Dick Simmons
Actor Dick Simmons, best known as "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," died of natural causes in Oceanside, Calif. He was 89. The "Sergeant Preston" TV series, chronicling the adventures of a Yukon Mountie, his horse Rex and his dog Yukon King, ran from 1955 to 1958. Prior to his television success, Simmons appeared in bit parts and uncredited roles in dozens of pictures including "Sergeant York," "Stand By For Action," "Seven Sweethearts," "Thousands Cheer" and "Rear Window." Simmons also turned up in many of MGM's long-running series that featured Dr. Gillespie, Andy Hardy and Maisie. It was said that Louis B. Mayer approached Simmons about a career in pictures after seeing him breaking horses in Palm Springs.

Simmons struggled in small roles before the "Sergeant Preston" program began on radio in 1947, the creation of George W. Trendle, creator of "The Lone Ranger" and "The Green Hornet." The television version, while short-lived, was wildly popular, spawning all manner of merchandising tie-ins including games, gadgets, even deeds to one-square-inch of Yukon land. There was even a Klondike Land Pouch, which contained actual soil. All are valued by collectors today. Billed later in his career as Richard Simmons, the actor finished out his career with parts in such films as "The Devil's Brigade," "Robin and the 7 Hoods" and "Lassie's Great Adventure." His final appearance was in the 1977 telefilm "Don't Push, I'll Charge When I'm Ready."

Reggie Rymal
Comedian and paddle-ball expert, Reggie Rymal, who was featured in the Warner Bros. 3D shocker, "House Of Wax," died following a heart attack in La Habra Calif. He was 81. Rymal was an entertainer and comedian in the early 1950s and was well known for his paddle-ball skills. He performed standup comedy and paddle-ball at hotels around the country. He appeared on many television shows during the early days of TV including "The Eddie Cantor Show," "You Asked For It," "Ladies Choice" and "The Steve Allen Show." But he is best remembered for his paddle-ball act in "House Of Wax." In the 3D film, Rymal's paddle-balls seem to jump off the screen.


Are you a movie sheep, mindlessly grazing on whatever Hollywood deems profitable fodder? Exactly why do people continue to plunk down millions of dollars to see crappy movies? Here's Robert Bucksbaum, president of Reel Source, an organization that tracks the habits of moviegoers, as quoted in the Washington Post: "Movie studios are doing it right; they are giving the public what they want to see. They're not trying to be creative and tiptoe around; they're force-feeding the public the same reinvented themes over and over -- it's either Cinderella, like 'Greek Wedding,' or the popcorn, testosterone movies for the young adults -- and you can't blame them, because that's what people want to see." Wow, I guess he's right. Those studios know me better than I know myself! They KNEW I wanted to see "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." They were right on the money with "Freddy Got Fingered" and "Formula 51." And NOTHING could stop me from seeing "Autumn in New York!" But even more important than their uncanny ability to read our thoughts is the fact that "they're not trying to be creative." You heard it from Reel Source. "They're not trying to be creative." It's right there in the Washington Post. "They're not trying to be creative." I feel so much better now that that's out in the open.

It's never too soon to get the jump on the upcoming genre-film conventions, so let's leap into summer with news of Monster Bash, The International Classic Monster Movie Convention and Expo 2003 presented by Scary Monsters Magazine and Creepy Classics Video & DVD. This year's guest roster is an impressive one. Leading the list is Julie Adams, best known to horror fans as the original object of the Creature's lust. Ms. Adams rarely makes public appearances, so avail yourself of this opportunity to see her paired once more with the Gill Man himself, big Ben Chapman.

Also in attendance will be:
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" star, Kevin McCarthy
Boris' beloved offspring, Sara Karloff
Yvonne Monlaur of "Circus of Horrors" and "Brides of Dracula" fame
Original Monster Kid and horror preservationist Bob Burns (who'll be accompanied by the armature skeleton of King Kong used in the original film)
Regional horror hosts Chilly Billy Cardille and Dr. Gangrene
The Madame Tussaud of monster fandom, Cortlandt Hull, along with full size figures from his Witches Dungeon museum
Monster Kid webmaster and illustrator extraordinaire, Kerry Gammill
Filmmaker Robert Tinnell Effects ace Tom Savini
Artist Frank Dietz
Authors Frank Dello Stritto, Tom Weaver and many others

And, in addition to near-round-the-clock screenings of classic films, there will be a "'King Kong' Show and Tell" hosted by Bob Burns, a Q&A session with Kevin McCarthy, a 3-D screening of "It Came From Outer Space," and on Sunday, according to promoters, "for those Catholic Monster Bashers, so you don't have to go out looking for a church, Father Michael Paraniuk will perform mass in the movie room (really!). All denominations welcome." Conventioneers are likewise happy to proclaim that "this is a family show with kids under 12 admitted FREE with adult. There will be Monster Kids at events and programming!" It all happens June 20, 21, 22, 2003 at the Days Inn Conference Center in beautiful Butler, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh.
For more info, check out: http://www.creepyclassics.com/bash.html
Tell 'em, without hesitation, that the B Monster sent you!

The Monster-Mania Con, billed as "Three Days of Sheer Terror," is touted by promoters as "the First Annual Philadelphia Area Horror Film and Memorabilia Convention." Once again, the feature attractions are lovely Julie Adams and her Black Lagoon paramour, Ben Chapman. There is also a special tribute to Peter Cushing planned with recollections from Cushing co-stars, Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson and Yvonne Monlaur.

Other guests include:
Doug Bradley, Pinhead of "Hellraiser" fame
Eddie Munster himself, Butch Patrick
Scream queen Linnea Quigley
Stephen Chiodo, director of "Killer Klowns From Outer Space"
Illustrator Vincent DiFate, and more.

Screenings include a host of Hammer horrors, Tod Browning's "Freaks," "Return of the Living Dead," "Clash of the Titans," "Mad Monster Party?" and a 3-D showing of the "Creature From the Black Lagoon" hosted by the "reel" Gill Man, Ben Chapman. The show gets under way Sept. 26 at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in lovely Cherry Hill, N.J.
For more details, visit: http://www.monstermania.net

The folks at Midnight Marquee Press plan on tossing TWO cons in the coming months. Son of Fanex happens April 11-13, 2003 at the Days Hotel Timonium just outside Baltimore, Maryland's "Charm City." The featured guest will be Hammer horror star Edward deSouza featured in such films as "Kiss of the Vampire" and "Phantom of the Opera." Then, August 1-3, it's Fanex 17. The Midmar folks entreat fans to "help us celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Midnight Marquee!" This seventeenth gathering of the genre-film faithful will feature the usual rare films, panel discussions, guest Q&As and memorabilia dealer's room, "plus a few special surprises." Like Son of Fanex, the Days Hotel Timonium will host the show.
To find out more, go to: http://www.midmar.com/filmfest.html

If vintage horror just ain't your thing, fear not. Somewhere on God's earth there's a convention for you. For instance, you could visit balmy Orlando, Fla., home of MegaCon 2003, billed as "three days of the Southeast's premier comic book, gaming, sci-fi, fantasy, anime, multimedia event of the year!" (I guess that covers everything). It's aimed primarily at the comics crowd with a guest list longer than Bullwinkle's "itty, bitty card." But for our money, the standouts are Kathy Garver (Cissy of ³Family Affair² fame), "M*A*S*H's" Klinger, Jamie Farr, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig ("Star Trek's" Uhura and Chekov, respectively), David "Darth Vader" Prowse, Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew and Gary Lockwood of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Geek fix still not sated? Ashford, Kent in the U.K. will host Redemption '03, "Celebrating 25 Years of Blake's 7 and 10 Years of Babylon 5!" Guests include Chris Boucher, Damian London, Mike Collins and Tanith Lee. Promoters promise, "talks, videos, games, workshops, discos, competitions for fan writing, fancy dress and anything else we can think of!" The show has raised money for The National Asthma Campaign and The Woodland Trust, so, smile when you call them nerds.

While you're in England, drop in on the Starfleet Ball. "We aim to provide the very best in fan-run sci-fi events in the south of England," promoters proclaim. "We are a non-profit organization and all money raised (over and above our running costs) is donated to our supported charity," in this case, the Macmillan Cancer Relief Trust. (Is this charity angle unique to Britain? In any event, we applaud them and encourage Ameri-Cons to follow the example.) Guests include "Star Trek's" George Takei, the "Next Generation's" Deanna Troi, Tony Amendola of "Stargate SG:1" and Alexandra Tydings of "Xena."

"Xena" too "mainstream" for you? "Blake's 7" too esoteric? Well, there's also Branscon, Johncon, Visioncon, Shevacon (I swear, these are all real), PrezCon, Radcon, Orcon, Capricon -- and that's just February! So don't hand us that "disenfranchised-outsider-just-don't-fit-in-anyplace" routine. It sounds like a con job.

And as long as you're making your convention plans so far in advance, why not flip the calendar to 2004? That's what Hollywood hypemeisters are doing, specifically when it comes to touting sci-fi-themed fare. The trend started in earnest when Sony started hyping a 2004 "Spider-Man" sequel while the original 2001 film was still in theaters. Other 2004 releases already being promoted include Universal's Gothic shocker, "Van Helsing," which will bow May 21, and Fox's sci-fi thriller "Tomorrow," opening May 28. Paramount's "Mission: Impossible 3" opens Memorial Day followed in June by "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." And Lucas lovers might as well reserve a spot on the sidewalk now, as the next "Star Wars" saga opens Memorial Day 2005, with a fourth Indiana Jones film to follow later that summer. Why is the advance word so, well, advance? According to Variety, it's to minimize, "financial risk, [show] a commitment to talent and [avoid] direct competition with other big-budget projects." C'mon! It's so moviegoers can plan vacations and holiday celebrations around the movies. It's only a matter of time before you'll be able to reserve release dates to coincide with your family's special occasions. "Matrix 8: Commemorating the 35th Wedding Anniversary of Bert and Ethel Fleckman."

We told you it was in the works last summer, and Bob Burns' incredible live re-creation of the crushing climax of the 1951 classic "The Thing From Another World" was the resounding Halloween success we predicted it would be. For those unable to attend this incredible live spook show, primo illustrator and Monster Kid webmeister Kerry Gammill provides an invaluable service; the latest addition to the Monster Kid site includes an eye-popping account of the event showcasing loads of color pics. We won't even try to describe the Burns show; the dedication, the authenticity, the craftsmanship. See for yourself! Monster Kid's coverage is the next best thing to being there.
Be sure and tell Count Gamula the B Monster sent you!

As part of the revived "Twilight Zone" series airing on UPN, Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman will reprise roles they originally played in 1959 in a sequel to the classic "It's a Good Life" episode wherein Mumy played a strange boy with the power to wish away disagreeable adults. Mumy's real-life daughter, Liliana, will play the daughter of his original character, Anthony Fremont. The premise finds Freemont's offspring developing her own terrifying powers. The program is slated to air sometime this month.

Nothing quite raised the hackles of B Monsterites like our justified assertion some months back that AMC had simply abandoned their mission as champions of classic American films. Readers concurred unanimously. Why has AMC deserted its post and junked their longstanding business model? A bit of dander was also raised at a recent Winter TV Press Tour when AMC's programming senior vice president, Rob Sorcher, simply refused to entertain the question. Sorcher told the press that AMC has been attracting droves of younger viewers since they began spicing their more contemporary movie fare with innumerable commercial breaks hawking snazzy yuppie products. He provided no numbers but ... In 2000, AMC attracted 351,000 viewers age 25-54. In 2002, the number was 341,000. That would be less. Likewise, in 2000, there were 499,000 viewers 50 and older. In 2002, there were 444,000. What's plan C?

In a recent cover story, Newsweek magazine, renowned for their two-fisted reporting and hard-hitting investigative journalism, proclaimed 2003 "The Year of The Matrix." That's right, even as the U.S. teeters on the brink of war, rogue nations develop nuclear weapons and the economy sinks to near Depression-era lows, Newsweek's focus at the start of 2003 is a Keanu Reeves movie. One day, you can proudly tell your grandchildren how, amid ongoing corporate scandal, crumbling faith in the Catholic church, the AIDS epidemic and the daily threat of terrorist attacks, the media stood proud and helped us celebrate "The Year of The Matrix," championing a violent, cynical film depicting a dismal future bereft of hope -- that you had to pay ten dollars to see. The B Monster must really be out of the loop; turns out that 2002 was the year of "The Country Bears," while 2001 was the year of "Pootie Tang." That Pulitzer is a lock, guys.

They may be airing at odd hours and finding homes on cable access stations, but it appears the Horror Movie Host phenomenon is alive and thriving in the USA. For instance, Channel 16, in Hammond, Indiana, offers Graveyard Theatre, screening classic horror movies every Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. A going concern for several years now, the show is hosted by a shrouded spook called Laslo, who, according to the official Website, "was raised from the grave by the sexy vampire demon Demonica. Each week, a new movie is brought from the dungeon by the wacky neighbor Rinfield." The program's setting is a creepy castle and, in the grand tradition of monstrous movie emceeing, the occasional comic skit finds its way into the mix, as well as a "Mail Call" segment and the "Monster Hobby Corner," a "show-and-tell segment where fans can come into the castle and brag about their horror-related hobbies and collections." Recent special guests have included other regional horror hosts, such as Count Gore Devol, of Washington D.C., Nashville's Dr. Gangrene, and West Coast favorite Bob Wilkins. Films recently screened include "Attack of the Crab Monsters," "Black Sabbath," "The Corpse Vanishes" and "The Vampire Bat."
To find out more, visit: http://www.angelfire.com/movies/graveyardtheatre/
Naturally, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

SFX magazine polled their readers to determine who were the top 10 science-fiction characters of all time. The results are as follows:

1. Doctor Who
2. Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
3. Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
4. John Crichton (Farscape)
5. Aeryn Sun (Farscape)
6. Han Solo (the Star Wars saga)
7. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
8. Darth Vader
9. Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
10. Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)

At the risk of showing our age, we'll admit we've never even heard of numbers four and five, but understand they appear on a show airing on the Sci Fi Channel. And with the exceptions of Doctor Who, Han Solo and Darth Vader, the remainder of the list is composed of Gothic fantasy-derived characters. With this scattershot criteria in mind, we'd like to submit some recommendations to SFX readers: There's this book called "Frankenstein," (I think they made it into a movie), and its protagonist might qualify for your top 10. And an author named Verne created a character or two -- Captain Nemo, Phileas Fogg -- who might make the cut. And seeing as how Eastern European folklore and futuristic fiction are co-mingled in contemporary pop culture, we'll tout the work of a fellow named Stoker who cooked up a humdinger of a neck-biter "back in the day," as you crazy kids might say. You might also want to research a pair of space explorers named Buck and Flash, who had an influence on the genre's development not to be underestimated. But, all we can do is recommend, and respect your assertion that, in all the history of science fiction and Gothic horror -- Poe, Verne, Wells, Stoker, "Doc" Smith, Doc Savage, Campbell, Lovecraft, Burroughs, John Carter, Buck Rogers, Bradbury, Montag, Frankenstein, Superman, Quatermass, Klaatu, Gort, Serling and Robby -- the greatest character in the history of the genre is ... sigh ... Doctor Who.

Forget the Emmys, the Oscars, the Tonys and the Phoneys. The results of the first annual Classic Horror Film Message Board Rondo Awards are in: One hundred and ninety-six fans cast their ballots in a wide range of genre-film-related categories:

Best genre-film of 2002: "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"
Best TV Presentation: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Best DVD of 2002: "Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon"
Best Restoration: "London After Midnight," "Metropolis" (tie)
Book of the Year: "Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of Night of the Hunter," by Preston Jones
Article of the Year: Kay Linaker, by Tom Weaver for Video Watchdog (Tom also finished second in this category!)
Magazine of the Year: Video Watchdog
Convention of the Year: Monster Bash
Fan Event of the Year: Bob Burns' Halloween Re-creation of "The Thing"
Classic Most in Need of a DVD Release: "King Kong"
Writer of the Year: Tom Weaver (with over a third of the votes!)
Best Other Horror Board: Kerry Gammill's Monster Kid (Kerry's dedication is most worthy of this recognition).

We nominated Tom Weaver for a Lifetime Achievement Award, but he may be too young for our suggestion to be taken seriously. Notwithstanding, thanks, David Colton, for initiating the poll, tabulating the votes and presenting the results. Give yourself a Rondo!


The pretense is that "Destination Mars!" is a "lost" film, produced in 1956 by an eccentric producer/director, and rescued from obscurity by the producers of this package. With that in mind, you'll find this film to be either ...
A: A loving homage to the low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s
B: An insulting lampoon of the low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s I'm not quite sure which option they were going for. Maybe both?

Suppose it's option A: A lot of work went into parsing the Ed Woodian dialogue and re-creating the flimsy sets displayed in so many grade Z movies of the period. The melodramatic music, while sounding a tad too electronic, is reminiscent of vintage shockers. They've even bothered to add hissing to the soundtrack and scratches to the film. The plot is distilled from sources including Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (of course), "Cat-Women of the Moon," "Devil Girl From Mars" and others. Does it evoke happy memories of these and other films? It's hit and miss.

On to option B: Purists will hate it for many of the same reasons they take issue with "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and all those who consider themselves connoisseurs of bad cinema. It's just too easy to laugh up our sleeves at the Ed Woods, Phil Tuckers and other easy targets. "Destination Mars!" can be seen as far too snide to appeal to the people who really care about vintage films. And it is unduly cynical to sit back and laugh at 1950s naiveté when 20 or so years from now, junk like "The Matrix" and "Pitch Black" will be ripe for the same type of skewering owing to their nihilism.

So, does "Destination Mars!" succeed at being a tongue-in-cheek con job, a new film masquerading as a decades-old treasure? I think it stood a chance, but the filmmakers commit a fatal blunder: The film begins with a mockumentary wherein the making of the "lost" film is chronicled, the fates of those involved is divulged, and surviving relatives and crewmembers are interviewed. There's some funny -- albeit dark -- stuff here. But by the time this intro is concluded, we've gotten the joke. The film itself is pointless. The humor is in the fake back-story. The forced ineptitudes of the "discovered" film just aren't very funny. If it's an, homage, it's laudable. If it's a satire, it's a failure. The problem with the film is that it doesn't seem to know which it wants to be.

Janusz Kaminski, is a brilliant, Oscar-winning cinematographer ("Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List"). Why he chose as his directorial debut this derivative, half-baked thriller is anyone's guess. There is absolutely nothing new brought to this oft-visited table. It's tired stuff about the offspring of Satan and the hour when he will be made manifest and all that other Gothic gobbledygook you've seen in a hundred other movies. (Oh, God, when will this pop-culture fascination with the devil be over?) Add to these clichés' frustrating, dangling story threads and plot holes bigger than the yawning mouth of Hell.

"Lost Souls," produced, incidentally, by Meg Ryan (!) stars Wynona Ryder and John Hurt and it is a good-looking movie -- provided you really, really like sepia. Darned near every scene takes place in a brownish dry-ice fog. And Kaminski's camera meanders through scenes to no apparent purpose. People simply entering a room do so in super-slow motion, the camera shooting from the floor and panning up their pant legs. Why? These distractions are insurmountable and rob the film of any tension. It's like a big, beige Calvin Klein ad starring Satan. We've seen "The Exorcist." Can we please move on?

We've never known quite what to make of this Japanese-American co-production. It is by turns very silly and very disturbing, making it difficult to determine whether it is an effective thriller or a freakish oddity. It was filmed in Japan, produced and co-directed by George Breakston, a one-time child actor whose many credits include the role of Beezy in several of the Andy Hardy pictures. The lead role of American newspaperman Larry Stanford is assayed by Peter Dyneley, a British actor who provided the voice of Jeff Tracy for the "Thunderbirds" sci-fi marionette series.

The plot concerns Stanford, on assignment in Japan to study the eccentric scientist Dr. Suzuki, who is conducting suspicious experiments in his cloistered mountain laboratory. The mad doc keeps his wife, subject of one of his failed experiments, locked in a cage. He seems sincerely to regret what he's done to her while at the same time appreciating her contribution to scientific advancement.

Suzuki realizes that the Yank reporter is the perfect guinea pig for his new serum, and he injects the unsuspecting scribe who, before long, is displaying some decidedly aggressive tendencies toward the opposite sex. This is puzzling enough, but nothing compared with the eyeball growing on his shoulder, which, by the film's climax, matures into a full, ape-like head. Evidently, Breakston and screenwriter Walter Sheldon thought this wasn't going far enough, so they have their protagonist and his conjoined ape alter ego simply split into two separate beings. (Imagine, a full grown ape-man springing from your shoulder! Yuck!) And, believe it or not, we haven't given away the ending! In summation, "The Manster" is unconvincing yet somehow revolting, which makes it worth seeing -- at least once.

Really cool-looking dragons are taking over the world. How did the makers of this film screw up such a simple pretense? We're about 70 minutes into "Reign of Fire," when Matthew McConaughey's character explains why the movie should have concluded an hour and 10 minutes earlier. According to McConaughey, there's one Daddy dragon fathering all the others. All they gotta do is kill the Daddy and NO MORE DRAGONS! Why no one realized this before isn't adequately explained. But the dragons do look really cool. Following a short prologue wherein the Papa dragon is unearthed, we see the hand of some unknown person busily scribbling in a diary superimposed over newspaper headlines, magazine articles, devastated landscapes -- even 50-year-old footage of atomic bomb blasts -- accompanied by a voiceover describing -- not SHOWING -- how the dragons multiplied, spread like the plague, wiped out armies, leveled entire countries. Hot damn! THAT'S a movie I want see! Show us the mobilizing forces, the sweep of destruction, the hordes of dragons breathing fiery death on all mankind. Unfortunately, this all happens off camera, summed up in a montage that lasts about a minute.

Instead, the film centers on a ragtag band of British survivors led by Christian Bale who are holed up in a burned out castle, isolated from whatever may be left of the human race, battling the errant dragon that may threaten their charred abode. And the dragons DO look cool. One day, along comes grizzled American army officer Matthew McConaughey with tanks, a helicopter, a small band of G.I.s and Izabella Scorupco as the hottest, Slavic-accented female chopper pilot in the U.S. military. There's tension, there's in-fighting, there's a hint of romance, and the dragons look really cool. For those of you contemplating military service, McConaughey represents, we suppose, the G.I. of the future, sporting a sleeveless leather vest with a furry collar, a shaved head, swirly tattoos covering his arms, back and chest, and, though he drives a tank, in lieu of the traditional military sidearm, he carries a medieval battle axe wherever he goes. Contradicting his ultra-macho appearance, McConaughey whispers all of his lines, while Bale bellows all of his at the top of his lungs. You can't understand either of them, but that doesn't really matter because the dragons look really cool.

The film was directed by "X Files" veteran, Rob Bowman who, I guess, had this great idea about cool-looking dragons and went looking for a movie to stick them in. What he ended up with was a film that was just successful enough with fantasy geeks to perhaps spawn a direct-to-video sequel or maybe a Sci Fi Channel cable series. The DVD extras include two "making of" featurettes, which pay scant attention to the story, focusing heavily on how, using computers, they made those dragons look so doggone cool. One effects technician relates how they tried to make the monsters look really "manevolent" (sic) while another describes their appearance as a cross between, "a snake, a hawk and a bird." (REALLY sic).

We'll start with our favorite scene in "Predator:" Arnold Schwarzenegger and his military strike force land in the Central American jungle and proceed to storm a rebel base. It's a slam-bang opening: machine guns rattling, rockets firing, bodies and blood flying, an explosion every two seconds. The commandos kick down the door of the rebel leader's office and, lo and behold, there's the leader and an assistant calmly going through some paperwork. Evidently, the thatched grass walls of their bungalow have been soundproofed. They've heard none of the commotion outside and are taken completely by surprise! We don't demand literacy and credibility from a film about an invisible hunter from space stalking a group of soldiers through the jungle, but that's a storytelling gaff that should have been caught in the first draft.

The plot, as summarized in the previous sentence, is no great shakes. It's "Alien" in the jungle, with victims -- including "Rocky's" Apollo Creed, Carl Weathers and the outgoing governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura -- picked off one by one. Director John McTiernan went on to foster the "Die Hard" franchise, and the tone of those films is not markedly different from "Predator," filled with manipulative violence that will please a very forgiving, undiscriminating crowd. Worth noting is the look of the Predator: an offbeat variation on your typical alien -- sort of a lobster-faced muscle man with a Rastafarian hairdo. The movie made money and spawned a sequel as well as all manner of merchandising, including toys, video games and comics -- excuse me -- "graphic novels!"

Publisher, author and film historian Bob Madison offers the following erudite review:

Conan Doyle created an entire genre in 1912 with the publication of his science fiction adventure classic "The Lost World." It featured the author's favorite creation: the violent, swaggering, conceited Professor Challenger. Doyle so loved Challenger that his publisher had to convince the author that it would be a bad idea to illustrate the book with photos of Doyle in full Challenger costume!

The influence of "The Lost World" and Challenger have been felt in science fiction and films ever since. Challenger is the forerunner of many a science fiction protagonist, most notably the crusty Professor Quatermass, and "The Lost World" has been imitated by writers as diverse as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Italo Calvino. ("Lost World" has become such a shorthand phrase for this type of story, that it can be argued that Doyle created and named a whole genre with this tale.)

Such a heady mix of dinosaurs, explorers and uncharted jungles has been a natural for movies. The first film version of "The Lost World" was produced in 1925, with Wallace Beery as Challenger. The film departed from Doyle's original in providing a love interest and having the explorers return to London with a brontosaur. Dinosaur effects were by stop motion animation giant Willis O¹Brien, and they thrill to this day. This version won Doyle's unqualified praise and is the yardstick by which later (and lesser) versions are measured.

The recent television mini-series of "The Lost World" has just been released on DVD. Like the 1925 version, the film includes a love interest, this one a plucky missionary's daughter. And while it is not a patch on the silent classic, it is a competent period thriller with plenty of fun moments and a real Victorian flavor. It easily could have been edited to a more compact form and distributed as a theatrical film -- it's that good. Of course, the film takes liberties with Doyle's story. The missionary, Rev. Theo Kerr, played by Peter Falk, is an interesting, if useless, addition to the film. It is Kerr's panic at the thought of proof for the evolutionary theory that strands our adventures on the plateau of dinosaurs. The problem is not that the addition makes bad sense -- but the screenplay never develops this opposition to evolution to create dramatic frisson.

Also, Challenger, a devoted family man with an equally eccentric wife in the novel, is made a lonely bachelor here, while Summerlee, pretty much a cipher in the book, becomes a semi-heroic family man almost as interesting as Challenger. However, despite these changes, "The Lost World" is surprisingly faithful to Doyle's novel in incident and, most importantly, spirit. There is considerable padding before Challenger and company make it to the Lost World, but once there, the film takes off. The dinosaur effects are believable and exciting, and there are two set pieces -- a visit to the pterodactyl rookery and the dinosaur attack on the native village -- that are two of the best sequences I've ever seen in this type of picture. The end is true to Doyle with one improvement. Challenger and company return with a pterodactyl. (News of the discovery of the Lost World promises to be "the biggest thing to hit the country since Buffalo Bill Cody.") Once the pterodactyl escapes from the British Museum lecture hall, Summerlee and reporter Malone convince Challenger to declare the whole thing a hoax. Doyle's Challenger would've probably broken both of their necks for making the suggestion, but the more enlightened Challenger of today concedes.

The cast is uniformly fine with the exception of Bob Hoskins' Challenger. He lacks the character's egomania and penchant for violence; in fact, at times, Hoskins strives more to be cute than challenging. James Fox provides the film's best performance as Summerlee, and Tom Ward makes a credible Roxton, the celebrated hunter along for the ride. Falk's role is little more than a scene-stealing cameo, but it's effective despite the poor conception of the character. Matthew Rhys is all fresh-faced innocence as Malone. Director Stuart Orme's "The Lost World" is on par with many of the adaptations of Victorian sci-fi classics from the '60s (think "Master of the World" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth") and, as such, is worthy of attention.


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


"The fire-spitting monster predicted in the Bible!" -- The Giant Behemoth

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