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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Vampire Dracula turns 135 with the birthday of Bela Lugosi


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

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

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

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

1) http://planninecrunch.blogspot.com/2015/06/bela-lugosi-in-person-captures-stage.html --
'Bela Lugosi In Person' captures the stage, personal appearance career of screen 'Dracula'
"He was a star, and a gracious star, attentive to fans and charmingly tongue-in-cheek sinister with the media, particularly local media, which pursued him often during his long stage assignments. Lost in dusty old-media files and updated media websites are reviews of the many plays Lugosi entered, as star, or supporting role."

2) http://planninecrunch.blogspot.com/2008/06/tribute-to-bela-dracula-lugosi.html -- 
A Tribute to Bela "Dracula" Lugosi
"I have seen "Dracula" scores of times, and Lugosi is the key to the film. He is a tall, courtly, menacing figure who promises a fate worse than death. And that is the appeal of these early horror films compared to the sadistic gore-fests of today — a fate worse than death awaits the vampire's victims. That fate is conveyed to perfection in the scene where Lugosi's vampire murders actor Dwight Frye's cringing, pathetic, mad disciple Renfield. Dracula's exterior is charming. But his filthy interior attracts darkness, fog, storm, chill winds, rodents, flies, spiders, blood and undeath."

Voodoo Man, Monogram's last Bela Lugosi production
"... it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall)."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bela Lugosi the best part of early talkie Night of Terror


Review by Doug Gibson

I finally got around to seeing "Night of Terror," an early non-Universal talkie that Bela Lugosi starred in a couple of years after "Dracula." It never appears on Turner Classic Movies and only scenes appear on YouTube. Finally, at DailyMotion.com, I found it here. (It can be found easily to buy as a DVD online).

So, I watched it last week and ... I was a bit disappointed. Lugosi does a fine job as a solemn, somewhat menacing servant wearing a turban. He does a mean stare, as you can see from the lobby card above. But the film has a mediocre script and a "climax" that is a bit ridiculous. It's a "old dark house" mystery, in the style of its peers "The Bat" and "The Cat and the Canary,' but not as good, and quite derivative.

Someone, whom the press calls the "The Maniac,' is killing off people, with eventual emphasis on killing members of the wealthy Rinehart family. Despite this threat, none of the Rinehart family members  appear eager to leave the house and the area to escape the threat. They are too concerned about the revealed will of family patriarch, Richard Rinehart, one of the early murder victims.

Some of the Rineharts crab that faithful servants Degar (Lugosi) and his wife, Sika (Mary Frey) are in line to inherit if the Rineharts die. That makes Degar a suspect to some. Pretty Mary Rinehart (Sally Blane), daughter of Richard, is engaged to boring Professor Arthur Hornsby (George Meeker) who wants to bury himself to prove that a formula he's working on can presumably keep people buried alive safe for long periods.

Really, however, Mary has the hots for romance-minded reporter Tom Hartley (Wallace Ford), whom she enjoys bantering with. Meanwhile, the maniac is still around, outside windows, killing, giggling. Eventually there is a seance in which Sika is killed by a knife that comes out from her chair and enters her back. Also, the professor is under the the ground testing his theory.

If this sounds convoluted it is. This film is almost as confusing as "Scared to Death." However, it's worth an hour of your time. Watching talented actors Blane and Ford spar romantically for an hour is good 1930s' cinema. And Lugosi does his usual good job, even in a "butler" role. He also handles all the rash accusations against him from scared Rineharts with dignity. (Below is an extended clip from film that shows Lugosi's talent.)



Columbia released this film, but it has a poverty row look to it. Maybe a Blu Ray release one day will change that. As mentioned, the "climax" scene, where the killer is unmasked and all explained, is poorly done. It strains credibility.

NOTES: Sally Blane, a middling movie star, was sister to actors Loretta Young, a major star, and Polly Ann Young, a poverty row starlet. Wallace Ford co-starred with Bela in "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" and "The Ape Man," also playing a reporter in both. The film is marred by racist comedy relief with a black chauffeur, Martin, who plays frightened very broadly. There is an epilogue where the maniac threatens movie-goers who give away the plot to the film. Watch it below:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The vampire as kitsch -- Carradine as Dracula fights Billy the Kid



Billy the Kid versus Dracula

Billy the Kid versus Dracula, directed by William Beaudine, Circle Films, 1961. Starring John Carradine as Count Dracula, Chuck Courtney as Billy the Kid, Melinda Plowman as Betty Bentley. Others in cast include Harry Carey, Jr., Roy Barcroft, and Olive Carey. 1966, Color, 73 minutes. Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10. 

I have a soft spot for this movie, which puts me at odds with just about every other film critic. Okay, I know that the plot is feeble, the acting poor, the special effects a joke. And it's a fraud to vampire lore, since Carradine spends a lot of his time out in broad daylight. (NOTE: Tonight, Oct. 8, 2017, as part of October Vampire Month, TCM airs this film at 8:45 p.m. MST.)

Nevertheless, it's a fun little film if not taken seriously and the offbeat plot (Hero Billy the Kid matching wits with Dracula) is unique enough to merit a few stars. The plot: Dracula (on vacation?) is in the Old West. He provokes Indians into killing everyone on a stagecoach, then assumes the identity of a rich Eastern banker whose niece (who Dracula has the hots for) is about to marry a reformed Billy the Kid. THAT IS a bizarre plot -- even Ed Wood may not have come up with something that unique. Virginia Christine, the future Folger Coffee lady, is great as the real vampire-hunter in the film, and Olive Carey is feisty and likable as an elderly lady doctor. There is one semi-chilling scene in the film, where a collection of stagecoach riders lie dead, murdered by Indians in a plot hatched by Dracula.

This is definitely not Carradine at his best; in fact he seems many times to just walk through his role (he considered it his worst film, but it's not), but the old vampire master has a few good scenes, and manages to be quite sinister at times. Billy The Kid versus Dracula was made with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (not quite as good). Both were directed by Beaudine and played primarily Saturday kiddie matinees together. Watch a scene below.

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I will add, upon repeat viewings, this film improves. At its heart, it's more western than horror, a fond nod to this hour-long oaters of the 1930s and 1940s from C movie studios. Carey, I believe, was in the classic film "The Grapes of Wrath," which included Carradine in its cast as well.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Clint Eastwood Westerns – by James L. Neibaur



Review by Steve D. Stones

Although I was not alive in the 1960s when Sergio Leone's Italian westerns came to the United States, I'll never forget seeing A Fistful of Dollars (1964) for the first time in the early 1990s. I was completely mesmerized by the stylized qualities of the film, the more violent approach to depicting the old American West and the iconic poncho worn by Eastwood's character. Leone's view of the American West was far removed from anything I had seen in a John Ford or Howard Hawks western. This excited me and made me thirst for more of these films.

In his 2015 book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), (link is here) author James L. Neibaur sheds light on many details of Eastwood's acting and directing careers in western films. It is a pleasure to read not only because it goes into details about the Italian westerns Eastwood did with Leone, but the book also covers Eastwood's early TV career as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, as well as projects Eastwood accomplished between his western films, such as the iconic Dirty Harry films.

Neibaur points out the many similarities of Eastwood's “Man With No Name” in the Italian westerns to many of his later screen roles, such as Dirty Harry (1971), and even his early Don Siegel collaboration – Coogan's Bluff (1968), in which Eastwood plays a simple Arizona lawman in pursuit of a criminal tracked to New York City.


In Coogan's Bluff, Eastwood lays the foundation for many of the character traits found in his Dirty Harry Callahan character. He is a cynical outsider who works within the system, but hates all the rules and protocols of the system itself. In in sense, he is a cowboy of the past placed into the metropolis of our modern world.

As a fan of the Italian westerns, I often wondered why Eastwood's character in the three westerns he made with Leone were all named differently. I assumed all three characters were supposed to be the same man. Neibaur points out why the character had a different name for each film. Eastwood is a loner in the first film (A Fistful of Dollars), and duo in the second film (For A Few Dollars More) and part of a trio in the third film (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly). In A Fistful of Dollars, he is referred to as “Joe” by the town coffin maker. In A Few Dollars More, he is called “Manco.” He is known simply as “Blondie” in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Neibaur points out that A Fistful of Dollars was produced by Jolly Films. This company had a falling out with director Leone and did not become involved with the sequel – For A Few Dollars More. Jolly Films sued, claiming rights to the “Joe” character in A Fistful of Dollars. It was decided in court that a unknown gunfighter, bounty killer character, such as “Joe,” cannot be copyrighted, so therefore he exists in the public domain. Giving Eastwood the “Manco” name in For A Few Dollars More may have been a way to try and not connect the two characters in any way.

Although the Italian westerns of Leone and Eastwood were a box office smash worldwide, their relationship was quite strained by the time The Good, The Bad & The Ugly wrapped up production in 1966, as Neibaur points out in the book. So strained, in fact, that when Eastwood was offered the Harmonica role (later given to Charles Bronson) in Once Upon A Time In The West (1969), Eastwood turned it down after a meeting with Leone that went poorly.

The book would not be complete without placing some focus on Eastwood's great accomplishments as an American director. As with his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Eastwood became a master of his directing craft, and went on to direct some of the greatest westerns in cinema history, such as High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which many consider his greatest directed western, Pale Rider (1985) and the crown of his western film achievements – Unforgiven (1992), in which he won a Best Director Oscar. The American Film Institute has listed Unforgiven as the fourth greatest western in cinema history, right after The Searchers (1956), High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953).

If you are a fan of Clint Eastwood westerns, I recommend James L. Neibaur's book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns. Happy reading.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Enjoy a 'Dracula' night on TCM this evening!

On Oct. 1, 2017 that's today, Sunday at 6 p.m. MST, Turner Classic Movies will air Tod Browning's masterpiece, "Dracula," with Bela Lugosi as the iconic Count Dracula. Watch it scores of thousands of others ...
But before then, read these two Plan9Crunch reviews of the 1931 Universal "Dracula" by your bloggers, myself, Doug Gibson, and Steve D. Stones. Besides "Dracula," TCM is also airing "Dracula's Daughter," "Son of Dracula" and "Nosferatu!"


On with the reviews, and don't forget to watch "Dracula" on TCM this weekend.


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.

By DOUG GIBSON

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.

(WATCH THIS SCENE FROM THE FILM BELOW)





By STEVE D. STONES

Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” — Dracula

Creeky castle doors, thick spider webs, a fog-infested cemetery and coffins filled with earth from Transylvania. These items stir up images of one of the greatest screen villains in cinema history — Dracula. The vampire Dracula has appeared on screen and stage more than any other fictional character in the history of literature and films.

What would Halloween be like without Dracula and vampires? We have Irish writer Bram Stoker to thank for the count's immortal image. Considering the fact that Stoker's novel was thought by many critics to be nothing but a trashy, late-19th century exploitation pot boiler that many readers didn't want to know about, it's amazing to think just how long the story and image of Dracula have lasted.

From the moment Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi emerges from his coffin in Tod Browning's 1931 “Dracula,” Hollywood history was made. Lugosi's old-world mannerisms, receding hairline, thick Hungarian accent and flowing cape set the standard for every vampire movie that followed. No actor who portrayed Dracula after Lugosi has been able to top him.

Seeing Dracula on the big screen is a sight you will never forget. Close-up shots of Lugosi's face show just how menacing the immortal count can be. His image both attracts and repels the viewer. He is the ultimate boogeyman who will stop at nothing to leave behind a trail of victims. When Dracula says “there are far worse things awaiting man than death,” we believe him.



Dracula's contribution to popular culture cannot be overestimated. He appears on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs, action figures, comic books, Halloween masks, postcards and lunch boxes.

After the success of “Dracula,” Lugosi became a victim of the fickle Hollywood industry who typecast and pigeonholed him as an actor who could only play Dracula. He appeared as a vampire a total of three times, which included the hugely successful  “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” in 1948. Lugosi was never able to obtain the riches of his rival, Boris Karloff. Today, sales of merchandise associated with Lugosi surpass those of Karloff’s.

May the story and image of Dracula live on for centuries.

Originally published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper.





Friday, September 22, 2017

Zombies on Broadway, Lugosi creates zombies





Zombies on Broadway, 69 minutes, B&W, RKO. Directed by Gordon Douglas. Starring Wally Brown as Jerry Miles, Alan Carney as Mike Streger, Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Renault, Anne Jeffreys as Jean LaDance, Sheldon Leonard as Ace Miller and Darby Jones as Kolaga, the Zombie. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

(NOTE) Turner Classic Movies airs this film early tomorrow morning (Sept. 23, 2017) at 4 a.m. MST.)

This is an enjoyable 1940s B movie with Brown and Carney, RKO's version of Abbott and Costello, as PR hustlers announcing that a new NYC nightclub, The Zombie Hut, will open with a real zombie. To them it's just a gag, but toughman mob owner Leonard tells them to come up with a zombie or else. That sends the boys to the island of San Sebastian where, with the help of a beautiful dancer (Jeffreys), the boys overcome a zombie creating mad scientist (Lugosi) and return with a zombie.

The cast is wonderful. Comedians Brown and Carney do a passable imitation of Abbott and Costello. Carney plays Costello, while Brown is the AbboTt clone who ends up with the strikingly beautiful Jeffreys. Leonard is menacing in his stock role as gangster hood. Thrown in for atmosphere is Darby Jones, who bugs his eyes out as impressively as he did in Val Lewton's classic I Walked With a Zombie. The film moves at a fast, easy pace. Lugosi is suitably conniving as the mad scientist and there's a fun twist ending.

RKO had semi-high hopes for ex-vaudeville performers Carney and Brown, but they never seriously threatened Abbott and Costello at the box office. Still, they made several amusing B features and fading horror star Lugosi appeared in two, the other being One Body Too Many. This seldom-seen-today film is a must for Lugosi fans and those who enjoy the old 1940s B programmers.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Murder Mansion (La Mansion De La Niebla) – 1972


Review by Steve D. Stones

Directed by Francisco Lara Polop in 1972, this Spanish-Italian production, Murder Mansion, was not released until late 1973. The film is not a great masterpiece, but it manages to be genuinely creepy and entertaining. 

The eerie music score by Marcello Giombini contributes greatly to the mood and atmosphere of the film. Lots of thick fog in a cemetery and an old mansion also contributes to the ominous atmosphere. This is not to be missed for any fan of 1970s European horror films. 

The film follows three groups of travelers who are on separate journeys but manage to all end up in the same place by the film's ending. A motorcyclist named Fred, played by Andres Resino, is being chased by a car in the opening of the film, which gets the viewer questioning why the two are chasing each other. The car, driven by a man named Porter - played by Franco Fantasia, pulls over to the side of the road to pick up a sexy, young hitchhiker in a skirt out in the cold fall weather. Fred was also hopeful of picking up the hitchhiking woman, for obvious reasons. 

Fred eventually makes his way to the same roadside restaurant as the driver and hitchhiker. Because the young woman experienced sexual advances in the car with Porter, she decides to leave with Fred instead. The two eventually get lost in a thick cloud of fog near a cemetery and end up on foot trying to find a safe place for the night. 

On their way they encounter a tall man dressed in black carrying a giant scythe. Later they also encounter a hysterical lost woman named Elsa, played by Analia Gade. Fred, Elsa and the young hitchhiker make their way to a fog-infested mansion in the middle of nowhere. Surprisingly, Porter answers the door with a gun in hand. He asks the three to enter the mansion. Here we see a middle-aged couple who also got lost in the fog and ended up walking on foot to the mansion. 

All the strangers are soon greeted by the young matriarch of the house and told they can stay the night until the fog passes. The film places much emphasis on the past of Elsa, with flashback sequences that show her relationship with her father and ex-husband. It is apparent from these sequences that Elsa has had great troubles with the men in her life. This maybe why she is so detached from the rest of the group in the mansion. She goes out of her way to avoid most of the strangers in the mansion, particularly the men. 



The matriarch of the mansion begins to tell her visitors strange tales about the history of the mansion, its former occupants and some of her family history of vampirism and witchcraft. Soon, the strangers are picked off one by one and murdered in the mansion. Watch carefully for the surprise, twist ending. 

If you are trying to seek this film out, I recommend a good print of it that can be found on You-Tube. Sinister Cinema in Medford, Ore., sells a DVD print of it, but the entire film looks as if it was drenched in green punch. The same Sinister Cinema print has been known to show up in a number of value-packed DVD sets. The film was also marketed at Maniac Mansion. Happy viewing.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What -- No Beer? Keaton's OK, Durante's a pain, but film grows on you


1933, MGM, 66 minutes, Buster Keaton as Elmer J. Butts, Jimmy Durante as Jimmy Potts, Phyllis Barry as Hortense, Edward Brophy as Spike Moran, Roscoe Ates as Schultz and Charles Giblyn as Chief. Schlock-Meter rating: Six stars out of 10 stars.

By Doug Gibson

What -- No Beer? is a curio, a relic from the past. The plot of the comedy deals with prohibition and efforts to repeal it, an issue which dominated headlines more than 80 years ago. It was a box office winner due to its stars, Keaton and Durante, but is generally regarded as a mediocre comedy of the 1930s. It was the pair's last film together. Keaton's drinking problem and absences from the set caused the studio, MGM, to fire him even before the film was released. It was the start of a spiral into film oblivion for Keaton, and his career really did not surge again until television began to thrive two decades later.

The plot: Jimmy Potts (Durante) is a barber and Elmer J. Butts (Keaton) is a luckless businessman. Potts, incorrectly thinking prohibition has been repealed, convinces Butts to invest his money in a long-closed brewery. The stone-faced Butts moons over a pretty gangster moll named Hortense (Barry). He wants to be a millionaire so he can win her love. Seeing no other way to earn the million bucks, he agrees to get into the beer business. Police quickly raid the brewery and arrest the pair, but discover there's no alcohol in the brew. Later, they learn that a stuttering tramp at the deserted plant (Ates) was once a great brewer and real beer is made, which is a big hit. Soon the police and the mob muscle in on Potts and Butts.

There is a sexy pre-code scene in which lovestruck Keaton splashes sexy Barry's dress with water and she disrobes down to sheer underwear while the comic Elmer tries to avoid seeing what the audience is enjoying. The first time I saw this film Durante's obnoxious and loud character annoyed me but it does improve on repeat viewings and one is able to ignore Durante's excess and enjoy the time-capsule period and the final major comedy feature that Keaton starred in. His physical prowess is evident despite the boozing.

Durante bellows and brays and cracks many unfunny jokes. Although he is clearly half-bagged in many of the scenes, one can still admire Keaton. His talent for physical comedy is on display in several scenes, and his naivete and trusting demeanor leads to misunderstandings that bring laughs, particularly a scene where gangsters, sent to muscle him, interpret his bland replies as extreme coolness under pressure, and leave impressed.

What! No Beer? is not a great movie, but it's worth a rental to see an early sound Keaton offering.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Vera Vague: Doctor, Feel My Pulse is vintage Columbia comedy



Review by Doug Gibson

As part of our infrequent, but consistent series that highlight the "other stars" of the Columbia comedy shorts, we bring you Barbara Jo Allen, otherwise more famously known as Vera Vague. Between 1944 and 1952 Vague made a couple of shorts a year for Jules White's comedy shorts team at Columbia.

"Doctor, Feel My Pulse," is arguably her best short say experts (I've only seen this one), although it isn't one of two later shorts that were actually nominated for short-subject Academy Awards. Allen, a very attractive brunette, created a shrill, spinster character on the radio in the late 1930s. As she moved to film, taking the stage name "Vera Vague,'' her beauty forced producers to make her more of a high-spirited, sometimes neurotic "best friend" and "flirt" in feature films.



White's hiring of her to do Columbia shorts made her the rare female comic lead for a shorts series. As Ted Okuda and Ed Watz note in their book "The Columbia Comedy Shorts," her work suffered due to mediocre scripts and White's tendency toward more violent, male-oriented humor. However, the authors note that "Doctor, Feel My Pulse" is arguably Vague's best short. I've watched it three times and I agree it's a funny, entertaining farce.

Vera Vague, named as such, is a real estate agent, recently married to an attractive husband. Irving, (George Lewis) who tries his best to get a kiss from his wife. The problem is, Vera's a hypochondriac. She even gets the sneezes when she's talking on the phone. While in her office, she mistakes red ink for throat spray, with the resulting "Jules White"-type humor.

Eventually Vera makes her way to a doctor. On the way she develops an eye tic which makes the men she passes on the street into the office think she's coming on to them. It's an amusing, low-key humor scene. There's also a funny passage with comedy veteran Bud Jamison. Eventually, Vera mistakes a loony patient (Jack Norton) for the real doctor, and follows him home to receive some unorthodox treatment.



The real doctor and Vera's husband Irving arrive and discover the chaos. They decide to "teach Vera a lesson." Vera is told she has little time to live. Worse, Irving and Vera's pretty friend Sandra (played by the iconic Christine McIntyre) pretend that they are in love and plan to marry after Vera dies, enjoying her money in the process. Irving and Sandra have quite a kiss, although Vera gets the last kiss with Irving.

I won't give away the final scene but Vague really carries the short, particularly at the end where she effectively ends the two-reeler, taking charge of the action in a manner that would make "Lucy Ricardo" proud. In fact, throughout the short I kept thinking that Vague resembles a lesser version of Lucille Ball. She has that combination of zaniness and demanding total respect despite the absurdity she finds herself in.

In all Vague made 16 two-reel shorts for Columbia. During the filming of "Strife of the Party," (`1944) Vague refused to ever work with director Harry Edwards again. Sadly, the once highly regarded Edwards was battling alcoholism and would eventually be let go. Since Edwards was part of Hugh McCollum's Columbia team, Vague just moved permanently to White's unit. Her two Oscar-nominated shorts are "The Jury Goes Round 'N' Round" (1945) and "Hiss and Yell" (1946). "Doctor, Feel My Pulse" is a remake of "Calling All Doctors," (1937), with Charley Chase. Heine Conklin and Ann Doran join Jamison as uncredited actors in the short.

We're able to see this short via YouTube thanks to Greg Hilbrich, who runs the Columbia Shorts Departments website and has uploaded many Columbia shorts to YouTube via his page "The Shorts Department. We interviewed Greg recently.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Wild Beyond Belief! A review of those crazy 60s and 70s indies


Fellow cult film nerds, wouldn't you love to go back in time and witness what we obsess over? How cool would it be to buy a ticket in 1928 and watch "London After Midnight" or "Heart Trouble"? Both apparently long lost. Or what about dipping into a theater and seeing "Dracula" on opening day? Or maybe head 25 years into the future and catch Ed Wood in a tiny studio helming "Plan 9 From Outer Space," or dip into a drive in or Saturday late night cinema show in the '60s and '70s to catch "Incredibly Strange Creatures ...," "Dracula Versus Frankenstein," "Cain's Cutthroats," "Bigfoot," "Spider Baby," ... some readers have probably enjoyed these later-times bucket lists.

But, for most of us, all we have are the genre books to understand what it was like to be in on the genesis of cult films and cult genres. "Wild Beyond Belief: Interviews with Exploitation Filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s" (www.mcfarlandpub.com ... here ... 800-253-2187) takes you into the world of the very small budget films of that era. Many of the players, from the lesser known (Jenifer Bishop, Ross Hagen, Joyce King ...) to the more famous (Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Al Adamson, Sam Sherman ...) recollect their experiences creating films such as "Blood of Dracula's Castle," "Spider Baby," "The Hellcats," "The Thing With Two Heads," "The Mighty Gorga," ... and so many more.

The interviewer, and author of this McFarland offering, is Brian Albright, a well-known name in genre writing. I really enjoyed his more recent book "Regional Horror Films: 1958-1990" and reviewed it here. Albraight manages to capture the era, the slap-dash, get-it-shot-and-put-it-together urgency of indy movie making in that era. Films such as "Gallery of Horrors" and "The Female Bunch" couldn't rely on video or DVD sales, or inclusions on streaming services like NetFlix to make money. They had to get into the theaters, in the drive-ins, often as a third feature, or on 42nd Street, to make those dimes. Penny-pinching was not an exception; it was the norm.

One interviewee relates to Albright how only $50 was coming in a week for the work, less than what was promised. But the interviewee was still happy, because pay was actually occurring! Not getting paid was a reality to the cast and crew of these films.



Many personalities flit through these interviews though they were not interviewed. Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Jill Banner, Carol Ohlmart, Harry Dean Stanton, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Mantan Moreland, Dennis Hopper, Scott Brady, etc. It's a reminder that many famous actors moved through both the big-budget and the micro-budget films, or that many big names rubbed shoulders with low-budget directors as their stars fell. And many stars started their careers in the basement.

Spahn's Ranch, the California, Nevada and Utah deserts, Bronson Canyon, a castle an hour or so away from Hollywood, crew members volunteering to take bit acting parts in the films, penny-pinching directors surrounded by talented but still-starving actors and crew members (think  Vilmos Zsigmond) producing films so uniquely bizarre that they have survived longer in memory and fondness than the bigger-budget studio films of the same eras. (That's a mouthful of a sentence-paragraph, I admit).

Sam Sherman, in his interview, notes that the success of these indie low-budget films prompted calls from the bigger studios asking to share space on the screens. One example he recalls was the producers of "The Molly Maguires" requesting "Satan's Sadists" to play on the same bill. But, as Sherman notes, eventually the majors learned that they could produce the same type of films, such as "Halloween," for low budgets and usually better production values. That signaled the beginning of the end.

"Wild Beyond Belief" is an homage to an era that really doesn't exist anymore. Thanks to technology, even the derivative cheapie horror duds that debut on Netflix or Amazon Prime are slicker than the '60s films made by a David Hewitt or Adamson.

But they lack what these oldies have -- heart and a unique style, for better or worse. That's why we love them, and we're so happy that writers like Albright have taken the time to collect and preserve its memories. This book (its Amazon page is here) is an excellent companion to Fred Olen Ray's "The New Poverty Row ..."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Enjoy The Monster Movies of Universal Studios


Book review by Doug Gibson

I really enjoy reading "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios," Rowman & Littlefield, June 2017, the latest film genre offering from the prolific James L. Neibaur (an Amazon link is also included). This book is not as deep a dive as "Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946," from Tom Weaver and Michael and John Brunas. But it's not intended to be that comprehensive.

Neibaur focuses on only the monster movies, with Dracula, the Mummy, Invisible Men and Women, the Frankenstein Monster, Wolf men and a woman, and the 1950's Creature From the Black Lagoon. He also includes the Abbott & Costello monster comedies.



While I have to confess I probably would have preferred chapters from Neibaur on the early Universal films "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Black Cat" and "The Raven" instead of a couple/or three of the so-so Invisible Man sequels, I was impressed by the research and smooth writing skills of the author, which have become a staple of his books, the most recent (at least I read) a take on WC Fields' films and soon to come is one on Andy Clyde's Columbia shorts --- sheer manna for us!

Twenty-nine films are assessed, starting with "Dracula" and ending with "The Creature Walks Among Us." Generally, the chapters start with an info box cover, the genesis of the films from conception to planning -- who writes scripts, who directs, the cast assembled -- with a synopsis of the film. Also covered are budgets, how the filming went, how the film was received both critically and financially, what was planned for the future, and the author's assessment of the film. Neibaur has gathered film reviews and exhibitor assessments of the period, and includes sourced quotes, mostly from film participants.

As I mentioned, this is not as detailed as "Universal Horrors" but even that will make it a perhaps more relaxed read for the more casual films of the genre. As the father of a 12-year-old son who, thanks to my efforts, loves the old Universal horrors, he's soon to read "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios," while a turn at the larger "Universal Horrors ..." is still a few years away.



And there is fun, interesting information gathered by Neibaur. For example, a young Betty Grable was considered for the female lead in both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." She didn't quite pass muster, though. In the early 1940s, Universal really trimmed its budgets. "The Mummy's Hand," for example, was made for a mere $80,000! In fact, as Neibaur notes, the films generally easily made money due to the parsimony of the studio. Also, an  angry Bela Lugosi, in his more prosperous first half of the 1940s, swore never to work for Universal again. That would change as he gladly accepted his iconic role with Abbott & Costello a few years later. Another interesting tidbit is that Lou Costello was convinced "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" would be an unfunny box office failure. So sure was he, Neibaur notes, that he seemed annoyed that it was a success.

One more thing that gets across in the book is that Neibaur generally both loves and has great respect for these films with now-iconic monsters. There's none of the snark that occasionally can sour a good read about this genre. About the only film that gets a solid pan is "She Wolf of London," which frankly merits it, since it's a -- in my opinion -- shallow attempt to capture the spirit of Val Lewton.

There are a few typos in the book that could be fixed with another edition or at least e-book or Kindle. An example is Universal spelled as Universale in some chapters. But it's a fact-filled, genre-fun read of a piece of Hollywood history that so many cult film fans love. It merits real estate in your book case. And, trust me, it's a relief to read about Boris Karloff as the Mummy after watching that dreadful Tom Cruise Dark Universe film release.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Hammer's sexy vampire film 'Twins of Evil'



Review by Doug Gibson

"Twins of Evil," Hammer's 1971 tales of Count Karnstein turning one part of a lovely pair of twins into a vampire, is not as impressive as other Carmilla-themed films, such as "Lust For a Vampire," or "The Vampire Lovers," but nevertheless it retains its status as a classic due to star Peter Cushing's strong performance as Gustav Weil, fanatical vampire hunter, so enslaved by the mysogyny of his faith and his fear of the undead that he'll solemnly burn to death any young woman who doesn't act normal. The opening scene, where Weil and his brotherhood abduct and burn a young girl to death, indicts Weil as a dangerous fanatic, a man not safe with young women and their instinctive sexuality.

Appropriately, Weil's eagerness to burn female flesh provides righteous indignation for viewers. Yet Cushing is no Matthew Hopkins, as portrayed by Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General." Weil is no hypocrite nor a luster of his victims, nor is he a man who revels in his evil acts. He's a fervent believer in the Old Testament "thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Cushing's Weill, while acting with a maniacal religious fervor, believes he is freeing his victims, releasing them from vampirism to a life with Christ. Late in the film, when it slowly dawns on Cushing that he may have been too zealous, that some of his victims were indeed innocent, his pain and remorse is evident. As both atonement and revenge, he fails to protect himself as he goes after the evil count.

"Twins of Evil" is a prequel to the Carmilla story and films. The evil Count Karstein (Damien Thomas) is tired of the limits to pleasure and evil he can attain as a mortal. He summons an ancestor vampire, Countess Mircella, (Katya Wyeth) who turns him into a vampire. Eager to satiate his lusts and increase his evil, he sets his sights on two gorgeous twins who have moved to Karnstein from Venice to live with Weil and his wife, Katy, (Kathleen Bryon). The twins are portrayed by Playboy models Mary and Madeleine Collinson. Mary plays Maria Gellhorn and Madeleine is her twin Frieda. Maria is the more timid, pious twin. Frieda is rebellious, furious with her uncle Gustav and eventually is drawn to Count Karstein, who willingly becomes a vampire. There is a subplot where Anton, a liberal teacher at the girls' school, is attracted to Frieda. Anton and Gustav, not surprisingly, clash over the latter's vampire hunting. The film climaxes with a hunt for Frieda and the ensuing possibility that the virtuous Maria may pay for her sins.

As I have mentioned, it's easy to hate the fanatical, misogynous Gustav, but he does have one fact to rest on: there are vampires out there stealing the souls of the innocent. Midway through the film, it's a testament to Cushing's acting skills that the audience starts to root for him as he goes after Frieda and the Count. The Collinswood twins are gorgeous. They are not trained actors, and it shows in their performances. Madeleine does a better job than her sister Mary, but that may be only because she as the meatier role as the bad Frieda. The print I saw has very little nudity. The most explicit scene is where Frieda, pretending to be the innocent Maria, attempts to seduce and bite schoolteacher, Anton.

The Karnstein saga was a Hammer trilogy that, as mentioned, includes "Lust for a Vampire" and "The Vampire Lovers." This is intended to be the first chapter. Watching these movies is a pleasant reminder of how vulnerable and difficult it once was to be a vampire. With the constraints of the cross, daytime, coffins, foes such as Van Helsing and Weil, and native soil, one could understand why successful vampires such as Carmilla and Dracula had pride that overlapped into egotism. They had survived through time. Count Karstein and Frieda are, ultimately, not-too-difficult prey for Weil, Anton and others. It remains a constant annoyance to this reviewer that the above-mentioned disadvantages are not a problem for today's "Calvin Klein" vampires that infect films such as "Twilight," "True Blood" and "Being Human" ...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Legacy of George A. Romero (1940 - 2017)


By Steve D. Stones

In honor of the legacy of director George A. Romero, here are five of my most favorite Romero films. Romero's impact on the horror film industry cannot be objectively measured or overstated. Romero was a true maverick loved by those who worked with him. He will be greatly missed.
  1. Night of The Living Dead (1968). Here is the zombie horror movie that lays the foundation for every zombie movie that follows. A young woman named Barbara is attacked in a Pennsylvania cemetery by a zombie. She finds her way to a small farm house occupied by five other people hiding in the basement. News footage seen on a television gives the film a realistic, documentary feel that continually puts the viewer on the edge of his seat. The occupants of the farmhouse fight for their lives to stay alive. Our hero is an African-American man, Duane Jones, who does not triumph in the end, but makes a strong political statement on the coat tails of Martin Luther King Jr. and the race riots of the 1960s. Remade in 1990.
  2. The Crazies (1973). Romero continues on with a post-apocalyptic theme seen in Night of The Living Dead, and will continue even further in Dawn of The Dead. Like Night of The Living Dead, this film also has a realistic, documentary feel that leaves the viewer nervous and tense. It shows how our trusted institutions, such as law enforcement, news media and military, can be torn apart in the event of a tragedy. No one is to be trusted or can be turned to in the event of a disaster. A cynical view, but one which permeated American culture in the mid-1970s after President Nixon's resignation. A film which coincides well with the Watergate Era. Also known as Code Name: Trixie. Remade in 2010.
  3. Martin (1978). This creative film is an interesting take on the vampire myth. Martin is a peculiar young man who has a taste for blood – literally and figuratively. There's just one problem. Martin does not have fangs like a vampire, nor does he sleep in coffins during the day or avoid sunlight. All the established vampire iconography is stripped away in this film. Martin even has to use razor blades to get blood from his victims. Romero has often mentioned Martin as his best film. Many film critics agree.
  4. Dawn of The Dead (1979). Occurring just a few years after Night of The Living Dead, this film is a direct commentary on the consumer culture of the American lifestyle. Even in death, American zombies have the mind dulling sense to flock to a shopping mall to consume more stuff they cannot afford. The zombie becomes a parody and cartoon character, adding to Romero's critique of consumer culture. The irony here is that the living want it all too, but eventually end up dead because of their greed. We are all mindless zombies who want to consume more and more, in the eyes of Romero's Dawn of The Dead. Remade in 2004.
  5. Creepshow (1982). An anthology of five short stories in comic book fashion, Romero teamed up with horror writer Stephen King for this installment. The first story, Father's Day, is my favorite of the five. Here, a deceased father exhibits his patriarchal power over his daughter, even from the grave. He crawls his way out of the grave to complain about not getting a Father's Day cake. Actor Ed Harris gets smothered with his tombstone after falling into the grave. The father finishes the day by serving up his daughter's head on a platter. Who could ask for a better Father's Day?

May you rest in peace – George A. Romero, knowing that your zombies have made a profound impact on cinema and the horror genre. We love you George.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An interview with Christopher R. Gauthier, who keeps Bela Lugosi with us


Christopher R. Gauthier, seen above in an artistic license photo with his favorite actor, Bela Lugosi. Christopher runs the A Celebration of the Art and Life of Bela Lugosi Facebook page (here). It's a growing group that consistently provides interesting graphics, observations and information on Lugosi. 

Besides his interest in and contributions on Lugosi's life and career, Christopher also writes poetry on Bela Lugosi. We'll share some on this post but he recently read some poetry on a radio broadcast. (Here at about the 53.44 mark). He is also working on a novel about Lugosi. Christopher was also acknowledged for assistance with research and images in the new BearManor Media Scripts From the Crypt book "Dracula's Daughter."

I enjoyed this interview with Christopher, who has a real passion for the actor so many of us love on the blog.

-- Doug Gibson

---

1) When was the first time you saw Bela in a film? Was that when you determined he was a great influence in your life or did it take a while?

GAUTHIERIt is very difficult to say what Lugosi movie I first stumbled upon, I as far back as  I can recollect have been drawn to the mystique of the man. One very vivid memory that I do have, is when I first watched The Body Snatcher and found his role of Joseph to be the most interesting character in the film. To me there had to be something so much more to this actor, I thought to myself, as I watched the film. I was never the same after that. I guess, I was born a Lugosi fan. I read everything I could possibly get my hands on regarding his career and life -- he inspired me to try and pursue a career in acting, and he was my teacher who I learned more from than anyone else in my life then, now and throughout the time I was growing up. He was A major influence on me in every aspect, as well as creatively speaking, I wanted to be just like him. Whenever something terrible goes bad in my life I watch one of his films, and life doesn't seem so bad because he provides me with solace that few others do.


2) What are your favorite Bela films and why?

GAUTHIER I adore everything Bela ever was in. It is almost impossible to select which films are my all time favorites because I deeply love them all. The Raven, The Black Cat, White Zombie, Dracula, The Return of The Vampire, Chandu The Magician, Son Of Frankenstein, Broadminded along with Spooks Run Wild, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Bride Of The Monster stand out as some of my favorites, but as I have said every production he was in is worthwhile and something close (and) deep in my heart.



3) You have a successful Facebook Lugosi page. How does that assist in your study and appreciation of Lugosi and what it is like to interact with Bela fans across the world?

GAUTHIERMy page "A Celebration of The Life and Art of Bela Lugosi" has brought together all loyal Lugosi aficionados from all corners of the globe. We are very different from other groups, we emphasize on the great things he did, as an artist and as a man. We are sophisticated and the page is held very sacred to me, a safe haven for serious Lugosi fans. We also encourage other artists to share their art, whether it be performance, literature or material arts, it is welcomed and valued and always appreciated and respected. It has brought me to encounter and become acquainted with like hearted people who revel in celebration of the great man's life and work.

4) Can you tell us about your novel in progress about Bela?

GAUTHIERMy novel being written to honor Lugosi is a labor of love I have been meticulously crafting with unwavering devotion for a number of years. I believe that at the end of his life he would have really appreciated this type of material I am writing to honor my hero. I am not going to say too much on the subject because it is a work fathomed deep in progress. But it is for Mr. Lugosi and I have the inclination he would be very pleased with it, and even moved. I have been advised to write a screenplay -- but I much prefer to honor him in a novel, as I do not think that there are any such actors that can bring proper justice to emulating the masterful Bela Lugosi.



5) You've had poetry about Bela published. Can you share a little bit with the blog? 

GAUTHIERI have written several poems for Lugosi, you may read some below. I have had a few Lugosi poems published when I was an adolescent but they are nothing in contrast to what I have written as of these passed few years in accordance to the novel and certain pieces of poetry dedicated to my Hero.

6) What's' it like motivating yourself to write about Bela? AND 7) You have an impressive amount of graphics and other art relating to Bela and his career. You were acknowledge in the recent book on Dracula's Daughter. What are some memories of Bela that you wish were available? I can think of finding a video of a Dracula play.

GAUTHIER I am motivated to write  my novel and pay homage to my Patron Saint who has above anyone else, in any force, shape or form, been there for me. He has touched my life beyond what words will ever be properly able to convey. The man has saved my life. I owe whatever success I have now and if any awaits me in the future entirely to him. He is my artistic savior, my creative muse, the source of what dreams are made of, my ultimate Hero, my greatest friend and my surrogate father and the father to all the lost children of the night- He is and always has been my greatest friend. I write because I must, inside the crux of my heart he guides me, and I am just offering my contribution to the world that honors The Great Bela Lugosi. 

8) Do you have a bucket list of Lugosi related goals, travel, conversations with scholars?

GAUTHIERImagine what it would have been like to see him on  the stage or to have known him as a friend in person. I wish I could have seen him on stage and that I were alive to help him when the tragic circumstances took the betterment of his life towards the final years. I wish I was alive, affluent and be able to finance any production of his choice. I would have done anything for him. He deserved so much more than what hand of cards he had been dealt by lady fate.


9) Finally, let a novice Lugosi fan know of four essential films and three essential books.

GAUTHIERFor a novice Lugosi fan  I would encourage them to watch The Black Cat, Broadminded, The Raven, Dracula and The Return of The Vampire. As far as books go, I have found that each biographer offers something unique in all books related to Lugosi. But I would recommend Arthur Lennig's The Immortal Count, Robert Cremer's The Man Behind The Cape, The Films Of Bela Lugosi by Richard Bojarski,  Leo Wiltshire's Reign Of The Vampire- A Tribute To The Perseverance of Bela Lugosi and of course, first and foremost anything written by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger  

Thanks so much, Christopher. We appreciate you sharing your observations with us. Below are a couple of Christopher's poems:

Thank you Bela Lugosi 
Father To All Lost Children Of The Night

The lunar jewel drinks in the turmoil 
Nightmares evolve into mollifying dreamscapes surrealistic beyond rational belief
The old creaky baronial movie house breathes in the crux of its heart a docile sigh of relief 
Your motion pictures of sparkling black and white gold immerse the great looming movie screen, You are my indisputable Hero and friend who sometimes visits my dreams
When such reverential occasion transpires 
To feed the creative fires 
Beneath the moon beams 
Neither foe, nor victim nor vampiric concubines are able to bellow a scream 
The nightmare is no longer a nightmare, but a beautiful dream.
You should have been given so much more 
Than just the Horror genre you bestowed upon the entertainment industry, But yet you have left us with your undying legacy and have achieved perpetual immortality 
And have long become a phantasmagorical Hollywood Legend and forceful source of so much folklore,
Bela you have everlasting legions of fans who truly adore 
Every contribution an artistic actor and humanitarian man you are loved forevermore 
You shield me behind the sanctuary of your sheltering protective vampire cape and offer me solace from the hateful world abroad 
And when you end each performance, I humbly applaud
For there is no greater Actor 
At least that is my opinion and the law within my domain 
If I had not discovered you my life would have never been the same.
The world praises and thanks you for all you have given and done
In the end you have defeated the exploitive traitors and have everlastingly won
A place in the elysian Hollywood constellation of riveting and celebrated luminaries and Stars 
Your pathos is not forgotten but healed have the scars 
You are my deepest friend and ultimate Hero above all
May you continue to live on as your dynasty shall forever enthrall 
Thank you Bela, my Hero and friend for all you have done
Let us watch the lunar jewel vanish and bask in the morning warmth and rise of the sun

---- Christopher R. Gauthier

---

Bela, you changed the face of the golden age silver screen
Your memory comes to mind in the cast of the full moon and its radiant beam
Beyond all compare you have captured the heart and imbued us all with mystical intrigue, you are in a class lone to itself in your very own artistic league--
You have helped so many by the brave examples you've set
In another life I feel in my heart we must've met
And knew each other as very close friends
from then to eternity my awe and adulation knows no end.
I wish I could have given you so very much more than what hand of cards you were dealt, you persevered against in the face of adversity and were always humbled without the shadow of a doubt,
For the love your fans expressed to you over the years,
and to all your lost children of the night you wipe away the tears.
What a symbol of hope you are to us all
You lift up the crestfallen when they stumble and fall.
I have known no greater friend throughout the entirety of my life
and on behalf of us all We thank you for all you have done in the howl of the night
Our Hero, Our Friend and Eradicator of woeful doom
You reveal the comfort that is immersed in the gloom-
of things that are macabre and beyond the realms furthermore
You conjure the indisputable magic and open the mystical door
leaving us all wanting your Genius forevermore.
My friend you are with me in these darkened times I am going thru
I know that I can always depend on the nobility that is you.
You will never fully know how much you have touched my life and the cores of my soul, in both your life and in every celluloid role,
May peace forever be present in your family and in the crux of your golden heart
My great friend your legacy will never depart
like The Immortal Count Dracula, you will live forever in the annals of time
And you shall also be remembered for being ever so kind
To all the lonesome lives you have brought solace and touched
You, who have given everything of yourself, so very much
In you I know I have a friend, as in my heart you do in mine.
Take care Bela, my greatest friend
My love for you always is boundless without end.


-- Christopher R. Gauthier









Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Werewolf Remembers -- The Talbot saga


Review by Doug Gibson

To get an even better overview of genre scholar Frank Dello Stritto's new book, "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot," I urge readers to go to our Plan9Crunch interview with Frank about six weeks ago. Then read this review.

The book, as well as others by Dello Stritto, is published at Cult Movies Press. You can also buy it at Amazon.

Readers, particularly genre fans, will be awed by the knowledge the author possesses of both the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s as well as the other studios' -- small and large -- offerings during that golden period. There are dozens of films that have reference in this mock testament of cursed Wolfman Larry Talbot, as well as a observational chapters from his biographer researcher narrator.

"Condemned to Live," the Frankenstein films, the Dracula films, "Return of the Vampire," any film with Lawrence Talbot, of course, "Werewolf of London," films from PRC and Monogram, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," even characters from "Bride of the Monster," "The Alligator People" and "Thriller" TV series flit through this unique book.

What Dello Stritto has managed to do is provide a continuity to the films that involve Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster. This is not an easy task as these monsters continually die and are continually (inexplicably) resurrected. In Talbot's testament, he describes a deep non-living stage, a stagnant location on the path the deceased take to eternal life. There, unable to move on, exist Talbot, the Frankenstein monster and Dracula. Talbot and Frankenstein's monster are victims. Dracula represents evil. Periodically the trio are returned to an earthly existence.

Genre fans, and hard-core enthusiasts will enjoy this book the most, but even the casual viewer of several Universal horrors would enjoy "A Werewolf Remembers." Lon Chaney's Talbot eventually became the central character of the Universal horror films and in his final appearance, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," he goes after his major nemesis, Count Dracula. This film serves as the climax of "A Werewolf Remembers." What drives Talbot on his pursuit to destroy Dracula I'll leave for readers to discover.

Some characters are explored in more detail than others. Dr. Yogami, who Warner Oland played in "Werewolf of London," is an altruistic man trying hard to cure Talbot with the tmariphasa plant. That fails and Talbot infects Yogami. Another hero of Talbot's testament is Dr. Edelmann of "House of Dracula," who sacrifices his sanity and life to provide relief, albeit temporary, to Talbot. It's nice to see Talbot's gypsy protector, Maleva, have a dignified end to her life in the book.

But the book goes beyond the horror genre. Dello Stritto has created a family line of the Talbots and familial customs. In order to make good use of the many, many photo stills that serve as historical records, he has created news services, city and town archives, police photos, entertainment photos and an even a Talbot historical society that remains in the family home. In the book, Lawrence, not a first-born son, is exiled, per tradition, to America in the late 19th century, where he spends time in the Alaska gold fields and eventually California. He rubs shoulders with, among others, Jack London and the characters from several films, including "King Kong," Murders In the Zoo," The Most Dangerous Game," "Mad Monster," "Jungle Woman" and "Return of the Ape Man."

(The time frame is necessary to fit Talbot's presence in the many different films and time periods. As he explains in his testament, he ages very slowly.)

I need to mention that Lawrence Talbot is considered a "Red Talbot," more nomadic and wild. There are "White Talbots," who stay home and are more studious. Dello Stritto's conception of Lawrence Talbot is faithful to his movie portrayals as a man who seeks death and deeply suffers over his affliction, which makes him eagerly attack, kill and eat human prey. If he fails to do that when the moon is full, he suffers. He is tortured with regret.

The final chapters, where Talbot, in pursuit of "Dracula," interviews his past victims, including characters played by Helen Chandler and Nina Foch, are fascinating reading. The ending is appropriately open. But there is unspoken hope, as its apparent that no sightings of Talbot or the other monsters have appeared since the late 1940s. Maybe he gained peace after grabbing "Dracula" at the end of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

The book is structured well. It is told in fast-paced sections within larger chapters, some lasting only a few to several paragraphs. Also, the testament, followed by the narrator's observations provide agreeable change of pace.

As mentioned, the author's knowledge of nearly a half century of research, dozens of essays and several published books provide the continuity and knowledge necessary to create a mock documentary that sticks to the genre facts and makes it a real treasure for readers. Trust me, you'll be amazed by the tale(s) the author has weaved throughout this book. Only reading the book can do it justice.

At Plan9Crunch, we have articles on Dello Stritto's writing and observations here, here, here, including a review of the remarkable, well-researched book, co-authored with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.