Who Knows What Lurks In The Month of April? The Shadow Knows!

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossOn a random day in the late 70s, at about the age of 10 or so, I was thrilled when my dad returned home from a business trip with a Radio Reruns audio cassette recording of Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First routine. It was my introduction to old time radio and I was hooked. My dad then recommended one of his favorite shows, The Shadow. I soon had a three-record set that contained nine episodes, all starring Orson Welles. I began collecting more sets each Christmas, with one of my best presents ever being the 17-record anthology set (which I still proudly own).The Shadow Anthology

I soon found myself buying Maxwell Grant paperbacks at the local Alco store and, in the summer of 1984, during a family vacation in Colorado, I discovered Mile High Comics. There, I made another discovery…DC Comics had done a series on The Shadow in the 70s. In just three visits to three different stores over the course of that week, I had purchased 10 of the 12 issues, all in near mint condition. As the years went by, I continued to listen and read and collect all things featuring the man who can cloud men’s minds. One of my most prized possessions is an original 1938 pulp novel.

The Shadow Creeping Death PaperbackNow, some 36 years later, I still enjoy The Shadow. So, as I was thinking about how fun it is to do a theme month here at Monster Movie Kid, it should come as no surprise that I’ve decided to make April the month of The Shadow. There have been at least nine different movies, chapter serials and television shows over the years. So, next month, I’ll be covering them all, for better or worse. I’ll be starting off with 1937s The Shadow Strikes starring Rod LaRocque and wrapping up with Alec Baldwin in 1994s The Shadow on Blu-ray. I’ll also be taking a look at a recent 2011 documentary as well as the various comics and books printed over the years.The Shadow DC 1

To get in the mood, listen to the classic radio episode Three Ghosts (which was my very first episode of The Shadow) and prepare yourself for some thrilling fun! And who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!

The Visitor (1979) is a Train Wreck You Won’t Want To Avoid

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Have you ever watched a movie that you knew was horrible, yet you still loved everything about it? We all have and it can leave us trying to figure out what it was about it that made it so appealing. Was it the music? The acting? Or maybe it was just because it was so crazy that we enjoyed it for the unique entertainment value. Such is what I experience with The Visitor (1979).Visitor 1

The cast list is a veritable who’s who from Hollywood circa the late 70s/early 80s. We have Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Shelly Winters and Franco Nero as Jesus Christ. What more do you need to convince you that this movie needs to be in your collection? If you are looking for a plot, brace yourself because it is all over the place. The script had a beginning in common sense, taking on the overall concept of exorcists battling an evil little girl. However, by the time director Giulio Paradisi got his hands on the film, there is little wonder why anyone comes away from this movie confused and asking what it all meant.

Visitor 4Producer Ovidio G. Assonitis claims that the original intent was nothing more than a basic horror movie. However, screenplay writer Luciano Comici claims confusion from the very beginning. Essentially, director Paradisi tried infusing a lot of ideas that might have worked for a European audience but would never be understood by the common American moviegoer. Comici tried telling him but Paradisi, who had only directed nature television shows and commercials prior to this, would not listen. The end result was a movie chopped up by the Hollywood censors to the point of seeming disjointed. However, cast members have stated that they never really understood what was going on in the first place. Despite all of this, several actors pushed hard to appear in the movie as they really had faith in the project, at least from what they read in the script, which seemingly never made it to the big screen. John Huston really wanted to play the lead role of Jerzy Colsowicz. He was quoted as stating that it was either going to “be a marvelous movie or a piece of shit.” The jury may still be out.Visitor 5

So what is The Visitor about? Well, you have a young girl named Katy Collins (Paige Conner, Little Darlings) living in Atlanta who appears to be evil and disturbed. Her mother, Barbara (Joanne Nail, The Gumball Rally) senses something is wrong. She’s also resisting the advances of Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen, Aliens and The Terminator), who is part of a mysterious group of men headed up by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer, The Hands of Orlac). There’s an intergalactic being we come to know as Jerzy (John Huston, director of The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) who is sent to Earth by intergalactic beings (or is it heavenly beings) to stop her (or so we think at first). After a gun is discovered in one of Katy’s birthday presents and accidently goes off, paralyzing her mother, a police detective (Glenn Ford, Superman The Movie) begins to investigate. Along the way, we have crazy bird attacks, a maid played by Shelly Winters (who knows who the girl really is), and an appearance by Katy’s father, Dr. Sam Collins (Sam Peckinpah, actor/writer/director). And did I mention that Katy is odd beyond belief and curses like a sailor? How about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as himself in a basketball scene filmed at The Omni in Atlanta? And we can’t forget Franco Nero (Django) in an uncredited role as an intergalactic Jesus Christ figure.Visitor 3

This movie is all over the place, so no description really does it justice. There are creepy scenes followed by out-of-place late 70s disco music. We have a script that seems as if it was being rewritten daily (which, no surprise here, it was). Actors who wanted to be there, like Huston, and others who were impossible to deal with, like Peckinpah, resulting in even more script rewrites. There are also visuals present in the film only for the visual aspect. They really don’t go anywhere and the only thing they add is more confusion.

So, all that said, I loved The Visitor. I know, it makes no sense to like the movie. It is bizarre and lacking any real cohesion. But it is just crazy enough that it succeeds in entertaining you, provided you are in the right frame of mind and prepared for an experience. The movie was a failure at the box office in 1979 and, after an early VHS release in edited form, it was quickly forgotten. Thankfully, Drafthouse Films took notice of a 35mm print that was making the midnight movie circuit. Now, it is available for all to see in a restored Blu-ray version I highly recommend. Watching Lance Henriksen’s interview pretty much sums up what most people think of it. Yet, like most train wrecks, you can’t turn away. Check out the trailer and add the Blu-ray to your collection. Visitor 2

March Hyde Madness: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

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Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde 1In March 2013, I embarked on a brave journey that eventually led me through more than 10 different versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie and television adaptations. Unfortunately, I found out too late that my copy of Hammer’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) was bad. So now, here we are a year later and what better time to enjoy this “lost” edition of March Hyde Madness!

Hammer Films had already adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel with The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960). By 1971, Hammer was changing and the shift towards more nudity and sex was in full swing. Not a surprise then that they would choose to stir up the familiar tale by making Hyde a sexy killer rather than the horrific beast is more often portrayed as. Ralph Bates heads up the cast in the title role of Dr. Jekyll in 1880s Whitechapel. Jekyll is a rather meek scientist doing research into an elixir for longer life. His theory is that the secret lies within female hormones since they age at a slower rate than the common male. His first key experiment is with an insect. Upon showing off his results to his friend Professor Robertson (Gerald Sim, Frenzy), he discovers the male is now a female and has laid eggs. Professor Robertson believes he had just made a mistake but Jekyll knows better. He needs more female hormones to do additional research and the supply of local cadavers is running low. Enter Burke and Hare.

The two legendary figures help Dr. Jekyll secure some bodies in pursuit of his ongoing research. Of course, it backfires and he soon discovers that the female hormones have an unexpected side effect. Not only does he change into a murderous being but his gender changes to female (Martine Beswick, A Bullet for the General and Thunderball). The tenants above his apartment are a brother and sister living with their mother. Jekyll has fond feelings for Susan Spencer (Susan Brodrick) while Hyde desires Susan’s brother Howard (Lewis Fiander). Jekyll explains the appearance of a woman in his apartment as that of his sister Mrs. Hyde. As Jekyll finds that the serum requires more hormones, the bodies begin to pile up, with the murders being attributed to the Ripper. Professor Robertson discovers a similarity between the Ripper murders and his friend’s experiments. The events build up to a climactic ending and an unforgettable final scene.Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde 2

This is the first time the two real historical figures of Burke and Hare are part of the Jekyll and Hyde tale. This is where you have to ignore the confusion on when all of these events are supposed to take place. First, it’s established very early on that the Jack the Ripper murders are going on at the same time. This firmly sets it in 1880s London. However, Burke and Hare committed their murders around 1828 some 60 years earlier with William Burke himself being executed in 1829. William Hare’s demise has never been official but one rumor was that he was thrown into a lime pit, blinded and forced to live out his life as street beggar. This story is interwoven into the events of this movie rather well, despite the 60 year difference.

Ralph Bates had become a Hammer mainstay by 1971, having already appeared in three other horror flicks, including Horror of Frankenstein and Lust for a Vampire. However, his Hammer star burned out rather quickly with only one other starring role after this in 1972s Fear in the Night. He spent the rest of his career primarily in television roles before dying of pancreatic cancer in 1991 at the age of only 51. Caroline Munro (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) was reportedly offered the part of Mrs. Hyde but turned down the role due to the required nudity, which was becoming a Hammer necessity by this point. Martine Beswick was a more high profile choice and worked well in this villainous part. In fact, she somewhat resembled Bates, so she may have indeed been the better choice.

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde 3Brian Clemens came up with interesting twist of the familiar tale of Jekyll and Hyde after production wrapped up on The Avengers television series in 1969. Director Roy Ward Baker, one of Clemens’s associates from The Avengers, was chosen to direct. Having already helmed other successful Hammer films, including The Vampire Lovers and Scars of Dracula, he was already engrained in all things Hammer.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde was not a huge success, indicating the writing on the wall that their audience was beginning to look elsewhere for their thrills and chills. None the less, I personally enjoyed the twist presented here and found it a good entry amongst the many other adaptations of the sometimes too familiar classic tale. While the movie is somewhat hard to find now on DVD, it is currently available on YouTube. Check it out for yourself and I think you’ll have a fun 90 minutes.

Next up, we dive into a very bizarre flick called The Visitor from 1979. It’ll be an experience you won’t soon forget. Let’s just say, any film that casts Franco Nero (Django) as an intergalactic Christ figure can’t be all bad!

Planet Comicon 2014 was a huge success

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For many years, my convention of choice was the Trek Expo in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It became a tradition from 1998 until 2012 to take the 3 hour trek to visit my parents in Bartlesville and enjoy a day or two at what was a very well-run event. Sadly, the 2012 event was the last. A very poorly run final event came after the passing of the organizer and reports of financial shenanigans behind the scenes. However, memories of my father and I attending those last 3 years are with me forever. Luckily, I have found a new event that takes me 3 hours north…Planet Comicon.Planet Comicon Logo

In 2011, after hearing about Planet Comicon in Kansas City for years, I finally found myself close by on the day of the event and spent about 3 hours having my mind blown away by the number of comics and like-minded collectors. The following year, my daughter decided to spend the day with her dad (amazing considering she was 19 at the time). She was the perfect Robin to my Batman as she kept my list handy with me looking for certain issues and good deals. Last year, the event expanded in size but experienced some growing pains. There were too many people in a space that, despite being much bigger, was far too cramped. Still amazing but, unfortunately, a tad too congested for me. Now, in 2014, they have worked out all of the kinks and held what appeared to be the best Planet Comicon ever.

Lee MajorsThis event can’t rival the bigger events, such as Megacon. However, it has a tremendous amount of charm and, best of all, it has a proximity to home that doesn’t require airfare. It offers everything you could want and is growing each year. This year, the event expanded to three days and doubled its’ floor space. It took my friends and me nearly 90 minutes to get through the door last year. This year, it took all of 20 minutes. Once inside, there was walking and breathing room. It was a good sign that this year’s event was going to be a hit.

The signing guest list of over 15 stars has doubled at least with nearly every member of Star Trek: The Next Generation in attendance (Patrick Stewart was not in attendance but did pre-sign special posters for autographs from the rest of cast) as well as the legend himself, William Shatner. The lines were well organized and were moving quite swiftly. Now, after collecting autographs since 1998, I’ve become selective but there were two at this year’s event that I can now scratch off the bucket list. First, I met Sylvester McCoy, the 7th Doctor from Doctor Who. We don’t get too many Doctors here in the Midwest, so this was a first for me. He was very pleasant and glad to be in Kansas City. We had a brief but memorable conversation. Next, it was over to meet Lee Majors. What can I say? I’m a child of the 70s and The Six Million Dollar Man was, and still is, one of my all-time favorites. He was very pleasant, signing with a smile and shook my hand in gratitude for some kinds words. Another success! Finally, it was off to get LeVar Burton’s autograph. In short, I met him last year at Megacon but his autograph on a cast photo (signed by everyone including Patrick Stewart, Wil Wheaton and Denise Crosby) has been smudged by accident by my wife. LeVar was beyond pleasant and did not charge me for what he said was something I had already paid for. Fantastic! My goal of three autographs was accomplished in 70 minutes with a 100% pleasant experience ratio. Now, it was time to shop.Sylvester McCoy

There is something for everyone including an amazing artist alley section. Sadly, the line for Neal Adams was again too long. I’m hoping he’ll return in 2015. My main objective was filling in some gaps in my comic collection. Being on a tighter budget this year meant I had my list in hand and it was time to get picky. Without boring you with all the comic book nerd details, I made my purchases with money to spare (which made my accountant wife quite happy). Some silver age Batman , Creeper and Justice League of America comic books are now part of my collection along with several 1970s issues of The Defenders and the entire 17-issue series of Marvel’s The Champions. I topped it off with a Golden Age Fawcett copy of Hopalong Cassidy #72 as a surprise for my brother-in-law. Along the way, there were plenty of costumes and sights to be seen (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a rather large Fred Flintstone zombie…staring at himself in the men’s bathroom mirror). Once the shopping and people watching was done, I did not get to attend any of the panels or speakers as I chose to have a nice meal with good friends instead. However, my 2015 plan is already forming in my mad scientist mind.Hopalong

Next year, I plan on attending two days. If they do Friday again, I’ll use that as my day to shop and see some of the guests. Then, Saturday will be my day to go with my friend, catch some panels and do whatever shopping or autograph seeking I didn’t do last year. It’s a strategy that served me well for many years at the Trek Expo. With things in motion for this monster kid to be living in Kansas City by next year, it’s a plan that involves minimal travel and even more fun than I had this year.  If you live in the Kansas City and never attended Planet Comicon, I highly recommend this incredibly fun event.Champions

Peter Cushing Delivers A Masterful Performance in Cash on Demand (1961)

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COD 1While Hammer Films is best remembered today for gothic horror films like Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, it also had a rich history of suspense thrillers. My experience with this type of Hammer films is limited despite having had The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films DVD set for nearly four years. One of the movies that immediately caught my eye was Cash on Demand (1961), mostly due to the presence of the legendary Peter Cushing. When Derek, Scott and Casey at the 1951 Down Place podcast made this their Christmas movie in December, it was finally bumped to the top of the viewing list.

Cash on Demand is an adaptation of the Jacques Gillies’ 1960 television play The Gold Inside, which would explain the fact that probably 90% of the movie takes place in a bank manager’s office at the Haversham branch of the City and Colonial Bank. That manager is Harry Fordyce, marvelously played by Peter Cushing. You despise Fordyce very quickly as he is a micromanager and annoyingly precise. His life is being the bank manager and having everything just right, from folding his scarf in a certain way to ensuring that lobby pens are clean and perfect for all customers. His assistant is Pearson (Richard Vernon, The Satanic Rites of Dracula), a very different man who has grown weary of Fordyce and wants out of the bank. It’s the Christmas season, which plays a part in a key twist but really figures more into what the movie is a reworking of. Sharp eyes will very quickly see Ebenezer Scrooge in the character of Harry Fordyce and, as the movie plays out, we see events that force a man to compromise his beliefs in order to save his family.Cash on Demand 1

Andre Morell (The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Plague of the Zombies) plays Colonel Hepburn, a bank robber who has devised a plan to rob the bank under the guise of a bank examiner. As the movie plays out, the Colonel plays a key role in the transformation of Fordyce while building tension as the lives of Fordyce’s wife and son are at risk unless he follows every instruction precisely. Throughout all of this, Cushing is in his glory. Witnessing him start the movie as a very reserved individual and morph into a broken man brought to tears is stunning. Plus, his penchant for having objects in hand is easily accomplished through an office full of accessories. The fact that the movie is almost entirely set within the bank contributed to the low budget. A small cast with only two main characters and two key supporting characters makes for a very tightly written story. With a brisk runtime of 85 minutes, the thriller unfolds quickly and will keep you on the edge of your seat.Cash on Demand 2

Shot over a three-week period in the spring of 1961, it was not released in the UK until late in 1963. However, it was released in the United States much earlier in December 1961. It is a mostly forgotten tale that has generated a following due to the powerful performances of Cushing and Morell, as well as it’s beautiful and rich black and white presentation.

Cash on Demand 3I highly recommend this film, especially if you want something a little different for the Christmas season. However, it is just as enjoyable on a rainy spring afternoon. Check out the trailer on YouTube as you shop for the DVD on Amazon, which is an amazing buy at $16 for six movies. The movie is also currently on YouTube. Then, head on over to the 1951 Down Place podcast for episode 28 for the usual tremendous discussion. Highly recommended viewing (and listening)!

Christopher Lee Impressive Despite Limited Screen Time in Scream of Fear (1961)

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Hammer Films have a tremendous catalog of horrific and suspenseful classics. It seems that no matter how many you watch, there is always another gem waiting to be discovered. One of my favorite podcasts is 1951 Down Place. Every month, Derek, Scott and Casey pick another flick from the vast Hammer vaults. They aren’t stuck in any particular genre nor are they going in chronological order. The films are chosen by either listener votes, whoever’s birthday it is that month or simply because it’s one they want to cover. And they actually have a plan so you have plenty of time to track down a film before the next episode.Scream of Fear 1

Back in October, in episode 26, they reviewed Scream of Fear (1961). I had purchased this thriller some five years ago but had never watched it. So, I have intentionally been holding off on listening to the show since October and, after months of getting sidetracked (something many of my online movie collector friends know all too well), I spent my Saturday night going old school with a late night suspenseful horror film. The only thing missing was a horror host.

Scream of Fear 2Susan Strasberg headlines the cast as Penny Appleby, a wheelchair-bound neurotic coming home to visit her father for the first time in a decade. Her parents had divorced and her mother had passed away some years earlier. After her caregiver died, Penny opted to return home only to find that her father was out of town on business. Penny is left in the care of Jane (Ann Todd, The Paradine Case), a stepmother she never really knew, and chauffer Robert (Ronald Lewis, Mr. Sardonicus and Stop Me Before I Kill!). Christopher Lee is Doctor Pierre Gerrard, a friend of her fathers who seems to be analyzing her every move. The first night in her new home, Penny discovers the body of her father in the pool house. However, when the others arrive, her father is gone. After seeing him again in her room and hearing him play the piano, she is convinced that fowl play has occurred. As a romance begins to develop between her and Robert, the mystery unravels in a way only Hammer could do.

I have a soft spot for anything Hammer but the 50s and 60s are when they produced their best efforts. As much as I love a good Hammer horror flick, I’m finding I almost enjoy the mysteries even more. Scream of Fear definitely has some horrific moments, including one scene at the bottom of the darkened pool. But it becomes evident early on that this is definitely more of a mystery than horror. Susan Strasberg does a wonderful job of playing Penny as a neurotic, leaving us to wonder if she really is going insane. And, of course, there is the wonderful Christopher Lee. His voice and facial expressions are unmatched with his performance here, although brief, enhancing the movie and adding a measure of credibility.Scream of Fear 3
Originally titled Hell Hath No Fury (which almost gives away too much), the movie was released as Taste of Fear in the UK and Scream of Fear in the US. There are definitely some plot holes and inconsistencies that may leave some feeling cheated in the final 10 minute reveal. However, I found the movie incredibly enjoyable, especially loving the rich black and white presentation. Christopher Lee has gone on record as saying that it was the best Hammer movie he was ever in. Director Seth Holt only has nine films to his credit, including other Hammer classics The Nanny (1965) and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971). His career was cut far too short upon his death in 1971 from heart failure at the age of only 47. Longtime Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster gives us another thrilling effort here, adding to his Hammer legacy.

Scream of Fear is easily available on DVD as part of the Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films. Check out the trailer on You Tube but don’t expect it to tell you too much about the movie, part of a great marketing
campaign. Then, make sure you listen to episode 26 of the 1951 Down Place podcast. Derek and the gang will get you hooked, so make sure you have an extra couple of hours every month to listen to one of the best and most well thought out podcasts out there today.

Pop Hollinger Is A Kindred Spirit Amongst Collectors

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I have found that most monster movie kids are also comic book fans. They either read them in their youth or still avidly collect them today. For me, I was a comic book collector before I discovered monster movies. I first collected Disney and Harvey comics along with other funny titles, usually purchased in trips to McConnell Air Force Base with my parents. We would go about once every other month to make a big grocery run at the commissary, followed by a visit to the PX where I usually came away with some comics. By the mid-70s, I discovered Batman and Superman in those wonderful Super Pac three-in-one collections. Fast forward to 2014 and I still collect, although the DC New 52 initiative now puts me in an old man category as I prefer to buy older comics from the silver age. Creepy 1

Next weekend, I’m headed to Planet Comicon in Kansas City with my good friend Joe. With any luck, I’ll come away with a few autographs and some old comics to fill in my gaps as I work my way through Batman, Detective Comics and Justice League of America. Of course, an old horror title usually finds its way home with me as well. Last year’s amazing find was an insanely cheap copy of Creepy #1. However, I may have to add something to my wish list. Several years ago, I ran across this story on eBay about Pop Hollinger. He seems to be the world’s first comic book collector/dealer and he lived in Concordia, Kansas (about 2 ½ hours north of Wichita, close to the Nebraska border). Of course, I’m sure there are similar stories in other parts of the country but this one hits close to home.

Worlds FinestChances are, if you collect old comics, you may have run across one of his “rebuilt” comics. Pop would place tape on the spine to help them last longer as they were sold or traded amongst collectors. I know I did when I was much younger but I never had the money to buy one at the time. Take the time to read his amazing story on eBay. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time to the late 60s and visit his shop on a Saturday afternoon. I love the musty smell of an old comic and I can just imagine what treasures that little basement shop had. As I walk around Planet Comicon next weekend, I may just have to pick up one of his trademark comics just for the novelty alone. Sure, the tape ruins the value but I’ve never been one to get so wrapped up in that part of collecting. I enjoy the art work and the story. I never expect my collection (now reaching over 7,300 comics) to pay off the house or a cruise to the Bahamas. But it has brought me a lot of enjoyment over the years and reading Pops’ story just made me smile. On this cold and snowy early Spring Saturday, I plan on reading a stack of comics myself. It’s just another part of being a monster movie kid.