Friday, September 15, 2017

Murder Mansion (La Mansion De La Niebla) – 1972

Review by Steve D. Stones

Directed by Francisco Lara Polop in 1972, this Spanish-Italian production, Murder Mansion, was not released until late 1973. The film is not a great masterpiece, but it manages to be genuinely creepy and entertaining. 

The eerie music score by Marcello Giombini contributes greatly to the mood and atmosphere of the film. Lots of thick fog in a cemetery and an old mansion also contributes to the ominous atmosphere. This is not to be missed for any fan of 1970s European horror films. 

The film follows three groups of travelers who are on separate journeys but manage to all end up in the same place by the film's ending. A motorcyclist named Fred, played by Andres Resino, is being chased by a car in the opening of the film, which gets the viewer questioning why the two are chasing each other. The car, driven by a man named Porter - played by Franco Fantasia, pulls over to the side of the road to pick up a sexy, young hitchhiker in a skirt out in the cold fall weather. Fred was also hopeful of picking up the hitchhiking woman, for obvious reasons. 

Fred eventually makes his way to the same roadside restaurant as the driver and hitchhiker. Because the young woman experienced sexual advances in the car with Porter, she decides to leave with Fred instead. The two eventually get lost in a thick cloud of fog near a cemetery and end up on foot trying to find a safe place for the night. 

On their way they encounter a tall man dressed in black carrying a giant scythe. Later they also encounter a hysterical lost woman named Elsa, played by Analia Gade. Fred, Elsa and the young hitchhiker make their way to a fog-infested mansion in the middle of nowhere. Surprisingly, Porter answers the door with a gun in hand. He asks the three to enter the mansion. Here we see a middle-aged couple who also got lost in the fog and ended up walking on foot to the mansion. 

All the strangers are soon greeted by the young matriarch of the house and told they can stay the night until the fog passes. The film places much emphasis on the past of Elsa, with flashback sequences that show her relationship with her father and ex-husband. It is apparent from these sequences that Elsa has had great troubles with the men in her life. This maybe why she is so detached from the rest of the group in the mansion. She goes out of her way to avoid most of the strangers in the mansion, particularly the men. 

The matriarch of the mansion begins to tell her visitors strange tales about the history of the mansion, its former occupants and some of her family history of vampirism and witchcraft. Soon, the strangers are picked off one by one and murdered in the mansion. Watch carefully for the surprise, twist ending. 

If you are trying to seek this film out, I recommend a good print of it that can be found on You-Tube. Sinister Cinema in Medford, Ore., sells a DVD print of it, but the entire film looks as if it was drenched in green punch. The same Sinister Cinema print has been known to show up in a number of value-packed DVD sets. The film was also marketed at Maniac Mansion. Happy viewing.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What -- No Beer? Keaton's OK, Durante's a pain, but film grows on you

1933, MGM, 66 minutes, Buster Keaton as Elmer J. Butts, Jimmy Durante as Jimmy Potts, Phyllis Barry as Hortense, Edward Brophy as Spike Moran, Roscoe Ates as Schultz and Charles Giblyn as Chief. Schlock-Meter rating: Six stars out of 10 stars.

By Doug Gibson

What -- No Beer? is a curio, a relic from the past. The plot of the comedy deals with prohibition and efforts to repeal it, an issue which dominated headlines more than 80 years ago. It was a box office winner due to its stars, Keaton and Durante, but is generally regarded as a mediocre comedy of the 1930s. It was the pair's last film together. Keaton's drinking problem and absences from the set caused the studio, MGM, to fire him even before the film was released. It was the start of a spiral into film oblivion for Keaton, and his career really did not surge again until television began to thrive two decades later.

The plot: Jimmy Potts (Durante) is a barber and Elmer J. Butts (Keaton) is a luckless businessman. Potts, incorrectly thinking prohibition has been repealed, convinces Butts to invest his money in a long-closed brewery. The stone-faced Butts moons over a pretty gangster moll named Hortense (Barry). He wants to be a millionaire so he can win her love. Seeing no other way to earn the million bucks, he agrees to get into the beer business. Police quickly raid the brewery and arrest the pair, but discover there's no alcohol in the brew. Later, they learn that a stuttering tramp at the deserted plant (Ates) was once a great brewer and real beer is made, which is a big hit. Soon the police and the mob muscle in on Potts and Butts.

There is a sexy pre-code scene in which lovestruck Keaton splashes sexy Barry's dress with water and she disrobes down to sheer underwear while the comic Elmer tries to avoid seeing what the audience is enjoying. The first time I saw this film Durante's obnoxious and loud character annoyed me but it does improve on repeat viewings and one is able to ignore Durante's excess and enjoy the time-capsule period and the final major comedy feature that Keaton starred in. His physical prowess is evident despite the boozing.

Durante bellows and brays and cracks many unfunny jokes. Although he is clearly half-bagged in many of the scenes, one can still admire Keaton. His talent for physical comedy is on display in several scenes, and his naivete and trusting demeanor leads to misunderstandings that bring laughs, particularly a scene where gangsters, sent to muscle him, interpret his bland replies as extreme coolness under pressure, and leave impressed.

What! No Beer? is not a great movie, but it's worth a rental to see an early sound Keaton offering.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Vera Vague: Doctor, Feel My Pulse is vintage Columbia comedy

Review by Doug Gibson

As part of our infrequent, but consistent series that highlight the "other stars" of the Columbia comedy shorts, we bring you Barbara Jo Allen, otherwise more famously known as Vera Vague. Between 1944 and 1952 Vague made a couple of shorts a year for Jules White's comedy shorts team at Columbia.

"Doctor, Feel My Pulse," is arguably her best short say experts (I've only seen this one), although it isn't one of two later shorts that were actually nominated for short-subject Academy Awards. Allen, a very attractive brunette, created a shrill, spinster character on the radio in the late 1930s. As she moved to film, taking the stage name "Vera Vague,'' her beauty forced producers to make her more of a high-spirited, sometimes neurotic "best friend" and "flirt" in feature films.

White's hiring of her to do Columbia shorts made her the rare female comic lead for a shorts series. As Ted Okuda and Ed Watz note in their book "The Columbia Comedy Shorts," her work suffered due to mediocre scripts and White's tendency toward more violent, male-oriented humor. However, the authors note that "Doctor, Feel My Pulse" is arguably Vague's best short. I've watched it three times and I agree it's a funny, entertaining farce.

Vera Vague, named as such, is a real estate agent, recently married to an attractive husband. Irving, (George Lewis) who tries his best to get a kiss from his wife. The problem is, Vera's a hypochondriac. She even gets the sneezes when she's talking on the phone. While in her office, she mistakes red ink for throat spray, with the resulting "Jules White"-type humor.

Eventually Vera makes her way to a doctor. On the way she develops an eye tic which makes the men she passes on the street into the office think she's coming on to them. It's an amusing, low-key humor scene. There's also a funny passage with comedy veteran Bud Jamison. Eventually, Vera mistakes a loony patient (Jack Norton) for the real doctor, and follows him home to receive some unorthodox treatment.

The real doctor and Vera's husband Irving arrive and discover the chaos. They decide to "teach Vera a lesson." Vera is told she has little time to live. Worse, Irving and Vera's pretty friend Sandra (played by the iconic Christine McIntyre) pretend that they are in love and plan to marry after Vera dies, enjoying her money in the process. Irving and Sandra have quite a kiss, although Vera gets the last kiss with Irving.

I won't give away the final scene but Vague really carries the short, particularly at the end where she effectively ends the two-reeler, taking charge of the action in a manner that would make "Lucy Ricardo" proud. In fact, throughout the short I kept thinking that Vague resembles a lesser version of Lucille Ball. She has that combination of zaniness and demanding total respect despite the absurdity she finds herself in.

In all Vague made 16 two-reel shorts for Columbia. During the filming of "Strife of the Party," (`1944) Vague refused to ever work with director Harry Edwards again. Sadly, the once highly regarded Edwards was battling alcoholism and would eventually be let go. Since Edwards was part of Hugh McCollum's Columbia team, Vague just moved permanently to White's unit. Her two Oscar-nominated shorts are "The Jury Goes Round 'N' Round" (1945) and "Hiss and Yell" (1946). "Doctor, Feel My Pulse" is a remake of "Calling All Doctors," (1937), with Charley Chase. Heine Conklin and Ann Doran join Jamison as uncredited actors in the short.

We're able to see this short via YouTube thanks to Greg Hilbrich, who runs the Columbia Shorts Departments website and has uploaded many Columbia shorts to YouTube via his page "The Shorts Department. We interviewed Greg recently.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Wild Beyond Belief! A review of those crazy 60s and 70s indies

Fellow cult film nerds, wouldn't you love to go back in time and witness what we obsess over? How cool would it be to buy a ticket in 1928 and watch "London After Midnight" or "Heart Trouble"? Both apparently long lost. Or what about dipping into a theater and seeing "Dracula" on opening day? Or maybe head 25 years into the future and catch Ed Wood in a tiny studio helming "Plan 9 From Outer Space," or dip into a drive in or Saturday late night cinema show in the '60s and '70s to catch "Incredibly Strange Creatures ...," "Dracula Versus Frankenstein," "Cain's Cutthroats," "Bigfoot," "Spider Baby," ... some readers have probably enjoyed these later-times bucket lists.

But, for most of us, all we have are the genre books to understand what it was like to be in on the genesis of cult films and cult genres. "Wild Beyond Belief: Interviews with Exploitation Filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s" ( ... here ... 800-253-2187) takes you into the world of the very small budget films of that era. Many of the players, from the lesser known (Jenifer Bishop, Ross Hagen, Joyce King ...) to the more famous (Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Al Adamson, Sam Sherman ...) recollect their experiences creating films such as "Blood of Dracula's Castle," "Spider Baby," "The Hellcats," "The Thing With Two Heads," "The Mighty Gorga," ... and so many more.

The interviewer, and author of this McFarland offering, is Brian Albright, a well-known name in genre writing. I really enjoyed his more recent book "Regional Horror Films: 1958-1990" and reviewed it here. Albraight manages to capture the era, the slap-dash, get-it-shot-and-put-it-together urgency of indy movie making in that era. Films such as "Gallery of Horrors" and "The Female Bunch" couldn't rely on video or DVD sales, or inclusions on streaming services like NetFlix to make money. They had to get into the theaters, in the drive-ins, often as a third feature, or on 42nd Street, to make those dimes. Penny-pinching was not an exception; it was the norm.

One interviewee relates to Albright how only $50 was coming in a week for the work, less than what was promised. But the interviewee was still happy, because pay was actually occurring! Not getting paid was a reality to the cast and crew of these films.

Many personalities flit through these interviews though they were not interviewed. Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Jill Banner, Carol Ohlmart, Harry Dean Stanton, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Mantan Moreland, Dennis Hopper, Scott Brady, etc. It's a reminder that many famous actors moved through both the big-budget and the micro-budget films, or that many big names rubbed shoulders with low-budget directors as their stars fell. And many stars started their careers in the basement.

Spahn's Ranch, the California, Nevada and Utah deserts, Bronson Canyon, a castle an hour or so away from Hollywood, crew members volunteering to take bit acting parts in the films, penny-pinching directors surrounded by talented but still-starving actors and crew members (think  Vilmos Zsigmond) producing films so uniquely bizarre that they have survived longer in memory and fondness than the bigger-budget studio films of the same eras. (That's a mouthful of a sentence-paragraph, I admit).

Sam Sherman, in his interview, notes that the success of these indie low-budget films prompted calls from the bigger studios asking to share space on the screens. One example he recalls was the producers of "The Molly Maguires" requesting "Satan's Sadists" to play on the same bill. But, as Sherman notes, eventually the majors learned that they could produce the same type of films, such as "Halloween," for low budgets and usually better production values. That signaled the beginning of the end.

"Wild Beyond Belief" is an homage to an era that really doesn't exist anymore. Thanks to technology, even the derivative cheapie horror duds that debut on Netflix or Amazon Prime are slicker than the '60s films made by a David Hewitt or Adamson.

But they lack what these oldies have -- heart and a unique style, for better or worse. That's why we love them, and we're so happy that writers like Albright have taken the time to collect and preserve its memories. This book (its Amazon page is here) is an excellent companion to Fred Olen Ray's "The New Poverty Row ..."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Enjoy The Monster Movies of Universal Studios

Book review by Doug Gibson

I really enjoy reading "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios," Rowman & Littlefield, June 2017, the latest film genre offering from the prolific James L. Neibaur (an Amazon link is also included). This book is not as deep a dive as "Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946," from Tom Weaver and Michael and John Brunas. But it's not intended to be that comprehensive.

Neibaur focuses on only the monster movies, with Dracula, the Mummy, Invisible Men and Women, the Frankenstein Monster, Wolf men and a woman, and the 1950's Creature From the Black Lagoon. He also includes the Abbott & Costello monster comedies.

While I have to confess I probably would have preferred chapters from Neibaur on the early Universal films "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Black Cat" and "The Raven" instead of a couple/or three of the so-so Invisible Man sequels, I was impressed by the research and smooth writing skills of the author, which have become a staple of his books, the most recent (at least I read) a take on WC Fields' films and soon to come is one on Andy Clyde's Columbia shorts --- sheer manna for us!

Twenty-nine films are assessed, starting with "Dracula" and ending with "The Creature Walks Among Us." Generally, the chapters start with an info box cover, the genesis of the films from conception to planning -- who writes scripts, who directs, the cast assembled -- with a synopsis of the film. Also covered are budgets, how the filming went, how the film was received both critically and financially, what was planned for the future, and the author's assessment of the film. Neibaur has gathered film reviews and exhibitor assessments of the period, and includes sourced quotes, mostly from film participants.

As I mentioned, this is not as detailed as "Universal Horrors" but even that will make it a perhaps more relaxed read for the more casual films of the genre. As the father of a 12-year-old son who, thanks to my efforts, loves the old Universal horrors, he's soon to read "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios," while a turn at the larger "Universal Horrors ..." is still a few years away.

And there is fun, interesting information gathered by Neibaur. For example, a young Betty Grable was considered for the female lead in both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." She didn't quite pass muster, though. In the early 1940s, Universal really trimmed its budgets. "The Mummy's Hand," for example, was made for a mere $80,000! In fact, as Neibaur notes, the films generally easily made money due to the parsimony of the studio. Also, an  angry Bela Lugosi, in his more prosperous first half of the 1940s, swore never to work for Universal again. That would change as he gladly accepted his iconic role with Abbott & Costello a few years later. Another interesting tidbit is that Lou Costello was convinced "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" would be an unfunny box office failure. So sure was he, Neibaur notes, that he seemed annoyed that it was a success.

One more thing that gets across in the book is that Neibaur generally both loves and has great respect for these films with now-iconic monsters. There's none of the snark that occasionally can sour a good read about this genre. About the only film that gets a solid pan is "She Wolf of London," which frankly merits it, since it's a -- in my opinion -- shallow attempt to capture the spirit of Val Lewton.

There are a few typos in the book that could be fixed with another edition or at least e-book or Kindle. An example is Universal spelled as Universale in some chapters. But it's a fact-filled, genre-fun read of a piece of Hollywood history that so many cult film fans love. It merits real estate in your book case. And, trust me, it's a relief to read about Boris Karloff as the Mummy after watching that dreadful Tom Cruise Dark Universe film release.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Hammer's sexy vampire film 'Twins of Evil'

Review by Doug Gibson

"Twins of Evil," Hammer's 1971 tales of Count Karnstein turning one part of a lovely pair of twins into a vampire, is not as impressive as other Carmilla-themed films, such as "Lust For a Vampire," or "The Vampire Lovers," but nevertheless it retains its status as a classic due to star Peter Cushing's strong performance as Gustav Weil, fanatical vampire hunter, so enslaved by the mysogyny of his faith and his fear of the undead that he'll solemnly burn to death any young woman who doesn't act normal. The opening scene, where Weil and his brotherhood abduct and burn a young girl to death, indicts Weil as a dangerous fanatic, a man not safe with young women and their instinctive sexuality.

Appropriately, Weil's eagerness to burn female flesh provides righteous indignation for viewers. Yet Cushing is no Matthew Hopkins, as portrayed by Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General." Weil is no hypocrite nor a luster of his victims, nor is he a man who revels in his evil acts. He's a fervent believer in the Old Testament "thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Cushing's Weill, while acting with a maniacal religious fervor, believes he is freeing his victims, releasing them from vampirism to a life with Christ. Late in the film, when it slowly dawns on Cushing that he may have been too zealous, that some of his victims were indeed innocent, his pain and remorse is evident. As both atonement and revenge, he fails to protect himself as he goes after the evil count.

"Twins of Evil" is a prequel to the Carmilla story and films. The evil Count Karstein (Damien Thomas) is tired of the limits to pleasure and evil he can attain as a mortal. He summons an ancestor vampire, Countess Mircella, (Katya Wyeth) who turns him into a vampire. Eager to satiate his lusts and increase his evil, he sets his sights on two gorgeous twins who have moved to Karnstein from Venice to live with Weil and his wife, Katy, (Kathleen Bryon). The twins are portrayed by Playboy models Mary and Madeleine Collinson. Mary plays Maria Gellhorn and Madeleine is her twin Frieda. Maria is the more timid, pious twin. Frieda is rebellious, furious with her uncle Gustav and eventually is drawn to Count Karstein, who willingly becomes a vampire. There is a subplot where Anton, a liberal teacher at the girls' school, is attracted to Frieda. Anton and Gustav, not surprisingly, clash over the latter's vampire hunting. The film climaxes with a hunt for Frieda and the ensuing possibility that the virtuous Maria may pay for her sins.

As I have mentioned, it's easy to hate the fanatical, misogynous Gustav, but he does have one fact to rest on: there are vampires out there stealing the souls of the innocent. Midway through the film, it's a testament to Cushing's acting skills that the audience starts to root for him as he goes after Frieda and the Count. The Collinswood twins are gorgeous. They are not trained actors, and it shows in their performances. Madeleine does a better job than her sister Mary, but that may be only because she as the meatier role as the bad Frieda. The print I saw has very little nudity. The most explicit scene is where Frieda, pretending to be the innocent Maria, attempts to seduce and bite schoolteacher, Anton.

The Karnstein saga was a Hammer trilogy that, as mentioned, includes "Lust for a Vampire" and "The Vampire Lovers." This is intended to be the first chapter. Watching these movies is a pleasant reminder of how vulnerable and difficult it once was to be a vampire. With the constraints of the cross, daytime, coffins, foes such as Van Helsing and Weil, and native soil, one could understand why successful vampires such as Carmilla and Dracula had pride that overlapped into egotism. They had survived through time. Count Karstein and Frieda are, ultimately, not-too-difficult prey for Weil, Anton and others. It remains a constant annoyance to this reviewer that the above-mentioned disadvantages are not a problem for today's "Calvin Klein" vampires that infect films such as "Twilight," "True Blood" and "Being Human" ...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Legacy of George A. Romero (1940 - 2017)

By Steve D. Stones

In honor of the legacy of director George A. Romero, here are five of my most favorite Romero films. Romero's impact on the horror film industry cannot be objectively measured or overstated. Romero was a true maverick loved by those who worked with him. He will be greatly missed.
  1. Night of The Living Dead (1968). Here is the zombie horror movie that lays the foundation for every zombie movie that follows. A young woman named Barbara is attacked in a Pennsylvania cemetery by a zombie. She finds her way to a small farm house occupied by five other people hiding in the basement. News footage seen on a television gives the film a realistic, documentary feel that continually puts the viewer on the edge of his seat. The occupants of the farmhouse fight for their lives to stay alive. Our hero is an African-American man, Duane Jones, who does not triumph in the end, but makes a strong political statement on the coat tails of Martin Luther King Jr. and the race riots of the 1960s. Remade in 1990.
  2. The Crazies (1973). Romero continues on with a post-apocalyptic theme seen in Night of The Living Dead, and will continue even further in Dawn of The Dead. Like Night of The Living Dead, this film also has a realistic, documentary feel that leaves the viewer nervous and tense. It shows how our trusted institutions, such as law enforcement, news media and military, can be torn apart in the event of a tragedy. No one is to be trusted or can be turned to in the event of a disaster. A cynical view, but one which permeated American culture in the mid-1970s after President Nixon's resignation. A film which coincides well with the Watergate Era. Also known as Code Name: Trixie. Remade in 2010.
  3. Martin (1978). This creative film is an interesting take on the vampire myth. Martin is a peculiar young man who has a taste for blood – literally and figuratively. There's just one problem. Martin does not have fangs like a vampire, nor does he sleep in coffins during the day or avoid sunlight. All the established vampire iconography is stripped away in this film. Martin even has to use razor blades to get blood from his victims. Romero has often mentioned Martin as his best film. Many film critics agree.
  4. Dawn of The Dead (1979). Occurring just a few years after Night of The Living Dead, this film is a direct commentary on the consumer culture of the American lifestyle. Even in death, American zombies have the mind dulling sense to flock to a shopping mall to consume more stuff they cannot afford. The zombie becomes a parody and cartoon character, adding to Romero's critique of consumer culture. The irony here is that the living want it all too, but eventually end up dead because of their greed. We are all mindless zombies who want to consume more and more, in the eyes of Romero's Dawn of The Dead. Remade in 2004.
  5. Creepshow (1982). An anthology of five short stories in comic book fashion, Romero teamed up with horror writer Stephen King for this installment. The first story, Father's Day, is my favorite of the five. Here, a deceased father exhibits his patriarchal power over his daughter, even from the grave. He crawls his way out of the grave to complain about not getting a Father's Day cake. Actor Ed Harris gets smothered with his tombstone after falling into the grave. The father finishes the day by serving up his daughter's head on a platter. Who could ask for a better Father's Day?

May you rest in peace – George A. Romero, knowing that your zombies have made a profound impact on cinema and the horror genre. We love you George.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An interview with Christopher R. Gauthier, who keeps Bela Lugosi with us

Christopher R. Gauthier, seen above in an artistic license photo with his favorite actor, Bela Lugosi. Christopher runs the A Celebration of the Art and Life of Bela Lugosi Facebook page (here). It's a growing group that consistently provides interesting graphics, observations and information on Lugosi. 

Besides his interest in and contributions on Lugosi's life and career, Christopher also writes poetry on Bela Lugosi. We'll share some on this post but he recently read some poetry on a radio broadcast. (Here at about the 53.44 mark). He is also working on a novel about Lugosi. Christopher was also acknowledged for assistance with research and images in the new BearManor Media Scripts From the Crypt book "Dracula's Daughter."

I enjoyed this interview with Christopher, who has a real passion for the actor so many of us love on the blog.

-- Doug Gibson


1) When was the first time you saw Bela in a film? Was that when you determined he was a great influence in your life or did it take a while?

GAUTHIERIt is very difficult to say what Lugosi movie I first stumbled upon, I as far back as  I can recollect have been drawn to the mystique of the man. One very vivid memory that I do have, is when I first watched The Body Snatcher and found his role of Joseph to be the most interesting character in the film. To me there had to be something so much more to this actor, I thought to myself, as I watched the film. I was never the same after that. I guess, I was born a Lugosi fan. I read everything I could possibly get my hands on regarding his career and life -- he inspired me to try and pursue a career in acting, and he was my teacher who I learned more from than anyone else in my life then, now and throughout the time I was growing up. He was A major influence on me in every aspect, as well as creatively speaking, I wanted to be just like him. Whenever something terrible goes bad in my life I watch one of his films, and life doesn't seem so bad because he provides me with solace that few others do.

2) What are your favorite Bela films and why?

GAUTHIER I adore everything Bela ever was in. It is almost impossible to select which films are my all time favorites because I deeply love them all. The Raven, The Black Cat, White Zombie, Dracula, The Return of The Vampire, Chandu The Magician, Son Of Frankenstein, Broadminded along with Spooks Run Wild, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Bride Of The Monster stand out as some of my favorites, but as I have said every production he was in is worthwhile and something close (and) deep in my heart.

3) You have a successful Facebook Lugosi page. How does that assist in your study and appreciation of Lugosi and what it is like to interact with Bela fans across the world?

GAUTHIERMy page "A Celebration of The Life and Art of Bela Lugosi" has brought together all loyal Lugosi aficionados from all corners of the globe. We are very different from other groups, we emphasize on the great things he did, as an artist and as a man. We are sophisticated and the page is held very sacred to me, a safe haven for serious Lugosi fans. We also encourage other artists to share their art, whether it be performance, literature or material arts, it is welcomed and valued and always appreciated and respected. It has brought me to encounter and become acquainted with like hearted people who revel in celebration of the great man's life and work.

4) Can you tell us about your novel in progress about Bela?

GAUTHIERMy novel being written to honor Lugosi is a labor of love I have been meticulously crafting with unwavering devotion for a number of years. I believe that at the end of his life he would have really appreciated this type of material I am writing to honor my hero. I am not going to say too much on the subject because it is a work fathomed deep in progress. But it is for Mr. Lugosi and I have the inclination he would be very pleased with it, and even moved. I have been advised to write a screenplay -- but I much prefer to honor him in a novel, as I do not think that there are any such actors that can bring proper justice to emulating the masterful Bela Lugosi.

5) You've had poetry about Bela published. Can you share a little bit with the blog? 

GAUTHIERI have written several poems for Lugosi, you may read some below. I have had a few Lugosi poems published when I was an adolescent but they are nothing in contrast to what I have written as of these passed few years in accordance to the novel and certain pieces of poetry dedicated to my Hero.

6) What's' it like motivating yourself to write about Bela? AND 7) You have an impressive amount of graphics and other art relating to Bela and his career. You were acknowledge in the recent book on Dracula's Daughter. What are some memories of Bela that you wish were available? I can think of finding a video of a Dracula play.

GAUTHIER I am motivated to write  my novel and pay homage to my Patron Saint who has above anyone else, in any force, shape or form, been there for me. He has touched my life beyond what words will ever be properly able to convey. The man has saved my life. I owe whatever success I have now and if any awaits me in the future entirely to him. He is my artistic savior, my creative muse, the source of what dreams are made of, my ultimate Hero, my greatest friend and my surrogate father and the father to all the lost children of the night- He is and always has been my greatest friend. I write because I must, inside the crux of my heart he guides me, and I am just offering my contribution to the world that honors The Great Bela Lugosi. 

8) Do you have a bucket list of Lugosi related goals, travel, conversations with scholars?

GAUTHIERImagine what it would have been like to see him on  the stage or to have known him as a friend in person. I wish I could have seen him on stage and that I were alive to help him when the tragic circumstances took the betterment of his life towards the final years. I wish I was alive, affluent and be able to finance any production of his choice. I would have done anything for him. He deserved so much more than what hand of cards he had been dealt by lady fate.

9) Finally, let a novice Lugosi fan know of four essential films and three essential books.

GAUTHIERFor a novice Lugosi fan  I would encourage them to watch The Black Cat, Broadminded, The Raven, Dracula and The Return of The Vampire. As far as books go, I have found that each biographer offers something unique in all books related to Lugosi. But I would recommend Arthur Lennig's The Immortal Count, Robert Cremer's The Man Behind The Cape, The Films Of Bela Lugosi by Richard Bojarski,  Leo Wiltshire's Reign Of The Vampire- A Tribute To The Perseverance of Bela Lugosi and of course, first and foremost anything written by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger  

Thanks so much, Christopher. We appreciate you sharing your observations with us. Below are a couple of Christopher's poems:

Thank you Bela Lugosi 
Father To All Lost Children Of The Night

The lunar jewel drinks in the turmoil 
Nightmares evolve into mollifying dreamscapes surrealistic beyond rational belief
The old creaky baronial movie house breathes in the crux of its heart a docile sigh of relief 
Your motion pictures of sparkling black and white gold immerse the great looming movie screen, You are my indisputable Hero and friend who sometimes visits my dreams
When such reverential occasion transpires 
To feed the creative fires 
Beneath the moon beams 
Neither foe, nor victim nor vampiric concubines are able to bellow a scream 
The nightmare is no longer a nightmare, but a beautiful dream.
You should have been given so much more 
Than just the Horror genre you bestowed upon the entertainment industry, But yet you have left us with your undying legacy and have achieved perpetual immortality 
And have long become a phantasmagorical Hollywood Legend and forceful source of so much folklore,
Bela you have everlasting legions of fans who truly adore 
Every contribution an artistic actor and humanitarian man you are loved forevermore 
You shield me behind the sanctuary of your sheltering protective vampire cape and offer me solace from the hateful world abroad 
And when you end each performance, I humbly applaud
For there is no greater Actor 
At least that is my opinion and the law within my domain 
If I had not discovered you my life would have never been the same.
The world praises and thanks you for all you have given and done
In the end you have defeated the exploitive traitors and have everlastingly won
A place in the elysian Hollywood constellation of riveting and celebrated luminaries and Stars 
Your pathos is not forgotten but healed have the scars 
You are my deepest friend and ultimate Hero above all
May you continue to live on as your dynasty shall forever enthrall 
Thank you Bela, my Hero and friend for all you have done
Let us watch the lunar jewel vanish and bask in the morning warmth and rise of the sun

---- Christopher R. Gauthier


Bela, you changed the face of the golden age silver screen
Your memory comes to mind in the cast of the full moon and its radiant beam
Beyond all compare you have captured the heart and imbued us all with mystical intrigue, you are in a class lone to itself in your very own artistic league--
You have helped so many by the brave examples you've set
In another life I feel in my heart we must've met
And knew each other as very close friends
from then to eternity my awe and adulation knows no end.
I wish I could have given you so very much more than what hand of cards you were dealt, you persevered against in the face of adversity and were always humbled without the shadow of a doubt,
For the love your fans expressed to you over the years,
and to all your lost children of the night you wipe away the tears.
What a symbol of hope you are to us all
You lift up the crestfallen when they stumble and fall.
I have known no greater friend throughout the entirety of my life
and on behalf of us all We thank you for all you have done in the howl of the night
Our Hero, Our Friend and Eradicator of woeful doom
You reveal the comfort that is immersed in the gloom-
of things that are macabre and beyond the realms furthermore
You conjure the indisputable magic and open the mystical door
leaving us all wanting your Genius forevermore.
My friend you are with me in these darkened times I am going thru
I know that I can always depend on the nobility that is you.
You will never fully know how much you have touched my life and the cores of my soul, in both your life and in every celluloid role,
May peace forever be present in your family and in the crux of your golden heart
My great friend your legacy will never depart
like The Immortal Count Dracula, you will live forever in the annals of time
And you shall also be remembered for being ever so kind
To all the lonesome lives you have brought solace and touched
You, who have given everything of yourself, so very much
In you I know I have a friend, as in my heart you do in mine.
Take care Bela, my greatest friend
My love for you always is boundless without end.

-- Christopher R. Gauthier

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Werewolf Remembers -- The Talbot saga

Review by Doug Gibson

To get an even better overview of genre scholar Frank Dello Stritto's new book, "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot," I urge readers to go to our Plan9Crunch interview with Frank about six weeks ago. Then read this review.

The book, as well as others by Dello Stritto, is published at Cult Movies Press. You can also buy it at Amazon.

Readers, particularly genre fans, will be awed by the knowledge the author possesses of both the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s as well as the other studios' -- small and large -- offerings during that golden period. There are dozens of films that have reference in this mock testament of cursed Wolfman Larry Talbot, as well as a observational chapters from his biographer researcher narrator.

"Condemned to Live," the Frankenstein films, the Dracula films, "Return of the Vampire," any film with Lawrence Talbot, of course, "Werewolf of London," films from PRC and Monogram, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," even characters from "Bride of the Monster," "The Alligator People" and "Thriller" TV series flit through this unique book.

What Dello Stritto has managed to do is provide a continuity to the films that involve Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster. This is not an easy task as these monsters continually die and are continually (inexplicably) resurrected. In Talbot's testament, he describes a deep non-living stage, a stagnant location on the path the deceased take to eternal life. There, unable to move on, exist Talbot, the Frankenstein monster and Dracula. Talbot and Frankenstein's monster are victims. Dracula represents evil. Periodically the trio are returned to an earthly existence.

Genre fans, and hard-core enthusiasts will enjoy this book the most, but even the casual viewer of several Universal horrors would enjoy "A Werewolf Remembers." Lon Chaney's Talbot eventually became the central character of the Universal horror films and in his final appearance, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," he goes after his major nemesis, Count Dracula. This film serves as the climax of "A Werewolf Remembers." What drives Talbot on his pursuit to destroy Dracula I'll leave for readers to discover.

Some characters are explored in more detail than others. Dr. Yogami, who Warner Oland played in "Werewolf of London," is an altruistic man trying hard to cure Talbot with the tmariphasa plant. That fails and Talbot infects Yogami. Another hero of Talbot's testament is Dr. Edelmann of "House of Dracula," who sacrifices his sanity and life to provide relief, albeit temporary, to Talbot. It's nice to see Talbot's gypsy protector, Maleva, have a dignified end to her life in the book.

But the book goes beyond the horror genre. Dello Stritto has created a family line of the Talbots and familial customs. In order to make good use of the many, many photo stills that serve as historical records, he has created news services, city and town archives, police photos, entertainment photos and an even a Talbot historical society that remains in the family home. In the book, Lawrence, not a first-born son, is exiled, per tradition, to America in the late 19th century, where he spends time in the Alaska gold fields and eventually California. He rubs shoulders with, among others, Jack London and the characters from several films, including "King Kong," Murders In the Zoo," The Most Dangerous Game," "Mad Monster," "Jungle Woman" and "Return of the Ape Man."

(The time frame is necessary to fit Talbot's presence in the many different films and time periods. As he explains in his testament, he ages very slowly.)

I need to mention that Lawrence Talbot is considered a "Red Talbot," more nomadic and wild. There are "White Talbots," who stay home and are more studious. Dello Stritto's conception of Lawrence Talbot is faithful to his movie portrayals as a man who seeks death and deeply suffers over his affliction, which makes him eagerly attack, kill and eat human prey. If he fails to do that when the moon is full, he suffers. He is tortured with regret.

The final chapters, where Talbot, in pursuit of "Dracula," interviews his past victims, including characters played by Helen Chandler and Nina Foch, are fascinating reading. The ending is appropriately open. But there is unspoken hope, as its apparent that no sightings of Talbot or the other monsters have appeared since the late 1940s. Maybe he gained peace after grabbing "Dracula" at the end of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

The book is structured well. It is told in fast-paced sections within larger chapters, some lasting only a few to several paragraphs. Also, the testament, followed by the narrator's observations provide agreeable change of pace.

As mentioned, the author's knowledge of nearly a half century of research, dozens of essays and several published books provide the continuity and knowledge necessary to create a mock documentary that sticks to the genre facts and makes it a real treasure for readers. Trust me, you'll be amazed by the tale(s) the author has weaved throughout this book. Only reading the book can do it justice.

At Plan9Crunch, we have articles on Dello Stritto's writing and observations here, here, here, including a review of the remarkable, well-researched book, co-authored with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Gun Crazy is on Turner Classic movies

On Sunday, July 16, 2017, Turner Classic Movies will air the B-movie classic "Gun Crazy." It starts at 8 a.m. MST. We urge film buffs to watch this low-budget film that packs a powerful impact. It's mentioned in Danny Peary's book Cult Films. Director Joseph H. Lewis was an A director in low-budget films. For example, he was easily Bela Lugosi's best Monogram director, helming "The Invisible Ghost." Here's a short review below.

Gun Crazy: 1950, King Brothers Productions, Peggy Cummins and John Nall. 4 stars - This low-budget gem is a film noir classic of the lovesick male with a reform school past who falls for the bad girl and follows her to both of their dooms. Cummins and Nall, little-known actors, generate real sparks as greedy sharp shooters who don't have the patience to live a normal life. When she kills in a robbery and the law closes in on them, the claustrophobic atmosphere director Joseph H. Lewis creates is outstanding and final love to the death moments between these two losers is moving. There's a reason Gun Crazy is taught in many film schools. Don't miss it. It's easy to buy and pops up on TV often.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Voodoo Man; one of Bela Lugosi's better Monogram films

Review by Doug Gibson

I really like 1944's Monogram film, "Voodoo Man," the last film Bela Lugosi starred in for Sam Katzman's Monogram/Banner film company. It was released, however, prior to the earlier Lugosi film, The Return of the Ape Man. I love all of the Monogram Lugosi films, the wild plots, the very low budgets, the dank lighting, the dreary non-horror leads, the typed-last-night dialogue. "Voodoo Man" for a long time was not seen as much as other Lugosi Monograms, and it took a while years ago to find and buy. However, with the Net generation, you can watch it above courtesy of YouTube. Still, I never see it on Turner Classic Movies or other television, even today.

That's too bad, because it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall). In typical Monogram nonsensical fashion, he lures his prey (and he has a home full of zombie-like beautiful women) with the help of a service station owner, George Zucco, who sends the girls to Lugosi via a roadblock. Lugosi, watching them on that newfangled thing called a television transmitter, sends an electrical ray that stops their cars. At that point, two moronic but relatively gentle henchmen, played by John Carradine and Frank Moran, kidnap the lovelies and take them to Dr. Marlowe's lair, where Zucco, a high priest to the God, Ramboona, attempts to transfer their lives to Marlowe's "dead" wife.

OK, you're wondering why I call this non-convoluted. My only defense is to recount the other Lugosi Monogram plots but I don't have 100 pages to do so. ... Back to the film, a Hollywood screenwriter, Ralph Dawson, off to marry his sweetheart, is sent by his studio boss (named SK, an inside Sam Katzman joke) to write a screenplay about the missing girls, which has, not surprisingly generated a lot of news.

The film, 62 minutes long, moves swiftly and carries the viewer's interest. It may be outlandish, but it's never dull. Lugosi is, actually, a his biographer Arthur Lennig notes, a sympathetic character, despite his kidnappings. He's endured 22 years of his wife's zombie-like state, and conveys his despair well. "Voodoo Man" has a dream cast, with Lugosi and Zucco together. It's a lot better than their other pairing, "Scared to Death." Carradine is cast out of type as one of the henchmen and has been criticized but I like his work in the film.He seems to be having fun and even manages to look creepy when he bangs the drums during the Ramboona God ceremonies. Moran, a former prizefighter, is good as his partner.

Monogram starlets Louise Currie and Wanda McKay are two of my favorites. Both are gorgeous and capable actresses who worked with Lugosi more than once. In fact, Katzman called Currie the low-budget Katharine Hepburn because of her striking beauty. Unlike most Monogram.Banner romantic male leads, who tend to be stiffs, Michael Ames' Ralph Dawson has energy and personality on the screen. He later changed his screen name to Tod Andrews and guest starred on both and early late Andy Griffith Show episodes, Veteran actor Henry Hall is well cast as the amusing sheriff and has a fun time saying "Gosh All Fishhooks!" when the script calls for it.

But the best, and perhaps most famous line, is delivered by Ames' Dawson in the film's epilogue. Handing the script to the producer, he turns to movie company's president and suggests a casting choice: "Why don't you get Bela Lugosi. It's right up his alley!"

It certainly was, but it was Lugosi's last Monogram film role. Initially, things looked better for Bela in 1944. He was in a higher-budget horror spoof, "One Body Too Many," for Fine Arts Productions and then signed a three-picture deal with RKO that included "The Body Snatcher." But his film career would dry up in the latter 1940s, and he only made two films in that decade after the RKO deal. One, fortunately, was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." As the decade progressed, most of his earnings would come barnstorming the country, on the stage in summer stock and other venues, usually performing as "Dracula" or as "Jonathan Brewster" in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

It's A Gift (1934) – One of W.C. Fields' Best

Review by Steve D. Stones

It's A Gift, from Paramount, is one of comedian W.C. Fields' best films. The funny gags in this film will have you rolling in the aisles. Watch for a hilarious shaving scene by Fields early in the film.

Fields plays a humble middle class New Jersey grocery store owner named Harold Bissonette who is constantly hounded by his overbearing wife Amelia, played by Kathleen Howard. After a blind man accidentally breaks his store front windows and a display of light bulbs, and a child spills a barrel of molasses on the floor, Bissonette decides he has had enough of the grocery business and sells the store. He has dreams of moving to California to start an orange grove business.

Bissonette's uncle Bean is ill and eventually dies from choking on an orange, which is ironic – since Bissonette dreams of running an orange grove one day. Bissonette receives some inheritance from Bean. Bissonette purchases a ranch in California where the orange grove business is prosperous.

To get some sleep from his constantly nagging wife, Bissonette goes outside on the second floor deck to sleep. Here he is tortured by an infant, played by Baby LeRoy, who pours grapes down a hole in the floor to hit Bissonette in the face as he tries to sleep. Bissonette is also pestered by an insurance salesman on the bottom floor. A milkman also arrives while loudly banging milk bottles. Will Bissonette ever get any sleep? The viewer really sympathizes with Bissonette's challenge to try to get some sleep during this long scene.

After informing his wife that he no longer owns the street corner grocery store, he makes plans to head out to west with his family to California to start his orange grove business. When the family arrives in California, they find a run down land with an old shack that is not in livable condition. This of course angers Amelia. Luckily, a race track owner arrives to offer to buy the property for $44,000 so he can build a race track on the land.

What I find particularly funny in this film is when Bissonette continually walks out on his wife in every scene when she nags at him. Instead of disagreeing with her and arguing, he simply agrees with her, but then walks out of the room when her back is turned on him. She continues to nag and nag, even long after Bissonette leaves the room. Bissonette seems to keep his cool with all the women in his life, even in the opening shaving scene with his daughter Mildred, who pushes him away from the bathroom mirror as he shaves.

For further information about the career and films of W.C. Fields, see author James L. Neibaur's book – The W.C. Fields Films, published by McFarland in March 2017. Happy viewing.

Art by Steve D. Stones

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dracula's Daughter the latest Scripts From the Crypt offering

Review by Doug Gibson

The latest BearManorMedia Scripts From the Crypt offering, "Dracula's Daughter" (buy it here) continues the high quality of the cult films books' series. Penned mostly by Gary D Rhodes, it satisfies a constant of our genre fans: it breaks new ground. New nuggets, big and small, of scholarship are unearthed. And, as with all the books, you have Tom Weaver's observations and opinions. Love them or hate them, they are unique and the product of an original mind. There's also an introduction and essay on the music of the film from contributors David Colton and Michael Lee.

The best reading comes from Rhodes' exhaustive treatment of the film's creation. Early on, he discusses the role of women in vampire lore, using Theda Bara and other vamps to explain that vampire once meant a woman who sucked the heart and soul out of their doomed male lovers. This is relevant because later we learn that early treatments for the film included a female vampire who was sexually aggressive and delighted in the torture, degradation and dissipation of her male captives. (I am assuming blog readers have seen "Dracula's Daughter." If not, do so now.) Gloria Holden's sympathetic yet resolute Countess emerged as a result of the watering down of the plot's actions.

As Rhodes' notes, "Dracula's Daughter," a 1936 release, emerged as the moralistic production code was gaining strength. Scripts and treatments for the film endured rough seas with the censors. John Balderston, Kurt Neumann, and RC Sherriff all had their hands on the typewriter. Eventually Garrett Fort's subdued, more sanitized script became the film. Milton Carruth, who edited "Dracula," also impacted "Dracula's Daughter" with his editing, Rhodes notes.

Some of the early treatments would have been interestingly daring. The Countess as a man hunter, entering the film after already killing a lover/slave. She nearly physically, spiritually and mentally destroys the hero before succumbing. Screenwriters assured the Laemmle overlords, soon to lose the studio, that a woman conducting such sexual sadism on men would pass code approval. Witness what Balderston wrote in his treatment: "The use of a female vampire instead of a male gives us the chance to play up SEX and CRUELTY legitimately."

At one time James Whale was slated to direct. He might have been able to convey such a film in a subtle manner to fool the censors. Lambert Hillyer, a talented, workmanlike, solid director who eventually got the role, lacked the Whale magic to do that had he even tried.

We learn that Bela Lugosi was once considered to be in the film. He was even paid $4,000. However, a reading of the fascinating screenplay excerpt, from Sherriff, of a prologue that would have featured Lugosi creating his daughter, is so bizarre and sexually depraved that I think it would have trouble getting made even in the pre-code era. Lugosi, and a bunch of sadistic companions terrorize the peasantry, kidnapping women, and with exaggerated faux grotesque courtesy, torturing and murdering them. "Dracula's Daughter" is made a vampire by the Count.

But that is not the "Dracula's Daughter" that we watch today. It's a fine film with a haunting performance by Gloria Holden. Otto Kruger and Marguerite Churchill are a better hero couple than David Manners and Helen Chandler. Kruger and Churchill actually have romantic chemistry. Irving Pichel is very creepy as Holden's mortal companion, and presumably her lover. His quiet rage at watching Holden prefer Kruger to him as an immortal companion is suitably sinister. Nan Gray (Grey) is great as a poor girl, perhaps streetwalker, who eventually dies, we assume due to the Countess' unquenchable thirst. And Edward Van Sloan is back as Van Helsing, inexplicably called Von Helsing in the sequel.

Yes, Dracula's Daughter is an above-average film. The book informs us that it received generally good reviews and appears to have done well at the box office. But as Weaver rather shrewdly notes, one can watch "Dracula's Daughter" and not be convinced that the title character is really a vampire. We know she is only because that is the script's design. But this is a bloodless film. As Weaver points out, she is killed by an arrow shot through her heart; anyone would die of that.

"Dracula's Daughter," as much as I enjoy it, is neutered by the production code. It's respected within the genre, but never will it be placed anywhere near the pedestal that say, "Bride of Frankenstein" has. "Dracula's Daughter" is not a film that takes risks or tries to pierce our deepest obsessions or fears as James Whale does. It's a worthy entry at a time when Universal was still making at least A-minus budgeted horror flicks. Perhaps its finest moment is that it takes the action back to Transylvania in the final reel, something that "Dracula," still a better film, did not do.

Lest anyone think I am ungrateful, let me reiterate my deep appreciation for writers such as Rhodes and Weaver, and others, as well as thanks to BearManor Media for publishing these types of books. They are manna for me and I'm sure so many others. So much minutiae to eagerly wade through -- we love it! We learn, for example, the salaries of the stars. Holden, incredibly, only received $1,450 for a performance that is almost iconic. Kruger did a great job, but really, $9,583.30 is out of whack compared to Holden. Churchill received $1,250, Van Sloan $2,400, Pichel, who really earns it, $2,950, and unbelievably, Nan Gray (Grey), who probably is second-most remembered due to the much-debated lesbian overtones to her scene with Holden, received a paltry $200!

The entire script as shot is in the book, and as I have mentioned, the many treatments are included. There's a section on contemporary reviews the movie received; there's a fascinating press book. As mentioned, the whole back story of the film is captured, including even a "Junior" Laemmle-inspired treatment for the end. There's dozens of photos, and a tender heart-wrenching letter from Holden late in life to film fan David Del Valle, in which she stoically talks about the tragic death of her son, We even get a treatment for an adaptation of "Carmilla," another female vampire tale. This one wasn't filmed

I could spend many more paragraphs detailing what's in these pages. But just go buy the book. It's a gem. I can't wait for the next one, which is slated to be about two unrealized films from "Dracula" director Tod Browning.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Ape Man -- Lugosi elevates Poverty Row again

The Ape Man, 64 minutes, 1943, Monogram, Directed by William Beaudine. Starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster, Louise Currie as Billie Mason, Wallace Ford as Jeff Carter, Henry Hall as Dr. George Randall, Emil Van Horn as the ape, J. Farrell McDonald as Police Captain O'Brien and Minerva Urecal as Agatha Brewster. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

Review by Doug Gibson

This is a screwball horror film, but a lot more entertaining than most viewers will expect. It's sheer pulp horror that doesn't take itself too seriously. The plot of The Ape Man involves a scientist (Lugosi) who for unexplained reasons accidentally turns himself into an ape man. Not trusting his sanity, he frequently locks himself up with an ill-tempered ape (Van Horn in a campy performance). Lugosi's ape man needs human spinal fluid to have even a chance to regain his former appearance and posture. This involves murder and when a colleague (Hall) refuses to help, Lugosi literally goes ape, and commits several murders. He's encouraged by his creepy sister (Urecal) a noted spiritualist who records the groans of ghosts. Lugosi's nemesis are a reporter/photographer duo who soon become wise to all the creepy occurrences.

Of such bizarre plots were Monogram cheapies of the 1940s created. It's a lot of fun to watch, even if the production values are predictably low. Lugosi, as usual, acts far above the product he's pitching, and he manages to make the audience feel sympathy for his plight. His ferocious temper tantrums are effective. He nearly strangles his sister in one scene. Urecal, by the way, is great as the slightly creepy sister. In an Los Angeles Times review (the paper actually liked the film) the reviewer suggested Urecal be given her own horror film to star in. So far as I know, it never happened, although she was also very good in the Lugosi vehicle The Corpse Vanishes. Currie and Ford as the wisecracking journalists have strong chemistry. B movie veteran actor McDonald is also an asset to the film. In a bit part is Earnest Morrison, better known as Sunshine Sammy Morrison of The East Side Kids.

The film is slightly marred by a truly goofy character who acts as a red herring, cutting into scenes for no reason and offering cryptic comments and warnings. At the end, he reveals himself to be the author of the tale. As The End is flashed on the screen, he remarks "Screwy, isn't it?"

Like any low-budget film, there are amusing contradictions. Why does Lugosi have an accent, and his sister doesn't? Also, why doesn't anyone seem to notice the ape-like Lugosi and his pet ape traipsing through the city? Of course, suspension of disbelief is a requirement to fully enjoy a Monogram film. So just sit back and take in the show. It's a fun hour of escapism and a great treat for those who enjoy the old C and B horror films. Notes: The film's shooting title was They Creep in the Night. In England, it was titled Lock Your Doors. There is a nostalgic reference to the times when Currie chides Ford for being 4F, and consequently not serving in World War II. He retorts that he's scheduled to enlist at the end.

The Ape Man plays occasionally on UEN's (Utah Educational Network) Sci Fi Friday and has a podcast to go along with it. There are many versions of the film. It is free to watch on the Web. Hopefully, Turner Classic Movies will air a pristine print of the film soon. Watch it below

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Charley Chase Scrapbook details a bittersweet life with laughter

Review by Doug Gibson

A while back I reviewed "... The Harry Langdon Scrapbook," a fascinating visual treat of the comic's life and career. It was a treat from small publishing house Walker and Anthony and it prompted me to want to read and review another vintage comic scrapbook subject, Charley Chase. It's "The Charley Chase Scrapbook."

Chase, with an iconic face, worked very had to build his career as Charles Parrott, comic actor. Once living in poverty, he moved himself into prominence as a vaudevillian and early silent comedy actor. He gained initial acting stature, starting as an extra, with movie man Al Christie, and moved to Keystone and Mack Sennett, mostly as a director and writer. Pay disputes prompted him to freelance a while, again directing more often. He worked, among others, with Fox-Films and Bulls-Eye, mostly behind the camera, often directing Billy West, a Chaplin imitator who was popular.

During these years he married a dancer and English teacher named BeBe Eltinge, and two girls were added over a few years, Polly, who later acted with her father, and June, many of whom's recollections were gathered and eventually used in the Scrapbook. Charley's marriage with BeBe was a strong union that remained until his death.

Chase eventually gained stardom with Hal Roach studios. About that time he took the "Chase" last name, selecting it out of a phone book. His younger brother, James Parrott, who acted as Paul Parrott, came to Hal Roach a little before Charley and was a director, writer and briefly an actor. By 1926, Chase's career was rolling; but James', due to poor health, was slowly receding The rise of Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang comedy teams would eventually eclipse Charley Chase's stature at Roach's studio.

Concern over his brother, and a problem with alcoholism, would plague Chase the rest of his life. In the early days of sound, a medium he was well equipped for with a great singing voice, a bad ulcer nearly killed Chase. He rebounded with Roach studios working consistently for the first several years of the 1930s.

In my opinion, and many may disagree, Chase was at his best in the sound era. He was a very talented silent comedian, among the Top 10, but his voice and mannerisms work well with sound, and are well suited to talkies. In the Laurel and Hardy feature, "Sons of the Desert," Chase is superb as a pushy but likable prankster with the boys at a lodge convention. And although he did his best work overall with Roach studios, The Heckler, a Columbia comedy short he made late in life, captures Chase's talent so well as he plays an abrasive, jokester fan at a tennis match. He's great with an outraged Vernon Dent.

Eventually, Chase left Hal Roach studios. A note from Chase in The Scrapbook shows that he took his disappointing departure with humor and grace. Chase stayed busy, soon signing with Columbia's comedy shorts department, and doing what he was best at, acting, directing and writing. One of his better-known directed shorts is "Violent is the Word For Curly," from 1938.

Concern over the health of his deteriorating brother, James, wore Chase down in the 1930s. Before drug addiction literally destroyed his career, James directed the classic Laurel and Hardy short "The Music Box" and some Chase's films as well. But drug abuse demolished James' career, and eventually cost him his life in May 1939.

According to the Scrapbook, Chase blamed himself for his brother's death, and continued to drink heavily. Although he had a loving family and a still-strong career with Columbia, the excess drinking contributed to the heart attack that killed Charley Chase 13 months later, on June 20, 1940. He died in his home.

The Scrapbook is designed much like the Langdon one, with stills, posters, writings, drawings, family photos, handwritten entries, newspaper interviews, drawings, articles, and other communications providing a montage of his life. These scrapbooks provide readers glimpses into the personalities of the subjects. You witness Chase's drive and love of his craft. In this case, the picture is worth at least hundreds of words.

Many of the Scrapbook items are from Chase's personal collections, preserved by his grandson Charley Preshaw. The pictures of Chase, late in life, holding grandson Preshaw as an infant, provide a warm, human look at the comedy legend.

Chase rubbed acting shoulders with the best of his era. The book serves as a history of his era, a glimpse into a time capsule that fits on a coffee table. "The Charley Chase Scrapbook" is not inexpensive. It's a small press labor of love. It's a must for Chase fans, or fans of Hal Roach's vintage comedy. I recommend it for early film comedy fans as a fitting  inclusion in your genre bookcase.