Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Creature Chronicles: The Black Lagoon Trilogy, a review

The Creature Chronicles – Exploring The Black Lagoon Trilogy - By Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg. (McFarland, 2018) McFarland's website is here. Order line: 800-253-2187. (Amazon link is here.)

Review by Steve D. Stones
Any die hard fan of The Creature From The Black Lagoon and its two sequels will find The Creature Chronicles, by Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg, to be a book of exhaustive reference and research to all things related to the trilogy of films. Lots of photographs, interviews, and biographies of actors and production crew fill the 394-page book. Everything you could ever what to know about the Gill Man can be found in this treasure trove of a book. The information contained in this book is absolutely overwhelming and detailed.

A wonderful introduction to the book was written by actress Julie Adams, who plays the shapely Kay Lawrence in the film. Adams mentions her love of classic horror films as a child, such as the time she saw Frankenstein (1931) in her home state of Arkansas. Adams saw her role in The Creature From The Black Lagoon as just another paying acting job and didn't think the film would go on to be regarded as a great classic some sixty-plus years later. Many of Adams' experiences of starring in The Creature From The Black Lagoon are documented in this book and her autobiography – The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From The Black Lagoon (2009).

Producer William Alland attended a party at Orson Welles' home in 1940, where he revealed his idea for “The Sea Monster,” which was an early treatment for The Creature From The Black Lagoon. The story was obviously borrowed from King Kong (1933) and the silent classic – The Lost World (1925).

Creature Chronicles shows the many treatments the story and script went through before it was filmed and delivered to the screen. While producer Alland and director Jack Arnold were making It Came From Outer Space (1953), the script for The Creature From The Black Lagoon was being adapted and refined. In the first treatment by Maurice Zimm, the creature is referred to as “Pisces Man.” By the time the film was made, the creature is referred to as “Gill Man.”

Several writers wrote their own treatment of the story, as the book points out. Harry Essex was one of the writers who contributed a treatment. Both he and Arthur Ross contributed to the final script that made its way to the screen. Director Jack Arnold tried to take a lot of credit for the script, but Ross and Essex claim he contributed nothing to the final draft used in the film.

Plans to shoot The Creature From The Black Lagoon in color were being considered, but never came to fruition. Producer William Alland admitted many years later that The Creature From The Black Lagoon, along with other Jack Arnold-directed films such as Tarantula (1955), would have looked better in color. I happen to disagree with this analysis. The black and white treatment of Arnold's films, particularly The Creature From The Black Lagoon, give a look and feel that is unique for the time in which they were filmed in the 1950s.

It's interesting to note that the book points out that buxom brunette beauty Allison Hayes did a test screening for the role of Helen Dobson in the sequel - Revenge of The Creature (1955). The role was given to blonde actress Lori Nelson, who was barely out of her teens at the time she took the role.

Being a big fan of Hayes, I would have liked to see her in the Helen role, although I'm not sure the chemistry between her and actor John Agar as Professor Clete Ferguson, the animal trainer, would be very convincing. In my opinion, Hayes is a much better actress than Nelson. Although I have to admit that I do like Nelson in Hot Rod Girl (1956).

A critic of Agar once said: “I have to confess that John Agar was never one of my favorites. He always seemed . . . well, a little goofy. The awkward, stiff smile looked forced.” Revenge of The Creature was Agar's first science-fiction film. Agar also appeared in many other 1950s cult classics, such as Tarantula (1955), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Invisible Invaders (1959).

I've always considered the third film, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), to be the weakest of the three entries. This is usually the case in any trilogy of films. I've always found it a bit silly and bizarre that the creature at one point in the film walks around in what appears to be prison clothes or pajamas. It just doesn't seem to work. The design of the gill man in this film greatly deviates from the original design by sculptor Millicent Patrick used in the first film. The earliest design of the gill man was jokingly referred to as “The Pollywag,” and was later rejected for the Patrick design that we see on screen.

If you're a fan of The Creature From The Black Lagoon and its sequels, I highly recommend the book Creature Chronicles – Exploring The Black Lagoon Trilogy. The photographs in this book alone are worth the price of the book. Happy Reading.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ron Ormond and his hellfire and damnation films

I like the Mormon definition of hell. It’s called Sons of Perdition, which to me has always sounded like a sequel to the Laurel & Hardy film “Sons of the Desert.” We keep the criteria for Sons of Perdition very vague. To get in there, someone has to fight against the gospel while having a clear knowledge of the truth. That sort of closes the gates of Mormon hell to everyone who has lived on earth except for Cain and Judas.

Originally published at StandardNET

What hell is like is an obsession for a lot of us out there. My brain is fried from watching a bunch of southern evangelical films of the early 1970s from the late Ron Ormond, who went from making cheap science fiction films in the 1950s, to making tame “adult” films in the 1960s to make “hell, fire and brimstone” evangelical films in the 1970s.
Dig these titles: “The Burning Hell,” “The Grim Reaper,”(with a young, buttery Rev. Jerry Falwell!)  and “If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?” (The last one also includes commies as well as Christian-haters). It’s easy to ridicule these films. They basically have the same plot: Some people, mostly young, scorn Christianity and the warnings of real, burning hell that resembles Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” One of the unbelievers has the bad luck to die — usually in a wreck. The camera then lingers lovingly for scores of minutes on the eternal tortures and miseries of the good old boy(s) who were earlier scorning God. Eventually, one of the unbelievers who is still alive wanders into a church. He listens to a Southern-fried preacher (in two of the films the preacher is played by a real preacher, the delightfully named Estus W. Pirkle). The climax of the film involves the disbeliever being so swayed by the Reverend Pirkle, and so afraid of hell, that he/she is born again and saved. It’s too late for the dead sinners, though, they keep burning forever.
The idea of the hell envisioned by Ormond and Pirkle still carries a lot of strength. The “Left Behind” series of books, which has sold 70 million-plus copies, imagines a post-Rapture where millions are consigned to a burning hell after prolonged suffering on earth. Today’s Islamic radicals consider the victims of their terrorism as “infidels,” and consign them to an eternal hell of suffering. And I recall watching a feature film on one of the SLC area TV evangelical channels, “Final Exit,” in which a woman murdered by a serial killer burns eternally in hell due to her promiscuous lifestyle. Her killer, however, due to a pre-execution conversion to Christ, is welcomed into heaven.
These depictions of hell, and what some people believe God will do to his children, are appalling. It is a doctrine in opposition to God’s love for his children and, in regards to Christianity, it also mocks the suffering of Jesus Christ. This point merits expansion. Though Mormons are taught that Jesus Christ suffered far more in the Garden of Gethsemane than on the cross being crucified, the traditional viewpoint is that Christ’s, or God’s, atonement was achieved in part through the pain he experienced being crucified.
However, in these movies a mortal’s post-earthly existence in hell is forever, which includes eternal suffering, usually by burning, that of course never ends. The obvious question: why would God wish his children to suffer more pain than Christ himself suffered on the cross? To take this doctrine is to worship a vengeful God, the opposite of love and charity.
The absoluteness of this doctrine is evil. If one does not accept Christ in the same manner of someone else, that individual is consigned to an eternal punishment in hell. Taken to its absurd conclusions, the vengeful God that hell-believers worship would consign to eternal torture an infinite amount of devout Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, and so on, who reject the entreaties of those who see only a narrow passage to heaven and a vengeful God punishing those who don’t “dot their i’s or cross their t’s.”
To sum up, to teach of any ‘hell’ with endlessly burning sinners is misguided. This doctrine hangs around still (has anyone been to an evangelical “hell house” for Halloween?) and it will always hang around. But as time goes, there are less adherents fooled, frightened by it.
(If anyone wants to watch those bizarre evangelical southern films from Ron Ormond and the Rev. Estus W. Pirkle, they’re available on that repository of culture, YouTube.  ”The Grim Reaper” is here and “The Burning Hell” is here. “If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do is here.)

-- Doug Gibson

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Early Universal: Secret of the Blue Room

By Doug Gibson

Secret of the Blue Room, 1933, 66 minutes, black and white. Universal. Directed by Kurt Neumann. Starring Lionel Atwill as Robert von Helldorf, Gloria Stuart as Irene von Helldorf, Paul Lukas as Captain Walter Brink, Edward Arnold as Commissioner Forster, Onslow Stevens as Frank Faber and William Janney as Thomas Brandt. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 stars out of 10.

The “stars” of the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 1940s are “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man” and so on. But dozens of horror mysteries were churned out by the studio over 15 years, and some are gems have been mostly forgotten. “Secret of the Blue Room,” a $69,000 programmer, a locked-room mystery thriller, is one forgotten gem. 

The tight-as-a-drum plot involves five persons gathered together in a Hungarian castle. They are wealthy castle owner Robert von Helldorf (Atwill), his daughter, Irene (Stuart), and her three suitors, Captain Walter Brink (Lukas), reporter Frank Faber (Stevens), and younger Thomas Brandt (Janney), who is most emotional about his love for Irene. He rashly proposes to her, an offer she kindly deflects. The conversation leads to the castle’s “Blue Room,” a locked bedroom where three murders occurred 20 years earlier. Apparently, anyone who stays in the room dies. 

The three suitors, egged on by Brandt, agree to spend nights in the Blue Room as a means of proving their love to Irene. Naturally, a disappearance and murder mystery develops. Besides the main plot, there is a mysterious stranger who one of the castle’s servants sometimes shelters. Veteran character actor Arnold (“You Can’t Take It With You,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”), provides an excellent supporting role as a police commissioner who investigates the crimes in the Blue Room.

The film doesn’t have an ounce of fat to it and moves quickly. The plot twists and eventual resolution are very well-paced. Atwill, who had yet to bloat up, is at his best in this low-budget offering. Perhaps understanding it is more mystery than horror, he underplays his role, rather than be a ham (which he could be). Stuart’s Irene is yes, the same Gloria Stuart who would play the elderly Rose in “Titanic” 64 years later. Hungarian Paul Lukas is superb with his continental manners as dashing Irene suitor Captain Brink with a hint of mystery. It’s a role that also could have been handled by Universal star Bela Lugosi, but the small budget likely provided the opportunity for Lukas. 

“Secret of the Blue Room” has a lot of old-castle, stormy, windy weather atmosphere. It was made a little while after “The Old Dark House,” a high-budget Universal horror/comedy directed by James Whale. It looks as if some of the sets from “Old Dark House” were used in this film. Director Kurt Neumann is no Whale but he is smart enough to keep the pace fast, allow the plot twists to move smoothly, and keep the cast under control. This film can be watched via YouTube and it’s a perfect late-night cinema treat on a cold night with a hot beverage. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Godzilla versus Monster Zero review

Godzilla versus Monster Zero, 1965, directed by Ishiro Honda, color, 93 minutes. Starring Nick Adams as Astronaut Glenn, Akira Takarada as Astronaut K. Fuji, Yoshio Tsuchiya as Controller of Planet X and Kumi Mizuno as Miss Namikawa. Schlock-meter rating: Eight and one-half stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

This is an extremely enjoyable, very campy monster-fest with shoddy but fun special effects as Godzilla and Rodan team up to defeat Monster Zero (also known as Ghidorah) and thwart the plans of the controller and the rest of the evil baddies who rule Planet X in a galaxy far, far away. Also, vampy Asian Kumi Mizuno plays a semi-robot spy who gets the hots for mumbling Nick Adams, the Marlon Brando of low budget shockers.

As is often the case with these wonderfully kitschy Japanese monster films, the plot seems to have been hatched out after an all-night mushroom party. Astronauts Adams and Takarada explore Planet X. There, they are told that Monster Zero threatens that planet and Godzilla and Rodan are needed on loan to beat him. The Planet Xers, to get Earth to help, offer a cure for all diseases as a swap for the muscle-bound monsters. Earth agrees but after the monsters are delivered, the baddies of Planet X pull a fast one, telling earthlings that unless they agree to be colonized, the three monsters will destroy Earth.

Chaos results with lots of stock footage of wars and riots. All looks grim, but eventually hard-working scientists learn that a recently invented tinny sound can render the Planet X baddies insensible; also an electronic ray is invented to free Godzilla and Rodan from the computerized clutches of the Planet Xers, who are controlled by computers themselves.

The dubbing is surprisingly well done in the American version on AMC. Adams' Jersey persona is in great form as he utters lines like "dirty double crossers," "you rats," and even "baby!" during his romance with the spy Mizuno's Miss Namikawa. Notes: Adams and Mizuno were briefly lovers off the screen. They also starred together in Frankenstein Conquers the World. In 1968, Adams, who had once been nominated for an Academy Award before his career slipped, died of a drug overdose.