JUNE 2000

Image Comics' "Astounding Space Thrills," featuring Steve Conley's Argosy Smith and, of course, "The Crater Kid," is now on newsstands! Legendary illustrator Jack Davis (EC Comics, "The Crypt of Terror," "Creepy," "Mad" magazine and countless movie posters) embraced "The Crater Kid" and his message, and has recently completed a cover/poster featuring "The Kid" that will turn up in a future edition.

And a tip of the hat to the folks at enews.com who've just made "The Crater Kid" daily e-mail strip available to 65,000 affiliate sites. Reaction to the character has been heartening, given the fact that the comics market (or what's left of it) is still dominated by busty wenches with big guns and remorseless vigilantes with hairy arms and razor claws.

And last, we'll once again shamelessly plug the official "Crater Kid" t-shirt. Half the proceeds benefit abused and neglected children. Get out your credit card -- the cause is a worthy one. http://www.craterkid.com/shirts.htm -- End of shameless plug.


Edward Bernds
One of the most prolific and important B-movie directors, Edward Bernds, is dead at 94. The cause of death was not reported. Bernds' impressive career began when radio broadcasting was in it's infancy, and lasted into the 1960s. He will probably be best remembered for his associations with The Three Stooges and The Bowery Boys as well as for the B science-fiction pictures he turned out in the 1950s.

Bernds was an early radio enthusiast, and that made it easy for him to find work in Hollywood as talkies were being ushered in. For Columbia, he worked as a sound technician on dozens of features, including some of Frank Capra's early films. By the 1940s, he had graduated to directing shorts for the studio, beginning with the Stooge comedies. Bernds directed some of Curley's last and best films ("Micro-Phonies," "A Bird in the Head"), as well as some of the funniest shorts featuring Curley's elder brother, Shemp ("Fright Night," "The Hot Scots").

Between shorts, Bernds directed several films in the "Blondie" series ("Blondie's Big Deal," "Blondie Hits the Jackpot") starring Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton. In the 1950s, he began working with Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and company, directing some of the Bowery Boys better comedy features ("Clipped Wings," "Bowery to Bagdad"), collaborating with them on eight films in all.

Bernds turned his hand to science fiction beginning with the 1956 feature "World Without End." The low-budget tale of astronauts transported to a dystopic future earth is one of the most enjoyable of the "time-travel" sub-genre. "Space Master X-7," "Valley of the Dragons" and the notorious cult-classic "Queen of Outer Space," were soon to follow. The director rounded out his schedule of exploitation features with titles such as "High School Hellcats" and "Reform School Girl."

Bernds was also present at the Three Stooges revival that took place when their films went into television syndication. He directed two Stooge features ("The Three Stooges in Orbit," "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules") that starred the team's latest incarnation, Moe, Larry and Curley Joe DeRita, before retiring from directing in 1962.

Francis Lederer
Actor Francis Lederer has died at his Palm Springs home at the age of 100. According to his wife, he had been in excellent health until very recently. The Prague-born actor was already a successful stage performer in Europe when he was cast opposite Louise Brooks in director G.W. Pabst's silent classic, "Pandora's Box."

Lederer landed a role on Broadway in 1932, and Hollywood soon took notice. Often typecast as the cultured cad, he made notable appearances in "One Rainy Afternoon" opposite Ida Lupino, "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" with Edward G. Robinson and director Jean Renoir's "The Diary of a Chambermaid" with Paulette Goddard. He also took his turn portraying the jewel-thief-turned-sleuth, The Lone Wolf, a role also assayed by Melvyn Douglas, Warren William and Gerald Mohr, among others.

Cult-film buffs will perhaps remember Lederer best for his appearance in "The Return of Dracula," the 1958 film the actor once claimed he would like to forget. Low budget notwithstanding, Lederer made one of the screen's most sinister and intimidating Draculas in the underrated film. Soon after, he founded the American National Academy of Performing Arts, which taught a form of method acting derived from the famed Stanislavski method.

Lewis Allen
Lewis Allen, who directed one of Hollywood's most chilling and fondly remembered thrillers, "The Uninvited, is dead at 94. The cause of death was not immediately known. Allen was born in London, beginning his career as a stage director in the early 1930s. He was lured to Hollywood by a Paramount Pictures contract. For Paramount, he directed "The Uninvited," starring Ray Milland and Gail Russell. The film was a beautifully crafted ghost story and is still considered by many to be one of the best supernatural thrillers ever made.

Allen's subsequent films, including a half-hearted follow-up to "The Uninvited" called "The Unseen," never lived up to the standard set by "The Uninvited." Throughout the 1950s, he directed workmanlike crime dramas and thrillers including "Suddenly," starring Frank Sinatra," "Desert Fury" with Burt Lancaster, " "Appointment with Danger" and "Chicago Deadline," both starring Alan Ladd, and "Illegal" and "A Bullet for Joey," both starring Edward G. Robinson.

Allen later made the transition to television, his career lasting well into the 1970s. Among programs directed by Allen were "Bonanza," "Little House on the Prairie," "Mission Impossible," "The Rifleman," "The Fugitive," "Route 66," "Perry Mason," "To Catch a Thief," "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Cannon."

Craig Stevens
The actor best known as debonair TV sleuth "Peter Gunn," Craig Stevens, is dead at 81. He had cancer. Director-producer Blake Edwards created "Peter Gunn," the weekly exploits of a wry, lady-killing detective dwelling in a film-noir world of hoodlums and beatniks, in 1958. The series was a smash, Stevens became a star and Henry Mancini's jazz-tinged theme was one of the most catchy and recognizable in history. A 1967 feature-film version called "Gunn" failed at the box office.

Stevens may be better known to cult-film enthusiasts as the hero of producer William Alland's "The Deadly Mantis," or for his appearance in "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Born Gail Shikles Jr. in Liberty, Mo., Stevens planned on becoming a dentist before taking up acting in college. He spent years as a Warner Brothers contract player prior to his rise to TV stardom, churning out dozens of B pictures including "Secret Enemies," "The Hidden Hand," "Spy Ship" and "Secret Enemies." While working at Warner Brothers, Stevens met his wife-to-be, actress Alexis Smith, who also died of cancer in 1993 at age 72.

Steve Reeves
The actor known the world over as Hercules, Steve Reeves, is dead at 74. He died at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Calif., of complications from lymphoma, which had been diagnosed just eight weeks before. A bodybuilder all his life, Reeves was named Mr. America in1947, and went on to win the Mr. World and Mr. Universe competitions in 1948. He was named Mr. Universe a second time in 1950.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Reeves made his screen debut in Ed Wood's 1954 film "Jail Bait." In the film, co-scripted by Alex Gordon, Reeves and Lyle Talbot portrayed detectives investigating a blackmail caper. But it was his series of Italian-made, "sword-and-sandal" films that made him an international star and, in 1967, the highest paid actor in Europe. The films, including "Goliath and the Barbarians," "Hercules Unchained," "Last Days of Pompeii" and "Thief of Baghdad," featured European casts and were dubbed in English for American release. With his third film, "Hercules," Reeves became one of the world's biggest box-office draws.

Reeves retired from acting at 43, but maintained his tireless fitness regiment to the end. He promoted drug-free bodybuilding and wrote "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way."

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Film star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is died at 90. The cause of death was not reported. Fairbanks, debonair and dashing, sporting a perpetual tan, is best known for his roles in "Gunga Din," "Catherine the Great" and "The Prisoner of Zenda."

Fairbanks' father was, of course, one of the true legends of the silent screen. Fairbanks Jr. claimed that he never sought to emulate his famous father, but admitted that the well-known name afforded him many show business opportunities. Fairbanks also tried his hand at producing films, "Chase a Crooked Shadow, "Another Man's Poison" and "The Fighting O'Flynn" among them. He also hosted the television series "Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents" in the 1950s.

One of Fairbanks' final film appearances was in the 1981 supernatural thriller "Ghost Story." Directed by John Irvin, the film also starred screen legends Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman and Patricia Neal.


Q: Whatever happened to Dana Wynter? Has the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" star become a total recluse?

A: Well, not total. Ms. Wynter had been slated to appear along with "Body Snatchers" co-star, Kevin McCarthy, at the "Classic Filmfest 2000," this July 28-30 in Crystal City, Va. She has only recently canceled, but did at least entertain the idea of appearing publicly.

Q: Is L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology Guru, science fiction writer and author of "Battlefield Earth" (currently playing to disastrous reviews) the same L. Ron Hubbard credited with scripting several movie serials prior to his pulp and paperback output?

A: Yep. The Dean of Dianetics wrote at least four of them in the 1930s and '40s, including "The Spider Returns" (1941), starring Warren Hull, "Wild Bill Hickok" (1938), featuring Wild Bill Elliott in the title role, "The Secret of Treasure Island" (1938) and "The Mysterious Pilot" (1937), which was directed by Spencer Gordon ("Atomic Submarine") Bennet.


If you've only just emerged from a five-year hibernation, we'll bring you up to speed: Collector, editor and self-named "Mr. Sci-Fi," Forrest J. Ackerman, has been locked in a court battle over rights to his well-known sobriquets such as "Dr. Acula." Ackerman and publisher Ray Ferry have sued and countersued one another for four years. Well, after four days of deliberations, a Superior Court jury in Van Nuys, Calif., ruled that Ferry, who continues to publish "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine, owed Ackerman pay for his writings, wrongly claimed ownership of his pen name "Dr. Acula," and committed libel by saying he was just a hired contributor, not an editor. Ferry was also found guilty of trademark infringement, breach of contract, misrepresentation and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. Ackerman was awarded $382,500 in compensatory and $342,000 in punitive damages.

Celebrity heavyweights such as author Ray Bradbury and director John Landis testified on Ackerman's behalf. As he signed autographs for jurors, Ackerman mused, "The first thing is -- am I going to be able to collect the money?" Good question. Ferry has vowed to appeal, and says he's confident the verdict will be overturned. Ferry told the Los Angeles Times, "This case was one of sympathy vs. fact. It's what you get when you paint the poor old man against the young entrepreneur. We left a lot of hard factual evidence out of our case because we thought it would get ugly, but that will now come out on appeal." Get ugly? How much uglier can it get?

Ferry revived "Famous Monsters of Filmland" in partnership with Ackerman a few years back, and then booted him from the payroll, claiming Forry wasn't living up to his obligations. Ackerman maintained that he was dismissed unfairly and that he coined his trademark puns and pen names years before "Famous Monsters" hit the stands. The original magazine, published from 1958 to 1982, brought many vintage science fiction and horror films to the attention of a new generation of fans.

In a personal note to supporters, Ackerman declared, "Four years of anguish on my part, sacrifice of five of my favorite paintings and 100 inscribed First Edition sf books and a six figure mortgage on my home to pay my legal bills, all have finally culminated in an overwhelming moral victory."

Ackerman has tried unsuccessfully to find a permanent home for the legendary collection of fright-film memorabilia that fills his 18-room, Loz Feliz "Ackermansion." The cache includes 125,000 movie stills, 50,000 books, 400 paintings and numerous movie props. One rumor maintains that a planned, future-themed, Las Vegas resort may be interested in acquiring Ackerman's invaluable stash.

Actor George Clooney will produce a live television production of "The Thing," based on John W. Campbell's novella, "Who Goes There?" Campbell's story inspired the 1951 classic "The Thing From Another World." Producer Howard Hawks greatly simplified the story and turned it into the textbook "alien-invasion" flick. Director John Carpenter's gorey 1982 film, "The Thing," bore more resemblance to the source material than the Hawks version. It remains to be seen whether Clooney will choose either for a model. Clooney's previous live TV event, "Fail Safe," was a noble effort with a big-name cast that failed to bring in big ratings.

Mike Judge, best known as the creator of the animated series "Beavis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill," is likely to direct a big-budget remake of "The Incredible Mr. Limpet." The original film featured Don Knotts in live-action and animated sequences, as a milquetoast-turned-talking fish who helps the U.S. Navy battle Nazi U-boats during World War II. How they'll update this one is anybody's guess. The more relevant question is "why?"

Looks like the "Incredible Shrinking Man" remake starring Eddie Murphy is a go. Peter Segal, director of "Tommy Boy" and "Nutty Professor 2" is set to direct.

Christopher Plummer, who only recently assayed the role of TV newsman Mike Wallace in the Oscar-nominated film "The Insider," has signed on to portray Professor Van Helsing in a project called "Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000."

Another William Castle "classic" will be dusted off and updated. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the remake of "13 Ghosts" "will be a scarier take on the original." Granted, the original wasn't the most spine-tingling flick ever, and it is refreshing to see them remaking a mediocre film rather than trying to improve upon a good one (see "Incredible Shrinking Man" item above), but why "13 Ghosts"?

"Rollerball?" Yes, the original was less-than-auspicious, but it's barely cold in it's celluloid grave. The remake of Norman Jewison's 1975 futuristic action pic is under way with "Die Hard" director John McTiernan at the helm. Slated to star are Jean Reno ("The Professional," "Godzilla"), Chris Klein ("American Pie") and LL Cool J ("Deep Blue Sea").

The 10th Annual New Orleans Worst Film Festival gets under way June 10. Headlining this year's bill: "Attack of the Crab Monsters" "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero" "Hillbillys in a Haunted House" "My Son, the Vampire" And, of course, "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Appearing in person will be Kitten Natividad ("Valley of the Ultra Vixens"), and an assortment of TV horror hosts and hostesses including Tabitha, Diabolica, Count Gore DeVol and Doctor Gangrene. While we may not agree with some of the festival's citations, (come on, "Attack of the Crab Monsters" is a fabulous movie!) the money goes to a good cause. The seven buck admission is earmarked for the Second Harvesters Food Bank. For more info, check out http://nowff.hypermart.net

Hopelessly addicted B-movie fans will soon get another fix from, who else, those dedicated preservationists at Englewood Entertainment. Just take a gander at the titles slated for release in the near-future: "Tormented": One of Bert I. Gordon's most overlooked and uncharacteristic titles. Richard Carlson stars as the guilt-ridden one in torment. "Fright": The dark little shocker that probably sealed Vincent Price's fate to be a horror movie icon. "The Screaming Skull": John (twin brother of William) Hudson gaslighting his wife into insanity via the titular skull. "Invisible Ghost": Film noir-meister Joseph H. Lewis directing one of Lugosi's better Monogram thrillers. "Horrors of Spider Island": An oddball 1959 horror flick from what was then West Germany. The title says it all. The B Monster will, of course, offer his unassailable assessment of these titles upon release. Watch this space!

The good folks at Marco Polo music have scored again (yes, pun intended!) with the latest in their series of Universal music re-creations. Spotlighted are composers Hans J. Salter (to whom the disc is dedicated) and Frank Skinner. John Morgan orchestrates the proceedings with the exception of two tracks orchestrated by William T. Stromberg. The bulk of the cues are culled from "Ghost of Frankenstein." Music from Son of Dracula," Black Friday," "Man Made Monster" and "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is also featured.

Fans of independent cinema may want to check out "Shortcuts," a TV short film showcase from Vision Entertainment Inc. The PBS series airs independent short films, many of which are Oscar, Sundance and Cannes-award winners and nominees. Among those featured: Rachel Griffiths' "Tulip," Ted Demme's "The Bet," Billy Bob Thornton's original short "Some Folks Call It a SlingBlade," which inspired the feature, Aardman animation's Oscar nominee "Humdrum," and many others. For more info, visit http://www.shortcuts.org


Robin Williams as a robot? It's a natural. His film performances have become more predictable and robotic over time -- the sensitive, sentimental Robin stops the action at any given moment to engage in his trademark, hyper-Jonathan Winters schtick and then -- back to the movie. Based on an Issac Asimov story, this film chronicles Williams' journey toward becoming human. Williams and director Chris Columbus are the same team who produced the monstrously overrated comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire."

It's unabashedly sentimental and filled with terrific performances. It's genuinely moving, expertly directed and scripted and then -- that ending! I may be dead wrong, but it sure feels like something that got tacked on following a preview audience's negative response to the original ending. In any case, up to that moment, it's top-flight film making. Based on Stephen King's serial books, "The Green Mile" is beautifully staged by director Frank Darabont, whose filming of King's "Shawshank Redemption" a few years back was likewise excellent.

It's a one-joke plot that must have sounded awfully funny in the conference room, but director Mike Nichols and his team simply aren't able to flesh out this thin tale of a dying, all-male alien race who turn to earth women in order to procreate. Sound like an uncredited remake of "Mars Needs Women"? If only it were that funny. Garry Shandling is a talented guy, and starred in one of the very best shows television has ever produced, "The Larry Sanders Show." Much of the same production team crafted this film, so the results are doubly disappointing. It might have been a very funny half-hour skit, but a feature-length film?


This nifty repackaging of the 1963 Hitchcock classic is loaded with added goodies unique to the DVD format. In addition to the crystal clear print of the film, there's Tippi Hedren's original screen test, a gallery of storyboards, theatrical trailers, an original documentary called "All About 'The Birds'" and a peek at original script pages for scenes that never made it into the film.


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 through Midnight Marquee Press or 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

"It will scare the living yell out of you!" -- How To Make A Monster

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