Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Giant Behemoth!

Let me begin by saying that despite its many flaws, The Giant Behemoth is a longtime favorite monster movie of mine. One of Eugene Lourie's trio of monster movies (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Gorgo being the other two), this one is the least effective of the three. But that doesn't mean it is totally lacking in charms.

The story begins in Cornwall where a fisherman dies after coming into contact with some mysterious radioactive source. American scientist Steve Carnes (Gene Evans, who usually played tough guys and not leads) gets involved along with Professor James Bickford (Andre Morrell, famous as Professor Quatermass) and they investigate. The early parts of this languid tale follow these two as they progress through the mystery a step at a time.

Eventually they discover that a giant aquatic reptile is the source of the deadly radiation and they further suspect the creature is a threat to London. Soon the "Behemoth" attacks and stomps through the city. This is thanks to stop-motion animation produced, at least in part by Willis O'Brien, the man behind King Kong and other stop-motion classics.

It's a pretty standard monster movie. Dour and serious scientists try to learn the secrets to stop the threat of a prehistoric threat. Given that it's a British film, I expect a certain amount of cool reserve in how the story is told, most British sci-fi I've seen places a big premium on discussion and slowly build to the climax as the secrets are revealed one by one. This movie is no different and is lucky to have some strong veteran actors around to keep the story rooted while the mystery unfolds.

On my most recent viewing of this movie, I "enhanced" it with a commentary track by special effects mavens Dennis Murren and Phil Tippett. Their contribution to the movie was a wanton disaster. These two apparently wandered into the recording having done almost no research on the movie and were there solely to "analyze" the special effects which don't really show up until the last reel. Meanwhile we are treated to the murmurings of two hooligans as they complain about how the movie is one time-wasting maneuver after another. They never talk about the acting, rarely discuss the direction, have no knowledge of the studio, and spend time taking about other special effects in other movies while key scenes wander beneath their noses with information they later complain about missing. I've listened to some bad commentaries in my time, but this one is the first which made me angry. It was disrespectful to the movie, its creators and showed only that these two experts were hardly that, and lazy to boot.

That aside, it was neat to see this spectacle again. I personally like the reserve of these movies which build slowly to their reveals. It adds to the drama, something the special effects hounds seem to dismiss as ancillary to the moments of cool stop motion. Sheesh, talk about missing the point. I wish the Behemoth would crush their car for a change.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman!

Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman is a fun old-fashioned B-movie, maybe the quintessential B-movie. Starring Allison Hayes and the vivacious Yvette Vickers, this movie a true sci-fi soap opera.

The story begins when a rich woman (Hayes) (she owns a very large diamond) suspects her derelict husband (William Hudson) of philandering. Her suspicions are true, and further the woman has a pretty severe drinking problem. So one night while looking for her wandering spouse she sees a glowing globe from which emerges a space giant who terrifies her when he reaches for her throat. (He wants the diamond which can apparently power his ship.)

No one believes her since she is such a lush. But she and her hubby go looking again and find the giant, the hubby then abandons his wife to the giant's mercies. He runs back to his floosie girlfriend (Vickers) and the two decide to skip town. Meanwhile the woman shows up back at home unconscious and in the process of becoming a giant. Doctors attempt to treat her and the sheriff investigates and finds the space ship. But all this comes to naught when the woman goes on a rampage looking for her philandering husband and seeks revenge on her female rival.

The movie is surprisingly well acted, and a strong cast can save even the most ludicrous premise. Any yarn, no matter how outlandish can be made credible if the people delivering the story sell it. And these folks do, in spades. That's what makes this one rise above the limited special effects and the low budget. It's a story that resonates, it's weird but it resonates.

I happened to watch the movie this time with a pretty decent commentary by Tom Weaver and Yvette Vickers. The latter offered up some great stories and was exceedingly pleasant throughout. Actors are usually awful on these things, but Vickers was great. 

Highly recommended.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Queen Of Outer Space!

Let me be blunt. Queen of Outer Space is a pretty tiresome movie. It's colorful at times and shiny in moments, but seems painfully to be about almost nothing at all, most especially adventure.

The story begins when a team of hearty Earth rocketeers are sent to a space station which gets blown up by a mysterious ray emanating from the planet Venus. The team crash land on Venus to discover a society of gorgeous dames ruled by a masked harridan, the titular Queen of Outer Space, who seeks to destroy the Earth just as she did the space station. Some of the society disagree and help the spacemen. After considerable running around the day is saved.

Zsa Zsa Gabor portrays the head of the opposition group which helps leading man Eric Fleming and his space crew of familiar Hollywood faces try and oppose the evil Queen. She's beautiful, but like almost every other chick in this flick, comes across as mostly concerned with appearance.

This movie is fundamentally bone-headed. The action, limited to interior sets, is listless and scene after scene drags on minutes longer than they should. This is a totally pointless movie, but sadly they take a very long time to reveal that.

I cannot recommend this movie at all. 

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Phantom Sallies Phorth!

Hermes Press which has been releasing Phantom reprints for some years now has just announced that they are publishing some new Phantom adventures later this year. That's fantastic as the artwork is supplied by the awesome Sal Velluto, one of the finest artists of recent years, a guy with a lush vivid style. Here's the news bulletin:

"The Phantom returns to comic books with Hermes Press!  Starting in September, Hermes Press will begin the release of an all-new, six part mini-series featuring the classic Ghost Who Walks, helmed by super-star writer Peter David with artwork by seasoned veteran and Phantom chronicler extraordinaire Sal Velluto.

Hermes Press Publisher Daniel Herman observed that, “When we asked King Features to allow us to build on the mythos of The Phantom we were clear that we wanted to expand the canon of one of comics’ greatest legends by embracing the character and his history, and by building on it.  We want to create new stories that Lee Falk would be proud of!”

Herman said that the selection of Peter David was the obvious choice as he is a well known fan of the strip and understands its mythos.  David has written extensively for comic books for over twenty-five years, as well as for television and film. He is currently hard at work creating a story arc that fans won’t want to miss.

David pointed out that, “I’ve been a huge Phantom fan for years, and even had the chance to work on him for DC many years ago.  I’m thrilled that Daniel approached me about this series and I’m taking the opportunity to produce a story I’ve literally been thinking about for a couple of decades.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing Sal’s pencils and putting the book out there for the fans.”

Velluto is also hard at work crafting the art for issue #1.  “This will be a classic story that will attract both fans and those who have yet to enjoy the adventures of The Phantom,” he commented.

Issue #1 will be solicited in August Previews and will hit comic shops boasting two covers by Velluto as well as variants by seasoned Phantom artists Alex Saviuk and Graham Nolan.  A special poster created by Velluto will also be released at the San Diego Comic-Con to mark the new series.

“For the last five years Hermes Press has published reprints of Lee Falk’s classic comic strip together with our comprehensive reprint series of the Gold Key, King, and Charlton Comics adventures of The Phantom—now we’ll have the opportunity to add to that material with original comic books,” Herman said, adding, “We couldn’t be more excited and we think fans will be too.”

I have no idea how this affects Dynamite's work with the Phantom character. He was most recently part of their King's Watch storyline, but that has shifted its focus on just Flash Gordon for now. Curious indeed.

Here's a glimpse of the greatness Velluto brings to the "Ghost Who Walks" with some outstanding covers from Sweden's Egmont "Fantomen" series:

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Arrow Strikes!

Mort Todd graciously sent me a copy of the debut issue of The Charlton Arrow, that most rare of comic book items, a new comic featuring some of Charlton's greatest characters. I gleefully snapped open the package and got down to some joyful reading.

The first story by Paul Kupperbert with art by Rick Stasi and others is the first "Action Heroes" story in quite a few years. Of course since DC owns those characters now, the storytellers here had to be rather vague about who the atomic Captain was exactly in this offbeat sequel to "Showdown in Sunuria", the final Charlton Captain Atom story, originally published in Charlton Bullseye. The story also gives us glimpses of Yang, Gunmaster, and Willie Schultz.

Then we have the first chapter in a story featuring some of Charlton's vintage nurses, and the men they seek to heal. It's a hoot with the promise of more "romance" and hijinks. Also featured is a story by Lou Mougin with art by Mort Todd featuring a virtual armada of classic Charlton "Ghost Hosts". Dr. M.T.Graves, I.M. Dedd, Baron Weirwulf, Colonel Whiteshroud, Mort Tishin, Mr.Bones, The Old Witch, Winnie the Witch, Professor Coffin, Impy, Baroness Von Bludd, and many more suchlike have to deal with the aftermath of cancellation.

John Byrne submits a new poster shot of the Doomsday+1 crew (see above, but in the magazine it's in beauteous full color). Booksteve shows up with an article on vintage Charlton western stars. Johnny Love returns in an adventure or roadside romance and danger. There's even a delightful poster of a character who due to legal limitations might be called "Not-Kwite-Korg".

But the highlight of the volume for yours truly was the awesome story of Pat Boyette's Spookman. This time written by Roger McKenzie and drawn fantastically by Sandy Carruthers. No mere yarn of pleasurable nostalgia this, but a rock solid story of horror. There's more of this one to come in the next issue of The Charlton Arrow. I need to pre-order mine immediately.

All in all a frothy and fun package which I'm sure I'll read again and again.Thanks to all who made it possible.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Men Of War!

It's a miserable thing to note that the Veteran's Administration scandal tops the headlines this Memorial Day. What's most awful about it is not just the avoidable suffering which vets are subjected to, but the utter predictability of this debacle. It is completely the American way to dive headlong into overseas conflicts with gusto but then yearn to forget those conflicts with equal gusto including the men and women who fight them for us. We've done it before, we're doing it now, and regrettably we will do it again in the future I have little doubt. They deserve better; we can do better; we must do better. 

DC Comics published more than a few highly entertaining war comics which romanticized and sensationalized presentations of conflicts, most well in the past. One of the last to be added to that roster of fine titles was Men of War which originally co-featured Enemy Ace, the WWI German pilot with a conscience and introduced Gravedigger, the most unusual of war characters, a man of color. Captain Ulysses Hazard waged a one-man war during WWII, a war which still suffered the stigma officially sanctioned racism and segregated units. The feature was created by David Michelinie and artist Ed Davis who also did the debut cover.  Also featured was "Dateline: Frontline", a feature about war correspondent Wayne Clifford created by Cary Burkett.

The series featured typically evocative covers by Joe Kubert and some exceedingly muscular art by Dick Ayers on Gravedigger. Jerry Grandenetti did the artwork for the "Dateline:Frontline" feature as well as a later feature titled "Rosa Master Spy" written by Paul Kupperberg, some excellent stuff indeed.
Here are the covers.

This series was reprinted in its totality in a recent Showcase volume, a real bargain.

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