Sunday, July 31, 2022



The esteemed classic horror film historian Gregory William Mank has written his first novel. FRANKENSTEIN'S WITCH: ST. LIZZIE, PRAY FOR US (published by Bear Manor Media) spans two different eras in Hollywood--1931 and 1967. 

In the spring of 1967, a fire breaks out at Universal Studios. A bizarre-looking naked woman is reported near the scene. Private investigator Porter Down believes the woman may have something to do with a similar figure he dealt with in 1931, a woman who caused mayhem during the production of Universal's FRANKENSTEIN. Is it the same woman? Does she have supernatural powers? Or are there all too real forces behind her diabolical designs?? 

The first thing I must say about FRANKENSTEIN'S WITCH is that it is a very frank and intense novel, with plenty of adult language and situations. Those who are familiar with Greg Mank's work, or who have met him at any movie conventions, might be surprised at the content in this book (in person the author is a true gentleman). 

I don't believe that the salacious elements in this work are just a way to get the reader's attention. This is a dark, complex tale, dealing with guilt, sin, redemption, religious mania, and sexual obsession. Nearly every major character in this book is trying to come to terms with a past traumatic experience, and the Southern California that Mank details--1931 and 1967--is a seedy, seductive, scary place, seemingly drawing the worst out of everyone. 

This is not just a collection of factoids that film geeks will recognize, or a nostalgic look at the Golden Age of film making. There are plenty of references and characters that old monster movie fans will recognize, but these connections are more than just gimmicks. 

FRANKENSTEIN'S WITCH is a fascinating, if at times disturbing, read. Despite the fact that the novel runs nearly 400 pages, the pace never slackens--it's a fast-moving story. 

If you are a film or history buff, and you are looking for some unique fiction, FRANKENSTEIN'S WITCH will fit the bill. Just be aware that it is the equivalent of an "R" rated film--and a hard "R" at that. I have a feeling that we might have more adventures featuring Porter Down in the future--but I don't know how they can top what happens to him in this book. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022



The excellent English actor David Warner passed away recently. While reading various internet tributes about him, I discovered that he played the Frankenstein monster in a 1984 British TV adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. I was not aware of this production, and I was even more stunned to find out that Carrie Fisher was also in it. I was able to view this movie on YouTube. 

This Frankenstein stars Robert Powell as Victor, and Carrie Fisher as his fiancee Elizabeth. It was directed by James Ormerod, and the script was written by Victor Gialanella, based on his play, which happened to be a major flop when it was staged for Broadway. 

There isn't anything about this version that makes it stand out from the others. If you know the Frankenstein legend, you'll be familiar with what goes on. Victor is obsessed with discovering the secrets of life and death, but comes to regret his creation; his best friend is careful and doubtful; Elizabeth is worried and suspicious; the creature is lonely and searching for what he's a standard telling of Shelley's tale. 

This version does feature a few of Shelley's characters that almost never wind up in a Frankenstein film, such as Victor's little brother William and Justine, the Frankenstein family's maid. But the low budget and the fact that the production was shot on videotape doesn't do it any favors. It's a very talky adaptation (being based on a play), and it times it feels like a stuffy soap opera, especially when one hears the overly dramatic music score by Alan Parker. 

Robert Powell is all right as Victor, but one can't help but keep noticing his extremely bushy hairdo and sideburns (it's a look singer Tom Jones would be jealous of). Carrie Fisher looks splendid in early 19th Century garb (see picture below), and she not only gets to sing in one scene, she even gets to wander around in a nightgown during the climax, in time-honored Gothic tradition. 

David Warner's creature is more sympathetic (and more verbose) than most other portrayals. He's gangly, clumsy, and childlike, and he sports horrid burn marks over most of his face (presumably from the lightning that brought him to life). This creature is more pathetic than monstrous. 

The blind hermit character is included in this adaptation, and he's played by none other than John Gielgud. (Ironically Gielgud had a very small role in another, much more lavish TV Frankenstein movie--the 1973 FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. In that one the blind hermit was played by Ralph Richardson.) Edward Judd, who starred in a number of 1960s British sci-fi and horror films, has a small part as a grave robber. 

This version of FRANKENSTEIN isn't bad....but one wonders why it was even made. It appears that most of its budget was used on the cast, and there's nothing else left that makes it worth seeing. David Warner does provide an interesting take on the creature. 

Carrie Fisher as Elizabeth in the 1984 TV version of FRANKENSTEIN

Sunday, July 24, 2022



Actor Warren William was the King of Pre-Code Cinema, and one of the best examples of this is the 1932 Warners melodrama THE MATCH KING. 

William plays Paul Kroll, who at the beginning of the film is a street sweeper in Chicago. To earn extra money Kroll comes up with a scheme involving phantom co-workers, while pocketing their salary. Kroll's family in Sweden believes he's a top businessman, and they ask him to come over and help out a struggling match company. Through guile, cunning, lies, and outright theft, Kroll builds the company into a major world-wide concern. Kroll's ambition knows no bounds, but the Depression starts to bring him quickly back down to earth. 

Warren William was perfect for the exaggerated excesses of the Pre-Code era. He was tall, handsome, self-assured, and in his best roles he exuded a strong determination along with an oily charm that could make any poor sap fall for his schemes. In THE MATCH KING his Paul Kroll exhibits a brazen audacity that is a wonder to behold. You don't root for Paul Kroll, and you certainly don't sympathize with him--but it's fascinating to watch how far he is willing to go to get what he wants. If THE MATCH KING had been made only a few years later, the character of Paul Kroll would have been a minor villain. Here he's the leading man, and the entire story revolves around his sordid activities. 

The movie slows down a bit in the middle, as Kroll takes the time to romance a glamorous actress played by Lili Damita. (This is after Kroll has used and discarded such ladies as Glenda Farrell and Claire Dodd.) It doesn't take long, though, for Kroll to get back to his dirty deeds--such as having a potential competitor in the match industry committed to an asylum and using phony bonds in a fraudulent deal (while also disposing of the crook he got the fake bonds from). 

Kroll's favorite saying is "Never worry about anything until it happens--and I'll take care of it then." At the climax, when things start to fall apart for him, Kroll does "take care" of it, in an expressionistic sequence that wouldn't be allowed by Hollywood later in the decade. The sequence shows that even in the Pre-Code era, a guy like Paul Kroll still had to pay for his actions. 

THE MATCH KING was based on the life of a real European unscrupulous businessman, although I highly doubt that fellow was as fun to watch as Warren William. Two directors are credited on the film: Howard Bretherton and William Keighley. (I wonder if this is why the scenes where William romances Damita feel out of place.) The movie still has the typical early-30s fast-paced Warners style, but it does lack many of the familiar supporting character actors one expects to see, probably due to the fact that it is mostly set in Europe. 

THE MATCH KING is one of the great films of the Pre-Code period, and in it Warren William gives one of the great Pre-Code leading man performances. 

Monday, July 18, 2022



I finally caught up with one of the very, very few post-1957 Hammer films I had not seen. THE SCARLET BLADE (1963) is one of Hammer's colorful historical adventures, written & directed by John Gilling. (For whatever reason, the movie was titled THE CRIMSON BLADE in America.) 

England, 1648. Royalist Edward Beverly (Jack Hedley) has been presumed killed in battle. Edward takes advantage of this situation to assume a secret identity--that of the elusive Scarlet Blade, a man who constantly harasses Cromwell's forces. Edward's father, who has been hiding King Charles, is executed by the nefarious Colonel Judd (Lionel Jeffries). Judd's daughter Clare (June Thorburn) is secretly aiding the Royalist cause. Judd's right hand man, Captain Sylvester (Oliver Reed), desires Clare, and hopes to win her by assisting in her Royalist efforts. Clare and Sylvester learn the true identity of the Scarlet Blade, but the Captain cannot be trusted...especially when he finds out that Clare and Edward are attracted to each other. 

Hammer's historical romps don't get near as much attention as the company's Gothic horrors, but for the most part these costume adventures were well-crafted pieces of entertainment. THE SCARLET BLADE fits that description, mainly due to the fact that it was crafted by John Gilling. Gilling may not have been popular with the people he worked with, but he knew how to make a fast-moving, low-budget story pleasing to an audience. THE SCARLET BLADE is another handsome Hammer production, with fine cast wardrobes and period detail, and plenty of scenes shot at familiar places as Black Park forest and the Bray Studios village set. The great Jack Asher was cinematographer here (this would be his next-to-last Hammer film) and this time he gets to show off his splendid work in Hammerscope. Gary Hughes, who provided music for most of the Hammer historical adventures, did the rousing score for this one. 

If you want a serious and thorough examination of the English Civil War, this is not the movie for you. (For the record, THE SCARLET BLADE favors the Royalists.) Gilling's story is a cross between the legends of Robin Hood and the Scarlet Pimpernel, transplanted to 17th Century England. 

THE SCARLET BLADE might have been better if it had a more charismatic leading man. Jack Hedley is all right in the role, but he's not exactly an Errol Flynn type. I do have to say that Hedley is involved in several action scenes here, and he comes off quite well, as he should have--before he began his acting career Hedley was a Royal Marine commando, and he served in several conflicts, while being wounded multiple times. 

It doesn't help Hedley that Oliver Reed gets the most interesting role as the devious Captain Sylvester--and Reed makes the most of it. (It also didn't help Hedley that John Gilling's script--and direction--favor Reed and Lionel Jeffries). Sylvester isn't an all-out bad guy, but he is someone who is willing to play both ends against the middle to advance himself. In all the Hammer historical adventures that Reed appeared in, he was cast as a villain. Somebody at Hammer should have tried casting Reed as the hero in one of these pictures--he had far more screen presence than the actors who got the leading man role in them. 

The role of Captain Judd as played by Lionel Jeffries is intriguing as well. Judd immediately comes off as a arrogant martinet, but it's mentioned that he used to be a Royalist, and it's suggested that he switched sides due to money....which probably explains why he tries to act more Cromwell than Cromwell. Jeffries is better known for his comic roles, but he's serious and believably forceful as Judd, and he makes the man more than just another Sheriff of Nottingham type. 

June Thorburn as Clare shows some spunk when standing up to Oliver Reed, and there's the expected welcome Hammer faces among the supporting cast. Michael Ripper plays a curly-haired gypsy (!!) who is a friend of Edward, and Suzan Farmer (looking lovely as always) plays Edward's sister. Duncan Lamont is a Roundhead officer who tries to outdo Judd, and George Woodbridge has a cameo as a town crier. 

THE SCARLET BLADE does exactly what it was designed to do--it takes viewers away from their ordinary lives and gives then 80-some minutes of decent, efficiently made entertainment. It's another example of how successful the company's production setup could be with the right people involved. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022



It's Euro Western time again, with a 1970 Italian-German film called AND GOD SAID TO CAIN. The movie was co-written and directed by the legendary Antonio Margheriti (under his usual alias of Anthony Dawson). The big highlight in this entry is that long-time spaghetti western bad guy Klaus Kinski is not just the main character--he's also ostensibly the hero. 

Gary Hamilton (Kinski) has just been released from a prison in the American West, where he has been locked up for ten years. Hamilton returns to his home town to get revenge on the man who framed him, a now-powerful rancher named Acombar (Peter Carsten). Despite being all on his own, and up against dozens of Acombar's men, Hamilton brings an ironic end to his enemy's status as town boss. 

The story of a sullen, taciturn loner facing off against a rich, powerful man and his army of hired guns has been the basis of many Euro Western films. AND GOD SAID TO CAIN... is a step above the usual examples, due to the film making skills of Antonio Margheriti and the presence of Klaus Kinski. Margheriti infuses the story with a number of Gothic elements. Most of the film takes place on a single night, during a massive windstorm, as Hamilton flits in and out of hiding, picking off Acombar's men one by one. In between killings the lone avenger takes refuge in a series of underground caves, and throughout the evening the town church bell toils relentlessly. (Hamilton makes clever use of this bell to take out one of his enemies.) There's even some organ music included in Carlo Savina's morbid score, and, yes, there's a gorgeous woman in a nightgown. This woman, played by Marcella Michelangeli, happens to be Hamilton's former love, and she helped betray Gary, and then married Acombar and enjoyed his ill-gotten riches. 

Usually when Klaus Kinski appeared in a spaghetti western, the hero was gunning for him. This time Kinski is the one looking for his own brand of justice....but because it's Klaus, the viewer still isn't all that sure about him (it isn't until late in the film that we find out exactly how Hamilton was wronged). Kinski is perfectly suited to play someone committed to an implacable mission. Unlike many other Euro Westerns made during the same period, AND GOD SAID TO CAIN... doesn't waste time going off on bizarre tangents or contrived attempts at humor. Margheriti thankfully keeps things on point, but he does help the story along with a number of off-kilter camera angles and set-ups. 

Peter Carsten as Acombar is more like a traditional American Western villain than the usual outlandish spaghetti western main baddie. (Ironically, Klaus Kinski would have made an excellent Acombar!). The most notable performer in the supporting cast is Mario Bava favorite Luciano Pigozzi, credited under his alias Alan Collins. 

This was the very first time I had seen AND GOD SAID TO CAIN... , and I was suitably impressed. The fact that the version I saw, on the Tubi streaming platform, was a fantastic-looking uncut widescreen print, no doubt influenced my appreciation. The Tubi version had a English dub track, but the result of that wasn't too bad--besides, Klaus Kinski's penetrating gaze says more than a hundred lines of dialogue. 

Everything in AND GOD SAID TO CAIN... will be familiar to spaghetti western buffs, but the fact that it works so well is due to Antonio Margheriti (an efficient filmmaker who could handle all sorts of genres) and Klaus Kinski, who is a very different type of Euro Western leading man. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022



The latest issue of Richard Klemensen's wonderful LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine, #48, has a feature article on British filmmakers Robert Baker and Monty Berman. The Baker/Berman team is best known for English Gothic films like THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, JACK THE RIPPER, and BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE. 

The excellent article (written by John Hamilton) mentions a non-horror production from Baker & Berman, a 1960 film called THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET. This movie is based on a historical incident in 1911, in which numerous police officers and elements of the British military battled a group of anarchists inside the city of London. The LSOH article inspired me to watch THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET on YouTube. 

The movie begins in a unique manner, with a lone policeman walking down an empty street. The officer is suddenly shot, and then all hell breaks loose as other officers in hiding open fire. A young woman in a nearby hospital hears the gunshots, and she starts to have a flashback which tells of the incidents that have led up to the violent urban confrontation. 

The young woman's name is Sara (Nicole Berger), and she is an immigrant from Russia. Sara falls in with a group of immigrants with similar backgrounds, and she becomes smitten with one of them, a handsome man named Peter (Peter Wyngarde). Peter is called "Peter the Painter", because he's supposedly an artist--but his real vocation is being the leader of a group of political protesters who are trying to obtain money to help out those still being repressed in their homeland. Peter's group attempts a payroll robbery and the break-in of a jewel shop, but both crimes go wrong, with the latter resulting in the death of three police officers. Peter and two of his comrades are tracked down by a determined inspector (Donald Sinden) and the full clash at Sidney Street becomes the climax of the film. 

Before writing this post I looked up some basic info on the actual Siege of Sidney Street. Needless to say, like any controversial incident that happened over a hundred years ago, it was a complicated and complex affair that various historians still disagree about. I'm certainly no expert on it, so I can't tell you how accurate the movie is. I will say that there is actual film footage of the real siege available on YouTube, and it does resemble the reenactment staged for the movie. 

The film tends to shy away from any overt political discussions. Jimmy Sangster's screenplay is very vague when it comes to the motivations and the backgrounds of Peter the Painter and his associates. (Sangster once said in an audio commentary that he never did any research for the scripts he wrote.) I believe that Baker, Berman, and Sangster had no interest in highly detailed political/social history--they just wanted to make the siege the centerpiece of a thriller that would attract audiences. 

Donald Sinden gets top-billing as the resourceful police inspector, but his somewhat dull character can't compete with Peter Wyngarde's Peter the Painter. Wyngarde had striking looks and a distinctive voice, and he's always interesting to watch, especially here. Kieron Moore (the star of DOCTOR BLOOD'S COFFIN) also gets a showy role as one of Peter's group, a brash bully who is always looking for a fight. Hammer veteran George Pastell has a small part as one of Peter's associates. 

One thing that is intriguing about THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET is that the anarchists are not portrayed as obsessed, sullen outcasts. They are smartly dressed men who have a social life. The movie doesn't totally sympathize with them, but it doesn't demonize them either. 

The character of Sara was probably created to help humanize the anarchists (and also to have a reason to put an attractive young woman into the story). French actress Nicole Berger not only gets to be Peter Wyngarde's love interest, her character also receives the attentions of Donald Sinden and Kieron Moore. The second part of the film bogs down due to focusing on the travails of Sara. Berger is competent enough in the role, but she doesn't have a strong enough presence to carry the plot. 

THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET was actually filmed in Ireland instead of London--a number of Dublin locations were much more suited to a very early 20th Century atmosphere. The real-life locations come off very well with Monty Berman's fine black & white cinematography. The overall look of the film is a combination of docudrama and noir. 

The climatic shootout is effectively staged and edited, and the sequence contains a notable cameo. In the actual siege the British Home Secretary, who at the time was Winston Churchill, showed up on scene. This is briefly documented in the film...and Churchill is played by none other than Jimmy Sangster. I find the idea of Hammer's best-known screenwriter playing one of the greatest figures in English history rather amusing. 

I found THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET to be much like the other Baker & Berman historical films--it's well-made, decent entertainment, but a bit slow at times. It's also nowhere near as exploitative as one would assume. I wonder how the average British viewer would feel about this film, since being an American I knew nothing about the incident upon which it was based. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022



During the audio commentary for the new Blu-ray of THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, Tom Weaver mentioned that the stars of the film, John Agar and Joyce Meadows, had already appeared together in a low-budget Western called FLESH AND THE SPUR. That film was released by American International Pictures in 1956. I viewed it last night on the Tubi streaming platform. 

John Agar stars as Luke Random, who arrives at his farm one day to discover that his twin brother has been shot and killed. Luke learns that an escaped convict belonging to a group of thugs called the Checkers gang is responsible. Luke decides to hunt down the killer himself. During his quest he encounters a disgraced Native American woman called Willow (Marla English), a shady gunslinger named Stacy (Mike Connors, billed here as Touch), and a grizzled snake oil salesman (Raymond Hatton). The motley group tracks down the Checkers gang, and is almost wiped out by them...but Luke finally catches up to his prey. 

Many of the names involved in FLESH AND THE SPUR will be familiar for AIP/Roger Corman fans. The director was Edward L. Cahn, the producer was Alex Gordon, and the story and screenplay was by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna. It definitely has the mid-1950s AIP feel--it's an okay low-grade oater, but it promises more than it delivers. It has a few decent action scenes, but it's very talky--Luke's restless search slows to a halt several times. A climatic double plot-twist does enliven matters. 

John Agar was certainly no stranger to Westerns--he started out his movie career riding with John Wayne himself in FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. Despite his playing a man determined to avenge his murdered brother, Agar here still comes off as a decent regular guy instead of someone obsessed with revenge. 

Agar isn't helped by the fact that he's overshadowed by Mike Connors as the boisterous and cocky Stacy. Connors steals the film, and Raymond Hatton also gets to shine in a hammy role. As for Joyce Meadows, she has a small role as Hatton's daughter, and she doesn't get much to do before she's killed off. 

The poster shown above says that the film is in "Wide vision color", but the version I watched on Tubi was in black & white, and in full frame, and it wasn't in the best condition. There's a DVD of FLESH AND THE SPUR from Alpha Video, but it's also listed as being in black & white and full screen. Does the original color version of this film exist anywhere? If it does, it would be interesting to see how this film plays in color and widescreen. 

One more bit of trivia about FLESH AND THE SPUR--the movie features a mournful song, written by Ross Bagdasarian, the creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022



Like all original Star Wars fans, I had my own ideas about what Obi-Wan Kenobi was doing during his hiatus on Tatooine. 

I certainly didn't think he was sitting on his behind for twenty years. In my mind, he was staying alert, keeping ready, and maintaining contacts with the burgeoning Rebel Alliance. I also believed that every so often he would go off world and participate in special missions for the Rebels. 

So, the Disney+ series OBI-WAN KENOBI kind of matched what I felt old Ben was doing while keeping an eye on young Luke. But I was underwhelmed with the entire production. It wasn't terrible...but I didn't get near enough excitement from it as I thought I would. 

A 13 year old me probably would have thought it was the greatest thing ever, but I'm not 13 anymore. This is also the third Disney+ live action Star Wars series, after THE MANDALORIAN and THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT, and the plots and themes of these shows are starting to be very similar. 

To take one example, one of the episodes of KENOBI revolved around the old "Let's sneak into a supposed impregnable Imperial fortress/facility and break someone (or something) out." That happened on THE MANDALORIAN about...what, three of four times?? For all of the assumed overwhelming evil of the Empire, breaking into one of their facilities is becoming as easy as going down to the local mini-mart. 

I'll go even further. Each of the three Disney+ live action Star Wars shows features a main character who is a loner, and who is dealing with past traumas. Through the episodes, the loner regains his self-respect by fighting for a just cause and interacting with various supporting characters. 

Each of the three series has a badass independent female character who wears a cool outfit. The twist in KENOBI is that the badass woman is set up as what is assumed to be the main villain. As for my thoughts on the Third Sister, or Reva, I honestly wasn't impressed. If ever there was an example of a performer trying too hard to be a badass, and not succeeding, this was it. 

You could even say that in KENOBI little Leia was the equivalent of Grogu, and Reva was the equivalent of Moff Gideon. Except I think it worked much better the first time around. 

I've been thinking about why I liked THE MANDALORIAN much better than THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT & OBI-WAN KENOBI. I believe the main reason is that I knew nothing about the characters in THE MANDALORIAN. They were fresh, and new...yet they inhabited what I felt was a proper interpretation of the Star Wars Universe. 

The shows about Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi feature characters that I have literally been familiar with for over forty years. I very much have my own ideas about how they would act and respond in certain situations. If they do or say something that doesn't feel right to me.....yeah, I'm going to notice. 

The Boba Fett and Kenobi shows also remind me of the Star Wars comics currently being published by Marvel. These comics are constrained by the fact that they are set during the Original Trilogy. They constantly set up what appears to be epic confrontations (such as Luke and Vader running into each other every so often), but they still have to fit into the parameters of the Official Star Wars historic timeline. 

I knew that in KENOBI Vader and Obi-Wan were going to confront each other--how could Disney pass up that opportunity??--but for me no matter how their confrontations were going to play out, it wouldn't be satisfying enough....and it wasn't. 

OBI-WAN KENOBI isn't a bad show, just seemed a bit off to me. What worries me is that it's starting to feel as if I'm watching the Disney+ Star Wars shows out of a sense of obligation instead of expecting to be entertained by them. There's going to be plenty more Disney+ Star Wars product--the company is going to milk the franchise for all its worth and then some. The main reason I haven't followed any Star Trek series in years is that there got to be too many of them, and too many different things to follow. I've got a bad feeling that the same thing is going to happen to Star Wars--some say that's already happened. 

*Oh, one more thing about OBI-WAN KENOBI that bugged me--the revelation that lightsabers are not as lethal as everyone always thought. Too bad Qui-Gon didn't know about that. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS On Blu-ray From The Film Detective


The 1957 science-fiction film THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS is one of my guilty pleasures. It's also one of the most notable (some would say notorious) examples of 1950s low-budget big-screen sci-fi. The Film Detective has now released it on Blu-ray, with all sorts of trimmings. 

Somewhere in the American Southwest, a nuclear scientist named Steve March (John Agar) has discovered strange radiation readings from a nearby mountain. Steve ventures out to the location, accompanied by fellow scientist Dan (Robert Fuller). While inside a cave, a giant floating brain attacks the two men, killing Dan and inhabiting Steve. The brain reveals to Steve that it is named Gor, and that it comes from a planet called Arous. Gor wants to use Steve's knowledge in order to take over the Earth. Meanwhile, Steve's girlfriend Sally (Joyce Meadows) notices Steve's strange behavior--Gor is inexplicably attracted to her. Sally and her father go off to the cave where the trouble began and encounter another giant floating brain--this one named Vol, who has been in intergalactic pursuit of Gor. Vol enlists Sally's help in keeping an eye on Steve, while also inhabiting the woman's dog! Can Vol and Sally stop Gor/Steve's mad plans for conquest??

The reason I enjoy THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS so much is that it contains my favorite John Agar performance. Is it his best performance? Well, let's just say it's his most notable. Agar usually played the decent (if a bit goofy) ordinary guy hero in numerous sci-fi/horror films of the 1950s and 60s. Here, he gets to go all out as the possessed Steve--treating his girlfriend like a love toy, ranting and raving about taking over the universe, and browbeating assembled world dignitaries. Gor-as-Steve also has the ability to destroy objects (and people) through his eyes, which turn silver when doing so. (Agar's silvery orbs and accompanying Joker-like grin are quite creepy). 

Agar is matched by Joyce Meadows, whose Sally winds up being one of the best heroines of 1950s sci-fi cinema. Even though Meadows was very young when this film was made, and THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS was one of her earliest movie roles, her Sally is mature, intelligent, and realistic. Meadows gives the outlandish elements of the story a solid foundation. 

Producer-cinematographer Jacques Marquette didn't spend a lot of money on this production, and it shows. But this movie has a silly charm all its own, and veteran director Nathan Juran (who is credited as Nathan Hertz) does the best he can with the material. The combination of a possessed Agar, giant floating brains, and an unusual story line puts THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS above the many other cheap science-fiction flicks made during the same period. 

The Film Detective company has done a superlative job in giving this movie a special edition Region Free Blu-ray release. The film has been presented in two different aspect ratios: 1.85:1 and 1.33:1. I have to admit that the full-frame version fits the production's low budget much better. The black & white print (which comes from the Wade Williams collection) looks sharp in both ratios, even though there are a few scratches visible. I doubt that there's a better-looking version of this film somewhere else. 

The Blu-ray has plenty of extras. A short introduction called NOT THE SAME BRAIN features Joyce Meadows (and her character Sally) returning to the movie's Bronson Canyon locations and reminiscing about the shoot. It's a fun little program created by David Schecter (with help from Joshua Kennedy). 

There's also two featurettes on the life and career of director Nathan Juran. These programs remind one that even though Juran directed THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, he also was an Academy Award-winning art director who helmed one of the greatest fantastic films of all time, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. 

A new audio commentary is included, featuring genre expert Tom Weaver. Despite the short running time of THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, Weaver packs in as much info as one could want to hear about the movie, with help from Joyce Meadows and Larry Blamire. At one point Weaver steps aside and allows David Schecter to provide a thorough analysis on Walter Greene's impressive music score for the film. 

Finally, a 10 page booklet is included inside the disc case, which is made up of an article written by Tom Weaver looking at the Sci-Fi career of producer-cinematographer Jacques Marquette. 

I love the fact that The Film Detective went all out to give a movie like THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS a deluxe home video release. Is this movie a brilliant, underrated science-fiction classic?? No...but it's more entertaining (and more memorable) than many serious, big-budgeted speculative films. And, if a evil, giant floating brain from a faraway planet has the hots for a young Joyce Meadows.....can you blame him? 

Saturday, July 2, 2022



THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU (1930) is a direct sequel to THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU. Both of these films, produced by Paramount, have been released on Blu-ray by Kino on one disc.

I reviewed THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU on this blog a couple weeks ago. THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU picks up right after the end of first film, with an elaborate funeral for the supposedly deceased Fu Manchu. Of course the nefarious doctor isn't dead--and he's still determined to get revenge on the Petrie family, who he blames for the death of his wife and son during the Boxer Rebellion. 

The entire cast of THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU returns for the sequel, including Warner Oland as Fu, Neil Hamilton and Jean Arthur as the young couple under threat from the evil doctor, O. P. Heggie as the intrepid Nayland Smith, and (unfortunately) William Austin as the prissy comic relief. Rowland V. Lee also returns to direct. 

THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU is a bit livelier visually and editorially than the first film, but one must remember that this is still a very early sound entry from 1930. Warner Oland's performance as Fu Manchu is somewhat livelier as well, but he's still different from the taciturn, majestic Fu from the Sax Rohmer novels. Here Fu makes use of an airplane (which he pilots himself at one point) and he's created a potion that can turn his enemies into zombie-like slaves. As in the first film, however, Fu's diabolical plans are aimed at the Petrie family and Nayland Smith instead of worldwide domination. 

Paramount would make another film involving Fu Manchu--the 1931 DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON, which focuses more on Fu's daughter, played by the legendary Anna May Wong. (Oland appears again as Fu, but only in a short cameo.) Unfortunately Kino was not able to include this film on this release--Tim Lucas explains why in his audio commentary. (I wrote a blog post on DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON a few years ago.) 

Kino presents THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU in a 1.20:1 aspect ratio. The black & white picture quality is better than that for THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU, and the sound quality is improved as well. 

Tim Lucas provides another of his fine commentaries, carrying over from his talk for THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU. Lucas calls THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU the very first direct sequel to a horror film (although personally I think the movie is much more of an adventure thriller than a horror). Lucas also discusses DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON, which I certainly hope will get a proper Blu-ray release eventually. 

I'm very happy that Kino put out these two very early Fu Manchu adventures on Region A Blu-ray. Paramount's Fu Manchu isn't the international super-villain created by Sax Rohmer, but these two titles are fun, interesting adventures that many film buffs have been waiting to see.