Monthly Archives: June 2013

Batman: The Joel Schumacher Years

Batman Forever

“Batman Forever” (1995)
Directed by Joel Schumacher,
Starring Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent / Two-Face,
Jim Carrey as Edward Nigma / The Riddler,
Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian,
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

As a response to the highly controversial and overly morose “Batman Returns,” Warner Brothers produced “Batman Forever,” a flashy popcorn movie with Joel Schumacher at the helm. Tim Burton was the executive producer, but I have an inkling that he didn’t have too much creative input. Audiences looked to past Joel Schumacher films such as “The Lost Boys” and “Flatliners” for reasons to be optimistic. Before there was IMDB, you would scope the posters in theaters to see which movies were “coming soon.” The teaser poster of “Batman Forever” was ingenious. The Batman logo was surrounded by a question mark. You knew that The Dark Knight was returning to the cinemas and that he would have to contend with The Riddler. Any questions?

Val Kilmer took over as Bruce Wayne / Batman. His interpretation of Bruce was closer to the comics than Michael Keaton’s in that he portrayed a brooding and lonely orphan who knew to always keep up his public image as a dashing playboy. Bruce Wayne was a recluse in the two Tim Burton movies, but in Joel Schumacher’s Gotham City, Bruce is the toast of the town. Conversely, Val Kilmer’s Batman was lacking in my opinion. He didn’t really seem like a “Dark Knight,” especially when comparing him to Michael Keaton. Once the cape and cowl went on, Val Kilmer came across as a generic Saturday morning cartoon superhero. It’s a good thing that he’d already played Doc Holiday to perfection in “Tombstone” and built up a lot of goodwill. I’m not going to comment on the nipples or enlarged codpieces that defined the Batman and Robin costumes in this flick. Enough had been said and written about over the years in regards to bat-nipples.

As I mentioned, everyone in Gotham City is entranced with Bruce Wayne, none more so than Edward Nigma, an underappreciated and somewhat unhinged technician employed by Wayne Enterprises. This was during the height of Jim Carrey-Mania. He had three massive hits in 1994, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb & Dumber.” Some have complained that he wasn’t menacing like Frank Gorshin was as The Riddler back on the 1960s TV series, but I think that Jim Carrey gave a decent performance. I surely preferred him to Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent / Two-Face. Whether Jones was trying to emulate Jack Nicholson’s Joker or he was fearful of being upstaged by Jim Carrey’s Riddler, he gave an uninspiring and cackling performance as Gotham’s disgraced D.A., with none of the pathos associated with the character. During promotional interviews, Tommy Lee Jones spoke of Jekyll & Hyde, but I saw none of that influence in his portrayal of Two-Face.

Tim Burton’s Bat-films are more highly thought of nowadays than Joel Schumacher’s glorified toy commercials, but back in 1995, audiences were digging “Batman Forever.” It was probably the second highest grossing film of 1995 (“Toy Story” being number one). Val Kilmer was a heartthrob for the ladies and Jim Carrey was becoming a mega star. So was Nicole Kidman, who circa 1995 was just about the most attractive woman in Hollywood. She played Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. It’s hard to come up with a word that properly described her beauty at the time. Elegant? Radiant? Exquisite? I’ll go with exquisite. Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Nicole Kidman. Batman sure has a things for blondes back then.

What is there to say about Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin? The boy wonder had to be brought into the film series at some point. Yes, Chris O’Donnell was too old to be adopted by Bruce Wayne, but that was the 90210 trend in the early to mid-1990s. Twenty something actors cast as teenagers, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

So, is Joel Schumacher history’s greatest monster as was stated on “Robot Chicken?” He turned Gotham City into a giant techno inspired nightclub with strobe lights in every direction. I guess it all boils down to personal preference. Myself, I prefer the Michael Keaton batmobile much more than the one in “Batman Forever.” I also prefer Danny Elfman’s score to Elliot Goldenthal’s. “Batman Forever” is entertaining, but was never my cup of tea even though Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman elevated their star status by appearing in this movie.

Batman & Robin

“Batman & Robin” (1997)
Directed by Joel Schumacher,
Starring George Clooney as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze,
Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin,
Uma Thurman as Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy,
Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Yikes. Criticizing “Batman & Robin” is such commonplace, especially on the internet, that there’s virtually nothing negative left to say. I’ll just do my best to find some new and exciting ways to bash this piece of crap… This insult to the Batman mythos. I went easy on Joel Schumacher when it came to “Batman Forever,” but he’s left me with no choice this time around.

This movie never even remotely took itself seriously. There were far too many failed attempts at humor. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze had 23 (by my count) lines of dialogue which were ice related puns!!! And I don’t know what was going on with the production design. The Mr. Freeze suit looked utterly ridiculous. A real clunky mess. I guess that Uma Thurman was so-so as Poison Ivy, or at least she was no worse than the other cast members.

George Clooney, who is now a huge star, was quite simply miscast. Sorry. He’s fine as a billionaire playboy, the part he was born to play, but he was a lackluster Bruce Wayne and there was no attempt made whatsoever to effectively portray The Dark Knight. His Batman was nothing more than George Clooney in a cape and cowl. This movie is filled with borderline unwatchable action sequences like the batmobile driving across a giant statue of a naked man. The animated “Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero,” which was released on VHS around the same time, had more substance to it than this live action atrocity.

Akiva Goldsman, co-writer of “Batman Forever,” penned the screenplay of “Batman & Robin” on his own. This movie actually had a screenplay? Well, an uninspired one to say the least. Speaking of uninspired, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl was what is known as uninspired casting. She wasn’t even Jim Gordon’s daughter. And don’t even get me started on the characterization of Bane. Since when is Bane a grunting simpleton? He’s suppose to be a Latin Hannibal Lecter, jacked up on steroids.

Commissioner Gordon, played by Pat Hingle, never had too much to do in this Burton / Schumacher series. He and Michael Gough were the only actors to appear in all four of the films. In “Batman & Robin,” Commissioner Gordon was made into a complete and utter buffoon, though Michael Gough had some nice moments. Bruce sitting beside the deathbed of Alfred was the only redeeming scene in this film. It’s only fair that I point out something positive.

Back to the negative. There was a motorcycle race with Coolio as the emcee. Give me a break. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson bicker like an old married couple. I guess that’s reasonable since Bruce has created a surrogate family for himself and families will have their disagreements and argue from time to time. I cannot, however, defend those silver suits and a bat-zamboni? Why would Batman have ever constructed a zamboni? I can understand all his other bat-vehicles, but a zamboni? And what’s with the silver suits? Were they special anti-freeze suits? Give me one damn line of dialogue to justify these new suits.

The legacy of Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” is that it killed the franchise (for eight years). A fifth film, “Batman Triumphant,” was to have featured The Scarecrow as the main antagonist and possibly the return of The Joker. Those are my two favorite members of the Rogue’s Gallery and would’ve enjoyed seeing them in the same movie. “Batman Triumphant” was cancelled because of the negative response to “Batman & Robin.” From the ashes would rise Christopher Nolan to give us a new beginning to the Batman cinematic saga.

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Classic WWF Pay-Per-Views: 1994

WWF 1988 - 1994

ROYAL RUMBLE
January 22, 1994
Providence, Rhode Island

This was the first year that the WWF New Generation was able to shine uninterrupted. “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan did not make a comeback, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was retired from in-ring competition, The Ultimate Warrior was still exiled to “parts unknown,” and “Macho Man” Randy Savage was booked as a commentator and part time wrestler until departing after SummerSlam. Vince McMahon called the play-by-play at this PPV, with The Million Dollar Man serving as the color commentator.

“Native American” Tatanka defeated Bam Bam Bigalow in the opener. Bigalow was a substitute for Ludwig Borga, who was out of action with a knee injury. The crowd was behind Tatanka, but Bigalow received a hand for hitting an enziguri and mocking the “war dance” of Tatanka. Every once and while, you have to give a heel some accolades.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart and his brother, “The Rocket” Owen Hart, had seemingly patched things up over the holidays after some pushing and shoving at the Survivor Series. They would now challenge The Quebecers (Jacques & Piere) for the WWF Tag Team Titles. The Quebecers had recently lost the championships on Monday Night RAW to Marty Jannetty and The 1-2-3 Kid, then won the belts back at a houseshow in Madison Square Garden. The Quebecers were managed by Johnny Polo, who today is better known as Raven. The Hart Brothers functioned as a unit until The Hit Man injured his knee and was unable to continue. Referee Tim White stopped the match and awarded the victory to The Quebecers. This was Owen Hart’s first title opportunity and he was left irate. He blamed his brother for being selfish and not tagging out after getting hurt. Instead of helping his brother, Owen kicked Bret in his injured leg. The Hit Man anguished in pain while being stretchered back to the locker room. Would he return for the Royal Rumble Match?

Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross got a nice reprieve from Radio WWF and called Razor Ramon defending the Intercontinental Championship against Irwin R. Shyster. Shawn Michaels, the former and still self proclaimed IC title holder, interfered and used his bogus championship belt as a weapon against Razor after there was a referee bump. I.R.S. actually pinned Razor and apparently won the title, but the match was restarted and Razor pinned I.R.S. after hitting The Razor’s Edge, his finishing maneuver.

The Undertaker challenged Yokozuna for the WWF Championship in a Casket Match, a stipulation that clearly favored Undertaker. Yokozuna appeared truly intimidated by an opponent for the first time. Undertaker had the match won, then Crush, Genichiro Tenyru, The Great Kabuki, Bam Bam Bigalow, Adam Bomb, Diesel, “Double J” Jeff Jarrett, and The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu) all interfered on behalf of Yokozuna. It was almost like a preview of the Royal Rumble Match, but no baby-faces came to Undertaker’s aid. I heard “Luger” chants, but Lex was nowhere in sight. Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji stole the urn from Paul Bearer. The urn was then busted open and green mist poured out, symbolic of The Phenom losing his power. Yokozuna and company got Undertaker into the casket and sealed the lid. The heels took a victory lap, then more mist started seeping from the casket itself. The Undertaker appeared on the big screen and vowed to NOT rest in peace. This supernatural aspect of his gimmick makes The Undertaker the coolest character in WWF/WWE history. He is also a great in-ring performer, an athlete who is very agile for his size. There is a lot more to The Phenom then just his WrestleMania undefeated streak. Actually, he would miss WrestleMania X while recuperating from this beat down.

Scott Steiner drew #1 in the Royal Rumble Match. This year, the time between entrants was shortened from two minutes to ninety seconds. Rick Steiner drew #3 and after they eliminated Samu (#2), it looked liked the brothers could control the ring, but Kwang (#4) spit green mist into the face of Rick Steiner. Kwang would start competing as Savio Vega in 1995. Owen Hart (#5) had so much heat with the fans. Diesel (#7) then came in and he cleaned house. He then eliminated the next three entrants. No one had ever dominated the Royal Rumble like this. Though he was heel, fans were cheering him on. He tossed out a total of seven superstars, which didn’t break the record set by Hulk Hogan in 1989, but it was seven consecutive eliminations. A record which was tied by The Great Khali in 2007. As Diesel caught a breather, footage was show of Lex Luger getting battered in the locker room by Tenyru and The Great Kabuki, Mr. Fuji’s henchmen. Luger, like Bret Hart, was now questionable for the Royal Rumble Match.

“Macho Man” Randy Savage (#11) was the only superstar who was able to go toe-to-toe with Diesel. Savage also made quick work of “Double J” Jeff Jarrett (#12). Savage was then eliminated by Crush (#13) after he was double-teamed by Crush and Diesel. The ring finally began to fill up again. Shawn Michaels was entrant #18 and he backed off from his bodyguard, Diesel. HBK played nice and he and Diesel shook hands. This was a mistake on Diesel’s part because as soon as he dropped his guard, the other competitors in the ring ganged up and eliminated him. Shawn Michaels, according to Vince McMahon, helped to dump out his bodyguard, but the cameras missed it.

Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (#20) and Rick “The Model” Martel (#26) were both in this match. These were the two iron men of the 1991 Royal Rumble. Lex Luger came in at #23, showing no ill-effects from the locker room scuffle. Entrant #25 was a no-show. It was presumed to be Bret “Hit Man” Hart, but lo-and-behold, The Hit Man limped his way to ring at entrant #27, the lucky spot. It turned out to be Bastion Booger who was the no-show. Marty Jannetty (#29) went straight for Shawn Michaels and the crowd popped big for this Rockers rematch. The final four were Lex Luger, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Fatu (#28). Luger and Hart worked together to simultaneously eliminate HBK and Fatu. Never before had two baby-faces been the last two standing in a rumble. They locked up, went over the top rope, and apparently hit the floor at the exact same time.

First, Lex Luger’s music played, then Bret Hart’s as the referees continued to argue. The replays were inconclusive. If there wasn’t enough disorder already, WWF President Jack Tunney arrived to help and settle the dispute. Has Jack Tunney ever done anything accept make matters worse? The fans also weighed in, with Hart’s fans out cheering Luger’s. I think this crowd reaction helped to convince Vince McMahon which one should win the title at WrestleMania. The official ruling was explained to a perplexed Howard Finkel. The Fink announced that Bret Hart and Lex Luger were the “co-winners” of the 1994 Royal Rumble. Not a popular decision.

The WrestleMania theme played as Bret Hart and Lex Luger shook hands. Something similar happened in 2005 with John Cena and Batista, but that match was restarted. The 1994 Royal Rumble probably ended in upheaval because Vince McMahon was torn. He wanted to push Lex Luger, but the fans wanted Bret Hart… Did this compromise please anyone?

WRESTLEMANIA X
March 20, 1994
New York City, New York

Ten years in the making (it was actually nine, but who’s counting). The WWF returns to Madison Square Garden, the venue of the first WrestleMania and the first SummerSlam. Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler called all the action. This was The King’s first appearance in several months. I guess his legal troubles had been resolved. Lawler is still a color analyst for the WWE, nineteen years later. His tenure has eclipsed Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan combined.

WWF President Jack Tunney devised an unusual method of choosing the #1 Contender after Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Lex Luger co-won the 1994 Royal Rumble Match. A coin toss. The winner to get the first crack at Yokozuna and the WWF Championship, while the loser competes in an unrelated match, then challenges the champion irregardless of the result in his match. Lex Luger won the toss, so The Hit Man was now set to face his brother, “The Rocker” Owen Hart. If Bret Hart had won the toss, then Lex Luger would have fought Crush. This was the first time since WrestleMania IV that the main event was “to be determined.”

Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart opened the show. Not only was it an “excellent” match from a technical wrestling standpoint, but there was great drama, telling the story of big brother reluctant to grapple with his younger brother. According to Bret Hart, he had advised his brother to not use too much of his high-flying arsenal and rely on dirty heel tactics, so the fans would not be compelled to root for The Rocket. Nowadays, many superstars have become utterly obsessed with “stealing the show,” but that feat can be achieved without expending your entire repertoire. Bret put his brother over clean, with Owen countering his victory-roll attempt. Vince McMahon said that Bret’s heart wasn’t in the match. No pun intended. It also appeared as if The Hit Man re-aggravated his knee injury from the Royal Rumble.

Bam Bam Bigalow & Luna Vachon defeated Doink & Dink in a mixed tag team match. Alundra Blaze successfully defended the WWF Women’s Championship against Leilani Kai. The first time since Royal Rumble 1989 that there was a women’s championship match at a PPV. “Macho Man” Randy Savaged defeated Crush in a wild “Falls Count Anywhere” Match, the final PPV match for Randy Savage in the WWF even though he remained with the promotion for several more months. Men on a Mission (Mo & Mabel) w/ Oscar defeated The Quebecers (Jacques & Piere) w/ Johnny Polo via count out. This was for the WWF Tag Team Championships, which obviously do not change hands on a count out, but Men on a Mission still celebrated with the belts. Adam Bomb (w/ Harvey Wippleman) lost to Earthquake in a quick match. One of the shortest at a WrestleMania since King Kong Bundy vs. S.D. Jones way back at the inaugural WrestleMania. This was Earthquake’s last WWF PPV match until SummerSlam in 1998 (also in MSG), when he was known as Golga and a member of The Oddities.

Lex Luger challenged Yokozuna in the first WWF Championship Match of the evening. Their rivalry started in NYC the year before on the 4th of July, so it was fitting that the feud would culminate in the Big Apple. This was as close to the WWF Championship as the “Lex Express” would get, but the surprise guest referee turned out to be “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Lex Luger’s opponent from WrestleMania IX. No mention at all was made of their past animosity, obviously in attempt to make the finish as shocking as possible. Lex Luger walloped Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji, then nailed Yokozuna with his loaded elbow. Mr. Perfect was reluctant to count Yokozuna’s shoulders down, then inexplicably disqualified Lex Luger. Apparently, revenge for Lex stealing the victory at WrestleMania IX. Mr. Perfect and Lex were separated by officials backstage. Yet again, Mr. Perfect left the WWF because of chronic back problems and there was no closure to this rivalry. Lex Luger never received another WWF Title shot at a PPV.

There were two Intercontinental Championship belts hanging above the ring for the first WrestleMania Ladder Match. Shawn Michaels was stripped of the title and suspended in the fall of 1993. Razor Ramon won the vacated championship, then HBK returned with his original title belt. “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel was in the corner of Shawn Michaels, but was ejected from ringside early in the match despite there being no disqualifications. This contest was ahead of its time, setting the stage for the later TLC and Money in the Bank matches. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon told a story with the ladder as appose to it being a demolition derby. I was in high school during the Attitude Era and my classmates who had recently embraced pro wrestling would ask me about the famous WrestleMania X Ladder Match. I would warn them that they might not enjoy the match because it was tame by ECW standards and employed actual wrestling psychology. Nowadays, whenever the WWE references this match, it is implied that Shawn Michaels was the victory, but it was “The Bad Guy” Razor Ramon who won this epic match for the ages, proving that he was the undisputed Intercontinental Champion.

Because of the length of the Ladder Match, a ten man tag team match had to be nixed from the show. The heel team (Rick “The Model” Martel, “Double J” Jeff Jarrett, Irwin R. Shyster, & The Headshrinkers) were shown arguing backstage. This dissension in the ranks was given as the reason for the match being bumped to the next night on RAW.

Yokozuna returned to defend his title one more time against the man he’d bested the year before at WrestleMania IX, Bret “Hit Man” Hart. This being the first time that the WWF/WWE featured the same main event at two consecutive WrestleManias. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper appeared for the first since he played the bagpipes at SummerSlam 1992 to be the guest referee. Unlike Mr. Perfect, The Hot Rod called the match down the middle and showed no favoritism. Yokozuna dominated, but he slipped when he went for his patented bonsai drop and landed on the back of his head. The Hit Man capitalized, hooked the big man’s leg and won the WWF Champion for the second time in his career. Bret Hart was now a WWF triple crown winner two times over. Livid, Yokozuna chased Roddy Piper back to the locker room even though the three count was fair and square.

A dejected Lex Luger was the first superstar out to congratulate the new champion. You could see the disappointment in his eyes, but he and The Hit Man shook hands just as they did at the Royal Rumble. Roddy Piper returned and joined in the celebration. Just about every baby-face in the WWF also entered the ring to applaud Bret Hart. Among them were “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Razor Ramon, Tatanka, and Gorilla Monsoon. All the guest celebrities (including Burt Reynolds!!!) even got in on the act. Owen Hart watched this from the aisle. He had finally stepped out of the shadow of his brother with his victory earlier in the show, but Bret Hart was back in the spotlight with the title. You could read Owen’s lips as he said the words “What about me?”

When Bret Hart won the WWF Championship from Ric Flair in 1992, it was at a home video taping, so WrestleMania X was his real crowning moment, being carried up on the shoulders of his peers in Madison Square Garden as his synthesizer theme music blared.

KING OF THE RING
June 19, 1994
Baltimore, Maryland

A PPV which will live in infamy for “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Gorilla Monsoon being joined on commentary by Art Donovan, a retired professional football player turned outlandish TV personality, who was mystified and bothersome throughout the show. Why was this man booked if he knew nothing about the WWF? “Road Dogg” Jesse James has recently made a few wise cracks at the expense of Art Donovan on “Are you Serious?,” a humorous WWE Youtube show. WWF Chairman Vince McMahon was absent from this show because he was testifying at the notorious steroid trial and nursing a sore neck.

“The Bad Guy” Razor Ramon defeated “The Beast from the East” Bam Bam Bigalow in a solid opening match. At one point, Bigalow had Razor locked in the torture rack and Art Donovan absurdly asked if Razor was dead? Gorilla Monsoon politely explained to Art that these matches were not to the death. Bigalow had made it all the way to the finals in 1993, but this year he was eliminated right off the bat, disappointing Luna Vachon. Razor Ramon also bested Irwin R. Shyster to reach the finals. His opponent there would be “The Rocket” Owen Hart, who defeated “Native American” Tatanka and The 1-2-3 Kid along the way.

Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart returned after a two year absence (and brief tenure in WCW) to be in the corner of Bret “Hit Man” Hart as the “Excellence of Execution” defended the WWF Championship against “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel, who was the now reigning Intercontinental Champion. Diesel had defeated Razor Ramon for the IC strap. This was like a transitional period in the career of Diesel, where he became a much more active in-ring competitor as appose to just being bodyguard for Shawn Michaels. HBK acted as a manager for Diesel during the summer of 1994. Art Donovan was very confused by the presence of Shawn Michaels at ringside. Bret Hart lost by disqualification thanks to the outside interference of Jim Neidhart. A championship cannot change hands in that fashion and it would soon be revealed that The Anvil had ulterior motives for insuring that The Hit Man’s title reign continued.

The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu) successfully defended their WWF Tag Team Titles in a match against Yokozuna and Crush, both charges of Mr. Fuji. Yokozuna had just about dominated the promotion for almost an entire year, but it would be a while before he regained any real momentum.

As I mentioned, Owen Hart squared off with Razor Ramon in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart made another appearance and attacked Razor outside the ring while Owen had the referee distracted. Owen then hit a flying elbow drop for the victory. Art Donovan was bewildered once again. After the match was over, The Rocket and The Anvil hit Razor with the “Hart-Attack,” the finishing maneuver of The Hart Foundation. During the coronation, Owen Hart told WWF President Jack Tunney to take a hike and Jim Neidhart presented his brother-in-law with the scepter, kingly robe, and crown. Owen Hart declared himself to be the “King of Harts.” Gorilla Monsoon and Randy Savage surmised that Owen Hart and The Anvil were cahoots the whole the time.

The main event was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler in a match which was instigated by Jerry Lawler on his interview segment, “The King’s Court,” another in a long line of “Piper’s Pit” imitators. As was documented on the Roddy Piper “Born to Controversy” DVD, neither superstar thinks all too highly of this particular match. Roddy Piper won his first PPV match since WrestleMania VIII with a very awkward roll-up.

This mediocre main event peppered with Art Donovan’s completely inane commentary should be overlooked because the star of this show was Owen Hart. However, The 1994 King of the Ring was out grossed by WCW’s Bash at the Beach, which was headlined by “Nature Boy” Ric Flair defending the WCW Championship against “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan, who was making his WCW in-ring debut… The war had begun.

SUMMERSLAM
August 29, 1994
Chicago, Illinois

Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler called all the action. “Macho Man” Randy Savage was the emcee of his last WWF Pay-Per-View and the entire Hart Family was in attendance, including “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, who had spent two years in WCW. Leslie Nielsen and George Kennedy, the stars of the “Naked Gun” movies were searching for The Undertaker, who had not been seen since the Royal Rumble. Lastly, Shawn Michaels and Diesel had recently won the WWF Tag Team Championships from The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu) at a houseshow. Everybody got that?

Bam Bam Bigalow and Irwin R. Shyster, two members of Ted DiBiase’s new heel stable, “The Million Dollar Corporation,” defeated The Headshrinkers via DQ in the opener. This match would have been for the tag team titles had HBK and Big Daddy Cool not won the belts. Alundra Blaze successfully defended the WWF Women’s Championship against Bull Nakano. Luna Vachon was in the corner of the challenger. Bull Nakano would eventually win the championship in her native Japan before the Survivor Series.

Razor Ramon challenged Diesel for the Intercontinental Championship. Walter Peyton, an NFL great formerly of the Chicago Bears, was in the corner of Razor to keep an eye on Shawn Michaels, who had a tendency of interfering in Diesel’s matches. Big Daddy Cool was now the holder of two championships, but he would lose one thanks to HBK, who inadvertently struck Diesel with his patented super-kick. Razor Ramon was now a three time IC Champion. A record at the time. Also, the seeds had been sown for the break up of Shawn Michaels and Diesel, a future WrestleMania main event.

Throughout the summer, the WWF teased that Lex Luger would “sell out” and join Ted DiBiase’s Corporation. Lex Luger’s former good friend, “Native American” Tatanka, led the smear campaign against the man who was “made in the U.S.A.,” but at the conclusion of their match, it was revealed to be a swerve. Tatanka had “sold out” and beat down Lex, taking his cues from The Million Dollar Man. “Double J” Jeff Jarrett then defeated Mabel in showdown between country music and rap.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart defended the WWF Championship against his brother, “The King of Harts” Owen Hart in a Steel Cage Match. Unlike other steel cage matches, this was not a bloody contest. The excitement was built upon many near escapes from the cage. Owen’s leg was caught in the cage as Bret dropped to the arena floor, retaining his title. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was sitting with the rest of the Harts and as soon as the match was over, he clotheslined The British Bulldog over the guardrail, also wiping out Diana Hart-Smith. Owen and The Anvil dragged Bret back into the cage and padlocked it shut as Bulldog and the other brothers tried climbing to Bret’s rescue. Eventually, they all made it inside while Owen and Neidhart tucked their tales and ran. Every 1994 PPV was telling another chapter in this Hart Family saga. Classic matches coupled with dramatic storylines is why I’ve qualified Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart as one of the best feuds of 1990s.

The main event “looked good on paper.” The Undertaker vs. The Undertaker. After many weeks of alleged (Bigfoot like) sightings, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who had introduced The Phenom to the WWF back at Survivor Series 1990, would facilitate the return of the Dead Man. Paul Bearer disagreed, but on an edition of Heartbreak Hotel (Shawn Michaels’ version of Piper’s Pit) Ted DiBiase unveiled a man who he claimed to be The Undertaker, but his was not Mark Calaway, this was an imposter, Brian Lee. Paul Bearer knew that he was fake and promised that his true Undertaker would make a return at SummerSlam. Evil Undertaker made his entrance first, garbed in the traditional black and grey ring gear, then the real Undertaker emerged in new black and purple gear. The crowd was so exuberant during the entrances, then they fell flat when the bell rang. It was quite obvious which of the two was the original Undertaker, so the actual wrestling match was anti-climatic. It was a dominant victory for the one and only Undertaker. He then had a drawn out, year long feud with Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. The imposter wouldn’t return to the WWF until 1997, when he was known as Chainz and a member of DOA.

“Macho Man” Randy Savage introduced the final comedy segment with Leslie Nielsen and George Kennedy. Again, this would be The Macho Man’s last WWF Pay-Per-View appearance. He joined WCW in the fall of 1994 and reunited with “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan (they were called The Monster Maniacs instead of The Mega Powers). Leslie Nielsen and George Kennedy never actually crossed paths with The Undertaker, but they declared the case closed just before the show went off the air. Job well done.

SURVIVOR SERIES
November 23, 1994
San Antonio, Texas

Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon were on commentary for this Thanksgiving Eve tradition. So, no heel commentator? Since this show emanated from the Lone Star State, the whole cowboy theme was played up. Chuck Norris, the star of Walker, Texas Ranger, was even on hand to serve as the special guest enforcer in the main event. Nobody would dare to cross Chuck Norris.

Shawn Michaels and “The Teamsters” faced Razor Ramon and “The Bad Guys” in the opening traditional Survivor Series elimination match. HBK lingered on the apron and let “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel do the heavy lifting. He eliminated The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Sione), The 1-2-3 Kid, and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (via a count out). Despite of this dominate performance, Shawn Michaels was still not pleased. He wanted Diesel to hold Razor Ramon for the super-kick. HBK inadvertently nailed Diesel with the kick just as when he’d cost Diesel the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam. This was the last straw. Diesel lost his cool and chased Shawn Michaels out of the arena. The rest of Teamsters (Owen Hart, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, & “Double J” Jeff Jarrett) tried to play peacemaker, but were all counted out, making Razor Ramon the sole survivor. It’s a good thing that the WWF was in San Antonio because Shawn Michaels probably didn’t have a long drive home after he threw down his WWF Tag Team Championship belt.

Not a Survivor Series goes by without a shout out to The Royal Family vs. Clowns “R” Us. It’s referenced as often as The Undertaker’s 1990 debut and the Montreal Screw Job. Jerry “The King” Lawler teamed up with Sleazy, Queasy, and Cheesy to take on Doink, Dink, Wink, and Pink. The Royal Family did survive intact, but Jerry Lawler’s tiny partners turned on him after the match and The King received a pie in the face courtesy of Doink.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart defended the WWF Championship against Mr. Bob Backlund. It had been eleven years since Bob Backlund had lost the title to The Iron Sheik. His manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel on his behalf when he was trapped in the dreaded Camel Clutch. The stipulation in this championship match harkened back to that with both superstars choosing corner men to carry their towel. Bret Hart chose his brother-in-law, Davey Boy Smith, while Mr. Backlund chose Owen Hart. Owen blatantly interfered because the match couldn’t end on a DQ. Davey Boy injured himself while chasing Owen around the ring, leaving no one to toss in the towel for The Hit Man when Mr. Backlund cinched in the Crossed Face Chicken-Wing, his patented submission hold. Bret Hart was in a great deal of pain and it appeared as if Owen was now regretting his actions. Stu and Helen Hart were at in the front row and Owen begged his parents to throw in the towel, but Stu refused even though Bret was suffering just a few feet away. Helen couldn’t stand seeing her son in such agony and she threw in the towel and cost Bret Hart the WWF Championship. As soon as the bell rang, Owen gleefully ran back to the locker room. He had actually manipulated his mother into helping Bob Backlund regain the coveted title after eleven years. Another chapter in Hart Family saga was written. Score one for Owen.

Bob Backlund is the only superstar to be heavyweight champion for both Vincent J. McMahon and Vincent K. McMahon. One of the greatest comebacks in professional wrestling history, even him his adulation was short lived. Three days later, he lost the WWF Championship to Diesel at a Madison Square Garden houseshow. It took Bret Hart about eight years to become a triple crown winner. Big Daddy Cool only needed one year to accomplish that feet and needed less than ten seconds to beat Mr. Backlund. Diesel had taken the WWF by storm in 1994.

Lex Luger and “Guts & Glory” faced Ted DiBiase’s “Million Dollar Team” in the final of the traditional Survivor Series elimination matches. The match came down Lex vs. Bam Bam Bigalow, Tatanka, and King Kong Bundy. This was Bundy’s first PPV appearance since Survivor Series 1987. Lex eliminated Tatanka, which was measure of retribution for the betrayal back at SummerSlam, but Lex was pinned right afterwards. Bigalow and Bundy, behemoths as Gorilla Monsoon would say, were your survivors. Lex Luger was being pushed as the new Hulk Hogan in 1993, now he was the guy who had a reputation of not being able to win the “big one.”

The Undertaker vs. Yokozuna in a Casket Match was the main event. A rematch from the Royal Rumble, but this time, Chuck Norris was on hand to insure that there wouldn’t be any outside interference. Bam Bam Bigalow, King Kong Bundy, and Jeff Jarrett all came down to ringside and a standoff with Chuck Norris ensued. Irwin R. Shyster, obviously on the orders of Ted DiBiase, then attacked The Undertaker behind Chuck Norris’ back. Jeff Jarrett was feeling strong and decided to challenge Chuck. Double J received a kick to chops for his troubles. The Undertaker soon recovered from the Shyster’s back jump and dumped Yokozuna into the casket for the win. Yokozuna would only main event one more PPV in his career while Undertaker would have to wait over a year before he was granted a WWF Championship opportunity. Heading into 1995, the WWF was running solely on “Diesel Power.”

Batman: The Tim Burton Years

Batman '89

“Batman” (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier / The Joker,
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale,
Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Seeing Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the summer of 1989 while on vacation in Orlando, Florida is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. To this day, I don’t think that enough is said about just how clever the opening of this film is. A family, a boy and his parents, leave a theater and take a shortcut down an alley where they are accosted by two muggers. You immediately think “origin story,” but The Dark Knight is revealed to be watching this from a rooftop above. Nice.

Some say that this film does not stand the test of time. I will agree that the visuals have not aged well. This representation of Gotham City was created my mat paintings and miniatures, which were never meant to be viewed on an HD DVD or Blu-ray. The look of this film is reminiscent of a 1940s gangster movie. Pinstripe suits and tommy-guns. This was appropriate as Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and I think this film holds up better than “Dick Tracy,” which was released in 1990 and had a similar blend of Depression Era comic strips and gangster flicks.

Tim Burton was criticized at the time for his decision to cast Michael Keaton, whom he had directed in “Beetlejuice,” as Bruce Wayne. Though not a physically imposing actor, Michael Keaton embodied the poignant and infuriated orphan aspects of Bruce Wayne’s psychosis, the manifestation of which is Gotham City’s embittered Dark Knight. Burton and Keaton choose to omit the playboy façade and presented Bruce Wayne as a recluse. I guess the only real drawback to such an approach was that it would not take too much deductive reasoning to realize that Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne WAS Batman if you were one of the few to share his company. Keaton, to the best of my knowledge, was also the originator of the “bat-voice.” Adam West, who I had the honor of seeing live with Burt Ward at New York Comic Con 2012, never differentiated between Bruce and Batman in his dialogue. Kevin Conroy, who I saw live at New York Comic Con in 2011 and 2012, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale have all taken cues from Michael Keaton. George Clooney harkened back to Adam West, but without much success.

Batman remains is the shadows for much of this film. Meanwhile, Jack the Joker chews up the scenery. I’m not sure if I’m calling him “Jack” because the character was named Jack Napier or if it’s because Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime seems like his true personality with the volume turned all the way up. In the comics, there is no definitive origin story for The Joker. A few had attempted to garner sympathy for the character while another established his past as the Red Hood, a less successful criminal persona. Screenwriter Sam Hamm simplified matters by having Jack Napier as second-in-command of the Gotham City mafia. His transformation into The Joker was more cosmetic since he already had this very anti-social personality. Having Joker as a Mafioso also justifies having an unlimited supply of henchmen (or soldiers). Something that is not easily explained with other comic book villains. 1-800-HENCHMEN? After Heath Ledger’s amazing turn as The Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” audiences now consider Jack Nicholson quaint by comparison. That’s not really fair since the tone of the films were completely different. Jack Nicholson was a mob boss Joker while Heath Ledger was a domestic terrorist Joker. That is two distinctly different interpretations of the same comic book character.

Comic book aficionados take umbrage with the final two scenes of the second act, which were not written by Sam Hamm. I too have problems with these scenes, but for different reasons. My grievances have little to do with any contradictions to the source material. First, a flashback reveals a young Jack Napier was the murderer of Bruce’s parents. A big departure from the comics, but since this film was my introduction to the Batman mythos, I accepted it at face value. My real issue is that the flashback comes out of nowhere. It wasn’t set up at all. Earlier, Bruce is skimming through Jack Napier’s wrap sheet and a mugshot of the young Napier is visible for just a moment. Extend that scene for a few more moments, have Bruce examine the photo, then inform Alfred that this Napier fella seems familiar. Something simple like that would have sufficed. Is it at all possible that Bruce was hallucinating that The Joker murdered his parents? Is he making himself believe that he heard the killer ask, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?,” after hearing Joker speaks those words in Vicki Vale’s apartment? I’ve been told not to read too much into my theory as Tim Burton probably didn’t have anything that complex in mind.

Bruce then snaps out of his daze and discovers that Alfred has shown Vicki into the bat-cave. Many consider this to be an ultimate betrayal. No girls allowed in the bat-cave. I always found it curious that a pre-teen male acrobat wearing skintight booty shorts is permitted into the bat-cave, but not the vivacious Kim Basinger. My only issue with the scene is that Vicki and Bruce appear head over heels in love after only one date. A flaw common in many films.

Composer Danny Elfman’s score for this film is iconic. His opening title march rivals John William’s theme for “Superman: The Movie.” The Prince songs are a bit more polarizing. The general consensus is that his musical contributions date the movie. For the record, there are only three songs of his played in their entirety. A few seconds of “Bat-Dance” are heard in the background of the establishing shot of Gotham. Prince is not prominently featured until The Joker ransacks the art museum and again when the parade is in full swing. Tim Burton does acknowledge that Prince’s sound captured the essence of The Joker. A romantic ballad by Prince plays during the closing credits, but only after Danny Elfman’s march finishes. A variation of Danny Elfman’s work would be used as the theme to “Batman: The Animated Series.” Tim Burton’s “Batman” is not unlike other childhood favorites such as “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters.” A true product of the 1980s, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Batman Returns

“Batman Returns” (1992)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin,
Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Christopher Walken as Max Shreck,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

I remember playing with “Batman Returns” toys which came with McDonald’s Happy Meals. At the time, I was unaware that this film was considered wildly inappropriate for someone my age. It didn’t dawn on me for years how bleak this movie actually is. Tim Burton, talented as he is, insured that Warner Brothers would never permit him to direct another Batman film. I mean, the opening sequence shows parents attempting to drown their baby at Christmas. Wow, that is dark.

Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, was not depicted as a crime boss with a nightclub, rather he was a vilely deranged circus freak, who had been discarded by his wealthy parents (Yes, that is Pee Wee Herman in a cameo as Oswald’s father). There were also liberties taken with Selina Kyle, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead of being a master thief, she was a mousy secretary, murdered by her boss and resurrected by alley cats. Her following nervous breakdown alone is worth the price of admission. I thought incorporating the supernatural was a nice touch, but comic book aficionados have condemned Tim Burton for tampering with these iconic characters.

The Penguin runs for office just as Burgess Meredith had done on the 1960s TV series, but Burgess Meredith was never as distasteful as Danny DeVito was in this movie. Tim Burton has an inclination of using stitches as a visual cue, but never as effectively as he did with Michelle Pfeiffer’s skintight leather Catwoman costume. I recall she described herself as “yummy.” A true femme fatale.

Christopher Walken portrayed Max Shreck, a character not in the comics, but who was the driving force of the story. I think most people know that he was named after the star of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” an unauthorized silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Max Shreck is Bruce Wayne’s rival in the boardroom, the man pulling the strings of The Penguin’s mayoral campaign, and he inadvertently creates Catwoman by pushing her out of a window. Apparently, Max Shreck took the place of Harvey Dent in the screenplay. Billy Dee Williams portrayed Gotham City‘s D.A. in the previous film and Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role of Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but this film neglected to bridge the gap and show Harvey’s descent into villainy.

Robin, the boy wonder, was penciled in to appear this time around, but alas, he didn’t make the cut. The film was so cramped even without Robin that Michael Keaton, who receives top billing and plays the title character, had no more screentime than the other main characters. Batman and Catwoman did share a memorable “kiss.” I’m pretty sure that Michaels Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer were nominated for an MTV Movie Award for “Best Kiss,” but I can’t recall if they won and I refuse to look it up. This was the last time that Michael Keaton appeared as The Dark Knight. His departure was probably a combination of Tim Burton taking a backseat to Joel Schumacher on the next film and frustration over continuingly playing second fiddle to the villains.

I sometimes refer to “Batman Returns” as “The Nightmare Before Gotham” because the story takes place during the festive Christmas season. There is a macabre mood to this film without question, but there’s been too much griping about Batman taking lives in both Tim Burton movies. There was a body count, but it wasn’t cold blooded murder. I say it qualifies as abstract murder. The killing of a faceless enemy in the heat of battle. It’s not like Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne went all Frank Castle and was patrolling Gotham, wasting the bad guys with automatic weapons. The army of penguins were the most trigger happy characters in this movie, yet they were still compassionate enough to serve as the pallbearers for Oswald. Such a downbeat climax. Catwoman disappeared and it was hinted that she would return in a future sequel, but that never materialized. A Catwoman spin-off with Halle Berry was release in 2004 and it was atrociously bad.

Tim Burton’s unique style might not be everyone’s taste and some will argue that it just didn’t mesh with the Batman mythos, especially in this second outing, but he is an artist and unlike his immediate successor, cared more about the craft than monetary gain.

Universal Classic Monsters: “House of Frankenstein” (1944)

House of Frankenstein

Universal Studios was really starting to crank out monsters movies in the 1940s. This was the third consecutive film to feature the Frankenstein Monster, second in a row for the Wolf Man, and now Count Dracula was added to the mix. Working titles for this monster rally were “Chamber of Horrors” and “The Devil‘s Brood.”

Boris Karloff returns to the franchise that made him famous as Dr. Gustav Niemann, a deranged scientist who also claims to be the brother of an assistant to the original Dr. Frankenstein. It would have been more interesting if he was related to one of the bodies stolen by Dr. Frankenstein to create the Monster, explaining their uncanny resemblance. Dr. Niemann escapes from prison with a hunchback named Daniel, played by J. Carrol Naish. They murder and assume the identities of proprietors of a traveling chamber of horrors.

Dr. Niemann unintentionally resurrects Count Dracula, who is sadly not played by Bela Lugosi, but rather John Carradine. Carradine as the count is more subdued than Lugosi when trying to blend into society. He only reveals his true nature in private. It is in this first half of the film where Lionel Atwill pops up again as an inspector. Dracula and Dr. Niemann strike a bargain, but Niemann quickly betrays Dracula, causing Dracula to be disintegrated by sunlight when he cannot return to his coffin by dawn.

Dr. Niemann and Daniel continue to the village of Frankenstein to retrieve the Monster and the Wolf Man. This was a major continuity error as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” was set in Vasaria. They then travel to Vasaria, where Dr. Niemann’s laboratory is located. I guess one has to assume that the villages of Frankenstein and Vasaria are close enough that the mad scientist lairs can be zoned in either? This is another monster movie with an oddly touching subplot in which Daniel the hunchback falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl named Ilanka, played by Elena Verdugo, who is herself in love with Lawrence Talbot. What is it about Lawrence Talbot and his connection to gypsies? Lon Chaney Jr. is tragic as ever and is put out of misery when Ilanka shoots him with a silver bullet.

Glenn Strange plays the Monster for the first of three times. I really prefer Strange as the Monster when compared to Chaney Jr. and Lugosi in the previous two films. They were icons in their own right and looked peculiar with electrodes protruding from their necks. Boris Karloff was not well known before the first “Frankenstein” in 1931. The same can be said for Christopher Lee in Hammer Films’ “The Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957. Conversely, how bizarre was it for Robert De Niro to appear as the Monster in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel? It’s better to have a lesser known actor portraying the Frankenstein Monster, so the audience cannot look past the makeup.

“House of Frankenstein” was Boris Karloff’s swansong to the Universal Frankenstein franchise and it was a fitting finale. Karloff is dragged to his death by the Monster while being chased by angry villagers, reenacting Karloff and Colin Clive in the climax of the original “Frankenstein.” Karloff’s journey from monster to mad scientist had come full circle. Even though the film’s title, “House of Frankenstein” doesn’t make much sense as the primary location is Dr. Niemann’s laboratory, it is probably the most heralded of the monster rallies.

“Man of Steel” (2013)

Super Man of Steel

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Superman 75th

Universal Classic Monsters: “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” (1943)

Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man

The first of what is known as a “monster rally.” After playing the Monster in “Ghost of Frankenstein,” Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his signature role as Lawrence Talbot AKA The Wolf Man, while Bela Lugosi finally plays the part of the Monster after turning down the original “Frankenstein” twelve years earlier.

The first half of this film plays like a straight sequel to “The Wolf Man,” then midway it crosses over into the Frankenstein franchise. Maria Ouspenskaya returns as Maleva the gypsy, who is now a surrogate mother to Lawrence. The role of Elsa Frankenstein is recast with Ilone Massey, taking the place of Evelyn Ankers. This was a wise decision as Ankers had appeared in both “The Wolf Man” and “Ghost of Frankenstein,” so her presence as Elsa in this film would have been a bit confusing since she was far more recognizable as Lawrence Talbot’s love interest than Dr. Frankenstein’s granddaughter.

Lionel Atwill makes his third consecutive appearance in a Frankenstein film, playing the mayor of Vasaria, and the incomparable Dwight Frye was again featured as an angry villager. Patrick Knowles is upgraded from a thankless role of Lawrence Talbot’s rival in “The Wolf Man” to a compassionate doctor who is ultimately seduced by the legacy of Dr. Frankenstein.

Bela Lugosi’s performance as the Monster has been widely criticized. His dialogue, references to Ygor’s brain, and apparent blinding in “Ghost of Frankenstein” ended up on the cutting room floor, resulting in his very awkward posture and stumbling to be unintentionally comical. Though I greatly admire Bela Lugosi as an actor, I will admit that he was not physically imposing enough to be convincing as the Monster. In “Son of Frankenstein” and “Ghost of Frankenstein” the Monster is often referred to as a “giant.” The heavy brow and flat top head complimented Boris Karloff‘s features, but they don’t blend well with Lugosi at all. If Lugosi had originated the part in 1931, then monster makeup maestro Jack Pierce would have created a makeup that was unique to him.

The Wolf Man should have been the underdog in final scuffle, but Lon Chaney Jr. vs. Bela Lugosi seems to be a big mismatch in favor of Chaney. Even with suspension of disbelief, the cutting between Lugosi and his double is too apparent. It would have been a simpler if the filmmakers didn’t even bother casting an actor the caliber of Lugosi and just hired a stuntman to play the part.

I do enjoy that the villagers flood the castle as apposed to burning it down, which was already becoming a cliché. This historic clash of titans plays better as a sequel to “The Wolf Man” than it does the fifth “Frankenstein” film because that storyline was quite frankly becoming muddled.

Universal Classic Monsters: “Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942)

Ghost of Frankenstein

Here’s where the Frankenstein film series and the Universal Classic Monsters saga as a whole begins to get somewhat convoluted. Though this is the fourth of the Frankenstein films, it is also a reunion of ”The Wolf Man” with Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, and Ralph Bellamy in the cast. George Waggner, the director of “The Wolf Man,” stays on as this film’s producer. Talbot Castle doubles as Dr. Frankenstein’s sanitarium and the opening titles have the same ominous woods as its backdrop.

Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor, who somehow survived being shot several times by Basil Rathbone in “Son of Frankenstein.” Dwight Frye, the unsung hero of the Universal Classic Monsters saga, has a bit part as one of the angry villagers, but he never crosses paths with the Monster. That was probably for the best as he met with bad ends in both “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein.” I can accept that Ygor returns since “Son of Frankenstein” established that he was able to endure is own hanging, but why are the two councilmen he had murdered seen alive in the crowd shots? These actors appeared in “Frankenstein,” however, their parts were recast in “Bride of Frankenstein.” They returned for “Son of Frankenstein” in different roles, but here I find their inexplicable presence to be distracting. Only Dwight Frye has the gravitas to be a recurring player in my humble opinion.

The foremost casting change is Lon Chaney Jr. assuming the role of the Monster from Boris Karloff. Of course, Chaney Jr. is forever associated with the role of Lawrence Talbot AKA The Wolf Man, just as Karloff is to the Frankenstein Monster, but Chaney Jr. gives a fair performance. Yes, he is stiff in his movements, but that is acceptable as the Monster has twice been in a coma. Sir Cedric Hardwicke receives top billing as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein, a previously unmentioned second son of Dr. Henry Frankenstein. His characterization is bland compared to that of Colin Clive and Basil Rathbone in the previous films. Hardwicke doubles as the ghost of Henry Frankenstein. Lionel Atwill, who appeared as a sympathetic, one armed inspector in “Son of Frankenstein,” returns as the bitter Dr. Bohmer, who eventually betrays Dr. Frankenstein in favor of Ygor.

There is an oddly touching subplot in which the Monster befriends a little village girl. Remembering the accidental drowning from the first film makes the audience fear for her life even when the Monster is without malice. The climax features one of the most bizarre moments in monster movie history. The brain of Ygor is transplanted into the skull of the Monster, resulting in Lon Chaney Jr. guised as Boris Karloff’s signature character, with the voice of Bela Lugosi. Despite this noteworthy amalgam, “Ghost of Frankenstein” just does not hold the same iconic status as the other films produced by Universal Studios to feature the Frankenstein Monster. I don’t believe any elements of this film were even spoofed in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

The final shot, Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy walking off as the sun rises seems out of place to me since heir romance is of little consequence to the main plot. The final shot should have been Dr. Frankenstein’s sanitarium burning to the ground. Maybe I’m over analyzing, but perhaps the romantic image was meant to be reminiscent of Henry and Elizabeth in the climax of “Bride of Frankenstein?”

“Ghost of Frankenstein” is entertaining, but does not stand the test of time as well as the previous three films. The plot thread involving the Monster being blinded and having Ygor’s brain was axed during post-production of “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” so “Ghost of Frankenstein” is a competently produced, though unnecessary chapter in the legend of Frankenstein.

Star Trek Cinema: Best to Worst

Star Trek logo

*My opinion only. I start with the best and work my way down.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)
Directed by Nicholas Myer, Starring The Original Crew
The archenemy of Admiral Kirk escapes from a barren planet, looking for vengeance after being exiled for fifteen years. The death of Spock is definitely one of the most iconic moment in science-fiction history. This film saved the franchise. Khan!!!

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Starring The Original Crew
Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise crew travel back in time in a Klingon “Bird of Prey” to retrieve two humpback whales. Lighter in tone than it’s predecessors, this film appealed to both Trekkies and casual fans.

“Star Trek: First Contact” (1996)
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, Starring The Next Gen Crew
Captain Picard and the Enterprise crew time warp back to the 21st century, preventing the Borg from assimilating Earth. A cross between zombies and cyborgs, the Borg are just about the coolest antagonists in the universe. The film also proved there would be life after Kirk.

“Star Trek” (2009)
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Starring The Reboot Crew
Young and rebellious James T. Kirk takes command of the USS Enterprise to combat vengeful time-traveling Romulans. At first, it seemed like heresy that a new cast would play the original crew, but the filmmakers proved the skeptics wrong with an exciting summer blockbuster.

“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991)
Directed by Nicholas Myer, Starring The Original Crew
On the eve of what was to be universal peace, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are framed for assassinating a Klingon chancellor. The swansong for most of the original crew sans a guest appearance here and there. Their age was showing, but their legacy was intact.

“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Starring The Original Crew
Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise crew must reunite Spock’s body and mind on planet Vulcan while evading the Klingons. The second of a trilogy, this film bridged the gap between two stronger films. The prevailing opinion is that the even numbered films are better than the odd numbered ones.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013)
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Starring The Reboot Crew
Captain Kirk is sent on a mission to execute a terrorist, but is actually being duped by a superior officer. This alternate timeline allows for the return of Kahn Noonien Singh. A mostly successful remake of TOS episode “Space Seed” and “Wrath of Kahn.”

“Star Trek: Generations” (1994)
Directed by Rick Berman, Starring The Next Gen Crew (mostly)
A temporal nexus allows Captain Kirk and Captain Picard to unite and stop an obsessed doctor from destroying a star. The death of Captain Kirk was a letdown for audiences, but the film has many good qualities in retrospect.

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)
Directed by Robert Wise, Starring The Original Crew
Admiral Kirk returns to command of the USS Enterprise to intercept an alien cloud on a collision course with Earth. Considered tedious by audiences, the first film in the series failed to capture the adventurous spirit of the TV show.

“Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002)
Directed by Stuart Baird, Starring The Next Gen Crew
The Enterprise crew must stop a Romulan clone of Captain Picard from attacking Earth in an indestructible starship. Even with the death of Data, the film doesn’t resonate. I’m not sure if it was the screenplay or the execution.

“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989)
Directed by William Shatner, Starring The Original Crew
The half brother of Spock and his band of zealots hijack the Enterprise while searching for the “God of Sha Ka Ree.” An interesting story, but the spiritual message of the film was more than a bit muddled. The special effects are quite lacking as well.

“Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998)
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, Starring The Next Gen Crew
Captain Picard and the Enterprise crew defy Starfleet so to protect a small planet that is a virtual fountain of youth. Such a hokey and hypocritical story with no exciting action sequences to speak of. Lame.

Universal Classic Monsters: “The Wolf Man” (1941)

Wolf Man

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” My personal favorite of the Universal Classic Monster films and werewolves are, without a doubt, my favorite all time monster. I went trick-or-treating as a werewolf when I was in the third grade. They are way cooler than those Euro-trash vampires… My sister would get ticked if she heard me say that.

Curt Siodmak, the screenwriter of “The Wolf Man,” created the lore that is associated with werewolves. Transformations occurring during the full moon (though there are no shots of the full moon in this film), pentagrams as the mark of the werewolf, and silver being the only way to vanquish a lycanthrope. The first sequel, “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man,” would reinforce the full moon aspect of the legend. Naturally, Jack Pierce was responsibly for the Wolf Man makeup just as he had been for the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy. I find it ironic that Lon Chaney Sr. starred as the original Phantom of the Opera in 1925 and Claude Rains, who would play the Phantom in the 1942 remake, was cast as Sir John Talbot, the father of the Wolf Man, played by Lon Chaney Jr.. In an odd way, it’s like the Wolf Man is the son of the Phantom.

“The Wolf Man” also features a well done love story. In previous monster movies, you would have a mad scientist betrothed to woman who can’t understand his megalomania (“Frankenstein” and “The Invisible Man”) or an undead individual trying to claim the immortal soul of an innocent woman (“Dracula” and “The Mummy”). This is the only love triangle where you’re rooting for the leading lady, Gwen Conliffe played by Evelyn Ankers, to end up with the monster because he is a monster through no fault of his own. Lawrence Talbot is a hopeless romantic, who is sadly destined to meet with a bad end.

Lon Chaney Jr. won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lennie Small in a film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in 1939. Chaney Jr. is unique from other Oscar winners in that he spent the majority of his career pursuing horror roles. He would also play the Frankenstein Monster, Kharis the Mummy, and Count Dracula. One can suppose that he was trying to live up to his late father, who was known as “the man of a 1,000 faces.”

Universal’s first werewolf movie, 1935’s “Werewolf of London,” starring Henry Hull, failed to inspire audiences. Contrarily, Lawrence Talbot became the next inductee into the pantheon of classic monsters. Lawrence Talbot was sired by a gypsy fortune teller, played by Bela Lugosi in an extended cameo. Maria Ouspenskaya plays the mother of Bela, who does her best to look after Lawrence when he is cursed to be a lycanthrope and gives him a charm which just might hold the beast within at bay. Lawrence instead chooses to give the charm to Gwen because her safety matters the most to him. A charm would also be used in 1994’s “Wolf,” starring Jack Nicholson. Sir John ties his son to a chair to help prove that there are no such thing as werewolves, but to no avail. Sir John kills his son with the same silver tipped cane that his son used to kill Bela the gypsy. Gwen was saved, but such a bummer of an ending. Werewolves are so tragic. Dracula is evil and needs to be destroyed. The Wolf Man, not unlike the Frankenstein Monster, is purely a victim of circumstance.

Unlike, “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” the Wolf Man wasn’t based on a novel, so when Hammer Films got around to making a lycanthrope flick, they made “The Curse of the Werewolf” in 1961, which was loosely based on Werewolf of Paris, a novel written by Guy Endore in 1933. Oliver Reed starred and sported a werewolf makeup that had some simian features mixed in with Jack Pierce’s 1941 Wolf Man design. Keep an eye out in “The Curse of the Werewolf” for supporting actors would appear in the early James Bond films.

1981 was a big year for werewolves with the release of both “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London.” These films both paid tribute to “The Wolf Man,” but “An American Werewolf in London” was closer in tone to “The Wolf Man,” in telling the story of individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time, whose lives are destined to end in tragedy. “The Wolf Man” was remade back in 2010, with Benicio Del Toro cast as Lawrence and Anthony Hopkins as Sir John. Though not a commercial success, I do enjoy how this film tied plot devises from other werewolf movies together to create a sense of uniformity in the legend. Anthony Hopkins was bitten while on an expedition in the mountains like Henry Hull in “Werewolf of London” and Benicio Del Toro suffered from horrific nightmares in the vein of David Naughton in “An American Werewolf in London.” The Wolf Man in this movie was also running across the rooftops, wearing a bloodied white shirt, which was very reminiscent of Oliver Reed in “The Curse of the Werewolf.” (Credit goes to artist Phil Gormley for noticing the Hammer influence.)

Lawrence Talbot became the star of the 1940’s “Monster Rallies.” Count Dracula was always up to his wicked ways and the Frankenstein Monster was portrayed as a simple minded brute post-Boris Karloff, so by default, the Wolf Man had to be the protagonist. He battled the Frankenstein Monster to a draw in “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man,” a gypsy girl fell in love with him in “House of Frankenstein,” he stopped a mad doctor in “House of Dracula,” and he teamed up with Bud Abbot and Lou Costello in “Abbot & Costello meet Frankenstein” for a final showdown with Count Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi. Lawrence Talbot is without question the hero of the Universal Studios Monster saga.

Classic WWF Pay-Per-Views: 1993

WWF 1988 - 1994

ROYAL RUMBLE
January 24, 1993
Sacramento, California

The latter half of 1992 was a transitional period in the World Wrestling Federation, with “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior leaving the promotion and “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair taking a backseat to Bret “Hit Man” Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker. “The Bad Guy” Razor Ramon was also being showcased and “The Mighty” Yokozuna would make his mark at this PPV. Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan were together on commentary for the final time at a PPV even though The Brain wouldn’t leave the WWF until the end of the year.

The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) made their WWF Pay-Per-View debut with a win over The Beverley Brothers (Beau & Blake). I cannot believe I’m mentioning Beau and Blake again. They weren’t managed by The Genius anymore, so what good where they? There must have been technical difficulties because there was no commentary for the first few minutes of this match during the live show. I’m sure it was fixed for the home video release. Irregardless, The Steiner Brothers were victorious.

After a year of anticipation, Shawn Michaels would finally have to face the music and go one-on-one with his former tag team partner, Marty Jannetty. HBK would also have to defend his Intercontinental Championship. Sensational Sherri was back at ringside for the first time since Michaels used her as a human shield and a mirror (wielded by Jannetty) was shattered over her head. It was a good match despite Jannetty selling the wrong shoulder after he was rammed into the steel post. Sherri intended to strike her ex-Boy Toy with her high heel shoe, but she inadvertently hit Jannetty. Michaels picked up the win, but a melee ensued backstage immediately following the match.

“The Beast from the East” Bam Bam Bigalow appeared at a WWF Pay-Per-View for the first time since WrestleMania IV. He defeated The Big Boss Man, who would soon make the jump to WCW. Bobby Heenan unveiled his newest charge, “The Narcissist” Lex Luger, who had orders to make “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig pay for turning his back on Heenan. People find a lot of humor in this segment because The Brain went so nuts while hyping Lex, but that was his intent, to make as big a deal out of Lex as he could.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart defended his WWF Championship against Razor Ramon, who was competing in only his second Pay-Per-View. Razor was one of the fastest rising stars in the WWF. The Bad Guy also attacked The Hit Man’s younger brother, “The Rocket” Owen Hart as part of the build to the match. Stu and Helen Hart sat in the front row and cheered their son on. Stu and Helen would put in many appearances over the next few years. The Harts became the first family of wrestling. The title match itself was pretty pedestrian and Bret Hart retained his championship with his patented Sharpshooter.

This was the first Royal Rumble Match that guaranteed the winner a title opportunity at WrestleMania IX. Ric Flair was entrant #1. Could the “Nature Boy” go the distance for the second year in a row? Bobby Heenan didn’t panic since Flair had already proven to the world what he was capable of. Bob Backlund, another former WWF Champion, was entrant #2. Backlund had left the WWF soon after losing the championship to The Iron Sheik in 1983. His comeback in wrestling was compared to George Foreman’s return in boxing. Papa Shango (#3) was eliminated right off the bat. This voodoo priest superstar had actually interfered in the main event of WrestleMania VIII. I guess he didn’t live up to expectations since was booked like a jobber? “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (#4) lasted about a half hour, making up for his brief appearance in last year’s rumble.

Jerry “The King” Lawler (#7) made his WWF Pay-Per-View debut. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig (#10) eliminated Ric Flair. The next night on Monday Night RAW, Mr. Perfect would defeat Ric Flair in a Career Ending Match. Flair returned to WCW and remained with the promotion until it closed down in early 2001. Mr. Perfect also eliminated Jerry Lawler, who then helped eliminate Mr. Perfect from the outside. I was a big fan of Mr. Perfect and was very upset by this at the time, but I’ve forgiven The King since.

The Undertaker (#15) was the odds on favorite in this Royal Rumble. He cleaned house, eliminating all but Bob Backlund, who was battered outside the ring by The Berzerker (#14). Then, The Giant Gonzales, who was not even an entrant in this match, entered the ring and dwarfed The Undertaker. Harvey Wippleman was with Gonzales. This was retribution for The Undertaker’s decimation of Kamala. As a kid, I was in awe of Giant Gonzales, who had previously competed in WCW as El Gigante. Gonzales manhandled and eliminated The Undertaker. “A miscarriage of justice,” as Gorilla Monsoon would say. This was the first time that The Undertaker was ever beaten down like this. WWE tried to recreate this moment in 2006 with The Great Khali, but it didn’t have the same effect.

The ring filled up again with basically mid-card talent. Business didn’t pick up, if I can paraphrase Jim Ross, until Yokozuna (#27) entered. Big John Studd had won the 1989 Royal Rumble having drawn #27. This number has produced more winners than any. After Yokozuna eliminated Earthquake (#23), it looked like there was no stopping him. Everyone in the ring ganged up on the behemoth, but they just couldn’t get him over the top rope. The last hope was #30, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The final four were The Macho Man, Yokozuna, Bob Backlund, & Rick “The Model” Martel (#26). Martel had made it to the final fray before, but never was the last man standing. This time he was eliminated by Bob Backlund. Today, Rick Martel is ranked with “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and The Big Show as the superstars who have almost won the Royal Rumble the most times.

Amazingly, Bob Backlund lasted over an hour, breaking the longevity record set by Ric Flair the previous year. Backlund’s record lasted until 2006, when it was broken by Rey Mysterio. It was all for not though, as Backlund was then eliminated by Yokozuna. It was Randy Savage left to contend with 500 pounds of Yokozuna. These two wrestled longer than any other final two in prior Royal Rumbles. Mr. Fuji came down to ringside even though managers are banned and waved the Japanese flag. Savage hit his patented flying elbow-drop, then inexplicable went for a pin. Perhaps he was going on instinct? Yokozuna countered, pressing him over the top rope for the win. Yokozuna was then congratulated by performers guised as Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. This was because WrestleMania IX would emanate from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. There were audio issues once again as Bret Hart confronted Yokozuna backstage and shoved the WWF Championship in his face. All you could hear was Bobby Heenan asking, “Are we on?”

Despite of Yokozuna’s meteoric rise to prominence, the 1993 Royal Rumble Match is denounced for it’s perceived lack of star power. There were “boring” chants from the fans and even some “Hogan” chants mixed in. I find that interesting because internet “smart” fans like to rag on Hulk Hogan’s return at WrestleMania IX, but it seems that the people were actually clamoring for the return of Hulkamania.

WRESTLEMANIA IX
April 4, 1993
Las Vegas, Nevada

The world’s largest toga party and the first outdoor WrestleMania. This show definitely stood out from an ascetic point of view. Modern WrestleManias seem to blend together, indistinguishable from one year to the next. Gorilla Monsoon served as the emcee, with Jim Ross, a WCW alumnus, and “Macho Man” Randy Savage joining Bobby “The Brain” Heenan on commentary. The Macho Man was accompanied to the ring by vestal virgins while The Brain rode a camel backwards down the aisle.

In the opener, Shawn Michaels defended his Intercontinental Championship against “Native American” Tatanka. Michaels had Luna Vachon in his corner while his former valet and on-camera love interest, Sensational Sherri, was with Tatanka. This was the third year in a row that HBK competed in the first match at WrestleMania. He lost the match by count out, so he retained his title. Luna attacked Sherri after the match, but I don’t recall the ladies having much of a rivalry afterwards because Sherri left the WWF. She had tenures in both ECW and WCW. Sherri was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, then sadly passed away in 2007.

The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) defeated The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu) in what could be qualified a show-stealing match. Scott Steiner was flap-jacked over the top rope, then was struck by Afa (one of the original Wild Samoans and manager of The Headshrinkers) with a Singapore cane. Crush, formerly of Demolition, was portrayed as a baby-face surfer from Hawaii. His opponent was Doink the Clown, who guaranteed that Crush would be seeing double vision. Doink has come to represent the flawed, too kid friendly concept the WWF marketed in the mid-1990s, but the original heel Doink (Matt Borne) was sadistic and reminiscent of Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. The awesome finish of this match saw an imposter Doink (Steve Keirn) emerge from under the ring and attacked Crush with a prosthetic arm. The referees searched underneath the ring for the interloper afterwards, but he was nowhere to be found. Razor Ramon then defeated Bob Backlund in a quick match. The Bad Guy was way over with the crowd in Las Vegas.

What cha’ gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild again? It all began on Monday Night RAW, with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake coming out of retirement two years after the parasailing accident that necessitated facial reconstructive surgery. His big return was mired by him being double teamed by Money Inc. (“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase & Irwin R. Shyster). It was so abhorrent, that their manager Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart refused to associate himself with them any further. The next week on RAW, “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan announced that he was back in the WWF to form a tag team with Brutus Beefcake called “The Mega Maniacs,” with Jimmy Hart as their manager. The Mega Maniacs looked a little worse for the wear when they arrived in Las Vegas to challenged Money Inc. for the WWF Tag Team Championships. Beefcake had a protective facemask, while Hogan’s eye was practically swollen shut. According to a urban legend, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was responsible for The Hulkster’s black eye, but I never bought that story. It probably was just a jet skiing accident as Hogan claimed. Ted DiBiase became to the only superstar to compete against Hulk Hogan at SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and WrestleMania. Money Inc. tried to get themselves counted out, the same trick they pulled at WrestleMania the year before, but they were forced to return to the ring. DiBiase and I.R.S. eventually won the convoluted match by disqualification. The Mega Maniacs celebrated irregardless and gave away DiBiase’s money to the fans at ringside.

“The Narcissist” Lex Luger made his in-ring WWF Pay-Per-View debut, escorted down the aisle by scantily clad ladies. His loaded (surgically repaired) elbow was hyped. No footage was shown, but apparently he knocked out Bret “Hit Man” Hart at a charity brunch earlier in the day. Lex pulled out a bit of an upset by pinning “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, whose feet were in the ropes. Lex knocked Mr. Perfect out cold after the match. Mr. Perfect recovered and gave chase, but he was blindsided by Shawn Michaels.

The Undertaker rode to the ring on a black chariot with a vulture perched on it. He was seemingly the underdog for the first time in his career. The Giant Gonzales got himself disqualified for using a chloroform soaked rag to smother The Phenom. Undertaker was stretchered away from the ring as officials tried to corral Gonzales. Keep an eye out for Bill Alfonso, future manager of Rob Van Dam in ECW, as one of the referees. The fans chanted for Hulk Hogan, but The Undertaker returned and took Gonzales down with a flying clothesline. This DQ victory is the only blemish on Undertaker’s WrestleMania résumé. The undefeated streak was now 3&0.

The main event of WrestleMania IX was another match showcasing the WWF “New Generation.” The first WrestleMania main event that didn’t involve either Hulk Hogan or “Macho Man” Randy Savage… or so we thought. “Mean” Gene Okerlund conducted a pre-match interview with Hulk Hogan, who wasn’t in the match… or so we thought. Bret “Hit Man” Hart defended his WWF Championship against Yokozuna, the winner of the 1993 Royal Rumble. Somehow, The Hit Man managed to get the massive legs of Yokozuna in the Sharpshooter, but Mr. Fuji threw salt in his eyes, allowing Yokozuna to pin The Hit Man and win the WWF Championship. For the first time ever, a heel had won the main event of WrestleMania… or so we thought.

Hulk Hogan came down to ringside to check on the condition of Bret Hart, his “good friend,” then Mr. Fuji offered Hulk a shot at the title in an impromptu match. With the blessing of The Hit Man, Hulk went for it. I never heard a bell ring, then Mr. Fuji went for some more salt, but this time he accidentally threw it in Yokozuna’s eyes. Hulk hit the atomic leg drop and won the WWF Championship for a fifth time!!! A lot has been said and written about this additional title change. In hindsight, Hulk did steal attention away from Bret Hart and Yokozuna, but at the time, the fans were elated. It was the last hurrah for Hulkamania in the WWF for a long time. Hogan’s record of five title reigns would be tied by Bret Hart in 1997 and broken by The Rock in 2001.

KING OF THE RING
June 13, 1993
Dayton, Ohio

Unlike No Holds Barred: The Match and Tuesday in Texas, the King of the Ring was a Pay-Per-View worthy of joining the “big four.” Jim Ross, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan were on commentary. An eight man single elimination tournament was the focal point of the show.

A rematch from the Royal Rumble, Bret “Hit Man” Hart defeated Razor Ramon in the opener. The Hit Man then faced “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig in the semifinals. It was a five star match. Hard to say which was better, this or the Intercontinental Championship Match back at SummerSlam 1991. The Hit Man won with a roll-up, but I’m not sure Mr. Perfect’s shoulders were down. Either way, Mr. Perfect gave The Hit Man a quick hand shake in sign of respect and good sportsmanship. Bam Bam Bigalow received a bye into the finals because the prior match between “The Narcissist” Lex Luger and “Native American” Tatanka ended in a time limit draw.

In an eight man tag team match, The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) and The Smokin’ Gunns (Billy & Bart) defeated Money Inc. (“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase & Irwin R. Shyster) and The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu). Shawn Michaels successfully defended the Intercontinental Championship against Crush. Not one, but two Doinks, distracted Crush, allowing HBK to pick up the win.

“The Immortal” Hulk Hogan competed in his final WWF Pay-Per-View for almost nine years, defending the WWF Championship against Yokozuna. Bret “Hit Man” Hart has claimed that he and Hulk were suppose to wrestle for the title at SummerSlam, but Hulk balked after they already posed for the poster, having a tug-of-war over the title belt. I’ll try to overlook the backstage drama and focus on the action. The Hulkster had Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart in his corner, so it was like a preview of Hulk’s early WCW run. Yokozuna looked like an absolute monster in this match, dominating Hogan. After the obligatory “Hulking Up,” it took three big boots to drop Yokozuna, who kicked out after being hit with the atomic leg drop. Then, a photographer in a phony beard climbed up on the ring apron and blew a fireball into Hulk’s face with his camera. Yokozuna hit a leg drop of his own, the ultimate insult, and won back the WWF Championship.

Yokozuna and Mr. Fuji dragged a temporarily blinded Hulk Hogan to the corner and Yoko administered a bonsai drop, his finishing maneuver. Hulkster was helped back to the locker room while selling his injuries. He joined WCW the next year and wouldn’t return to the WWF until No Way Out 2002. For whatever reason, the WWF never really trumpeted Yokozuna as the man who killed Hulkamania, which would’ve been serious bragging rights.

Bret Hart and Bam Bam Bigalow squared off in the finals of the King of the Ring. The match ended initially after Luna Vachon interfered and struck The Hit Man with a steel chair. Luna became Bigalow’s “main squeeze.” Bigalow then pinned The Hit Man after a flying head-butt, but the officials conferred and decided to restart the match. The Hit Man took advantage of his reprieve and won with a victory-roll. There had been several King of the Ring tournaments in the WWF prior to this PPV, Bret Hart even won it in 1991, but the WWF choose to proclaim this as the first King of the Ring.

“Mean” Gene Okerlund was on hand for the coronation ceremony. Hart was awarded a crown and a kingly robe, but the proceedings were crashed by Jerry “The King” Lawler, who felt slighted that anyone else would dare wear a crown in the WWF. The Hit Man called him “Burger King,” which was a juvenile, yet popular slur used against Lawler. The self professed king battered The Hit Man from behind and left him laying. Jerry Lawler’s first big moment in the WWF set up a new feud for Bret Hart since the dream match with Hulk Hogan wasn’t going to happen.

SUMMERSLAM
August 30, 1993
Auburn Hills, Michigan

On July 4, 1993, the WWF held a body-slam challenge on the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York City. The objective was for someone to body-slam Yokozuna, the massive WWF Champion. Who would step up to answer this challenge? None other than Lex Luger, who was no longer “The Narcissist.” Lex successfully slammed the big man and from then on was announced as “Made in the U.S.A.” Luger embarked on the infamous “Lex Express,” a cross country tour, campaigning for a championship match. WWF President Jack Tunney listened to the people and ranked Lex Luger the #1 Contender. Obviously, with Hulk Hogan gone, WWF Chairman Vince McMahon felt more comfortable trying to turn Lex into the new Hulk as appose to fully supporting Bret “Hit Man” Hart. This would be the most patriotic Pay-Per-View since WrestleMania VII.

Vince McMahon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan called the action. Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross were relegated to Radio WWF. Razor Ramon faced “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in the opener. Razor had reformed his bad guy ways in a roundabout fashion. He lost to The 1-2-3 Kid on Monday Night RAW, one of the biggest upsets in pro wrestling history. At first, he was peeved, but the loss humbled him and he and The 1-2-3 Kid eventually became allies. Razor defeated Ted DiBiase in what would be The Million Dollar Man’s final PPV match. He retired due to a back injury, but remained a part of the WWF until 1996.

The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) successfully defended the WWF Tag Team Titles against The Heavenly Bodies (Jimmy Del Ray & Dr. Tom Prichard). Shawn Michaels successfully defended the Intercontinental Championship against “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. This was expected to be an all time classic match, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. HBK won via count out. His new, near seven foot tall bodyguard, Diesel, was instrumental in getting Mr. Perfect counted out. Diesel debuted when Shawn Michaels won the title back from his former tag team partner, Marty Jannetty. Bobby Heenan claimed that Diesel was just there “to keep the chicks off Shawn Michaels.” This was the last WWF Pay-Per-View match for Mr. Perfect until the 2002 Royal Rumble. He, like Ted DiBiase, remained with the WWF until 1996, then made the jump to WCW.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart was set to wrestle Jerry “The King” Lawler after the incident at the King of the Ring, but Lawler feigned a leg injury and named Doink the Clown as his substitute. This was the last time that Doink was portrayed by Matt Borne at a major event. Lawler miraculous healed during that match and nailed The Hit Man with his crutch. Jack Tunney then forced Lawler to compete was scheduled. Bret Hart won this match, but since he kept The King locked in the Sharpshooter after the match was over, the referee reversed his decision and Jerry Lawler won via DQ.

Ludvig Borga, the hell-raiser from Helsinki, who was projected to be a top heel, made his PPV debut, defeating Marty Jannetty. The Undertaker defeated The Giant Gonzales in a “Rest in Peace” Match. This was the end of their feud and the final PPV appearance for The Giant Gonzales. He passed away in 2010. Undertaker had gone a year without a quality opponent, but he would soon find his way back into the WWF Title hunt.

The final stop for the Lex Express was the WWF Championship Match. Yokozuna had added James E. Cornette to his entourage. Cornette’s label was “spokesperson” while Mr. Fuji stayed on as Yokozuna’s manager. Cornette had it put in the contract that this would be Lex Luger’s only shot at the title. Luger was draped in red, white, and blue. I feel this gimmick represents Vince McMahon’s ideal personification of a baby-face. A blonde haired, blue eyed, quintessential hero, waving the American flag. It wasn’t until “Stone Cold” Steve Austin came along that Vinny-Mac would begrudgingly embrace the notion of an anti-hero. Mr. Fuji tried the old salt in the eyes routine, but with no success. Lex nailed Yokozuna with his loaded elbow, knocking him through the ropes. The match ended in a count out and Yokozuna retained his title.

Even though Lex Luger won by count out, a victory celebration ensued with balloons and confetti. Much adieu about nothing. The Lex Express is now an idiom that can be used when a superstar is pushed to the championship, then doesn’t win it. It can happen in promotions besides WWF/WWE. Over in TNA Wrestling, Robert Roode was “Lex Expressed” at Bound for Glory 2011. Though I will admit, that back in 1993, when I was in elementary school, I was totally onboard with the Lex Express. Something had to fill the void left by Hulkamania.

SURVIVOR SERIES
November 24, 1993
Boston, Massachusetts

The traditional Survivor Series tag team elimination matches were back!!! Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Vince McMahon were on commentary. This was the final WWF Pay-Per-View for Bobby Heenan as he joined WCW in 1994. He returned to the WWF at WrestleMania XVII to call the “Gimmick” Battle Royal and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.

Razor Ramon, the new Intercontinental Champion, and his team faced a team captained by Irwin R. Shyster. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig was suppose to be on Razor’s team, but bowed out, likely because of his bad back. He was replaced by “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who had not competed at a PPV since the Royal Rumble earlier that year. The Macho Man was spurred back into action when he was betrayed by Crush, whom he attempted to mentor. Crush wasn’t in this match, but Savage needed an excuse to enter the building. There were five superstars in this match who became part of the nWo, Razor, Savage, The 1-2-3 Kid, Diesel, and Shyster. The 1-2-3 Kid and Mart Jannetty were the survivors in this match.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart teamed three of his brothers, Bruce Hart, Keith Hart, and “The Rocker” Owen Hart. They were scheduled to face Jerry “The King” Lawler and three mercenaries known as The Knights, but The King ran into some troubles with the law, so Shawn Michaels was brought back early from his suspension for failing a drug test to be the captain of the heel team. This booking made sense as The Hit Man and HBK had been opponents in the main event of the previous Survivor Series. There’s always been great speculation as to whom The Knights were? It’s obvious that The Blue Knight was Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. Some say The Black Knight was Glenn Jacobs (Kane), but I don’t think he was tall enough. The Red Knight was allegedly Barry Horowitz. It’s hard to tell. I’m only confident that The Blue Knight was The Hammer. The Knights, whoever they were, were overpaid as they were eliminating, leaving Shawn Michaels all by his lonesome. Stu Hart was in the corner of his sons and even walloped Michaels during the match. HBK was only able to eliminate Owen Hart, who had inadvertently collided with Bret Hart on the apron, and was then rolled up. The Rocket was not happy with his big brother for causing the elimination. Michaels fought valiantly, especially for a heel, then decided to throw in the towel and got himself counted out. Owen Hart returned to the ring, but not to celebrate. He shoved Bret Hart and screamed in his face. He had been referred to as the “shadow” of his big brother Bret and was sick of it. This was the beginning of perhaps the best feud of the 1990s.

The Rock “N” Roll Express (Robert Gibson & Ricky Morton) defended the Smokey Mountain Wrestling Tag Team Championships against The Heavenly Bodies (Jimmy Del Ray & Dr. Tom Prichard). This was the first time that titles from another promotion were defended at a WWF Pay-Per-View. James E. Cornette was the promoter of SMW, a minor league of sorts for the WWF. Cornette also managed The Heavenly Bodies, who won the tag team gold in a convoluted finish. The Rock “N” Roll Express thought that they’d won by DQ because there was an intentional throw over the top rope, which was an automatic DQ in SMW. No such luck in the WWF. That hadn’t been a DQ in the big leagues for many years. This was the only match the Gorilla Monson and Jim Ross were permitted to call. Then they were banished back to Radio WWF.

Bam Bam Bigalow (w/ Luna Vachon), Bastion Booger, and The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu) were set to face four Doinks, who were The Bushwhackers (Luke & Butch) and Men on a Mission (Mo & Mabel). Good lord. The Doink team survived intact, but the real Doink, if there was a real Doink at this point, only appeared after the match on the big screen to taunt Bigalow and Luna.

The main event was Lex Luger & The All Americans against Yokozuna & The Foreign Fanatics. The first time in three years that Survivor Series teams were given names. The team lineups were altered prior to the PPV. “Native American” Tatanka was suppose to be on The All Americans, but he was taken out by Yokozuna and Ludvig Borga. Lex Luger then choose The Undertaker to join himself and The Steiner Brothers (Scott & Rick). Luger also injured Piere, who was one half of the WWF Tag Team Champions, The Quebecers. Crush was named his replacement, joining Yokozuna, Ludvig Borga, and Quebecer Jacques (Yes, that is The Mountie). Crush was again wearing face paint and being managed by Mr. Fuji, but no one made the connection to Demolition.

Rick Steiner might have been legitimately injured early in the match up. “Macho Man” Randy Savage kept trying to interfere, but was held at bay by security. Though, Crush was distracted enough to be counted out. The Undertaker lingered on the apron. When he was finally tagged in, he had an epic encounter with Yokozuna. The Phenom even survived the bonsai drop. Bobby Heenan was losing his mind on commentary like when The Undertaker survived a DDT from Jake “The Snake” Roberts at WrestleMania VIII. Yokozuna and The Undertaker were both counted out, wetting our appetite for a one-on-one title match. Lex Luger then defeated Ludvig Borga to become the sole survivor.

Lex Luger celebrated his win with Santa Claus. This was probably the biggest victory for the Lex Express. It was also the last PPV appearance of Ludwig Borga, whose brief career in the WWF was ruined by a knee injury. This show was a return to the spirit of the Survivor Series, a Thanksgiving Eve tradition.