Archive for the Horror Category

Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician (Biography)

Posted in Horror, Karloff & Lugosi, Weird Science with tags , , on September 13, 2013 by monsterminions

Kenneth Strickfaden’s (1896-1984) career as an electrical technician in movies and television spanned over 50 years. Surprisingly, there is only one biography written about his fascinating life and contributions to cinema, television and construction of electrical apparatus. Kenneth Strickfaden: Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician (Harry Goldman, McFarland & Co., 224 pages) is a fascinating celebration of an enigmatic man who self-taught himself during an era dominated by apprenticeship and mentor-pupil relationships. Strickfaden essentially pioneered and monopolized electrical special effects during the 1930’s and was the go-to-man for several decades. Author Harry Goldman even makes note of Disney engineers consulting with Strickfaden on ways to synch audio with talking automatons used at a Disney theme park.

Strickfaden’s resume of films was impressive, but generally spanned from Frankenstein (Universal, 1931) to Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein (1974). Author Harry Goldman notes he made contributions to over 80 films, including Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), War of the Worlds (1953), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Munsters Dr. Shrimperstein episode (1966) and many others. He also helped with silents before and some television and film consulting afterwards. Mel Brooks called the man a genius. Strickfaden’s talents have become a bit of a lost art in cinema. It is safer and typically more cost-effective to render lightning effects using computer-aided graphics. The next time you watch one of these old horror films try and spot one of Strickfaden’s devices.

Kenneth Strickfaden: Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician is essential horror film reading that will also appeal to Nikola Tesla fans. The book consists of 19 Chapters and 4 Appendices. Several of Strickfaden’s sketches and notes are included in Appendix B. Also check out a few screen captures and images I have presented below.

Here’s the opening shot of Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). That’s Strickfaden’s Nebularium, although it also looks a bit like another mirrored device he called the Scintillarium. In any event, the distorted gargoyle-like mug of Fu Manchu is appropriately distorted by Strickfaden’s device and DOP Tony Gaudio’s striking cinematography.

Fu Manchu_Nebularium

Dr. Fu Manchu tests a soon-to-be debunked sword of Genghis Khan using a Tesla coil (conical apparatus with an orb on top).

Fu Manchu_Tesla Coil

Boris Karloff as the nefarious (“three times a doctor”) Fu Manchu. That’s Strickfaden’s Multistributor behind Karloff.

Fu Manchu_Multistributor

Kenneth Strickfaden in Fu Manchu makeup, by Cecil Holland, standing in for a voltage-shy Boris Karloff. In an earlier take, Strickfaden took a nasty arc due to an improper ground, but he returned to finish the shot.

Fu Manchu_Kenneth Strickfaden

Kenneth Strickfaden, age 85 with the giant primary Meg Sr., used during educational exhibitions and in several films, including Young Frankenstein (1974).

Ken Strickfaden_Meg Sr_Bill Wysock Image

Here’s a shot from 1975 with Kenneth Strickfaden (center) and friends with the Nebularium electrical device seen in several Golden Age horror films, including The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Richard Aurandt_Ken Strickfadden_Bill Wysock, 1975_Nebularium

A Night to Remember

Harry Goldman’s Book


Alien Test Footage

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi with tags on September 11, 2013 by monsterminions

Puppet Master 4 (1993)

Posted in Horror, STOP-MOTION with tags on September 8, 2013 by monsterminions


I purchased the Puppet Master DVD 9-pack for $5 at a K-Mart in Houghton Lake, Michigan. To be honest, I had no idea that the series was so successful with nine films -actually eleven films made, but I’ll fork out a finski for this much entertainment. Puppet Master 4 (1993) might be considered the Halloween III of the lot. It shift gears with the puppets playing the good guys much like Arnold’s Terminator in T2: Judgement Day (1991). PM3 also had the puppets protecting the puppet master. In PM4, the villain is the Skeletor-like Egyptian sorcerer Sutekh hellbent on punishing the legacy of André Toulon. David Allen (b. 1944, d. 1999) is back, supervising the puppet effects, and introducing two new creations: a super cool ornate tribal totem demon (actually there are a few), shown below, and the remarkable Decapitron which serves as an Avatar for André Toulon’s spirit. The resurrection of Decapitron is a highlight and fans of the Universal Frankenstein series will likely enjoy the homage. I love Decapitron’s Tesla coils and spark apparatus. The demise of the first totem is also grisly fun, with Blade, Pinhead and the Peter Lorresque Tunneler doing the hero work.

I plopped in this film to watch puppets battle demons and that’s what I got. PM4 features actor Gordon Currie as cybernetic engineer Rick Myers and Ash “The Panther” Adams (that’s what IMDb says) as Cameron the 1980’s dick-head. Think of the character Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) in John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). PM4 is light entertainment that delivers what it proposes “When bad puppets turn good”. Now I have 8 more to go….

Check out this original puppet that sold for $3,200.00.
Totem Puppet Sold


Survivor (1999)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi with tags , on September 3, 2013 by monsterminions


I purchased this film on an 8 for $5 Monster Movie DVD pack I purchased at K-Mart. I had a hard time finding the film on IMDb. The one poster I found comes from the German down-load site. This isn’t a bad little alien romp, with an oil exploration crew battling a predator-like creature unearthed in polar ice. Survivor is a retread of The Thing from Another World, Predator, and Roger Corman’s Night of the Blood Beast (1958), but it held my attention. The fades between scenes suggest to me that the film was made for TV.

The monster design is cool and reminded me of a cross between the Thetan (The Architects of Fear), a gray alien and Predator. There’s also a subplot with a “food of the gods” blue ooze that heals people, some decent kills, and really bad acting. Survivor is worth a look, but don’t seek it out beyond a free download or YouTube.


Criterion Title 666

Posted in Horror with tags , on August 17, 2013 by monsterminions

What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.

When Guillermo del Toro (GDT) is on target with films like Cronos (1993), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) few modern directors can match his vision of gothic horror and homage to films that are no longer made. At his best I think he is a maverick filmmaker with an unmatched visceral style that bucks the system and says “this is how I make a film”. I still consider Pan’s Labyrinth the best horror-fantasy film of the last 20 or so years (I can’t think of any film quite like it), and the Spanish-language El espinazo del diablo one of the finest ghost films ever. At his worst we see studio-imposed blockbusters with CGI rubbish, albeit entertainment such as the gigantically disappointing Pacific Rim (2013). It’s still difficult for me to comprehend that a man who wrote, directed and produced Backbone and Labyrinth could churn out headache-inducing hollywood IMAX/3D/D-Box fodder.

I first saw The Devil’s Backbone in an art theater in the metro-Detroit area. I had never heard of GDT. I remembered him afterward. The film occurs during the Spanish Civil War, sometime between 1936-1939. A 1935 Peugeot 601D sedan rumbles down a barren, wind-swept landscape to an orphanage. Young Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives with his tutor, who fights for the Republican loyalist minority. Carlos’ dad has died in the war. The orphanage is run by Dr. Casares (well-played by GTD regular Federico Luppi) and headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), who has a prosthetic leg. The villain of the story is groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). Also present is compassionate teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo), who is involved with Jacinto. An unexploded ordinance, a metaphorical bomb the size of a sedan sits planted in the pavilion of the orphanage.

The orphanage is populated with colorful characters like Jamie (Iñigo Garcés) the bully, and Owl, who doesn’t speak but watches a lot and once made a marble out of dirt and 6 months of snot. Carlos is given bunk 12, which belonged to Santi who mysteriously disappeared. Another entity is present in the orphanage. Carlos is picked on by Jamie and the other kids and learns about a cistern underlying the orphanage. It looks like a swimming pool filled with rusty oxidized water. We also learn that the orphanage is a depository for gold used to fund the loyalists. Other odd trappings abound in the orphanage.

Dr. Cascares explains to Carlos that deformed fetuses, pickled in rum and spices, serve as a source of elixir that is profitably sold to town men looking for a cure for impotency. Cascares refers to a spinal deformity that the locals call el espinazo del diablo. He drinks a shot.


Carlos eventually learns the secret and fate of Santi.

The Devil’s Backbone is shot in two color schemes: gold and blue (like old vintage photographs or cyanotypes). It’s a gorgeous film to look at and like Pan’s Labyrinth was story-boarded by GDT and several talented artists and shot by DOP Guillermo Navarro. GDT and production designer César Macarrón styled the doorway arches in the orphanage to look like the glass vessels containing fetuses. Also take note on the use of the color red, which is reserved for the presence of blood. Everywhere there are details in this film. Rain is added to suggest cleansing (like in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne finally escapes), while in PacRim it is an excuse to add an additional layer of 3D.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray print is the definitive version to own. The 2-disc set is loaded with supplements, including story board comparisons, artwork, several interviews and commentaries and deleted scenes. The uncredited cover artwork by GDT collaborator and friend Mike “Hellboy” Mignola and essay by Mark Kermode are also special. I also like the Criterion touch of making this film title #666.

I’d like to watch a GDT film with the director. I think it would be a fascinating experience. I love his style and appreciation of old films and gothic horror. I might be tempted to watch Pacific Rim. I’d ask him what the hell were you thinking with yet another rain shot and stupid “top gun” cliches. Sometimes I wonder if GDT is better making films in his native language.

GDT has noted that “The better the villain the better the film”. I think this is true -remember Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh? Orson Welles as police captain Hank Quinlan? Or Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)(I remember him pushing that wheelchair-bound woman down the stairs, but that’s all I remember). A good villain can carry a film. The evil Jacinto is despicable but he is no match for the porcelain-faced Santi who says “bring him to me…”.

The Devil’s Backbone. Essential horror viewing. One of the top Blu-ray and DVD releases of 2013.


The Fog (1980), Blu-ray

Posted in Horror with tags , , , on August 1, 2013 by monsterminions

The Fog_Aussie SheetSomehow I missed Halloween (1978) when it played in theaters. I remember seeing it for the first time on HBO and it scared the liver out of me. I did see John Carpenter’s follow-up The Fog (1980) in a theater during a midnight movie run at the Hoosier Auditorium Theater in Whiting, Indiana. The theater management even added theatrical tricks by way of a rented fog machine which effectively billowed sublimated dry ice over the patrons. Man, those were fun times.

The Shout Factory also recognizes the good old days with the new restored print of The Fog, loaded with supplements, including several TV Spot advertisements that I remember well. I also enjoyed the Jamie Lee Curtis interview (she was not a fan of the film and speaks candidly about it) and documentary Dean of Darkness, with DOP/Cinematographer Dean Cudney, who’s resume of films is tremendous:

  • Apollo 13
  • Jurassic Park
  • Road House
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • Romancing the Stone
  • Halloween I, II & III
  • The Thing
  • Big Trouble in Little China
  • Escape from New York
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and others.

I had not realized that Cudney was a key player in several Carpenter films and helped create a distinct expressionist look through lighting and composition. Just compare the opening nighttime sequences of Jurassic Park to The Fog and you’ll recognize Cudney’s style.

The new Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic. The film holds up well too and is one of the best horror films of the 1980’s. My girlfriend liked it because it played more like an old-time ghost story, which was Carpenter’s intent. Yes, go out and buy this Blu-ray your VHS tape and laserdisc are rotted…

Big thumbs up. One of the best DVD releases of the year. Whewhoo!

Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)

Posted in Cult Movies, Horror with tags on July 9, 2013 by monsterminions

Ax Giant_The Wrath of Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan originated in North American in folktales promulgated by lumberjacks in the northeastern US and eastern Canada.  The first story appeared in print by journalist James MacGillivray (1906, Northern Michigan).  However, the name probably derives from the French-Canadian colloquial Bonyenne, an old term, and an expression of surprise meaning something to the effect of “oh my goodness”.  Director Gary Jones’ new indie Axe Giant (2013) suitably fits that description —and I was entertained from beginning to end.  Fans of the superior and wickedly satirical Trolljegeren (Trollhunter, 2010) will probably like Axe Giant.

Ax Giant_Slaughter

Without spoiling too much fun, the action starts right at the prologue. Poor Dan Haggerty (looking old) is a lumberjack foreman who kills the wrong blue ox and doesn’t have much of a role (we see a bit more of him later).

Ax Giant_Buzz

The story has six juvenile delinquents under the care of a bullying State of Minnesota corrections officer Sgt Hoke (well played by Thomas Downey) and a compassionate social worker (Kristina Kopf), heading to a “cabin in the woods” retreat.  A local wacko named Meeks (Joe Estevez) buzzes around camp talking to himself and plays chess with a mysterious entity. We learn right off the bat that a giant hulking being frequents the woods. He stays to himself and hides in an old mine shaft. He eats small game like brown bears (which are not native to Minnesota).

Things get fun when one of the delinquents finds an unusal bovine skull and horn…

While no classic, Axe Giant is a lot of fun, with good creature effects by Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps.   I can watch this kind of nonesense all day long.  Pack up some beer, grab some firewood, load the gear and iPad and watch this one out in the woods.  But don’t pick up any ox horns…

Ax Giant_The Giant

American Folklore


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