APRIL 2004


Legendary illustrator Jack Davis has created an image exclusively for the B Monster to be used on t-shirts, baseball jerseys and other collateral material. That's right, one of the world's most renowned cartoonists, Mad magazine, EC comics legend Jack Davis, the man behind the famous six-foot Frankenstein that haunted the pages of 1960s monster mags (and the bedroom walls of many a monster kid), the man who created the "You'll Die Laughing" trading cards, designed characters for "Mad Monster Party" and illustrated myriad movie posters and album and magazine covers, has rendered a mirthful, macabre B Monster. The image will be used in promoting the forthcoming B Monster book, to be published by Dinoship in the coming year. Let the word go forth: The "B Monster Store" is open! You can stop haunting eBay for pricey monster collectibles. We're introducing NEW, retro collectibles. It's NEW monster memorabilia by an artist who helped mold your monster kid memories. It's JACK DAVIS, for Pete's sake! Jack's stunning, full-color rendering, configured with the B Monster logo, is now available on t-shirts, sweatshirts, mousepads, coffee mugs and more! (The image will, of course, be featured on the book cover, as well). What are you waiting for? Get yours before they're gone! Go to: http://www.cafeshops.com/bmonster And bring your credit card with you! As always, the B Monster donates a portion of his proceeds to Childhelp USA, helping abused and neglected children.

And, when your spending spree is over, check out the B Monster's spiffy Website makeover!

Frances Dee
Actress Frances Dee, best known to cult-movie fans for her understated portrayal as nurse Betsy Connell in the 1943 horror classic "I Walked With A Zombie," has died. She was 94. Dee was born in Los Angeles, where her Army officer father was stationed, and grew up in Chicago after her dad was transferred there. In 1929, he was re-assigned to L.A., and (as a lark) Dee began working in motion pictures as an extra; her debut was in "Words and Music" with Lois Moran. After playing her breakthrough role in "Playboy of Paris" opposite Maurice Chevalier, she met Joel McCrea on the set of the 1933 film "The Silver Cord"; following a whirlwind courtship, the two were married later that year in Rye, N.Y. In 1970, she and McCrea were rumored to be worth between $50 million and $100 million. She was married to McCrea for 57 years until his death in 1990. Dee hadn't acted since the mid-'50s, and maintained she didn't miss it.

At age 90, she was a guest of the 1998 Memphis Film Festival, where she was a huge hit with fans. "I Walked With A Zombie," was screened at the festival, and audience members gathered around Dee for an impromptu Q&A. She recalled that producer Val Lewton was very introverted, but a real gentleman, and there was something about him "that you just knew he was an artist." She recalled one line of dialogue about the Hippocratic oath, but remembered little else about the filming. It was all new to her, watching it there that day. She said she thought it was "moody" and "eerie," and that she had put her "best face" on it. Later, sharing an elevator with film historian Tom Weaver, she said candidly that she thought the film was rather depressing. She did not seem at all impressed by it, saying sarcastically of the screening, "Well, wasn't THAT uplifting!"

Every so often we hear from a Hollywood buzz freak who points out that a B Monster item is relatively "old news" by the time our newsletter reaches their inbox. "I read about Paula Raymond's passing two weeks ago in The Hollywood Reporter," or "I knew Miramax had that in the works a month ago." Well, guess what? We have thousands of subscribers who don't read Variety every day. (Can you imagine?) They don't consult the trades to see what Harvey Weinstein has in the pipeline. They simply like vintage horror and science fiction pictures, and appreciate any news related to them. This is not a Website for tinsel town insiders. It's for the stock clerk who spends his lunch hour tracking down the name of the dimly remembered movie about the giant crabs. It's for the office temp or auto mechanic who wants to share happy, childhood monster memories with their kid. They don't hang on Jerry Bruckheimer's every word, and they're sick to death of JLo and Ben (or Flecklo, or BenPez, or whatever the hell they want to be called). They like old movies and old movie-related things, and they particularly appreciate our take on the topic. We've gotten thousands of e-mails that bear this out. There are film sites with boundless monetary resources that can bring you breaking gossip about contemporary films. But this is where you'll learn about Wonderfest, Chiller, Monster Bash, self-published books, independent films, horror-themed garage bands, live spook shows, film revival programs, and read the contributions and opinions of some of the best and most knowledgeable writers covering the genre. Got it, Mr. Insider? Good.

And, blushing with B Monster modesty, we must add that we're still one of Yahoo's Top 10 most popular film sites, sharing the list with the likes of Premier, Movieline and Boxoffice. We couldn't have done it without you. Thank you.

"Time and again you trash new sci-fi movies and wildly overpraise old ones. You point out the shortcomings of a truly awesome film like "The Matrix," but you'll defend a piece of amateurish junk cinema like "Giant From the Unknown." You point out that a stylish thriller like "The Cell" is gratuitously violent, but contend that the violence in William Castle's movies was as innocently contrived as a campfire ghost story. Do you honestly think that horror films are more cynical and pernicious today than they used to be? Are you really so myopic that you'll stand by your blanket assertion that old horror films are superior to contemporary ones? Are you really that narrow-minded, resolute and just plain arrogant?"
Signed, neopicard007



If a diverse and impressive guest list is the measure of a film con, few compare with the Chiller Theatre convention. This staggering showcase, hosted by the self-described "Jerry Garcia of Horror Fandom," Kevin Clement, is a Jersey-based fan spectacular that attracts throngs of horrorphiles, movie lovers and autograph hounds from around the world who partake in celeb meet-and-greets, and plunge headlong into memorabilia-packed dealer's rooms. Clement & Co. have built the enterprise into a twice yearly, celebrity-studded success that jam-packs 'em in every Spring and Halloween! The Chiller crew has also reinvigorated their Website. In addition to complete convention info, you'll find nostalgic Quicktime film clips, dealer and contest information, retrospectives of Chiller shows past and links to Chiller-friendly sites.

The Spring show commences April 23 at the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel in beautiful E. Rutherford, N. J., and the guest list, as we've come to expect, is eclectic and impressive:

Adam West, TV's "Batman"
Frank Gorshin, TV's Riddler and co-star of "Invasion of the the Saucer Men"
Connie Stevens, star of "Two On A Guillotine" and formerly Crickett Blake of TV's "Hawaiian Eye"
Martine Beswicke, of "Thunderball" and "One Million Years B.C."
Ted A. Bohus, the "Deadly Spawn"-master
Ruth Buzzi of "Laugh-In" fame
William Christopher, Father Mulcahy of TV's "M*A*S*H"
Kim Darby, star of "True Grit" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
Lou Ferrigno, the Incredible Hulk himself
Basil Gogos, monster-piece painter
Richard Hatch, late of TV's "Battlestar Galactica"
Bill Hinzman, "Night of the Living Dead," veteran
Ron Jeremy, yes THAT Ron Jeremy, celebrated (if that's the right word) adult film star
Michael Wm. Kaluta, illustrator extraordinaire
Ted V. Mikels, director of "The Astro-Zombies" and "Blood Orgy of the She Devils"
Caroline Munro, whose credits include "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" and "The Spy Who Loved Me"
Betsy Palmer, who we loved on "I've Got A Secret," and adored in "Friday the 13th"
Patricia Quinn of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" renown
Kasey Rogers, who appeared in "When Worlds Collide" as well as TV's "Bewitched"
Tom Savini, pioneering gore effects maven
Brinke Stevens, queen of low-budget screams
Larry Thomas, who you'll recognize as "Seinfeld's" Soup Nazi
Grace Lee Whitney, who portrayed Janice Rand on the original "Star Trek" series
Zacherley, late-night legend and Chiller Theatre mascot

Still not sated? There will also be a "Land Of The Giants Reunion," featuring Gary Conway, Don Marshall, Deanna Lund, Don Matheson, Heather Young and Stefan Arngrim

And a 40th anniversary celebration of "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea," with David Hedison, Terry Becker, Del Monroe and Allan Hunt

And, a 39th anniversary spotlight on "Lost In Space," with Mark Goddard and Marta Kristen

There are still more guests, but the B Monster's fingertips are bloodied from pounding out this much of the roster! That date again is April 23. Check out:
Tell Kevin and his cretinous conventioneers the B Monster sent you!

Has Godzilla stomped Tokyo for the last time? According to a BBC News report, his home studio, Toho, says it may be time to retire the big lizard. This proves how tough showbiz can be on a major star -- a dinosaur millions of years old is calling it quits after only 50 years in the film business. Executive producer Shogo Tomiyama told the Associated Press, "We have done all we can to showcase Godzilla, including using computer-graphics technology. And yet we haven't attracted new fans." December will see the release of "Godzilla: Final Wars," a Japanese monster rally starring 10 Toho titans. According to Toho spokesman, Yukihiko Mochida, the Big G could be resuscitated if a "new generation of directors emerge or a brand new filmmaking method is found to create a whole new world." The B Monster isn't sure what that statement means. A "new world?" What's wrong with the tried and true movie magic? A guy puts on a rubber suit and crushes models underfoot. This requires the collective efforts of an entire "new generation?" The prehistoric star of 28 films could not be reached for comment, as he is vacationing on Monster Island with Manda and Baragon, but backstage dissent has been brewing at Toho for years owing to Gamera's uncontrollable rectal emissions.

The animated companion film to Universal's much-anticipated "Van Helsing," is not a "further adventures of" story, but a prequel to the live-action feature. Combining what publicity calls "cutting edge animation" with what publicity calls "thrilling adventure," "Van Helsing: The London Assignment," is slated for an April 27 release. But will it emphasize the aforementioned "edge," or cater to kiddies who won't be able to attend the purportedly gore-filled, big-screen version? By now, you've no doubt seen the poster art, trailer or TV ad spot and realize that the kindly professor of the occult has been re-invented as a cross between Blade and Robert E. Howard's two-fisted, globe-trotting Puritan, Solomon Kane. The plot of the animated feature -- and clocking in at a half-hour, the term doesn't really apply -- involves Van Helsing being sent to foggy town by the Knights of the Holy Order to put an end to the nastiness being perpetrated by Mr. Hyde. It features the voices of live-action Van Helsing, Hugh Jackman, Robbie Coltrane, Alun Armstrong and David Wenham, and is "loaded with bonus features." These include cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes special effects stuff. Now, if you're a classic horror purist, and find the whole idea of adding a contemporary "edge" to your favorite Golden Age monsters repellent, there may be an antidote. Read on ...

The Universal mavens in charge of conceiving future collectibles have come up with a doozy of a "Van Helsing" tie-in that should settle the nerves of hardcore vintage monster buffs disturbed by "Van Helsing's" retooling of the classic creatures. It's called "The Monster Legacy Gift Set." The B Monster told you a while back that "Frankenstein," "Dracula" and "Wolf Man" legacy collections were being released to coincide with Universal's newest monster rally. But you can also get the whole shebang in one affordable (for now) set that also includes meticulously sculpted, hand-painted miniature busts of the horror "big three" courtesy of the folks at Sideshow Collectibles.

All of the films have been "completely remastered," according to the hype. And, just in case the timeliness of this release is lost on you, the publicity goes on to state that "each Legacy Collection features an exclusive look at how these classics inspired the director of 'Van Helsing.'" Well, not exactly the MAIN reason I'd buy it, but okay. Here's a more detailed run down:


"Dracula" (with and without a score added in 1999 by composer Philip Glass) Commentary by film Historian David Skal Featurettes: "Stephen Sommers' Movie Monsters" and "The Road to Dracula" "'Dracula' Archives" Theatrical trailer Photo gallery Cast and filmmaker biographies

"Dracula's Daughter" Theatrical trailer Photo gallery Poster and photo montage

"Son of Dracula" "House of Dracula"


"Frankenstein" Commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer Featurettes: "Stephen Sommers' Movie Monsters," "Frankenstein Files: 'How Hollywood Made a Monster,'" "Boo!" "'Frankenstein' Archives" Theatrical trailer Production notes Cast and filmmakers' biographies Photo gallery

"Bride of Frankenstein" Commentary by film historian Scott MacQueen "'Bride of Frankenstein' Archives" Featurette: "She's Alive: Creating the 'Bride of Frankenstein'" Theatrical trailer Production notes Cast and filmmakers' biographies Photo gallery

"Son of Frankenstein" "House of Frankenstein" "Ghost of Frankenstein"


"The Wolf Man" Commentary by film historian Tom Weaver Featurettes: "Stephen Sommers' Movie Monsters," "Monster by Moonlight" "'The Wolf Man' Archives" Theatrical trailer Production notes Cast and filmmakers' biographies Photo gallery

"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" "Werewolf of London" "She-Wolf of London"

They got all of this on six disks (and we may have left a few things out!), and it's beautifully packaged with the three collectible busts. Sure, they're capitalizing on the collecto-mania of boomer geeks like you and me. Universal continues to recognize the value of their horror heritage. (If only they'd invest such care and circumspection in their contemporary films.) Whether they're exploiting our nostalgia or honoring it is a matter of opinion. We've seen this set listed on the Web at prices ranging from $59.99 to $79.99. (This is actually not a bad deal.) But it's only a matter of time before dealers begin scooping them up by the truckload, later to resell them to hapless eBay bidders at monstrously inflated prices. Our fear is that Universal will arbitrarily declare this a "Limited Edition Collectible" at some point, driving scalpers to boost prices even higher. (Remember what happened with "This Island Earth?")

Doug Higley's self-published book, "Scary Dark Rides," is officially available, and comes packaged with an audio CD of the author, an experienced and respected voice actor, reading his paean to the midway rides and mechanized spookhouses of the past, present and future. Higley, a frequent contributor to theme ride publications, eloquently and nostalgically recounts his childhood experiences with thrill rides, and describes in accessible prose such attractions as "Dante's Inferno," "The Spelunker" and "The Geister Bahn." And who knew the innocuous Knott's Berry Farm was transformed into the foreboding Knott's SCARY Farm every Halloween? Higley's treatise encompasses theater spook shows, midway banner artists, the famous Zachinni Brothers (of human cannonball fame) thrill ride pioneer, Gene Tracy, as well as Higley's friendships with 1950s creature creator Paul Blaisdell and Japanese monster-maker Eji Tsuburaya.

The book serves not only as a primer on the history of dark carnival attractions, but as a firsthand chronicle of how Americans grew up and, sadly, grew jaded. Higley chooses an appropriate quote from Walt Disney to underscore his point: "Too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old." Higley says he had reservations about including the CD. He needn't have. It makes for an entertaining supplement, and would make for a nifty serialized radio feature, on NPR, for instance. From traveling, horse-drawn attractions to "Jurassic Park: The Ride," Higley's dedication to the topic and unabashed nostalgia are admirable. (And how can you not like a guy who cites "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" as one of THE defining documents of the 20th Century?) Check out:
Tell 'em for sure the B Monster sent you!

Stop-motion effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen will be signing his new book, "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," April 22 at the Edwards South Coast Village Cinema in Santa Ana, California. A screening of a newly re-mastered print of the Harryhausen-animated classic "Jason and the Argonauts" will follow the signing. Ray will be in California until the end of April for other signing events, but promoters point out that this is the only appearance to be accompanied by a screening with Harryhausen in attendance. The event gets under way at 7:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online at:
or at the door (cash only). Be sure and tell Ray the B Monster sent you!

Tying in with all of the Legacy Collection and "Van Helsing" hoopla, Universal (via Visionary Media) has initiated a "Universal Classic Monsters Amateur Art Contest." The competition is limited to non-pros and divided into two age groups: Up to 14-years-old, and 15 and older. Entrants can choose one of three subjects: Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster or The Wolf Man. The official entry rules state that, "all artwork must be created entirely by the submitting artist. All two-dimensional hand-manipulated forms for art medium are acceptable. Oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, water colors, pencils, and crayons are acceptable. We will NOT accept any computer design, computer illustration [ed. Why the heck not?], or digital photography." But don't think you can dash off a cliched rendering of a gaunt-faced, flat-headed, bolt-necked Karloff clone. The rules clarify that "this should be the artist's completely original conception of the character, and not based on any previous versions that have appeared in film, TV, or any other artistic medium." All submissions must be postmarked by April 10. (The short notice isn't the B Monster's fault. We were only notified in time for our April 1 newsletter and get the impression that the contest was a last-minute brainstorm.) What does the big winner get? The Grand Prize is the complete Monster Legacy Box Set. Five runners-up in each age group will win an individual Monster Legacy DVD set for their chosen character. The panel of judges is composed of "prominent Hollywood makeup artists." So, if you're quick with a pen or brush, send your artwork, along with name, age and phone number to: Universal Classic Monsters Amateur Art Contest Visionary Cinema P.O. Box 1722 Glendora, CA 91740-1722

DreamWorks SKG is reportedly preparing a "Time Machine" mini-series that will pick up where the 2002, big screen version left off. According to the Dreamworks fan site, executive producer Arnold Leibovit is negotiating with The David Wolper Organization and Warner Brothers to undertake the project. Why? The feature film was an $80 million financial disappointment that recouped $56.6 million. Directed by author H.G. Wells' great grandson, Simon, the film suffered through a torturous, rumor-filled genesis, resulting in an unfocused adventure that disappointed many sci-fi fans. But a mini-series might be mounted relatively inexpensively utilizing existing expensive props and effects. No word on who might return from the film's cast, but leading man Guy Pearce made it clear at the time of the film's release that he was fed up with Hollywood.

Rumors regarding a "Dark Shadows" feature film based on the 1960s Gothic horror soap opera have been floating for years. And as we mentioned some time ago, one source claimed that Johnny Depp was up for the role of the darkly romantic vampire Barnabas Collins. Now, Variety reports that "Dark Shadows" will be reincarnated, not as a feature, but as a WB television series to be directed by "X-Files" veteran Rob Bowman. So, why did the WB cancel "Angel?" Guess there just wasn't room on the sched for two hunky vamps.

Miramax is making a new, feature film version of "The Green Hornet," based on the classic radio character created in the 1930s (who also appeared in comic books, movies, and a 1960s TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee). Filmmaker/comics maven Kevin Smith will direct. A sidebar: Please, Kevin, don't make him a snarky, ironic, leather-clad Gen-Xer with little or no moral agenda who lashes out in tantrums of Tarantino-style violence. Make him a hero. Please?

In a move that demonstrates just how seriously the Experience Science Fiction museum is taking its mission, former NASA engineer Donna Shirley has been named director of the Seattle-based facility initially bankrolled by Microsoft tycoon Paul Allen. Shirley, who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for more than three decades, eventually overseeing the Mars Exploration Program, claims she's been a sci fi fan since age 11. Shirley will act as creative director, organizing programs and exhibits chronicling science fiction history, and showcasing contributions made to our culture by science fiction creators. The museum, scheduled to open in June, will also feature a Science Fiction Hall of Fame. ESF lists Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison and Ray Harryhausen among its many advisers. According to the official Website, the museum's membership program, and info regarding major gift opportunities, will be unveiled early this month. For more info, visit:
Be sure and tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Writer Cheryl Duran is one of the prime movers behind TheMonsterClub.com Website. She's also one of the publishers of the Monster News fanzine, a nostalgic, fans-eye view of movie monsters past and the people attempting to preserve them. The ambitious Monster Club crew now has three trade paperback treatises in circulation; "The Monster Club.com Guide to Horror," "written for fans who dig horror movies, facts about favorite films, shows, stars and more," was followed by "Monster News: The Book," which features select articles from previously published issues of the 'zine. Duran recently completed "Monster Movie Memories: From Movie Palace to Drive-In," which casts a wide cult-movie net covering everything "from campy wonders like 'Billy The Kid vs. Dracula' to fabulous Universal offerings such as 'Bride of Frankenstein.'" Each brief write-up lists stars, trivia tidbits, a plot synopsis and a "Spotlight On" feature offering a brief bio of an actor, writer, director or producer. There are essays covering drive-ins, movie gimmicks and advertising art. If your favorite film didn't make this edition (and mine didn't; where the heck is "Giant From the Unknown"?!), you can take it up with the kids in The Monster Club:
Make a point of saying the B Monster sent you!


To review, or not to review. This question is appropriate because Buena Vista shipped this disk to stores, only to hastily recall it and postpone the official release indefinitely. (For the record, you can now "pre-order" it through Amazon.com and others outlets.) A few critics claiming "insider" status got hold of copies and reviewed the release. We simply went to eBay, where online opportunists lay in wait for suckers like the B Monster. There seemed plenty to be had (at inflated cost, of course). So, we'll review this edition of the "Special Edition," because the NEXT edition might not be the same edition, as nobody -- not even Buena Vista -- seems to know why this edition was recalled.

Let's start with the extras, as they seem the likely reason for the recall. Why? Because I get the impression that no one put much thought into creating them. Maybe somebody (Tim Burton perhaps?) got a load of this hash of film clips and talking heads, and said, "Whoa Nelly!" (Okay, probably not.) The interface is a beauty; we look over the silhouetted shoulders of a movie audience staring at a screen displaying the feature selections and Johnny Depp's bemused, grinning face. Click on a special features option, and the film breaks, causing the animated audience to hurl popcorn and cups at the screen. Then, it's on to the extras, the best of which is simply several minutes of on-the-set home movies, in black-and-white and color, showing Burton, Depp, Martin Landau and crew at work. There's no narration, the only context being Johnny Depp in drag introducing the footage, ad-libbing humorously and self-effacingly. The lack of narration and interrupting talking heads is this bit's chief asset. Thank goodness no one is jabbering away about method and technique. It's just straightforward footage of guys having fun making a movie about a guy having fun making a movie.

Cue the talking heads. Rick Baker talks lucidly about the makeup required to transform Landau into Bela Lugosi. Landau speaks with admiration of Lugosi, making reference to the many grade Z films that were unworthy of Bela's talent. (Landau claims he screened "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" several times, fascinated by its ineptitude.) It's edifying enough, but not of substantial merit to be called a "special" feature.

The extra about designing and creating the look of the film will be of interest to hardcore film buffs who love behind-the-scenes minutiae. Many production sketches and prop concepts are displayed and discussed in depth. It's interesting stuff for us B-movie loonies, but again, not quite "special." Composer Howard Shore talks briefly about the film's score, and there's a theremin demonstration that could easily have been trimmed by a minute or two. And, did you know there was an "Ed Wood" music video? It's part of this package and, at the risk of repetition; it's nothing "special." Likewise, the "deleted scenes," which are definitely amusing, but all too abbreviated to deserve "special" status.

Call it a bow to political correctness or just plain curiosity value, but there's also a feature on transvestism. (Is there ANYONE reading this who doesn't know that Wood was a transvestite?) There are interviews with transvestites and members of a transvestite advocacy group. A male cross-dresser appears on camera with his wife, who maintains she is accepting, but looks like she's about to jump out of her skin.

The biggest disappointment should have been the "Special Edition's" greatest asset; the commentary track. Instead of commenting on specific aspects of the film as it rolls, it would seem that several interviews were recorded at different times in different places and then simply spliced together and played while the movie was screened. Only writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski ever comment on a scene as it's occurring onscreen, and then, only rarely. Otherwise, they yack, yack, yack away about their backgrounds and how the project came about -- which might have made a decent supplement, but makes for a very poor audio commentary. Worse, Landau's comments are simply the audio track from the "recreating Lugosi" video feature! (In fairness, several musings that didn't make the cut of that video feature turn up in the audio commentary.)

As to "Ed Wood" itself, director Tim Burton's quirky film about the cult-movie critics' favorite whipping boy is also his best (with the possible exception of his early short film "Frankenweenie"). It evoked a mixed reaction from those familiar with Wood and his work. For longstanding fans of the transvestite auteur, the film validated their perverse appreciation of Wood's incompetent filmmaking. These connoisseurs of cult films were thrilled to pieces that one of their own had been "recognized" by the mainstream. Others pointed out (correctly) that the film goes nowhere; there's no plot to speak of, just a series of vignettes depicting Wood's aspirations and foibles. This approach -- tenuously stringing together a series of handsome set-pieces -- is common to just about every Tim Burton film, but it's a criticism inappropriate to this particular subject; by most accounts, Wood's life WAS a series of curious vignettes, struggles, dreams and despairs. (The script does not chronicle Wood's descent into alcoholism, porn and poverty, concentrating on its subject's pluck and oblivious determination.)

Still others simply revile the film for its inaccuracies. Veteran B-movie producer Alex Gordon, for instance, deplored its depiction of Bela Lugosi as foul-mouthed and temperamental. Gordon knew both Lugosi and Wood intimately, and recalled Lugosi as a man who, in spite of years of drug abuse and ignominy, remained a gentleman and never uttered a curse in his life. (A few minutes of audio commentary are used to justify this depiction of Lugosi as vulgar-tongued. Briefly stated, writers Alexander and Karaszewski simply thought it was funny to have Lugosi cursing. Landau says the same. But they're careful to rationalize that it makes his character "more human" and that the depiction is an "homage." The term "a love letter to" is invoked several times.) And the paper plate flying saucers never existed; they were actually fairly nifty plastic props that, in the hands of a more experienced technician, could easily have passed as alien spacecraft. But, as they said in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "print the legend."

"Ed Wood" is an ambiguous film. It's difficult to determine whether Burton is celebrating Wood's optimistic drive, or laughing up his sleeve at the filmmaker's naivete. The perspective shifts from scene to scene. Burton shouldn't have tried to have it both ways. This alternating posture is the film's central failing. But, in spite of its equivocations, "Ed Wood" is entertaining. Judge for yourself, but on balance it would seem that Burton has more affection than contempt for his subject. The film is beautifully photographed in black and white (a concession for which Burton fought tooth-and-nail, according to some accounts), and it's filled with wonderful performances. Johnny Depp is a dynamo. He's absolutely terrific as Wood, brimming with confidence and enthusiasm in the face of desperate circumstances. Martin Landau won an Oscar for his portrayal of Lugosi. Historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, it's a great, sympathetic performance. One gets the impression that both Depp and Landau genuinely respect the people they're portraying and want to do right by their memories. Their gusto never brims over into ridicule. Wisely, the filmmakers made the friendship of the two men the heart of the film, and these singular performances carry the movie.

Two less heralded supporting players are worthy of recognition. The first is Vincent D'Onofrio. At one point in the film, Wood is frustrated by meddlesome producers. At his wit's end, he flees the set where he's shooting "Plan 9" (in full transvestism) and dashes into a bar (Hollywood's famed Musso & Frank Grill), where he encounters his idol, Orson Welles (D'Onofrio). It's a dream-like, smoky sequence and D'Onofrio is utterly convincing physically (it seems that D'Onofrio's dialogue has been looped by another actor) as Welles, offering Wood inspiring words of wisdom. Also largely unheralded is Howard Shore's marvelous score, an evocative mix of Les Baxter tiki and Ferrante & Teicher, laced with theremin. Bongos, vibraphone and theremin -- horror/lounge, sci-fi jazz -- call it what you will, but it complements the film and its subject perfectly.

I hope they do release a second, "Improved Ed Wood 2.0." Perhaps they'll put a little more thought into the extras this go 'round. Maybe have the actors actually take the time to sit down and watch the movie as they comment. And perhaps they could trouble themselves to contact the Ed Wood "survivors," veterans of "Plan 9" and "Bride of the Monster" who actually knew the man and appeared in the films.

I have great affection for this very strange little film. It has a very non-Hollywood look that benefits it immensely, lending an otherworldly feel to the fanciful situations it presents. It plays genuinely like a fairy tale come to life, putting one in a charitable mood that allows for the film's shortcomings. It somehow got lost in the shuffle as high-flown fantasy films that came into brief and glorious vogue in the early 1960s, heralded by the collaborations of animation wizard Ray Harryhausen and director Nathan Juran. The best-known examples are no doubt the Sinbad films. "Jack" was directed by Juran, but the film is hardly an imitation of the Harryhausen teaming. This film is more whimsical, more "storybook," and therefore distinct from the Sinbad classics, even though Sinbad stars Kerwin Matthews and Torin Thatcher reprise roles as hero and villain, respectively.

"Jack" was written by Orville Hampton, a prolific scribe who had partnered at one time or another with such producers as Alex Gordon ("The Atomic Submarine"), Sam Katzman ("Calypso Heat Wave"), Ron Ormond ("Untamed Mistress"), Sigmund Neufeld ("The Three Outlaws") and Robert E. Kent ("The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake," "Riot in Juvenile Prison"). Kent produced "Jack the Giant Killer" along with Edward Small. (Together, they formed Vogue Pictures, producing "It! The Terror From Beyond Space" and "Curse of the Faceless Man" among others.) There wasn't a genre Hampton didn't dabble in, right up to and including episodes of "Scooby-Doo" and "Fantasy Island." He has a flair for the fanciful that's evident in "Jack." He doesn't strive for the mystical or the symbolic; clearly, they wanted kids to see this picture.

Kerwin is an able swashbuckler with a likeable mug, and Thatcher, as the evil Pendragon, is every bit as darkly menacing as he was opposite Sinbad. Pretty Judi Meredith, who portrays distressed damsel Princess Elaine, later appeared in such cult films as William Castle's "The Night Walker," the underrated "Dark Intruder," and director Curtis Harrington's "Queen of Blood." Walter Burke and Don Beddoe take nifty supporting turns, and if you're not familiar with their faces or voices, then you need to see a whole lot more B movies. The special effects, including stop-motion monsters rendered by Jim Danforth and design work by the recently deceased Wah Chang, may not measure up to Harryhausen standards in the eyes of contemporary viewers, but there's an "innocence" about them, an element of whimsy that amuses and distracts from their perceived crudity. The highest compliment I can pay the film is that it's unpretentious; salient praise in this era of sci-fi and fantasy films that take themselves too darned seriously.

The time it took for this turkey to breeze in and out of theaters wouldn't register on anyone's timeline. It tanked, and it deserved to. This flick puts the lie to the theory that ANYTHING with Michael Critchton's name on it will sell. He was half-asleep when he wrote this predictable hash of time travel movies and medieval derring-do. It's as if the Monty Python troupe staged an episode of "Time Tunnel," only not as entertaining as that doubtless would have been. Big-time director Richard Donner's previous film was "Lethal Weapon 4," and the calculated commercialism of that franchise may have warped his sensibilities, because he's directed a fun film or two in the past. "Superman" for example.

The plot involves a multi-mucho-mega technology conglomerate run by Robert Doniger (David Thewlis, VERY transparently disguised as Bill Gates, complete with matted hair and nerdy spectacles). He's callous, he's craven, and he'll stop at nothing to advance his time-travel technology. His matter transporter was intended to revolutionize the shipping business, but Thewlis has somehow poked a wormhole in the space-time continuum. Lovable archeology professor Billy Connolly is somehow sucked through said wormhole, which posits him in 14th century France. His team of young associate archeologists uncover a distress note written by the prof in 1357, and decide to avail themselves of Thewlis' cutting-edge technology to travel back in time to retrieve him. And they couldn't have chosen a worse time to do so, as they land in France on the eve of one of medieval times' bloodiest battles.

You'll have little trouble predicting who gets killed, who gets their comeuppance and who rises to the occasion -- as well as who chooses to remain in 14th century France to fight the good fight against whistling arrows and flame-throwing catapults. Castes, catapults, knights and warriors? Sounds like a spectacle, but it's spectacle on a USA Network scale. In fact, "Timeline" looks and plays very much like a made-for-cable movie that producers thought would pass muster as a big-screen attraction. It doesn't. Any kid who's seen an episode of "Sliders" or any one of umpteen takes on the whole time-travel theme will be two steps ahead of these characters as they stumble into predictable predicaments. And the time-twisting "surprise" ending, intended as a sentimental coda, doesn't wash. Even if you disagree and regard "Timeline" as a well mounted, innocuous diversion, consider this: It cost $80 million! Where did that money go? (The 1938 "Adventures of Robin Hood" cost $1.9 million.) On its opening weekend -- the ONLY play date that seems to matter to Hollywood bean counters -- "Timeline" made $8 million, eventually earning only $19.5 million. Yikes!

Kate Beckinsale sure is cute. Just wanted to get our only positive comments regarding this film out of the way at the outset. "Underworld" is relentlessly dismal. A big gray blob of a film. It would like to be profound, I imagine, as buried deep, deep, deep in this screenplay lies the message that vampires should try to get along with werewolves. It seems they've been at war for centuries. A select team of vampire hit men (and women) is pledged to exterminating every last lycanthrope (or "lycans," as the script refers to them). We're asked to invest in Beckinsale as sort of a vampire Juliet to Scott Speedman's werewolf Romeo, but there's zero chemistry between them. These are two, stone-cold fish, and nothing approximating love ever truly materializes. In fact, the film is bereft of humanity -- there's no one to like, no one to root for. And before you say, "of course it lacks humanity -- it's about werewolves and vampires," think again. The very best monster stories are ALL about humanity, the loss of it and the struggle to attain it. "Frankenstein" wanted to make a man, "Dracula" wanted to BE a man, "The Wolf Man" was tortured as his humanity slipped away. The characters in this film live only to kill. And boy, do they. It opens with a bloodbath in the city subway. But in lieu of wooden stakes and wolfbane, the opposing teams wield Uzis, Glocks and AK-47 assault rifles. Innocent bystanders are felled like flies, blood spews, guts spill -- and that's in the first five minutes. Make no mistake, this film glamorizes violence.

Throughout the movie we see heads sliced open, faces torn to shreds and, via one tired gimmick that's been used in prior films, we even go INSIDE the human body to see vital organs throb, bleed and pulsate. (Just what I paid to see, Scott Speedman's quivering spleen.) The camera careens, whirls, twirls, tilts, spins, goes in and out of focus. These filmmakers are true magicians; one hand wiggles and waves, razzles and dazzles in a vain attempt to distract us from the hand that's palming our card. They're also derivative in the worst sense. Everyone wears black and flips and flies through the air "Matrix"-style. Kind of a Goth Cirque de Soleil. And there's an unceasing, techno, heavy metal drone throbbing away in every scene, actually drowning out dialogue in at least one instance. The acting is uniformly bad, as is the script. Actors say things like "That's the oldest story in the book," "Mark my words" and "I become the hunted." Speedman, late of TV's "Felicity," whispers every line, while Bill Nighy, strutting around in what looks like a purple leather bathrobe, likes to go from a bellow to a whisper and back again in the space of one line (odd, in that he's usually a very capable character actor).

The crux of this whole noisy mess is a scheme to crossbreed vampires with werewolves in order to create some kind of uber-beast. Speedman's genetic composition makes him the ideal guinea pig. The manifestation of this "werevamp" is disappointing; he looks like a skinny Incredible Hulk. The climax is a subterranean donnybrook with top vamp Nighy that has them flying around on wires, slamming each other into masonry, clawing, pawing and snarling, all to the accompaniment of that headbanging soundtrack. Imagine a Metallica music video directed by John Woo with Buffy flitting in and out of frame. In fact, the worst episode of "Buffy" is better than the best moments of this hollow film.

Lest you think these titles fall beyond the province of the B Monster, I maintain that the spooky atmosphere -- steeped in shadow and appointed with Victorian bric-a-brac -- and casts composed of horror-film veterans, suggests otherwise. Many Sherlock Holmes fans regard these 1939 Fox titles as the two best examples of cinema based on the work of Conan Doyle. There has been further debate as to which of these two is the superior film. (For the record, The B Monster would like to cite the lower-budgeted, Universal-produced "Scarlet Claw" and "Pearl of Death" as better entertainments than either one of them.)

"Adventures" is impressively mounted. It looks like an "A" film (as does "Hound"). Director Alfred Werker was an able craftsman with credits dating to the silent era. Cult-movie fans might know him best for "The House of Rothschild," which featured Boris Karloff in a showy villainous role, "Shock," an early showcase for the languid menace of Vincent Price, and films noir including "He Walked By Night" (which some contend was co-directed by Anthony Mann). Westerns, comedies (among the last films featuring Laurel & Hardy), swashbucklers -- Werker was a worker, at home in any milieu, foggy, 19th-century England being no exception. He turns in a serviceable job shepherding top-flight actors through an intriguing script. And in the end, it's the sterling cast that makes it work. These films marked Basil Rathbone's debut as Holmes, and he was born for it. He sure lives up to my mental image of Doyle's detective, and I could listen to that clipped, erudite delivery for hours. Ditto George Zucco, another actor who could make a reading of the West Orange, N.J. phone book sound irresistibly devilish. He's terrific as Holmes' most noteworthy nemesis, Prof. Moriarity. Many contend that he was the best Moriarity ever. (He had stiff competition in years to come, with Lionel Atwill and Henry Daniell being two of the finest examples.) Nigel Bruce's Watson is a departure from Doyle's character as written (he became more annoyingly bumbling with each succeeding film), but he's the perfect compliment to Rathbone's hauteur. A young Ida Lupino co-stars, and E.E. Clive and Mary Gordon take nifty supporting turns.

"Hound of The Baskervilles" director, Sidney Lanfield, also had a prolific film career. He directed scads of "Bs" and a handful of popular Bob Hope vehicles ("My Favorite Blonde," "Sorrowful Jones," "The Lemon Drop Kid"), but is probably best known as a television director, helming such programs as "Wagon Train," "The Deputy," "McHale's Navy" and "The Addams Family." Considering his conspicuous lack of mystery-horror-film experience, "Hound" is richly atmospheric, and its "supernatural" elements -- phantom dog, family curse, foggy moor -- have made it a favorite of Holmes fans. In fact, Rathbone himself cited it as his favorite. "It was in this picture," he said, "that I had the stimulating experience of creating, within my own limited framework, a character that has intrigued me as much as any I have ever played." While Lanfield and his team successfully concoct a convincingly damp and foreboding setting, it is, once more, the cast that drives the whole enterprise. Rathbone and Bruce are exemplary, of course. Add to that Lionel Atwill, John Carradine (two mugs you wouldn't want to bump into on the dark Grimpen Mire), Wendy Barrie and a young Richard Greene (future TV Robin Hood), who acquits himself well as young Sir Henry Baskerville. The film was a great critical and public success when originally released, one of Fox's biggest grossers of the year. Both films hold up well today. Ignore contemporary complaints regarding careful pacing and talkiness. Sit back and watch these actors chew the scenery as though it were their last meal.

Dinoship CEO and film historian Bob Madison contributes the following:

Who would've thought that four years into a new decade the best horror film to date would be a remake of a '70s B-flick about a boy and his rats? Not me, but here's the scoop. The 2003 remake of "Willard," staring Crispin Glover and directed by Glen Morgan, is a stylish, superior thriller which was unjustly overlooked by audiences upon its initial release. It's out on DVD from New Line Entertainment and for the horror movie buff, it is unbeatable entertainment. The disk is also loaded with extras that are just as worthwhile as the film. Briefly, Willard Stiles (Glover) is a loser de luxe -- manipulated by a sick, domineering mother, bullied by a boss who stole the family business and imprisoned in his dead father's old clothes. He befriends the rats which infest the family basement and learns that he has a strange control over them. Soon he uses them as instruments of revenge.

Unlike the 1971 Bruce Davison "Willard" (itself a more modest but entertaining flick), Morgan's film is a stylized, expressionist work that has all the creepy beauty of German silent films. It takes place in some weird interstices of reality and expressionism, reflecting the unstable point-of-view of Stiles. The misc-en-scene is truly horrific, with Willard's mother (Jackie Burroughs) a virtual walking skeleton and his workplace a neon-lit hellhole. Constantly infantilized and humiliated, no wonder Willard cracks. Glover is magnificent. I have always been immune to Glover's appeal as an actor, but his performance as the tormented (and dangerous) Willard Stiles is one of the best ever found in a horror film. (I realize how hyperbolic a statement that is -- but see the film.) And Morgan (an "X-Files" alumnus) manages to make a horror film both frightening and creepy with a minimum of gore. That is a remarkable achievement in contemporary Hollywood.

And contemporary Hollywood comes in for its lumps with the excellent documentary "Year of the Rat," also on the DVD. When most studio release documentary extras for new films, the result is little more than a video press release; all fluff and spin, but no substance. "Year of the Rat" follows the making of Willard, some of the changes New Line demanded made to the final cut (including a sort of "Psycho" homage at its end), and honestly relates the film's lukewarm reception. The film tested poorly with teenagers -- who initiated the alterations to the director's cut and also spelled the film's final doom. A sad commentary on current American filmmaking: Everything comes down to the approval of people usually too young to drive, vote, drink or think. Also included is a wonderful "music video" of Glover singing Michael Jackson's "Ben." It's wonderfully funny and creepy and worth the price of the DVD itself. Go out and buy it already!


Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal Press or at http://www.amazon.com

ClassicSciFi.com http://www.classicscifi.com

Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com

Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc. http://www.dinoship.com

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

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


"Maddened mastodons wage warfare to the death!" -- Two Lost Worlds

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