KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) – Energetic Adventure by Guy Ritchie Tries to Reinvent King Arthur Legend

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king_arthur_legend_of_the_sword_poster

KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) is director Guy Ritchie’s attempt to do for King Arthur what he did for Sherlock Holmes, namely reinvent the character as an action movie hero.

He almost succeeds.

KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD opens with an exciting pre-credit battle sequence featuring giant mastodons and ear-splitting explosions as we witness young Arthur’s father King Uther (Eric Bana) defend his kingdom from attack, only to see it fall when he is betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law).  Young Arthur is whisked away to safety, and in an energetic montage, we watch as the boy is raised in a brothel, receives martial arts training, and earns his street-smarts as he becomes a man.

The adult Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is the good guy on the block, hanging out with his friends and protecting local innocents from the occasional bullies.  Doesn’t sound much like the Arthur of legend, does it?  That’s because it’s not.  Eventually, Arthur makes his way to the infamous sword in stone, and when he alone can remove it, everyone and his grandmother, including Vortigern, knows who he is.

Arthur seeks vengeance against Vortigern for the death of his parents, while Vortigern sees Arthur as a threat to his kingdom and seeks to annihilate him.   The battle lines are drawn.  May the best man win.  Of course, there’s little doubt here as to who will emerge the victor.

One of the reasons that Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES movies were so successful was that he had Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role as Sherlock Holmes.  Here, as Arthur, he has Charlie Hunnam.  Now, I’m a big fan of Hunnam from his SONS OF ANARCHY (2008-2014) days, but he plays Arthur as if he’s still playing motorcycle gang member Jax Teller from SONS.  The script doesn’t help his cause as it includes lots of modern-day language and dialogue.  In fact, at times this movie seemed like SONS OF THE ROUND TABLE, and when Arthur was with his buddies, I half expected Hunnam to turn and say “Hey, Ope.  Where’s Clay?”

So, the fact that the Arthur character doesn’t really take hold here isn’t just Hunnam’s fault.  The writers don’t help him.  I like Hunnam, and he gives an energetic performance, but it just never really won me over.  I felt like I was watching a movie about Jax Teller sent back in a time machine to England in the days of King Arthur.

There were parts of KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD that I liked, and there were just as many things about it that I didn’t like.

Usually, in a movie like this, it’s the action scenes that I like the least, as generally they are long, lifeless, and dull, but that wasn’t the case here.  I really liked the action sequences in this one, and the credit for that belongs to director Guy Ritchie. The opening battle sequence with the monstrous mastodons hooked me in immediately and made me take notice that perhaps this film was going to be better than expected.

Later battle scenes are just as lively.  Ritchie’s camera gets right in on the action, and there’s lot of innovative camerawork during these scenes.  The fight sequences here are much more energetic than what I usually see in movies like this.

I really enjoyed both of Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, as well as his previous movie, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) which was panned by critics.  I liked all three of these movies better than KING ARTHUR, mostly because those films had better scripts.  Ritchie’s work as a director is just as good here as those films, if not better.  Visually and in terms of this being a rousing action movie, the film works.

It also features some pretty cool creatures.  I’ve already mentioned the impressive looking mastodons, but there’s also this creepy sexually charged octopus creature which is a mixture of slimy octopus tentacles and naked women that make it one of the more intriguing beasts I’ve seen in a movie since the days of Ray Harryhausen.  There’s also a giant snake, which of the three, is probably the least impressive but still makes for a very cinematic monster sequence.  There were a couple of times where I thought I was watching a Sinbad movie instead of a King Arthur movie.

The film also has a loud, in-your-face music score by Daniel Pemberton that I liked a lot.  It reminded me of the way James Bernard used to score Hammer Films.  You definitely notice the music. Pemberton also scored Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, another soundtrack that I really liked.

The screenplay, however, is another matter.  Written by director Ritchie, Joby Harold, and Lionel Wigram, it tries very hard to re-invent both the character and the legend, giving both modern-day dialogue and motivations. Arthur seems more interested in protecting his friends than inheriting a kingdom.

The snappy dialogue didn’t really work for me here, as it just seemed out-of-place. When Robert Downey Jr. spoke with updated dialogue as Sherlock Holmes, he still sounded like Holmes.  Charlie Hunnam doesn’t sound like Arthur at all.  Neither does anyone else in the cast sound like they belong in the age of Camelot.

Jude Law plays the villainous Vortigern as a cold-hearted mean-spirited devil and delivers a performance that works up to a point.  He is too one-dimensional to be all that memorable a villain.  Still, he’s a better villain than we get in all those Marvel superhero movies, and a film like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 (2017) would have benefitted from a character like Vortigern, who at least has an agenda.

Astrid Beges-Frisbey plays one of the more intriguing characters in the film, The Mage, a woman who can communicate with animals.  I enjoyed her performance a lot and wish she had been in the film even more.

Djimon Hounsou does a nice job as Bedivere, the man who helps Arthur get his kingdom back, but it’s a rather small role and never takes full advantage of Hounsou’s talents.  Eric Bana briefly adds some class to the proceedings in the opening sequence as the ill-fated King Uther, Arthur’s father.

The rest of the cast all do a pretty good job in various small roles, mostly of Arthur’s friends.  Among these folks, I thought Neil Maskell stood out as a character named Back Lack.  He’s in one of the best scenes in the movie, where Vortigern  holds a knife to his throat to get information from Back Lack’s young son who has to watch his dad get mutilated.

The title, KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD, also did little for me.  It’s a mouthful, and it’s not particularly memorable.

The same can be said of the movie as a whole.  Strangely, I was most won over by the action scenes and the monsters in this one.  The story and the characters left me wanting more, so much so that I wish director Guy Ritchie was working with a different script entirely.

Still, I wasn’t expecting much, and it was better than I expected.

It reminded me of an old Ray Harryhausen SINBAD movie, re-imagined as a Netflix TV series, only not quite as good.

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

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beast from 20,000 fathoms poster

Return with me now to 1953, when the giant monster movie genre was still in its infancy, the year that saw the release of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).

Prior to THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS,  the world had seen KING KONG (1933), filled with eye-popping special effects by Willis O’Brien, who would go on to make Kong’s quickie (and inferior) sequel SON OF KONG (1933) and later MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the latter being significant because it introduced O’Brien’s young protegé, Ray Harryhausen, to the world.

Soon after MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Harryhausen was ready to strike out on his own, and he would provide the special effects for today’s movie, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, released a full twenty years after KING KONG, and so for two decades, the giant monster movie lay dormant.  That would change with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, which pre-dated perhaps the most famous giant monster, Godzilla, by one year.  Of course, once GODZILLA (1954) stomped onto the world, and Toho Studios opened up the door to their Kaiju universe, giant monsters would never look back.

But it’s quite possible that Toho’s incredible world of monsters may not have happened without the success and influence of Ray Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. And when I put Harryhausen’s name in front of the title, I realize he didn’t direct the movie— that job was handled by Eugene Lourie, who actually would go on to direct two other very significant giant monster movies, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured special effects by Willis O’Brien, and GORGO (1961)— but when you watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it’s his work that you remember, work that is always top-notch and phenomenal; in short, his name belongs in front of the movies he worked on.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is based on the short story “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury, who was good friends with Harryhausen.

The movie opens with atomic bomb tests being conducted in the Arctic.  When two scientists visit the scene after the blast to conduct tests, they are shocked to see a giant prehistoric beast roaming through the snow, causing an avalanche which kills one of the scientists.  This plot point, an atomic blast awaking a giant monster, which would become commonplace in the 1950s, was first introduced here in this movie, making THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS the first movie about a giant creature awakened by an atomic blast.

The surviving scientist, Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) tries in vain to convince people that he saw a live dinosaur.  Nesbitt eventually makes his way to Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), a prominent paleontologist, and his assistant Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) and tries to convince them as well, eventually producing enough evidence to get them on board.  However, his contact in the military, Colonel Jack Evans (Kenneth Tobey)  isn’t so easily convinced.

But when the beast— identified by Professor Elson as a rhedosaurus—  attacks a lighthouse and eventually surfaces in the waters outside New York City, there’s no ignoring the situation.  The beast is very real.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is not only historically significant in that it’s the first of the 1950s giant monster movies, but it’s also an outstanding movie, one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

And the conversation about BEAST begins and ends with the work of Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen brought his “A” game to every movie that he worked on.  His stop-motion special effects are always top-notch.  A movie with inferior special effects by Ray Harryhausen does not exist.  The major reason for this of course is Harryhausen’s talent, but another reason is the time he spent on each movie.  Harryhausen never rushed his work, which is why, sadly, there weren’t more movies made with his stop-motion effects.  It often took him years to work on one movie.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is no exception.  It features superior special effects by Ray Harryhausen.  It also features one of the scariest and most memorable scenes from any giant monster movie period— the lighthouse scene.  Which comes as no surprise since this is the scene directly connected to Ray Bradbury’s short story, which was about a dinosaur attacking a lighthouse.

I first saw THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS on TV when I was probably eight years old or so, and the lighthouse scene gave me nightmares and stayed with me long afterwards. In this scene, there are two men in the closed-in confines of the lighthouse, and outside the protective walls, the beast emerges from the ocean, drawn by the light perhaps.  The men inside hear a noise, and look up to see the enormous face of the creature peering through the glass.  The beast then destroys the lighthouse before the men can escape, and as we learn later, eats them.  It’s a terrifying scene.

beast lighthouse

It’s also perfectly shot by director Lourie and Harryhausen.  The matting effect is near perfect, and without a DVD/Blu-ray to freeze fame, it would be very difficult for the naked eye in real-time to see where the real shots of the ocean and the matte shots of Harryhausen’s animation meet.  The chilling black and white photography helps here, and the whole scene is so well done it’s nearly seamless.  The lighthouse itself is also animated, as is the immediate island onto which the rhedosaurus climbs, but the surrounding ocean is not, as it’s the real thing.

There are a lot of other memorable scenes as well.  The rhedosaurus’ first appearance in the snowy Arctic is also quite chilling, and the ending of the film, which takes place by the rollercoaster on Coney Island is also noteworthy.

Beast - snow

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS also has an interesting cast.  I could take or leave Paul Christian, whose real name was Paul Hubschmid, as lead hero Tom Nesbitt.  Likewise, Paula Raymond  is just OK as lead love interest Lee Hunter.

It’s the supporting cast that stands out in this one.  Cecil Kellaway does a fine job as the amiable Professor Elson.  Kellaway was a famous character actor with a ton of credits in a career that spanned from the 1930s through the 1970s, appearing in such movies as Disney’s THE SHAGGY DOG (1959) and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967).  Kellaway also appeared in two Universal monster movies and was memorable in both of them.  He played Inspector Sampson in the first Invisible Man sequel, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) in which he doggedly pursues Vincent Price’s Invisible Man, and he played the flamboyant magician Solvani in THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940).

Kenneth Tobey plays Colonel Jack Evans.  Tobey of course played the lead hero Captain Patrick Hendry in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and he would play the lead again in Ray Harryhausen’s IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), which tells the tale of a giant monstrous octopus.  Tobey is excellent here in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS in a supporting role.

And yes, that’s Lee Van Cleef as Corporal Stone, the marksman given the daunting task of shooting the fatal radioactive isotope into the wound of the rhedosaurus.

Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger wrote the screenplay, based on the Bradbury short story.  It’s a decent screenplay as it tells a solid story, contains realistic dialogue, and creates sympathetic characters.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS also features a compelling music score by David Buttolph.

So, the next time you’re enjoying a giant monster movie, especially one in the Godzilla/Toho/Kaiju universe, remember it might not have happened without the success of Ray Harryhausen’s rhedosaurus, aka THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

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IN THE SHADOWS: TORIN THATCHER

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Torin Thatcher as the evil magician Sokurah in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at the career of character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today IN THE SHADOWS it’s Torin Thatcher, a character actor known mostly for his villainous roles.  I remember him most for his outstanding portrayal of the evil magician Sokurah in the classic fantasy film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) which also features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion special effects.

And when you watch a movie featuring Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, it’s usually those effects that you remember, not the actors in the film.  This is true with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with the exception of Torin Thatcher.  His work in 7TH VOYAGE is so strong you remember the magician Sokurah just as vividly as you do Harryhausen’s fantastic creatures.

Before he become an actor, Torin Thatcher was a school teacher.  How cool would that have been?  To have Sokurah the Magician as your teacher.  But seriously, I can only imagine how powerfully effective he must have been standing in a classroom teaching students.

Here now is a partial list of Torin Thatcher’s 150 film and TV credits:

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1927) – Solanio – Torin Thatcher’s first movie credit as Solanio in this silent short adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

NORAH O’NEALE (1934) – Dr. Hackey – Thatcher’s first screen credit in a feature-length movie.  Early drama starring Lester Matthews, known to horror fans for his work in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi classic THE RAVEN (1935).

SABOTEUR (1942) – uncredited appearance in this classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) – Bentley Drummle – small role in the classic David Lean version of the Charles Dickens tale starring John Mills, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson who played Elizabeth in the Boris Karloff classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and future Hammer Films stars from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) Martita Hunt and Freda Jackson.

THE FALLEN IDOL (1948) – Policeman – Plays a policeman in this classic mystery from director Carol Reed (Oliver Reed’s uncle) with a script by Graham Greene.

THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952) – Humble Bellows – Swashbuckling pirate adventure starring Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Siodmak, the director of SON OF DRACULA (1943).  Also memorable for featuring a young Christopher Lee in a supporting role.

THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952) – Johnson – classic drama starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, and Leo G. Carroll.

THE DESERT RATS (1953) – Col. Barney White – Robert Wise-directed war movie starring Richard Burton and James Mason.

THE ROBE (1953) – Sen. Gallio – Biblical tale  of Roman tribune with a conscience starring Richard Burton and Michael Rennie.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) – Mr. Myers – Billy Wilder-directed Agatha Christie tale starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester.  Also features veteran character actor Una O’Connor, also from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933).

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) – Sokurah the Magician – My favorite all-time Torin Thatcher role.  This classic fantasy adventures features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best special effects ever.  Who can ever forget his giant Cyclops?  In addition, it also features a rousing Bernard Herrmann score, one of my favorites.  The third outstanding element of this movie is Torin Thatcher’s performance as Sokurah.  It’s a rare occurrence indeed in a Ray Harryhausen movie for anything to be as memorable as his creature effects, but Torin Thatcher achieves this feat.  He’s just as memorable in this film as Harryhausen’s effects.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1957-59) – Constable Johnson – “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” (1957)/ Felix Edward Manbridge – “Relative Value” – appearances in two episodes of the classic Alfred Hitchcock TV series.

THRILLER (1961) – Jeremy Teal – “Well of Doom” – appearance in the classic horror anthology TV show hosted by Boris Karloff.

JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) – Pendragon – Once again playing the villain in a fantasy adventure.  Thatcher is reunited with 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD director Nathan Juran and lead actor Kerwin Matthews who played Sinbad in 7TH VOYAGE and plays Jack here, but missing this time around is Ray Harryhausen and his fantastic creatures, resulting in inferior special effects.

GET SMART (1966) – Dr. Braam – “All In the Mind” (1966) – appearance in the classic Mel Brooks TV series starring Don Adams as Secret Agent Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99.

LOST IN SPACE (1966) – The Space Trader- “The Space Trader” (1966)- plays a villain in this Season 1 episode of the Irwin Allen science fiction adventure TV show.  Trades with the Robinson family, takes advantage of Dr. Smith’s greed and makes him his slave, only to be eventually outsmarted by the Robinson Robot.  Way to go, bubble headed booby!

STAR TREK (1967) – Marplon- “The Return of the Archons” (1967) – appearance in this Season 1 episode of the classic TV series chronicling the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy aboard the starship Enterprise.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968) – Sir John Turnbull – TV movie version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale, produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind DARK SHADOWS and THE NIGHT STALKER (1971).  Starring Jack Palance as a very sinister Mr. Hyde.

LAND OF THE GIANTS (1970) – Dr. Berger – “Nightmare” (1970) – appearance in this Irwin Allen fantasy TV show.

NIGHT GALLERY ( 1971) – Captain of the Lusitania – “Lone Survivor” (1971) – appearance in the horror anthology series by Rod Serling.

BRENDA STARR ( 1976) – Lassiter- Torin Thatcher’s last screen credit is in this TV movie adventure involving extortion, voodoo, and the supernatural.  Starring Jill St. John.

Thatcher passed away on March 4, 1981 at the age of 76 from cancer.

Torin Thatcher – January 15, 1905 – March 4, 1981.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS.  Join me next time when we look at the career of another classic character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN

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THE HORROR JAR:  Music by Bernard Herrmann

By Michael Arruda

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann

 

 

Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

Bernard Herrmann, the prolific film composer who composed music for some of Hollywood’s biggest movies during the 1940s-1970s, especially for director Alfred Hitchcock, wrote some of my favorite genre film scores.  He scored nine of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, including his most famous for PSYCHO (1960), and interestingly enough none of his Hitchcock scores were ever nominated for Oscars.

Herrmann started in radio, scoring Orson Welles’ radio shows in the 1930s, including his infamous “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in 1938.

Herrmann’s final film score was for Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976).  He was supposed to score Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) but died of a heart attack just before he was start work on the film.  He was 64.

Here’s a partial look at the movies Herrmann provided music for, focusing mostly on genre films:

CITIZEN KANE (1941)

Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles

Kane:  Orson Welles

Jedediah Leland:  Joseph Cotten

Susan Alexander Kane:  Dorothy Comingore

Emily Kane:  Ruth Warrick

Mary Kane:  Agnes Moorehead

Running Time:  119 minutes

Bernard Herrmann’s first movie score. Not a bad way to start one’s career, scoring music for arguably the greatest movie ever made.

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)

Directed by William Dieterle

Screenplay by Dan Totheroh and Stephen Vincent Benet

Daniel Webster:  Edward Arnold

Mr. Scratch:  Walter Huston

Running Time:  107 minutes

Herrmann’s second movie score earned him his first and only Academy Award for Best Music Score.

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942)

Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Orson Welles and Booth Tarkington

Eugene Morgan:  Joseph Cotten

Running Time:  88 minutes

Working with Orson Welles’ again in this troubled production which suffered from major studio meddling and last minute edits and changes.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick

Lucy Muir:  Gene Tierney

Captain Daniel Gregg:  Rex Harrison

Miles Farley:  George Sanders

Running Time:  104 minutes

Herrmann’s personal favorite music score.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

Directed by Robert Wise

Screenplay by Edmund H. North, based on a story by Harry Bates

Klaatu:  Michael Rennie

Helen Benson:  Patricia Neal

One of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores.  His music completely captures the otherworldly mood of this classic science fiction masterpiece about an alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who travels to Earth to warn humankind that unless they give up their warring ways, they will face destruction by a superior race, and to give credence to his words Klaatu brings along his all-powerful robot Gort.  This thought-provoking drama is science fiction at its best.

Herrmann’s score here was later used in several episodes of the TV series LOST IN SPACE.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD poster

Directed by Nathan Juran

Screenplay by Kenneth Kolb

Sinbad:  Kerwin Mathews

Princess Parisa:  Kathryn Grant

Sokurah the Magician:  Torin Thatcher

Special Visual Effects by Ray Harryhausen

Running Time:  88 minutes

This just might be my all-time favorite Bernard Herrmann music score.  Rousing and adventurous from start to finish, it’s the type of score that’ll stick with you long after you’ve seen the movie.  Some of Herrmann’s best work is in movies featuring the special animation effects of Ray Harryhausen.

VERTIGO (1958)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor

John Ferguson:  James Stewart

Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton:  Kim Novak

Midge Wood:  Barbara Bel Geddes

Running Time:  128 minutes

Provides the music for one of Hitchcock’s best films, the tale of a retired San Francisco police detective (James Stewart) suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) who becomes entangled in a bizarre murder plot.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

Roger Thornhill:  Cary Grant

Eve Kendall:  Eva Marie Saint

Phillip Vandamm: James Mason

Running Time:  136 minutes

With apologies to his work on PSYCHO, this just might be my favorite Bernard Herrmann score for an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  His rousing music in this film also ranks among his best work, period.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)

Directed by Henry Levin

Screenplay by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook:  James Mason

Alec McKuen:  Pat Boone

Carla Goetabaug:  Arlene Dahl

Count Saknussemm:  Thayer David

Running Time:  132 minutes

Another of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores, but seriously, I can say that about nearly every score he wrote.  This fantasy film adventure based on the work of Jules Verne is 1950s filmmaking at its best:  colorful, elaborate, and entertaining throughout.

PSYCHO (1960)

Directed by Alfred HitchcockPsycho poster

Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates:  Anthony Perkins

Marion Crane:  Janet Leigh

Lila Crane:  Vera Miles

Sam Loomis:  John Gavin

Detective Arbogast:  Martin Balsam

Running Time:  109 minutes

Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous shocker, and arguably Bernard Herrmann’s most famous music score as well.  Likewise, it contains Hitchcock’s most famous and most studied scene, the shower scene, which also contains Herrmann’s most famous piece of music, the loud shrill of violins as the shadowy murderer strikes down poor Janet Leigh in the shower.  Hitchcock originally wanted no music in this scene, which actually makes a lot of sense and would have worked, making the scene raw and brutal, but Herrmann argued that it needed music, and how can anyone argue with the end result?  A rare example of one brief scene capturing the finest instances of artistry of two separate artists at the same time, as both Hitchcock and Herrmann produce their signature moments in this scene.

Arguably the most famous and recognizable horror movie score of all time.

THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960)

Directed by Jack Sher

Screenplay by Jack Sher and Arthur A. Ross, based on “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver:  Kerwin Mathews

Gwendolyn:  Jo Morrow

Elizabeth: June Thorburn

Running Time:  100 minutes

Once again providing music for a film with special animation effects by Ray Harryhausen.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)

Directed by Cy Endfield

Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Captain Cyrus Harding:  Michael Craig

Lady Mary Fairchild:  Joan Greenwood

Herbert Brown:  Michael Callan

Gideon Spilitt:  Gary Merrill

Captain Nemo:  Herbert Lom

Running Time:  101 minutes

Once again reunited with Ray Harryhausen, and once again one of Herrmann’s most memorable scores. This entertaining adventure about Civil War soldiers stranded on an island with oversized creatures is must-see viewing.  The first twenty minutes, involving a daring escape from a Confederate prison, is riveting and suspenseful, complimented in full by Herrmann’s rousing music, and this is all before they even land on the island!

CAPE FEAR (1962)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Screenplay by James R. Webb, based on the novel by John D. Macdonald

Sam Bowden:  Gregory Peck

Max Cady:  Robert Mitchum

Peggy Bowden:  Polly Bergen

Running Time:  105 minutes

Classic thriller about murder and revenge was a financial flop upon its initial release.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

Directed by Don Chaffey

Screenplay by Jan Read and Beverley Cross

Jason:  Todd Armstrong

Argos:  Laurence Naismith

Running Time:  104 minutes

Reunited once again— and for the last time— with Ray Harryhausen, and yes, once more, another exceedingly memorable film score.  This one contains the classic sword fight between Jason and his men and Harryhausen’s animated skeletons.  The scene also includes some of Hermann’s best music.

THE BIRDS (1963)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Evan Hunter, based on the story by Daphne Du Maurier

Melanie Daniels:  Tippi Hedrin

Mitch Brenner:  Rod Taylor

Annie Hayworth:  Suzanne Pleshette

Running Time:  119 minutes.

But, there’s no music in THE BIRDS.  True.  Herrmann served as a sound consultant for this movie.  Supposedly it was his idea not to have music in THE BIRDS.

MARNIE (1964)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen, based on the novel by Winston Graham

Marnie:  Tippi Hedren

Mark Rutland:  Sean Connery

Running Time:  130 minutes

This Hitchcock drama was considered a misfire on its initial release, but its reputation has grown steadily over the decades.

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)

Directed by Francois Truffaut

Screenplay by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury

Clarisse/Linda Montag:  Julie Christie

Guy Montag:  Oskar Werner

Running Time:  112 minutes.

Classic novel; not so classic movie.

SISTERS (1973)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Brian De Palma and Louisa Rose

Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchion:  Margot Kidder

Joseph Larch:  Charles Durning

Running Time:  93 minutes

Early Brian De Palma thriller.

IT’S ALIVE (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen

Screenplay by Larry Cohen

Frank Davies:  John P. Ryan

Running Time: 91 minutes

Campy horror movie about a killer baby was a hit in the summer of 1974.

OBSESSION (1976)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Michael Courtland:  Cliff Robertson

Elizabeth Courtland/Sandra Portinari

Robert Lasalle:  John Lithgow

Running Time:  98 minutes

De Palma thriller with shades of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.  Herrmann’s score was nominated for an Oscar.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Travis Bickle:  Robert De Niro

Iris:  Jodie Foster

Running Time:  113 minutes

Classic Scorsese film earned Oscar nominations for stars De Niro and Foster, as well as Bernard Herrmann who was nominated twice in the same year. Herrmann lost out to Jerry Goldsmith for his score for THE OMEN.  Herrmann’s final movie score.

Herrmann died of a heart attack on December 24, 1975, just hours after he had finished the score for TAXI DRIVER.  He was 64.

Bernard Herrmann enjoyed a long and prolific career.  For me, I will always associate his music with the fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen and the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, and if I had to pick my three favorite Herrmann scores, they would be NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Bernard Herrmann

June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

LEADING LADIES: HAZEL COURT

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Hazel Court as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957, as the Creature (Christopher Lee) peers down at her through the skylight.

Hazel Court as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  That’s Christopher Lee’s Creature peering down at her through the skylight.

LEADING LADIES:  Hazel Court

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in horror movies, especially from years gone by.

 

Today we look at the career of Hazel Court, the beautiful actress who graced many of the horror period pieces of the 1950s and 1960s.  She played Elizabeth opposite Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and her performance as Elizabeth in this movie just might be my favorite Elizabeth performance in a Frankenstein movie, with perhaps the possible exception of Madeline Kahn’s over-the-top performance in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

 

Hazel Court enjoyed a long career, appearing in movies and TV shows beginning in 1944 and continuing all the way up to 1981.  She has 71 screen credits.  While I know her most from her horror movie appearances, she also appeared in a bunch of TV shows in the 1960s, appearing on such shows as TWILIGHT ZONE (1964), THE WILD WILD WEST (1966), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1967), MANNIX (1967), and MCMILLAN & WIFE (1972).

 

I will forever remember her for her appearance as Elizabeth in the Hammer classic THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  What I enjoy about her most in this movie is the class she brings to the role.  Peter Cushing is an absolute devil as Victor Frankenstein, and Court’s Elizabeth is so beautiful, charming, and genuine, it makes what Victor does to her all the more painful, as he lies to her continually and cheats on her as well.

 

Her character seemed so genuinely interested in Victor’s work, I often wonder what her reaction would have been had Victor made good on his promise to tell her the truth about his work and show her his creation.  Would she have been horrified?  Or would she have been supportive?  Judging from her character in this movie, I’d guess it would be the latter, that she, unlike Victor’s former tutor-turned-assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) would not have been offended but would have offered her help to her husband to make his dream of creating life come true.  But alas, this doesn’t happen, as Elizabeth is nearly murdered by the Creature (Christopher Lee), and thanks to Paul’s betrayal, Victor is sent to the guillotine.

 

My favorite Hazel Court scene as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is when she boldly decides to search Victor’s laboratory on her own, to learn for herself just what it is that has caused such a rift between Victor and Paul.  She picks up a candle—the same one that Victor would use moments later to engulf his Creature in flames— and searches the area, and when she comes to the acid vat where Victor had been disposing his body parts, she brings her hand to her nose just as the Creature looks down upon her from the rooftop skylight. She looks up and cries out, “Who’s that?”  But the Creature is no longer there.

 

Here is a partial look at Hazel Court’s career, concentrating mostly on her horror film appearances:

 

CHAMPAGNE CHARLIE (1944) – Hazel Court’s first screen appearance, an uncredited bit in this comedy musical.

 

GHOST SHIP (1952) – ghosts on the high seas!

 

DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954) – Hazel Court’s not the Devil Girl, but she is terribly sexy in this campy science fiction tale about a woman alien from Mars dressed in leather who’s come to Earth to dominate men.  Court plays a fashion model named Ellen Prestwick, and she definitely looks the part.  She’s never looked sexier!

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – plays Elizabeth to Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein in Hammer Films’ first horror hit.  That’s Court’s real life daughter Sally Walsh playing the character of Elizabeth as a child.  My favorite Hazel Court performance.

 

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) – Janine Du Bois- reunited with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and star Christopher Lee in this thriller from Hammer Films.

 

BONANZA (1960) – Lady Beatrice Dunsford – guest spot on the popular TV western in the episode named “The Last Trophy.”

 

DOCTOR BLOOD’S COFFIN (1961) – Nurse Linda Parker- low budget horror movie written by director Nathan Juran, who directed such classics as 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), both films featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1958-1961) – appeared in four different episodes of this popular television show.

 

THRILLER (1961) – Leonie Vicek- appeared in the episode “The Terror in Teakwood” in this horror show hosted by Boris Karloff.

 

PREMATURE BURIAL (1962) – Emily Gault – stars opposite Ray Milland in this handsome horror movie directed by Roger Corman based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

 

THE RAVEN (1963) – Lenore Craven – gets to star with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Jack Nicholson in this horror comedy by Roger Corman, loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem.

 

TWILIGHT ZONE (1964) – Charlotte Scott – stars in the episode called “The Fear” in this iconic science fiction series.

 

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) – Juliana – in danger from Vincent Price’s evil Prince Prospero in this horror movie by Roger Corman based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

 

THE WILD WILD WEST (1965) – Elizabeth Carter – appears in the episode “The Night of the Returning Dead” directed by Richard Donner, in this western TV series starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin.

 

MISSION:  IMPOSSIBLE (1967) – Catherine Hagar – appeared in the episode “Charity” of this spy television series starring Peter Graves.

 

MCMILLAN & WIFE (1972) – Frances Mayerling – appeared in the episode “The Face of Murder” in this mystery TV series starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James.

 

 

Hazel Court passed away from a heart attack on April 15, 2008 at the age of 82.

 

Hazel Court.  February 10, 1926 – April 15, 2008.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957)

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the land unknown posterThis column on the Universal dinosaur adventure, THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957) originally ran in the pages of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter in July 2007 and is currently being reprinted in the July 2014 edition of the HWA Newsletter.

And just a friendly reminder, if you like this column, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA

Dinosaurs have been with us in the movies since the silent era.

Go back to 1925, and you have the remarkable version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD. Continue to the original KING KONG (1933), through the Ray Harryhausen years with such films as THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), to JURASSIC PARK (1993) and its sequels, all the way up to present day where we come full circle with Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005). Dinosaurs have both fascinated and terrified us. We’re always happy to see them— at least, in the movies.

Today’s film, THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957) is— what’s that? Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. See, THE LAND UNKNOWN is— well, rather unknown.

Released by Universal Pictures and produced by William Alland, the same man who produced the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON movies for Universal in the 1950s, THE LAND UNKNOWN tells the story of four crew members on a naval expedition to explore Antarctica. When their helicopter crashes into a mysterious valley hidden from the skies by a strange, dense fog, they find themselves trapped in a prehistoric world full of dinosaurs.

Jock Mahoney plays Commander Harold Roberts, the leader of the expedition. Mahoney, a former stunt man who would go on to play Tarzan in the movies, is actually quite good, and you don’t find yourself thinking he’s a former stunt man turned actor.

He does his own stunts in the film, which is really cool, because it helps the action flow very smoothly. Absent are the traditional cuts to the stunt man. Nope, he just leaps here and dives there, and the camera keeps rolling. It really adds authenticity to the film. The best of these sequences is when Mahoney dives from the helicopter into a river.

The rest of the acting is also very good, including Shawn Smith who represents the lone female presence in the movie.

But of course you don’t watch a dinosaur movie for the acting- you watch it for the dinosaurs.
To create the illusion of giant prehistoric creatures, the special effects team of Fred Knoth, Orien Ernest, and Jack Kevan used a combination of real lizards, man in suit, and mechanical models.
The least effective method of portraying dinosaurs in the movies is the old trick of using real lizards. With the help of trick photography and thunderous sound effects, these real life reptiles are made to look humongous. This method was probably best used in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). In most other genre films, this particular effect comes off as cheap and fake. Luckily, it’s used sparingly in THE LAND UNKNOWN.

While models were used to portray a sea monster and a pterodactyl, for the film’s main monster, the T-Rex, it was time for the old “man in suit” routine, and nobody seems to do this as well as the folks who give life to Godzilla and friends. Sadly, the T-Rex here is quite laughable, looking like a prehistoric couch potato after a weekend of sucking down beer. He’s slow, lumbering, and oh that pot belly!

THE LAND UNKNOWN was directed by Virgil Vogel, while Laszlo Gorog wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Charles Palmer. Joseph Gershenson wrote the music score, and it’s OK, though nowhere near as good as his now classic score for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.

THE LAND UNKNOWN is fun and entertaining, as long as you can look past the average special effects. And, no, it won’t give you any nightmares, unless, of course, you suffer from a fear of prehistoric couch potatoes.

(July 2007)
—END—

 

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: GIANT BUG MOVIES

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THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THE HORROR JAR: Giant Bug Movies
By Michael Arruda

Just in time for summer, it’s another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature various lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies. This time out we look at giant bug movies. That’s right, when you’re out picnicking, at the beach, on a hike, or at a barbecue, and the pesky bugs are getting in your face, remember, it could be a lot worse.

They could be a lot bigger.

Here’s a look at some giant bug classics:

THEM! (1954)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Screenplay by Ted Sherdeman
Sgt. Ben Peterson: James Whitmore
Robert Graham: James Arness
Dr. Harold Medford: Edmund Gwenn
Dr. Patricia Medford: Joan Weldon
General O’Brien: Onslow Stevens
Running Time: 94 minutes

Giant ants attack Los Angeles. One of the first giant bug movies remains one of the best. Chilling thriller is much scarier than its 1950s counterparts. Originally to have been shot in color and in 3D. It works just fine in black and white.

 

TARANTULA (1955)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley
Dr. Matt Hastings: John Agar
Professor Gerald Deemer: Leo G. Carroll
Running Time: 80 minutes

John Agar defends a desert town from a giant tarantula. Another classic.

 

RODAN (1956)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Takeshi Kimura
Running Time: 74 minutes

Sure, Rodan is a pterosaur, but this Toho flick also features prehistoric insects which are quite scary until Rodan decides to eat them for breakfast.

 

BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn
Dr. Ed Wainright: Peter Graves
Running Time: 76 minutes

It’s all in the family, as this tale of giant grasshoppers stars future Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves, the brother of James Arness (future Gunsmoke star) who starred in THEM! This one comes to us from director Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) who made a lot of these giant monster movies, and it’s an inferior production to the giant bug films which came before it.

 

THE BLACK SCORPION (1957)
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Screenplay by David Duncan and Robert Blees
Hank Scott: Richard Denning
Running Time: 88 minutes

This tale of giant scorpions attacking Mexico City features special effects by KING KONG (1933) creator Willis O’Brien and stars Richard Denning, fresh off his battle with the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Budget constraints forced O’Brien to use incomplete shots of the giant scorpions in some scenes. In these scenes the monsters appear as black shadows as opposed to fleshed out creatures.

 

THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)
Directed by Nathan Juran
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Col. Joe Parkman: Craig Stevens
Dr. Ned Jackson: William Hopper
Running Time: 79 minutes

Universal’s companion piece to its earlier hit TARANTULA, this one about a giant praying mantis. Not as good as TARANTULA, but still an above average entry in the genre. Contains some very creepy scenes.

 

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog and George Worthing Yates
Running Time: 73 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick should have been called Teens Vs. The Spider, as a group of 1950s teens takes on a giant Arachnid which invades their small town.

 

MOTHRA (1961)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 88 minutes

I’ve never understood the desire to make a movie about a giant moth (“Hey, guys, here’s an idea for a giant monster movie: a giant moth!” Seriously?) Of course, this shows how little I know, as MOTHRA became a hit for Toho, and everybody’s favorite giant moth would go on to appear in countless other movies, most featuring Godzilla.

 

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)
Directed by Cy Enfield
Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Michael Craig
Herbert Brown: Michael Callan
Gideon Spilitt: Gary Merrill
Captain Nemo: Herbert Lom
Running Time: 101 minutes

This classic movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen features many giant creatures, including oversized bees. Superior special effects here, but that’s no surprise as Ray Harryhausen always brought his “A” game to his movies. Memorable music score by Bernard Herrmann.

 

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 89 minutes

Godzilla battles Mothra for the first time. Mothra would go on to appear in many other Godzilla movies, not listed here.

 

SON OF GODZILLA (1967)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa and Kazue Shiba
Running Time: 84 minutes

No Mothra here, but this film which introduced Godzilla’s son Minilla does feature giant praying mantises known as Kamacuras, and a giant spider called Kumonga.

 

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Bert I. Gordon, based on the novel by H.G.Wells.
Running Time: 88 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick is mainly about enormous rats, but does feature humongous wasps as well.

 

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Jack Turley, based on a story by H.G. Wells
Marilyn Fryser: Joan Collins
Dan Stokely: Robert Lansing
Running Time: 89 minutes

Bert I. Gordon again, this time directing a tale about giant ants in Florida, starring Joan Collins, four years before her run on the TV show Dynasty.

 

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977)
Directed by John “Bud” Cardos
Screenplay by Richard Robinson and Alan Caillou
Rack Hansen: William Shatner
Running Time: 97 minutes

Okay, technically, this isn’t a giant bug movie, because the spiders in this flick are regular sized— it’s just that there are millions of them invading a small town. (Well, maybe not millions, but there sure are a lot of them!). This film is on the list for one reason only, other than the spiders, of course, and that’s William Shatner. Shatner lifts this one to a higher level. Sure, it’s his over-dramatic Captain Kirk shtick again here as he plays veterinarian Rack Hansen, but that’s what makes his performance and ultimately this movie so much fun.

 

TREMORS (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood
Screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock
Valentine McKee: Kevin Bacon
Earl Bassett: Fred Ward
Burt Gummer: Michael Gross
Heather Gummer: Reba McIntire
Running Time: 96 minutes

Another film that technically isn’t a giant bug movie, but this flick about ferocious giant mutated worm-creatures is so good it’s impossible to keep off this list. A highly entertaining movie that was largely ignored upon its initial theatrical release, TREMORS ranks as one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

 

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (2002)
Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Screenplay by Jesse Alexander and Ellory Elkayem
Chris McCormick: David Arquette
Ashley Parker: Scarlett Johansson
Running Time: 99 minutes

This effective horror comedy mix about giant spiders features Scarlett Johansson in one of her early roles.

 

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the novel “The Return of the King” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frodo: Elijah Wood
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Gollum: Andy Serkis
Running Time: 201 minutes

This 2004 Oscar Winner for Best Picture features one very nasty giant spider in one very creepy scene. The other 195 minutes aren’t half bad either!

Well, there you have it. A list of giant bug movies just in time for summer. Is this all of them? No way! These are just a few of the giant critter flicks which I recommend. There are many, many more.

That’s it for now.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael