Posts Tagged ‘Filmfax’

Ray is gone. Even though the news was hardly unexpected (after all, he was 91, and hadn’t been in the best of health for some time, and lost his beloved wife, Marguerite, several years ago, which has put many a man over the edge, as it certainly would me), and I had long been bracing myself for it, it’s hit me harder than I expected. Maybe because I’m a little gloomy anyway these days, and definitely because I not only admired but also knew him, not in a drinking-buddy kind of way, yet in the way of one who has interviewed a person at great length–more on that later–and corresponded sporadically with him after that.

The one time I met Ray face to face was quite by chance and makes for a rather nice anecdote. It had to be 1990, because I was publicizing Behind the Mask, the memoir by gay former MLB umpire Dave Pallone, and for once I was actually in the big time, sitting in the Green Room at CNN while waiting for Dave to be interviewed by Larry King, when lo and behold, there he was, The GREAT Ray Bradbury, over whom I’m sure I shamelessly fawned the entire time. Normally, of course, when an author is interviewed, the publicist sits in rapt attention, drinking in every word, but when Dave returned to the Green Room after his segment, asked me how it went, and heard my lame reply, he looked at me accusingly–but, it must be said, affectionately–and intoned, “You were talking to Ray Bradbury!,” which I could not in good conscience deny.

I had much more contact with Ray by long distance when I conducted a telephone interview for Filmfax‘s late, lamented sister magazine, Outre, that covered pretty much the entirety of the film and television oeuvre written by Ray and/or based on his work. The logistics surrounding that interview, eventually published in 1995, summon up Ray as a man better than anything else I could come up with, because after it turned out that a technical glitch had rendered my entire audiotape blank, he agreed to reschedule and then did the entire goddamn interview all over again. Yes, you read that right. And believe you me, it was not a brief one.

As is widely known, Ray was not only an inspiration but also a kind of mentor/role model/elder statesman for many of the younger writers among what became known as the California Sorcerers, or simply The Group, such as George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan (all of whom I interviewed for Filmfax and proudly consider friends as well), and Charles Beaumont. It was typical of The Group that they not only were friends, contemporaries, and colleagues, but also wrote for many of the same TV shows, movie studios, and magazines, collaborated on various projects and/or adapted one another’s work for the screen. Ray’s efforts in that last capacity accounted for a goodly hunk of our interview, because by then I was already in the grip of my Matheson obsession, although not yet planning to write Richard Matheson on Screen, and Richard had written the teleplay for the ill-fated 1980 NBC miniseries based on one of Ray’s most famous books, The Martian Chronicles.

Despite his justifiable and quite public disappointment with the miniseries, Ray had the good grace to acknowledge that on paper, Richard’s script did an excellent job of turning a largely unconnected series of stories into a single narrative; like me, he fingered the soporific work of director Michael Anderson as the primary culprit. When it came time for me to write my magnum opus, I drew heavily on our interview for quotes concerning both The Martian Chronicles and their shared experiences writing for The Twilight Zone, which were considerably less happy for Ray than for Richard. And although they weren’t applicable to the book, he had also regaled me with stories of his boyhood pal Ray Harryhausen (another Filmfax interviewee), It Came from Outer Space, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (both 1953), Moby Dick (1956), King of Kings (1961), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Picasso Summer, The Illustrated Man (both 1969), the 35-year saga of getting Something Wicked This Way Comes onto the screen in 1983, The Ray Bradbury Theater, The Halloween Tree (1993), his wonderful book Green Shadows, White Whale, and others too numerous to recall.

If all had gone according to the original plan, I would have met Ray face to face one more time in 2005, when he was one of several genre legends who attended a party in L.A. to celebrate the publication of Matheson’s novel Woman, as I was also scheduled to do. But Richard, realizing that I would get completely lost in the shuffle, wisely suggested that I defer my visit for a few weeks until the HWA’s Stoker Awards weekend, when he would be doing a Twilight Zone panel with George (whom I finally got to meet years after our phoner). I’d exchanged Christmas cards with Ray for several years after our own interview, and kept him abreast of my progress on the Matheson book, but was less willing to bother him after Marguerite died in 2003, and it’s been years now since we’d had any contact.

A giant talent, a great soul, a 12-year-old Midwestern boy-poet trapped in an infirm 91-year-old body, but now liberated–and reunited with Maggie–forever, hoisting a few with a delighted God. What more can I say?

I’ll let the author of Fahrenheit 451 have the last word, in a quote that my mother-in-law shared with me when she called a few minutes ago to offer her condolences:  “I don’t try to describe the future.  I try to prevent it.”

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

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Richard Gordon (1925-2011)

British producer Richard Gordon, who died November 1 at 85, occupied a notable place in the cinema of the fantastic by vocation, by avocation, and even by birth, as the younger brother of Alex Gordon, who was a key figure at American International Pictures during the 1950s before going solo. Richard used to write long letters to Filmfax relating his entertaining and informative adventures with the likes of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. I always laugh about the fact that while I was on the dessert line at Fanex long ago, I served Gordon—who didn’t know me from Adam—a piece of pecan pie, but I did get to chat with him a bit when I met him in the company of McFarland mainstay Tom Weaver at a Film Forum screening of the re-re-restored Metropolis.

Gordon helped get Lugosi—then touring in a revival of Dracula—into the drag comedy Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952, aka Vampire over London, also the title of a book about Lugosi’s sojourn in Britain, and My Son the Vampire). He produced films starring Karloff (The Haunted Strangler, Corridors of Blood [both 1958]), Marshall Thompson (Fiend without a Face [1958], First Man into Space [1959]), Bryant Haliday (Devil Doll [1964], Curse of the Voodoo [1965], The Projected Man [1966], Tower of Evil [1972]), and Peter Cushing (Island of Terror [1966]). When we met, Gordon lamented his falling-out with my late screenwriter/author friend George Baxt, which took place after director Jim O’Connolly rewrote George’s script for Tower of Evil.

As an increasingly rare living link to the horror stars of the Golden Age, Gordon will be missed.

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Had occasion today to plug my name into Google Books, where in addition to the usual Matheson fare and The Nativity–one of several picture books I’d forgotten adapting from animated versions by my erstwhile employers–I discovered Anne Francis: The Life and Career. Laura Wagner, the author of this just-published McFarland title, thanks me in her acknowledgments…which was civil of her, especially considering I had no idea she’d quoted from my Filmfax interview with the late Ms. Francis no fewer than six times. Not that I mind per se, since she cites them all quite properly, but it does seem strange that I was unaware of this, after the hoops McFarland made me jump through getting permission to use previously published material in Richard Matheson on Screen.

Additional random updates/observations:

  • I see NBC has already cancelled Free Agents. Glad I didn’t invest myself in that one–although, considering my track record, can the shows I liked enough to stick with be far behind?
  • Not sure how soon I’ll get to it myself, given how packed my next two weekends will be, but I urge everyone within the sound of my voice to go see Real Steel. It opens tonight and is based on Richard Matheson’s story “Steel,” which he also adapted into an excellent Twilight Zone episode with Lee Marvin, plus it stars Hugh Jackman, so what’s not to like? More on that after I’m able to see it personally, but here’s a nice Matheson-centric piece in the meantime, for which I thank the mighty Turafish.
  • Recognizing boundless enthusiasm and free material when they see it, the good folks at Marvel University have decided to make me a “substitute teacher,” first by re-presenting some vintage Marvel-related BOF posts (if anything from a blog that launched in January 2010 can truly be called “vintage”). They’re supposed to be running my stuff on Sundays starting 10/9, of which I will of course keep you apprised, and then, God willing, once the dust has settled on my epic Bond project, I’ll start churning out new material for them. As I recently told President and Dean of Students Peter Enfantino, he and his partner in crime, Professor John Scoleri, make me remember why I started writing for little or no money in the first place!

Bradley out–and about.

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On the occasion of William F. Nolan’s 83rd birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Logan’s Run (1976) was based on the classic 1967 novel by two giants of the genre, Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  Unfortunately, their own script was not used, and the final adaptation by David Zelag Goodman, who had no track record in (or obvious affinity for) SF, is considered one of the film’s weakest links, along with the leaden direction of Michael Anderson.

Anderson’s box-office hit Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) was a rare case where the director of the year’s Best Picture did not receive an Oscar as Best Director.  This perhaps befits the man responsible for such critically reviled genre efforts as 1984 (1956), Doc SavageThe Man of Bronze (1975), OrcaKiller Whale (1977), and the miniseries The Martian Chronicles (1980).

The novel’s tortuous journey to the screen began with producer Stan Canter, whose final payment was $50,000 short of what was promised the authors, so he promptly tore up the check and ate the signature when they refused it.  There were also abortive productions by George Pal, with a surfing-oriented script from James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and Irwin Allen.

The MGM production used various futuristic locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as economical exteriors, and it was scored by the late Jerry Goldsmith, a perennial Oscar nominee who won only for The Omen (1976).  Logan’s Run received nominations for its cinematography by Ernest Laszlo, who won for Ship of Fools (1965), and for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.

In the 23rd century, humans live in a domed city until age thirty, then try for “renewal” in an elaborate ritual, Carousel; this supplanted the suicide parlors called Sleepshops in the novel, an idea MGM had already cribbed for Soylent Green (1973).  Runners who try to avoid their fate are quickly terminated by Sandmen like Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan).

Finding an ankh on one runner’s body, Logan is told by the all-powerful Computer that it is a symbol for Sanctuary, which he is ordered to locate in search of 1,056 runners unaccounted for—not one person has ever been renewed.  His life clock, which begins to flash red and black as Lastday (i.e., thirty) approaches, is advanced by the Computer so that he can pose as a runner.

Logan seeks the aid of Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), who wears an ankh, while Francis kills a runner he lets go in Cathedral, a ruined area inhabited by vicious children called cubs.  At the New You shop, plastic surgeon Doc (Michael Anderson, Jr.) tries to kill Logan, but dies under his own lasers, and his assistant Holly 13 (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) admits Francis is hunting him.

Accepted by the runners, Logan battles the Sandmen and flees through the bowels of the city with Jessica, as Francis follows.  In an ice cave, they encounter Box (Roscoe Lee Browne), a robot who creates ice sculptures and has frozen a number of runners for “protein,” and although the cave collapses as they fight their way out to freedom, they make it through, as does Francis.

Outside the dome, Logan and Jessica find that their life clocks have turned clear, as they are at birth, and in the ruins of Washington, D.C., they meet an Old Man (Peter Ustinov), who remembers life as it used to be.  Francis arrives, and after Logan is forced to kill him, he and Jessica decide to return to the city, with the Old Man as proof that life need not end at thirty.

Diving into a pool outside the dome, Logan and Jessica find an underwater entrance to the city and try to tell the people the truth, but Logan is captured by the authorities.  When he reveals that Sanctuary does not exist, this causes a malfunction that destroys the Computer, and as the city begins to collapse, the people leave their sheltered existence to meet the Old Man.

Both authors discussed the adaptation with me in separate interviews for Filmfax.  Nolan called the script “basically flawed since, by his own admission, Goodman knew nothing about writing science fiction.  His version of the novel made no logical sense and even [producer] Saul David confessed that he was not happy with it….The death age [was] moved up from 21 to 30 to allow more mature casting.”

Goodman, added Johnson, chose to “borrow the man with the faceted sides, the mirrored Box, from the North Pole, where [he was] in a prison colony, and put him underneath the city in some kind of a refrigeration laboratory, and swap this justification for that justification, and then when they show up there, there he will be.  Ta da!  But, where’s the logic of him being there?”

Despite its deficiencies, Logan’s Run contains many splendid visuals, and won a special Academy Award for its effects.  It spawned a Marvel comic book and an eponymous CBS series, both short-lived, while Nolan (sans Johnson) wrote an outline for an unfilmed sequel, which later became his novel Logan’s World (1977), and completed the trilogy with Logan’s Search (1980).  A remake is reportedly in the works.

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Any pleasure I would have taken in reporting this news has been largely dampened—in every sense of the word—by the discovery (literally as I sat down to begin writing) of a new leak, in our bedroom ceiling this time, followed by the resurgence of an old leak in the basement, and a fruitless session of chopping away at the ice in the gutters.  Madame BOF and I were left feeling utterly hopeless, with two more months of winter yet to come and the second storm in a double-header hitting tonight.  Be that as it may, however, issue #19 of Cinema Retro, that outstanding magazine devoted to the true cinematic Golden Age of the ’60s and ’70s, is a veritable goldmine for those who follow the careers of yours truly and my main man Gilbert Colon with any interest.

The cover story is a ten-page “Film in Focus Special” occasioned by the Blu-ray release of The Exorcist (1973), most of which is devoted to pertinent passages from the 1996 interview Gil and I did with its original author, screenwriter, and producer, William Peter Blatty.  Portions of said interview were published in Filmfax, but Retro will supposedly publish the whole enchilada over a series of issues; this installment is beefed up with color photos, sidebars by editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer, and Gilbert’s preview of Bill’s new novel from Tor, Crazy.  And, as if all that weren’t enough to entice you, Lee was able to squeeze in a last-minute review of Richard Matheson on Screen, opining that, “If you admire Matheson’s work, this book can be considered as essential.”

Meanwhile, as if this year didn’t suck enough already, John Barry has left us at the not-terribly-advanced age of 77.  Since his name will be familiar to BOF readers, I will not regurgitate what I’ve already written here about his place among my top ten favorite film composers, his seminal contributions to the James Bond series or, most recently, his work on the late Peter Yates’s The Deep (1977).  I will mention his Academy Awards for Born Free (1966)—for song and score—The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985), and Dances with Wolves (1990), as well as his nominations for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Chaplin (1992), because even though none of them is a personal favorite, they surely display the length and breadth of his extraordinary career.

My choices are, as usual, a bit more eclectic, like Sidney J. Furie’s The Ipcress File (1965), from the novel by Len Deighton.  Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman intended to establish Deighton’s nameless and bespectacled spy (dubbed “Harry Palmer” and brilliantly played by Michael Caine in the film) as the anti-Bond, and despite Barry’s already strong association with the Bond series, Saltzman wisely allowed him to score the film.  One need only contrast the moody, world-weary main title theme from The Ipcress File with the dynamism of, say, Barry’s first full Bond score, Goldfinger (1964), or his pulse-pounding instrumental main title from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) to see how, even within the espionage genre, he could vary his work accordingly.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Barry composed a theme of suitably heartbreaking beauty for Nicolas Roeg’s solo directorial debut, Walkabout (1971), a unique tale of two children forced to undergo a coming-of-age odyssey through the Australian Outback.  With his seemingly effortless artistry, Barry captures both the lyrical majesty of the film’s setting and the bittersweet ache of its storyline.  Finally, as the author of the Matheson tome cited above, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Barry’s work on Somewhere in Time (1980), a lush, romantic score that incorporates Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43, Variation XVIII), proved to be one of his biggest-selling soundtracks, and was born out of the pain of losing both his parents.

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Following that word from our “sponsor” (i.e., WordPress.com), I bring you a quick notification that Tor.com has run the latest—and, for the moment, last—post in my Matheson series, devoted to his latter-day Twilight Zone efforts and the adaptations of his work into this century.  One of the possibilities I’ve discussed with my editor there is an interview with Richard himself, which would presumably focus primarily on his upcoming novel Other Kingdoms, due out from Tor in March, but in order to do that, I have to get them to give me a look at the fershlugginer thing!  At any rate, I’ll keep you posted as time goes by, and I’m sure to generate more Matheson material.

Sad to say, the Grim Reaper came out swinging in 2011, claiming in quick succession character actor Pete Postlethwaite, Forbidden Planet (1956) star Anne Francis, and a rat named Friend.  I remember Postlethwaite best from Alien3 (1992), his Oscar-nominated In the Name of the Father (1993), and Romeo + Juliet (1996), but have yet to see The Usual Suspects (1994) or the current Inception.  Although Forbidden Planet has never been a big favorite of mine, I greatly enjoyed interviewing Anne for the cover story of Filmfax #78 (April/May 2000) and discussing Bad Day at Black Rock (1954), The Blackboard Jungle (1955), The Twilight Zone and, natch, Honey West.

As for Friend, I never thought I’d shed tears over the death of a rat, let alone one that was foisted upon me against my will, yet when I learned that the poor little guy passed this morning, I was genuinely moved.  Regular readers know that he and his rodent companion, Renfield, were due for euthanasia once they’d outlived their usefulness at Cornell’s psychology lab, only to be saved by my daughter and taken in by Madame BOF, who became very attached to them.  I didn’t want us to have the responsibility of caring for the rats, especially since we’d just adopted our shelter cats, Mina and Lucy, but I certainly never wished them ill, or wanted either of the boys to suffer.

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Presumptuous though it may be, when someone I’ve interviewed dies, I always feel like I’ve lost one of my own, and this is truer than usual in the case of Ingrid Pitt, who left us Tuesday at 73, although she seemed far younger—fitting for a star who embodied a vampire more than once in her memorable career.  First and foremost, of course, she played Heidi in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968), as well as appearing in two other works that loom large in my legend, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Smiley’s People (1982).  When I spoke with Ingrid for what became the cover story in Filmfax #62, I felt both an incredible vivacity and a far stronger connection than I have had with many of my other “victims,” despite her being an ocean away.

Ingrid’s relationship with the horror/SF genre dates back at least as far as her early Spanish credit El Sonido Prehistorico (The Prehistoric Sound, aka The Sound of Horror, 1964), which concerns an invisible dinosaur…one way to economize on special effects, I suppose.  Her other pre-Eagles roles reportedly included uncredited appearances in films ranging from Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (both 1965) to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).  Just before being featured in Alistair MacLean’s blockbuster, Ingrid starred in W. Lee Wilder’s justly obscure genre effort The Omegans (1968); I’ve already shared some of her recollections about that film and the Brothers Wilder in “The Wilder Bunch, Part I.”

Ingrid related an amusing story about being cast as Heidi:  “I was doing [an episode of] Dundee and the Culhane with John Mills.  Ralph Meeker was also on it.  He rang me up and asked me if I would like to go and play poker at [famed stuntman] Yakima Canutt’s house.  I had laryngitis but I thought, well, I couldn’t miss a big opportunity like that.  We went and it was absolutely amazing….When I’d lost all my money and had to cry ‘Uncle,’ Yak walked me to the door.  As I got in the taxi, he leaned in and said, ‘There’s a part in the film I’m just starting, why don’t you go for that?…Mention my name,’ he said as he slammed the cab door.  Of course, mentioning certain people’s names is magic.  I got to see Brian Hutton for three seconds the next day…”

Ingrid had several memorable scenes, and inspired a hilarious line from Richard Burton:  “She’s been one of our top agents in Bavaria since 1941, and…[leering at her ample décolletage] what a disguise.”  She enjoyed making the film, but lamented that “they gave me really lousy billing.  [Producer] Elliott [Kastner] had promised me, ‘Introducing Ingrid Pitt’…[but] it didn’t happen.  He forgot—he said.…I was just at the very end, since my name starts with ‘P,’ and the cinemas are empty by the time my name comes around.”  She experienced another disappointment with Hutton’s follow-up film, which reunited him with Clint Eastwood:  “I was going to be in Kelly’s Heroes [1970], and then he decided he didn’t want women in it after all.  I nearly killed him.”

Eagles is best known for action sequences such as its legendary fight atop a cable car.  “Yak was doing the great shot of the stuntman, Alf Joint, jumping from one cable car to the other….Alf was hovering in front of the camera as the cable car started to go.  (And didn’t he look just like Richard hovering there?)  The next cable car came towards him, and you must imagine hundreds of people, everybody watching.  They got into frame and Yak said, ‘Get those people out of the way!’…Anyway, when Yakima…said, ‘GO!,’ Alf went.  Unfortunately, the force of the thrust as he leapt for the other car caused the cable car to swing and the camera fell off.  Luckily none of the crew followed it.  Elliott went berserk.  They had to shoot the whole dodgy sequence again.”

Next, Ingrid appeared in a trio of films that ensured her iconic status among horror fans:  Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers and Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula (1971) for Hammer, and the Robert Bloch-scripted anthology film The House That Dripped Blood (1971) for Amicus.  As fond as I was of Ingrid, I’ve never been a big fan of Countess Dracula, which in spite of its title concerns not a vampire but Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), the Hungarian countess who was said to retain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins.  At least I’m consistent, because I feel the same way about other films directed by Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970; Hands of the Ripper, 1971) or inspired by Báthory (Daughters of Darkness, 1971; Blood Castle, 1973).

Of her nude bathing scene in The Vampire Lovers, Ingrid said, “I had asked Jimmy [Carreras] to call his two producers [Harry Fine and Michael Style] up to London to show rushes.  I thought I might be a little inhibited.  They had this way of looking at me.  I thought, if they’re in London with Jimmy, then maybe it would be a sort of closed set…I came out of my dressing room and saw [the two producers] coming down the corridor en route to the car park with heads hanging down, very sad.  I thought, ‘God damn it, look what I’ve done!’  I had this terrycloth robe on and felt an uncontrollable urge to brighten their lives, so I whipped it open, did a bit of a jiggle and said, ‘Woo-whee!’  I tell you, Matthew, it made them so happy!  They were so bloody happy!”

Ingrid shared billing with Peter Cushing in The Vampire Lovers and The House That Dripped Blood, and with Christopher Lee in the latter, although the three starred in separate segments; she also appeared with Lee in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), written by Anthony Shaffer of Frenzy and Sleuth (both 1972) fame.  Other credits included two multi-part episodes of Doctor Who (“The Time Monster” and “Warriors of the Deep”) and the Reginald Rose-scripted action films The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins, 1982) and Wild Geese II (1985).  But it is for the sanguinary roles she approached with such good humor and joie de vivre that we will remember Ingrid, and for the enthusiasm that made the word “fantastic” a veritable mantra in our interview.

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I realize the expression “late to the party” doesn’t even begin to describe my situation, but now that John Scoleri and Peter Enfantino have expertly explicated all 67 episodes on their ambitious and highly entertaining blog A Thriller a Day (ATAD), I finally have the Image Entertainment 14-DVD boxed set of the entire series.  (It was supposed to be a belated birthday present—from last June—but that’s another story.)  I won’t waste your time or mine by rehashing their post on Matheson’s sole episode, “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” yet this does give me an opportunity to discuss the audio commentary, one of those special features that have Thriller fans so excited.

Matheson adapted this second-season script from the story by H.P. Lovecraft disciple August Derleth and Mark Shorer, which debuted in Weird Tales in September 1932.  It appeared in their 1966 Arkham House collection Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People, whose title tale became another memorable Thriller episode, “The Incredible Doktor Markesan.”  Ellis Corbett (director John Newland) inherits the home of his uncle, Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney), and joins forces with Dr. Weatherbee (Philip Bourneuf) and Rev. Burkhardt (Oscar Beregi) to protect Amos’s remains from ghostly sorcerer Bentley (Reggie Nalder) and his familiar (Tom Hennesy).

Image provides commentaries by various genre historians for almost half of the episodes, and the pedigree of those tackling “Bentley” is impeccable.  Gary Gerani was one of the producers of those very same DVD special features, while novelist and screenwriter David J. Schow, as well as being a Thriller aficionado and the author of The Outer Limits Companion, is cited more than once in Richard Matheson on Screen.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Messrs. Scoleri and Enfantino will be giving The Outer Limits the ATAD treatment on their newest blog, We Are Controlling Transmission (hereinafter WACT, pronounced “whacked”), which debuts on New Year’s Day.

Gerani and Schow intone the inevitable litany of other genre credits for the cast and crew, e.g., Antoinette Bower (featured as Ellis’s wife, Sheila), who starred in “Waxworks” and “Catspaw,” written by Robert Bloch for Thriller and Star Trek, respectively.  Newland is best known for helming and hosting every episode of One Step Beyond (aka Alcoa Presents) and directing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973).  Ken Renard, who played ill-fated caretaker Jacob, was also seen in Newland’s “Pigeons from Hell,” widely regarded as Thriller’s finest episode, and de Marney appropriately appeared in the Lovecraft film Monster of Terror (aka Die, Monster, Die, 1965).

“Bentley” is well-regarded among Thriller experts, popping up on several top ten lists by the ATAD creators and commentators (who occasionally included yours truly), and Gerani and Schow have fun enumerating sets and visual motifs familiar from other episodes.  Thriller was produced by Universal’s television arm, Revue Studios, and they point out that although the whale-like face of the Lovecraftian familiar (with Jack Barron’s makeup obscured by a smeared lens) was unique in the Universal canon, his claws were in fact those of the Creature from the Black Lagoon!  Aptly, Hennesy played the Gill Man on land in Revenge of the Creature (1955).

Gerani and Schow observe that while Matheson typically depicts an element of the extraordinary intruding on the lives of ordinary people, the average episode of Thriller inverts this framework, with ordinary people like the Corbetts intruding on extraordinary events.  They argue that he and Thriller were perhaps not the best match, a sentiment Matheson might share.  Despite publishing two stories (“Wet Straw” and “Slaughter House”) in Weird Tales himself, he noted in one of our Filmfax interviews that he did not care for Lovecraft’s kind of writing, and lamented the changes made to his teleplay, which toned down the bantering relationship he’d intended for the Corbetts.

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While the world (well, okay, three of you) breathlessly awaits the impending publication of Richard Matheson on Screen, which I am still frantically indexing, there is yet new Bradley to be had.  Hot off the presses, and presumably hot on the shelves of your local chain bookstore—or, better yet, a mere subscription form away—is Filmfaxplus #124, containing the conclusion of my interview with W.D. Richter.  This installment covers his work as the director of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and the screenwriter of Big Trouble in Little China and Needful Things.  Portions of this interview previously appeared in both editions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, but although space still hasn’t permitted it to run in its entirety, this is the first time any of the non-Body Snatchers material has seen the light of day.

In a stunning piece of serendipity, this issue also contains an interview with legendary Marvel Comics artist “Joltin’ Joe” Sinnott.  Since I consider Sinnott to be the greatest inker who ever lived, I am beyond honored to be sharing space with him, as I am to be represented in their 25th-anniversary issue.  It seems hard to believe that I’ve been generously represented therein for 17 of those 25 years, since my interview with Robert Bloch appeared in #40.  That was my first published interview, although not the first I conducted, which was with The Great You-Know-Who (and aptly debuted soon afterward in their Vincent Price tribute issue, #42).  The number of times Filmfax pops up in my index bespeaks a long, proud relationship with the magazine, where many of the interviews I draw on first appeared.  I hope it will continue for another 17…

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Bad to the Bone, Part I

Sure, I love to ramble on about Frankenheimer, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and the like, but there’s a whole different side to my eclectic film tastes, and that encompasses the wonderful world of Bad Cinema, where Ed Wood and Al Adamson plied their trade. Some of the two dozen films I’ve selected for this four-part post are hilariously awful in a so-bad-it’s-good way, while others are simply wretched, but either way, they hit rock bottom from any objective critical standpoint. I was going to call this “The Best of the Worst” (instead of which I fell back on the title of one of my favorite songs), but there are far too many candidates for that dubious honor, so I merely offer a usual representative sample.

The Beach Girls and the Monster (aka Monster from the Surf): One of the lamest excuses for a motion picture around. Universal B-movie vet John Hall directed, photographed and stars in this sand-clogged clunker, with a more-or-less title song performed at a beach bonfire by a hand puppet—yes, you read that right, a hand puppet—and a ditzy Betty Boop soundalike. Seems they only had about twenty minutes’ worth of plot, so Hall compensates, if that is the word, by padding it out with endless scenes of gyrating bikini-clad girls and the like. These are so clumsily interpolated that a big neon sign flashing “Padding! Padding!” could scarcely be more explicit; in one instance, a guitar-strumming chap is asked to warble a tune and unconvincingly asks the girl who requested it, “Which one was that again?,” giving her the perfect setup to drop the title of the song, presumably a hoped-for Top 40 hit of its day. But the best is when the hero asks his pal to sit down and watch some surfing films he recently acquired, whereupon he switches on his little home projector and we are treated to several minutes of additional irrelevancy—which, unlike the rest of the film, is in color! Hall is the hero’s father, who turns out to be killing the young revelers in a ludicrous monster suit as a way to encourage his son to get back in the lab experimenting with old Dad where he belongs. This guy has obviously never read Dale Carnegie, but we are treated to the sight of him trying to make a run for it in a little white convertible, clad in the monster suit—sans head.

The Beast of Yucca Flats: I’ve seen films in which certain scenes were shot without sound and later overlaid with obviously looped dialogue, narration, and/or cheesy music—but never a whole movie before! This no-budget classic of Bad Cinema makes Ed Wood look like Orson Welles, and appropriately stars one of Wood’s favorite interpreters, Big Tor Johnson, as a defecting Soviet scientist who is pursued by Kremlin agents into the Yucca Flats atomic testing site at an inopportune moment. Badly scarred, he lives only to kill, but doesn’t even manage to do much of that while an ex-paratrooper-turned-cop in a helicopter hunts down an innocent man by mistake and a rambling, repetitious voiceover ruminates endlessly on the dangers of progress. From the irrelevant teaser, as a towel-wrapped woman is strangled to death by an unknown assailant in a scene that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the picture, to the ludicrous finale, as the mortally wounded beast pets a passing rabbit before expiring, this is the Mount Everest of cheese. “Flag on the moon. How did it get there?”

The Corpse Grinders: This came out when I was nine, and the supremely lurid title and ad campaign convinced me that it was the utter acme of exploitative horror. I remember thinking, “Crap, you mean they’re actually gonna show people getting ground up? Damn!” Well, there’s a double irony here: first, the genre has “evolved” to the point where it has long since surpassed even my wildest fantasies in explicit gore, and second, this rock-bottom Sweeney Todd knockoff from Ted V. Mikels, the director of The Astro-Zombies, is so patently awful, and relatively restrained at that, I might even have known at the age of nine, if I had seen it at the time, that I was being ripped off. But it took me a solid thirty years to see it, and even knowing how lousy it would be by then, I simply had to, just in order to satisfy my youthful curiosity. The plot? Unscrupulous cat-food manufacturers supplement their product with human filler, giving kitties a taste for two-legged treats. Cast and crew? Forget it.

The Dark (1979, aka The Mutilator): One of my many Filmfax interviewees, Igo Kantor, co-produced this film, and says its original director, Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper, fell so far behind as a result of his drug use that he was replaced by longtime Kantor Kollaborator John “Bud” Cardos. I’m not sure the screenwriter wasn’t sharing the needle with Tobe, for the result is an incoherent mess about an alien that mutilates victims apparently at random; we don’t get a really good look at him or a clear explanation for anything, just the sight of has-been and/or never-were stars like William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, and Vivian Blaine flailing around in search of an actual movie.

Dementia: In all fairness this one is, strictly speaking, not so much bad as deeply bizarre. “Demented” is indeed the word for a wonderfully weird one-off from filmmaker John Parker, later re-released with narration by the late Ed McMahon (!) as Daughter of Horror. Parker’s nightmarish, no-budget, dialogue-free fantasy concerns a woman who agrees to serve as an “escort” for a wealthy fat man (perennial literal and figurative heavy Bruno Ve Sota), then becomes so repulsed by him that she kills him and cuts his hand off, only to be haunted by his one-handed ghost and other phantoms in scenes strongly reminiscent of BOF fave Carnival of Souls. But take it from me, no mere summary can do justice to this unique and compellingly shot viewing experience, which must be seen to be believed.

Destination Inner Space: Rhetorical Question #1: Was this trip really necessary? Rhetorical Question #2: Did producer/screenwriter and sometime director Arthur C. Pierce make one good movie in his whole career? (For further damning evidence, see—or better yet don’t see—Cyborg 2087, The Human Duplicators, The Navy Vs. the Night Monsters and/or Women of the Prehistoric Planet, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.) Certainly the presence of Pierce and leading man Scott Brady says all that need be said to a true genre aficionado, although this one is mitigated slightly by an actual monster—more than can be said for many of Pierce’s pictures—and by a boatload (sorry) of underwater photography. Said monster is, of course, low-rent in the extreme, as is every other aspect of this miserable excuse for a motion picture, and looks like nothing so much as a refugee from The Horror of Party Beach, but quite frankly, I’ve seen worse. Boy meets girl in underwater lab. Boy and girl encounter alien craft from which scaly monster emerges. Mayhem ensues…

To be continued.

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