Wednesday, July 31, 2019

'Carl Denham's Giant Monsters' a superb account of genre 'history'

A couple of years ago, author and scholar Frank Dello Stritto penned the "history" of the ill-fated "wolfman." It was titled "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot." It weaved Talbot's life through half a century of history, connecting him through several scores of films and film characters. It was a unique, scholarly page-turner capable of seducing readers through the darkest hours of the night.

Dello Stritto has written a new, also fascinating and engrossing book along the same structure, taking an iconic character of film and weaving his life throughout the history of his times and the genre films that populated his "life." "Carl Denham's Giant Monsters" (Cult Movies Press, 2019), shares with readers the full "life" that Denham enjoyed and endured, long before his adventures with King Kong and Son of Kong left him an elusive target of bounty hunters and vengeful friends and family of Kong's victims. (Note: I helped edit this book pre-publication).

The book is set in Indonesia, early 1970s, where author Dello Stritto and his wife Linda, live. Frank works there.  On a visit to one of the smaller islands, Kotok, the couple encounter a white, elderly man who lives in a home with faithful servants. It turns out to be the reclusive Carl Denham, whiling away his life, now bereft of visits from former colleagues save one, and eager to relate the adventures of his life to appreciative listeners.

Every couple of weeks or so, Frank and Linda, or Frank by himself, spend hours listening to Denham relate the many adventures of his long life. The book combines, history, film, and a cascade of cinema and historical figures. They all orbit at some time around the man Carl Denham and it's a lot of fun to read the adventures of Denham and his film genre contemporaries.

As he relates to Frank and Linda, Denham was part of Teddy Roosevelt's expeditions to South America. Later he's among the explorers who finally conquer the plateau of the Lost World and later take "Gertie" for an ill-fated trip to London. For a while, Denham becomes a journalist, and covers the Scopes trial. Another adventure: he even gets close enough to Tarzan to witness his decibel-shattering yell.

King Kong is described in vivid detail, from the casting of Ann Darrow, the voyage, Skull Island, the return to New York City and the deadly chaos and tragedy. It sets Denham on a lifetime of exile, trying to stay the adventurer, but now also the hunted, always on the watch to keep his freedom.

So many films provide background and interaction with characters. Just a few are Island of Lost Souls, Son of Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Africa Screams, Return of the Ape Man, Godzilla, Creature From the Black Lagoon. ... Either Denham is involved in the actual explorations or the characters run into him across the world, or visit him on his small island.

Dello Stritto is a well-known scholar/fan of Bela Lugosi and readers will appreciate the respect he provides some of Lugosi's poverty-row outings. Examples include scientists Lorenz Dexter of Return of the Ape Man, and Alexi Zabor, of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.

There is a poignancy in the tales Denham relates. He regrets the lust for publicity and money that drove him to take Kong to civilization, and the creature's death. Forty years later, he still assails himself.. He's had a hard life. He spends time in a  Japanese prisoner of war camp on the island for years. He had love, and lost it, with the young lady, Hilda Peterson, whom he took to Skull Island to meet Kong's son.

This book is an essential for genre fans. But more casual fans will enjoy it too, as well as history buffs. Dello Stritto pens a confident, detailed tale. The friendship between the couple and Denham is believable, the passages where they interact on the island well described. The author knows his subjects, films and history.

At the end of the tale, Denham, along with one of his few remaining contemporaries, embarks on a final adventure. I'll leave it to the reader to discover the identity of his companion.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Avengers, Rocky Jones among new cult TV offerings


This is part two of a three part series on cult television shows. Here at Plan 9 Crunch, we acknowledge the importance of television as part of the “cult-dom” culture that we are passionate in writing about and documenting on this blog site. Part One is here.

Here are five more “cultish” TV titles:

The Avengers – Mandrake – episode 18, season three – aired January 25th, 1964
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) attends the funeral of a former prominent colleague at a small Cornish cemetery. He becomes suspicious of the man's cause of death and wonders why the man is being buried in a town cemetery that he has no association or ties to. Steed's investigations take him to Mandrake Investments, led by a doctor and his associates.

Mandrake Investments is a “for-hire” assassination agency who poisons victims then buries them in the Cornish town near a churchyard with an old mine where the soil does not detect poison and has high levels of arsenic. Most of the victims are rich, prominent men who lived outside of the Cornish community.

Considered a fan favorite of early Avengers episodes, Mandrake is an intelligent and fun episode. The chemistry between actress Honor Blackman and actor Patrick Macnee always works well in all of the early Avengers episodes. Blackman later left the TV show to star as Pussy Galore in the James Bond film – Goldfinger (1964). Patrick Macnee would also star in a later James Bond film – A View To A Kill (1985) with Roger Moore.

Timeslip – The Wrong End of Time – episode one, season one – aired September 28th, 1970.
A young woman walks through a time barrier in the field of the old abandoned Ministry of Defense at St. Oswald that has been empty since the end of World War II. A town drunk witnesses the girl being transported through the time barrier and reports the incident to a few of his drinking buddies at a local hotel pub. Commander Traynor (Denis Quilley) overhears the conversation in the pub and becomes intrigued by the report.

Two teenagers – Liz Skinner (Cheryl Burfield) and Simon Randall (Spencer Banks) also find the time barrier and walk through it. Liz and Simon encounter a group of German marines in the field after stepping through the barrier. Luckily, they are not captured by the marines.
A guard finds Liz and Simon and takes them to Commander Traynor's office at the Ministry of Defense. Traynor is much younger and is serving in the British Navy. Liz and Simon tell Traynor that they overheard men out in the field speaking in German. Traynor does not believe them.

While left alone in Traynor's office, a young man speaks to Liz and introduces himself as Frank Skinner – who is Liz's father in the future. We discover that Liz and Simon have been transported to 1940 during World War II.

The entire series of Timeslip addressed such topics as cloning, anti-aging drugs, global warming and government conspiracies – making it way ahead of its time. A&E Television released all four seasons of the Timeslip television series as a boxed DVD set in 2005. The box set is a great treasure to have for any fan of British science-fiction television.

Rocky Jones – Space Ranger – Beyond The Curtain of Space – season one – chapter 1 (of 3 chapters) – aired February 23rd, 1954.
Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) and Winkie (Scotty Beckett) return to the Office of Space Affairs to report to Secretary Drake (Charles Meredith) and to start a long deserved vacation. While being issued their vacation papers by Drake, Rocky and Winkie learn in a televised message that Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) and young Bobbie have been brainwashed and captured on the planet of Ophiuchus.

Rocky cancels his vacation plans and rushes to Ophiuchus in his rocket ship – the X-V-2 with Winkie and sexy assistant and language expert – Vena (Sally Mansfield) to rescue Newton and Bobbie. Rocky objects to Vena coming along on the trip because she is a girl, and later tells her to “go home and knit a sweater” in a sequence that would be considered politically incorrect by today's standards.

Vena gets trapped in a compartment of the rocket ship and faints from lack of oxygen. Rocky and Winkie rescue her, but Rocky becomes more skeptical of Vena being along for the trip because of her sex. He orders her to return home to earth.

The funnest aspect of watching Rocky Jones – Space Ranger is to see all the interesting special effects, props and costumes of early television. It's unfortunate that Rocky Jones – Space Ranger had to be canceled because of the special effects budget going overboard in each episode. The early days of television often encountered these types of problems.

Actor Richard Crane went on to star in a number of other cult classics, such as – The Alligator People (1959) with Lon Chaney, The Devil's Partner (1961) and two serials – Mysterious Island (1951) and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of The Universe (1953).

Lights Out – The Passage Beyond – season three – episode 44 – aired June 25th, 1951
Lights Out is early television at its most minimal, bare bones. The show had a nearly zero budget and it shows.

A brightly lit, close up pale face with staring eyes opens each episode with a deep, monotone voice and creepy organ music playing in the background. His head appears to be floating against a dark environment. Creepy stuff, indeed.

Rod (Ralph Clanton) and Milly Taylor (Stella Andrew) return home to their mansion one evening with a guest named Trix (Monica Lang) after attending a party. The ghost of a family ancestor named Lady Anne haunts the mansion. Lady Anne murdered her possessive husband many years before in the mansion.

Rod complains to the butler that the home is too dark inside. The butler was not expecting the trio back for several hours. Rod sits down by the fireplace with Trix as his wife Milly leaves the room. Rod expresses his boredom to Trix of his marriage to Milly. He begins to kiss at her neck and it becomes obvious that the two are having an affair behind Milly's back.

Milly eventually confronts Trix about the affair and tells her that Rod can never stop loving her. The two discuss the affair for a while as Rod walks through a dark passage in the mansion and is confronted by the ghost of Lady Anne holding a knife.

The Passage Beyond is one of the more creepy and atmospheric episodes of Lights Out, despite its shortcomings and minimal budget. Many scenes remind me of German-Expressionist films from the silent era with deep contrasts of light and shadow. The mansion is filled with extremely dark and deep shadows that consume many of the interior environments of the episode. Lights Out aired from 1949 – 1952, and was based on a popular radio program from the 1930s.

Rocky & Bullwinkle – Jet Fuel Formula (part one of forty) – season one – aired November, 19th, 1959
As a child in the early 1980s, I liked to get up early every morning in the summer to watch an hour of the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons from the late 1950s and early 1960s. I was fascinated with the simple drawing and animation style of the show. I also loved Cap-N-Crunch cereal, and did not see the connection between Rocky & Bullwinkle and Cap-N-Crunch until many years later. I would save empty Cap-N-Crunch cereal boxes and pile them up in my bedroom closet. My family and friends thought I was strange for doing this, but this ritual later influenced my adult artistic career.

Looking through a giant telescope at Slick Observatory, Dr. Milton meets with “eggheads” and “double domes” (i.e. scientists) to proclaim that there can be no life on the moon. Another scientist spots Rocky and Bullwinkle on the moon through the same telescope. Rocky and Bullwinkle fly back to earth in a rocket ship.

Greeted in Washington by military dignitaries after their rocket ship landing, Rocky and Bullwinkle inform the dignitaries that they are not from the moon, but from Frost Bite Falls, Minnesota.

Days earlier, Bullwinkle was baking a mooseberry fudge layer cake and the cake blasted to the moon in the oven as the cake was baking. The second layer of the cake was placed inside a rocket ship built by Rocky and Bullwinkle to travel to the moon. The military dignitaries demand the recipe/formula for the cake, but Rocky is unable to remember every ingredient.

Meanwhile, Russian spies – Boris and Natasha, are also desperate to get the cake formula from Bullwinkle. Two green moon men – Gidney and Cloyd, arrive from the moon to try and prevent Bullwinkle from recreating the cake formula for fear of tourists coming to the moon.

These early episodes of Rocky & Bullwinkle are a delight to watch. It's interesting to see the evolution of how both characters are drawn. Bullwinkle talks from the front of his face, in these early episodes, instead of from the side of his face, as we see in later episodes. His feet look more like claw shapes, instead of the rounded shapes seen in later depictions of Bullwinkle.

Creative geniuses Jay Ward and Bill Scott were the two brains behind the clever wit and charm of Rocky & Bullwinkle. Jay Ward was often referred to as the “P.T. Barnum” of TV cartoons, and Bill Scott was often referred to as his “Bailey.” Ward was also responsible for the creation of the Cap-N-Crunch and Quisp and Quake breakfast cereal characters.

For further information about the Rocky & Bullwinkle TV show and the life and careers of Jay Ward and Bill Scott, refer to the book – The Moose That Roared: The Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel, and a Talking Moose, by Keith Scott (St. Martin's Press – 2000). This is a wonderful book that is well researched and I highly recommend it. Happy viewing!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

11 years since Nilbog invaded Morgan, Utah


It's been 11 plus years since Nilbog Invasion in Morgan, Utah. It's still my favorite Plan9Crunch experience, covering the fan festival of the cult film "Troll 2." I thought we'd share it on top of the blog again. Why not? Troll 2 remains a cult film.

On June 28, 2008, Plan 9 Crunch was at Nilbog Invasion, a gathering -- courtesy of Original Alamo Productions -- of Troll 2 fans. It was a great, long weekend of films, Nilbog games, chats with actors, the director, Claudio Fragasso, extras, the screenwriter Rossella Drudi, and fans. (For tons of Nilbog Invasion photos, go to Plan 9 Crunch was also there. Below are our reports. The column, "Cult Film Troll 2 returns triumphant to Morgan County," was originally published in the July 1 Standard-Examiner. The rest is original to Plan 9 Crunch, including some observations from Mickie Pace. In Troll 2, she played Betty the Goblin.
Cult film 'Troll 2' returns triumphant to 'Nilbog,' Morgan County
By Doug Gibson
Tuesday, July 1, 2008, Standard-Examiner

"Don't do it!!!!"
"Aaahhh! ... Think about the cholesterol! Think about ... THE TOXINS
-- A vegetarian goblin queen, irate that a little boy is eating a bologna sandwich, in director Claudio Fragasso's 1990 film "Troll 2," filmed in Morgan County.

NILBOG -- Driving in Morgan County through Porterville in the Top of Utah you see beautiful country. One notable site is the ruins of an old church. Not much remains other than parts of walls and the front. The grounds are forbidden to the curious. But if it looks familiar, you've probably seen "Troll 2." I've seen "Troll 2" five times now -- with three viewings in the past week. Enough ink has been spilled on its plot so I'll forego that task quickly: A vacationing family encounters a town, Nilbog, full of shape-shifting, vegetarian goblins adept at turning unlucky humans into green, leafy food. The Goblin Queen of Nilbog lives in that church, but if viewers look closely they see a plaque in the front that says "Porterville Ward ..."

No one likes to see an old, historic church reduced to near rubble, but I'm kinda glad it's a ruin: You see for me, it'll always be the lair of Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the stone-worshiping queen of Nilbog. As she says in the film, "This is myyy houuuuse!"

Actually, a lot of people worship Nilbog. Last weekend, on Morgan's Commercial Street, "Troll 2" fans gathered for a Nilbog celebration with the director Fragasso, screenwriter Rossella Drudi, much of the cast and many Morgan and Top of Utah locals who participated as Nilbog extras and goblins. Hundreds of fans were there, mostly in awe of the actors they've seen dozens of times on screen. A walk down Commercial Street is a kick for a "Troll 2" fan, since much of the movie was filmed there.

What occurred in Morgan is not a rarity. There are "Troll 2" screenings and fan conventions all over the world. It is the new "it" of cult films. Think "Plan 9 From Outer Space" in the '80s and '90s. "Troll 2" fits the definition of a cult film: It's inimitable. Is it a bad film? Yes. But it's unique and watchable. Its blend of inexperienced acting, laughable costumes, freaky dances, synthetic music, very strange dialogue and poor special effects don't hamper the film. It's clearly the only film in the world where vegetarian goblins gather to hear a fundamentalist goblin preacher rant hysterically about the "smelly bladders" meat causes. (OK, I may have once heard the same at a PETA motivational seminar.)

What other film exists that casts vegetarianism as evil? The reason is simple, screenwriter Drudi told the fans. "I was against vegetarianism." So she made the leaf-eating goblins appear like vampires, she explained.

The title "Troll 2" is a farce. The film was supposed to be called "Goblin," an apt choice since there are no trolls. But the filmmakers tried to tag onto an earlier film, "Troll," that was a moneymaker. That is also a weird film, in which a pre-"Seinfeld" Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a half-naked forest nymph. It didn't work. "Troll 2" went straight to video and pay cable, and languished in obscurity before word of mouth revived it. The fans loved Director Fragasso. A personable, natural showman, he promised to film part or all of a planned "Troll 3" in Morgan. When a representative of the Utah Arts Council mentioned a sizeable rebate if lots of money is spent filming in Utah, Fragasso elaborately hugged the man to cheers and chuckles. The "Troll 2" actors have varying careers. Some only made "Troll 2." Others are veterans of occasional TV and film productions.

The Q&A session with all the creators of "Troll 2" was pure Americana. It occurred in a pink, cavernous ballroom, usually a dance and cheer studio. The fans, many wearing green T-shirts with "NILBOG" printed on the back, circulated through the crowd, chatting with cast members, including George Hardy, the Alabama dentist who played dad Michael Waits in the film. His famous line of dialogue was: "Do you see this writing ... ? Do you know what it means ... ? Hospitality. And you can't (urinate) on hospitality! I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

Top of Utahn Michael Stephenson, who starred as youngster Joshua Waits, is making a documentary film about "Troll 2" called "Best Worst Movie." 

The ballroom was decorated -- Nilbog style -- with green streamers and balloons. Large posters of "Nilbog Invasion" were hawked on tables. The event was videotaped. Fans captured images with cell phones and digital cameras. Robert Ormsby, who played helpful ghost "Grandpa Seth," greeted his director with a big hug. Ormsby, who only made one film, is 80 percent Burl Ives and 20 percent Wilford Brimley. Connie Young, who played high-strung teen Holly Waits, was warmly greeted. Young is best known -- at least in Utah -- as the female lead in the Mormon-genre comedy "The Singles Ward." In "Troll 2," a teenage Young dances bizarrely in front of a mirror. In a fun moment, Fragasso convinced a hesitant Young to recreate her dance. It received a big ovation.

My favorite goblin, actress Deborah Reed, was there. She portrayed Creedence Leonore Gielgud. She is Nilbog. You have to watch Reed to digest her performance in "Troll 2"; think Isadora Duncan on acid. Eyes rolling in sockets, bohemian dress, enunciated screeches. She's a chameleon. One minute she appears to be a deranged aunt, in another a sexy vamp. But I'll say this for Ms. Reed -- she gets better with each viewing. And she nails what makes "Troll 2" so unique. You will never, ever again see a corncob used in such an intimate manner in a PG-13-rated movie.

Wanna learn more? Years later Michael Paul Stephenson made a documentary on Troll 2 called "Best Worst Movie." It included scenes from Nilbog. See it below:

-- Doug Gibson


Steve Stones reviews Troll 2

Ever see a movie so bad that it actually improves with each viewing? If you haven’t, I would highly recommend that you visit your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and rent Troll II. If your viewing experience doesn’t get better with each viewing, you may need to increase your dosage of Prozac, or just simply lighten up a little and relax.

After all, Troll II is just a little movie filmed in rural Morgan, Utah where the cows outnumber the local citizens 10 to one. In the case of Troll II, the Goblins outnumbered the local citizens for several weeks of filming during the summer of 1989.

At the time of filming, a street sign was put up, changing the city to: NILBOG. What I wouldn’t give or pay to have this sign in my movie memorabilia collection! I would even trade a double-decker pastrami sandwich with all the works, hold the mayo and mustard please.

The Goblins in the film might not take too kindly to this trade, since they are vegetarians who sweat green and eat anything green. Young Michael Stephenson even saves the day in the film with a cold cut bologna sandwich, which repels the Goblins from eating him. My favorite scene in the film is when Michael Stephenson approaches a mirror to talk to the spirit of his Grandpa Seth, and ask for his protection and guidance against the Goblins that have him and his family trapped in a house.

A Goblin immediately jumps out of the mirror attacking Stephenson. Grandpa Seth appears with an ax, cutting off the left hand of the Goblin. The Goblin then jumps backwards through the broken mirror, and the scene cuts to Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the Goblin Queen, screaming in pain in her Goblin lair of a run down old church. She tries to heal her severed arm by shoving it into the crevice of a glowing magic rock.

The expression on the Goblin Queen’s face, played by Deborah Reed, is priceless, and worth the $3.50 it would cost you to rent the film. A later scene has Reed trying to seduce a teenage boy in a motor home with a cob of corn. She is dressed in a sexy black gown with black nylons and high heels, similar to Elvira, Mistress of The Dark. I don’t know about you, but I have a soft spot for those sexy raven-haired women dressed in black. Come to me Creedence Leonore Gielgud, sexy Goblin Queen!!

Here's a trailer to Troll 2:


Notes on Nilbog Invasion and Troll 2

by Doug Gibson

On Saturday, I had a chance to chat with the very nice and personable Mickie Pace, who played the goblin Betty in Troll 2. Mickie was at Nilbog Invasion with her family and had chatted affably with fans in the hall. To play a goblin in Troll 2 one had to not exceed 4 feet in height. One townsperson extra in Troll 2, Dallin Carter, candidly admitted that his pay had been "hamburgers and beer."

Pace admitted that was about it in recompense for the extras. But she added that she and the other extras were treated well by the Italian film crew while Troll 2 was filming. She said that it could be hot and uncomfortable in the latex masks and potato sacks that were the goblins' garbs, but that everyone did OK.

As in most films for extras, there were long waits during filming. Pace had another assignment while Troll 2 was filming. She picked up some of the extras in her vehicle and took them to the shoot. She was paid for her gas and mileage, she recalled. During our conversation, her sons, proud of their mom's contribution to the much-loved cult film, pointed out sites on Commercial Street that were settings in the film.

At the panel, an elderly woman (whose name I missed) surprised fans by admitting she had never seen the film she had a small part in. Let's hope she saw it that night on the big screen!) Patrick and Paul Gibbs both played goblins in the film. The twins candidly admitted that they fit the needed criteria at the time -- both being under 4 feet tall. Both Gibbs make micro-budget films today.

Darren Ewing, who lives in nearby North Ogden, Utah, was there. He was witty and informative. He plays drums in a band, Skinny Bob and the Blues Dawgs, that reportedly played at Nilbog Invasion. He has several acting credits, including recent stints in the films, "Unaccompanied Minors" and Halloween Town." I also recently have seen Ewing in a commercial urging sensible water use while watering lawns. I spoke briefy to Ewing on Saturday. He gave me directions to see the ruins of the old LDS church that was used as the exterior for the goblin queen's house. Even as a ruin, the old LDS church is still an imposing site in the countryside.

Dentist George Hardy, who plays dad Michael Waits, told the crowd that at least once a month a dental patient will recognize him from Troll 2. Troll 2's star Michael Stephenson, has appeared in several productions, including the TV series Touched by an Angel. Both Connie Young (Holly Waits) and Deborah Reed (Creedence Leonore Gielguid) looked great at the event. Young, besides work in several films, works in infomercials and as a corporate spokesperson, and has worked with Robert Redford at Sundance, according to Lance C. Williams, who played the Goblin house swapper Mr. Presents, has acted in the LDS-themed films Rockwell, Charly and Return with Honor.

At the panel, Young admitted that she still has her original script, with her acting notes. With the state of fandom today, she could likely auction copies at ebay for a nice sum. Several actors recalled the first time they saw the film. A couple of "the boys" were on missions at the time. Young says she saw it on HBO. Her reaction: "I thought I was a better actress than that!" Reed said, "I wept with laughter. I screamed with laughter." Christina Reynolds, who played one of the Presents' goblin kids, first saw Troll 2 just last year. "Naturally, ... I was horrified," she said with tongue in cheek. The actors recalled the film was originally called "Goblin" during shooting.

When Hardy recalled auditioning in Park City in a room full of cigarette smoke, Young nodded, apparently recalling that day. Both said they beat out a lot of other hopefuls to get their roles. Young revealed the secret of her Holly Waits dance: It was a routine from the drill team she was on at high school. It looks odd, she added, because she only had a few feet to dance on the set. Young also added that director Fragasso liked her screaming skills. Stephenson recalled seeing the film with his family and just being appalled at how "bad" it was. Nevertheless, his acting resume lists another film directed by Fragasso, Beyond Darkness. That 1990 film was shown at Nilbog Invasion.

It was fun seeing elderly Robert Ormsby at Nilbog Invasion. "Grandpa Seth" loved the film. It accomplished its task, he said. It "entertained." Director Fragasso called Troll 2 "a family movie without blood." His resume lists a slate of Italian horror films, including "Zombi 3," "Rats," "Evil Dead 5" and "Terminator 2" -- these films have multiple titles to each). Fragasso pledged at Nilbog Invasion to make a Troll 3, at least partially filmed in Morgan. Let's hope he's successful.
-- Doug Gibson