MARCH 2003


Anthony Eisley
Actor Anthony Eisley died in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 78. Eisley may be best known for his portrayal of Tracy Steele in the detective series "Hawaiian Eye." Cult-movie fans will remember him from numerous low-budget genre-films. He starred in Roger Corman's 1959 "The Wasp Woman" and later appeared in a number of science-fiction and horror films throughout the 1960s including "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters," "Journey to the Center of Time," "The Witchmaker," "The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals," "The Mighty Gorga," "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," "Monster" and "Evil Spirits," among others.

The stage, screen and TV star (real name: Fred Eisley) was born in Philadelphia. His father was general sales manager and "trouble-shooter" for a large company, and his work kept the family on the move throughout Eisley's youth. At an early age, Eisley knew that he wanted to be an actor, but because he lacked show business contacts, he felt nothing would come of his aspiration. He later took drama courses at the University of Miami, "not because I thought I could really be an actor, but because I was taking the easy way out to get a degree." Finally following up on his longtime ambition, Eisley landed a job with a stock company in Pennsylvania, where he worked opposite James Dunn in a stage production of "A Slight Case of Murder." Later roles in long-running plays like "Mister Roberts," "Picnic" and "The Desperate Hours" followed, along with some early movie ("Operation Pacific," "Fearless Fagan") and television ("Racket Squad") work. He later went on to TV and exploitation movie stardom. In 1964, Eisley starred in director Sam Fuller's "The Naked Kiss," a harsh depiction of small-town prejudice and deviant sexuality centering on an upstanding citizen with a dark secret.

In addition to "Hawaiian Eye," Eisley appeared in such television programs as "The Outer Limits," "The Wild Wild West," "The Invaders," "The Magician," "Project UFO" and many others. Eisley wrote several of the "Hawaiian Eye" episodes, and once rebutted criticism of the show by saying, "I, too, would like to see more food for thought on television. I have children whose viewpoints will be largely affected in certain areas by their many hours gazing at the one-eyed monster. But our world is solemn enough as it is. I'd hate to limit them -- or myself -- to a leisure-time diet devoid of laughter, adventure and romance."


Word on the West Coast is that Ray Harryhausen will soon be honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. While no official ceremony has yet been scheduled by the local Chamber of Commerce, sources say that Hollywood heavyweights including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are already angling for a spot at Ray's side when he's awarded his star. So, Hollywood, what took so doggone long?

The buzz of B-movie town is Universal's Web sneak peek at their forthcoming film "Van Helsing," scheduled to open May 21, 2004. The official Web site recently previewed some decidedly shadowy images of the overhauled Universal classic monsters, as well as the vampire-hunter protagonist. The ultra-cool pundits and box-office prognosticators have had time to digest them, but you, the true fans of classic horror and sci-fi are the final arbiters as far as we're concerned. First things first; if you haven't seen the new and "improved" monsters, take a look (we'll stand by while you wait for the silly and unnecessary Flash animation to load):

Had a look? Ready for our take? The Frankenstein monster is pretty hard to screw up, though it looks as if they tried by jolting his electrodes with steroids. The fascination of "Frankenstein" is the idea that the monster is comprised of the stolen parts of many men's bodies. All of the cadavers in this case must have been former WWF stars. The Wolf Man is likewise a hulking brute more akin to a Frank Frazetta sketch than Lon Chaney's tortured lycanthrope. (Those familiar with the very first issue of "Creepy" will bear me out.) It also recalls artist Bernie Wrightson's early work, which recalls Frazetta, which -- wait, I think I hear the nerd police knocking at the door. Then, there's Dracula. What were they thinking? The suave Transylvanian Count is now a snarling, hopping harpy? Oy! Finally, there's Van Helsing, reimagined (I've come to find out that the young Turks in Hollywood LOVE that word) as a pistol-toting, crossbow-wielding, sword-slinging Victorian-era "Blade." Naturally, he's done up in black leather, looking like a cross between Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane and the WB's "Angel."

We'll have to defer to the Tinsel Town numbers crunchers. I'm sure they've calculated that blood, guts and stupid sardonic humor are what put butts in theater seats. But, gosh, I would loved to have seen Universal's classic monster's done justice. Sadly, none of the underlying humanity that audiences once connected with is evident in these "Van Helsing" images. Remember the Karloff Monster's first child-like exposure to light? Remember Lugosi's plaintive, "to be really dead ... that must be glorious?" Even Chaney Jr., opinions of his acting skills notwithstanding, conveyed desperation in his search for a cure. Nowadays, it's all "extreme," balls-to-the-wall mayhem, devoid of empathy. Perhaps this film will be the exception. (At least, I hope it will.) But it looks as though our monsters have been robbed of the humanity that made them great.

At a pre-release press conference, Ben Affleck defended the dark, nihilistic tone of "Daredevil," in which he stars as the eponymous comic book hero. First off, we keep fairly close tabs on such things, and we weren't aware that anyone had publicly attacked the film. Were Affleck's comments a pre-emptive strike? In the film, the superhero is portrayed as a very dark, tortured, violent figure. He sadistically allows an opponent to die, pops pills and, in an act of true machismo, yanks out one of his own teeth following a brutal encounter. Affleck told reporters, "I know that the really hardcore fans, myself included -- and I think probably even Marvel -- felt that was stepping over a line in a way." In a way? What way? The "it's okay to show a heroic figure committing foul acts" way? Affleck explained that the dark elements were necessary, "for the sake of giving the character an arc [Editor's note: That's moviespeak for 'learning'] letting him go from a guy who is seeking ultimate vengeance to a guy who understands the difference between that and justice ..."

When I was a kid, I liked Daredevil because he overcame a terrific handicap to become a hero imbued with unique powers -- he was resourceful, courageous and strong in the face of great adversity. Booorrring! What a lousy movie THAT would make! Now, if he were a pain-killer-popping vigilante in a kinky leather costume ... BOFFO! In comparing the comic to the movie, Affleck pointed out that "it's a little grittier, a little bit more realistic ... in this comic-book, superhero universe, when a guy gets hit or is stabbed, he bleeds, and there are consequences to it. I think that speaks to the violence issue ..." Well, then, why not have Daredevil ritually slaughtering puppies in an orphanage? That should hammer home your point. Look, guys, isn't there enough corruption and pain in the world? Isn't that why we HAVE a "comic-book, superhero universe?" Is there no room in the movies for an exemplary character inherently able to differentiate between right and wrong, virtue and apathy? Does it ALWAYS have to be about an embittered, world-weary cynic? Even in the case of "Spider-Man" (a film we liked) the character was depicted as a VICTIM of his superpowers, as well as a beneficiary. Seriously, pick up a newspaper or switch on the evening news and then tell me why our culture must endure another dose of nasty movie cynicism. Aren't these filmmakers the same people who recently signed a peace petition?

Coming to Pasadena, Calif., on March 28-30 is -- deep breath -- "Creation's 11th Annual Grand Slam Convention: The Sci-Fi Summit' featuring 'Star Trek,' 'Star Wars' and 'Buffy.' " Whew! That's right, dang-near any actor who had anything to do with any of those shows will be in attendance at the Pasadena Center. And fortunate fans can purchase a three-day "Gold Weekend Package" for just -- another deep breath -- $389.00! On top of that, you still gotta get a room and pay for travel! This begs the question: How much do you really want to see Garrick Hagon in the flesh? Once you have proximity to the actor (who had tiny parts in lots of movies including "Star Wars") you STILL have to pay for an autograph. We don't mean to pick on Mr. Hagon, we just chose one name out of the many we're unfamiliar with. Creation Entertainment points out that the "Gold" status affords patrons "the best reserved seats, yours ... for all three days of the event ... one 'Trek Treat Card' offering special gifts at various booths throughout the event ... and complimentary autographs from Carrie Fisher, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, James Marsters, Armin Shimerman, Gina Torres, Alan Ruck, Jennifer Lien, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips and Andy Hallet." Not to mention, "first crack at souvenirs on Thursday night if you can make our pre-registration!"

To be sure, it's a star-studded affair, that is, if your idea of a studdable star is the guy who played Bruno in "Moonbase 3" (that's right, Garrick Hagon!) Okay, we'll admit the big guns will be there -- Shatner, Nimoy, George Takei, James Doohan -- and SFX magazine readers recently named attendee James Marsters' Spike character the second greatest in sci-fi history. Promoters know the fans will turn out for such a lineup, no matter what the cost. And how does that cost per celeb break down? As we mentioned, $389 gets you in the door for three days, a single day is 57 bucks. THEN you have to purchase an autograph ticket, get in line, and pray to God Robert Beltran doesn't run out of steam -- or his pen out of ink -- before you get to him. So, to make it easier for you to budget your autograph money, we provide the following cost comparison. Keep in mind, this is not sarcasm, this is legit:

William Shatner: $60
Leonard Nimoy: $60
James Doohan: $70 ("extremely limited, please order quickly") G
eorge Takei: $35
Nichelle Nichols: $35
Walter Koenig: $35
Michael Dorn: $25
Marina Sirtis: $25
Robert Beltran: $40
Tim Russ: $20
Robert Picardo: $20
Ethan Phillips: $20
Armin Shimerman: $20
James Marsters: $35
Nicholas Brendon: $35
Juliet Landau: $20
Andy Hallet: $20
Gina Torres: $20
Carrie Fisher: $55 (includes complimentary photo)
David Prowse: $20 (includes complimentary photo)
Peter Mayhew: $20 (includes complimentary photo)
Kenny Baker: $20 (includes complimentary photo) J
eremy Bulloch: $20 (includes complimentary photo)
Silas Carson: $20 (includes complimentary photo)

Scotty gets top dollar? That'll make Shatner flip his wig. And Takei only gets $35? I'd rather have TWO Takei's than a Nimoy (but keep your mitts off my Doohan!) One interesting note on the convention Web site: "Michael Dorn on occasion has been unwilling to sign certain items." That set my imagination racing. What has this guy been asked to sign in the past? I guess it isn't easy being Worf.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., an outfit called Sci Fi Shows is perpetually busy packaging various genre-themed cons, one of which is sure to appeal to your geek streak. Perhaps the most interesting to B Monster readers is Chillerfest, which "will offer fans the chance to meet great guests from the world of horror, sci-fi and movies, along with authors and behind the scenes personnel. Over the course of the weekend there will be dealers selling different items from books & videos to T-shirts & DVD's right through to those hard to get collectibles, photograph sessions and much, much more!" (I'm particularly struck by the fact that they draw a distinction between "sci-fi" and "movies.") Anyhoo, among the guests converging on London's Radisson Edwardian Hotel are:

Hammer glamour queen and former Bond girl Caroline Munro Ingrid "Countess Dracula" Pitt Doug "Pinhead" Bradley Warwick "Leprechaun" Davis Carel (really, really tall guy) Struycken The collective ladies of "The Evil Dead," Betsy Baker, Ellen Sandweiss and Sarah York Makeup and effects ace Tom Savini and more.

Promoters invite attendees to, "stay for the whole weekend and enjoy the Saturday night when there will be a party with costume competitions, disco and a chance just to relax in a great atmosphere." Just imagine, you can gratify your twin yearnings for science fiction AND disco in ONE place! Why hasn't anyone thought of combining the two before now? It happens March 22-23. To find out more, visit:

Then there's Jedicon 8, which happens Sunday, April 13 at the Basildon Sports Centre, Nethermayne Basildon, Essex. It's billed as "The U.K.'s Number 1 'Star Wars' Event" and features autograph sessions, photograph sessions, guest Q&As, "giant screen" movies, a "fancy dress & costume competition," and the opportunity to "meet characters such as Stormtroopers." (Egad! You'd think the last thing a Brit would want to meet is a Stormtrooper. I thought we'd dispatched the last of them 50 years ago!) Scheduled guests include:

Hassani Shapi
Tim Dry
Gerald Home
Sean Crawford
Michael Sheard

Okay, we're not familiar with them, but they played such characters as Eeth Koth, Whipid, Squid Head and Yak Face in various "Star Wars" pictures. Promoters call it "an event NOT to be missed if you are a TRUE Star Wars fan!" For more info, check out:

The Sci FI Shows crew also recently staged the Basildon Show featuring "the UK's TOP dealers selling everything to do with sci fi, movies, trading cards, toys, autographs, posters, models, figures, PLUS A WHOLE LOAD MORE!" Not sure what was in the rest of "the load," but the featured guest was none other than ... Garrick Hagon! (More power to you, Garrick!) And last November saw the "License To Thrill" convention, (geez, they've got their finger in every cult-film pie!) a Bond-related happening with the usual dealers, guests and memorabilia. Perhaps most ambitious is this May's London Expo, "bringing a new concept in shows to the UK. This is not just another show but an event which will be both interactive and fun." The show will be composed of "zones" (an "Actor Zone," a "Game Zone," a "Comic Zone," etc.). More on the "concept" as details develop. So, the cult-nerd phenomenon is not unique to Yanks. Does that make you feel better or worse?

From the "This is not a joke" file: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that scads of tourists have actually been trying to book passage to Middle Earth, fictional setting of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." According to the staff at the Yahoo! Travel Web site, imaginary locations such as Mordor and Rivendell have become popular search entries. Inspired by director Peter Jackson's elephantine movie adaptations of the Tolkien canon, and no doubt confusing Frodo with the renowned Fodor's travel books, eager tourists may be disappointed to learn that the films were shot entirely in Jackson's native New Zealand. "I'd never want to go to Mordor," Yahoo travel maven Morgan Williams told the Herald. "The film's real location, New Zealand, on the other hand, is a truly magical place." The B Monster was personally distressed by the exorbitant airfares to Lilliput, and disappointed that Shangri-La is still a political football in that whole Tibet-China controversy. Our plans for a cruise to Atlantis fell through, and our fear of heights prevents us from crossing the Rainbow Bridge to Aasgard, so it looks like another summer in Sumeria with the Mole People.

After a year of mudslinging and axe-grinding, it looks as though the dust may finally be settling on the final site for Romania's Dracula theme park. According to reports from the AP and the BBC, the Romanian government has announced that the park will be built near Bucharest and not in Sighisoara located in Vlad the Impaler's native Transylvania. In the end, it wasn't protests from Greenpeace, native Sighisoaraians, the local clergy and assorted environmentalists (even Prince Charles got into the act stating he was against the park on environmental grounds -- no pun intended) that swayed officials.The international consultancy firm hired by the Romanian government, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, told them that building the park closer to the nation's capital would attract more tourists. According to the number-crunchers, the Bucharest site will draw a million tourists per year compared to the 600,000 who were expected to visit Sighisoara annually. The government maintains that the $30 million theme park, which will be adjacent to Lake Snagov, a ritzy resort 25 miles north of Bucharest, will create 3,000 jobs and boost Romania's tourism industry. Legend has it that Vlad's body is buried in a monastery located on an island in the lake. It may be just a legend, but it's sure to be good for business. The park is expected to open by the end of 2004.

ore retro revels in the San Francisco Bayside domain of cocktail totin' Will "The Thrill" ViIharo. "I'm especially excited about the March Thrill-bill," says the self-made lounge lizard and retro-movie maven, referring to upcoming stage shows featuring crisp 35mm prints of "two of my favorite '50s monster classics, 'The Brain From Planet Arous' and 'The Monster of Piedras Blancas.' " In addition, Vilharo will be screening a 35mm print of the original pilot episode of "The Abbott & Costello Show." For the inexcusably uninformed, Will hosts live "spook show"- style screenings of vintage films at the Bay Area's beloved Parkway Theater -- that is when he's not taking his sultry sidekick, Monica, "Tiki Goddess," on the road for live bookings. Will explains his access to a veritable treasure trove of vintage movie prints: "Bill Longen is my source for vintage trailers and a lot of obscure prints. He grew up in the theater exhibition business back in Philly, and worked as a TV editor for years. I believe he even won an Emmy for work on a news program. He edited 'Creature Features' when [horror movie host] John Stanley was hosting the show. I met him through John. He's a good friend." So, if you can possibly make your way to the Bay this month, complete details and scheduling can be found at:
Inform "The Thrill" that the B Monster hepped you to his swingin' scene!

Amid the proliferation of aggressive video games that encourage kids to bloodily dispatch adversaries or decapitate hookers to score points, there emerges "I Was an Atomic Mutant," a new monster-themed game you can play on your PC. Canopy Games executive producer Michael Berglund says, "I've been a lifelong fan of horror, fantasy and monster movies in general. My childhood was spent in the pages of Famous Monsters, and watching Ray Harryhausen and classic Universal monsters." The game's companion Web site is a hoot; a well-designed, easily navigable chronicle of the life of Anton Slavski, the "giant monster film auteur" upon whose work the game is supposedly based. You can download movie trailers, screenshots and a game demo. "It's an homage to 1950's B-Movie monsters," says Berglund. "It's a fun arcade-type game full of mayhem, action, and humor. In the game, YOU play a giant atomic mutant!" Sorry, no decapitated hookers, just dino-style stomping and snarling. Major retailers including Target, WalMart, BestBuy and Circuit City will be selling the game for $19.95. To learn more, check out:
And, of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

The friendly folks at Midnight Marquee Press recently provided an update regarding their April 11-13 Son of Fanex get-together. In addition to Hammer leading man Edward DeSouza (making his first trip stateside, incidentally) you can meet and greet Susan Gordon, daughter of drive-in titan Bert I. Gordon ("The Amazing Colossal Man," "Beginning of the End"). Ms. Gordon appeared in Dad's "Attack of the Puppet People" and "Tormented," not to mention mainstream fare such as the Danny Kaye vehicle, "The Five Pennies." On the publishing front, Midmar will soon unveil Steve Haberman's first book in his "Chronicles of Terror" series, "Silent Screams," and the long-awaited "Forgotten Horrors 3" by Michael H. Price and John Wooley. Also on the horizon is "Fantastic Journeys" showcasing transcriptions of talks given by past FANEX attendees including John Agar, Jeff Morrow, Ray Harryhausen, Robert Wise and others. Also interesting is the news that Midmar is "in talks to begin offering a line of rare horror/sci-fi television shows" on DVD. Even more significant is their announcement that "we are working with The Chesapeake Arts Center on a major film festival to be held in Baltimore October 30-Nov. 1 2003. 'The Maryland Fantastique Film Fest' will screen genre-film entries and award the Laemmle Award to the winners." Midmar has once again enticed Christopher Lee to attend and serve as "Grand Marshall Judge" of the films.
For more info, keep watching
And by all means, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Are you a budding filmmaker with a penchant for the macabre? You can ply your wares at the upcoming Screamfest 3000 to be held in Los Angeles from October 11-19, 2003 -- that is if you can swing the entry fee (ranging from $25 - $40) and you've recently completed a film that falls into one of the following categories:

Horror Feature Horror Short
Horror Super Short (under 10 minutes)
Horror Comedy
Documentary (haunt- or horror-related)
Horror Animation
Horror Animation Short
Horror Animation Super Short
Student Horror Feature Film
Student Horror Short
Student Horror Super Short

We get the impression they're looking for horror-related fare. Aspiring screenwriters can enter their scripts for $30. For an extra $30, the Screamfest panel of judges (comprised in part, say promoters, of literary agents and development executives) will give it "consideration and script coverage." (I wish I could tell you what that means.) According to festival hype, "films are judged on all aspects including cinematography, editing, make-up and special effects." Deadline for submissions is July 15 so you've got plenty of time to polish your pitch and finesse your maiden film. You can find out more at:

Two more esoteric and enticing film scores have been restored under the auspices of Marco Polo Music. Dimitry Shostakovich's grandiloquent orchestrations are showcased in new restorations of his scores for "The Fall of Berlin," (1949) and "The Unforgettable Year 1919" (1951). There are 16 cues from director Mikheil Chiaureli's Russian WWII epic, and an additional seven more from "Unforgettable Year," also directed by Chiaureli. Now, the B Monster can't pretend to be a hardcore Soviet film scholar, but movies featuring characters of such overwhelming historical importance as Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Churchill and Woodrow Wilson would HAVE to feature scores of complimentary audacity. Shostakovich's work, as performed here by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra with Adriano conducting, measures up to the import of the subject matter.
For more info check out
And, da, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!


Ordinarily, when you bring up the subject of remakes we get cranky; especially remakes of foreign hits, which invariably turn out to be embarrassments to the American remakers. (Okay, we'll give you "The Magnificent Seven," but even money says Tom Hanks is planning on buying up every print of "The Man With One Red Shoe.") With that off our chest, we'll tell you that "The Ring" is an effective, artfully produced thriller. Based on the Japanese film hit, "Ringu," (also debuting on DVD this month), which in turn was based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki, it's got a nifty hook and a soggy, sinister feel that is largely the work of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and designer Tom Duffield. Watery symbolism abounds, and the film has a drenched and appropriately dreary look. The aforementioned hook concerns an apparently cursed videotape. After watching it, viewers receive a mysterious phone call and within 24 hours -- whammo -- dead!

The reason for the tape's ongoing and unstoppable circulation and the unearthly source of its deadly power are revealed by the dogged research of a reporter whose niece was a victim of the home video homicide. The initially cynical journalist is played by Naomi Watts, the lovely, underrated Australian actress who made such a splash in David Lynch's creepy (I suppose that's redundant) "Mulholland Drive." In fact, convincing performances help anchor some of the film's outlandish diversions. For instance, the movie goes on a tad too long (bit of a spoiler coming here) with one of those "just when you thought it was safe" climaxes. But that's acceptable, provided you still care about the characters and believe they're in danger. Such a contrivance is routine in slasher films (the audience knows the killer won't stay dead!), but the makers of "The Ring" handle it more adroitly than anything from Jason's played-out genre. Directed by Gore Verbinski, who wrangled the rampaging "Mouse Hunt," "The Ring" does no disservice to the Japanese original, and was the very definition of a "sleeper" hit taking in a tidy $127.5 million with minimal pre-release fanfare.

What's left to say about this one? We've written glowingly of it on many occasions, and it's one of the very few sci-fi films unanimously applauded by genre buffs and mainstream film lovers alike. It's one of the first movies devotees point to as their example of how good a science-fiction flick can be. Sure, it's an obvious parable. Sure, it has a more ambitious agenda than your run-of-the-mill shocker. Sure, there's a pacifist message and overt symbolism. But some of it is scary as heck.

Director Robert Wise brought conviction and, some would say, legitimacy to a genre that, following a gangbusters 1951 rollout that included "The Man From Planet X" and "The Thing From Another World," was soon to be scoffed at by the uninitiated. Star Patricia Neal has spoken somewhat disparagingly of "Day the Earth Stood Still" in the past, making it sound like something of a lark for her to have appeared in a science-fiction film. Be that as it may, she's plenty convincing in those eerily-lit spaceship scenes, delivering Klaatu's (Michael Rennie) classic, cryptic message to Gort, one of filmdom's most imposing (that is to say coolest) robots. Michael Rennie is good. Sam Jaffe is good. Patricia Neal is good. The script is good. We won't belabor it. It's a damn good movie. It's on DVD. You should watch it.

We love Sam Sherman, one of the patron saints of drive-in cinema who fought to keep the institution alive even as movie multiplexes spread like kudzu across the American landscape. This garbled 1985 effort might be charitably viewed as something of a last hurrah on Sam's part. We just wish there were more to "hurrah" about. It ain't very good. Continuity is such that the viewer is forced to do WAY too much work keeping track of who is doing what to whom and when in the continuum of the plot they are doing it. (That muddled sentence alone should give you some idea of how the storyline befuddled us.) Nonetheless, this package entertains if viewed as a history lesson. The two disk "collector's set" affords us an interesting peek behind the curtain covering the B-movie biz. Three versions of ostensibly the same film, all included in this set, were eventually molded by many hands into the hodge-podge that is "Raiders of the Living Dead."

Filmmaker Brett Piper shot a short, amateur shocker called "Dying Day," for $17,000. He then sold it to Sherman's Independent International company for $35,000. Sherman couldn't theatrically distribute a 60-minute film, and owing to a bit of nudity, he couldn't distribute it to television. Sherman took it upon himself to shoot additional footage into which he shoehorned pieces of "Dying Day." The end result he called "Dark Night." Feeling it was still not up to snuff, Sherman raised a bit more money, and shot still more footage incorporating plot elements involving a boy inventor and his zombie-dispatching laser ray. Positioning himself to cash in on "Indiana Jones' " popularity, prevalent teen adventures such as "The Goonies" and zombie films in general, he then came up with what was historically the most important part of any Independent International package -- an "exploitable" title. Sherman maintains that 80% of the finished film was shot by him, with little of Piper's "Dying Day" left in the mix. When the film eventually turned up on cable, Piper dismissed the final result as "hilarious" and "an awful movie." In fairness, "Dying Day," though amateurish, did feature an innovative shot or two, and "Raiders" is nothing if not desperate to entertain. But neither of these pots should be calling the kettle black. Sherman's "salvage" job may have made back it's nut, but it's just plain bad.

As is often the case with such films, God may not be in the details, but that's generally where we find the most entertaining elements. For instance, Sherman cast Bob Allen, star of numerous B Westerns (and a featured player in the underrated 1935 Karloff thriller, "The Black Room,") as the wiz kid's grandfather. And Zita Johann, co-star of the 1932 Karloff "Mummy," turns up in a smallish role as a librarian. Young Scott Scwartz, who had appeared in the Jackie Gleason-Richard Pryor comedy, "The Toy," stars as the boy inventor. Schwartz went on to an abbreviated career in the adult film industry. Sherman points out in the DVD's audio commentary that Schwartz now works with his father in their baseball card and movie memorabilia shop in Westlake Village, Calif.

This is the first filming of author Richard Matheson's classic "I Am Legend." It is handily directed by Sidney Salkow, a B-movie workman with an extensive resume dating back to the 1930s. Salkow directed several in the "Lone Wolf" and "Bulldog Drummond" detective series and worked prolifically in television helming episodes of "Maverick," "77 Sunset Strip," "The Addams Family" and others. Genre-film buffs may recognize him as the director of the 1963 thriller anthology, "Twice Told Tales."

Filmed in Italy in 1964, "Last Man" stars Vincent Price as the titular survivor of a horrific plague that's turned much of the human race into zombies. (Unless you're a diehard Euro-film devotee, it's likely you're not familiar with anyone else in the Italian cast.) The movie has rather a seedy look that works to its advantage. The forlorn Price wanders a barren, broken, cost-efficient landscape. He makes his rounds by day, staking the sleeping hordes of blood drinkers one by one, returning to his battered abode by nightfall, after which throngs of the undead begin hammering at his barricaded doors and windows and calling his name: "Morgan! Morgan!" If these elements sound at all familiar, bear in mind "Last Man" preceded Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" by four years. Many elements in Matheson's story were appropriated and distorted (okay, "tweaked") by subsequent filmmakers, right up to and including the likes of "Buffy," "Blade" and "Angel." The whole "undead among us" canard is pretty played today, but one can imagine it was a fairly unnerving concept "back in the day." Which is not to say that "Last Man" is a real bell ringer of a film. It isn't, and doesn't really aspire to be. But viewed on its on inauspicious terms it works -- and, c'mon, Vincent Price is in it.

Matheson's story was notoriously remade in 1971 as "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston in the Price part. It's contrived and nowhere near as effective, undermined by a truly incongruous "Shaft"-like soundtrack, but it added another, much-imitated layer to the vampire-hunter mythos that's been extrapolated to death: Heston bloodily dispatches vamps and zombies with the aid of machine guns and sports cars. An "Omega" remake has been discussed for nearly a decade with Arnold Schwarzenegger often attached to the rumors.

Yeah, it's pretty bad. But we're reluctant to disparage any film that features BOTH Morris Ankrum AND Thomas Browne Henry (who -- SURPRISE -- play a General and a Colonel!). Which is not to slight the presence of Peter Graves, Peggie Castle and hundreds of vicious grasshoppers. Graves? Castle? Vicious grasshoppers? Directed by Bert I. Gordon? Hey, wait a minute. This is a GREAT movie! Okay, we're being just a little facetious, but I confess to a grudging -- make that GENUINE -- admiration for the folks involved in making this film. With Chicago under attack by giant grasshoppers -- that are VERY obviously regulation-size grasshoppers crawling over picture postcards of Chicago's skyline -- this determined troop has at the material with the same steely conviction they'd apply to Shakespeare. The plot involves Department of Agriculture experiments with radiation (what else?) gone awry (does it go any other way?). Graves and Castle play a scientist and a reporter respectively, who uncover the terrible truth about the horrible horde devouring America's heartland. This package qualifies as a "special edition" owing to the fact that it's been crisply transferred from the original negative, and features an audio commentary from the director's daughter, Susan.

Bert I. Gordon was the uncrowned king of drive-in gigantism ("The Amazing Colossal Man," "The Cyclops," "Village of the Giants" "Earth vs. the Spider," you get the idea), and "Beginning of the End" is nothing if not ambitious. I mean, with 12 bucks in your pocket you attempt to make it look like rampaging hordes of grasshoppers are devouring Chicago? Let's charitably cut Gordon some slack. There are talky patches and padding aplenty, and Bert's big bugs are far from cinema's most imposing, but I'm willing to look more favorably upon Gordon's motives and resulting movie than, say, the nasty, jingoistic "Starship Troopers," which, admittedly, had the most convincing big bugs money could buy (doing battle with actors whose faces usually grace the cover of "Tiger Beat."). But Gordon, like Ed Wood, Phil Tucker, et al., is an easy target for today's "teddibly sophisticated" bad film connoisseurs. Can't these people remember what it was like to be 11 years old? God bless Peter Graves.


Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal Press or at

Joe Dante

Scott Essman

Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at

Bob Madison, whose books are available at

Bryan Senn, whose books are available at and at

Tom Weaver, whose books are available at and at


"The newest in terror-tainment!" -- Billy the Kid vs. Dracula

 All contents copyright The Astounding B Monster®