JULY 2004

In this latest addition to the B Monster archives, a team of peerless monster film historians examines the Universal monster "Legacy Collections," the fallout from "Van Helsing," and the meaning and future of your "horror heritage."

DRACULA: Artist/author/historian Vincent Di Fate reviews the Dracula "Legacy Collection" http://www.bmonster.com/sale_dracula.html

FRANKENSTEIN: Author/editor/historian Bob Madison addresses the Frankenstein "Legacy" set http://www.bmonster.com/sale_frankenstein.html

THE WOLF MAN: Filmmaker/author/historian Robert Tinnell provides his take on the Wolf Man "Legacy" http://www.bmonster.com/sale_wolfman.html

THE LEGACY: The B Monster delineates your "Horror Heritage" http://www.bmonster.com/sale_legacy.html

It's here! It's new! It's beautiful! The Jack Davis B Monster poster! It ain't six feet tall (weren't THOSE the days?), but at 23" x 35" you get more than your money's worth of Davis' macabre magic. Printed on high-quality, heavyweight 7 mil semi-gloss paper using superior dye inks, the Davis B Monster may one day be the sought after classic his black-and-white six-foot Frankenstein is today. Why wait for nostalgia mercenaries to corner the market? Here's a terrific bit of retro you can own today. Gruesomely gussy up your den, parlor or dungeon with this stunning portrait from the cartoon dean of the monster scene. Buy one ... NOW!


Max J. Rosenberg
Producer Max J. Rosenberg, who co-founded Britain's prolific Amicus Productions, has died. The cause of death was not immediately known. He was 89. Rosenberg served as producer on nearly 50 films beginning with "Rock, Rock, Rock" in 1956. Horror and science fiction films became his focus after working behind-the-scenes on the production of "The Curse of Frankenstein" in 1957. He produced, co-produced or executive produced "City of the Dead" aka "Horror Hotel," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors," "The Skull," "The House That Dripped Blood," "The Deadly Bees," "The Land That Time Forgot," "At The Earth's Core," "The Incredible Melting Man," and many others. He also produced several "Dr. Who" films about the adventurer/scientist featured in the long-running British cult-television program. His final film credit was 1997's "Perdita Durango" aka "Dance With the Devil."


What about that "Van Helsing" fallout? Judging from our e-mail, the great majority of B Monster readers agreed with our assessment of the film as a hollow, perfunctory, commercial entertainment. (See http://www.bmonster.com/sale_legacy.html for more). But there were some who took umbrage at our negative appraisal: "Why are you so hard on new horror films?" we were asked. "What's so bad about two hours of action and escapism?" (My favorite reaction among those who say they enjoyed the film was one I heard voiced several times: "It wasn't as terrible as I thought it was going to be.")

Central to my complaint regarding contemporary horror films is their lack of humanity. Contemporary films excel at providing thrills, buzz, blood and guts, to the exclusion of humanity. The old-time monsters had great humanity and sympathy under all that scary makeup. Today's films are -- to invoke cliché -- very much like the roller coasters they aspire to be; it may be a thrilling ride, but you don't get to know the people on the ride with you. When the ride is done, you walk away strangers. I didn't know or empathize with a single character in "Van Helsing." Thrills and chills aplenty, if that's what you're looking for, but I'm looking for humanity, motivation and character, as well. I don't think that's asking too much.

Legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury referred to filmmaker Michael Moore as "a screwed asshole" in an interview published in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. Bradbury, author of the sci-fi classic "Fahrenheit 451," says that Moore, director of a controversial new Bush-bashing documentary called "Fahrenheit 9/11," "stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission." Bradbury, 84, says that he sought a dialogue with Moore months ago. "I called his publisher. They promised he would call me the same afternoon, but he didn't." When asked if he and Moore were on the same page politically, Bradbury responded, "That has nothing to do with it. He copied my title, that is what happened. That has nothing to do with my political opinions." When reminded that Moore has garnered much publicity by recently winning the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, Bradbury said, "So what? I have won prizes in different places and they are mostly meaningless. The people there hate us, which is why they gave him the d'Or. It's a meaningless prize." The author maintains that he doesn't want to "make a big story out of it. I detest all paparazzi journalism that is so common these days. If I just could make him change his title silently, that would be the best thing." Bradbury did not say what further action he may take, if any, but he made his opinion of the filmmaker clear: "He is a horrible human being. Horrible human!"

Six months after being contacted by Bradbury, Moore finally returned his call. Bradbury told the AP that Moore told him he was "embarrassed. He suddenly realized he's let too much time go by." A spokesperson for Moore said in a statement that the filmmakers have "the utmost respect for Ray Bradbury." Bradbury said that he is "hoping to settle this as two gentlemen, if he'll shake hands with me and give me back my book and title." As of this writing, there is no indication that Moore will do so.

Retired physician Morley Hal Engleson was making flight arrangements over the phone when the agent he was speaking to heard a commotion in the background and called the police. According to Los Angeles KNBC-4 News, police arrived at Engelson's home to find Engelson dead, and the disembodied head of screenwriter Robert Lees lying in his backyard. Earlier, a friend had gone to Lees' home to check on the 91-year-old, and found his headless body. Lees' property is adjacent to Engelson's. Police arrested a suspect, Keven Lee Graff, 27, just two miles from the scene, very near the Paramount studios gate. Graff is suspected of stealing some items from Lees' home and Engleson's black Mercedes-Benz. Said Detective Brian Tyndall, who is investigating the case, "This is one of the most horrendous crime scenes that I have seen during my 33 years as a police officer in this city." Lees' screenwriting credits include "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein," "Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man," (Lees wrote seven films for the comedy team) and "The Invisible Woman." "I used to work with [Robert's] son, Richard, at CBS," said preservationist and film historian Bob Burns. "He was an engineer at the studio. We used to talk all the time about his Dad writing 'Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.' I met his Dad one time when he came by CBS many years ago. He was a very nice guy."

Filmmaker Earl Newton may just be the most devoted "Star Wars" fan out there -- and he has a VERY funny way of showing it. "Fall of a Saga" is a short, satirical film written and directed by Newton that depicts how George Lucas came to create the sluggish sequel, "Episode One: The Phantom Menace," that left so many fans of his original trilogy bored and disappointed. At least this is Newton's skewed version of events. In Newton's film, a bedraggled, paunchy Lucas sits alone in a bare motel room, hammering away on a manual typewriter, going through draft after draft when a mysterious visitor from his past pays a call. It is spoiling nothing to reveal that the character is a thinly disguised Mr. Scratch come to collect on the bargain he made years ago that ensured Lucas's success. The Devil demands rewrite after rewrite and, well, if you've seen "Episode One," you can pretty much guess the rest.

For all that, the film is not mean-spirited or snarky. Call it a cautionary homage to Lucas. I hope Gorge sees it and gets his creative mind back on track. "Fall of a Saga" has been met with very positive reaction, rapidly accruing a cult status. Says Newton, "I'm continually surprised by what $500 and six shooting days has produced." Watch it. Laugh. Stop taking the whole "Star Wars' mythos so darned seriously. For more info, check out:
Make a point of telling Earl, "The B Monster. Sent me, he did!"

Joe Kane, better known as The Phantom of the Movies, is celebrating the 50th edition of his "VideoScope" magazine. Based in Ocean Grove, N.J., the New York Daily News entertainment columnist started his 16-page "VideoScope" newsletter in 1993, spreading the genre-film gospel to a handful of followers. The project bloomed into the now 72-page quarterly that chronicles the cult-film world. The mag is filled with interviews and reviews and the VideoScope "Special 50th Issue Survival Celebration" edition is no exception, featuring a Q & A with David Carradine, an illustrated tour of modern-day Transylvania, and a retrospective of the 1970s tabloid "The Monster Times." Kane has also compiled "The Phantom of the Movies' VideoScope: The Ultimate Guide to the Latest, Greatest and Weirdest Genre Videos," featuring over 3,000 reviews and celeb interviews. It's available from Three Rivers Press/Random House. For more info, check out: http://www.videoscopemag.com
And be sure to pass along to the Phantom the B Monster's heartiest congratulations!

Fumettis are alive and well! Not familiar with this peculiar spin on comics narrative? When photo art is employed in lieu of artistic rendering to tell a story in graphic narrative, that's fumetti. (Some of you might recall the fumetti adaptations of "Horror of Party Beach" and "The Mole People" rendered by Wally Wood and Russ Jones in the 1960s). Prolific movie storyboard artist Pete Von Sholly applies his skewed sensibilities to the art form in a collection called "Morbid," published by Dark Horse Comics. It's "morbid with a wink," as Von Sholly likes to point out, featuring stories about "Reptitan," "Doctor Tricyclops," "The Astounding Shehemoth" and "Curse of the Werewig." "I grew up on John Stanley, Carl Barks and Jack Kirby, and I always wanted to make comics too, as both writer and artist," says Von Sholly. "But I ended up working in the movies as a storyboard artist, a field which relates (but only to a degree) to comics." Von Sholly's movie credits include "The Shawshank Redemption," "Mars Attacks," "The Mask," "Darkman," "James and the Giant Peach" and many others. He was also the driving force behind Moonbeam/Paramount Home Video's "Prehysteria" franchise.

"A few years ago, when I started working with Photoshop," Von Sholly says, "it occurred to me to try creating comics in a digital fumetti style. It seemed there would be no limit to what I could accomplish." Pete points out that his singular -- and decidedly peculiar -- vision is uncompromised by the editorial complications inherent in mass comic book production. "I don't need a letterer, a colorist etc. I lay out the pages in pencil, then take my photos, make scans, and put it all together in the computer, add the text and I have a finished product." Citing his influences, Von Sholly says, "I always loved Charles Addams, Doctor Seuss, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Harryhausen, Willis O'Brien, dinosaurs, Lovecraft, etc., etc., so what else would I be doing thematically?" Von Sholly has also produced a monster mag parody called "Crazy Hip Groovy Go-Go Way Out Monsters," lampooning the periodicals that monster boomers devoured in the 1960s. One cover blurb promises, "Endless ads for weird cheap garbage you may never even get!" Come to think of it, there are several Captain Company items the B Monster is STILL waiting for! But you don't have to wait to sample Von Sholly's idiosyncratic artistry; for more info, check out:
Pete's stuff is available at:
http://www.darkhorse.com and http://www.twomorrows.com
Tell Pete, without hesitation, the B Monster sent you!

The folks at Reelart Studios, makers of nifty collectible busts, statues and model kits, have announced a licensing agreement with Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell and Neil Vokes, the creative team behind Image Comics's "The Black Forest." "The first statue will be a multiple figure bust featuring the heroes," according to Reelart's Michael Hudson. "Jack Shannon, the dashing young aviator; Archie Caldwell, the intrepid stage magician; and the Frankenstein Monster. The paint scheme will follow the black and white wash look of Neil Vokes' distinctive cinematic styled artwork." "The Black Forest," a Word War One-based, monster rally graphic novel has been a hit with comic readers and classic monster buffs who will doubtless snatch up quality ancillary collectibles based on the property. "Master sculptor Shawn Nagle will be basing his dead-on design skills on conceptual action sketches provided by the artist," says Hudson, "while each statue will work as a stand-alone piece, when viewed collectively, they will comprise a rousing battle scene." For more info regarding "The Black Forest' and its creators, check out: http://www.theblackforest.net And visit the Reelart site while you're at it:
You know the drill; tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

According to actor Andy Serkis's Website, "Andy will play the title role in Peter Jackson's "King Kong," due to begin filming this August in New Zealand, for a December 2005 worldwide release." Serkis will provide "motion capture reference." That's when an actor's movements are used as reference for computer animators. It isn't too dissimilar from the old Fleischer studios method of rotoscoping an actor, that is tracing his movements for more lifelike animation. Serkis, who provided the motion capture reference for the Gollum character in director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films will render the same service as "Kong" in the same director's upcoming remake of the classic thriller. Jackson issued a statement saying, "I expect this time round will be a very different experience for both Andy and myself as we'll actually get to shoot extended drama sequences together." Serkis will also play Lumpy, the cook on the ship that steams into Skull Island to capture the big ape. Also in the cast are Naomi Watts in the Fay Wray role, Jack Black assuming Robert Armstrong's part as showman Carl Denham, and Adrien Brody in the he-man role originally played by Bruce Cabot.

According to Variety, NBC will NOT be airing a "Van Helsing" spin-off series called "Transylvania." The network had been so sure of the film's success that it had ordered six episodes from "Van Helsing" director Stephen Sommers before his film ever hit the big screen. The film has proved to be a major box office disappointment, and NBC has backed away from the agreement, citing "budgetary concerns." "Van Helsing" cost $160 million to make, and was heralded by relentless saturation marketing that was unprecedented in its expense. It earned just over $51 million its opening weekend.

Organizers of the FlashBack Weekend Event, which happens July 30-August 1 in Rosemont, Ill., are going all out to recapture the drive-in experience. "Our nostalgic drive-In extravaganza will feature an outdoor full-size drive-In screen with 35mm projection and stereo sound. The event will feature celebrity guests, 35mm screenings of classic short subjects, several full-length features, nostalgic drive-in intermission trailers, vintage classic coming attractions and many other surprises." Actually, the event is more of a "walk-in," according to promoters, with attendees lounging on blankets and lawn chairs. The venue will even feature a drive-in style snack bar. The celebrity guests are a diverse group: Continuing their barnstorming celebration of the "Creature From the Black Lagoon's" 50th anniversary, the Creature himself, Ben Chapman, and the "beauty" to his "beast," Julie Adams, will be in attendance. Also topping the guest roster:

George Romero, lauded horror film director Joe Bob Briggs, popular drive-in pundit Dee Wallace Stone, star of "The Howling" and "E.T." Sid Haig, star of the cult classic "Spider Baby" Brinke Stevens, scream queen and marine biologist A "Day of the Dead" reunion featuring: Joseph Pilato Lori Cardille Gary Klar A "Dawn of the Dead" reunion featuring: Sharon Ceccatti-Hill Clayton Hill

It all happens at the Holiday Inn O'Hare in Rosemont. For details and updates, visit:
Let 'em know the B Monster sent you!

The folks at Midnight Marquee Press recently announced that issue three of their new mag, "Movie Mystique," is available at comic shops, Tower, Borders and Barnes & Noble. The announcement was one of a slate of new projects the Baltimore-based publishers are unveiling. The fourth issue of "Mad About Movies," featuring a detective film theme, is also on the stands. Issue 71 of their flagship magazine, "Midnight Marquee," will be available soon and future book projects include "The Eurospy Guide" by Matt Blake and David Deal, which chronicles the European spy film sub-genre, and the latest addition to the "Midnight Marquee Actors Series," this one covering the films of Peter Cushing. For more information, visit:
Let 'em know for certain that the B Monster sent you!

While the fourth Indiana Jones sequel languishes awaiting final, final, FINAL script approval, Harrison Ford, according to Variety, will star in "Godspeed," an outer space thriller produced by James "King of the World" Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment. There is a script, but the film has no director, nor a studio to release it. The Variety report says, "Godspeed takes place on an international space station, where a life-threatening situation develops that could kill all the inhabitants on board." Wow! What a novel concept! People trapped in space whose lives are threatened. I don't think that's ever been done. No wonder Ford put the brakes on that Indy film. After all, you have to have a good script.

Normally, we'll leave "Buffy" and "Angel"-related items to younger chroniclers of horror. But word of this event caught our attention, and we've deemed it worthy of inclusion: A "Slay-a-thon" will take place at Dave & Buster's Goldcoast Showroom in Chicago, on Saturday, July 17. What's a "Slay-a-thon?" It's over 12 hours of nonstop "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episodes, screened for participants who have been sponsored to view the daylong slaying. The proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A benefit auction will also be held. "We're able to raise money because people who attend the marathon get friends, family and co-workers to sponsor them," say promoters, "just like with a walkathon, or other fundraising events of that type. Add the auction proceeds to the sponsor dollars and we'll make a substantial donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois." For more information, check out:
Why not tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

The sponsors of the CineMedia convention have decided to cancel their show. We have no other details at this time.


The folks at Alpha Video continue to release films that are otherwise hard to find on DVD. The prints vary in quality, and I have no idea if any copyrights are being infringed upon, but the following two disks are certainly affordable. We'll stick to reviewing the films themselves, and leave talk of legalities, digital transfers and aspect ratios to others.

Is that not one of the great titles in B-movie history? And how about this: "No girl was safe as long as this head-hunting thing roamed the land!" Is that not one of the great ad blurbs in B-movie history? This is one of my favorite Roger Corman-produced pictures. Why? Well, it sure isn't the high-gloss production sheen. This gritty little sci-fi shocker contains an engaging twist or two and gutsy pretensions that exceed its modest budget. And it's darned well acted by some of the most familiar names in the Corman stock company, including Ed Nelson ("Attack of the Crab Monsters"), Michael Emmett ("Attack of the Giant Leeches") and Tyler McVey ("Attack of the Giant Leeches," "Hot Car Girl"). Of course it's cheap, and it looks it (since when has the B Monster held that against a picture?) but its simple premise is unhampered by the ultra low budget.

An astronaut returning from space crash-lands near a secluded research station (actually one of California's first television facilities on Mount Lee near the HOLLYWOOD sign). A rescue team of scientists discovers his dead body in the burned-out space capsule and carts it back to their cloistered laboratory. Plot twist No. 1: He ain't dead. He's up and talking in no time at all. Plot twist No. 2: He's pregnant! When he's hauled before a fluoroscope, we see -- in a decidedly poorly executed animation -- tiny alien babies cavorting in his tummy. Meanwhile, the titular Blood Beast, a moldy looking alien who somehow survived the crash landing having stowed away on the doomed capsule, is menacing the tiny lab base and its occupants, seeking to protect its progeny, which is gestating in the astronaut's stomach. It all leads to a showdown in the shadows of the Bronson Canyon, that fabled and favored B-movie locale, where we get to see the monster, a lumpy humanoid with a parrot-like beak, all too well.

Director Bernard L. Kowalski also directed Corman's classic "Attack of the Giant Leeches," "Krakatoa, East of Java" and "SSSSSSS," as well as working prolifically in television. Writer Martin Varno wrote just this one film, remarkable in that it contains elements that have been reworked to death in subsequent sci-fi offerings. (An "Alien" impregnating an astronaut, for instance.) Varno, just 21 at the time, was recommended for the job by his best friend, writer Jerome Bixby, who penned "It! The Terror From Beyond Space." Combine Bixby's "It!" plot about an alien stowaway hiding in air ducts and Varno's notion of impregnated spacemen, and you've got the blueprint for "Alien." Of course, Varno's story was informed by "The Thing From Another World," as both feature isolated scientists stalked by an alien monster, and an exsanguinated victim hanging by his knees from the rafters.

This, the first of the Abominable Snowman movies, was directed by W. Lee Wilder, the B-movie brother of big-time director Billy Wilder. It was written by Myles Wilder, who collaborated with his dad W. Lee on the schlock classics "Killers from Space," "Phantom from Space" and others. It is bad. Not because of the low-low-budget or perfunctory script, but because, like all of W. Lee Wilder's films, it is so deadly serious, so earnest, so lacking in humor. This is fine if you're directing "Judgment at Nuremburg," but "Snow Creature?" Which is not to say I don't appreciate that Wilder took his subject matter seriously, but we're never allowed to see the lighter side of the personalities involved. (The humanizing fact that one of the characters is an expectant father is shoehorned into the script late in the film.) The actors are furniture placed on sets and given dialogue. They exist only to move the plot to its conclusion. We don't know them and, subsequently, don't care what happens to them. This may be far too much analysis to apply when reviewing an exploitation quickie called "The Snow Creature," but it's an interesting common thread in all of Wilder's films.

In the end, we derive the most fun from such pictures by studying the trivia behind them. Take star William Phipps, for instance. Talk about an unheralded, seasoned movie veteran! He began his career with a small part in Edward Dmytryk's 1947 "Crossfire." He starred in Arch Oboler's doomsday shocker, "Five." In 1950, he was the voice of Prince Charming in Disney's "Cinderella." In a two-year period -- 1953-1954 -- he appeared in "The Blue Gardenia," "Invaders from Mars," "Savage Frontier," "Julius Caesar," "Northern Patrol," "The War of the Worlds," "Cat-Women of the Moon," "Fort Algiers," "Red River Shore," "The Twonky," "Riot in Cell Block 11," "Jesse James vs. the Daltons," "Executive Suite," "Francis Joins the WACS," "Two Guns and a Badge" and "The Snow Creature." Plus television, commercials and voiceover work right up to and including the narration of the expanded TV version of David Lynch's "Dune."

Rudolph Anders you may recognize from Richard Cunha's "She Demons." Anders, who also appeared in Wilder's "Phantom From Space," made innumerable appearances as assorted Gestapo agents, SS men and Aryan scientists both in films and on television. And if Anders was the B-movie Nazi "go-to guy," then "Snow Creature" co-star, Teru Shimada, was his Japanese counterpart, appearing as various officers, diplomats and villains in "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," "House of Bamboo," "Tokyo After Dark" "The Wackiest Ship in the Army," "King Rat" and the James Bond thriller "You Only Live Twice," among many others. Screenwriter Myles Wilders eased into a television career writing episodes of "My Three Sons," "McHale's Navy," "Get Smart," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and others.

Oh, yeah, the plot of "Snow Creature": A party of Himalaya climbers captures a Yeti and brings it to the States. It gets loose and they have to track it down. That's about it. It runs just over an hour and feels like two because so many scenes are milked untenably. The most egregious and amusing example is the single shot of the Yeti emerging from the shadows. This brief sequence is run forward, then backward, then forward, then backward. Even on a budget this modest, couldn't they afford just one more take of the creature coming out of the shadows, rather than replay this single sequence to hilarious effect?

This 2001 psychological horror from Millennium Pictures is not unremarkable, but it suffers from too many talky patches of vague exposition. This hinders whatever momentum the film manages to build. Several scenes are admirably mounted and the film as a whole has a slick and studied look. But it's that VERY rare case where the filmmakers should have shown a bit more and implied a bit less. (How many contemporary horror films can this be said of?)

"The Bunker" is about a squad of Nazi infantrymen who take refuge from battle in what they take to be an abandoned bunker. The bunker is, however, inhabited by an old man -- a veteran of the First World War -- and a young soldier. It isn't long before hints are dropped about strange goings on in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the bunker. Mysterious sounds, visions and disappearances drive the group to near-madness. Are the spirits of executed deserters from the same unit -- seen in washed out flashbacks -- haunting the soldiers to their deaths? Amid the spectral head games, internal rivalries turn decidedly ugly and lead to a rather suspenseful climax.

The film's central failing is that, in its attempts to imply subtly what the menace is, it tends to unnecessarily confuse us with too many hints, implications and misdirections. After a while, it gets pretty hard to tell which Nazi is which, and, as they begin searching the dark caves, just where they are in those tunnels in relation to one another. If you can keep track, you'll appreciate the film's moody look and well-planned atmospherics. If not, well, you'll just have to appreciate the fact that it is well acted by a British cast who wisely forgo attempting cheesy German accents. Director Rob Green previously directed an 18-minute short film version of Poe's "The Black Cat." Screenwriter Clive Dawson has written several series for British television including "The Bill" and London's Burning." Should the two collaborate again, they might strive for cohesion, tighten up the running time and toss out an unnecessary red herring or two.

Author John Brunas contributes the following (with assistance from his "Universal Horrors co-authors Michael Brunas and Tom Weaver):

Don't be misled by the packaging. There's nothing the least bit phantasmagoric about the three Poverty Row mysteries contained in this Retromedia Entertainment DVD collection. The producers of Monogram's "Phantom of Chinatown" (1940) and "Phantom Killer" (1942), as well as PRC's "The Phantom of 42nd Street" (1945), no doubt hoped to ride the crest of the second horror wave by insinuating horrific/supernatural elements in the titles of these strictly routine whodunits -- a practice not uncommon to studios back in the '30s and '40s. Had these programmers, at least, reached the level of passable entertainments, this deception could be forgiven. As such, however, the "Phantoms of Death" offer the aficionado a triple dose of the dreariest pulp detective fiction imaginable.

The only saving grace of "Phantom of Chinatown" is that it features a genuine Asian actor in the role of Oriental super sleuth, James Lee Wong. The creation of author Hugh Wiley, the mild-mannered Mr. Wong had been played by Boris Karloff in the first five entries of this pedestrian series of mysteries. With one film left on his Monogram contract, Karloff was assigned a low-rent horror movie, "The Ape," leaving "Phantom of Chinatown," the final chapter of the Wong series, minus a leading man. Luke, fresh from his always-welcomed appearances as Number One Son Lee Chan in the Fox/Oland Charlie Chan series, stepped in and took over the role. Grant Withers returned to the series one final time as the abrasive, bullheaded Police Captain Street. Screenwriter Joseph West (nom de plume of ace Universal producer-director George Waggner) tailored the script to give the impression that Luke was playing a younger version of the Karloff character, making Phantom of Chinatown" a prequel of sorts. The story has the wily detective on the trail of a secret scroll uncovered by an archaeological expedition in the Mongolian desert, which falls into the hands of profiteers. The trite but interesting plotline soon sinks into the doldrums, thanks to plodding direction and uninspired writing.

As far as picture quality goes, however, "Phantom of Chinatown" is the winner hands down. Considering the transfer was made from a 16mm print source, the black-and-white contrast is first-rate and the print itself shows minimal wear.

Some snappy dialogue and a good performance by Dick Purcell can't salvage "Phantom Killer," a thinly disguised remake of Monogram's 1933 thriller "The Sphinx," which featured the great Lionel Atwill in a dual role. Curiously, the credits fail to acknowledge Albert DeMond, author of "The Sphinx's" original screenplay. Instead, Karl Brown, who later went on to pen the sober screenplays for the Columbia Karloff vehicles "The man With Nine Lives" and "Before I Hang" (both 1940) -- as well as the not-so-sober original story for Lugosi's "The Ape Man" (1943) -- gets the sole writing credit. Both versions are way below par in the plausibility department. Assistant D.A. Edward Clark (Purcell) believes that the recent deaths of several financial company bigwigs were committed by renowned philanthropist John G. Harrison (John Hamilton). But Harrison has the perfect alibi ... at the time of the murders, he was seen in public by dozens of people. We won't give away the surprise ending here. Hamilton doesn't have Atwill's screen presence, and the fact that the murders all take place off-screen won't enamor this tepid chiller to thrill-seekers.

Clocking in at 53 minutes, the DVD of "Phantom Killer" is missing eight minutes of its running time (specifically, the first crucial scene following the credits). This fact alone should discourage serious DVD collectors from purchasing this item. The 16mm print has decent enough contrast, but contains frequent lines running down the right side of the screen.

Another intriguing premise is squandered in "The Phantom of 42nd Street," a tedious talkathon whose mere 58 minutes feel like a fraction of its running time. To describe this bottom-budget bit of hackwork as nondescript is being charitable. The backstage setting and the hammy theatrical types who populate the story are a decided plus. The inclusion of such stock characters as the comic sidekick, the loudmouth detective and the dumb blonde waitress may be deemed endearing or irritating, depending on your fondness for B-movie clichés. As Tony Woolrich (a takeoff on mystery writer Cornell Woolrich), the always affable Dave O'Brien has been promoted from newspaper reporter (in "The Devil Bat") to theater critic in this film. At the opening night performance of the play "Black Friday" (!), Woolrich turns detective after the brother of Cecil Moore (Alan Mowbray), the star/producer of the show, is found hanged. Two theater craftsmen follow suit. On the bodies of all three men are cryptic notes containing excerpts from past plays staged by the repertory company. Though based on a novel, the plot bears a distinct resemblance to the Universal Sherlock Holmes entry, "The Scarlet Claw," released the previous year. Any further resemblance to that taut chiller ends there. The movie chugs along, introducing the usual red herrings, till it comes to an unexciting but welcome conclusion.

The print quality of "The Phantom of 42nd Street" is "dupey" -- soft focused, with an acceptable amount of wear.

"Phantoms of Death" contains no supplementary features. For undiscriminating movie buffs seeking a quick fix of B-detective tomfoolery, this DVD set suits its purpose. But for serious collectors who refuse to pay full price for abridged material, "Phantoms of Death" is thumbs down.


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

John Brunas, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com

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

Vincent Di Fate http://www.VincentDiFate.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

David J. Schow http://www.davidjschow.com/

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

Robert Tinnell http://www.theblackforest.net

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


"Monsters come out of screen! Invade audience!" -- Monsters Crash the Pajama Party

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