Saturday, June 14, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #15: Al Adamson/Sam Sherman's Dracula vs Frankenstein

Al Adamson/Sam Sherman's "Dracula vs Frankenstein" really doesn't require any elaborate exposure among my readership. It's as popular in some respects as the Universal and Toho monster team-ups. In fact, as a marketing gimmick, the film was ballyhooed for recapturing the former's glory, but in truth, "Drac vs Frank" is a specialized product of its '71 time frame, despite featuring J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr and Kenneth Strickfaden's Frankenstein workshop props. In this respect, "Drac vs Frank" feels very much in tune with the works of Jess Franco, Paul Naschy and greatly smacks of Sherman's Independent International "Blood Island" franchise.

That "Drac vs Frank" doesn't deftly match the Universal style isn't surprising, since the film wasn't originally designed as a monster team-up. It initially went under the title, "Blood Freaks/Blood Seekers" (a quasi biker/horror flick). Nevertheless, it was from the "Blood" footage that Chaney's appearance was allegedly culled, with Naish eventually re-entering the scene (as an official, wheel-chaired Frankenstein descendant) to strengthen the new format. 

Sam Sherman/William Pugsley's story revolves around Frankenstein sending forth his mute, axe-armed henchmen, Groton (Chaney), to slay young women, who he then reassembles for implied resurrection. Meanwhile, Dracula (Zandor "Brain of Blood" Vorkov, aka Robert Engel) pays the doctor a surprise visit one night, promising to assist him with his gruesome tinkering and presenting the Monster (John "Incredible Two-Headed Transplant" Bloom), whom one of Frankenstein's colleagues (Famous Monsters editor, Forrest J Ackerman) had sneakily stored away. Dracula also hints to Frankenstein that he will help the mad genius gain revenge on those peers who have crippled and ridiculed him.

Regina Carrol (Adamson's lovely wife and star of many similar exploitation efforts) portrays a Vegas showgirl (which she was in actuality), who goes in search of her sister: one of Groton's victims. Along the way, she meets a mature bohemian, Anthony "Hawaiian Eye" Eisley, who is already wary of the doctor's activities and eager to expose them.

On the supporting side, Russ "Satan's Sadists" Tamblyn portrays a biker who rules the hippy-haven setting, while Bela Lugosi co-star, Angelo Rossitto plays an edgy, scene-stealing barker and as such, tremendously enhances the ominous atmosphere.

Adamson's direction is competently smooth, though the original ending shot was changed by Sherman, with new footage added after-the-fact (and Bloom replaced by Shelly Weiss). The ending attached to the film is rather notorious among horror fans, but the original concept seems more in line with the older films that "Drac vs Frank" purportedly tries to emulate and would have acted as a better springboard for a sequel, if such were ever to have emerged. (Incidentally, Adamson did promise such before his untimely death.)

Paul Glickman and Gary Graver's cinematography strikingly captures the bright boardwalk sequences. William Lava's score is also effective, though sparsely used, often taking a backseat to catchy contemporary tracks.

As it stands, "Drac vs Frank" is a would-be attempt at stealing a style it could never truly hope to recreate. That's okay. It instead comes across as a hip, psychedelic ride, and for those who have absorbed its televised showings, it remains a favorite, even if it doesn't generally gain consistent accolades. Again, that's okay. This one belongs with the likes of  "Count Yorga, Vampire", "Blacula" and "Fury of the Wolfman": low-budget, labors of love that habitually lured audiences to their local drive-ins and despite it all, utterly entertained. Indeed, watching "Drac vs Frank" in the privacy of one's living room may not fully recapture the glory of such times, but it's sure as hell a step in the right direction. Indulge, my friends, indulge!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Collectible Time #8: A Tale of Two Caesars/Neca's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" Caesar and Bandai's King Caesar

Lucked out again and obtained an action figure tie-in well in advance of the film's release. This one's a lot smaller than the Jumbo Godzilla I purchased, but in detail, equally stunning. 

It's Neca's 7" representation of Andy Serkis' Caesar, as he'll appear in the upcoming parallel-tracked, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." As many of you have seen from the trailers, the mythic ape sports facial/body paint this time around.

Above is a image of the unsealed piece (holding the otherwise packaged accompanying spear): embellished by an appropriate, forest exterior. 

Long live Caesar's reign (as well as the continued success of such magnificent tie-ins to bolster the always thought-provoking Apes franchise)!!!

Also, by a magnificent stroke of fortune, I purchased Bandai's 6" vinyl King Caesar (Kingu Shisa) of  Toho/Godzilla fame: not that this is a hot-off-the-line action figure by any means; it simply caught my eye this time, after I grabbed the Neca Caesar, and for thematic purposes, demanded I possess it.

Introduced in "Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla" ('74)--a film, I might add, that shamelessly flaunts "Planet of..." type simians--King Caesar acts as an ally against Godzilla's robotic counterpart. He'd later appear in "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004), but alas, only fleetingly and contrary to character.

As one can see above, this particular Caesar embodies the essence of the shisa mythology: a glorious hybrid of canine and lion. Just look at that striking sneer and those stylish ears.

Thank you, Fate, for directing me from one legendary Caesar to another. Once more, I'm eclectically fulfilled!!!

Friday, June 6, 2014

I saw the Killer Shrews...Return!!!

At long last, a sequel to Ken Curtis/Ray Kellogg's drive-in classic, "The Killer Shrews" is here, in Steve "Planet Raptor" Latshaw's aptly titled, "Return of the Killer Shrews".

As such, Thorne Sherman, the intrepid captain of "Shrew Island" is also back, with James Best (best known to "Twilight Zone" fans for his crafty performances in "Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank" and "Jess-Belle"), reprising his role; and with him are two "Dukes of Hazzard" co-stars, Rick Hurst, as his trusty first-mate, and John Schneider as the hot-shot, television personality, John Reno.

It's really Reno's clout that initiates the adventure, as he intends to use the island as the hub of a "Wild Safari" reality show. He hires Sherman to sail the crew there, and in that the captain assumes the original shrews simply starved to death without a supply of human flesh, he obliges, figuring he and his first mate can make a few bucks off the deal.

Best, though obviously older and far less energetic than in his first outing, still impressively holds his own, despite not always being the focus. In this regard, unlike in various big-budget Hollywood ventures where an older personality may make only a fleeting appearance, the filmmakers in this instance know Best is a sentimental favorite and the essential crossover between chapters, even inserting flashbacks of him from the first film. 

Additionally, Best shares writing credit on the script, along with Latshaw and Pat Moran and Patrick Moran (yep, we're talking two different individuals here, with the latter playing a supporting part in the film). Anyway, it's a most impressive credit for the veteran star and another reason why fans should pursue the sequel. (Additionally, Dorothy, Best's wife, is one of the film's producers.)

On the villainous side, the unfairly underrated Bruce ("Willard"/"X-Men") Davison plays the edgy Jerry Farrell (originally portrayed by Ken Curtis--God rest his soul), who's been manically nurturing the ferocious vermin for roughly five decades. Davison's take is frenetically quirky, adding just enough of that Willard Stiles "Tear Him Up!" fervor to keep the shrews in line (well, more or less). His character is also, for all intents and purposes, reminiscent of a "Blood Island" madman (only crazed up a few notches), which should not only please traditional "Shrew" fans, but also the Eddie Romero/John Ashley sect.

The plot is simple, even if sometimes a tad too comedic for its own good, with crew members being bumped off in the slasher-film vein. Some saucy titillation even bridges the deaths: a lusty, visual contrast to the monstrous, computerized shrews, which basically look the same, though I must confess, I prefer the original's disguised canines. 

Like the recent "Giant Gila Monster" remake (see my previous post), "Return" admirably hammers the exploitative nail: not a great film by a long shot, but the sort that would have surely made the prolific rounds if drive-ins were still widespread. Too bad Best and the gang didn't conjure this one sooner, but then, for the Best things in life (ha, ha), a long wait can often prove well worth it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I saw the Giant Gila Monster...Remade!!!

I recently had the good fortunate to catch (at long bloody last!) Jim Wynorski's remake of the Ken Curtis/Ray Kellogg drive-in classic, "The Giant Gila Monster." The new version is called "Gila!" and much to my content, pretty much mirrors the original (a personal favorite, I might add), at least in spirit and zeal. 

In fact, like the original, this one's also low-budget and proudly hip, with Brian "2001 Maniacs" Gross playing Don Sullivan's most famous role (and that's not to take anything away from "Monster of Piedras Blancas", "Teenage Zombies" or "Rebel Set"), as the amiable hot rodder/mechanic, Chase Winstead. This Chase doesn't sing much, but he's friends with the conscientious Sheriff Parker (Terence "Children of the Corn II" Knox) and has a gracious girlfriend named Lisa (Madeline Voges), though this time without the French accent. Most significantly, he has a knack for combating mutant lizards!

In this instance, toxic waste is defined as the creature's cause, with workers dumping barrels of such in a cave, just outside a small (Texan?) town. When the giant Gila appears, it's computerized, but just as a real Gila was unpretentiously "magnified" for the Curtis/Kellogg classic, the new version stomps shamelessly about in the sunlight: never once concealed by fog, mist or rain, as is the case generally with behemoths in bigger budgeted films. Indeed, when this specimen strikes, you damn well know it!

Quaint and quirky characters punctuate the monstrous proceedings, with Rich "Amityville Horror" Komenich as Sherwood Compton, Winstead's tipsy, survivalist boss, and Gerard "Monster Cruise" Pauwels as the cantankerous Mayor Norbert Wheeler (named after an equally surly chap from the original). Chase Adams and Callie Burk are warmly convincing as Winstead's young friends, Elsa and Pike, with Wynorski favorite, Kelli "Chopping Mall" Maroney, as Wilma, the dippy deputy. Good, ol' Don Sullivan even makes a cool cameo, indirectly attributing a spot of green slime to the mammoth reptile.

Back on the lead-character front, Chase faces an old, junior-high rival, the wayward Waco Bob (Jessie "Cry Wolf" Janzen), who's accompanied by his sultry, but wise-acre gal, Carla (Playboy's "After Hours Babe", Christina DeRosa), who during a sock hop, belts a mean cover of "Fever".

For what it's worth, "Gila!" is full of such golden oldies, ranging from the '50 to the early '60s, though one might simply assume the story takes place in '59: the original's time frame. 

The script (by William Dever, Steve Mitchell, Jim Nielson and Paul Sinor), obviously doesn't follow the first film to a tee, even setting it during the Christmas season, but the redux should ooze more than enough innocent charm to please traditionalists. Oh, and fear not! Chase does finally croon at least one Sullivan tune, the beloved "Mushroom Song" ("Laugh, Children, Laugh"), to his crippled, little sister, Missy (Jenna Ruiz). Trust me, the rendition (touchingly accompanied by town folk) will bring a tear to your eye. 

"Gila!" won't likely eclipse the fondness many of us hold for the original, but the remake still stands as a swell, nostalgic nod: a gem, in essence, in a spree of larger, more heavily publicized, fantasy films. "Gila!", however, is lots more fun than most of those. In all honesty, who's to say that, in its own humble (but equally competent) way, it's undeserving of the same, respectful attention, especially among monster aficionados?