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Saturday, December 25, 2021

Godzilla 2000, a review

 


Godzilla 2000, 2000, about 90 minutes, color, Toho films, Japan Distributed in the U.S. by Columbia Tristar. Directed by Takao Okawara. Starring Kitagawa Tsutomo, Hiroshi Abe, Takehiro Murata, Mayu Suzuki and Shiro Sano. Rated PG. Rating on a scale of 10: 8. (Reviewed in 2009)

When I was a child, I saw a lot of Saturday matinee thrillers. I remember really enjoying reissues of the Marx Brothers' Go West and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. But I never saw a Godzilla film. I didn't lose any sleep over it as a child, but, when Toho's latest Godzilla flick, Godzilla 2000, opened in August (2000), I persuaded my skeptical wife to catch a matinee at one of those new mega-cinema mall (this place was showing over 30 films). 

So we settled down with some popcorn, and I put my feet up in the nearly empty theater and waited for some bad dubbing, some fairly cheesy monsters and Godzilla's distinct Japanese shriek. And that's exactly what I got. 

Godzilla is cheesy and at times ridiculous, but still, it's a lot of fun. It doesn't try to take itself seriously, and as a result, provides great Saturday matinee popcorn-gobbling fun. When it comes out in video, it's a must for cult fans to rent this film, microwave the popcorn, and catch it late night on the tube. 

Here's the plot: The Godzilla Prediction Network (I'm not making that name up) is in a race with Japan's Crisis Control Intelligence Agency to find Godzilla, who occasionally rampages the countryside. The Prediction wants to contain Godzilla and study the creature. The Crisis Control bureaucrats, led by one of the most stone-faced actors in film history, want to kill Japan's most famous beast. In between there's a nosy newspaper reporter trying to get the perfect photo of Godzilla. Somewhere in the middle of all this, a huge rock is lifted from the bottom of the sea to sunlight, thereby resurrecting a huge alien monster. 

Guess who gets the fight it? There are many moments of camp in this monster-fest. Besides the ridiculous dubbing and sometimes-poor Toho effects, the scene where the woman reporter is chewed out by her editor is fun to watch. It seems she was too close to the Godzilla, and the radiation wipes out a good print! The final, dubbed line in the film is a howler, and I won't give it away. 

There's a lot of action, and a lot of Godzilla in Godzilla 2000, and that makes it a winner and a must-see for cult film lovers. As mentioned, after it leaves theaters, it's best seen late at night, with beer or pop and a lot of popcorn. You'll laugh a lot, but you'll also enjoy the story, and the energetic rubber monsters flailing away. After watching this film, I'm sure Toho will bring back the big guy for a sequel every few years. 

Editor's note: In the decade-plus after this film Toho and America made some impressive big-budget Godzilla/King Kong films.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Christmas films that are a holiday joy to watch, we bloggers give readers our favorites



Hello Plan9Crunch readers, in honor of the holidays, bloggers Steve D. Stones and I, Doug Gibson, offer readers our five favorite Christmastime films. We hope you enjoy reading our picks and perhaps you will sample one or two as Christmas day approaches. So, here we go!
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Doug Gibson’s list of favorite Christmas/holiday-themed films
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1). “A Christmas Carol,” 1951: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge. a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster”  Simply put, Alastair Sim best represents Scrooge as depicted by Charles Dickens.  His redemption after visits from three spirits is also the best, most joyfully portrayed on film. Old screen veterans Kathleen Harrison and Ernest Thesiger also add spice and cheer to this adaptation.

2). “A Christmas Carol,” 1984: George C. Scott’s portrayal of London’s meanest businessman is superb, and just a tad below Sim’s definitive portrayal. Scott gives Scrooge a faint of air whimsy and humor, even when he’s coveting pennies within sight of beggars. To be fair to Scott, it translates well to the screen. Edward Woodward, as an imposing, scolding Ghost of Christmas Present, is the best Christmas ghost captured on the screen.



3). “Going My Way,” 1944: Bing Crosby, as Father Chuck O’Malley is a joy for Christmas, mixing wonderful songs with a story about a talented young priest called to a struggling to secretly help a grizzled old veteran priest, Father Fitzgibbon, (wonderfully played by Barry Fitzgerald) back on its financial feet. Perhaps no other film captures life in the heart of NYC so well. The finally scene, in which Father Fitzgibbon is reunited with his mother after a half-century, will cause the driest cynic to tear up.

4). “Miracle on 34th Street,” 1947: This witty tale of Santa Claus on trialbasically made Edmund Gwenn iconic as who Santa Claus is. The most tear-inducing scene is Gwenn’s Santa speaking Dutch with a WW2 orphan girl at Macy’s. There are two main threads in this marvelous slice-of-NYC life film. The first involves a witty court fight to legitimize Gwenn’s Santa. The second is Gwenn’s quiet but effective campaign to teach a cynical mom and her impressionable daughter the true spirit of Christmas.

5) “The Shop Around the Corner,” 1940: I love this Christmas film, where two shop clerks, who initially actually have a history of disliking each other, share love notes as anonymous pen pals. Jimmy Stewart is great as the male lead, and Margaret Sullavan is beautiful as the shopgirl. This is based on a Hungarian play, and is set in “Budapest,” which looks like the most beautiful city on Earth.

Steve D. Stones’  list of favorite Christmas/Holiday themed films
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1). Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964). This favorite pick is predictable, but how can anyone resist a Christmas movie with dopey characters named Drop-O, Keemar, Voldar, Girmar and Bomar? The acting, dialogue, make-up, sets and costumes are amateur, at best, but the film has a lot of heart. John Call in the role of Santa Claus is irresistible, and may be the only convincing character in the entire film. Watch for the cheap spaceships designed from toilet paper rolls and toilet plungers are used as ray guns.  No toilet humor is involved. The green Martian make-up is lightly applied to many of the actors, likely for lack of budget. Don’t miss it! See Doug Gibson and I review this film as a video-cast on this web-site.

2). Die-Hard (1988). Yes, believe it or not, this box office action yarn can be considered a “Christmas movie.” Not since Sylvester Stallone played John Rambo in “First Blood” (1982) has Bruce Willis’ John McClane action hero had such great appeal to mass audiences.  His famous “Yippy-Ki-Yah-Mother-Fu*#er” line has become a staple of popular cinema culture. McClane takes on a group of European terrorists on Christmas Eve who have seized a high rise building in Los Angeles.  The result is a dynamite, edge of your seat action film that never lets up, and allows the audience to cheer for the killing of every bad guy McClane chalks up on his arm with a marker. Willis is perfect in this role, and went on to make three more in the series. This is a film where you’ll find yourself cheering for police and law enforcement.



3). Scrooge (1935). Although there have been many screen adaptations with larger budgets of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” classic, this one is a particular favorite of mine because it was the first VHS video I ever bought with my allowance money when I was 13. The dated, worn out look of the film helps add to its nostalgic quality.  Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Sir Seymour Hicks, who also co-wrote the script. Hicks is perfectly cast. The film is as poverty looking as its subject matter, but is worthy of a viewing just to see what one of the first screen adaptations of this Dickens classic looks like. Most public domain prints run 58 minutes, but an extended version runs over 80 minutes. Even the 58 minute versions list the film length on the box cover as 83 minutes. Don’t be fooled by this.

4). Black Christmas (1974). It has often been said that John Carpenter’s 1978 film – “Halloween” ushered in the so-called “slasher” horror films of the 1980s. Halloween owes a great deal to this holiday horror feature. Beautiful Olivia Hussey plays a college girl with boyfriend problems living in a sorority house, who is terrorized on Christmas Eve by threatening phone calls. The phone caller-killer is never shown on screen, adding to the suspense. He hides in the attic of the sorority house, which makes perfect since, considering how cold it is outside on Christmas Eve. The film was also marketed as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger In The House.

5). Santa Claus (1959). Not to be confused with the 1994 Tim Allen movie, or the 1985 Dudley Moore film of the same title, this bizarre 1959 Mexican import is notorious for VHS prints that cut out scenes involving the devil. Santa Claus also shows scenes of children from different countries
singing Christmas carols in their native languages at Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. The film has a moral tale to warn children not to steal the toys they want just because their parents may not have the money to buy them for Christmas.  It’s not known why public domain prints cut out all the scenes of the devil, but those scenes depict the devil as playful and ridiculous and are an important part of the film. Perhaps the scenes were cut so as not to scare children?




Sunday, December 5, 2021

'Becoming Dracula: Volume 2' charts Bela Lugosi's rise in the USA

 


Review by Doug Gibson

There's an interesting photo of an advertisement in "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," BearManor Media, 2021 (Amazon link). It's a 1928 ad for Listerine mouthwash, published in Photoplay magazine. On the right, inconspicuous, is definitely Bela Lugosi, already known as a Broadway, and feature film actor. Lugosi must have been paid for the subtle modeling act. Authors Gary D. Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger wonder if there are other, still-yet-to-be-discovered ads with Lugosi of that era. I'd wager yes.


The photo underscores two essential truths about Bela Lugosi's three-plus decades in America. He was both -- by all rational assessments -- a successful actor, and a man nearly always in need of money. Even when he had achieved successful working-actor status in America, he made regular forays into the U.S. Hungarian stage scene, often taking the role of director or headlining for a night. These gigs were partially motivated by money, the authors surmise. 

"Becoming Dracula 2" is, like its predecessor, "Becoming Dracula: Volume One, the Early Years of Bela Lugosi," a marvelous mixture of dedicated research and enjoyable style. Through old media sources, many very obscure (long-gone U.S. Hungarian newspapers) and I'm sure not easy to track down, the authors chart Lugosi's slow but steady emergence as a respected stage and screen actor through the 1920s and early 1930s (up to "Dracula" film).

Bela may have arrived in America penniless, but he already had a reputation as an actor in Europe, and quickly found work in various Hungarian stage groups. The Hungarian presence in the United States was large enough to support acting troupes, and Hungarian U.S. newspapers were around to cover it all. Hungarian works, such as "The Tragedy of Man," were featured.

It wasn't long before Bela's skill made him an attractive option for English-speaking theaters. One of his more significant early plays was "The Red Poppy," which featured a popular star of the era, Estelle Winwood. Lugosi's scenes with Winwood were noted by critics.

Bela appeared on the stage with co-stars who would also achieve huge success, including Leslie Howard and Fredric March. One of his Broadway plays, "Arabesque," in which his character shared passionate scenes with actress Hortense Alden, shocked audiences. (See Lugosi and Alden below). 


Besides staying busy on the stage, the authors detail Lugosi's resumption of a movie career in the 1920s. His earlier films, from mid-size producers, include "Silent Command," "The Midnight Girl," "The Rejected Woman,'" and "Daughters Who Pay." Watching these films reveal an actor with strong screen presence, one who attracts the camera's attention, whether playing a hero or villain. 

Playing "Dracula" on Broadway led to Bela getting that defining film role. The journey to filming "Dracula" is interesting. Rhodes and Kaffenberger provide a detailed log of events, including Bela accompanying the play to the West Coast and its continued success there. A host of actors were considered. Lugosi gradually became a Los Angeles-based actor, a move that would last the rest of his life. The authors detail Bela's persistent efforts to retain his coveted role for the film, including shrewd marketing efforts. He made sure he was playing Count Dracula for a brief stint in Oakland as final casting was being set. 

Lugosi also parleyed his stage success with more films, including a contract with Fox for a few pre-Dracula films. He also had a major role, although inexplicably billed seventh, in "The Thirteenth Chair." It was for MGM, and directed by Tod Browning, who would helm "Dracula."

Despite being busy as an actor between the play, "Dracula," and the film version, Bela was still feeling financial pinches. The authors include correspondence from the actor where he expresses displeasure with his finances and career. Lugosi would find ways to make money providing Hungarian dialogue for U.S. films. He also appeared in short films, some of which are likely lost. He may have had some roles where his scenes were deleted.

The authors capably detail much of Lugosi's personal life, including two failed marriages and his well-known affair with screen star Clara Bow. One marriage, with an heiress named Beatrice Weeks, provides insight into the actor's mind. He was likely prone to impulsive decisions. He also had a traditional, for the time, Hungarian male perspective of marriage, with the man working and the woman serving. This led to a quick divorce with the independent Weeks, who was apparently also prone to impulsive acts.

"Becoming Dracula: Volume 2" is a joy for genre purists; as Volume 1 was. Volume 2 respects the first volume by starting with, Chapter 21. We revel in the minutia that Rhodes and Kaffenberger have painstakingly logged; the footnotes are dessert. There's 10,000 facts to learn that I have not included in this review. 

But the ease of reading and good-natured occasional observations from the authors also make this a wise choice for the casual reader. It provides a primer for how actors moved through the stage and film worlds 90-plus years ago. I think both "Becoming Dracula" volumes would be valuable texts for film classes. I'd love to see this writing style used for other famous actors, say Boris Karloff. The poring over of obscure, mostly forgotten publications -- a healthy percentage only saved with crumbling print -- guarantees that new scholarship is logged.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

'Revenge of Frankenstein an efficient Hammer chiller

 


The Revenge of Frankenstein, 1958, color, Hammer, 90 minutes (U.S. version). Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing as Dr. "Stein" (Frankenstein). Francis Matthews as Dr. Hans Kleve, Eunice Gayson as Margaret Conrad, Michael Gwynn as Karl as a synthetic man and Oscar Quitak as Karl (before). Schlock-meter rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Hammer films can be somewhat of an acquired taste. Often it will seem that the cast of Mansfield Park has suddenly appeared in a conventional horror film. But I confess to being a big fan of this British horror genre. I love the raw horror of Dracula being confronted by English gentlemen warriors. 

The Revenge of Frankenstein, a sequel to the Curse of Frankenstein. is an efficient, compact tale with beautiful sets and scenes and marvelous restrained performances by Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein and Gwynne as the suffering synthetic man. 

The plot: Dr. Frankenstein avoids death in one portion of Eastern Europe and sets up shop far way under the name of Dr. Stein. He quickly becomes the most popular doctor in town, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. A former student (Matthews) recognizes Frankenstein, but rather than turn him in, works with him to create a synthetic man (Gwynne). 

Of course, plans go awry and several murders occur by the monster before Stein's true identity is revealed. There is a twist ending that is a little hard to swallow, but it sets everything up nicely for a sequel. Matthews as Cushing's confederate Dr. Hans Kleve is just window dressing, as is a nurse (Gayson) who mistakenly sets the monster free. 



This is Cushing's show, and he is marvelous. He portrays a truly evil, amoral man, but his charisma, energy and controlled emotional performance makes the audience cheer for him. Fisher's direction is as economical as a Don Siegel film. He keeps the film moving at a fast pace and virtually no scenes are wasted. Even Dr. Frankenstein's motive for creating a synthetic man appears pure at first. It's to place the brain of a dwarf (Quitak) in a "perfect body." 

However, when the brain and body don't mix and the suffering creation (Gwynne) goes mad with pain and fury, the doctor is curiously cold, revealing his icy interior. As mentioned, Gwynne is great in conveying the suffering of the monster and its agony that it cannot control his pain or actions. The Revenge of Frankenstein is a winner, and deserves a spot in any cult film collection.

Notes: British version runs 94 minutes. Film was originally banned in Sweden. Watch a trailer here.

-- Doug Gibson

Friday, November 26, 2021

There's more than shopping with Black Friday and Lugosi and Karloff

 



By Steve D. Stones

Just In Time For Black Friday – It’s Black Friday (1940), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff
No, this movie is not about what happens at retail outlets the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the opening sequence of the film shows dates on a calendar slowly tearing off a page until it stops on Friday the 13th. The film stars two great horror icons - Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Both give fine performances in the film, even though they never appear on screen together.

Karloff stars as a doctor who is sentenced to the electric chair at the beginning of the film. Just before his electrocution, he gives a book of writings to a newspaper reporter who he trusts. We go back in time to witness a horrible accident of Professor George Kingsley, one of Karloff’s friends, who is ran over and killed in a car by gangsters being chased by police. A gangster named Red Cannon is also killed in the accident, leaving behind a half a million dollars hidden somewhere.

Karloff decides to transplant Cannon’s brain into the head of his deceased friend in hopes that Cannon will reveal the location of the money. No surgical procedure is ever shown on screen, and we never see how Karloff is able to steal Cannon’s brain while still evading police.

Karloff takes Kingsley to the same New York hotel that Red Canon hid from the police in. As Karloff pries Kingsley for information about the money, his features begin to transform into Cannon until he actually becomes Cannon. Cannon leaves the hotel in the body of Kingsley to kill members of his gang that left him for dead. Newspaper headlines report the murders of Cannon’s gang members.

Film noir elements are used in a sequence when Cannon hides in the back of a car to surprise a member of his gang to strangle him. As the gangster gets into the car, vague shadows consume Cannon’s face to hide his identity. Cannon lunges to strangle the man inside the car.

Lugosi’s character, a member of Cannon’s group, sets a trap to follow Cannon to find the money by using Cannon’s girlfriend as bait. The plan backfires when Cannon discovers Lugosi hiding in the closet of his girlfriend’s apartment. Lugosi and the girlfriend are shot and killed by Cannon.

The police question Kingsley at the end of the film when a taxi driver is tipped a thousand dollars by Cannon as he flees the murder scene. Kingsley does not remember the incident after being unconscious. His body returns as Cannon to seek out Karloff and the money. When Karloff shoots Cannon, he switches back to Kingsley’s body, and the viewer is now aware of why the film started with Karloff being sentenced to the electric chair.

Black Friday can be purchased in a Universal Studios- Bela Lugosi DVD set with four other Lugosi films - The Black Cat, Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Raven and The Invisible Ray. This set is a must have for any serious Lugosi fan and collector of his films.  Watch these films back to back. They are great fun. Watch a trailer for Black Friday here.

Don’t get hassled by all those pesky Black Friday shoppers out there today. Maybe it’s best to stay home and watch this 1940 classic – Black Friday. Happy Shopping!!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

King of the Zombies -- Monogram poverty-row gold

 


King of the Zombies, 1941, B&W, 67 minutes. Directed by Jean Yarbrough. Starring Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, Mantan Moreland. Schlock-Meter rating 6 stars out of 10. 


King of the Zombies is an old curio from Monogram, forgotten by most, enjoyed by purists. The plot involves three men in a plane who crash land in a West Indies island and encounter a very strange doctor (the role cries out for Bela Lugosi) who has a zombie-like wife, a cute secretary, and a collection of zombies. He also has an allied military officer held captive (it's WW2), and the convoluted plot involves the mad doctor wanting allied military secrets. 

He's foiled, of course, as his zombies eventually turn on him. The film has none of the atmosphere, moods or chills of White Zombie. It substitutes comic relief for frights. The only character who shows any real depth is Mantan Moreland, who plays Jeff, the black sidekick of the crash victims. It's a very racist role, from a different, less-tolerant era, but Moreland, whose first name is even a tacky racist gag, brings life to his character. 



The scenes where he mistakenly believes he's a zombie are very funny. There is the usual romance between crash victim Purcell and secretary Woodbury. Not a great film, but worth a look for fans and others who want to study the C movies from poverty row 60-plus years ago. For Monogram, it's gold quality.

Notes: Yarbrough also directed the Lugosi PRC film Devil Bat; It's rumored that Lugosi was slated to play the mad doctor in King of the Zombies. It certainly would have been a nice contrast to his evil, mad doctor role in White Zombie. Watch King of the Zombies here via YouTube.
-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Harry Langdon, Una Merkel a comedy pair in 'To Heir is Human'


 By Doug Gibson

"To Heir is Human" (imdb page is here) is one of comic legend Harry Langdon's more energetic late comedy shorts for Columbia, which featured other comic stars besides the Three Stooges. Released in early 1944, it stars Harry as window washer Harry Fenner, who is improbably located by telephone book deliverer Una, played by Una Merkel. It seems a sinister looking fellow asked Una to find Harry and deliver him to a forbidding domain where he'll inherit a fortune.The man, A Raven Sparrow, will give Una $1,000 to find Harry. Una drags a semi-reluctant Harry to the house, where naturally, a trio comprised of relatives and a thuggish handyman want to knock off Harry -- and Una -- and get all the inherited cash for themselves.

Although he's looking very old -- Langdon would die in December 1944 -- Harry is in excellent form the low-budget short, produced in Hugh McCollum's wing of Columbia's shorts studio. "The Elf" is in form in a few scenes, particularly during his initial refusal of Una's efforts to locate him, and more prominently in a later scene with his Vampish "kissing cousin," Velma, played by Christine McIntyre, who later gained iconic status as a Three Stooges regular. Langdon is hilarious with his mild surprise and resistance as Velma, one of the baddies, tries to provide him poisoned drinks. A Raven Sparrow, by the way, is played by Lew Kelly, who looked like a creepy cross between an aged Boris Karloff and John Carradine. The handyman is played by Bud Gribbon. His best scene is where he lowers a noose over Harry's head, who mistakes it for a tie. There are effective scenes in the house, particularly a room with an electric. Both A. Sparrow Raven and Una receive unpleasant but funny jolts as a result.

Now, I have not mentioned Una Merkel's contribution yet, because I've been saving it for her own paragraph or too. She absolutely marvelous in her role as dogged working girl Una. Merkel, who later gained a measure of consistent fame, had enjoyed a measure of stardom in the 1930s. However, by 1943 she was in a slump, and doing low-budget shorts. Nevertheless, her career slump doesn't show in this film.

Merkel has a tremendous eye for comedy, particularly slapstick, and she shows a lot of that in the film. She's literally manhandled in this film, getting thrown out of offices, having telephone directories thrown at her, being pulled by a thug who wants to kill her, fainting, and being electrocuted. Nevertheless, she never stops protecting her charge Harry, even if her main motivation for the $1,000 is to improve her appearance. Una Merkel reminds me of a slightly more intelligent version of Patsy Kelley in her shorts with Thelma Todd. Her pairing with the lower key Langdon works well. ... By the way, frequent Langdon co-star Vernon Dent has a cameo as a board chairman of a business. The scene is while Una is chasing Harry, and Langdon is funny as he intrudes into the speech.

This is an obscure film. A Langdon fan and film collector originally provided me a copy of the film, Look for it at Turner Classic Movies on the odd chance it will get on as an "extra." It is now on YouTube, however. Watch it here.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Review: 'Troll 2' cult film made in N. Utah's 'Nilbog'




On Sunday night, Oct. 31, 2021, Top of Utah dwellers can watch the Utah-made cult film, "Troll 2." It's at The Monarch in Ogden, 445 25th Street. The film starts at 8 p.m. and is part of this year's 9Rails Film Festival. The Monarch opens at 7 p.m. Watching "Troll 2" is free, but it's a festival, and a lot is going on. There will be food for sale, a silent auction, a costume contest, lots of stuff to purchase, including art associated with Troll 2. After the film, one of the actors, Utah's Darren Ewing, will take questions from viewers. 9Rails had a previous festival for another Utah-helmed film, "Plan 10 From Outer Space."

"Troll 2" was filmed as "Goblin" more than 30 years ago with an Italian film crew in Morgan County with then-mostly inexperienced actors. Released quietly to video as "Troll 2," (it's not a sequel to the 1985 film "Troll," though) it slowly gained a cult following for its bizarre dialogue, outlandish plot and sheer enjoyment value. It involves a vacationing family, and a few others, discovering they have entered a town, Nilbog, full of murderous vegetarian Goblins, masquerading a humans. They want to feed the "Nilbog" milk and mostly green food to our protagonists; the better to make them plant-like and ready to consume. The film is so much fun and resulted in a well-regarded documentary, "Best Worst Movie," about the film, its characters and its steady cult following. It was directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, who played in "Troll 2," and actors George Hardy, and Ewing, were part of the documentary. You can watch "Best Worst Movie" on Tubi.

Here is our Plan9Crunch blog review. Hope readers will enjoy the film as much as we do. The three pieces of original art are from local artist Steve D. Stones. 

Plan9Crunch review by Steve D. Stones

Ever see a movie so bad that it actually improves with each viewing? If you haven’t, I would highly recommend that you watch "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 effort to watch or own 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!! 




Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Innocents – An Excellent Gothic, Psychological Ghost Story

 


Review by Steve D. Stones


This stylishly crafted, brilliant supernatural ghost story is based on the 1898 Henry James novella – The Turn of The Screw. Made at Shepperton Studios in England, The Innocents (1961) was directed and produced by Jack Clayton. Clayton manages to create a creepy atmosphere throughout the film while contrasting it with beautiful locations, stark black and white photography and oblique camera angles. The film gives an excellent perspective of life at the end of the 19th century during the Victorian era.


A bachelor uncle, played by Michael Redgrave, wants to hire Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) as a governess to take care of his orphaned young nephew Miles (Martin Stephens) and niece Flora (Pamela Franklin) at his countryside estate at Bly Manor in England. When hired, Giddens is asked to never contact the uncle ever again with regard to the children. She is to take care of the children on her own, regardless of what problems she might encounter with them. Giddens accepts the job without question.


When arriving by carriage at Bly Manor, Giddens hears a voice crying out for Flora. As she is greeted by Flora in the garden, Flora tells Giddens that she did not hear any voice calling out for her. Flora shows Giddens her pet turtle Rupert and later informs her that Miles is to return home soon, although he was sent far away for a term of schooling. Giddens is puzzled by the thought of Miles returning home when his term of school will not end for a few months.



Giddens receives a forwarded letter from the children's uncle that was sent to him from Miles' school. The letter informs Giddens that Miles has been expelled from school because he has become a bad influence to other children at the school. When Giddens and Flora greet Miles at the train station on the day of his arrival, this is when things become really strange at Bly Manor. Miles refuses to answer any questions Giddens asks him about his schooling and why he was expelled.


While tending the garden one day, Giddens sees a tall shadowy figure standing at the top of the mansion tower. She is unsure of what she saw, so she climbs the stairs to the top of the tower to look for the man. The man is nowhere to be found on the tower, but Miles is there tending to a flock of pigeons. Miles denies seeing any man on the tower when Giddens asks him about the man. Giddens insists that he must have seen the man.


Giddens later finds an old photo in the mansion attic in a cracked frame of the man who appears to be the person she saw on the tower. She plays hide and seek with the children and takes her turn in hiding behind curtains in the dining room. Behind the curtains, she sees the man in the photo approach her on the other side of the window glass. This is one of many creepy sequences in the film that gives the viewer goosebumps. The expression on actress Deborah Kerr's face as she sees the man in the glass will send chills up your spine. Giddens describes the man to the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins). Grose says the man is Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) who died in an accident at Bly Manor. Miles found him just before he died. Apparently, the two were very close friends.


At a lake near Bly Manor, Flora hums a nursery rhyme while Giddens sees a strange, pale female figure dressed in dark clothing standing on the other side of the lake. This is another creepy sequence in the film that sends chills up the spine of the viewer. Flora and Grose claim to not have seen the figure. Grose mentions to Giddens that the figure may have been Mary Jessel (Clytie Jessop) – the former governess, who drowned herself in the lake soon after Quint's death. Quint and Jessel were a couple, although Grose mentions that they had a violent relationship.



Throughout the film, the viewer is not certain if Giddens' encounters with the ghosts of Quint and Jessel are real, or perhaps a delusion of her emotionally unstable mind. This is one of many effective and compelling aspects of the film. As the film progresses, the viewer begins to understand that the children Miles and Flora may be hiding a dark secret. We do not know whether to believe the children when they say they cannot see the ghosts of Quint and Jessel, but it becomes clear towards the end of the film that the children know of their presence. Are the children possessed by the ghosts of Quint and Jessel? This is the question the viewer asks as the film progresses.


The Innocents was selected by The Guardian as one of the 25 best horror films in cinema. Those of us who are big fans of The Innocents certainly agree with The Guardian's selection. Director Jack Clayton was displeased with screenwriter William Archibald's perspective that the paranormal events in The Turn of the Screw were legitimate, so he asked American writer Truman Capote to rework the script for The Innocents to suggest other alternatives to the plot.


Many horror film fans often compare and contrast The Innocents with director Robert Wise's 1963 psychological horror film – The Haunting, which is also an excellent film. Both films are greatly respected by film critics and fans of horror films and ghost stories. Both make for a great Halloween double feature. Happy viewing and Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Bela Lugosi shows screen presence in early silent 'Daughters Who Pay'

 


Review by Doug Gibson

For Bela Lugosi's birthday, I had considered reviewing his second-most-iconic-character film, "Son of Frankenstein." But then I was reading Gary Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger's new book, "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," and I was intrigued by some mid 1920s' silent films Bela acted in. One I watched, "Daughters Who Pay," impressed me, not so much with the film, which is mildly entertaining, but with Lugosi's magnificent screen presence. He's in his early '40s, and his commanding persona draws eyes to him in most scenes.

"Daughters Who Pay" was a 1925 states rights release that starred Marguerite De La Motte, a star of that era, who plays dual roles. There are separate plots that eventually intersect. The first involve young woman, Margaret Smith, who is essentially the head of a fatherless house. Margaret has a problem. Her loser brother, Larry, has frittered away, illegally, $10,000 from his firm. He faces ruin and prison if discovered. Margaret agrees to visit his boss and plead for mercy.

The other plot involves the boss, Henry Foster, who is upset that his son, Dick, is romantically involved with a Russian nightclub singer, Sonia Borisoff. The elder Foster demands his son give her up. Dick leaves, assuming he is cut off from the family fortune.


A theme of "Daughters Who Pay" is the Russian menace of the 1920s. Lo and behold we learn that Sonia is apparently part of a Russian spy operation. The local spy ring leader is played by Bela Lugosi, His name is Serge Romonsky. (Above is a photo of Lugosi with De La Motte in the film.)

Bela appears about 20 minutes into the film, interrupting Dick Foster telling Sonia that he's given up his money for her. Above at the top of the post (courtesy of the Bela Lugosi Blog) is a still of Lugosi in that scene. His youth, looks, and commanding sense are striking. He dominates the scene with an imperious air and visible contempt for the weak Dick Foster. "I can't say that I care for some of your American friends, my dear," Bela's character says in the titles.

Later in the scene, while they are alone, Bela's character orders Sonia to drop Dick Foster. She appears to have feeling for the young man, but reluctantly agrees. Bela's Romonsky lights up at this. He has feelings for Sonia. But she quickly rebuffs him. Offended, he leaves.

Meanwhile, Mary is unsuccessful in persuading Henry Foster to give her brother a break. She leaves and apparently runs into Sonia outside the Foster mansion, where the singer has been summoned. Once inside with Mr. Foster, Sonia agrees to dump his son, but only if he shows mercy to the brother of the woman she just met, Mary. Henry Foster appears bemused by this.

Meanwhile, members of the Russian spy ring are beginning to have suspicions about Sonia. Romonsky and the others make sure they are with Sonia when she tells Dick Foster their relationship is over. After she does that, crushing Dick, a triumphant Serge begins, in the parlance of the era, to make love to Sonia. She accepts a long kiss. After it's over, Romonsky recoils in shock, with blood dripping from his lip and mouth. (See photo below).


It's a fascinating scene; the most shocking part of the film. It also serves historically -- unintentionally of course -- as a preface to a future role, Lugosi as Dracula. It made me think a bit of Lugosi eying the blood on doomed Renfield's finger. The scene shifts to Sonia, who shows Lugosi the rose with thorns she had placed between her teeth prior to the kiss. 

Soon afterward, federal agents raid the location. Many spies are arrested. Romonsky and Sonia avoid capture. This convinces Romonsky Sonia is a traitor, and he arranges to set her up for capture and presumably death. 

I will not provide more of the plot except to mention this film is very easy to watch. Here is a YouTube link. The film is set mostly in the Hamptons and it was shot in winter, so there are nice scenes with New York snow. Reviews were middling, according to "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," which includes snippets of many critics' opinions. 


The film has about 15 or so minutes of deterioration, for about 10 minutes in the latter middle and then heavy deterioration in the final several minutes. (The film is about 78 minutes). This does not prevent the viewer from losing the plot, or losing enjoyment in the film, but it will likely prevent this film from ever airing on, say, Turner Classic Movies. De La Motte's star diminished with the beginning of sound films. She made only a handful of sound films. George Terwilliger directed the film. John Bowers played Dick Foster, J. Barney Sherry played Henry Foster, and Joseph Striker played Larry Smith. As mentioned, De La Motte has two roles, which sets up a surprise at the end. Can you guess? 

Below is an April 20, 1926 ad for "Daughters Who Pay" from the Hattiesburg (Miss) American for the film promising free admission, with one purchase, for mom.



Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Haunted is a delightfully spooky British ghost story

 

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Review by Doug Gibson


Haunted, 1995, British, color, 108 minutes, Zoetrope Films. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Based on a novel by James Herbert. Starring Aidan Quinn as David Ash, Kate Beckinsale as Christina Mariell, Anthony Andrews as Robert Mariell, John Gielgud as Dr. Doyle, Alex Lowe as Simon Mariell, Victoria Shalet as Juliet Ash and Anna Massey as Nanny Tess Webb. Schlock-Meter rating: Nine stars out of 10.


Haunted is a very spooky, fun ghost story with twists and turns that will leave most viewers guessing. It's based on a popular novel by British author James Herbert, who is as famous in Britain as Stephen King is in America. Here's the plot: Famed psychologist David Ash (Quinn) enjoys debunking mediums and rumors of ghosts. This may be because Ash refuses to accept that many years earlier, he saw a manifestation of his dead twin sister after she drowned in an accident. 


Seeking material for a book, he amuses himself by accepting an invitation from a frightened elderly woman (Massey) to kick out some ghosts who are in her home, which is a huge mansion near the white cliffs of Dover. As soon as Ash arrives he meets three adult siblings (Andrews, Beckinsale and Lowe). They're an odd but charming trio, oftentimes acting more like children. Nevertheless, Ash begins to feel a strong attraction for the sister, Christina Mariell, played by future star Kate Beckinsale.




There's no gore in this film, but it's as spooky as The Others and nearly as terrifying as the classic The Haunted. As time passes, Ash witnesses several supernatural encounters that force him to revise his earlier theories. He appears to be no help to his poor client (Massey), who lives in terror within the house. Although Ash's romance with the beautiful Christina intensifies, the brothers become more cold, and Ash also witnesses several strong hints of incest between Christina and the oldest brother Robert (Andrews). The home also appears isolated at times, except for occasional visits from a kindly country doctor (Gielgud) in a marvelous small role.


It would be a crime to give away the ending in this review, but rest assured it packs a powerful punch. To survive, Ash must reach deep back into the past of his life and seek help from someone he's trying to forget about. Quinn gives a marvelous performance as he tries to deal with a horror he's always scorned. Beckinsale radiates sensuality (note to her fans, the nude scenes are with a double). Finally, Massey literally looks like an old woman who has been scared so badly that she has become a walking corpse, just waiting to die. By all means, buy it or rent it, and make sure you watch it after dark. A second viewing provides fun in counting plot clues missed the first time. A Blu-Ray is available for purchase here.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

'Blood Feast' a pioneer low-budget gore film helmed by Herschell Gordon Lewis


Reviewed by Steve D. Stones


Directed in 1963 by Herschell Gordon Lewis (The Godfather of Gore), Blood Feast centers around a psychopath Egyptian immigrant named Fuad Ramses, played by Mal Arnold, who runs a food catering business in Florida. Ramses murders local beautiful women in the Miami area and uses their body parts in his meals to perform sacrifices to the ancient goddess Ishtar.


Socialite Dorothy Fremont, played by Lyn Bolton, approaches Ramses at his catering business to request catering services for her daughter Suzette's birthday party. Ramses promises a feast for the birthday party that no one will ever forget and one which has not been served for five thousand years. Mrs. Fremont is unaware that Ramses will prepare a feast with body parts of local murdered women. He intends for Fremont's daughter to be one of his next victims in the cannibalistic feast.




Meanwhile, an incompetent, chain smoking police detective named Pete Thornton, played by William Kerwin (aka Thomas Wood), is on the case of tracking down a local killer who takes body parts from his murdered victims. 


Thornton happens to be dating Suzette Fremont, played by 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason. The bad chemistry between both actors is so obvious on the screen. Mason stands in a number of scenes with her arms folded while gyrating back and forth as if she's shivering from cold. In one scene, she looks directly into the camera, searching for her cue card to read her forgotten lines.


Both Mason and Kerwin will go on a year later in 1964 to star as another couple in director Lewis' – Two Thousand Maniacs. Their chemistry does not improve much in this film, but Two Thousand Maniacs is technically a much better film. The couple married in real life in 1964 and remained married until Kerwin's death in 1989.


Despite its $24,500 production budget, Blood Feast went on to earn 4 million worldwide – which is a great return on such a small investment. Blood Feast is considered the first splatter – gore film in cinema history. The film threw the motion picture industry in a panic during an era without film ratings. Drive-in movie patrons across the United States lined up for hours to see Blood Feast. Word of mouth spread quickly about the gruesome nature of the film.


Director Lewis once said Blood Feast was like a Walt Whitman poem - “It's no good, but it's the first of its kind.” Even many of the AD campaigns for Blood Feast live up to the reputation of the film. As one advertising poster states: “Nothing so Appalling in the Annals of Horror! You'll Recoil and Shudder as You Witness the Slaughter and Mutilation of Nubile Young Girls!” Most horror films could never live up to this claim. Blood Feast certainly does a hundred times over.


Many of Lewis' gore films are currently offered on Tubi streaming service – Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), Color Me Blood Red (1965), The Wizard of Gore (1970) and The Gore Gore Girls. Don't miss these great gore classics. Happy viewing this Halloween season.


Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Blob is a great popcorn monster movie for the 1950s

 


By Steve D. Stones

Actor Steve McQueen was just 28 years old when he played his first screen role as a teenager on a date tracking down a giant cherry colored blob that comes to earth from a meteor crash. His girlfriend, actress Aneta Corsaut, -- last name misspelled in credits as -- would later appear as Helen Crump on the 1960s TV series – The Andy Griffith Show. The Blob has everything a low-budget 50s sci-fi movie could offer – poodle skirts, Brill creamed hairstyles, classic cars and dopey, untrusting cops.

While necking in a car high in the neighborhood hills, McQueen and Corsaut witness a meteor crash nearby. They track the meteor to the property of an old farmer. The farmer cracks open the meteor to discover a Jell-O-like substance that consumes his arm.  Writer Stephen King pays homage to this scene in Creepshow (1982) – by also playing the role of a curious farmer who finds a meteor in his backyard.

McQueen and Corsaut take the farmer to a local doctor, where his body later becomes fully consumed by the Jell-O growth on his arm. The farmer transforms into a giant blob and consumes the doctor and his nurse. McQueen reports this incident to the local police, but they have a tough time taking the report seriously, even after investigating the scene of the crime at the doctor’s office.

Meanwhile, the blob grows larger and larger as it consumes more victims in the town. McQueen and Corsaut track the blob to a local supermarket and are forced to barricade themselves in a meat locker. Here they discover that the blob does not like the cold as it tries to slither under the meat locker door but is repelled by the cold.

In a scene shown at the drive-in from the movie Grease (1978), dozens of teenagers run out of a theater as the gooey blob slithers through the theater doors and out into the street. The marquee on the theater advertises the film – Daughter of Horror and actor Bela Lugosi’s name.  

After warning many local teenagers and attempting to warn local police again of the blob menace, McQueen and Corsaut become trapped once again, but this time in a local diner. The blob has consumed the entire diner, trapping everyone inside. McQueen sprays a CO2 tank on the blob as it crawls down the basement stairs of the diner.

The local high school principle, Mr. Martin, assigns the teenagers to gather up fire extinguishers at the school. The extinguishers are used to freeze the blob – allowing the victims inside to escape.
The film ends abruptly with a shot of a parachuted crate landing in the snow of the frozen arctic. The viewer has to assume that the blob is contained inside the crate. The shot is likely stock footage because it is grainy and out of focus.

In 1972, a sequel was made entitled - Beware! The Blob (aka Son of Blob).  A 1988 remake of The Blob was also made. As remakes go, this 1988 version is not too bad, but does not reach the level of a drive-in classic of the original 1958 version. Happy viewing!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Barbara Payton: A Life in Pictures charts the rise and fall of a Hollywood star

 

The late actress Barbara Payton was beautiful, and she possessed screen presence. Her most notable film is "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye," with James Cagney. 

Both Universal and particularly Warner Bros., prepped her with the anticipation for stardom. Ultimately, her story was tragic. She died mostly forgotten in the late 1960s, depressed; her body broken by alcoholism, and other abusive behaviors.

Her biographer, John O'Dowd, has published an amazing work. "Barbara Payton: A Life in Pictures," BearManor Media, 2018, Albany, Ga. (Amazon link is here). Through an introduction and afterword, with 34 chapters in between, it provides arcs of both her 39 years of life and her tenure as an entertainer. (Below, is a picture of Payton radiating girl-next-door beauty).

The book charts her biography, a girl from flyover country who attracted attention from the entertainment industry once she arrived in Hollywood with her husband. Universal soon beckoned and she starred in some now-forgotten shorts with a singing cowboy. She also made the publicity rounds.

The family photos from the '30s and '40s are extremely interesting and it's a credit to O'Dowd that he tracked them down. The author admits in the introduction that his goal is to convey that his subject Payton -- who was trashed repeatedly during her life and beyond -- was a "kind and empathetic" person. He notes that her decline and eventual fall into a personal hell was likely the result of a lack of awareness of the gravity of her situations. 

Universal dropped her, largely due to rumors of an affair with superstar Bob Hope. Reading the book, one can't ignore the irony of a woman (Payton) being harshly sanctioned for an affair, but the more powerful man involved, Hope, skating through it unscathed. 

Her end at Universal started a trajectory of a few years where Payton hopscotched between bigger studios (Warner Bros and semi-big RKO) to work, sometimes loaned out, at lower-tier studios (Eagle-Lion, Jack Broder, Lippert, Allied Artists). (Below is a scene of Barbara with Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" star Cagney).


Payton's co-stars in films included Cagney, Gregory Peck, Lloyd Bridges, Guy Madison, Raymond Burr, Lon Chaney Jr., Steve Cochran, and even Sonny Tufts! She starred in one film that has a small cult following, "Bride of the Gorilla," with Burr and Chaney Jr.

The photos in the book provide a glossy history of Hollywood in that era. The glamorous photos, the publicity campaigns, the stars gathering at the hot spots with photographers, the scandal sheets of that era, which Barbara was in a lot, unwillingly, and unfortunately, later more willingly. The courtroom shots, the pictures at Barbara's house when she was wealthy. Accounts of her relationships with actors Franchet Tone and Tom Neal are covered via photos, as well as the aftermath of Tone's savage beating by Neal.

With her career damaged in Hollywood, Payton went to England to star in a couple of Hammer films. The pictures are poignant, because they show a time and place where Payton was treated as a major star -- for the last time. I wondered while leafing through the London photos, the stills from films, publicity shots, Payton interacting with Londoners, if perhaps she should have stayed there to pursue more work. But she was in a bad relationship with the toxic, violent Neal, and he soon joined her across the Atlantic. They returned home.

By this time, the bad press, and cruel taunting from most Hollywood press icons, kept her away from the big studios. She was with the usually unemployed Neal in a couple of films. Also, the book highlights an unsuccessful stage tour with Neal of "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

(Below is a photo of Barbara, with actor Paul Langton, in the final film she made, "Murder is My Beat," directed by low-budget auteur Edgar Ulmer.)


Neal eventually left. That was no loss but by the latter '50s, Payton's personal and professional setbacks were heavy. She lost custody of her son, John Lee Payton. She lost her home. She entered the scandal sheets again due to a bad check charge. 

In the later '50s it might be charitable to call her life bohemian, but desperately trying to stay afloat is more apt. It's claimed she lived in the same poverty apartment as cult figure Vampira. She was married for a while to a much younger man and lived a rustic life with her spouse in Mexico.

There are candid photos in the book that, as O'Dowd notes, capture tension, weariness, disappointment, pain in Payton's face. You can see her shock in the late '50s, when she calls a news conference to announce a comeback, and is derided by press hounds who bothered to come.

It underscores what O'Dowd mentions about an over-optimism, a desire to believe good in others, that provided a lack of awareness to Barbara of how her own dysfunctional behavior damaged her. Also, recollections in the book (and there are many) hint of a deep pride, or even a desire to punish herself, that prevented her from accepting or taking advantage of the few offers of help she received late in life. She was exploited a lot, including in a dreadful, exploitative "autobiography" of her life in 1963. O'Dowd's book appropriately includes this event. Included is a haunting photo of a stoned, eyes wide and glazed Barbara, dressed scantily, looking about 50 years old. It is shocking, and heart-wrenching.

(Below is a photo that reminds how beautiful Payton was in her heyday. The photos other than the cover were provided by author O'Dowd).


O'Dowd's 560-page book takes the reader through the very rough 1960s' life she endured. She died in 1967, in her parents' home. Pictures cannot accurately describe the hell the subject endured. For more details, one can read O'Dowd's excellent biography of Payton, "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye," (Bearmanor Media). (Amazon link here) My Plan9Crunch review of it is here. Two Plan9Crunch interviews with O'Dowd regarding "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" are here and here.

O'Dowd's strength as a writer and an art compiler is that he makes you care about the subject. He gets beyond the surface news reporting and uncovers the layers that makes a human being. He has spoken to so many family members, friends, lovers, acquaintances, colleagues, and media about Payton. It's a Herculean task and it provides readers the opportunity to care about the subject, to grieve for her failings and dysfunctional, dangerous life.

O'Dowd is currently working with a screenwriter to bring Payton's life story to the screen, in theaters, TV, streaming. My preference would be a Netflix-type streaming series but a two-hour movie would be a treat as well. Getting to a film takes a long time but I suspect Payton's compelling life eventually becomes one. 

-- Review by Doug Gibson


Sunday, August 15, 2021

Dracula Never Dies a passionate, eloquent read, provides unique assessments of Bela Lugosi, Hollywood



Review by Doug Gibson


Picture this passage from author Christopher R. Gauthier's new novel, Dracula Never Dies: The Revenge of Bela Vorlock," (Arcane Shadows Press, 2021): 


Our protagonist, Vorlock, one-time horror film star, reduced to poverty row through two decades of abuse and betrayal by fellow actors, family members and media hacks -- who rival Ayn Rand's "Ellsworth M. Toohey" in evil -- believes he is to receive a peer appreciation award for his decades as "Dracula" and other roles.


It turns out to be an elaborate, cruel joke. At that last minute the award is snatched away and instead given to a well-fed, successful acting rival, one who has abused Vorlock, and his immediate family, personally. With much laughing and sniggering, the Toohey-like MC thrusts a jester's cap on Vorlock's head.


It is an indignity gone too far. But I don't want to give away too much of Gauthier's excellent novel, part one of a planned trilogy). 


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I have a blurb on this edition's back cover, and I have read earlier versions of Chris' draft that total several hundred pages. Dracula Never Dies is nearly 300 pages. An appropriate one-sentence summary of the novel is an elegant primal scream of abuse, survival, more abuse, justice, and revenge


There are no chapter breaks once Dracula Never Dies gets going. The narrator describes a life -- with prose -- that moves from passion to emotion to anguish to anger to regret to survival to despair to grief to irony to love to hate to gothic horror to revenge to resignation, and to perhaps 20 other emotions.


In an Amazon review, Robert Cremer, biographer of Bela Lugosi (Lugosi: The Man Behind the Cape), notes how Hollywood, its dreams and schemes that can destroy dreams, contributes to the gothic horror of the novel. (Cremer also has a blurb on the back cover.)


Cremer also notes a plus to the novel, that genre fans will recognize many references to characters, and events from the times of Bela Lugosi. 


And, of course Dracula Never Dies' protagonist Bela Vorlock is Bela Lugosi. This is an alternate biography of Bela Lugosi existing in another multiverse, with much of the plot including Lugosi's times and life in our universe.


The plot -- and I wish to reveal very little of particulars, more for the reader to enjoy -- involves Vorlock's youthful escape from patriarchal tyranny, an interlude of happiness and love, a period of success in the entertainment world, and his efforts to endure and survive while suffering personal and professional setbacks/betrayals.


Gauthier's prose is magnificent. Expression is a key strength of his writing. Although their styles are different, Gauthier's word craftmanship reminds me of the satisfaction of reading a good novel from E. Annie Proulx, author of "The Shipping News" and "Brokeback Mountain." 


Dracula Never Dies' text demands to be read carefully. If it is glossed over the reader will get lost. Careful reading will provide a rewarding long, satisfying read. 


After finishing the final two score of pages (in which a character who Ed Wood and Lugosi fans will recognize is included) I am already eager to read the next installment of Gauthier's trilogy. Alas, it may be a while. I'll be patient. Dracula Never dies is priced relatively inexpensively. I hope I can add a Kindle version to the dead tree edition I own.



Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Invisible Ray, with Lugosi and Karloff

 


The Invisible Ray, Universal, 1936, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton. Directed by Lambert Hillyer. 3 stars - One of the classic 1930s Universal pairings of Karloff and Lugosi. A trailer is here.

This film is unique in that it is a science fiction film, rather than a horror film. Karloff and Lugosi are scientists who travel to Africa to find "Radium X," who Karloff has proven crashed into earth millions of years ago. 

"Radium X" is discovered, but contact with it turns Karloff radioactive, and deadly to the touch. Lugosi prepares medicine that counters the poison, but when Karloff's wife, (Drake) leaves him for an adventurer, Lawton, Karloff, going slowly insane, shirks the medicine and goes on a killing spree. Violet Kemble Cooper is creepy as Karloff's mother. 

Easy to buy and usually on TCM once a year.

-- Doug Gibson



Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The 'Gruesome Twosome' is HGL grindhouse fare!

 



By Steve D. Stones

This 1967 Herschell Gordon Lewis feature has the unique distinction of having one of the most bizarre openings in low-budget horror cinema history. After editing, the film was short in length. As filler, Lewis added two wig blocks with construction paper faces talking to each other during the opening. One of the wig blocks is stabbed as blood gushes out everywhere. Even after inserting this opening sequence, the film only runs 72 minutes.

Crazy Mrs. Pringle and her mentally challenged son Rodney run a wig shop near a Florida college campus. The wigs are advertised as 100 percent real human hair. The shop also rents vacant rooms to college co-eds. The renting of rooms is only a disguise for Pringle to lure young women to the shop so Rodney can scalp and murder them. Pringle often talks to her stuffed cat named Napoleon, adding to her craziness. \

A college girl arrives at Pringle’s wig shop to inquire about a room for rent. She is lured into a back room to be scalped by Rodney. The girl’s friend, Kathy Baker, investigates to try and find the murdered girl. During her investigation, other girls are scalped and murdered. Kathy follows a janitor home who buries bones in his backyard from a campus garbage can. She suspects he has something to do with the murders, but discovers the bones are for his dog.

A number of scenes pad out the length of the film with shots that last too long and don’t tribute to the plot of the film. An unrelated sequence of spectators watching a car race is one example. Another example is a scene of college girls in their dorm room dancing on beds in pajamas and see-through nighties while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken — an attempt at product placement. Colonel Sanders would make an appearance in Lewis’ next film — Blast Off Girls (1967).

The police eventually catch up to Mrs. Pringle and Rodney, and arrest them both. A trailer for the film shows Pringle hamming it up for the camera as the police carry her away in handcuffs.

Director Lewis often combined dark humor and horror in an attempt to make gore and over-the-top violence look silly and unsophisticated. His early “Blood Trilogy” films — Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965) are all good examples of this. Too extreme for most mainstream theatres, these films played on 42nd street grindhouses in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Blood Feast changed motion picture history forever as being the first film to introduce extreme violence and gore to the movie screen. Anyone with a weak stomach is not encouraged to view these films. See them at your own risk.

Happy viewing