Hey, folks. A while back it struck me that maybe I wasn’t doing quite enough with this blog as I could have. For nearly a year, I posted news and reviews on my own and over the last couple of months we’ve added some new blood to the shark tank in the form of some new writers but if there’s one thing I really wanted to do, it’s get some opinion up in here. So in an effort to add a little variety and hopefully spur some discussions in the comments and forums, I have asked a few people to put together their thoughts on a topic that we can all relate to. I asked them to write up an opinion piece about what they consider to be the perfect b-movie. Mind you, not necessarily their favorite, but a movie that they feel really embodies and defines the term. The first person to answer the call is Remo D., genre fan, writer, reviewer and host of California’s ‘Manor of Mayhem’ cable TV creature-feature. So without further adieu, Remo D.’s thoughts on the ultimate b-movie.
MY PERFECT “B” MOVIE
by Remo D.
Of the thousands of bizarre and outlandish films I’ve taken in over my lifetime, could I even try to define the perfect “B” movie? Absolutely not–but I’ve got MY personal favorite lined up and ready to go! It’s a “B” movie in the purest sense of the term–it was created by a major studio as a second feature to give support to one of their major productions, but it ended up with a life of its own, providing plenty of unexpected entertainment and individual value.
We all know the Universal Horror classics of the 1930s and 1940s. And I would imagine that when they’re invoked, you immediately call the Big Four to mind… Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Mummy and the Wolf Man. Or at least you’re thinking of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and/or Lon Chaney. Well, there were scores of films in the lineup featuring none of the above–none of which hit the heights of the “big guns.” And some of them seemed to drop off the map altogether. I can’t tell you how long it took for me to catch up with THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946), for instance. Hey, come on–Gale Sondergaard and Rondo Hatton, seemingly playing off the villainous characters they created for Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series? How could this miss? Long story short–it found a way.
But don’t let that throw you. There’s still plenty of great stuff in Universal’s B-horror vault. And for your viewing pleasure, I would like to introduce you to a little gem from 1943… quite possibly the best film in the lineup not to feature any of the classic monsters or any of the stars who portrayed them (though their supporting players get to take the main stage this time out).
The film is THE MAD GHOUL, from director James P. Hogan. Set in the then-modern day, it concerns itself with a classic love triangle–or in this case rectangle–and serves it up with a grisly twist. George Zucco (long-suffering high priest of Kharis in the MUMMY sequels) is Dr. Alfred Morris; scientist, college professor and instructor to student Ted Allison (David Bruce). Ted is engaged to singer Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers, intended prey of THE WOLF MAN), and makes the mistake of introducing her to Dr. Morris. The professor finds himself instantly smitten by Isabel–and he’s delighted to learn that she’s having second thoughts about her engagement to Ted. Well, he’s got just the trick to clear the playing field–he enlists Ted as his personal assistant for a series of experiments involving a mysterious, ancient Egyptian vapor purported to grant the gift of living death. Sure enough, the young, naive student soon finds himself under the sway of the gas, reduced to a zombified state (makeup by the one and only Jack Pierce) and subject to Morris’s hypnotic commands–involving the removal of hearts from his freshly killed victims (no other way to return to the land of the living)! With Ted safely set up to take the fall for the sudden rash of “ghoul” murders, Morris believes Isabel will soon be his. What he wasn’t counting on was Isabel’s attraction to her pianist Eric Iverson (Turhan Bey, yet another high priest of Kharis)! So Ted’s got himself another job…
THE MAD GHOUL has it all–swift pacing, shadow play, the traditional Universal library music and enthusiastic performances from the cast (hey, Ted was supposed to be something of a dullard, so don’t take it out on David Bruce). There’s even a classic monster bonus not normally associated with Universal… Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham himself) shows up as reporter “Scoop” McClure–so eager to get the real story that he even stakes himself out inside a coffin just to catch the Mad Ghoul in the act. And it all boils down to a satisfying climax in which everything that can go wrong for Dr. Morris (Zucco at his evil best) does (“First Eric, then myself… first Eric, then myself…). And if the “just plain fun” factor isn’t enough, one can easily assign the film additional honors as a signifcant step towards the creation of the flesh-eating zombie as we know him today.
I have no idea which “A” picture THE MAD GHOUL supported on its original release, but this one-shot tale of a mad scientist and his pet zombie is never invoked in the same breath as the established Universal Classics, and it remains unreleased on DVD when even such unremarkable programmers as Universal’s HORROR ISLAND manage to receive the treatment. As it stands now, if you want to see THE MAD GHOUL, you’ll need to track down a copy of the long out-of-print VHS release. Do it. It’s worth it. THE MAD GHOUL is my perfect “B” movie.
Remo D. is a writer for Video Watchdog and Screem as well as the host of Remo D’s Manor of Mayhem, which runs on Monterey cable channel 24 in Monterey County, California. It can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 10PM Pacific, or Saturdays and Sundays at 5AM Pacific and if you’re not local to Remo, you can always check it out on the web at www.ampmedia.org and then choosing “Programs” and “Live Stream” for Channel 24!
To keep track of what Remo is up to, visit his Myspace profile and subscribe to his blog.