Thursday, January 30, 2014

Monster Team-Up Reflection #1: How to Make a Teenage Werewolf/Frankenstein

A friend recently gifted me a double-feature DVD of the 1957 exploitation hits, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” with Michael Landon and “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein” with Gary Conway. Mind you, neither has been officially released on disc (for whatever outrageous, absurdly overdue reason), so yes, it’s actually pirate transfers I possess, but mum should be the world on that.

In the past, I have religiously revisited these movies via VHS and various televised and YouTube offerings. Re-watching the films recently reminded me how, as a kid, I thought it would be cool if the two, young monsters teamed in a “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” type outing. You can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that in 1958, AIP had fulfilled that very wish, but in a different fashion than expected.

The sequel to “Teen Wolf”/”Teen Frank” is Herbert L. Strock's “How to Make a Monster” (which incidentally is officially available under Lions Gate’s “Cult Classics” label, with “Blood of Dracula’: aka, “Blood Is My Heritage”, which may otherwise have been termed “I Was a Teenage Vampire”, but that’s another story for another time). Film buffs certainly understand why this entry is special, but the less experienced may find it surprising to discover that “How to Make a Monster” is, in truth, about the making of a team-up monster film. (The movie-making concept has been used since, of course, in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”, "Shadow of the Vampire" and Full Moon’s “Gingerdead Man 2”, but “How to Make a Monster” indisputably set the standard and would prove a most engaging effort even if erroneously perceived as a stand-alone.)

Although Gary Conway is back, Gary Clarke assumes the role that Landon would have otherwise played. (According to legend, Landon did not appear in “How to Make a Monster” due to the crass chiding his received from peers over “Teen Wolf”.) In actuality, though, the characters that Conway and Clarke play aren’t teen monsters per se, but rather the young actors, Larry and Tony, who are portraying them in an upcoming horror film. The antagonist (or should I say, protagonist, for the sake of this counter-culture sampling) is a Jack Pierce-styled make-up artist named Pete Dumond, sympathetically portrayed by Robert H. Harris (who in a fairer, more open-minded scheme of things, would have been Oscar nominated).  Like Whit Bissell’s mad doctors in “Teen Wolf” and “Teen Frank”, Dumond has an assistant, simply known as Rivero (and played with comparable sympathy by Paul Brinegar), who faithfully and tremulously assists the monster-maker even when things turn murderously weird.

Trouble starts when, while working on the upcoming “Werewolf Meets Frankenstein”, Dumond and Rivero are informed their services will no longer be needed, that the studio will abandon monster pictures all together and cater exclusively to fun-filled musicals. Dumond is deeply hurt by this disrespectful and snobbish verdict, and in his zeal to get even, concocts a cosmetic formula that, once applied to the skin, allows one to assume (via the enhancement of hypnosis) any lethal persona, along with all the related unscrupulous qualities. At one point, Dumond even uses the substance on himself, amping himself up psychologically via a caveman design (insinuated as being based on one of his earlier, cinematic jobs) to kill an overly persistent studio guard (portrayed with just the right pomous assurity by Dennis Cross). Dumond also applies the concoction to Larry and Tony, completing their full monster make-ups while entrancing them to go forth and slay those directly involved in the termination decision.

Character-actor Malcom Atterbury (who touchingly plays Landon’s father in the original “Teen Wolf” and who many “Twlight Zone” fans will readily recall as the magical elixir peddler in Rod Serling’s “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”) has a supporting role as a congenial, older security guard here. John Ashley, who would later gain monster fame with the Filipino “Blood Island” films, performs a rock 'n’ roll tune with an alluring blonde wearing nylons, a leather jacket and motorcycle helmet (who quickly strips her attire and is then joined by a processoin of additional scantily clad beauties) in a test-run moment for an evidently intended, Elvis-esqe musical.

Structurally, “How To Make a Monster” is patterned after “Teen Wolf”, “Teen Frank”, “Blood of Drac” and even to some extent, “Invasion of the Saucer Men”, featuring pathos, tension, levity and hip music. However, while the likes of “Teen Wolf”, “Teen Frank” and “Blood of Drac” are monsterized versions of “Rebel Without a Cause”. “How to Make a Monster” taps into middle-age/senior-citizen angst, while still offering a subtle nod the younger, anti-authority crowd. It shows that wrong can be done to any person who has his heart in the right place, has paid his evident dues, only to have snobbery slash his convictions. On this basis, when Dumond triggers his murderous scheme, we end up rooting for him, even though he’s clearly overstepped the line.

The finale of “How to Make a Monster” is a genuine treat, phasing into color (just as the ending of “Teen Frank” does, but in this instance, the footage being considerably longer) and presenting a few of Paul Blaisdell’s beloved AIP specimens--“Beulah, the Cucumber Monster” from “It Conquered the World”, a Saucerman and the She Creature--all proudly displayed within Dumond’s lovely living room. In essence, we’re granted access to a veritable, stationary famous-monsters rally, which though brief, more than supplies the required lurid eyeful.

“How To Make a Monster” is unquestionably worth-while viewing, whether for the first time or a nostalgic revisitation: indeed, much different than what it could have been, but extremely memorable for its daring thematic angle. Check it out and add on “Teen Wolf” and “Teen Frank” as lead-ins. Pretend you’re watching ‘em at a drive-in theater. You’ll really dig the experience, daddio!
(PS:  The film was quasi-remade under the same title in 2001, as part of Stan Winston’s revisionist AIP “Creature Features” cable-movie series, with a cameo from action-movie star and Penthouse Pet of the Year, Julie Strain. However, instead of focusing on a hallucinogenic cosmetic to propel the suspense, the “remake” caters to the construction of a dangerous, video-game spawned entity. Though not as unique as the original, this offbeat redo is still a swell way to pass the time.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

I saw Frankenstein...

I saw Frankenstein..."I, Frankenstein," I dare say; based on the acclaimed graphic novel of the same name (which alas, I've not had the opportunity to read). The film version is directed (and co-authored) by genre favorite, Stuart Beattie ("Pirates of the Carribean", "G.I. Joe", "Thirty Days of Night"). In that the Frankenstein Monster is my most beloved among classic literary and cinematic creatures, and that this particular story revolves around monster interactions, I felt obliged to offer a few words on it.

Aaron Eckhart, who gained considerably fame among imagi-movie buffs as Harvey Dent/Two Face in the Batman epic, "The Dark Knight", plays the Frankenstein Monster. Like Two Face, this particular Frankenstein has one side of his face predominately marred, but not to the drastic extent of Dent. In fact, his meandering scars are basically subtle and have evidently grown steadily inconspicuous over time. On this basis, even with what scarring remains, one gets the impression that women wouldn't be adverse to him, whether Elsa Lanchester's Bride or othewise. (He actually does have a lady friend in the movie, for what it's worth, compassionately portrayed by "Dexter'"s Yvonne Strahovski, but thankfully their relationship never plunges into unnecessary mush to bog down the story.)

This Frankenstein also goes by the first name, Adam, and why not? It was appropriate enough for Robert Rodan's Frankenstein-inspired monster on "Dark Shadows". Now that I think about it, Rodan's Adam was not that severely scarred either and did, in fact, have quite a female following among television viewers.
At any rate, Adam essentially keeps his distance from others (whether mortal or supernatural) early on in the plot. However, he eventually finds himself caught between two shape-shifting factions, the Christian-linked gargoyles and the selfish, hell-bent demons: both sides of which hold a keen interest in Adam's unique physiological constitution, hoping that through such, they may gain leverage in an age-old war. Though Adam initially reacts to the grand conflict apathetically, he learns a few important lessons about right and wrong along his arduous journey and ultimately embraces the gargoyles' holy pledge to hold humankind safe and secure.

Bill Nighy plays the demonic villain here and is damn good as such, but in truth with any role he's dealt (as we've surely witnessed with his Davey Jones portrayal in "Pirates..." and of course, as the ruthless "Underworld" vampire elder). Nonetheless, he plays off Eckhart's Frankenstein most effectively, and their exchanges are appropriately edgy (if not unfortunately too brief and few). 

Actually, "I, Frankenstein" is admirably graced by many such fine performances, including those of action-film staples Miranda Otto ("Lord of the Rings", "War of the Worlds") and Jai Courtney ("Spartacus", "Die Hard V", "Jack Reacher"). The film's look and feel is distinctly reminiscent of the "Underworld" series: foreboding, moody and sleek.

I don't know if "I, Frankenstein" will spawn a cinematic franchise. (The snobs' gleeful assessment of the film's lackluster opening weekend seems to indicate it won't.) It really doesn't matter, though. "I, Frankenstein" might just as well stand as a solo, experimental essay on good-vs-evil, and as with any Frankenstein movie, it will be assuredly revised as the years pass, living long after many high-brow critics' flavors-of-the-month have dipped deservedly into obscurity. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Collectible Time #3 - Spider-man, Batman for my Birthday!

For my birthday, got a couple more cool superhero collectibles, and so naturally, just wanted to share.

My in-laws, Faith and Ned, were most gracious to send me
a wood-based plaque reproduction of the famous, Wein/Romita/Andru "Amazing Spider-man #151" cover. It measures roughly 13" x 19": a pretty impressive scale in my estimation. As you can see from the grand design, the artwork is quite eye-catching, but then of course, the red/blue color scheme of classic Spidey has never failed to draw one in, even in a dark, brooding, water-crashing context. The contrast here is undeniably aesthetically pleasing!

My young co-workers surprised me with the below Batman figure: a stunning entry in the recent Kotobukiya DC Justice League line-up. The piece comes in an appealing, predominately clear plastic container and stands about 8". The detail on this one is arguably even grander than the fine image may convey, playing upon a black/silvery-gray format for the chiseled armor. In my opinion, this is one of the finest Cape Crusader representations currently available.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Collectible Time #2 - Flying Saucer Model Kit

Here's another nifty styrene kit I recently purchased from Z&Z: a George Adamski Flying Saucer!

The model is actually structured after Adamski's famous1952 photo, which was apparently debunked by a German scientist (look it up if you have a chance, and maybe even delve into Adamski's claim to have met with Orthon, the Venusian). Whether real or fabricated, it's sure an impressive looking craft and a most interesting subject for a kit. (Fans who fancy the saucer designs for "Devil Girl From Mars" and television's "The Invaders" might appreciate this one.)

Anyway, the manufactuer is named Atlantis; the model goes for about $40. (It would be neat if Atlantis would do a kit based on the legendary Kenneth Arnold design! I'd certainly jump at that.)

Fox's Sleepy Hollow Season 1 Finale

Got real anxious to post on the "Bad Blood" installment of Fox's very monster-based "Sleepy Hollow". The episode (the finale of the initial season) is exceptionally alternate-reality oriented. More precisely it grazes upon Bradbury's famous "Martian Chronicles" installment, "The Earth Men", while subtly implanting a decent dash of the Nexus concept from "Star Trek: Generations". In essence, Ichabod and Abbey enter Purgatory, and this version of the latter surely toys with one's mind, causing one to rekindle and sequelize sentimental parts of one's past--with of course, potential dire consequences.

John ("Fringe") Noble is especially effective in this installment. His presence as the "Sin Eater" has proven a welcome one to the popular series, even if his character's motive has been revealed as something other than what we were led to believe. That's okay. I, for one, always enjoy surprises.

Anyway, check out the episode if you can. For that matter, check out the entire season. If you like the likes of "Kolchak: the Night Stalker", "X-Files"..."Grimm" (and yarns that simultaneously pay homage to Washington Irving's classic tale, as well as presenting a supernatural take on the American Revolution), you'll find "Sleepy Hollow" every bit your cup of tea. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Collectible Time #1 - Neca Adam West Batman and Moebius Mars Attacks Martian

In passing, a few friends remarked upon my referenced collecting and suggested, if only for the fun of it, I might flesh such out, by adding a few postings over time of new (currently available) items that might prove of interest to you. Anyway, here it goes...

Above is the new 1/4 scale Neca Adam West Batman action-figure. It sports a startling resemblance to West and comes in dandy collectible box, as you can obviously see from the above imagery. In fact, I showed the piece to a few folks at work, and right down the line, it received nothing but rave reviews. I'm extremely pleased to have this piece in my Batman collection, since West is hands-down my childhood, television hero.

I saw Hercules ...

I saw Hercules...Renny Harlin's "The Legend of Hercules" with Kellan Lutz in the lead, that is, and though anything but a critics' favorite, I personally thought it hit the spot. So there, I admitted it. Sue me.

As a bloody rule of thumb, critics have never liked sword-and-sandal pictures, not the original, classic Steve Reeves "Hercules" or "Hercules Unchained", not the Reg Park epics that followed or the cultish Lou Ferrigno entries or the Sam Raimi/Kevin Sorbo "Legendary Journeys", let alone any of those that were in-between, or perhaps weren't even true Herc films at all, but just became such through clever dubbing.

Heck, now that I think about it, many renowned snobs have amazingly downplayed the masterful luster of even Harryhausen's "Jason and the Argonauts", which features (what do ya know?) good ol' Herc, or the Hallmark Paul Telfer mini-series of recent years that so boldly touched upon some of the actual harsh parts of the original mythology.

I could go on and on here, but my point is, I like this superheroic, mythological stuff. These sorts of films aren't generally profound or cinematic groundbreakers. They don't have to be. I appreciate that they merely offer a form of escapism, honorably distinguishing themselves from so many of those gosh-awful indie films,with their mushy, pretentious essays on relationships or worse yet, those that insensitively paint average working guys/gals as hopeless, misguided nit-wits. I've had my fill of that sort of crap--yes, crap that the critics so readily embrace. Well, pardon my French, but screw 'em one and all.

The new Herc has elements of "Gladiator" and Starz's "Spartacus" in it, feels a bit like the "Clash of the TItans" remake at times (and therefore, "Wrath of..."), though alas, without the glorious monsters, and it's basically a story about the son of Zeus getting stuck in an unfortunate situation (as will often happen, to varying degrees, to folks in real life). As should come as no surprise, our hero manages to kick butt to remedy his predicament (something that folks in real life don't often manage, but sure as hell would like to accomplish), and by gosh, by golly, I found the sincere simplicity of it ever so inspiring.

That "Legend of..." won't win any Oscars is a major plus in its favor. That some folks will snub it because it's not the in-thing is probably even more reason for me to support it. Also, that the critics will soon condemn the upcoming Dwayne Johnson Herc is just par for the course, and upon its release, I'll undoubtedly end up declaring, here we go again. So be it.

Anyway, it was cool to see a new theatrical Herc: good, bad or otherwise. Now that I think about it, I bet this one would play most effectively on a drive-in theater screen, just like the Reeves and Park movies generally did. Nonetheless, I saw the film in a flat format (not 3-D) at a local theater complex,and even that's okay with me. Despite it all, for about an hour-forty minutes, I was enthralled and didn't come away feeling down in the dumps the way I probably would have if I had seen something that was supposed to be good for me. That's more than enough for me to exclaim, Hip, Hip, Hooray! Long live "The Legend of Hercules"!!! I wholeheartedly intend to see it again and without an ounce of apology.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

David C. Smith's ... Dark Muse

Just felt compelled to post again, if only in that I purchased a copy of David C. Smith's "Dark Muse" for a friend and was suddenly inspired to revist my own. Now, maybe I'm being a bit biased, with David being a friend (and with Damnation Books giving me a shot with "Flask of Eyes"), but gosh, you really must plunge into "Dark Muse". It's ever so bloody engrossing: far more so than you might ever imagine. 

A good number of you are probably familiar with David's legendary sword-and-sorcery offerings, such as his co-authored "Red Sonja" romps with Richard Tierney. Others may have experienced the majestic, modern joys of "Fair Rules of Evil" or engaging passages of "Call of Shadows". "Dark Muse" is a change from such, being an all-out horror tale, but is no less invigorating for it, if you fancy dark, psychological excursions, that is.

The latter's plot is easy to empathize with, in an arguably very fundamental way. For example, have you ever gotten into a particular author's work, found it sensitive or sprawling, wondered what made the author tick, fashion the particular plot, because maybe there's something in his words that links you especially to the story, that even morbidly chills you in such a way that you can't help but want to meet the person who so boldly composed it? What if, though, you eventually discovered the author to be not so nice, maybe cruel, sadistic, someone unsavory from your past...perhaps, even a serial killer? What if, after you were introduced to such a character, he tenaciously stayed in contact with you, toyed with you, despite your wishes otherwise? Unsettling, eh?

In this instance, the premise revolves around a book editor named Jack, who receives a series of enthralling science-fiction and supernatural submissions from a Mystery Man writer. Jack becomes increasingly intrigued by the author's work, always excitedly anticipating new entries from him, which oddly enough, come postmarked from a number of spots around the country. Jack begins to believe this fellow to be the next big thing in story-telling, and for the sake of publishing his work, inevitably agrees to meet him. However, the Mystery Man has more on his mind than just sharing stories. As such, Jack eventually finds himself plummeting into a harrowing escapade of madness and fear, but hey, you'll just have to read the yarn yourself to see how masterfully it unfolds...

Truly, folks, "Dark Muse" hooks you right from the start, with snappy, philosophical dialogue and keeps you on edge right until the unsettling end, much like any good, Hitchcockian thriller would: a veritable "Psycho" or "Strangers on a Train", I dare say.

You can purchase copies of this wonderfully demented tour de' force by visiting, or heck, go right to the source at ...  (and while you're at it, check out Damnation's other cool, creepy offerings).

By the way, Damnation has a superb, audio commercial linked to its site, promoting "Dark Muse" in the old-time radio vein--with David performing one of the voices! It's extremely atmospheric!  (Also, isn't Dawne Dominique's cover imagry eerily fetching? Imagine the wonders she could do if enlisted to design a "Texas Chainsaw" poster!)

Anyway, hope you don't mind my unabashed promotion here of David's book, but truly, I just couldn't help myself. "Dark Muse" is absolutely that damn good. Check it out...then spread the word!!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wonderful, Magical Literary Elixirs II

I followed “Elixirs I” with a sequel (alas, its only), but limited the stories and expanded the wraparound this time, again with Steve supplying the atmospheric illustrations. In truth, the stories in this instance were written for Steve in mind (almost in a commissioned sort of vein); though one, “Of Summer Urges and Sweet, Balmy Blood”  (a coming-of-age yarn about ghouls) also incorporated my memories of Seaside Heights, NJ in the late 1960s, while the other was primarily inspired by Steve and, if I’m recalling matters correctly, his original intent to make a short monster movie with his friend, Dave Murray. Steve asked me to supply the story for such, and though the film never materialized, the idea yet led me to concoct “Space Monster”, wherein many of the lead character’s traits are based on Steve’s.  (For what it's worth, the monster’s design was  completely Steve's: based on a previous illustration he had fashioned of a Lovecraftian-type specimen.)

Incidentally, the lead character, a police officer who symbiotically harbors the monster, is named Kelton Wyndham: the first name a homage to Paul Marco’s beloved, bumbling cop from Ed Wood’s “Bride of the Monster”, “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and “Night of the Ghouls”, and Wyndham being a tribute to writer John Wyndham, who penned “Day of the Triffids” and “Midwitch Cuckoos”: the latter of which is the basis for the “Village of the Damned” and “Children of the Damned” movies.

The wraparound for “Elixirs II” focuses on a drive-in theater, and the stories that enfold emerge as movies upon the mystical, outdoor screen: indeed, a slightly different spin on the parenthesized concept of "Elixirs I".