MAY 2002

It was a tough month for B-movie lovers and science fiction fans. We lost some heavyweights whose contributions, both before and behind the camera, are inestimable. Our usual preaching and opining will follow the ensuing sad notices:


John Agar
Genre-film icon John Agar died of emphysema at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. He was 81. Agar was born in Chicago, the eldest son of a meatpacker. Following his father's death, the family moved to Los Angeles. In 1945, following service in the second world war, 24-year-old Army Air Corps sergeant Agar married 17-year-old actress Shirley Temple. Temple was a classmate of Agar's sister, and they met at a party at her Beverly Hills home. Producer David O. Selznick, who had Temple under contract, offered her handsome husband a deal -- $150 per week plus acting lessons.

Agar made an auspicious film debut in the 1948 western "Fort Apache," part of director John Ford's classic cavalry trilogy, which starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Temple. The following year, he co-starred with Temple in "Adventure in Baltimore." He was also featured that year with Wayne in two more films, "Sands of Iwo Jima" and Ford's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon." Agar's marriage to Temple ended in divorce in 1949. Agar continued his acting career, appearing in virtually every type of film, from Arabian Nights costumers, such as "The Magic Carpet," opposite Lucille Ball, to low-budget westerns such as "Star in the Dust," with Mamie Van Doren.

As his career gradually declined, Agar accepted more of the types of roles in grade-B pictures for which his fans ultimately came to love him best. He once told film historian Tom Weaver that, fearing unemployment, "I never turned anything down." His credits from the 1950s and '60s reveal the stamina and resiliency of a B-movie actor who became one of sci-fi cinema's best-known heroes: "Revenge of the Creature," "Tarantula," "The Mole People," "The Brain From Planet Arous," "Daughter of Dr. Jekyll," "Attack of the Puppet People," "Invisible Invaders," "Journey to the Seventh Planet," "Hand of Death," "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," "Zontar the Thing from Venus." Western fans likewise hail him for such pictures as "The Lonesome Trail," "Frontier Gun" and "Cavalry Command."

Tiring of typecasting, Agar left his home studio, Universal, in 1956. Still, the only roles he found were in low-budget shockers. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Agar's old friend, John Wayne, found small parts for him in his pictures, including "Big Jake," "Chisum" and "The Undefeated." Agar eventually turned to selling insurance and, for a time, helped promote Brunswick's senior bowling program. All the while, he continued to accept parts in myriad B-pictures and television programs. Beginning with a cameo in the 1976 remake of "King Kong," nostalgic directors began casting Agar in bit parts in such films as "Nightbreed" and "Miracle Mile." Agar, who never expressed regret at having appeared in so many low-budget genre films, became a staple at autograph shows and classic film conventions, tirelessly chatting with fans who remembered his films fondly. "My whole feeling about working as an actor is, if I give anybody any enjoyment, I'm doing my job, and that's what counts." He passed away just one week before a scheduled convention appearance.

Louis M. "Deke" Heyward
Prolific writer and producer, Louis M. "Deke" Heyward, died of complications from pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 81. The New York City native was leaning toward a career as a lawyer when he began moonlighting as a radio scriptwriter. His plans were put on hold when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. He piloted numerous bombing runs over North Africa and Europe. After the war, Heyward began work at The Associated Press but continued to write scripts as a sideline. Before long, he got a job as a writer on television's "Garry Moore Show" and went on to supply material for the innovative and influential "Ernie Kovacs Show," which was nominated for an Emmy in 1956. Heyward won the Sylvania Award as its top writer the same year. Decades before the Internet, Heyward created the first interactive television program, "Winky Dink," which supplied viewers with "magic screens" -- plastic sheets that covered the TV screen on which children could draw. For Barry & Enright Productions, he developed the game shows "Twenty-One" and "Tic Tac Dough." He also developed "The Dick Clark Show."

Moving to Hollywood, Heyward landed executive positions at MCA, Four Star Films, Hanna-Barbera and 20th Century-Fox. He may be best known to genre-film fans for his long association with American International Pictures. He began as a writer, became their director of motion picture and TV development, and eventually headed the company's London office. During this time, Heyward produced "The Oblong Box," "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "Horror House," "The Conqueror Worm," "Scream and Scream Again" and the "Dr. Phibes" films. He also wrote "Ghost in the invisible Bikini," "Pajama Party," "War Gods of the Deep" and others. In all, he wrote over 3,000 radio programs, TV shows and feature films and several novels. In recent years, he volunteered at a camp teaching writing to underprivileged children. On a personal note, I'm proud to say that Deke responded to every B Monster newsletter with gratitude, suggestions and encouragement. R.I.P., Deke.

Damon Knight
Legendary science fiction writer Damon Knight has died. We asked our friend, film historian David J. Skal, to offer his thoughts on the author's passing:

"In addition to being one of the most significant writer/editors in the history of science fiction, Damon Knight was the single best creative writing teacher of any stripe I have ever had the privilege of knowing or studying under. He transformed my life, literally, and launched my writing career. I'm not the only person who will offer a similar appraisal. Although I only occasionally write science fiction these days, Damon's influence on my nonfiction work was extraordinary. A prodigiously gifted editor (hell, he was absolutely the best, a genius; there was nobody like him anywhere, even in the rarified strata of the New York literary publishing establishment), he also, with extraordinary generosity, taught writers the essential, self-survival skills of self-editing.) It is quite impossible to separate Damon's contributions from those of his wife, Kate Wilhelm, an equally gifted writer and editor. The two of them, especially through their indefatigable work with the Milford and Clarion writing workshops, in which I was an ongoing participant, became archetypal mother and father figures to a generation of diverse creative talents. Few writers have ever given so much to others. Damon's passing marks the end of an age, but he persists, vitally, as an inspiration for the writer's self-direction and self empowerment."

Henry Slesar
Award-winning author/screenwriter Henry Slesar has died of natural causes at 74. Slesar began his career as an advertising copywriter. He was credited with originating the phrase "coffee break," which quickly became a part of the language. As a television writer, he won an Emmy and six Writer's Guild Awards as head writer of the soap opera, "The Edge of Night," a position he held for 15 years. Slesar wrote more than 500 short stories, radio scripts and books, winning two Edgar Awards, bestowed by The Mystery Writers of America. Many of his suspense stories were adapted for episodic television, most notably for "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "Tales of the Unexpected." He also wrote episodes of "The Twilight Zone" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." His feature film credits include "Two on a Guillotine" and the 1971 version of "Murders in the Rue Morgue." The low-budget sci-fi film, "Terror From the Year 5,000," was based on one of Slesar's stories.


Legendary author Ray Bradbury now has his own star on Hollywood's illustrious Walk of Fame. The writer was joined in an unveiling ceremony by Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, and actors Charlton Heston and Rod Steiger. Hahn seized the occasion to announce a month-long reading initiative called "One Book, One City, L.A." First on the list of recommended reading for local students was Bradbury's futuristic anti-censorship, classic, "Fahrenheit 451." Six other cities around the U.S. will initiate similar reading campaigns using Bradbury's groundbreaking tome as a springboard. At 81, Bradbury's star is shining bright as ever. "I'm busy doing things for the future," he said. His classic short story, "A Sound of Thunder," has recently gone into film development, and a new, feature-film version of "The Martian Chronicles" is in the works. The author has also just wrapped up a new screenplay for "The Illustrated Man," to be jointly produced by Columbia Tri-Star and the Sci Fi Channel, while Mel Gibson is considering a remake of "Fahrenheit 451," filmed previously by director Francois Truffaut. A longtime advocate of space exploration, Bradbury pointed out in timely fashion, "Our future is in space, you see. It's a wonderful substitute for war. Space travel is our endeavor to do something peaceful and wonderful for the whole world."

They've been talking about remaking Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" for almost a decade. Arnold Schwarzenegger was likely to star as the plague-surviving, vampire-fighting last man on earth. Well, after years of being "shopped," in "development," "turnaround," or whatever they call it when producers don't want to make a movie, Variety reports that Arnold will now produce instead of star. Will Smith may assume the leading role with Michael "Pearl Harbor" Bay in the director's chair. For the uninformed, Matheson's story, about the lone survivor of a devastating plague that's turned the earth's populace into vampires, has been filmed twice before as "The Last Man on Earth," starring Vincent Price, and "The Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston.

And, in other Arnold news, Schwarzenegger will produce AND star in a remake of the 1973 film "Westworld." Far be it from us to call it typecasting, but he'll portray a haywire robot. The murderous, android-cowboy-gunfighter was played by Yul Brynner in the original. But wait, there's more. The big guy has also recently agreed to star in another Conan the Barbarian film. John Millius, writer and director of the previous Conan films, is currently at work on a screenplay. (And please note, "The Astounding B Monster" is STILL the ONLY publication, print or digital, not to refer to the actor as "Ah-nuld.")

You can't make this stuff up. They're making a feature film based on the television series "Knight Rider." If you don't recall the program, it was the show about a talking automobile that did NOT star Jerry Van Dyke. Original series star, David Hasselhoff, who will have a role in the film, is the executive producer. (And who knows? Hollywood being the way it is, the film just might involve a kinky tryst with "My Mother, the Car.") German fans are already queuing up.

Sequel, the remake's ugly cousin. The Hollywood Reporter says that Susan Sarandon will star in a sequel to "Dune." "Children of Dune" will be a six-hour mini-series produced by The Sci Fi Channel. Sarandon will play Princess Wensicia, ruthless heir to the powerful family that seeks to regain control of the universe. (Is her last name Gates?) Look for a 2003 premier.

Okay, let's wrap this up in one fell swoop. In their stubborn resolve not to exert ANY creative energy whatsoever, Fox is remaking FOUR Irwin Allen properties at once: "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "Lost in Space," "The Time Tunnel" and "Land of the Giants." "Time Tunnel" will air on Fox's own network while "Lost in Space" is being planned as a two-hour pilot film for NBC. The series will pick up where the 1998 feature-film treatment of the old series left off. No further details at this time. Can you imagine the board meeting that gave rise to this idea? "Heck, one Irwin Allen remake already bombed ("Lost In Space"), but if we make four at once, it increases the odds that one will turn out good."

L.W. Currey and RB Publishing are set to release "Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography of First Printings of Their Fiction and Non-Fiction." This is a revised edition of Currey's book that was originally published in 1979. According to publicity that describes the volume as the "primary resource for collectors and book dealers in determining first edition and state of Science Fiction and Fantasy Books," the original edition has long been out of print with rare copies going for up to $200. You can order the revised volume now and get a limited-time, "significant pre-publishing discount." For more information, check out:

According to Frank Thompson's "Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio since 1910," some 250 films have been shot in the Alamo's hometown, and this slim volume provides an informative overview of Texas film making over the past century. From "Wild Bill" Wellman's "Wings" to The Duke's epic "Alamo," right on through to the Sandra Bullock comedy, "Miss Congeniality." One particular highlight is a chapter on the late, great, Pat Boyette, whose one-of-a-kind "Dungeon of Harrow" made him something of a local genre-film legend. Thompson is a writer and filmmaker who co-authored Clayton Moore's autobiography, "I Was That Masked Man." For more info, contact Maverick Publishing, PO Box 6355, San Antonio, Texas, 78209


A note to our readers who think of "Teenage Monster" and "Hot Rod Gang" as "obscurities": You don't know curio-cinema until you've broached these offerings. Only the title-heavy tag-team of Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video could unearth these jagged gems. Billed as "2 Super Science Thrillers From the World of Tomorrow," this revealing double-bill kicks off with the 1960 Yugoslavian oddity, "Atomic War Bride," starring, produced and directed by people with lots of consonants in their names. It opens with a wedding, but in lieu of bells, the ceremony is buzzed by enemy planes. The ominous call to nuclear war curtails the honeymoon as the bridegroom is mobilized by the military before an "I do" can even pass his lips. The would-be hubby opposes the conflict, and comes within a whisker of being executed for his pacifism. It's a strange, harsh little flick, bearing hardly a trace of Hollywood influence. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as "Yugoslavian," and leave it at that. It really is something you need to see for yourself.

Far more interesting is the 1961 American cheapie, "This Is Not A Test." There's no budget to speak of, and that's the interesting part. A bunch of unknowns and amateurs (I'll confess I know virtually nothing about anyone involved) pooled their resources and dared to tackle a then-controversial topic -- nuclear holocaust -- with the most meager finances. In fact, the austerity ensures a bleakness that works in the film's favor. They could have made a nudie, a gore flick or a surf documentary, but chose instead to address the degeneration of man's nature in the face of imminent, inescapable death. It ain't high art, by any means, but the effort shows. Interestingly, the movie is decidedly apolitical, and it's giving nothing away to reveal that the film is a total downer (it's about nuclear attack, for Pete's sake!). These are decidedly non-Hollywood, uncommercial choices. Seamon Glass plays a highway cop who gets the red alert over his patrol car radio. He sets up a roadblock on a mountain road and the folks he forces to the curb constitute a cross-section of humanity (a cuckold husband, a hep cat, an old-timer and his granddaughter, even an escaped looney) who gradually reveal their baser proclivities and virtues as the end approaches. One or two of the cast appear to possess fundamental acting abilities, but Glass, whose role is central, seems never even to have watched a movie, much less acted in one. (In fact, he appeared in bit parts in numerous high-profile films including "Spartacus" and "Deliverance.") This unaffectedness actually helps in some scenes, lending just a bit of documentary-like grit. For the most part, the performances are amateurish, the continuity is tenuous (one character mysteriously disappears in longshot and reappears in closeup in the cab of a truck) and the dialogue is priceless ("If the world really is ending, and me and my chick want to end it standing in front of a bar, it's nobody's business!").

Also a part of this Atom-age nostalgia package are six similarly themed short subjects, including "You Can Beat The A Bomb," and the infamous "Duck and Cover" starring everyone's favorite nuclear survivor, Bert the Turtle.

Here are two indefensibly bad early-seventies shockers that devotees of splatter-film history are sure to love. In glaring contrast to "This Is Not A Test," here are examples from filmmakers with limited resources who produced absolutely nothing meritorious. Both films are directed by Leonard Kirtman, who worked under several aliases and turned out titles invested with such shameless sexual innuendo that we're frankly embarrassed to duplicate them here. These were among his first features, and they are amateurish in every aspect. "Carnival of Blood" hasn't an original notion in it, (the killer has a "mother complex") portions are crudely dubbed, and it looks to have been edited with a band saw. The soundtrack (we're scraping here, but it may be the film's most interesting feature) is a grab bag of period pop music; a whining folky with a nails-on-chalkboard voice sings over the titles, and "suspense" builds to a fuzz guitar and funk accompaniment. One hilarious scene is a back-and-forth between our hero and a clairvoyant gypsy woman ("You did!" "I didn't!" "Yes!" "No!") that goes on for 10 minutes or so against the backdrop of a Walter Salman painting of Jesus. We get to see a head split in half, a teddy bear stuffed with undercooked chuck roast that supposed to look like human entrails and, oh yeah, "Rocky's" Burt Young plays Gimpy.

"Curse of the Headless Horseman" (the title alone should tell you how much originality is to be found here) is just as bad in different ways. To begin with, there are lots and lots of narration, a vain attempt to cover exposition (which might have cost money to actually show on film) and plug continuity holes. It doesn't help, but it sure is funny. It seems that Kirtland is going for a kind of Sergio Leone feel this time (flamenco guitar and a whistlin' cowboy fill the soundtrack) as a mysterious rider, sans cabeza, stalks a Spahn Ranch-like compound, splattering hippies with blood from a decapitated head. Some viewers might find it interesting that Andy Warhol protege, Ultra Violet, makes a cameo. I didn't. The film closes with the same belicose narrator: "It will begin again! It will begin again! It will begin again!" -- no kiddin', he says it about 30 or 40 times -- perhaps to warn theater patrons that the film would be repeated, and this was their last chance to clear out. Gore-film completists will definitely want this disc on their shelves. All others, beware!

The publicity sums this set up as "All Day Entertainment's ongoing DVD celebration of the films of legendary indie pioneer Edgar G. Ulmer." Thus far, two volumes showcasing the director's films have been issued. This edition compiles both. Disc one features "Strange Woman," a weird period piece starring Hedy Lamarr as a Scarlett O'Hara-like schemer who manipulates and destroys the men in her orbit. The story is run-of-the-mill, and the film's chief virtues are Ulmer's canny exploitation of shadow and atmosphere. Also included is a strange, noirish, semi-musical called "Moon Over Harlem," which Ulmer himself once likened to "Porgy and Bess." (And if Edgar G. Ulmer's take on "Porgy and Bess" doesn't intrigue you ... )

Disc two is the conspicuous standout, as it features one of Ulmer's -- in fact, one of B-moviedom's -- true masterpieces, "Bluebeard." Rarely has so much been accomplished with so little. (And never has a film been heralded so much for being unheralded. Let the unheralding cease. Consider the film hereby heralded!) Ulmer actually turns the film's absurdly obvious artificiality to its advantage, creating an unsettling, otherworldly, decidedly non-Hollywood work, tilting the camera, letting deep shadows do the work of 20 set designers. And John Carradine, who was born to play this homicidal puppetmaster, employs every decibel of his bravado to maximum effect. (Is it ever NOT fun to watch John Carradine?) The package includes never-before-seen color footage of the "puppet opera" sequence and a terrific reproduction of the original "Bluebeard" pressbook. This is a must-have.

Kitsch-lovers alert! This one's got it all. Surfing, singing, surfing, a shaggy rubber monster, surfing, go-going teeny-boppers, surfing, Jon Hall and, did we mention surfing? Not just interspersed with the action, but a 10-minute chunk of uninterrupted surfing footage accompanied by twanging, Dick Dalesque guitar riffs. Producer, director, star Jon Hal was a pretty big deal in the 1940s, very often paired with curvaceous bombshell, Maria Montez in exotic, Technicolor B-features. In the 1950s, he was TV's "Ramar of the Jungle." (He was also the son of Felix Locher, whom you may recall from "Frankenstein's Daughter.") Hall hopped on the beach-movie bandwagon in 1965 with this fairly shoddy, immensely enjoyable pastiche featuring music by Frank Sinatra, Jr. (One noteworthy tune, "Monster in the Surf," is crooned by a puppet.) Hall committed suicide in 1979, but, contrary to rumor, it had nothing to do with his failings as a filmmaker (he was dying of cancer). As a kid, you may have caught this one on the late show under its TV title, "Monster From the Surf." As an adult living in the miraculous era of DVD, it belongs in your collection.

Bruce Willis is sent back in time to prevent the onset of a devastating plague that is ravaging the earth's populace. Unfortunately, he's sent TOO far back in time. No one's heard of the plague he's raving about, so they lock him away. Not a bad premise. And it's certainly a good-looking film. But (you knew there was a "but" coming) I'd be fibbing if I told you that "12 Monkeys," based on the French film, "Le Jetee," was a satisfying piece of work. It suffers from the same malady that plagues most of director Terry Gilliam's films -- it meanders. There is suspense, action, intrigue, all occurring in a well-realized, gritty mise en scene. But the whole is rather fragmented, unwieldy and way too long, robbing the story's revelations of any real impact.

Another of those cable-made, "Creature Features" bearing the imprimatur of makeup ace, Stan Winston. They claim to have drawn inspiration from the title of the original AIP film, but it actually "borrows" from both "The Fly," and Marvel Comic's "Spider-Man." It's two rip-offs in one ... and it ain't very good. It's about a meek security guard with a comic-hero fixation who injects himself with an experimental drug that blah, blah, blah. The producers don't seem to be sure when the film is taking place; some cars date from the 1950s, others are contemporary. The TV sets are vintage, photographers use those old-time cameras with the gigantic flash reflectors, but there are references to the Gulf War and Lara Croft. What a mess. Academy Award nominee, Dan Aykroyd (think about that for a minute), and Theresa Russell lead the cast. (In dubious tribute, the protagonist's name is Kemmer, as in Ed Kemmer, star of the original film, and the final credit is a dedication to AIP co-founder, Jim Nicholson.)

This movie is pretty darn good. Yes, you read correctly, this is a contemporary horror film that we genuinely liked. It's intensely atmospheric, artfully photographed, well-acted, generates real suspense, and much about it is stubbornly old-fashioned in the very best sense, meaning, the clichÈs employed work beautifully, and nothing occurs gratuitously. Everything that happens serves the story. Nicole Kidman is quite good as the paranoid, protective mother of two waifish children who have a mysterious, life-threatening sensitivity to light. Thus, their creepy manse is perpetually curtained and gloomy. Upon hiring a new staff of servants to tend the house and grounds, Kidman's grasp of sanity begins to slacken. We won't give away too much more. The denouement isn't completely satisfying, but the film's virtues far outweigh any shortcomings. It also made a ton of money, which nobody expected.

No, the author himself isn't flushed a lovely, floral shade of crimson. Rose Red is the name of a sprawling, haunted estate. Many have ventured into its endless hallways and labyrinthine grounds never to return. University scholar Nancy Travis assembles a team of psychic investigators with varying mental and supernatural powers -- a clairvoyant, a telekinetic, autistic child, etc. -- to explore the massive mansion. It's fairly engrossing and painfully derivative and we'll try to explain how it can be both: It's interesting if you enjoy the time-honored clichÈs served up a silver platter (it depends on who's doing the serving and how well they serve it). It's painful if those same clichÈs prove just too tiresome for you, having seen "The Haunting," "The Innocents," "The Legend of Hell House," et al. "Rose Red" was a TV miniseries and, at 254 Minutes, it sure feels like it. Too bad, because it might have made a nifty 90-minute shocker.

Back off! This is a B Monster favorite and one of legendary producer William Alland's (not to mention director Jack Arnold's) best. It's ambitious, suspenseful and atmospheric. Shot in 3-D, desert locales and a sense of isolation are employed to great effect. The "xenomorph" alien, leaving a slimy "snail trail" in its wake, was a nifty departure from the usual green men and robots then prevalent (often, we view the action through the alien's eyes -- er -- eye). The intriguing twist that the aliens have no evil agenda -- they just want to get home - likewise differentiates it from contemporary invasion epics. The strange, "Buckysphere" spacecraft is striking, and robust Richard Carlson, the king of 3-D ("Creature From the Black Lagoon," "The Maze") was never better. Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson, Kathleen Hughes and Joe Sawyer are also quite terrific.


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

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

And the good folks at Image Entertainment,

PARTING BLURB "One man's lust made men into beasts!" -- Circus of Horrors

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