Sunday, September 25, 2011

20 Questions with Larry Blamire

My interview with THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA creator/writer/director/star, Larry Blamire, who chats about his amazing career and his infamous send ups TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN, and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT!

20 Questions with Robert Deveau

My interview for with actor of stage and screen Robert Deveau, star of RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD and featured player in THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA:

Oddball Film Report: FLASH GORDON (1980)

   Popular comic strip character Flash Gordon, a football star who found himself engaged in endless cosmic adventures, first came to the screen in a 1930's serial. Universal doesn't have much of a reputation among serial fans, with the exception of the studio's three Flash Gordon serials, which are counted as among the very best cliffhangers ever assembled. FLASH GORDON, FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS, and FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE tell the interplanetary saga of how Flash, his gal Dale Arden, and eccentric genius Dr. Zarkoff blasted into outer space to do battle with monstrous despot Ming the Merciless of the planet Mongo. The combatants were vividly brought to life by the perfectly cast actors who portrayed them. "Blond giant" Buster Crabbe (who also played comic strip characters Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and the King of the Congo) is perfectly cast as the dashing football hero turned adventurer, while Charles Middleton remains the definitive Emperor Ming. Despite the spare change budget, the serials also have a polish and grandeur even the best Republic actioner couldn't hope to match.

   Later, the serials were edited into features that could be shown at kiddie matinees and the new medium of television. Flash's origin adventure was condensed into a film titled ROCKETSHIP, which managed to tell the entire story of the serial in one breathlessly paced film (where most films of this time would slice the serial into two parts and release two separate movies)! When space heroes became all the rage on television, a Flash Gordon series was produced that bore little resemblance to the original character. This time, Flash, Dale, and Zarkoff were citizens of a future world, and they battled an assortment of generic mad scientists as they moved about the planets. (The show also featured some rather shockingly leftist politics, considering the period. Maybe this was due to the show actually being filmed in -I understand- Germany instead of the States!)

   In 1974 came the porno spoof film FLESH GORDON, which beats the odds by actually being a pretty entertaining film. The flick remains rather infamous for its knockout special effects provided by the likes of David Allen, Jim Danforth, and Rick Baker, among many others. At least part of the show's enjoyment is that these guys provided a cavalcade of impossibly wonderful effects. The sequence in which Flesh fights a "beetle man" on a stairwell remains one of the most impressive stop motion sequences I've ever seen. While a spoof of the Flash Gordon origin story, this is one of those rare films that manages to have its cake and eat it too by producing a genuinely exciting adventure yarn with some comedy that's actually funny. I'd probably watch more pornos if I could count on them to be as entertaining as FLESH GORDON. (For completion's sake, there was a sequel produced a couple decades later. But what little I saw of that really didn't stand up to the first film.)

   In 1977, the release of STAR WARS created a public appetite for any larger-than-life space adventure that could be rushed onto screens. Among the earliest cash-ins were the rather loopy Italian vehicle STARCRASH and the magnificent BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which was both a feature film and a short-lived teleseries (the idea being to produce a weekly movie experience, and the million dollar an episode budget kept it from being a returning series -although the rather less satisfying Galactica 1980 attempted to bring the series back for a very short time before the unrelated new series of the same name managed to last multiple seasons). Later, we were treated to big-budget movies like STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY and it's super-fun teleseries (at least that first season, which is terrific stuff), and Disney's under-rated epic THE BLACK HOLE. Sooner or later, Flash Gordon was going to make his presence known.... (Actually, Buster Crabbe has a cameo in and episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as an aged fighter pilot, Captain Gordon. In a memorable scene, Buck congratulates Gordon on his skills in combat, asking where he picked up those moves. Gordon responds "That's from before your time, son.")

   FLASH GORDON (1980) is an odd duck. It can't seem to decide if it wants to be STAR WARS type earnest adventure, or BATMAN style camp. The production values are good, and the design mirrors the comic strip rather nicely. The cast is good, yet the music is inappropriate in the extreme (the hit soundtrack was performed by the rock band QUEEN, giving the whole affair a rock opera feel that fails to mesh with the subject matter. Annoying no end are the occasional injections of riffs from the main theme song. "Flash! Ah-ahhhhhhhhh!"). All in all, it isn't bad entertainment, if not for some really weird flourishes from time to time (like the score). Still, you never forget you're watching a film made after STAR WARS. While not quite as outrageous as THE ICE PIRATES, you get the same sense of the crew not knowing how serious to take the material. Had they gone in a gee-whiz direction, like the Indiana Jones films, they could have really had something (ironically, the 70's porno version better captured the spirit of innocence in the material). But, then again, we are talking about an Italian film here, offered up by the man who nearly killed King Kong, Dino De Laurentiis.

   We follow the same basic story as had been told earlier. Ming targets earth for destruction, and the only man who knows why earth is under siege is Dr. Zarkoff. After Flash and Dale meet on an airplane, they encounter trouble caused by Ming and make a crash landing near Zarkoff's isolated lab. Zarkoff then forces them to help him launch his rocket into space. They arrive on Mongo, are captured, and are brought before Ming the Merciless. Ming's daughter falls for the handsome and courageous Flash Gordon and saves him from certain death. Flash then convinces the oppressed people of the various sub-kingdoms of Mongo to join forces and rise up against Ming. Meanwhile, Ming has selected Dale to be his new bride.....

   One thing has me at a disadvantage, and that's the fact that the version I'm reviewing is a cropped tape. About half the picture is missing, making some of the impressive vista offered up by the film a bit less awesome than they no doubt were in the theater. Even so, the overall effect is pretty fun, if not for the constant jump back and forth between camp and high adventure. The casting is also a mixed lot. Sam Jones plays Flash, and doesn't seem quite right for the part although he has his moments. He has the looks and the good natured attitude, but he suggests Reb Brown more than Buster Crabbe. (Not to be unfair by comparing Jones to Crabbe, but its hard to get around it. Jones seems to be trying too hard at times.) On the other hand is Max Von Sydow as a nicely ruthless Ming (again though, they sure tried to make him look like Charles Middleton). The oddest casting choice is that of Timothy Dalton as Prince Barron, the rightful leader of Mongo. Dalton has always been a 'serious' actor (although his occasional comedy turns show a very genial guy) and his casting would seem to negate the whole 'camp' approach. On the other hand, he's an Errol Flynn type (thus his spot-on perfect casting in THE ROCKETEER) and Prince Barron wears Robin Hood-style garb. You can see Dalton trying to make a real character out of his part, yet the film sort of plays against this. The result is that, rather than it being a fine performance that adds depth to the affair, Dalton just sticks out like he doesn't belong. Imagine if THE THIRD MAN had a character wearing a chicken suit for no apparent reason, and his wearing of said suit is never addressed by the other characters. That's how weirdly out of place Timothy Dalton seems in FLASH GORDON.

   In the end, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (another Universal release, and the VHS boxes look almost identical from the sides) much better mixed high adventure and light-hearted humor. On the plus side, there were plenty of other post-STAR WARS science fiction movies to pick from during this period. Serial fans, meanwhile, will be amused that even after the multi-millions of dollars De Laurentiis spent on his version of the story, the cheap and crude Buster Crabbe version remains the definitive take on the material.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

With help from friends....

My take on Wonder Woman,
inks by Scott Shriver.

This one was a coloring book page for an
all-kids title put out by Jim Main. Inks are
by Scott Shriver.

My pencils colored by Kevin Thompson.
One of my biggest challenges was to draw a
pinup of Erin Esurance. Inks by Jeff Austin.

AC Comic's Kitten, inked by Scott Shriver, and colored by
Marc Haines.

Another shot where Kevin Thompson took two of my pieces
and created this work around them.

Scott Shriver strikes again!

And he can color too! Synn of AC Comic's
Femforce title, the first book I got to draw for!

Oddball Film Report: ALIEN TRESPASS (2009)

   When ALIEN TRESPASS had its very brief and limited theatrical release across the country, I had mixed feelings. It was sure to be yet another spoof of 50's science fiction movies. While I love the films of Larry Blamire as much as the next guy, it also saddens me to see that none of the various supposed 'tributes' are played straight enough to stand on their own. As someone who enjoys his 50's genre fare irony-free, I want nothing so much as to see a genuine attempt to make one of these wonderful films. In a way, ALIEN TRESPASS actually delivered what I had hoped to see ever since MATINEE. While things start off rather tongue in cheek (with purposefully stiff acting and awkward dialog), the film settles into a (more than less) straight science fiction period piece once things get moving. They've served up some laughs to get us going, then they let the strength of the story take over and we're treated to an actual monster movie. Moreover, a monster movie that actually delivers the goods.

   Not to say ALIEN TRESPASS is perfect. The tone isn't quite right (although closer than I'd expected) and there are some lines here that would never be heard in a 50's movie. It actually plays more like an 80's monster movie inspired by 50's monster movies. True to the period, though, they keep things optimistic and don't try to make fun of 1950's America. That there were no shots at the period's innocence as somehow being misguided was quite a relief, as was the absence of the typical Hollywood white-washing of communism. Even more charming, they didn't dirty things up too much and we actually get a movie with a PG rating (actually, the tag on the film itself claims a PG-13 rating! The reasons given include science fiction-type suspense and -I kid you not- "historical smoking!" I'd heard that smoking was going to be factored into the ratings system, but I never really believed it because the notion was so ridiculous. Just when you think modern Hollywood can't get any more insane, they pull something like this. Is there any wonder the older films are so much more fun to watch?).

   The plot is largely a mixture of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, and there are plenty of visual homages to films like FIEND WITHOUT A FACE and THE BLOB, yet the picture manages to retain its own identity. The film it tries to copy most is THE BLOB, and in fact the 1958 release is seen playing in a theater at one point, no doubt in hoping some of the classic's luster might rub off onto our subject. (Odd, though, is that a film released in 1958 is shown to be playing during the summer of 1957, the very period during which the film was being shot, in fact!) The color is gorgeous, trying for a Technicolor look, reminding us that films used to really take advantage of color photography, and how bland most everything today looks. While the color undoubtedly made the film more marketable, there are times when black and white might actually have been a better choice. Still, this isn't an exact recreation or anything, as we're treated to some computer imagery to portray the flying saucer in flight. It's a period film made for modern audiences, not a duplicate of the older films. Not a bad choice, and I wouldn't mind seeing more films of this nature. Happily, the monster effects are done with practical props. While the monster's design isn't all that stunning, it manages to be dangerous enough to provide some genuine suspense during the climax.

   Our plot concerns a small desert town where a flying saucer crashes during a meteor storm. This is witnessed by a scientist and his impossibly sexy wife (man, do I miss the glamor look). When he investigates the crash scene, his body is taken over by a benevolent intergalactic cop who needs an earth body to hunt down the dreaded Ghota, an evil (and intelligent) creature that reduces all organic matter to its liquid base. Aiding our hero(es) in his mission is a beatnik waitress (don't worry, she isn't as annoying as she could have been). Once things get going and the actors are allowed to give actual performances, ALIEN TRESPASS picks up quite a bit. One thing though, the title is all wrong. The word "alien" as pertaining to extraterrestrial life really wasn't thrown around that much in the 50's. Had there actually been a movie made in the 50's called ALIEN TRESPASS, it would have been about spies sneaking into the country. "TRESPASS FROM OUTER SPACE" or "TRESPASS OF MARS" would have been more logical choices.

   The music is a nice original score evocative of the Universal cues we all know and love. Heavy use of the theremin is a plus. The acting is pretty good in general, and most everyone looks the part, although the performances can be uneven since the tone of the film isn't always committed to what it wants to be. Best might be Eric McCormack in the dual role of Dr. Ted Lewis and Dr. Lewis as possessed by Urp, the Martian "federal Marshall." McCormack manages to play both parts well enough that you can actually believe they are different personalities. Urp displays a child-like sense of bewilderment upon surveying his new earthy surroundings, yet his determination in hunting down his quarry conveys the urgency of the situation rather well. McCormack undoubtedly enjoyed the fact that so much of Urp's story must be told through subtle facial expression and just enough exposition to get the story across without turning into a gab-fest. It looks like the kind of part any serious actor might jump at, and he handles it very well. Also good here is Dan Lauria as the local Police chief, who manages to convey exactly the sort of older character actor persona the part calls for. Robert Patrick, meanwhile, suggests someone used to doing westerns who just passed through this horror flick because the job offered a paycheck (some mock Ed Murrow-style interview segments confirm 'period actor Robert' to be a veteran of serial horse operas). Director R. W. Goodwin, for the most part, does a good job creating period visuals. The rather obvious set used for the crash scene of the flying saucer only adds to the film, rather than detract from it.

   As a hook, the picture was advertised as if it were a real, unreleased 1950's science fiction film that had recently been discovered and finally released in 2009. The actors in the film even did promo reels claiming that their similarly-named Grandfathers and Uncles had made ALIEN TRESPASS back in 1957! It all adds up to a fun experience, making it even sadder that the film was barely released, and then to poor box office. It has since, at least according to the film's director in a new interview included on the DVD release, become a bit of a cult film. One can only hope more movies like this get the green light. Maybe next time they'll have some consistency in the tone.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So Close....

I drew, Jeff Austin inked and lettered, and Kevin Thompson colored this DVD cover sleeve for the upcoming Alpha New Cinema release of Joshua Kennedy's ATTACK OF THE OCTOPUS PEOPLE. Note the endorsement quotes from Larry Blamire and Bob Burns! Sadly, we were delayed and couldn't get this image to Alpha in time for them to make their sleeves, so they had a house-produced cover standing by. Release is next week. Quite a blow, as I've been wanting to get in on cover art production for a long time. Oh well, it isn't so bad for me, really. I just feel bad about all the hard work Jeff and Kevin put into it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


    Japan's Toho film studio had been enjoying a huge popularity in the late 50's and early 60's as the premier factory for science-fiction thrillers. They were, in effect, the Hammer Films of Japan. Riding high on the continued success of the Godzilla films, and producing a high number of quality special effects-filled adventure movies, Toho had little to fear in terms of competition. Such films were expensive productions, and Toho had such an advantage in sheer size that the smaller studios couldn't hope to make similar films. The few that were made tended to be TV-level kiddie fare, like the Starman movies, PRINCE OF SPACE, and INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN. The occasional WARNING FROM SPACE seemed more a lark than anything else. Toho was safe until the 60's turned middle aged. Two things happened.

   First, Toho's special effects workhorse Eiji Tsuburya took his talents to television. There he produced the moody horror series Ultra Q, a sort of The Outer Limits with a weekly giant monster. This success would soon be followed by Ultraman, and the rest is history. It was much like when television began airing original product in the 1950's, when the movie studios had huge animation departments and made cartoons for theatrical showings. Early TV cartoons were predicted to be a flop due to the constraints of a TV budget on animation. Then the truth hit executives right between the eyes, the quality of the animation wasn't important as long as the cartoons were well-written and funny. Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, and several other stars eventually left the movies to find work in the new medium of television, joined by countless new personalities like Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Clutch Cargo. So what happened in Japan when it became clear that a weekly series could duplicate the formula of the Godzilla feature films? Crude imitations sprung up like ragweed, on the big screen and the small. GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET, THE MAGIC SERPENT, MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR and several others began to crowd their way into theaters, while TV screens suddenly saw shows like Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, The Space Giants, and Ultraseven across the dial. While the fad for feature films died out in the 70's, the TV product flourished and continues to operate today.

   Second, and partly the byproduct of Item One, Toho began to reduce their budgets in order to keep their films profitable. KING KONG VS GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS THE THING, and GHIDRAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER had been lavish affairs increasing ticket sales by giving audiences multiple giant monsters in each film. Starting with 1965's MONSTER ZERO, the budgets were cut back to accommodate rising costs. Thus, the film features the first heavy use of stock footage in a Godzilla film. All in all though, the film is still an impressive display of Tsuburya's craftsmanship, and also benefits from having one of the best scripts in the series. Still, those model buildings don't come cheap. The studio needed a more economical way to make Godzilla movies. The solution was pretty simple, make stories that don't involve cities. So Godzilla got an extended working vacation to produce what are called the Island Pictures.

   It's much easier and cheaper to toss together a miniature jungle than a miniature city, so Godzilla's adventures for the next couple of films took place on tiny islands in the South Seas. Also, the films were turned over to a new director and composer. Gone were Ishiro Honda's brooding darkness and Akira Ifukube's pounding scores. Instead, the lighter hand of helmer Jun Fukuda gave these adventures a real 'pop' feel, and the music provided by Masuro Sato had an ear toward light adventure and occasional comedy. Rather than damage the series, though, GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER and SON OF GODZILLA remain two of the most entertaining entries in the entire run of films.

   Unfortunately, they feel more suited to TV, and that's just where they landed here in the States. While the other films in the series had been, and would continue to be released theatrically in the United States (although the previous film, MONSTER ZERO, wouldn't see US release until 1970!), GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER and SON OF GODZILLA were released straight to television. This means that those seeking an English language version of these films must choose between the US TV prints (which are cropped, but have decent dubbing) or the 'International' prints which saw theatrical issue in England (which are scope and uncut, but feature horrible dub tracks recorded in China on the demand of the Japanese studios). For me, personally, SON OF GODZILLA's US dub track makes it a no-contest decision. On the other hand, there's GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER. The American dub is much, much better, with more natural sounding voices for the characters (the comic relief guy has a deeper voice than the others, while in the International version he is given a grating, high-pitched voice, like a mutant Jerry Lewis or something). Oddly, though, the dialog tends to be better in the International print. That version, by the way, is actually titled EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP. I have both versions, and count them as two different movies. In a perfect world, though, I could lay the American dub and title over the International print and have the best picture and sound possible. In fact, had I more money and the equipment to do so, I would make custom versions of the films. I'm that fanatic about it, and one day hope to arrange a deal with Toho to theatrically issue my 'ultimate' versions across America on a fantastic double bill. It's nice to have dreams.

    While the budget for effects have been scaled back, there's no skimping on the actors in either Island film. Here, we get the Cary Grant of Japan himself, Akira Takarada in the lead role. The Girl, meanwhile, is played by Kumi Mizuno, who may be the most famous Japanese actress in the world, since there are actually a fair number of Americans and Canadians who actually know her face and name. She remains quite popular in her home country, and has appeared in a liberal number of fantasy films in her career (thus her American visibility). She remains most famous among Godzilla fans as the seductive Miss Namikawa in MONSTER ZERO. Her exotic (even by Japanese standards) beauty and natural screen presence make her a welcome addition to any movie. Also on hand, among others, is Akihiko Hirata. Like Takarada, Hirata had starred in the original GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. There, he played the tragic tortured scientist Dr. Serizawa who ultimately destroyed the first Godzilla and took his own life to keep the secret of his terrible weapon. In other words, he was the guy with the eye patch. He's wearing another eye patch in this movie, as the cruel Captain of the Guard of a renegade army operating a heavy water plant. Those wondering what a crossover between Godzilla and James Bond would be like need look no further than this film, and the next year's KING KONG ESCAPES*.

   *It was originally King Kong, not Godzilla who was supposed to face off against the Sea Monster! Toho had the project all planned out, but had to substitute their own famous giant at the last minute when rights issues to Kong became tangled. Happily, the problem would be fixed and the next year saw screens graced by KING KONG ESCAPES, which was actually based on a Saturday morning King Kong cartoon series!

   Some editing has been done to start things off with a bang, as a sequence from the middle of the film showing The Sea Monster sinking a sailboat has been lifted and tacked on just after the title card. The only credit we get here is the title (the only title in the franchise to spell out the word 'versus'), while the International print featured a full credit sequence. Said sequence occurs over a piece of music rather more soft and melodic than the American distributor, Walter Reade-Sterling, may have wanted to open with. (Then there's the opening to SON OF GODZILLA, -which cuts a whole opening scene with Godzilla- removing all of the credit plates, yet keeping the sequence intact!) While this move makes sure the kiddies in the audience will be hooked enough to sit out the ensuing human drama until the monster surfaces again, the move also serves to diminish the monster's first appearance later in the film (not that the title doesn't let us know ahead of time that we'll be seeing a sea monster). This move makes it even weirder that the pre-credit monster scene in SON OF GODZILLA got trimmed. Another issue raised by this re-edit is that you can see the crew of the sailboat that gets clawed, and its the same group of people who run across the Sea Monster "three months later....."

   There has been a disaster at sea (which as we can see in our version of the film is a future projection of attack by a giant claw that rises from the waves and crushes a tiny sailboat), and some fishermen have gone missing. The superstitious mother of one of the men has consulted a mystic of some kind, and the report is that the son is still alive. The younger son (who I'll call Ed, because despite all the times I've seen this film I can't recall any of the character names) also believes his brother to be alive, and sets out to find him. (In the International print, there's a short scene where Ed goes to the police to seek help, but they can't really do anything when the only lead is a mystic's confirmation that the fella isn't dead. Seeing an ad for a dance contest that awards a sailboat first prize, Ed takes his leave of the police station.) Back in the American print, Ed shows up at the dance contest, which is in its third day. There's a number of twisting couples who look tired, but frankly they don't look like they've been twisting for three days straight (can you imagine how badly the place would stink? Surely they've been getting rest breaks, and more if the perfect makeup and hairdo's of the female contestants is any clue)! This contest of endurance has taken its toll on two wheezing figures, I'll call them Bob and Bing, who collapse and crawl to the sidelines where Ed is standing. Ed asks if there's any chance for him to enter the contest, but he's told he's three days late. Still, Ed really needs a boat. With nothing better to do, apparently, Bob and Bing drive the lad down to the pier to look at all the boats.

   On the dock, the gang spots a luxurious sailing yacht, the YAHLEN, and decide to poke around a bit. Like Goldilocks, the guys wander in and snoop around. When one of the gang wonders aloud what the owner looks like, they find dashing gent, er, Dean (Akira Takarada) aiming a rifle at them. Explaining they meant no harm, the guys manage to talk Dean into letting them stay the night (although Dean does chastise them for being too loud). The next morning, Dean finds his rifle gone. Ed has dismantled it ("I thought it was a toy") and this riles Dean, who orders the men off the boat. (Later, it is confirmed, however passingly, that the rifle was indeed a toy. Dean is a professional thief, you see, having recently swiped a huge amount and is currently hiding out on the YAHLEN. The toy rifle shows that, while Dean might be a thief, he's not looking to hurt anyone. His hobby is picking locks, a skill employed quite a bit later in the picture, and Takarada gives a great performance as he nearly salivates every time he sees a new kind of lock, a new challenge for a master craftsman. Upon opening one door, one of the others asks if safe cracking is really so easy. Confirming how seriously Dean takes his work, he counters with "Only amatuers think that.")

   On deck, it is discovered that the boat is far out at sea. Ed has set out in the night to search for his brother, believing the boat to be a gift from "the gods" and that it would be disrespectful not to take advantage of it. Bing and Bob wonder if they and Dean can take the boat back to Japan. Dean gets uneasy and decides there's no harm in humoring the kid (apparently Bing and Bob don't have jobs to get back to). (This is another moment handled slightly better in the International dub, where it's a bit more obvious that what makes Dean so nervous is talking to the authorities upon return to shore. In the US dub, it isn't quite as obvious he's nervous about the cops. He just seems to get bugged in the middle of a conversation.)

   On the voyage, Dean's identity is betrayed by the radio announcer who notes the thief has made off with a yacht belonging to an American film producer (given the name of "Walter Riener" in the International dub). With Bob and Bing seasick, they really aren't in a position to apprehend this criminal, so they hang out together for a few more days at sea.

   With the food supply beginning to run low, the men are talking about taking the boat away from Ed and heading home. Ed suddenly needs their help, though, when storm clouds start moving in. The YAHLEN gets swept into a raging storm. One of the men spots a huge claw rising from the sea (complete with spy-movie guitar riff theme). Since we saw the boat attacked at the start of the movie, here we just fade out (which could have been a nice effect, actually, if it weren't so obvious the scene had simply been relocated). Fading in, we find the gang has washed up on the beach of an island somewhere. Dean's stolen money has been claimed by Davy Jones. Keeping perspective, Dean bitterly notes the loot won't help them now. The logical first step is to climb to the highest point of the island and look around. On the climb up, Bob (the comic relief guy) finds an ivory-handled sword. At least they have a weapon now, and proof someone else is, or has been, on the island.

   From the cliff, the men see a ship coming in. They run down to the jungle to get a better look, as Dean smells something fishy. Indeed, the ship is hauling human cargo to work as slave labor for a bunch of soldiers wearing white uniforms. Among the slaves is Diao (HER name I remember! Kumi Mizuno makes a delectable native girl), who manages to sneak away when some of the slaves make a break in the other direction. Though a couple of the slaves make it to a boat (and what was a native boat doing just sitting on the beach of THIS island?), they are eaten when the Sea Monster, a "mammoth lobster" surfaces. The ship the soldiers use sprays a yellow liquid all around when entering or leaving the harbor, this chemical repels the monster (Ebirah in the International version, though unnamed here) which stalks the waters surrounding the island. No one else can enter or leave the island. The Captain of the Guard, aided by this demonstration of the monster's ferocity, let's the slaves know there is no escape before herding them off. The Captain's CO, via television monitor, lets him know the girl has escaped, and he saw this action on camera (why he waited so long to let his Captain of the Guard know this isn't clear, but presumably it's to let the guy know he should stay on his toes. This doesn't strike me as the kind of organization that would tolerate much incompetence). A detail is sent out to find her.

   About this sea monster issue. At no time are we told if Ebirah was somehow created by the soldiers, maybe as a byproduct of their heavy water experiments, or if the monster was already living near the island when the soldiers moved in and they simply took advantage of an impressive natural resource. The monster's existence is known of on another island, but with no indication of how long anyone has known about it. Even more puzzling is a giant condor which shows up later, literally out of the blue. We're given no clue as to if this bird is a natural inhabitant of the island or or he's been contracted by the soldiers to attack Godzilla. If it is the second story, where did the soldiers get a giant bird? (One item, Godzilla is already on the island, sleeping within a giant cave. Yet, the monsters don't seem to have run into him before he's revived this time around. So.... maybe the soldiers imported the giant lobster and bird from somewhere else....?)

   Diao, running through the woods, runs across our heroes and forms a quick alliance with them. Spotted by a balloon-mounted camera (and interesting, if theoretically problematic method of spying on the island's goings on), the group flees. They manage to evade the pursuing soldiers by taking refuge in a cave beneath a cliff, creating the impression that they have fallen into the sea. We now learn that Diao's people have been abducted from Infant Island, home of the mighty Mothra! (This is Mothra's third showing in a Godzilla movie, having first confronted the big blue dinosaur in what is widely considered the best film of the series, GODZILLA VS THE THING. It was Mothra who set Godzilla on the side of right when the bug talked Godzilla and Rodan into joining forces to protect the earth from GHIDRAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. Mothra seems to be a supernatural creature of sorts, with a strong mental link to a pair of foot-high twin girls. These "fairies" speak in unison and keep peace on the island by acting as a go-between for the natives and their weird deity. Of note, this is the last film of the original series to feature the Fairies, or the natives of Infant Island. With their passing (?), Mothra reverts to a far less supernatural giant insect for the remainder of the series.)

  (The Fairies are for the first time not being played by The Peanuts, a novelty twin singing group quite popular in the early 60's. Here, the parts have been turned over to the Pair Bambi, who actually have a more exotic 'islander' look than the oh-so-Japanese Peanuts. I guess the Pair Bambi didn't have much of an impact, though, for this is the last we see of them, or the Fairies. On a personal note, I think the Bambi twins are actually a bit cuter than the Peanuts. I wonder how many a geek war I've started with that sentence......)

    We'll occasionally cut to the island to see the natives doing a big dance number in the hopes of waking the snoozing Mothra. On the upshot, Infant Island is much more lush than when we last saw, meaning I guess that Mothra's monstrous appetite has been curbed since the creature's very existence in Japan spelled doom in fear the bug would start eating once hatched from its egg (such was the concern of the Fairies in having Mothra's lost egg, having washed up on a Japanese beach in GODZILLA VS THE THING). (Another issue the island faced in earlier chapters was lingering sickness from radioactive fallout, although the natives themselves were immune thanks to a berry juice they drank which counteracted radioactivity. By GHIDRAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER, this was no longer an issue. Which only makes sense, as bomb testing near the island would have been halted once it was discovered a civilization existed there, and unlike the natives of Bikini, there'd be a colossal, indestructible insect to reckon with if the islanders are relocated. Also, unlike you see in much popular culture, fallout doesn't do permanent damage to an area, so it makes sense that life on the island would be returning to normal. But what happened to the natives after this adventure? For the next time we see Mothra, in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, the giant bug has been relocated to Monsterland on Ogasawara Island.) At any rate, Mothra hasn't been able to keep the soldiers from raiding the island periodically to steal slave labor. (In the International dub, the unnamed soldiers are said to be the Red Bamboo. Possibly this detail was dropped from the US version to make the enemy more mysterious?)

   Diao lets Ed know his brother is alive and has washed up on Infant Island, so one plot thread is starting to tie off. Another item for our party is that the cave they've taken refuge in also houses Godzilla, sprawled out in the cavern far below. It also turns out, he's still alive! (Actually, I'm not sure why hearing his heartbeat echo through the rocks would be so shocking. It's not like Godzilla has been out of action for very long. Excluding GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, where he actually did get destroyed, Godzilla has been buried alive twice, and dumped into the ocean with a silk bag over his head. MONSTER ZERO breaks continuity by taking place sometime in the future, despite making direct reference to the previous chapter, but that climax also found Godzilla supposedly buried alive under the sea. Starting with our subject today, the big blue dinosaur would be allowed to conclusively live out the end of each picture.) After sneaking into, and escaping from, the enemy command center, the gang decides they can get the pursuing soldiers off their hands by waking Godzilla (although there is some concern over Godzilla's causing more damage in the long run than the soldiers and their A-bombs). During the escape, by the way, Ed gets tangled in a spy balloon and floats away, and Bob is captured and tossed into a dungeon where the Infant natives are kept busy making the yellow liquid that repels the sea monster (add your own drawn butter joke here). Ed meanwhile is carried to Infant Island (!) where he just happens to find his brother, eh, Tom, I'll call him.

   Tom is a restless crusader who cringes upon seeing human oppression (one wonders how he felt living so close to Red China) and he intends to set out to to rescue the slave natives, single handed if need be. He and Ed are given a small boat and supplies to return to the other island, Letchi, I think they say (this is the first time I've had a chance to listen to the American dub in years, as the US version has yet to be issued on DVD, at least officially. I had to track down an old Video Treasures VHS to see this gem again). The Fairies make sure to include some of the yellow liquid to use against the sea monster (so the Infant Islanders have already been making the stuff for a while now, and seems to be the only reason the soldiers abducted so many of their number. Again, where did the giant lobster come from? How long has it been around? Did the soldiers go to the island where it lived or did they have it imported to the island they took over?).

   Back to Dean and the others. How to wake Godzilla? Shock treatment. Diao had earlier taken a loop of copper wire from the enemy supply room to wear as a necklace. Using the sword Bob had collected -a weapon which belonged to one of Diao's people, making one wonder why the soldiers allowed a native to keep his sword when they abducted him- as a lightning rod, Dean and Bing uncoil the copper wire and lay it out so it makes contact with Godzilla. The idea is to jump-start the dinosaur with lightning. And thus we have another major step in Godzilla's evolution. While the first Godzilla was immune to electric shock, high tension wires DID work against the second Godzilla! This allowed the JSDF to direct the big blue dinosaur away from populated areas. Unfortunately, King Kong was made stronger by electric current and he destroyed these structures, sucking the juice out of them. In the climax, Kong's life is saved when lightning strikes him and he is able to overcome Godzilla. The ape is so charged with energy that his hands issue sparks whenever he makes contact with Godzilla, and this action seems to cause Godzilla pain. In the next film, the JSDF use artificial lightning against the beast. While Godzilla isn't as repelled as much as before, the operation does work. Huge metal nets are dropped on the monster and electric towers blast away at him with Tesla-like bolts of energy. Godzilla comes very near to defeat in this sequence, but the generators overload and the power dies long enough for Godzilla to regain his feet and make short work of the towers. Here, he's revived by lightning. In a later film, he will draw strength and vitality from an electrical storm, just as Kong had done earlier. In fact, he'll store this energy and later transform himself into a giant electro-magnet to defeat Mecha-Godzilla! (When Toho restarted the series with GODZILLA 1985, the monster again drew power from lightning, souped up by radioactivity from an exploded nuclear missile in the upper atmosphere!) Over the series we see Godzilla develop an immunity to electric discharges, and eventually incorporate the power into his system. Talk about adapt and overcome!

   So Ed and Tom are returning to the island when a storm hits. Their supplies washed overboard, they have no protection when the sea monster surfaces (they'll make it to shore, though, or else the movie would be over). Right on cue, the makeshift lightning rod system works and Godzilla is awake! Breaking out of the mountain, he and the sea monster size each other up before round one. No need in spoiling it for those who haven't seen the film yet, so I'll stop there with the detailed plot examination.

   One sequence I must mention is when Godzilla is attacked by a squadron of MIGs. Although hampered by the cropped image of the TV print, this scene features some of my favorite footage of the entire series. One shot in particular that always impresses me is a shot tracking a jet as it closes in on Godzilla's legs, only to be swiped from the air by his tail. The shot is simply hypnotic. The scene in general is great stuff, if not for the formatting for television.

   After this South Seas adventure, Godzilla and Ebirah would work together again (sort of) in GODZILLA'S REVENGE. That film was mostly about a child with an overactive imagination who gets abducted by bank robbers. All the monster stuff is seen in dream sequences! If this takes place in 'our' world, or the world where the other films are set, though, remains a mystery. Basically, the kid leans lessons in self-defence from Godzilla's son, Minya, while to pair watch a number of stock footage battles from earlier films. (An actual, original, shot-for-this-film battle does occur, though, as Godzilla and Minya must face off against Gabera, a sort of cat-faced ogre.) GODZILLA'S REVENGE has to be the weirdest film of the series. For some reason, UPA brought the film to US theater screens, where American audiences could at least see the fight scenes (including the sequence with the MIGs) from GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER and SON OF GODZILLA in their glorious wide scope. Godzilla, of course, would go on to many more adventures. Ebirah would return (briefly, like all the other monsters) in GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, the last Godzilla movie to date. (I doubt that status will last long, however.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interview for Moonstone project

And I quote:
      All Pulp interviews Domino Lady vs. the Mummy penciller Rock Baker.

      This Halloween, Moonstone heads back to their monstrous roots with the Return of the Monsters   Comic Book Event. Return of the Monsters features four stand-alone tales of pulp’s mightiest heroes facing off against some classic monsters. One of those titles is Domino Lady vs. the Mummy by co-writers Nancy Holder and Bobby Nash with art by Rock Baker and Jeff Austin.

     All Pulp sat down with the penciller Rock Baker to talk about this upcoming book. You can read the full interview at

Direct link:
   Quite a feather in my cap, as you might imagine! Here are some preview shots.........

   Now you didn't think I'd show you the mummy, did you? First rule of movie monsters: keep 'em off screen until the right time for the reveal. Same thing for comic book fiends.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oddball Film Report: TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST (1976)

     Motion Pictures have always been divided into two classes, the studio productions and the independents. Mostly, this means films produced under the studio operation tend to be much slicker and more expensive fare, while independents are films made by individuals or small companies outside the major production houses in Hollywood (and come in varying degrees of quality). Today, 'idependent' films are usually assumed to be pretentious, artsy pictures designed to appeal to the intelligentsia, who salivate over anything that 'the masses' don't 'understand.' That's a fairly modern concept, however, as independent films are the very kind of cheap genre fare produced for the mass market, the junk that shows up on late-night television. Before video, in the glory days of actual film movies, there was a period in which it became economical enough to make movies that independent businessmen and regional talents started trying their hands at film production. The 1960's were the decade that saw the regional film really take off, as countless exploitation movies were ground out in states like Texas and, most visibly, Florida. By the 1970's, it seemed that just about everybody was trying to make a movie.

    Naturally, genre fare was what got peddled most. They could be made on the cheap and would have a built in audience. Monster movies were a seemingly can't-miss market (and a bit more reputable than the even more base sexploitation field, which also flourished in this period). Thus, the early to mid 70's saw the period which gave us what I call The Regional Horror Flick. It seems that during this period, most every State in the Union tried to get a monster movie on the market. (Some States even had regional producers who made multiple films, such as Bill Rebane in Wisconsin and Charles Pierce in Arkansas, to say nothing of the continued output of independent producers in California, Florida, and Texas, like David Friedman, Doris Wishman, and Larry Buchanan, respectively.) Oregon gave us SASQUATCH, THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT, Idaho got to the party late with THE BEING, and New Mexico offered THE TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST.

     TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST was filmed in 1972, my sources say, but not released until 1976. The cast is filled with unknowns who never did anything else (although the cast isn't bad here, let me point that out. While none of them give the most natural performance, they do say their lines with a believable conviction), and the crewmen's names aren't likely to excite many movie nuts. The one name really of note, to a particular crowd, is that of Joe Blasco, who provided the effects make-up and even played the titular beast. Blasco provided some pretty good make-up jobs for assorted genre projects like THE CLONUS HORROR, THE TOUCH OF SATAN, and JOHNNY FIRECLOUD before going into television. He also headed up his own makeup school. His creature here isn't bad, what we can see of it anyway, coming across like a blackish cross between a gorn and a sleestak. The film itself is more or less a 70's version of a 50's monster movie (I'd wager the producers saw the film's future as being in television broadcasts, though I have no idea how much play, if any, it got), and a nicely professional -if budget conscious- production. (It was one of countless obscurities to be saved by the early video boom of the 80's.)

     We open in the desert, where mineralogist Paul Carlson is digging around near an Indian reservation. In a rather limp bit, Paul hears some screaming echoing across the canyon and sees a rather goofy ceremonial mask. (Did the American Indians make a lot of stuff out of foil-covered paper?*) This is actually a prank being pulled by Paul's former Professor, Johnny "Longbow" Selinas and a couple of students entertaining a lady photographer, Cathy Nolan. She took a shot of Paul's reaction, which amounted to a blank gaze, but promises not to use the photo. Our romantic leads in place, Paul and Cathy begin to show interest in each other. Longbow sets things in motion by inviting Paul to join everybody at dinner.

      (* I assume the mask is supposed to be silver, which many tribes actually did make wide use of. Well into the 20th Century, and probably today, many a tribe supported itself by selling silver trinkets to tourists. This mask really doesn't suggest an origin with the American Indians, though. If you really stretch your imagination, it looks more Mayan or Aztec.)

     Meanwhile, a meteor has struck the moon and debris from the impact is headed toward earth. Scientists predict the majority of the particles should burn off in the atmosphere, and provide nothing more that a harmless free fireworks display. Yeah, right. Our picture is called TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST, remember? In pretty short order, Paul and Cathy run off alone. They find themselves on a crest overlooking the city as the meteor shower begins. One of the stray rocks hits Paul in the temple, but as is later explained, Paul feels no pain due to the "great speed" of the object. Even if you accept this, the object moves across the screen at a much slower pace than a bullet, which has been known to cause great pain when it enters a human body. Cathy notices the scratch on Paul's forehead and tries to doctor it with a tissue, despite his claims of feeling fine. Still, Cathy is worried and Paul takes her back to his place where she can dress the wound. Before they leave the area, though, Paul finds the larger chunk of moon rock that grazed him and takes it with. As they go, however, they fail to notice the discarded tissue is now subject to a pulsating glow! For an extra bit of foreshadowing, a lizard has come to rest on the now irradiated paper. (I had hopes this meant a giant lizard would be roaming around, and a monster fight could break out in the last reel, but it was not to be.)

     Since this is pretty much a science-fiction version of a werewolf story, we move in that fashion. Paul starts feeling woozy when he's out with Cathy and Longbow at a rock concert (the director's son's band, maybe? They have an entire song featured here) and his friends drive him home and put him to bed. Later that night, a monster kills a guy outside his house. Paul also wakes up to find his pet monitor lizard missing from his cage, which now sports a huge hole in the side. (Okay, we already know that Paul is a part-time monster. So, did he eat the monitor lizard? No trace of the animal is seen again. But I find it difficult to believe that a man-sized monster would be hungry enough to attack a guy after finishing off a whole monitor lizard. Plus, Monster-Paul's attacks are a bit messy, and there's no trace of blood anywhere near the lizard's cage. Did the lizard flee upon Paul's first transformation? Animals are always monster-sensitive, after all. But that doesn't work either, because there's no way a monitor lizard could inflict the kind of damage we see done to the cage. So what gives? This could have been a bit more dramatic if the lizard had died of shock during the night, something to keep in mind if there's ever a -yeah, sure- remake.)

      While out with Cathy, Paul blacks out when a camera flash causes a spark to jump off a moon rock on display at the museum. The spark hits Paul in the spot where the fragment is. Longbow will later figure out that the pieces of moon rock react to each other with an electric charge when close enough together. This has something to do with why Paul changes into a monster when the full moon rises. (Just accept it, this is a monster movie.) Why does it turn him into a half-human reptile? You got me. At least when everyone figures out what's going on, Paul confines himself to a hospital for treatment. Other man-monsters like THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON or John Agar's character in HAND OF DEATH tend to avoid hospital care under the theory that the staff doctors would waste too much time learning what the monster-ized scientist already knows. This usually leads to trouble, as you might expect. Having Paul be a scientist who doesn't know everything already (as most movie scientists do, no matter what their field) is a nice touch.

      I'll avoid much else, should you wish to see the film yourself.

     One bit I must comment on, however, concerns how Longbow figures out what's going on. This involves a series of slides showing a dear hide painting, one I think said to be 400 years old, showing how a similar monster ran amok and terrorized the Indians. So not only has a meteor hit the moon and sent a particle of moon matter flying at the earth which survived passing through the atmosphere and lodged itself in a man's brain twice in recorded history, but this also happened IN THE SAME GENERAL AREA OF THE UNITED STATES!!!! Think of the cosmic odds Paul beat to become the second lizard-man to stalk New Mexico! I'd want this guy buying lottery tickets for me!

       Despite some silly twists like the one described above, TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST isn't really that bad. It moves at a healthy clip, doesn't run too long, and is fairly professional in its production values. It compares favorably with any number of modest drive-in movies produced around the same time. It's just too bad we don't see more of the monster since, being a Moon Beast, the black suit is only seen in the dark. The film also formed the base of a particularly humorous episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remember the Towers!

    I don't know what I can say that hasn't been said already. We all know the day, and what happened ten years ago. A cowardly, vile, and cruel attack was carried out by an enemy that wished to declare war, not only on a nation, a country, but the very people whom they had never seen before. Men, women, children, anyone who believe different than they do. America was attacked because, despite the tarnish of recent decades, it stands as a symbol of freedom around the world. Freedom from tyranny and oppression. Freedom to worship, to learn, to grow. That's a big responsibility, and one not taken lightly. God bless America. God bless America because it stands as a shining light of hope to those who need it. This great republic will always be despised by some, for it is graced by God. For we have freedom, true freedom, that most precious of gifts, which can be so easily lost if we abuse it. In the United States, there is the freedom of the vote, and our leaders are held in check by laws that govern them, not just the people. People aren't thrown into jails for owning a radio, or sharing subversive literature, like the Bible. Women are every bit the equal of their men in America, they're not hidden away or mutilated at the whim of their husbands. In America, women are honored and protected, free to vote, to learn, to preach. Yes, we have much to be thankful for, much to be despised for. We're not perfect, we never claimed to be. But God bless America. Keep and protect us from those who would kill us for daring to believe in you, or in nothing at all. Amen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

IT Conquered The World, an under-rated classic

   Last night I watched ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS. As rabid monster movie fans probably know, the film is a remake of an earlier film, in this case IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. In the 1960s, Texas exploitation movie director Larry Buchanan was commissioned by American International Pictures to make a slate of films that could be sold to television. AIP was enjoying great success with the new medium, as any color monster movie was a big seller (hence the AIP-TV releases of things like THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET, VOYAGE INTO SPACE, WAR OF THE MONSTERS, THE RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS, etc, etc). I don't know if the idea was Buchanan's or AIP's, but the bulk of Larry's movies were remakes of earlier AIP films (so much so that there were only minor changes in the scripts). Thus, VOODOO WOMAN became CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN sired THE EYE CREATURES, THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED mutated into IN THE YEAR 2889, and so on.

   (While most of Buchanan's monster movies were remakes, he did find time to film a couple of original stories. MARS NEEDS WOMEN is a cheap but effective opus about invasion from space. "IT'S ALIVE!" meanwhile is a minimalist production about motorists being held hostage in a cave under an isolated farmhouse, and a dinosaur -of sorts, being the same cheap gill-man suit used in CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION, Larry's remake of THE SHE CREATURE- is lurking down there with them. Amid the cheap monster antics, Buchanan even found time to cobble together a war movie starring John Agar, HELL RAIDERS, which until recent years was considered a lost film. Legend has it the first person to view the film was Agar's friend John Wayne, at the stars home before the print was even dry!)

   Buchanan's movies are almost interesting, if not for the "we've seen this all before" nature of viewing them. Working with minuscule budgets (even by AIP standards) and sparse resources, Buchanan's TV movies are like watching really ambitious home movies a gang of friends decided to make with their neighbor's 16mm camera. Yet each is in color (making sure the films continued to air for decades on late-night blocks on countless UHF stations) and features a name actor like John Agar, John Ashley, and Tommy Kirk (say what you will, for a cheap TV movie, featuring even such faded personalities was quite an achievement). Agar is the star of ZONTAR, taking over the role played in 1956 by Peter Graves. One of the most obvious signs you're watching one of Buchanan's remakes is that you hear every line and say to yourself "the original guy did it better." Indeed, nothing demonstrates how natural the line readings were in the 50's AIPs than seeing them said again by someone with all the conviction of a ten year old in a school play about nutrition. Few cases are quite as stark as IT/ZONTAR.*

   (*The one quasi-exception to this formula is CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION, which stars Les Tremayne in a part once played by Chester Morris when the movie was called THE SHE CREATURE. Both films feature casts who handle their material pretty well. THE SHE CREATURE is still a superior movie, but Buchanan's movie for once doesn't constantly remind you of that fact.)

   IT CONQUERED THE WORLD was one of the cheapies rushed out by Roger Corman in the early days of AIP, when the outfit was producing ready-made double bills for the drive-in market (IT's co-feature was THE SHE CREATURE, AIP's first really big hit). I doubt the budget was much north of $30,000, and was probably much less. Yet the film has such a slick professional sheen that you'd never know it. It also proves that, while speed and cost were Corman's main concern, he was a good director. Aided by an intelligent script and fine actors, Corman gives his little flick a real depth and watchability many might not expect. Compare everything here to the flat interpretation of Larry Buchanan and you can see what I mean. IT is practically JAWS when compared to ZONTAR, and yet they share the same script. (Some of Ronald Stein's music cues from IT, as well as SAUCER MEN, and a couple of Les Baxter cues from the Beach cycle, are heard in ZONTAR as well. Zontar's 'voice' is even the exact same sound effect from the earlier film. As well, Agar at one point calls Zontar "It" in jest. At least Buchanan wasn't hiding it, all he was offering was a color version of the same film!)

   Part of it is the cast. (While Agar isn't bad in his version, he suffers a bit because the work was fresher when it was done the first time.) Peter Graves is our star, passing through on his way to TV immortality as the star of Mission: Impossible, and later long-time host of A&E's Biography. "I'd have to take a long, hard look at anything that was going to change the world, and me, so completely." His wife is played by Sally Fraser (also seen in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN and GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN), who is just an absolute doll. She gets one of the most disturbing/upsetting/shocking scenes, and that's all I'll say. His best friend/rival Tom is played by future spaghetti western mainstay Lee Van Cleef. Van Cleef offers some of the film's most passionate and memorable passages, only outdone by Bevery Garland as his wife, Clair. She gets a pair of absolutely stirring moments where she can no longer hold back her hatred for the monster that has brainwashed her husband and caused mass panic in the town of Beachwood. When an intimidated-by-IT Tom leaves to greet Paul (Graves), whom IT has ordered Tom to kill, Clair rushes over to the radio set that Tom has been using to communicate with IT. Angrily flipping the switch to on, she lets the beast have it with both barrels, so to speak. "I don't know if you can hear me, but if you can you listen and you listen good! I hate your living guts for what you've done to my husband and my world! Tom may be afraid of you but I'm not, and I'm going to kill you! Do you hear me? I'm going to kill you!"

   Beverly hits this speech with full force, in a rushed anger that has been building for a long time. In the remake, the actress instead reads the line slowly, breaking up with occasional tears she must beat back. Both reactions work, but when Garland recites these lines, she makes a pretty good impression that she'll actually do what she says and kill the monster. That makes the invader's revealed power in the climax all the more impressive. The actress in the remake comes across like a lamb heading to the slaughter. Garland gives you the impression that even if the monster kills her, she'll make it a challenge for the critter. When she confronts the monster, she offers what may be the most famous line (aside from the stirring end speech from Peter Graves): "So that's what you look like! You're ugly! Horrible! Go ahead! Use your intellect on me! You think you're going to make a slave of the world? I'll see you in Hell first!" Following which she unloads a shotgun into the creature's face. (But I've said too much already about the climax of the picture.)

   The film is sort of a parable about communism. Tom is a brilliant scientist stymied by the powers that be, until he makes contact with a creature from Venus who offers to release mankind from the stupidity that has plagued it throughout history. The answer is cold intellect, removing man's emotions and giving him a single power to follow. Paul, meanwhile, has built a powerful new satellite which suddenly vanishes from all scopes. (A sign of changing times: Here, the project cost nine million dollars, in the remake, the cost has ballooned to twenty million.) But Tom knows what's going on. He's arranged for IT to board the satellite and ride it back to earth. Once here, IT destroys all power (even a hand-crank fails to work on a generator), and the world comes to a stand still. Only Tom still has power. His car is the only one on earth that still runs. And Clair discovers that her husband is not harmlessly insane.

   In a typically good scene, Tom is explaining how IT has taken control of all power. "All power is stopped at it source. Electricity, steam, water." Clair is skeptical and turns on the water hose. "I thought you said the water wouldn't work." She's convinced Tom is wrong about the invader. "Of course that works," Tom counters, "it belongs to me." Here, Clair knows something is wrong. For the first time, she must face the notion that Tom and his crazy ideas are cold hard reality. (In the ZONTAR version, she just sort of shrugs this off. Here, the seriousness of the situation is conveyed by Beverly's expression. There really is trouble, and its managed to sneak in under her nose, despite her being closest to IT through Tom's relationship. It's amazing how much more complex and intelligent one version of a story can be when the same script is used twice.)

   To control victims from a distance, IT uses living control devices that fly to the victims like birds. There's a great scene where Graves battles one of these while driving a jeep. Later, he must fight one of these things off in his spookilly-lit living room. (The film has some nicely fluid camera work throughout. Buchanan's best camera move is a tracking shot while a couple is walking through the woods.) The control devices are incredibly life-like, fluttering around like bats. (These same props found themselves pushed into service as flying alter-egos for a witch and her imp sidekick in Corman's THE UNDEAD.) ZONTAR's control devices are dubbed "Enjecto-pods" and look like stiff, winged lobsters bobbing about on a string (the original control devices also bobbed about on strings, obviously, but they did so with much greater realism). A sort of middle ground creature was used in homage to these movies when winged lobster creatures did the bidding of 1989's LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS.

   Paul Blaisdell's monster has gotten some hard knocks over the years, but I've always loved the thing. A sort of vegetable-based crustacean, IT had a big impact on my childhood. Really, I always thought it looked pretty cool, so I never really understood why people kept calling the design "goofy." I still figure a creature from space isn't locked into our laws of what looks proper, so a space monster can get away with goofy. Who's to say what goofy is? Surely standards of goofy would be different on, say, Jupiter than they are here, right?

   I could go on, obviously, but I think you get what I'm saying. IT CONQUERED THE WORLD is a great little movie that's sadly overlooked these days.

And Sally Fraser was the sexiest woman who ever lived.

Paul Blaisdell (left) and his creation, IT (center), with friend Bob Burns (right) on hand.

IT in Paul Blaisdell's workshop

Paul Blaisdell clowns around with IT

Thursday, September 8, 2011

20 Questions with Sam Sherman

My interview for with prolific drive-in movie producer Sam Sherman, who gave us such gems as DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, BRAIN OF BLOOD, and RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD!

Baker's Log, First Entry

Slowly, but surely, I'm entering the 21st Century....