Mel Welles
Character actor and voice artist Mel Welles, perhaps best known for the handful of cult-films he made with producer Roger Corman, died following a heart attack. He was 83. He had been suffering from Hodgkin's' Disease. Welles had been a clinical psychologist, a writer and a deejay before heading to Hollywood following some theatrical work. He appeared in his first film, "Appointment in Honduras," in 1953. He began appearing as cowboys and minor heavies of various ethnicities in mid-'50s features including "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy," "Duel on the Mississippi," "Hold Back Tomorrow" and "Flight to Hong Kong." He first worked with Corman in the 1957 cult-classic "Attack of the Crab Monsters." A master of many dialects, Welles played Frenchman Jules Deveroux. The same year, he appeared as gravedigger Smolkin in Corman's "The Undead." "I have become, laughingly, an icon in the horror-film genre," Welles once told the B Monster. "If you look at my credits, only about six of my films even fall remotely into that category. I did over 65 films and 300 television shows and produced and directed 12 films." Also in 1957, Welles appeared in Corman's "Rock All Night," stepping into the role of Sir Bop when his friend, hipster comic monologist Lord Buckley, failed to appear. "I was a voice of the beatnik era," Welles said. "I was definitely a beatnik, and proud to be. I get a kick out of it when young people today think they invented pot and dirty words." Welles helped Buckley write some of his best-known comic monologues, including "Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger-Poppin' Daddies," a hip-talking spin on Shakespeare's "Friend, Romans, countrymen," speech.

In 1960, Welles appeared in the film for which he is best known, and one that he cited as among his favorites, Corman's "Little Shop of Horrors." Welles portrayed shopkeeper Gravis Mushnik in the low-budget quickie that rapidly accrued cult status. According to Welles, Corman had to be persuaded to make what may be his most famous picture. "Roger didn't like comedy," Welles told the B Monster. "He didn't believe in it. He had tried with 'A Bucket of Blood' and it failed. So he didn't want to do 'Little Shop' at all. We had to beg him and cajole him. Ironically, it's his most famous picture." The film was made in two days and nights for a total cost of $27,500.

Welles left the States in the early 1960s to begin a prolific career acting, producing, directing and dubbing films in Europe. "I got into adapting and dubbing European films," he recalled. "I was one of the major voices [in the business] — I dubbed over 800 films." Perhaps the best known of his European pictures is "Lady Frankenstein," directed by Welles and starring Joseph Cotten and Rosalba Neri.

"Little Shop of Horrors" was turned into a successful, campy stage musical, and later a big-budget motion picture. Welles loved the play, but was disappointed in the handling of the feature: "When Frank Oz came on board as director, he decided that no one from the original movie could participate. Unfortunate, because I was probably the only member of the original cast who could have conceivably reprised his role, and, of course, I would have loved to play it." But Welles had fond memories of his days as part of the "Corman Stock Company." "Everybody did everything," he remembered. "It was a collaborative effort. We could make suggestions. It was a fun time. In those days, the so-called horror film was more fun than it was scary. There was a warmth to those kind of pictures that does not exist today."

NOTE: B Monster readers should also refer to Tom Weaver's Mel Welles obituary written for Fangoria magazine:


The DraculaTour of Transylvania, staged by International Tours and Events, is now in its eighth year. Catering to roughly 40-50 morbid curiosity seekers each trip, the horror safari visits castles, fortresses churches and burial sites linked in legend and history to the notorious Vlad, the Impaler. The cost of this sinister sortie covers roundtrip airfare, deluxe hotel accommodations, all transfers, ground transportation, and admission to all events, attractions and parties. For those unable to book passage to the land of Vlad, we'll crib from the official Web site, and touch on the itinerary's highlights in an attempt to convey the flavor of the tour:

Day 1: Depart U.S. on a Transylvania-bound transatlantic flight

Day 2: Land in Romania, Bucharest, specifically, "first mentioned by this name in a document signed by Prince Vlad Dracula himself in the year 1459." Here, you meet and mingle with your fellow Drac-trekkers in a group orientation meeting and spend your first night at the gothic Bulevard Hotel.   Day 3: You're carried by "luxury coach to the mysterious, secluded island, which is the home of the Snagov Monastery," crossing a moat by rowboat to arrive at Vlad's tomb. From there, it's on to Bran, site of Vlad's Castle, passing through the Bistritza River en route. Next, you tour Castle Bran. The surrounding park area is home to an open-air gypsy bazaar selling all manner of Dracula dolls, shirts, souvenirs and memorabilia. Then, off to the Aro Palace Hotel in Brasov to bed down.   Day 4: You explore beautiful Brasov, a city dripping with Old World charm. Here, Vlad wined and dined as his enemies were put to the stake on Timpa Hill. You tour the "Black Church" before departing to Sighisoara, "the best preserved medieval town in all of Europe, and birthplace of Vlad." A walking tour includes stops at the "torture room" and the site of witch trials, outdoor gravesites and a historic clock tower. Next, you trek up the famed Carpathian Mountains, following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, as related in Stoker's "Dracula." Classic horror movies are screened on the coach and, come suppertime, you dine at Jonathan Harker's Golden Crown Restaurant. Wash down the meal with "blood-red liquor, an exclusive beverage of the Golden Crown Restaurant." Then it's back on the coach for a trip through the legendary Borgo Pass. End the busy day at the Dracula Castle Hotel in Piatra Fantanele.

Day 5: Following breakfast, you can "explore every nook and cranny of the castle. Scarf up souvenirs in the lobby shop, peruse the outdoor market and local cemetery, "and just spend your day leisurely preparing your costume and make-up for the party." That evening you attend the Halloween gala costume ball, "witness an actual 'vampire' wedding ceremony," indulge in drinking and dancing and visit a coffin located in the depths of the castle's dungeon. The Discovery Travel Channel will be there to chronicle these festivities.

Day 6: Back in the luxury coach, head to Sibiu for another walking tour that includes stops at the Liar's Bridge and Central Square and the Evangelical Church, built circa 1300. Its burial vaults hold one of Vlad's sons and the body of Valentini Frank, a Romanian physician "considered one of Mary Shelley's inspirations in her creation of 'Frankenstein.'" Spend the evening at Sibiu's Imparatul Romanilor Hotel. "Late-night activity to be determined."

Day 7: You're bound for the Argus Valley, home to Poenari Castle, which many historians consider the true Castle of Dracula. You'll have to climb some 1500 stairs to reach the top of Vlad's fortress, built in 1459 by Turkish prisoners. Then prepare for dinner at the Club Dracula restaurant and spend your final night of the tour back in Bucharest's Bulevard Hotel.

Day 8: Off to the airport, homeward bound.

The tour Web site is filled with enthusiastic testimonials: "What a GREAT trip. I loved every minute of it." "It was the experience of a lifetime." "The whole trip was unforgettable." You can apply for a full brochure or get more information at:
Should you make the trip, give 'ol Vlad the B Monster's fondest regards!

Our pal, Will "The Thrill" Viharo, the Bay Area's fez-wearing frightmaster, provides us with the following update regarding his annual Thrillville Horror Host Palooza, which commences October 13 at the Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland. "This time," Will promises, "we're pulling out all the stops and the spooks, so along with regulars John 'Creature Features,' Stanley, Doktor Goulfinger, and Mr. Lobo, we're joined by San Francisco's cable access horror hottie Ms. Monster. Plus, all the way from the Mad Midwest, my fez beatnik brother Rock 'n' Roll Ray, and the Ohio 'daddy-o of doom' himself Son of Ghoul. All here to co-host two sleazy vintage monster-rama classics: Al Adamson's legendary 'Dracula vs. Frankenstein' and Ted V. Mikels' cult favorite 'Astro Zombies.' On top of all that ... live Theremin by Robert Silverman!" As Will proudly proclaims, this might just be THE Halloween party of the year. Will takes the show on the road, stopping at Copia in Napa, Calif., to present Thrillville's Halloween Fiesta, "featuring the gothic lucha libra classic 'Santo vs. the Vampire Women, with special celebrity guest, Napa's own homegrown horror legend John 'Creature Features,' Stanley, plus Doktor Goulfinger, and Mr. Lobo with special musical guests, psychedelic surf band Pollo del Mar." For more info, check out any and all of the following URLs:
Leave no doubt the B Monster sent you!

The Mid-South's macabre movie medico, Dr. Gangrene, invites one and all to get a jump on the Halloween season at the Second Annual Horror Hootenanny. The festivities take place in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, September 16. The gangrenous host of TV's Chiller Cinema "has lined up four bands from Tennessee and Kentucky to bring a night of howling horror to Nashville: The Codenames, The Exotic Ones, The Creeping Cruds, and The All-American Werewolves." The program will be emceed by the good doctor and the Chiller Cinema cast who will be doling out giveaways and raffling off prizes. The sinister shindig happens at Nashville's The End nightclub. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., tickets $6.00 per person, ages 18 and up. For more about the doc and his dastardly practice, check out:
Don't hesitate to say the B Monster referred you!

Have you ever wished you could have lived in those heady days when Ed Wood gathered his friends and acquaintances -- and every penny he could scrounge -- and made a movie? Apparently, Florida-based film critic Steve Bailey has. Bailey only recently finished casting his new play, "Plan Nine From Outer Space ... The Rip-Off." Auditions took place in late August for 30 speaking parts in Bailey's show, which is inspired by the "classic" Wood film. "I first saw the movie in 1980," Bailey says, "and have been in love with it ever since. Just as it is with movie classics, you can watch 'Plan Nine' over and over and see something new in it each time -- even if the 'something new' is a conspicuous wire or a tombstone falling over." Bailey claims he experienced a "revelation" when re-watching the film on DVD recently: "My head practically exploded. My brain started shouting 'responses' to the terrible dialogue, as though I was watching 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' instead of 'Plan Nine.' The more I watched it, the more I thought, 'There's a play in this.'" Bailey transcribed Wood's dialogue, adding his own unique twists. Not unlike Wood, Bailey went "hat in hand" to local theaters looking for backing. He was turned down by several before the Boomtown Theater in Jacksonville, Fla., gave him the green light. The play will debut in late October. For more info, visit:
Be sure and let 'em know the B Monster sent you!

The promoters of Portland, Oregon's "H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival" make plain their unabashed love for the author of such brooding works of fiction as "The Dunwich Horror," "Dagon" and the whole "Cthulu" mythos. Their purpose is to "promote the works of H.P. Lovecraft, literary horror and weird tales through the cinematic adaptations by professional and amateur filmmakers. The festival was founded in 1995 by Andrew Migliore in the hope that H.P. Lovecraft would be rightly recognized as a master of gothic horror and his work more faithfully adapted to film and television." Festival guests include director Stuart Gordon, whose "Re-Animator," "Dagon" and "From Beyond" have accrued dedicated cult followings; actor Christopher Heyerdahl, who appeared in the "Highlander" and "Blade" franchises, and portrayed Lovecraft in the Bravo telemovie "Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft"; Emmy-winning television and screenwriter Joseph Dougherty of "thirtysomething" and "Judging Amy" fame, whose HBO film "Cast a Deadly Spell" was nominated for a Ray Bradbury Award by the Mystery Writers of America; rocker and poet Patti Smith. Lovecraft lovers who dabble in the arts are encouraged to submit original artwork and independent films. Guidelines are downloadable at the fest Web site. The three-day show gets started October 7 at Portland's Hollywood Theatre. For more info, check out:
Let 'em know for sure, the B Monster sent you!

The Chicagoland Entertainment Collector's Expo offers an eclectic mix of genre-film guests and activities, with an emphasis on Bond, Buffy and the big "Star" franchises, "Trek" and "Wars." "Our goal is to provide a good, quality show where people from across the world can come, buy, sell and trade their favorite hobbies, conduct business, make new friends and renew old friendships," say promoters of the sixth annual Windy City shindig, who hope "to provide an environment where you can relax and enjoy the different events at the Expo and get away from life's daily grind and stress, as we feel this is very important to the well-being of everyone." Among this year's featured guests:

-- Richard Kiel, beloved as "Eegah," feared as 007's adversary, Jaws
-- Maud Adams, "Octopussy" in the flesh
-- Lana Wood of "Diamonds Are Forever"
-- Virginia Hey of "Living Daylights" fame
-- Kenny Baker, the man in the can that is R2-D2
-- Chewbacca, himself, Peter Mayhew
-- Mary Oyaya, who portrayed Jedi Luminara Unduli
-- Scott L. Schwartz and Robia LaMorte, "Buffy" veterans both
-- The one and only "Seinfeld" Soup Nazi, Larry Thomas
-- Liz Sheridan, known and loved as Seinfeld's sitcom Mom
-- "V" veteran and George Costanza's boss, Richard Herd
-- Noel Neill, classic television's intrepid Lois Lane
-- Jon Provost, famed as Lassie's master, Timmy
And many more.

It happens September 16-18 at the Wyndham Northwest Chicago Hotel. For more info, check out:
Let 'em know, of course, the B Monster sent you!

Billed as "Two days of music, monster and mayhem, the Massachusetts-based Rock and Shock convention gets under way October 8 in Worcester, Mass. As of this writing, the celeb guest list includes:

-- George Romero, here credited as the "Father of Modern Horror"
-- Adrienne Barbeau, the "Swamp Thing's" main squeeze
-- Jeffrey Combs, the "Re-Animator" himself
-- Tim Dekay of the "Wishmaster" franchise and HBO's "Carnivale"
-- Ashley Laurence of "Hellraisers" I, II, III, and VI
-- Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers, all featured (with Barbeau) in "The Fog"
-- "House of 1,000 Corpses" cast mates Sid Haig and Bill Moseley
-- And a "Day of the Dead" 20th Anniversary cast reunion featuring Gary Klar, Lori Cardille, Joe Pilato and Antone Dileo

Myriad musical guests will supply the "rock" to complement the guest stars' "shock." It happens at Worcester's DCU Center and The Palladium. For more info, check out:
Tell 'em, of course, the B Monster sent you, but you'd better shout. You crazy kids with your long hair and your loud music. . .

If you're an aspiring fright filmmaker or budding B-movie impresario, the fifth Screamfest L.A. competition might be just the place to exhibit your wares. The fest was founded in 2001 by producers Rachel Belofsky and Ross Martin "in order to give filmmakers and writers in the horror-sci-fi genres a venue to have their work showcased to people in the industry." Among the prizes being awarded this year are Movie Magic screenwriting software, budgeting and scheduling software, a $1,000 cash prize to the winning screenplay and a "First Look" with Stan Winston Productions. Winston, the noted creature creator and makeup artisan is among the judges who also include director Tobe Hooper, New Line Cinema exec Jeff Katz, former Dimension development executive Mike Grady and assorted development executives and literary agents from New Line Cinema, Lions Gate Films, Dimension and The Gersh Agency. Complete submission guidelines are downloadable at the official Screamfest L.A. Web site. You'll also find ticket info and details regarding the opening night gala and events schedule. Check out:
Why not let 'em know the B Monster sent you?

The American Cinematheque will be screening an Alfred Hitchcock retrospective at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, Calif., September 2-11, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the director's passing. Among the films being shown are "The 39 Steps," "The Lady Vanishes," "Rebecca," "Shadow of a Doubt" (which Hitchcock cited as a personal favorite), "Notorious," "Strangers on a Train," "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "To Catch a Thief," "North By Northwest," "Psycho," "The Birds" and "Marnie." Several of the screenings will be introduced by film historian Bill Krohn. The Aero is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. For more info, check out:

Three new lobby card calendars for 2006 will soon be available from Larry Welch. Welch is a devoted fan of B-movies, vintage Westerns and classic serials, and each year he compiles a selection of images for his genre-themed calendars. "The Serials of Columbia Calendar" features images from such classic chapter plays as "Holt of the Secret Service" "The Spider Returns," "Batman" and "Atom Man vs. Superman." "The B-Western Calendar" showcases lobby cards from vintage oaters starring such cowpokes as Tim McCoy, Lash LaRue, Hoot Gibson and Tim Holt. Larry's " '50s Sci Fi Horror Calendar" features choice lobbies that once heralded such B favorites as "The Mole People," "Tarantula," "The Crawling Eye," "Missile to the Moon" and "The Unknown Terror." The calendars are $19.95 plus $4.95 shipping. You can send check, cash or money order to: Larry Welch 25795 Old KCRoad Paola, Kansas 66071 For more info, drop Larry a line at
Let 'em know, as usual, the B Monster sent you!

A great many genre films have fallen into the public domain and video companies collect 'em, categorize 'em and market 'em to videoholics in garish packaging at affordable prices. The print quality can sometimes be spotty, but most fans regard these multi-movie packages as bargains. For instance, a company called Digital 1 Stop has released the "Suspense 20 Movie Pack," the "Adventure 10 Movie Pack," the "Diva 20 Movie Pack," and the "Tough Guys 10 Movie Pack," among others copious collections. They outdid themselves with the aggregation we address below that features 50 films, though referring to some of them as "classic" is, to put it charitably, a stretch. The omniscient B Monster sees it as his duty to provide readers with thumbnail critical assessments of the films included:

John Carradine and Robert Clarke good. Director Jerry Warren bad. Very, VERY bad.

Mid-'40s jungle hijinks with comely Patricia Morrison. Sci-fi? Nope.

A splendidly awful film and an easy target for "bad movie connoisseurs." The gorilla in the papier mache helmet is a 1950s icon.

No science, bad fiction. It's included, I suppose, because Roger Corman directed it.

Edgar Ulmer directed this one in a big hurry, that much is PLAIN to see.

Also know as "Monstrosity," it boasts one of the all-time great ad lines: "Chained to the devil's love lab!"

A confounding, 1960 German shocker about ... the Horrors of Spider Island!

An indisputable Corman classic with a Leo Gordon script and lovely Susan Cabot as the ultimate Bee girl.

Russian sci-fi footage spliced into a cheap American film featuring glorified cameos by Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue.

Mamie Van Doren in a seashell bra and more of that incongruous Russian film. See if you can reconcile the mismatched footage.

Dismal Italian horror cheapie that has absolutely NOTHING to do with Kong. Original title: "Eve, the Wild Woman."

Interesting cast (Raymond Burr, Tom Conway, Lon Chaney and the ill-starred Barbara Payton), well-known director (Curt Siodmak), middling film.

Better known as "Gamera vs. Guiron," this is the one where Gamera fights Guiron.

The 1966 start of the Gammera franchise. Gam later dropped the second "M" in his name for showbiz purposes.

Inarguably dreadful and, for reasons I can't quite explain, disturbing.

The average age of the invading teenagers is 30. A movie so defiantly broad and cheap you just have to admire it.

Stitched together from TV episodes of the "Rocky Jones" series, starring Richard Crane as the Space Ranger. Your inner child will dig it if he isn't too jaded.

More "Rocky" episodes patched together to make a feature, starring Crane and Scotty Beckett as co-pilot/sidekick Winky.

In which Hercules, aka Maciste, is played by Alan Steel aka Sergio Ciani.

In which Hercules, aka Ercole, is played by Reg Park.

In which Hercules is played by Rock Stevens aka Mission: Impossible's Peter Lupas.

In which Hercules, aka Ercole, is played by Steve Reeves. This is the spaghetti epic that sold Americans on Sword and Sandal cinema.

I have no idea what this movie is doing in here. For that matter, what are all those Hercules movies doing in here?

Director Ron Ormond's talky turkey stars Jackie Coogan as a mad scientist. The longest 70 minutes you'll ever spend in front of the tube.

Director Antonio Margheriti (billed as Anthony Dawson in the U.S. versions) cranked out tons of Italian genre pictures, which were exported to America. He cranked out this one in 1960.

Spy shenanigans starring Brandon Lee (doomed star of "The Crow") and Ernest Borgnine. This "classic" was filmed in 1990.

Probably the best known of director W. Lee Wilder's strange and curiously somber films. Even nascent sci-fi fans will likely recall this one when prompted by just four words: "Ping pong ball eyes!"

No matter how outlandish the premise (a nude, invisible alien loose in Griffith Observatory), no matter how goofy the costumes, no matter how low the budget, there's an unsettling solemnity about W. Lee Wilder's films.

Stilted cinema safari from the mid-'40s directed by the super-prolific Sam Newfield.

W. Lee Wilder strikes again. This time, the subject is the Yeti, and once more, the result is a choppy, no-budget, moribund film.

Weren't there about 100 movies with "Son of Hercules" in the title, and weren't they all pretty much the same movie?

And could any of those dozens of movies with "Son of Hercules" in the title be remotely construed as science fiction?

An ambitious undertaking with an international cast and unique visuals, but maybe a bit too "Eastern Bloc" for the giant monster lover in you.

The notorious Larry Buchanan's rehash of Corman's "It Conquered the World" with most of the fun removed.

Also known as "The Invisible Strangler," it's a hacky extrapolation of "The Invisible Man." But hey, -- Stefanie Powers AND Elke Sommer -- va-va-voom!

Is it supposed to be camp, or is this 1985 home groaner just really, really bad? Somewhere, Larry Buchanan is smiling.

Another early '60s sci fi import from the prolific paisano Antonio Margheriti, this one featuring Claude Rains (the year before he appeared in "Lawrence of Arabia").

A 1951 "Journey to the Center of the Earth" riff that's so deliberate and earnest it almost plays like an educational film.

Another dubious "classic" of relatively recent vintage involving James Earl Jones, Jose Ferrer and a monster set free by treasure hunters.

Known by multiple titles, this 1977 "classic" starring James Best was directed by Joy N. Houck Jr., director of "Creature From Black Lake" and "Night of Bloody Horror."

Just about everyone involved in this 1958 fiasco was an amateur ... and it shows. Some people find this charming.

Grade C leading man Allan Nixon ("Mesa of Lost Women") meanders through this excuse to showcase scantily clad Laurette Luez, Joan Shawlee and their cave-gal pals.

And they probably should have stayed there. Run-of-the-mill, "possessed-by-aliens" stuff with Robert "Slime People" Hutton and Michael "Konga" Gough.

The warning in question comes from giant, one-eyed, starfish aliens who want the scientists of earth to put the brakes on nuclear proliferation.

A goofy and engaging 1961 oddity about a miniature race that can steer their planet out of harm's way. With Dean Fredericks, Anthony Dexter, Coleen Gray, poor old Francis X. Bushman and Richard Kiel as the droopy dog alien.

Buster Crabbe IS "Buck Rogers" in this re-edited version of the classic serial. Pared to 90 minutes, it's filled with rockets, ray guns, seasoned character actors and flat-out fun.

You'll be asking yourself, "What is Rod Taylor doing in this cheap, Italian muscle-man turkey?" Maybe Rod asked himself the same question.

I think this is a GREAT movie. What are you gonna do, sue me, shoot me, call me names?

The Italians were still making ponderous, cheap, sci-fi films and exporting them to the states in the late 1970s. This one crossed the pond in '77.

That's a little rash, isn't it? I prefer the alternate title "Gamera vs. Viras." All the elements of your standard Gamera flick -- a giant opponent, cloying child actors and panic in the streets -- are present.

Coming next month, "PUBLIC DOMAINIA 2: 50 HORROR CLASSICS!"


Gary Don Rhodes, Bela Lugosi authority without peer, tells us that his signal documentary, "Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula," will once again be available on DVD. Resellers of the film have been fetching exorbitant sums since the original batch ran out. Soon, collectors will once again be able to purchase brand-new copies of Rhodes scholarly labor of love at affordable prices. The re-release also gives us a chance to reprise the rave review we ran upon its initial release:

Belaphiles and horror fandom in general have a goulash of Lugosiana to feast on. Cape and shoulders above every project extant on the subject is "Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula," a terrific two-DVD release. As the author of three exhaustive works on Lugosi's life and body of work, Gary Don Rhodes brings a respectable resume to the table, and it shows. The documentary, narrated by beloved Sun Demon Robert Clarke, and actress Rue McClanahan, utilizes striking, rare stills and rarely seen footage of the actor, including snippets of his silent work, and an intriguing filmed interview from the early '30s. (Reporter: "Do you believe in vampires?" Lugosi: "Three of them I married. ")

Much ground is covered with great economy, and minimum gimmickry (e.g., scene changes accompanied by a lighting bolt, or clusters of split-second glimpses at still photos). The talking heads, Rhodes included, are generally succinct, with the screen time of contemporary Lugosi experts balanced with that of people who actually knew him and have first-hand stories to relate. Much to Rhodes' credit, the hyper-analyzed "Ed Wood" period of the actor's life is covered with restraint. No pop-psyche tealeaf reading, just a straightforward account of the sad end to a once-promising career. Significant among the on-camera commentators are Richard Gordon, Frank Dello Stritto, Richard Sheffield and makeup man Harry Thomas. Special notice must be paid to the abbreviated, and decidedly unsettling interview with Lugosi's truculent last wife, Hope. In the documentary, she almost comes across as an angel of mercy, writing to Bela when he was in rehab, seeing to his needs and marrying him upon his release. In footage shot in Hawaii a year before her death, she seems edgy, disdainful and gives the impression that she'd like nothing better than to be left alone. When asked to comment on her marriage to the actor she sneers, "He saw a sucker and I was it."

Other illuminating extras include nearly half an hour of footage that was cut from the final documentary, a 1949 clip of Bela and Milton Berle on TV's Texaco Star Theater and a disintegrating segment of film shot in 1918. A bonus audio CD features a handful of Lugosi's radio appearances opposite such luminaries as Fred Allen and Ozzie and Harriet, and as the star of such dramas as "Mystery House" and "Command Performance." Completing this wondrous package is an "Easter Egg" hidden at the end of the disk's "DVD Notes." Toggle to the final screen of notes, highlight the "Back" button and press your "Up" arrow. Bela's medallion will highlight. Press "Enter," and up pops "Chair," a mockumentary about Rhodes' procurement of Lugosi's chair, and the travails he endures as a consequence. It's priceless, and thank God there's a film historian out there who doesn't take himself or his subject so damned seriously! It's a comprehensive package to say the least, and far superior in content and approach to most of the junky documentaries that turn up on cable.

"The Beach Girls and the Monster," "Bride of the Gorilla," "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla."

If you don't already own these titles (and for various reasons all three belong in the library of any true cult-film aficionado), this terror triple bill from the folks at Image Entertainment is a steal.

Kitsch-lovers alert! "The Beach Girls and the Monster" has got it all. Surfing, singing, surfing, a shaggy rubber monster, surfing, go-going teenyboppers, surfing, Jon Hall and, did we mention surfing? Not just interspersed with the action, but a 10-minute chunk of uninterrupted surfing footage accompanied by twanging, Dick Dalesque guitar riffs. Producer, director, star Jon Hall was a pretty big deal in the 1940s, very often paired with curvaceous bombshell, Maria Montez in exotic, Technicolor B-features. In the 1950s, he was "Ramar of the Jungle." (He was also the son of Felix Locher, whom you may recall from "Frankenstein's Daughter.") Hall hopped on the beach-movie bandwagon in 1964 with this fairly shoddy, immensely enjoyable pastiche featuring music by Frank Sinatra Jr. (One noteworthy tune, "Monster in the Surf," is crooned by a puppet.) Hall committed suicide in 1979, but, contrary to rumor, it had nothing to do with his failings as a filmmaker (he was dying of cancer). As a kid, you may have caught it on the late, late show under its TV title, "Monster From the Surf." As an adult living in the miraculous era of DVD, it belongs in your collection.

"Bride of the Gorilla" is an incessantly talky jungle melodrama that serves up more chatter than a barrel of starving monkeys. Poor Raymond Burr (as a Brazilian plantation overseer) is most convincing as the loutish killer who believes he's turning into a kind of were-gorilla. Paul Cavanaugh barely survives the opening credits, Tom Conway seems subdued and humbled by another thankless role as a jaded physician, and sarong-wrapped Barbara Payton provides the feminine allure. Director Curt Siodmak delivered a similarly lifeless Amazonian shocker some years later -- "Curucu, Beast of the Amazon." "Bride of the Gorilla" is essentially a werewolf story with an ape instead of a wolf. Interestingly Siodmak had scripted Universal's classic "Wolf Man," starring Lon Chaney. Chaney appears in "Bride" as a local lawman.

Concerning "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla," we want to be clear on one thing: we LOVE producer Herman Cohen. The man behind "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," "Target Earth" and so many others is one of the most unsung of some very singable movie heroes. That having been said, I'll make it equally clear that Cohen's "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" is torturous viewing. (It did come forgivably early in the young producer's career.) It's fascinating in that automobile-accident kinda way. Poor Bela should have known better and probably did but, alas, needed the money. The much-maligned director William Beaudine, pummeled by self-appointed pundits for years, is thanklessly tasked with shepherding Martin and Lewis impersonators Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo through their shenanigans. Petrillo exhibits genuine talent, but he's shrill and manic to the point of exasperation -- you know, just like the real Jerry Lewis. Why Sammy never moved to France is anyone's guess.

The Zatoichi series may not qualify as B-movie entertainment in the estimation of some. Each and every film in the series -- more than two dozen -- is expertly crafted, cleverly plotted, artfully shot and dynamically acted. You'd be hard-pressed to find a series that can match its level of consistency. It bears kinship to the B-movies we generally chronicle in several ways; much like the serials and B Westerns of mid-century American cinema, the Zatoichi films were delivered with reassuring regularity, and featured a folkloric central figure who wandered a troubled land in troubled times helping the oppressed. Intrinsic merits aside, in film after film, Katsu Shintaro as the blind swordsman delivered excitement and adventure to his legion of fans, like the mythic and glamorous Western heroes once adored by throngs of Americans. Shintaro made his debut as Zatoichi in 1962, and played the role with astonishing vigor and sympathy in 25 films over the course of 11 years. Akira Kurasawa's Samurai epics are rightfully praised for their grandeur, but Zatoichi was, hands down, the most popular figure in Chambara (the colloquial term for sword-fighting cinema). The blind masseur with the flashing sword and uncanny second sight was a Japanese folk hero.

The first film in this box set pits Zatoichi against the one swordsman who rivaled his popularity and mythic skills. In "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo," Katsu squares off against Japanese movie idol Toshiro Mifune, who starred as "Yojimbo" in Akira Kurasawa's classic 1961 film of the same name. The plot concerns Zatoichi returning to a town that was once a peaceful hamlet, but is now governed by a corrupt gang. The premise isn't nearly as important as the pairing of the two stars, both of them powerhouse performers and legends of Japanese cinema. Few actors convey intensity like Mifune, and Shintaro's counterbalancing performance as the cagey, playful, volatile Zatoichi makes for a fascinating chemistry.

The blind swordsman often indulged his penchant for gambling, and pity those who attempted to cheat the sightless masseur. "Zatoichi the Outlaw" finds the itinerant swordsman caught in a battle between rival gambling dens, one of which forgives the debts of the peasantry in a devious effort to convince Zatoichi to help them in eliminating the competition. Zatoichi unravels the scheme and exacts vengeance in a bravura finale.

"Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire" is ambitious in the way it explores Zatoichi's sorely taxed personal integrity. His best intentions are met with chicanery, manipulation and misunderstanding, resulting in heartbreaking tragedy. Crime lords are selling young women at auction. Zatoichi steps in on behalf of one such maid, and takes it upon himself to confront the local Yakuza boss who, in a nifty twist, is also blind. The boss offers hospitality, all the while secretly plotting to kill the interloping masseur. As this is happening, the husband of the woman rescued from auction is stalking Zatoichi. The film's most harrowing scene finds Zatoichi trapped on a floating island in a small pond, prodded by a dozen fire-tipped spears. The surface of the surrounding water bursts into flame and our hero is nearly roasted alive.

The Zatoichi films never shied away from complexity, as "Zatoichi at Large" demonstrates. The film opens with the blind wanderer delivering the baby of a dying woman. Her final wish is that the baby be taken to her hometown. Zatoichi makes the journey, leaving the infant with its aunt who runs a local inn. The inn has only recently been taken over by the local Yakuza and is being turned into a brothel. Just as Zatoichi intervenes, the baby's missing father returns, completely misunderstanding Zatoichi's intentions and blaming him for the death of his wife. Zatoichi is pressed into battle against both the local crime bosses and the bereaved father.

Crime, prostitution and saving face are again key elements in "Zatoichi in Desperation." The sightless wanderer feels responsible for the death of an old woman following an accident on a deteriorating rope bridge. He seeks out the woman's daughter only to discover that she is one of the most coveted call girls in rural Japan. In an effort to honor the old woman in death, he vows to free her daughter from her life as a prostitute. Not surprisingly, in the course of events, he manages to bring the wrath of the local Yakuza down upon himself.

The sightless masseur returns to his hometown in "Zatoichi's Conspiracy." Though he's been away for many years, several townspeople recall him as a young Hellian. He also discovers that he has a sister he never knew existed. Far from enjoying his visit, Zatoichi discovers that a friend from his youth is involved in a plot to steal the profits earned by the town's quarry. The series often forced Zatoichi to confront his past, the choices he's made and the moral quandaries that result. This film offers one of the series' best depictions of the blind wanderer's inner conflicts.

"Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman" offers another dynamic pairing of Asian stars. Yu Wang rose to prominence as "The One-Armed Swordsman" in the mid-1960s, and is often credited with helping to usher in the modern era of Hong Kong martial arts films. Sometimes billed as Jimmy Yu Wang, he pre-dated Bruce Lee and dominated the market until Lee's emergence. "The One-Armed Swordsman" was a dark, and very violent tale and, as was the case with Mifune's Yojimbo, pairing the slight, brooding Wu with the portly, sly and sympathetic Shintaro is inspired.


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


"It just won't lay down and stay dead!" -- The Head

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