June 30, 2019

They Did the Bash, They Did the Monster Bash...

For a relatively serious sci-fi/horror fan, I’ve attended a meager handful of conventions over the years. My very first was a comics convention in New York City in the early ‘70s. I was in high school, still not driving, and a good friend and I took a Greyhound bus (?!) on our own to the Big Apple. (I still can’t believe my parents let that happen. On second thought, I wasn’t the most pleasant teenager -- perhaps they were hoping I wouldn’t return...)

The comic artist “gods” Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing) and Jim Steranko (Nick Fury) were guests of honor. I was heavily into comics and science fiction at the time (even editing a short-lived fanzine), but I was most impressed with the movies they screened at the con. I remember being blown away by Hammer’s Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and the Pit, 1967) and Karel Zeman’s wonderful, visually striking fantasy film The Outrageous Baron Munchausen (1962; sadly, almost completely forgotten today).

This was a watershed moment for me, as I would gradually wander away from comics and literary science fiction to renew a deep and abiding love of movies. I was the prototypical monster kid of the 1960s, watching every creature feature I could possibly dial in on the old black and white TV, and worshipping at the Church of the Universal Monster.

Poster - House of the Gorgon (2019)
The ‘70s was a time for discovering Hammer’s glorious reenvisionings of the classic monsters, and of course, falling in love (as only a nerdy young fan can) with the likes of Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson, and Martine Beswick.

Speaking of Hammer’s scream queens, I was intrigued by this year’s program at Creepy Classics’ Monster Bash (Mars, PA, June 21 - 23, 2019). I had seen ads for the conference in Filmfax over the years, and its focus on classic horror and sci-fi, along with fascinating guests of honor (e.g., Julie Adams of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame, who passed away last year), had me itching to attend. But geography and life’s usual busyness prevented me from making plans -- until now.

This year’s Bash brought together two famous Hammer actresses, Veronica Carlson (Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) and Martine Beswick (One Million Years B.C., Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), along with Dracula A.D. 1972 alum Christopher Neame to the U.S. premier of low-budget auteur Joshua Kennedy’s Hammer homage House of the Gorgon (2019).

Kennedy, who started making feature-length films in his teens, has been friends with all three and managed with luck and pluck to get them (along with Caroline Munro, who unfortunately was unable to attend) to appear in the film.

Veronica Carlson at Monster Bash 2019
The still glamorous Veronica Carlson at her Q&A.
The screening room was jam-packed for the premier on Saturday night. The organizers wisely arranged for a second showing the same night for late comers who weren’t able to squeeze in. Shot in a little over a week, House of the Gorgon is a deeply affectionate tribute to the inimitable Hammer style, with special emphasis on Hammer’s classic The Gorgon (1964) with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Barbara Shelley.

House features not one but two Gorgon sisters, played with zest and sly humor by Munro and Beswick. Carlson, looking years younger than her age, plays the mother of a young woman (Georgina Dugdale) engaged to be married to the eccentric master of the house (Kennedy). Christopher Neame is also very effective as the glum, frightened village priest -- a character type that appeared numerous times in Hammer films.

While the digital photography and the variable acting among the less experienced cast members somewhat betray the film’s very low budget, it’s hard not to like such a meticulously and lovingly crafted tribute.

Martine Beswick at Monster Bash 2019
Martine Beswick receives flowers and applause.
The Gothic setting, the costumes, the formal, language, the ubiquitous tavern with baleful, superstitious locals, and of course the presence of the four Hammer veterans, had me smiling from the first frame.

Other horror film references, some subtle and some not-so-subtle, range from the paintings of past nefarious movie characters lining the mansion’s staircase, to the bust of veteran Hammer character actor Michael Ripper that turns up in the local tavern.

Aside from being a great tribute, the story holds up pretty well on its own. Kennedy also has a definite talent for setting up and lighting a very effective, atmospheric scene. One in particular, where the victim, taking a bath, sees her attacker upside down from her perspective and imbued with an otherworldly light, delivers an authentic shudder.

House of the Gorgon received a thunderous ovation from the appreciative audience, and I was rooted to the spot, almost as if I had been turned to stone, at the sight of the three Hammer legends on stage with their 20-something director.

Other Monster Bash Highlights:

In her Q&A, Beverly Washburn, veteran of innumerable films and TV shows (Star Trek OS, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, and cult favorite Spider Baby among them), talked about her experiences on the set of Spider Baby. She described Lon Chaney Jr. as a darling. It was well known by that time that he was an alcoholic, but his drinking never affected the production. She confirmed that his tears during the famous soliloquy were real and heart-felt.

Beverly Washburn at Monster Bash 2019
Beverly Washburn with conference organizer Ron Adams.

Author Frank Dello Stritto gave a very funny and engaging talk on the history of Universal’s last great monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Frank is the author of a new novel, Carl Denham’s Giant Monsters, which picks up on the monster hunter’s life after the events of King Kong. Riffing on that theme and with tongue firmly in cheek, he expounded on what happened to various characters from the Creature movies after their encounters with the Gillman, using stills from the actors’ subsequent films.

Still - Whit Bissell in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
According to Dello Stritto, Dr. Thompson, the character played by
Whit Bissell in Creature from the Black Lagoon, never completely
recovered from the wounds he received from the Gillman. Here he's
seen with his twin brother (driving).

Film historian Greg Mank, author of the new biography Laird Cregar: A Hollywood Tragedy, gave a very moving talk on the hugely talented and haunted actor
who almost literally was killed by type-casting and mistreatment by his studio. A respected veteran of mostly costume dramas, in 1944 Cregar became notorious for his effective and menacing role as Jack the Ripper in The Lodger. Unfortunately, it immediately became evident that the studio would henceforth typecast him in Gothic monster roles. Cregar was a very large man, and in his desperation to slim down to a more “matinee idol” appearance, he went on a crash diet that eventually led to a heart attack and death at a very young age. Mank also told a fascinating story of he and his wife years ago trying to find Cregar’s grave at Hollywood’s Forest Lawn cemetery, with a series of misadventures leading them to half-believe Cregar’s spirit was playing tricks on them.

At 89 years of age, Ricou Browning is the last living classic Universal monster, having portrayed the Gillman in the underwater scenes in all three Creature movies. In his Q&A he addressed the recent controversy over a new book, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, which asserts that Patrick was instrumental in creating the Creature costume, but was shunted aside and not given credit by Hollywood’s male patriarchy. Ricou asserted that during production of the first Creature film, he only saw Patrick twice, and only briefly each time. She appeared and watched for a short time while he was being fitted for the suit in Hollywood. Then on location, she put some finishing touches on the suit before Browning got in the water. Jack Kevan and Chris Mueller have been traditionally cited as the designers of the Creature suit.

Ricou Browning at Monster Bash 2019
Ricou Browning at the Q&A with his daughter (left) and
author Tom Weaver (far right).

For more information on future Monster Bashes and related events
, see the conference news page.

7 comments:

  1. Hey Brian. It's good to have you and your blog back. I lost track of it after the hiatus, but I just finished working my way back through all the entries I'd missed. I'll be looking forward to all your future writings. Everything you post is so entertaining and enjoyable. Also looking forward to the imminent Blu-ray release of This Island Earth.

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    1. Hi Bill! Glad you're enjoying this latest revival of the blog. I'm on a bit more leisurely schedule than before, but I like to post at least twice a month if possible. Right now on my facebook page I'm counting down to the 50th moon landing anniversary with capsule summaries of cinematic moon voyages, then I'll be posting on the blog about the race between the Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M productions to be the first to depict an "authentic" trip to the moon.

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  2. I guess that means you will have to cover Jerry Lewis in Way ... Way Out. I saw that in 1967 and hated it. Probably my least favorite of all moon movies. Good title song, though.

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    1. It's a select list which does not include Way... Way Out. I'd forgotten about that one though, thanks for the reminder!

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  3. It's easy to forget. It must be pretty bad to make a 12-year-old sci-fi nut like me not go for it. I did get to see a great second feature with it, though: What a Way to Go with Shirley MacLaine. When I think of criminally underrated movies, that's one of them.

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  4. I didn't realize there were only 10 spots open in the countdown. Definitely no room for Way ... Way Out. I hope First Men in the Moon makes the cut.

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