Friday, October 25, 2019

Scripts from the Crypt

Those of you familiar with the old Magic Image script reprints, which oftentimes reprinted early drafts of film scripts for Universal Studios horror movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man, which included lengthy production history of the movies, you will be pleased to know that while the publishing company ceased over a decade ago, similar efforts have been in production courtesy of Tom Weaver and Bear Manor Media. Now known under the byline "Scripts from the Crypt," a series of books have been published (and continue to be published) to provide a similar service. Avoiding repetition of the prior Universal Studios offerings, Tom has been devoting his time preserving the more obscure and lesser known gems of vintage horror/science fiction.

"The series was born after the number of times I stood in front of my file cabinets of monster stuff -- clippings, photos, scripts, arranged alphabetically by title -- and I kinda idly wondered what will happen to it all after I am gone. Not that I am overly concerned, my files do not contain a lot of one-of-a-kind stuff. But then I realized, 'Oh yes they do. I've got a bunch of scripts of indie movies that might be the only copy in the world.' So I thought I could give them to a New York library or a university, they they would probably end up in the basement for fifty years and then get thrown away. Maybe a California library or university? Nah, the Big One would hit and the collection would all be at the bottom of the ocean. The only things in my collection that I figured would die with me were those scripts."

With understanding that when someone passes away, a library burns, Tom Weaver began pulling out the film scripts and organizing a project that has grown into a monster (no pun intended). "I thought the series should start with a bang so the first one became Robert Clarke's The Hideous Sun Demon, because I had two scripts for that movie. One was an early draft that was nothing like the eventual movie, and the second script that is like the movie. I thought that those two scripts, with a lot of stills and bonus material, it might be a fun project. So I went the extra mile on that one and filled it with a lot of still nobody had ever seen, and a production history of the movie. I went out and interviewed several behind-the-scenes personnel I otherwise would never have talked to and I got one of the female leads, Nan Peterson, to write something for it. Gary D. Rhodes wrote a piece about the movie's Texas world premiere and even transcribed an interview that Robert Clarke and Nan Peterson did in front of the drive-in audience that evening. The book became a behemoth."

The book sold so well that it became the first in an on-going series of books reprinting film scripts not available anywhere else. Tom Weaver, however, is not the only author who has become victim of the "cleaning the files" syndrome. Many authors who were responsible for dozens of books over the last three or four decades have, over the past few years, found either the well running dry or a necessity to clean out the house. Decades of research will always accumulate in filing cabinets and banker boxes, leading to an excess of material that puts good folks like Tom into a situation: how to get the information out publicly and avoid a trip to the dumpster. Many libraries have established a reputation for burying their donations -- not enough interns and little (if any) budget to accommodate. Collections tend to gather dust for lengthy periods of time until they are finally processed for scholarly access. Thanks to Bear Manor Media, who ensured a reasonable price to cover the cost of printing and production, Tom's project has reached its ninth volume. And there appears to be no signs of stopping.

The second book was one of Tom Weaver's favorites, The Indestructible Man. "The production history was interesting because the movie mysteriously went in and out of production, and the first ending they shot was mostly junked. I was never able to solve the mystery of why so much of it had to be re-shot. The people I'd interviewed over the years only remember that was what happened. I even found out that the movie might have been inspired by a true story." The third book, Bride of the Gorilla, gave Tom an excuse to write about the history of Realart Pictures, and Greg Mank an opportunity to write about Lon Chaney, Jr.'s career.

Gary D. Rhodes jumped back on board with Bride of the Monster, then provide some lost scripts of his own: a pair of scripts that Ed Wood wrote for Bela Lugosi that never went into production. That became Ed Wood and the Lost Lugosi Screenplays, reprinting "The Vampire's Tomb" and "The Ghoul Goes West." Fans of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Bride of the Monster will enjoy that book, which also contains some background material about these films that never existed.

One afternoon Tom Weaver's phone rang and he found himself talking to a woman who explained that her father was the producer of a short-lived TV production known as The Veil, which starred Boris Karloff. Only 12 half-hour episodes were produced but never telecast. She explained that her father had since passed away but she had a bunch of scripts from the series. Naturally, this formed another book of scripts and during an archeological digging Tom found someone who had scripts for The Veil that were never filmed. 

Among the highlights is a book reprinting a script for The Brute Man, the final film starring Rondo Hatton. He made the Universal backlot his personal prey ground and attained B-movie stardom at the very end of his life playing The Creeper, a character that appeared in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death (1944), House of Horrors (1946) and The Brute Man (1946). Physically deformed, he found himself employed at the studios as a hideous-looking murderer and has since gained stardom with an annual award named after him. Besides production and theatrical release information about Hatton's last film, and a wonderful tribute by George Chastain on other "brute men" in the movies, there is an 80-page Rondo Hatton biography that will knock your socks off.

At the last two conventions I attended, I could not help but observe how people passed these volumes by without a second glance. For the very few that paused to smell the roses and looked closely, flipping through the pages and reading the back covers, it was obvious that they were both surprised and pleased. It is my hope that this blog post helps a number of people avoid overlooking these treasures (and if you are reading this, you now know about them). You can find all of the "Scripts from the Crypt" books on and at, but keep an eye out for additional volumes as they get published. These are the type of books that keep fans of classic horror and science-fiction movies looking forward to year after year.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Chucky Makes A Return to DVD

After seven horror movies (three well-made horror movies followed by four dreadful black humor comedies), the Child's Play franchise had no other option than to route for a remake. Updated to fit the 21st century, the voodoo aspect of body switching from the original classic was upgraded to artificial intelligence which could jump around courtesy of wi-fi access. Here, Chucky is the brainchild of a disgruntled factory worker who removes safety protocols (as if a toy company would have created such features in the software in the first place). When young Andy happens to own the very doll that attempts to replicate artificial intelligence, murder ensues. 

As a child I enjoyed watching the movies when they first came out in theaters. (After the third film, however, I jumped the shark because it was not the same. The producers knew this as the original titles (Child's Play 2 and Child's Play 3) were now Seed of Chucky, Cult of Chucky, etc. For this new rendition it was my hope the franchise reverted back to the original concept. True, there are a number of great horror scenes including a graphic slice on a table saw. Also promising was the budget maintained low enough to ensure the reboot exceeded profit expectations, especially when you consider the almost-unknown cast hired to perform their duties sufficiently in front of the camera. Mark Hamill supplies voice to Chucky, the Buddi doll that goes berserk. But the flaw with this movie, to my disappointment, is the doll itself.

The original worked well because the animatronics gave life to an inanimate object. Courtesy of voodoo, the doll displayed a persona similar to a real psychopathic human being including the menacing laugh. You could never anticipate what Chucky was going to do next but you believed he was a living, breathing killer. Here, the threat is physically real (sharp blades) but mentally no more of a menacing than your Alexa in the living room. The menace was no more than a computer program designed to follow computer code.

To give credit, the producers did everything to the book and expectations (based upon review of the movie trailer) were fairly routine. If the budget was kept low enough in production, this movie has a chance to score points with the studio and green light a sequel -- but hopefully with a 2.0 upgrade. In the meantime, the new Child's Play is now available and Halloween is around the corner. Redbox, Amazon or Netflix this one and give it a shot if you enjoy horror films. But if you never saw the original, I recommend watching that one first.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Banana Splits Movie Review

Well, it was bound to happen. A generation of kids who grew up with The Banana Splits program would be treated to a live-action big screen motion-picture. A fictional bubble-gum rock group consisting of four animal characters in red helmets: Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky. They danced about a kiddie carnival, rode bumper cars and sang the song you could never get out of your head. And, yes, I was among those children who grew up watching The Banana Splits on television.

But when watching the new 2019 big screen movie, I had only momentary flashbacks to my childhood. When a kid asks his parents, "Why does Drooper have blood on him?" and when hot mom takes one of her two shirts off and, armed with a large monkey wrench, starts beating up Drooper and screams, "Abracadabra this, bitch!" my money was immediately on Snorky. Yep, the new motion-picture is a horror film. People will be killed, blood will be splashing around and lots of screaming and running.

When the producer of the children's program learns The Banana Splits program is being cancelled by a vicious network executive, our four anthropomorphic characters take matters into their own hands. 

There are a number of in-jokes such as a reference to the Sour Grapes, and the true fact that the program (as indicated by the tour guide) was originally going to be called "The Banana Bunch" but permission could not be obtained by the author of a children's book of the same name. You will catch a glimpse of old favorites such as the Cuckoo Clock and the Banana Vac. I could not spot the Goofy Gopher, but that does not mean he is not there.

Regrettably, the movie was shot in South America (as indicated during the closing credits) no doubt to ensure a profit from day one. The movie was filmed low budget and (especially the first ten minutes) the low budget shows. As much as purists cried "foul" after seeing the movie trailer online earlier this year, the only flaw with this movie is the fact that it carries the old cliché of horror films. Twenty or thirty minutes into the movie you already can predict who will face a grizzly demise and who will no doubt survive the evening's ordeal. As a horror movie there is plenty going for it and having watched the movie trailer in advance to know what I was in for, this was not a disappointment by any means. As a horror movie, it works. Skeptic? Give this one a try.

By the way, the movie airs on the SyFy Channel this Saturday evening and the movie can be streamed on, not to mention the commercial DVD available for sale.

Perhaps the only real horror is wondering why Banana Splits Funko Pops, tee shirts, CD soundtracks and a 2019 horror film is available for purchase but the original 1970s series has yet to be released on DVD commercially in the United States.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Old Dark House: A Chilling Genre

Not to be confused with Haunted House movies, which tend to involve ghosts or some other supernatural entity in a horror setting, one subgenre of mystery films that have only recently become popular again in that cycle of pop culture interest is that of the Old Dark House mystery. These include such recurring denominators as a dark and stormy night, secret passageways, a group of strangers having to spend the night in a house, mansion or castle, and a killer, madman, or creature on the loose. 

During the silent era such films offered cutaways and trick shots involving nervous could-be culprits, a highly suspicious sleuth, and cast members who suddenly disappear one by one as the criminal lurks behind bedroom curtains. Inspired by the stage plays that predated them, the best of these classics were the inspiration for the early talkies that were to come: The BatThe Cat and the CanaryThe Monster and The Last Warning. The latter of which was recently restored and released on DVD and BluRay.

Each of these plays was decidedly tongue-in-cheek, with mad scientists and super criminals terrorizing hapless Jazz Age types. Women were frequently targeted, while egghead and masculine males engaged in feuds stemming from unrequited love. Money predominated as the driving factor, although not all of the criminals had such sane motivations. 

As sound merged with celluloid, so did the elaborate gimmicks as each movie applied a variation-on-a-theme motif that oftentimes lent towards comedy, farce and bumbling detectives who were no match for the amateur protagonist drawn into the caper. As an American art form, Old Dark House movies helped to establish not only a narrative that remained strong in the horror movie genre, but also helped audiences to accept a little slapstick comedy in otherwise tension-filled productions. 

The best of these – and frequently discussed – include The Bat Whispers (1930), Universal’s The Old Dark House (1932, with Boris Karloff), followed up with Universal’s Secret of the Blue Room (1933, with Lionel Atwill), and Mascot’s One Frightened Night (1935). In most cases the sets for the old dark houses were elaborate, then masked by candle-lit cinematography. The houses in early offerings were often Gothic Victorian mansions, but by 1941 they were noted as being denigrated (such as Universal’s The Black Cat), sometimes broken or destroyed at the conclusion of the mystery. In Paramount Pictures’ One Body Too Many (1944), the old dark house received a modernized spin by adding an observatory at the top.

The advantage to producing such films was oftentimes budgetary. Throughout the 1930s, movie studios with a reputation for producing movies on the cheap took advantage of the Old Dark House popularity with their own renditions. Oftentimes these pictures were a tad talky, but anyone who takes time to seek out these films would discover a number of hidden gems. In 1931, Supreme Pictures released The Phantom, a chilling tale of a group of people who are stalked by a masked killer in an old mansion, and the heroine is threatened not with supernatural terrors but with a brain transplant. In 1932, Mayfair Pictures released Tangled Destinies, concerning a plane making an emergency landing, forcing the passengers to take refuge in a deserted house… only to discover one of them is a demented killer. In 1934, Columbia Pictures gave us The 9th Guest, concerning eight strangers who are invited to spend the night in a penthouse apartment. After being wined and dined, a voice on the radio informs them that they will be murdered unless they manage to outwit the ninth guest: Death.

In 1943, Monogram Studios produced The House of Mystery, about an adventurer who kills a sacred monkey and as a result learns that someone put a curse on him. He returns to America where his shareholders want a return for their investment, but before he can make good on his promise, he finds himself spending a week in an old dark mansion where all sorts of strange things are going on. This film avoided the puppet or projection excuse that was fairly routine in films of this nature and instead featured both a real gorilla and a guy in a gorilla suit.

For those of you who enjoy watching old horror movies in October, consider the Old Dark House genre. If you can find a copy of Murder by the Clock from 1931, you will find this one very rewarding; a thriller that combines the atmosphere of the Universal horror films of the 1930’s with the feel of the sophisticated pre-codes of Paramount. From the mystery novel by Rufus King, this movie told the story of a man who was murdered twice by the jealous hand of a woman. This is a rare chance to see Lilyan Tashman in a leading role, and she is spot on as a woman who wants wealth and comfort by any means possible and sees her ability to manipulate men to do her bidding as key to her plan. Released by Paramount Pictures in 1931, this mystery contains the atmosphere of a horror film, in an era where the studio had announced months prior that it was making Old Dark House pictures to compete against the gangster movies being produced by Warner Brothers. 

There is a crypt with an installed horn that blares to warn people the occupant has been buried alive. There is a drug that revives the dead. There is a brute with the strength and the mind of a beast. And there is a sinister woman (played by Lilyan Tashman) who seduces men to commit murders for her own gain. It is Tashman, as the nefarious Laura Endicott, who dominates the film. Adorned in tight satin dresses that showcase her lithe figure, she vamps with sinuous style, as bewitching to the audience as she is to her pawns. She definitely had the potential for stardom but would sadly pass away a few years after this movie was completed. With an opening scene that takes place in a murky old Gothic-style graveyard, to a scene where a corpse is disinterred making certain she is really dead (no, we are not joking), Murder on the Clock is a great entry in the Old Dark House genre worth watching… if you dare.