Friday, February 28, 2014

Time Travel Time #3: Cyborg 2087

In my series of "Time Travel Time" ruminations, I'm slipping from a cinematic blockbuster ("Time Machine" 1960) to one of back-shelf obscurity: Franklin Adreon's "Cyborg 2087", released in 1966, starring Michael Rennie.

Like Rennie's famous spaceman Klaatu, in "Day the Earth Stood Still", his "Cyborg 2087" persona also tackles an important mission to pave Earth's destiny, but unlike with Klaatu, there's an edgier, more urgent element at play here.


Arthur C. Pierce's ahead-of-its-time script opens with Garth (Rennie), a cyborg fleeing via a time pod from 2087 to 1966 to prevent a "radio telepathy", mind-control invention that will eventually turn our social structure into a totalitarian state, wherein citizens will have no free thought and will be further controlled by more advanced mechanized humans, of whom Garth was designed.

The device's inventor is Dr. Sigmund Marx (Eduard Franz), and I'm speculating that his surname purposely connects to Cold War concerns of the time. Interestingly enough, Garth's intent is not to kill Marx, but rather to reason with him, so that he won't reveal his invention to those who are otherwise destined to exploit it.

Though it's only mentioned briefly in the film, it appears that a select few in Garth's realm have somehow broken from governmental influence, thanks to freedom fighters. It's also evident that the government has caught wind of the rebels' time-traveling plot and quickly implements one of its own: dispatching "Tracers" (cyborg police/soldier types) back in time to laser-blast Garth before he can fulfill his task.

In that Garth doesn't immediately meet Marx, he has time to converse with two of the professor's colleagues: Dr. Mason (the fetching Karen Steele, whom Trekkies will recall from "Mudd's Women") and Dr. Zeller (Warren Stevens, from Trek's "By Any Other Name" and of course, the science-fiction epic, "Forbidden Planet"). A skeptical sheriff (Wendell Corey) also engages in the escalating tension.

The interaction of the main characters nicely punctuates the plot, nurturing its sense of humanity. For example, Mason falls for Garth in the process of the proceedings, and though a mutual fondness mounts, in the end, both realize that, if Garth succeeds, the ripples of time will surely prevent them from ever staying together.

Overall, "Cyborg 2087" feels like a precursor to James Cameron's "Terminator", even though the former has never been attributed credit for such (but then, for a brief spell, such was also the case with Harlan Ellison's acclaimed "Outer Limits" episodes, "Solider" and "Demon with a Glass Hand"). "Cyborg 2087" holds equal similarities to Charles Band's "Trancers", which in its own clever right, is derivative of "Terminator", and therefore, also arguably links back to the Adreon film.

"Cyborg 2087" doesn't sport a big budget, and generally such blatantly shows, but it does have its heart in the right place: the story being empowered by human determination and ultimately, poignant sacrifice. Adreon also moves things along smoothly, offering just enough well-timed chase sequences (though primarily on foot) to bridge the often philosophical and scientific dialogue.

If you enjoy dystopian and time-travel tales, or if you're simply a Rennie fan, "Cyborg 2087" should prove a most engaging and thought-provoking diversion. It's readily available on YouTube or through any number of other prolific, movie sources. Give it a try. It'll surely leave you pleasantly satisfied.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Time Travel Time #2: Justice League Flashpoint Paradox

I purchased another Justice League animated movie: "The Flashpoint Paradox", based on the popular 2011 DC storyline.

By title alone, it's not hard to decipher this one to be Flash-focused, but the plot also concerns time travel and the creation of a violent "Twilight Zone-ish" alternate reality.

The strange events commence when Barry Allen, still grieving his mother's death, is unnerved by a snide remark made on the matter by his adversary, Professor Zoom, after a thwarted plot to blow up Central City. The next day, Barry wakes to find his mother still alive (a glorious surprise, to say the least), but that he's unfortunately devoid of his speedy attributes. He also encounters Batman, who is ever more embittered and in this instance, not Bruce Wayne, but rather his father, Thomas. (Apparently, in this reality, young Bruce was the one killed on that dark, fateful night.) Most unsettling, Wonder Woman's Amazons are engaged in a full-scale war against Aquaman's Atlanteans: the repercussions of which could very well destroy the planet.

Amazingly enough, Barry is able to convince Thomas to help him reinstate the old reality, assuring him that Bruce was alive and well in the dimension from which he left. The question is: how exactly are they going to set things back on track? For that matter, how did these confusing circumstances manifest in the first place? It seems logical to assume that the crafty Professor Zoom traveled back in time and caused a Bradbury-like "Sound of Thunder" rift...or did he?

The ultimate answers arise through an ample amount of tension and intrigue, with variations of many of our favorite heroes and villains appearing throughout: Captain Atom, Captain Cold, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane...Superman, though in quite an unexpected and startling form.

Although several of the parallel personas are quite disturbing (Wonder Woman, particularly), I liked "Flashpoint" tremendously. It's fast-paced (as any Flash yarn should inherently be), intelligently adult-oriented and above all, effectively mind-warping. (It'll surely make a splendid addition to the recently released "Justice League War", which I also enthusiastically recommend.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Time Travel Time #1: The Time Machine (1960)

With my posts, I’ve been dancing around the more obvious, established movies, assuming most folks know them inside-out, and (give or take) focusing instead on obscure cinematic offshoots. In this regard, there seemed little reason to acknowledge one of the biggest science-fiction film adaptations ever made, and yet I was shocked to learn recently that some of my younger acquaintances have never seen “The Time Machine” (’60 version), let alone were even aware of its monumental existence.

In fact, the first big-screen adaptation of “Time Machine” proved such a sensation that its director, George Pal (one of the most significant forces in the science-fiction/fantasy genre—and please, please don’t dare utter you've never heard his name, because damn it, that's just plain absurd), even considered producing a sequel to his hit. (A novel follow-up to such eventually emerged, as well as a making-of documentary/sequel epilogue, featuring its stars, Rod Taylor, Whit Bissell and Alan Young, in ’93.)

Now, I certainly don’t think I need to rehash H.G. Well’s novella here, for it's what Pal spiritually captured, with of course, certain modifications that strongly persuaded pop-culture perceptions of the text for a very long duration (arguably even up to present). 

For example, as most (hopefully) know, Pal’s version of the Eloi are blond, not hairless, and the white-haired, green-skinned Morlocks are what in-the-know folks generally conjure when the term is referenced.

Also, there’s an amorous spark between Taylor’s Time Traveler (in this instance, named George, in honor of Wells) and pretty, little Eloi, Weena (Yvette Mimieux), whereas in the novella, their relationship is like that of father and daughter, and even that's stretching it some; nonetheless, the movie’s love element evidently more than achieved its goal, for other “Time Machine” filmmakers have made it a point to reinstate such in their own adaptations.

Perhaps the most currently visible remnant of Pal’s vision can be found in the steampunk movement. Just take one look at Taylor’s refurbished, barber chair, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Pal’s “Time Machine” is touching, exciting, adventurous, and though normally I don’t give two hoots about such things, it even won an Oscar for best special effects—and most deservedly so. When you watch the movie, you’ll certainly understand why—and keep in mind, all the razzmatazz was done for a fraction of the budget that modern (less effective) visuals cost.

Though other versions of Wells' tale also prove engaging (that is, the ’02 edition, directed by Well’s great grandson, Simon, and I dare say, the sadly maligned Classics Illustrated ’78 pilot), this adaptation is the one that set the standard, its influence being so profound that it even led Ib Melchoir to write/direct “Time Travelers”, which in turn influenced "Journey to the Center of Time", but prior to such, triggered Irwin Allen's ever popular “Time Tunnel” series. ("Time Machine'"s opening segment also inspired “Twilight Zone’”s most popular intro.)

Please, please, please, do me a favor—hell, do yourself a favor—and give this one a keen look if you’ve not already done so. It’s one you need to know, need to see, need to care about, and after you watch it, you'll surely become one of its greatest defenders.

PS: A word to the wise…Wells’ novella is also worth experiencing. Don’t deprive yourself of it. It’s a classic for good reason, as you’ll undoubtedly realize as soon as you absorb its pages.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I saw RoboCop: new and prior...

To some (particularly the current, overly devote video-game sect), 1987 is a strange, archaic year. To me, however, it seems just like yesterday: if only on a purely personal level, a better time and place than the flimsy, uncertain present. In fact, I'm not ashamed to say that I often recall '87 and feel very much at home in its sentimentalized presence. With this said, a remake of the '87 classic, "RoboCop", initially struck me as unnecessary, especially since the Paul ("Total Recall") Verhoeven entry still seems distinctly fresh in my mind, existing perpetually in the here-and-now.

This isn't so extraordinary, I suppose. The original film led to a prolific continuation of the character (and an extension of the general groundwork laid by the first film) over several decades, launching two theatrical sequels, two weekly/daily television shows (a weekly live-action version, a mini-series, and animated version), plus three comic-book lines: the initial by Marvel, the latest by Avatar Press, with Dark Horse's incarnation somewhere in-between, which at one point even catapulted our hero into the Terminator universe, in a legendary time-travel/parallel universe yarn penned by Frank ("RoboCop 2") Miller.

A long list of actors, who still seem very current to me, have never let the gallant, Detroit-based cyborg fall out of favor: Peter ("Naked Lunch") Weller; Robert ("Thinner") Burke; Richard ("Santa Barbara") Eden, and Page ("The Hitchhiker") Fletcher. In this regard, I thought, why not just do another sequel or series featuring yet another actor (or even get Weller back) instead of a reboot? Why retell the tale simply to insert RoboCop into the new scheme of things, when the old scheme mirrors much of what is happening now anyway?

However, after some serious rumination on the matter, I concluded that RoboCop's revamped return is simply and obviously required for the otherwise hollow (and politically wrangled) present. In essence, we need him, whether in old or refurbished form, and a new movie would certainly make him pertinent to those sadly out-of-the-loop.

Joel ("The Killing") Kinnaman now occupies the titular role of Officer Alex Murphy: the cop-destined-to-be-transformed by high-tech Omnicorp (ersatz, Omini Consumer Products). Kinnaman's performance is sensitive yet determinately charged, also more fluid than the original interpretation, in that he initially retains his identity, which effectively lingers until his emotional faculties are abruptly halted. It's from there that we become emphatically involved as he re-conjures his emotions, while pursuing the villains who not only disfigured him, but who also place Detroit's citizens at risk with a gun-trafficking scam.
Additionally, Murphy's mechanized movements are considerably quicker this time around. As such, his armor is symbolically sleeker, with an insinuated Marvel's Venom look, particularly when painted black (though I dare say, as awe-inspiring as the new look is, I never felt Rob Bottin's design ever needed revision). Murphy also gets around via a sharp-looking cycle, as opposed to the police car he originally used.

To further enhance the atmosphere, Jose ("Elite Squad") Padilha's revisionist take is affluently graced by action-genre giants: Batman movie alumni, Michael ("Beetlejuice") Keaton and Gary ("Bram Stoker's Dracula") Oldman, along with Samuel ("Marvel's Avengers") Jackson and Jackie Earle ("Watchmen") Haley.

Perhaps it's good that these respected thespians are entwined in this refashioning, for the cast of the original surely exists on higher, cinematic level, with the likes of Weller (to many the definitive RoboCop); Nancy ("Carrie") Allen; Miguel ("Iron Man 3") Ferrer; Kurtwood ("That 70s Show") Smith; Ray ("Swamp Thing") Wise; Dan ("Halloween III") O'Herlihy and (in what was a big departure from his good-guy image) Ronnie ("Deliverance") Cox. Their collective presence, along with Verhoeven's super-charged direction, Basil Poledouris' memorably majestic score (and those superb, dry-humored Ed209 moments) still make the original film hard (if not utterly impossible) to rival. Somehow or other, though, Padilha comes surprisingly close.  

In other respects, though, Padilha's approach distinctly differs from Verhoeven's, and even that of Irvin ("Empire Strikes Back") Kirshner's initial sequel, with the famed, quirky humor considerably downplayed, replaced by a harsh seriousness and sanitized aura. Still in the end, we are confronted with a traditional tale that emphasizes the individual over rigid conformity: a world wherein a distinction between good and bad is defined against insurmountable and often confusing odds, all thanks to our mechanized guardian.

Though the '87 "RoboCop" will affectionately remain my favorite among the character's many outings, the remake fits nicely into his continued saga stream. As in the past, I stalwartly believe in RoboCop for what he represents--has, in fact, always unswervingly represented--a human passionately propelled to do right. The new version proudly embodies this ideal, and I'm confident to say (whether the reboot ultimately proves a hit or miss among the general public, which currently seems to prefer heartless, light material for its cinema sojourns), we certainly haven't seen the last of our cyborg savior.  Rest assured: come hell or high water, RoboCop will return...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Collectible Time #4: Superman, Justice League and Avengers for Valentine's...

In answer to the magnificent Kotobukiya Batman, which my coworkers graciously gave me for my birthday, my wife, Donna, surprised me with an early Valentine's present--the Kotobukiya JL Superman!!!

As you can undoubtedly see, like Batman, this modern-age rendition of good ol' Kal-El is a real eye-catcher, with the costume resembling (at least at a glance) Henry Cavill's from "Man of Steel", though with unmistakable metallic blue and red sheens and a dash of gold in lieu of the crest yellow. The face is distinctly Superman, as well.

I'll tell you, having this and the Kotobukiya Batman, really gets me even more hyped for the upcoming Batman/Superman movie, not to mention the inevitable live-action JL cinematic incarnation!!!

...Speaking of JL (and the Kotobukiya represented look of its members), I just purchased the latest WB animated version: "Justice League War".

Based on the recent comic-book retelling of the League's origin, "War" depicts how Batman, Green Lantern and Superman discover the mounting phases of a Darkseid invasion, which ultimately leads other classic superheroes (Captain Marvel--in this incarnation referred in name by the magical label, "Shazam"; Cyborg--who gets a ground-up genesis; plus the already firmly established Flash and Wonder Woman) to join the noble cause.

The story angle in this instance is more cynical than in other origin tales, wherein the broadcast medium and general public are definitely less than appreciative of our heroes' valiant efforts. Indeed, such is a sad reflection of our current state of affairs where heroes are too often unjustly vilified and villains too often granted an approving nod. Nonetheless, in the end, JL triumphs, not because its members crave adoration or thanks, but rather because fighting evil is simply the right thing to do.

...Oh, and regardng another most righteous superhero team, my in-laws, Faith and Ned (on the heels of that great Spider-man plaque they sent), surprised me with a companion piece, which arrived just prior to Valentine's Day--Marvel's Avengers #143 (Jan '76).

Talk about breathtaking visuals!!! It's especially satisfying to witness this particular grouping, with Captain America, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and the Vision (in the final phase of a crackling Kang, the Conquerer, time-tripping yarn); plus swooping in from yet another monumental team, the Uncanny
X-Men--the eloquently powerful Beast!!!  What a glorious blast from the past!!!

As you can well imagine, it took me no time at all to display this fetching piece upon the wall!!!

Monster Team-up Reflection #4: Wolfman vs Dracula

I get a kick out of the alternate-history idea of movies and franchises…generally. I guess it comes down to how bad I might feel once I learn I’ve been fooled. Fortunately, I leapt in on the Orson Welles Batman movie-hoax well after it was exposed. On the other hand,  when I once searching for some general King Kong info, I came across what appeared to be a new film on the making of Dino Kong, starring Danny DeVito as De Laurentiis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Rick Backer, I thought--gosh, oh-gee, a monster-movie "Fitzcaraldo! This is going to be mega-cool, only then to be devastatingly disappointed to find it only an affable ploy.
Now we have a series of "altnerate-history" scripts that have emerged (some reportedly early drafts or unfilmed concepts) courtesy of author Phillip J. Riley, with the concensus of one in particular being questionable; though, indeed, "Wolfman vs Dracula" may have truly stemmed from actual Universal Studios consideration, since it appears (based on at least one informative blog I read), the NY Times reported the studio green-lighting such as a Technicolor follow-up to "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" in early 1944. However, as often happens with such ambitious prospects (e.g., Willis O'Brien's "King Kong vs Frankenstein" and RKO's "Mighty Joe Young Meets Tarzan"), it is only ever the grand premise that seems to have emerged and not a full-fledge script.
What Riley presents (with the common belief being that he composed the manuscript himself) is attributed to scriptwriter Bernard Schubert: something which certainly jives with the NY Times article. Schubert, incidentally, scripted Tod Browning's "London After Midnight" remake, "Mark of the Vampire", with Lugosi, and would go on to script "Frozen Ghost" and "Mummy's Curse", both starring Chaney Jr.
Important note: many have criticized the opening of "Mummy's Curse" for commencing with Kharis and Ananka emerging from a Louisiana bog, whereas the previous entry, "Mummy's Ghost", ends twenty-five years prior, with the two descending into a Massachusetts swamp. That the "Wolf vs Drac" script opens with Talbot's preserved body found in a location other than the collapsed Castle Frankenstein (the site where "Frank Meets Wolf" ends, and rather in a spot closer to Talbot's circumstance at the end of "House of Frank") arguably fits into Schubert's continuity style, and maybe this plot device is contained in "Wolf vs Drac" for this very in-the-know reason. (Also, the script has Dracula enter the story already resurrected; his return from dormancy never remotely explained.)
Despite the missing bridges between events in "Frank Meets Wolf" to "Wolf vs Drac", the latter projects a familiar, Universal story structure, with dialogue that matches Talbot and Dracula perfectly, to the point where I could actually hear Chaney Jr. and Lugosi's voices in my head as I read.
Also, the story brings Talbot and Dracula gradually together via seemingly fated means, with Talbot transmforing after being awakened from suspended animation and trekking to the vicinity of an executioner's home. Since Tablot can only be killed by a silver bullet when in werewolf form, he ultimately requests the hangman to perform the ghastly deed, but the poor man is reluctant, thinking Talbot mad. The hangman's daughter, meanwhile, is being courted by none other than Count Dracula. (Evidently, her father doesn't object to Dracula's suspicious advances, realizing that other male villagers will not entertain marrying his daughter, simply because they hold a superstitious aversion to his morbid occupation.)
In hopes of prompting the father into killing him, Talbot runs off with the young lady, and they return wedded. Dracula naturally takes offense to this brash move, and from there, his adversarial relationship with Talbot mounts, ultimately culminating in an inevitable confrontation, with Talbot gallantly defending his new love, while Dracula adapts full man-bat form.
Indeed, the man-bat concept is reminiscent of Gary Oldman's brief, but memorable transformation in "Bram Stoker's Dracula", as well as Greg Wise's demon-bat persona in "House of Frank '97", and of course, smacks of the infamous Batman villain/monster. (I must wholeheartedly confess that I boldly play upon the idea in my upcoming novel, "Flask of Eyes", with the lead vampire also adapting a similar hybrid look.) 
The latter device does seem rather modern, though, and not so much in synch with Universal's otherwise bat-morphing approach to the vampire king, but if it had been implemented, it would have proven most interesting to see what Jack Pierce's make-up/suit may have looked like for Lugosi (or even his possible stand-in), or if the flying sequences were pulled off, whether animation or puppetry would have been utilized.
Anyway, genuine Schubert or not, I found "Wolf vs Drac" a fun read, though I must confess, the ending, despite its bristling energy, wasn't quite what I expected. Nonetheless, I was able to fashion another Universal, Chaney/Lugosi flick in my head. That, in itself, makes Riley's offering worth a whirl, and for the breezy time in which it took to read, I found my time more than well spent.

Monster Team-Up Reflection #3: Return of the Vampire

I got to chatting with some friends about my blogs, about "Flask of Eyes", about monster team-ups. It's the in-thing with me now, and sometimes I'll get requests to go down conversational memory lane, especially if a film is a favorite among those with whom I'm conversing.

As such, I was asked not just to converse about, but to do a blog overview of 1944's "Return of the Vampire": an indisputable monster team-up, featuring both a vampire and werewolf in what could very well be that year's answer to the allegedly proposed Universal "Wolfman vs Dracula", which if there was any serious hope of filming it, may have been a tad redundant in wake of this particular production.

Directed by Lew Landers, who had previously helmed the Lugosi/Karloff 1935 Poe-inspired classic, "The Raven". "Return" is worthy of inclusion in any Universal monster-movie collection, except that it wasn't produced by Universal, but rather Columbia Pictures, with the initial intent that it be a "Dracula"/"Dracula's Daughter" sequel, but due to copyright entanglements, it was revamped (pun intended) into just something very reminiscent of such.

In this instance, Lugosi plays Armand Tesla/Hugo Bruckner (that latter being his cover) every bit in the style of his classic count, for that was always the intent. In fact, one can simply bend one's brain and pretend that both names are aliases for Dracula, and if so, this certainly predates the concept of Jonathan Rhys Meyers' Drac as Alexander Grayson (in NBC's recent "Dracula" series) by a good seventy years!

Regardless of name, Lugosi is in top, parasitic form (just as he is in Browning's "Mark of the Vampire" and later in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frank", though in that instance, clearly with an air of levity). He deftly plays his part with the traditional Dracula finesse, exuding eloquent menace. On this basis alone, "Return" becomes a veritable Dracula movie, and along with the splendid black-and-white cinematography and Universal-like story structure, reaches a level of respectiabilty that it may have missed if not for Lugosi's regal presence.

Embellishing Lugosi's performance is Matt Willis, whose engaging and sympathetic Andreas Obry proves a most fascinating lycanthrope: a hybrid of Chaney's Larry Talbot/Wolf Man and Henry Hull's Wilfred Glendon/Werewolf of London. Like the former, Willis sports a densely haired make-up (reminiscent of Jack Pierce's design for Chaney and arguably an unintentional forerunner to the larger-crowned look of Michael Landon's Teen Wolf); however, Willis' Andreas speaks as Hull's lycanthrope did, being not so much animalistic, but instead sharply cognitive and in his own special way, alluringly whispery. Unfortunately, it's never explained, in the context of film's mythology, whether this is a natural feature of lycanthropy, or if Lugosi's Tesla has simply granted Andreas the human attribute via his mesmeristic powers. (Andreas can also remain a werewolf in daylight, if Tesla so chooses, or so that's the implication.) Nonetheless, that Andreas verbally converses with his "master" is hands-down one of this psuedo-sequel's most endearing qualities and undoubtedly distinguishes it from being merely a well-intended Dracula knock-off.

The plot has two vampire resurrection points: one during WWI, the other during WWII. These war-time elements would have given this would-be Drac a more modern flair to audiences at the time of release, and yet either backdrop has little bearing on the ultimate plot, which unfurls as follows: Via a flashback/prologue in England during WWI, Tesla is currently on the bloodthirsty prowl, assisted by his werewolf henchmen, Andreas. Ultimately, Tesla is found and staked to death by Van Helsing-like Dr. Saunders (Gilger Emery) and the lovely Dr. "Lady Jane" Ainsely (Frieda Inescort). (Hey, I wonder if this Lady Jane is the namesake for Victoria Smurfit's in NBC's "Drac"--oh, well, just something else to frivolously ponder.)

Twenty-three years pass from the point of Tesla's execution and Andrea's release from his spell, and upon Saunders' death, his notes on the Tesla affair are discovered by the astute Sir Frederick Fleet (Miles Mander) of Scotland Yard, who assumes Saunders and Lady Jane killed a mere mortal--not an evil, supernatural being--in misguided desperation. As such, Lady Jane, who is now helms a respected British clinic, may be tried for murder. Andreas, who has been seemingly cured of lycanthropy, ironically acts as Lady Jane's faithful assistant.
As Fleet's investigation progresses, the Nazis bomb Britain, including the cemetery where Tesla is entombed. As such, his body is found and the stake in his heart, which is assumed to a consquence of the raid, is removed, thus resurrecting him. With this, Tesla resumes his blood-thirsty ways (ultimately going after Lady Jane's son and his bethrowed, who Tesla once nibbled upon when she was a little girl), but under the guise of Dr. Hugo Bruckner (a name stolen from a scientist who has fled a Nazi concentration camp). Tesla ultimately mesmerizes Andreas, thus reactivating his lycanthropy, againn using him as his conniving henchmen. It is now up to Lady Jane and Sir Frederick (who gradually comes to doubt Bruckner's credibility) to halt Tesla's reign.

To learn precisely how the rest of the story unfolds, you'll just have to watch the movie, for it seems unjust of me to spoil the story here, or you can simply visit those sites that detail the entire plot, if you wish. I will say this, in the end, Andreas does have a poignant moment of clarity, prompting him to rebel against his "master", in one of the film's most memorable sequences. (The final frames also smack a tinge of  end of  Universal's "Son of Drac" from the year prior.)

I wonder how the initial rough draft(s) of "Return" played out, and if the prologue was different than filmed: maybe more a throw-back to Tod Browning's '31 film (or even "Drac's Daughter"), as opposed to a WWI intro. Indeed, there came a point, when the execs at Columbia realized they weren't going to officially sequelize Dracula, and as such, I'm certain a fair sum of related similarities to the Universal approach were abandoned during the rewrite(s). (It also seems obvious that Armand Tesla was a nod to Siberian inventior, Nikola Tesla, and as such, much of the film's scientific references are inspirationally linked to such and may not have been plot devices otherwise.)

If Universal had truly followed up "Frankenstein Meets Wolfman" with a technicolor "Wolfman vs Drac" sequel, as some claim was once the ardent plan, I doubt it would have mirrored "Return" on all levels. It seems unlikely that Talbot's reaction to the Count would have been as comopliant as Andreas', and that Talbot in wolf form would certainly not have vocalized, but in the vast, imaginative configuration of things, who knows? Anyway, we can only speculate and pretend how an actual "Wolf vs Drac" script would have handled such a teaming. (I'm actually quite curious to see how Philip J. Riley's alternate-history script to "Wolf vs Drac" tends to the concept, or is it, as some believe, truly a bonafide Bernard "Mummy's Curse" Schubert script? The fun debate goes on...)

At any rate, official or unofficial (sequel or stand-alone), "Return" is a fine, stylish entry for anyone who appreciates Lugosi/Dracula and vampires/werewolves in general. If you've never had a chance to experience it, especially if you're a Universal monster fan, trust me--it's well worth sinking your teeth into!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monster Team-Up Reflection #2: Story of Drac, Wolf and Frank LP

Lots of folks around my age surely recall those wondrous Power Records selections back in the '70s. Power Records offered a large range of fantastic, pop-cultural adaptations of favorite stories and characters, ranging from "Planet of the Apes" to "Six Million Dollar Man". As a youngster, I frequently re-played such engaging recordings as the introspective Captain America/Falcon romp, "A Phoenix Shall Arise" and the powerfully poignant Man-Thing classic, "Night of the Laughing Dead". 

These recordings were done in the old-time-radio vein, with a number of actors offering the voices, accompanied by comic-books that one could read-along to as the discs played. (Little beeps would signal one to turn the page, in case one's mind wandered, which was unlikely to happen, considering how enthralling these stories were in both their audio and visual aspects.)

Power Records also offered an astonishingly good monster team-up LP in '75, verbosely entitled, "A Story of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein", which I recently revisited, still being on my evident monster team-up kick. The title (as it appears on the front-cover artwork) is, in fact, a tad inaccurate, due to one of the plot twists, but nonetheless, this is a monster-icon merging irrevocably worthy of consumption, combining elements of Universal and Hammer lore, with the tone of such '70s entries as Dan Curtis' classic monster adaptations and even the epic, "Frankenstein: the True Story."

The rollicking yarn kicks off with Frankenstein's nephew/assistant, Vincent, on the run with his curvaceous finance, Ericka, only to found by a mysterious, but seemingly helpful stranger, who on the recording has a distinct Lugosi-like accent and a stark resemblance to Bram Stoker's literary, legendary blood-sucker. (Gosh, wonder who he might be...)

The man invites the couple to his castle, but then reveals he motive: he has already recreated the Frankenstein laboratory, but is struggling to emulate the notorious experiment successfully. With Vincent in his grasp, he can accomplish this. As such, he keeps Ericka captive, while Vincent is forced to construct a new monster, who upon awakening, finds poor Ericka and tosses her out a window.

Though initially assumed dead, Ericka is found unconscious by a couple of dim-witted men and their grandmother: an old gypsy woman named Maleva, who though named after Maria Ouspenskaya's "Wolf Man" character, is nowhere near as kind or gentle. She soon plunges Ericka into a Cinderella-like hell, with no apparent hope of escape...

Eventually, the surprise lycanthrope rears its furry head (and yet another emerges on top of that). Drac and the Monster ultimately engage in an intense fight, until all is seemingly settled, with Vincent and Ericka happily reunited.

Neal Adams (who fashioned some of the very best Batman images of the '70s) illustrated this one. Peter ("Speed Racer"/"Ultraman") Fernandez can be heard on the recording, as well as on other Power Records adventures. 

I must say, as a kid, this one sure played like a movie in my mind, and even insinuates a sequel in its final panels, which alas never materialized. (Gosh, it really would have been cool if another had been done, perhaps having incorporated Jekyll/Hyde, maybe even the Invisible Man and/or the Mummy!)

You can actually tap into the recording and images via YouTube. There are also some tribute/mini-review samplings available throughout the web.

Anyway, give "Story of Drac, Wolf and Frank" a whirl when you can. It'll give you a swell taste of '70s pop-culture, as well as ample, fun-filled time with variations on some your very favorite, famous monsters!