The Kansas Silent Film Festival is an Event Made-to-Order for Cinema Lovers

2

KSFF 19th AnnualFor years, I have been trying to attend the Kansas Silent Film Festival. But there were always family obligations or, when the weekend was free, a winter storm decided to roll through the plains. However, 2015 was different and with now being less than 90 minutes away, I finally had a chance to attend part of this years’ 19th annual event.

The Kansas Silent Film Festival is typically held the last weekend of February and admission is always free. Located on the Washburn University campus in the White Concert Hall in Topeka, KS, a variety of films are presented over two nights and a day in 16mm with some presented digitally. For an old school movie buff like me, I love hearing the sound of a projector or seeing the occasional flipping film strip. It adds some authenticity to the experience. Of course, the real highlight though is the music as it is all live, just as the films were originally intended to be presented.

Marvin Faulwell is an accomplished organist from Lee’s Summit, Missouri and has been a part of this event since the first year. He is a cornerstone of the event and his skills are amazing. He was accompanied by percussionist Bob Keckeisen, assistant director of the Topeka Symphony Orchestra. In addition, we were graced with the talents of composer and musician Jeff Rapsis.Harold Lloyd

Jon Mirsalis from California was a special guest for this year’s festivities. A two-time President of the Society for Cinephiles, he has provided feature film prints for the festival for years. Finally attending the event in person, he played piano for several of the films as well as being the Guest of Honor at the KSFF Cinema Dinner Saturday night. Add to all of this, film historian Denise Morrison and many other talented people behind the scenes and you have what was a very professional and fun event.

BK BookWith volunteers greeting my sister Barb and I at the door, we were welcomed into the lobby where some vendor tables were set up. T-shirts, books and even 16mm films were for sale. Of course, I couldn’t walk away without a few purchases, one of which included the very rare 1934 Buster Keaton French film Le Roi des Champs-Elysees. Rare newspapers and books were on display in glass cases with standees of such favorites as Laurel and Hardy strategically positioned though out the lobby. I instantly knew that I was home amongst other fans of the cinema.

Friday’s nights selection of films started off with a short subject called Shine ‘Em Up (1922) starring James Parrott, the younger brother of Charley Chase. I had never heard of Parrott before, so getting a chance to see this was a pleasant surprise and a funny start to a fun evening. The main features of the night were a classic comedy double feature with Harold Lloyd’s Grandma’s Boy (1922) in 16mm and Buster Keaton’s College (1927). I had never seen the Lloyd film and only bits and pieces of College. My sister and I were in full agreement that Grandma’s Boy was a classic and quite hilarious, by far the better of the two feature films. This also supported my personal believe that Harold Lloyd’s films are just as relevant today as they ever were. While I enjoyed College, the film was a bit slow at times and not the best example of Buster’s great comedy. But what a fantastic experience and the live music was amazing.L&H Battle of the Century

On Saturday morning, with a typical late winter snowstorm beginning to hit the area and a pending birthday celebration for my mother, I knew I was going to have cut things a little short. But that didn’t take away from another great morning of comedy classics. We were all in for a special treat with a rare presentation of the first episode of the classic HBO series Hollywood. If you’ve never seen this incredible series, check it out on YouTube. The interviews with silent film stars now long dead are worth it alone. Next up were two short subjects, the first of which was the partially lost Laurel and Hardy gem The Battle of the Century (1928). Then, we went way back to 1916 for Mack Swain’s A Movie Star. Both were funny and a perfect way to start off another day of films.

L&HUnfortunately, that is where I had to bow out but the rest of the eager audience was in store for a fun day of films, highlighted by a presentation of The Birth of a Nation (1915) and subsequent panel discussion featuring K.U. Associate Professor Kevin Willmott and film collector Jon Mirsalis. In the evening, the final film was The Sea Hawk (1924), capping off a tremendous event.

After years of aborted attempts, I can say I finally made it to the Kansas Silent Film Festival. Now, I cannot wait to attend the 20th annual event next year. With the films and live music, combined with an atmosphere of fellow film lovers, it is something everyone should enjoy. I cannot highly recommend this event enough!BK

My Personal Thoughts on Leonard Nimoy

2

I just received a text message from a good friend. He asked if I was okay and I had no clue what he was getting at. Then, he informed me that Leonard Nimoy was dead at the age of 83. I had read the news that he had been rushed to the hospital last week and I knew he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This wasn’t entirely unexpected but it doesn’t take away the feeling that I’ve just been kicked in the gut. Part of my childhood is now gone.LN 1

Having been born in 1967, I missed Star Trek when it was first broadcast. However, one of my earliest memories dates back to late 1970/early 1971, watching the “Who Mourns for Adonais?” episode on a black and white TV in our small living room. I have vivid memories of watching Star Trek on Saturday afternoons and having to leave for Cub Scouts, hoping my dad would finish the episode and tell me how it ended. Or the time I kept sneaking out of my naptime to watch “The Menagerie” on a Sunday afternoon. My first paperback novel was World Without End by Joe Haldeman, which my mom bought for me when I was home sick. I could go on but you get the picture, I was a Trekkie from day one. And anytime the cast was on another TV show, such as Nimoy’s classic series In Search Of…, I was watching.

I met Leonard Nimoy on three different trips down to Trek Expo in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This was an incredibly well-run event which finally gave me the opportunity to meet my childhood heroes. I’ll admit, the first time initially wasn’t that great. His Q&A session was mostly just talking about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There were rumors he didn’t feel well. He didn’t even glance up when he signed an autograph as the line was incredibly long. But that night, he gave a live performance of Spock vs. Q with John DeLancie. He was much more talkative and open. It was amazing. He returned to Trek Expo two more times, once with William Shatner. On both occasions, he was more relaxed and quite talkative, making sure he connected with everyone. A class act from start to finish.

Nimoy at Trek Expo 2009I never got the opportunity to meet DeForest Kelley before he died but I remember that day like it was yesterday. My wife and I were in Las Vegas and we had just visited Star Trek: The Experience the day before. We made a point to return again that day. I was also lucky in that I met James Doohan during one of his last conventions appearances. So, I’ve come to terms that my childhood heroes are getting older. When I heard last year that Nimoy was ill and had retired from acting and conventions, I knew this day was coming. But I had hoped it wouldn’t be for a while.

Nimoy’s death brings our mortality front and center. My father is the same age and his health has been declining for the last several years. My dad and I have a very strong bond when it comes to Star Trek. We went to the first five Star Trek movies together and, after a long gap, we went to the last two. My dad and I visited the last four Trek Expo events together and I can proudly say my dad was the oldest Trekkie there. Now that Nimoy is gone, it serves as a reminder that I am no longer the young man I once was.

I’ve been slowing working my way through the classic Star Trek episodes over the last several years. I’m ready to start season 3 and I think I will do so this afternoon. I fully expect that there will be hundreds of articles and personal recollections about Leonard Nimoy over the next several days and weeks. For now, let me simply say Live Long and Prosper Mr. Nimoy. The world of sci-fi has lost a legend today and the stars will shine a little dimmer tonight.LN 2

Special Episode of Nightmare with Tom Leahy is Now Available

0

If you’re reading this blog, it’s safe to say that you’ve watched a monster movie host at one time or another. Svengoolie continues to host the Universal Horror classics every Saturday night on MeTV. When I was younger, I watched Crematia Mortem on the Creature Feature from Kansas City Channel 41. However, one of the originals was none other than Tom Leahy.Nightmare modern logo

In the 1950s, he created the character of The Host and, with his sidekick Rodney, they terrorized children every week on Nightmare. I didn’t discover The Host until Nightmare had been resurrected in the late 80s on channel 24 KSAS, Wichita’s first independent television station (eventually becoming affiliated with the Fox Network). Several of the original 1950s TV shows have been posted online in recent years. However, there has never been a complete episode of Nightmare including a movie. Well, that has just changed…sort of.

A 1970s demo tape of Tom Leahy selling Nightmare to television stations in hopes of national syndication was recently discovered at the Kansas Historical Society. Essentially, it is a complete show with only the movie missing. So, I had a crazy idea of taking the hosting segments and merging them with Tom Leahy’s 1965 “classic” The Beast from the Beginning of Time. Enter Joel Sanderson aka Gunther Dedmund and, through his expertise, a “long-lost” episode of Nightmare has been created.

The HostThis special episode of Nightmare is now available on the Archive.org website for viewing or download. So, grab some popcorn, a beverage of your choice and get ready to enjoy a good old fashioned blast from the past.

Special thanks to Joel Sanderson for his ongoing dedication to the legacy of Tom Leahy and for making these great videos available for all of us to enjoy!

Long-Lost Horror Film from Tom Leahy is Unearthed in Wichita

0

Whenever a rare or long-lost film is discovered, it’s like finding a treasure chest of gold for film lovers. Sure, every now and then you find the equivalent of Al Capone’s vault but most of the time, the film is a fun glimpse into a past long forgotten. Writer/producer/director Tom Leahy is best known to fans of this blog for his 1965 horror flick The Beast from the Beginning of Time. However, Tom also worked on another film and now everyone has a chance to see it. Behold the film known as Green Hell from the Void (1968).

I first became aware of this film last October when I met Joel Sanderson, better known to many as Gunther Dedmund on The Basement Sublet of Horror. Joel had acquired Tom’s first film years ago and unleashed it upon a hungry audience. It was at that time that he first heard about Green Hell from the Void. However, he lost contact with Tom before seeing the film or finding out if the film still existed. Tom had mentioned it once in a 1981 newspaper article written by Bob Curtright. Published in the Wichita Eagle-Beacon, the article was hyping the television debut of The Beast from the Beginning of Time. Tom mentioned it casually as being a pilot but nothing more. The question remained whether or not the film was still in one piece and, if so, who had it. With Tom passing away in 2010, the fear was that we might never know.Green Hell Film Reel

Enter writer and podcast legend Derek M. Koch. Derek is well-known for his love of the horror genre through various podcasts including Monster Kid Radio and 1951 Down Place. After hearing that another Tom Leahy film may exist, I reached out to Derek to tell him as I knew he would be as excited as I was. After all, The Beast from the Beginning of Time played a huge part in why this blog exists. Joel knew that some of Tom Leahy’s estate material was given to the Kansas Historical Society, which I mentioned to Derek. Derek quickly went online and discovered that the film was listed as being in the possession of the Kansas Historical Society. I shared this news with Joel, who quickly contacted them and arranged for a meeting. Sure enough, they had the film and Joel was able to view it. So, was this movie all we had hoped for?

Green Hell MonsterFirst, let’s acknowledge that the film is incomplete and only runs about 12 minutes. It was apparently intended to be a pilot for a potential television series. Why production stopped is just one of the mysteries still surrounding this previously lost gem. We do know that Tom was involved in the production, most likely being the writer and director as well. It was filmed in 1968, based on a Sedgwick County car tag. While the story takes place in “Las Mesas”, the sign is obviously a fake and the scenery clearly looks like Kansas. There is a shot of a gas station and a Del Sueno Motel. It’s unclear whether this motel was real or simply staged. It was filmed in color and is in really good condition; especially considering that it most likely has been collecting dust in this film can for decades.

The film starts with an image of a monster head. It is a lizard-like creature that reminded me of the Sleestaks from the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost. We see a reference to Group 5 Productions, which may have been Tom’s production company. But again, we don’t know for sure. The story begins with a man around a campfire listening to a radio announcer talking about UFOs. A spacecraft flies overhead and crashes. The man goes to investigate and discovers it is a small craft releasing a mysterious fog. An explosion then knocks him unconscious. The next day, we see him driving on a highway, passing a sign for Las Mesas. He then checks into the Del Sueno Motel. He encounters a shady motel clerk (Dick Wellsbacher) and identifies himself as Jim Smith, which is likely a fake name based on his mannerisms. The clerk sees the Sedgwick County car tag and makes a reference to him being from out of town. As Smith walks away, the clerk turns on a radio and we hear Spanish music, trying to add to the perception that we are possibly in New Mexico.

Green Hell TransformationIn the next scene, we see Smith racing to his car at night in a parking lot (which does not appear to be at the motel). He is breathing hard and looks down at his hands. They are changing into a reptilian-like texture. He begins driving on a highway and is clearly in distress. He is transforming and seems disoriented. His hands are turning into claws with scales on his face and he begins to hiss like a snake. He stops and picks up a hitchhiker. Once in the car, he turns to the hitchhiker and we see the reptilian face that we saw at the very beginning. He begins clawing at the hitchhiker and draws blood which is clearly visible on his arm. The hitchhiker tries to get away from the creature but is attacked and is apparently killed. And then, the screen fades out.

Where the story was going to go after that remains a mystery. Was this going to be an anthology series? Was it inspired by The Invaders television series? Unfortunately, we may never know for sure. Without knowing who the main actor is and with Tom no longer with us, the only source of information is Professor Richard (Dick) Wellsbacher. He just celebrated his 89th birthday but he does have a Facebook account. Joel is currently doing research in hopes of finding out some more information. There are also some plans for a more formal release of this film later this year.

Tom as The HostFor now, the short film is available for everyone to see on Vimeo. Check it out and, while you’re there, you might also be interested in another rare treasure from Tom Leahy. You can watch an unreleased marketing promo for Tom’s late night horror host program Nightmare. This appears to be from the 1970s and was intended to be shown to television stations in hopes of getting Nightmare syndicated. Sadly, that never happened. But as horror fans, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Special thanks to Joel Sanderson and the Kansas Historical Society for making this film available and to Derek M. Koch for that late night conversation which led to its rediscovery. Now, go watch Green Hell from the Void and let us know what you think.

A Tod Slaughter Cinematic Retrospective – Part Four

0

Tod Slaughter 3As we continue our retrospective into the career of Tod Slaughter, our next two films have very similar themes with slightly more horrific storylines. Both contain murder and deceit as well as torture and a maniacal madman.

Our first film is It’s Never Too Late to Mend (1937). Tod Slaughter heads up the cast as Squire John Meadows. He is the justice in the village as well as the local prison administrator. While most in the village believe him to be a trustworthy and upstanding citizen, those within the prison walls know him to be cruel and sadistic. Our story begins as people are leaving church and the Squire immediately makes his evil intentions known. He has eyes for the lovely Susan Merton (Marjorie Taylor) but she is interested in poor George Fielding. Her father sees no future for her in marrying George but also resists the Squire’s intentions upon his daughter. However, when the Squire saves Susan’s father from financial ruin, he becomes indebted to the Squire and forces Susan to marry him. However, George has left the village in search of fame and fortune. Upon returning, the Squire begins to show his true colors and turns to bribery and theft to ensure George is penniless, leaving Susan with the only choice but to marry the Squire.

Never Too Late 1937The real horror in this film centers on the prison scenes. It is there that the Squire is in his real element. Addressing the inmates as his children, he relishes in their torture. He forces men into solitary confinement via a cell that is completely cut off from the outside world. A poor boy is encased in a cage and tortured, his only crime being the theft of some bread for his starving mother. Slaughter clearly has the “conniving rich man bribing the father of the young girl” role mastered. However, seeing him as the evil prison administrator was refreshing. One wonders if Boris Karloff was channeling Slaughter when he filmed Bedlam some nine years later. There are definite similarities at times. At a brisk 65 minutes, It’s Never Too Late to Mend is entertaining despite its obvious low budget and overall staged presentation. You’ll also have to get passed the somewhat heavy handed religious melodrama from the prison chaplain, but it’s worth sticking it out to the end.

In 1939, Slaughter starred in what is one of my personal favorite films of his that I’ve seen to date. In The Face at the Window, Slaughter stars as Chevalier Lucio de Gardo, a bank examiner who is investigating a robbery at a bank in Paris. There are some immediately recognizable themes as he shows interest in the lovely Cecile de Brisson (Marjorie Taylor). As usual, she loves another, this time being Lucien Cortier. Lucien works at the bank under her father. He is quickly framed for the robbery by Lucio de Gardo, who is actually behind the theft. The tale turns murderous as Cecile’s father is murdered by Lucio de Gardo, who has discovered that Lucien was framed. Meanwhile, a murderous wolf man is being seen through windows and a trail of death follows.

FACE AT THE WINDOWSlaughter isn’t quite as over-the-top here and I think this film stands out with better production values and a less conventional story. The horrific images of the wolf man are effective, if not a little low budget. The reveal comes quickly at the end of the film and offers up a surprising twist that is never even hinted at earlier in the story. Overall, I think this is one of Slaughter’s best efforts and is well worth a viewing, especially considering its brief running time and easy availability.

Both films are in the public domain, so are readily found in the usual places, such as YouTube and various Mill Creek sets. I recommend tracking down It’s Never Too Late to Mend and The Face at the Window. I’m not sure they’d make a good double feature considering the similar characters that Slaughter plays. But, they should entertain you on a rainy afternoon when you are looking for something new and quick.

Next time, we conclude our five part series on Tod Slaughter with two more films and the twilight of his career.

Joyland’s Louie the Clown Has Been Found and the Tale is a Creepy One

0

Back in August 2013, I first posted about the decaying Joyland amusement park in Wichita, KS. That story was updated for the second issue of The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine. Parts of Joyland now belong to the Historical Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County. The merry-go-round is now owned by Botanica, who have plans for a full restoration. However, the one iconic piece that was still shrouded in mystery was Louie the Clown…until now.Louie the Clown

Louie the Clown was a centerpiece of activity in Joyland. He entertained and terrified children for more than 60 years. He sat at an organ, symbolically playing music that could be heard throughout the park. One YouTube video shows Louie as he really was back in the day while another has made some horrific changes. Both are equally as creepy. When Joyland shut down and became embroiled in a lawsuit between the original owners and some gentlemen who had attempted to restore the park (with questionable results), it was quickly discovered that Louie was missing. An immediate suspect was maintenance man Damian Mayes.

Louie the Clown oldStories about Damian and his “love” for Louie date back as far as 1994. He started working at Joyland and maintaining Louie, along with the organ, at the age of 15. Joyland owners Stanley and Margaret Nelson even allowed him to take Louie home during the off-season. Damian would clean Louie and make new clothes for him. So, it was only natural that when Louie disappeared circa 2008, police contacted Damian about its whereabouts. After all, he kept a framed picture of Louie on his mantle. Disturbing and straight out of a horror movie. Louie was never found but the Joyland faithful continued to circulate rumors that Damian did indeed have Louie.

The story takes a very creepy turn when, in 2010, Damian was convicted of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. He is currently incarcerated and not eligible for parole until 2028. After a recent phone call tip implied that Louie had been found, the Wichita Police Department began an investigation lasting several months that ultimately resulted in a trail leading right to the home of Damian Mayes. Once there, the police discovered Louie in plain sight. Louie has been found and brought home.

Clown MotelLouie is valued at $10,000, so Damian will likely face felony charges. Louie’s discovery could lead to other missing parts of the once-grand Joyland park. All that is left now are decaying buildings, a decrepit roller coaster and a Whacky Shack full of ghosts from the past. However, Louie is getting the last laugh. Where Louie will go next is unknown but he will likely be returned to the Nelson family, who are his rightful owners. I once said that Louie would never see the light of day again. Well, I was wrong. His long and dark journey has ended. Now, I suspect Louie is ready for a vacation. Perhaps he can take the time to visit the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada. Now excuse me while I check under my bed and turn on the lights. True life can be scary as hell.

A Tod Slaughter Cinematic Retrospective – Part Three

0

Tod Slaughter 3The tale of Sweeney Todd is well-known, especially today thanks in large part to the recent motion picture adaptation starring Johnny Depp. However, the story is an old one that dates back to the Victorian penny dreadfuls circa 1846. In 1936, Tod Slaughter turned in what may very well be his best and most memorable performance in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

In the original story, Sweeney Todd is a barber who kills off his victims by pulling a lever which causes the barber chair to fall backwards through a trap door into the basement, plunging the victims to their death. Todd races to the basement to finish them off by slicing their throats with his barber’s blade. Then, his partner-in-crime Mrs. Lovatt assists him in dispatching the bodies by cooking them into her meat pies and selling them to customers.

The story first appeared in an 18-chapter penny dreadful titled The String of Pearls: A Romance. It was quickly adapted into a melodrama for the stage. A wide variety of stage and printed versions have followed over the years with various alterations to story and location. Some sources claim that Sweeney Todd is based on a real character while others profess him to nothing more than an urban legend. In either case, it makes for a good story and, in 1936, Tod Slaughter brought the tale to life in what would be the third filmed adaptation albeit the first sound version.Demon Barber of Fleet Street poster

The film begins in modern 1936 as a man enters a barber shop and begins to hear the tale of Sweeney Todd after commenting about a picture on a wall. The barber tells the story of how Sweeney Todd did his evil deeds on that very spot. We then flash back to the 1800s as we see Slaughter bringing his usual maniacal laughter and melodramatic evil sneer to the role. He lures wealthy and unsuspecting travelers into his shop to rob and kill them with the help of Mrs. Lovatt (Stella Rho). He acquires the services of an orphan boy (his eighth and the local police are becoming suspicious) to help set the stage before he pays the boy to eat a meat pie at Lovatt’s shop, allowing him peace and quiet to do the evil deed.

Sweeney ToddTodd also desires to marry young Joanna Oakley (Eve Lister) but must blackmail her father into consenting. Her father owes money and the only way Todd will not send him to prison is to marry Joanna. However, Joanna is in love with Mark Ingerstreet (Bruce Seton), a sailor who must acquire wealth in order for Joanna’s father to accept him. The stage is now set for murder and robbery with Slaughter going over the edge in his quest for riches and love.

I really enjoyed this adaptation despite its obvious flaws through its limited budget. The sets are minimal yet we do have several interesting scenes involving hidden passageways and creepy cellars. There is an odd sequence involving island natives and Mark’s ship that, while establishing how he gets money and position, seems a little out of place from the rest of the film. However, the film moves along briskly and I think it’s definitely worth checking out. You’ll have to endure some cheesy framing sequences but the crazed Tod Slaughter really makes it fun and worth the investment…which should be practically nothing. Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936) is in the public domain and very easy to find, including here on YouTube. Check it out for a great example of what Tod Slaughter has to offer.

Next time, part four of our retrospective offers up a double feature with Never Too Late (1937) and Face at the Window (1939).