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Welcome to the Crypt!

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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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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07 August, 2010

Uni's Trips from the Crypt: Famous Monsters Convention, 2010

Indianapolis is blossoming into one of the “in” places to be in the Horror community, helped by our close proximity to a major metropolitan area such as Chicago, and host for the past several years to the HorrorHound Convention in the spring.  Now central Indiana can boast of another Horror-Con: the Famous Monsters Convention.  Timed to coincide with, and celebrate, the relaunch of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, this third incarnation of Jim Warren and Forry Ackerman’s landmark creation debuts with issue number 251, though there’s a number 250 that’s comprised of a forty-eight page tribute to the late Ackermonster himself.

The original 25-year run of this great magazine, which so endeared itself to generations of MonsterKids as to attain legendary status, has been credited as being the inspiration behind such creative talents as John Landis, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and Peter Jackson.  Though the second incarnation of the title left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans, there’s hope that new publisher Philip Kim will restore the mag to it’s former glory.  The close cooperation of the estate of Forrest Ackerman certainly lends an important cachet to the enterprise that the previous venture lacked.

However, this is not a review of the magazine, but of the convention associated with it.  Held at the Wyndham hotel in Indianapolis from 9 July to 11 July 2010, the Unimonster, accompanied by the Crypt’s official photographer/videographer, spent two days in attendance and can report the convention was a rousing success.

Those who were following the run-up to the convention had some cause for concern, as there seemed to be some confusion initially with the reports that were coming out regarding plans for guests, movie screenings, questions about dealers’ booths, etc.  Despite some early difficulties involving the check-in process (minor ones at that), I was pleased to see that the convention was well organized, and well run.  Occupying virtually all of the available convention space in the hotel certainly helped, as the attendees had room to circulate, varying their time between the screening rooms, rooms where autograph signings were taking place, the dealers room, and other attractions.  Chief among these was the “Hall of the Living Dead,” dedicated to the stars of the Romero …DEAD films.  Several were in attendance, including such notables as John A. Russo, Tom Savini, Russ Streiner, and Judith O’Dea.  The Unimonster himself was fortunate enough to spend a few minutes in conversation with Russo, the screenwriter of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, as well as Leonard Lies, the “machete zombie” from DAWN OF THE DEAD.

As we mingled among the various attendees, it became obvious that Indianapolis horror fans, just as they did during HorrorHound in March, will turn out in droves when given the opportunity.  Fortunately, the organizers in this instance took into account a large turnout, and planned accordingly.  While the exhibit areas were busy, they weren’t so tightly jammed that one felt trapped, as was the experience at HorrorHound.

As always, one of the prime motivations for attending a convention is to reunite with old friends and meet new ones, and there was much of that happening.  Two of the Unimonster’s newest friends are Mitchell and Jessica Wells, of The Horror Society.  This was the second convention I’ve attended in their company, and I find their knowledge of, and passion for, Indie Horror to be quite refreshing.  These qualities are reflected in their web-site, which I recommend to everyone with an interest in low-budget, independent Horror Films (stay tuned for more developments involving The Horror Society—Ed.).

Two other individuals whose acquaintance I made at Famous Monsters were Joe Moe and Cortlandt Hull.  Joe Moe is well known to readers of the Crypt, as he was 2009’s Creature of the Year.  Joe was, in Forry Ackerman’s later years, the Ackermonster’s best friend, bodyguard, caregiver, and in general his right-hand man.  I’ve long been e-mail friends with Joe; it was great to meet him in person.

Cortlandt Hull is the owner and operator of The Witch's Dungeon, which is both a real-world and internet museum he began to pay homage to the great monsters of classic horror, including Dr. Wilfred Glendon, portrayed by his uncle Henry Hull in Universal’s classic 1935 film WEREWOLF OF LONDON.  Cortlandt’s latest project is THE AURORA MONSTERS: THE MODEL CRAZE THAT GRIPPED THE WORLD, a documentary examining the beloved Aurora monster models of the 1960’s, directed by he and Dennis Vincent, and starring Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul.  It is my intention to review this work sometime in the very near future, so this isn’t the last you’ll hear of this film.

Speaking of reviews, the Unimonster came away from the convention with a stack of films needing to be reviewed, and over the next few months you may expect to see my thoughts on films such as PICKMAN’S MUSE, from writer / director Robert Cappelletto [see below], and SHADOWLAND, starring former Hooters Calendar girl Caitlin McIntosh.

One of the films screened at the convention, one that I’ve reviewed this month, is David Kabler’s WANDERLOST.  Written by Kabler and Daniel Judson, it is a rambling, existentialist fantasy-horror, one that quite frankly is a bit too artsy for my tastes.  That’s not to say it isn’t well-executed, and if you enjoy the more avant-garde side of Horror, then by all means give it a try.

Without a doubt however, the big event of the weekend was a panel discussion featuring many of those who were Forry Ackerman’s closest friends and acquaintances.  Joe Moe, Mick Garris, Basil Gogos, Bela Lugosi, Jr. and others, along with Philip Kim and the editorial staff of the new Famous Monsters magazine, met to discuss their memories of Forry, the inspiration he provided to their lives, and the direction that the magazine that he was such an instrumental part of would take in the future.  Much remains to be seen in this regard, but if Kim and company stay true to the vision they laid out for the magazine, then I think Forry would approve.

Sunday at the convention was unfortunately abbreviated for me, but I was there long enough to insure that the final day was a rousing success.  Sunday, as is the norm for my conventioneering, is the day for networking, and there was much of that taking place.  I spent several minutes talking with a group there to promote the effort to honor Bob Carter, better known to those in Central Indiana as Sammy Terry, with admittance to the Indiana State Museum Hall of Fame.  Sammy, a long-time Horror host on WTTV-4, still makes occasional public appearances at conventions, and is frequently seen on local television during the Halloween season.  He has long deserved more recognition for his significant contributions, both to the Central Indiana region and to the broader history of the Hosted Horror program, and I would like to encourage everyone to support this effort to see that he receives this recognition.

Other contacts were made as well, contacts that will bear fruit that I will be sharing with you in the near future.  As I stated earlier, my Sunday session was unavoidably brief, but overall I came away from Famous Monsters Con feeling that it had been a rousing success.  As this was the first FM Con in Indianapolis, there was no reliable frame of reference with which to compare it, but I have to believe that Kim and the FM staff are pleased with the result.   There were few problems; at least few that were readily apparent to convention-goers, and everyone appeared to be having a very good time.  I can certainly attest that I did.

I’m not sure whether the Famous Monsters Con will return to Indy next year, but I hope that it does.  Not only for the obvious reason—that I had a great time and hope to attend it again—but because it’s good for local fans to be able to connect to others in the hobby, and to those who entertain and inspire us.

Summer of the Shark

June 20th, 1975 was a red-letter day in my eleven-year old life:  It was the first time that I stood in a long line to see a movie on its opening day.  It also effectively ended my love of swimming in the ocean near my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.  That movie was JAWS, and no film, before or since, has had such a dramatic, traumatic effect on me.

Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, JAWS was brought to life by Steven Spielberg, a young director fresh from making Made-for-TV movies, including the very well received DUEL.  Still nearly a decade away from becoming a household name, following the blockbuster success of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T. and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and even further away from the critical acclaim that he would find in films such as SCHINDLER’S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Spielberg was a 28-year old, untried director chosen to helm the latest project for Universal Studios.

JAWS did not have a smooth production.  There was friction between Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, two of the three main stars of the film; repeated breakdowns in the mechanical shark that forced a rethinking of just how the film was going to be shot; the original shooting schedule mushroomed, from 50-60 days, to well over 150 days; there were numerous problems with the script; even the weather on Martha’s Vineyard threatened the production.  That the film was completed at all is amazing.  That it became one of the best movies ever made is a miracle.

However, all that was unknown to me the summer of my eleventh year.  I was a normal kid, more bookish than most of my friends, more into comic books and model planes than baseball and the outdoors.  If I had a passion at that age, it was Star Trek, with Monster movies a close second.  The first I indulged courtesy of re-runs every afternoon; the second was fed during the summer by the “Kiddie Shows” the local theater would run every Wednesday.

We would clip coupons out of the paper on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Wednesday, mothers desperate for just a few hours peace and quiet would drop hordes of screaming children off at the theater, coupons clutched tightly in grubby hands.  Teen-agers, scarcely five or six years older than us, would herd us into line to buy our tickets.  For the miniscule price of 25¢, plus the coupon, we would be treated to cartoons, contests, a free box of popcorn and small drink, and, of course, the main feature.  Though occasionally these were Disney films, (bad enough…) or even worse, Pippi Longstocking movies, (almost universally reviled among my peers, with good reason…) the usual fare for these Wednesday idylls were Monster movies.  Universal Horrors; Giant Bugs; Japanese Kaij├╗, all were offered up for our education and edification.  It was at one of these fondly remembered festivals of childish hedonism that I first became aware of the motion picture that would become the most effective Horror film I’ve ever seen.

The posters on display outside the entrance, labeled “Coming Attractions”, always garnered much attention from us as we waited in line.  Most, usually featuring couples in various romantic situations, were the easy targets of ridicule and derision.  Some were simply ignored; like the movies they promoted they weren’t even worth the scorn of 10, 11, and 12-year olds.  But a few were noticed, commented upon, and mentally filed away for future reference.  Most of these we knew we would never get to see… films such as THE EXORCIST, SUGAR HILL, and the Holy Grail, the movie we knew we would never get a glimpse of, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, all were introduced to us in that gleaming chrome and glass display case.

The poster for JAWS caught our imaginations instantly:  The massive head of the shark, rising from the depths towards the tiny figure (“Gosh, is she naked??!!”) of the female swimmer, screamed Monster Movie.  Best of all, it was rated PG, which meant we stood a realistic shot at getting our parents to let us see it.  I doubt all of us succeeded in that quest; I know that I did.

By 1975, I was hardly a novice MonsterKid.  I was on a first name basis with the Universal Monsters, had a thorough familiarity with most of the Godzilla and Gamera films, was the proud owner of a growing collection of monster magazines and models; I had even, (thanks to an older sister with a spacious trunk…) gone to an all-night Drive-In movie Gore-a-thon, featuring films such as BLOOD FEAST, CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  I thought that I was past being scared by a movie.  Boy was I wrong.

From the first attack to open the film, to the stalking and killing of the young Kittner boy, to the climactic battle on board the doomed Orca, the movie was more than I could’ve imagined.  The sheer level of intensity and horror of what went unseen was far more effective than any amount of blood and gore could ever be.  Though the film was filled with images that were shocking, even genuinely frightening, there was comparatively little of the “blood and guts” usually associated with the horror films of this period.  While most of my friends (those who managed to see the movie…) felt that Quint’s death was the high point of the film, there was one image that stayed fixed in my mind… that of a severed leg drifting silently toward the sandy bottom following the attack on the boaters in the tidal pool.  That image, more than any other, gave me nightmares for weeks afterward.

First, in my defense, let me remind readers that I was born and raised in a state surrounded on three sides by ocean, so it’s not as though there wasn’t the remotest possibility of encountering a shark.  I doubt that my reaction to the film would have been as pronounced had I lived in Idaho.  But I grew up less than 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.  I swam in the ocean as often as we could get down to the beach.  We knew there were sharks in those waters; a record Hammerhead shark had been caught off a pier within sight of where we would swim.  Anglers would routinely catch sharks while fishing offshore.

But never before had I connected sharks with the monsters that inhabited my imagination; monsters that even an 11-year old realizes are just that:  Creatures of the imagination.

But sharks were different, because sharks were real.  Sharks existed.  Sharks behaved not all too differently in fact than the shark in the movie.  Sharks hunted.  Sharks fed.

Sharks… killed.

And sharks were in the water in which we swam.

And so I stopped swimming in the ocean.  I quit as completely, as suddenly, as throwing a switch.  No matter what was said, no matter how much anyone pled, cajoled, or threatened, I didn’t go into the ocean again, that summer or any since.  Nothing could tempt me into the water; not even the shallowest parts could be considered safe.  In my imagination, there was a monstrous shark hiding just under the surface, waiting for a plump, juicy kid to be stupid enough to jump in.  That overpowering image still resides somewhere, deep in my subconscious.  Though my fears have subsided with time, age, and hopefully, a modicum of wisdom, it’s still there, hidden away in case I should ever again give thought to a swim in the ocean.

Emotional scarring like that… you tell me that there is a more effective Horror Film than JAWS.

I’ll match you, nightmare for nightmare.

Aurora’s Monster Models

As many devoted Horror fans also enjoy building model kits of their favorite monsters, most are well aware that Modeling is not an inexpensive hobby.  At a bare minimum, a decent resin kit from a reputable company will run 50-60 dollars, and the average would be well over $100.  Add in tools, paints, and time, and we could easily spend thousands on this hobby we love.

But that wasn’t always the case.  When I started building models, resin and vinyl kits were virtually non-existent.  Airbrushes and moto-tools were unimagined luxuries, glue came in red and white tubes and paints came in little square bottles with “Testor’s” on the cap.  My first kit was ancient even in 1972…  Monogram’s 1/72 scale Curtiss P-36 Hawk.  I doubt that I paid more than 75¢ for it, and the finished product was hardly worth bragging about.  But I was instantly hooked on a hobby that I still enjoy 38 years later.

In those days I built everything and anything… from the crappy Hawk box-scale airplanes, to Monogram TBF Avengers with a torpedo that actually dropped from the bomb bay, to Aurora’s Russian Golf-class Missile Submarine.  I even tried my hand at the Visible Eye… and wound up with something not even Lasik could save.  But given my natural affinity for the monsters, it was only a matter of time before I found the fantastic Monster kits from Aurora.

Anyone who was a regular reader of Famous Monsters in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s will remember the ads for these kits…  Dracula and Frankenstein, the Wolf-Man and the Mummy, the skeletal Prisoner chained to the section of dungeon wall, even a scraggly-toothed, wart-nosed witch, hard at work stirring a bubbling cauldron.  Famous Monsters #59, November 1969, lists several of the monster kits in the Glow-in-the-Dark style for the princely sum of $1.49… quite a bit of money when you consider that you could get a perfectly good airplane or car kit for half that.

But the monsters of Aurora were hard to ignore, and, as soon as I saw one for sale at my neighborhood Pic-n-Save, I had to have it.  It was, luckily, my favorite monster, the Mummy.  But I wouldn’t have cared which monster I wound up with…  I just wanted one of them.  Somehow, I came up with enough money to buy it.  How, I’m not sure; I am sure that it was no mean feat on a dollar a week allowance.  How much I paid for the kit is a mystery; I doubt I could have told you the next morning the price of the model.  I had one, and that was all I cared about.

When I got home with my prize, I rushed to my room and opened the box.  The figure seemed huge compared to the kits I was used to building, though simple to assemble… a definite plus at that stage in my modeling experience.  I can’t recall much detail about the kit, other than the Mummy was undeniably Kharis.  I don’t remember what color plastic it was molded in, or how good the quality was.  I just remember the joy of building it.

I later added other monsters to the collection, as well as some of the MPC Pirates of the Caribbean and AMT/Ertl Star Trek kits.  There was a Tarzan along the way, as well as a Spock, a Batman, and others.  Eventually, Aurora folded, the monster kits went away, and I returned to the B-17G’s, M60A1’s, and Federation Starships that I loved.

Now, some thirty-eight years later, those Aurora monsters are hot collector’s items, going for thirty to fifty dollars, unbuilt.  Companies such as Polar Lights have issued their own versions of those kits, and high-quality resin and vinyl monster kits abound.  These kits, especially the latter, are so far above the old Auroras in terms of quality and accuracy that comparing the two is akin to comparing a ’78 Ford Pinto to a brand-new Mercedes S-class.  I just wish I could afford them.

Yes, the new kits are better in terms of quality, better in terms of accuracy, better in terms of choice of subject matter.  The only thing they don’t do better is inspire joy and wonder in the mind of an eight-year-old boy.

DVD Review: Del Tenney Double-Feature

Title:  The Del Tenney Double-Feature: HORROR OF PARTY BEACH / CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Year of Release—Film:  1964 / 1964

Year of Release—DVD:  2006

DVD Label:  Dark Sky Entertainment/MPI Entertainment



In the annals of B-Movies and Drive-In Horror Films, there are many directors who, though more or less successful in their day, are generally forgotten by modern audiences.  Directors such as Andy Milligan, Bert Gordon, and Herschell Lewis all were familiar names to Drive-In and Grindhouse moviegoers from the late ‘50’s through the mid-‘70’s, though only Lewis retains any notoriety today.

Another director who thrilled Drive-In fans in the ‘60’s was Del Tenney, a one-time Broadway actor who went into directing in order to spend more time with his family.  He’s written, produced, and directed a handful of low-budget films over the past forty years, but his greatest success came with three films done in the early ‘60’s:  ZOMBIES ~aka~ I EAT YOUR SKIN, and the two films on this disc, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE.


HORROR OF PARTY BEACH

Long derided as one of the worst movies ever made, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH has always fascinated me.  Not because I doubted its reputation, just that I thought no movie could be as bad as I had heard this one was said to be.  And I was correct… though no one will claim that this film was unjustly ignored by the Academy, it hardly deserves to be considered as one of the worst films ever produced.

Filmed on location in Stamford, Connecticut, using local bands (oh yes, this IS a musical…) and actors, the plot is bare-bones simple, and pre-dates the very similar HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP by a decade-and-a-half.  Some toxic waste is dumped off the coast, leaks out of the container, and washes over some human remains on the bottom of the ocean.

The remains mutate, as well as re-animate, transforming into a type of half-fish, half-man zombie.  Needless to say people are soon being slaughtered in rather impressive numbers for a film of this vintage, though of course not the ones you’d really like to see go.

It’s not easy to sum this one up in a paragraph or two.  Is it a bad movie?  Oh, yeah.  The dialogue is horrible; the acting reminds me of my 1st Grade school play; the Special Effects are laughable; and I’ve seen Calvin Klein commercials that made more sense.  Is it as bad as I’ve always heard?  No, not hardly.  If you’re an aficionado of Low-Budget, Low-Grade Horror Films, there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy here.  Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.


CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Released about the same time as HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, this movie fares a little better than the former, with a higher standard of acting helping it immeasurably.  The cast here at least appears to be professional, and includes Candace Hilligoss of CARNIVAL OF SOULS fame in her only other screen role.  It’s also notable as Roy Scheider’s screen debut, just a mere decade before he would find himself hunting a certain shark off the coast of Amity Island.

The plot is the best part of this film, giving it a Giallo-like feel, reminiscent of Mario Bava’s REAZIONE A CATENA ~aka~ BAY OF BLOOD.  Tenney does well with it, though I would’ve preferred that he had left the comedy relief on the cutting room floor.  The story moves at a brisk pace, and your attention doesn’t really have time to wander through the various holes that do crop up in the plot.

Unfortunately, the decent cast is given nothing to work with in the way of dialogue.  Every speech sounds as though it were written by a 14-year old girl smitten with the works of Jane Austen.  Helen Warren, as Abigail, the matriarch of the clan, is given to soliloquies that would do Lady Macbeth proud, and Scheider’s character Philip is so pompous you find yourself hoping he’s the next victim.

While this movie isn’t as well known as the other half of this twin bill, it’s by far the better of the two.  Yes, it does have problems, but remember this film was shot in Connecticut, probably for less than $100,000.  Much less, from the looks of it.  Don’t expect filet mignon, and you won’t be disappointed by Salisbury steak.

For two movies that probably grossed less than the price of a new Cadillac, (in 1964!) Dark Sky / MPI have really done a nice treatment on this disc.  The prints used for the transfers, particularly the one for CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, are spectacular; clean, sharp and complete.  The inclusion of subtitles is, as always, appreciated, and overall, the presentation on this collection is well done, as is the standard at MPI.

Though the disc isn’t piled on with extras, there are a few, and they’re nicely done.  Both films have director’s commentaries; not bad—informative, interesting, better than some of the scripted dialogue in the movies.  There’s also a videotaped interview with Tenney as a special feature on the HORROR OF PARTY BEACH menu.  Though interviews with young directors occasionally come off as “I love me, and here’s why you should love me too…” personal ads, the older generation has generally outgrown that, and their interviews can often be founts of the trivial esoterica that I love.  Tenney’s is no exception, and is an enjoyable addition.

With a list price of $15 or so, I would give this one a qualified buy recommendation, and that qualification would be “…If you know what you’re getting.”  If you’re a casual Horror fan, with very little exposure to the Drive-In cinema of the ‘60’s, then I’d say try to rent it first.  You might like it, you might not.  At least you’ll keep your losses to a minimum.

But if you still have fond memories of warm summer nights under the stars, as a parade of cheesy horror films shone through your windshield, then I think you’ll enjoy this one.  And at $15 for two movies, (shop around, though, you can find it much cheaper…) it’s hard to pass this one up.

DVD Review: JAWS 25th Anniversary Edition

Title:  JAWS 25th Anniversary Edition

Year of Release—Film:  1975

Year of Release—DVD:  2000

DVD Label:  Universal Studios Home Entertainment



For a reviewer, deciding whether any film is a quality production, even a Horror Film, is by its nature an objective process; you view it and, if it’s well photographed, written, directed, and performed then it follows that it’s a well-made film.  Deciding whether or not that film “worked” on an individual basis with you, the viewer, is entirely subjective, however.  That’s something that can’t be measured quantitatively—it’s a question that is answered differently by each viewer.  Speaking for myself, no film has ever worked as well for me as Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic, JAWS.

To mark the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2000, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released this superb DVD, one that is a fitting tribute to the movie that still reigns as the single most terrifying film that the Unimonster has ever seen—and that’s saying quite a lot.

It’s the start of the summer tourist season on Amity Island.  The town’s year-round residents, dependent upon tourism to fuel the island’s economy, are readying for the big Fourth of July celebration. The Chief of Police, a transplanted NYPD detective named Martin Brody, (played with Oscar®-caliber style by Roy Scheider) receives a call that a girl has disappeared during a late-night swim, and is presumed drowned.  Instead, when her remains are found, it’s obvious that drowning wasn’t the cause of her death.  The initial ruling is death by shark attack, and Chief Brody rushes to close the beaches.

The town leaders however, mindful that news of a shark attack off Amity’s soon-to-be-crowded shore would kill the summer business that the town depends on, pressure the coroner to amend his report, and Brody to hold off closing the beach.  Instead, he’s allowed call for an expert from a nearby oceanographic institute to help determine if they do have a problem.  Before he can arrive however, there’s another attack:  a young boy dies as a result.  There’s no longer any doubt that a killer shark is feeding off the shores of Amity Island.  A bounty of $3,000 is placed on the shark; drawing would-be shark hunters from throughout New England.

Into this confusion arrives the shark expert, a man named Hooper (a superb performance from Richard Dreyfuss).  He quickly determines that the girl did indeed die from a shark attack, and that the shark would have to be a large one.  When a fishing boat returns with a seven-foot Tiger Shark aboard, the mayor’s quick to call it a successful hunt, and proclaim the crisis at an end.  Hooper’s not sure of this, and wants to examine the shark’s stomach; anything it had eaten recently would still be inside.  The mayor flatly refuses this; the idea of the corpse of a ten-year-old boy spilling out onto the pier for all to see in his mind.  Brody and Hooper wait until nightfall to perform the necropsy; there are no human remains in the shark’s belly.  It’s not the right fish.

Even when confronted with the proof that the killer shark is still out there, the town leaders refuse to cancel the 4th of July festivities.  Boats with armed men aboard are stationed off the beach, and helicopters keep watch from above.  Brody paces the shoreline, as thousands of bathers enjoy the beautiful summer day.
However, despite the precautions, the shark gets into a small tidal pond away from the beach, attacking two small boats and killing one man.  This finishes any pretense that there’s no crisis in Amity—the summer season has effectively ended.  No one’s going back into the water.  Brody demands that the mayor hire the one man who can hunt down and exterminate the beast—Quint (a third excellent performance from Robert Shaw), an embittered old shark fisherman, a man with a deep hatred of the animals.  The mayor agrees, and the three men—Brody, Hooper, and Quint—put out to sea the find and kill this monster.

As I outlined in “The Summer of the Shark” [see above], this movie was one that had a tremendous impact on me personally.  Certainly there had been movies before this that had frightened me; that was what I loved about Horror Films—that sensation of fear that would fade as the house lights came up.  But with JAWS, that fear was there to stay… and it came back with a vengeance every time I tried to go back into the ocean near my Florida home.

Any movie that’s that effective deserves to be celebrated, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment did a wonderful job of that on this DVD.  Though this year marks the 35th since the movie’s release, JAWS has lost none of its power and impact in that time; it still remains the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen.  Something tells me it always will.

DVD Review: THE LANDLORD

Title:  THE LANDLORD

Year of Release—Film:  2009

Year of Release—DVD:  2010

DVD Label:  Tempe Video



The third independent film up for review this month is Emil Hyde’s 2009 Horror-Comedy THE LANDLORD, written by Hyde, and starring Derek Dziak, Rom Barkhorder, Erin Myers, and Michelle Courvais.  The story concerns Tyler (Dziak), a Chicago landlord who runs the subdivided townhouse his sister Amy (Courvais) inherited from their parents, along with a pair of problem tenants.  However, these aren’t your normal difficult tenants.  It seems that Tyler’s parents were Satan-worshippers, and the tenants in question are a pair of demons named Rabisu and Lamashtu (Barkhorder and Lori Myers).

Though the pair leave Tyler alone, in part because they need his assistance, the same does not hold true for his human tenants.  The demons feed on human flesh, and the buildings other inhabitants are their primary food source.

Of course, this results in multiple missing persons cases, and almost constant police interest in the young owner of the property.  They’re convinced that Tyler is responsible for the disappearances, and only the lack of evidence, and the fact that Tyler’s sister is a police detective, have kept him free from arrest so far.

For his part, Tyler hates being in ‘partnership’, so to speak, with the evil beings, yet knows of no way to free himself of these bonds.  Rabisu, the male demon, is easy-going enough, at least for a flesh-eating angel of Hell who runs up Tyler’s credit cards with frequent purchases on the Shopping Channel.  Lamashtu however, better known as “… the queen of demons,” is another matter entirely.

Amy is no help in dealing with the two, as she has her own hands full.  Not only is she taking bribes from a gang of vampires in order to conceal their activities, but she and her partner Warren are carrying on an illicit affair.  Tyler is resigned to continue as always, as a virtual slave to the demons, until Donna (Erin Myers) moves in.  Suddenly, the landlord finds that he has a reason to challenge the demons, setting in motion a titanic struggle for the life of the innocent young woman.

The is the debut film for writer / director Hyde, and while there’s no confusing this film with a major studio production, it certainly is a good beginning for the young man.  IMDb.com lists the estimated budget for the movie at $22,000, and anyone who can produce—and distribute—a decent movie for less than the price of a new Chevy should certainly have a future in the business.  The script is good—not great, but it serves the purpose, and the plot manages to hang together.

The cast is adequate—they do well enough with the material they’re given, and, while no one truly shines, both Barkhorder and Courvais stand out from the crowd.  Barkhorder has a fine comedic delivery that works well with his character, and Courvais turns in the most convincing performance of the ensemble.

Fans of low-budget and independent film understand what they are in for when they pop a movie like THE LANDLORD into the player, and not only are they tolerant of its weaknesses, they actually find them enjoyable—as did I.  What many consider flaws, fans of the form see instead as “quirks,” the idiosyncrasies that make such films unique and memorable.  If you count yourself among the latter, then look for THE LANDLORD.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

DVD Review: PICKMAN'S MUSE

Title:  PICKMAN’S MUSE

Year of Release—Film:  2010

Year of Release—DVD:  2010

DVD Label:  Independently Distributed



When comparing the great masters of written horror, from Mary Shelley to Stephen King, it becomes readily apparent that some are more easily adapted to the screen than others are.  King, for example, is notoriously difficult to translate to the motion-picture format, even by King himself.  That is to say, “translate well.”  For every good King adaptation, there’s a score of not-so-good ones.

One author who does translate very well to the screen is H. P. Lovecraft, the first great 20th Century author of Fantastic fiction.  Lovecraft, whose mythological creations Chthulu and the Old Ones, demons and elder gods from a dark dimension, still inspire writers and filmmakers, was born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode island, and died a mere 47 years later, of intestinal cancer.

Of the wealth of stories that he wrote in those years, virtually all have been adapted, some several times, into movies.  Some have merely borrowed elements of the stories, such as Sam Raimi’s use of the Necronomicon, a creation of Lovecraft’s, for THE EVIL DEAD.  Some have shamelessly pilfered titles or the barest shreds of plot, such as Uwe Boll’s wretched ALONE IN THE DARK.  Some however, have made earnest, heartfelt efforts to bring his stories to the screen.  One of these latter is the new film from writer / director Robert Cappelletto, PICKMAN’S MUSE.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1890-1937
Based on the story “Haunter of the Dark,” the story concerns an artist named Robert Pickman (played very well by Barret Walz), who is under the care of a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist, Dr. Dexter (Maurice McNicholas), has grown exasperated with his patient, who makes no effort to connect with anyone else, not even the doctor.  He wants only his medications, and to be left alone to paint.  Semi-successful, he makes a decent living doing commission work, producing paintings to order for decorators.  His problem is that he’s blocked, unable to paint.  His agent tells him to take some time off, promising to stall his clients.

While combing through an abandoned church, sketching various aspects of it, he discovers a mysterious artifact, a pyramid-shaped object from which emanates waves of dark energy.  Upon returning home, he begins to hear voices, strange beings seen only as shadows on his window, talking to him.  Unconsciously, he starts to paint.  And what he paints is an image of abject horror, as though it were an eyewitness view of Hell.
Though I’m unfamiliar with anyone connected to this project (with the exception of Lovecraft himself), they have done a spectacular job working on what could only be a very low budget.  The script is excellent, translating the suspense and horror of the original into the cinematic form, and Cappelletto’s direction is competent and solid.  Cappelletto also photographed it, and here as well his work is good; professional, proficient—not great, not innovative, but it serves the purposes of the story very well.

The cast, as is true with any level of production, is the weak link in the chain, and this is one area where the movie lets the viewer down.  As I stated earlier, Barret Walz is very good in the lead role, as is Tom Lodewyck as Goodie Hines, a lunatic also under Dr. Dexter’s care, one who shares an important connection with Pickman.  Maurice McNicholas, as the good doctor, is adequate but a bit prone to histronics; his performance isn’t terrible, but neither will it impress the viewer.  The rest of the supporting cast is about what one would expect from a low-budget production, and those who enjoy such films will not find them much of a detriment.

As a confirmed fan of both low-budget Indie Horror, and the writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, I must say that I am pleased at the recent resurgence in interest in his work.  Lovecraft’s writings have an economy of style, a sparseness that translates well to the motion-picture form.  His horrors are psychological, and his creatures indescribable, unimaginable.  This works in the favor of low-budget filmmakers, who would lack the resources to create convincing monsters the likes of which inhabit the Lovecraftian universe.  Wisely, Cappelletto doesn’t try to show us the creatures haunting Pickman.  As producer Val Lewton best demonstrated nearly 70 years ago, the viewer’s imaginations will fill in the dark voids that the filmmaker leaves us.

As is the case with many low-budget films that lack a major distribution deal, it may be difficult to track this DVD down.  Please, if you’re a fan of Lovecraft, or appreciate good-quality independent filmmaking, don’t be deterred from looking for it.  It can be found at Amazon.com, and at Robert Cappelletto’s MySpace page.  I enthusiastically recommend you look for it.

The Unimonster's Crypt Screening Room: WANDERLOST

Title:  WANDERLOST

Date of Theatrical Release:  2009

MPAA Rating:  Unrated Festival Version



[Ed. note:  At the recent Famous Monsters Convention in Indianapolis (see my Convention write-up above), this film from director / co-writer / producer David Kabler was one of the features selected for screening.  Due to a prior commitment, I was unable to attend the screening, so the filmmaker was kind enough to provide the Crypt with a copy of the film for review.  I would like to express my sincere appreciation for this kindness, which allows me to bring this review to my readers.]

One of the advantages of low-budget, independent filmmaking is just that: it’s independent.  The filmmaker, freed from the restraints of corporate oversight and the need to balance artistic imagination with commercial appeal, is able to give free rein to that imagination, and bring his unique vision to the screen—within the limits of his resources, of course.

The end result is frequently an intensely personal film, one that reflects the artist’s own hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares.  And the consequence of this is that not everyone will enjoy the film, or feel that it has a personal message for them.  That’s not a negative—these films aren’t designed to appeal to the mass market.  But when such a film does connect with a viewer, then the filmmaker’s vision is fully realized.

WANDERLOST is a surreal, bizarre journey through a nightmare world, one characterized by a ruined and decaying urban landscape.  The central figure is a drifter, traveling across country by hopping railroad freight cars.  His existence by its very nature is a solitary one, and one gathers that that is by choice.  Through flashbacks, the viewer is made aware of the character’s painful childhood as the victim of repeated, ritualized abuse.

Frequent cutaways introduce the viewer to other characters, each of whom seem to exist in a world apart from the others.  One of these is a graffiti artist who we watch as he creates an image on a brick wall.  He says nothing, simply stands at the wall creating his art.

There’s very little more I can say to describe the plot of the movie; not for fear of divulging too much, but because, quite frankly, I’m not sure there is a plot.  The film is visually equivalent to free-form verse; a series of random vignettes connected tenuously by a thread of horrific imagery.  Filmed in Asheville, North Carolina, it’s very well done from a technical viewpoint, and the photography, by co-writer Daniel Judson, is excellent.  Artistically, it serves very well the bleak, blighted mood of the piece, as does the various urban locations.  Kabler did a superb job designing the production to emphasize the isolation and alienation of the lead character, and on an emotional level, the film is quite successful at evoking the desired responses from the audience.

However, I’m someone who prefers some degree of linear reality to films.  While I can appreciate the artistic vision behind the film, and the quality of the execution of that vision, that alone is not enough to entertain me.  I need a story.  I’m a writer—words are my medium.  They are, in the final analysis, what I relate to, what I understand the best.  If the story doesn’t captivate me, then the most beautifully filmed, professionally produced movie is nothing more than a beautiful failure.  I wish that I could say otherwise about WANDERLOST.  Unfortunately, I can’t.

But that is merely my personal opinion of the film.  And, as I stated before, that’s the advantage of Indie films, and one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the form.  It doesn’t need to appeal to the masses; it succeeds, or fails, on an individual basis.  It’s art, not commerce, and just because it failed with the Unimonster means nothing if it succeeds with you.

To the best of my knowledge, there’s yet to be a DVD release announced for the film, so the best option for finding it is to go direct to the source and contact Kabler through his web-site, http://www.WANDERLOSTfilm.com.  So do what I did, and judge this film for yourself.  You may share my opinion.  You may not.  But how will you know unless you try it?

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER

Title:  BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER

Year of Release—Film:  1965



Surf!  Sand!  Sun!  Summer fun in the form of gyrating teens wiggling their bikini-clad bottoms at each other and at the camera.  Sound like the highly popular and profitable AIP Beach movies of the 60's?  Hardly!  While there are all of the above, we also have a monster who loves nothing more than slaughtering the surfing teens.

 Richard Lindsay (Arnold Lessing) lives with his oceanographer father Dr. Otto Lindsay (Jon Hall) and the doctor's second wife Vickie (Sue Casey), a cold bitch with a wandering eye.  Also in the house is artist Mark (Walker Edmiston) who was hurt in a car accident with teen Richard and now walks with a pronounced limp.  Dr. Otto has Richard's life all planned out for him.  He will follow in his father's footsteps.  However, Richard, grateful to be alive after the car accident, wants only to party on the beach with his newfound surfing buddies, and cuddle with his beach-bunny girlfriend Jane (Elaine DuPont).

 One day, a couple of teens wander off to have some romantic time away from the group and the girl half of this team is brutally killed by the monster.  The cops are called but can offer no explanation so a plaster cast of the monster's foot print is taken to Dr. Otto for examination who is convinced that it's a mutated carnivorous "fantigua fish" grown to gigantic proportions.  He seems unconcerned so the teens go back to dancing in the sand.

 Meanwhile, Vickie comes on to her stepson and is rudely rejected.  So, she, too, goes for a swim, narrowly eluding the grip of the monster.  Later, she rejects her husband's romantic gestures and leaves to party with another man at her side.  Meanwhile, the teens are lounging on the beach listening to a corny song sung by a lion hand puppet operated by the world's worst ventriloquist.  Richard and Jane kiss dispassionately.  The other teens pair off and wander into the darkness leaving behind one victim...er...teen boy who is immediately killed by the monster.  Mark, who advances have just been rejected by Vickie, sees the attack and limps to help but is too late.  However, he's immediately suspected of having committed the crime and is arrested.

Teens dance endlessly to bad 60's rock music while the monster continues to bump them off one at a time.  Mark, clearly innocent, is released from jail.  A drunken Vickie is trapped in the house by the monster and savagely mauled.  Richard comes to her defense and stabs the monster in its side.  Clutching its wounds, the monster falls to the floor dislodging its rubber full-head mask to reveal Dr. Otto's face.  Dr. Otto jumps in his car to escape and is followed by a frantic Richard and Jane.  After a spectacularly bad rear-projection car chase, Dr. Otto misses a curve in the road and plunges to his death.  The end.

AIP/ TV began to produce made-for-TV movies and TV shows in 1964 and this is one of its first efforts.  Directed by and starring actor/ director Jon Hall who had made a name for himself in the early fifties TV series RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE, this would be his only directorial effort.  If this movie is any example, we should all be thankful for that!  It comes off as no more than a sodium-free HORROR OF PARTY BEACH!  Same silly teen songs, same stupid comedic efforts, same bad acting and script.  And, if you thought the hot dog monster from HORROR OF PARTY BEACH was laughable, wait till you get a look at Dr. Otto in his rubber monster suit!  This is 70 minutes of my life I won't get back.

  My advice is that if you are looking for some summer fun in the sand, stick to the far superior Beach series starring Annette and Frankie.

MSTJunkie