Saturday, September 28, 2013


When I received my review copy of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT #32 in the mail, I was both happy and sad. Happy, because here was another issue of my favorite "indie" horror 'zine (non-professional is a very wrong term to use, "semi" almost as bad, and "non-commercial" is too far afield for a fair comparison), and sad because Editor/Publisher Jim Clatterbaugh again discusses his exit plan for the probable ending of the magazine in its current incarnation over the next few issues. He revealed his desire to cease publishing in issue #31, but in this issue it sounds like he means it.

Believe me, I get it. I published several low print run 'zines in the 1990's, and when I think of the work that went into each one of them, I can't imagine the hours that Jim puts in on a single issue. Designing the magazine was the easy part -- my biggest frustration was getting the type of manuscripts that I called for in the writer's guidelines. Sounds like an easy thing to ask for, but it was obvious that 90 percent of the paper that was sent to me that ended up directly in the recycle can was a result of the writer submitting it on the proverbial wing-and-a-prayer.

I don't see Jim with a similar problem. It is quite clear to me that, whether or not he receives material unsuitable to publish, he still receives enough of the highest quality historical journalism available in the genre today to fill an issue. And that's something you can count on in every issue of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT.

MFTV focuses most of its attention on classic monster movies of the 30's through the 50's. And to the person whose letter was published in the Letters to the Vault department that asks the question, "Have we finally reached the point where there are no more interesting things to be written concerning the horror films of the 1930s?", I replay with a resounding "No!" What I can say is most of the surface material from this era has been thoroughly trolled; what is needed now is to plumb the depths of those "hidden horrors" that lie beneath. However, to reach those territories, one must be one part tireless researcher, one part detective and one part skilled in the art of lively writing.

A perfect example is Greg Mank's retrospective of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN that opens the issue. Presented as a series of news and magazine clips, it's hard to imagine that there is this much information available on the production of a film that is regarded by many as one of the weakest in the Universal monster cycle. I am biased, however. As one of the first monster movies that I can remember watching on TV (Dracula was the first), it remains a Frankenstein-like galvanizing psychological imprint on this Monster Kid's mind. While it may be disappointing to film critics who are addicted to viewing movies as a Rorschach inkblot test by the lack of an overt director's biographical metaphor or political allegory, I believe that it is a film that nevertheless deserves higher marks. Wall-to-wall action, crisp direction, great character actors, and a mini-monster rally to boot makes this one of the best straight-for-the-throat horror thrillers of the cycle.

Mank's penchant for the controversial is amply represented here by numerous revelations about what went on behind-the-scenes during the production of FMTW. Lionel Atwill was in the middle of a court case that would, if not end his career at Universal, surely do damage to his cachet with the studio as well as the industry in general. Female lead, Hungarian-born Ilona Massey dragged along her scandalous reputation to the proceedings. And, if that was not enough, Maria (Maleva) Ouspenskya suffered an injury while filming that put her on the sidelines. Despite all the shadowy theatrics, director Roy William Neill put together a fine and entertaining film. Also mentioned here is that an entire book is currently being written about the film. I have no doubt that it will make very interesting reading.

As a lad, I spent numerous hours at Marineland of the Pacific, nestled on the water's edge just off the winding road of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California. It opened in 1954, one year ahead of a theme park gamble that would be called Disneyland. That same year a successful Universal monster movie would have its first of two sequels filmed partially in and around the Florida-based version of Marineland, which had opened almost 20 years earlier. REVENGE OF THE CREATURE was the second in the trilogy of the famed atom-age Creature From the Black Lagoon series. Tom Weaver's lengthy article, Monster from the Oceanarium Floor: The Shooting of Revenge of the Creature at Marineland, discusses in great detail the circumstances the film's production and location shooting. There is much discussion on the history of the so-called "oceanarium" and salient historical perspective is provided by Sally Baskin, who grew up as a young girl free to roam the park's grounds.Weaver proves again and again that he is one of the leading research journalists dedicated to the conservation of the history of the bygone age of monster movie making, and this time is no exception. No surprise, then, that the material in this article is also slated to be expanded into a book.

I have met the jovial Scott Essman and correspond with him on occasion, sometimes about our mutual interest regarding Jack P. Pierce, Universal's head of makeup during their glory years of the 1930s. I have no qualms in stating that Mr. Essman is a leading proponent in maintaining Pierce's legacy and rightful place in the canon of great movie makeup artists. Here, he shares his knowledge about Pierce's work on the various versions of the Wolf Man, from the eponymous-titled first film through HOUSE OF DRACULA. There is not a surplus of information regarding Pierce's life and career, but Essman does an admirable job of reconstructing the inspiration and work behind one of the most memorable monster makeups in Hollywood history.

Rounding out another premium-quality effort from Editor and Publisher Jim Clatterbaugh are regular review columns, Films From the Vault and Books from the Vault.

Like any other issue, MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT #31, emblazoned with yet another of Daniel Horne's monster masterpieces, is again novel-length with text and richly populated with incredibly clear and reproduced images (many from the noted archive specialist, Photofest), a good share of them fresh and little-seen. The resulting reading experience makes it one of the best and satisfying of its kind. It's sad to hear that Mr. Clatterbaugh is eventually pulling the plug on such a fine publication. All I can say is, until the dirge is played, enjoy every page, every image and every word in MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT.

Order a copy of the quickly-selling MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT #32 (and more back issues, including the brand new DVD archive that has the first 10 issues in PDF format) right .
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