Pamela Duncan
Actress Pamela Duncan, familiar to B-movie fans for her roles in a pair of producer/director Roger Corman's best-known shockers, has died following a stroke. She was 73. Duncan starred in "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "The Undead," considered by many aficionados to be among Corman's best efforts. Duncan was a native of Brooklyn who became interested in acting while still in school. "I would bring my high heels and a little jacket and put them in a subway locker," she told film historian Tom Weaver and the B Monster. "I would cut school, and put on the high heels and go on interviews for acting jobs." While visiting California, Duncan was noticed in the Hollywood beauty salon owned by Columbia Pictures hair stylist Helen Hunt. This led to several screen tests. She made her screen debut opposite Whip Wilson in the low-budget Western "Lawless Cowboys." She went on to appear in Westerns, thrillers and war films, including "Two Gun Marshal," "The Saracen Blade" and "Seven Men from Now."

While in New York appearing in Army Signal Corp films, she landed roles in such early TV shows as "Captain Video" and "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger." 'Captain Video' was shot at Wanamaker's Department Store, in the piano section," she remembered. "We would rehearse in the ladies' room because there were chairs and mirrors in there." She recalled that she was surprised when Corman called to offer her the lead in "The Undead." "I don't know what made him think of me, except that he must have seen me in something; I was on TV a lot. Things like that just happened in my career. Somebody sees something and likes you, and then he hires you."

Duncan enjoyed working with Corman and appeared in another of his best-known films "Attack of the Crab Monsters," but she admitted she was reticent to perform some of the tasks required in the course of the break-neck shooting schedules -- including swimming with sharks. "They said, 'Don't worry about it. The sharks won't attack you.' I said, 'You tell that to the sharks! I'm not about to go swimming with sharks!' " Following the completion of these low-budget cult-classics, Duncan worked sporadically, appearing in smaller roles in larger-budgeted films, including "Don't Give Up the Ship," "Gun Battle at Monterey" and "Summer and Smoke." She finished her acting career in New York with stage roles and parts in commercials. In retirement, she confessed that she was puzzled by contemporary films. "I wouldn't say I don't like them," she said. "I struggle to UNDERSTAND them!"

Carolyn Kearney
Actress Carolyn Kearney, best known to cult-film fans as the star of the 1958 Universal shocker "The Thing That Couldn't Die," has died. Born in Detroit and raised in New Orleans, Kearney began her acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse. Under contract to the William Morris talent agency, Kearney won the part of Jessica in "The Thing That Couldn't Die" after demonstrating to producer-director Will Cowan that she could portray both aspects -- sweet and evil -- of her character's personality. "I went into a tiny little ladies room," Kearney told film historian Tom Weaver, "and changed my hair -- I wet it all up and pulled it back, and when I came out, I looked sort of maybe a little seductive, a little wild and a little weird." Cowan awarded her the part on the spot.

Kearney appeared in just four features, but worked prolifically in television, appearing in episodes of such programs as "Wanted: Dead or Alive," "The Virginian," "Route 66," and "Wagon Train." She appeared opposite Boris Karloff in the highly regarded "Thriller" episode "The Incredible Doktor Markesan" and appeared in the "Twilight Zone" episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering." While appearing in an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," the famed director considered Kearney for the role in his trendsetting thriller, "Psycho," that eventually went to Vera Miles.

Following a train accident in which Kearney became trapped in her compartment, she was prescribed Xanax to alleviate anxiety and became addicted for several years. In 1989, she co-founded Benzodiazepine Anonymous, a 12-step group that aids those recovering from addiction to benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax.


Film historian and "King Kong" fan without peer, Bob Burns, can barely contain his excitement as the debut of Peter Jackson's "King Kong" remake draws near. Burns, who knows primates inside and out -- LITERALLY, from his many ape-suited appearances as Kogar the gorilla -- says Jackson & Co. rolled out the red carpet for him and wife Kathy, who were recently flown to New Zealand to film a cameo for Jackson's much-anticipated film. "It's the best trip I've ever taken," says Bob. "Peter was so very nice to us and gave us so much of his very valuable time." The B Monster asked Bob to weigh in on both the Jackson version of "Kong," as well as the long-awaited, pristine DVD release of the 1933 classic:

"Kathy and I watched the restored print of the '33 'Kong' on a big screen with Peter, and it looks incredible. This same restored print is the one that will be on the DVD. It's like seeing 'King Kong' for the very first time. There are no bled out scenes and the footage that was cut from the original release is in this print with no deviations in quality. All of the other prints had scenes that were blown up from 16mm. In one scene, Peter turned to me and asked, 'Have you ever been able to read that sign before?' And I saw a bird flying over Skull Island that I had never seen before. We kept doing this throughout the entire film, finding new bits that we had never been able to see before. Kathy said that for the first time she could see certain details and expressions on Fay Wray's face.

"Peter and his very talented group of artists re-created the famous 'spider pit' scene that will be among the supplements included on the new disk. It is awesome. I had goosebumps when I saw it. In other words, this real old 'Kong' fan gives the DVD a BIG two gorilla thumbs up!

"We also got to see a lot of footage from Peter's new version of 'Kong,' and it is going to be absolutely fantastic. Just mind-blowing. And this comes from a really hard-core fan of the original 'King Kong.' The original version is what made Peter want to become a filmmaker when he first saw it at age nine. I'm so impressed by his interpretation. I think that every 'Kong' fan will love this version of the story. Hardly anyone even remembers the horrible 1976 remake, but folks will always remember Peter's take on it."

CLICK HERE to watch the Burns' and Jackson behind the scenes.

The entire front page of the November 9 edition of the New York Post was a doctored "King Kong" poster with the poorly Photoshopped head of Michael Bloomberg pasted atop the body of the great ape. The headline blared "King Mike," as the story concerned Bloomberg's decisive victory in the Big Apple's mayoral election. (As far as we know, there is no truth to the rumor that Bloomberg wants to change the name Manhattan to "Skull Island.") We present the cover here as a service to our non-Manhattanite readers.

The guest roster for the 2006 Monster Bash genre-film con, sponsored by Creepy Classics Video & DVD and Scary Monsters Magazine, features one of the 1950s best known monster movie makers, Bert I. Gordon, who produced and directed such features as "The Amazing Colossal Man," "War of the Colossal Beast," "The Cyclops," "The Beginning of the End" and "Earth vs. the Spider." The opportunity to meet and greet this B-movie legend should not be missed. Also attending are Bert's daughter, Susan Gordon, who appeared in Dad's "Tormented" and "Attack of the Puppet People," Kenny Miller, who likewise appeared in "Attack of the Puppet People" as well as "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," and an assortment of horror hosts, makeup artisans, performance artists and authors. All this, plus multiple screenings of vintage horror and sci-fi classics and the usual dealer's room stacked to the rafters with memorabilia. It happens June 23-25, 2006, at the Airport Four Points Sheraton in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Kids under 12 get in free!) For more info, check out:
Make it clear, the B Monster sent you!

Sure, you all know Zacherley, the late-night horror hosting legend who has become the mascot of the Chiller Theatre convention. And you're likely familiar with Ghoulardi (especially if you hail from the Midwest), Bob Wilkins (West Coast), Dr. Paul Bearer (Southeast) or The Bowman Body (Mid-Atlantic). And the tradition of these macabre emcees is maintained today by the likes of Dr. Gangrene, Mr. Lobo and many others. If you grew up on fright films, odds are, you had a local host who presented the oldies in late nighttime slots, many of them skewering the monsterpieces they were presenting with gusto. And, with an unapologetic bias not unlike devotion to a sports team, you no doubt think your hometown host was the best. It's high time we saluted the shuddersome master of ceremonies who hosted horror shows in the Washington, D.C. metro area when the B Monster was just a pup. Sir Graves Ghastly was, hands down, the most polished and appealing fright-film presenter I've ever seen, and Keith Milford's terrific Web site,, is a thorough and heartfelt tribute to the character and the man who gave him life, Lawson Deming.

I found out years after Sir Graves' D.C. tenure was over that he'd been performing double duty, simultaneously hosting shows in Washington and in Detroit, Milford's hometown. "In darkened living rooms, bedrooms and basements all across Michigan," Milford writes, "and into parts of Ohio, Canada, and for a time, the Washington, D.C. viewing area, Detroit TV's friendly neighborhood vampire, Sir Graves Ghastly implored us weekly to turn out the lights ... pull down the shade... draw the drapes ... and cuddle up in our favorite spots by the telly, to watch frightfully spooky (and sometimes silly) monster movies with him and his eccentric Ghoullery of wacky friends." Sir Graves, who appeared on Detroit's WJBK for 15 years, was the creation of Deming, a Cleveland native. Deming was an actor and radio personality who transitioned to TV working behind the scenes on the "Woodrow the Woodsman" children's program, producing, puppeteering and providing voices. The operation moved to Detroit in the mid-'60s where, "as fate would have it, about a year earlier, [the station] had lost their popular local horror movie host, Morgus the Magnificent (played by Sid Noel)." Milford writes that, soon after Deming began producing the 'Woodrow' show at WJBK, "the station approached Lawson about playing a horror movie host for their Saturday afternoon monster movie slot. The initial plan was actually to call this new host 'Ghoulardi' but because that name was already being used in Cleveland by Ernie Anderson (a former Cleveland co-worker of Deming's), Lawson suggested that he create his own character himself."

This rich back story and detail is emblematic of Milford's scrupulous site, which also features a message board, guestbook, a Sir Graves FAQ, an exhaustive guide to Ghastly's TV appearances, a news section alerting fans to just-added content, and best of all, a media crypt stocked with dozens of audio clips from Sir Graves salad days.

Today, at age 92, Deming resides in an assisted-living facility. Wilford describes him as "sharp and spirited." Deming reads the site's guestbook on occasion and is "touched and gratified" by the devoted fans who remember him. The B Monster still has his 35-year-old postcard from Sir Graves, as well as a color still and homemade recordings of the program. It's heartening to see the devoted work of another Sir Graves fan that supplements our knowledge and rekindles our affection for the performer. But one question has haunted this 12-year-old for three-and-a-half decades: Why, oh, why did Sir Graves leave D.C.? Deming himself explains: "We got trapped into a funny thing in Washington. The man who hired me there was the program manager. He'd come from ... Detroit. Unfortunately, he got trapped in a political thing, so when he went, Sir Graves went ... despite good ratings." We in the nation's capitol understand better than most the consternation and pain inflicted in the name of politics. Sir Graves, all is forgiven.
Tell 'em without a doubt, the B Monster sent you!

Plexus publishing is releasing their new tome, "King Kong Cometh," to coincide with the release of Peter Jackson's remake of the classic film. According to Plexus rep Harvey Wiening, "This is the first book to chart the full history of Kong containing almost a century of Kong history -- from the earliest short animated dinosaur films of Willis O'Brien, 'father of Kong,' in the silent era, to a detailed analysis of how Peter Jackson has been striving to remain true to the original 1930s conception, while simultaneously trying to make 'King Kong' his own." The narrative is complemented by many stills, posters, book covers and model shots of the original Kong, some never before published. There are also rare photos of "Kong" collaborators Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack on safari in pre-"Kong" years, as well as production artwork from "Creation," the never-completed film that eventually led to the inception of "Kong." For more info, write Plexus Publishing Ltd., 110 Riverside Drive (5-F), New York, NY 10024. Or give 'em a call at 212-787-9141. By all means, let 'em know the B Monster sent you!

The Planetary Society, founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman, honored author Ray Bradbury and filmmaker James Cameron at last month's 25th Anniversary Banquet held in Arcadia, Calif. The theme of the festivities was "Our Next Age of Exploration." Bradbury, a longtime advocate of space exploration, received the Society's Thomas O. Paine Award for the Advancement of Human Exploration of Mars. The award is named for the NASA official who presided over the Apollo 11 moon landing. Cameron received the first Cosmos Award for the Public Presentation of Science. The director recently completed a series of documentaries about undersea exploration.

Chicago's A&O Productions is currently gearing up for B-Fest 2006. The 24-hour B-movie marathon, now in its 25th year, is held each January at Northwestern University's Norris University Center McCormick Auditorium in Evanston, Ill. According to promoters, "B-Fest has been likened to an audience-participation version of an episode of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'; viewers are encouraged to voice their opinions of onscreen events, especially if such comments provide entertainment for the other festival attendees." (I wonder who makes THAT judgment call?) One B-Fest mainstay is a ritual midnight screening of Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space." No doubt the audience participation is spirited at this showing. Sponsors provide door prizes and the Northwestern B-Fest Players usually take the stage "to bring their own theatrical spin to the proceedings." There's also a "sing-along version" of the cult-convention favorite "The Wizard of Speed and Time." If you plan on attending, B-Fest organizers recommend that you bring the following essentials:

-- A pillow
-- A flashlight
-- A toothbrush and toothpaste
-- Some cash for meals and snacks in the cafeteria

There are also rules of decorum that must be observed. For instance:

-- "Some folks have a much more elaborate set of gear at B-Fest, including sleeping bags or a change of clothes, but if you have the items above, you should find your experience at B-Fest comfortable and pleasant."

-- "You might as well leave the laser pointer at home. As props go, little red points of light aren't well-liked at B-Fest."

-- "No criminal behavior will be tolerated."

-- "Excessive use of a laser pointer may result in your ejection from the auditorium. As per Supreme Court ruling, we know what 'excessive' is when we see it."

-- "Also, please do not bring thick paper plates (i.e. Chinet or plastic) for 'Plan Nine' -- yes, they fly much better but it stings to get hit in the face with one."

-- "Please be considerate of your fellow festival attendees. Point your flashlight at the floor when making your way to and from your seat. Say 'please' and 'thank you.' Cover your mouth when you sneeze."

As of this writing, among the films scheduled to be shown are: "The Island of Terror," "The Swarm," "Black Belt Jones," "Death Wish 3," "Project Moon Base," "Robot Monster," "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" and "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo." It happens January 27th and 28th, 2006. For more info, check out:
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!

The folks behind the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo are busy fleshing out the guest list for their Spring 2006 horror celebration. The show takes place March 31-April 2, 2006 at the Holiday Inn Select in Strongsville, Ohio, only minutes from downtown Cleveland. There will, of course, be multiple film screenings, celeb Q&A opportunities and dealer's rooms. A special treat for attendees is "A Ghastlee Nite at the Movies," presented by Dayton, Ohio's homegrown horror host, A. Ghastlee Ghoul. At last report, the celebrity guest roster includes:

-- Priscilla Barns
-- Geoffrey Lewis
-- Kate Norby
-- Lew Temple (All cast members of the Rob Zombie splatterfest "The Devil's Rejects")

-- Betsy Palmer
-- C.J. Graham
-- Steve Dash (All of whom were part of the "Friday the 13th" franchise)

-- "Dolemite" himself, Rudy Ray Moore
-- Visual effects wiz, Tom Sullivan

For more information, check out:
And why not let 'em know the B monster sent you?

Our late friend Ed Kemmer, famed as Commander Buzz Corry of TV's "Space Patrol" and star of "Giant From the Unknown," "Earth vs. the Spider" and myriad television programs, loved flying and won distinction as a fighter pilot in the second world war. The actor, who passed away last November, wanted his ashes scattered from a plane. Recently, Ed's son, Todd, along with a pilot friend, carried out his father's wishes. According to Jean-Noel Bassior, a family friend and author of "Space Patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early Television," "Todd loved planes as a kid, but as he grew older, he didn't care for them much and after takeoff, he felt scared -- especially since this was a small plane. Then, for some reason, a sense of calm came over him and he wasn't scared at all. In fact, at one point, much to his surprise, he felt a strange kind of confidence, took the controls, and actually flew the plane." Ed's ashes were scattered over Long Island Sound.


It's actually pretty good. I know, I couldn't believe it, either, but it's actually pretty good. It's far different from George Pal's 1953 interpretation. Not necessarily scarier but decidedly darker. As you might expect from Steven Spielberg's best work, it is paced with precision. He manipulates the audience to be sure, but he does his job so well, the audience doesn't notice or, if they notice, they don't care. Spielberg is the best manipulator in the business, exploiting details, plot points and character traits to further the juggernaut story. That's right, I said character traits. A big budget, summertime sci-fi spectacle, and they actually gave the characters stories and backgrounds, and flaws and virtues. I even forgot for a moment that Tom Cruise is nearly as creepy in real life as the Martians are in the film. Cruise can be distracting, playing the "intensity card" for all it's worth, and I couldn't help imagining how the film would feel more humane with someone like Tom Hanks as the beleaguered dad racing the apocalypse in an SUV full of kids. Little Dakota Fanning appears as Cruise's daughter, and she can turn on the tears and wrench up her face and belt out a scream better than Meryl Streep. Producers seem to be hustling her into every film they can before she outgrows her natural, unaffected ability and matures into a self-conscious star. Tim Robbins has what amounts to a glorified cameo as a survivalist, hiding in his bombed out basement and giving Cruise and Fanning refuge from the thundering, blood-spurting tripods.

The effects are outstanding. Of course, they must be to live up to the hype and survive comparison to Pal's 1953 classic, which is cherished by genre-film lovers. Which is not to mention the challenge from purists who would prefer to preserve H.G. Wells' hallowed book without defacement. The visuals are commanding; towering Martian vehicles wreaking havoc, people disintegrated by death rays, cities in ruins and a particularly well-realized depiction of a Martian war machine rising from beneath a New Jersey street, the surrounding ground cracking and splitting to reveal its immensity. The cracks and crevices that rend the community are a harbinger of the societal splintering to come. Humankind's basest, most animalistic survival instincts come to the fore in the face of the devastating invasion, and Spielberg sustains a note of hysteria with precious few breaks for humor or other respite. (I'm not the biggest Tom Cruise fan, but he's pretty good at hysteria.) I don't want to read too much into the symbolism and pathology at work here. After all, Wells' original tale was an allegory pertinent to British colonialism and that's not likely to cross anyone's mind when they watch this film. In summation, I was all set to not like it, and found myself caught up in it. It's too long, as are almost all contemporary movies, and Tom Cruise seems to have an acting switch that's stuck on the "intense" setting, but the Martians are cool, Spielberg is a craftsman, and all in all, it could have been much, much worse. Watch for Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, stars of the 1953 George Pal "War of the Worlds," in a cameo.

Much ridicule was heaped upon the low budget, 1994 "Fantastic Four" feature overseen by producer Roger Corman, most of it deserved. The trailers heralding its release, which were attached to many of Corman's direct-to-video releases, were laughable and the film was yanked from "official" circulation. Collectors continue to snatch up bootlegs of the film at comic conventions because it is so notoriously inept and funny. 20th Century Fox got a hold of the property, and fans of the Marvel Comics quartet were promised a big-budget feature that would do justice to the beloved superhero team created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. What they got was this chintzy, ramshackle vehicle, larded with clichés, blighted by bad acting and inferior effects and damaged irreparably by miscasting. The film might have stood a chance had they gone retro, setting the film in 1961 with the Cold War space race as a backdrop, with vintage cars, hip clothing and an ambitious group of reckless scientists striving to give the USA the advantage in space exploration. In that Kirby-Lee universe of old, our heroes were burdened with their superpowers as a result of their headstrong ambition to further science, whatever the cost. Alas, the 2005 film is the post-Gen-X version with its de rigueur undercurrents of resignation and victimization. This not-so-Fantastic Four come by their powers as the result of wealthy Victor Von Doom's avarice. This same victimization was imposed on Marvel's "Hulk." In the original comic, Dr. Bruce Banner was in the act of saving a life when his fate was forever changed. Ang Lee's big-screen version presented Banner as the victim of military-industrial greed that caused his mutation. In other words, nowadays, it's always somebody else's fault.

Ion Gruffudd plays Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, who can twist and stretch his body every which way. Gruffudd gained notoriety as Horatio Hornblower in a series of TV movies. Here, he seems anything but heroic. For a guy playing a scientific wiz, he looks positively befuddled in every scene. Why would Sue Storm come to prefer this moax over handsome, wealthy and determined Victor Von Doom? Jessica Alba, the current geek "it" girl plays Sue, The Invisible Woman. I know she's attempting to play a resourceful female in a man's world, but she comes across as a cheerleader who's recently given up the pep squad to start hitting the books. She'd be more at home in a live-action "Power Puff Girls" movie. Chris Evans is occasionally engaging as Johnny Storm, The Human Torch, but a little of that smug, womanizing, jock jive goes an awfully long way. Finally, it's Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm, alias The Thing, who comes off the best of the four (which isn't saying much). Chiklis has the voice down; he sounds like Lawrence Tierney with a sinus infection. But the Thing prosthetics are a disappointment. This Thing is very obviously a guy in a rubber suit, and it is distracting.

Director Tim Story isn't entirely to blame for the film's tentative feel and herky-jerky flow. Story, who previously directed such comedies as "Barbershop" and "Taxi," is saddled with a script by Michael France and Mark Frost that is rife with holes and corny contrivances. Fans who grew up with these comic characters deserve better. Maybe they'll pull this one from circulation and start again. Nah. I'm sure the sequel is already under way.

"Aliens," "The Entity," "The Fly"

In the case of "Aliens," never was a sequel so different from its predecessor. Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" was a methodically paced, grisly retelling of the B-movie classic "It! The Terror From Beyond Space." It was a film that relished detail, exploited lingering shots, mysterious sounds and pregnant pauses. "Aliens," directed by James Cameron, is a rip-snorting action machine, sort of "The Wild Bunch" meets Bert I. Gordon's "The Beginning of the End." (I know that's a strained comparison, but it's as close as I can get at the moment.) It's peppered with the kind of ripe cowboy dialogue that characterized "The Terminator," the film that put Cameron on the map. And forget methodical pacing and subtlety, showing the Alien minimally to maximize tension. No, this movie is a shoot 'em up, and we see monsters getting blasted and people being devoured. The characters are two-dimensional. Given the breakneck development of events, there simply isn't time to reveal them. They're types, handy ciphers that we identify and follow easily, yet there's just enough personality there for us to care a little. There's the bluff but cowardly guy (Bill Paxton), the butch girl Marine (Jenette Goldstein), the scheming company man (Paul Reiser) and of course, Ripley, portrayed by flinty, resolute Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role from the original film. It's a far-from-perfect film, but consider the Alien sequels that followed it. It looks mighty fine when compared with those miscalculations.

"The Entity" is supposedly based on the true story of a woman who was sexually assaulted by a supernatural presence. Barbara Hershey plays the tormented victim who turns to a team of parapsychologists, led by Ron Silver, to determine the origin of the phenomenon and to prove that she isn't losing her mind. Sure enough, they discover that she is a demon magnet. A malicious spook is for some reason drawn to her. In fact, it follows her to the home of a friend. It even rides along in her car and tries to steer her off the rode. The film is based on a novel by Frank De Felitta that was allegedly inspired by true events (and has no doubt been the subject a Discovery Channel documentary). Directed by Sidney J. Furie, it's pretty standard -- if very unpleasant -- material, derivative of "The Exorcist."

Cult-favorite director David Cronenberg's 1986 version of "The Fly" is, well, it's interesting. Obviously us diehard B-movie purists will want to compare it unfavorably to the 1958 original, but it would be like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges -- very gruesome, very graphic oranges. It's essentially the same story about a headstrong young scientist determined to perfect a means for transporting objects from one place to another by disintegrating and reintegrating molecules. When a fly slips into the matter transporter during an experiment, the human and fly genes get scrambled and, well, you know how it turns out. Although there's no topping the cast of the original shocker -- Al (David) Hedison, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall -- Jeff Goldblum is the absolute perfect choice to play a human fly. He's quirky, disturbed, strange and impulsive, exhibiting weird ticks and idiosyncrasies -- and that's BEFORE he becomes a fly-man! His gradual transformation is depicted in sickening detail, with Goldblum becoming quirkier and more disturbed as time passes. Geena Davis plays Goldblum's paramour, a reporter who gets to utter that hoary catchphrase, "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

"20 Million Miles to Earth," "It Came From Beneath the Sea," "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers"

I'm so confused! How many Ray Harryhausen "special collector's edition classic gift sets" are there? Aren't they beginning to overlap, duplicate content and cancel each other out? Are there any extras that we haven't seen umpteen times already? This three-disc release from Sony just happens to feature the B Monster's three favorite examples of the stop-motion maestro's work.

"20 Million Miles to Earth" is easily the B Monster's overall favorite Harryhausen film. Why? Could be the tender age at which he originally saw it. Could be the innovative creature design. Could be Nathan Juran's snappy direction. Could be that the kid in me will never tire of seeing a monster from Venus in a knockdown fistfight with a rampaging elephant. Or it could be that it's just a darned-good thriller in the tradition of Kong. The plot is wafer-thin, but that same kid in me doesn't seem to care. The "creature in a strange land" bit has rarely been better executed. The solid cast, led by William Hopper and Joan Taylor, includes many of our favorite B-movie faces, including Thomas Browne Henry as the General (Morris Ankrum must have been booked), Arthur Space as, appropriately, a rocket scientist, and Frank Puglia as Dr. Leonardo.

The story bears recapping for B-movie newbies: Hopper's spacecraft, returning from Venus, crash-lands in the Mediterranean. A strange, Jell-O-like egg is salvaged from the wreckage by a waif and finds its way into Puglia's possession. It hatches, and the ghastly hatchling (dubbed "Ymir" by Harryhausen) begins growing at an alarming rate. It doubles in size overnight, escapes, and is soon terrifying the bucolic countryside, setting the stage for some of Harryhausen's most convincing effects (a barnyard pitchfork fight is a standout sequence). The animation is rarely short of impressive and choosing to stage the climax atop the Roman Coliseum was inspired. Harryhausen gave his creature an oddly endearing personality, and that's what makes the film work.

"It Came From Beneath the Sea" (1955) features the famous, budget-crimped, six-legged octopus. Surely you've heard the story of how production costs forced Harryhausen to limit the number of his protagonist's extremities? But when a giant octopus is ripping down the Golden Gate Bridge, who really stops to count legs? Missing tentacles notwithstanding, "It Came From Beneath The Sea" has much to recommend it. It's tough to beat this B-movie cast: Kenneth Tobey as two-fisted Navy man Pete Mathews, comely Faith Domergue as his ladylove scientist, Donald Curtis and Harry Lauter. It's co-produced by B king Sam Katzman and Harryhausen's longtime production partner Charles H. Schneer, the team that was soon to produce "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers." Director Robert Gordon does a serviceable job. He had only a handful of films under his belt when it was filmed, and went on to a prolific TV career, helming episodes of "Bonanza," "Maverick," "My Friend Flicka" and others. And the story springs from the prolific pen of George Worthing Yates — make that George Worthing "Them!," "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers," "Amazing Colossal Man," "Space Master X-7," "War of the Colossal Beast," "Flame Barrier," "Earth vs. the Spider," "Attack of the Puppet People," "Tormented" Yates. Whoa! What a resume.

But, it goes without saying, Harryhausen's outsized octopus is the real attraction, in all its cruiser-capsizing, girder-snapping glory. I suppose it's a matter of personal context (i.e. to what degree you've been spoiled by today's seamless CGI) as to how well the stop-motion effects work holds up. Speaking as one who first caught it on the late show as an impressionable lad -- and reviews it in that context -- it holds up just dandy. Today's computer stuff is slick, all right, but Harryhausen focused on the personalities of his creations. From the Ymir of "20 Million Miles to Earth," to the various denizens that threatened Sinbad, the personal investment shows. Even six, gnarled tentacles -- without benefit of a face to convey menace -- are imbued with personality. (Why people on dry land would run screaming from a water-bound creature is grist for another discussion.)

There are so many reasons to watch "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers," (1956) one of the most ambitious and enjoyable alien invasion films of the 1950s. Watch it for the terrific cast of B-movie stalwarts, including Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, John Zaremba and Larry Blake, with the added bonus of having both Morris Ankrum AND Thomas Browne Henry, the B's leading authority figures, as the General and the Admiral, respectively. Watch it because it is one of the best examples of producer Sam Katzman and director Fred Sears' teamwork. Enjoy it for the sonorous, threatening tones of Paul Frees as the voice of the alien invaders who are eventually revealed to be tin-covered, wizened weaklings.

But the most compelling reason to partake is to experience Harryhausen's enterprising and altogether convincing special effects. Nearly 50 years have passed, and his are still some of the most impressive flying saucers ever to spin. The audacious climactic battle in Washington, D.C., wherein authentic replications of landmarks and monuments are destroyed by crashing alien craft, is still mind-blowing. When it comes to guilty pleasures, watching the nation's Capitol being obliterated by soaring saucers mounted with death rays is tough to top. Though it is often overshadowed in retrospectives by his subsequent work on "Jason and the Argonauts" and "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," I'll cite this singular saucer attack as my favorite Harryhausen-animated sequence. Special effects aside, the film spins a compelling tale, but Harryhausen makes it fly, pun intended. "Warning! Take cover," the posters warned. "Flying saucers invade our planet! Washington, London, Paris, Moscow fight back!" What child (or inner child, as the case may be) can resist such heraldry?

Director Fred Sears capped his genre-movie career with a pair of films -- "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" and "The Giant Claw" -- produced by cut-rate impresario Katzman that couldn't be more disparate in terms of quality. "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" is terrifically scary at times and an unqualified success. Sadly, "The Giant Claw" is another matter altogether. (Though stars Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday keep straight faces throughout, nothing can distract viewers from the stunning ineptitude of its titular menace, maybe the most laughable monster in screen history.)

Among the extras included in this set are the documentary "The Harryhausen Chronicles," the ubiquitous "This is Dynamation" featurette that is attached to every Harryhausen-related release, a featurette called "The Making of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers," a photo gallery and original theatrical trailers.


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

Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at

Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc.

Bryan Senn, whose books are available at and at

Tom Weaver, whose books are available at and at


"Thrills come rocketing to the screen as science smashes a new frontier!" -- Project Moon Base

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