Posts Tagged ‘AIP’

Sorry I’m a little slow off the mark with this one, but my online time has been extremely limited lately for a variety of reasons (not least of them a massive motivational meltdown), and I’ve only just become aware of it.  It seems that the good folks at Tor.com, fresh from a massive revamp of their already impressive website, were able on Wednesday to squeeze in my review of the latest Gauntlet special edition of Matheson’s work, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.  The book is a must for any serious Matheson collector, examining this seminal creation in its multimedia incarnations, and I hope the review will whet your appetite for my forthcoming Tor.com Matheson interview.

Meanwhile, we bid a sad but affectionate goodbye to longtime genre fixture Michael Gough, a native of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who—at the ripe old age of 93, and with 178 IMDb credits over the course of his 64-year film and television career—can, in all fairness, be said to have had a good run.  Sixty years ago, he appeared in The Man in the White Suit opposite Alec Guinness, with whom Gough was reunited in The Horse’s Mouth (1958) and the BOF fave Smiley’s People (1982).  He also had a small role in Laurence Olivier’s version of Richard III (1955); their other collaborations ran the gamut from The Boys from Brazil (1978) to Brideshead Revisited (1981).

Gough was in at the beginning of the Hammer renaissance with a substantial and, in retrospect, surprisingly heroic part as Arthur in Terence Fisher’s Horror of Dracula (1958), which marked Christopher Lee’s debut as the Count.  The following year, he had what might be considered his defining role as a crime writer who commits murder to generate his own material in Horrors of the Black Museum.  This was to be his first of five collaborations with erstwhile AIP producer Herman Cohen, followed by several similar characters in Cohen’s Konga (1961), Black Zoo (1963), Berserk (1967), and Trog (1970), the latter two starring Joan Crawford, of all people.

With his talent for portraying slimy villains, Gough was a considerable asset to Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera (1962), although its disappointing box-office results gave Fisher’s career a serious hit.  His path crossed that of Lee’s almost a dozen times over the decades, and the next was in “Disembodied Hand,” a segment from Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), the first of rival Amicus Productions’ many anthology films.  Further, if minor, roles for Amicus followed in The Skull (1965, again with Lee) and They Came from Beyond Space (1967), all three of them directed (as was Trog) by Hammer veteran and Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis.

Gough also found decent roles outside the genre in the likes of a television production of Pride and Prejudice (1967), and even his pairings with Lee straddled both worlds.  After they picked up a paycheck in the AIP/Tigon co-production Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), they joined an all-star cast headed by Charlton Heston for Julius Caesar (1970).  Other high-profile mainstream films from this period include Ken Russell’s D.H. Lawrence adaptation Women in Love (1969) and Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between (1970), scripted by Harold Pinter, and Gough appeared in such TV series as The Saint, The Avengers, and Hammer’s short-lived Journey to the Unknown.

Lest we forget the inevitable Matheson connection, Gough had an unbilled but significant role in The Legend of Hell House (1973), and then worked largely in television (including Dr. Who) for the next few decades.  Among his intermittent and noteworthy feature films were Peter Yates’s The Dresser (1983), Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (1985), John Mackenzie’s cracking thriller The Fourth Protocol (1987), and Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).  Gough’s fame with the Hot Topic generation of viewers was assured when he took the role of the Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).

While still finding time for highbrow fare like Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993), Gough soldiered on through the decreasing quality of the Burton-less Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997).  More important, he kept working with Burton—and renewed his association with Lee—in Sleepy Hollow (1999), Corpse Bride (2005), and last year’s Alice in Wonderland, which while a bit of a disappointment to this Burton fan was a perfect capstone to his long and impressive career.  So let us salute and celebrate this consummate performer, whose many decades in front of the camera displayed such enviable breadth and depth:  R.I.P., Michael.

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After some delays related to their exhaustive “Steampunk Fortnight” coverage, Tor.com has my latest installment of the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series up, along with the usual yummy artwork.  This one covers the remainder of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle, along with such related works as Matheson’s The Comedy of Terrors and Corman’s The Terror (both 1963), plus AIP’s other Poe films.  I’m still awaiting word from my contact there—who is presumably up to her, um, hips in steampunks—about the direction of my next post, so I can’t say when or even what to expect, but as always I shall hope in my modest way that it will be worth the wait.

In other Matheson-related news, a new Twilight Zone feature film has just been announced that is said to be utilizing stories written by Rod Serling and You-Know-Who for the original TV series.  Hey, that sounds like a great idea, especially considering the universally high regard in which the last attempt to rehash Zone episodes for the big screen was held, especially after it resulted in the deaths of Vic Morrow and two illegally employed child actors.  Richard had already opined back then that it wasn’t wise, but I suppose nothing can withstand the current Hollywood steamroller of sequels, remakes, “re-imaginings,” reboots, et alia, so let’s just lie back and think of England.

The most intriguing, and potentially exciting, news from my personal perspective (and what else would you be looking for on this blog?) is that for several days last week, Richard Matheson on Screen—despite having just come off press in the first place—was out of stock pending a reprint.  I say “potentially exciting” because I have no idea how far off the mark my instant quip of, “Gee, they sold all forty copies already!” might have been.  But it seems safe to conclude that demand must have exceeded McFarland’s expectations, however modest those might have been, and I’m relieved to see that it is once again listed as “available for immediate shipment,” so there is no waiting…

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Somehow, amid all the chaos of Movie Night-and-Day-After (see “Harmonic Convergence”), plus getting Alexandra back to Cornell yesterday—resulting in our getting to bed around 2:00 this morning—I managed to write my latest Matheson post for Tor.com.  It’s the first of a two-parter devoted to the four Edgar Allan Poe films he scripted for Roger Corman and American International, along with a few others he wrote in between.  For your convenience, I have added a new link to the Blogroll at right that takes you directly to a handy-dandy index for the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series, although as usual, Tor.com is packed with stuff of interest to genre fans, so you could do worse than scroll through the other posts to find mine.  Either way, enjoy!  Bradley out.

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Marking the 89th birthday of co-founder Milton Subotsky, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

As a purveyor of cinematic horror in the 1960s and ’70s, Amicus Productions was Britain’s only serious rival to Hammer Films, whose personnel (e.g., Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, directors Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker) it borrowed on a regular basis. Ironically, the studio was founded by the American producers Max J. Rosenberg (1914-2004) and Milton Subotsky (1921-91).

Also a screenwriter, Subotsky received the story credit on an early effort that was technically a Vulcan Production, John Moxey’s City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel, 1960), a splendid tale of witchcraft featuring Lee in a solid supporting role. He later scripted the first official Amicus production, Francis’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964), which started a signature series of anthology films.

Subotsky based one of the earliest Amicus films, Francis’s The Skull (1965), on horror author and screenwriter Robert Bloch’s classic “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Bloch was then hired to adapt his own published stories into Francis’s Torture Garden (1967), Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood (1970) and Baker’s Asylum (1972), each of which utilized the anthology format.

Amicus eventually became the first studio permitted by publisher William M. Gaines to film stories from the eponymous E.C. horror comics of the 1950s in Francis’s Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Baker’s The Vault of Horror (1973). But it also made several significant contributions to the SF genre, including the only feature films to date based upon the long-running BBC-TV series Dr. Who.

Unveiled in the Doctor’s second adventure, “The Daleks” (aka “The Dead Planet”), the titular mutants inside their metallic casings, whose primary goal is to “Exterminate!” humans, soon became the most enduring of his interstellar adversaries. Thus, an adaptation of Terry Nation’s serial seemed a safe bet for Amicus to introduce the Doctor to the big screen—and in color—for the very first time.

Written by Subotsky, with additional material by the show’s script editor, David Whitaker, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) changed the Doctor from the Time Lord of the series to an eccentric human inventor, played by Peter Cushing. The film was directed by Gordon Flemyng, who worked almost exclusively in British television for the thirty-odd years of his decidedly unremarkable career.

The Doctor’s invention, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), is disguised as a police call box, and can travel through time and/or space. It does both, whisking the Doctor and his granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Roberta Tovey) to the planet Skaro in the distant future, when Barbara’s clumsy boyfriend, Ian Chesterton (Roy Castle), stumbles against the controls.

Poisoned by nuclear war, Skaro is inhabited by two races: the peaceful, humanoid Thals, and the deadly Daleks, which are protected by their mechanized armor. Joining forces with the Thals, the Doctor and his companions undergo the usual quotient of captures, imprisonments, and escapes, but ultimately defeat the Daleks by interfering with the magnetic forces that control their futuristic city.

Cushing and Tovey were back, with a bigger budget, the same screenwriters, and essentially the same crew, for Flemyng’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), based on Nation’s second Dalek serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Ian and Barbara were supplanted by police constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins), another comic foil, and the Doctor’s niece, Louise (Jill Curzon).

In 2150, the Daleks are excavating in England with evil intent, hoping to blow out the Earth’s magnetic core by planting a bomb in a fissure, effectively turning the planet into a giant spaceship. This ambitious plan is put to rest when the Doctor reprograms their human slaves, the Robomen, and diverts the bomb down an unused shaft, so that the magnetic pull draws the Daleks down to the core.

Allan Bryce’s Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood tartly (but not necessarily inaccurately) dismisses their next SF efforts, Montgomery Tully’s The Terrornauts and Francis’s They Came From Beyond Space (both 1967), as “the two worst films the company ever produced.” Each was based on a decidedly pulpy paperback (Murray Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid and Joseph Millard’s The Gods Kate Kansas, respectively).

Francis told me in an interview for Filmfax that after budgeting for both movies, Amicus spent most of the money on The Terrornauts, leaving very little left over for him. “So we were trying to do this film with not much money, and I thought it was a rotten film anyway,” he said. “That was another Subotsky script [indeed, his writing was widely considered the studio’s weakest link], which I didn’t interfere with.”

In The Terrornauts, a group of humans is spirited off into space and subjected to a series of intelligence tests, before being plunged into the middle of a war between alien races. Francis’s film concerns another alien race, this time taking over humans to effect their mysterious plan, which turns out to be nothing more menacing than trying to get from our moon to their own world to die at home.

More ambitious and intelligent, but faring badly at the box-office, was Alan Cooke’s The Mind of Mr. Soames (1969), based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine. Reminiscent of Charly (1968), it stars Terence Stamp as a thirty-year-old man awakened from the coma he has been in since birth, with Robert Vaughn and Nigel Davenport as doctors in disagreement over how to educate him.

Scream and Scream Again (1970) was an odd hybrid of horror and SF, and of personnel from both Amicus and American International Pictures, then expanding into England. Star Vincent Price, director Gordon Hessler, and screenwriter Christopher Wicking had already worked together at AIP, while Rosenberg and Subotsky produced the film, and Lee and Cushing co-starred.

Based on Peter Saxon’s The Disorientated Man, this historic teaming of horror’s “big three” is a disorientating experience indeed, with multiple settings and plotlines that seem unconnected at first. Finally, it becomes clear (relatively speaking) that Price’s character has been creating a race of deadly, super-strong “composites,” which are infiltrating various governments to control the world.

Amicus also produced some of the few films based on SF novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known as the creator of Tarzan. Financed—and distributed in the U.S.—by AIP, The Land That Time Forgot (1975), its sequel, The People That Time Forgot (1977), and At the Earth’s Core (1976) were all directed by Kevin Connor, as was their last anthology film, From Beyond the Grave (1973).

Land and People concern Caprona, a lost continent on which, as in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, dinosaurs still exist at the time of World War I. The survivors of a British ship, including American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), are taken aboard the U-boat that torpedoed them, and clash with the crew before encountering prehistoric creatures and mysterious tribes of cavemen.

At the Earth’s Core is set in another fictional world, Pellucidar, to which Tarzan himself paid a visit in one of Burroughs’s sequels. McClure starred as David Innes, who journeys to the center of the Earth in a giant drilling machine, with Cushing as Abner Perry, the absent-minded professor who accompanies him, and Caroline Munro as Dia, the primitive princess he rescues from assorted perils.

Amicus was in fact disintegrating as the Burroughs films were being made; Subotsky left the company in 1975, after Land was completed, and the company was officially dissolved even before People was released by AIP. But while its track record was mixed and its production values never as high as Hammer’s, Amicus is fondly remembered for the genre entertainment it offered for a decade.

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Bert I. Gordon

On the occasion of his 88th birthday, we revisit this profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Affectionately known as “Mr. B.I.G.,” Bert I. Gordon directed, produced, co-wrote, and/or created the special effects for more than a dozen SF, horror and fantasy films. While he was active through the 1980s, the films for which he will be most fondly remembered epitomized the monster movies of the ’50s, and featured oversized fauna of the two-, four-, six-, and eight-legged varieties.

Born on September 24, 1922, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Gordon was a producer of television commercials who broke into filmmaking as the producer and cinematographer of the adventure yarn Serpent Island (1954). His wife, Flora M. Gordon, assisted him in various capacities—most notably with the special effects—on many films, and he cast their daughter Susan in four of his productions.

Gordon came into his own with King Dinosaur (1955), scripted by Serpent Island director Tom Gries from a story by Gordon and co-producer Al Zimbalist. When the planet Nova enters our solar system, four scientists are sent to explore it, encountering “dinosaurs” (i.e., stock footage and photographically enlarged lizards) and other giant critters, which they destroy with an atomic bomb.

Even more typical of Gordon’s work was The Beginning of the End (1957), as the late Peter Graves (see “Goodbye, Mr. Phelps”), the stalwart hero of SF films before he landed his iconic role on Mission: Impossible, faced a more terrestrial but no less gigantic threat. Accidentally created by agricultural experiments, irradiated locusts menace Chicago, until Graves lures them to a watery death with their mating call.

In The Cyclops (1957), Gloria Talbott is understandably shocked to learn that radioactive ore in a Mexican valley has turned her fiancé into a twenty-five-foot giant with a deformed face, played by Duncan (aka Dean) Parkin. Continuing a busy year, Gordon’s association with American International Pictures began with his signature film, which was inspired by the success of Jack Arnold’s masterpiece.

“Universal-International had just issued The Incredible Shrinking Man [1957], and we decided to turn the binoculars the other direction, building a story around a pitiful character who experienced the world’s most terrifying growth spurt,” recalled AIP’s co-founder, Samuel Z. Arkoff, in his memoir Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants. What resulted was Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957).

Trying to rescue the pilot of a downed plane, Colonel Glenn Manning (Glen Langan) endures the blast of a plutonium bomb, and miraculously survives—but begins growing eight to ten feet per day, ending up as a seventy-foot giant who is blown off of Boulder Dam with a bazooka. With poetic justice, co-writer Mark Hanna then created a carbon copy of the distaff kind in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).

Gordon clearly continued to be “inspired” by The Incredible Shrinking Man (adapted for the screen by its original author, Richard Matheson) with his next film, Attack of the Puppet People (1958), as lonely, widowed doll-maker Franz (John Hoyt) shrinks people to puppet-size just to keep him company. In an audacious bit of self-promotion, Bob Westley (John Agar) proposes to Sally Reynolds (June Kenny) while they watch The Amazing Colossal Man at the drive-in!

Col. Manning was sufficiently popular to warrant a sequel, War of the Colossal Beast (1958), although somewhat the worse for wear, with one eye blasted out by the bazooka. Looking like The Cyclops (and now played by the same actor), he steals trucks for food in the Mexican mountains, but after he is brought back to L.A., his damaged brain recovers long enough for Glenn to electrocute himself.

Rounding out the ’50s was Earth vs. the Spider (1958), which bore a suspicious resemblance to another Arnold film, Tarantula (1955). One of Gordon’s numerous collaborations with George Worthing Yates (who scripted with László Görög), it concerns an outsized arachnid that is presumed dead after a dose of DDT, displayed in a high school gym, and then revived by…a band rehearsal.

Never afraid of beating something to death, Gordon incorporated a cinema showing Puppet People as well as Colossal Man. He then gave the big bugs a break in a children’s fantasy, The Boy and the Pirates; a ghost story, Tormented (both 1960); and one of his most polished productions, The Magic Sword (1962), as St. George (Gary Lockwood) braves seven curses to rescue the fair princess.

Now ready to return to his favorite theme of gigantism, Gordon went straight to the source in Village of the Giants (1965), an alleged adaptation of The Food of the Gods. It’s unlikely that H.G. Wells would recognize—or at least acknowledge—his novel as the inspiration for this teen-fest, although it admittedly concerns “goo” that makes things grow, thanks to boy genius “Ronny” Howard.

Another hiatus ensued, encompassing the supernatural stories Picture Mommy Dead (1966) and Necromancy (1972), the presumably self-explanatory How to Succeed with Sex (1970), and the police thriller The Mad Bomber (1973). But then Gordon returned to the Wells well with back-to-back adaptations, for AIP, of The Food of the Gods (1976)—again—and Empire of the Ants (1977).

A veteran of Necromancy, Pamela Franklin starred in the former, with Ida Lupino as the wife of a farmer, who thinks that the strange substance bubbling up from the ground on an isolated island is Heaven-sent. She begins to believe otherwise when it results in giant rats that eat her husband, as well as worms, wasps, and chickens; only a detonated dam saves the besieged survivors from the rats.

Empire is a far cry from Wells’s story, which was closer to Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen vs. the Ants,” memorably filmed by Byron Haskin as The Naked Jungle (1954). Here, Joan Collins and Robert Lansing are embroiled in a plot to staff a sugar refinery with people whose minds have been dominated by pheromones from a queen ant, rendered gigantic by, you guessed it, radioactive waste.

Gordon segued into witches with Burned at the Stake (1981) and Satan’s Princess (1990), and the fertile field of sex comedies with Let’s Do It! (1982) and The Big Bet (1985). But for a generation of viewers, his name was synonymous with a monster movie’s unique charms, and no matter how silly the stories or threadbare the rear-projected special effects, they provided entertainment, pure and simple.

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Concluding our eclectic selection of Boris Karloff credits from the Bradley Video Library catalog…

The Devil Commands (1941):  HUAC name-dropper Edward Dmytryk directed this misleadingly titled coda to Karloff’s “Mad Doctor” series (see The Ape in our previous installment).  Based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water, it concerns a scientist who establishes that human brain waves can be recorded, and are unique (like fingerprints), just before his wife is killed in a car crash. When Boris’s machinery picks up her distinctive waves after death, he launches an all-out effort to contact her spirit beyond the grave, and is immediately dismissed as a nut-job by his colleagues, daughter, and associate/future son-in-law.  So he sets up shop in an isolated cliff-top mansion, joined by a shady spiritualist, a snooping housekeeper, and an employee whose brain was partially cooked by a previous experiment.  Although strictly speaking science fiction, this programmer is filmed in a gothic-horror manner, complete with Dark Shadows-style narration by the daughter—who, alas, probably could not have known about some of the events she relates.  Sadly, Boris’s habit of stealing corpses from the local boneyard (since for some odd reason he needs to have dead people hooked up to his gizmo in order to contact other ones) draws the attention of the sheriff, with predictable results.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947):  An utterly routine (albeit mercifully brief) comic-strip programmer, notable only for the presence of Karloff as the titular villain.

Thriller (1960-62):  Having already covered this series in some detail, I’ll merely enumerate a few highlights besides “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” adapted by Richard Matheson from the short story by H.P. Lovecraft protégé August Derleth and Mark Schorer.  They include the atmospheric “Pigeons from Hell,” also directed by John Newland and based on a story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard; four other episodes based on stories by Derleth, written either with Schorer (“The Incredible Doktor Markeson,” an especially creepy episode in which Karloff stars as well as hosts) or without (“Mr. George,” “Trio for Terror,” “A Wig for Miss Devore”), sometimes using his Stephen Grendon pseudonym; an adaptation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” also with Boris; three based on works by Cornell Woolrich (“Guillotine” [adapted by Charles Beaumont], “Papa Benjamin,” “Late Date”); Beaumont’s other, inferior episode, “Girl With a Secret”; and a whopping ten written and/or based on works by Robert Bloch (“The Cheaters,” “The Grim Reaper” [starring William Shatner], “The Devil’s Ticket,” “The Weird Tailor,” “Waxworks,” “The Hungry Glass” [also with Shatner], “’Til Death Do Us Part,” “A Good Imagination,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” “Man of Mystery”), two of which were remade in his Amicus anthology films.

The Raven (1963):  Extrapolating from “The Black Cat,” the successful comic segment of their Poe anthology film Tales of Terror, director Roger Corman and screenwriter Matheson went all-out in this comedy; Matheson left the series afterward, saying he couldn’t take the films seriously any more.  Featuring Peter Lorre in the title role, Karloff (appearing in his second film allegedly based on Poe’s poem) bemused by Lorre’s ad-libs, the obligatory Vincent Price, the heavenly Hazel Court (who rejoined Corman and Price on Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death the next year), and a very young Jack Nicholson as the dubious—in every sense—hero, Rexford.

The Comedy of Terrors (1963):  Written by Matheson and directed by Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur, this is a black comedy about unscrupulous undertakers who drum up business the hard way, with veteran horror stars Price, Lorre, Karloff, and—carried over from Tales of Terror—Basil Rathbone.  Originally slated to play the more athletic role of Price’s acerbic landlord, which ultimately went to the ironically older Rathbone, Karloff has a hilarious scene in which he delivers a rambling funeral oration, complete with every imaginable synonym for the word “coffin.”

I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963):  Again, I won’t belabor this anthology horror film, having discussed it in multiple posts devoted to director Mario Bava, but it would be a shame to omit it.  As with Thriller, Karloff hosts and stars in one segment, effectively playing a Russian vampire opposite Mark (House of Usher) Damon in “The Wurdalak.”  Sadly, you won’t hear his voice in the uncut Italian version, only in the one re-edited by the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, AIP.  The other segments are “The Drop of Water,” as a ghost reclaims a ring stolen by a greedy woman, and “The Telephone,” in which a girl is stalked by her ex-lover.

The Sorcerers (1967):  One of three films (the others being La Sorella di Satana and Witchfinder General) on which the reputation of Michael Reeves rests; his early death of an alcohol and drug overdose ensured a kind of James Dean fame for the British director.  Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as an elderly couple who invent a machine with which they can share the sensations of, and ultimately control the actions of, a disaffected youth played by Reeves’s perennial lead, Ian Ogilvy.

La Camara del Terror (The Fear Chamber, 1968):  One of four Mexican horror films for which Karloff shot footage (in L.A., I believe) shortly before his death; behind-the-scenes machinations altered some of the resulting pictures from their original conceptions.  Hard to imagine what they had in mind for this one, which as it stands is an incoherent mishmash about scientists using blood from frightened girls to fire up a living, power-hungry rock.  At least, I think that’s what it’s about…

Targets (1968):  Peter Bogdanovich’s first and probably best film (I’m not a fan; it’s mercifully unlike his other work), this stars Karloff as an aging actor who feels his Hollywood horrors can no longer compete with real life, and Bogdanovich as a young guy who chats up oldtime filmmakers (quite a stretch for both!).  Proving his point, a seemingly mild-mannered young man suddenly goes on a killing spree, eventually konfronting Karloff (sorry, too much Famous Monsters of Filmland in my youth) at a drive-in screening of one of his films—in reality, The Terror, made by Pete’s sometime mentor, Corman.

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Yes, I know I should be indexing Richard Matheson on Screen, but when Matheson news this big hits, well, that’s like asking the tide not to come in—Gauntlet has at last unveiled Matheson Uncollected: Volume Two, and as usual, it’s a humdinger.  You won’t want to crack open the book, for fear of taking your eyes off the stunningly evocative jacket art by Harry O. Morris, whose recollections of working with the master on more than a dozen books we were proud to include in The Richard Matheson Companion, but if you don’t open it, you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice.  For Matheson completists, this is the big one, and although the book cries out for an introduction—say, by my friend and fellow Matheson scholar Paul Stuve, who helped put it together—to set some of its contents in context, I will try to pinch-hit for him by providing a preview, if not a review (since I won’t get to read it from cover to cover until mine is finished).

The idea behind Matheson Uncollected is identical to that of the equally invaluable The Beatles: Past Masters, which assembled songs that for whatever reasons did not appear on their formal albums, so that if you owned those plus the two volumes of Past Masters, you would have everything the Beatles issued commercially.  As if that weren’t enough, Gauntlet has characteristically gone the extra mile by including four previously unpublished items:  the newly rediscovered short story “An Element Never Forgets”; the unfinished novels Red Is the Color of Desire and The House of the Dead (an alternate version of which appears in the lettered edition); and Matheson’s unfilmed first-draft adaptation of his novel What Dreams May Come.  This screenplay was written in 1985 for Stephen Deutsch—producer of Somewhere in Time and, as Stephen Simon, the final script by Ron Bass—and director Wolfgang Petersen (see “Das Boot Camp”), here misspelled “Peterson.”

Among the previously published stories in Volume Two, mostly—as its title suggests—collected for the first time, are two each that made their debuts in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (“Leo Rising,” “CU: Mannix”) and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (“Getting Together,” “Person to Person”).  For the record, Tor did include “Person to Person” (adapted in a YouTube video) as one of the bonus short stories in its 1995 edition of I Am Legend, apparently with little if any fanfare, but since the other contents of that collection are all readily available elsewhere, it makes sense for collectors to have this one, no?  Here, too, are “Mountains of the Mind” (Marvel Science Fiction, November 1951), inexplicably listed in the table of contents as an unfinished novel; “Now Die in It” (Mystery Tales, December 1958); and “Where There’s a Will,” an early collaboration with his son Richard Christian for Kirby McCauley’s 1980 anthology Dark Forces.

The pick of the litter, at least for completists, is “The Hunt,” which Paul recently excavated from a copy of the March 1952 issue of West magazine, and which not only has never been reprinted, but also appears in none of the standard Matheson bibliographies…including, I am sorry to say, the otherwise exhaustive list we had already compiled for the Companion and its revised edition, The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson.  The micro-short story “Portrait” comes complete with its accompanying illustration by Tenille Enger, and was written for Framed: A Gallery of Dark Delicacies, the 2003 anthology compiled by L.A. booksellers and Matheson über-boosters “Gomez and Morticia” (i.e., Del and Sue) Howison.  “Haircut” appeared in the 2006 Gauntlet collection Masques V, whose co-editor, Gary Braunbeck, also contributed a “Button, Button” sequel to Christopher Conlon’s award-winning tribute anthology He Is Legend.

Paul was kind enough to share some of the contents of Volume Two with me while it was being assembled, and although I had hoped to be in print first, so that I could crow about including hitherto unpublished material, I was able to mention several relevant items in my own book, such as the little-known fact that “Now Die in It” was later expanded into Matheson’s twice-adapted novel Ride the Nightmare.  Both “Mountains of the Mind” and “An Element Never Forgets” are among the group of loosely connected stories set at fictional Fort College, as is “Trespass” (aka “Mother by Protest”), the basis for his 1974 TV-movie The Stranger Within.  Matheson cannibalized The House of the Dead in his Pit and the Pendulum screenplay, since Poe’s story is unusually lacking in narrative structure; based on the four chapters here, there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between them, but unlike Red Is the Color of Desire, it does not include an outline of the rest.

Okay, time to grab some lunch (it being Sunday afternoon as I write this) and get back to work.

Bradley out.

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Here at BOF, it’s not enough merely to spread The Gospel According to Matheson; we have to make sure we also debunk any of the Matheson misinformation that has an unfortunate tendency to metastasize on the Internet.  Case in point:  I Am Omega (2007), a straight-to-video feature specifically designed to rip off that year’s Will Smith version of I Am Legend, which it beat to the marketplace by a month.  It was produced by a company called The Asylum, the makers of The Day the Earth Stopped (2008), 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Invasion of the Pod People, Transmorphers (all 2007), Snakes on a Train, Pirates of Treasure Island, The Da Vinci Treasure (all 2006) et derivative cetera, which probably tells you all you need to know about I Am Omega.

Or not, since some sources—sadly including the generally reliable, if not infallible, IMDb—persist in referring to I Am Omega as an adaptation of I Am Legend.  The Asylum clearly fostered this misimpression by conflating the titles of Matheson’s novel and its second screen incarnation, The Omega Man (1971), which followed The Last Man on Earth (1964).  Always willing to take one for the team, I have finally and reluctantly subjected myself to this low-budget opus, and can get the official stuff out of the way immediately:  the script is credited to Geoff Meed (clearly a renaissance man who also essays the second-male-lead role of Vincent), period, end of story; no mention of Matheson, which would in any event have brought down a horde of lawyers on behalf of Warner Brothers.

Yes, I am savvy enough to know that there is such a thing as an uncredited adaptation like Curse of the Crimson Altar (aka The Crimson Cult, 1968), the AIP/Tigon film that is patently based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House,” which later became an episode of Masters of Horror.  But as we know from John Hamilton’s Tigon history Beasts in the Cellar, it began life as a Jerry Sohl screenplay entitled Dreams in the Witch House, and with or without Lovecraft’s name on it, a point-by-point comparison between story and film leaves no doubt in the observer’s mind what its origins are.  So it became my unenviable task to sit through I Am Omega while asking, “Is this really an uncredited adaptation of I Am Legend, or just one of the most shameless rip-offs ever?”

Okay, let’s start with the similarities.  Survivor mourning family while barricaded near California city against countless predators mutated by viral plague?  Check.  Daily forays into said city using map coordinates?  Check.  Potential savior of mankind with antivirus in blood?  A feature of the films rather than of the novel, but I’ll allow it, because that has become such a standard fixture.  Boy and girl drive off into sunset?  Check—uh, what?  Yes, you read that right:  Renchard (martial-arts star Mark Dacascos) is neither the last man on earth nor the “legend” of Matheson’s bitterly ironic ending, and because it is not he but Brianna (Jennifer Lee Wiggins) who is immune, he even loses that unique status.

Via a webcam, Brianna requests rescue from downtown Oxnard, telling Renchard that her caravan was attacked by zombies (which I don’t believe are ever referred to as such) en route to Antioch, where thousands of the uninfected are safe in the mountains.  This makes the film less like a Matheson adaptation and more like a “premake” of the Smith version, to whose script one suspects Meed had access.  Ironically, while the vampires in The Last Man on Earth resembled and may have helped to inspire the zombies in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), these in turn resemble and may have been inspired by the gorier zombies in his Dawn of the Dead (1978) and subsequent sequels.

Renchard refuses her request, citing the presence of a huge “hive” of zombies in the center of the city, but then is confronted by ex-Marines Vincent and Mike (Ryan Lloyd), who have come from Antioch to rescue Brianna because of her immunity.  Knowing that Renchard, a former special-ops soldier, has planted time bombs to blow up the city, they want him to lead them in through the sewers and—unwilling to take no for an answer—destroy his home to force his help.  Mike is killed in the sewers, and Vincent stays behind to avenge him while sending Renchard on alone to find Brianna, although unfortunately the car they commandeer to effect their escape soon crashes during an attack by zombies.

House director Griff Furst elicits a performance of extraordinary range from Dacascos, who mostly emotes with the sensitivity of a rolling pin, yet upon receiving Brianna’s first uplink over-reacts like a Warner Brothers cartoon character, and when sharing the screen they vie to outdo each other in atrocious acting.  Appearing in the nick of time, Vincent unexpectedly wounds them and abducts Brianna, preferring this Darwinian utopia to the “pisshole” he believes will resume in the event of a cure.  Renchard tracks them down, killing Vincent before he can rape and murder Brianna, and they flee before the bombs go off…but since the foregoing has n-o-t-h-i-n-g to do with Matheson, my verdict is clear.

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Joyous tidings have recently been announced for fans of both classic television and the Southern California Sorcerers (aka “The Group”), namely that the anthology series Thriller will be released on DVD in its entirety by the ever-outstanding Image Entertainment on August 31.  Thriller ran for two seasons (1960-62) on NBC, initially following the same network’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents; both shows were produced by Universal’s television arm, and Hitchcock supposedly pressured them to cancel Thriller because he thought it was too similar.  Indeed, Thriller had much in common with his show:  suspenseful stories, an instantly recognizable host in the form of Boris Karloff, and many of the same personnel (e.g., Herschel Daugherty and John Brahm, who with fifteen and eleven episodes, respectively, were its most frequent directors).

Among those personnel were several Group members, with episodes written by Richard Matheson (“The Return of Andrew Bentley”) and Charles Beaumont (“Guillotine,” based on the story by Cornell Woolrich, and “Girl with a Secret”).  By far the most active was Robert Bloch, who supplied scripts or original stories for many episodes of both shows, including some of the most memorable.  But as with the Hitchcock series and England’s Amicus Productions, which filmed Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” as The Skull (1965) before hiring him as a screenwriter, he was recruited for Thriller only after three episodes (“The Cheaters,” “The Hungry Glass,” and “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”) had been adapted from his work by other writers.

Never as well known as The Twilight Zone or the Hitchcock show, Thriller has its adherents, including Stephen King, who called it “probably the best horror series ever put on TV,” noting in Danse Macabre that “after a slow first thirteen weeks, [it] was able to become something more than the stock imitation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that it was apparently meant to be…and took on a tenebrous life of its own.”  The show initially focused more on crime and mystery, and many of its early problems can be traced to uncertainty regarding its direction and the tensions between creator Hubbell Robinson and his original producer, Fletcher Markle.  The latter and his associate producer and story editor, James P. Cavanagh (a veteran of  Alfred Hitchcock Presents), were soon supplanted by two new producers, Maxwell Shane and William Frye, brought in to handle Thriller’s crime and horror episodes, respectively.

Shane, who had already adapted Woolrich’s work in Fear in the Night (1947) and Nightmare (1956), left after basing “Papa Benjamin” on another of his stories, and Frye, who produced the remaining episodes, soon gave the series a distinctive flavor by mining the pages of Weird Tales.  That famed fantasy pulp is, of course, best known for featuring the work of H.P. Lovecraft and such protégés as August Derleth and Bloch himself.  Directed by Brahm and written by the show’s most prolific contributor, Donald S. Sanford, “The Cheaters” was one of only two episodes—the other being the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Premature Burial” —that were actually introduced with the host’s frequently quoted tagline, “As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller!”

This was to be the first of ten episodes written and/or based on works by Bloch, including William Shatner’s only two appearances, “The Hungry Glass” and Daugherty’s “The Grim Reaper”; coincidentally, Matheson scripted Shatner’s only two Twilight Zone outings, “Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and both writers later contributed to his best-known series, Star Trek.  Bloch adapted “The Weird Tailor” and “Waxworks” (both directed by Daugherty) from his own stories, which he later recycled in the Amicus anthology films Asylum (1972) and The House That Dripped Blood (1970).  His other Thriller episodes were “The Devil’s Ticket,” Brahm’s “A Good Imagination,” Daugherty’s “’Til Death Do Us Part,” and John Newland’s “Man of Mystery,” all based on his own work.

Newland, whose Thriller episode “Pigeons from Hell” is often called the single most frightening story ever done on television, also directed “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” which Matheson adapted from a Weird Tales story by Derleth and Mark Schorer.  Although Beaumont and fellow Group member Jerry Sohl adapted Lovecraft’s work in The Haunted Palace (1963) and Die, Monster, Die (1965), respectively, Matheson never did, despite his successful Poe films for the same studio, AIP.  “He wasn’t my kind of writer—too heavy,” he told me in an interview for Filmfax.  “Heavy stuff.  You know, he’d spend fifty pages talking about some Eldritch horror that is so horrible to describe that he can’t possibly do it, and then in the last ten pages he describes it.  I mean obviously, the man was brilliant, I just don’t care for that kind of writing….But the show Thriller, the whole thing had a Lovecraft atmosphere to it.”

For the full story of this neglected show, see Alan Warren’s This Is a Thriller: An Episode Guide, History and Analysis of the Classic 1960s Television Series, to which I am greatly indebted.  For a blow-by-blow account of Bloch’s involvement, see my contribution to Benjamin Szumskyj’s The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch, some of which I have drawn on here.  And, needless to say, you can read more about “The Return of Andrew Bentley” in Richard Matheson on Screen; all three books are, or will be, published by McFarland.

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Concluding our look at genre films on New York’s three independent stations (WNEW, WPIX, and WOR) during my youth.

With its crudely animated but absolutely unforgettable six-fingered-hand title sequence, WPIX’s Chiller Theatre competed with WNEW’s Creature Features, although I don’t think they overlapped 100%; as I recall, Chiller started at 8:00, and I faced a crisis of conscience every Saturday at 8:30:  stay on channel 11 or, more often, switch to 5?  Two films I’m pretty sure I remember seeing on there were Mario Bava’s What (which I always imagined giving rise to any number of who’s-on-first jokes along the lines of, “You saw What?”) and The Crawling Eye, although the latter appears to have migrated to WOR at some point.  In fact, WPIX was an excellent source for Bava’s early works—Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, The Evil Eye—some of them still in glorious black and white.

WPIX showed the fewest genre films of the three and, perhaps as a result, seemed to have the least clearly defined identity in that capacity, despite the presence of a number of heavyweights.  Toho, for example, was well represented with Godzilla, King of the Monsters and several of its sequels, as well as Atragon and The Mysterians.  My records also indicate a boatload of Hammer films (The Brides of Dracula, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, The Curse of the Werewolf, Demons of the Mind, The Devil’s Bride, Fear in the Night, Five Million Years to Earth, The Nanny, The Phantom of the Opera, Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Taste the Blood of Dracula), although I think many of those only debuted on WPIX in later years.

The Anglo-American oeuvre of producer Herman Cohen (Horrors of the Black Museum, How to Make a Monster, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Konga) straddled the Atlantic, while British-born Harry Alan Towers was an early master of international co-productions such as Against All Odds, The Brides of Fu Manchu, and Circus of Fear.  WPIX also offered films produced by Italy (Castle of the Living Dead, The Cat o’Nine Tails, Snow Devils), Spain (Cauldron of Blood, Dr. Orloff’s Monster, Graveyard of Horror), or both (Horror, Terror in the Crypt).  Sid Pink shot Journey to the Seventh Planet and Reptilicus in Denmark, while Gammera the Invincible and its sequels demonstrated that Toho did not have an exclusive on the kaiju eiga (giant monster) subgenre.

Last but not least, WOR was notable in a number of ways, including sheer quantity, with about as many genre offerings as the other two put together, a steady stream of which appeared on Fright Night and their Saturday-afternoon Science Fiction Theater.  The former aired at 1:00 on Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on your point of view, and was all too often joined “already in progress”—to my intense and enduring rage—due to sports (mostly Mets games, as I recall).  They also showed plenty of movies during the week, and their library included such BOF favorites as Colossus: The Forbin Project, Count Dracula, The Day of the Triffids, Horror Hotel, The Last Man on Earth, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Psycho, The Thing, and Village of the Damned.

WOR had a lock on the Universal classics from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and their many sequels to Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (the screenwriting debut of You-Know-Who) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy.  They also showcased Bela Lugosi’s work for lesser studios in The Ape Man, The Devil Bat, The Invisible Ghost, Scared to Death, Voodoo Man, White Zombie, and Zombies on Broadway.  And WOR’s parent company owned RKO, ensuring Thanksgiving Day screenings of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young, as well as access to the Val Lewton canon (The Body Snatcher, Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, Isle of the Dead).

The early black-and-white work of master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth) and Bava’s later work in color (Baron Blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil) both aired on WOR.  So did that of Paul Naschy, the “Spanish Christopher Lee,” who starred in Assignment Terror, The Fury of the Wolfman, Horror Rises from the Tomb, The Mummy’s Revenge, and Night of the Howling Beast.  Further cementing the station’s international credentials, it showcased a myriad of offerings from Toho, including The Human Vapor, King Kong Escapes, The Last War, Varan the Unbelievable, Yog—Monster from Space, and innumerable entries in their long-running Godzilla series.

Globally, in fact, WOR had no peer, with genre films from Germany (Creature with the Blue Hand), Italy (Battle of the Worlds, The Cursed Medallion, Lightning Bolt, Mission Stardust, The Murder Clinic, Next!, Screamers, The Secret of Dorian Gray, The She-Beast, War of the Planets, Yeti), Japan (The Evil Brain from Outer Space), Mexico (Attack of the Mayan Mummy, The Brainiac, The Curse of the Doll People, The Curse of the Stone Hand), the Philippines (Beast of the Dead, The Island of Living Horror, Tomb of the Living Dead, Vampire People), and Spain (A Bell from Hell, Fangs of the Living Dead, Horror Express, The House That Screamed, Marta, Murder Mansion, Night of the Sorcerers, Ship of Zombies, Witches Mountain).

Domestic output was hardly overlooked, including 1950s SF epics from producer George Pal (Conquest of Space, When Worlds Collide).  AIP cut a wide swath with films by Roger Corman (Creature from the Haunted Sea, Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Teenage Caveman), Bert I. Gordon (Beginning of the End, War of the Colossal Beast), Herman Cohen (I Was a Teenage Werewolf), and Edward L. Cahn (Invasion of the Saucer Men).  Meanwhile, the mother country weighed in with smatterings from both Hammer (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Revenge of Frankenstein) and Amicus (Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., The Terrornauts, Torture Garden, The Mind of Mr. Soames).

But quantity does not always equate with quality, and another of WOR’s hallmarks was its high sleaze factor, which made me envision their headquarters as some squalid den of iniquity.  They featured bottom-of-the-barrel films by Al Adamson (Beyond the Living, The Creature’s Revenge, Man with the Synthetic Brain, Vampire Men of the Lost Planet), Larry Buchanan (Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Eye Creatures, In the Year 2889), and Del Tenney (Zombies).  And there were a few entries whose memories still give me the willies with their gore, grim atmospheres and/or grimy milieuxChildren Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Don’t Look in the Basement, The House of the Seven Corpses, Kiss of the Tarantula, and Silent Night, Bloody Night.

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