Saturday, December 28, 2019

Bela Lugosi -- The Monogramthology, a book review

Book review by Doug Gibson

There's been a literary boom regarding the nine Monogram films of Bela Lugosi. A short while back academics Gary D. Rhodes and Robert Guffey co-authored Bela Lugosi and The Monogram 9 (BearManor Media), which analyzed and deconstructed the films, from Invisible Ghost to Return of the Ape Man. (Our review of that book is here). And ....

Late in the year 2019 arrived Bela Lugosi: The Monogramthology, (Arcane Shadows Press), an anthology of "homage fiction," nine short stories, ranging from a few pages to mini-novellas, each based on the nine Lugosi films: Invisible Ghost, Spooks Run Wild, Black Dragons, The Corpse Vanishes, Bowery After Midnight, The Ape Man, Ghosts on the Loose, Voodoo Man, and The Return of the Ape Man. Bookending the collection are a forward by Drac, Classic Horror Host, and and afterward from his companion, Carita Drac. Both touch on aspects of Bela Lugosi's career and challenges. They are entertaining reads.

When a fellow fan reviews homage fiction, and I am a big fan of the Monogram series, it's important to focus on the author's story. Is it entertaining, well constructed, or does it flow well? My personal beliefs on how the films should be massaged into prequels, sequels, production dramas ... that's really not important.

Reader, if you need to learn the plots, consult Wikipedia or some of the reviews on our blog. This review assumes readers know the plots. There are prequels, sequels and more. I find much to praise in the stories. The authors have created art that manages to capture the spirit of the iconic 9 films. In some stories, characters from distinct films manage to encounter each other. That seems appropriate to this reviewer, given the mystical world of the Monogram, with Bela Lugosi as "God" of each film.

I have minor quibbles with some stories. I have two or three favorites. To apply equal space to the nine story-tellers, each will have a capsule review that includes the name of the story, the name of the author, and a few observations. A main goal of mine is not to cheat the reader of discovering chief plot elements.

-- The Invisible Cell, by Robert J. Kokai Jr. (from Invisible Ghost) -- This sequel involves what happens soon after Charles Kessler, played by Lugosi, is taken into custody for several murders he committed in a trance after he sees his estranged, thought-dead wife. Kessler narrates an interesting tale heavy on psychology and madness, with a clever twist at the end.

--Spooks Run Wild ... Again, by Dwight Kemper (from Spooks Run Wild) -- This is a pithy, fast-moving story of a production crisis when producer Sam Katzman accuses this mischievous East Side Kids actors of stealing the film. Bela Lugosi, star of the film, uses his talents to discover the truth of the theft.

-- Black Dragons II: Count Dracula vs. a Phantom of the Opera, by Todd Shiba, (from Black Dragons) -- The author takes Black Dragons, a World War II semi-propaganda film that is easily the most convoluted of the Monogram 9 and ... creates a very long short story that manages to be even more convoluted than the movie. I'm not criticizing the author. The wild, ever-changing plot is an intentional spoof on the film. It's done well, and with humor. My only criticism is a few pages could be trimmed from the 43-page story.

-- Happy Birthday Countess, by Gregory William Mank, (from The Corpse Vanishes) -- This is my favorite story. Film scholar Mank, who knows the genre as well as anyone, crafts a short but deeply affecting prequel of how Lugosi's Dr. George Lorenz, the mad scientist of The Corpse Vanishes, met his vain, cruel, mostly unfeeling wife/countess. It's a strong tale of unrequited love turning a relationship into co-dependency, madness and depravity.

-- Bowery After Midnight, by Brian Carney, (from Bowery At Midnight) -- This sequel takes survivors from Bowery at Midnight back to the soup kitchen where Lugosi's character also ran a criminal enterprise, with many murders. It appears that restless spirits are haunting the location. There's a fake spiritualist, a taunting magician, a confused young couple (particularly the man), and a supernatural god who can open, and close horrific passages. Characters from other Monogram 9 films make appearances.

-- The Gorilla Strikes! by Kurt McCoy, (from The Ape Man) -- This 45-page sequel is jarring with its passages of violence and sadism in a carnival atmosphere where Dr. James Brewster, Bela Lugosi's Ape Man, is now living, having survived the previous film; but still needing spinal fluid to appear normal for short periods. I was initially put off by the tale, contrasting its extreme violence with the G-rated implied or mild violence in the film. A second reading, however, made me a big fan. McCoy has crafted very strong pulp fiction. It's as good, even better, than Ed Wood's' pulp fiction produced in the last decade of his life. That is a compliment, by the way.

-- The Bride of Andy Hardy Meets Dracula, by Frank J. Dello Stritto, (from Ghosts on the Loose) -- This is a favorite tale of mine as well. It stays away from the plot and instead imagines how Ava Gardner, on loan from MGM and not a star yet, may have felt while acting in this poverty-row film, her first movie where she's among the stars' names. As a still-young woman better known as Mrs. Mickey Rooney than Ava Gardner, she and Lugosi share a day on the set, and Dello Stritto also imagines how one of Lugosi's most controversial lines came to be.

-- Voodoo Man Returns, by Brad A. Braddock, (from Voodoo Man) -- Braddock, who has written a prequel novel to Lugosi's film, White Zombie, crafts an entertaining revenge tale taking place after the finish of Voodoo Man. Lugosi is resurrected via voodoo, helped by confederates played in the film by George Zucco and John Carradine. Lugosi's mad scientist Dr. Marlowe, is outraged at how his dead wife has been treated by a local judge. The 25-page story generates suspense and reads quickly.

-- The Road to Madness: A Prequel to Return of the Ape Man, by Stefanie Kokai, (from Return of the Ape Man) -- This is a love story, narrated by the woman who once had requited love with Prof. James Dexter, the obsessed scientist who tries to swap brains with a neanderthal in the film. But that's in the future. In this romantic tragedy, the narrator relates how Dexter's life was almost led astray from his obsession by a greater power, love. The story has an interesting twist, involving the narrator, that I'll let readers discover.

This anthology will attract notice from fans of the films interested in sampling the literary additions. However, those unfamiliar with the movies could also be motivated to see the films after reading these tales for a dark night in a warm easy chair or bed.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Our favorite kitschy Christmas films at Plan9Crunch

(This essay originally ran in the Dec. 20, 2007 Standard-Examiner)

By Doug Gibson

Every December (or after Thanksgiving!)  the best Christmas films pop up on TV: "Miracle on 34th Street," "A Christmas Carol," "Going My Way," "The Shop Around the Corner," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — I refer to the Boris Karloff-narrated cartoon — "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" and, of course, that other Jimmy Stewart classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."

We all have our favorite Christmas cinema moments. George Bailey's joyous run through Bedford Falls, Ebenezer Scrooge dancing for joy on Christmas morning, Macy's Kris Kringle speaking Dutch to a World War II orphan girl, and my favorite, crusty but lovable Father Fitzgibbon's surprise reunion with his mother after decades apart.

There are great holiday films. Much has been written about them. But today let's spill some ink about the other Christmas films, the kitschy ones. They're all over the dial. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel!

Most aren't worth five minutes of our time, but some still spread holiday magic. We've all heard of "A Christmas Carol" or "Scrooge," but how many recall the Fonz — Henry Winkler — starring in "An American Christmas Carol"? There are two well-received versions of "Miracle on 34th Street," but do you recall the kitschy 1973 TV version in which the lawyer was played by actor-turned-newsman David Hartman?

Even the biggy, "It's a Wonderful Life," has a kitschy cousin. Remember "It Happened One Christmas," the gender-switching knockoff starring Marlo Thomas?

Indeed, the competition is fierce for those kitschiest Christmas movies that still entertain us. But here are three finalists, all made on the cheap, yet still being sold and garnering holiday TV showings.

So, without further adieu, here is the best kitschiest Christmas film:

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" — This 1964 film was shot in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, N.Y., using many minor cast members from a NYC stage production of "Oliver Twist." It has a catchy theme song, "Hurray for Santy (sic) Claus," that you'll hum afterward. The plot involves Martians coming to earth, kidnapping Santa and whisking him away to cheer up the Martian kiddies. Two earth children are kidnapped along with Santa. Santa and the earth kids fight off a Martian baddie, prep a goofy Martian to become that planet's Santa, and launch off to earth in the spaceship. We never know if they made it home — perhaps the budget didn't allow that. The acting has to be seen to be believed, but the film has a goofy charm.

It was a big hit on the now-gone "weekend matinee" circuit and played theaters for years. Pia Zadora, who was briefly a sexy starlet in the 1980s, plays one of the Martian children. John Call, as Santa, does a mean "ho, ho, ho." (Update, in 2011 holiday season this film played at the North Ogden Walker Cinemas for $2 plus a donated can of food!)

And now, the second-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa Claus" — Don't confuse this 1959 Mexican film with Dudley Moore's "Santa Claus: The Movie" or Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause" films. This import is weird and a little creepy, but it sticks with you. Old Kris Kringle is a sort of recluse who talks to himself and lives in a castle in outer space. He has no elves. His helpers are children from around the world who can't sing very well, though they belt out a lot of songs. Santa's reindeer are, I think, plastic and he uses a key to start them. Santa also works out on an exercise belt to slim down for the chimneys. For some reason Santa hangs out with Merlin the Magician.

Enter "Pitch," a devil. His goal is to stop Santa from delivering presents. Pitch is a wimpy fellow in red tights and wears what looks like a short middy skirt. Santa and Merlin foil Pitch's nefarious plans. The film also focuses on two children, a poor girl and a rich, neglected boy, who resist Pitch's temptations. There are magic flowers and even special drinks. Santa glides safely to a chimney using a parasol. If this film sounds to readers like the after-effects of taking two Percocet, you got the gist of it.

Finally, the third-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa and the Three Bears" — If you lived in Southern California long ago, this 1970 blend of live action and cartoon was a Thanksgiving afternoon staple on KTLA Channel 5. The animation is mediocre, but the story has a simple charm. A forest ranger teaches two excitable bear cubs about Christmas while their grouchy mother bear wants them to hibernate for the winter. The ranger agrees to play Santa for the cubs on Christmas Eve, but a storm keeps "Santa" away ... or does it?

The best part of the film is the live-action beginning and ending, where the ranger sits by the Christmas tree with his grand-daughter, a sleepy cat and many toys. The ranger is voiced and played by Hal Smith, best known as Otis the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Grumpy Mama Bear was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma on "The Flintstones"). The uncredited director is Barry Mahon, who made soft-core sex films in the 1960s with such titles as "Nudes Inc." and "The Sex Killer."

A footnote: These films can occasionally be found on TV. Indeed, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and "Santa Claus" are usually broadcast a Friday in December on KULC Channel 9 in Utah at 9 p.m. and on TCM. Antenna TV sometimes plays "... Martians" during the Christmas season. Both Santa Claus films mentioned here have also been spoofed by the snarky robots of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Silent Night, Deadly Night, Utah-made sleazy terror for the holidays

By Steve D. Stones

Just how sleazy is the holiday horror film SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT? Paige Hurley, a concerned parent from Minnesota said: "My 3-year old son saw the television commercial for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT last week and now refuses to sit on Santa’s lap for our annual Christmas picture this year. What next? A marauding turkey at Thanksgiving?" Roxanne T. Mueller of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said: "SILENT NIGHT, DEALY NIGHT is a sleazy, miserable, insulting piece of garbage!" Actor Mickey Rooney said: "How dare they! I’m all for the First Amendment, but … don’t give me Santa Claus with a gun going to kill someone. The scum who made that movie should be run out of town." As you can see, critics were not very kind to this movie.

Like DON’T GO IN THE WOODS . . . ALONE, this film has a special appeal to me because it was filmed locally in Heber City, Utah. In fact, directors James Bryan and Charles Sellier Jr. both worked on the Grizzly Adams TV show of the 1970s.The story begins with a young family traveling to a Utah mental facility to visit their grandfather on Christmas Eve. For years, the grandfather has pretended to be unconscious and mute. After greeting the grandfather, the parents leave the room to attend to some formalities with the superintendent while Billy stays to watch his grandfather. The grandfather begins to warn little Billy that only good children can receive gifts from Santa, and Santa severely punishes all naughty children.

On their way back home, Billy expresses a lack of interest in Santa visiting their home on Christmas because he is afraid of being punished. Soon they encounter a man dressed in a Santa suit pulled off the side of the road with car trouble. The Santa has just robbed a local convenient store. The father pulls over to offer help, but the man points a gun at him. He quickly puts the car in reverse, crashing into a nearby ditch. The father is knocked out unconscious. Santa pulls the mother out of the car, raping and murdering her. Billy witnesses her murder after fleeing from the car and hiding in the brush near the ditch.

Four years later in December 1974, Billy is now living at Saint Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children. Mother Superior disciplines Billy for showing a violent crayon drawing of Santa to his classmates. While walking in the hallway to his room, Billy witnesses a young couple having sex in their room. This triggers a flashback in his mind of the rape and murder of his mother. Even sitting on Santa’s lap at the orphanage seems to trigger the violent flashbacks of his mother.

It is now Christmas time 1984, and Billy is a grown up teenager working at a toy store. One of his co-workers constantly teases and bullies him at work. He develops a crush on a pretty brunette girl who also works at the toy store. He even has sexual fantasies about her in his dreams. His boss insists that he dress up as Santa to greet costumers. He is very hesitant to take on this assignment because of what he witnessed of his mother many years ago, but soon agrees to dress up as Jolly O’ Saint Nick.

One night while leaving the store, he witnesses his bully co-worker raping the pretty brunette girl in the back storage room. Once again, this triggers another flashback of his mother being raped. This time he becomes violent and kills the man by hanging him with Christmas lights. For the rest of the film, Billy goes on a murdering rampage with an axe and dressed in his Santa suit.

One particularly sleazy and gratuitous scene in the film shows Linnea Quigley, the most famous star of the film, having sex on a pool table with her boyfriend. She hears a cat outside the house and decides to open the front door topless to let it inside. How many women would really open the front door topless to let a cat in the house? This is not very believable. Soon Billy enters the home and picks Quigley up, impaling her on the antlers of an antelope head hanging above the fireplace. The real Santa will have quite a surprise when he comes down this particular chimney tonight!

Although I’m a fan of this film, I do have my criticisms of it. This film is an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween some six years earlier. The 1980s ushered in the "slasher genre" as a result of Halloween, and this is one of many 1980s films that fits this category.

What makes Michael Meyers such a believable killer is that we really do not know why he kills, and we never see his face. Plus, we feel Meyers is evil and has no remorse for his actions because he is not aware they are wrong. The Billy character in this film is not quite believable because we are given a long history into his life, and he appears to be the typical all American boy up until he witnesses the girl at the toy store being raped by his co-worker. He does not come across as being evil and seems to be killing for only the sake of witnessing a rape. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why parents all across America were protesting and banning movie theatres for screening this film.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a film I would only recommend to fans of the "slasher genre" of the 1980s. If you’re looking for a well-made, classic holiday horror film, I would highly recommend BLACK CHRISTMASfrom 1974. BLACK CHRISTMAS pre-dates the "slasher genre" by nearly a decade, and is said to be John Carpenter’s inspiration for Halloween.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Christmas Carol and its many adaptations

Review by Doug Gibson

(I first released this several months ago but am re-posting it for Holidays Season's reading) If you are A Christmas Carol fanatic, like me, who reads Dickens' novella every year and watches seven or eight film versions of Ebenezer Scrooge's ghostly visitations every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas ... you have found Nirvana. It's "A Christmas Carol and its Adaptations: Dickens's Story on Screen and Television," by Fred Guida, McFarland, 2000 (800-253-2187). You can also get it via Amazon here.

You don't have to be a fanatic like me to love the book too. If you enjoy Dickens, A Christmas Carol, or just Christmas you'll love what's to learn from author Guida. I have spent more than a generation looking for a really good book that highlights film adaptations of A Christmas Carol. For 25 years I've relied on the OK but slightly kitschy A Christmas Carol Trivia Book ... I've read it 20 times but it's second string to McFarland's offering.

Besides, extensively detailed, and sagely opinionated critiques of the various film adaptations, Guida presents readers with a history of fiction, in America and Britain, that preceded Dickens' and paved the way for the spiritual, moral and familial themes Dickens' utilized in A Christmas Carol. The author also provides short recaps and analysis of Dickens' Christmas-related works including "Cricket on the Hearth," and discusses Christmas in other novels, such as A Pickwick Papers. This deepens readers' understanding of Dickens' motivations and his state of mind when penning these tales.

I learned a lot about the history of 19th century adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Many were cheap pirated editions that kept Dickens in court trying to stop them and prevent losing royalties that he deserved. The first adaptations were stage readings, usually a shorter version written by the author. The journey toward "flickers" versions of A Christmas Carol" in the 19th century included the delightfully named "Magic Lantern" adaptations. They are the early ancestors of slideshows in which a lantern, projected against a painting or drawing, provided a screen that audiences could enjoy the tale. It would be fascinating to see a restored magic lantern version of the tale today. Early stage versions are covered. It was interesting to learn that Cricket on the Hearth was a more popular stage play for Christmas than "Carol" in the 19th century.

Although it's a scholarly work, the author has a relaxed, conversational tone. He breaks in often with firm but gentle opinions and I enjoyed his "on to the next"-type of transitions from adaptation to adaptation.

As for the theatrical versions, silent and talking, just about everything from 1900 to 1990 or so, when the book was published, is covered well. Many of the silents are lost but the author has retained still photos and film reviews when available. To understand Guida's assessments, it must be noted that he places great relevance of the moral changes of Scrooge from selfish, superior misanthrope to repentant, spiritual man. Guida also includes the familial warmth of the The Cratchit family as an essential part of any adaptation. There is one particular scene that he feels strongly should be included in adaptations (and I agree). It is Scrooge being shown the pitiable children "Ignorance" and "Want." There are versions that he likes that don't include it, but he's correct that versions should include it. The final scene with The Spirit of Christmas Present provides stark evidence of what Scrooge has callously neglected to assist. It shows him that smug self righteousness masquerading as "self reliance" is harming "millions like this child."

Guida's favorite theatrical versions are the 1951 "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim and the 1984 version with George C. Scott. They portray Scrooge as a cold superior bereft of empathy, rather than as a pitiful crabby man (portrayals of which hamper the 1938 and 1935 talkies versions). His favorite cartoons are the early 1970s A Christmas Carol, again with Sim, and the 1960s Mr. McGoo's A Christmas Carol." Both are regretfully seldom seen today on TV.

I was surprised Guida likes the 1970 big-budget musical "Scrooge," with Albert Finney. It seems brassy to me but Guida argues that it's a successful version that captures well a big-budget musical of Dickens' tale. I'm willing to give it another shot. The author does sort of dismiss "A Muppet Christmas Carol," arguing that it will have less influence than other versions. I think time has proven that wrong, as probably 80 percent of young children are now introduced to A Christmas Carol through Kermit and Miss Piggy as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit. And the songs in the Muppet version are better than the 1970 musical offerings.

However, despite versions that Guida considers second tier, he generally still enjoys the films and finds positive points in the films. He has a scholar's love for his topic and gets deep into the details of the planning and production of the films. And he finds gems that I had never heard of. I will be searching for a 1947 Spanish (Spain) version of "... Carol" called "Leyenda de la Navidad."

While I appreciate Guida's efforts to track down every TV version inspired by A Christmas Carol, it's an impossible task. We didn't need reviews of versions from "Beavis and Butthead" or kitschy sitcoms. The small-typed scores of pages devoted to this would have been better filled with maybe 20 select, superior TV adaptations, such as The Andy Griffith's Show's "The Christmas Story," with the Scrooge-like merchant Ben Weaver, covered in two-to-three pages of more detailed analysis.

It's a shame that the book stops at about 30 years ago. I'd love to see summaries of, say, A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and the big-budget Disney's A Christmas Carol, with Jim Carrey. But still, if you love Dickens' tale, or just like it, buy this book -- either to learn more abolut what's arguably our most famous fictional work or to just joyfully revel in the wonderful, inspired Christmas tale.

And just so you know, fans, a 2019 version of A Christmas Carol, with Tom Hardy, is set for release this year. We are only about eight months from the start of the Christmas season!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Book details comedy shorts of Thelma Todd with ZaSu Pitts, Patsy Kelly

Review by Doug Gibson

With old comedy shorts, most are unknown to the average viewed (but not the genre fan). With the Hal Roach comedy shorts, Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang have become iconic. There were others, of course, as popular nearly 90 years ago.

Film authority James L. Neibaur recently penned "The Hal Roach Comedy Shorts of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly," McFarland, buy here. The past decade or so, I've occasionally seen Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly shorts from the early and mid '30s as extras on TCM. I've enjoyed them. Recently, a DVD of Todd's shorts with Pitt was released. There is also a collection of the Todd and Kelly shorts.

Todd made 17 shorts with Pitts, and 21 with Kelly. Thelma Todd was a beautiful blonde and was the "It" girl in the shorts. Pitts was more fluttery and hesitant, Kelly more brassy and impetuous. All were extremely talented comic actors and the shorts were popular. Neibaur uses a successful formula that he has done in other books. He provides early bios of the principles, a detailed account of each film history, along with summaries, tidbits from production and the stars' lives, reviews, and what the stars were doing between comedy shorts. All were pretty in other films, Roach often giving his actors time to work at other studios as Hal Roach studio did take hiatuses.

One of the best Todd/Pitts shorts is 1931's "On the Loose." It's not because it has a cameo of Laurel & Hardy, although it's a funny scene. I like it because it exemplifies the strength of the Todd/Pitts/Kelly series. They are working women in the midst of The Great Depression, roommates trying to balance economic survival and looking for a good man. Neibaur notes that the films serve as a time capsule, a glimpse into the times. In "On the Loose," Coney Island is featured (the stars are tired of their dates constantly taking them there). I love the scenes of the park in 1931. You can watch "On the Loose" below:

My favorite Todd/Kelly short is "Babes in the Goods," from 1934. Again, the pair are working girls struggling to hold onto a job during tough economic times. They are tasked with setting up a department store window with hilarious results. Kelly really shines in this role.

I spent hours poring through Neibaur's book, thoroughly enjoying the recaps of the shows. I don't have the DVDs so I Googled shorts and was able to find a lot to watch at YouTube and DailyMotion. The history of the stars is interesting. Pitts left amicably to pursue more features work. Todd died tragically in late 1935, in a car of carbon monoxide poisoning. Although theories abound, we'll probably never know if it was a suicide, accident, or murder. Kelly, Neibaur notes, lived as an open lesbian in 1930s Hollywood. She suffered sand inhalation in a car wreck in the 1930s and was told she only had 10 years to live. That was wrong; she lived several decades longer.

After Todd's death, there were three films left on contract. Pert Kelton starred with Kelly in one and the final two matched Kelly with Russian-born Lyda Roberti. Roach was pleased enough with Kelly and Roberti to star the pair in a film. However, health problems forced Roberti to retire from acting after that feature and she died in 1938.

Neibaur has written a gem of a film history book here and it merits a successful release. It can also be purchased, including via Kindle, at Amazon here.

As I have noted, I think these shorts blended realism with humor. Women probably could identify with these stories of struggling individuals living through tough times and trying to find love and economic success. I hope Turner Classic Movies will provide viewers several hours of the Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and :Patsy Kelly shorts. (Below is a photo of Pitts (left)  and Todd in the film, "On the Loose."

Sunday, November 17, 2019

An interview with Carrie Lynn, author of Finding Fitzgerald

  Recently, we reviewed the memoir, "Finding Fitzgerald," by author Carrie Lynn. As a fellow fan of the late writer, John D. Fitzgerald, she recounts a decades-long love of the writer's work and her efforts to uncover the mysteries behind his writings. While his best-known books, such as Papa Married a Mormon, and The Great Brain series, are based on people, places and events in Fitzgerald's life, they are fiction, with locations and individuals' lives adapted to fit the historical fiction. 

     Here is an excerpt from my review: "Finding Fitzgerald" is a memoir. Lynn blends her dogged, determined search to uncover the secrets behind John D. Fitzgerald's mysteries, with her family life of the past two generations. The book opens with Lynn visiting Price, Utah. That's where the Fitzgerald family actually lived. Frankly, for this Fitzgerald fan, it's a thrill to witness Lynn talking to people who knew the Fitzgeralds of the novels, to have her be at locations that we see in a photo in one of the novels, and see buildings and streets in Price that she can visualize as settings in the novels.

     Here's an interview with Ms. Lynn. I appreciate her taking the time to answer these questions as she is busy with a book tour.

     Plan9Crunch: Tell us what you discovered about Price, Utah, and how it can serve as a model for Adenville and Silver Reef, both prime locations in Fitzgerald's books?

Lynn: Ages ago, some historian somewhere, determined that Adenville was based on the Utah towns of Silver Reef and Leeds. The deductive reasoning that brought them to that conclusion makes sense. John morphed the placement of Adenville, from the very beginning. He still had family living in Price when he wrote his first book, Papa Married a Mormon. Therefore, he set his stories in Southern Utah – Dixie. He connected it to cities in that area like Enoch. Historically the closest thing to Adenville-Silverlode would be Leeds – Silver Reef. Maybe someday when we get to ask John himself, he will confirm the idea. However, he only gave 2, maybe 3 interviews about his work. No one asked that question.

Originally when I ran across the Leeds-Silver Reef, I agreed. Yet the more I read, the more I learned that Price has a gorgeous lawless history. Complete with saloons, gunslingers, outlaws, thieves, and the like. In its infancy Price was Adenville/Silverlode rolled into one. It straddled the train tracks. Then a fire decimated the town. And in an instant, the lawlessness ceased. You can’t even imagine it now in modern day Price. The city rebuilt itself and has maintained a kind of Mayberry-eque quality. My key understanding came from a hand drawn map. From that map, I could better imagine the gunfights, the town layout, and the stories that John remembered when he wrote his books.

Plan9Crunch: The story of the Great Brain's character, Tom Fitzgerald, is very bittersweet. He had a life with a lot of tragedy and setbacks, yet you encountered recollections that paint a very positive picture of him. Do you see the real Tom depicted in the books?    

Lynn: I do. Partly based on a handwritten letter by a neighbor, named Elgin Grames, and his devout commitment to Tom Fitzgerald being “known as “The Great Brain””.  I think John admired his brother immensely. He had 2 older brothers in real life. He could have used either of them, if the model were entire fictious. But I think he saw in Tom something, that he knew life may not see in Tom, that was his heart. I believe he wanted the world to remember the same guy, that Elgin Grames remembered.

One of the key things I learned to keep in mind during my research was to stop letting my book images crowd my discoveries. We as readers will never get to read the original “Great Brain” book. It was the fourth and final book in John’s initial series. Because it was never published, as he initially intended, we likely get a more slanted view of T.D. because John eventually had to write 7/8 books on the “Great Brain” character. I conjecture that many of the stories in The Great Brain series were likely spread across his siblings and friends. I have no absolute proof on that. But if I ever found that out, I wouldn’t be surprised.

      Plan9Crunch: As an equally devoted fan, tell us what it is like to actually speak with an correspond with people who knew the individuals characterized in the books?

     Lynn: It wasn’t always as fun as one would imagine. I never spoke with any of Tom or John’s siblings. His younger brother Gerald was alive but barely communicative. He would be closest conversation I would have. All of my interactions with Gerald happened through his son, who was very gracious and as helpful as he could be.

     The others I connected with were helpful, but in a tougher way. The first painful correspondence I received, didn’t even make it in the book because it’s about a lesser known family member, but the sting of the letter really set me back. I had put the characters in the books on such a pedestal, that having them taken down, sometimes felt like a wrecking ball. Yet, after I let things settle, I could find nuggets of joy in the raw pieces. Over time it made me love both versions of a character even more.

Plan9Crunch: Finding Fitzgerald is a memoir of your family as well. Do you think your children will share the same lifetime love for the series and novels that you do? 

Lynn: Likely not. They do still talk about them. Largely because of the project. They have a favorite book, Great Brain at the Academy. Each of them has their own favorite authors and book series. I love that. We have richer conversations because of it. Ironically, I have a slew of other favorite books and authors, too. Fitzgerald just needed to be found.

Plan9Crunch: Why do you think Fitzgerald created historical fiction, rather than placing the books in Price and keeping characters as they were? Was he writing more about an era than just a family?  

Lynn: Possibly. It is also possible that he was respecting all the living relatives in his family that still lived in the area. He had siblings and cousins in the nearby area. He also wove his tale more broadly with those extended family members initially. We don’t see it as much it The Great Brain. Lastly, who knows what he initially submitted for publication. He took the story off of family history, as he and his siblings recalled it. Maybe the initial story was too complex? Or may too unmarketable? We have no galley proofs to look at.

Plan9Crunch: What advice do you have to future Fitzgerald sleuths? What issue unresolved could be still be answered? 

Lynn: My best answer is “go with your gut.” This Fitzgerald discovery story seems to have an assignment for each seeker individually. None of have ever met. We have never lived by each other. Or hold any other connection than the love of the books John wrote. We each brought something new, it added to the next seekers information. Specific ideas would be finding the pulp fiction stories he wrote. There are more than 300. Finding his pen name. there is also a world of Utah pioneering that the Neilsens did, especially Aunt Sena’s husband that may unearth new insights. Whoever takes it from here, will be led. That is all I know. It really is a Field of Dreams experience.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Memoir searches for answers of writer John D. Fitzgerald, Great Brain ...

Review by Doug Gibson

There are many fans of the late writer, John D. Fitzgerald. I agree with the description of him as "Utah's Mark Twain." 60-plus years ago he wrote a trilogy of novels about the Fitzgerald family, where a transplanted Pennsylvanian emigrated to Utah to find his wayward brother and also found love with a young Mormon woman. "Papa Married a Mormon" and raised a family.

In his later years, Fitzgerald penned several more novels, geared to younger readers, that focused more on the Fitzgerald children, particularly "The Great Brain," Thomas Dennis Fitzgerald, or T.D., who solved dilemmas that perplexed his contemporaries, even the adults. The successful series, spawned a film, "The Great Brain," that unfortunately had little distribution but can now be viewed at YouTube. The series, all with titles that began with "The Great Brain ..." was so popular that after Fitzgerald's death, the discovery of another "Great Brain" manuscript was also published.

I repeat there are many fans of John D. Fitzgerald, but there are others, myself included, who can be regarded as "'super fans." He is among our favorite writers. We don't just read his novels, we re-read them to tatters, introduce them to others, most satisfyingly to our children, and yes, we think about the Fitzgerald family a lot. We harbor warm sentiments towards Papa, Mamma, T.D., the Great Brain, the narrator, J.D. (John D. Fitzgerald), S.D., older brother Sean Dennis Fitzgerald, Uncle Will, Aunt Cathie, and others.

The books are written as if they are recollections of childhood and family. The principal towns, located in Southern Utah, are Adenville, a predominantly Mormon community, and mining town Silverlode. There are even photographs of the major family characters in the novel, "'Papa Married a Mormon."

I promise I am getting to a review of the wonderful book shown above, but this preface is necessary. If you are a super fan of John D. Fitzgerald, you will encounter a dilemma if you do any cursory research of his popular novels. There is no Adenville. No Silverlode ever existed. The major characters can be located, albeit some with different names. However, these characters don't, for the most part, match how they are depicted in the novels.

Quite frankly, this shouldn't be a surprise. The books are clearly marked as novels, or fiction. You go to the library, "Papa Married a Mormon" is in the fiction section. The "Great Brain" books are in children's fiction. But if you are attached to these novels, it's easy to succumb to the belief they are real.

The author of "Finding Fitzgerald," E.L. Marker (WiDo Publishing, 2019) Carrie Lynn (buy it here), was introduced to the novels at roughly the same age I was. "The Great Brain" was first read to her on a family camping trip in 1976. Our teacher read "The Great Brain At the Academy" to my fifth-grade class a year earlier . Lynn was mesmerized. I was mesmerized. I had to read every "Great Brain" book. And then I had to search the wonderful, now sadly gone "Acres of Books" in Long Beach, Calif., and buy the three novels Fitzgerald had published in the 1950s.

"Finding Fitzgerald" is a memoir. Lynn blends her dogged, determined search to uncover the secrets behind John D. Fitzgerald's mysteries, with her family life of the past two generations. The book opens with Lynn visiting Price, Utah. That's where the Fitzgerald family actually lived. Frankly, for this Fitzgerald fan, it's a thrill to witness Lynn talking to people who knew the Fitzgeralds of the novels, to have her be at locations that we see in a photo in one of the novels, and see buildings and streets in Price that she can visualize as settings in the novels.

One of the most satisfying questions that Lynn answers in "Finding Fitzgerald" is her realization, through a study of Price and its diverse communities, that this town/city offered John D. Fitzgerald the settings of both "Adenville" and "Silverlode." Price had its sections that resembled a small Mormon community and it had its settings where there were saloons, etc. In fact, one interesting fact learned is that Papa Fitzgerald, Tom senior, was not a newspaper editor but nevertheless had a fascinating life. For a long time he traveled through life, pursuing adventures, including ore mining, before settling down in Price and marrying and raising a family.

These location and personality disconnections are important for super fans, because, as Lynn poignantly notes in her memoir, they can tear at the heart. I recall in the late 1970s dragging my family through back roads in Southern Utah trying to locate the ruins of "Adenville," supposedly destroyed by a flood, and the ghost town of "'Silverlode." I thought I found "Silverlode" in Silver Reef, but couldn't find any sign of "'Adenville," but hopefully thought a big white home might have been "Uncle Will"'s place that must have survived the flood. 😀 This just provides an example of how powerful a connection to Fitzgerald's writing can be for some readers.

I need to pay tribute to the author's patient research and determination. She pored over long ago newspaper editions, public relations materials for novels and film, corresponded with Fitzgerald family members and friends, other researchers, started a blog, talked with academics, shared her findings with loved ones, sought and followed their advice, and went on pilgrimages to the areas where the books' characters lived. She not only eased our concerns about the literary license, she provides strong examples, through family lore and her research of Price and other areas, of the origins and inspirations of many of the events and individuals who populate the novels.

And the memoir will tug at your heart when Lynn writes about the real-life "Great Brain," Tom Fitzgerald. The inspiration for brother John's most famous character had a life filled with much tragedy. He was alone most of his latter-half life, and encountered a lot of adversity. But we also learn that he was a survivor, a man who was respected by many, shared his knowledge of subjects with others, and "read a lot of books." I get the feeling from what I learned in the memoir that John loved and respected Tom, and wanted others to feel that respect.

Lynn's memoir flows well between her family and her research. Her embarrassment at falsely claiming to be a writer doing research leads to the happy result of actually completing a book. Her mixture of emotions from discovering and deciphering Fitzgerald mysteries is exemplified in her procrastination to read "Papa Married a Mormon" to her reluctance to pursue answers from a prominent, finally located source, because she doesn't want to bother him. She eventually "bothers" the source for more answers. That's fortunate, because the journalist that is me was decrying her for shying away from that source. It's also heartwarming to read of Lynn being on a panel as a Fitzgerald expert.

There's one more Fitzgerald mystery solved in "Finding Fitzgerald" near the very end: the likely identity of the man who inspires Bishop Aden, the Mormon bishop of "Adenville." I'll say no more on that, leave it to the reader to learn, but will add that in my opinion the Price resident who characterizes "'Mama, Tena Fitzgerald," is likely the most similar in real life to her character in the novels.

Do yourself a favor reader, enjoy "Finding Fitzgerald." The author did a yeoman's job in unearthing so many facts and underscoring how wonderful John D. Fitzgerald's historical novels are. And make sure you pick up a few "Great Brain" books and "Papa Married a Mormon." They are available still, in shops and via Amazon. In fact, "Finding Fitzgerald can also be purchased at Amazon here.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Frank Dello Stritto talks about Carl Denham's Giant Monsters

Happy end of Halloween Plan9Crunch readers. We have a November treat for you. I interviewed film scholar Frank Dello Stritto on his recently published book, "Carl Denham's Giant Monsters," Cult Movies Press, 2019. It's another of Frank's historical fiction novels in which he guides us through the 20th century, blending with dozens of films, to provide the until-now untold complete life history of Carl Denham, the man who brought King Kong to New York City. Our review is here. It's in the same spirit as Frank's "A Werewolf Remembers," also at Cult Movies Press) in which much more was revealed about Lawrence Talbot and those who passed through his times.
I really enjoyed speaking with Frank, and I appreciate him giving us the time. At the end, he reveals via our blog what his next literary topic will be. Cult Movies Press website is here. Other books by Frank from Cult Movies Press include a collection of essays, "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore," his memoir, "I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It ...," and "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," which he co-authored with Andi Brooks, who runs the valuable Bela Lugosi blog.
-- Doug Gibson

You obviously have great affection for the 1933 film, King Kong. How did that film impact your decision to write the book?
Dello Stritto: I first saw King Kong on television in March 1956. I was just short of my sixth birthday. My family (parents and my brother) and I sat around our little television (in 1956, all televisions were small), and watched it on Million Dollar Movie. A magical night that I still remember. Since then King Kong has ranked among my favorite movies.
In my fiction built around old horror and monster movies, I look for a central character who has appeared in more than one film. I can construct a saga around them, which becomes the focus of the book. For my first fiction book (A Werewolf Remembers), I chose Lawrence Talbot (i.e., The Wolf Man), who appears in five Universal movies.
Carl Denham only appeared in two movies (King Kong and Son of Kong), but those gave me plenty to work with.
Incidentally, I think of my two novels as historical fiction—completely consistent with the world in the movies and the real world we live in. Not easy to reconcile the two worlds, but I am able to pull that off well enough.

How did you go about selecting films, their characters, and news events that Carl Denham would play a role in the book?
Dello Stritto: The one-word answer is “Apes.” Of course, King Kong and Son of Kong had to be the core of the story since they are the only two films in which Carl Denham appears. Before and after Kong, I wanted him to meet every famous ape or ape man in the movies. So, I had to work into Denham’s adventures Tarzan (Denham meets Jane, but only sees Tarzan from a distance), Mighty Joe Young (1949, whose protagonist, Max O’Hara is a caricature of Denham), and Africa Screams, which could have been titled “Abbott & Costello Meet King Kong.” Konga (1961) also figures in the story, but Denham only hears about that when one of its characters visits him.
Denham, in the time frame of my book, is a grumpy old man, and having him tell of his adventure Abbott & Costello brings in a little comic relief. I hope that works.
I also wanted to have Denham involved in the Kong-inspired movies—quests to unknown places that uncover monsters. So, I managed to work him into The Lost World (1925, which inspired Kong), Unknown Island (1948), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). I have always been a big fan of Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957), and I put Denham on that expedition.
I must point out, that except for Denham’s presence on these expeditions—and he is always somewhat in the background—the narrative of the book is completely consistent with the plots of the movies.
With all that, I had some gaps to fill in the narrative. So, Denham crosses paths with a procession of monster makers, from Dr. Moreau (from 1932’s Island of Lost Souls) to John Hammond (from Jurassic Park, 1993). One of the secret pleasures in my approach to my novels is that whenever I need characters, I don’t have to invent them. I pluck them from movies. For example, Denham is on a few different ships in my book, and I use sea captains in films.
As for the historical events, I was stuck with World War II, which could not be ignored. I don’t spend too many pages on that. Having Denham on Teddy Roosevelt’s 1914 expedition to the Amazon was a good entry to South America (which Denham visits later for his Lost World and Black Lagoon adventures). Of course, in America, dealing with apes and ape men sooner or later brings in the Scopes Monkey Trials. So, I sent Denham to Dayton, Tennessee for July 1925.

You are very familiar with the setting of the book, where Denham relates his life adventures. Is it as remote as it seems in the book? Would a man running away from the consequences of his past still find an escape hatch there?
Dello Stritto: The setting of the book is Indonesia in the early 1970s, when Carl Denham would have been about 80 years old. My wife and I lived in Jakarta for three years, 2007 to 2010. I do not know exactly how it was in the 1970s, but Indonesia is a great place to escape from the rest of the world. We saw plenty of westerners—Europeans and Americans—who had done just that. As far as I know, they were not escaping the law, like Denham (after Kong’s rampage through New York, Denham was buried in lawsuits and indictments, and that was the springboard for Son of Kong), but westerners who for whatever reason were far happier there than in their home countries.
Because we lived in Jakarta, I could put a lot of detail in the book about day-to-day life there. To get away from bustling Jakarta, we would go to a small island resort when we could. The bungalows there are pretty modest, and getting there was not easy. Depending on the traffic on a particular day, we had to take two or three water taxis to different islands, with waits in between, to reach it. Well, on the north end of the small island was a really fine, large house. I never found out who lived there. I thought it might be the type of place Denham would settle in after he escaped Skull Island (at the end of Son of Kong) with his pockets full of diamonds. So that’s where I put him in my book.

The parts of South American explorations, the plateau with lost creatures, make fascinating reading. Besides the 1925 and 1960 movies, there’s even a bad David Hewitt film from the 1960s, The Mighty Gorga, that explores it. Since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about it, so many films have been made about the topic. What is it about a plateau full of prehistoric creatures preserved today that captures imaginations of readers or viewers?
Dello Stritto: Think back on some of the stories that first fascinated you as a child. I would bet that a lot of them take you to mythical lands—Oz, Wonderland, Toyland, Krypton. Those places where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true” have a lasting allure. Their dark sides are places like Skull Island or the Lost Plateau—or Transylvania—where monsters rule. Add to that the lore of a hidden, foreboding past, and a quest of some kind, and the story is irresistible.
I mentioned how much my first viewing of King Kong meant to me. Of course, I remember from that night all the iconic scenes of Kong battling monsters, and rampaging through the village and then Manhattan. But one less-fantastic scene sticks with me. I still remember the chill that it sent through me. Early in the film is a foggy night as the S. S. Venture first nears Skull Island. Denham and company can’t see a thing. They only know that the water is becoming shallower. Then they hear waves breaking on a shore, and know that they must be near land. Suddenly, Driscoll (the first mate) says “Those aren’t breakers. They’re drums!”
Wow—it hit me that somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, was an unknown world. That’s when I first got hooked on the movie.

As a retired journalist, I particularly enjoy the portion about the Scopes Trial and the sections where persistent reporters stalk sources to get the stories they need, ethics be damned. Did you research journalism in the 1920s and 1930s, or did you rely a lot on film portrayals that included great actors such as Lee Tracy?
Dello Stritto: Well, I am flattered that you wonder if I did research on journalism. No—other than my high school newspaper, I have no experience in journalism. For my book, I didn’t need it. Plenty of newspapermen from old movies to import into my story. The two reporters who become Denham’s sidekicks at the Scopes Trial are characters played by Lee Tracy (in Dr.X, 1932), and Ted Healey (in Mad Love, 1935). All their antics in uncovering stories are adopted in my book, and even some of their dialogue. One of the delights of 1930s movies is the many portrayals of overbearing, ruthless reporters. And I didn’t forget the women reporters. Glenda Farrell played an aggressive reporter in Mystery of the Wax Museum, and then did a series of movies as brassy, sassy Torchy Blane, “the bloodhound with a nose for news.” After Kong’s night on the town, Denham is stormed by the press, and Glenda Farrell characters lead the charge.

What inspired you to create a bonding friendship between Denham and Steve Martin?
Dello Stritto: Who are the most famous giant monsters in the movies? King Kong and Godzilla. Steve Martin is as close as Godzilla comes to having a Denham. Plus, I really admire Raymond Burr’s portrayal. I think it is largely overlooked, and sometimes even criticized—because, supposedly, the Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters! corrupts the Japanese original, Gojira. That’s a discussion for another time (though I wrote an article on that for Monster Bash magazine).
So, I always intended to have Godzilla come into Denham’s story, but sending Denham to Tokyo to see the monster didn’t work. I am speaking here of the original Godzilla in the 1954 (Japan) and 1956 (Americanized) movies. I do not have much regard for the later ones.
And I needed an ending for my book. I won’t spoil it here, but Steve Martin figures in that, and I was glad to be able to use him. Like I said, I really admire Raymond Burr’s performance.  

My favorite parts of this and A Werewolf Remembers are moving the plot through so many movies. My son and I tagged some of the films involved and watched them. It’s great to see a minor film such as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla be included. Does your personal affection for actors, such as Lugosi, and say, Lou Costello, impact the films you choose?
Dello Stritto: Well, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is certainly a minor film, but Dr. Zabor (Lugosi) really fit what I needed well. But my personal affectation for Lugosi certainly came into play, and I probably would have brought him into it anyway. Not hard to do, since a few of Lugosi’s mad doctors dabble in changing apes to man and vice versa. George Zucco’s and John’s Carradine’s mad doctors do, too. They are in the story as well. Not so for Boris Karloff, but he did have an adventure on a remote Pacific Island (Voodoo Island), so I used him as well.
Lugosi and Lou Costello (for whom I also have great affection) had to be in A Werewolf Remembers since their characters not only meet Lawrence Talbot, but are key to his story.  And Costello did meet a giant gorilla in Africa Screams, so he had to be in Carl Denham’s Giant Monsters.

Are you thinking of another book along these lines?
Dello Stritto: Yes, and I will “spill” it here. The book is tentatively titled The Passion of the Mummy, and that mummy is Kharis. He meets the criteria—he appears in four movies, and has a saga. I have mentioned it to a few people, and most assume that I am telling of his life in ancient Egypt. Not so. Ancient Egypt figures in the story, but it all takes place in the 20th Century. As you know, in some sense I am in my earlier novels. In A Werewolf Remembers, I find the lost diaries of Lawrence Talbot. In Carl Denham’s Giant Monsters, I stumble on an aged Denham on an Indonesia island. I will be in the mummy book, too, but in a different way. I hope my approach works well. I am targeting a premiere at the June 2021 Monster Bash.
Lugosi is already in the story. Will Lou Costello get in via Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy? Too soon to tell.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Tingler is campy, creepy and scary in spots

Review by Doug Gibson

I love "The Tingler," and it's a staple of mine, and family, to watch every Halloween season. It's campy to the max. Vincent Price has that tongue firmly in his cheek but nevertheless it has a couple of genuinely scary moments. That's not easy to accomplish in deliberately campy films, and director William Castle deserves kudos.

The plot involves Price as a doctor who also serves as a coroner. He's researching how fear can causes changes in the body, particularly a severe arching in the spine. His research leads to the discovery of an organism created by fear, which is dubbed The Tingler. It sort of resembles a very large earwig. It's a credit to Castle's film that the Tingler is both campy and creepy. The Tingler can cause a lot of mayhem to a frightened person, but it can also be neutralized by screaming.

It's designed to stay in the body. When Price's doctor takes it out of a dead woman, a new form of mayhem and thrills develop.

Although there is an entertaining scene where The Tingler gets loose in a movie theater, the film revolves around six characters, two of which are superfluous; with another character less significant than three core characters: Price the doctor, and an unhappily married couple, a kept man (Philip Coolidge) and his deaf and mute wife, very creepily performed by Judith Evelyn. Price's character is married to an adulterous woman scheming to kill him. Other cast members include Price's assistant doctor and Price's sister in law. Those two are dating and in love.

I don't want to give much of the plot so viewers can enjoy the film. However, there are two very scary scenes. The first is one where Evelyn's deaf and mute wife is scared and is overwhelmed by the Tingler because she cannot scream. In this scene Castle adds color to the black and white film by making the blood very red. Later in the film there is another very scary scene involving the corpse of Evelyn's deaf and mute woman ... or is she dead?

As mentioned, the film is very campy. Price, trying to better understand fear, takes LSD and analyzes his reaction to it. (I wonder if this is the first mainstream release film with an LSD scene)? Price deliberately underplays his role; he almost seems bored at times and too conversational for all the bizarre-ness. That provides an over the top change with his LSD journey. Another early scene with Price and Coolidge casually, calmly conversing when Price is doing an autopsy on a recently executed man (in the prison, moments after the execution!) is delicious low-key camp. 

When the Tingler escapes and invades a theater, it allows director Castle to make the audience a part of the film. The screen goes dark and Price solemnly warns the audience that the Tingler is loose in their theater. He urges people to scream. Sixty years ago, Castle had some theater seats wired to provide a small shock or "tingling" to audience members. Others, perhaps theater staff, were asked to scream. It must have been a wild show for many. 

You can watch The Tingler at Amazon Prime or YouTube (for a fee). It's a really fun film to watch, perfect for a good-natured thrill and scare during Halloween season. It's just a great, witty, chilling little tale; the kind that made William Castle famous and the type of film that Vincent Price excelled in.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

13 Ghosts – Ghost Gimmicks Galore!!!

Review by Steve D. Stones

Director William Castle is known for his clever gimmicks used to promote and sell his fright films. In 13 Ghosts (1960), he uses a process known as “Illusion – O,” which is a viewer used by not only the actors in the film, but also audience members, to see appearances of ghosts in the film.

Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods) works at a Paleontology Museum as a curator. His wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp) calls him at work to tell him that all their furniture in their house is being repossessed for nonpayments. Cyrus returns home that evening to a nearly empty house.

That evening, the Zorba family has a birthday party on the dining room floor for their 10 year old son Buck (Charles Herbert). Buck blows out the birthday candles on the cake and wishes for a house and furniture that cannot be taken away from his family. A telegram soon arrives at the Zorba house from an attorney named Benjamin Rush. The family is to meet with the attorney the next morning.

While meeting with attorney Rush, Cyrus and Hilda Zorba discover that they have inherited the mansion of their recently deceased uncle – Dr. Plato Zorba. Rush also gives Cyrus a strange package. Inside the package is a set of large glasses. The glasses are used to see ghosts. Rush warns the Zorba couple that the mansion is haunted with ghosts that their uncle had collected over the years. This does not discourage the family from moving into the mansion.

While moving into the mansion, the Zorba family also discover that the house comes with an old, grouchy, recluse house keeper named Elaine (Margaret Hamilton). Buck often refers to her as “the witch.” This seems appropriate, since actress Margaret Hamilton is most famously known for her role as the Wicked Witch of The West in -The Wizard of Oz (1939).

One evening, Buck finds a Ouija board in the house. The family gathers around the Ouija board as Buck asks the board how many ghosts are in the house. The number thirteen is revealed on the board. Buck also asks the board if the ghosts will harm anyone in the family. The board responds Yes and a framed painting in glass falls off the wall above the fireplace, spreading broken glass everywhere.

What follows for the rest of the film is a series of ghost encounters in the mansion by members of the Zorba family. Cyrus encounters floating heads, skeletons and a burning witch in the cellar of the house when he puts on the strange glasses. Hilda encounters the ghost of Emilio the Italian chef in the kitchen who killed his wife and her lover with a meat cleaver. Buck encounters the ghost of a lion and his keeper – Sham Rack the headless lion tamer. Daughter Medea (Jo Morrow) encounters a corpse figure covered in spider webs in her bedroom while sleeping.

Audiences who attended 13 Ghosts in theaters were given glasses with red and blue cellophane filters. 3-D glasses typically used the process of one eye seeing a red filter and the other eye seeing a blue filter. With the “Illusion-O” process used for 13 Ghosts, viewers would look through a single color with both eyes. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the ghost images on the screen, while the blue filter “diluted” or removed the ghost appearances on screen. This was another clever tactic used by William Castle to get movie patrons into the theater.

Child actor Charles Herbert who played Buck also went on to star in a number of other great cult classics of this era, such as The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price and The Colossus of New York (1958). Buck ends 13 Ghosts perfectly by asking the housekeeper Elaine: “You really are a witch, aren't you?” Elaine replies: “Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.” The Wicked Witch of The West is indeed alive and well! Happy viewing and Happy Halloween!