloadable at the fest Web site. The three-day show
gets started October 7 at Portland's Hollywood Theatre.
For more info, check out:
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!
CON STRESSES RELAXATION
The Chicagoland Entertainment Collector's Expo offers an
eclectic mix of genre-film guests and activities, with an
emphasis on Bond, Buffy and the big "Star" franchises, "Trek"
and "Wars." "Our goal is to provide a good, quality show
where people from across the world can come, buy, sell and
trade their favorite hobbies, conduct business, make new
friends and renew old friendships," say promoters of the
sixth annual Windy City shindig, who hope "to provide an
environment where you can relax and enjoy the different
events at the Expo and get away from life's daily grind
and stress, as we feel this is very important to the well-being
of everyone." Among this year's featured guests:
-- Richard Kiel, beloved as "Eegah," feared as 007's adversary,
-- Maud Adams, "Octopussy" in the flesh
-- Lana Wood of "Diamonds Are Forever"
-- Virginia Hey of "Living Daylights" fame
-- Kenny Baker, the man in the can that is R2-D2
-- Chewbacca, himself, Peter Mayhew
-- Mary Oyaya, who portrayed Jedi Luminara Unduli
-- Scott L. Schwartz and Robia LaMorte, "Buffy" veterans
-- The one and only "Seinfeld" Soup Nazi, Larry Thomas
-- Liz Sheridan, known and loved as Seinfeld's sitcom Mom
-- "V" veteran and George Costanza's boss, Richard Herd
-- Noel Neill, classic television's intrepid Lois Lane
-- Jon Provost, famed as Lassie's master, Timmy
And many more.
It happens September 16-18 at the Wyndham Northwest Chicago
Hotel. For more info, check out:
Let 'em know, of course, the B Monster sent you!
Billed as "Two days of music, monster and mayhem, the Massachusetts-based
Rock and Shock convention gets under way October 8 in Worcester,
Mass. As of this writing, the celeb guest list includes:
-- George Romero, here credited as the "Father of Modern
-- Adrienne Barbeau, the "Swamp Thing's" main squeeze
-- Jeffrey Combs, the "Re-Animator" himself
-- Tim Dekay of the "Wishmaster" franchise and HBO's "Carnivale"
-- Ashley Laurence of "Hellraisers" I, II, III, and VI
-- Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers, all featured
(with Barbeau) in "The Fog"
-- "House of 1,000 Corpses" cast mates Sid Haig and Bill Moseley
-- And a "Day of the Dead" 20th Anniversary cast reunion
featuring Gary Klar, Lori Cardille, Joe Pilato and Antone
Myriad musical guests will supply the "rock" to complement
the guest stars' "shock." It happens at Worcester's DCU
Center and The Palladium. For more info, check out:
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you, but you'd better
shout. You crazy kids with your long hair and your loud
music. . .
IS WINSTON'S TASTE GOOD?
If you're an aspiring fright filmmaker or budding B-movie
impresario, the fifth Screamfest L.A. competition might
be just the place to exhibit your wares. The fest was founded
in 2001 by producers Rachel Belofsky and Ross Martin "in
order to give filmmakers and writers in the horror-sci-fi
genres a venue to have their work showcased to people in
the industry." Among the prizes being awarded this year
are Movie Magic screenwriting software, budgeting and scheduling
software, a $1,000 cash prize to the winning screenplay
and a "First Look" with Stan Winston Productions. Winston,
the noted creature creator and makeup artisan is among the
judges who also include director Tobe Hooper, New Line Cinema
exec Jeff Katz, former Dimension development executive Mike
Grady and assorted development executives and literary agents
from New Line Cinema, Lions Gate Films, Dimension and The
Gersh Agency. Complete submission guidelines are downloadable
at the official Screamfest L.A. Web site. You'll also find
ticket info and details regarding the opening night gala
and events schedule. Check out:
Why not let 'em know the B Monster sent you?
The American Cinematheque will be screening an Alfred Hitchcock
retrospective at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, Calif.,
September 2-11, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the
director's passing. Among the films being shown are "The
39 Steps," "The Lady Vanishes," "Rebecca," "Shadow of a
Doubt" (which Hitchcock cited as a personal favorite), "Notorious,"
"Strangers on a Train," "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "To Catch
a Thief," "North By Northwest," "Psycho," "The Birds" and
"Marnie." Several of the screenings will be introduced by
film historian Bill Krohn. The Aero is located at 1328 Montana
Avenue in Santa Monica. For more info, check out:
TIME WITH TIMELESS IMAGERY
Three new lobby card calendars for 2006 will soon be available
from Larry Welch. Welch is a devoted fan of B-movies, vintage
Westerns and classic serials, and each year he compiles
a selection of images for his genre-themed calendars. "The
Serials of Columbia Calendar" features images from such
classic chapter plays as "Holt of the Secret Service" "The
Spider Returns," "Batman" and "Atom Man vs. Superman." "The
B-Western Calendar" showcases lobby cards from vintage oaters
starring such cowpokes as Tim McCoy, Lash LaRue, Hoot Gibson
and Tim Holt. Larry's " '50s Sci Fi Horror Calendar" features
choice lobbies that once heralded such B favorites as "The
Mole People," "Tarantula," "The Crawling Eye," "Missile
to the Moon" and "The Unknown Terror." The calendars are
$19.95 plus $4.95 shipping. You can send check, cash or
money order to: Larry Welch 25795 Old KCRoad Paola, Kansas
66071 For more info, drop Larry a line at email@example.com
Let 'em know, as usual, the B Monster sent you!
A great many genre films have fallen into the public domain
and video companies collect 'em, categorize 'em and market
'em to videoholics in garish packaging at affordable prices.
The print quality can sometimes be spotty, but most fans
regard these multi-movie packages as bargains. For instance,
a company called Digital 1 Stop has released the "Suspense
20 Movie Pack," the "Adventure 10 Movie Pack," the "Diva
20 Movie Pack," and the "Tough Guys 10 Movie Pack," among
others copious collections. They outdid themselves with
the aggregation we address below that features 50 films,
though referring to some of them as "classic" is, to put
it charitably, a stretch. The omniscient B Monster sees
it as his duty to provide readers with thumbnail critical
assessments of the films included:
THE INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD
John Carradine and Robert Clarke good. Director Jerry Warren
bad. Very, VERY bad.
QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS
Mid-'40s jungle hijinks with comely Patricia Morrison. Sci-fi?
A splendidly awful film and an easy target for "bad movie
connoisseurs." The gorilla in the papier mache helmet is
a 1950s icon.
SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF
No science, bad fiction. It's included, I suppose, because
Roger Corman directed it.
THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN
Edgar Ulmer directed this one in a big hurry, that much
is PLAIN to see.
THE ATOMIC BRAIN
Also know as "Monstrosity," it boasts one of the all-time
great ad lines: "Chained to the devil's love lab!"
HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND
A confounding, 1960 German shocker about ... the Horrors
of Spider Island!
THE WASP WOMAN
An indisputable Corman classic with a Leo Gordon script
and lovely Susan Cabot as the ultimate Bee girl.
VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET
Russian sci-fi footage spliced into a cheap American film
featuring glorified cameos by Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue.
VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN
Mamie Van Doren in a seashell bra and more of that incongruous
Russian film. See if you can reconcile the mismatched footage.
KING OF KONG ISLAND
Dismal Italian horror cheapie that has absolutely NOTHING
to do with Kong. Original title: "Eve, the Wild Woman."
BRIDE OF THE GORILLA
Interesting cast (Raymond Burr, Tom Conway, Lon Chaney and
the ill-starred Barbara Payton), well-known director (Curt
Siodmak), middling film.
ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS
Better known as "Gamera vs. Guiron," this is the one where
Gamera fights Guiron.
GAMMERA, THE INVINCIBLE
The 1966 start of the Gammera franchise. Gam later dropped
the second "M" in his name for showbiz purposes.
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS
Inarguably dreadful and, for reasons I can't quite explain,
TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE
The average age of the invading teenagers is 30. A movie
so defiantly broad and cheap you just have to admire it.
CRASH OF THE MOONS
Stitched together from TV episodes of the "Rocky Jones"
series, starring Richard Crane as the Space Ranger. Your
inner child will dig it if he isn't too jaded.
MENACE FROM OUTER SPACE
More "Rocky" episodes patched together to make a feature,
starring Crane and Scotty Beckett as co-pilot/sidekick Winky.
HERCULES AGAINST THE MOONMEN
In which Hercules, aka Maciste, is played by Alan Steel
aka Sergio Ciani.
HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN
In which Hercules, aka Ercole, is played by Reg Park.
HERCULES AND THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON
In which Hercules is played by Rock Stevens aka Mission:
Impossible's Peter Lupas.
In which Hercules, aka Ercole, is played by Steve Reeves.
This is the spaghetti epic that sold Americans on Sword
and Sandal cinema.
I have no idea what this movie is doing in here. For that
matter, what are all those Hercules movies doing in here?
MESA OF LOST WOMEN
Director Ron Ormond's talky turkey stars Jackie Coogan as
a mad scientist. The longest 70 minutes you'll ever spend
in front of the tube.
ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE
Director Antonio Margheriti (billed as Anthony Dawson in
the U.S. versions) cranked out tons of Italian genre pictures,
which were exported to America. He cranked out this one
Spy shenanigans starring Brandon Lee (doomed star of "The
Crow") and Ernest Borgnine. This "classic" was filmed in
KILLERS FROM SPACE
Probably the best known of director W. Lee Wilder's strange
and curiously somber films. Even nascent sci-fi fans will
likely recall this one when prompted by just four words:
"Ping pong ball eyes!"
PHANTOM FROM SPACE
No matter how outlandish the premise (a nude, invisible
alien loose in Griffith Observatory), no matter how goofy
the costumes, no matter how low the budget, there's an unsettling
solemnity about W. Lee Wilder's films.
Stilted cinema safari from the mid-'40s directed by the
super-prolific Sam Newfield.
THE SNOW CREATURE
W. Lee Wilder strikes again. This time, the subject is the
Yeti, and once more, the result is a choppy, no-budget,
SON OF HERCULES
Weren't there about 100 movies with "Son of Hercules" in
the title, and weren't they all pretty much the same movie?
DEVIL OF THE DESERT VS. THE SON OF HERCULES
And could any of those dozens of movies with "Son of Hercules"
in the title be remotely construed as science fiction?
FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS
An ambitious undertaking with an international cast and
unique visuals, but maybe a bit too "Eastern Bloc" for the
giant monster lover in you.
ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS
The notorious Larry Buchanan's rehash of Corman's "It Conquered
the World" with most of the fun removed.
THE ASTRAL FACTOR
Also known as "The Invisible Strangler," it's a hacky extrapolation
of "The Invisible Man." But hey, -- Stefanie Powers AND
Elke Sommer -- va-va-voom!
THE GALAXY INVADER
Is it supposed to be camp, or is this 1985 home groaner
just really, really bad? Somewhere, Larry Buchanan is smiling.
BATTLE OF THE WORLDS
Another early '60s sci fi import from the prolific paisano
Antonio Margheriti, this one featuring Claude Rains (the
year before he appeared in "Lawrence of Arabia").
A 1951 "Journey to the Center of the Earth" riff that's
so deliberate and earnest it almost plays like an educational
Another dubious "classic" of relatively recent vintage involving
James Earl Jones, Jose Ferrer and a monster set free by
THE BRAIN MACHINE
Known by multiple titles, this 1977 "classic" starring James
Best was directed by Joy N. Houck Jr., director of "Creature
From Black Lake" and "Night of Bloody Horror."
THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO
Just about everyone involved in this 1958 fiasco was an
amateur ... and it shows. Some people find this charming.
Grade C leading man Allan Nixon ("Mesa of Lost Women") meanders
through this excuse to showcase scantily clad Laurette Luez,
Joan Shawlee and their cave-gal pals.
THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE
And they probably should have stayed there. Run-of-the-mill,
"possessed-by-aliens" stuff with Robert "Slime People" Hutton
and Michael "Konga" Gough.
WARNING FROM SPACE
The warning in question comes from giant, one-eyed, starfish
aliens who want the scientists of earth to put the brakes
on nuclear proliferation.
THE PHANTOM PLANET
A goofy and engaging 1961 oddity about a miniature race
that can steer their planet out of harm's way. With Dean
Fredericks, Anthony Dexter, Coleen Gray, poor old Francis
X. Bushman and Richard Kiel as the droopy dog alien.
Buster Crabbe IS "Buck Rogers" in this re-edited version
of the classic serial. Pared to 90 minutes, it's filled
with rockets, ray guns, seasoned character actors and flat-out
COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN
You'll be asking yourself, "What is Rod Taylor doing in
this cheap, Italian muscle-man turkey?" Maybe Rod asked
himself the same question.
I think this is a GREAT movie. What are you gonna do, sue
me, shoot me, call me names?
COSMOS: WAR OF THE PLANETS
The Italians were still making ponderous, cheap, sci-fi
films and exporting them to the states in the late 1970s.
This one crossed the pond in '77.
DESTROY ALL PLANETS
That's a little rash, isn't it? I prefer the alternate title
"Gamera vs. Viras." All the elements of your standard Gamera
flick -- a giant opponent, cloying child actors and panic
in the streets -- are present.
Coming next month, "PUBLIC DOMAINIA 2: 50 HORROR CLASSICS!"
NEW ON DVD
Gary Don Rhodes, Bela Lugosi authority without peer, tells
us that his signal documentary, "Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula,"
will once again be available on DVD. Resellers of the film
have been fetching exorbitant sums since the original batch
ran out. Soon, collectors will once again be able to purchase
brand-new copies of Rhodes scholarly labor of love at affordable
prices. The re-release also gives us a chance to reprise
the rave review we ran upon its initial release:
Belaphiles and horror fandom in general have a goulash
of Lugosiana to feast on. Cape and shoulders above every
project extant on the subject is "Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula,"
a terrific two-DVD release. As the author of three exhaustive
works on Lugosi's life and body of work, Gary Don Rhodes
brings a respectable resume to the table, and it shows.
The documentary, narrated by beloved Sun Demon Robert Clarke,
and actress Rue McClanahan, utilizes striking, rare stills
and rarely seen footage of the actor, including snippets
of his silent work, and an intriguing filmed interview from
the early '30s. (Reporter: "Do you believe in vampires?"
Lugosi: "Three of them I married. ")
Much ground is covered with great economy, and minimum
gimmickry (e.g., scene changes accompanied by a lighting
bolt, or clusters of split-second glimpses at still photos).
The talking heads, Rhodes included, are generally succinct,
with the screen time of contemporary Lugosi experts balanced
with that of people who actually knew him and have first-hand
stories to relate. Much to Rhodes' credit, the hyper-analyzed
"Ed Wood" period of the actor's life is covered with restraint.
No pop-psyche tealeaf reading, just a straightforward account
of the sad end to a once-promising career. Significant among
the on-camera commentators are Richard Gordon, Frank Dello
Stritto, Richard Sheffield and makeup man Harry Thomas.
Special notice must be paid to the abbreviated, and decidedly
unsettling interview with Lugosi's truculent last wife,
Hope. In the documentary, she almost comes across as an
angel of mercy, writing to Bela when he was in rehab, seeing
to his needs and marrying him upon his release. In footage
shot in Hawaii a year before her death, she seems edgy,
disdainful and gives the impression that she'd like nothing
better than to be left alone. When asked to comment on her
marriage to the actor she sneers, "He saw a sucker and I
Other illuminating extras include nearly half an hour
of footage that was cut from the final documentary, a 1949
clip of Bela and Milton Berle on TV's Texaco Star Theater
and a disintegrating segment of film shot in 1918. A bonus
audio CD features a handful of Lugosi's radio appearances
opposite such luminaries as Fred Allen and Ozzie and Harriet,
and as the star of such dramas as "Mystery House" and "Command
Performance." Completing this wondrous package is an "Easter
Egg" hidden at the end of the disk's "DVD Notes." Toggle
to the final screen of notes, highlight the "Back" button
and press your "Up" arrow. Bela's medallion will highlight.
Press "Enter," and up pops "Chair," a mockumentary about
Rhodes' procurement of Lugosi's chair, and the travails
he endures as a consequence. It's priceless, and thank God
there's a film historian out there who doesn't take himself
or his subject so damned seriously! It's a comprehensive
package to say the least, and far superior in content and
approach to most of the junky documentaries that turn up
"The Beach Girls and the Monster," "Bride of the Gorilla,"
"Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla."
If you don't already own these titles (and for various
reasons all three belong in the library of any true cult-film
aficionado), this terror triple bill from the folks at Image
Entertainment is a steal.
Kitsch-lovers alert! "The Beach Girls and the Monster"
has got it all. Surfing, singing, surfing, a shaggy rubber
monster, surfing, go-going teenyboppers, surfing, Jon Hall
and, did we mention surfing? Not just interspersed with
the action, but a 10-minute chunk of uninterrupted surfing
footage accompanied by twanging, Dick Dalesque guitar riffs.
Producer, director, star Jon Hall was a pretty big deal
in the 1940s, very often paired with curvaceous bombshell,
Maria Montez in exotic, Technicolor B-features. In the 1950s,
he was "Ramar of the Jungle." (He was also the son of Felix
Locher, whom you may recall from "Frankenstein's Daughter.")
Hall hopped on the beach-movie bandwagon in 1964 with this
fairly shoddy, immensely enjoyable pastiche featuring music
by Frank Sinatra Jr. (One noteworthy tune, "Monster in the
Surf," is crooned by a puppet.) Hall committed suicide in
1979, but, contrary to rumor, it had nothing to do with
his failings as a filmmaker (he was dying of cancer). As
a kid, you may have caught it on the late, late show under
its TV title, "Monster From the Surf." As an adult living
in the miraculous era of DVD, it belongs in your collection.
"Bride of the Gorilla" is an incessantly talky jungle
melodrama that serves up more chatter than a barrel of starving
monkeys. Poor Raymond Burr (as a Brazilian plantation overseer)
is most convincing as the loutish killer who believes he's
turning into a kind of were-gorilla. Paul Cavanaugh barely
survives the opening credits, Tom Conway seems subdued and
humbled by another thankless role as a jaded physician,
and sarong-wrapped Barbara Payton provides the feminine
allure. Director Curt Siodmak delivered a similarly lifeless
Amazonian shocker some years later -- "Curucu, Beast of
the Amazon." "Bride of the Gorilla" is essentially a werewolf
story with an ape instead of a wolf. Interestingly Siodmak
had scripted Universal's classic "Wolf Man," starring Lon
Chaney. Chaney appears in "Bride" as a local lawman.
Concerning "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla," we
want to be clear on one thing: we LOVE producer Herman Cohen.
The man behind "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "I Was a Teenage
Frankenstein," "Target Earth" and so many others is one
of the most unsung of some very singable movie heroes. That
having been said, I'll make it equally clear that Cohen's
"Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" is torturous viewing.
(It did come forgivably early in the young producer's career.)
It's fascinating in that automobile-accident kinda way.
Poor Bela should have known better and probably did but,
alas, needed the money. The much-maligned director William
Beaudine, pummeled by self-appointed pundits for years,
is thanklessly tasked with shepherding Martin and Lewis
impersonators Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo through their
shenanigans. Petrillo exhibits genuine talent, but he's
shrill and manic to the point of exasperation -- you know,
just like the real Jerry Lewis. Why Sammy never moved to
France is anyone's guess.
THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: COLLECTOR'S EDITION BOX
The Zatoichi series may not qualify as B-movie entertainment
in the estimation of some. Each and every film in the series
-- more than two dozen -- is expertly crafted, cleverly
plotted, artfully shot and dynamically acted. You'd be hard-pressed
to find a series that can match its level of consistency.
It bears kinship to the B-movies we generally chronicle
in several ways; much like the serials and B Westerns of
mid-century American cinema, the Zatoichi films were delivered
with reassuring regularity, and featured a folkloric central
figure who wandered a troubled land in troubled times helping
the oppressed. Intrinsic merits aside, in film after film,
Katsu Shintaro as the blind swordsman delivered excitement
and adventure to his legion of fans, like the mythic and
glamorous Western heroes once adored by throngs of Americans.
Shintaro made his debut as Zatoichi in 1962, and played
the role with astonishing vigor and sympathy in 25 films
over the course of 11 years. Akira Kurasawa's Samurai epics
are rightfully praised for their grandeur, but Zatoichi
was, hands down, the most popular figure in Chambara (the
colloquial term for sword-fighting cinema). The blind masseur
with the flashing sword and uncanny second sight was a Japanese
The first film in this box set pits Zatoichi against the
one swordsman who rivaled his popularity and mythic skills.
In "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo," Katsu squares off against Japanese
movie idol Toshiro Mifune, who starred as "Yojimbo" in Akira
Kurasawa's classic 1961 film of the same name. The plot
concerns Zatoichi returning to a town that was once a peaceful
hamlet, but is now governed by a corrupt gang. The premise
isn't nearly as important as the pairing of the two stars,
both of them powerhouse performers and legends of Japanese
cinema. Few actors convey intensity like Mifune, and Shintaro's
counterbalancing performance as the cagey, playful, volatile
Zatoichi makes for a fascinating chemistry.
The blind swordsman often indulged his penchant for gambling,
and pity those who attempted to cheat the sightless masseur.
"Zatoichi the Outlaw" finds the itinerant swordsman caught
in a battle between rival gambling dens, one of which forgives
the debts of the peasantry in a devious effort to convince
Zatoichi to help them in eliminating the competition. Zatoichi
unravels the scheme and exacts vengeance in a bravura finale.
"Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire" is ambitious in the way
it explores Zatoichi's sorely taxed personal integrity.
His best intentions are met with chicanery, manipulation
and misunderstanding, resulting in heartbreaking tragedy.
Crime lords are selling young women at auction. Zatoichi
steps in on behalf of one such maid, and takes it upon himself
to confront the local Yakuza boss who, in a nifty twist,
is also blind. The boss offers hospitality, all the while
secretly plotting to kill the interloping masseur. As this
is happening, the husband of the woman rescued from auction
is stalking Zatoichi. The film's most harrowing scene finds
Zatoichi trapped on a floating island in a small pond, prodded
by a dozen fire-tipped spears. The surface of the surrounding
water bursts into flame and our hero is nearly roasted alive.
The Zatoichi films never shied away from complexity, as
"Zatoichi at Large" demonstrates. The film opens with the
blind wanderer delivering the baby of a dying woman. Her
final wish is that the baby be taken to her hometown. Zatoichi
makes the journey, leaving the infant with its aunt who
runs a local inn. The inn has only recently been taken over
by the local Yakuza and is being turned into a brothel.
Just as Zatoichi intervenes, the baby's missing father returns,
completely misunderstanding Zatoichi's intentions and blaming
him for the death of his wife. Zatoichi is pressed into
battle against both the local crime bosses and the bereaved
Crime, prostitution and saving face are again key elements
in "Zatoichi in Desperation." The sightless wanderer feels
responsible for the death of an old woman following an accident
on a deteriorating rope bridge. He seeks out the woman's
daughter only to discover that she is one of the most coveted
call girls in rural Japan. In an effort to honor the old
woman in death, he vows to free her daughter from her life
as a prostitute. Not surprisingly, in the course of events,
he manages to bring the wrath of the local Yakuza down upon
The sightless masseur returns to his hometown in "Zatoichi's
Conspiracy." Though he's been away for many years, several
townspeople recall him as a young Hellian. He also discovers
that he has a sister he never knew existed. Far from enjoying
his visit, Zatoichi discovers that a friend from his youth
is involved in a plot to steal the profits earned by the
town's quarry. The series often forced Zatoichi to confront
his past, the choices he's made and the moral quandaries
that result. This film offers one of the series' best depictions
of the blind wanderer's inner conflicts.
"Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman" offers another
dynamic pairing of Asian stars. Yu Wang rose to prominence
as "The One-Armed Swordsman" in the mid-1960s, and is often
credited with helping to usher in the modern era of Hong
Kong martial arts films. Sometimes billed as Jimmy Yu Wang,
he pre-dated Bruce Lee and dominated the market until Lee's
emergence. "The One-Armed Swordsman" was a dark, and very
violent tale and, as was the case with Mifune's Yojimbo,
pairing the slight, brooding Wu with the portly, sly and
sympathetic Shintaro is inspired.
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.
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"It just won't lay down and stay dead!" -- The Head