Thursday, October 30, 2014

My five top scariest scenes in film history -- from Doug Gibson

By Doug Gibson

The late-great Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying, “People pay money to be scared.” In honor of this Halloween season I offer my take on the five scariest scenes in film history. If you want more commentary on scary movies scenes, read my blog colleague Steve D. Stones, art professor at Weber State University, offer his five most chilling scenes here.

Without procrastination, let’s get to scariest movie scene 1: It’s the final 10 minutes of “Suspiria,” a 1977 Italian horror flick directed by Dario Argento. It stars Jessica Harper as a U.S. dance student who discovers her European dance academy is run by a coven of witches. The final ultimate scary scene involves a possessed colleague of young Ms Harper who goes on the attack at the film’s climax. Argento’s skills have deteriorated in recent decades but “Suspiria” remains a contender for the scariest film ever made.

To read the rest of this "scariest movie scenes column, go to the Standard-Examiner newspaper site, where I also published this. You can keep on reading .here

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My top five scariest scenes in horror cinema history -- from Steve D. Stones

Editor's note: This week, in honor of Halloween, Plan9Crunch bloggers Steve D. Stones and Doug Gibson will share what they both see as the five scariest minutes in film. First is Steve's five creepy moments, and Doug's will follow later this week.
1). Night of The Living Dead (1968) – After witnessing her brother being attacked by a zombie in a Pennsylvania graveyard, Barbara (Judith O’Dea) runs to a nearby farmhouse to hide. She walks up stairs with a horrified look on her face and a kitchen knife in hand. The shadows of the banister cast across her face as the camera quickly zooms in closely to reveal a rotting corpse lying on the floor at the top of the stairs.

2). Poltergeist (1982). – A paranormal researcher investigating reports of ghosts in the suburban home of a young family goes to the kitchen to find something to eat.  He places a raw piece of meat from the refrigerator on the kitchen counter while eating a chicken leg. The meat suddenly starts to crawl slowly across the counter and the piece of chicken in his mouth spits out maggots. He runs to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. While looking in the mirror, he starts to pull the flesh off his face as chunks fall into the sink and blood drips everywhere.

3). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – After being terrorized by an inbred family of cannibals, including Leatherface – a chainsaw carrying psycho wearing a human skin mask, Sally (Marilyn Burns) is gagged and bound to a chair made of human arms. The grandpa of the family drinks Sally’s blood and attempts to knock her out with a hammer, but is too weak. This scene is so grueling that the sweat pouring from the faces of the actors involved heightens the uncomfortable, uneasy feeling the viewer experiences while the scene unfolds.  Sally eventually gets free and jumps out the window as Leatherface chases her once again down with a chainsaw – the most famous scene of the film.

4). Nosferatu (1922) – In this German Expressionist masterpiece of the silent era, Hutter – a real estate agent, is trapped inside the castle of Count Orlock. Hutter discovers the crypt where Orlock sleeps at night. Peeking through the crack of a stone coffin lid, Hutter can see the count lying in the coffin. He quickly pushes the stone lid off the coffin as the count stares directly at the camera in a frozen glance. This scene will chill your blood.

5). Jaws (1975) – Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) are onboard a boat called the Orca to hunt down a giant shark terrorizing the sunbathers and swimmers of the ocean town of Amity. Brody leans over the boat to throw a “chum line” of fish guts into the water to attract the shark.  A giant shark raises its head from the water as Brody throws the line into the water. He immediately stands upright and walks backward with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and quietly says the most famous line in the film to Captain Quint – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Happy Halloween!

Steve D. Stones

Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy birthday Bela Lugosi, a review of 'Dracula'

Dracula, 1931, 75 minutes, Universal, black and white. Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, Dwight Frye as Renfield, David Manners as Jonathan Harker and Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 and 1/2 stars out of 10.


As a film, Dracula too often appears like a stage play. Most of the actors aren't particularly strong, and the climax of the film (Dracula's death) foolishly takes place off screen. Nevertheless, thanks to Bela Lugosi -- and to a lesser extent Dwight Frye -- the film remains a classic, a true cult film that brings viewers back for repeat visits to Transylvania, foggy London and Carfax Abbey, the lair of the Count. The plot: Dracula prepares for a move to London. He drives Renfield (a Londoner in Transylvania to help him move), mad, and then arrives in London. He soon ingratiates himself with the Seward family, and lusts for the blood of two ladies. He is foiled when a family friend (Van Sloan) suspects he is a vampire, and pretty Mina Seward (Chandler) is saved when Dracula is destroyed.

It's safe to say that first half hour of this film is perfect, in atmosphere, Lugosi's Dracula, etc. After it moves to Carfax Abbey and the Seward sanitarium, it dips a tad in quality, but returns to perfection when Lugosi is in a scene.

Lugosi's performance is magnificent. He is truly the Count, with his urbane charm, his sly humor (I never drink ... wine.), his greedy eyes sighting blood, his melodramatic answers to questions, and his artful fencing with vampire hunter Van Helsing. However, few critics capture another personality of Lugosi's Dracula: His desire to die. In a poignant scene at an opera, Dracula expounds in melodramatic fashion the peace of death. One realizes in that scene the Count wants to die, that he's as much a prisoner of fate as his victims. He simply lacks the will power to end his long existence.

Frye's Renfield is marvelous. He succeeds in convincing viewers that the secret of the Count -- discovered first hand -- is so horrible that it would drive anyone insane. His mad chuckles when discovered on a deserted ship are chilling. Frye also conveys terror and adoration when pleading with Dracula late in the film. Manners and Chandler are barely adequate as two lovers threatened by Lugosi's Dracula, but Van Sloan is pretty strong as Van Helsing. He manages a sense of humor despite the seriousness of his task, and reminds me of Donald Pleasance's slightly crazy psychiatrist who pursued monster Michael Meyers in Halloween.

Lugosi's eyes, used to seduce victims, are hypnotic. He knew this character -- he'd played Dracula on Broadway. Director Browning conveys atmosphere early in the film with scenes of a coach in the wilds of Transylvania and a ship tossed at sea. Unfortunately, the last two-thirds of the film is often too static and talky. But every scene with Lugosi is a pleasure, and he turns an ordinary film into a classic of the genre.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bela Lugosi recites Poe's The Tell Tale Heart

By Doug Gibson

Above is a fantastic treat for horror film fans, a recording of the late, great Bela Lugosi reciting Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart." It's brought courtesy of YouTube. It's an appropriate way station in a look at Lugosi's great career. Born in 1882, his 132nd birthday is Oct. 20, 2014, tomorrow!

According to Lugosi biographer Arthur Lennig in "The Immortal Count," the above tape was discovered in the past generation by cult film historian Lee Harris, who passed it onto former Cult Movies magazine editor Buddy Barnett, who now edits Mondo Cult. Anyway, Barnett shared it with Lennig.

Probably recorded in 1947 or by Lugosi with his then-agent Don Marlowe, it's not a professional recording, although conducted at WCAX in Burlington, Vt.. There is no background music or end pieces. My guess is that Lugosi was practicing for his spook show that would include his storytelling of the Poe tale. He does a great job, never losing a sinister edge and slowly, just like Poe's tale, losing his sanity and composure as the tale unfolds. The final 30 seconds of The Tell Tale Heart (and please watch it) are a marvelous as Lugosi exudes passion and fear as his voice breaks with emotion.

Lennig downplays the history of Lugosi's "The Tell Tale Heart" bookings, writing that the show appeared "in such obscure places that the dates it played remain lost and it quickly folded because of its meager drawing power."

That's not quite true. Further research, revealed in the new book, "No Traveler Returns: The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi," by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger, confirm that "The Tell Tale Heart" show didn't last very long but it had significant performances, was accompanied with press coverage and media ads. The show opened in Rockford, Ill., in late 1947 to a large crowd -- 1,500 -- at The Coronado theater in Rockford. Lugosi was interviewed by the Rockford Morning Star. The Poe play, which was accompanied by a Lugosi film ("Dracula" was the co-feature in Wisconsin) eventually planned a moves to Minnesota and Michigan. "There are graphics of vintage newspaper ads about Lugosi "Tell Tale Heart" play.

Unfortunately, despite the great start, the play's success declined rapidly. Marlowe, who was notorious for flashy starts and low future cash, had booked obscure theaters and lesser Lugosi co-features, such as "Spooks Run Wild" and "The Return of the Ape Man". Profits disappeared -- it's reported that Marlowe had promised Bela $2,000 a week -- and by early December future showings were cancelled. "No Traveler Returns" writes that on Dec. 10, Lugosi had signed for $1,250 a week to do vaudeville.

In all, it appears that Lugosi performed his "The Tell Tale Heart" show at most 8 times, perhaps a few more. History is murky. As the the above recitation shows, preserved on the Net, he was more than up to the task.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bela Lugosi in Invisible Ghost -- a fuller review

By Doug Gibson

Recently,  I spared a paragraph on "Invisible Ghost," Bela Lugosi's first Monogram film. Ironically, it was the first Lugosi Monogram I ever saw and years ago I was rather dismissive of the film, particularly Lugosi's insane murder moments. Watching it again, as recent as last night, and comparing it to other Lugosi Monograms, I re-evaluate it as technically, the best looking Lugosi poverty-row offering of the 1940s, if not the most campy or cultish. That notice still remains with "Devil Bat," "Bowery at Midnight," and "The Ape Man."

Here's what I wrote recently on this blog: "THE INVISIBLE GHOST, 1941:

"Lugosi's first Monogram has a convoluted plot but benefits from above-average direction from Joseph H. Lewis. Lugosi plays a kindly man whose wife deserted him. Unbelievably, she still lives on the grounds and he goes quite mad when he catches glimpses of her. The deaths lead to the execution of one innocent man whose brother (same actor) comes to the house to seek justice. Lugosi's hypnotic walk when under the murder spell of his wife is campy but the actor also brings pathos to it. Former silent star Betty Compson plays Lugosi's estranged, insane wife."

Lewis' direction is superb, and he throws in touches that other, run of the mill cheapie directors do not do, including interesting shots from a fire place, with the flames dancing in front of the actors, and excellent forward shots of a horrified Lugosi seeing his wife Compson through the window in a storm. The acting is better, particularly black actor Clarence Muse as Evans the butler who acts with dignity, and not a Stephen Fetchit portrayal. And the film's love interest is the talented Polly Ann Young, the least successful of the sisters in Hollywood trio that included Loretta Young and Sally Blane. Also, the sets seem of better quality than an average Monogram film.

One the minus side, the script is weak and convoluted, and mildly confusing. I think quality of scripts are the biggest difference between Universal B films and poverty row offerings in the 1940s. The other distinction is depth of acting talent in the films. Also, although Lugosi is excellent in his role -- even now I see the restraint in his insane moments that I missed on my first viewing, his playing of Mr. Kessler is not a role that demands any particular expertise or trait that made Lugosi unique. For example, the role could easily have been played -- at 90 percent of Lugosi's strength -- by George Zucco.

One more thing to add: Compson does a very good job as Lugosi's insane wife, who wanders around the Kessler estate. The poor script offers very little in how she could manage this so consistently, but as mentioned, scripts were not a priority on poverty row.

I highly endorse "Invisible Ghost" as a strong Lugosi poverty row offering. It appropriately belongs in the top tier of the Monogram cheapies and comes the closest to looking like a Universal B offering.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Boris Karloff plays good twin, bad twin in 'The Black Room'

By Doug Gibson

Boris Karloff is pretty darn good in The Black Room as Gregor and Boris, evil and good twin brothers in Columbia's 1935 mystery/horror "The Black Room." It seems that there's a curse with the landowner's family that whenever twins are born, the younger kills the older in a part of the castle called "The Black Room." To end this fate, the Black Room is sealed off and the younger twin, Anton, is eventually shipped off to Budapest (Anton, by the way, has a paralyzed right arm) and the older twin, Baron Gregor, is left in charge.

Well, you guessed it, Gregor is an evil psychopath and serial killer of women as well. Just before the peasants are about to overthrow his authority, he sends for mild-mannered, kind Anton, eventually ceding his power to Anton and promising to leave. But, just before he does that, he takes Anton into the Black Room (Gregor has a built a secret entrance) and reveals his evil and murders to his brother before killing hapless Anton and taking his identity, complete with a faux paralyzed arm. He fools everyone except a faithful dog which knows he's not Anton.

Subplot involves a gorgeous colonel's daughter, played by Svengali star Marian Marsh, who is lusted after by Gregor. Her dad is opposed to Gregor pawing his daughter but would love Anton to marry her. You get what's happening. The colonel's daughter has a fiance, a lieutenant, but Gregor manages to kill the colonel and frame the lieutenant, which leads to a proposed marriage with the young lovely, while her intended awaits an execution date. Meanwhile, the dead Anton rests at the bottom of a pit in the Black Room, with the sharp end of a knife sticking out of his chest. At the marriage climax, the faithful pooch attacks Gregor, which leads to a wild chase toward the Black Room and a fulfillment of the family curse.

Karloff is excellent playing dual roles. As author Greg Mank has noted, his "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" voice almost 30 years later sounds eerily like Gregor. Katherine De Mille, wife of Anthony Quinn, has a small role as one of Gregor's murder victims. Starlet Marsh was still a big name in the mid '30s, but by 1940 her A studio days were over and she was on Poverty Row toiling at Monogram and PRC. Her last feature was "House of Errors" with Harry Langdon as a co-star.

All in all, a great film, highly recommended as among Karloff's best non Universal 30s work.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Plan9Crunch kindle story: Yehudi, a tale of terror from Ogden's Historic 25th Street

At Plan9Crunch we are happy to offer via Kindle a short story, "Yehudi," that is a ghost tale set on Ogden, Utah's Historic 25th Street, a location that is rife with ghost legends. The story is penned by blogger Doug Gibson and offers cover art from co-blogger Steve D. Stones. It's only 99 cents, and we think you'll enjoy the read. To check it out, go here. (The original art that made the cover is below) Also, if you like my story, it's part of an anthology, "Tales From Two Bit Street and Beyond Part II," which can be purchased here.

Here is the pitch at the Kindle site: People usually take a chilly, adventurous delight in detailing the supernatural. They feel an icy breeze, see a ghostly white phantom sliding by, or sense a mostly tender touch. But it's different with Yehudi, the trickster of Ogden's Union Station. He makes a great first impression, until the face below the dark hat is revealed. It's then the terror starts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Raven: Bela Lugosi at his most maniacal evil

                                                                  By Doug Gibson

Simply put, "The Raven" (1935) is a masterpiece. And credit for its perfection belongs to star Bela Lugosi, who is magnificent as the brilliant, deranged, courtly and insane Dr. Richard Vollin, who is so obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe that he has built real Poe-inspired torture devices in his dungeon.

"The Raven" is almost as good as "The Black Cat" that starred Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but it lacks the subtle sadism and velvet touch that director Edgar Ulmer gave to the other "Poe tale."

Lugosi's Vollin is implored upon to save the life of a beautiful dancer, Jean Thatcher, Irene Ware. Once he restores her to health, he fall in lust with her and wants her for himself. Rebuffed by Thatcher's father, Samuel Hinds, he hatches a plan to invite the dancer, her father, her fiance, and others to be tortured and murdered. In his feverish mind, Vollin believes that by killing, he can be released from his Poe obsessions, that to torture will relieve his torture.

Vollin's unwilling helper is Edmond Bateman, (Karloff) a murderer on the lam who bewails his ugly face. He begs Vollin to bring beauty to his countenance. Instead, Vollin makes him uglier and then promises to fix his ugliness after he kills his guests.

Lugosi is just brilliant. He's gentlemanly and manic, polite and cruel,  courteous and a raving lunatic. The short, 61-minute film is tightly directed by Lew Landers. It is an example of Universal's consistent fiscal cruelty to Lugosi that he received only half as much as Karloff earned, although Lugosi's Vollin is the real star, the real villain.

In this film, Lugosi proved that he could play the essential mad scientist, obsessed, insane, unfeeling, sadistic, perverted and, of course, brutal and murderous. In fact, Lugosi and Karloff play almost the same type of roles they would play in The Body Snatchers a decade later, with Karloff the weaker one in The Raven.

This is a film that should not be missed by any horror film fan. Its history is interesting; early reviews were appropriately positive, but then the Breen-era morals kicked in and there was a flurry of bad reviews decrying the sadism of the film. As a result, its profit was lower than expected and the film would damage the pocketbooks of Karloff and particularly Lugosi as it prompted the British horror ban on the latter half of the 1930s.

Fortunately, the film's excellence survived the prissy reviews and it's appropriately regarded as a classic and a Lugosi film with Karloff as a secondary character. The trailer is below:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Mummy's Hand: The first Kharis tale from Universal

By Doug Gibson

My son and I have spent the past two weekends watching Universal's four "Kharis the mummy" movies. They are lean, competent films that seem to be over just as they've begun. By 1940, most Universal horrors were of the B-production and indeed "The Mummy's Hand" is budgeted at $80,000, about a third of what "Dracula" cost in 1931.

Despite the low budgets, the Universal films are generally far better than efforts from low-budget studios such as Monogram or PRC. The reason is due to discipline; more disciplined scripts, more disciplined directors, more disciplined acting (In a PRC or Monogram film, generally only 1, 2, or three actors were really talented; At Universal, most of the cast was. Also, Universal had access to its wonderful back lot and stock footage from earlier horror efforts.

Directed by Christy Cabanne, a silent films veteran, "The Mummy's Hand" is generally considered the best of the four films. I agree but I think all are entertaining. What perhaps sets apart "The Mummy's Hand" is the very strong cast. Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Wallace Ford, Charles Trowbridge, Tom Tyler, and particularly George Zucco are in top form. The actors also don't take themselves too seriously. There are interludes of light comedy in the films which prevents the tension from going stale.

The plot: There's a prologue where we learn about Kharis being punished for trying to resurrect the Princess Ananka's tomb, in which he's mummified alive and left with life-sustaining "tanna" leaves. This is related to Dr. Andoheb (Zucco) who is tasked by a mentor to protect Ananka's tomb. Foran is Steve Banning, recently fired archaeologist stranded in Cairo with a sidekick, Babe Jenson, Ford. They discover a partial ancient vase which another expert, Dr. Petrie (Trowbridge) believes provides directions to Ananka's tomb. Using his influence and spies, Andoheb tries to stop them (he even breaks the vase) but Banner and company get funding from an eccentric American showman, the Great Solvani (Cecil Kelloway). His daughter, Marta Solvani (Moran) is upset with Banner and Jenson for getting the cash from her dad and even pulls a gun on them, but she is eventually won over and Foran and Moran become the love interest in the film.

The expedition heads off to the tombs with natives worried about the curse of Ananka's tomb. They have reason to worry as they are being tailed by Andoheb and his spy. Once Kharis is discovered in the tomb meant for Ananka (she was moved secretly, as the prologue notes), Andoheb revives the mummy (Tyler) with tanna leavesand the death toll starts to mount.

Tom Tyler, a western star, only played the mummy once. It was soon turned over to Universal's new horror star, Lon Chaney Jr., but some argue that Tyler is better than Chaney. In my opinion, Chaney's mummy has more personality but Tyler's is more sinister looking, particularly with the black holes that serves as his eyes. They are creepy.

Foran and Moran have chemistry and Ford, as he often did, provides a satisfying blend of whimsy and drama. Zucco is magnificent as the cold, calculating Andoheb. He doesn't get nearly enough praise for his mad scientist roles, often overshadowed by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The script falters a tad at the end by having Andoheb get the hots for Marta. That's out of character and unbelievable but it was a regular plot twist in the Kharis movies.

The only Universal Kharis film not set in the USA, "The Mummy's Hand" is well worth an hour-plus. It's a fine example of the efficient, low-budget horrors that Universal provided in the 1940s.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Night of The Living Dead (1968) – The Godfather of Zombie Movies

By Steve D. Stones

There’s no question that director George A. Romero is the Godfather of the zombie movie. His Night of The Living Dead (1968) is the standard to which all following zombie movies are measured. Prior to this landmark black and white film, the zombie was portrayed as a figure created through voodoo ritual. This zombie was a slow moving, brain dead person moving in a sort of somnambulistic trace. 

Romero changed this stereotype. In Romero’s world, zombies are vicious creatures who were once our friends, neighbors and loved ones, and they eat the flesh of the victims they attack. This was a big change from the voodoo zombie seen in Jacques Tourneur’s “ I Walked with a Zombie (1943).”
Watch closely, and you will see a film steeped in political and social commentary, and one which makes a statement about the breakdown of the family unit. The hero is a young African American man named Ben – played by stage actor Duane Jones. To cast a black man as the lead role and hero was risky business in the 1960s following a decade of racial tension, riots and Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Birmingham.

The story may be familiar to you by now. Night of The Living Dead concerns a group of terrified individuals who have trapped themselves in a Pennsylvania farmhouse to protect themselves from hungry zombies. As the group fights desperately to survive the attack of zombies outside the house, the real struggle is between two men – Ben (Duane Jones) and Harry Cooper – played by Karl Hardman. Both are desperate to have complete control over the situation. The two continually argue with each other through the entire film.

Cooper’s wife and child and a young couple have barricaded themselves in the basement. Ben insists that everyone come upstairs and protect the ground level of the house. Cooper rejects this request, and a conflict between the two men occurs. Both men think they have the best plan for protecting the entire group, but as we see in the end – the zombies eventually break into the house, and only Ben is able to race downstairs and barricade himself in the basement for protection.

Ben survives the attack, but is mistaken for a zombie as a posse approaches the house and kills him. His body is thrown on a pile of dead zombies and burned at the end of the film. No heroes prevail in Romero’s zombie world.

The opening sequence of Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) driving through an empty Pennsylvania cemetery covered with fallen leaves is one of the most effective scenes in horror cinema. Without showing a single zombie in the opening, the viewer immediately knows something dramatic and intense is about to happen. From the moment Johnny is attacked by a zombie wandering through the cemetery, the film never lets up on the zombie assault.

Shot on a shoestring budget by a group of Pennsylvania filmmakers working in television and commercials, the group formed the production name Image Ten based on the ten investors who put up the money and worked on the film. For further information on Night of The Living Dead, see Danny Peary’s “Cult Movies volume one” and Joe Kane’s excellent book “Night of The Living Dead – Behind The Scenes of The Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever.”

A remake was made in 1990 and 2006. The 2006 remake is a 3-D movie that comes with 3-D glasses if you buy the DVD.  Avoid the 30th Anniversary print with new scenes added. Romero had nothing to do with this version, and if you see it – you’ll understand why. The new scenes add nothing to the original film, and do not blend well with the original print.  Also avoid the computer colorized print that was released on VHS in the 1980s. The zombies are portrayed in a ridiculous green color that is laughable.

Don’t miss Romero’s excellent 1978 follow up – Dawn of The Dead. This sequel steps up the graphic horror and violence about ten notches and is in color. Happy viewing. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

We love our Johnny Sokko! Another Giant Robot Voyage Into Space post

 By Doug Gibson

Voyage Into Space is an absolutely bizarre 1970 or so Japanese monster-rama that involves a young boy, Johnny Sokko, having control over a crime-fighting, flying Giant Robot. Sokko and Giant Robot work for the Unicorns, a UN-type spy ring trying to save the world from the extraterrestrial evil, Guillotine, his various sidekicks, including "Spider" and Dr. Botanus. The "army" of Guillotine is "the Gargoyle Gang," a group of military types who resemble Nazis.

This is a weird movie but unbelievably entertaining for young kids and nostalgic adults who recall seeing it when they were young kids. I saw this film when I was 7, 8 or 9 and we used to talk about it on the playground in school. It stars no one you ever heard of, the special effects are pretty bad, the acting terrible, the dubbing weak, but it's strangely cool. There's a 1960s' counterculture aura to this film. Several of the baddies dress like they stepped out of a Roger Vadim film. Guillotine raises a whole host of monsters and some are pretty interesting. One is a giant plant; another is a giant eyeball (I kid you not).

But still, this film, released by American Independent Films to TV only, is woefully cheap. The battling monsters don't match up to the same size in close ups and far-away shots. In one scene, Johnny Sokko and a Unicorn agent wash up on the beach with their clothes fully dry and pressed and their hair neat. Johnny Sokko's dubbed voice sounds a little like Bea Arthur of The Golden Girls. The Giant Robot hero is very cool, though, and the film's theme song is catchy. My four year old son, who like his dad loves the film, hums the theme song daily.

Here's the big secret to Voyage Into Space. It's actually about four episodes, including the first and last, culled from a 30 or so-episode series from the late 60s called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. That show also aired on TV, including on long-forgotten Channel 52 in Southern California when I was a kid. You can catch Johnny Sokko episodes today on For more than a generation, you couldn't find Voyage Into Space on VHS or DVD. I spent decades wondering what had happened to my favorite Japanese color monster film. Finally, last year Sinister Cinema started selling the film. Since that occurred the floodgates have opened and Voyage Into Space, a public domain film, has many sellers. And it's all over YouTube as well.

It's a great film, particularly if you have a fondness for the Japanese monster genre, and your kids will love it. And let's face, it has one of the coolest opening music. Watch it.