Kelly Freas
Legendary science fiction illustrator and Mad magazine cover artist Frank Kelly Freas died in Los Angeles. He was 82. Freas' career as a science fiction artist began in 1950. His most recent work appeared in the April 2002 issue of Analog magazine and in an illustrated edition of George Orwell's "Animal Farm." His art graced myriad pulp and paperback covers, album and CD jackets and the noses of WW II bombers. He famously illustrated stories by the best-known authors in the science fiction field including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, A.E. Van Vogt, Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, and Poul Anderson. Freas collected a total of 11 Hugo Awards for his work. He rendered many of Mad magazine's most memorable covers from 1955-1962. Freas was also an official NASA mission artist. Examples of his NASA work hang in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The crew of Skylab 1 commissioned Freas to design their official mission patch.

Freas was born in New York and raised in Canada. He settled in Pittsburgh following a tour in the army, and studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. A friend encouraged Freas to submit artwork to Weird Tales. The magazine purchased the art, and Freas decided to pursue a career as an illustrator. His work appeared in all of the major science fiction pulp magazines, and Freas received back-to-back Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist in 1955 and '56. He repeated the achievement in 1958 and '59. He won five consecutively in 1972-76. In 1971, he published "The Astounding Fifties," a collection of the black and white illustrations he rendered for Astounding magazine. Freas also published three illustrated memoirs, "Frank Kelly Freas: The Art of Science Fiction" in 1977, "Frank Kelly Freas: A Separate Star" in 1984 and "Frank Kelly Freas: As He Sees It," co-written with his wife, artist Laura Brodian Freas, in 2000. In 2001, Freas received the Chesley Award for Artistic Achievement, bestowed by the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists.

If you'll indulge a personal digression, I'll point out that Kelly illustrated a cover for "Steve Conley's Astounding Space Thrills," which featured a Crater Kid story by the B Monster. I was honored to be associated with one of the dean's of science fiction illustration.

Actor Cal Bolder, best known to cult-movie fans as the bald, brawny creation of Frankenstein's offspring in the campy 1966 shocker "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," died of cancer. He was 74. Bolder was born Earl Craver in Elkhart, Kansas. He served in the Marine Corp during the Korean conflict before settling in Los Angeles where he served as a police officer for 14 years. An agent whom Bolder had ticketed for speeding suggested that the handsome, muscular officer pursue an acting career. Bolder followed his advice and was soon appearing in small parts is such TV series as "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," "Honey West" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." In "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter," Bolder played Hank Tracy, a cowpoke transformed by Maria Frankenstein into the monstrous Igor. Bolder appeared in just four feature films before retiring from acting in the late 1960s. He moved to Washington state where he took up writing. His first novel, a crime thriller called "The Last Reunion," was published under the name E.C. Craver.

Will Eisner
Renowned cartoonist Will Eisner died at Florida Medical Center of complications from quadruple bypass heart surgery. He was 87. Eisner's comic strip "The Spirit" figured prominently in the evolution of graphic storytelling. His graphic novels, including "A Contract with God" and "The Building," influenced a generation of comic storytellers. Eisner was born in Brooklyn in 1917, the son of Jewish immigrants. He began his comics career in the 1930s. The stable of illustrators he oversaw with partner Jerry Iger featured many of the finest illustrators working in comics. "The Spirit," which debuted in 1940 and featured more adult themes and characters than the typical comic book of the era, was a comics supplement to Sunday newspapers. At the height of its popularity, it was featured in 20 papers with a circulation of 5 million. "I had been producing comic books for 15-year-old cretins from Kansas,'' Eisner once told The Associated Press. "The Spirit," Eisner said, was aimed at "a 55-year-old who had his wallet stolen on the subway."

During World War II, Eisner produced instructional comics for G.I.s featuring the character "Joe Dope." He returned to the Spirit following the war and founded the American Visuals Corporation, creating educational and commercial art. In recent years, Eisner became one of the most celebrated figures in the comics field. His graphic novels "The Dreamer," "To the Heart of the Storm" and the recently published "Fagin the Jew," were highly regarded, as was his influential instructional treatise "Comics and Sequential Art." The comic industry awards, The Eisners, are named for him.


Who gives a hoot about those phony baloney Oscars? It's Rondo time again. The nominees for the Third Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, recognizing the best work in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation, have been posted. The voting is open to all. It's your opportunity to show an assembled cult-film fandom that you're paying attention. All voting is by e-mail only to taraco@aol.com . Voting will end at midnight, the night of Saturday, Feb. 19. Winners will be announced the following night. According to Rondo organizer David Colton, "Write-ins are accepted. We discourage any organized voting efforts, including multiple blind votes or electronic duplicates. Every e-mail must include your name to help prevent organized voting campaigns. All votes are kept strictly confidential and will be tallied by David Colton. No e-mail addresses or any personal information will ever be shared with anyone." And the nominees are:

Best Movie
-- "Alien vs. Predator"
-- "Dawn of the Dead"
-- "Day After Tomorrow"
-- "The Forgotten"
-- "The Grudge"
-- "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
-- "Hellboy"
-- "The Incredibles"
-- "I, Robot"
-- "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra"
-- "Open Water"
-- "Phantom of the Opera" (musical)
-- "Shaun of the Dead"
-- "Sky Captain and the world of Tomorrow"
-- "Spider-Man 2"
-- "Van Helsing"
-- "The Village"

Best Television Presentation
-- Angel: "Not Fade Away"
-- Enterprise: "Awakening"
-- Farscape: "The Peacekeeper Wars"
-- The 4400: "Pilot"
-- "Frankenstein" (Hallmark Network)
-- Lost: "Pilot"
-- "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments" (Bravo)
-- Smallville: "Crusade"

Best Classic DVD
-- "Creature From the Black Lagoon: Legacy Collection"
-- "Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Collection" (1978)
-- "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" ('32 and '41 versions)
-- "Eyes Without a Face"
-- "Freaks"
-- "Hound of the Baskervilles," "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"
-- "House of Dracula" (Dracula Legacy Collection)
-- "Invisible Man: Legacy Collection"
-- "Jonny Quest" Collection
-- "M" (Criterion)
-- "The Man Who Changed His Mind" (Karloff, 1936)
-- Tarzan Collection (MGM)
-- "Testament of Dr. Mabuse"
-- "Twilight Zone: Season One"
-- "Videodrome"
-- "Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland"
-- "Woman in the Moon"

Best Book
-- "Boris Karloff: A Man Remembered," by Gordon B. Shriver
-- "Christopher Lee Filmography," by Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller
-- "Godzilla On My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters," by William Tsutsui
-- "Hollywood Gothic" (Faber and Faber, revised), by David J. Skal
-- "Human Monsters: The Definitive Edition," by Michael H. Price and George E. Turner
-- "In All Sincerity, Peter Cushing," by Christopher Gullo
-- "Jekyll and Hyde Dramatized: The 1887 Richard Mansfield Script," edited by Martin A. Danahay and Alexander Chisholm. Tracing a rarity.
-- "Peter Cushing: Midnight Marquee Actors Series," edited by Anthony Ambrogio
-- "Profondo Argento," by Alan Jones
-- "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," by Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton
-- "Smirk, Sneer and Scream," by Mark Clark
-- "Space patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early Television," by Jean-Noel Bassior
-- "Up From the Vaults: Rare Thrillers of the '20s and '30s," by John T. Soister
-- "A Vault of Horror: A Book of 80 Great British Horror Movies From 1956-1974," by Keith Topping
-- "Worlds of Tomorrow: The Amazing Universe of Science Fiction Art," by Forrest J Ackerman and Brad Linaweaver

Best Magazine
-- Amazing Figure Modeler
-- Chiller Theatre
-- Cult Movies
-- Fangoria
-- Filmfax
-- G-FAN
-- Midnight Marquee
-- Monster Bash
-- Monsters from the Vault
-- Movie Mystique
-- Phantom of the Movies VideoScope
-- Psychotronic
-- Rue Morgue
-- Shock Cinema
-- Scarlet Street
-- Scary Monsters
-- Starlog
-- Van Helsing's Journal
-- Video Watchdog

Best Web Site
-- The Astounding B-Monster
-- A Tribute to Lon Chaney Jr. Yahoo Group
-- Bride of House of Universal Yahoo Group
-- Chiller Theatre Expo Yahoo Group
-- Countgore.com
-- Creature from the Black Lagoon Yahoo Group
-- Creepy Classics
-- Dr. Gangrene's Chiller Cinema
-- DVD Drive-In
-- DVD Maniacs
-- Eccentric-cinema
-- Horrorhosts.com
-- Horror-Wood Webzine
-- Latarnia: Fantastique International
-- Lugosiphilia Yahoo Group
-- Midnight Marquee
-- Mobius Home Video Forum
-- Monster Kid Online Magazine
-- Monster-Maniacs Yahoo Group
-- Professor Griffin's Midnight Shadow Show
-- Scarlet Street
-- SciFilm.org
-- Secretfunspot.com
-- Serialsquadron.com
-- Shocklines Forum (EZ Board)
-- Sinister Cinema
-- Solar Guard Academy solarguard.com
-- Universal Monster Army Yahoo Group
-- Worldlyremains.com
-- Or write in another choice:

Count Alucard's Controversy of the Year
-- Colorization returns with Three Stooges
-- Ed Wood DVD mysteriously pulled from shelves for months
-- MGM gives Best Buy exclusive on some Midnite Marquee titles
-- Mobius message board loses all posts
-- Munsters documentary DVD blocked by Universal
-- Van Helsing: CGI film splits fandom

Other categories include:
-- Best Convention
-- Best Restoration
-- Best DVD Extra
-- Best Independent Film Or Documentary
-- Best Article
-- Best Cover
-- Best Fan Event
-- Best Horror Comic Book
-- Best Model or Collectible
-- Classic Most In Need of DVD Release
-- Writer of the Year
-- Monster Kid of the Year
You can also nominate candidates for induction in the Monster Kid Hall of Fame

For more info, check out:
DON'T tell 'em the B Monster sent you (It might look like we're trying to influence the vote!).

In the interest of keeping you up to speed on the latest Hollywood heresies, we'll reveal that the "House of Wax" remake is scheduled for theatrical release April 29. It was produced by Dark Castle, a production company spawned by Hollywood big shots Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis apparently just so they could crank out wretched "in name only" remakes of the films they (and we) grew up watching and enjoying. The Dark Castle canon includes nasty overhauls of "House on Haunted Hill" and "13 Ghosts," the deadly dull "Ghost Ship" and the Halle Berry bomb "Gothika." It isn't so much that the films are intrinsically bad and poorly acted (though for the most part they are), they're just so doggone mean-spirited. For instance, they've tweaked the "House of Wax" plot just a tad. It's now about four college students stranded in a hick town, the main attraction of which is a wax museum run by sadistic serial killers. Oh, and one of the stars is Paris Hilton.

The multi-talented Hoffman is also engaged in a burgeoning music career. He recently toured Toronto, London and Hamilton, Canada, with heavy metal rocker Thor, performing tunes from their "rock odyssey" "Beast women From the Center of the Earth." (Concert videotape is available at the artist's Web site for $14.95 per copy.) His "Monster University" CD is a collection of catchy monster-themed anthems such as "Kid Frankenstein," "She's a Werewolf" and "Robot Monster" (The cover art harks back to the EC comics heyday.) His latest release, "Island of the Goddess," features "twelve Tike-inspired tunes featuring birdsongs, jungle drums, burbling lagoons, murmuring voices with cascading pianos and violent guitars. ... Be transported to an exotic, electric Polynesian paradise... "

Mike's Web site offers career updates, an online store, links, ruminations on life, politics and philosophy and a gallery of his lean, mean, fantasy renderings. Check out:
And make a point of telling Mike the B Monster sent you!

Heartfelt congratulations go out to the folks at "Monsters From the Vault," celebrating their 10th anniversary with a dazzling new issue. Behind a moody, computer-colored cover portrait of Karloff's Frankenstein Monster lurks an array of articles and cult-film ephemera that tops any of their previous editions. These wonders include part two of "Kongversations," Bob Burns recollections of his encounter with Kong articulator Marcel Delgado as told to Tom Weaver; a transcription of Merian C. Cooper's and Fay Wray's recollections on the filming of "Kong" culled from Bob's voluminous archive and transcribed by Weaver; an eloquent and edifying excerpt from Frank Dello Stritto's "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore"; Tom Weaver's interview with legendary producer Richard Gordon on his problem-plagued 1955 production of "Svengali" a unique, "What If" postulation by Gary D. Rhodes who reveals what a 1926 version of "Frankenstein" starring Lon Chaney might have been like; and a rather haunting and affectionate tribute to "Dracula" leading lady Helen Chandler, whose tragic life is recounted by Rhodes and Greg Mank. All this, plus a tribute to genre-film fan and collector non-pareil, the late John Parnum, DVD and book reviews and more. For more info, check out:
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!

It seems there's no end to the honors accorded to stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen. His 2004 illustrated autobiography was greeted with much praise; he's recently made myriad personal appearances and held court at filmfests and awards ceremonies, and recently, the American Cinematheque held a special event in his honor billed as "An Evening with Visual Effects Wizard Ray Harryhausen." Two evenings, actually. The two-day mini-festival began with Ray attending screenings of "The "7th Voyage of Sinbad," and "The 3 Worlds of Gulliver," (along with "Gulliver" star Sherri Alberoni) at the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the historic 1922 Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Part two showcased "The Mysterious Island" and "Jason and the Argonauts" with Ray in attendance (as well as "Mysterious Island's" Michael Callan) at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Naturally, Harryhausen was available for book signings at both events.

In the coming months, The American Cinematheque, located in the heart of historic Hollywood, will be hosting special events sure to be of interest to West Coast monsterphiles and frequent-flying fright film fans. On March 25 and 26, they're presenting "A Tribute to Vincent Price," featuring screenings of "Theatre of Blood," "Tales of Terror," "Masque of the Red Death" and "The Tingler." (No word yet on whether or not the seats will be hot-wired with "Percept-O!") June 24-29 they will present "The Giant Monsters Festival," screening the best of Godzilla, Gamera and their reptilian Toho brethren. And August 4-17 the Cinematheque presents their "6th Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction," featuring, according to promoters, "all things supernatural, space age and sinister ... offering up more brand new, classic and obscure treasures from the U.S. and around the globe!" Mark your calendars and stay tuned for any developments. Meanwhile, check out:
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!

It was recently announced that The Creative Group, a well-known post-production facility, had acquired Starlog Group Inc. The deal included the company's flagship publications Starlog and Fangoria. Most importantly, the acquisition paved the way for the recent debut of FangoriaTV, which is available on In Demand's INHD cable service. Norman Jacobs, who founded the sci-fi-horror magazine empire in 1976, made the announcement. "Starlog Group's jump into cable programming," said Jacobs, "now that The Creative Group has taken us under their wing, will be an exciting and challenging endeavor for us. Fangoria the magazine is truly entering the 21st century now by having its own cable station. It allows us to leap ahead of the publishing industry by boldly expanding our brand into new cable media." FangoriaTV is currently available in 4 million homes via INHD, and reaches 5 million college dorms as a part of National Lampoon Networks. Moe Greene Associates, Creative Group's entertainment and programming division responsible for FangoriaTV is presided over by president Tom DeFeo, who said it was a "dream come true" to "be building this 24/7 network devoted to the horror/suspense/thriller enthusiast."
http://www.fangoriatv.com http://www.fangoria.com


It isn't a great film, but it has some scary stuff in it. The storytelling techniques employed by director Takashi Shimizu -- shifting the chronology of events, never clearly discerning for the audience the dead from the living or who died when and how -- is initially intriguing, but ultimately frustrating, seeming experimental just for the sake of being different. There are a handful of terrific "boo" moments, and the more squeamish in the audience may find themselves sneaking a peak over their shoulders to make sure no skulking wraiths are poised to pounce, but the movie is structured in such a way as to blunt some of the tension.

"The Grudge" is a remake of the 2003 Japanese horror hit "Ju-on." It was imported and Americanized a bit by producer Sam Raimi of "Evil Dead" (and, more recently and spectacularly, "Spider-Man") fame. While the remake retains the setting of the original, ex-vampire slayer, "Buffy" herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, is integrated into the cast as an American caregiver living in Japan with her student-boyfriend. Gellar works for a visiting care service and is called in to replace a nurse who has mysteriously gone missing. She arrives at the home of an elderly Japanese woman who, it would appear, is in the last stages of dementia. Hearing strange sounds, Gellar begins exploring the house (this is when the cunningly crafted "boo" scenes commence) and gradually, the series of events that led to the haunting of this otherwise unassuming Japanese household unfolds ... sort of.

There are two reasons why I won't offer a more detailed synopsis: First, attempting to explain the layering of events, the shuffling of sequences that each contain clues and cues and dramatic setups, would likely spoil the film for anyone going in "fresh." Second, I'm not so sure I COULD explain the film. Some of it is terrifically scary in that subtle "don't look now" kinda way. Some of it is momentarily shocking in that "here's a ghoul in your face accompanied by loud music" kinda way. Otherwise, I'm not exactly sure what happened in the film (or for that matter, what happened "before" the film begins -- that is, the chronology of events that set the ongoing haunting in motion. And this may be just the aura of mysterioso the filmmakers were going for. (A comparison to the Japanese original is of passing interest, as the first film is even more disjointed and experimental than the somewhat more simplified American version.) What can be stated without danger of spoiling anything is that "Ju-on" translates roughly to "Grudge." Horrific murders took place in the house in question and the pall of hatred and anger that fostered the killings lingers in the house, becoming an entity unto itself, engulfing and destroying all who enter. The film showcases an intriguing twist on time-worn ideas, some solid acting, some interesting storytelling and a shock or two that will lift the unjaded right out of their seats.

Before this movie ever opened theatrically I thought to myself, "Everyone will compare this picture to 'The Blair Witch Project.' " Now that it's debuting on DVD and every critic in the English speaking world is finished comparing it to "The Blair Witch Project," I feel comfortable weighing in with an opinion. It does resemble "The Blair Witch Project" in that the film was cheaply made and the camera jiggles around a lot. What the producers and marketers failed to do was generate the unprecedented media buzz that fueled the success of the prior film. "Blair Witch" was not a great movie, but I nonetheless saluted its makers for the audacity of their idea and their skillful manipulation of the hype. Theirs was something bold and different -- a horror film presenting itself as a documentary -- leaving the very gullible (or those completely wiling to suspend disbelief) to ponder whether or not there may be some kernel of truth that inspired the project.

The makers of "Open Water" contend that it is based on true events, but the "you are there" conceit that made "Blair witch" engaging is impossible to convey, as most of this film depicts a bickering couple, played by Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, treading water as sharks close in for a meal. These vacationing scuba enthusiasts are stranded miles from shore when the tour boat crew that took them diving forgets all about them and sails for home. This is no doubt a very scary predicament. Are the filmmakers successful in conveying the inner terror the protagonists endure? Not exactly. Floating in shark-infested waters with no sign of help in sight should be a terrifying proposition, but I never much cared what happened to these paper-thin characters. This is the film's central failing. Who's going to miss two more privileged, overpaid, cell phone-toting yuppies? The way I see it, that's two less SUVs stinking up the highway. Their relationship is not adequately developed, and there's a tenuous sub-plot or two left unresolved. The film is written and directed by Chris Kentis, who also photographed it along with his wife and co-producer Laura Lau. (The couple's previous effort was 1997's "Grind.") According to hype, they spent some 120 hours filming in the water. They pared this footage down to a remarkably brief 79 minute run time. Unfortunately, "Open Water" feels substantially longer.

Jaded, contemporary audiences should view this film through 1927 spectacles in order to fully appreciate its importance. Know-it-alls will see the clichés coming, to be sure, but imagine how startling and fresh they must have seemed nearly eight decades ago. With this seminal silent shocker, German director Paul Leni masterfully drafted the virtual blueprint for most of the "Old House" thrillers subsequently filmed. In "Classics of the Horror Film," movie historian William K. Everson wrote, "The silent 'Cat and the Canary' and 'The Old Dark House' so completely wrapped up the 'Old House' genre that no subsequent films have been nearly so successful." No arguments here.

Based on the long-running stage play by John Willard, the film stars Laura La Plante as Annabelle West, who, if she can prove she is sane, will inherit the fortune of eccentric Cyrus West, who specified that his will be read 20 years after his death. If Annabelle is of unsound mind, the fortune goes to an unnamed recipient whose identity is sealed in an envelope. Also in the cast are Creighton Hale, Gertrude Astor, Arthur Edmund Carewe and Tully Marshall who, in one the most imitated scenes in cinema, falls face forward into the camera when the closet concealing his dead body is opened.

The movie abounds with the horror and mystery film conventions we've come to take for granted. There's the reading of the will, the cloaked killer, the clutching hand, the startled heiress, the cowardly foil. Thanks to Leni's imaginative staging and canny storytelling, what are now considered musty clichés must have been quite alarming when the film originally played. Cloaked villains, grasping hands, murder and mayhem, all delivered with a wink as Leni experiments, playfully manipulating shadows, camera angles, employing double exposures -- even tampering with the title cards.

"Cat and the Canary" was filmed previously in 1921, and was famously remade in 1939 as a thriller/comedy starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The Hope version was a smash hit for Paramount and prompted a half-alike sequel and numerous imitations from other studios. A 1979 version directed by Radley Metzger starred Honor Blackman, Michael Callan and Carol Lynley. This "Special Edition" of the 1927 chestnut features two music scores from which to choose; a recently revised and re-recorded score by Erich Beheim and a newly composed score by Franklin Stover. Also included is the vintage short film "Haunted Spooks."

There is a line separating "bad" movies from "so-bad-they're-good" movies. This line is a subjective and fuzzy one. Being charitable, we'll place "Jungle Siren" in the latter category. Let's get the obvious out of the way. It was filmed in 1942 and takes place in "darkest Africa," hence, "political incorrectness" abounds and will likely appear outrageous to contemporary audiences who were not reared on repeated Tarzan screenings and Our Gang shorts. But lack of civil equity is the least of this film's problems. Prominent among its detriments is stripper Ann Corio in the title role. As Kuhlaya, a white maiden raised in the jungle, she has trouble delivering even her Pidgin English dialogue with conviction. Oh, she's an eyeful, but her acting makes it plain why she made just five films before returning to Minsky's burlesque circuit. Buster Crabbe (looking much like the "Captain Gallant" character he later played) is the functional male hero, an American officer of some sort assigned to what I think is supposed to be a French detachment in Africa. It seems the Nazis have infiltrated the jungle fiefdom of Chief Selangi. Crabbe and his comic relief sergeant are sent to Selangi's village to investigate. Here, they find Corio leading an uprising to staunch the Nazi influence.

Director Sam Newfield made hundreds of films (really, literally HUNDREDS): Western, crime, adventure, jungle, horror, sci-fi. B Monster readers may be most familiar with "The Mad Monster," "The Monster Maker," "Nabonga" and Lost Continent" among other genre offerings. "Jungle Siren" is not one of Sam's more distinguished outings. It's constructed most haphazardly, stock footage is very crudely integrated and much of the dialogue, when decipherable, is sophomoric. Is it "so-bad-it's-good?" Like I said, it's subjective. You be the judge.

"White Huntress" (which bears the alternate title "Golden Ivory") was directed by George Breakston, the actor-turned-director responsible for the 1962 horror oddity "The Manster." Breakston, who appeared as Beezy Anderson in several of the Andy Hardy pictures, moved behind the camera in 1948. The titles of the handful of films he produced and directed indicate that something about the African and Asian cultures excited him: "Urubu," "Jungle Stampede," "Geisha Girl," "The Scarlet Spear." "White Huntress" chronicles the talky trek of two ivory hunters hired to escort a band of English settlers through 1890 British East Africa. They have an ulterior motive for taking the gig; they plan to use the settler's wagons to cart valuable tusks from a secret elephant gathering place.

Unlike "Jungle Siren's" cardboard forest and back-lot native extras, "White Huntress" was filmed on location and employs actual Massai tribesman to portray themselves. Breakston and company got lots of footage of Massai warriors taking part in ceremonies and assembling for battle. My guess is they wrote a script to suit the unique footage, one that is largely a rehash of the time-honored cowboys and Indians formula. Robert Urquart, a prolific character actor with dozens of films and television projects to his credit, co-stars with Susan Stephen and John Bentley. Bentley appeared in several films as Paul Temple, the popular fictional sleuth created by mystery author Francis Durbridge. For the record, I have no idea why this picture is called "White Huntress."

Here's my indictment of this film: When I sat down to watch it for reviewing purposes, I had completely forgotten that I had already seen it in a theater only a couple of months earlier. Fragments of it seemed familiar to me as it unspooled, but I had completely forgotten nearly everything about it. It's so calculated and soulless that I had virtually no memory of having previously viewed it. It looks so much like one more MTV-ish car commercial or an ad for GAP button-fly jeans that it simply made no impression on me, good or bad -- and I must modestly invoke a vaunted reputation for recalling cult-film trivia and movie minutiae. But this one just did not register. It breezed in and out of my brain like a blowhard you meet at a cocktail party. You bump into the guy a month later and draw a total blank. In short, my memory is just fine; it's the movie's fault.

And here's why: Not only had I seen this movie before -- I'd seen it a THOUSAND times before. Everything in it is recycled from some earlier film. (What if Sam Peckinpah had directed "Charles Bronson meets the Terminator?") This is a good place to point out that they don't make science fiction pictures anymore. I went in hoping to see a snappy update of Isaac Asimov's watershed story about robots inter-relating with imperious, prejudiced humans. These thought-provoking aspects are smothered by gunfire and loud music. Casting Will Smith, a black man, as the anti-robot, bigoted cop, is a nifty canard that sends home the tolerance message with expediency. But ideas and innovations are buried in pyrotechnics. The dialogue is alternately corny and pithy. Some of the CGI effects are masterfully executed, some look very obviously computer-generated. Some of the performances are credible, some half-hearted. The direction by "Dark City's" Alex Proyas is, by turns, engaging and laughably clichéd. It's a most uneven film.

But the important thing to bear in mind is that it is NOT a science fiction picture. They don't make those anymore. Today's screenwriters write action thrillers and then go back and shoehorn science fiction elements into the scripts. Pictures like "I, Robot" owe far more to "Dirty Harry," "Rambo," "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Wild Bunch" than they do to Asimov, Bradbury or Heinlein. It's just one more mind-numbing shoot 'em up. Smith plays an embittered, renegade cop. The chief is always breathing down his neck, threatening to take him off the case. Smith talks down to women and robots, and grunts and howls like Stallone while mowing down bots with his machine-gun in super-slow motion. This is NOT a science fiction picture; it's a souped up "Kojak" episode. There just happens to be robots in it. You could swap the rampaging droids for intelligent apes, ring-tail lemurs or walking catfish and it wouldn't substantially change the film because the focus is not on science and speculation, it's on a world-weary, gun-totin', hair-triggered, leather-wearin', wise cracking cop. This is regrettable because all of the ingredients are present for an intelligent and suspenseful examination of the emotional and social ramifications of science run amok. But who wants to see that? Lock and load! They don't make science fiction pictures anymore, and that's a shame.


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

David Colton, organizer of the Rondo Hatton Awards http://www.rondoaward.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


"He comes to life to the sounds of rock & horror!" -- Teenage Dracula

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