MAY 2004

Got your official Jack Davis-illustrated B Monster merchandise, yet? Mother's Day will soon be upon us. And wouldn't Mom look smashing in a B Monster T-shirt? Why not brighten her mornings with a B Monster mug from which to sip her coffee or tea? And then, there's Father's Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, assorted birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, showers. Nothing says love like this classic B Monster memorabilia! Buy something. NOW! What are you waiting for? Don't just sit there. CLICK!


When presenting Ray Harryhausen a special Academy Award for his estimable achievements in movie animation, actor Tom Hanks said to the assembled Hollywood luminaries, "Some people say 'Casablanca,' some say 'Citizen Kane,' but, for me, 'Jason and the Argonauts' is the greatest movie ever made." Ray Bradbury, Harryhausen's lifelong friend, was also on the stage that night. Bradbury, upon whose work Harryhausen's breakthrough film "Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" was based, has stated that "Clash of the Titans" was Ray's finest work. (At the risk of seeming immodest by placing his opinion in the same paragraph with these august personages, the B Monster has always preferred "Beast" or "20 Million Miles to Earth.") Whatever your favorite Harryhausen film, be assured it receives exhaustive attention in "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," a massive (here's hoping you have a VERY sturdy coffee table) volume from Billboard Books, written by Ray in collaboration with Tony Dalton. The voice of the narrative is straightforward and unglamorized. While we are afforded character insights in anecdotes involving Willis O'Brien, George Pal, Nathan Juran and others, the book is a fantasy-film nerd's Bible (and that's a GOOD thing), in that scrupulous detail crowds every page as Ray traces his career, from his boyhood fascination with dinosaurs through the production of "Clash of the Titans."

It's true, Harryhausen has been interviewed in print and on film umpteen times. His is one of the few genre-film names immediately recognizable to uninitiated mainstream movie buffs. He's held court at numerous film conventions and retrospectives. Countless articles, books and documentaries have chronicled his work in great detail, so much of this text is simply reinterpretation of familiar material. But the reason for the book to exist is the art. It is jam-packed with it. Make no mistake, Ray wasn't just a stop-motion pioneer; like his mentor, O'Brien, Harryhausen was an artist, and dozens of his key art sketches, storyboards and concept pieces are reproduced here with loving clarity. Certain movie poster reproductions seem to have suffered in the printing process, but Ray's original art, a compilation that both aspiring moviemakers and just plain fans will find invaluable, is eye-popping. Animation and high-fantasy geeks will drool over step-by-step "how-to" breakdowns. No detail is spared in showing how classic sequences were conceived, storyboarded and committed to film. There are stills of cityscapes side-by-side with shots of the same skyline AFTER Harryhausen's monster has been added to the scene using movie magic. It's likewise great fun to compare Ray's concept drawings with the actual filmed result, a chubbier, jowlier Ymir from "20 Million Miles" being one example.

And did you know that Harryhausen and George Pal considered collaborating on "War of the Worlds?" Did you know that Ray Bradbury, who was scripting director John Huston's "Moby Dick," pushed for a Harryhausen-animated whale? Did you know that in the original story outline, the Ymir was a Cyclops that terrorizes the Chicago stockyards? For me, the book's most interesting section is one called "Lost Projects, Lost Worlds." This is Harryhausen's catalog of films that might have been, and, if you're a committed Harryhausen fan, it will either inspire you or break your heart (maybe both!). Among the concepts never realized are films about the Abominable Snowman, Baron Munchausen, Beowulf, Dante's Inferno, John Carter of Mars, Conan, R.U.R. (the Czech play that introduced the word "robot" into our lexicon), even remakes of "Frankenstein" and "Kong!" Producer Milton Subotsky approached Ray about filming William Goldman's "The Princess Bride." And how about "Sinbad Goes To Mars?" ("The very mention of this project," says Ray, "never fails to bring a polite smile to the face of anyone I mention it to. I can't imagine why!") "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," is packed, cover-to-cover with such revelations, which will no doubt be elaborated upon at the several books signings Ray has scheduled in L.A., San Francisco, Rochester and New York City.

B Monster favorite, Fess Parker, recently trekked to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to donate several of his Davy Crockett accoutrements. It's been 50 years since the classic Disney series starring Parker as the "King of the Wild Frontier" first appeared, generating an unqualified marketing frenzy among baby boomers whose parents shelled out for hats, wallets, watches, books, clothes, lunchboxes -- anything bearing Parker's likeness. No other pop-culture phenomena -- The Beatles, Michael Jackson, even "Star Wars" -- generated the same far-reaching enthusiasm. Parker donated a buckskin ensemble worn during his tenure as "Daniel Boone" in that long-running TV series, and one of his original coonskin hats worn as both Davey and Daniel. "It's a problem if I call it a 'Davy Crockett cap,'" Parker told USA Today, "So it's a 'coonskin cap.' One size fits all." The 79-year-old Parker also donated a 180-year-old rifle to the Alamo. "I get to clean out my closet," he joked. He was also invited to the San Antonio premier of Disney's new version of "The Alamo," which stars Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett. Parker visited the set last spring when the film was shooting. Thornton gave Fess an autographed photo inscribed, "From one Davy to another." "I'm sure he's a clever actor," said Parker. "He characterized our version as not as serious. But it was serious to me." Have you seen Disney's bloated restaging of the epic battle for Texas independence? Billy Bob couldn't carry Parker's flintlock!

Things are getting weird in the wake of the "Van Helsing" publicity machine. It's making people say reckless things. For instance, studio Golden Boy, Stephen Sommers, director of "The Mummy" remake and its profitable sequel, was quoted in a very lengthy piece that recently appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Sommers told The Times that he was ensconced in his "writing pad," mulling his next project when he was seized by inspiration. "I thought, 'I wonder if I should revisit the classic horror pictures.'" Francis Ford Coppola had tackled Dracula relatively recently and, Sommers said, "I didn't want to spend two years of my life doing a werewolf movie. Then, according to The Times, Sommers had his epiphany: "What about making a movie that combines all three?" Wow! All three classic monsters in one picture! Why didn't somebody think of that 60 years ago? Oh, wait a minute, somebody did. Has Sommers never seen 1944's "House of Frankenstein?" Or "House of Dracula?" Or "Frankenstein Meets the" ... oh, forget it. And what of the opinions of some monster purists who have voiced negative feedback after viewing a rough-cut of his film? "I couldn't care less," Sommers said.

The aforementioned Los Angeles Times piece was pegged to General Electric/NBC's acquisition of Universal Studios. They're looking upon the re-teaming of the classic monster triumvirate -- Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man -- as something of a litmus test. G.E. will be closely scrutinizing "Van Hesling's" box-office returns with last summer's disappointing "Hulk" very much in mind. "There's so much riding on this movie," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., told The Times. Why? Because not only is NBC anxious to co-opt the studio's immense library of films -- particularly the very marketable horror classics -- but a "Van Helsing" spin-off TV series called "Transylvania" is already being discussed. There will be a "Van Helsing" theme park attraction, computer games, even a line of Goth-style clothing if the film is successful. Even though the movie is one of the most expensive in Universal's history (roughly $150 million), the studio seems confident, having ponied up for Super Bowl ad time and a relentless $30 million advertising campaign.

The Film Forum in New York City will present a special 50th anniversary screening of the original, uncut "Godzilla" that contains 40 minutes of unseen footage. The special engagement runs from May 7 to May 20. The restored 35mm print of the Japanese monster classic will be presented, "as it's never been released before in the U.S., uncut, uncensored, and undubbed," according to Film Forum organizers, who point out that, "In Japan, the original un-bastardized 'Godzilla' is regarded as one of the great classics of the cinema." After the film was sold to an American distributor in 1956, chunks of "Godzilla" were excised to make room for inserted scenes of Raymond Burr as an American reporter who bears witness to the big lizard's rampage. In all, nearly a third of the film was trimmed, removing several elements of dark comedy and tempering its strident anti-nuclear theme. Audiences reared on this crudely dubbed, haphazardly edited U.S. version that played ceaselessly on television throughout the 1960s may be surprised by the serious and very "un-kitschy" original. Rialto Pictures, an organization with a laudable record of rescuing and representing classic films, is responsible for this long-awaited re-release. For more info and show times, visit:
Tell 'em for sure that the B Monster sent you!

Monsters From the Vault will return in June with its first edition of 2004. Among the articles in this 18th issue; "Kongversations." In the article, Bob Burns (with the help of Tom Weaver) remembers his encounters with the men who made "King Kong." The article features an in-depth look at the making of "King Kong" and is illustrated with many rare and never-before-published photos. (As usual, MFTV tops most mags in sheer photo volume and repro quality.) In part one of "Kongversations," Bob remembers his 1956 encounter with Willis O'Brien. Bob visited him at his home and had the good fortune to watch him while he was stop-motion-animating a scene for his next picture ("The Black Scorpion"). The article, like Kong himself, is so big that one issue could not contain it; it will conclude in the NEXT issue of MFTV.

A nice companion piece for the article is "Queryin' Merian" a transcription of an audio tape that Bob Burns recorded when he, along with approximately 40 other friends of cinephile Bob Forbes, gathered on Saturday night, November 28, 1964, in the projection room of Forbes' Hollywood Boulevard mansion for one of their regular 16mm screenings, this time a showing of "King Kong." What made the occasion unique was that the guest of honor that evening was Merian C. Cooper, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed the 1933 fantasy-adventure classic. Following an introduction by Forbes, Cooper talked about "Kong" and a few of his other movies; after "Kong" was screened, he took questions from the audience, and thanks to Bob you're now part of that special screening. Renowned film scribe, Michael H. Price, contributes "Cat People and the Origin of the Lewton Style," an essay on Val Lewton's horror films for RKO in the 1940s and the influence they had on other horror films during that decade and for years to come. In "Sacrifice Plays: The Wicker Man and Eye of the Devil," Brian Smith compares two films with a similar theme -- ritual offerings by small villages (in the form of human sacrifices) to the ancient gods to ensure a good harvest. Finally, Mark Clark looks at the three creators of Image Comics new "Monster Rally" graphic novel, "The Black Forest," and the creative process behind it. The issue also features editorial comments, letters to the editor, and DVD and book reviews. For more info or to pre-order (PayPal is now accepted), check out:
Say it loud: The B Monster sent you!

A quick update on the Fantastic Films Weekend taking place this May 22-23 at the U.K.'s National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford. Among the highlights of the 48-hour filmathon are a tribute to director Terence Fisher, who was born 100 years ago this year. Fisher's "The Brides of Dracula" and "The Devil Rides Out" will be screened as a double-bill. There will also be special preview showings of the Japanese thrillers "Gozu" and "Battle Royale II: Requiem," and an appearance by author M.J. Simpson, billed as the world's leading authority on "Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" creator Douglas Adams. His appearance will be accompanied by a showing of the very first "Hitch-Hiker's" episode. For more info, check out:
You know by now: Tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

The Darress Theater in Boonton, N.J., will host a horror triple-bill May 7, the proceeds of which will benefit the Wayne Animal Shelter. "The Amityville Horror," "Poltergeist" and "Psycho" will be screened at the historic theater, which was built in 1919 and, according the official Website, is "one of the few surviving original Vaudeville stages in the country." Located at 615 Main Street in Boonton, the Darress is a mere 40-minute drive from New York City. The animal shelter, in Wayne Township, N.J., is operated by the "Friends of Wayne Animals," and provides care for and finds homes for nearly 1,000 animals each year. For more info, contact:
For more about the Darress, check out:
To learn more about the Wayne Animal Shelter, visit:
Tell 'em all the B monster sent you!

Our old pal Dr. Gangrene, the Mid-South's hardest working horror movie host, continues to expand his beastly boundaries. Not long ago, we told you about his foray into acting, tackling a role in Ghost Ship Films' indy horror, "Demon Sight." Now, he's taken his act to Nashville's Bongo Java Cafe Theatre, screening spooky movies and handing out prizes to patrons hardy enough to survive the duration of the evening's entertainment. Only recently, the Doc showcased a 16mm print of a Chris Lee horror classic and gave away "Dawn of the Dead" t-shirts and posters. The cost of a ticket is, appropriately, $6.66! You can reach the macabre medico at:
To learn more of the venue itself, check out:
As always, tell 'em the B monster sent you!

And speaking of cult-film champions and retro revivalists, our old buddy, Will "The Thrill" Viharo, the Bay Area's leopard fez-wearing, cocktail-imbibing genre-movie emcee, was recently awarded a singular cyberspace honor; devoted fans of all things "Thrillville"-related have established a discussion group at Will assures us, "I had nothing to do with this. Honest!" He added, "In any case, I won't be posting there so anyone can feel free to talk any trash they want about me, the show, or the movies." Will warns that untoward comments regarding his lovely bride, Monica, aka "The Tiki Goddess," will not be tolerated. "So have some fun at my expense in your free time, or better yet, help spread the local B movie, tiki, lounge gospel I tirelessly and religiously promote in the face of mainstream adversity and ignorance!" For a window on Will's wild world, visit:
It should go without saying; tell 'em the B monster sent you!

How's this for a slick and salient segue? The rockin' retro Chicago combo The Moon-Rays have produced a new disk called "The Ghouls Go West," and one of the album's highlights is a swingin', pseudo-cool jazz tribute to Will "The Thrill." "Thrillville" is a lilting, '50s-flavored anthem with a Miles Davis-like muted trumpet and a spoken recitation by drummer Scott Mensching that's reminiscent of Beat Era voice artist Ken Nordeen. Along with a fistful of fright-film influenced original tunes with titles like "Blues for Vampira," "Dragula Go-Go!" and "Little Green Men," (can you dig where these cats are comin' from?), there are covers of the "Dark Shadows" theme, and "Fear," familiar to most as the theme from television's "One Step Beyond." It's a slick and insinuating production seemingly inspired in equal parts by such prolific TV composers as Frank DeVol and Gerald Fried, tiki maestro Martin Denny and surf guitar-maven Dick Dale. In addition to Mensching (who also plays vibes and Theramin!) the lineup includes Greg Griffiths (keyboards), Harry Reinhart (guitar), Tony DiMichele (bass), Terry Barrett (sax) and Paul Miller (trumpet). For more info, check out:
Tell 'em, of course, the B monster sent you!

And over on the East Coast, those jumpin' Jersey rockers, The Dead Elvi, have unleashed their latest platter, "Buddy Bought the Farm." The disk features 11 lurid cuts, all but two of them original tunes. One exception is the time-honored "Monster Mash," Bobby "Boris" Pickett's Halloween perennial as recited by a Tri-state area living legend, the "Cool Ghoul" himself, late-night horror hosting icon, Zacherley. And you haven't lived (or died, as the case may be) until you've heard Zach's rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers." Admittedly, he talks and chuckles his way through the tune -- but he's STILL a more engaging front man than Mick Jagger. Again, the titles of the original tunes betray this gruesome group's inspirations: "Monster Stomp," "The Invisible Man," "Wolfman's Wagon," "House on Haunted Hill." The cadaverous combo includes Steve "Gelvis" Geller (bass, vocals), John "Skullhead" Kullberg (guitar, lead vocals), Chris "Criswell" Palmieri (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Tom "Da Blur" Seeselburg (drums) and Kevin "Thumbs" Clement, the man behind the spectacular fan extravaganza that is Chiller Theatre, playing guitar and contributing vocals. For more info, visit:
Tell 'em, without hesitation, the B monster sent you!

This slight but heartfelt and inventive nod to 1950s and '60s monster films made its debut on MTV in March and is now being readied for DVD release. It's clear that director Jack Perez and company set out to have fun making a movie about stuff they liked. The fluffy plot is an excuse to show monstrous creatures scooping up pretty girls in their clutches. Perez maintains that he insisted on stop-motion effects instead of computer-generated monsters, because it was truer to the spirit of the vintage films he grew up watching. You gotta applaud that. The featherweight storyline is aimed, we suppose, at the current MTV demographic. Daniel Letterle plays Josh, a lovelorn teen, embarrassed by the fact that his Valley Girl sister has entered his name in an MTV-sponsored contest. An MTV VJ (La La) shows up on Josh's doorstep to inform him that he is the winner and that the grand prize is a massive shindig for Josh's entire class held on an isolated atoll. Among the attendees are Josh's ex-girlfriend, her pompous new beau and Josh's party animal buddies. Carmen Electra, who plays Carmen Electra, and is famous for being, well, Carmen Electra, headlines a concert that is interrupted by a gigantic flying insect that spirits her away to its jungle mountain abode. Everyone in attendance wants to pack up their tents and head for the mainland. But Josh, somewhat taken with Ms. Electra (it seems she shares his sensitive musical tastes), insists on forming a rescue party.

In the tradition of "Kong" and countless lesser adventures, the team treks through the foliage, happening upon and doing battle with assorted animated and rubber-suited denizens (including a giant mantis and a Creature From the Black Lagoonesque aquatic monster). One of the film's highlights is the discovery of the lair of an eccentric scientist played with winning grandiosity by Adam West. West's character, Dr. Harryhausen (a wink of a salute to the master of stop-motion animation) is responsible for the island's rampaging overgrown creatures. In the grand custom of Atom-Age science, his experiments have gone horribly awry. Dr. Harryhausen notices that one of the girls wears a necklace that was once the property of an Island Goddess. The pendant holds strange powers that ... no spoilers here, but you can anticipate that it figures in the denouement. The band of intrepid teens fashion crude weapons from the flora and prepare to storm the monster's nest where Ms. Electra is held captive.

"Monster Island" is clearly aimed at a youngish audience, and "seen-it-all" curmudgeons like the B Monster and his contemporaries might sneer at yet another tongue-in-cheek send-up. But our focus shouldn't be on what the film IS. What's striking is what it ISN'T. It isn't mean. It isn't cynical. It isn't gratuitously gory. There's little of that tiresome Gen-X resignation. The main protagonists are "can-do" kids, rather like the Scooby Gang. And director Perez wears his inspirations on his sleeve. "MTV footed the bill," Perez told the B Monster, "and surprisingly allowed me to make the movie I wanted to make -- a genuine valentine to everything 'B.' I affectionately utilized stop motion animation as the driving effects technique and paid tribute to every childhood memory and inspiration: 'Them!,' 'The Deadly Mantis,' 'One Million Years B.C.,' 'Dinosaurus,' 'Creature From the Black Lagoon,' 'The Time Machine,' on and on." The B Monster doesn't know diddly about Carmen Electra, La La Vasquez, Nick Carter, or contemporary pop-culture in general (I turned my radio off when Otis Redding died), but that didn't prevent me from appreciating the filmmaker's grand intentions. Regent plans a DVD release, perhaps in October. A

Syndicated TV horror host Mr. Lobo will bring his "Shocking Midnite Movie Spookshow" to the Golden State's capital, Sacramento, Calif., this May 15. The ghoulish gadabout who host's "Cinema Insomnia" will be presenting William Castle's classic "House on Haunted Hill" at the Crest Theatre. This sinister soiree is being held to salute the release of's recent tome, "Monster Movie Memories," which, it just so happens, features a foreword by Mr. Lobo. "Mad monsters stealing girls from the audience! A lucky audience member will win a free dead body and an autographed copy of 'Monster Movie Memories!' Blood-o-Vision glasses will drench everything you see in crimson gore!" Somewhere, Castle is smiling. For more info visit:
And, of course, let 'em know the B Monster sent you!

"Welcome Foolish Mortals: The Life and Voices of Paul Frees," by Ben Omhart, is a new biography chronicling the career and personal story of one of the most familiar voices in the history of electronic communications. You've heard Frees' voice, we guarantee it. His is the voice of the Ghost Host at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. He contributed voiceover and narration to George Pal films including "The War of the Worlds" and "Atlantis: The Lost Continent." He appeared on hundreds of radio dramas including "Suspense" and "Escape." He voiced innumerable cartoon characters for Jay Ward's "Rocky and Bullwinkle," and "George of the Jungle." He was Boris Badenov, Professor Ludwig von Drake, The Pillsbury Dougboy, Toucan Sam, Inspector Fenwick and two of the animated Beatles! He directed "The Beatniks" and played a scientist in "The Thing From Another World." He looped dialogue in such films as "Spartacus" and "Patton."

Omhart's bio covers Frees' prolific career in detail with more than 100 rare photos to help tell his story. Voice actress June Foray (Rocky and about a zillion others) provides a foreword, and Jay Ward expert Keith Scott ("The Moose That Roared") contributes an afterword. "Within these pages," says Scott, "is a great showbiz story, daubed often with touching human strokes, revealing in word pictures just who this hilarious, childlike, insecure, arrogant, tiny but towering talent really was." Publisher Bear Manor Media is offering the following special package deal: For $49.00, you'll receive the Frees bio signed by the author, an 8x10 glossy photo of Frees that does not appear in the book, $5.00 off "The Works of Paul Frees," a collection of the actor's scripts, songs and photos to be published in Fall, 2004, a special postcard for the book signed by the author and $5.00 off either Omhart's bio of voice actor Walter Tetley or "Scenes for Actors & Voices" by Daws Butler (perhaps the only voice man as prolific as Frees). To find out more, visit:
As per usual, tell 'em the B monster sent you!


Here's a double bill DVD that serves as a neat overview of the state of the contemporary horror film. One movie is a meandering spectacle based on the work of one of the world's best-selling authors, the other, a pointless, relatively low-budgeted thriller that borrows the name of a vintage film and does it a disservice. There's a lot of this going around.

Let's tackle "Dreamcatcher" first. Pity screenwriters William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan. They had to funnel so many unwieldy and seemingly irreconcilable plot devices and character contrivances into a manageable scenario it's a miracle the film is tenable at all. It starts like a domestic, mid-life crisis drama, then sort of a coming-of-age story, phases into a buddy picture, then a mystery, then a supernatural mystery, then a gore fest, then an alien invasion epic and finally a bloody shoot-em-up about paramilitary, alien-hunting mercenaries. There are chase scenes, disembowelment scenes, forced, sentimental scenes and other elements that appear out of left field. For instance, at one point, speeding along on a motorcycle, Damian Lewis' character is possessed by an otherworldly presence that has him switching back and forth between personalities in the space of a few seconds. This does absolutely nothing to advance the story. It's one example of many distractions that are shoehorned into this big lumpy movie.

And, because it's a Stephen King story, a key element involves the merciless bullying of a child. The bullied boy is mentally challenged and strangely gifted. When he's rescued from his persecutors by our main protagonists, he shows his lasting gratitude by bestowing upon them powers they can call upon later in life. Each year, on hunting trips to the snowbound, isolated mountain cabin they share (I told you, it's a Stephen King story), they drink to the health of their benefactor (played by Donnie Wahlberg). A film about this relationship might have been engaging and scary. But this train goes plowing WAY off the rails into alien territory -- literally! Seems the mentally impaired, adult Donnie is key to unraveling the alien mystery, but his re-emergence comes WAY too late in the movie for us to care. By the time militarists Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore appear out of nowhere, the picture's already been split into 12 different plotlines. Look, Goldman's one of the best screenwriters in the business and, while there's occasional snappy dialogue, even he can't wrestle this beast into coherence. If only director Lawrence Kasdan, another estimable talent, had chosen one of the 12 plotlines and gone with it. Perhaps in its planning stages the project was intended to be another one of those King-based, 12-hour miniseries, then someone decided to compress the whole shebang into a two-hour feature. I think "Dreamcatcher" is supposed to feel "epic," but instead, it feels tentative and ultimately, tiresome.

"Ghost Ship" is the latest film to emerge from the Dark Castle partnership of Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, who set out to produce in-name-only remakes of cult-horror films. These include the dreadful "House on Haunted Hill" and the pernicious "Thir13en Ghosts." "Ghost Ship" is just as pointless, just as calculated and predictable as those films were. In fact, "Ghost Ship" was directed by Steve Beck, the former visual effects artist who also helmed "Thir13en Ghosts." I'm sure all of these titles turned a profit; efficient little gore machines, "popcorn movie" being the most popular label applied to films that are all artifice and no substance. But why do they have to be so mean? No likeable characters, no moral spine. Just meanness. William Castle's shockers winked at the audience. These films spit in its face.

First off, this movie bears no resemblance to the Val Lewton/RKO "Ghost Ship," and none was intended. It was just a good title. It begins rather wistfully aboard an Italian cruise ship circa 1962. Passengers and crew are enjoying a cocktail party and dance on deck when suddenly, a cable snaps and, before the movie is three minutes old, people are mutilated, decapitated, limbs severed, in some cases heads are sliced neatly in two, noggins slowly splitting in half as the camera savors the moment. Hundreds of bodies litter the deck in pools of blood. The only survivor is (shades of Stephen King) a little girl. (What prurient interest do these filmmakers have in seeing children terrified?) Cut to the present day. Crusty old skipper, Gabriel Byrne, leads a team of greedy salvagers who've discovered the derelict Italian liner adrift in the Bering Sea. The law of the sea is "finders keepers," so they board the cavernous hulk to claim whatever booty may be left. All the character types are present; the hotheaded guy, the suspicious-looking guy, the feisty chick-in-a-man's-world, the doomed black guy. Keep score as they get picked off, one-by-one, done in by various grisly methods by the malevolent spirits that haunt the floating graveyard. Truth be told, there are one or two impressive shots, but the predictability and sheer mean-spiritedness of the enterprise dilutes their merit.

A critic has to wear a different hat when reviewing Toho monster films. It's a foolıs errand to look for logic in them. It's a waste of time to critique the acting and just plain cruel to scrutinize the dialogue and examine plot holes. So, you put on the hat of a 10-year-old and try to decide which of the guys in floppy rubber suits is the coolest monster. With this 1968 blowout, Toho made it a tough call. They rounded up darned near every monster on their sprawling lot and turned the cameras on them. Their estimable artisans meticulously constructed an acre of miniatures to be trampled by Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Angilas, Gorosaurus, Baragon (often confused with Gorosaurus), Manda (often confused with a Barry Manilow song), Minilla (often confused with an envelope) Kumonga (often confused with a city in California), Varan and the formidable King Ghidorah. The three-headed King is the secret weapon of the Kilaaks, an alien race from a small planet who has, by means of a mysterious gas, managed to take control of all the monsters sequestered on the aptly named Monster Island. This "murderer's row" of Japanese monsters escapes the Pacific atoll and the stomping starts. The United Nations Security Council dispatches the SY3 spaceship (this is the far-flung future world of 1999) to the island to investigate.

In the confusion, the Kilaaks have established a base right under our noses on our own moon! From the lunar surface, they can control the rubber reptiles by remote control, sending them off to stomp the world's major cities. The sage Dr. Yoshida deciphers the alien plan, and the SY3 crew boards their ship and heads to the moon for a showdown with the Kilaaks. But wait! The Kilaaks also have an underground base at the foot of Mt. Fuji! (Whose turn was it to stand guard?) Following the moon fracas, the monsters are now under earthly control, and are ordered to rally at the base of the mountain, where it is hoped they will stomp the Kilaak base to dust. Can the assembled might of Japan's most powerful monsters quash the Kilaak threat? Will the crew of the SY3 survive their harrowing mission? Is this a good movie? I know people who adore it. They believe there's simply no point in analyzing its intrinsic merit on an intellectual level. I believe they're right. You either like this kind of thing or you don't.

Obviously, we're only going to review one half of this double-bill, both halves of which star the Governor of California. "Pumping Iron" is the weightlifting documentary that first brought Schwarzenegger to prominence. "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," is the latest in the robot assassin franchise started by director James Cameron waaay back in 1984. The original was an unprepossessing little thriller about a killer robot sent from the future to our present in order to knock off the person who will one day lead a revolt to overcome the machines that dominate mankind. Come to think of it, that's the plot of the second Terminator movie. Wait a minute ... that's the plot of THIS Terminator movie!

The 1984 film, directed by Cameron, was a cartoon-violent, sci-fi potboiler that didn't take itself too seriously. The second Terminator film came along just as the trend for dark, pessimistic science fiction was reaching the saturation point. This film took itself WAY too seriously and was WAY too long. It was, however, entertaining, as was the first entry. That's right, they were "popcorn movies." This hollow phrase was first coined by critics who were blown away by the special effects, but were afraid to say anything bad about the vacuous plots and bad acting. So, now you know what to call films with vacuous plots and bad acting that you enjoy in spite of yourself. Heaven forbid these critics should actually admit they liked a science fiction picture. So, the progression, in brief: "T1" is a fun shoot 'em up with cool robots; "T2" is a serious sci-fi epic that paints a very dismal picture of the future and introduces a new super-robot sent from the future to do battle with the formerly bad robot who is now a GOOD robot protecting the future resistance leader. "T3" predicts a still bleaker future, and introduces a new super-super-DUPER robot (this time in the form of a gorgeous Victoria's Secret model) sent from the future to do battle with the formerly bad robot who is now a good robot protecting the future resistance leader. Got it?

Anyhoo, "T3" (as us entertainment insiders get to call it) is not a whole heck of a lot different from "T2." Its scope is not as grand and it is not as ambitious. But c'mon, where else can they take this franchise, exhausted after only two moves? I mean, how much more can they improve these killer robots from the future that already possess super-strength, super-speed, are darned near invulnerable and drop-dead gorgeous, to boot? Cameron did not direct "T3," handing over the reins to Jonathan Mostow, whose previous gig was the WWII submarine adventure "U-571." He does a snappy job of directing a brainless, glossy action movie (is any part of that statement redundant?). There's lots of fightin', shootin' and high speed chasin'. But, even though the film makes laudable, if very sketchy, attempts to tell us something of the backgrounds of the protagonists, the characters have minimal depth so, who cares if they get killed. Further undermining the premise are the in-jokes. Just when we think Arnold has finally dispatched the female cyborg, he says, "She'll be back," echoing his own adorable line from the first film in the series. And, as every Schwarzenegger film has to contain at least one, new, cornball catchphrase, the screenwriters settled on "Talk to the hand," for this entry. Funny how one snappy quip can leaven the impact of two hours of destruction and bloodshed.

Dinoship CEO and film historian Bob Madison contributes the following:

"Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1968) is one of the finest genre movie titles -- it's almost a shame that it does not come complete with exclamation point. Fortunately, the movie itself is pretty hot stuff, the best Hammer horror of the 1960s, and one of its few real achievements.

For those who came in late -- Hammer's Frankenstein series focused on Dr. Frankenstein, rather than his monster, and that choice broadened the series to include more settings and situations. Hammer only made a handful of really good films, and most of these were the Frankenstein films. (Excise "Evil of Frankenstein" and "Horror of Frankenstein" from the list, add "Brides of Dracula," and "The Mummy," and that's pretty much the lot of satisfying Hammer films, I'm afraid.)

In this outing, Frankenstein must rescue from insanity a fellow surgeon, Brandt, who had expanded techniques of brain transplantation. To do this, he blackmails a young couple (Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson) into helping him kidnap Brandt from the local asylum and transplant his brain into another (unwilling!) donor. Once the operation is complete, he will cure Brandt's insanity and they can collaborate anew. What Frankenstein does not factor in is that Brandt might balk at finding himself imprisoned in another body ...

The forward momentum of "FMBD" is so fierce that it is easy to overlook many of the film's plot holes. (If Frankenstein needs these new brain surgery techniques, how is he able to perform a successful brain transplant without them? Once Ward has murdered a man, why not go for broke and kill Frankenstein before he gets in any deeper? And why get involved in the first place when Frankenstein confronts him with his drug trafficking? Drug dealing is pretty small beer compared to the crimes of Frankenstein -- why not just expose him?) There is a savage energy to FMBD, along with an intensity and sincerity, which the overwhelming majority of Hammer films lack. In tackling adult questions of identity and the moral limits of medical experimentation, "FMBD" details, in its pulp context, how medical science can degenerate into simple cruelty when the human factor is not taken into account. This is thanks to professional playing all around, and to Bert Battıs uncompromising (and surprisingly bleak) screenplay.

Ward and Carlson are fine -- particularly Carlson, who manages to make us believe that she can be brutalized by Peter Cushing, when she is half his age and twice his body weight. Thorley Walters, usually a benefit to any film, mugs amusingly here, but his subplot involving the police investigation of Frankensteinıs activities goes nowhere. Special kudos must go to Freddie Jones as Richter/Brandt and Maxine Audley as Ella Brandt, the doctor's wife. Never has the existential loneliness of one of Frankenstein's experiments been so convincingly portrayed -- one wishes that Jones had a shot as the Monster in a straightforward adaptation of Shelley's novel. Audley plays a range of conflicting emotions -- first resignation at her husband's illness, then horror at what Frankenstein had done, and, finally, fear and distrust at the stranger who claims to be her husband. It's the kind of performance found in too few genre films.

Finally, the success of all of Hammer's best horrors comes down to the participation of one man -- Peter Cushing. Cushing was easily the finest actor in the Hammer stable (some would say the only actor) and sometimes one yearns for the missed opportunities of his career. Wedded to Hammer/genre films, Cushing never really had a chance to become the foremost character actor of his age -- a loss to all cinephiles.

Warner Home Video's release of "FMBD" includes a beautiful, widescreen print of the film, overall clean and colorful, but with no extras. No matter -- the movie is the main focus and this DVD is a keeper.


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

Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at

Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc.

Bryan Senn, whose books are available at and at

Tom Weaver, whose books are available at and at


"Warning: Those easily nauseated approach with caution!" -- The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman"

 All contents copyright The Astounding B Monster®