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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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26 January, 2008

A Star for Mr. Pierce, Revisited

One of the reasons that the great Universal classic Monsters are the great Universal classic Monsters is their iconic, trademarked, licensed-to-the-hilt look. From Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster, to Chaney’s Wolf-Man, the monsters had one common denominator, one extraordinarily gifted individual responsible for bringing those creatures from sketchpad to silver screen: Jack Pierce.

Born Janus Piccoulas in 1889, Pierce emigrated from his native Greece as a young boy. As a teen-ager, he dreamed of playing baseball, and had some success at the semi-pro level, but his small size prevented him from achieving his goal. Drifting to California, he found work in the fledgling film industry, first as an actor and stagehand, then moving into the make-up department at Universal. One of his first big projects was 1931’s DRACULA; though Lugosi did his own make-up, there’s no doubt that Pierce, as head of the department, would’ve had a say in the finished product. However, it would be Universal’s next big Horror feature that established Pierce’s reputation as a creative genius. That feature was James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN.

The studio’s original concept for the film version of Mary Shelley’s celebrated novel was to be directed by Robert Florey, starring Lugosi as the Monster. A test make-up was done for this version; however, no footage or stills have survived. Descriptions by those involved would seem to indicate a marked resemblance to Paul Weneger’s 1920 classic DER GOLEM, with a heavy, sculptured, clay-like appearance. Whale had Pierce start from scratch, and he and Boris Karloff, who had replaced Lugosi when the latter had refused the role, worked for hours each night for three weeks perfecting the design. Simply put, they succeeded, and Karloff’s Monster became perhaps the most recognizable film icon ever.

For the next sixteen years, Pierce was responsible for the monsters that we still know and love today. Im-ho-tep / Ardeth Bey, The Werewolf of London, Bateman, Ygor, Kharis, The Wolf-Man… all these and more were given life by his hand, working with little more than collodion, yak hair, and spirit gum. After World War II ended, Universal merged with International Pictures, and a new philosophy was in place. Long gone were the days when Carl Laemmle Sr. ran the studio as if it were just a large family shop. He had given Pierce the job of heading the make-up department with nothing more than a handshake to seal the deal, and, in early 1947 Universal-International took the job back with even less ceremony. Though Pierce remained active in film, he never recovered from this stunning betrayal, and died in obscurity in 1968.

Though few knew his name at the time of his death, Horror fans today recognize the man’s incredible talent, and the debt that Hollywood in general, and Universal Studios in particular, owe this diminutive master of make-up. One fan in particular has worked for several years to see that debt paid.

Scott Essman is perhaps the foremost expert on Jack Pierce, and has, for many years, been the driving force behind an effort to get Universal to recognize it’s obligation to Pierce with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Though he’s brought them nearly to the point of following through before, always something has arisen that was a “higher priority” for the Publicity department, and the money earmarked for Pierce’s star was shifted to other purposes. Though the amount required isn’t small, (somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 or so…) neither is it a sum that should prove daunting to a studio still making a healthy profit from Pierce’s genius. But let’s assume for a moment that they are simply unable to carve a sum that’s probably less than the studio’s monthly janitorial budget from the studio coffers. I have a solution that can fund the Pierce star, without taking any profit from Universal’s pockets.

Universal is well aware that the legions of Monster-fans will snap up anything that hints of the classic Monsters… hell, we’ve been doing it for years. Recently, they announced that they would be releasing a new DVD of 1932’s THE MUMMY, starring Karloff, and directed by Karl Freund. This was one of Pierce’s masterpieces, exceeded only by his work on FRANKENSTEIN, and one of the special features on this disc will be a new documentary on Pierce, produced by Essman. Why this couldn’t be done last year, in time for the 75th anniversary of the film’s release, is a mystery to me. Why it’s being done now is obvious; to support the third Brendan Fraser MUMMY film, due out late this year.

My suggestion is simple, and will allow his fans the opportunity to express their appreciation to the man responsible for the iconic look of our beloved Monsters. Whatever price is set for this disc (most likely less than $20.00…) just increase it by $1.00. Just tack a buck onto the price, and use it to pay for that well-deserved recognition for Mr. Pierce.

Come on, Universal… what do you say? I’ll commit to buying my copy right now, and I know a horde of dedicated Monster-fans that would do the same. After all, we’re not asking you to do this out of the goodness of your heart. We’re willing to pay your debt to Mr. Pierce for you. All you have to do is take the money… and admit the obvious.

Without the artistry of Jack Pierce, Universal as we know it would not in all probability exist today. It’s time to say thank you to Jack. It’s time he had a star. (For more information, please go to http://www.jackpierce.com/, Scott Essman’s website.)







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Horror-Host Review: The Sinister Minister's THE MIDNIGHT MASSACRE THEATER

Program: THE MIDNIGHT MASSACRE THEATER

Host/Co-Hosts: The Sinister Minister; the “Altar Girls”

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Carrier: http://www.themmt.com/; airs on KVTE-35, Las Vegas


[Ed. Note: If you happen to host a program, and would like to see it reviewed in the Crypt, please contact me at: unimonster64@gmail.com.]

Horror-hosts usually fall into one of two categories: those who play mainly to the young fans, keeping their humor, and their characters, family-friendly; and those who target an older, more sophisticated audience. Of the latter, there are several great ones out there… The Mortician, the Bone-Jangler, Penny Dreadful—all of whom have developed a following primarily among adult fans of horror. Add to that list the Sinister Minister, host of the Midnight Massacre Theater.

Based in Las Vegas, the Minister is well-suited to his environs. It would be hard to picture a Svengoolie or Zacherley-like host making a go of it in the very capital of sin and decadence, and he certainly isn’t of that mold. Looking like Marilyn Manson, only without the anorexia, and with his “altar girls” Succubus and Lucretia in attendance, the Minister holds services in the “Chap-Hell of Horror.” There he presents some of the best in bad movies to his audience, with appropriate commentary.

The episode I reviewed features the film MOON OF THE WOLF, a better than average Made-for-TV movie from 1972. To say it’s a favorite of mine would be an exaggeration; but I do remember seeing it when it first aired, and I do have fond memories of it. However, the feature is never the focus of this review, as it’s merely the vehicle the host uses to convey his show to the public.

One of the unique aspects of the Midnight Massacre Theater is that they’ve completely done away with the usual interstitial breaks; rather, the Minister jumps into and out of the film with brief but frequent comments, playing off the characters in the movie, using them as straight men to set up his jokes. And for the most part, this unconventional style works very well, though it can be distracting. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to see it used on a truly great movie, but with the type of low-budget programmers that you’re likely to find on a hosted show, that’s not really a concern.

The humor is good, biting and sarcastic… just the perfect balance in this Unimonster’s opinion. Not so adult that it would draw an R-rating, though it’s not what I’d want an eight-year-old hearing. But your average 13- or 14-year-old will both get the jokes, and love them. Hmmm… not sure whether or not I should be concerned about having the same sense of humor as a 14-year-old. The look of the sets, as well as the characters, is excellent, much better than I expected, and overall the show has a slick, professional appearance that stands out.

Overall, I was very pleased with the quality of this show, and with qualifications, I do recommend it to you. Those qualifications aren’t large, but they are important. First, since most of you will view this program on-line, a word of warning is in order. There are sections of the site that are adult-oriented, featuring viewer-submitted nude photographs of the “altar girls-next-door.”

Secondly, the web-site itself [http://www.themmt.com/] is very graphics-intensive, demanding a system closer to state-of-the-art than mine. Though I have a high-speed connection, my computer simply cannot keep up with the sheer volume of image and sound files being thrown at it. Now admittedly my machine is a steam-powered relic, but it is something that both the viewer, and the designer of web-sites, should keep in mind.

So, with those caveats in mind, check out the Sinister Minister and his Midnight Massacre Theater. It’s not for every taste, but I enjoyed it very much. You just might as well.







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22 January, 2008

Crypt News

There's big happenings in the Crypt lately... First, the Unimonster can now be seen every Tuesday giving a preview of the upcoming DVD releases in the world of Genre films, courtesy of http://www.theindychannel.com/

Here's a link to the first episode: http://www.theindychannel.com/video/15100787/index.html

And last but by no means least, the Ballot for the 2007 Rondo Award is out, and both Svengoolie and Count Gore de Vol are on the ticket as best Horror-Host! Oh, and... Unimonster's Crypt is nominated for best Web-Site!!

So go to http://www.rondoaward.com/ and cast your vote for Sven or the Count! Oh, and maybe one for the Crypt, too. Thanks!

Uni

19 January, 2008

KAIJÛ 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Giant Monsters of Japanese Cinema

Say “Godzilla,” and everyone knows what you mean and to whom you’re referring. Say “Kaijû,” and most people say, “What’s that mean?” Simply put, Kaijû are the giant monsters of Japanese movies: Godzilla; Rodan; Mothra; and their kin. For those new to the genre, it can be a daunting task trying to sort out the confusing variety of Monsters, Aliens, and the movies associated with them. While I’m far from an expert, I am going to try to give you the basic history of the Kaijû genre from 1954 to 2004, but with emphasis on the first twenty years of Godzilla’s reign. These are the movies everyone should start with if they want to know Kaijû Eiga in general, and Godzilla movies in particular. Though most would say there’s no difference, that would be shortsighted and factually incorrect, and would be comparable to saying that all Universal Horrors are Frankenstein movies.

Also, those familiar with my columns know that they are often a mix of fact and opinion. Where I state fact, I do my utmost to research and confirm those facts, and I want to acknowledge those sources now.

First and foremost in all my research is http://www.imdb.com/. This has got to be the best website ever devised for those looking for information on virtually any movie, classic or current; and my work would be much more difficult without it. Also, two websites devoted to Kaijû films have proven invaluable for this article: http://www.tohokingdom.com/, and Gojistomp.org. I heartily recommend them to Kaijû-lovers everywhere.

As to my opinions… well, they’re my opinions. You don’t have to agree with them.

And one last acknowledgement is in order, as well as a huge thank-you, to my fellow Monster-Fan Elizabeth Haney. Her assistance with the research on this piece has been invaluable, and it, as well as her friendship, is greatly appreciated.

My purpose with this article is simple: To share with you my love of Kaijû Eiga, (Monster Movies…) and hopefully give you an appreciation of them that will inspire you to delve deeper into these fascinating films.

The World of the Kaijû—a Primer

To really understand the World of Kaijû films, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of some of the terms used to describe these films. Most are Japanese in origin, and can be confusing for western fans. Hopefully, I can help cut through some of the confusion, and make these films a little more accessible.

First, you will occasionally see me refer to a “Goji.” That is the diminutive of “Gojira”, and is usually used in identifying a Godzilla from a specific film, by identifying the version of the Goji-Suit used in the production. The suits were named by a combination of some descriptive term from the film, often another Kaijû, and the “-goji” suffix. Thus, Kingoji was the Godzilla from KINGUKONGU TAI GOJIRA ~aka~ KING KONG vs. GODZILLA. Here is a complete list of the various Goji-suits, courtesy of Gojistomp.org:
Shodaigoji (1954)
Gyakushugoji (1955)
Kingoji (1962)
Mosugoji I (1964)
Mosugoji II (1964)
Daisengoji (1965)
Musukugoji (1967)
Daisengoji (1965-1966)
Soshingekigoji (1968-1972)
Megarogoji (1973)
Mekagoji (1974)
Mekagyakushugoji (1975)
1984-Goji (1984)
Biogoji/Ghidogoji (1989-1991)
Batogoji (1992)
Radogoji (1993)
Mogegoji (1994)
Desugoji (1995)
Amerigoji (1998)
Miregoji (1999)
Giragoji (2000)
GMK-Goji (2001)
Kiryugoji (2002)
Kiryu-Mosugoji (2003)
Fainarugoji (2004)

The reason there were so many variations is a simple one: The suits seldom lasted through more than one production, and some barely survived one. The foam rubber they were composed of broke down rapidly, and within a short time the suit would be unusable. All that remains of virtually all the goji-suits now are bits of decaying rubber. And each iteration of the suits would lead to changes; some minor, but a few major ones occurred through the years.
Secondly, as you may notice in the headings for the following sections, I refer to the period of the early films as the Showa era, the era this article will focus on. Toho’s Kaijû films are divided into three periods: Showa; Heisei; (or “Versus” in Japan…) and Millennium. The first two correspond roughly to the Japanese calendar; while the third, obviously, gains it’s name from the fact that it began in 1999.

In the Japanese method of date-keeping, a new era begins with the death of the current Emperor, and the ascension of his successor. Thus, the Taishō era ended in 1926 with the death of the Taishō Emperor Yoshihito, and the Showa era began as his son, Crown Prince Hirohito, succeeded him. In that calendar, GOJIRA debuted in Showa-29, the twenty-ninth year of the Showa Emperor’s reign… And you thought Leap years and Daylight Savings time were complicated.

Thirdly, of course Toho wasn’t the only studio in Japan producing Kaijû Eiga. Daiei Studios had Gamera, Nikkatsu had Gappa… but Toho was king of Kaijû movies, and Toho’s who I’ll concentrate on here.

THE BEGINNING—(1954)

The first of Toho’s Kaijû Eiga was and still is the best ever: 1954’s GOJIRA. Directed by Ishirô Honda, this allegorical commentary on the Atomic Age was toned down and significantly altered to appeal to the American market when it appeared here in 1956 as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. While inferior to the original Japanese version, it retains the original’s stark, apocalyptic feel and dark tone that made it so effective.

Perhaps the most influential Monster-Movie since 1933’s KING KONG, more than a score of sequels and dozens of imitators have followed this film, cementing Godzilla’s place as a pop-culture icon.

The Early SHOWA-Era—(1954-1962)

With the dramatic success of GOJIRA, Toho soon had a sequel in the works, as well as other Kaijû on the drawing boards. Gojira no gyakushû ~aka~ GODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK; GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN; GIGANTIS THE FIRE-MONSTER (1955), was released barely six months after GOJIRA premiered, and established Godzilla as a superstar in his homeland. It also introduced a second Kaijû, Anguirus, who battled Godzilla thus beginning a long-running theme in the Toho films. The next Kaijû to make their appearance came a year later, in the form of gigantic flying reptiles named Rodan. SORA NO DAIKAIJÛ RADON ~aka~ RADON THE MONSTER OF THE SKY; RODAN (1956), was the first Kaijû film shot in color, and introduced not only the two Rodan, but also a beetle-like Kaijû called a Meganulon which the newly-hatched Rodans fed on.

RODAN was quickly followed by Chikyu Boeigun ~aka~ EARTH DEFENSE FORCE; THE MYSTERIANS (1957). While this was, strictly speaking, more of a Tokusatsu, or Special Effects (Sci-Fi, in other words…), film, rather than Kaijû movie, Toho insisted upon at least one Kaijû in the production. Thus was born Moguera, in his only appearance to date.

A year later Varan made his first appearance in DAIKAIJÛ BARAN ~aka~ GREAT MONSTER VARAN; VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE. Though Varan was little more than a clone of Godzilla, (some stock footage of Godzilla was actually used by mistake…) it was still an interesting movie; at least, the Japanese version was. It received the usual slice-and-dice edit job from it’s American distributor, who dropped in extra footage involving a U.S. Naval officer conducting secret experiments.

The Kaijû scene was quiet for the next few years, as Toho concentrated on producing more Tokusatsu, such as UCHU DAISENSO ~aka~ THE GREAT SPACE WAR; BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. It would be 1961 before another Kaijû came along, in MOSURA ~aka~ MOTHRA. One of Toho’s most popular monsters, Mothra became a recurring star in the Kaijû Eiga, with some variation of the Kaijû appearing in no less than 14 movies, spanning all three eras.

1962 saw the return of Godzilla himself, along with a guest, in KINGUKONGU TAI GOJIRA ~aka~ KING KONG vs. GODZILLA. The original Japanese version was intended to be light-hearted and comedic; aimed more at children. Godzilla himself underwent several changes, even to the point of the Kingoji suit having a softer, friendlier appearance, thereby creating the worst looking Goji in the series.

However, an absolutely abysmal editing job on the part of Universal, the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, ladled on the melodrama with edited-in segments of “UN News” broadcasts, featuring no-talent American actors, ruined the intent of the film’s creators. What should have been a funny, enjoyable comedy now gets its laughs for the entirely wrong reasons.

And let’s take the opportunity to dispel a myth that has sprung up concerning the Japanese, as opposed to the US, versions of this film: That Godzilla wins in the Japanese version and Kong in the US edit. Kong is the winner in both, and was intended to be from the beginning. The only difference is in the sound effects in the last scene; in the Japanese version, you hear Godzilla’s roar as well as Kong’s as Kong swims away.

The Mid-Showa Films—(1963-1969)

Though 1963 didn’t see the release of a film starring one of the more popular Kaijû, it did give us a very good movie that blended the Kaijû and Tokusatsu formats. Kaitei gunkan ~aka~ UNDERSEA BATTLESHIP; ATRAGON was a skillfully done Sci-Fi epic, and introduced us to Manda, a dragon-like sea serpent that was the defender of the undersea kingdom of Mu. The original Manda was destroyed by the Submarine Gotengo, but there were obviously others, as the Kaijû has made repeated appearances.

1964 was a big year for Toho’s growing stable of Kaijû. Not only were there two Godzilla films released that year (the only year that would see twin Goji releases…) but it would also produce Uchu daiKaijû Dogora ~aka~ SPACE MONSTER DOGORA; DAGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER.

While this would be this Kaijû’s only appearance, it was a memorable one, and it is deserving of more attention than it gets. Looking like a gigantic space jellyfish, Dogora was certainly one of Toho’s strangest Kaijû; at least, until much later in the series.

Also released in 1964 was MOSURA TAI GOJIRA ~aka~ MOTHRA vs. GODZILLA; GODZILLA vs. THE THING. Always a popular Kaijû, Mothra’s second appearance is the one most western audiences remember when they think of the giant moth.

But the best Kaijû film of 1964, and the one that had the greatest impact on the Showa series, was San Daikaiju: Chikyu saidai no kessen ~aka~ Three Giant Monsters: The Earth's Greatest Decisive Battle; GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER. This was the seminal film of the Showa period, transforming the three main Kaijû, especially Godzilla, into the anointed protectors of Japan. It also introduces the quintessential villain of the series, King Ghidorah. Ghidorah, three-headed dragon monster, would plague Godzilla throughout the franchise, appearing in no fewer than seven films in all three periods.

1965 brought the return of King Ghidorah, this time with a new name and under alien control. KAIJÛ DAISENSO ~aka~ WAR OF THE MONSTERS; GODZILLA vs. MONSTER ZERO, was basically a continuation of the previous film; only this time, Ghidorah was under the control of the Xilians, a race of aliens bent on world conquest. While this was the first time aliens made such an appearance in a Godzilla film, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Alien races soon became a staple plot point of the Godzilla writers.

The other Kaijû film released in 1965 should be familiar to regular readers of this column… a couple of months ago I listed it as one of the three worst movies in my collection: Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon ~aka~ FRANKENSTEIN vs. THE SUBTERRANEAN MONSTER BARAGON; FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Though in its original form it might very well be a decent Kaijû Eiga, it was so horribly chopped down for the export market that it lost all of whatever charm it might have possessed.

Godzilla returned in 1966, in what was his weakest Showa outing thus far: Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no daiketto ~aka~ GODZILLA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA: BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTH SEAS; GODZILLA vs. THE SEA MONSTER. You know, over the years Kaijû lovers have had to put up with some rather outlandish creatures: giant moths; a giant animated rose; Raymond Burr… but Ebirah the giant shrimp has to take the prize. Fortunately, the other film produced that year was much, much better.

Furankenshutain no kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira ~aka~ FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS: SANDA vs. GAIRA; WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, was a direct sequel of the previous year’s FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, but far exceeded the earlier film in terms of quality. The Kaijû, Sanda and Gaira, were the offspring of the Frankenstein’s Monster from the previous year; unlike that monster, these two were somewhat interesting.

Continuing the trend of the previous two years, Toho released two Kaijû films in 1967, one featuring Godzilla, and one that didn’t.

The Godzilla franchise continued a decline in quality began when Honda left the series as director, after GODZILLA vs. MONSTER ZERO, with Kaijûtô no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko ~aka~ Monster Island's Decisive Battle: Godzilla's Son; Son of Godzilla. This, Jun Fukuda’s second outing as director of a Godzilla film, marked the beginning of the series’ shift to cater to the children’s market. The Musukugoji suit used through much of this film (the Daisengoji suit was used for the underwater scenes…) had a much softer, friendlier appearance, similar to the Kingoji suit used five years previously. The plot was also rendered kinder and gentler, though certainly not better.

I’d like to say that Toho’s second production of 1967 was better, but that would be stretching the truth. KINGUKONGU NO GYAKUSHU ~aka~ KING KONG’S COUNTERATTACK; KING KONG ESCAPES was purportedly a sequel to KING KONG vs. GODZILLA, though in fact it bore no similarity to the previous film. In comparison, it was fairly decent; though the plot, as in many Kaijû Eiga, was superfluous.

1968 saw the release of only one Kaijû film, but it also marked the return of Ishirô Honda to the director’s chair of the Godzilla series. He quickly restored the franchise to some semblance of its former glory, giving us one of the best Goji-films ever: KAIJÛ SÔSHINGEKI ~aka~ MONSTER INVASION; DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. Featuring virtually every Kaijû yet encountered by Godzilla, plus a few that had made solo appearances, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS had everything a Kaijû epic should… massive destruction; alien invaders; mega-Kaijû battles; and, of course, King Ghidorah getting his ass kicked. It’s still one of my favorite movies.

Once again, Toho returned to the formula of two Kaijû films for 1969, with one being a Godzilla picture. Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru Kaijû Daishingeki ~aka~ Godzilla’s Revenge was Honda’s next-to-last Godzilla film, though his run didn’t end soon enough. Easily the worst of the franchise’s fifty-year run, GODZILLA’S REVENGE was a Goji-film for the Sesame Street crowd; a juvenile romp seen through the eyes of a young boy who befriends Minilla, the son of Godzilla. Whether this happens in the boy’s imagination or not is uncertain; but this somehow gives him the ability to defeat an entire gang of criminals. The genius that had been behind the special effects of the Godzilla franchise from its inception, Eiji Tsuburaya, was bedridden during the filming, (he would die within months…) and Honda supervised the effects work himself. Most of the sequences featuring the various Kaijû were stock footage, cobbled together from earlier films.

The second release that year was a return to the Tokusatsu / Kaijû blend of a few years before. Ido zero daisakusen ~aka~ LATITUDE ZERO: GREAT MILITARY BATTLE; LATITUDE ZERO, was one of the most eccentric Eiga released by Toho, with the crew of a submarine named the Alpha doing battle with the evil Dr. Malik, played by Cesar Romero. Yes, I’m talking about the Joker. One of Malik’s creations is a 100-foot lion; with giant condor wings surgically grafted on, and for some reason named the Black Moth. As Kaijû goes, perhaps not the best concept, but then, maybe that could be said for the film as a whole.

The Late Showa—(1970-1975)

1970 was the first year since 1963 without an appearance from Godzilla, or in fact any of Toho’s other A-list monsters. But that doesn’t mean the year was Kaijû-free, with the release of Honda’s Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû ~aka~ Gezora, Ganimes, Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas; YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE. One of the better late Showa films, it’s unfamiliar to most American viewers, but the excellent Tokyo Shock / Media Blasters disc, sold under the title Space Ameoba - Gezora, Ganime, Kameba is worth seeking out.

Yoshimitsu Banno briefly assumed the helm of the Godzilla franchise in 1971 with GOJIRA TAI HEDORÂ ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. HEDORAH; GODZILLA vs. THE SMOG MONSTER. Purely a environmentalist’s infomercial, it’s a very boring outing for the Big G despite a few interesting segments, including a scene of Godzilla flying, using his nuclear breath for rocket propulsion. So poorly was this film received that the Godfather of the G-franchise, Tomoyuki Tanaka, exploded in rage at Banno, informing him that he had ruined the series. A new Godzilla film was immediately rushed into production, and a planned sequel to GODZILLA vs. HEDORAH was quickly cancelled.

Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan ~aka~ EARTH DESTRUCTION DIRECTIVE: GODZILLA vs. GIGAN; GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND, released in 1972, marked Jun Fukuda’s return as director, with a better effort than usual from him.

True, there is a certain level of silliness that Fukuda just couldn’t avoid, including a scene where Godzilla and Angirus are speaking to each other. While this was done in the original Japanese edit through the use of cartoonish “word balloons,” in the English-language version we actually hear the Monsters speaking. Still, in comparison to the previous GODZILLA vs. THE SMOG MONSTER, I can live with a little silliness.

1973’s GOJIRA TAI MEGARO ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. MEGALON was the most interesting Goji-film of the 1970’s, and while aimed almost exclusively at the youth market, still manages to entertain. It was also a vehicle for one of Toho’s most spectacular publicity campaigns, one which invited children to design a character for the film. The winning design was an Ultraman-like character named Jet Jaguar. This heroic robot was able to use martial arts, fly, and grow to enormous size to battle evil. He and Godzilla quickly unite to battle Megalon and Gigan, in a Kaijû fight that must be seen to be believed.

1974 gave us a new evil Kaijû to root against, a new ally for Godzilla, and marked the Big Guy’s 20th anniversary. GOJIRA TAI MEKAGOJIRA ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. MECHAGODZILLA; GODZILLA vs. THE COSMIC MONSTER was also Jun Fukuda’s last turn as director; unfortunately, it worked no better than most of his films. It did introduce the villains of the last two Showa films: Mechagodzilla, a mechanical replica of Godzilla designed to beat him in combat; and the aliens from the Black Hole who created him.

We were also introduced to a new Kaijû protector of Japan, Kingushîsâ, or King Shisa. In the English-language version, this became King Caesar. King Caesar is the embodiment of the lion-dog guardian spirits (or Shîsâ…) that are represented by statues on the island of Okinawa. This would be his only appearance until GOJIRA: FAINARU UÔZU ~aka~ GODZILLA: FINAL WARS in 2004. (Scroll down for my review of G:FW…)

The Showa era ended, not with a bang but a whimper, in 1975. Ishirô Honda returned one last time to the director’s chair; but he had very little to work with in MEKAGOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU ~aka~ MECHAGODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK; TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. The plot was little more than a rehash of the previous film, and not even Honda’s talent as director could overcome the film’s negatives. The series ground to a halt, and would lie dormant for nearly the next decade.

The Heisei Era—(1984-1995)

The Heisei era (also known as the “Versus” era in Japan…) began, as did the Showa, with GOJIRA ~aka~ THE RETURN OF GODZILLA; GODZILLA 1985, released in 1984. It ended just over a decade later with GOJIRA VS DESUTOROIA ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. DESTOROYAH. A much darker series, it ignored everything that had occurred following the original, 1954 film. This Godzilla was no protector of Japan, and gone too were the kid-friendly plots of the late ‘60’s-early ‘70’s. The death of Godzilla at the hands of Destoroyah in 1995 ended the Heisei era with one of the best, albeit most emotional, outings in the franchise’s history.

The Millennium Era—(1999-2004)

Following the failure of Tristar Pictures’ 1998 version of GODZILLA, directed by Roland Emmerich, to capture the affections of the Kaijû faithful, Toho decided that the public was ready for the return of the real Godzilla, and the Millennium era began with GOJIRA NI-SEN MIRENIAMU ~aka~ GODZILLA 2000: MILLENNIUM; GODZILLA 2000. (See my review of G2K in Creatures Featured, elsewhere on the CreatureScape site…) Easily the best-looking Godzilla production yet, the special effects had progressed to the point where CGI sequences were used for the first time in a Godzilla film (I don’t count GINO…) and work wonderfully in combination with the Suitmation techniques pioneered by Toho. The Millennium era would only last five years, but produced some of the franchises most memorable films. Certainly GODZILLA: FINAL WARS must be considered one of the best since the heyday of Ishirô Honda.

The Future of Kaijû Eiga—(?)

With the end of the Millennium era, and Toho’s reluctance to discuss future Godzilla films, fans are left to wonder how long it will be before that familiar roar is once more heard rising from the waters of Tokyo Bay. For Godzilla to have fought his last battle is incomprehensible to me, as I’m sure it is to many of my fellow Goji-fans. Godzilla, as others have observed before me, is a force of nature; an elemental being, whether for good or bad. He’s not a dinosaur run amok, or an experiment gone wrong. He simply… IS. To imagine that coming to an end would mean the death of something that I’m not prepared to see die. And if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to be.
















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DVD Review: GOJIRA: FAINARU UÔZU ~aka~ GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

Title: GOJIRA: FAINARU UÔZU ~aka~ GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

Year of Release—Film: 2004

Year of Release—DVD: 2005

DVD Label: Sony


THE MOVIE

Billed as the Big G’s last appearance, this is one of the franchise’s best outings, certainly the best of the Millennium series. It definitely qualifies as the most destructive, with nearly every Kaijû Toho created making an appearance, and not only Tokyo but also the entire world being laid to waste.

The plot had been a standard one for Toho’s Showa films, but was quite a departure for the Millennium period, with a race of aliens bent on conquest of the Earth using the various Kaijû as their weapons of choice. It seemed very much like a remake of 1968’s KAIJÛ SÔSHINGEKI ~aka~ MONSTER INVASION; DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, one of my favorite Kaijû movies.

One thing this movie has that works very well is a sense of humor. Several sequences feature a Kaijû named Zilla, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the beast from the 1998 American version of GODZILLA, destroying Sydney, Australia. Godzilla, arriving in Sydney, gives the interloper a disdainful look and easily puts him away. You gotta love it if you’re a true Goji-fan!
This is Toho at its best, and I love it. No, it’s not the most intelligent film you’re likely to watch, but if you can’t get excited by this level of Kaijû-ass-kicking, then call the coroner.


THE DISC

This is a beautiful disc from Sony, perhaps the best Godzilla presentation I’ve yet seen. One feature that especially pleases me is the original Japanese audio track is included, and is the option I selected; no longer do I have to sit through a comically bad dubbing job. Subtitles are something I always use; this way, at least I don’t get distracted by matching up the lip movements to the voice-overs.

The print of the film, as expected, is perfect; bright, sharp, and clear. The audio is better than average; no doubt due to the use of the original tracks in the option I viewed. Overall, this is a great looking-and-sounding DVD.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

This disc doesn’t have a ton of extra features, but it does have a few good ones. There’s a short B-roll of behind-the-scenes footage that’s fun to watch, and both the Theatrical trailer as well as TV promos for the film. Not a great selection of special features, but what we get is interesting.



IN CONCLUSION

For fans of the Toho Kaijû films, it would be hard not to recommend this DVD, especially considering its Japanese tagline: “Gojû-nen no Rekishi ga Owaru. (The 50-Year History Comes to an End.)” The list price is average; at $19.95, it’s right at the edge of what I consider affordable for an everyday purchase. But it can be found cheaper, and for fans of the Big G, I’d say it’s worth it.

And as for this being the big guy’s swan song? I wouldn’t bet Monopoly® money on that one!

















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15 January, 2008

Errata, and a Mea Culpa...

I've just noticed that I made two glaring errors in my 2007 in Review column posted on January 5th, and wish to correct them now.

I miscredited Neil Gaiman as the creator of the Graphic Novel upon which the movie 30 DAYS OF NIGHT was based. This of course is wrong, as it was Steve Niles who was, in fact, the creator of the piece. My apologies to both men.

Also, when discussing the Pang Brothers, I mentioned their film THE ABANDONED. Of course, that's not their film at all, but the Spanish filmmaker Nacho Cerda's. The film of which I was speaking is THE MESSENGERS. Once again, I apologize to all concerned.

Both errors have been corrected in the column. Thank you for your forbearance.

12 January, 2008

The Short, Amazing Career of Val Lewton

In a brief, four-year association with RKO Pictures, Val Lewton produced eleven films, nine of which were Horror Films, eight of which were successful to some degree. Those nine movies were films that took Horror fans in directions that had not been explored previously in American genre cinema. These were not the Monster-laden Classics of Universal, or their cheaper-than-dirt clones from the half-dozen or so “Poverty Row” studios. Though the titles were as lurid and enticing as anything from Monogram or PRC, these were Horror Films for the thinker. These were serious in a way that Universal had never tried to be.

Born Vladimir Leventon in Yalta, Crimea in 1904, Lewton’s mother and aunt moved the family to Berlin in 1906, then to the United States in 1909. Lewton, a born storyteller, began writing as a teen, selling his stories to anyone who would purchase them. Mainstream magazines, pulps, even pornographic publishers—if they would pay him for it, he would write it. Several of the less savory tales were published under the pen name of Carlos Keith, a name he would use again in Hollywood.

Lewton worked under David O. Selznick at M-G-M as a story editor, contributing ideas and scenes to many films, though usually without credit. One scene he is responsible for came about due to one of the few wrong decisions he made about a movie. He was reportedly opposed to the filming of GONE WITH THE WIND, feeling it would be a Box-Office flop. The legend has it that Selznick made him contribute one scene to the film. Not wanting to be associated with the movie, he set out to write a scene that would never get shot, a scene that would be cut before production. However, Selznick loved the scene, it was filmed, and it became one of the signature images of the movie—the scene in the Atlanta railroad depot, as the camera pulls back from Scarlett to reveal the hundreds of dying and wounded men.

In 1942, RKO Pictures was on the verge of bankruptcy. Orson Welles’ twin epics CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, though well received critically, were financial failures of the first order. Charles Koerner, head of the studio, canned Welles and ordered that no more “Artistic” movies be made. The success enjoyed by rival Universal Studios inspired him to launch a Horror unit at RKO, and Lewton, remembered as a writer of genre fiction, was hired to run it. Koerner may have expected typical, “Universal-style” monster movies from his new producer. What he got was anything but.

For the next four years, Lewton and his handpicked group of writers, directors, and actors produced nine of the most intelligent, serious, adult Horror Films ever made, certainly for those times. Gone were the popcorn plots and made-up monsters that defined 1940’s Horror. The fiends that haunted Lewton’s nightmares were all the more monstrous because they were so very normal; outwardly looking like the rest of us, yet inwardly evil and terrifying. These films are: THE CAT PEOPLE; I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE; THE LEOPARD MAN; THE SEVENTH VICTIM; THE GHOST SHIP; CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE; THE BODY SNATCHER; ISLE OF THE DEAD; and BEDLAM. All have been released within the past few years, in a pricey, though tremendously well-done, five-disc collector’s set from Turner Home Entertainment.

The things that critics so rightly hail Hitchcock for doing in the ‘60’s, Lewton and directors Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, and Mark Robson were perfecting in the ‘40’s, such as the famous “Bus” shot from THE CAT PEOPLE and the dark, atmospheric lighting that blankets all the Lewton Horror Films. Most importantly, Lewton’s films let the audience fill-in the ‘dark corners’ with their imaginations, painting details far more frightening than any studio, then or now, could produce. And while most producers have little effect on the style of a film, Lewton was hands-on with every aspect of production, and all nine of these movies unmistakably bear his imprint.

Working with titles mandated by RKO executives for their sheer luridness, he nonetheless crafted intelligent, effective tales of terror to fit those pulp titles. Where most producers would’ve been content simply to give the studio what they thought they wanted, Lewton fought to keep his people together, and to make the movies he wanted to make. RKO’s Production Supervisor Lou Ostrow wanted Jacques Tourneur fired four days into the production of CAT PEOPLE; Lewton went straight to Koerner in order to keep him on the film. Following the success of the first few of his Horror Films, Lewton was offered to chance to move up to an A-grade production; he turned the offer down when told he couldn’t use Mark Robson to direct it.
In a business where some people would throw their own mothers to the sharks for fifteen minutes to pitch a script, Lewton displayed a unique level of loyalty to his creative people.

As the Horror cycle wound down following the end of World War II, Lewton finished his run at RKO with three Period horrors, all starring the Master of terror, Boris Karloff. The first of these, THE BODY-SNATCHER, was the also the best, featuring Bela Lugosi in the final pairing of the two horror icons.

Lewton left RKO in 1946 to form an independent production company, though the mainstream success he sought would elude him. He would make only three more pictures, all somewhat lackluster, prior to his premature death from a heart attack in 1951. He was less than two months shy of his 47th birthday.

The legacy Val Lewton left behind far outweighs the number of his contributions to, or the brevity of his work in, the horror genre. Without Lewton, there might not been a Hitchcock; at least, not as we know him. Without the shower scene in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, would there had been a much more famous shower scene 16 years later? I don’t know, but I doubt it. No director, not even the great Alfred Hitchcock, works in a vacuum. He was at the least familiar with the Lewton film, if not directly inspired by it.

While nothing can supplant my love and respect for the great Universal horrors, that love is not blind. I see them for what they are, at least what the 1940’s vintage Uni-Horrors are: mindless, popcorn-selling, seat-filling ways to kill an hour or so. And while Lewton’s films did the same, they also did something else: They showed us that Horror could be smart, and that the scariest place in the world is in our own imaginations.







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Horror-Host Review: Penny Dreadful's SHILLING SHOCKERS

Program: Penny Dreadful’s SHILLING SHOCKERS

Host/Co-Host(s): Penny Dreadful XIII; Garou & Manfred von Bulow

Location: New Bedford, MA

Carrier: NBTV-95 Public Access Cable; Various throughout New England


[Ed. Note: This is the first of what I hope will be a long-running feature here at the Crypt, reviews of some of the Hosted Horror Film shows that are available around the country. I’ve spoken before of my love for this type of show, one of the few MonsterKid touchstones that my youth was lacking. I’m making up for it now, though, by watching as many of this type of program as I can.
If you happen to host such a program, and would like to see it reviewed here, please contact me at: unimonster64@gmail.com.]
Nearly two years ago I reviewed this program for the Horror-Web, and as I recall, was quite impressed with it. Shilling Shockers was different, most notably in that the host was actually a hostess, Penny Dreadful XIII, a 600-year old witch; and while she wasn’t the first female horror-host, they are certainly few and far between. With her werewolf husband Garou, and a monster-hunter named Manfred von Bulow, she haunts televisions in the historic town of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In that earlier review, I remarked upon the fact that, while the basic formula for the show is essentially the same that has existed since the Cool Ghoul himself first frightened viewers in the ‘50’s, the strengths of this show were found in where it deviated from the pack. Though some of what I enjoyed so much about those 1st Season episodes has been changed, overall the feel of the program hasn’t altered.

The three 4th Season episodes that I reviewed are Carnival of Dolts, featuring Herk Harvey’s 1962 low-budget chiller CARNIVAL OF SOULS; Dig it, Squarewolf, with the Roger Corman classic A BUCKET OF BLOOD; and Intangible Terror, with Mario Bava’s I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ~aka~ BLACK SABBATH. As is the case with all such programs, the movies contained within are incidental to the interstitial segments, and are not a factor in my reviews.

One thing that stands out as having improved over time is the way the interstitial segments are more closely tailored to fit the episode’s feature. That was a weakness highlighted in the previous review, and the concept and execution of the host’s plotline is much tighter now.

Also, the style of the segments is subtly altered to work with the featured film. For the best of the three, Bava’s superb thriller BLACK SABBATH, Penny was alone in the attic, and the humor, though present, is more subdued, allowing the quality of the film to carry the episode. In contrast, for the episode featuring Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD, the interstitials, featuring Penny, Garou, and series director Rebecca Pavia as a new-age Beatnik, are played much more broadly, imitating the plot of the movie. With Carnival of Dolts, we see yet another style employed, as the entire cast of regulars—Penny, Garou, and Manfred von Bulow—visit locations throughout the area, virtually and in person, as a creepy stranger stalks them silently in the background. Shot in black & white like the featured CARNIVAL OF SOULS, it captures perfectly the bleak despairing look of the film, while successfully injecting the trio’s morbid sense of humor.

The cast, led of course by Penny Dreadful, has definitely improved over time. Each seems more comfortable and assured in their roles, and the characters evince some pleasing development since the 1st Season. Garou, who had previously performed well in this difficult, non-speaking, role, has only improved in his ability to convey meaning using only grunts, growls, and howls. Dr. von Bulow, the erstwhile monster hunter of the group, was used sparingly, appearing in only one of the review episodes. Still, he too seems to have progressed somewhat as a character. And as for the leader of this motley crew… Penny is ‘Perfect’!

While Svengoolie is without a doubt my favorite Horror-Host, followed closely by Zacherley, I think it’s safe to say that neither of them can compete with certain… attributes, which Penny Dreadful possesses. While it would be inaccurate to say that the reason I enjoy this program so much is that the host is an attractive woman, it would be untrue to say that it wasn’t a factor at all. As I said earlier, it is where this program departs from the norm that reveals it’s true strengths, and that is certainly a departure from the norm. It’s not the only reason I like this show; it is just part of the whole.

And the whole is a most entertaining program, one I can heartily recommend. The show can be seen in six states throughout New England, or you can purchase DVD’s from the show’s website at: http://www.shillingshockers.com/. Either way, if you enjoy curling up on a dreary evening with a good host and an often bad movie, give Shilling Shockers a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.





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05 January, 2008

2007 in Review

As regular readers will recall, this is the time of the year to look back over what has been, and pronounce judgment, good or bad, on the events and occurrences in the world of Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy. It has also been a year of change, as the Unimonster branched out from his former home at http://www.creaturescape.com/ into this, The Unimonster’s Crypt; as well as my home away from home in Count Gore De Vol’s Dungeon.

We’ve said goodbye to old friends and hello to new ones. We’ve followed growing trends and witnessed the end of franchises. Gotten another year older, another pound (or ten…) heavier, and added a few more gray hairs to the mix.

As with most years, there have been plenty of both the good and the bad to discuss, and we will go over the high- (and low…) lights in turn, dissecting each with all the finesse of Michael Myers carving the New Year’s Day Ham.

So I sit here now, a fine old single malt scotch in hand, ready to press rewind on 2007 and give you the best and worst of the year in Horror. Most of this is all in good fun, though I never hesitate to throw a dart or two (dozen…) when necessary. So get comfortable, relax, pour yourself a libation, and enjoy.


1.) Screw-Up of the Year:
a. The lack of a celebration for THE MUMMY’s 75th
b. CAPTIVITY’s marketing plan
c. Letting Uwe Boll direct FOUR movies in one year!!!
d. GRINDHOUSE
e. Best Buy’s handling of the Universal Collector set’s distribution

One of the easier topics to fill-out as I make these lists each year are the ones involving screwed-up movies, screwed-up people, or just screw-ups in general. One, there’s never any shortage of material, and two; I’m usually pissed off enough about the screw-up to have already written the piece in my mind. This year was no different.

Following last year’s superior 75th anniversary editions for DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, I had high hopes for a similar celebration for THE MUMMY’s 75th, which occurred in December. As usual, though, my favorite monster got stiffed by Universal (no puns intended), and no such celebration ensued. I can understand less enthusiasm on Universal’s part for this film as opposed to the previous two releases; what I can’t understand, or forget, is the studio’s total disrespect for this landmark film.

CAPTIVITY was a poor film, a badly executed rip-off of SAW. Still, given the rather high tolerance for retreaded crap that the Horror-loving public has, it should’ve been able to make back the paltry sum invested in this no-talent cast. Unfortunately, in a year marked by high profile abductions and disappearances, the marketing people at After Dark Films and Lion’s Gate decided to go with an ad campaign that was a virtual primer on the abduction of a woman. Even confirmed gore-fans found it distasteful, and CAPTIVITY bombed spectacularly, not even appearing on a list of the top 200(!) films of the year, by Box-Office take.

Last year, Best Buy stores came out with the first volume of the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, a great box set of five of Universal’s best Sci-Fi programmers from the 1950’s. Those of us lucky enough to get our copies of this set straight from Best Buy were in the position of having bought IBM stock in the 1960’s… the price of these sets, originally priced around $20, soon climbed to more than five times that on eBay. This year, they released two sets, the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2, and the Universal Horror Classic Archive. While the exclusive Best Buy arrangement doesn’t cause me any hardship, the spotty distribution and impossible to navigate Best Buy web-site does. Best Buy, if you’re the exclusive source for these discs, fine; I have no problem buying them from you. But you damn well better have them in stock in ALL your stores, and for God’s sake, spend a little money on a decent search engine for your web-site… you can’t search for movies the same way you do for big-screen TV’s.

There may well be directors out there with less talent and imagination than Uwe Boll, but industrial film and dog food commercial makers don’t count. Actually, that Mighty Dog commercial I saw last night was a helluva lot more entertaining than ALONE IN THE DARK. The fact that this man continually has new projects thrust at him, despite his record of critical and financial failures, is astounding to me, and makes me wonder if there is a government program whose sole purpose is to keep him working. If so, then they really got their money’s worth this year, with no fewer than four steaming piles of Boll served up to the Horror consumer. FOUR! Lovecraft on his best day never conceived a thought more frightening than that.

But the top Screw-Up of the year has to be Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s homage to the no-budget, store-front theater staples of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, GRINDHOUSE. A brilliant conception, the execution simply fell short of working. There are many reasons for this, most notably the fact that this directing duo’s typical fan base is far too young to have any memory of Grindhouse theaters, Drive-In’s, or their associated films. The production’s design played a part, as well. In their effort to replicate the look and feel of a Grindhouse film, they went a bit too far. Film splices and cuts were common enough in this type of film; entire missing reels weren’t. Instead of recapturing the feel of the old days as the filmmakers intended, this simply proved too disruptive to the movie, and killed it for most. Nor was the decision to set events in the present conducive to that spirit they were trying to capture; the picture might have worked better had it been set in the “grindhouse” era of the ‘70’s. Overall, I loved the idea behind GRINDHOUSE, just as I love Grindhouse and Drive-In style movies. I just wish the execution had been carried out better than it was.


2.) Brilliant Idea of the Year:
a. The Fake Trailers in GRINDHOUSE
b. 8 Films to Die For, Year 2
c. Who Wants to be the Next Elvira?
d. Universal’s re-release for Broadcast of the Classic Horror Package

I hate Reality TV… Truly, truly hate it. So my describing a reality show, Who Wants to be the Next Elvira, as a possible BIotY might not make much sense.

In truth, it’s not the show itself I’m praising, but the movement, nationwide, that’s bringing back the Horror-Host. From the dean of Horror-hosts, Zacherley, out on the convention circuit and winning the coveted Rondo, to Svengoolie in Chicago broadcasting the great Universal classics once more, to Elvira herself, hosts are hot once again, and I for one am overjoyed.
There are books out about the great hosts, from Zacherley’s biography, “Good Night, Whatever You Are” written by Richard Scrivani, to “Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows”, by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw, and programs featuring hosts are springing up everywhere, from local broadcast channels to Internet podcasts.

This next Brilliant Idea is, more properly, one of the most Brilliant Ideas of 2006—The “Eight Movies to Die For…” film festival. The second installment of this film-fest, like the first, brought mixed results. Still, After Dark and Lion’s Gate, as well as the individual filmmakers, deserve kudos for doing something, anything, outside the Hollywood mold. Hopefully, we could see the start of a trend here.

One of the year’s best, at least when it comes to Brilliant Ideas, is undoubtedly the fake movie trailers that served to frame and separate the two parts of Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE. Produced by such Horror notables as Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright, these brief preview clips for non-existent movies are easily the best part of the film. If anything in GRINDHOUSE took me back to the days when a much-younger Unimonster used to frequent a certain theater in a run-down part of town, it was these clips. From MACHETE, Robert Rodriguez’ (who also directed PLANET TERROR, the first GRINDHOUSE segment…) take on the Action genre, to Zombie’s Nazi Sexploitation romp WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS, to Edgar Wright’s Amicus-inspired DON’T, to Eli Roth’s blatant rip on HALLOWEEN, THANKSGIVING, these trailers make me want to see these films. If you want to know what grindhouse films were really like, skip the movie… just watch these little gems.

However, nothing that happened in the world of Horror this year was as brilliant as Universal’s decision to once again release it’s library of Classic Horror Films, titles such as FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF-MAN, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, to local markets for broadcast. That’s the way that most of us first fell in love with these movies, and it warms the cold, dark, hollows of the Unimonster’s heart to think that a new generation of MonsterKids are even now falling for these films. When combined with the resurgence of popularity of Horror-Hosts mentioned previously, it was a virtual time-warp back to 1957.

One of the Hosts who benefited greatly from this release was Chicago’s favorite ‘son’, Svengoolie; and it was Neal Sabin, the general manager at his flagship station WCIU, who was the driving force behind these films returning to the Chicagoland area. Quite frankly, it’s doubtful that this happy event would have occurred had he not fought for it to happen, and those who love the Classic Monsters and wish to see their love live on in a new generation owe this man a debt of gratitude. While I have no influence with the powers that be, I want to see someone who does nominate these two men, who have made a unique and lasting contribution to the world of Classic Horror, for a 2007 Rondo award.


3.) The “Give Me Closure” Award for Best Ending of the Year:
a. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END—(Trilogy Finale)
b. The Death of Ray Ferry’s Bastardized “Famous Monsters” Clone
c. RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION—(Trilogy Finale)
d. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Final book in the Series)

This year saw a number of long-running arcs draw to a close, including one that far out-stayed its welcome.

No one who’s read my columns should have any doubt where my loyalties lie in the Forry-Ferry controversy… Forry Ackerman is a life-long icon of mine, while Ray Ferry is bottom-feeding pond scum. Ok, to be fair, that’s not true; he merely resembles bottom-feeding pond scum. The audacity of this man’s continual grasping for unearned glory and credit for a publication with which he was unconnected in its heyday is obscene and insulting in the extreme, and his announcement that his re-creation of FM would cease publication is terrific news… IF he’s telling the truth.

Movies based on video games almost never succeed… usually because Uwe Boll is connected in some way to the production. The one exception to that rule was Paul W.S. Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL. Milla Jovovich is the one certified female Action star capable of carrying a movie as action-intensive as the RESIDENT EVIL series. In RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION, she performs as well in the now-familiar role of Eve as she did in the first two films. Yes, the story was incredibly weak, and the series overall is played out… but watching her kick zombie ass one more time is worth the bumpy ride.

Prior to PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, my opinion of Johnny Depp as an actor was, admittedly, none too high. While I loved Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, that owed less to Depp’s performance, as good as it was, than to Burton’s perfect vision of the Washington Irving tale. But Captain Jack Sparrow changed my opinion considerably, and for the better. I was hooked on the character from the moment of his arrival in Port Royal, and it has been quite a ride since then. This, the third installment in the franchise (I won’t bet against there being a fourth…) is easily the most ambitious one yet, and does an excellent job tying up the loose ends from the first two films. At more than two and a half hours it does tend to run long, but just sit back and enjoy the ride… it’s worth it!

But without a doubt the best ending of the year has to be the end of the epic Harry Potter saga. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was perhaps the most anticipated book release in modern history, and immediately upon release became the best-seller of the year. Bringing the story of “the Boy who Lived” and “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” to a successful conclusion looked to be a Herculean task, but author J. K. Rowling proved up to it, constructing an ending that I believe satisfied almost all Potter fans. From Snape’s elevation to the post of Headmaster, to the ultimate confrontation of the Battle of Hogwarts, to the tying up of loose ends in the epilogue set 19 years later, long-time Potter fans were engrossed in the end of a journey that had taken nearly ten years to complete. Personally… I can’t wait for the movie!!


4.) Best Cameo in a Non-“Stoned” Role:
a. Keith Richards as Captain Teague—PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END

There really was just one choice here, and anyone who saw Richards’ performance as the Keeper of the Pirate Code, (and Captain Jack Sparrow’s father…) Captain Teague, would agree. The viewer is never quite sure if Richards is uncommonly good at mimicking Captain Jack’s trademark mannerisms and speech, or if Depp was just exceptionally good at capturing his personality. Either way, seeing the two of them play off one another is pure magic.


5.) Movie Monster of the Year:
a. The Vampires—30 DAYS OF NIGHT
b. Mary Shaw—DEAD SILENCE
c. The “Sickos”—GRINDHOUSE: PLANET TERROR
d. The “Not-Zombies”—28 WEEKS LATER
e. Lord Voldemort—HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

When 28 DAYS LATER came out a few years ago, Danny Boyle, the film’s director, was quite adamant that the creatures doing the killing in the film were not zombies… well, my thoughts on the matter were “if it acts like a zombie, and eats like a zombie, then it’s a zombie…” but it wasn’t my movie. The No-Zombie pretense continues for this year’s 28 WEEKS LATER, the follow-up to the phenomenally successful Brit import.

Set in London six months after the “plague” of the first film, it finds the US Army in place, helping to restore some level of normalcy to the British capital. A new outbreak begins, unleashing hordes of Not-Zombies on the American troops. Voracious, savage, and frenetic, they resembled Pit Bulls on espresso. Call them what you want, they were effective.

Though not really zombies either, the “Sickos” from Robert Rodriguez’ PLANET TERROR segment of GRINDHOUSE are certainly the best… or should I say ‘worst’, looking creatures of that type in some time. Covered in pulsating, suppurating pustules, slime dripping off them, gradually transforming into shapeless blobs, they were easily the nastiest critters of the year.

Steve Niles’ popular graphic novel, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, made the transition to the big screen this year, and though it failed to capture the sheer terror inherent in the basic story, it did feature a pretty impressive pack of the Undead. Not the best of their kind, to be sure… but a damn sight better than the foppish, Nancy-boy bloodsuckers Hollywood seems enamored of since INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE nearly killed the Vampire genre. No offense to Anne Rice, but vampires who dress like Liberace doing LA CAGE AUX FOLLES really aren’t very frightening.

Though his screen time was limited, Voldemort’s presence was felt throughout HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. From the Dementors attack upon Harry in Little Whinging, to the seizure of Hogwarts by the corrupted Ministry of Magic, to the battle in the Department of Mysteries, the shadow of He-who-shall-not-be-Named lay like a pall over every scene. Part of the reason for this character’s effectiveness no doubt lies in the rich history that has been built up in the previous films; we did not actually meet Voldemort until everyone was completely familiar with him, and in corporeal form he did not disappoint. Which leads us to the other part of the reason for his success: Ralph Fiennes.

One of the best actors working today, his ability to transform himself to fit virtually any role is simply incredible; there are few actors whose performances I truly look forward to, and he is definitely on that short list.

But for my vote, (since that’s the only one that counts here…) Judith Roberts’ appearance as Mary Shaw, the ghost of an evil, child-murdering ventriloquist in DEAD SILENCE, was the one to beat. As I mentioned in my review of the DVD, I find ventriloquist’s dummies just inherently frightening, as though they embody all the negative energy of the ventriloquist. And when you start with an inherently evil woman manipulating the dummy… well, you have the makings of a damn good, old-fashioned Horror Film, and the best monster of the year.


6.) Best Movie no one Saw:
a. DEAD SILENCE
b. BLACK SHEEP

Though it’s not often thought of as a hotbed of the Horror Film, it must be remembered that New Zealand has given us a number of important additions to the genre, most notably a man by the name of Peter Jackson. Known primarily as the Oscar-winning director of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as well as the 2005 remake of KING KONG, few remember that he made his name as the director of such low-budget Kiwi films as DEAD ALIVE, HEAVENLY CREATURES, and THE FRIGHTENERS.

Well, there’s a new breed of Kiwi Horror this year, and it goes by the name BLACK SHEEP. A horror-comedy in the style of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, BLACK SHEEP is a satirical look at what happens when you genetically engineer sheep… and the resulting critters take on a definite fondness for human flesh. Considering sheep outnumber people in New Zealand, you can see where this might be a problem. As I’ve observed before, Horror and Comedy are just naturally synergistic, like chocolate and peanut butter, steak and potatoes, ham and cheese… hmmm, I’m hungry. Oh well…

But the best movie to be ignored this year was DEAD SILENCE, from the creative minds that brought you SAW. However, this is as far from the SAW franchise as you’re likely to get in a Horror Film. This is a pure, old-fashioned ghost story, an eerie, atmospheric tale in the style of the William Castle films of forty years ago. Not the best movie of the year, but probably the best you haven’t seen.


7.) Worst Movie Everyone Saw:
a. DISTURBIA

b. HANNIBAL RISING
c. THE HILLS HAVE EYES II
d. VACANCY

Once more, sequels and remakes are the bane of my existence, and there’s no shortage of them in the list of less than good movies that graced our screens the past year. While the movie-going public summarily dismisses most crappy movies, occasionally you’ll see a real stinker that for some unknown reason cleans up at the Box-Office. Here are four that fit that description.

One of the most egregiously offensive of these was HANNIBAL RISING, a thoroughly unnecessary exploration into the childhood and early adulthood of Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS fame. There are some characters that need no explanation. You don’t want to peer inside them; you just want to revel in their evilness.

Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Hannibal Lecter are three such characters, and all have received in-depth psychoanalysis on film in recent years. None of these efforts to ‘understand’ these movie madmen were warranted, nor were any as good as the original. However, at least the remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN were enjoyable in their own way. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for HANNIBAL RISING.

VACANCY starts with a good, under-explored premise and, through a combination of poorly-drawn characters, standard plot clichés, and generally bad acting, manages to drive it right into the realm of mediocrity. The leads, (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) are shrill, bitter and argumentative toward each other, to the point where the viewer is unable to feel the least sympathy or concern for their characters. Not only do we feel no connection to them when they find themselves trapped in a violent, life-threatening situation; I was actually rooting against them!

Wes Craven’s original THE HILLS HAVE EYES has never been a favorite film of mine. Oh, that first one was good enough, but I’ve always felt that Craven wrung every usable drop of blood out of this particular turnip of an idea. I will admit I was pleasantly surprised by the remake; still, it really milked the concept dry. This pointless sequel only serves to prove that.

One of the true masterworks of film from the unmatched master of suspense and fear, Alfred Hitchcock, is 1954’s REAR WINDOW. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, it tells of a news photographer (Stewart), laid up due to a broken leg, who passes his days in a voyeuristic observation of his neighbors across the courtyard of their apartment. One night he witnesses a man murder his wife, but can get no one to believe him save Kelly. What’s more, the murderer now knows he was seen, and that the only witness is helpless and bed-ridden.

It’s one of Stewart’s best performances, and the chemistry between he and Kelly is undeniably intense... together, they totally captivate the audience. Grace Kelly was one of the most beautiful women ever captured on film, and she personified class and elegance the way Marilyn Monroe exuded pure, natural, animal sex.

Technically, Hitchcock was at his most inventive with… What? What’s that? Why am I discussing a 53-year-old classic instead of DISTURBIA, my choice for Worst Movie Everyone Saw this past year? Simple… DISTURBIA, which claimed to be a remake of REAR WINDOW, was absolute crap, a pale imitation vomited up by the Hollywood Regurgitation machine. Stewart’s photographer with a broken leg was replaced by some no-name, pimply-face kid on house arrest, Kelly’s alluring heiress by the no-name Maxim babe of the week, and a literate, suspenseful, coherent plot by a series of set-piece shock scenes strung together. Seriously, which would you rather read about?


8.) The “Blast from the Past, Horror Host with the Most”:
a. Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul
b. Svengoolie
c. Elvira

In this year of the rebirth of the hosted horror show, we find one who was there at the very beginning still inspiring fans, and two who began their careers in the ‘70’s & ‘80’s still going strong.

Perhaps the second host to gain true national prominence, (the first, undoubtedly, being Vampira…) Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul debuted in New York City in 1958, and, in one form or another, remained on the air until 1967. The resurgence in his popularity came when his was cast as the voice of Aylmer in Frank Henenlotter’s low-budget hit BRAIN DAMAGE. Since then, he’s been active on the Convention circuit, had his biography published, and cut a new album, “Internment for Two”, harkening back to his recording of “Dinner with Drac” in 1958. It was for “Internment for Two” that he won the coveted Rondo award for Best CD of 2006. The award was presented to Zacherley at the Wonderfest Convention this past May.

Likewise, Elvira’s been enjoying a sudden boom in popularity this year, with three double-feature DVD released under her brand, and a reality TV show dedicated to finding the “Next Elvira”, though as her legions of dedicated fans will attest, there’s only one “mistress of the night.”

But the best host working today, and certainly the one whose program reaches the largest audience, is Berwyn’s own (Ber-WYNN? Yes, Berwyn…) Svengoolie. A Chicagoland staple for the past 28 years, this was a special year for Svengoolie, as he broadcast the classic Universal Horrors for the first time in years. He was also featured in “Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows”, by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw.

Those who haven’t been exposed to Svengoolie’s program simply have no idea just what they are missing. Part Horror film, part comedy routine—all fun! From Sven’s patented “Svensurround,” or the addition of sound effects to, ahem, help the movie along, to the viewer mail, to the flight of the rubber chickens to close out the show, Svengoolie is a trip back to the time when all stations had some sort of locally-produced programming. It might not have been good; in fact, it frequently wasn’t. But it was uniquely ours, in a way that network and nationally-syndicated programming wasn’t, and we loved it.

Another aspect of Sven’s show that deserves mentioning is that it is carried on an over-the-air, broadcast channel, meaning it’s available to all within range of its signal. You don’t have to have cable or satellite to see this great program; you simply have to tune in, and let Sven take you back to simpler days. This means that these great movies are there for those unable to afford anything other than good, old-fashioned, broadcast TV. All this entertainment… for free! You can’t beat that.

9.) Good-byes and Farewells:
a. Pete Kleinow—(Stop-Motion Animator, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD; ARMY OF DARKNESS): January 6
b. Yvonne DeCarlo—(Actress, “Lily Munster”): January 8
c. Freddie Francis—(Director, Numerous Hammer Horrors): March 17
d. Bob Clark—(Director, BLACK CHRISTMAS; CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS): April 4
e. Kurt Vonnegut—(Author, “Slaughterhouse 5”; “Fahrenheit 451”): April 11
f. Bobby “Boris” Pickett—(Singer, “The Monster Mash”): April 25
g. Gordon Scott—(Actor, Numerous Tarzan films): April 30
h. Curtis Harrington—(Director, Low-Budget Horror films): May 6
i. Kerwin Mathews—(Actor, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD): July 5
j. Karl Hardman—(Actor/Producer, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD): September 22
k. Charles B. Griffith—(Director, Roger Corman-produced films): September 28
l. Lois Maxwell—(Actress, “Moneypenny” in the James Bond films): September 29
m. Richard Valley—(Editor/Publisher, “Scarlet Street” magazine): October 12
n. Jeanne Carmen—(Actress, THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS): December 20

There’s not much for me to say here… nothing clever, or sarcastic, or funny. Just open and honest.

For me, this list represents the loss of some of the important touchstones of my youth… people who, directly or indirectly, are responsible for fueling my love of Horror Films. And much, much more. From the enticingly eerie Lily Munster, Yvonne DeCarlo; to the talented director of two of my all-time favorite movies, Bob Clark; to the editor and publisher of “Scarlet Street” Magazine, Richard Valley… a man I did not know, yet his death was keenly felt by mutual friends, this has been a year filled with loss. Some led long, full, rich lives; most left us far too soon and too young. All will be missed. Requiescat in Pace.


10.) Genre Magazine of the Year:
a. “Rue Morgue”
b. “Amazing Figure Modeler”
c. “Horror-Hound”
d. “Scary Monsters”

Though the internet was supposed to sound the death-knell of the printed word, there are still plenty of Genre magazines on the shelves of our bookstores and newsstands, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Indeed, new mags seem to sprout like mushrooms, though most fail within a brief period of time.

Horror-Hound is one of the new crop of ‘mushrooms’, and you have to give the staff there all due credit for taking the chance on publishing a magazine. While I haven’t seen much of their product, what I have seen looks well-done and professional, and they deserve a nod just for giving it a try.

Scary Monsters magazine is an “either-or” proposition… either you like it’s retro style and feel, or you hate it. I’m in the former camp. It’s not a style that would work for most mags, but their coverage of the genre is devoted almost exclusively to Classic Horror, and for that, it has a certain nostalgic charm to it. It’s not a style I would choose to emulate if I were to put out a mag, but in a sea of Fango-clones, it does tend to stand out.

One of the fastest-growing segments of the Horror-hobby is Model-building, a subject that was covered extensively at CreatureScape. This past year saw the old Unimonster get in-depth, up-close-and-personal with that branch of the hobby as I attended Wonderfest 2007 with the gang from Horrorbles.com. While I’ve always been a model-builder, my figure-building experience was limited to my long-vanished Aurora Monsters from childhood. But while at Wonderfest, I picked up a few issues of Amazing Figure Modeler and was instantly hooked. I had no idea of the incredible variety of figures available; everything from B-Movie monsters to World War II troops to Nudie Cuties. And AFM covers them all… very thoroughly. No newcomer to modeling in general, I was particularly impressed by the detailed descriptions of techniques that the writers recommend for these types of kits; knowledge that is uniquely useful for me. One caveat, though. The magazine does have articles and photos about kits that feature nudity. It displays these kits without the usual black dots or bars covering the ‘good’ parts, so parental discretion is advised.

But my choice for Magazine of the Year is, as always, “Rue Morgue.” It’s not for everyone; there’s frequent nudity, graphic gore, and foul language. It’s an adult magazine that focuses on everything Horror, and I love it.

I know when RM arrives each month that I’m going to be both informed and entertained, that I’m going to learn something new about this genre that I love so much. Yes, the mag isn’t what you might want to read while sitting in your doctor’s waiting room, and I certainly wouldn’t let a ten-year old MonsterKid read it. And it does aggravate me at times that the editorial slant of the mag is decidedly left of… Left. Still, it’s the one mag I do subscribe to, because for Pure Horror Entertainment… It’s still the best.


11.) Import of the Year:
a. HOT FUZZ
b. BLACK SHEEP
c. The Pang Brothers
d. Zoë Bell

One of the best examples of Asian horror in the past several years is JIAN GUI, ~aka~ THE EYE, a 2002 film from twin brothers in Hong Kong, Oxide Pang Chung and Danny Pang. This year, they directed their first American production, THE MESSENGERS. While this film wasn’t quite as good as hoped, I’m expecting to see some tremendous Horror Films from this pair in the near future.

I’ve already discussed BLACK SHEEP, and just how much I enjoyed this New Zealand import. Though it did have a limited theatrical run here, it is widely available on DVD, and I would recommend you seek it out.

Another Kiwi import that’s worth checking out is Zoë Bell, the stuntwoman-turned-actress featured in Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF playing herself. Not the typical Hollywood beauty, she has a girl-next-door cuteness to her that makes her very attractive and relatable to the viewer. Besides, how can you not like a woman who gets this excited about a ’70 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 440 four-barrel V-8 and four on the floor? Hey, Horror movies aren’t my whole life!

While it’s not, strictly speaking, a genre film, the latest effort from the guys responsible for SHAUN OF THE DEAD simply has to be recognized for the great movie that it is. HOT FUZZ, by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, is an absolute blast in every possible way. Pegg’s performance as a gung-ho, by-the-book supercop is dead on, and even better than his work in SOTD. If you haven’t seen it yet… do so!


12.) DVD Release of the Year:
a. SPIDER BABY Director’s Cut
b. BLADE RUNNER Final Cut Ultimate Edition
c. EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA ~aka~ HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB
d. THE MONSTER SQUAD 20th Anniversary Edition
e. GRINDHOUSE—PLANET TERROR / GRINDHOUSE—DEATH PROOF Extended and Unrated 2-Disc Special Editions

Thankfully, there seems to be no slowdown in the trend of vintage Horror goodies finding their way to DVD, and this year sees four nominees for DVD of the Year that are old favorites, far from successful in their theatrical runs, but which took on new life in the age of home video.

The lone exceptions to that are the two DVD’s that were created when the Quentin Tarantino-produced GRINDHOUSE was split into its constituent parts. By extending both segments to feature length, Rodriguez and Tarantino managed to correct most of the flaws that plagued the theatrical release of the film, while keeping the intent intact.

The one problem with the discs is Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF. I can overlook the director’s foot fetish and penchant for long, expository scenes… but his failure to include the fake trailers discussed earlier in this column is simply unforgivable.

Jack Hill’s 1968 masterpiece SPIDER BABY or, THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD was very nearly a ‘lost’ film, languishing on a L.A. film lab’s shelf until it was dusted off and released on VHS in the early ‘80’s. It slowly built a cult following as a quirky, offbeat Horror Comedy, based primarily on the strong performances of the cast of mainly unknown actors. The one exception to this was Lon Chaney, Jr. as Bruno, the caretaker of the estate, and the surviving Merrye family members. Among the unknowns that turn in such admirable performances are a young Sid Haig, of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES fame, and Jill Banner, a stunningly beautiful young woman who plays Virginia, one of the Merrye sisters, who fancies herself a spider with a very deadly bite. But they are not exceptions; the cast as a whole shines in this movie.

Dark Sky worked with Hill to restore this film to pristine condition, gave it enough special features to please the hardest-to-please fan, and packaged it beautifully. It really is a must-have DVD.

Another must-have, at least for fans of Euro-Horror or Paul Naschy, is the superior release of EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA ~aka~ HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, from BCI. Completely remastered and restored, this uncut presentation just blows fans of the film away, many of whom have never seen it in complete form. I was one of these latter, and, while I had always enjoyed the movie in its edited form, this uncut version is superb.

One of the best-loved cult films of the last 30 years is Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic BLADE RUNNER. This nihilistic vision of humanity’s near future, where androids known as Replicants are hunted by the law, did not have an easy genesis, and adding to the lore of this film is the fact that, in addition to the theatrical version, at least two different director’s cuts exist. The BLADE RUNNER Final Cut Ultimate Edition, released in December, contains every version of the film, including what Scott himself considers to be the “definitive” cut. In addition to the movie, you’re presented with special features galore, photos, booklets… all contained in a case which resembles a briefcase prop from the film. This movie certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but if it’s yours, then this is the set to have.

Though is was a financial failure at the Box-Office when it was released, Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD found new life when it hit the VHS circuit. People who had grown up loving the classic Universal Monsters found this film to be a postcard from their childhoods, a reminder of simpler times and simpler pleasures. Many now had children of their own, and found the film a great way to introduce the monsters they themselves loved as children to the next generation.
The one drawback to this is that, prior to this year, there’s never been an official DVD release of this movie. The viewer was stuck with either the aging VHS release, or one of the multitude of bootleg DVD-R’s on the market… all copied from the aging VHS release. However, 2007 was the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, and Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment chose to celebrate it with a spectacular DVD treatment.

First, the film has been completely restored to pristine condition, which really pops out in direct comparison with the old, scratchy, pan-and-scan VHS. Add in a wealth of special features, including a documentary on the making of this classic, and you easily have the Unimonster’s pick for DVD Release of the Year.


13.) DVD Boxed or Collector’s Set of the Year:
a. The Universal/Best Buy Collections
b. The Godzilla Collection Box Set
c. The Fly Classic Collection
d. The Mario Bava Collection, Vols. 1 & 2

While it’s never been a particular favorite of mine, it’s hard to deny the importance to the genre of Kurt Neumann’s 1958 classic THE FLY. Thanks in large part to a couple of unforgettable scenes, as well as an excellent performance from Vincent Price, the movie is ingrained into the consciousness of Horror fans everywhere. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment does a better-than-usual job with this set, which features not only the 1958 film, but the two sequels: RETURN OF THE FLY, and CURSE OF THE FLY.

Since its release of the excellent GOJIRA Double-Feature DVD in 2005, Classic Media has been keeping Kaijû-fans everywhere happy with regular releases of the original Toho prints of some of the greatest films of the Showa era. Now they’ve gathered all their previous DVD’s, along with two as yet unreleased films, into the Godzilla Collection Box Set. The two unreleased films, GOJIRA-MINIRA-GABARA: ORU KAIJÛ DAISHINGEKI ~aka~ GODZILLA’S REVENGE, and MEKAGOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU ~aka~ MECHAGODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK; TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.

If this set has a drawback, it’s price. With a list price of $80, for what amounts to two DVD’s I don’t already own, there’s no denying it’s expensive… especially since those films are due to be released individually in February. Still, the set is spectacular, and if you haven’t already purchased these Discs separately, then by all means put it on your short list.

Mario Bava is perhaps the greatest director Italy ever produced; certainly he was the greatest Italian Horror director. From LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO ~aka~ BLACK SUNDAY, to LA CASA DELL’ESORCISMO ~aka~ LISA AND THE DEVIL, he charted the paths that Euro-Horror would take. His SEI DONNE PER L’ASSASINO ~aka~ BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was the basis for the Italian Giallo genre, and REAZIONE A CATENA ~aka~ A BAY OF BLOOD directly inspired FRIDAY THE 13TH, and remains my favorite Bava film.

Now, a dozen of his films have been gathered together in a two-volume collection that is a must-have for fans of this outstanding filmmaker. At around $40 each volume, they aren’t cheap… but they’re definitely worth it.

Without a doubt, though, the title of Best Set of the Year has to be shared by the twin releases from Universal and Best Buy… the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2, and the Universal Horror Classic Archive. Universal Horrors are, after all, my first love, and the fact that someone, anyone, cares enough to keep putting these collections out is always going to score points with me. Add to that the fact that Universal has finally seen fit to release, in the Sci-Fi collection, my favorite Giant Bug move, THE DEADLY MANTIS, and this one is a no-brainer for me.

14.) Crapfest of the Year:
a. CAPTIVITY
b. THE INVASION
c. VACANCY
d. DISTURBIA
e. HALLOWEEN

In just a few short years, Rob Zombie has made himself one of the hottest directors working in Horror Films today. His debut feature, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, began the move back to the grittier, gorier, Grindhouse-type of film, finally breaking the back of the “Dawson’s Creek meets Freddy Krueger” style of Horror that dominated the genre in the latter half of the ‘90’s.

This year, he turned his attention to remaking one of the seminal films of the genre, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. It wasn’t the first Slasher film, and it borrowed heavily from the Italian Giallos, but it firmly lodged the concept of the Unstoppable Slasher in the subconscious of the Horror fan. My love for this film, and my utter complete opposition to remaking such iconic films, was mollified only slightly when it was announced that Zombie was helming the project.

While I loved HO1KC, and thought THE DEVIL’S REJECT was a well-done, if somewhat weaker project, I was quite unprepared to have anyone, even Zombie, monkeying around with one of my favorite films. Much as I suspected, he took it in directions that I would have preferred he avoided. Gone are the suspense, the terror, the absolute conviction that Michael Myers isn’t just another psychopath, but the embodiment of pure evil. What remains simply isn’t worth the effort. Thanks Rob, but I’ll stick with JC’s version.

If anything has become clear about Nicole Kidman, other than the fact that she has the personality of a kippered herring, it’s that she is Box-Office death. Critics may love her… but critics don’t pay for tickets, and even if they did, there aren’t that many of them. This year, she starred in an ill-conceived remake of the classic INVASION OF THE BODY-SNATCHERS, titled THE INVASION. This thoroughly unnecessary remake bombed spectacularly at the Box-Office, falling far short of breaking even.

I’ve already mentioned just how bad DISTURBIA was, and I see little reason to invest much time in revisiting it now. The fact that it wasn’t even the worst movie of the year is sad commentary on the state of Hollywood-based Horror Films.

VACANCY didn’t need to be on this list; the concept, the premise, of the film is very sound, and properly presented would make a good movie. The trouble is that it was completely mishandled from start to finish. At no point in the first 45 minutes of the film are you given any reason to care about the two leads. They’re bitter, spiteful, cruel, and completely unsympathetic. Suddenly, they’re in danger, and the viewer is supposed to care? Why?

But the Crapfest of the Year, much like the Movie of the Year [see below], was apparent at my first viewing of it. CAPTIVITY failed in every possible measure to entertain me, which is all I ask of any film. A stolen, hackneyed plot; weak-as-water direction; and a cast that couldn’t land a dinner theater production of HAIR, combine to form what is easily the worst movie of the year.

15.) Creature(s) of the Year:
a. Neal Sabin and Rich Koz (Svengoolie)—for their Contributions to the next generation of MonsterKids

Though it’s hard to believe, if you’re much under the age of thirty, you’re likely never to have known a time when you did not have either cable television or a VCR, and the ability to see just about any movie you might want at your own convenience. A time when you couldn’t just stop by the neighborhood Video store and pick up the hot new release, or that old favorite you’re in the mood to watch again… or just find it on one of the multitude of channels available to you at the touch of a remote.

Well, youngsters, such wasn’t always the case. When I was but a wee lad, we had four channels… yes, just four. We had the ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS affiliates, and that was it. And VCR’s, though they existed, were a plaything for the rich, not something that you would find in the average home. My dad did have remote control, though… my brother and I, as well as anyone passing within reach of the television set when he wanted it changed.

It was on one of those channels that I first saw the great Universal Classics… FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, SON OF DRACULA, and all their kith and kin. And WCIU in Chicago is carrying on this great tradition to this day, spreading the love of classic horror to a new generation of MonsterKids, the same way we fell in love with it. The two men responsible for this are Neal Sabin, the station’s General Manager, and Rich Koz, better known to generations of fans as Svengoolie. In any ordinary year these two men would be deserving of this accolade, just on the basis of this long-running show, very nearly the last of it’s kind. But this was far from an ordinary year.

This year, Sabin managed to land the Universal Classic Horror package for the station to broadcast. This was not a easy task, and Sabin must be congratulated, not only for managing to pull it off, but for having the foresight to see the importance of these films, and that they need to be seen by those who might not have the money to buy the Legacy collections, or might not have cable, in order to catch them on TCM or AMC. Nor should we ignore Koz’s contributions to this effort. Without Svengoolie and his highly popular program, there would have been no incentive to bring these films to the Chicago market.

It behooves those of us who love these films to do all we can to preserve them, as well as spreading the enjoyment and appreciation for them to the next generation. These two men have made a career of doing just that, and are deserving of all the honor it is in my meager power to do them. They are also deserving of my sincere thanks.

16.) Movie of the Year:
a. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
b. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
c. 300
d. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (3-D Re-release)
e. I AM LEGEND

Fans of Richard Matheson have been waiting for a faithful adaptation of his novella “I am Legend” for nearly fifty years now, ever since Vincent Price’s memorable performance as Robert Neville in the 1964 Italian production THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. Though it was closer to the novel than 1971’s THE OMEGA MAN, fans still yearned for the original story to be filmed. For at least ten years, different actors, directors, and studios have been attached to a new version of the novel, none of which came to fruition. It finally took the star power of Will Smith, perhaps the most bankable actor working today, to get it made. I’ve yet to see it, so I’ll withhold judgment on its authenticity. Judging from its blockbuster performance at the Box-Office, however, it’s easy to see that this movie is a serious contender for MotY.

Ok, so it was first released in 1993, and the 3-D version’s been out more than a year. But Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS had a wide Re-release this past October, and in the brief two months it has been out has made nearly $15 million—proof that this twisted take on holiday traditions is as good now as it was 14 years ago.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END was the capstone to the Disney trilogy based on the Disneyland ride. Trilogies are difficult to do properly; you’re always expected to top the previous film, while not venturing too far from the world you previously constructed. POTC: AWE pulled this off to perfection and, had it been released in a year apart from the following two movies, would have easily won MotY.

In the span of six years and five films, the boy wizard Harry Potter has evolved from a wide-eyed awestruck orphan into an angst-ridden young man with a mortal enemy and the weight of the wizarding world on his shoulders… adulthood apparently comes early to wizards and witches. Though I’ve never read the books, I love the Harry Potter movies, and the latest is the best so far. Gone are any traces of the series origins as a children’s tale… this is real world stuff they’re dealing with. Well, real wizarding world, that is. Death, love, betrayal, loyalty… as the saga progresses, it begins to resemble a Greek tragedy in scope and complexity, and all I can say is… give me more!!!

Speaking of Greek tragedies, or at least Greek history, brings me to my choice as Movie of the Year. Not really Horror, not really Sci-Fi, Zack Snyder’s 300 is hard to define, but easy to enjoy. Based on Frank Miller’s stupendous graphic novel of the same name, which in turn drew inspiration from the 1962 movie THE 300 SPARTANS, the film relates the historical account of the Battle of Thermopylae, albeit with large doses of artistic and dramatic license.

Thermopylae, fought in August, 473 BC, pitted the 300,000 man army of the Persian Emperor Xerxes against a force of 6-10,000 Greeks, led by 300 Spartan warriors under their King Leonidas. The Spartans held the vital pass at Thermopylae for three days against the vastly larger Persian force, until the Phoecian troops guarding their flank were scattered, allowing the Persians to encircle the 300. That is the history. The movie is something else entirely.

First, they started with Miller’s unique visual design and palette, bathing every frame in bold, vivid reds, blacks, bronzes, and golds. Then the dry, though inspiring, historical accounts were transformed into the personal story of Leonidas, and his drive to do his duty as his honor demanded. The acting, especially Gerard Butler’s, was excellent, and the visual effects tied everything together in one gorgeous package. I knew the first time I saw 300 that it was going to take one hell of a movie to beat it out for MotY… some came close, but not close enough.


So there it is… 2007 in review. On the whole, not a bad year, from a genre point of view. I’ve seen some tremendously good movies, as well as some staggeringly bad ones, and I’m sure that I’ll be able to say the same next year at this time. We have the third Brendan Fraser MUMMY film to look forward to, as well as the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, SPIDER BABY, and THE WOLF-MAN remakes… although “look forward to…” might be the wrong choice of words for those films. We’ll have the next installment in Harry Potter’s battle against Voldemort to discuss, along with, hopefully, more Universal/Best Buy collaborations.

And, God willing, I will be here writing on all of it for you, the Horror fans. Happy 2008, everyone!