Andre de Toth
Film director Andre de Toth died following an aneurysm at his home in Burbank, Calif. He was reportedly 89, but accounts of his actual age varied. The director is best known to cult-film fans for the 1953 3-D horror classic "House of Wax" starring Vincent Price. It is considered by many to be the best film to emerge from the short-lived 3-D craze. Ironically, de Toth couldn't enjoy the visual gimmick himself, as he had only one eye. de Toth was born in Hungary where he obtained a law degree before deciding on an acting career. He held several positions in the Hungarian film industry being fleeing to England at the start of WWII. He worked for producer Alexander Korda before emigrating to the U.S. in 1942. He directed a handful of B pictures and in 1950 wrote the Academy Award-nominated story for the influential western, "The Gunfighter," which starred Gregory Peck. de Toth went on to direct several well-received westerns including "Carson City," "Last of the Comanches," "Springfield Rifle" and "Man in the Saddle." He also worked in television directing episodes of such series as "Maverick" and "77 Sunset Strip." He was married seven times, once to actress Veronica Lake in 1944. They divorced in 1952. Something of a Renaissance Man, de Toth was a sculptor, a pilot, a race-car driver and enjoyed scuba diving.

Peggy Moran
Actress Peggy Moran died as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident in August. She was 84. While her screen career was abbreviated, she endeared herself to B-movie fans as the star of such shockers as "The Mummy's Hand" and "Horror Island," as well as low-budget westerns including "Trail of the Vigilantes" and "King of the Cowboys" opposite Roy Rogers. Moran was born in Clinton, Iowa, the daughter of noted portrait painter Earl Moran. Her mother, an ex-dancer, accompanied her to Hollywood where Peggy landed a series of supporting roles in pictures featuring such stars as Edmund Lowe, Hugh Herbert, Kathryn Grayson and Deanna Durbin. The Durbin vehicles "First Love" and "Spring Parade" were directed by Henry Koster whom Moran married in 1942. She retired from acting following their marriage. They remained married until his death in 1988. She maintained in later years that she didn't much care for "The Mummy's Hand," but was greatly appreciative of the film's many devoted fans, saying they were among the nicest people she'd ever met.

Sidney Pink
Film producer Sidney Pink died at his home in Pompano Beach, Fla., after a long illness. He was 86. Pink produced over 50 films during his career including the landmark 3-D film "Bwana Devil" in 1952. Pink also produced the 1959 science fiction film "Angry Red Planet," and produced and directed "Reptilicus" and "Journey to the Seventh Planet" in the early 1960s. He also served as producer for several other science fiction/horror-related films in Europe during the 1960s including "Pyro," "Sweet Sound of Death," "Operation Atlantis," "Witch Without a Broom" and "Bang Bang."

Keene Curtis
Character actor Keene Curtis died in Salt Lake City after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 79. Curtis was best known for his Broadway role as Daddy Warbucks in the musical "Annie" and as the owner of the upstairs restaurant on the TV sit-com "Cheers". He was also seen in several science fiction tele-films including "The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer," Gene Roddenberry's "Strange New World," "Stowaway to the Moon" and "The Magnificent Magnet of Santa Mesa." His film credits include the 1978 remake of the fantasy "Heaven Can Wait," with Warren Beatty, and the 1993 psychological thriller "Sliver." Curtis co-starred with Bill Bixby in the 1973 television series "The Magician," and was seen in episodes of "Wonder Woman," "Logan's Run," "Struck by Lightning," "Knight Rider," "Star Trek: Voyager," "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," "Stargate SG-1" and "The Pretender."

Dennis Patrick
Veteran character actor Dennis Patrick died as a result of a house fire in his Hollywood Hills home. He was 84. Patrick, who was perhaps best known for his long running role as J.R. Ewing's banker in the TV series "Dallas," starred as Jason McGuire in the 1960s Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows." He also appeared in the 1970 film based on the series, "The House of Dark Shadows." He was featured in the 1964 science fiction film, "The Time Travelers" and the 1969 thriller "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting." He also starred in the 1972 horror film "Dear Dead Delilah," with Agnes Moorehead, and the 1989 fantasy "Chances Are." On television, Patrick was seen in episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "One Step Beyond," "Lost in Space," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Bionic Woman," "Fantasy Island," "The Incredible Hulk" and the new "Twilight Zone."

Maurice Manson
Character actor Maurice Manson died on Sept. 25. He was 89. Manson starred in the 1956 monster movie "The Creature Walks Among Us," as Dr. Borg. He was also seen in 1957's "The Girl in the Kremlin," as Stalin, and was featued in the 1962 sci-fi comedy "The Three Stooges in Orbit." On television, Manson made appearances in episodes of "Lights Out," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "The Munsters" and "The Green Hornet."


Break out the torches, gang. Castle Dracula is about to be stormed again. Sighisoara, Romania, birthplace of the 15th century Count, "Vlad the Impaler," has been abuzz with controversy ever since Sighisoaraians resolved some time ago that their Transylvania town would one day be home to a Dracula theme park, boosting tourism and creating jobs for thousands. Vlad, of course, was the real-life inspiration for Bram Stoker's "Dracula," and a $30 million, Disneyesque park based on his legend could give the region's sagging economy a much-needed cash transfusion. But environmental protesters, including UNESCO and Greenpeace, have launched a campaign against the park, claiming it will ruin the local environment and despoil the area's medieval heritage. The Romanian government vows that it will not be swayed. "We respect UNESCO's stand," the tourism ministry told Reuters, "but this is a government project and UNESCO cannot put constraints on it." UNESCO Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura maintained that, "building a Dracula park near Sighisoara would endanger the cultural value of the city." Hans Frolich, a concerned local priest, fears that "this place will be invaded by those who practice satanic rites and by drugs. What could children see in such a park? People who sharpen their teeth and drink blood or some crazy guys clad in bed sheets and posing as ghosts? It's ridiculous." Clearly, this clergyman has never visited the USA, where monstrous human beings with giant rodent heads and eight-foot-dogs wearing men's clothing stalk America's most popular theme parks.

Toho will unveil its brand-new Godzilla feature this month. While the release of "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla," may not be big news, it's worth noting that the Big G has thrived for nearly half a century, delighting throngs of Japanese fans, on production budgets that are miniscule compared to Hollywood features. (Think devoted fans will still be queing up for "Matrix" sequels in 2050?) Shying away from most digital effects, Toho continues to employ a man in a rubber suit to portray the outsized dinosaur. Apparently, Japanese audiences prefer an actor trouncing miniatures to the ultra-realism that American moviegoers have come to expect, and they reward Toho by turning out in enthusiastic droves for each new Godzilla release. "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" cost 1 billion yen to produce. That's about $8.5 million, big bucks by Toho standards. But that is roughly 8 percent of the production cost of "Star Wars: Episode Two." "You can do anything with digital technology," producer Shogo Tomiyama said in a recent interview. "The more computer graphics you use, the less tangible the film becomes." Toho's craftsmen present an argument that would surely be abhorent to Hollywood's CGI artisans. According to director Masaaki Tezuka, "You can clearly see the miniatures are miniatures. You feel that the crew put so much energy and effort into them, and it shows on the screen." So, call them cheesy and childlike, but up to 4 million Japanese turn out each time the "King of the Monsters" visits his old stomping grounds.

And while we're on the subject of Japan's movie culture, DH Publishing is unleashing a new volume chronicling the ballyhoo that heralded the release of some of that nation's most notable offerings. Touted as "a tribute to 50 years of popular movie-making and graphic design," "Japanese Movie Posters: Yakuza, Monster, Pink and Horror," is a lavishly illustrated celebration of the celluloid crazy quilt that is Japanese cinema. Ninjas, gangsters, samurai and dinosaurs were all announced with brazenly colored graphics and eye-catching designs that are uniquely Japanese, reproduced here in all their garish glory. You can find out more by writing: or

The folks behind Subway Cinema will present "In the Mood for Gore: 22 Years of Deliciously Evil Hong Kong Cinema." The length of the title should give you a clue as to the jam-packed menu of Asian horror films they're offering from November 8 through November 14. "We'll be showing rare Asian horror movie trailers before each screening, as well as giving away DVDs," says promoter Chris Bourne. "We're not affiliated with any studio or entertainment company. We're just a bunch of fans who were sick of not seeing good Asian movies in New York, so we put together our own money and started showing them ourselves." Among the Hong Kong horrors being offered are "Untold Story," "Inner Senses," "Mr. Vampire," "Encounter of the Spooky Kind," "Bio-Zombie" and many more. Screenings will be at New York's Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street. For a complete schedule and more info check out: You know the drill: Tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

Director Brett Ratner, who made a splash with the Jackie Chan-powered "Rush Hour" films, and more recently helmed "Red Dragon," a prequel/sequel or something featuring cannibal Hannibal Lecter, has stepped in to replace McG as the director of the new and long-awaited "Superman" movie. McG will instead helm "Charlie's Angels 2: Halo." (No kiddin,' that's really the name of it.) Ratner's plans for "Rush Hour 3" have been placed on the back burner. J.J. Abrams, creator of the TV show "Alias," has already completed a "Superman" screenplay. The project is ominously described by Warner Brothers as "a re-imagining of the Superman legend." Why, for Pete's sake, does it have to be "re-imagined"? The original imaginers did a fine job. Have contemporary filmmakers completely lost the ability to "imagine" NEW things? Must they continue to co-opt and corrupt existing good things? Is this just another part of the baby boomer conspiracy to screw up everything for the next generation? If the Man of Steel must be "re-imagined," we're beggin' ya, don't depict him as plagued by self-doubt, haunted by nihilism, cracking catchphrases and cursing like a high schooler. Ratner told Variety, "I was born to make this movie. It's the perfect time to make this movie, as everyone is looking for someone to save the world, and who better than Superman?" There's no faulting that sentiment, but why not let the "real" Superman -- the Superman we already know and love -- do the job, not a "re-imagined" one?

Sir Anthony Hopkins recently told The Star newspaper that he's written his own script for yet another Hannibal Lecter film in which Clarice Sterling shoots and kills his character once and for all. (Talk about a spoiler.) "I did write a screenplay of my own, just as an exercise," said Sir Anthony. "I showed it to Dino and to my agent and the studio. It's about Hannibal actually out there, after 'Hannibal.' The final denouement." He continues: "Clarice is having a nervous breakdown and living in San Francisco. Then the nightmares start. She sees him on street corners, and he vanishes in the crowd. Then one night, she wakes up in her bedroom and she's handcuffed to her bed, and he's in the corner smoking a cigar, and he says, 'Hello, Clarice...'" On a related note, a real live serial killer gunned down 12 innocent people in the Washington, D.C. area, in the midst of which the moviegoing public made "Red Dragon," a movie about a poor, misunderstood mass murderer, the nation's No. 1 box office draw. What is wrong with you people?

We've been fielding quite a few questions of late (including queries from the New York Times) regarding the activities of actor Frank Gorshin. Frank has recently garnered a good bit of press owing to the opening a his one man show. But the Emmy-nominated actor, perhaps best known as The Riddler of "Batman" fame, has rarely been off the cult-film radar. The former star of "Invasion of the Saucer Men" and "Dragstrip Girl," among others, has been a regular presence at film and horror cons, including the massively attended Chiller Theater gathering, for several years. Gorshin's most recent accomplishment is a star turn in the indy comedy-drama "Manna From Heaven," a goodhearted film that showcases Frank's unique brand of burlesque to maximum advantage. The cast also includes Seymour Cassel, Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, Louise Fletcher, and many other old pros. The film is the work of Five Sisters Productions, a bravely indpendent family of filmmakers (the five Burton sisters do it all -- act, write, direct, produce) whose previous films "Temps" and "Just Friends" met with great critical success despite their relatively minimal funding and distribution. Check out Frank, and the film if it's playing near you. Find out more at:

What is The Haunt? It's the Midwest's premier haunted house attraction. Every autumn, this Michigan-based family-geared spooktacular seems to top the previous year's success, and this Halloween season was no exception. Beginning in September and running through the first part of November, Haunt founder Michael Burns opens its creaking portals to an enthralled throng of goosebumpy funseekers. Burns and his talented team pour heart and soul into these elaborate productions. ("Without the help of my construction manager, my artist and my casting director, this show wouldn't get off the ground," he says.) Burns points out that "this truly is a show that will entertain your entire family. In last year's show, we had grown men falling on their knees from fright. All age ranges enjoy this show. It is scary, but there's nothing that is objectionable to minors in it. I have a daughter myself and I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror if we created a show that I couldn't let her go through." Burns was 28 when he opened Ready, Set, Grow, an educational toy store. "It was a big success and I really enjoyed helping out kids and the community. But I knew it was just a stepping stone in achieving my real dream, a family-oriented haunted house." The Haunt Web site features a prominent link to The Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, a 60-year-old partnership with the Grand Rapids Police Department that serves low-income and at-risk youth. For more info on the Haunt and its history, visit: Naturally, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!

The folks behind The Fright Channel, an aggregation who seems dedicated to reviving the TV horror host while encouraging independent horror film production, staged a special fundraiser October 28th at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Mass. The main attraction was a screening of goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis' "Blood Feast 2," a sequel to his 1963 drive-in gross out. According to promoters, "the fundraiser was a benefit for The Fright Channel to help launch the world's first all-horror TV Network!" As of this writing, the network is limited to a single station, SCAT-TV Channel 3 in Somerville, Mass., where "Uncle Death" screens fright-film oldies every Friday at 1:30 AM. "We are striving to bring you great programming and great movies," says the Fright Channel Web site, and among the coming attractions are the Boston premiere of Aftershock Productions' "Demon Day," the premiere showing of Ion Spire Studios' "Creeping Paralysis," and someone called The Mysterious Dr. Phineas Chaise in something called "Paradox: Prologue." While horror of more recent vintage falls beyond the B Monster's scope of expertise, we will nevertheless pass along this entreaty from these devoted patrons of the horrid arts: "If you are a producer of horror, sci-fi or fantasy films of any type and any medium, and you want to reach a wider audience, then please send an inquiry to:" For more details, check out:

Fright Channel, meet C.C.I.'s Eye-Magination Studios. Eye-Magination Studios, meet the Fright Channel. The C.C.I. gang have produced a short shocker called "The Anasazi Mummy," which certainly falls under the heading "horror, sci-fi or fantasy film of any type and any medium." Is this homemade horror fodder for the Fright Channel? There's one way to find out. Visit for more info. Or drop them a line at We've done our part. Good luck, guys!

The pleasantly putrid Dr. Gangrene is likewise earnestly endeavoring to preserve the legacy of TV's horror hosts. A note of congratulations are in order as the Gangrenous emcee's "Chiller Cinema" recently celebrated its third broadcast anniversary. The good doctor passed the recent Halloween season hosting ("dead" and in person) a screening of "Return of the Vampire" at the Red Caboose Park in beautiful Bellevue, Tenn., as well as appearing in the (rotting) flesh at Comic City's Nashville Horror Fest. To nosta-holics in the Nashville vacinity, the grisly physician directs the following plea: "Dr Gangrene needs your help! If you have any photos of the great Sir Cecil Creape, Nashville's most famous horror host, please email me at " The Doc is plotting a special televised tribute to the former Tennessee "Creape-ster!" Learn more about the Doctor's nostalgic doings at: Tell 'em, without hesitation, the B Monster sent you!

Life-loving lounge lizard and purveyor of paltry-budget productions, Will "The Thrill" Viharo, once again welcomed Frisco cult-figure Bob Wilkins to his Bay Area haunt, The Parkway Theater. Billed as "The Return of Captain Cosmic," Will, Bob and Bob's original robot sidekick 2T2, screened the fearsome twin-bill "Godzilla vs the Space Monster" and "Infra Man." "Fans showed up in droves to give Bob a full, boisterous house and a standing ovation," says Will. Soon after, they hustled off to the Copia Theater in Napa to present the "Creature Features Halloween Road Show," where local treasure John Stanley was, according to Viharo, "greeted like the prodigal hometown hero he is." The pair hosted a screening of the Alex Gordon, AIP classic "She Creature." Will and company then shuttled back to the Parkway to prep November's lineup. Monsters and mayhem are thriving by the Bay. (I hope that's not how Tony Bennett happened to lose his heart there.) For more info, visit: By all means, tell 'em the B Monster sent you!


Believe it or not, cult-film fans, there is a sub-sub-sub-genre of Nazi-related horror pics. We can point to "Revenge of the Zombies" and "King of the Zombies," both filmed during WWII. The 1950s brought us "She Demons" and "Flesh Eaters." Then, of course, there's that scrap heap of a movie "They Saved Hitler's Brain." "Shock Waves" is a 1976 addition to the category, hyped with a blurb on its box art proclaiming it "The best of the Nazi zombie movies." Okay, that's debatable, and we're not about to spend time on that discourse. But "Shock Waves" is interesting in that it has a unique, "we're making this up as we go along" feel. In fact, an illuminating aspect of the audio commentary by writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and makeup man Alan Ormsby, is that filming "Shock Waves" was a learn-as-you-go experience. With next to no film experience under their belts, they decided to make a movie about Nazi zombies. They secured some funding and, by God, they made a movie about Nazi zombies. Cult filmmaker Fred Olen Ray also contributes to the audio insights. As the film was being shot in his native Florida, Ray talked his way into a gig as the movie's still photographer, and many of the subsequent shots are showcased in the gallery of stills that is part of this package.

So, these green filmmakers managed to procure the services of John Carradine and Peter Cushing for a very limited time. They shot them huffing and hamming, and worked those scenes into their plot. As Nazi doctor Cushing explains to the captive cast, just as World War II was drawing to a close, Nazi scientists bred a race of super soldiers. As the allies closed in for the kill, he loaded the brutes onto a boat and headed for the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the boat sank near a secluded island, and the uber-troopers slept beneath the waves for 30 years until disturbed by boat skipper Carradine, his first mate and former "Flipper" star, Luke Halpin, and a quarrelsome group of vacationers including starlet Brooke Adams. Stranded on said island, this disparate band of stereotypical characters are stalked by the mute, murderous super-Nazis. "Shock Waves" features some affecting shots, particularly those of the soggy storm troopers rising one by one from the water. Whether or not it is "The best of the Nazi zombie movies," the overall DVD experience is enjoyable thanks to the insights, honesty and humility of the filmmakers. Aspiring schlock-movie mavens should check it out for that reason.

Not quite as good as it should have been, but not NEARLY as bad as it could have been. Director Sam Raimi stays laudably true to the original spirit of the Marvel Comics Cinderella-superhero premise. And the players are first rate, with Tobey Maguire ideally cast as the web slinger. (Sadly, the B Monster's idea of double-casting Jackie Chan as Spider-Man while in the costume, and Matthew Broderick out of it, came about 10 years too late.) In fact, every player is well-matched to their role, particularly Willem Defoe as the Green Goblin, though why they didn't just paint his face green instead bolting a metal mask to his head is puzzling. He's a dead ringer for the comic Goblin, but then, we're always irked by these modernizing touches that tend to plague depictions of classic characters (e.g., Batman's body armor or the X-Men's S&M leather ensemble). Another case in point is Peter Parker's organically fomenting web. The troubled teen in the original comic version was resourceful even to design mechanical web shooters that fastened to his wrists. Why not show a contemporary kid with similar smarts, rather than depict him as the victim of a physical phenomena over which he has limited power? But enough of the scientific double-talk. It's basically a good-natured film (geez, when was the last time we could say that of a recent movie?) with heroes and bad guys. The good guy fights for the right thing and (brace yourself ... spoiler warning!) he wins! The ending is a dramatic muddle that lays the groundwork for "Spider-Man 2," but muddlement notwithstanding, Raimi's spirited synthesis of traditional values and edgy (God, I hate that term) modern-day menace is a success.

This is a feature-length adventure based on the Kid's WB network animated series. That series is, of course, derived from the smash live-action features starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and Arnold Vosloo. Those films were in turn inspired by the Universal/Karloff classic, which was made 70 years ago and which itself begat the spate of 1940s "Mummy" movies starring first, Tom Tyler, and later Lon Chaney Jr. as the rag-wrapped menace. With that lineage out of the way, you should be aware that we come to this cartoon as part of a generation spoiled by "Jonny Quest," "Fantasia" and the Fleischer "Superman" series. May as well face it, they're never going to make cartoons like that again, and this Mummy adventure owes a greater debt to "Speed Racer" than "Superman." It's got that quasi-Japanamation look that today's kids seem to crave and which is bound to look terribly dated 20 years from now. Even so, this colorful caper is jampacked with enough monsters, ghouls and goodies to make the kids tingle, and it is a cut above most contemporary Saturday morning fare. More significantly, even with its detriments -- its jarring, semi-limited animation, ultra-stylized (almost crudely rendered) character faces, and awkward narration that tries to cover too many bases -- it's still more fun than either of director Stephen Sommers' "Mummy" features, which we always found a little too self-consciously droll for their own good. "The Mummy Returns" was just plain boring, which this animated trifle never is. Its makers are smart enough to recognize that brisk pacing can cover a multitude of sins and kids are bound to get a kick out of this "Quest." For more info, check out:

Director Barry Sonnenfeld's followup to the 1997 summer smash is, in a word, unnecessary. While the cast, particularly Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn, seem to be having a grand time, nothing remarkably fresh is brought to the table. We were always on the fence regarding the first "Men In Black." It was a nifty idea, had terrific effects and a squirrely, compelling performance by Vincent D'Onofrio as an alien-possessed farmer. It was a tasty trifle, but it didn't really stick to the ribs. There's even less for the pallette to savor at this sitting. On the plus side, Lara Flynn Boyle is well-suited to the role of a steely, sexy, intermittently tentacled alien, and the ever-dependable Tony Shaloub has fun munching the scenery. On the minus side, a funny turn by "Seinfeld's" Patrick Warburton is squandered, and the pace of the film is jarring, the plot starting and stopping like a kid learning to drive a clutch. It doesn't build to a satisfying payoff, and the denouement we're given feels contrived to say the least. In short, it feels like a film they HAD to make but didn't really want to.

George Lucas is a pop-culture Atlas staggering under the weight of this colossal franchise he's created. So many characters, so many plot points ... and so many FANS. Hordes of very demanding fans just spoiling for a fight should anyone, even Lucas, tamper with the zeitgeist. Critics have been harsh, and in an effort to dodge accusations of piling on, we'll not review "Attack of the Clones," but rather the audience we saw it with when it opened in theaters. (Truth be told, I planned on critiquing the film, but after reviewing "Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," I discovered that the "B," "O," "R," "I," "N' and "G" keys on my keypad were nearly worn out.) I saw "Episode 2" in a full house that boasted one of a very few digital screenings in our area. (Lucas explained that "Attack of the Clones" didn't beat Harry Potter's opening day box office record because he limited the number of "non-digital" screens showing the film. He also said that he doesn't make films to make money. No kiddin,' he actually said that.) For the record, the picture was very clear, and one thing I always insist on when moviegoing is seeing the picture clearly.

In general, the audience was fairly respectful and didn't talk much at all. This shocked me, given the film's many talky patches. One woman did, however, not only answered a cell phone call, but proceeded to carry on the conversation. There were lots of single men in the crowd -- 40- to 50-year-old single men -- at 3:00 in the afternoon, which might reflect on the current unemployment picture or contemporary work ethic, but not on them, personally. The entire row in front of us was filled by 20-somethings who consumed an inordinate amount of concession grease, and then discussed dinner plans throughout the coming attractions. One of them actually PLACED a phone call, excusable, I suppose, because the film hadn't actually started. Did you know that some men still wear pony tails? Honestly, I didn't. Anyhoo, midway through the film, the college-age chap in front of us removed the tourniquet from his tresses and tossed his long locks backward in a "Baywatch" motion, slapping the faces of those seated behind him with his unbecoming mop. No one said anything. He was the only one in that row without a date. I guess we felt sorry for him.

As previously stated, I'll not review the movie, but the crowd's revealing reactions to its contrivances. The audience laughed when they weren't supposed to. This is never a good sign. They laughed during romantic scenes involving Natalie Portman and someone named Hayden Christensen. They laughed whenever Hayden Christensen opened his mouth. For the uninformed, he plays the fellow who grows up to be Darth Vader, the most intimidating figure in the universe. The grownup Darth talks like James Earl Jones. This youngster sounds like Keanu Reeves after a toke of helium. (Note: Orson Welles was roughly this fellow's age when he wrote, produced, directed and starred in "Citizen Kane.") The crowd may also have been distracted by the way the characters kept calling him "Annie," perhaps confusing him with the subject of the smash Broadway musical derived from the classic comic strip. In any case, no one cheered, laughed or applauded when they WERE supposed to. (And incidentally, the film is every bit as violent as the World War II dramas of my youth that caused such an uproar among parents' associations.)

Lobby sightings: A fiftyish man wore a shirt like Charlie Brown's (yes, you can buy those in finer comic shops.) Logo-emblazoned tees were the uniform of the day. Not a man in sight was wearing a shirt with buttons on it, which would suggest that they were either science-fiction geeks or Amish. Some stood in line, a drink in one hand, a tub of popcorn in the other, dipping their tongues frog-style into the tubs to snare the snack. A young boy excitedly explained to his mother the difference between an X-wing fighter and the ship that Ewan MacGregor was piloting (I found this interesting because the visual effects -- all the steely gimcrack, airships and armor, glowing and phantasmagorical like 1960s sci-fi paperback covers come to life -- do nothing to generate suspense. What was he excited about? We know going in that the characters survive. We've seen them in the other moves! But, as I said, we're NOT reviewing the film.) Most revealing of all, was a boy of about seven, trailing his father after the film and asking, over and over, "It was cool, wasn't it, Dad? Wasn't it cool? It WAS cool, WASN'T it?" I suppose it was just as cool as the adult told him it was.

With a Hollywood remake on the way starring George Clooney, the sexiest person in television history, according to TV Guide, it makes sense to release the original 1972 Russian sci-fi epic "Solaris" on DVD. I can't think of a foreign film less suitable for an American remake, but I suppose they said that about "Seven Samurai." "Solaris" has many memorable elements. It's pretentious (which is okay if you can live up to the pretense), audacious and its basic plot about a sentient planet that can read men's minds and transform their thoughts into physical reality has been swiped numerous times. But what the uninitiated are likely to be most impressed by is the film's length: 165 minutes. Director Andrei Tarkovsky does not value brevity. I mean, this film is looooong. Which is not to say that much of it is wasted. That's arguable, as Tarkovsky spends reels of film showing people walking, thinking, brooding (it IS a Russian film, after all) and driving. Especially driving. Not one second of the hero's drive into the big city is spared. He's driving -- and he's driving, and driving, and driving -- for a good 10 minutes in silence, supposedly contemplating the mission before him. Such scenes are perhaps this cerebral director's way of forcing us to "think along" with the character. What's running through his mind should be running through ours, and if it isn't, well, better get comfortable. We've all sat through "talky" movies. Well, this one's a "thinky," and all that "excess" film is your scratch pad for scrutinizing the characters' motives. So, is the payoff worth the viewer's sorely-tested patience? Again, arguable, but you gotta admit, the idea of a planet that is, in essence, a thinking, feeling, sentient entity that can enter our brains and alter our thoughts is a humdinger. How this pretense will be corrupted by the Hollywood commercial mill I don't know. Probably lots of explosions and Van Halen songs. But I'm willing to bet that, no matter how cute he is, no American audience is going to want to watch George Clooney driving in total silence for 10 minutes.


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


"50 tons of creeping black horror!" -- The Spider

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