Dread Media Apocalyptic August – Where Have All The People Gone?

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Where Have All The People GoneTwo more weeks left in Apocalyptic August on the Dread Media podcast. This week, I journey back to the glorious days of made-for-television movies. The year is 1974 and Peter Graves (aka Mr. Phelps from Mission:Impossible) is the father of a family struggling to survive in a unique post-apocalyptic world where the victims have all turned to dust. Where Have All The People Gone? is a personal favorite of mine ever since I first watched it as a young man of seven. It’s hard to find so check it out on YouTube then listen to episode 417 to hear my thoughts.

 

An Evening with Groucho on a Sunday Morning

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I have found that most monster movie kids like me have some diverse yet similar tastes in other films and personal collecting. Most enjoy classic comedies from legends like the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy. Many also find collecting albums to be an enjoyable past time. For me, both of these additional habits give me great joy. Groucho Marx always makes me smile and finding a cool album in the bins at Half-Price Books is as good as finding gold. When you can accomplish both in the same act, it’s priceless.Groucho 1

In the late 60s, the Marx Brothers were having a resurgence in their popularity. Most of their films were being broadcast on television and the college-age crowd couldn’t get enough of flicks like Horse Feathers or Duck Soup. Sadly, Chico and Harpo never really got a chance to see this as Chico had died in 1961 with Harpo followed soon after in 1964. Zeppo and Gummo had long left the act decades earlier but Groucho was still alive and ready to take the stage again.

By the early 70s, Groucho was done with Hollywood but through his friendship with talk-show host Dick Cavett and companion Erin Fleming, he was convinced to do several performances of a one-man show with Groucho mostly recollecting stories and anecdotes interspersed with an occasional tune such as Timbuctoo or Lydia, The Tattooed Lady, accompanied by Marvin Hamilisch no less.

Groucho 2Dick Cavett was on hand to introduce Groucho when the most famous of these shows was recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 6, 1972. His voice had been weakened with age (he was 82 at the time) and he would sometimes forget a line or two of a song. But the wit was still there, he was still the one and only Groucho. Thankfully, this was preserved for the ages courtesy of a two-record set released by A&M Records entitled An Evening with Groucho. Unfortunately, this has never been released officially on CD, so being able to listen to this show has been a challenge for collectors. Perhaps, this is another reason to once again start collecting albums. So many great recordings have never been released on CD and deserve to be heard by future generations.

The album credits two other performances as Groucho also visited the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa sometime in 1972 as well as the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco on August 11. It’s hard to tell what parts of the album are from which recording but it doesn’t really matter. It’s Groucho and that’s all you need to know. He had a few awards and accolades left in the forthcoming years before his death in 1977 at the age of 87 but this was one of the bright spots in the twilight years of his career.

Groucho 3An Evening with Groucho is a perfect example of why albums are so much better than CDs and MP3 audio recordings. It folds out and features a plethora of pictures and quotes from such legends as Charlie Chaplin, George Burns and Jack Benny. You can never get that with an MP3. From a collector’s perspective, albums were the pinnacle of audio collecting, another reason for their renaissance in the 21st century.

If you aren’t as lucky as I to have this in your collection, the recording is out there at archive.org and is well worth the listen. After being aware of this performance for so many years, it was an absolute pleasure listening to it on this sunny and cool Sunday morning. Sometimes, a monster movie kid just needs to smile and Groucho always does the job.Groucho 5

Rest in Peace – Yvonne Craig (1937 – 2015)

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Far too many people who were part of my childhood have passed away this year. Unfortunately, I have just read that actress Yvonne Craig has died at the age of 78. For starters, I was shocked to read that she was 78 years old at the time of her death. In my mind, she was still in her 30s looking like she was in her 20s while playing Batgirl on Batman opposite Adam West. She was still Marta the Orion slave girl from the classic Star Trek episode “Whom Gods Destroy”. And as with the other celebrities from my childhood who have passed away this year, it’s left me feeling a little old.Yvonne Craig Batgirl

I had the honor to meet Yvonne Craig in 1999 at the Trek Expo in Tulsa. That year, my wife Geri and I traveled alone but I had strict instructions from my son Joey. He wanted an autograph from Batgirl. We had spent many lunches when I worked second shift watching Batman over lunch. Much to our delight, Ms. Craig was simply amazing. She was incredibly pleasant and glad to be there meeting her fans. And when she discovered the autograph was for a five year old boy, she asked to see a picture and even offered me her email address so she could hear if he enjoyed it. When I showed my son the autograph the next day, he asked that it be framed. It was on his wall for several years before being placed into a scrapbook. That Sunday night, I sent an email thanking her and expressing my son’s gratitude. She responded within the hour, a simple gesture that I still cherish.

Yvonne Craig STI had wondered why she had disappeared from the convention circuit and wasn’t participating in the DVD release celebrations last year. As it turns out, she’s been fighting cancer for the last two years. Her breast cancer had metastasized to her liver and she simply couldn’t fight it off any more. Considering my own wife Geri’s battle with breast cancer in the last year, it reminds me how blessed I am to still have Geri by my side.

My thoughts go out to Yvonne Craig’s family. Let’s not mourn her loss but celebrate her wonderful career. From her other TV appearances on The Six Million Dollar Man or Land of the Giants to her role in Mars Needs Women (1967), she was a fixture in Hollywood in the 60s and 70s. Check out this rare interview and look at the original Batgirl network presentation on YouTube as well as the infamous 1970s equal pay for women public service announcement. Rest in peace Yvonne Craig!

Dread Media Apocalyptic August – Soylent Green (1973)

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Soylent Green 1973The year is 2022. The world is dying due to over population and pollution. Nothing works anymore. So what is the secret of Soylent Green? Did Charlton Heston do any lighthearted comedies? The answers to these questions and more on this week’s episode 416 of the Dread Media podcast as I review Soylent Green (1973). Check out the trailer on YouTube, grab some Soylent Green, turn off the air conditioner and settle in for apocalyptic fun.

Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee – House of the Long Shadows (1983)

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Christopher Lee CollageAs the 1980s began, the horror legends found themselves moving out of the spotlight and the leading roles diminishing. Peter Cushing was now approaching 70 years old and, while he was still acting in supporting roles, his career was coming to an end. Vincent Price was still busy but his roles were now more supportive and he too was approaching 70. But Sir Christopher Lee was only approaching his 60s and was still very much in demand. The offers were more diverse and, as we know now, he had decades of entertainment left to share with his fans and admirers.

By 1983, these three legends knew each other and had worked together in various capacities. Lee and Cushing had done countless films together by this point. Price had worked with either Lee or Cushing a handful of times but the three would appear together in a film only twice. In 1970, the three would headline Scream and Scream Again but that was a bit of publicity deception. Peter Cushing would have one scene and appeared without the other two. Lee and Price would only have one brief scene together. It wasn’t until 1983s House of the Long Shadows that the three would truly appear together in roles that were more than cameos and had all three on screen for prolonged periods of time. Add in another semi-legend with John Carradine and you had what appeared to be the recipe for a cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately, the end result was a little less thrilling than hoped for.HoLS poster

House of the Long Shadows is based on Seven Keys to Baldpate, a play written by George M. Cohen. It played on Broadway for 320 performances between 1913 and 1914. Essentially, the film is an old, dark house flick and director Pete Walker did fairly well in creating a spooky atmosphere in what was his final theatrical film. Despite the horror legends receiving top billing, it was Desi Arnaz, Jr. who had the most screen time in the lead role of writer Kenneth Magee.

House CarradineMagee has become blinded by the money and forgotten about the true meaning of being a writer. His publicist Sam Allyson (Richard Todd) is upset when Magee claims anyone can write a classic novel and the two enter a bet in which Magee has 24 hours to write such a novel. It is arranged for Magee to go to a deserted Welsh mansion for authenticity and solitude. However, once there and with a perfectly timed stormy night raging outside, Magee soon discovers he is not alone.

He quickly encounters the “caretakers” of the home, soon to discover they are actually Lord Elijah Grisbane (John Carradine, Horror of the Blood Monsters) and his daughter Victoria (Sheila Keith, House of Whipcord). It seems there will be a family reunion that night as his sons Sebastian (Peter Cushing) and Lionel (Vincent Price) are returning home. Add in Mary Norton (Julie Peasgood), the damsel-in-distress of our story, and two wayward travelers, and our story is almost set. With the addition of Mr. Corrigan (Christopher Lee), a potential buyer for the mansion, and our cast of characters are now complete. As can be expected, there is a mystery afoot and someone is not who they appear to be. Murder lurks in every dark corner and there may very well be a madman running loose, unleashing grisly deaths such as acid baths and poison punch.HoLS 2

House of the Long Shadows actually works very well at times. Cushing puts in a wonderful performance as the foppish and timid Sebastian. Price is his usual charming and sarcastic self while Carradine merely walks his way through his smaller role. The part of daughter Victoria was originally for Elsa Lanchester but, at age 81 and living in California, she was too ill to travel. She would pass away some three years later. Lee turned in a great performance, playing off as the slightly bothered and mildly concerned spectator. But he gets to shine when things take a rather murderous turn. So where does the movie fail?

Casting Desi Arnaz, Jr. in a lead role was the major misfire of House of the Long Shadows. He is not a good actor and when placed alongside such amazing talent, his lack of acting chops becomes even more apparent. The movie is full of fun plot twists and elements of then modern-day slasher flicks. But, the ending is a bit of a cheat. I won’t give away what happens but it might leave you just a little disappointed.

House LeeNonetheless, I enjoyed the movie for what it was despite what it could have been. I recommend you track it down. While it was released in the early days of VHS, it remained quite impossible to find for many years. Thankfully, it is currently available as an MGM burn-on-demand DVD and is getting a full-fledged Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber on September 15. For now, check out the trailer and prepare yourself for some fun from the masters of horror.

This would the last time Lee worked with either Cushing or Price. After 24 films together, Cushing and Lee would end their cinematic partnership as Cushing was only a few years away from retiring. Price would have quite a few roles left but most were small parts. Price would die in 1993 at the age of 82 and Cushing died in 1994 at the age of 81, both victims of cancer.

However, Lee had decades worth of material ahead of him. He would return to Hammer in 2011 with The Resident and add the Star Wars and Tolkien franchises to his long list of accomplishments, doing what he did best no matter the size of the role or the quality of the film. Sir Christopher Lee died on June 7 of heart failure at the age of 93.HoLS 1

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief journey and look at the films of this horror legend. There are countless other films I would have loved to revisit or experience for the first time. For now, we allow Sir Lee the rest he so richly deserves. No sadness here, just joy in the catalog of work he left behind for us to relish whenever the sun sets or the lightning crackles on a dark and stormy night.

Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee – Dark Places (1973)

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Christopher Lee CollageHave you ever started watching a movie only to quickly realize it is entirely different than what you expected? For reasons unknown, I started watching Christopher Lee’s 1973 horror/thriller Dark Places expecting it to be an anthology when, in fact, it is really a ghost story of sorts. Or is it? As my tribute to the late horror legend begins to wind down, let’s take a look at this forgotten flick and see if there is a reason it’s hardly ever mentioned.

By 1973, Hammer Films was nearly at an end with only a handful of movies and two TV series left to be released. Amicus was ready to end its’ anthology run and was just four years away before shutting down. Horror was changing, thanks in large part to The Exorcist, and audiences would soon be demanding more blood and guts. The slow burn ghost stories would be overshadowed in favor of slashers. This may explain why Dark Places is seldom mentioned today, getting lost in the cracks of other must better films. Or maybe it’s because the movie seems to be lacking something.Dark Places poster

The story begins with the death of an old man we would learn to be Andrew Marr. His estate is left to Edward Foster (Robert Hardy), which seems to be the object of interest for Dr. Mandeville (Christopher Lee) and Sarah (Joan Collins). There is also Mr. Prescott (Herbert Lom), the estate administrator, who is confused as to why Marr would leave the estate to Foster. As the plot slowly moves along, we discover that there is money hidden in the house, which everyone seems to want. Foster seems to know nothing about it at first but then he begins to act strangely as we see flashbacks to Andrew Marr (also played by Hardy). It turns out Marr had an affair with his children’s nanny, a situation amplified by the fact that his wife (Jean Marsh in an effective cameo role) and children were quite insane. But, as we would later discover, Marr wasn’t necessarily sane himself.

DP 1The biggest problems with Dark Places are the slow, plodding script and lackluster direction. Don Sharp had helmed such classics as Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966). But by the 1970s he was left with secondary films and some television work. Dark Places has a great cast but they are left with very little to do. Lee is miscast as the greedy doctor while Lom is merely window dressing and horribly wasted. Collins turns in a nice performance as the slutty Sarah, clearly having fun with some scenes including one with Lee where we discover the true nature of their relationship (and a hint at some possible incestuous activity). Hardy does as good a job as he can as a man slowly coming undone. Despite a few twists to keep our interest, there just isn’t enough here. And I’m not even sure this is really a ghost story as certain revelations indicate this could simply be a film about a mad man rather than one who is possessed.

Dark Places is a forgotten film for good reason. It’s not bad but it just simply is a movie and nothing more. It’s worth watching if you have the extra 85 minutes in your day but you’ll likely forget it as soon as you watch it. My copy of the film is a double feature DVD from East West Entertainment and is long out-of-print. It came with Horror Express (1972) and both film prints are washed out. Your best way to see it may be on YouTube but that appears to be a VHS dub, which is of slightly lesser quality than mine. I wouldn’t waste a lot of time tracking this one down but you may enjoy it more than I did. Remember, I went in expecting an anthology flick.DP 2

Next time, my tribute to Sir Christopher Lee comes to an end and we invite Vincent Price and Peter Cushing along for the ride as I take a look at House of the Long Shadows (1983).

Dread Media Apocalyptic August – The Omega Man (1971)

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The Omega Man 1971Apocalyptic August rolls on over at the Dread Media podcast and this week, I take a look at another movie based on a classic sci-fi novel. Charlton Heston heads up the cast in The Omega Man (1971), based on I Am Legend written by Richard Matheson. Listen in to episode 415 and let me know what you think.

Later this week here at the blog, I finally get back on track to finish out the tribute to Sir Christopher Lee with two more of his lesser efforts, Dark Places (1973) and House of the Long Shadows (1983).