Monthly Archives: July 2013
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*2007’s “TMNT” will be it’s own retrospective as I considered that a separate entity.
Niki Janowski on IMDB…
Joana Vargas on IMDB…
Kimberley Shoniker’s info…
The 1950s brought us the final Universal Classic Monster… The Gill-Man. Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf Man have become Halloween mascots, but the Gill-Man was the first summertime monster, a precursor to “Jaws.” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” story begins with the actual creation of the universe, hinting at an alternative evolution, resulting in an aquatic humanoid.
Bud Westmore had taken over for Jack Pierce as head of the makeup department around the time of “Abbot & Costello meet Frankenstein.” Westmore now oversaw the creation of the Gill-Man suit. Ricou Browning played the Gill-Man in the underwater sequences while Ben Chapman played the creature on land. If this film were ever to be remade, the creature would probably lose its humanoid legs and closely resemble a merman with a CGI tailfin.
As with any sci-fi monster flick, there is a good amount of dialogue which is mainly techno-babble, but the actors (Richard Carlson and Julia Adams) were earnest in their performances and delivered their lines without a sense of irony. This helps the audience with what is known as “suspension of disbelief.” Besides all the obvious similarities to “Jaws,” which was releases twenty one years later, some film historians have sited the original “King Kong” as a film which inspired the beauty and the beast themes present in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
A sequel, “Revenge of the Creature” was released in 1955. The Gill-Man (still played by Ricou Browning underwater and now played by Tom Hennesy on land) is captured and brought to an oceanarium, where it quickly escapes and runs amok… Clint Eastwood played a small role, but I think everyone who’s a fan knows that by now. Jack Arnold helmed the first two films in the series. “The Creature Walks Among Us,” released in 1956, concluded the saga. The Gill-Man (again played by Ricou Browning underwater and now played by Don Megowan on land) is badly burned, necessitating surgery that prevents it from ever returning to the water.
Gill-Man never met Abbot and Costello in a movie, but he did guest star on their TV show. Hammer Films had no equivalent to the Gill-Man, so you’ll need to view “The Monster Squad” (1987) to see the Gill-Man along side Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy. The band was back together.
*I chose less obvious episodes than “Time Enough at Last” and “It’s a Good Life.”
Airdate: October 30, 1959
Starring: Gig Young & Ron Howard
Experiencing car trouble and a mid-life crisis, a man walks back into his childhood.
“Nick of Time”
Airdate: November 18, 1960
Starring: William Shatner & Patricia Breslin
A honeymooning couple encounters a cryptic fortune teller in a small town coffee shop.
“The Obsolete Man”
Airdate: June 2, 1961
Starring: Burgess Meredith & Fritz Weaver
A man, condemned to death, uses his assassination to expose bureaucratic hypocrisies.
Airdate: September 29, 1961
Starring: Larry Gates & Jack Albertson
The threat of nuclear war causes suburban residents to turn against each another.
“The Midnight Sun”
Airdate: November 17, 1961
Starring: Lois Nettleton & Bette Garde
The Earth begins moving closer to the sun and the unbearable heat drives people mad.
“The Little People”
Airdate: March 30, 1962
Starring: Joe Maross & Claude Akins
Marooned astronauts discover a miniature race and one assumes the role of their deity.
Airdate: March 20, 1964
Starring: Robert Keith & Milton Selzer
A dying, wealthy man uses Mardi Gras masks to punish all of his greedy relatives.
At some point I’ll review the three live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies and maybe even the CGI one. For now, my loyal readers will have to settle for a synopsis of an episode from the original classic animated series. I still have a fuzzy VHS copy of “The Great Boldini,” which my loving grandparents purchased for my sister and I from the Burger King Kids Club back in 1990.
I defy anyone to fight back a smile when you hear the TMNT theme music. So many fond memories of growing up with the turtles. This episode opened with Michelangelo attempting to perform magic for his three brothers. Michelangelo was my favorite of the turtles, but I went trick-or-treating as Leonardo in kindergarten because Michelangelo costumes were sold out. The turtles were joined by two kids named Zach and Caitlyn. They’re characters who I don’t really remember. The turtles then attended a magic show at a local museum, headlined by the title character, The Great Boldini. Conveniently, this event was covered by April O’Neil. The turtles wore their usual disguise of fedoras and trench coats. Boldini is revealed to be in cahoots with some gangsters in an emerald heist. The police searched all those in attendance and the turtles were discovered, but a stock Irish police officer mistook them for leprechauns.
Rat King arrived out of the blue, disturbed by the heist and demanding the emerald as restitution. The turtles were fugitives from justice while Zach and Caitlyn were pursued and captured by the villains. April and the turtles struck a deal with the police to save the kids. The climax, including a snowball fight, ensued after Rat King created a blizzard in the museum. Michelangelo proved to be the superior magician to Boldini and the emerald was recovered. The VHS also included a trailer for the first live action TMNT movie!!!
*This was the year in which the In Your House PPVs were introduced, but I will focus my retrospectives on the “classic five” and just give you readers some highlights from the B-Shows.
January 22, 1995
What’s even better than winning the Royal Rumble Match going to the main event of WrestleMania? Being escorted by Pamela Anderson, the most famous of the Baywatch babes. Trust me, back in 1995, that was a pretty big deal. Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler were on commentary. The King drooled over Pamela Anderson the same way that he fawned over the WWF/WWE Divas years later.
Razor Ramon defended the Intercontinental Championship against Jeff Jarrett in the opening match. The Roadie was in the corner of Double J. He clipped Razor’s knee and “The Bad Guy” was counted out. Jarrett goaded Razor to resume the match, then won the championship with a small package. The Undertaker defeated Irwin R. Shyster, a proud member of Ted DiBiase’s “Million Dollar Corporation.” King Kong Bundy, yet another member of the Corporation attacked The Phenom after the match and Shyster was able to “repossess” The Undertaker’s urn. This storyline of the missing urn would drag out for half the year.
“Big Daddy Cool” Diesel defended the WWF Championship against Bret “Hit Man” Hart in what was comeback of sorts for the “Excellence of Execution.” He had been away for several weeks, filming a guest spot on the TV series Lonesome Dove. Both champion and challenger had accumulated their fair share of adversaries in the past several months, all of whom interfered in this title match. Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, Mr. Bob Backlund, Jeff Jarrett, and The Roadie. Referee Earl Hebner had no choice but to declare the match a draw. Diesel and The Hit Man embraced after the match. Kevin Nash has often stated that the WWF, in his opinion, dropped the ball by softening his character’s badass persona.
The 1-2-3 Kid and Bob “Sparkplug” Holly won the vacated WWF Tag Team Titles with an upset victory over Bam Bam Bigalow and Tatanka, two more members of Ted DiBiase’s Corporation. After the match, Bigalow, embarrassed that he was the superstar who’d been pinned, shoved New York Giants great, #56, Lawrence Taylor, who was sitting front row. The WWF did a masterful job of making this seem like an unscripted incident. The wheels were turning towards WrestleMania XI.
Shawn Michaels drew #1 in the Royal Rumble Match and made WWF history by going the distance. Right there with him was “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, entrant #2. This was the shortest rumble match because the time between entrants was only one minute. There were also many jobbers participating, so this Royal Rumble was basically a showdown between HBK and The British Bulldog. I doubt anybody was betting on Duke “The Dumpster” Droese (#4).
Doink the Clown (#8) appeared in his final PPV match until the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania XVII. Rick “The Model” Martel (#10) was in his seventh consecutive and last rumble. Jerry Lawler ribbed about needing a stopwatch for The Bushwackers, Luke (#13) & Butch (#18). The King’s wisecracks are why it wasn’t until the 2007 Royal Rumble that it was clarified, courtesy of John Bradshaw Layfield, that it was The Warlord who held the record for the worst time in a rumble. The Bushwackers also did not compete in another PPV match until the Gimmick Battle Royal.
Bret Hart was still looking for retribution, so he jumped both Owen Hart (#11) and Mr. Bob Backlund (#25) before they could even enter the rumble. As a result, both were quickly eliminated. Owen by The British Bulldog and Backlund by Lex Luger (#19). Luger was the odds-on-favorite in this year’s Royal Rumble after having co-won the match in 1994. The final four were Shawn Michaels, The British Bulldog, Lex Luger, and Crush (#30). Yet again, Lex let the U.S.A. down as he was eliminated by Michaels. The British Bulldog then took out Crush with a clothesline meant for Michaels.
For the first and only time, the first two entrants were the last two standing out of thirty. It then appeared as if The Bulldog had eliminated Michaels. The referees never called for the bell, but The Bulldog’s music played. HBK desperately held onto the ropes as only one of his feet touched the arena floor. It has to be both feet for the elimination to be official. Michaels then eliminated Bulldog, who celebrated prematurely. Dramatic slow-mo replays confirmed that the officials made the correct call. Pamela Anderson joined Shawn Michaels in the ring and seemed to find the circumstances a bit foolish, but she should have considered herself quite lucky that HBK was the victor and not the likes of King Kong Bundy (#15), Mantaur (#20), or Henry O. Godwin (#22).
The athletic prowess of both Shawn Michaels and Davey Boy Smith displayed at this event was the highlight of 1995. For the rest of the year, the WWF seemed to be a real creative drought. Things weren’t too much better over in WCW with the “Dungeon of Doom.” These were the desperate times before the Attitude Era.
April 2, 1995
The WWF went way overboard with the celebrities this time around. This event was reminiscent of the early WrestleManias with all the in-ring competition playing second fiddle to stars from Hollywood. And not all these stars were A-Listers. Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler explained to the audience what sports entertainment was all about. This turned out to be unnecessary as Lawrence Taylor failed to bring in new fans the way Mr. T had back in 1985.
Lex Luger and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith defeated The Blu Brothers (Eli & Jacob) in the opening match. The Blu Brothers were managed Uncle Zebekiah, who is now known as Zeb Colter in the WWE. Jeff Jarrett (w/ The Roadie) defended the Intercontinental Championship against Razor Ramon (w/ The 1-2-3 Kid). Jarrett lost via DQ, so he retained his title. I really don’t think WrestleMania is the time for copout finishes.
The Undertaker defeated King Kong Bundy, a member of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, in match with Major League Baseball umpire Larry Young as the referee. The streak was now 4&0. This was Bundy’s first WrestleMania in eight years. Kama, the supreme fighting machine and former Papa Shango, stole the urn from Paul Bearer during the match after Undertaker had already retrieved it from The Million Dollar Man. This routine was getting pretty tired. Kama then vowed to Jim Ross, who was conducting post match interviews, that he would melt the urn down and turn it into a gold chain.
Owen Hart and a mystery partner would challenge The Smokin’ Gunns (Billy & Bart) for the WWF Tag Team Championships. His partner turned out to be… Yokozuna, who’d not been seen since the Survivor Series, four months earlier. The Smokin’ Gunns were overmatched and many fans were cheering for the heel team. Yokozuna and Owen won the titles. Owen was the 1994 King of the Ring, but this was his first championship belt. This was also the beginning of “Camp Cornette.”
The rivalry between Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Mr. Bob Backlund began months earlier after a highly competitive match on WWF Superstars. Backlund snapped as a result of his loss in that match. Backlund then won the WWF Championship from Hart at the Survivor Series in a Submission Match. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was a surprise as the guest referee in the rubber match of this feud. This was the second WrestleMania in a row where The Hot Rod officiated Bret Hart’s match. Overall, this was weakest of the three matches between Hart and Backlund. Hart won with the Crossed Face Chicken-Wing, which was the finishing maneuver of Backlund’s. After the match, Backlund told Jim Ross that “he saw a light.” Even Bret Hart has said that this was his least favorite of all his WrestleMania matches. I’m assuming he was referring to his singles matches as The Hart Foundation squashing The Bolsheviks at WrestleMania VI wasn’t anything to place on a “best of” DVD.
Shawn Michaels hired himself a new bodyguard for the WWF Championship Match. None other than Psycho Sid, appearing at his first WWF Pay-Per-View since his match against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VIII. HBK was also suppose to be escorted to the ring by Pamela Anderson, one of the perks guaranteed by his Royal Rumble victory, but MTV’s Jenny McCarthy was on his arm instead. Pamela Anderson chose to accompany the champion, “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel. The title match was unique in that the smaller competitor, Shawn Michaels, was the heel and the favorite. Michaels and Sid seemed to have just as much fan support as Diesel. HBK hit Diesel with a super-kick and had him beat, but the referee was nowhere in sight. Diesel recovered and pinned Michaels after the Jackknife Power-Bomb. Big Daddy Cool celebrated with the celebrities, both Pam Anderson and Jenny McCarthy turned out to be gold-diggers, but HBK may have stolen the show.
Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigalow was the main event. The pop group, Salt-N-Pepa, preformed “Whatta Man” for the entrance of LT. This was a Lumberjack Match of sorts with the rest of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation in Bigalow’s corner and the All-Pro Team in Lawrence Taylor’s corner. One member of the All-Pro Team was Steve “Mongo” McMichael, who became a fixture on WCW Monday Nitro later in 1995. The referee was Pat Patterson, the first Intercontinental Champion and referee of the inaugural WrestleMania main event back in 1985. LT performed surprisingly well and Bigalow sold like a boss for him. LT won with a flying forearm, but he looked a little worse for the wear as he was carried from the ring to celebrate with Salt-N-Pepa. Even though Bigalow lost the match, I recall him being referred to as the “giant” killer once in ECW.
Both Shawn Michaels and Bam Bam Bigalow turned baby-face in the weeks following WrestleMania. Psycho Sid joined Ted DiBiase’s Corporation and the “In Your House” PPVs were introduced on Mother’s Day of that year. This event will always be known as the “Lawrence Taylor” WrestleMania, but most matches didn’t live up to the hype.
KING OF THE RING
June 25, 1995
At the inaugural In Your House, “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel successfully defended the WWF Championship against Psycho Sid. Diesel won via DQ after Tatanka, who like Sid was part of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, interfered. Jerry “The King” Lawler scored a victory over Bret “Hit Man” Hart on Mother’s Day in a match The Hit Man had dedicated to his mom, Helen Hart. Also, Mabel (now a heel) defeated Adam Bomb in a King of the Ring tournament qualifying match. All that led up to this event. Vince McMahon and Dok Hendrix (A/K/A/ Michael P.S. Hayes) called the action.
Both Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the King of the Ring tournament. A curious booking decision. HBK wrestled Kama to a 15 minute time limit draw while Undertaker was eliminated by Mabel, who then received a bye into the finals. Savio Vega, formerly known as Kwang and filling in for an injured Razor Ramon, defeated Yokozuna and The Roadie (w/ Jeff Jarrett) to reach the finals.
Bret Hart and Jerry Lawler had reignited their feud which began at the 1993 King of the Ring. Now they would face-off in a “Kiss My Foot” Match. The King was banking on The Hit Man getting himself disqualified just as he had at SummerSlam 1993. Vince McMahon surmised that Bret Hart would retire out of sheer embarrassment if he lost this match. Hakushi and his manager, Shinja, interfered on behalf of The King. Bret Hart, pulling double duty, had also wrestled Hakushi at In Your House. Hakushi wasn’t much help though as he inadvertently struck Jerry Lawler twice. Once during the match and again after the match. The Hit Man was victorious with his patented Sharpshooter, then removed his boot and stuck his foot in The King’s face. Hart was also able to get Lawler to kiss his own foot, which in the storyline, he’d not washed in weeks.
Mabel then defeated Savio Vega to become the 1995 King of the Ring. This match is notorious for two reasons. Firstly, King Mabel did not become a long term main event superstar like most of the other King of the Ring tournament winners. Secondly, since this PPV was held in Philadelphia, an ECW chant broke out. You could see many of the loyal ECW fans, like the guy in the straw hat, sitting ringside. This was how the fans let Vince McMahon know that they were not pleased with creative direction of the WWF.
Diesel and Bam Bam Bigalow took on Psycho Sid and Tatanka (w/ Ted DiBiase) in the main event. There have been some accounts that there were behind the scenes clashes Bigalow and “The Kliq” (Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, The 1-2-3 Kid, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley). When Shawn Michaels and Diesel reunited on Monday Night RAW, it was obvious that they didn’t want to share the moment with Bigalow. Despite whatever distaste they might have had for one another backstage, Diesel and Bigalow were still victorious, with Diesel scoring the winning pinfall on Tatanka. The rivalry between Diesel and Psycho Sid continued as they battled for the WWF Championship again at In Your House II: The Lumberjacks.
August 27, 1995
The summer of King Mabel. Also, “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith turned heel for the first time in his career by betraying his tag partner, Lex Luger. Shawn Michaels won the Intercontinental Championship for the third time in his career by defeating Jeff Jarrett at In Your House II: The Lumberjacks, the same night “Double J” debuted his newest single, “With My Baby Tonight” via lip-singing. Vince McMahon started off calling SummerSlam with Jerry “The King” Lawler, then The King was relieved by Dok Hendrix towards the end of the night. The Fabulous Freebird alumnus is probably my least favorite color man of the 1990s. His sense of humor was corny and dated.
Hakushi defeated The 1-2-3 Kid in the opener. The fan support was unique as the fans cheered Hakushi for his athleticism, but booed him when he attempted to play to the crowd. Hunter Hearst Helmsley made his WWF Pay-Per-View debut, defeating Bob “Sparkplug” Holly. Barry Horowitz, a prolific jobber, defeated Skip, who was managed by the original WWF Diva, Sunny (even though the moniker Diva wasn’t popularized until after she left the promotion). Speaking of the ladies, Bertha Faye won the WWF Women’s Championship from Alundra Blaze at this show.
The Undertaker faced Kama in a Casket Match. The Phenom was still feuding with Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. It was time for Kama to pay for melting the urn down into a gold chain. The Undertaker picked up the win and was now 3&1 in Casket Matches held at Pay-Per-Views. Glenn Jacobs, now better known as Kane, also made his WWF Pay-Per-View debut under his Dr. Isaac Yankem gimmick, a sadistic dentist brought to the WWF by Jerry “The King” Lawler to target Bret “Hit Man” Hart. It was almost like the “Excellence of Execution” was being booked like a mid-carder in 1995 while members of The Kliq held all the championships.
Shawn Michaels was initially set to defend the Intercontinental Championship against Psycho Sid, but the interim WWF President, Gorilla Monsoon, decided to treat the fans and booked the rematch of the decade… Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon in a Ladder Match. The IC Title was described as a “hot potato” at SummerSlam because the belt changed hands every year at the summer classic with the exception of 1993. HBK and “The Bad Guy” were both faces, but I have to give the edge to Razor when it came to fan support in this match. Michaels wore some thick knee pads and Razor spent a good portion of the match targeting HBK’s left knee. During the finish, Michaels seemed to have some difficulty unhooking the title. Razor improvised long enough to allow HBK to retain his championship. These two superstars may have topped their performance at WrestleMania X, but there’s nothing quite like the original.
“Big Daddy Cool” Diesel defended the WWF Championship against King Mabel in the main event. Mabel had Sir Mo in his corner, so Lex Luger offered his services to Diesel as a corner man, but Diesel declined. When Lex did attempt to assist Diesel, he got a big boot in the face for his trouble. I don’t know if this was leading to a match between Diesel and Lex, but Lex shockingly made the jump to WCW on the inaugural edition of Monday Nitro. The opening shot that heralded the Monday Night War. This was only Diesel’s second legitimately successfully title defense at a Pay-Per-View. He held the belt for a year, the longest title reign of the 1990s, but with so few defining moments. Meanwhile, King Mabel never main evented another Pay-Per-View.
November 19, 1995
The Kliq was running ramped at this time. Diesel and Shawn Michaels won the WWF Tag Team Championships from Yokozuna and Owen Hart at In Your House III: Triple Header. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith was filling in for his injured brother-in-law for that match. However, WWF President Gorilla Monsoon reversed the decision the next night on RAW because Owen Hart was pinned when he wasn’t officially part of the match. The British Bulldog then challenged Diesel at In Your House IV: The Great White North for the WWF Championship. Bret “Hit Man” Hart, who was serving as a guest color commentator, interfered in the match and Davey Boy won via DQ. This was the same night that Shawn Michaels relinquished the Intercontinental Championship to Dean Douglas (better known as “The Franchise” Shane Douglas). Douglas then lost the title to Razor Ramon. This was Ramon’s fourth reign as IC Champion, a record at the time. The Kliq definitely had a monopoly on these title belts.
Since Jerry “The King” Lawler was wrestling a lot in 1995, Vince McMahon needed a broadcast partner and Dok Hendrix wasn’t filling the bill. At Survivor Series 1995, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig returned to the WWF to serve as a color commentator. In the first of the tradition Survivor Series tag team elimination match, Skip (w/ Sunny) and “The Bodydonnas” defeated Marty Jannetty and “The Underdogs.” A whole bunch of jobbers in this match. The 1-2-3 Kid was the sole survivor. The Kid had turned heel by betraying Razor Ramon and joining Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. Psycho Sid interfered and was instrumental in The Kid’s victory.
Bertha Faye’s team defeated Alundra Blaze’s team in the first women’s Survivor Series Match since the inaugural Survivor Series in 1987. Goldust, formerly know as Dustin Rhodes, defeated Bam Bam Bigalow in what was Bigalow’s last WWF Pay-Per-View match. “The Beat from the East” had successful runs in ECW and WCW, but he never made a return to the WWF. Perhaps his departure had to do with his personal animosity towards The Kliq. Goldust, on the other hand, was beginning to revolutionize the WWF with his controversial, androgynous gimmick. A glimmer of the Attitude Era.
The Undertaker and “The Darkside” defeated Jerry Lawler and “The Royals” by clean sweep. The Phenom had partners, but he didn’t need them as he did all the eliminating by himself. He also wore a protective face mask, which led to the rumors that this might be another imposter, but it was the real Mark Calaway. The last of the Survivor Series matches was a “Wild Card” Match. Meaning that heels and faces were forced to team with each other. Razor Ramon was stuck with three heels, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, and Dean Douglas. Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson (making his PPV debut) teamed with Psycho Sid and The British Bulldog. Jim Cornette had charges on both sides of the ring. There was a great deal of infighting during the match. HBK, Ahmed Johnson, and The British Bulldog were the survivors.
“Diesel Power” was just about running on empty. Big Daddy Cool defended the WWF Championship against Bret “Hit Man” Hart in a “No DQ” Match. Their previous match ups at King of the Ring 1994 and Royal Rumble 1995 had no definitive winner. This title match was historic because it was the first time in WWF history that a superstar, namely Bret Hart, was driven through the Spanish announcer’s table. That happens so often now that it’s lost all cache, but it was a big deal at the time. Bret Hart played possum, Diesel went for the Jackknife Power-Bomb, then The Hit Man rolled him up for a three count and won the WWF Championship for the third time in his illustrious career. Diesel was a pretty sore loser, attacking referees and nailing Bret Hart with two Jackknifes after the match, but didn’t turn all the way heel for several months.
As 1995 wound down, Hunter Hearst Helmsley defeated Henry Godwin in a “Hog Pen” Match at In Your House V: Season’s Beatings. Alundra Blaze made the jump to WCW and famously threw the WWF Women’s Championship in the trash. Shawn Michaels collapsed in the ring during a match against Owen Hart on Monday Night RAW. The WWF was playing up on a legit concussion that HBK received in a bar fight. This angle put Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart on a collision course with each other in 1996.
The end of an era. The final Universal Studios film to feature Count Dracula, The Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. Though this was a comedy starring the famed team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the plot is no more absurd than “House of Dracula,” while both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. play their signature parts straight, adding to the humor of the film. It’s so important in a horror / comedy for the monsters to remain scary.
It’s great to see Bela Lugosi return as Dracula. It’s hard to believe that he only played the count in two films as he is so identified with the role. And what of poor Lawrence Talbot? I thought he was cured of his lycanthropy in “House of Dracula?” I guess it was only temporary. Nobody plays torment like Lon Chaney Jr.. Glenn Strange may have more screentime as the Monster in this film than “House of Frankenstein” and “House of Dracula” combined. He even has a couple lines of dialogue.
Bud Abbot is caught up in a love triangle, but the monsters get in the way. Lawrence Talbot wants Abbott and Costello, who played a pair of dim witted baggage handlers, to assist him in his battle against Count Dracula. Even though Lawrence and Dracula only crossed paths briefly in “House of Dracula,” this film implied that they were sworn enemies. Actually, this may have been the first film to establish the vendetta between vampires and werewolves.
Count Dracula has arranged for the Monster to receive a new brain, which belongs to Bud Abbot. If only Fritz the hunchback hadn’t stolen the criminal brain seventeen years earlier. All the characters gather in a laboratory and all hell breaks loose. Dracula and the Wolf Man fall to their demise and the Monster gets burned on the docks. Abbott and Costello flee, then in a nice cameo, we hear yet another master of horror, Vincent Price voicing the Invisible Man.
Abbott and Costello would also meet Dr. Jekyll, played by Boris Karloff, and a mummy in the follow up films. Meanwhile, Universal Studios added one more classic monster to their stable in the 1950s, the Gill Man from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” in 1954. Luckily, all the classic monsters were not done for. They were merely dormant, waiting to be resurrected by Hammer Films.
“Batman Begins” (2005)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard / Ra’s al Ghul,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon,
Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes,
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox,
& Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow
The Superman film franchise wallowed in limbo for nineteen years, but Batman fans only had to wait eight years for a reboot. Inspired in part by the concept behind Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel, Batman: Year One, Warner Brothers finally produced a cinematic origin story for The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan, the man behind such films as “Memento” and “Insomnia,” was chosen as the director. It seems as if the fans’ voices were being heard as Christian Bale, the “American Psycho” himself, was cast as Bruce Wayne / Batman. Kevin Conroy, who voiced the title character on Batman: The Animated Series, gave audiences the most well rounded interpretation of Batman… The lonely orphan, billionaire playboy, and caped crusader all in one. Christian Bale became the first actor to portray these three facets in a live action film.
It’s a bit difficult for me to get through the first act of “Batman Begins” because of the flashbacks of Thomas and Martha Wayne. They are so unbearably perfect that it’s hard for me to relate to them. Maybe that’s only how Bruce Wayne chooses to remember his folks? Ra’s al Ghul (the head of the demon) was far more complex than the antagonists in the Burton / Schumacher series. You left the theater not knowing if Liam Neeson was always Ra’s and Ken Watanabe was the decoy or if Watanabe was the original Ra’s and Neeson took his place upon his death (“The Dark Knight Rises” cleared that up). Either way, Liam Neeson brought an edge to usual role of mentor.
The Scarecrow was intended to be the villain in “Batman Triumphant,” the un-produced fifth film in the Burton / Schumacher series. Jonathan Crane finally made it to the big screen in “Batman Begins,” played by Cillian Murphy. The character did not have as much screentime as I would’ve preferred, but he was still memorable. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes was probably the weakest member of the cast. She gave such a bland and uninspired performance that I don’t think anyone was too sorry to see the part recast in “The Dark Knight.”
Everyone raves about Christopher Nolan for the most part. I’ve heard some complaints that the female characters are underdeveloped in his films, but my only real gripe is the incoherent style in which he photographed the hand-to-hand combat scenes. I suppose that his intent was to make the viewer feel like they are inside the scuffle. That works for a boxing film like “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” but Batman and the members of the League of Shadows are ninjas. They fight at an extremely fast pace which appears like a blur close up. Pull back and let us see the choreography.
Tim Burton kept Batman in the shadows. Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer explain everything. Half of this film is exposition. Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, who was Mr. Exposition. A fountain of all knowledge. Virtually nothing was left to the imagination. You know how and why everything works. Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth were merely supporting characters in the Burton / Schumacher series. In Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City, they were essential to the plot. Michael Caine was nowhere near as placating as Michael Gough was. He was a surrogate father to Bruce, not just his servant. Gary Oldman has played some demented and volatile characters in the past, but he’d mellowed enough to effectively portray Sgt. Gordon, a committed ally to Batman, just as the character was depicted in Frank Miller’s Year One.
Roger the alien from “American Dad!” thinks that the sequel setup at the end with the Joker playing card was a bit on the nose. If this was a Michael Bay or Brett Ratner film, then I probably would’ve agreed with him, but I, like many in the audience was hooked by “Batman Begins” and anticipating the next installment.
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon,
Heath Ledger as The Joker,
Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent / Two-Face,
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes,
& Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox
Just as when I wrote my retrospective of “Superman: The Movie,” I struggle to critique “The Dark Knight” because the film succeeds on almost every level and my review will be annoyingly positive. But, here we go…
It is now forgotten what a surprise it was when Heath Ledger was announced as The Joker. He was labeled a “pretty boy” and not someone you could have easily envisioned as the Clown Prince of Crime, but the buzz around him grew stronger as the release date approached. Sadly, Heath Ledger passed away just a few months before “The Dark Knight” premiered. The Joker, as he’s presented in this film, was a domestic terrorist, an agent of chaos. Some have said that Heath Ledger’s Joker sounded a lot like singer / songwriter, Tom Waits, while others sited the performance of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange” as an inspiration. I will not be comparing and contrasting Heath Ledger with Jack Nicholson since they were two wholly different interpretations of The Joker, existing in two different universes. “The Dark Knight” does not take place in a Tim Burton gothic fairytale, rather this film took a very pragmatic attitude. Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City is a real place with real people. I am not saying that is a better approach than what Tim Burton did. They were just different is all. To each his own.
Christian Bale may have went a bit overboard with his “bat-voice.” Michael Keaton as Batman spoke with a hint of a Clint Eastwood / Snake Plissken gravely tone. Christian Bale clearly wanted to sound even more ferocious than he did in “Batman Begins.” He was practically growling in this movie. I was half expecting him to start frothing at the mouth. Couple that with Bruce Wayne being a sad sack most of the time, is it a wonder that Rachel Dawes chose Harvey Dent? Rachel was now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who may not be considered as “traditionally” pretty as Katie Holmes, but gave a much better performance. I actually think audiences would have cheered if Katie Holmes was blown up.
Harvey Dent was played by Aaron Eckhart. This was the first time that Dent’s transition into Two-Face was depicted in live action. Billy Dee Williams was Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Tommy Lee Jones was Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but no actor had played both the before and after, the ying and yang, which is the whole point of the character. Harvey’s face was scarred by a fire, his heart broken by the death of Rachel, and his mind poisoned by The Joker. The climax was a standoff straight out of a crime drama. And that’s exactly what “The Dark Knight” is, a crime drama, not a comic book. Harvey dies from a broken neck suffered in a fall. Everyone chastised Tim Burton for tweaking comic book characters, but it’s okay for Christopher Nolan? When in the comic books was Harvey Dent killed just a few hours after becoming Two-Face? Why not have him linger in a coma for at least one more movie before the plug is pulled?
A few other tidbits… I liked seeing Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow make a cameo. I wish that other members of the Rogue’s Gallery such as The Mad Hatter had popped up in supporting roles throughout the Christopher Nolan trilogy. There was this theory that the character, Mr. Reese, was actually The Riddler, but I don’t buy it. I also disagree with all those who said that The Penguin could not have worked in Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. Why can’t there be a gangster named Oswald Cobblepot who owns a nightclub? When Batman does infiltrate Boss Maroni’s nightclub, all those green strobe lights gave me a weird Joel Schumacher “Batman Forever” flashback. All of a sudden, we were back in 1995.
The Joker was not killed off. Obviously, he was meant to return in the next sequel. His line, “I think we’re destined to do this forever,” in his final scene is so poignant since we know that he won’t be returning. Heath Ledger was posthumously nominated for and won an Academy Award for his performance in this film, which was well deserved.
“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Commissioner James Gordon,
Anne Hatheway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Tom Hardy as Bane
Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate / Talia,
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake,
& Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox
This was first movie that I experienced in IMAX, which was fitting given how highly anticipated this final chapter in the Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was. The presentation was similar in tone more to “Batman Begins” than “The Dark Knight.” In a way, the screenplay may have tried too hard to connect back to the first film as apposed to being a standalone story. Christian Bale became the first actor to portray Batman in three live action films, breaking a tie with Michael Keaton.
Tom Hardy, who had co-starred in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” was cast as Bane, the (supposed) main antagonist. His take on the character was different than what had been done in the comic books and animated series. Or at least he sounded different. He was so darn formal even when describing and performing violent acts. Some have said that he sounded like Sean Connery meets Darth Vader. I didn’t enjoy him masquerading as the new leader of the League of Shadows. He should’ve just been a mercenary, who was ex-communicated from the League for being too extreme, then hired by Talia to avenge the death of her father. I recall that Ra’s al Ghul also had a decoy in “Batman Begins,” so Talia tried a similar rouse, but it was unnecessary and overly complicated.
Did anyone believe that Bane was the child of Ra’s al Ghul? Even if you’re not a fan of the comics and didn’t know that Ra’s al Ghul had a daughter, it was somewhat obvious that Miranda Tate was not what she seemed. Marion Cotillard made a point of saying that she wasn’t playing Talia while promoting the film, so that meant she was, without a doubt, playing Talia. I think the filmmakers made a huge mistake by waiting until the climax to reveal her true nature. Why didn’t she reveal herself during the underground fight between Batman and Bane? Since their plan was to leave Bruce to rot away in the pit, why didn’t they let him know who she really was right then and there? It made no absolutely sense for the villains to keep their secret from Bruce any longer because they thought that they’d never see him again, so what the hell were they waiting for? They were keeping their secret from the audience only. Miranda Tate could have still tricked Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon because they would have no knowledge that she revealed herself to Bruce. The reveal should have occurred when Bane broke Batman’s back. The filmmakers weren’t attempting to fool the other characters at this point, they were trying to pull one over on the audience. If you’ve seen a 007 movie, you could tell that Miranda was evil the minute she and Bruce made love by the fireplace. That is my biggest grievance with this film and the entire trilogy. They made us wait two and half hours for a twist that everyone saw coming.
Anne Hatheway played Selina Kyle / Catwoman. Of course, Christopher Nolan is just too cool to refer to her as Catwoman. She’s a “cat” burglar. Whatever you want to call her, it was inspired casting. Anne Hatheway has always had her wholesome image from “The Princess Diaries,” even if she’s played more risqué parts in smaller film such as “Havoc.” Anne Hatheway truly reinvented herself to mass audiences as a femme fatale in this flick. She looked great in the costume. Her goggles could even be flipped up to create the illusion of cat ears. Genius. I guess cat burglars don’t bother using whips in Christopher Nolan’s universe? Shucks. Though she was in full makeup while in prison and after Gotham City became a wasteland. I wouldn’t compare her to Michelle Pfeiffer for the same reason I didn’t compare Heath Ledger to Jack Nicholson. It’s two different worlds.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Detective John Blake, a character who was an amalgam of Robin, Batman’s traditional comic book sidekick, and Terry McGinnis, Bruce Wayne’s successor from the “Batman Beyond” animated series. Christopher Nolan had always claimed he was reluctant to incorporate Robin in his films, but John Blake is an orphan, a crime fighter, and his name turns out be Robin. Close enough. Will Robin John Blake become the new Batman or Nightwing? Maybe a spin-off will give us the answer? For some reason, I always thought that the kid (King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones”) who Batman gave his binoculars to back in “Batman Begins,” would eventually turn out to be Tim Drake, the third Robin from the comic books, but I was wrong. At least Blake rhymes with Drake. Again, it’s close enough.
I’m pleased that Batman was not killed by the nuclear blast. Bruce Wayne shouldn’t die young. He needs to become a bitter old curmudgeon. The filmmakers tried to pull the wool over our eyes again by implying that Batman was dead. Why did he bother faking his death if was going to slowly let everyone close to him know that he was still alive? He knew that Lucius Fox would find out that the autopilot had been fixed. He reunited with Selina Kyle and hung out at the café until Alfred saw that he was alive and well. Gordon and Blake were instructed to recreate “The Bat-Man,” so what was the point except to give the audience another twist? “The Dark Knight Rises” was the weakest of the trilogy and a semi-satisfactory finale.
Here we go again. Even though Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) were vanquished in “House of Frankenstein” a year earlier, they are both inexplicably resurrected for this third monster rally and coincidently arrive at the very same clinic in search of cures for their supernatural afflictions. Of course, this clinic is located in Vasaria. There seems to be a lot of villages called Vasaria in these movies.
Unlike all the mad scientists in the past, Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) is kind and sympathetic. He is the first doctor to have the common sense to not try and revive Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), who conveniently washed up in cave beneath the good doctor’s clinic. What are the odds? Lionel Atwill is again cast as an inspector and in a nice twist, the traditional hunchbacked assistant is now played by an attractive actress (Jane Adams).
Dracula does seem sincere in his intentions, but his lust for Doctor Edelmann’s other assistant (Martha O‘Driscoll) has him returning to his wicked ways and he infects Dr. Edelmann with vampire blood via a transfusion. Dr. Edelmann is able to stays sane long enough to destroy Dracula and cure Lawrence of his lycanthropy. A rare glimmer of hope for the Wolf Man.
Tainted blood of Dracula eventually morphs Dr. Edelmann into a “Jekyll & Hyde” type character and he goes on a rampage before reviving the Monster. The final scene of the laboratory burning to the ground was lifted from “Ghost of Frankenstein,” so that is Lon Chaney Jr. and not Glenn Strange thrashing in the flames. Though “House of Dracula” has some interesting variations of previously established hallmarks, overall it is not as fun as the previous monster rallies.
“House of Frankenstein” neglected any monster on monster action, but this film could have used some. John Carradine has more screentime as Dracula than he did in “House of Frankenstein,” but all the monsters played again second fiddle to a doctor. This was more acceptable when Boris Karloff filled that role, but this imitation Jekyll & Hyde character doesn’t quite measure up. It may have been different if Dr. Jekyll actually was a character in this film, but Universal didn‘t tackle Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation until “Abbott & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” in 1953. “House of Dracula” is probably my least favorite monster rally, save for poor Lawrence Talbot finally being liberated from his horrible curse… albeit temporarily.