Sunday, October 25, 2015

I saw KARLOFF...

When I was a little boy, I was drawn to Boris Karloff (aka, William Henry Pratt), probably because of the Frankenstein Monster, whom I perceived more as friend than foe. Of course, "The Mummy", "The Old, Dark House", "The Walking Dead", "The Ape", "The Man with Nine Lives", as well as such Karloff/Lugosi collaborations as "Black Cat", "Raven" and "Invisible Ray" also influenced me, reinforcing my awe of the man's ability to texture his characters with nuance and depth. He did more than play scary characters. He conjured entities who were simultaneously credible and (even when villainous) identifiable. 

I also intuitively recognized the kind and gentle man beneath the portrayals, and this was well before I learned to read, to understand per written testament, how Karloff's experiences molded his characterizations. When I was old enough to research Karloff's life and work, the proof-in-the-pudding was there to relish. He was, indeed, as gracious and honorable as I had imagined. 

Well, another gracious and honorable man has brought the legend of Karloff to life in a wonderful one-person drama entitled, "Karloff: the Play". The man is Randy Bowser, and I recently had the utmost pleasure of obtaining a copy of  this fine actor/playwright's production (otherwise unavailable to the general public).

I must emphatically say, "Karloff: the Play" rivaled my highest expectations, setting me on an emotional swing of pathos and joy. Trust me on this: Bowser has captured Karloff to the tee and his emulation of the star goes well beyond the excellent, elderly makeup. Simply put, Bowser embodies the heart and soul of one of the greatest actors who's ever lived. 

The play's construction consists of a string of engaging vignettes, where Bowser channels Karloff into various reflections, including his hopeful sojourn to Canada; his arduous days as a truck driver/struggling Hollywood "heavy"; his encounters with James Whale, Val Lewton, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Pierce, James Cagney, and a most inspiring meeting with Lon Chaney Sr., no less. He delves into Karloff's personal life and extracurricular activities, emphasizing his impact on what became the Screen Actor's Guild (a result of injuring his back while carrying Colin Clive in "Frankenstein'"s windmill scene) and the birth of his beloved daughter, Sara Jane, during the filming of "Son of Frankenstein". Bowser also allows Karloff to reflect on whimsical moments, like being mummified by Pierce, the humongous collar he wore for "Charlie Chan at the Opera", and his disdain for method acting; he even reenacts his duet with Lugosi for "We're Horrible Horrible Men"--priceless!

On the whole, the sequences are an absolute joy to absorb, making this more than a bare-bones, one-man excursion. It's also a visual feast. Lurid reds, gorgeous greens, deep blues and passionate purples sweep over the stage, matching Karloff's moods. Bowser also composed the production's wonderful music and has injected various sound effects with which to interact. In this regard, Karloff responds to these imaginative inclusions, and such creates a warm, amiable atmosphere throughout. 

My favorite scene (and many come a close second, mind you) occurs early in the play, when Bowser rekindles, through Karloff's graceful gestures and words, the Frankenstein Monster reaching for the sunlight in that famous scene from Whale's original, where the creature is finally revealed in full view. The moment, though brief, brims of childlike hope and poignancy, thanks to the tender loving care that Bowser invests into it. It's Bowser's respect for Karloff that shines through here (though such is evident in every speck of the play). In such scenes, Bowser clearly demonstrates he understands the man he's honoring, and Bowser's meticulous focus on subtle detail will make even those unfamiliar with the legendary thespian pause and take notice.

I must wholeheartedly confess, it's of extreme importance to me as a lifelong Karloff fan to promote Bowser's enchanting endeavor. What he's constructed is hands down one of the best productions of its kind and exists as an exaltation of an actor who (though held in high regard) still deserves far more praise than he's received. 

Please keep your eyes peeled for this invigorating work and lend your support to it (even if its just via ardent word of mouth), in hopes that someone of clout backs it for Broadway. "Karloff: the Play" would be a blazing beacon along that stretch if ever it were given the chance. Both Bowser and Karloff deserve at least that much, and to each superb actor, I give my undying devotion and respect. 

Supergirl Soars to TV...

Supergirl has gone through various incarnations from comics to the screen over the decades. She's now portrayed by Melissa Benoist in a CBS television series of her own, with Helen Slater (the original movie Supergirl) and Dean Cain ("Lois and Clark'"s Man of Steel), as Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers' surrogate parents.

Jimmy/James Olsen (Mechad Brooks) is a regular, though no longer employed by the Daily Planet. He now works with young Danvers for Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), owner of Catco, a massive media corporation, located in National City. Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), Lois' little sister (and in this instance, Olsen's ex), will make occasional appearances. On the other hand, Danver's surrogate sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh) will act as her inspirational constant.

There seems to be some debate, based on those I've conversed with these past months, as to whether the Girl of Steel should be portrayed in her more recent, sultry mode or in a traditional, golly-gee manner. Personally, I fancy both extremes, but see nothing wrong with the wholesome approach, which the trailer certainly conveys. Playing it by the heartfelt straight-and-narrow is good for family viewing, and really, when all's said and done, that's the most respectful way to depict the character, regardless of the lurid fantasies some of us may harbor for her. (Besides, there's always plenty of Laura Vandervoort "Smallville" footage to savor.)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the premiere. As I've been doing with DC's live-action Flash, Green Arrow and "Gotham", I'll offer my occasional reflections on the continuing adventures of Kal-El's caring cousin. 

(The only thing is: how will the producers continue to handle Superman's indirect presence in the grand scheme of the show? To me, that'll be tricky, but even if they stumble in the attempt, such shouldn't make the ride too less enjoyable.)

Friday, October 23, 2015


My Facebook friend from Italy, Stefano Dalca, otherwise known as Steven Slozz, has stirred a new, sublime, silent film..."Dissonanze Relazionali" ("Dissonances Rationale"). Now, with a catchy title like that, you might wonder what exactly does this curious excursion entail. 

Well, like Dalca's previous film, "Autopsia Di Un Incubo" ("Autopsy of a Nightmare"), "Dissonanze" is a twisted adventure, covering many surreal avenues. 

Unlike "Autopsia", which prides itself on Freudian-injected vignettes from the dream world, "Dissonanze" is slightly more linear, focusing on a mysterious female who lures young men with her mind-gaming charms. Her victims are her prizes, if you will, and her suicidal buffoons. Dalca becomes her latest, tormented captive, though others share his humiliation. (Think Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin", but spun in a campy mode.)

"Dizzonanze" also features other specters (including a stationary, frog-like entity; a haunting, pale-faced persona; and a twitchy chap who's simply spawned from inebriation) and on this basis, could be categorized as horror/fantasy. It's not quite Val Lewton in its insinuated tone, mind you, but neither is it a straight-forward demons-on-the-loose vehicle. Its sojourns reside in their own abstract confines, much like an early David Lynch movie or Carl Theodore Dreyer's "Vampyre", and like "Autopsia", the compilation acts as a reverie transferred to film. Even in the end, "Dizzonanze" remains shamelessly enigmatic: a Dalca/Slozz signature. 

Dalca employs his joyful friends to make his movies, which to date have been photographed in black-and-white, accompanied by waltzing organ music. Each member of the troupe seems to be having fun in their endeavors, evidenced by their broad, tongue-in-cheek pantomime. Dalca is particularly deft when he gets rolling, offering expressions that range from moody frowns to Chaplin/Keaton clownery. 

If you're into imaginative, off-kilter material, Dalca's productions will be right up your alley. Feel free to contact him via Facebook, either under "Stefano Dalca" or "Steven Slozz", and the experimental maestro will take it from there.

(Also, I wish to thank Dalco and his crew for the touching salute I'm granted during the film's credit scroll. I'm deeply touched and most grateful. God bless you guys.)

Monster Team-up Reflection #28: Charles Band's The Creeps

Charles Band's 1997 Full Moon "little creature" entry, "The Creeps" is distinguished not by the writer/director/producer's killer puppets and demonic toys, but rather shorter versions of iconic monsters. As a comedic monster rally, it hardly holds the significance of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", but in its own, truncated way, still stands as an interesting effort. 

Actually, the film's concept is similar the Spanish monster team-up, "Assignment: Terror" (see "Monster Team-up #8": March '14), wherein a scientist resurrects classic monsters to gain world conquest. However, in"Creeps", the scientist springs the monsters to life through use of their actual novel manuscripts. 

The tale begins with Dr. Winston Berger (Bill Moynihan) visiting a library, under an alias, to study Mary Shelley's original draft of "Frankenstein". He makes his way into a secluded chamber and switches the book with a blank one when the pretty librarian, Anna Quarrels (Rhonda Griffin), isn't looking. 

When Quarrels discovers the switch, she enlists the aid of video-store manager/would-be detective, David Raleigh (Justin Lauer) to track down the thief. Though Raleigh identifies the doctor from his fingerprints, the hapless investigator is slow in pursuing the matter, allowing the thief to return to the scene to steal the original draft of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". (Why the doctor just didn't nab both copies in the first place is anyone's guess, but his reappearance does certainly pad the unfolding silliness.)

So, how exactly do the manuscripts bring the monsters to flesh-and-blood life? Well, the hows and whys are rather ambiguous, but Berber has fashioned an "Archetype Inducer", which has the miraculous capability of assembling the leads based on their literary descriptions (or as turns out, the movie interpretations of such). The books are displayed near Berger's vast equipment, including the compartments where the monsters are to manifest.

Incidentally, Berber must select a virgin as a conduit to complete the experiment. However, after he kidnaps Quarrels, he learns she isn't quite the ideal subject. He keeps her shackled nonetheless and boldly triggers his machinery, but when the monsters emerge, they're considerably smaller than intended.

The famous fiends are four in all: Dracula (Phil Fondacaro), the Frankenstein Monster (Thomas Wellington), the Mummy (Joe Smith) and the Werewolf (Jon Simanton). The actors do an swell job representing the troupe (with Wellington and Smith's performances based specifically on their Universal counterparts). Fondacaro, in particular, stands out as the ringleader: so articulate and suave in his annunciation and movements that his size is inconsequential. He is, for all intents and purposes, every ounce the Count. 

Raleigh manages to rescue Quarrels, and this prompts the two to squash the scientist's plans. Meanwhile, Quarrels' statuesque boss, Miss Christina (Kristin Norton) becomes an accidental victim when Berber dispatches the monsters to reclaim the escapee, but they mistake the head librarian for her subordinate. Christina is no better a fit for the experiment, doing nothing to alter the monsters' height, and is inadvertently sucked through a dimensional portal, only then to reappear as an incensed Valkyrie. 

Without question, such outlandishness does churn laughs, but most of the humor is subdued when compared to any given Abbott and Costello monster flick. On the other hand, if it had only dashed its gimmicks, "Creeps" could have matched any other serious, monster-rally picture. 

The film also exudes a quasi-adult sensibility (e.g., Norton has a nude scene), which would undoubtedly exclude kids from watching, and like later Full Moon installments, it never seems to reach a satisfying stride. It only succeeds well enough to entertain, with (and I trust this should come as no surprise) the monsters never reaching their goal of extended height (at least not within our dimension). Beyond wishing to return to their literary places of origin, they appear otherwise content with their physical circumstance by film's end, and through that, a commendable (though probably unintentional) message is conveyed.

Regardless of its various shortcomings (pun intended), "Creeps", like an old, sentimental B-film, remains unpretentiously lurid and offbeat. Sure, it's no classic, and your intellectual level won't rise a notch for watching it, but neither will you be worse for wear for viewing it. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Collectible Time #44: Justin Mabry/Trick or Treat Studios' Classic King Kong Mask

Since I was a kid, I've had a thing for monster masks (plastic, rubber or vinyl). In fact, my super-deluxe '77 Don Post Tor Johnson mask remains one of my most cherished collectibles.

Unfortunately, in recent years, my finds have been slim, but at long last a real dandy has entered my hands...a mighty, marvelous representation of the classic '33 KING KONG!!!

The latex representation is a new entry from Trick or Treat Studios and was sculpted by Justin Mabry, one of the top mask-makers in the world, who studied a slew of Marcel Delgado/Willis O'Brien Kong photos to achieve the astonishing results you see here. Gosh, doesn't the open-mouthed, eye-popping expression overflow with ferocity?

This wearable collectible is a must-have for any fan of the groundbreaking Kong: an Eighth Wonder, indeed, among monster masks if ever there was one!!! Get yours while the opportunity is still at hand this Halloween season!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #27: The Hilarious House of Frightenstein

Produced in Canada by Riff "Randy Dandy" Markowitz in '71 and nurtured by the talented Billy Van (noted for his varied roles on "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour"), "Hilarious House of Frightenstein" was (and still is) a dream come true for monster fans, young and old alike. It became a monster-rally staple of after-school viewing (premiering in U.S. syndication in '74), right along with "The Addams Family", "The Munsters", "Ultraman" and "Johnny Sokko".

In addition to Van, the show featured other splendid actors who figured into its various vignettes, including Fishka Rais as Igor; Julius Sumner Miller, the "Mickey Mouse Club" resident Professor; Mark Markowitz as Super Hippy (a trippy version of the Man of Steel); Guy Big as mini, fanged Van; and the great Vincent Price, hosting the opening/closing credits and offering fun, creepy commentary among the bits. 

The majority of the roles, however, were Van's (though abetted by Bob Laden's excellent make-ups), with the flamboyant, green-skinned, Lugosi-pitched Count Frightenstein leading the pack. Frightenstein was a Dracula offspring, temporary master of Castle Frightenstein and doomed to fumble in his attempts to bring Brucie, the Frankenstein Monster (a mannequin in a Don Post Karloff mask) to life. Like "Groovie Ghoulies", which used a rapid-fire "Laugh-In" format to entertain its audience, Van would take viewers though a series of swift scenarios, each containing his eclectic homages.

Van's characters included the Wolfman (a merging of Lon Chaney Jr.'s legendary lycanthrope and DJ personality, Wolfman Jack), who'd play (and dance, along with Igor) to hit tunes by Three Dog Night and Sly and the Family Stone, before a psychedelic backdrop; the giddy Grizelda, the Ghastly Gourmet, a cross between EC's eerie host and Aurora's Salem Witch model kit; the Librarian, a haggard, old gent who (in the Count Floyd vein) would try to scare viewers with nursery rhymes and offbeat fables; the Oracle, a clumsy fortune teller with Peter Lorre's intonation; the Maharishi, an equally questionable mystic/hippy guru, who was showered by flowers at the end of each skit; the knowledgeable Pet Vet, who along with adventurer Bwana Clyde Batty (host of "Zany Zoo"), would supply facts pertaining to visiting animals; and last but not least, the Gorilla, who'd leap from a fabricated jungle only to be struck down by ping-pong balls. 

Most of the interaction took place between Frightenstein and Igor, where Van and Reis let their comical timing take hold. Sometimes Igor would be the focus, engaging with the offscreen Grammar Slammer (Joe Torbay) and the onscreen Bammer, a large, purple puppet voiced by Van, who would intimidate Igor into correcting his syntax.

In this regard, "Frightenstein" wasn't shy about teaching kids valuable tidbits, but done in a way to make the process enjoyable. At other times, the antics were just fun for the sake of fun, offering an hour (or in the case of the U.S. re-edits, a half hour) of ecstatic escape. 

The series, which consisted of 130 installments in its original Canadian run, was one of the last children's shows to be hosted by live actors, even though unlike similar shows that came before it, "Frightenstein" didn't host a live audience. In fact, most of "Frightenstein" was taped over a nine-month period, with Price's footage captured during a summer sojourn. (For the record, Van and Price never met, though their vignettes smoothly mesh.)

For whatever odd reason, "Frightenstein" fell out favor by the late  '70s, but has since resurfaced on DVD, and reruns can still be found on current cable channels. 

The series, indeed, deserves another look, and for children jaded by the bland, "it's-good-for-you", mainstream fodder, this series will be a welcome, eye-opener. For parents (or any adult who simply grew up with the show), watching Van and the gang indulge in their shenanigans will prove a happy-go-lucky excursion: a macabre, '70s Vaudeville concoction that anyone into the imaginative-know will surely savor. 

(FYI: The popular, Canadian horror magazine, Rue Morgue, #62: November 2006, paid tribute to "Frightenstein" with a Van interview, conducted not long before his passing. Most insightful and well worth seeking.)