JUNE 2004

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The B Monster proudly accepted his Rondo Award at Louisville's Wonderfest alongside fellow recipients Bob and Kathy Burns, Vincent Di Fate, Tim and Donna Lucas and Tom Weaver. Many thanks to Dave Colton, Kerry Gammill, Wonderfest organizers and all who voted.


Actress Anna Lee, who may be best known to cult-film fans for her roles in "The Man Who Changed His Mind," and "Bedlam," died of pneumonia at her Beverly Hills home. She was 91. The daughter of a clergyman, Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith. She was encouraged to pursue an acting career by her father. After training at London's Royal Albert Hall, she began a stage career and later began appearing in English films, first as an extra, then working her way up to featured parts and finally earning the unofficial title "Queen of the Quota Quickies." Lee and her husband, director Robert Stevenson ("King Solomon's Mines," "Mary Poppins") relocated to Hollywood in the late '30s and Lee began starring in stateside productions as well as becoming a fixture of the John Ford stock company (she appeared in "How Green Was My Valley," "Fort Apache" and a half-dozen others). Notable TV credits include appearances on "Gunsmoke," "Perry Mason," "77 Sunset Strip," "My Three Sons," "Wagon Train" and "Combat!" Lee also portrayed Lila Quartermaine on the TV soap opera "General Hospital" for 25 years. In 1970, she became the seventh wife of novelist, poet and playwright Robert Nathan ("Portrait of Jennie," "The Bishop's Wife"); they married three months after they met. She was the mother of actors Jeffery Byron ("Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn," "All My Children") and Venetia Stevenson ("Horror Hotel," " Island of Lost Women").

Screenwriter Nelson Gidding has died of congestive heart failure. He was 84. Born in New York and educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard, Gidding once said that he had been interested in writing ever since he was a child and had a poem published in the Boy Scouts magazine in the 1920s. A POW during World War II, Gidding began writing his first (and only) book "End Over End" while in prison camp; after the war's end, he segued into TV work ("Suspense," "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," many others) and ultimately into movies. His list of film credits includes such well-respected titles as "Odds Against Tomorrow," "The Haunting," "The Andromeda Strain" and (with co-writer Don Mankiewicz) the Oscar-nominated screenplay for "I Want to Live!" the story of the last years of real-life prostitute Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) and her gas chamber execution for murder. "I Want to Live!" was Gidding's first film for director Robert Wise, with whom he worked on several subsequent occasions. He also taught a class in screenwriting at the University of Southern California.


Based on the mail, it would seem that folks want the B Monster to weigh in on "Van Helsing." After all, the top film historians on the planet are B Monster contributors. The guys who researched the nuts and bolts of the Universal Classics back when nobody else gave a hoot are the B Monster's most valued correspondents, so I suppose it's natural for readers to solicit an opinion. I am loathe to give the film any more publicity than it has already accrued, but our readers' demands come first, so ... it stinks. "Van Helsing" is a big, long, lousy, fetid stew of half-baked ideas: a paper-thin plot, uniformly bad acting and cliche-ridden dialogue under 14 coats of computer-generated varnish. There is absolutely nothing new in it, as anyone who has watched television or seen a horror movie in the last 20 years can tell you. It's a giant cow-pie of an example of everything that's wrong with pop culture. A handful of geeks in a cloistered office likely conceived the happy meal and collectors' cup tie-ins before a first-draft script was even turned in. (My personal favorite ancillary product is -- and this is NOT a joke -- the "Van Helsing Classic Movie Carolina Crusher Monster Truck Movie Series Adult Diecast Collectable.") Critic Scott Weinberg summed "Van Helsing" up as "churned off the assembly line ... an ugly and disposable piece of ultra-expensive formula product that exists solely to kick start a new revenue stream ... 'Van Helsing' urinates all over the beloved Universal monsters of yesteryear."

More egregious to me than "Van Helsing" itself is the fact that my Universal Monster Legacy Collection came with a big sticker on the front informing me that the set contained the films that inspired "Van Helsing." The back of the packaging says "exclusive features with director Stephen Sommers demonstrating key original scenes that inspired 'Van Helsing' and how they were re-imagined for the theatrical event." On the "Dracula" box it says, "'Van Helsing' director Stephen Sommers hosts an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how these original Dracula films inspired his motion picture event." On the "Frankenstein" box it says, "'Van Helsing' director Stephen Sommers hosts an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how these original Frankenstein films inspired his motion picture event." On the "Wolf Man" box it says, "'Van Helsing' director Stephen Sommers hosts an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how these original Wolf Man films inspired his motion picture event."

So, bearing in mind that Stephen Sommers has said publicly that he "couldn't care less" about your opinions, how do you like the way your "Monster Kid" heritage has been co-opted and "re-imagined" for his "event?"

NOTE: Next month, the B Monster's all-star review team takes an in-depth look at those "Monster Legacy" collections in particular, and your "horror heritage" in general, in a special new edition called "Monsters For Sale."

According to Big Jim Arness, the actor beloved as both Marshall Matt Dillon and "The Thing From Another World," the response to his autobiography was so enthusiastic that he's planning a second book. The new volume will offer further personal insights and candid behind-the-scenes photos. "A lot of interesting things, both personal and professional, will be in the book," Arness announced. "We will have around 150 photos from our private collection including mostly personal photos. I am having fun dictating the captions. My wife, Janet, will be writing the majority of this book so you will get a glimpse into our lives." Janet Arness appeared only recently at one of Ray Courts' massive Hollywood Collectors Shows in North Hollywood where she was overwhelmed by the fan reception. Attending the show with Janet were Wesley and Kathy Paul, editors of the recently launched "Television Westerns" magazine. The second book of Arness recollections is scheduled to debut before the end of 2004. "Please understand that this is a major undertaking," says Jim, "and we hope to have the books released much later this year." To learn more about the new TV Westerns mag, visit: http://www.televisionwesterns.com
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you!

"Descend into an Egyptian tomb and face the gut-wrenching thrills of a dark roller coaster combined with state-of-the-art effects in the world's first psychological thrill ride!" That's the first frightening line of hype heralding the debut of Universal Studios' latest theme park ride, "Revenge of the Mummy -- The Ride." Well, I'm not sure that I'm ready to have my psychological guts wrenched, but I'm sure there will be throngs of thrill seekers queuing up to have their tummies overturned. To promote their latest horror-themed attraction, Universal has initiated a contest: "Two Grand Prize winners will receive a vacation package for two to the Universal Studios Theme Park of their choice of either Universal Orlando Resort in Florida or Universal Studios Hollywood in California. Package includes round-trip coach air, hotel accommodations and much more. Three First Prize winners will each receive a DVD Player and The Mummy Series on DVD, five Second Prize winners will each receive The Mummy Series on DVD."

As to the ride itself, publicity declares it's "not just a roller coaster, 'Revenge of the Mummy -- The Ride' will tap into rider's primal fears through immersion in a total multi-sensory environment. Utilizing animatronics, sophisticated motion picture technology, state-of-the-art ride, audio and robotics engineering, the ride will play upon common human phobias." "Mummy" actor Arnold Vosloo lends his voice to the experience, which promises, "death will come on swift wings to whomever violates this tomb." So, you crazy kids with your whacky "extreme" sports and jaded worldview, have a ball. You'll find the B Monster on a nice, tame Tilt-a-Whirl. To enter the contest, visit: http://signup.universalstudios.com/form/102 If you're interested in downloading images, a Q&A with Universal director Stephen Sommers, a thrill ride "Fact Sheet" and more, visit:
Tell 'em, if you're so inclined, that the B Monster sent you!

The Arkoff Film Library has recently announced the release of 15 more classic American International Pictures titles in the United Kingdom. "In 2004 we concentrated on classic horror movies," says spokeswoman Nicola Williamson. "This year we are releasing titles from a wide variety of Arkoff B-movie genres including crime and mystery, horror and fantasy and action and teenage rebellion. All of these films are classic B-movies from the 1950s, the golden age of the drive-in." The first five titles in this latest series of DVD releases are "The Female Jungle," "Machine Gun Kelly," "Rock All Night," "Shake Rattle and Rock," and "The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent." They'll be available in the U.K. on June 28. No word, as yet, on an American release date. For more information, check out:
Make a point of telling 'em the B Monster sent you!

"The Christopher Lee Filmography," an exhaustive compendium by Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller, is now available from McFarland & Co. Lee portrayed the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, The Man With the Golden Gun, myriad heavies and one or two good guys in his five decade-plus career. Johnson and Miller's filmography chronicles Lee's every movie appearance from 1948-2000; that's from 1948's "Corridor of Mirrors" to 2002's "Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones." Every entry features detailed notes regarding each film's production and is complimented by commentary drawn from some 30 hours of interviews with Lee himself. It's 480 pages, 161 photos (including some from Lee's own collection), with forewords by Hammer film vets Jimmy Sangster and Veronica Carlson, director Joe Dante, and an afterword by Lee. It promises to be an edifying volume. Appropriately, both Johnson and Miller are teachers. Johnson's previous work includes co-authoring "The Mummy in Fact, Fiction and Film," "Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography," "Peter Cushing: The Gentle Man of Horror and His 91 Films" and authoring "Censored Screams: The British Ban on Hollywood Horror in the Thirties." Miller has written for film mags including Filmfax and Shivers, and is the author of "Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Horror Cinema: A Filmography of Their 22 Collaborations." You don't have to be a Hammerhead to recognize that no one knows this stuff better than these guys. Check out:
And don't beat around the bush: Tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Last fall, Koch Vision and the Starlog group, publisher of Fangoria Magazine, solicited entries in their "Fangoria Blood Drive" short film contest. The response was so great the deadline had to be extended to accommodate the number of entries. Judges scrupulously weighed the many submissions, basing their decisions on "creativity, commerciality and technical merit." The winners:

Best film: "Mr. Eryams," by BC Furtney
Best Comedy: "A Man and His Finger," by Patrick Rea and Ryan Jones
Most Frightening: "Disturbances," also by Patrick Rea
The Palm d'Gore: "The Hitch," by Drew Rist
Best Avant Garde Horror: "Inside," by Christopher P. Garetano
Best Musical: "Song of the Dead," by Chip Gubera
Best Editing: "Shadows of the Dead," by Joel Robertson
Honorable Mention for Achievement in Special Effects: "Specimen"

The winners will be included on the "Fangoria Blood Drive" DVD, to be released this month. "From the likes of what I've seen," says Blood Drive producer, Tony Timpone, "Fangoria's readers are an awesome group of creative, talented and impressive film artists. Look out, Hollywood!" The DVD, hosted by raucous horror-rocker Rob Zombie, contains 85 minutes of horror shorts plus an additional hour of behind-the-scenes material featuring effects artist Stan Winston and author/filmmaker Clive Barker. For more info, check out:
But, of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Scotty is famous for telling "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk, "I'm giving it all I've got!" I suppose that last time, he really meant it. "The James Doohan (aka Scotty) Farewell Convention & Tribute" will take place June 18-20 at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. Affectionately dubbed, "Beam Me Up Scotty, Once Last Time," the convention marks the last public appearance of Doohan, a fan favorite whose autograph is one of sci-fi's more sought-after collectible. According to the event's promoters, "the entire, living cast of the classic 'Star Trek' series will be on stage together for the last time on Sunday afternoon. This momentous occasion is not something you'll be able to catch at the next Trek convention. Or the next one after that. Or the next. Or ever again. This is it, folks. If you're not there to witness it, you won't get another chance." Confirmed guests include Doohan, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, Grace Lee Whitney, scads of "Trek" guest stars and, oh yeah, some REAL astronauts who actually walked on the moon. No disrespect to the affable and thoroughly professional Mr. Doohan and company intended, but ... astronauts who actually walked on the moon! Also among this august gathering of personalities, the convention Web site lists "CEOs of the largest tech corporations in the world," as guests. Who the Hell cares? Scotty, Shatner and ... astronauts who actually walked on the moon! We're supposed to be impressed by money-grubbing corporate CEO's! I've waited years for just the right opportunity to invoke this tired catchphrase, and now, that time has come: "Beam me up!"

Convention promoters hope to raise enough money by the time of the convention to be able to purchase a star for Doohan on Hollywood's legendary Walk of Fame. "For all he has contributed, he still has not been presented with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now is the time to rectify this oversight. Let's make Jimmy Doohan's Star a reality. A percentage of all proceeds from this event will go toward the cost of Doohan's Star. We hope to have enough collected by the time our event takes place in June, so Doohan can be presented the Star with so many of his adoring friends and fans around him." Now, in case you're wondering about the price of admission to this grand farewell, a "Platinum Star Ticket," gets you reserved seats for all seminars and events, banquet tickets with seating relatively close to the celebrity diners, entry to the Friday night "Scotty Party" which will be attended by "Trek" celebs, a numbered, limited photo of Doohan "with a very special message from Jimmy to you," autographs from all the Trek stars, your photo with Doohan, a signed lithograph entitled "Beam Me Up Scotty" by artist Michael David Ward, and a t-shirt and convention program with your name listed as a "Scotty Star." All this for the affordable price of ... $995.00! And that's not the most expensive ticket! To get a price on that one, you gotta call the promoters. So, round up the kids. A "Platinum" family of four can attend for just $3,980.00! Plus travel. Plus accommodations. Plus meals. Skip those car payments. Blow off that mortgage. Of course, you could purchase a "Bronze Star" ticket for a mere $150.00 and wander the convention floor with the hoi polloi. It's all about the fans, right? That is, the fans willing to blow a thousand bucks for the privilege of sharing the same air with actors who once pretended to be space men. For more info, visit:

No, that's not the title of a Robert Ludlum novel. DreamCon is a Jacksonville, Florida-based science fiction and fantasy convention that aspires to do something more than simply celebrate geekdom. Organized by Ron Methvin, DreamCon also raises funds for the American Diabetes Association. "A significant portion of DreamCon activities are centered around fundraising," says Methvin in an FAQ posted at the official convention Web site. "Our goal is to raise between $20,000 and $30,000 for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in our first year. If 2,000 attendees pre-register, I guarantee that DreamCon will raise $20,000 for the ADA." Billed as "a multi-genre hotel based convention, including topics such as sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, horror, anime, comic books, music, toys and much, much more," DreamCon claims to be Florida's largest hotel-based con with over 45,000 square feet of floor space and a guest roster that includes:

Ron Perlman. "Hellboy," himself
Dean Stockwell, of "Quantum Leap, and "Blue Velvet" fame (does anyone remember "The Boy With Green Hair?")
Brian Thompson, late of "The X-Files"
Elizabeth Anne Allen, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" supporting player
Gary Graham of "Alien Nation"
Jewel Staite of TV's "Firefly"
Debi Derryberry of the "Jimmy Neutron" franchise
Tony Amendola of "Stargate: SG1"
Erin Gray, of the "Buck Rogers" teleseries that starred Gil Gerard
Larry Niven, prolific sci-fi novelist
Don Perlin, veteran comic book artist
Alex Saviuk, who draws the "Spider-Man" Sunday comic strip
Marv Wolfman, famed comic book author And many more.

The shindig gets under way June 11. For more information, check out:
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Knoxville, Tennessee will host Adventure Con 3 this June 5-6. The Knoxville Expo center will be crammed with "400 tables of collectible toys, comics, dolls, trains, cards and TV and movie memorabilia," according to the official hype. The sizeable dealer's room is but one attraction, as promoters hope to lure lovers of sci-fi and fantasy with a guest line-up that includes:

David Prowse, Darth Vader, himself
Anthony Daniels, C-3PO of "Star Wars" glory
Alex Vincent of the "Child's Play" film series
Felix Silla, famed as "The Addams Family's" Cousin It (He was also an Ewok!)
Tanya Roberts, big screen "Sheena" and former "Charlie's Angel"
Richard Hatch of "Battlestar Galactica"
Dick Durock, best known as "Swamp Thing"
Jackson Bostwick, Captain Marvel in the "Shazam" TV series
Brad Dourif, "Child's Play" and "Lord of the Rings" veteran
Kathy Garver, Cissy of TV's "Family Affair"
Catherine Bach, the one and only "Daisy Duke"

And an assortment of horror film players and pro wrestlers listed at the con's official Web site:
Check it out, and let 'em know the B Monster sent you!

Some devoted fans of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" series are anxious to see a DVD release that does justice to the classic anthology program. Universal plans to release a boxed-set of the first season this August, but according to Scott Skelton, coauthor of "Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour," the studio is simply transferring a blemished 1991 remastering of the show onto disk. This ragged, 13-year-old compilation, says Skelton, contains, "some clumsy commercial segues, the amputation of the first-season 'Four-in-One' fanfare, sputtering soundtrack errors and distortion, and two blatant omissions that have never been corrected: missing music cues from two episode segments." And, as far as DVD extras are concerned, well, there are none. "No commentary, no interviews, no paintings gallery," says Skelton, "No essays to put the series into historical perspective, nothing. The studio can't work up enough interest in the project to even throw its fans a bone." But fans of the show have a chance to try to rectify this shoddy treatment of the series. "What can you do to avert this 'Gallery' train wreck?" asks Skelton. "We have an opportunity to change the current course and get an appropriately respectful presentation of this classic show, but you have to act now and make your voice heard." You can add your name to a petition found at the following link:

One of the best science fiction directors of the 1950s-'60s era, Val Guest began his motion picture career as an actor early in the talkie era; soon became a screenwriter; then in the 1940s a writer-director, and ultimately in the 1950s a PRODUCER-writer-director. Genre fans would nominate for any list of his best movies the Hammer horrors "The Quatermass Xperiment" ("The Creeping Unknown"), "Quatermass 2" ("Enemy from Space") and "The Abominable Snowman" along with his own production "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" (a Best British Screenplay BAFTA Award winner for Guest and Wolf Mankowitz); other SF and fantasy credits on his crowded résumé include the all-star "Casino Royale," the stop-motion dinosaur FX fest "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" and episodes of TV's "Space: 1999" and "Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense."

It's now been nearly 20 years since he last directed, but Guest -- a longtime resident of Palm Springs, Calif. -- is having a high time in the Low Desert, making the rounds of film festivals with actress-wife Yolande Donlan, recording DVD audio commentaries and much more. On April 3, 2004, Val and Yolande were on hand for the unveiling of their star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. B Monster scribe Tom Weaver somehow managed to catch up with the globetrotting Guest and file this May 7 report:

VAL GUEST: Yolande and I got a joint star [on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars]. There are some people here called Jackie Lee and Jim Houston. They're seriously rich and they are the most generous people in the Valley -- I don't know HOW many charities they sponsor very quietly. One day about a year ago they suddenly said to us, "We'd like to give you a star." Yo asked, "Well, what do we have to do other than stay alive?" [Laughs] And they said, "Absolutely nothing! Nothing!"

The ceremony was on April 3rd [2004], and the turnout was unbelievable! Well, first of all, they had us arrive in a horse and buggy -- you know, "the surrey with the fringe on top." [Laughs] There was a proclamation from the Palm Springs Mayor; we had a statement from the California Senate, and we had a certification of Congressional Recognition from Mary Bono for "outstanding service to the community"! And then they gave us a plaque for Lifetime Achievement and for contributing to the world prominence of Palm Springs!

TOM WEAVER: Did you have any inkling as you were making all your movies in England how much you were contributing to the prominence of Palm Springs?

VAL GUEST: No [laughs], I didn't then, no! What was TRULY incredible was the party they [star sponsors Lee and Houston] gave afterwards. This was the party of the decade -- people are still talking about it. They tried to give us "a London setting" for the party: At their enormous house where they have acres of ground, you went into their main entrance and they had two Grenadier guards in full uniform in sentry boxes. When you went by them, inside the entrance to the house they had cutouts of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Then when you turned to your right, there were knights in armor, and you passed through [a replica of] the entrance to the Tower of London that they built, and you went into this enormous tent with many, many tables. At the other end of the tent they had "The Beatles" playing -- a musical group in Beatles clothes and hair and everything. And they had invited -- wait for this -- 450 people. And what was also exciting for me was that, unbeknownst to me, Jim Houston got in touch with the London publisher of my autobiography 'So You Want to Be in Pictures' and ordered 300 of them. Then at the party, he handed a copy out to everybody as they left. My God Almighty, it just shook us -- we're only just about getting over it, a month later!

We're going to London in July, we have a home there as well, and we're going to be there for three months -- there are more DVDs [of Guest's movies] coming out there, and I've got to go and do commentaries and things. But first, on June the 16th to the 20th we're going to be flown out to ... you'll never guess where ... LAPLAND. It's for the Festival of the Midnight Sun [a film festival]. A while back they showed Quatermass and they tried to whisk us out then, but in L.A. the Hollywood Egyptian was doing a whole WEEK of our films and Yolande and I had committed ourselves to that, so we couldn't go [to Lapland]. So the Lapland people said, "We'll make it next time," so that's the next thing that's coming up now. We've got almost a week in the Polar Circle!

TOM WEAVER: How old are you these days, and what's the secret to your longevity? How are you able to stay as active as you do?

VAL GUEST: When I woke up this morning, I was in my 93rd year -- I was 92 last December. In fact, it's our 50th wedding anniversary coming up this September. And the "secret to my longevity"? Well, part of it is that I always say, "Just get ON with it." Three things: "Just get ON with it"; don't read any medical books; and get married to someone like Yolande!


Fans are forever discussing Bela Lugosi's ultra-low budget Monogram pictures while little scrutiny is devoted to Boris Karloff's work for the same seedy studio. Karloff's Monogram films are just as perversely interesting. Just think, the same year he appeared in the fabulous "Son of Frankenstein" (1939), he embarked on Monogram's tedious "Mr. Wong" series, donning ludicrous Asian makeup to portray the inscrutable detective. As tepid as the Wong films were, "The Ape," (1940) is even tepidier ... or more tepid, or ... man, it's just plain dullsville! Though it clocks in at barely an hour, it feels, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, like "a long, hard slog."

Karloff plays kindly scientist Dr. Adrian. He's lost his wife and child to polio and is determined in his grief to find a cure. Which he does! Experimenting on a local girl (Maris Wrixon) stricken with the disease, he discovers that human spinal fluid is the key. When a circus gorilla escapes its cage and goes on a rampage, Karloff taps the spines of the ape's victims. The girl improves, but the cure is not certain. In the interest of science, Karloff kills the marauding ape, skins it, makes a suit of its carcass, and stalks the countryside himself, disguised as the ape, killing men and siphoning the juice from their spines. Will this crazed, ape-man medico (and evidently expert taxidermist) be stopped? Will Maris survive? We won't spoil the ending for you, but whenever you have an old man in a homemade ape suit murdering innocent people for duty and humanity, odds are it won't end well. "The Ape" was directed with evidently little interest by William Nigh, who also helmed the Wong series. Nigh was a workhorse, directing over 100 films beginning in 1914; everything from "Casey of the Coast Guard" to "Zis Boom Bah." Maris Wrixon's sweet countenance graced innumerable "Bs," including "Footsteps in the Dark," "The Face of Marble" and "White Pongo,"

If only Dr. Jonas Salk had seen "The Ape." Think of the money that could have been saved on researching his polio vaccine had he just sliced open a gorilla and slipped into its skin. Oh, well. Both Karloff and Lugosi were making these "kindly but misguided and tragically misunderstood scientist" types their stock-in-trade at this point in their careers. Who fared better? Arguably, Karloff, who played essentially the same role in a handful of Columbia pictures, produced with a little more polish than Monogram could afford. Lugosi, however ... read on....

What was it about spinal fluid that fascinated B-movie scientists? Just as Karloff donned his gorilla duds to sap victims of their spinal secretions, so Lugosi employs the same method to cure himself of his "apeishness" in this 1943 farago, Lugosi plays Dr. James Brewster (the Hungarian thespian once more saddled with an incongruous Anglo name). His studies in evolution have led to his own, slow devolvement to simian status. Or, could it be that he's lived so long with his pet gorilla -- well, you know what they say about couples who begin to look like each other. In any case, Bela develops a Cro-Magnon brow and some rather Lincolnesqe whiskers (gasp) and determines that the only remedy lies in the spinal fluids of young women. That's where his ape roommate comes in. At the risk of playing the spoiler we'll ask, could the ending be anything other than tragic? Ape and master come to blows and the world is forever denied Bela's firsthand knowledge of evolutionary science.

"The Ape Man" cast is stacked with likeable players; wise guy Wallace Ford, feisty Louise Currie, dour dowager Minerva Urecal and Henry Hall, who also appeared in "The Ape" (gasp, again!). And -- get out your brickbats, bad movie connoisseurs -- it was directed by William Beaudine, that favorite punching bag of enlightened critics. Come on, cut the guy some slack. His career ranged from 1913 to 1976. He serviceably directed more than 250 movies of every genre. Heck, he even appeared in nearly 50 of 'em! This is not to mention his prolific television career. Likewise, back off of Lugosi. His inner demons notwithstanding surrounded by cardboard sets and hampered by trite dialogue, he went at every role full-bore, "The Ape Man" being no exception. Which is not to say the film isn't ludicrous and inept. It is. But, perspective people, perspective.

Okay, hang on and try to follow the plotline of this ambitious, Byzantine, enjoyably outrageous WWII propaganda horror show; Bela Lugosi is a Nazi doctor. He is asked by Japan's Black Dragon Society to visit Japan and work his plastic surgery magic on six volunteers. The volunteers will be transformed into exact physical duplicates of six leading American industrialists. The six impostors will then go to America, bump off the REAL industrialists, assume their identities and proceed to sabotage their "own" munitions plants, helping to pave the way for a Japanese victory. Sounds simple enough. But wait. After his work is completed, the High Dragon has Lugosi tossed into a dungeon where the secret of his surgery will die with him. That's no way to treat an Axis ally. Bent on revenge, Lugosi swaps places with his cellmate, makes his escape, heads for the U.S., and one-by-one exterminates the impostors he created. FBI agent Dick Martin, as played by future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore, is particularly vexed by the stunning and seemingly inexplicable murders.

It isn't exactly on a par with Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" series, but it's so bizarre, so lurid and outlandish that I defy you not to be entertained by Monogram's cautionary, Poverty Row-horror contribution to national readiness. But why take my word for it. When originally released, the studio's own ad campaign featured testimony from "Lugosi" himself: "I defy moviegoers not to gasp when they see 'Black Dragons.' Never have I worked in a story so startling or so blood-chillingly shocking. See it if you dare!" Top THAT ballyhoo! "Black Dragons" was directed by (drum role) William Nigh, the Monogram stalwart who directed "The Ape" and all those muddled Mr. Wong pictures. But, let's be charitable. Nigh cranked out seven pictures in 1943, with this one sandwiched between "Mr. Wise Guy" and "The Strange Case of Doctor Rx," the latter a gruesomely entertaining programmer with a great cast that includes Lionel Atwill, Mantan Moreland and Shemp Howard! But, back to "Black Dragons," the cast of which is not nearly so engaging. Joan Barclay, who appeared in darned near every film series of the 1940s (The Falcon, Mexican Spitfire, The Great Gildersleeve, Charlie Chan), plus umpteen Westerns, is pretty and capable. Clayton Moore is pretty much the Lone Ranger in civvies. And Lugosi? Well, how many Hungarian actors would approach a dual role as both a Nazi plastic surgeon and a Frenchman with such bravado?


Another example of what's great about America; you can purchase one or all of these presentations. (For the record, they each cost about 25 bucks.) Four versions? Seems like a lot of extra effort to lavish on a wildly over hyped sci-fi potboiler. Are you sure you want to bother with this? Okay, here's the "official" plot synopsis from the companion Web site that was posted when the film was first released: "Sometimes, what you can't see can kill you. Prepare yourself for the new space thriller 'Pitch Black.' Learn more about the survivors of the crashed deep space transport Hunter-Gratzner, including psychopathic, escaped convict Riddick, and the desolate and deadly planet where they all crash landed." Sound familiar? It is. It's "It! The Terror From Beyond Space," "Alien," "Predator," "Terminator" -- even "Flight of the Phoenix" -- well, at least they stole from proven commodities.

Big, brutish Vin Diesel plays the aforementioned whacko, tough-guy convict -- and he's the LIKABLE character! He's got screen presence to spare and, as the voice of "The Iron Giant," he qualifies as OK in our book. Otherwise, take a nap, play with your dog, talk to your wife. Don't get us wrong; if you're looking for a movie with some nifty effects that'll make you feel smart because you can predict everything that's going to happen, you just might love "Pitch Black." And yes, there is not one, not two, but THREE sequels currently in the works. In fact, a ticket to the first sequel, "The Chronicles of Riddick," is included with every "Pitch Black" DVD. (If the first sequel bombs, will they go ahead with the other two?) I never get tired of quoting my great uncle Nunzio: "America, she's a great-a-country!"

This low-rent homage to cult-films past was recently picked up by Sony and distributed for a brief theatrical run. We were among the first to alert fans to its existence over two years ago, so we'll regurgitate our first impressions now that the film is moving into wide DVD release. And we'll begin by posing again the question the picture begs: Is it possible to produce "intentional camp?" Certainly one can lampoon the films of old a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000," or take off on the sci-fi genre's timeworn conventions as in "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." But while these productions laugh heartily at the cliches and naivete of the 1950s, the producers of "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" were smart enough to laugh at themselves, as well. That's what lends charm to what would otherwise have been just another cruel send-up of vintage science fiction cinema.

Producer F. Miguel Valenti and writer-director-star Larry Blamire have an obvious affection for boomer-horror flicks and have done their homework when it comes to staging and pacing in the fashion of Corman and his contemporaries. The plot is a hash of "Robot Monster," "Day The World Ended," "Cat-Women of the Moon," "The Astounding She Monster," and predictably, "Plan 9 From Outer Space." The actors are all pros with resumes that include "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Majestic" and myriad TV shows. (Leading lady Faye Masterson, in her 1962 hairdo, puts one in mind of Candace Hilligoss.) A special screening at L.A.'s Egyptian Theater recently wowed an audience of 600. "I've seen some unsuccessful spoofs in the past," says Blamire, "[but] we were blessed with a terrific, talented cast; instead of hamming it up -- acting 'bad' -- we all play it pretty straight." They even bothered to film it in our beloved Bronson Canyon, location of innumerable sci-fi shoots. Next up for this production team: "Trail of the Screaming Forehead."

John Brunas, co-author (with Michael Brunas and Tom Weaver) of the seminal volume, "Universal Horrors," contributes the following:

While American audiences were flocking to the latest Poe adaptations and classic horror updates to emerge from AIP and Hammer studios respectively, our European counterparts were immersed in their own brand of screen nightmare ... the Italian gothic horrors ("Black Sunday," "Black Sabbath") and the West German krimi (crime) films based on the novels of Edgar Wallace. Released sporadically in the United States for the drive-in horror show trade, these films enjoyed a longer shelf life upon being packaged by such outfits as AIP for mass TV consumption. Two fine examples of these Euro-horrors, "Die Toten Augen Von London." ["Dead Eyes of London"] (1961) and Lo Spretto ["The Ghost"] (1963), were packaged by Magna Pictures in 1964 and released theatrically as an all-horror double bill. Retromedia Entertainment has struck new digital wide screen prints and offers them in a single disc set, which also includes the original U.S. release theatrical trailers, a still gallery, and a complete reproduction of the original eight-page German movie program book for "Die Toten Augen Von London."

West Germany's "Dead Eyes of London" is the better of the two. It is the second screen version of the Edgar Wallace mystery "Dark Eyes of London" and is as gratuitously nasty as the first, the British-made "Dark Eyes of London" (U.S. title "The Human Monster"), released in 1939 with Bela Lugosi playing the roles assigned to two actors in the remake.

Scotland Yard is baffled by the apparent drownings of wealthy foreign businessmen. Their bodies turn up in the Thames bearing a bit of parchment containing a warning in Braille. The Yard suspects these killings as the work of the Blind Killers of London, an army of impoverished peddlers who prey on their hapless victims in the fog-shrouded back alleys. Through the sharp police work of Inspector Larry Holt (breezily played by Joachim Fuchsberger) and his oddball associate, Sergeant Sunny Harvey (Eddi Arent), it is ascertained that all of the victims carried hefty insurance policies furnished by prominent businessman Stephan Judd (Wolfgang Lukschy). A seemingly benevolent reverend running a home for the blind, a grotesque blind brute who commits murder to the accompaniment of Beethoven's Fifth, and enough seedy lowlifes, blackmailers and backstabbers to fill several films, are the slow-moving, talky, yet attention-holding film's chief assets. Also of note is the low-key, mood-encrusted camerawork of Karl Lob, which is compromised by the rather gray toned, washed out source print.

What the plot lacks in originality, "The Ghost" makes up for in its dark and foreboding atmosphere. Italian horror specialist Riccardo Freda (billed in the credits as Robert Hampton?) had previously directed "The Horrible Doctor Hichcock;" although the Hichcock name is retained and a '60s horror diva stars in both of them, there is otherwise no relation between the two.

Cruel, domineering Dr. John Hichcock (Leonard Elliott) suffers from a form of paralysis, which makes him a virtual prisoner in his own home. His trusted physician Dr. Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin) has devised a treatment in which the South American poison curare is used in combination with a powerful antidote to bring feeling back into Hichcock's limbs. The doctor's beautiful wife Margaret, meanwhile, has been having an affair with the dashing Livingstone, and the two plot to do away with the doctor so she can inherit his fortune. No sooner is the deed carried out than the lovers are haunted by all manner of hackneyed old dark house hijinks -- the doctor's wheelchair set into motion, voices from the grave, and the appearance of Hichcock's ghost itself. Is it really a ghost, or has Hichcock beat the couple at their own game?

Barbara Steele indulges in all of the irritating, hysteria-driven mannerisms, which have earned her horror stardom in some circles. Freda has a talent for camera compositions, and his optimum use of the gothic settings and a rich color palette help sustain a doom-driven mood. Except for some occasional light vertical lines, the source print is commendable. Whether you're looking to upgrade the quality of those inferior bootleg videos in your collection, or wish a sampling of the Eurohorror genre, this Retromedia release is a sure bet.

Next month: "MONSTERS FOR SALE!"


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

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


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

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