APRIL 2002

Does anyone know what's happening at AMC? Has American Movie Classics sold out and abandoned their mission? Since when does the 1987 crime-drama, "Cop," qualify as a "classic?" Or "Urban Cowboy," for corn sake? In the case of the Sci Fi Channel, it's almost understandable. They long ago scrapped their late-night lineup of "Thriller," "Science Fiction Theater," "Tales of Tomorrow" and "Men Into Space," recognizing that their demographic skews toward post-boom, Gen-X, neo-Goth geeks. True, AMC still programs genre films, but those broadcasts are usually cleaved by 10-minute commercial blocks, and plastered with pop-up trivia questions and Web site links. And we PAY to watch it. How is this any better than broadcast TV? The difference is barely discernible. It's difficult to believe that these commercial come-ons are effective. How many viewers tuning in to that "classic" film, "The Lords of Discipline," are gonna drop their beer and chips to dash out and buy a new Lexus?


William Witney
Prolific B-movie director, William Witney, died at a nursing home in Pioneer, Calif., following several strokes. He was 86. Witney began his film career in 1933 at Mascot Pictures, which later merged with several small film companies to form Republic Pictures. At 21, Witney became the youngest director in Hollywood. He went on to direct dozens of films of all genres including some of the best-loved serials of the 1930s and 40s. Collaborating with co-director, John English, Witney set the breathless pace to which all other serials would aspire. Among the action-packed, fight-filled chapterplays Witney worked on were "Dick Tracy's G-Men," "Zorro's Fighting Legion," "Drums of Fu Manchu," "King of the Royal Mounted," "The Adventures of Captain Marvel," "The Crimson Ghost," and many others. Witney also directed many B-movie features, including "Santa Fe Passage," "City of Shadows," "Stranger at My Door," "Juvenile Jungle," "The Cool and the Crazy" and "Master of the World."

He worked extensively in television, as well, directing episodes of "Sky King," "Wagon Train," "Zorro," "Bonanza," "Daniel Boone," "Branded" and others. After retiring in the late 1970s, Witney authored two books, "In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase," about his days as a serial director, and "Trigger Remembered," about Roy Rogers' famous horse. Witney was married to B-movie actress, Maxine Doyle, who appeared in "S.O.S. Coast Guard" and "G-Men vs. the Black Dragon," both serials directed by Witney. She passed away in 1973.

Mary Grant Price
Costume designer Mary Grant Price, who was married to Vincent Price for 24 years, died following a brief illness. She was 85. Born in Wales, Price came to the U.S. at age 18 to study dance. At age 21, she was greatly impressed by a Broadway show, and wrote its costume designer, Raoul Pene du Bois, a fan letter. He would later hire her as a designer. Among her design credits are the stage successes, "Oklahoma!" and "Mexican Hayride." Her film credits include "Sweet Smell of Success," "Separate Tables" and "We're No Angels." She married Price in 1949. (He and actress Edith Barrett had divorced the previous year.) In 1965, the Prices collaborated on a "Treasury of Great Recipes." They were divorced in 1973.


Bram Stoker's original manuscript of "Dracula" could sell at auction for as much as $2 million, according to Francis Wahlgren, head of the book department at Christies. The auction house had originally estimated its value at $1 million-$1.5 million. Stoker's finished script was considered lost forever until it turned up in New England in 1980. It was acquired soon after by its current owner, a collector of 19th century books. The 529-page script, which took Stoker seven years to complete, differs from the final version in several regards. It was originally titled "The Un-Dead," but that was changed just days before publication in 1897. It also contains a scene describing the total destruction of Dracula's castle. It has been speculated that this scene was excised because publishers entertained the notion of a sequel. Stoker deleted 102 pages in all. The auction is to be held April 17.

Director Stephen Sommers, who currently oversees Universal's "Mummy" franchise, will helm the studio's "Van Helsing." According to The Hollywood Reporter, the title character, venerable 19th century monster-hunter, Professor Van Helsing, will head for Eastern Europe, there to do battle with the Universal roster of classic monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. Will it be an honest homage to Universal's "House of" films of the 40s, an innovative take on the topic with fresh ideas, or just another plotless, in-joke-laden, CGI, slam-bang no-brainer? Remember, it doesn't have to be a good movie, so long as it's a good "popcorn movie."

Ever wonder what it must have been like to experience a horror or sci-fi classic in one of those old-time "movie palaces" of yore? Well, wipe that wistful tear from your eye and pay attention. The restoration of The Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre at Journal Square in New Jersey is now complete. According to film historian Tom Weaver, "it looks like the Paris Opera House! It's absolutely gorgeous." The Landmark's offerings run the gamut of classic cinema. Of special interest to genre-film fans is an April 27 double-bill matinee, "Brain From Planet Arous" and "Doctor Who and the Daleks" (both presented in widescreen Techniscope), followed that evening by a screening of "Forbidden Planet" in CinemaScope and, for the first time since 1956, Perspecta Stereophonic Sound! If you're anywhere near the neighborhood, make it a point to drop in.
For more info (and there's LOTS more info!), visit:
Be sure to tell the ushers that the B Monster sent you!

It's being billed as "Invasion: Louisville!" The two-day, 2002 Wonderfest science fiction convention gets under way May 25 at the The Executive West Hotel in Louisville, Ky. In addition to scads of modeling "how-to's," demos and contests, the guest list is a nifty mix of filmmakers, artists and authors: Director Joe Dante, actors Kevin "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" McCarthy and Ann "War of the Worlds" Robinson, sci-fi artist and historian Vincent Di Fate, sculptor Carol Bauman, artist Frank Dietz and author Tom Weaver, among others. Special seminars and Q&A sessions in Wonderfest's "Lizard Lounge" include "Joe Dante: From Film Fan to Genre Giant!", Ann Robinson's "Touched by a Martian" and "The Science Fiction Art of Vincent Di Fate," to list but a few. After-hours activities include a theatrical screening of George Pal's "War of the Worlds," and a late-night confab called "Dante's Inferno," featuring the director and McCarthy watching clips and swapping quips.
For more info, visit: http://www.wonderfest.com
Better tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Here's an item that may be of interest to the B Monster's Wisconsin constituency. The American Reform Party's candidate for governor of that great state is Bill Rebane. That's right, the same Bill Rebane who directed "Invasion from Inner Earth," "Blood Harvest" and "Monster a-Go Go," is up for the state's top job, advocating a "safe, wholesome & prosperous Wisconsin." And Rebane isn't playing down his B-movie past; quite the contrary. Among his accomplishments listed at the ARP Web site you'll find the following: "Created and directed one of the 50 top grossing films of 1975, 'The Giant Spider Invasion,' starring Alan Hale Jr., Barbara Hale, Leslie Parish, Robert Easton and Steve Brodie."

The Reformists tout Rebane as "an accomplished motion picture industry business man, well-versed in all areas of production, marketing, financing and distribution," as well as "a media and special trade representative for the Free Republic of Estonia, authorized by the Congress of Estonia." "My campaign platform is that I am a non-politician," Rebane says in an interview posted at the site. "Politicians are out of touch with reality. Unless he is a real statesman, it doesn't take a professional politician to represent people." Check it out: http://www.americanreform.org/Wisconsin/

And speaking of Big Bill Rebane, the gang at Retromedia are poised to release his 1975 classic, "The Giant Spider Invasion," on DVD. Video interviews, a selection of stills and the original trailer are part of the package. Also available from the Retro gang is the quirky "Kong Island." This disc features both the American version and the uncut (hubba hubba) European version of this schlock oddity. "The Brides Wore Red" and "Garden of the Dead" round out the lineup of April releases. Retromedia also has announced that it has obtained the long sought-after license for the little-seen "Deathmaster," starring Robert "Count Yorga" Quarry. The film will be completely restored from the original 35mm negative and will feature Quarry's commentary audio track.

Also in the process of being restored -- from "the only known surviving 35mm COLOR theatrical print" -- is Roger Corman's doomsday classic, "The Last Woman On Earth," starring Betsy-Jones Moreland who, along with costar, Anthony Carbone, will provide audio commentary. The disc also will include the 35mm color trailer, an assortment of stills and scenes that were shot for the film's television release. Last, and certainly not least, is a new digital transfer of the poverty row quickie (I suppose that's redundant) "The Mad Monster," featuring an audio interview with the film's late star, Glenn Strange.
Find out more at: http://www.retromedia.org
Be sure to tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

And as if all the news emanating from Retromedia weren't exciting enough, head Retro honcho, Fred Olen Ray, director and producer of many a heartfelt and horny homage to B-movies past, has been honored with his own Yahoo discussion group. According to the group's founder, "Fred Olen Ray has entertained all kinds of audiences with his talented casts and fun scripts. This is a group dedicated to his inspiration and enthusiasm of film. Fred has entertained us all in all kinds of genres, from Westerns to Mobs to Horror and Science Fiction. His goal is to entertain, and Fred Olen Ray does that and inspires all who are interested in making and watching films." You can chat Fred up at:

The B Monster's buddy -- director, producer, writer, editor, pundit, seer, sage, soothsayer -- Ted Bohus, has unleashed a nifty new version of his neo-cult classic "The Deadly Spawn." Available from Synapse Films, this special edition disc features the uncut version of the film, new special effects, audio commentary by Ted, and what the director describes as, "tons of extras, and a few surprises." (What could cuddly, garrulous Ted Bohus do at this point that could possibly surprise us? Talk about scary!)

The WB network is giving "The Lone Ranger" the "Smallville" treatment. According to SoundwavesTV, a teen-targeted reincarnation of the western legend, addressing his angst-plagued (we're guessing) pre-Ranger years, is in the works. Actor Chad Murray of "Dawson's Creek" will portray the masked man aided by Nathaniel Archard as Tonto. (May we suggest Sonic the Hedgehog as Silver?) Casting directors are looking for western-types with one proviso: No one over 30 years of age.

But wait, there's more! Variety reports that Columbia Pictures has coughed up $1.5 million for the rights to produce a feature film version of "The Lone Ranger." (Let's charitably forgo mentioning the 1981 big-screen debacle starring Klinton Spilsbury as the masked rider.) Columbia says the projecte budget for the film is $70 million. Reportedly, the studio hopes to duplicate the success of their 1998 version of "Zorro," which starred Antonio Banderas. And it looks like they're leaving nothing to chance: According to one Variety source, the part of Tonto might be played by a buxom female! (Ooh La La, Silver!) The man who brought you "Gladiator," Doug Wick, and his wife Lucy Fisher, will produce.

According to Variety, Peter "End of Days," "The Relic" Hyams will direct a feature film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic story "A Sound of Thunder." Reportedly, Edward "Saving Private Ryan" Burns is being considered for the central role of the time-traveling, big-game hunter whose carelessness wreaks havoc with history.

Here's a sad bit of news from Great Britain: Harry Nadler, a tireless proponent of the virtues of fantasy cinema and the driving force behind Manchester's annual Festival of Fantastic Films, has died following a heart attack. Nadler and friends produced their own fantasy films in the 60s and 70s. Nadler also published the L'Incroyable Cinema fanzine. In the course of its 12-year history, the Manchester Festival hosted the likes of Freddie Francis, Jimmy Sangster, Caroline Munro, Paul Naschy, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley and Val Guest. Richard Gordon and Janina Faye were regular attendees. Last year's highlight was a screening of "King Kong" hosted by Ray Harryhausen.

Readers of Cinefantastique will recognize the name J.P. Harris who, for 15 years, contributed capsule reviews of genre-related films and television programs to the long-running 'zine. Now, Harris has collected 300 of them in a new tome called "Time Capsule," culled from work published between 1987-1991. According to Harris, this "is not a typical book of reviews that encompasses every single genre film, but a snapshot of films and TV shows released in a period when there was a huge output of genre product." You can procure a copy at:
Or you can call toll-free: 1-877-823-9235 It's soon to be available at Books a Million , Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com

By some accounts, Benjamin Frankel was the highest-paid British composer of film music in the 1950s. His versatility might be one reason why. One need only scan the breadth of genres showcased in the new CPO label CD, "Benjamin Frankel, Music for the Movies." In addition to work with Noel Coward and a 1951 violin concerto, "In Memory of the Six Million," dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, Frankel scored over 100 films. Included here are cues from, "The Importance Of Being Earnest," "Night of the Iguana," "Trottie True," "The Years In Between," "Footsteps in the Fog" and "Curse of the Werewolf," as played by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Werner Andreas Albert. To track down your copy, visit: http://www.naxos.com

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF STUNNING UNORIGINALITY: REMAKE UPDATE "They" plan on remaking the following films, and we are powerless to stop them:
"The Manchurian Candidate," to be co-produced by Tina Sinatra
"Solaris," featuring George Clooney in an update of the Russian sci-fi epic
"Flight of the Phoenix," with no star yet named to replace Jimmy Stewart
"Billy Jack," starring -- wait for it -- Keanu Reeves
Sam Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," with Benicio Del Toro
"Walking Tall," (let's see, who's the Gen-X equivalent of Joe Don Baker?)
"The Singing Detective," the terrific British teleseries written by Dennis Potter. Robert Downey Jr. will replace Michael Gambon
"The In-Laws," with Michael Douglas replacing either Alan Arkin or Peter Falk, we're not sure which.
"Seven Samurai" ("Ocean's 11" minus four?)
And, not a remake but, what the hey -- Michael Myers will star as Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat."


It isn't exactly science fiction, and it certainly isn't horror. It isn't exactly a comedy, nor is it a drama. Was it is, exactly, is a film I loved that no one else seems to have bothered with. The titular "Dish" is an antenna located in a remote part of Australia. This antenna was crucial in monitoring the historic 1969 moon landing. That much is factual. I doubt that much else about the film is 100% historically accurate -- which is not to say it doesn't feel 100% authentic. It does. The "stars" of this modest effort are Sam Neill as an Aussie scientist and "Seinfeld's" Patrick Warburton as his visiting NASA counterpart. The pacing is snappy but not rushed, and the script is simultaneously humorous and moving. The Australian locals are colorful but not patronized (forget those Foster's beer ads and Paul Hogan in his big, dumb hat), with every performance spot on.

Every character, from the local dignitaries who are proud to play such an important role in this historic event, to the scientists who persevere through nail-biting radio blackouts, are conscious of the landing's importance to the morale of humanity. Despite the naysayers and pessimists who viewed lunar exploration as frivolous, there were those who looked upon the moon landing and said, "Damn! We can do anything." "The Dish" is about those people.

Some people accuse the B Monster of being too hard on modern horror movies. Well, here's an instance where we'll step back and let the contemporary filmmakers make our case for us. First of all, this is not the Alex Gordon golden oldie starring Marla English and Paul Blaisdell's foam rubber femme. This is one of that crop of made-for-cable "Creature Features" filmed under the auspices of effects-wiz Stan Winston and producer Lou Arkoff. It is not a remake, nor does it bear any resemblance to the original. It's a vehicle to showcase the impressive creature effects. (Make no mistake, Winston and his crew are brilliant at what they do.) As the commentary track explains, these films are "inspired by" the original titles. (More on that shortly.) This is not a very good movie. The telepathic mermaid premise devolves into "Alien" set aboard a turn-of-the-century frigate. We even get the classic Sigourney Weaver face-to-face with salivating Alien shot, only this time, it's the sea beastie pressed up against actress Carla Gogino. Not a similar shot, the SAME shot -- TWICE!

The real highlight of this disk is the audio commentary by Winston and co-producer/effects man Shane Mahan. It is hilarious in that they have absolutely nothing to say (although admittedly they are very good at telling us exactly what we're seeing on the screen at that very moment). For starters, they explain that this film was originally based on "War of the Colossal Beast," but they changed the title in mid-production. They were shooting a script about a gorgeous, Victorian-era, mermaid and suddenly realized that "War of the Colossal Beast" may not be the most suitable title. At one point in the film, Gogino's character discovers that she is mysteriously pregnant, and even these guys -- who MADE the movie -- aren't sure how this happened. ("Wait, when was she impregnated?") Didn't anyone read the script? A crucial plot point, and two of the PRODUCERS aren't sure when, how or why it happened. Later, they forget a key character's name, actually calling her "what's her name." (Couldn't they record a second take?) Other insights include, "She's such a good actress," "She's really good here," and "Oh, she's good." Apparently bored themselves, the commentators descend to gossip: "Did you know that Carla and Sebastian were a ..." "A couple? No, I ..." "Yep. And Gil Bellows and ..." (I wonder if they were wearing those big hair-dryer bonnets while recording?) Okay, you be the judge: They didn't even know which film they were "inspired by" until they were halfway through shooting, can't recall the names of characters they expect us to care about, don't understand what's happening in their own movie and borrow shamelessly from other, better movies. Your verdict?

An "ambitious bore" might be a charitable way to describe this stale retelling of the Jules Verne tale. It's Korny with a capital "K," and Joseph Cotton and George Sanders chew the scenery right down to its niblets. Normally, this would be enough to keep a genre-film fan such as yours truly genuinely enthralled, but it hardly compensates for the lack of excitement surrounding this tortured trek to the moon. There are lots of fat guys in waistcoats and top hats who harrumph a lot, and I suppose that's an attempt to give it a period flavor. Once we're aboard the creaking, groaning, Victorian rocketship, the film slows to an untenable pace. (Halfway to the moon and we're out of story. What will we do?) Director Byron Haskin was capable of much better work, which suggests he had little control over how the film turned out -- or maybe he just didn't care. (By the way, the "guest cameo" closing shot is a hoot.) Skip this trip.

A terrific example of just how selective The B Monster's memory can be. Seen while a youngster, one remembers the iron-clad sphere, the subterranean city, the rampaging caterpillar, the bug-like Selenites. What you realize upon re-examination is just how much of it is long-winded preamble. In fact, your enjoyment of the film will depend in large measure on how much you enjoy the comedic stylings of Lionel Jeffries. Much screen time is devoted to his "absent-minded professor" character, blustery and befuddled in that British, "pip pip, jolly good show" sort of way. MUCH screen time!

As the U.N. embarks on its first Lunar foray, authorities turn up an aged Edward Judd, who claims he and his party visited the moon some 65 years earlier. Employing a flashback to relate Judd's tale is a nifty hook, but there's just too much Victorian palaver before we get to animator Ray Harryhausen's cool stuff, of which there is relatively little. Director Nathan Juran's career, including his films with Harryhausen ("20 Millions Miles To Earth," etc.), "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" and, of course, "Hellcats of the Navy," was erratic and fitfully successful. This is not one of the successes.

Producer Richard Gordon's string of late '50s-early ;60s British shockers is an underrated lot that includes "First Man Into Space," "Fiend Without A Face" and "The Haunted Strangler." All are solid efforts well worth re-examining. Of the Dick Gordon-produced films of this period, "Devil Doll" is the one I could never warm up to. Even viewed in the context of its release date (1964), the "evil puppet come-to-life" bit was timeworn (1945's "Dead of Night" probably being the best handling of the scenario. Even 1929's "The Great Gabbo" had its moments). And there's something about leading man Bryant Haliday's stubbornly ice-cold performance that keeps the viewer -- at least this viewer -- from becoming fully engaged. Sidney J. Furie's direction is serviceable and William Sylvester and Yvonne Romain are fine in supporting roles, but we're kept at arm's length throughout by the tired script and Haliday's cold-fish portrayal.


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, whose books are available at http://www.amazon.com

Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html

Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html

And the good folks at Image Entertainment, http://www.image-entertainment.com

"Co-ed beauty captive of man-monster!" -- Monster on the Campus http://www.bmonster.com

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