Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Evil; Roz Kelly greets the new year

By Steve D. Stones

Happy Days star Roz Kelly stars in this early 1980s slasher film directed by Emmett Alston. Like so many horror films of the 1980s, this one is an attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise.

Kelly is a punk rock mother hosting a New Year’s Eve party at a hip New Wave music club in downtown Los Angeles. Her teenage son comes to see her at the club with flowers, but she completely ignores him. A maniac killer, played by Kip Niven, calls Kelly at the club hotline to inform her that he will commit a murder every hour until 12 midnight as part of his New Year’s resolution. A club worker named Yvonne is the first victim to be killed in a bathtub in a club dressing room.

The second victim is a pretty blonde nurse at the local hospital. The killer predictably poses as a new hospital orderly who lures the nurse into a hospital room with champagne and proceeds to stab her to death after making out with her. Another nurse at the hospital discovers her body in a closet.

The killer continues to call Kelly at the music club in a disguised voice to inform her that he is committing murders. He even plays a taped recording over the phone of him stabbing the nurse at the hospital. Kelly is now forced to take his threats seriously. She asks the local police department for police protection.

By now the viewer has been exposed to lots of really bad punk rock performances, zebra striped T-shirts, and 1980s mullet hairstyles. Where are The Ramones, The Misfits and The Sex Pistols when we need them?

Feeling rejected by his mother, Kelly’s son sees his mother performing on television at the club with a punk band. In a fit of anger, he tears apart the roses he brought for her, and stretches one of her red nylon stalkings over his face as if he is about to become a killer himself. This is a particularly confusing scene because by now we already know who the killer is and what he looks like, so any attempt to suggest that the killer could be Kelly’s son seems unnecessary. The killer now shows up at another dance club in L.A. dressed in an obviously fake moustache and three-piece suit. He tells another pretty blonde girl at the bar that he is a business agent for many Hollywood actors in town. He convinces her to leave the club to attend a business party. She refuses to go alone with him, so she takes one of her club friends with her.

This spoils the plans of the killer to get her alone. The three drive in the killer’s Mercedes to a gas station, where the killer strangles one of the girls with a bag full of marijuana. He hides in a Dumpster to attack the second girl as she comes out of the gas station with a bottle of champagne. The killer stabs her to death. As the killer flees the scene, he is harassed at a stop light by a motorcycle gang. The killer speeds away from the motorcycle gang and hides out at a local drive-in theatre.

The movie screen advertises a film entitled Blood Feast as a feature playing at the theatre, but it is not Herschel Gordon Lewis’ schlock masterpiece from 1963, unfortunately. After stealing another car from a young couple making out at the drive-in, the killer shows up at the New Wave club, manages to club a police officer in the head at a back entrance, and puts his police uniform on, which conveniently fits him perfectly. Under police protection outside her dressing room, Kelly sits in front of a mirror putting on make-up as the killer suddenly appears in her room in a jogging outfit and a Halloween mask.

She sees him in the mirror, but is not frightened. He removes the mask, and reveals himself to be Richard Sullivan, her husband. She is not frightened by his presence because she has no idea he is the killer. As the couple gets into an elevator, it becomes evident to Kelly that her husband is the killer.

He holds a knife up to her and saying:“I’m fed up . . . You’re just like all the other women in my life. Women are manipulative, deceitful, immoral and very, very selfish!”

His reasoning for killing here seems very petty and unnecessary. Wouldn’t his actions make him “manipulative, deceitful, immoral and selfish?” If he was so fed up with his wife, why didn’t he just request a divorce from her? Why go through the troubles of killing several innocent women to get to her? In the post O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson world we live in today, it seems highly unlikely that a man would go on a killing spree killing innocent victims just to prove a point with his wife.

However, I realize this film was made long before the O.J. Simpson ordeal of the1990s, and the Scott Peterson ordeal early in this decade. As the film comes to an end, Richard chains his wife to the bottom of the elevator and is chased by policemen who fire shots at him. He is chased to the top balcony of the building, where he puts the Halloween mask back on and jumps off the building, committing suicide. His son emotionally removes the mask from him.

The film ends with a shot of Kelly being wheeled into an ambulance. The driver of the ambulance is wearing Richard’s Halloween mask, and the paramedic on the passenger side lies dead on the floor of the ambulance. Could the killer now be Kelly’s son?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL follows in the long line-up of so many 1980s slasher/horror films. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, Christmas Evil, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and so many others, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is an attempt to use a holiday title to cash in on the slasher craze of the 1980s. Watch it above.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Scrooge, 1935, and A Christmas Carol, 1938 -- comparing and contrasting

By Steve D. Stones


During Christmas time in the mid-1980s, I walked into a Musicland store at my local shopping mall to look at Led Zeppelin cassette tapes. As I passed the VHS movies section, I was drawn to an image of Sir Seymour Hicks on the front cover of a video box. The image looked worn and hand-colored. It was contained on a VHS print of the 1935 version of Scrooge, put out by Goodtimes Home Video.

Although I have never been much of a fan of Christmas movies, the image on the VHS box made me want to purchase the film. Instead of buying a Led Zeppelin cassette tape (I didn't have enough money), I decided to buy the Scrooge video. Not being knowledgeable at the time of when sound films were first made, I assumed Scrooge was going to be a silent era film with intertitles and music.

When I got the video home and began to watch it, I was greatly intrigued by the worn out appearance of it. The print was slightly out of focus and very dark in contrast. Nothing on the screen was sharply focused. This did not disappoint me in any way or take away from my experience of enjoying the film.

I loved how the 1935 film portrayed 19th century London as dark, gritty and poverty stricken. Most exterior shots of the film show London as dark, overcast and foggy. This made me think I was watching a classic Universal horror film, and not a Christmas film.

The full length version of Scrooge (which was not the version I bought) runs one hour and eighteen minutes and uses elements of German Expressionism. Sharply defined shadows cast on solid, flat walls, and even on Scrooge's face, often frame and emphasize a character in the scene. The ghosts of Jacob Marley and of Christmas past and future are not shown, but greatly implied for the viewer to imagine, which adds to the intrigue I felt as I watched the film for the first time.

Sir Seymour Hicks has the perfect droopy old face to communicate his crusty, selfish character, but at the same time show a genuinely frightened and fearful expression when confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Reginald Owen's depiction of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1938) shows us a taller and younger Scrooge. He's just as grumpy and hard nosed at Hicks' Scrooge, but he is missing more hair and his appearance is less poverty stricken. He dresses well and presents himself as prim and proper.


The 1938 version of A Christmas Carol shows us a more upbeat, hustle and bustle depiction of 19th century London in the opening sequence. The Cratchit children play a game of sliding on an ice sheet in the streets of London and throw snowballs at other children. The 1935 Scrooge shows us a bleak view of London that discourages children from playing out in the streets. We wouldn't expect to see children out in the streets in the 1935 version.

Scrooge's home in the 1935 version is a run down, untidy one bedroom apartment with few furnishings and minimal lighting. In the 1938 version, he appears to live in a mansion with fancy furnishings and lots of space – giving us the impression that he is much better off financially than the 1935 Scrooge. The viewer gets a sense that the 1935 Scrooge is a more isolated and introverted man who avoids people completely because of his living environment.

The 1938 A Christmas Carol relies less on expressionist elements of sharp shadows and dark interiors and more on well lit interiors, helping to clearly define each ghost that visits Scrooge. The ghosts are not implied, but clearly shown to Scrooge and the viewer. More screen time is spent with each individual ghost in the 1938 version.

The 1938 film was the first Hollywood sound version of A Christmas Carol – produced by MGM studios, so the much larger budget is clearly apparent in the film. The lower budget and minimal elements of the 1935 Scrooge helps to communicate the poverty stricken atmosphere contained in the Charles Dickens story.

Whatever version of A Christmas Carol you choose to watch this holiday season, Charles Dickens' story will remain a great classic of Christmas entertainment. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The finest animated A Christmas Carol

Some of us recall seeing this 25-minute "A Christmas Carol" on TV (for ABC) in the 1970s. Alastair Sim plays Scrooge, and he's almost as good as he was in the classic 1951 feature "Scrooge." And even his 1951 co-star Michael Horden returns as Marley in the cartoon. This is a real Yuletide treat of an animated short that you just can't find anywhere to buy at a decent price. There are used out-of-print VHS tapes for sale at more than $33 on Amazon. That's just too much, enjoy it here, courtesy of YouTube.

Trust me -- this is a great film. It's a Richard Williams production from 1971, also starring the voice of Michael Redgrave. The animation is superb. Executive producer Chuck Jones assembled a genius staff.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ed Wood documentaries: Three early ones


This is the only Ed Wood documentary, besides The Incredibly Strange Film Show, I am aware of to feature Ed’s wife Kathy Wood in interview segments. That alone makes it a valuable piece of Ed Wood history. Produced by Rhino Home Video in 1994, the documentary takes sound bites and images from Wood’s films and uses them to give the film a humorous narrative.

The opening gives us Kathy Wood commenting on how no one really cared much about Ed Wood until his death in 1978. Now, ironically, there is a renewed interest in his films and life. Ed’s marine buddy Joseph Robertson is also interviewed, and describes Ed’s fascination for wearing women’s clothing, even under his army outfit.

Robertson produced such 1960s cult classics as: The Crawling Hand and The Slime People. He went on to direct the adult feature entitled Love Feast, also known as The Photographer and Pretty Girls All In A Row (see my review of Love Feast on this website.).

This documentary also borrows segments of Conrad Brooks’ interviews from On The Trail of Ed Wood (see my review in this post.). The documentary is presented in segments that use Wood’s name in a clever way, such as: Drift Wood, Holly-Wood, Wood’s Stock Company, and Dead Wood.


Of all the Ed Wood documentaries that have been released, I would have to say that this one is the best.

Not only because it carefully examines the career and films of Ed Wood, but also because it highlights the lives and careers of the key actors of Plan 9 From Outer Space: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson and Criswell. This documentary also has informative insights and humorous commentary by famous fans of Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space, such as: Sam Raimi, Drew Friedman, Harry Medved, Bill Warren, Joe Dante, Forrest J. Ackerman and Wood’s biographer, Rudolph Grey.

Of great interest is the segment of Conrad Brooks taking the viewer on a tour of the old Quality Studios in Hollywood where Plan 9 was filmed. The first time I viewed the Plan 9 Companion, my heart raced with excitement in being able to see what Quality Studios looks like today. Conrad even reenacts a famous cemetery scene that was shot there with his co-star Carl Anthony.

Lee Harris, the host and narrator of The Plan 9 Companion, also takes us on a tour of the old cemetery location used in the opening shots of Plan 9. Director Mark P. Carducci produced the film with Harris in 1994 and released it to MPI Home Video. Vampira fans will also be pleased with this documentary, since Maila Nurmi offers many insights into her own career and the career of Ed Wood. 


Although the title of this documentary informs us of being on the trail of Ed Wood, perhaps a better title would have been: On The Trail Of Conrad Brooks. I say this only because the entire fifty-six-minute documentary is from the point of view of Conrad Brooks being interviewed in his home, unlike so many other Ed Wood documentaries that interview many of Wood’s stock actors and friends. I got the feeling that the producer Buddy Barnett and director Michael Copner did not have the time or budget to include other Ed Wood actors and friends in this documentary, or perhaps they weren’t interested in anyone else’s views about Wood?

However, there are some informative aspects of this documentary. Conrad takes us on a tour of Ed Wood’s Yucca apartment complex in Hollywood, the last apartment complex he lived in before his death at Peter Coe’s apartment in 1978.

The tour also takes us to the KFWB soundstage in Hollywood, which was Ted Allen’s studio in the 1950s when Bride of The Monster was filmed there. Conrad explains in the documentary that Tor Johnson demanded double his $100.00 salary for his acting roles in Wood’s films. According to Conrad, Wood almost reconsidered using Johnson in his films because of this demand.

He also claims that Ed took a job as a cab driver in the 1970s to make ends meet. Copner and Barnett, both contributing writers and founders of Cult Movies Magazine, released this documentary in 1990. If Copner or Barnett happen to read this article, we would greatly appreciate it if Cult Movies Magazine was back in publication. The magazine is a valuable resource.

-- Steve D. Stones

More Ed Wood docs

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Criswell: The narrator from the coffin

And now I tell a tale of the threshold people. So astounding that some of you may faint!”
-Criswell from “Night of The Ghouls” and “Orgy of The Dead.”

By Steve Stones

Like so many of Ed Wood’s entourage of stock actors, Criswell had a very unique personality all his own. Born Charles Geran Criswell King in 1907 to an Indiana mortician, as a red-haired, freckled-face young boy growing up in Indiana, Criswell developed an interest in how future events were going to turn out. Like so many young boys growing up, his mind was looking to the future, not to the present or the past. In Criswell’s own words, he describes his family labeling him as a “freak” when he was just a boy. “And perhaps a freak I have remained.”

Prior to his appearance in Ed Wood’s cult masterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space, Criswell began his career as a radio newscaster in New York. Criswell also had a successful career as a newspaper columnist. He once appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. He later established a reputation as a clairvoyant able to predict the future in very entertaining and strange ways on his television show broadcasted in Los Angeles. His TV show and syndicated column were appropriately called: Criswell Predicts.

Some of his strangest predictions included an influx of cannibalism across America, and seven women serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Other predictions included a Black Plague to hit the Midwest, the ghost of Napoleon being seen near his tomb in Paris, a secret graveyard being discovered near Denver, and the successful and inexpensive operation to change a woman into a man with the simple transplant of the sex organ.

Perhaps this prediction was fueled by Wood’s Glen Or Glenda, a film dealing with the subject of a man transforming himself into a woman by a sex change, and the rejection of transvestism in modern society. Glen Or Glenda was a film way ahead of its time in the early 1950s. His predictions were chronicled in two books he wrote: Journal of The Future and Your Next Ten Years. Criswell claimed that 86 percent of his predictions were accurate, when in fact they were seldom correct.

Criswell’s appearance in three Ed Wood films: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of The Ghouls, and Orgy of The Dead, remain as some of his most interesting and bizarre. His trademark “spit curl” hairstyle and black bow tie make him a recognizable character in contemporary popular culture.

“You are all interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable, for that is why you are here,” Criswell states while reading a cue card in the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space while atmospheric library music plays in the background. A sequence of Criswell rising from an opened coffin in Night of The Ghouls remains a personal favorite of mine. He rises from the coffin and tries desperately to keep his head looking forward, not to give the impression that he is reading a cue card in front of him, which is quite obvious to the viewer.

Criswell crossed over to the land unknown in 1982. In the future I predict that Criswell and Plan 9 From Outer Space will continue to entertain fans for generations to come. See Criswell on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show below.

Notes: Criswell’s coffin was used in Wood’s adult film, Necromania; a Web site on Criswell is here.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The first vampire of the screen - Theda Bara

Theda Bara as The Vampire in the film A FOOL THERE WAS (1915)

By Steve D. Stones

The lovely Theda Bara in A Fool There Was is not so much a vampire who wears a cape and sucks the blood from victims, like Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) or Max Shreck in Nosferatu (1922). She is a seductress who sucks the life out of married men – who then lose everything, including their wives, children and social status. A Fool There Was is a tale of lust, infidelity and seduction.

John Schuyler, played by Edward Jose, is a wealthy Wall Street lawyer and statesman called by the President of The United States to sail to England as a special envoy to settle claims with Great Britain. His mistress, played by Bara, joins him on the voyage. Soon, Schuyler's friends and wife find out about his affair. His life quickly begins to crumble, as his friends and loved ones turn their back on him.

Bara was born Theodosia Burr Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 29th, 1885. She is considered cinema's first female “sex symbol” and “femme fatale.” Her career spanned 40 films between 1914 – 1926. Most of these films are considered lost from a 1937 vault fire at Fox Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey – where Bara shot most of the films.

In 1917, Bara moved to Hollywood to film Cleopatra. Hollywood at that time was quickly becoming the entertainment capital of America. Hollywood was the place to be if you were an actor at that time. A Production Code was not enforced until 1930, so Bara was known for wearing very revealing costumes in her films. This may be one of many reasons why some refer to Bara as a “vamp.”

Only six of her forty films are said to exist today, including: The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925) and two short comedies made for Hal Roach Studios – Madame Mystery and 45 Minutes From Hollywood. Some footage of Cleopatra (1917) managed to survive at the Museum of Modern Art's film collection in New York. Bara never appeared in a sound film, which adds to her sense of mystique and intrigue.

Bara eventually got tired of being typecast as variations of the vamp character. When her contract ended in 1919 with Fox studios, she assumed other roles would be forthcoming. This did not happen. She instead headed to Broadway in 1920 to star in "The Blue Flame." The performance was a success, but the critics thought it was terrible.

The Fort Lee Film Commission in New Jersey dedicated Main Street and Linwood Avenue as “Theda Bara Way.” Her image also appeared on postage stamps in 1994. A 2006 documentary – The Woman With The Hungry Eyes – was made about Bara's career.

For further information about the career of Theda Bara, refer to Phil Hall's book – In Search of Lost Films (Bear Manor Media 2016). Hall's book is reviewed here on Plan 9 Crunch. Happy viewing.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Bert Wheeler in the short Innocently Guilty

It's time for another installment in our occasional series of those old-time Columbia comedy shorts that are not well known (think all of them save the Three Stooges.) Today we recall "Innocently Guilty," a 1951 two-reeler that starred Bert Wheeler. Above is a still from the climax of the short. Yes, Bert was hiding in a baby carriage.

Some information about Bert Wheeler. He was a big name in the 1920s on the vaudeville stage and achieved even more fame on the big screen as the boyish half of Wheeler and Woolsey. They made a slew of wonderful comedy films for several years that made a lot of money. After Robert Woolsey died Wheeler's screen career faded and although a working actor, he was struggling to earn a living by 1950, working in summer stock, etc.

As Ed Watz and Ted Okuda note in their book, "The Columbia Comedy Shorts," the head man at Columbia's comedy shorts, Jules White liked to sign former comedy names to two-picture deals, with an option for more if the shorts caught the public's fancy. White, who directed "Innocently Guilty," is quoted in the book as saying, "I gave him (Wheeler) a job at a time nobody else wanted him." Wheeler only made two shorts for Columbia. The second, in 1951, is called "The Awful Sleuth." (I have not seen that one.) "Innocently Guilty" is mediocre, although Wheeler acts well in it. The fault lies in a mediocre script and director White, who often equated humiliation and violence with humor. Only the Three Stooges were consistently able to take such direction and turn it into quality humor.

The short, which Okuda and Watz note had already been filmed twice with Andy Clyde as "It Always Happens" (1935) and "His Tale is Told," (1944) is remade with Wheeler as Hodkinson G. Pogglebrewer, tractor salesman, leaving his happy home to pitch tractors in the big city to Mr. Bass (the perennial Vernon Dent). Old Hodkinson has an appealing wife, Helen, played by another Columbia perennial supporting player, Christine McIntyre. Unfortunately, the script calls for Hodkinson to have a pathologically suspicious sister-in-law, Marge (Margie Listz), used by White for slapstick physical humor.

Once in the big city Hodkinson helps a sexy woman, Fifi (Nanette Bordeaux)  in the hotel, in her room, with an innocent task. Unfortunately, his crazy sister in law has dragged his wife to spy on him. Catching hubby looking compromised with another woman, she plans to divorce him but quickly changes her mind. All seems OK except that the next day, Hodkinson, to get a sale, pretends to be a ladies man to Bass. He even lies about what happened with Fifi. Bass admits to Hodkinson that he's so jealous of perceived male attention to his wife he'd commit violence if confronted with it.

You guessed it folks, Fifi is Mr.  Bass' wife. And with the imagination of Jules White, Fifi, sans outer clothing, Mr. Bass, and Hodkinson all end up in a car together. Fifi gets back to her room undetected, followed for some reason by Hodkinson, and then followed by pathological Margie and Helen, and finally by Bass, now prepared to kill Hodkinson.

None of this is terribly funny. The short ends inconclusively, with Bass shooting at the fleeing, dressed-as-a-baby Hodkinson. White was known for ending shorts with the stars running away, the conflict unresolved.

So why did I still enjoy the short? It's a part of history, a starring big-screen role for Wheeler late in his career. And Bert Wheeler is indeed good in the short. Even a decade-plus after the glory days, he retains the boyish, aw-shucks, optimistic charm that he had with RKO in the 1930s. He's likable. He's just shoved into an awful script and a poor choice for a director.

It's' also fun to see veterans McIntrye and Dent in any Columbia short, although this is far from their best work. Dent, in particular, is far too passive in his opening scene to be accepted later as a husband jealous enough to kill. Both Dent and Liszt take their knocks more than once as foils for physical humor. Early in the film water from a store awning knocks Liszt for a loop, and of course actors take tumbles in the bathroom scene. It's also nice to see silent star Heinie Conklin in a small supporting role as the janitor.

I was able to see this film thanks to Greg Hilbrich, who runs The Columbia Shorts Department website, which is just full of information all things Columbia comedy shorts. The short is posted on Hilbrich's Facebook wall. It's come to my attention he soon plans to post it on The Shorts Department YouTube page and once that occurs, I will embed the short here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Republic does B-movie vampires: The Vampire's Ghost

By Doug Gibson

This is an interesting 1945 vampire tale, only 59 minutes, from Republic Pictures. It's semi-obscure and few retailers carry it (I've been waiting years to catch it on Turner Classic Movies) but it's just interesting enough to have a chapter in McFarland's "Son of Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film" and Frank Dello Stritto gives it a couple of pages in his collection of essays "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore."

Plot involves saloonkeeper Webb Fallon, a haggard-looking white man with impeccable manners, who runs a small saloon in an African port. There have been vampire attacks on the natives, and they are getting restless. They speak the language of drums, and the drums spell Fallon (John Abbott) as their chief suspect.

They are right of course. Fallon is a vampire, centuries old and very tired. He bemoans his fate but also accepts it with chilling simplicity. When he sets his sights on the pretty fiance of a young Englishman, it looks as if nothing can stop him.

What makes The Vampire's Ghost so interesting is that it deviates from the standard vampire plot made famous by Bela Lugosi. Vampire Fallon can move around in the light and sleeps in a bed with native soil from his grave by the bed.

As mentioned, he's sympathetic early but Webb is able to give his vampire a sort of polite heartlessness that underscores the undead sociopath that lies beneath his gentleman English exterior. In one scene, Fallon ruthlessly and quickly dispatches a boat captain and saloon dancer who have cheated him at cards. He also plays with the boyfriend (Charles Grodin) who knows that Fallon wants his fiance (Peggy Stewart). Fallon the vampire seems detached, as if he is repeating a game he has played many times before. He relies on sapping the inner strength of his potential victims. The languid, remote location of his life (Africa) underscores his soft deadly power.

If you can find this film, it's worth a buy, particularly if you enjoy the changing genres of vampire film. Surprisingly, in its own quiet way, The Vampire's Ghost predates Twilight. It's an example of well a fiilm can be made on a tiny budget. This would be an excellent addition to UEN's Sci-Fi Friday roster. Watch the movie online here.

Notes: The Vampires Ghost was written by Leigh Brackett, who wrote Star Wars 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Roy Barcroft, who played the doomed boat captain, later played a sheriff in the 60s cult film Billy the Kid versus Dracula. The Vampire's Ghost, directed by Lesley Selander, was released on May 21, 1945. In the early 1970s, it played on the TV movie show Creature Features paired with House of Frankenstein. Another good blog review:

Friday, November 3, 2017

Nightmare of Ecstasy: A review

Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., by Rudolph Grey, Feral Books

Review by Doug Gibson

"Only in the infinity of the depths of a man's mind can we really find the answer."-- From the 1953 film Glen or Glenda, written, directed, produced, and starred in by Ed Wood, Jr.

Edward D. Wood, Jr., died homeless in 1978. The former "C" movie director was an alcoholic with a brain that had virtually wasted away from an excess of booze and disappointment. He expired on a friend's bed while his wife in the next room ignored his pleas for help. For the last several years of his life, the only writing, starring and directing jobs he had were for pornography. There was no mention of his death in the Hollywood press. He directed only six films that were made available to mainstream audiences, the last in 1960.

Now, flash to 2017: the late Edward D. Wood, Jr. -- known as Ed Wood -- has become a cottage industry. His films, most notably Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space, are major cult favorites selling thousands of copies a year. A film, Ed Wood, was made starring Johnny Depp as Ed. It was an Oscar winner. Wood's cheapie, near-pornography fiction paperbacks from the 1960s are collector's items. Reprints have been sold from outlets such as the Quality Paperback Book Club and Amazon. One of Wood's last screenplays, I Awoke Early the Day I Died, was filmed and stars Billy Zane of Titanic fame. There are webpages devoted to Wood. Popular film publications write about him. His short stories are being published. Films are being found, including Final Curtain..

So what made Ed Wood an American original, as he's described in Rudolph Grey's oral biography, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. From the recollections of friends, lovers, acquaintances and colleagues, Grey treats readers to Wood's life. It's a bizarre, hilarious, eccentric and sad look at the most unique soul who ever left small town life to try and hit it big in Hollywood. Wood was a reverse Sammy Glick -- full of enthusiasm and drive but not with a Machiavellian soul. As a result, everything he touched turned to lead instead of gold.

A heterosexual transvestite, Wood fought the Japanese in World War 2 wearing a bra and panties under his soldier's garb. After the war, he spent a couple of years with a traveling carnival and then headed to Hollywood. In the late 1940s Wood was an extremely handsome, energetic man who had no trouble attracting a team of actors, most of whom would stay with him for more than a decade. They included an aging Bela Lugosi, Vampira, a slinky horror TV show host, a psychic named Criswell, Wood's girlfriend Dolores Fuller, a 400-pound Swedish wrestler named Tor Johnson, and veteran character actor Lyle Talbot.

Wood finagled his first feature deal by convincing exploitation film producer George Weiss to let him make a film about a sex change, which was new and in the news in 1950. Instead, Wood made Glen or Glenda, an absurd, surrealistic autobiographical film about his own transvestite tendencies. Weiss took it, added some bond- age scenes, and released it as I Changed My Sex. It bombed then, but gradually grew to become the one Ed Wood film that enjoyed a real cult audience while he was alive.

Grey's biography details Wood's life as a "one-lung" producer in 1950s Hollywood. It was raise a few thousand dollars, shoot for a few days, shut down, raise some more money, and shoot some more film. The book is fascinating for its anecdotes of how Ed saved costs. He stole a rubber octopus from another studio for his film Bride of the Monster. He stole scene shots at motels, streets and parks. He used stock footage from other films in abundance, which often gave his films a disjointed, out-of-sequence look.

Wood's tender friendship with the aging, penniless Lugosi shows his altruistic side. It was a sincere desire to assist his boyhood film idol maintain dignity in his last years. Grey's book is a real treat for Wood fans. It contains a listing of all his film projects, whether they got off the ground or not, and a complete summary of his novels and stories.

It's easy to laugh at Ed Wood's movies. And they do appear silly. But he doesn't deserve the smarmy humor that often accompanies critiques of Ed Wood films. Wood's films often seem ridiculous because he had neither the time, nor money needed, to make a real Hollywood production. But -- and this is important -- THEY ARE NEVER DULL. Plan 9 From Outer Space may seem silly with its hubcaps-for-flying-saucers, daylight-to-night shots and stilted dialogue, but its anti-war sci-fi plot -- aliens raise the dead to convince earth to stop building weapons -- would be a crazy, exciting film with a $50 million budget.

Grey's book demonstrates what a crazy, original idea man Ed Wood was. That's why, of the thousands of low budget offerings that dotted movie screens in the 1950s, Ed Wood is the survivor. Perhaps Penn and Teller summed it up best: "We've seen Plan 9 From Outer Space 15 times. Who can say the same thing about an Emma Thompson movie?"

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bela Lugosi, vampire, mad scientist or god, he enhanced a film

It's October, which practically is Bela Lugosi month at Plan9Crunch. Besides Halloween approaching, October 20 is the birthday of the screen's iconic Dracula. So, in honor of this supernal month, we offer a Halloween treat for our readers. Five writers, well versed in the life and art of  Bela Lugosi, examine five of his late-career films. They explain how Bela Lugosi's performance enhances films that would otherwise have remained mediocre, derivative, boring, or oltherwise undistinguished. Lugosi often failed to get roles, or money, as prominent as his horror rival, Boris Karloff, but there's no debate that Bela gave his all in every role, adding his iconic stamp to even the attic offerings of Poverty Row.

Our five writers are: your's truly, Doug Gibson, co-blogger of Plan9Crunch, on "Return of the Ape Man"; Andi Brooks, blogger at The Bela Lugosi blog, and its attending Facebook page, as well as co-author of "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," on "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire"; Frank Dello Stritto, author of numerous genre essays, many collected in "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore..." The prolific Dello Stritto co-authored "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain" with Brooks. He has also written his memoir of life as a monster boomer, "I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It ...," and most recently wrote "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot." Frank offers his thoughts on "Glen Or Glenda." And Christopher R. Gauthier, who oversees the Facebook page, A Celebration of the Life and Art of Bela Lugosi, writes about Lugosi's last starring role, "Bride of the Monster."

So, on with the essays! We will go in the order the films were made, starting with 1944's "Return of the Ape Man" and ending with 1955's "Bride of the Monster."

Lugosi scientist makes “Return of the Ape Man” mad fun for viewers

By Doug Gibson

In “Return of the Ape Man,” one of Bela Lugosi’s final Monogram offerings, his deviously mad scientist, Professor Dexter, offers , with polite arrogance, this laconic remark at a fashionable party to another guest. “You know, some people’s brains would never be missed.” Shortly afterward, Dexter tries to prove it by luring the intended of his partner’s niece to his laboratory for an unwilling partial brain transfer to a reanimated, prehistoric “ape man.” Only the interference of partner Professor Gilmore, with the added persuasion of a gun, stops Dexter. “He might not die,” is Dexter’s defense.

If not for Lugosi, “Return of the Ape Man” would be virtually forgotten. Even John Carradine underplays his role as Gilmore to the point of near narcolepsy. The rest of the cast also seems to play their roles with lethargy. The script, frankly, is unimaginative, and cheats viewers of a climax with Bela’s character alive. But Lugosi’s Dexter is his second-best mad scientist role; only Dr. Vollin in 1935’s “The Raven,” surpasses Prof. Gilmore in mad, ethics-be-damned-crime-be-damned, obsession. Like Vollin, Gilmore is courtly, charismatic, dedicated and mad as a hatter in his desire to reanimate a primitive human and provide him a decent brain, at any cost.

Casual fans of the genre may not know that Lugosi played a mad scientist far more often on screen than he did a vampire. He has some great lines in “Return of the Ape Man.” They include: “Murder is an ugly word. As a scientist I don’t recognize it;” and “Fool, you’ll pay for this!” is Dexter’s angry retort when Gilmore stops him the first time. The too-passive Gilmore eventually becomes the subject of Dexter’s partial brain transplant, and the mad glee that fills the countenance of Lugosi’s Dexter is chilling and unforgettable. Do yourself a favor, Lugosi fans, see “Return of the Ape Man.

Mother Riley Meets the Vampire offers insight into Bela's misunderstood later years

By Andi  Brooks

Dogged for over half a century by a negative reputation which preceded most people’s chance to view it for themselves, "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" is in reality a far cry from the wretched, hastily thrown together, poverty row comedy it has regularly been portrayed as. Offering a precious insight into a much-maligned and misunderstood period of Bela Lugosi’s professional life, the film is essential viewing for his many fans.

In 1951, Lugosi had travelled to England with his wife Lillian to star in a revival of Dracula which, after a short tour of the provinces, would revive his flagging career with a triumphant run in London’s West End. Instead, he found himself starring in an under-funded production wildly criss-crossing the United Kingdom while awaiting an opening in a West End theatre. After almost six months on the road, the 68-year-old actor, exhausted by the grueling demands of travelling long distances through the provinces and twice-daily performances, asked the management to bring the tour to an end.

A persistent legend holds that Mother Riley Meets the Vampire was hastily arranged to finance the return to America of Lugosi and his wife when the tour supposedly collapsed shortly after opening, leaving the couple penniless and stranded in England. In reality, Lugosi’s participation in the film was first announced in the press over two months before the tour ended. While a typical B production of the period, with a slapstick plot lifted directly from "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," the film boasts solid production values and acting from a supporting cast comprised of then-current and future stars of British theatre, film and TV.  Bela Lugosi himself delivers a deliciously confident and versatile performance as the mad scientist Von Housen.

With no known filmed record of the Dracula tour in existence, one of the treats of the film is Lugosi’s first appearance, which mirrors the play’s prologue. Awakened in a coffin on the floor of his bedchamber by his Renfield-esque assistant, Lugosi’s hand “spiderwalks” from beneath the lid before he exits the coffin in one fluid movement in full Dracula costume. Asked why he sleeps in his evening clothes, he replies, with a twinkle in his eyes, “I was buried in them.” Fully recovered from the rigors of the tour, the actor would never look in such great shape on film again.

While Lugosi is said to have been confused by the constant verbal gymnastics and ad-libbing of the never-out-of-character, or costume, Arthur Lucan -- in the guise of Mother Riley -- the two veteran actors display a delightful comic chemistry in their first big scene together. As Von Housen attempts to cooingly seduce the old washerwoman, Lugosi’s presence brings out a more subdued performance form his usually manic co-star. The interplay between them really is a joy to watch.

Lugosi’s much neglected comedic skills are demonstrated throughout the film. When pompously bragging of his proposed army of 50,000 robots, the suddenly deflated mad scientist is forced to admit that he has only succeeded in building one. Lugosi’s timing and delivery are perfect. Later, in an all too brief moment reminiscent of scenes in both "Dracula" and "Dark Eyes of London," all pretense of comedy is dropped. After finally ridding himself of the constantly interrupting Mother Riley, his face a mask of gloating evil, Von Housen menacingly approaches the prostrate form of Maria Mercedes as Julia Loretti before clamping his hand over her mouth. Conscious of the need to secure a “U” certificate, essential to allow children, Mother Riley’s biggest fans, to see the film, the scene is smartly edited to comply with the certificate’s requirement that scenes of “mild” violence should not be prolonged. 

Although the script makes it quite clear that Von Housen is not really a vampire to avoid losing its desired certification, it does play with fire by dropping several very clear hints that the mad scientist is a blood-drinking serial killer. This seems to have escaped the censor’s scrutiny, as does Lugosi’s final scene in which he guns down a police officer at close range.

Every aspect of Bela Lugosi’s performance in "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" is a pleasure to watch. He demonstrates a versatility he is seldom credited with. In addition to his comedic flourishes, he effortlessly “alternates between a straight reading and a parody of his mad doctor stereotype, between scene-chewing bravado and a sinister, soothing charm." If you only know the film by its ill-deserved reputation, you are guaranteed to be very pleasantly surprised.

Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) -- Lugosi's authenticity reigns

By Steve D. Stones

Perhaps the only authentic aspect of "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" is the performance of the actor in the title – Bela Lugosi. Lugosi plays Dr. Zabor, a mad scientist on a tropical island. Zabor soon meets nightclub performers and Martin-and-Lewis imitators – Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo -- who become stranded on the island after a plane crash. Zabor plans to use a serum he has developed on the annoying Petrillo to turn him into a gorilla.

This was Lugosi's last role before starring in a number of Ed Wood Jr. features. As with all of Lugosi's films, he gives this role all his best. His Dr. Zabor role in this film is a precursor to the Dr. Vornoff role he plays in Wood's 1956 feature, "Bride of The Monster," (aka "Bride of The Atom"). Whenever Lugosi is not in a scene, we anxiously await for him to return after sitting through bad musical performances and the annoying antics of Sammy Petrillo. Lugosi may be the only reason to see this film.

Directed by William “One Shot “Beaudine ("The Ape Man" – 1943, "Voodoo Man" - 1945), the film was completed in less than two weeks for only $12,000 and was also titled "The Boys From Brooklyn." Producer Hal Wallis threatened to sue over Mitchell and Petrillo's impersonation of Martin-and-Lewis. This ended the movie partnership of Mitchell and Petrillo. At least actor Ray “Crash” Corrigan, the man in the ape suit, went on to star in a number of other monster movies, such as "It! The Terror Beyond Space" (1958). Only Lugosi purists should apply.


By Frank Dello Stritto
“All great art is a little mad,” goes the old saying, “and all mad art is a little great.” Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood’s 1953 tale of transvestism and transsexuality, is mad art. And it is at least a little great. Undeterred by a minuscule budget and his own limitations, Wood reached deep within himself to explore sexual identity as no film maker had done been before, and rarely since. The movie alternates between the surreal and documentary. The narrator of the documentary is Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell), a psychiatrist specializing in the complexities of human sexuality. Bela Lugosi embodies the surreal. His character is billed as “The Scientist,” but he is more a dark sorcerer or spirit who rules men’s fates.
Glen or Glenda begins and ends with Lugosi monologues. Lugosi’s task is to convey sexuality as more than Alton’s clinical explanations. Lugosi delivers his eccentric dialogue in a lush style: serious but mysterious, with more than a little of what the actor himself would call “mugging.” “The Scientist” knows something normal humans do not, and never will. As in some of Lugosi’s classic horror films, the supernatural impinges on the real world, and rational reasoning falls short of the full truth.

The documentary takes over with the suicide of transvestite Patrick/Patricia (a transvestite), and the tales of Glen/Glenda, a transvestite played by Wood, and Alan/Ann, a transsexual. Lugosi intervenes throughout the movie, but is little seen. In one of these pop-ins, he interrupts the sober discourses on Glen’s desires with the movie’s most famous line:
“Beware! Beware! Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys...puppy dog tails, and big, fat snails. Beware. Take care. Beware!”
Without Lugosi, the documentary would be rather dry, buoyed only by its sensational subject matter. Producer George Weiss allegedly inserted the soft-porn sequences in the middle of the film to liven up the action, make the running time a little longer, and perhaps add some comic relief (with insert close-ups of an apparently disapproving Lugosi). The presence of Lugosi throughout the movie adds the other-worldly element that makes Glen or Glenda more than just a sex-education video. It makes more palatable Glen’s weird dream sequences, with a truly bizarre Satan (played by Captain DeZita, who also played Glen’s father).
Lugosi achieved some great things during his career. The last one, unintentionally no doubt, may be exposing the sordid underbelly of Hollywood through his association with Ed Wood. Wood spent his entire career on Hollywood’s lowest rung, and Lugosi in his last years joined him there.  Wood might not be remembered at all but for Lugosi’s appearances in Bride of the Monster, Plan Nine from Outer Space, and Glen or Glenda. They should not be listed among “the worst films ever” as they often are, but perhaps among “the worst films that audiences can really enjoy.” No small part of that enjoyment comes from Lugosi.

Bride Of The Monster 1955, Lugosi's Dr. Vornoff is a monumental character
By Christopher R. Gauthier
Considered by many to be his final film despite making "The Black Sleep" in '56 after his release from rehab for his addiction to pain narcotics, Dr. Eric Vornoff is quite a vivaciously monumental character, rich with a substance that evokes a strange curiosity and under Lugosi's powerful command, conjures an undeniable intrigue that draws one into a world that might otherwise be languid and tediously mundane... Lugosi as Vornoff brings the film together, he remains the focal point and breathes promethean life into a filmic rhetorical anatomy that is otherwise dilapidated and near close to brain dead. 

The role is particularly emotional and poignant at times, no doubt could Lugosi identify with the tragedies his character for this film had endured. Being banned from his native Hungary, estranged from his wife and son, having to struggle with the inability to secure a home of his own in the forsaken impoverished jungle hell that was Hollywood, Lugosi is doing his best, as he always did, with this personally crafted role, that in many subliminal ways to the audiences at the time was cathartic for his browbeaten soul....It was his last speaking role on screen. There is a morose poetry to his performance, and he has made it something we as die-hard loyal Lugosi aficionados treasure deeply to this very day. I think Wood wanted this to be a swansong for Lugosi, and in its own right, indeed it is. 
Disregard the scoffs that often follow the very mention of the film, "Bride Of The Monster" is a beautifully flawed poetic masterpiece, which because of Bela is so incredibly wonderful to watch. The circumstantial production values were quite terrible, the film was not by far the best material he was ever offered, but as always, Lugosi being the true professional he was, uplifts the film into the echelons of cinematic greatness. Bela was the grandest mad scientist of them all during that era, and even in this lopsided production his indelible and incandescent ingenuity upon the nobility of his theatrical craft shines through the chinked flaws that overall make-up the entire sets and scripted inconsistencies of this slapdash and often incomprehensible film. 
Bride Of The Monster is a very significant film for Lugosi and as disciples we must study it and appreciate it. It is his last crusade and conquest as a lone Star of a Hollywood production. One of the last great performances, before the final curtain was descended upon him to collect him in the twilight winter of his life.

Thanks so much to Steve, Andi, Frank and Chris for their contributions!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Vampire Dracula turns 135 with the birthday of Bela Lugosi

It's been 135 years since Bela Lugosi was born in 1882. His biography is well know to many, including most readers of this blog. Suffice to say that he was a working actor until he died. Just prior to his death, he was promoting "The Black Sleep," a film he had a role in and shooting random footage with Ed Wood, some of which turned up in "Plan 9 From Outer Space. (To read the many obituaries published at his death, go to the Vampire Over London blog.) (I also published my review of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain in the Standard-Examiner newspaper.)

At Plan9Crunch, we offer three links today to posts regarding Bela Lugosi, who has become the most famous, and iconic, figure from the Universal glory days of horror that began with "Dracula" in 1931. Lugosi did not require loads of makeup to play the vampire, his acting skills and personality defined the role.

So, let's celebrate Lugosi's Birthday. Read the posts below, and even better, spend time today watching one of our favorite actor's films. It's been a while since I have seen Bela as the Count in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." My son and I will enjoy it again.

Here are three links, with a short snippet from each blog:

1) --
'Bela Lugosi In Person' captures the stage, personal appearance career of screen 'Dracula'
"He was a star, and a gracious star, attentive to fans and charmingly tongue-in-cheek sinister with the media, particularly local media, which pursued him often during his long stage assignments. Lost in dusty old-media files and updated media websites are reviews of the many plays Lugosi entered, as star, or supporting role."

2) -- 
A Tribute to Bela "Dracula" Lugosi
"I have seen "Dracula" scores of times, and Lugosi is the key to the film. He is a tall, courtly, menacing figure who promises a fate worse than death. And that is the appeal of these early horror films compared to the sadistic gore-fests of today — a fate worse than death awaits the vampire's victims. That fate is conveyed to perfection in the scene where Lugosi's vampire murders actor Dwight Frye's cringing, pathetic, mad disciple Renfield. Dracula's exterior is charming. But his filthy interior attracts darkness, fog, storm, chill winds, rodents, flies, spiders, blood and undeath."

Voodoo Man, Monogram's last Bela Lugosi production
"... 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)."