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! http://www.cafeshops.com/bmonster
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
ART-FILLED, "ANIMATED" ACCOUNT
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
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.
STILL "KING" IN OUR BOOK
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!
MONSTERS? WHAT A CONCEPT!
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.
MUCH AT STAKE WITH "VAN HELSING"
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
LET'S HEAR IT, FORUM
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
Tell 'em for sure
that the B Monster sent you!
MFTV FIT FOR A KONG
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!
FISHER FEATURED AT BRIT FILMATHON
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!
A HUMANE HORROR SHOW
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
For more about
the Darress, check out:
learn more about the Wayne Animal Shelter, visit:
Tell 'em all the B monster sent you!
COFFEE AND GANGRENE TEA
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 http://thrillville.tribe.net. 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
TRIBUTES AND SINISTER SURF
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!
"FARM:" HIP HORROR HARVEST
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!
ISLAND:" STOP-MOTION SALUTE
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
CAPITOL SPOOK SHOW
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 themonsterclub.com'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!
NEW ON DVD
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
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,
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
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.
3: RISE OF THE MACHINES/PUMPING IRON SET
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.
MUST BE DESTROYED
Dinoship CEO and film historian Bob Madison contributes
"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
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)
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.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc.
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.dinoship.com
"Warning: Those easily nauseated approach with caution!"
-- The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman"