Fay Helm
One of the last players to survive from Universal Studios' "Golden Age," actress Fay Helm, has died. She was 94. Helm appeared in dozens of films during the 1930s and '40s, often cast as a victim in B movie thrillers. One memorable example is her part as Jenny Williams, the woman bitten by werewolf Bela Lugosi -- who later passes his curse onto Lon Chaney -- in the Universal classic, "The Wolf Man." Also for Universal, she appeared in such shockers as "Captive Wild Woman" with John Carradine, "Calling Dr. Death" with Lon Chaney and "Night Monster" with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill. Other notable parts include the title role in the classic film noir, "Phantom Lady," directed by Robert Siodmak, and the comic-thriller "One Body Too Many" with Lugosi, Jack Haley and Jean Parker. Her final film was 1946's "That Brennan Girl."

Jack Elam
Character actor Jack Elam, who had one of the most distinctive and ubiquitous faces in Western film history, and whose career spanned six decades, has died at 84. Elam's gravelly voice and sinister demeanor (made more unsettling by his sightless, wayward right eye, injured in a boyhood fight) won him numerous roles in "A" and "B" Western features and myriad television programs including "Ride Clear of Diablo," "The Man from Laramie," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Wichita," "The Comancheros" and "Rio Lobo." Later in his career, he took on parts that played his crusty image as a leering gunman or grizzled sidekick for laughs. He worked extensively in episodic television, appearing in "The Dakotas," "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," "The Rebel," "The Rifleman," "Zane Grey Theater" and many others. Beyond the Western genre, he appeared in such films as "Kiss Me Deadly," "The Girl in Lover's Lane" and "Baby Face Nelson." Elam worked as a studio accountant before winning his first acting assignment in 1949.

Victoria Horne
Actress Victoria Horne, the daughter of director James W. Horne and the widow of character actor Jack Oakie, has died of natural causes. She was 82. B-movie fans will recognize Horne from roles in The Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes entry "The Scarlet Claw," the serial "Secret Agent X-9," "Murder in the Blue Room" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff." She also appeared in such "A" features as "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "Harvey." Her final screen appearance was 1953's "Affair With A Stranger."

Peter Miller
Actor Peter Miller, who portrayed Moran, one of the crewmen who, with Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens and Jack Kelly, ventured to the "Forbidden Planet," has died of cancer. He was 73. In the 1950s, Miller won small parts in big films including "Rebel Without A Cause," "The Blackboard Jungle," and "Tea And Sympathy." His B-movie credits include "A Strange Adventure" with Marla English, Jan Merlin and Nick Adams, and "The Delinquents," which was the 1957 directorial debut of Robert Altman.


"The Researcher with the Atom Brain" strikes again. Peerless film scribe and historian Tom Weaver has recently conducted a lengthy interview with cult-movie legend Arch Hall Jr. following some intrepid detective work. The 59-year-old star of such classics as "Eegah," "Wild Guitar" and "The Sadist" discussed in exhaustive detail the films he and his writer/director/producer/actor father made together. For years, it was rumored that Hall was reclusive, embarrassed and unwilling to discuss his film career. The enthusiastic tone of the material I've seen invalidates this spurious claim. Hall couldn't be more effusive, outgoing and frank. (Who starts these rumors?!) He's nostalgic and good-natured about the "ups," candid and philosophical about the "downs." Weaver is currently polishing the detail-packed dialogue for publication. Stay tuned!

Director Robert Tinnell's nostalgic and heartfelt "Frankenstein and Me" has become a favorite of genre-film fans and is regularly screened to enthusiastic reception at film cons across the country. Recently, Bob trained his talents on the comics field, and the project he's conceived, along with collaborators Todd Livingston and Neil Vokes, is sure to seize the imaginations of monster lovers. Bob describes "Black Forest" as "a World War I/monster rally graphic novel." That encapsulation alone should pique your interest. "It's about an American pilot and a British magician," Bob elaborates, "who go behind enemy lines into the Black Forest to foil a plot by occult forces to win the war. Along the way, they encounter some variation of many of the classic monsters. Think of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' married to 'Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.'" They've got the B Monster's attention. I was privy to a sneak peek at Neil Vokes' black and white artwork. He's a fine fit to the subject matter, evoking Harvey Kurztman and Alex Toth with a loose, spontaneous style utilizing LOTS of black. Okay, so I'm getting all esoteric on you. It's a nifty idea, it's being released in gorgeous black and white by Image Comics and you oughta be on the lookout.

Frank J. Dello Stritto is one of the most eloquent and accomplished chroniclers of horror films on the scene. His last project, "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," written in collaboration with Andi Brooks, was met with critical acclaim and is highly recommended. Frank has more recently completed "A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore: The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films," which should prove to be just as popular and critically recognized. "As the subtitle implies," says Frank, "there's plenty of history about the films and their era (1930s and 1940s)." But, he adds, it's much more than just a film chronology. "The main thrust of the book is presenting the movies collectively as a comprehensive mythology, quite comparable to that of classical antiquity. The recurring characters and themes in the films particularly resonated with young people who had outgrown children's fairy tales." Dello Stritto presents a fascinating contention: That the monsters of the movies were preparing kids for the dark and scary adult world they were soon to inhabit. "From Darwinism vs. Creationism to the 1930s' rise of fascism -- from secular vs. spiritual to class and racial tensions to anxieties over gender and aging." It's heady stuff, and Frank is up to the task of rendering its meaning in stimulating language. The book is available from: Cult Movies Press, 644 East 7 1/2 Street, Houston, TX, 77007-1705
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The government of Romania, feeling the muscle of UNESCO, the United Nations' champions of indigenous culture, has thrown in the cape. Their Dracula theme park was originally to have been built near Sighisoara, the Transylvania birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the real-life figure who inspired the fictional vampire. But the 13th century village is protected as a World Heritage Site (not sure what that means, but it apparently protects the homes of guys who went around impaling people). Following ongoing protests that the attraction would ruin the natural beauty of the area, the Romanian government caved in and are relocating. The park will now be built in the Snagov Lake region and not in Transylvania at all. (Legend holds that the headless body of Vlad is entombed at a monastery on an island in the lake.) Sorin Marica, who chairs the firm overseeing the project told Reuters, "All I can say is that the Dracula project is going ahead. We're drafting a detailed plan, subject to shareholder approval by the end of this year." Despina Neagoe, spokesperson for government officials who once saw the proposed park as a boon to tourism told the news agency, "I don't have any information on the Dracula park project."

If you're unfamiliar with Atomic Monsters, a cult-film Website with a decidedly skewed view, now might be a good time to acquaint yourself. "This month, we're celebrating 10,000 hits," proclaims the Atomic crew. To thank its visitors, they're holding a free drawing, the winner of which will be awarded an 8-inch Mole People action figure, the "Crawling Eye"/"Killer Shrews" DVD and "a one-of-a-kind wall clock featuring a different classic monster at each hour." The lucky winner will be chosen randomly, and the prize package will be shipped to them free of charge. The next time you take a break from memorizing the sage insights of the B Monster, you should surf on over to Atomic Monsters; they focus on "only the most entertaining flicks from the '50s and '60s" (a criteria that can be interpreted in any number of ways) and the films they review are designated with a radioactive rating (five atomic blasts is the top ranking). They also offer cartoons in Flash format and B-movie wallpapers for your desktop. Pay 'em a visit at:
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Hard-core cult-film fans already realize that actor Roy Scheider got his 1964 start in "Horror of Party Beach" director Del Tenney's atmospheric cheapie "Curse of the Living Corpse." By the 1970s, he was appearing in some of the highest profile films being made, including "Klute" and "The French Connection." Author Diane C. Kachmar has just completed an in-depth study of Scheider's film career, "Roy Scheider: A Film Biography," available from McFarland & Co. The book charts Scheider's rise in detail, from his start in New Jersey community theater to his much-acclaimed performances in "Jaws," "Marathon Man" and "All That Jazz." There's also salient personal background covering the Oscar-nominated actor's contentious relationship with his father and his multiple bouts with rheumatic fever. For more information, check out:
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Here's an item aimed at the closet "slasher movie" fans among you: Chas. Balun, the author of "More Gore Score & The Connoisseur's Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film," has recently announced the release of his latest offering, "Beyond Horror Holocaust: A Deeper Shade of Red." The publishers aren't exactly coy about the book's grim agenda, as it covers "forty years of the darkest and most shocking horror movies ever produced ... analyzed through the eyes of both critic and fan. Each blood-splattered page is loaded with details and information regarding hundreds of shocking fright films." And I wouldn't describe the author as reticent, either: "My intention here was to create the Horror Movie Book of The Millennium -- and nothing less." The publicity says the book covers "everything from the postmodern zombie film to pastaland splatter featuring cutting-edge Italian Horror! In addition, there's even a chapter on the new blood renegades." (Okay, the B Monster is getting a little queasy.) "Order your blood-splattered copy today!" (Ugh ... That does it! Gotta run!) You can find out more at:

There once was a time when a general familiarization with the Universal classics and a basic grounding in 1950s sci-fi cinema was the extent of the knowledge cult-movie fans were expected to possess. But over the years, we've gotten more esoteric, more specialized (as the above titles demonstrate). Now comes "They Came From Within: A History of the Canadian Horror Film." Writer and filmmaker Caelum Vatnsdal is our guide through this rarely trod terrain. Naturally, native son David Cronenberg figures prominently in the chronology, as does the Canadian 3-D shocker "The Mask." (No, not the Jim Carrey movie.) Also scrutinized are "Black Christmas," "Terror Train," "Prom Night" and the early films of director Oliver Stone, effects maven Tom Savini and actress Neve Campbell. Interviews and complete filmographies are complemented by numerous photos. It's coming to bookstores in spring 2004. For more info, visit:

The brand new issue of "Monsters From the Vault" is highlighted by Richard Scrivani's "Hated, Blasphemed and Condemned: A Defense of Son of Frankenstein" (look for Lugosi's Ygor on the cover). It's a spirited assessment of a film that, as the title of Rich's piece contends, has been relegated to second-class status (for reasons the B Monster, for one, does not understand). Scrivani also chats with peerless preservationists John W. Morgan and William T. Stromberg, the musical mavens behind Marco Polo's terrific series of film score restorations (the latest of which is Korngold's "Robin Hood"; see next item). Gary D. Rhodes scrutinizes an obscure Fox shocker, "Almost Married," starring Ralph Bellamy, and wraps up his "Horror Film Crisis of 1932" treatise. Part three of "Cliffhanging Horrors," focusing on the serials of the 1950s, completes the package, which is complemented by scads of rare photos. You can find out more at:
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You may think that "The Adventures of Robin Hood" falls outside our scope of coverage, but vintage film preservation of any kind is newsworthy to the B Monster, and the dedicated folks behind this fabulous reconstruction of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score deserve our recognition. It ain't no B movie, but the 1938 classic is one of THE best adventure films ever made, superb in every aspect; the cast, the dialogue, the staging, the swordplay and, among its most invigorating elements, Korngold's robust, romantic score. This rousing soundtrack (by all accounts composed in short order under great duress) is considered one of Korngold's three true masterpieces ("The Sea Hawk" and "Kings Row" being the others). Twenty-five cues -- the full, 78-minute score -- is meticulously reconstructed by John Morgan and performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg. You can learn more at:
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(Yes, this is where your typical editor would succumb to the temptation to write a stupid headline about the "Governator" or "Total Re-Conan." Well, not ME!) Director John Milius will proceed with "King Conan: Crown of Iron," which was to have starred the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The role will be recast with an actor far lower on the pay scale, freeing up cash that can be spent on costumes, locations, swords and fake blood. Likewise, a fourth Terminator film was being discussed prior to Arnold's entree into the political world. According to the Dark Horizons Web site, Schwarzenegger has recommended that wrestling star and action hero-in-the-making The Rock replace him should the project proceed.


This two-disk set comprises five documentaries produced under the auspices of Kevin Burns, a prolific cable television documentarian. The biographies of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Lorre and Vincent Price were originally televised in the mid '90s and turned up occasionally (usually around Halloween) on cable until relatively recently. They vary in quality (the Price documentary is debatably the best of the bunch), and your enjoyment of them will depend greatly on how much you already know about the personalities being profiled. For instance, the films about Chaney and Lorre proved to be the most entertaining to me, as Karloff and Lugosi have been "done to death" (pardon the unpardonable turn of phrase), and it was interesting to see the filmmaker's take on these rarely heralded performers. The Chaney bio is flawed in that it devotes almost as much time to Chaney Sr. Naturally, the shadow of his father loomed over his erratic career, but the film should have focused more on how Jr. acted, and less on how he RE-acted to his father's influence. Fortunately, there are lengthy clips of Chaney as Lennie in "Of Mice And Men" (which is too rarely seen) as well as his "Wolf Man" and Mummy portrayals. Clips of an inebriated Chaney as the Frankenstein Monster on the live telecast "Tales of Tomorrow" as well as a clip or two from the famed "Route 66" episode that featured a trio of classic monsters will prove fascinating to those unaware of these telecasts.

The examination of Peter Lorre's life and career contains tidbits that even some longtime horror aficionados may be unacquainted with, including details of his relationship with his father, and the role of his ex-wife as a confidante even after he'd remarried. Many mainstream film fans have long dismissed Lorre as a pudgy little weirdo, and this film, portraying him as a dedicated, innovative actor who spent years on the cutting edge of European experimental theater, will be edifying.

As previously stated, the remaining bios travel very well-covered ground, as Karloff, Lugosi and Price have been analyzed and celebrated in film and print innumerable times. (I should allude to my favorite DVD "extra": Price's laid-back pep talk for the benefit of the Sears sales staff, filmed in the 1960s when the company introduced a line of affordable fine art bearing the Price imprimatur of good taste.) For novice genre-film buffs, however, it will be pleasing and enlightening viewing.

Director Bert I. Gordon working for producer Robert Lippert? That should be recommendation enough! "King Dinosaur" is a fascinating mish-mosh of ambitious and goofy ideas. I enjoy its innocence and madcap synthesis of then-prevalent notions. If you saw it as a kid and remember only the "dinosaurs" and the rockets, you owe it to yourself to watch it again. That having been said, it just couldn't be much sillier, with inexcusable stretches of padding that will have you scrambling for the remote. To corrupt a well-known critical lambaste, they managed to cram 12 minutes of action into its 63-minute running time. There are bad "Bs" that we can watch repeatedly, but a single viewing of "King Dinosaur" will drive nascent B-watchers to distraction. And its science couldn't be shakier: A new "star" is discovered, and a team of scientists, two men, two women, flies there in a process-shot rocket. We'll overlook the fact that you can't land on a "star" (which they name "Planet Nova") without being incinerated. (So, they confused the nomenclature.) But after testing the atmosphere for all of two seconds, they hop out and start exploring.

Before long, they pick up a hitchhiker, a lovable lemur named Joey, who I suppose is present to provide comic relief. The team makes camp and, after preparing supper like dutiful housewives, the seasoned female scientists shriek like little girls at the site of a common snake. After forging a river, they spelunk the cavernous habitat of the titular "dinosaurs,' which look to be iguanas purchased at the local pet store. They have cardboard fins pasted to their backs and are prodded with sticks (one of which actually pops momentarily into frame) into biting and clawing one another. Upon making their escape, these dedicated scientists do what any educated, rational, devoted seekers of knowledge would do: They blow the new planet to smithereens with atomic bombs!

The program doesn't improve with "The Bride and the Beast," and we'll begin our assessment with three words: "Poor Charlotte Austin." The lovely and talented ingénue needed rent money and agreed to appear in this Ed Wood scripted oddity about a newlywed bride with ape blood in her veins. She struggles to live a human existence, but is inexorably drawn back to her jungle origins -- and her original simian spouse -- leaving her new bridegroom (three more words: "Poor Lance Fuller") understandably puzzled. Made on a budget that makes the production values of "King Dinosaur" look like "Titanic," it is a protracted, one-note (or one-joke, if you will) endurance test for cult-movie lovers. It bears repeating: "Poor Charlotte Austin." The actress has recounted to the B Monster that she and Fuller would dissolve into uncontrollable laughter, often during a scene, at the sheer ineptitude of the production they were in.

And now, having said all of those disparaging things about both films in this package, we'll add that you SHOULD see them. Why? They're a part of history. Like the Edsal, New Coke or the '62 Mets, they're fascinating and, dare I say it, edifying cultural curiosities. That's one of the reasons we celebrate such films; you can learn nearly as much from the misfires as you can from the masterpieces.

This teenage triple bill is great fun. Not necessarily top-drawer filmmaking, mind you, but great fun. The first and least interesting film of the three is "Teenage Big Shot," about a brainy bullied nerd who, like most teens in drive-in era films, is neglected by his father and despondent at their hand-to-mouth lifestyle. After an innocent enough start writing essays for the conniving cutie with whom he's so hopelessly smitten, Marvin, as played by Tom Pittman, ends up devising ways for the local toughs to crack safes.

Like "Big Shot" director Joel Rapp, director O'Dale Ireland directed just two films, "High School Caesar" and "Date Bait." He wrote a third, the long lost "Dragstrip Riot" (1958), a film that J.D. film fans have searched high and low for to no avail (the curiosity value is considerable as its cast includes Fay Wray, Yvonne Lime, Connie Stevens and "Date Bait's" Gary Clarke). Meanwhile, this Ireland-directed pair will have to suffice. In "Date Bait," Clarke (perhaps best known as the teenage werewolf of "How To Make A Monster") and Marlo Ryan star as an innocent couple who plan on tying the knot the moment they're of age. They discover most painfully that young love breeds impulsive behavior that leads ineluctably to big trouble. Clarke's thuggish and completely besotted high school rival gets hopped up on dope and kidnaps Clarke's teenage bethrothed. What Ireland lacks in style is compensated for with a frankness rarely seen in the more sugarcoated teen films of this vintage. "Date Bait" is uncompromising, as is "High School Caesar."

"Caesar" is easily the best of this batch. The publicity blurb heralding the film upon its original release pretty much sums it up; "Mob rule in a high school!" John Ashley, the teen titan who dominated drive-in screens in the late '50s, plays a neglected rich kid complete with a butler and maid to wait on him hand and foot the moment the final bell rings. He lives in a mansion, drives fast cars, wears the best clothes, has perfect hair and is desperately unhappy. He compensates for the void left by his never-present parents by terrorizing his classmates, charging for "protection" and running a stolen test answers racket with the aid of his greaser sycophants. Ireland is not afraid to show the tough guy openly weeping upon returning to his empty house. Ashley's attempts to muscle in on comely Judy Nugent are rebuffed, and when he tries to stage a takeover at the local malt shop, his crew deserts him, he's slugged, humiliated and left on his knees in tears as we fade to black (I told you it was uncompromising). Ashley's American International teen films are positively fluffy by comparison. "High School Caesar" is bracketed by a solid gasser of a rockabilly theme song that plays under the credits: "High School Caesar! You gonna get it in the end! You gonna get it in the end ... "

This summer thriller was a sleeper hit with a unique marketing ploy: Two endings. The film was released to respectable business, then RE-released with an alternate ending attached after the original (more on that later). It was made for $8 million and took in over $45 million at last count. Not bad. Plotwise, the film is no watershed. The premise rehashes "I Am Legend" and its celluloid descendents "The Last Man on Earth" and "The Omega Man," and echoes George Romero's zombie-fests, "Blade" and his bloody retinue, "12 Monkeys," "On the Beach," and too many others to mention. But director Danny Boyle manages to skew the clichés just enough, stylistically speaking, to make the derivation interesting. At least he does in the beginning.

The movie features a slam-bang opening, with dizzying, engaging camerawork that offers visual clues as to the nature of the story about to unfold. We see monkeys in cages, obviously experimental subjects, battering the bars in a blind rage. We're in a laboratory that is being invaded by radical animal rights activists who are there to free the simian subjects, whatever the cost. A lab tech tries to stop them. They have no idea the horror their meddling will unleash. Cages open, blood flies, people scream, more blood and then, nothing. 28 days later, Cillian Murphy wakes up in a deserted hospital in a deserted city in a desolate world. It's quite an opening, and you might well think, "There's no way the rest of the movie can live up to it." And you'd be right. The so-called "rage virus" that was unleashed took just 28 days to ravage mankind, instantly transforming the infected into monstrous, mutant killers and bringing all of the aforementioned references into play. Is Murphy the only survivor? How does he know who's infected and who isn't? What is the military doing? How will the protagonists survive battle after bloody battle with the afflicted? Is there any hope for the human race? The answers are ticked off in gory detail. Which brings us to the twin endings. Hoopla notwithstanding, neither ending is very good. Both feel like tacked-on cop-outs (no, we won't spoil it completely), and their differences aren't significant enough to warrant the existence of two.


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


"Yesterday, they were cold and dead. Today, they're hot and bothered!" -- Dracula vs. Frankenstein

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