Monster Movie Kid Will Continue

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Geri and RichMy beloved wife Geri passed away on March 19. To say that I am devastated is the understatement of the year. I am currently feeling very lost and alone but I know that I am not. I want to personally thank Vince, Mary, Nic, Juan and Steve for the moment of silence in her honor on the recent episode of the B-Movie Cast. I was and still am speechless. I want to thank Desmond at the Dread Media podcast for dedicating the recent episode in Geri’s honor. Again, speechless. I also want to thank Derek and Brenda at the Monster Kid Radio podcast for their warm and personal thoughts along with Derek’s comments on the recent episode as well. This podcast community is my family. It has and will continue to get me through the tough days ahead.

This blog will continue. My reviews at Dread Media will continue. My voice mails to the podcasts will continue. Leaving it all behind is not what Geri would have wanted. It is a huge part of my life and makes me who I am…a monster kid. When the time is right, probably sooner than later, I will post my thoughts and memories of my wife. Until then, all I can say is thank you for every prayer and warm thought. I am reading every one even though I am simply overwhelmed and can’t personally respond. From my family, I say thank you my friends. You all are amazing!

 

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King Kung Fu (1976) is Some Funny Monkey Business

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Note: This article was originally posted on the B Movie Man website in 2012 and published in The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine (issue #1) in 2014.

KKF posterWhen thinking of movie locations, Kansas is hardly the first name that comes to anyone’s mind. There is no Walk of Fame in downtown Wichita. Oh sure, thoughts may wander to the yellow brick road and some little dog named Toto. Ask any Kansan what they think about Oz and you’re likely to get a split vote. However, it may come as a surprise that more than 80 movies have been filmed in Kansas. Some are independent and low-budget films you’ve probably never heard of. Others are westerns that have utilized such locations as the historic Cowtown attraction located in downtown Wichita. Horror movie fans are well aware of Carnival of Souls (1962) or Darkness (1993). And how can we forget about The Beast from the Beginning of Time (1965)?  However, one film that is often misunderstood is King Kung Fu (1976).  Never heard of the tale of a talking gorilla trained in the ancient art of kung fu? Don’t feel bad. It is another almost forgotten piece of cinematic lore.

The plot of the movie is simple enough and somewhat familiar. We have the main character, King Kung Fu, a talking gorilla who is sent to the United States as a gift by his embarrassed sensei, Alfunku, played by local Wichita State University professor Jim Erickson. Before arriving in New York, he stops off in mid-America, better known as Wichita, so the redneck locals can get a glimpse (the TV newsman’s words, not mine). The gorilla captures the attention of a Carl Denham wannabe named Bo Burgess, played by Billy Schwartz. Never heard of Billy Schwartz? That’s because he never did another movie (along with the rest of the cast). Bo wants to use the lovely Rae Fay, as played by Maxine Gray, to lure the gorilla away for the usual dreams of fortune and glory. Bo and his sidekick run into various slapstick obstacles which lead to the gorilla’s release and relentless rampage throughout Wichita while local lawman Captain J. W. Duke, played by Tom Leahy in his best/worst John Wayne impersonation, and his deputy, office Pilgrim, continue their search. Confrontations with King Kung Fu result in a display of his martial arts mastery with flashbacks to his sensei (where’s David Carradine when you need him?). The madcap madness concludes with our fearless gorilla climbing atop the largest building in Wichita (at the time), the downtown Holiday Inn. King Kung Fu outwits the authorities and is last seen piloting the police helicopter into the sunset.

KKF 1Going into the movie, it’s best to know right from the start that it is a parody and smash-up of giant-gorillas-run-amuck and kung fu films. Unlike Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), this movie never takes itself too seriously. From the opening segment, when we see that it was “Filmed in Simianscope”, you should know exactly what you’re dealing with. It is full of clichés, spoofs and non-stop corniness. There are no hidden horror elements at all. It’s a straight-up comedy that some modern-day viewers may compare to the Scary Movie series. When discussing B movies, we tend to overlook comedies. However, there is legitimate argument that at first look this “classic” could be grade Z. The production is second-rate and the cast is full of unknowns that probably never even made it to local stage productions. This is where we need to peel back the outer layer and look at what went behind the making of the film and the period in which it was made.

We are beginning to take for granted that virtually anyone can make a movie these days. Cameras are easy to acquire and videos posted almost instantaneously on YouTube. Direct-to-DVD movies are released weekly. But in 1974, even a low-budget film required expensive cameras and production. The one constant is that it takes virtually no talent to make a movie but it is required to make a good one. Bob Walterscheid was one of the main driving forces behind King Kung Fu, serving as producer as well as receiving screenplay credit. Add to the fact that it seems his entire family had some minor role in the film, it was clearly a work of passion for him. Even as recent as 2005, he was online leaving comments on IMDB still defending and praising the movie. He takes great offense to anyone calling the movie “the worst of all time.” He insists the gorilla does not really talk but that what we hear is his inner voice. Unfortunately, some of the characters apparently hear this inner voice as well as they respond to his words. I would agree that it’s not the worst movie ever made. As a comedy it occasionally works and for someone living in Wichita, it serves as a time capsule back to the 70s.

KingKungFuPic2The movie is full of locations still present in Wichita today. We have several scenes at the Sedgwick County Zoo, then only three years old. We witness a baseball game with the Wichita Aeros at the legendary Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and see several dinner scenes at the Rock Road Pizza Hut, the national pizza chain that was founded in Wichita. We spend some time at the Joyland amusement park including the death defying roller coaster (death defying because one wonders how it’s still standing). Sadly, this has been closed for years and, despite recent efforts to reopen it, time and Mother Nature have left the vandalized park crumbling and a local eyesore. We also get to see what was then the tallest building in Wichita: the downtown Holiday Inn. On a darker note, this was also the same location for a sniper shooting in 1976 when Michael Soles killed three people and wounded seven others. It has since been converted into an apartment building and continues to struggle to leave its’ dark history in the past. It overshadows the fun for those of us who remember the shooting.

BSOH Magazine Issue 1The only two cast members of note are Jim Erickson and Tom Leahy. Jim Erickson, who played our sensei Alfunku, was a film professor at Wichita State University from 1966 until his retirement in 1997. Despite being a local movie host he is also a film critic who continues to provide review for a local public radio station. Tom Leahy is a name some may remember from The Beast from the Beginning of Time, that other Wichita film from 1965. While he did help with some of the costumes and makeup, his main contribution was that of the John Wayne inspired sheriff. Both performances are campy but highlights of the film. They had some talent while much of the rest of the cast are amateurish at best. It is sad that Tom Leahy is not listed on IMDB, a major oversight that will hopefully be corrected someday.

The movie never made millions but it did see the light of day unlike The Beast from the Beginning of Time. Production was started in 1974 and producer Bob Walterscheid claims they were the first to use the new 16mm negative film. He also claims that had they finished on time they would have been out before Airplane (1980) hit the theaters and it may have been given more respect than it received. However, financial setbacks prevented the film from being released until 1987. The film was “blown up” for a 35mm theatrical release and received its’ theatrical debut at the long-gone Crest Theatre in Wichita. It reportedly played in 11 theaters across the country and was sold to Japan, Taiwan and Poland. It later saw a one-night film revival when it played as a fundraiser at the Wichita Orpheum Theatre. The audience loved the film and laughed throughout, pleasing Bob Walterscheid as they truly understood it as the comedy it was always meant to be.

Despite all of the best intentions from Bob Walterscheid and director Lance Hayes, the movie never lives up to its’ potential. It could have its own place alongside other parody films but it suffers from some very poor acting and a very badly edited climax. The helicopter sequence and confrontation atop the Holiday Inn are clearly where the production ran out of movie. Quality of the film stock also varies greatly. Even with our cheese hats firmly on, the sequence comes across looking like a very bad student film and causes what was an occasionally funny film to end very flat. However, if you are a fan of such “disaster” films, then I would recommend King Kung Fu if for no other reason than to see what is essentially a forgotten local project. Unlike The Beast from the Beginning of Time, it is easily available on DVD. I doubt this cinematic classic will ever get the Blu-ray treatment, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the high-definition, remastered, extended director’s cut edition. The movie is far from a classic but is an interesting glimpse back at a simpler time when a filmmaker would dream of seeing his work on the big screen rather than a direct-to-DVD release or a Saturday night SyFy original.

MMK Note: King Kung Fu is also now available on YouTube.

Celebrating a Decade of Christopher R. Mihm

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Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of The Phantom of Monster Lake (2006). This would be the first film from the mind and creative genius of Christopher R. Mihm. The story behind its development is one that it hits very close to home as it’s a tale of a father, a son and monster movies.

Monster of Phantom LakeOn the bio from his website, www.sainteuphoria.com, Christopher talks about how his father loved to watch the great (and not-so-great) sci-fi and horror flicks of the 50s. His father would revisit the movies with Christopher, introducing him to a world that his son didn’t quite understand at first. Were they supposed to be scary? But upon losing his father to cancer in 2000, Christopher decided to revisit many of those old “classics”. However, this time around, he fell in love with them. Perhaps it was nostalgia for his childhood or maybe it was because of the memories of his dad. Whatever the reason, it sparked an interest in him to become a filmmaker.

With the help of family and friends, The Phantom of Monster Lake became a reality. It is a true homage to those wonderful films we all love, dealing with a mutated beast, a scientist and his groups of students. It has questionable acting, cheesy script and limited special effects. In other words, everything we look for in those films from the past. In the years that followed, it would be screened at film festivals around the world. Its success ensured a sequel, the award-winning It Came from Another World (2007). Thus, it was the start of the Mihmiverse.

The Giant SpiderThe Mihmiverse is the affectionate name given to all of Christopher’s films. They are all designed to be loosely connected, existing in the same reality. In the years that followed, he has created a total of 10 films with an 11th currently in production. He serves as writer, editor, producer and director, while occasionally even acting in the films as well. Several of the films have been recognized with various awards. Perhaps the most famous of his films is his homage to the giant bug flicks of the 50s, The Giant Spider (2013).

Christopher has apparently decided not to sleep because he is also the driving force behind the monthly podcast, The Mihmiverse Monthly Audiocast, which currently features the Canoe Cops vs. The Mummy chapter serial written by our friend, Stephen D. Sullivan. Add to that a monthly newsletter and a new podcast called The Phantom Lake Almanac, Christopher is one very busy monster kid.

The Late Night Double FeatureMost of the movies run approximately 75 minutes long, just like the films of the past. Don’t go into these movies expecting some big budget masterpiece cranked out by a major studio. Embrace them for the labor of love they are, coming from a fellow monster kid, just like the rest of us. All of the movies are available on DVD while the last four are also on Blu-ray. The website is also full of goodies ranging from lobby cards to t-shirts to puppets. To say the least, Christopher R. Mihm is a marketing genius.

Christopher releases one movie a year and 2016 will be no different. For 2016, Christopher is currently working on his next film, Weresquito: Nazi Hunter. It has a WWII setting, Nazi experiments and a blood-sucking killer insect. Do we really need to know anything more?

WeresquitoFor now, let’s all help Christopher R. Mihm celebrate by checking out all of the trailers on his website and, if you haven’t already, add some of these fun flicks to your collection. He’s a filmmaker well worth supporting. While you’re at it, head on over to the Rondo Awards and vote for his latest, Danny Johnson Saves the World (2015), for Best Independent Film of 2015.

Happy Anniversary Mr. Mihm and here’s to another decade of monster goodness!

The Beast Lives Again as Forgotten Horror Film Resurfaces

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Note: This article was originally posted on the B Movie Man website in 2011 and published in The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine (issue #2) in 2014.

The Beast GraphicIn 1965, if you were a horror movie fan, you almost certainly read Famous Monsters magazine, if you could get a copy at your local drugstore or news stand. You might have rummaged through some old EC comics like The Vault of Horror or The Haunt of Fear. You may have even watched movies on a fuzzy UHF channel or paid $1.00 at a local theater to see Boris Karloff in Die, Monster, Die! (1965) or Peter Cushing in The Skull (1965). However, one movie you never got the chance to see was The Beast from the Beginning of Time (1965). Made in Wichita, Kansas, this obscure film was never released theatrically until 2004, when it finally debuted at the Wichita Orpheum. Outside of some limited television viewings, the number of people who have seen or even heard of it has only recently started to grow. Now, it’s time for The Beast to rise once again and have his story finally revealed.

If there is one man who can be called the driving force behind this forgotten gem, his name was Tom Leahy. Born in a little Oklahoma town called Pawhuska, Tom took the first step on a journey in 1941 that would lead him into a collision course with The Beast. He entered broadcasting at KFH radio with a show through Wichita State University called This Week in History. He would soon become a published author with two short science fiction stories, titled “One Martian Afternoon” and “The Tape Jockey.” He then began work at local ABC affiliate KAKE TV and it was there that he created his first on-screen persona, The Host. KAKE TV had acquired the Shock Theater movie package and needed a horror host, a still relatively new idea for television. With a sidekick named Rodney, one of the earliest horror hosts hit the small screen. When he moved to the local CBS and NBC affiliates, he brought his character with him. By 1965, low-budget horror flicks had become staples of double features and drive-ins. After all, how much money was spent on films, now considered classics, like Little Shop of Horrors (1960) or The Terror (1963)? Tom decided it would be fun to make his own movie and took a chance by approaching KARD TV with the idea. In today’s world, no local station would think of making a movie. Even back then the idea was unheard of. He had already written a script, and through his television work, he was as prepared as many others in Hollywood. For whatever reason, KARD TV agreed to fund the film. Now, the hard part was to follow: could he bring together the talent needed to pull this off?Nightmare logo 2

Tom was well-respected in Wichita. By 1965, he had become well established through his own screen roles of The Host and, even more prominently, Major Astro, an afternoon kiddie show host. Introducing cartoons by day, Tom gathered his cast not from Hollywood, but from the talent base Wichita had to offer. The plot of the film was formulaic: a group of archaeologists discover the body of a caveman encased in rock near a river bed. The caveman comes back to life, thanks to the ever-present thunderstorm and lightning. Even if you’ve only seen a handful of films from the 50s and 60s, you know this is a recipe for disaster. Dick Welsbacher, a local Wichita State University professor, played archeologist Morey. Morey is a man obsessed and the typical type who has lost sight with reality and replaced it with dreams of fame and fortune. Ralph Seeley played John, another archeologist who flies to the site at the beginning of the movie. John Froome, often referred to as a tremendous local talent, played Paul, John’s archeologist colleague. Ralph and John were the heroes of the film, the type of role that might have been played by the likes of a John Agar had the movie been filmed in Hollywood with a bigger budget. Webb Smith, a local sportscaster, plays the hired muscle and, unsurprisingly, the eventual first victim of The Beast. Although, being impaled by a shovel was pretty rare in 1965.

Nightmare 11The archeologists work for a local museum and must deal with a sarcastic official named Ford, played by local legend Henry Harvey. Harvey is still remembered today for hosting two kiddie shows, one of which is still entertaining yet another generation of Wichita youngsters. Harvey played the character of Freddy Fudd, Elmer Fudd’s brother, as he introduced Warner Brothers cartoons from his tree house. However, every Thanksgiving, he would put on the red suit and become Santa Claus. If you grew up in Wichita at any time from the 50s to the present, you’ve watched Santa’s Toyshop. You know about his sidekick KAKEman and of zooming around the world on Christmas Eve. Harvey has since passed away but his son continues the tradition. At a time when local stations have long since abandoned local programming for whatever nationally syndicated court show they can get, KAKE TV takes a new generation to the North Pole every December. Needless to say, with a buildup like that, you now know Harvey’s character of Ford is a highlight of the film. He was the comedic relief that most films of this type need to lighten the mood when things get too dark.

While the remaining cast is filled up with other local “talent,” Tom would take on the roles of producer and director as well. However, a little known fact is that he also played The Beast. Tom did his own makeup for his character of The Host, so he naturally did his own makeup for The Beast. Think of a typical caveman buried in rock for thousands of years, revived by lightning, and you’ve got The Beast. Tom would not take credit for The Beast on-screen. That honor goes to Nelson Strong, the name Tom used for the film. Filming would begin quickly and took place over evenings and weekends around everyone’s real day jobs. In a televised interview with the surviving cast members in 1980, they all revealed they enjoyed making the movie and most would do it again. However, the magic ingredient, and most likely primary source of payment, was revealed: beer! Location shooting for the archeological site was done in the summer of 1965 in 102 degree heat at Lake Afton, just west of Wichita. Another primary site was the old Wichita Airport, now a museum located in south Wichita. KARD TV became a Hollywood studio, serving as the primary site for office and museum scenes. The exact production cost has never been revealed but would be comparable to many direct-to-video movies of today, minus the money spent on bad CGI and forgotten 80s pop music icons or TV stars.Nightmare 5

While the time spent together was clearly a fun experience for all involved, the next step in the process never happened. The movie was finished in a relatively short time, but The Beast from the Beginning of Time seemed destined to be lost in time. The completed product sat on shelf at KARD for years, collecting dust and becoming a memory. Tom felt the movie was embarrassing and never thought anyone would have an interest in it. Anyone who has ever purchased a Mill Creek collection knows that to be wrong. Some of the cast continued to be a part of Wichita’s television community while others returned to their day jobs. Tom even appeared in another movie filmed in Wichita called King Kung Fu (1976). That “classic” took 13 years to complete. Meanwhile, the dust continued to collect on The Beast’s film canister. Then, in 1980, for reasons unknown, the decision was made to air the movie as part of a Halloween trick or treat. Many of the cast reminisced about the film in an on-screen promo. Leahy would resurrect his character of The Host to introduce the film. A gag rating of NG (Not Good) was played before the movie started. Older viewers enjoyed seeing their local favorites as they appeared 15 years earlier. Young horror movie fans enjoyed watching a movie they’d never seen or even heard about. And as quickly as the hype started, it was over. The movie was returned to the canister and the dust would collect once again.

Basement coverIn the years that followed, many of the cast would pass away, including Henry Harvey. Tom would reprise his Major Astro and The Host characters in the late 80s and early 90s for a new generation of viewers before retiring. He was inducted into the Kansas Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2004, The Wichita Orpheum, a local movie theater in the process of a long restoration to its past glory days, presented the film for the first time on the big screen. Attendance was good but many missed the rare opportunity to see part of Wichita’s past. One year later, on August 20, 2005, in honor of its 40th anniversary, The Beast from the Beginning of Time returned to the big screen for one more showing. Tom was there along with Dick Welsbacher to discuss the film and sign autographs. Naturally, one fan in attendance asked why the movie was never released to VHS or DVD. Tom responded that the movie was too dreadful to be released. How wrong Tom was. Sadly, Tom never really understood that there really was an audience just waiting for his movie. Tom passed away on June 18, 2010.

There may still be hope for this lost film. In 2007, Joel Sanderson contacted Tom and arranged for the movie to air on his Lawrence, KS horror program called The Basement Sublet of Horror. This show is now being aired in a few other markets across the US in addition to a new internet horror site called The Monster Channel. The movie was reviewed in 2010 on the B Movie Cast, one of the most listened to internet podcasts, hosted by Vince Rotolo. Some 46 years after it was completed, fans are finally seeing and talking about The Beast from the Beginning of Time. It’s not a classic film but it is a product of a simpler time, when movies could be a fun 75-minute escape from reality. We didn’t need big budgets or an Academy Award winning cast to bring us joy on a Saturday afternoon. All we needed was a caveman who awakes in a new era and begins a rampage of death and destruction. We could laugh at how silly it was, enjoying the cheesy effects and hammy acting without a critical eye. Take the time to unearth The Beast from the Beginning of Time. It won’t be easy to find but once you do, you’ll enjoy the fun of discovering a new movie and, hopefully, spend a Saturday afternoon watching it with your kids.

MMK Note: Since this article was originally written, it has been discovered that it did air at least once on television after it’s 1980 premiere. It was broadcast on KSN TV as a special Halloween treat in 1985. That broadcast is currently available on YouTube. A special edit was also created in 2015 by Joel Sanderson from The Basement Sublet of Horror. Unaired footage of Tom Leahy as The Host was used to create a “lost” episode of Nightmare. This version, which uses a better print and the best available, is currently available on archive.org.

 

20th Annual Kansas Silent Film Festival

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This past weekend marked my second time attending the Kansas Silent Film Festival in Topeka, Kansas. This was their 20th year of offering a selection of silent films absolutely free to the public. In White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University, the gentle whir of a projector brought flickering images to life with live music accompaniment. Being in a room with what appeared to be more than 150 fellow cinema lovers was magic.KSFF 1

This year’s event was three days, starting with a special ticketed evening at the legendary Jayhawk Theatre on Thursday night. Then, Friday night and all day Saturday, admission was free with a non-stop presentation of classics and rare gems. Like last year, I attended the Friday night and Saturday morning segments with my big sister.

Friday night, the evening kicked off with an introduction from film historian Denise Morrison. Then, the lights dimmed and our first flick of the evening was Call of the Cuckoo (1927). This Max Davidson comedy also features the familiar faces of Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase. I’ve seen this before, several times in fact, and it always makes me laugh. However, it has never been better thanks to the wonderful music of Marvin Faulwell. The main event was an unbelievable presentation of The Thief of Bagdad (1924). A pristine picture was made magical by the music of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. If you ever heard their music, it is even more amazing live. This was my first time watching this Douglas Fairbanks Sr. adventure from beginning to end and I can’t imagine it could get any better.

Thief of BagdadSaturday morning started early with episode two of the rare retrospective series Hollywood. Graced with the narration of James Mason and interviews with many of the original silent film stars, I highly recommend you track it down. Most episodes are on YouTube or archive.org. This was followed by the Soviet cinema short, Chess Fever (1925). This half-hour comedy featured chess champions of the day and was a unique and highly entertaining comedy that was enhanced by the manic piano work of Rodney Sauer. It deserves more recognition than it gets. The morning main event was the classic Battleship Potemkin (1925). This was another first-time viewing and I must admit, it’s a little dry compared to the other offerings I saw. However, the imagery is stunning considering the era it was made, so definitely worth watching.

KSS 1The lobby was filled with glass cases of old movie programs and pictures from a bygone era. Standees of legends like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were watching over everyone to bring a smile on our faces. Vendors offered a selection of goodies including DVDs, books and even genuine 16mm films. Above all else, the thrill of watching silent films with live music in a great venue amongst fellow movie lovers with my big sister made for a priceless time.

From humbles beginning in 1997, this event has grown each year and helps continue the legacy of classic silent cinema. If you happen to be in the area the last weekend of February, it is well worth the effort and you can’t beat the price. Guaranteed, I will return in 2017 for the 21st annual event.

Dread Media – Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964)

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Face of the Screaming Werewolf 1964This week on the Dread Media podcast, episode 444 wraps up Feral February and I have one more “classic” werewolf flick to make it through. I take a look at Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964). It is Lon Chaney Jr.’s last time as a werewolf on the big screen in what is a mash-up of several Mexican horror flicks courtesy of Jerry Warren. It’s gotta be seen to be believed and you can do that on YouTube. The review starts at the 54:30 mark but stick around for the entire show and tell them Monster Movie Kid sent you!