JUNE 2001

It's June. The onset of another sweltering summer. To the average B-movie nut, that means pulling those blousy "Aloha" shorts out of mothballs, stocking the fridge with Slim Jims and Mountain Dew, and curling up in the air-conditioned comfort of the den, preparing to man that home entertainment center like a nuclear missile silo until the big heat blows over. Hopefully the following frosty verbiage, chilly commentary and icy opining will help cool the fevered mind of even the most ardent videophile. But should you venture from your Arctic inner sanctum, braving the inferno after discovering you're running low on Cheetos, for God's sake, don't forget the sunblock.


Deborah Walley
The actress best known for her breakthrough role as the quirky beach bunny, Gidget, Deborah Walley, has died following a battle with cancer. She was 57. Walley was everywhere when the beach movie craze swept America in the 1960s, appearing in films such as "Gidget Goes Hawaiian," "Beach Blanket Bingo," "Ghost in the Invisible Bikini" and "It's a Bikini World." She also performed opposite Elvis Presley in the King's 1966 film, "Spinout." In 1967, Walley appeared in director Arch Oboler's low-budget science-fiction film, "The Bubble," also known as "The Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth." The same year, she landed a regular role on the television sitcom, "The Mothers-In-Law."

Walley's personal Website -- http://www.deborahwalley.com -- featuring photos and biographical information, kept fans apprised of her ongoing battle with illness and provided a forum for her to express her gratitude for their devotion. "I want to thank all of you who have sent so many prayers, letters, e-mails, gifts, and contributions," read the most recent update. "All the love you are sending me is making me better every day ... I am doing well, my faith and resolve have not wavered. They tell me that this is probably the greatest battle I will ever fight, but I know that with my determination and all of the love I am receiving I will have everything I will need to win. I am truly blessed, and I hold you all in my heart."

Ken Hughes
British film director Ken Hughes has died of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 79. Hughes wrote and directed the 1968 fantasy film hit "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" based on Ian Fleming's children's book about a flying car. The previous year he'd co-directed the star-studded James Bond film "Casino Royale," which featured Peter Sellers, David Niven, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress and Woody Allen. (His co-director was Val "The Quatermass Xperiment" Guest.) Hughes may be better known to cult-movie aficionados for the 1956 sci-fi film "Timeslip," also known as "The Atomic Man," which starred Gene Nelson and Faith Domergue.

Douglas Adams
Author Douglas Adams, best known as the creator of the cult science-fiction comedy "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,'' has died following a heart attack. He was 49. The "Guide" began life as a radio series broadcast by the BBC in 1978. It was later made into a television series and the companion book sold 14 million copies. Combining satire and sci-fi, the series addressed philosophical issues through quirky characters with names such as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android. Adams started out as a writer and script editor for the British Broadcasting Corp., working on programs such as the BBC's cult-favorite, "Doctor Who.'' For the last several years, he had been working on a big-screen adaptation of the "Hitchhiker's Guide." For more on the author and his career following "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,'' visit http://douglasadams.com

Jason Miller
Actor, playwright Jason Miller has died of a heart attack at 62. The actor was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Father Damien Karras in the horror blockbuster "The Exorcist," released in 1973. It was a banner year for Miller, who also completed his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "That Championship Season," which ran for 700 Broadway performances and went on to win a Tony Award. In "The Exorcist," Miller made an enduring impression as the troubled, brooding priest who leaps to his death after inviting Satan to leave the body of Linda Blair and take him as its vessel. Miller made only sporadic film appearances thereafter, including a cameo in an "Exorcist" sequel. Among his survivors are his son, actor Jason Patric.


The World Science Fiction Convention, being held August 30-September 3 in Philadelphia, has added a retro category to the long list of awards they annually bestow. Billed as "The Millennium Philcon" (Get it? Millennium Philcon? Millennium Falcon?), this year's con will honor the projects of writers, artists and filmmakers whose work appeared prior to the advent of the Hugo Awards. This year's Hugos will focus on works appearing in 1950. Five films of that vintage have been nominated. It's anybody's guess what the criteria is, but the nominees are: - "Cinderella" - "Destination Moon" - "Harvey" - "Rabbit of Seville" - "Rocketship X-M" Two bona fide sci-fi film classics, a glossy animated Disney fairy tale, a Chuck Jones cartoon and the film version of a smash hit Broadway play. Make no mistake, they're all exemplary works -- but science fiction? Why not "All About Eve," "Sunset Boulevard," or "An American Guerrilla in the Philippines?"

Marlon Brando had been slated to perform a cameo in the forthcoming sequel to last summer's smash horror-film parody "Scary Movie," but after showing enthusiasm for the part, even meeting with director Keenen Ivory Wayans, Brando backed off, citing illness. James Woods will now assume the cameo role of an exorcist in the film's opening segment. The part had been offered originally to Charlton Heston, who declined.

Give her points for frankness. Actress Cassandra Peterson, aka the buxom Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, says her upcoming flick, "Elvira's Haunted Hills," may be her last. "If it doesn't do well," the actress told E! Online, "I'll be living in my car." According to Peterson, the film "is a parody of Roger Corman horror movies. The sort of gothic creature feature that would have starred Vincent Price." Well. OK. "Haunted Hills" was shot on location in Romania because, Peterson adds, "It's cheap, cheap, cheap, incredibly cheap."

Our pal, Jim Nolt, who publishes the nifty "The Adventures Continue" newsletter chronicling all things pertaining to the classic George Reeves/Superman TV series, has been spearheading a campaign to raise funds for an ad in "Variety" that would commemorate the show's 50th anniversary. According to Jim, "As of yesterday, our total stands at $2,023. We're now more than halfway to our goal of $4,000, the amount needed to publish nationally in 'Variety' later this year." If you've yet to make a contribution and would like to do so, contact Jim at: jimnolt@ptd.net In the most recent "TAC" newsletter, Nolt writes, "Many of you have written to say you wish you had some way to thank all those involved in the 'Adventures of Superman' for the great memories we've carried with us for so many years. This is your chance."

And speaking of Nolt's terrific "TAC" newsletter, it's the source of the following info regarding La La Land's official recognition of the big man in the blue tights. Thanks to the tireless work of Superman enthusiast nonpareil, Armand Vaquer, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will proclaim July 10, 2001, opening day of Superman Week in Los Angeles. A ceremony will be held at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, 500 West Temple Street, in downtown L.A. An official proclamation will be introduced by Supervisor Mike Antonovich and will be signed by all of the presiding supervisors. For more about Nolt's "The Adventures Continue," newsletter, check out: http://www.jimnolt.com

Beginning June 9th, The New Orleans Worst Film Festival will celebrate its 11th year of bringing the worst of Hollywood to the sultry Southeast. The fun begins at noon and goes on until midnight with a lineup that includes the dubious classic, "Equinox," and everyone's favorite giant-rabbit film, "Night of the Lepus." A veritable B-movie Mardi Gras! All this fun can be had for a paltry seven bucks and a sack of non-perishable food items for the second Harvesters Food Bank of New Orleans. For more info, check out: http://www.nowff.com As always, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Another plentiful musical platter from the folks at Marco Polo, this one spotlighting the scores of Sir Malcolm Arnold. There are 13 cues culled from the classic 1933 David O. Selznick production of "David Copperfield," and 21 cuts from director John Huston's 1958 drama, "The Roots of Heaven," which starred Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert and Orson Welles. A half hour of music from each classic film, restored by John Morgan and played by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Sorry, no theramin. Find out more at: http://www.naxos.com

Coming your way June 15 is author Chris Fujiwara's scholarly and exhaustive examination of the career of director Jacques Tourneur. "Cinema of Nightfall" spares little detail in covering each of Tourneur's films, and B-movie buffs are well-served by the perceptive coverage of the classic Val Lewton-produced horrors such as "Cat People" and "The Leopard Man." (Did you know that, critical favor notwithstanding, Tourneur always preferred "I Walked With a Zombie" to "Cat People," and cited it as one of his personal favorites?) With plenty of stills and a foreword by Martin Scorsese. For more info, check out: http://www.jhupbooks.com

The "Monster Bash" is nearly here. Our buddy, creature curator without peer, Bob Burns is scheduled to appear, as are gore guru Tom Savini, actress Jane Adams and the offspring of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye. It's all happening June 22-24 at the Days Inn Conference Center in beautiful Butler, Penn. (handy to Pittsburgh). For details, visit: http://www.creepyclassics.com/bash.html

And "Fanex 15" is right around the corner, back in its former, friendlier venue at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore, Md. The usual pomp and spooky ceremony will abound, and this year's guest list includes directors Blake Edwards and Curtis Harrington, "Little Shop of Horrors" castmates Jonathan Haze and Jackie Joseph, Barbara Shelley, Veronica Carlson, Yvonne Monlaur and more. It gets under way July 6. For more info, check out: http://www.midmar.com

Finally, a note of thanks to the fine folks at "Atomic" magazine for the helping of humbling praise lavished upon the B Monster in their most recent issue. The subject in question was B-movie Websites, and the scribe was lovable lounge lizard and ardent B Monsterite, Will Viharo. "Atomic" is a nifty mag, chronicling the retro culture of the 1940s-60s. From Deco to Tiki, they've got a take on it. Where else are you gonna find sock hop instructions, a tribute to bandleader Les Brown and the B Monster all in the same volume? Find out more at: http://www.atomicmag.com/ Drop 'em a line and tell 'em the B Monster sent you!


We'll tell you up front, it's well worth watching this film twice. Maybe even three times. Why? Because each time you'll rewind to a different spot and say, "If only they'd ended it there ... or there ... or there. "Unbreakable," writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up to the supernatural smash, "The Sixth Sense," is four-fifths of a good movie. He manages to build suspense masterfully, layer-by-layer, adding or deleting nothing that might disturb the film's hypnotic momentum. Samuel L. Jackson is rock-solid as the brittle-boned, embittered superhero-seeker. Even smirky Bruce Willis is desmirked in order to sustain the eerie buildup. And then, that ending -- a "Dragnet"-like denouement slapped on like some made-for-TV cop-drama. The only thing missing is George Fenneman's voiceover: "In a moment, the results of that trial."

Look, we're all tired of arguing about Ed Wood -- Bad? Good? Nut case? Genius? Hack? Auteur? We'll let the pop-psyche mavens sort it out. His movies are pretty doggone bad but, by God, he got 'em made. "Night of the Ghouls" is perhaps his most desperate effort, grimy and threadbare even by Wood's standards. Watching it you experience joy, contempt, pity and finally, boredom. Wood was a strange man of boundless enthusiasm who evidently had a good time making movies with his friends, in this case, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, the ubiquitous Criswell, Keene Duncan and Paul Marco. Given half a chance, wouldn't YOU want to have a good time making movies with your friends? Of course you would.


Probably the snappiest adaptation of Curt Siodak's trendsetting sci-fi novel with the possible exception of the radio play starring Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan and John McIntire (enthusiasts would be well-served to seek it out on cassette). Here, too, solid performances aid greatly in sustaining the suspense -- Lew Ayres in the lead, ably assisted by Gene Evans and future first lady, Nancy Davis. We're sure you don't need to be reminded that this is the classic tale of a dead tycoon's brain kept alive in a bell jar by an ambitious scientist who gradually falls under its evil influence. Such a plot hinges on the credibility of its leading man, and Ayres is up to the task. Handily directed by Felix Feist. Get it.

This horrific hybrid should leave even the most hardened B-movie nut cringing in a corner. It's a half-hearted attempt to breath new life into two fading film genres by slamming them headlong into one another. By 1965, beach movies had been sooo played, and the first wave of "monster kids" were growing their hair long and "turning on." Enter Vincent Price and his bikini-clad robots bent on separating rich fuddy-duddies from their money. Stir in teen idol Frankie Avalon, Dwayne "Dobie Gillis" Hickman and the "Ghost in the Invisible Bikini" herself, Susan Hart, and you end up with a concoction that isn't kitschy, cute, funny or memorable.

Arguably the most consciously "artsy" of director Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, due in large measure to Richard Matheson's full-blooded screenplay, through which Vincent Price chews quite a wide swath of scenery (and we mean that in a good way). Which is not to discount the work of the supporting players -- John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders and Corman regular Antony Carbone are all top-notch. Even so, the film's most memorable assets are that terrible torture chamber and its titular pendulum. (Where do you get those spring-loaded, counter-balanced pendulums with the razor-sharp blades? Not at my local Home Depot.) It's bedlam on a budget with a running commentary by Corman.

If you saw this upon its initial release in 1972, you probably had friends who asked you the next day, "What did you do last night?" Could you blame them for laughing when you described this aggressively bad stinker? Academy Award winner Ray Milland's head is nailed onto the body of Los Angeles Rams star Roosevelt Grier. Do we really have to go into detail? Very well. Milland is a dying, wealthy bigot, Grier is a black ex-con. Get it? They hate each other but share the same body. The special effects are something less than convincing, as is the film as a whole.

This film is hailed by some as director Roger Corman's finest hour, and we've never quite understood why. It's filled with nasty, greedy people who behave predictably. There are no surprises, but that doesn't mean the film is altogether bad. In fact, thanks to a cast that includes Ray Milland, Harold Stone, John Hoyt, Don Rickles and Morris Ankrum, it's fitfully entertaining and probably a little better than the plot makes it sound. Milland is a maverick researcher developing an X-ray vision serum. When his research funding is cut off, he designates himself the guinea pig. Before you know it, he can see through walls, clothing, flesh -- farther and deeper, out of his control until he's nearly insane. The film wants to be touching and philosophical a la "The Incredible Shrinking Man," but it just doesn't wash because we just don't like the guy all this bad stuff is happening to.

First of all, dig the cast: Beau Bridges, Johnny "Rifleman" Crawford, Ronny "That's RON" Howard, Tommy "Mars Needs Women" Kirk! And, it's directed by the one-and-only Bert I. Gordon who gave the world "The Amazing Colossal Man," "Attack of the Puppet People" and "War of the Colossal Beast"! Plus, the mop-topped 60s combo, The Beau Brummels, pounds out a tune or two. There, that's the good news. What remains is a fairly bad and boring film about a band of rowdy teens who eat an experimental compound that transforms them into Gulliveresque giants who terrorize a small town until "Opie" develops an antidote.

DRIVE-N DISCS #2: Giant Gila Monster, The Wasp Woman
We defy you to beat this B-movie double-bill. "Gunsmoke's" Festus, Ken Curtis, second-unit man Ray Kellogg and a local Texas deejay pooled their resources to produce "Gila Monster" AND "The Killer Shrews" back-to-back on a shoestring. "Shrews" may be more memorable: It's got James Best, Ingrid Goude and a bunch of flesh-eating, stringy-haired dogs. But "Gila Monster" features Don "Monster of Piedras Blancas" Sullivan crooning "The Mushroom Song" and "My Baby She Sings Whenever Swings Whenever She Slings" or whatever it is he's saying, fast cars, French import Lisa Simone and "comic" support by Shug Fisher as the local drunk.

Of the pair, "Wasp Woman" boasts the more lofty reputation, owing largely to its title, poster art and writer Leo Gordon's stinging take on aging and the battle of the sexes. The film has one central failing: It was impossible to make lovely Susan Cabot look old and haggard as the script would have us believe. (I wish my sixth-grade teacher looked that old and haggard.) Anyhoo, it seems that beeswax is one of the keys to everlasting youth. Side effects include the whacky rubber hornet mask that Cabot nearly suffocated in during filming. You guessed it: directed by Roger Corman. This DVD package includes a drive-in style "countdown clock," concession stand ads, trailers and cartoons.


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

"Here is horror that can happen NOW ... TO YOU!" -- Creature With the Atom Brain

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