We’re Coming to Get You Monster Bash

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After years of conflicts, the time is now! The car is packed, snacks at the ready, items to be signed are safely secured…it’s time for Monster Bash 2017! Monster Movie Kid is heading to Mars, PA with Jeff Owens of the Classic Horrors Club podcast as the world’s greatest monster convention awaits. I’ll be meeting fellow monster kids and podcasters for the very first time, making my bank account weep, and soaking in every single moment. From meeting stars like Ricou Browning (Creature from the Black Lagoon) to getting my free burrito at the late night Mexican horror movie to watching How to Make a Monster under the stars, there won’t be a grave left unturned!

If you’re reading this and you’re headed to Monster Bash, introduce yourself! I’ll be the big kid with a smile on his face (as if that’s gonna help you there)Meanwhile, this blog will take a summer break but we’ll be back next week! See you at the Bash!

 

Sci-Fi Horrorfest – Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

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Not every sci-fi or horror flick is destined to be a classic. Some are truly bad while others balance that line from bad to so-bad-it’s good. And then there are those films that simply exist, neither bad nor good. Through the years, they’ve slipped through the cracks and been mostly forgotten. That is until home video decides it’s time to unearth them for a new generation to determine their value among the classics. And so we have Curse of the Faceless Man (1958).

The initial premise behind Curse of the Faceless Man is somewhat interesting and unique. A body is discovered at the site of Pompeii. It’s soon revealed to be that of a gladiator believed to have died during the infamous volcanic eruption. He is wearing an Etruscan medallion, indicating he may have been part of an ancient cult. The body is soon removed and being transported to a facility for study when it comes to life in the bed of the truck. The driver is killed and the faceless man is found nearby the wreckage. Upon further examination, there is blood on his hand. What follows is a series of events with the body being left alone with someone and coming to life, leaving a trail of bodies and many people clueless as to what is happening.

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Curse of the Faceless Man is a low-budget independent release that is more often than not overlooked. I stumbled across it on Netflix years ago before it was eventually released on DVD and now Blu-ray. It features a young Richard Anderson as Dr. Paul Mallon, years before he would portray Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man. He turns in a rather good performance but I’ve always enjoyed whatever I’ve seen him appear in. It’s nice to see Adele Mara as the intelligent Italian archeologist Maria Fiorello while Elaine Edwards’ performance as Tina Enright is also interesting. The sub-plot of Tina experiencing visions is something different from the usual monster fare at the time.

The monster suit isn’t necessarily earth shattering but designer Charles Gemora does an adequate job of creating what is really a rather believable creature. Legendary Jerome Bixby wrote the potentially good script years before writing the Mirror, Mirror episode on Star Trek or It’s a Good Life on The Twilight Zone. And director Edward L. Cahn follows up his previous efforts Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) with a well put together film. So why doesn’t this film get more love?

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At the time of release, it was easily overshadowed by the other film on the double bill, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, which is admittedly a superior film. It had all the elements for a better film but suffers from a weak script. It’s not one of Jerome Bixby’s better efforts as nothing really seems to happen. Everything is in place and it looks great but the viewer keeps waiting and waiting for something more to happen. Unfortunately, it never really does. At 67 minutes, you haven’t lost a lot of time and you won’t walk away wanting that time back. But you feel unsatisfied and wanting more.

Curse of the Faceless Man is worth watching once but should be paired with something a little more substantial. It’s readily available on Bu-ray, so check it out for yourself. It would make a nice opening film for a rainy day weekend double feature matinee.

Sci-Fi Horrorfest – The Magnetic Monster (1953)

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Whenever I see Richard Carlson in a movie, it always pulls me back to his best and most famous role in Creature of the Black Lagoon. He’s had quite a few genre roles over the years and Dr. Jeffrey Stewart in The Magnetic Monster (1953) is just one of several scientists he’d portray in the 50s. Here, we begin the Office of Scientific Investigation (O.S.I.) trilogy with a film appearing to be far more science based than fiction.

Dr. Stewart and Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan) work for the O.S.I. and are sent to investigate strange occurrences at a nearby appliance store. Clocks have stopped and items appear to have been magnetized. There are signs of radioactivity and, upon investigation of the upstairs, a body is found alongside scientific equipment and evidence that someone may be in possession of dangerous material. After finding an ailing scientist on an airplane carrying an artificial radioisotope called serranium, it’s soon discovered that the radioisotope, after being bombarded with alpha particles, has now become alive and is in constant search for more energy. The more it consumes, the more it grows and is on its’ way to becoming an unstoppable magnetic beast.

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While the title sensationalizes the “monster” portion of this movie, there are no physical creatures per se. Rather, what we find in this movie appears to be a more reality based creation. Real footage of the Los Alamos computer MANIAC helps legitimize the story, along with some brief footage of the UCLA differential analyzer. There are also nearly 10 minutes of stock footage of the atom smasher from Gold (1934), repurposed here as the Deltatron project. I’ll admit that had I never known of nor seen Gold before, it would be somewhat hard to pinpoint the reused footage.

Carlson turns in a great performance per usual and King Donovan (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is entertaining as well. Unfortunately, we are forced to sit through some rather outdated sexist dialogue when Dr. Stewart is talking with his pregnant wife Connie (Jean Byron, Invisible Invaders). That aside, the movie is rather fun and clearly more than a usual run-of-the-mill sci-fi entry. Curt Siodmak gives us a sharp script, also written by Ivan Tors. Tors wanted Siodmak’s involvement as a director to help with the excessive stock footage edits. However, Herbert L. Strock (Blood of Dracula) was uncredited despite handling much of the directorial efforts.

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The Magnetic Monster was the first of three O.S.I. films, followed by Riders to the Stars (1954) and Gog (1954). The overall trilogy is loosely connected and all stand out as being sharp and more serious sci-fi contributions despite some of the technology clearly being dated by today’s standards.

The Magnetic Monster was released last year on Blu-ray and is a nice edition if not a little bare bones, complete with commentary and a few selected trailers. With a running time of 75 minutes, it moves along at a brisk pace and never really slows down once the action kicks into gear. Certainly worth adding to your collection.

Cinema a Go-Go an Intergalactic Hit with Audiences

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The June edition of Cinema a Go-Go entertained audiences last week, offering up a sci-fi double feature with Queen of Outer Space (1958) and Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959). As with every one of these events, the movies are rarely classics and the Liberty Hall attendees are ready to do their best MST3K impersonations.

The evening started out with The Three Stooges starring in Have Rocket, Will Travel. By this point, they’d left behind the short subjects and entered the twilight of their careers with primarily feature films, aside from a cartoon series in the mid ‘60s. Moe Howard and Larry Fine had made their cinematic debut nearly 30 years earlier in Soup to Nuts (1930) when Moe’s brother Shemp was in the act and they were cannon fodder for Ted Healey. In the years that followed, Shemp left the act to be replaced by brother Jerome aka Curly, only to return in 1947 after Curley suffered a career-ending stroke. Upon Shemp’s death in 1955, he was replaced by Joe Besser, who left the act in 1958. Here, Larry and Moe are joined by Joe DeRita aka Curly Joe, a different-yet-similar take on the late Curly Howard’s character.

Have Rocket, Will Travel was their first film as primary leads in years and was the start of their final chapter in Hollywood. Cashing in on the space race and sci-fi themes popular at the time, we see our trio taking an unexpected trip to Venus. There, they encounter a talking unicorn, an alien computer and a giant fire-breathing tarantula. The Stooges revisit old routines in a weak script that features the boys singing a musical number, as well as an oddly placed and too prolonged party sequence at the end. At about 76 minutes long, their age is clearly evident as their best days were behind them. That said, you can’t help but be taken back to a simpler age. The laughs were forced but still a fun start to a night of cheesy intergalactic fun.

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In the second feature, Queen of Outer Space (1958), Zsa Zsa Gabor stars as the lovely Talleah on yes…the planet Venus again. Here, the Venusians are under the rule of a mad queen (not Zsa Zsa) who has her sights on destroying Earth. From the sex-starved women to the misogynistic male space travelers, this movie is horrifically dated. There are numerous odd moments, such as why the professor has to get strapped in a red velvet bed before the rocket launches. This film comes across more as a spoof than serious sci-fi material and you can’t help but laugh at just how bad this movie is. While the crowd offered up some commentary, they were a little quieter than normal, perhaps indicating that sometimes movies are so bad you can’t even find enough sarcastic comments to say about them.

As always, Retro Cocktail Hour host Darrell Brogdon was on hand as our host for the evening, complete with the traditional intermission prize giveaway. This time, DVDs and ray guns were given away to an eager audience. The crowd appeared to be one of the larger in recent memory with a wide age-range. Cinema a Go-Go continues to entertain and attract an eclectic mix of film lovers, from true fans of these “classics” to children being introduced to this form of fine entertainment for the first time. Rest assured, Cinema a Go-Go always leaves everyone happy and entertained. The next event is scheduled for Aug. 25, so mark your calendars now!

Darrell Brogdon is heard every week on the Retro Cocktail Hour on Kansas Public Radio and other stations around the world, as well as streaming on the web. And if you haven’t visited the TikiCat in Westport in Kansas City, make your reservations now for the first Wednesday of each month as Darrell hosts a live evening of the wonderful exotica music all of us fans have come to love!

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Sci-Fi Horrorfest – Gold (1934)

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We’re starting our summer-long series of science fiction and horror flicks with Gold, a little-known German effort from 1934. While many of you may have never seen this movie before, it’s possible you’ve already seen some of the special effects and footage in The Magnetic Monster (1953). However, the two movies are quite different with Gold being about a device that can turn base materials into gold while The Magnetic Monster deals with a radioactive creation.

After the international success of Der Tunnel (1933), a film about the construction of an undersea tunnel, director Karl Hartl began work on Gold, which took nearly 14 months to complete and was considered a big blockbuster for its’ time.  It involves two scientists working on a device that will turn base materials, such as lead, into gold. When John Wills (Michael Bohnen), who believes his own plan is better, sabotages the project and kills one of the scientists, he sets his sights on the survivor, Werner Holk (Hans Albers), in hopes of learning his secrets to combine them with his project and become a billionaire.

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Meanwhile, once Holk discovers what is going on, he begins to formulate a plan to gain revenge on Wills and to avenge his late partner’s death. However, Holk didn’t plan on the lovely Florence (Brigette Helm), Wills’ daughter, becoming a roadblock to his plans. And once the invention is revealed to the world, the economy begins to suffer as people begin to panic. Is John Wills really the philanthropist he presents himself as and will he see his plans succeed at the cost of mankind?

Gold is an epic for the time period, clocking in at two hours, and gives us some impressive special effects and set pieces. The story, written by Rolf Vanloo, is also a well-executed and detailed crime-drama with elements of science fiction thrown in for good measure. The end result is certainly not B movie fare with the main feature being the impressive reactor set, which was beautifully filmed and really serves as a setting for the cool climax of the story.

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As was common for cinema at the time, a French language version was also filmed concurrently. Entitled L’Or, Brigette Helms would reprise her role but most other parts were recast with the leading character of Werner Holk becoming Francois Berthier. However, the original version has remained the most well-known today.

Gold was well-received by audiences at the time but the film slowly slipped into obscurity over the years, mostly due to being filmed in German and a dubbed version never having been completed. But Hollywood still knew of the film in 1953 when stock footage of the reactor and laboratory from the final act of Gold were used in The Magnetic Monster. Those scenes greatly enhance that movie and appear seamlessly for the most part.

I highly recommend Gold as it’s a surprising little gem from the early days of German cinema. It is currently available on a bare-bones Blu-ray but worth adding it to your collection, especially if you are hungry for something new and different.

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