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!

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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).

Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee – Dracula (1958)

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Christopher Lee CollageThe success of Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 signified a change at Hammer Studios. After years of having moderate success producing a variety of films, the horror genre would soon become its primary focus. Having successfully adapted the classic Mary Shelley novel, it was only logical that their next adaptation would be Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This time, Christopher Lee would assume the lead role in the film and take on a character that would define his career for the rest of his life.

Securing the rights to the novel was not an easy task for Hammer. Universal had signed an exclusive rights contract with the Bram Stoker estate, ensuring that only they would be able to produce films with the character. This would explain why Dracula rarely appeared in a film by any other studio during this time. Hammer’s deal allowed for them to make the film but Universal had distribution rights in the United States. Ironically, Dracula became public domain in 1962, for better or worse depending on your point of view.Horror of Dracula poster

The two driving forces behind Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, as it was released in the United States) were two mainstays from the Hammer family. Terence Fisher was the director while Jimmy Sangster wrote the screenplay. Sangster would makes changes, some subtle and some quite obvious. You won’t find the Renfield character here while some names were changed. Yet, at its core, Dracula remains the same story. Johnathan Harker (John Van Eyssen, Quatermass 2) arrives at castle Dracula to become the librarian. He is quickly met by a woman who claims to be a prisoner only to quickly disappear when the Count arrives. Yes, she is indeed a bride of Dracula.

HoD 1Christopher Lee initially enjoyed the role of Dracula. Not only did have speaking lines at the beginning of the film, he was not encased in makeup this time. His portrayal is perhaps a more sexual one that we saw Bela Lugosi display in the 30s and certainly surpasses Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine in that department. Yet, there is an intensity and underlying horror that was also absent in previous incarnations. Part of this is that it was now the late 1950s and certain restrictions once present in films were being lifted. Hammer was becoming the master at mixing the sexiness of their Hammer girls with ample amounts of that bright red blood, both of which would become the standard for Hammer horror flicks.

Lee’s good friend Peter Cushing plays the hero of the piece in Abraham Von Helsing. One difference here is that we are introduced to Von Helsing not in England but in the village of Klausenberg as he is searching for Dracula. He is quickly established as a hunter, dispatching of Harker after discovering him lying in a coffin. The story begins to follow more established guidelines with Harker’s fiancé Lucy (Carol Marsh, Scrooge) becoming the object of Dracula’s affections while her brother Arthur (Michael Gough, Black Zoo, Konga) struggles with the reality of the situation. Soon, sister-in-law Mina (Melissa Stribling, Crucible of Terror) becomes Dracula’s next target and the race is on to find out where Dracula lies.

HoD 2Lee’s performance as Dracula is stunning and iconic. Many actors in the years that followed would attempt to replicate the style in which Lee made the role his. He would go on to play the role six more times in the next fifteen years. But, he would not always be happy with the scripts and would try his best to distance himself from the character. Ironically, one of his more favorite Dracula films wasn’t even done by Hammer but by director Jess Franco. In Count Dracula (1970), Lee portrays the vampire as older and growing younger as he would drink blood, serving as both an elixir and a rejuvenator.

In his autobiography, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, Lee would express how depressing it was to see the films deteriorate, a factor that ultimately made him decide to depart from the role after The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). But clearly, Lee owned the role and would forever be associated with the legendary vampire. Dracula would make him a star and would afford him great film opportunities in the future.HoD 3

Dracula (1958) was covered in the very first episode of the 1951 Down Place podcast. I highly recommend it as Derek, Scott and Casey have a passion for all things Hammer that is unrivaled.

Next time, its 1959 and Christopher Lee is once again under the makeup fighting the ever-heroic Peter Cushing in The Mummy.

Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee – Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

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Christopher Lee CollageOn June 7, the horror community lost the last of the true legends. Sir Christopher Lee passed away at the age of 93 due to heart problems and respiratory failure. It is natural to mourn the loss of an actor with 278 acting credits, one of which hasn’t even been released yet. However, almost everyone who was a fan of his work is choosing to celebrate an incredibly long and productive life. Here, at Monster Movie Kid, we’re going to join in the celebrations by dedicating the month of July to a selection of his films, some classics and some not-so-much. But all made better by his presence on the screen.

Christopher Lee was born in 1922 but he didn’t make his first film appearance until 1946. His life before film was an adventure unto itself. While he did act in some school productions, the start of World War II in 1939 meant it was time to put aside the stage and volunteer in the armed forces. His service during the war was what films were made for. Yet, right until his death, he refused to talk of his time attached to the SAS. He admitted to being in the Special Forces but that was it. An amazing life just waiting for someone to bring it to life on the big screen.COF poster

He would return to acting in 1946 with one of his earliest roles being in Hamlet (1948) as an uncredited spear carrier. He would work his way through bit parts, uncredited cameos and occasional TV roles. Then, in 1957, he would take his first steps into the horror world by accepting the part of the Creature in Curse of Frankenstein (1957). This would begin his long association with Hammer Films as well as his good friend Peter Cushing. It wasn’t Shakespeare but Christopher Lee would never approach any project with less than 100% dedication. That doesn’t mean to say he was entirely happy with the production. He hated the makeup and was greatly disappointed by his lack of lines. Yet, his performance was magnificent and, personally, I think one of the more definitive interpretations pf Mary Shelley’s creation, if not entirely accurate to the written word.

COF 1The story is at its core the same with minor tweaks and changes along the way, adding a touch of British flare. Dr. Frankenstein is also a Baron here, which allows Cushing the opportunity to add his unique touch to the role. At time the epitome of British upper class, at others a madman digging through graves for body parts. His mentor and tutor is Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), who begins as an ally and ends up being the voice of reason the Baron ignores. This would be the first time that Frankenstein’s grisly work would be seen so graphically, another typical Hammer touch. And let’s not forget the ever present Hammer women. Hazel Court (The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death) would turn in a great performance as cousin and future bride Elizabeth while Valerie Gaunt would star as lustful maid Justine.

COF 2The makeup work was a stark contrast to what Universal had done in the 30s and 40s. This was quite deliberate to ensure no legal issues once the film was released. Graphic and somewhat crude, the end result seems to add a measure of authenticity and realism. Supposedly, the Creature’s first appearance so shocked the London filmgoers that many needed to go for their smelling salts (good old-fashioned marketing hype right there). Lee’s mannerisms of walking and his difficulty getting up and sitting down are some details other actors have easily overlooked in other adaptations. Despite his lack of lines, Lee made the role his, bringing forth both pity and fear from the audience. It laid the foundations for his partnership with Cushing that would be cemented one year later in Dracula (1958).

COF 3Curse of Frankenstein was raked over the coals by the British press for being so horrific. Yet, the audiences loved it on both sides of the pond. It ultimately grossed more than seventy times its production costs. It redefined the horror genre and began the Hammer horror era of dominance. Many have discussed this film over the years but I recommend checking out my friends over at the 1951 Down Place podcast. They covered it back in 2011 on episode 2. Go listen right now and tell them Monster Movie Kid sent you. Meanwhile, check out the official clip from Hammer on YouTube. It’s available on a variety of DVD releases but is only available on region 2 Blu-ray at this time. However you track it down, if you’ve somehow never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Next time, Christopher Lee takes on the role that would define his career in 1958s Dracula.

Sir Christopher Lee Has Died at the Age of 93

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“I’ve always acknowledged my debt to Hammer. I’ve always said I’m very grateful to them. They gave me this great opportunity, made me a well-known face all over the world for which I am profoundly grateful.”

– Sir Christopher Lee (1922 – 2015)

Ladies and gentlemen, the last of the true horror legends has died. Sir Christopher Lee has left us at the age of 93. I don’t think there is one monster kid out there who wasn’t preparing for this day. We all had seen images in recent years as he looked frail and could no longer travel outside of England. Yet, he never seemed to stop. The monster movie kid in me couldn’t imagine a world without at least one of the horror greats still among us. Sadly, that day has now arrived.Christopher Lee

From his earliest horror roles as the monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula (1958) to his role as Saruman in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), he seemed ever present in the horror community. As we lost other legends from the Universal days such as Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. so long ago, Lee brought forth a modern era of horror films, staying with the original Hammer until the lights were turned off. As his friends Vincent Price and Peter Cushing left us, Lee remained as the last legend of bygone days.

He continued to act in such recent franchise behemoths as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies as well as making his mark in the Star Wars franchise more than decade ago. With each film, we wondered how he was still able to entertain us and we relished each film appearance. He also continued to shock many with his contributions to the heavy metal universe. It seemed as if Sir Christopher Lee would live forever.

Christopher Lee quietly celebrated his 93rd birthday in the hospital last month. A life full of television and film roles behind him, shelves adorned with such honors as the BAFTA Academy Fellowship that was awarded him in 2011, he was still making movies for future generations.

In honor of his passing, I will be dedicating the month of July to the films of Christopher Lee. I had originally planned to do a mini-tribute to the master last month in honor of his 93rd birthday alongside remembering two other greats from the past, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. However, July will now be exclusively for Sir Christopher Lee.

The last chapter on an era of greatness is now closed. Rest in peace Sir Christopher Lee.

Scanners (1981) Is A Classic Look At The Age Old Psychic Wars

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Scanners 1I have vivid memories of seeing the Scanners movie advertisements in the newspaper back in 1981. I read the article in Starlog magazine and vaguely remember it popping up on television from time to time over the years. Several years ago, I even bought a DVD for $1 at a closing Hollywood Video store. However, until this past weekend, I never took the time to watch it. Movies from the 70s and 80s have a way of standing out quite a bit, especially when it comes to fashions and technology. It can throw me off a little or make me feel nostalgic, so these aren’t always go to movies for me unless I am in the right mood. But, more times than not, when I finally sit down and discover a film that I’ve avoided or missed for decades, I am usually pleasantly surprised and Scanners (1981) was no exception.

Scanners are actually mutated humans who have the ability to hear other people’s thoughts and to control them telepathically. Of course, having the ability to control a heartbeat or blood flow can have disastrous results if this power falls into the wrong hands and that’s exactly what we see in the opening moments. Our main character, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), causes a woman to have violent convulsions after “hearing” her derogatory comments about his appearance. He is quickly subdued by agents from ConSec, a research facility that has a history with scanners. Cameron Vale soon becomes the tool of Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner) as a war is ready to erupt between mankind and the scanners. It seems that Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside, V and Total Recall) has tremendous scanning powers and wants to hunt down all those with the scanning power. He has a much grander scheme to create his own scanners as his personal army. The inevitable battle of wits between Vale and Revok ensues with Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill) reluctantly joining Vale more out of self-preservation than dedication after Revok orders the death of many of her scanner friends. Throw in some mystery and plot twists and you have a rather entertaining sci-fi flick for late night viewing. Scanners 2

Now, I should come clean and say that Scanners is not perfect. In fact, there is one key flaw that held my enjoyment back a little. There is some very questionable acting from the lead actor Stephen Lack (as in “lack of talent”, pun intended). He simply cannot act his way out of a paper sack, causing several powerful scenes to fall flat. Unfortunately, somewhat flat performances from McGoohan and O’Neill exasperate the situation. McGoohan at least throws some passion into some of his scenes but he clearly didn’t have as much interest in this project as is evident in some of his other works, such as the classic television series The Prisoner. However, I liked the blending of the mystery and sci-fi elements, along with the smile I had on my face during the computer scenes. Amazing how far we’ve come but it does antiquate these types of movies a bit.

Scanners 4Director David Cronenberg has given us many classic films over the years. Prior to 1981, The Brood and Rabid stand out, while he immediately followed Scanners with the cult classic Videodrome and more commercially successful films like The Dead Zone and The Fly. His movies from this period dealt with the different aspects of scientific research, either going out-of-control against society or on a more personal level. All of these films are well worth checking out.

Be prepared for some incredibly violent scenes and a fair amount of blood (you all probably know about the iconic head explosion scene). Definitely pushing the envelope that Hollywood is often scared to do today in favor of a PG-13 rating and bigger box office numbers. Scanners was a box office success so no surprise that a series of sequels and spin-offs followed. However, none had the involvement of David Cronenberg or any of the original cast and are generally better left forgotten. For years there have been rumors of a remake or television series but nothing seems to be happening in either of those circles as of 2014.Scanners 3

The movie is currently available on YouTube as well as DVD but seems to be out-of-print, so do some shopping as you don’t want to pay more for the movie than it is worth. It could benefit from a remastering and some extras beyond a trailer, which is all that the DVD has. That said, I recommend it as it a lot of fun, provided you can overlook some of its flaws. Plus, may I also recommend listening to episode 25 of the Martian Drive-In Podcast. Terry Frost offers up some great discussion that will enhance the viewing experience.

The Keep (1983) Fails To Impress Despite A Promising Storyline

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The Keep 1983It’s a common story amongst fans of the cinema, especially sci-fi and horror aficionados. You wait years to see a movie. You’ve heard very little but your curiosity is killing you. Finally, you track down a copy. You fire up the big screen, put in the DVD or pull up Netflix. Minutes later, you are being transported to another time and place. You can’t believe you are finally going to see the movie. Then, some 90 minutes later, you wonder if Marty McFly can swing by with the DeLorean so you can get those 90 minutes back. Unfortunately, these are thoughts crossing my mind after I recently watched The Keep (1983) but not for the reasons you might think.

In 1983, director Michael Mann assembled a cast that included Scott Glenn and Ian McKellen in an effort to bring author F. Paul Wilson’s novel The Keep to life on the big screen. Up to this point, Mann had only one theatrical film to his credit, 1981’s Thief. And, after viewing The Keep, I’m not surprised to see that his Hollywood career made a transition to producing such television hits as Crime Story and Miami Vice. The movie has a lot of interesting aspects going into it. Set in World War II Romania, the German Army takes residence in an abandoned citadel, known as the Keep, in an effort to control a pass. The locals are concerned about the Germans staying there and are warned to leave. However, Captain Klaus Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) becomes intrigued with countless T-shaped icons made of nickel. A local priest warns them not to touch them but a couple of soldiers attempt to steal them, inadvertently unleashing an entity known as Radu Molasar. Beams of light leave a path of destruction, which warrants the priest to request a Jewish historian named Professor Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen, The Hobbit and X-Men) and his daughter Eva (Alberta Wilson).The Keep 3

Molasar begins to take form (it reminded me of a Golem with red eyes) and saves Eva from two German soldiers. Then, he cures Professor Cuza of scleroderma, resulting in the professor gaining strength and being indebted to him. Molasar needs the professor’s help in escaping the citadel, promising to kill the Nazis if freed. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger with glowing eyes (Scott Glenn) comes to the village with his own plans of stopping Molasar. As it turns out, Molasar has evil plans and the stranger is the only one who can stop him.

The Keep is an atmospheric film that is in desperate need of restoration and remastering. The version I watched on Netflix is only in full frame and was a very worn copy. The film originally had a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream but other versions contain a different score due to rights issues. However, this version had the Tangerine Dream music, which really is not a plus. I love Tangerine Dream but their score just seemed out of place in this movie and overpowering at times. Which leads me to the sound editing. It is perhaps the worst I’ve experienced in some time. It is very hard to hear most of the cast. This could have been how it was filmed or it could just be the current mix. In any case, it needs corrected should this ever get a DVD or Blu-Ray release.

The Keep 2The Keep had a lot of potential. I love the concept of World War II horror. However, it also suffers from a convoluted script. This could be due to the fact that the movie was originally over three hours long and was cut down to half that running time. I suspect a lot of detail and explanation was lost in that abandoned 90 minutes. Michael Mann has no interest in seeing this film restored due to the overall negative reception it received. I’ve never read author F. Paul Wilson’s original novel but I am definitely interested. Wilson was also disappointed with the movie, stating it was incomprehensible. With a theatrical release just before Christmas, an odd time of year for a film like this, needless to say it was a flop. The Keep has only been released on laserdisc and VHS, so unless you can find one of those on eBay, your best option would be Netflix or on YouTube, which is at least a widescreen version converted from the laserdisc.  It’s worth a watch to see the promise that it had but be warned. It’s a frustrating watch that may leave you wishing for that 90 minutes back, at least until a better version becomes available.