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Monthly Archives: April 2011

From the DVD case: When Dracula (Francis Lederer) pulls up stakes from his native Europe and flees across the Atlantic, he tries to fit in by posing as the cousin of an unsuspecting American family. But when he starts sinking his teeth into every red-blooded thing California has to offer, he soon turns the Golden State into a Ghoulish state! (1958,b&w)

Mark saysThe Return of Dracula is one of four horror/science fiction films produced by Gramercy Pictures in the latter 1950s. Each picture (The Monster that Challenged the World, The Vampire, The Flame Barrier, and The Return of Dracula) is scripted by Pat Fielder and all, with the exception of The Flame Barrier, rank at least a notch above the standard fare that was being offered at the time.

The theme of an old, family relative arriving to bring evil to a small American town draws inevitable comparisons to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943).  The relationship between naïve and trusting Rachel, played by Norma Eberhardt (Problem Girls) and the worldly Dracula (posing as Cousin Bellac), played by Francis Lederer (Pandora’s Box), invites further comparison to the Hitchcock classic. Pat Fielder, in an interview with film historian Tom Weaver, noted some of her influences:

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From the DVD case: A hormone intended to alter the breeding cycle of rabbits overrunning ranchlands instead turn them into flesh-eating, 150-pound monsters. Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun and DeForest Kelly are among the intrepid humans facing the behemoth bunnies. They use guns, flames, and dynamite to subtract them, but the rampaging rabbits know how to multiply. Can anything stop these hare-y, scary monsters? (1972, color)

Mark says: The most amazing thing about Night of the Lepus is that it is not played for laughs. Instead, the film is approached as a cautionary ecological tale regarding the fragile balance of nature. Director William F. Claxton (who directed a lot of television, including several episodes of The Twilight Zone), and a cast of veteran actors, among them, the great Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Fog), treat the script earnestly, as if the premise is not utterly ridiculous. I mean, the movie is about giant, bloodthirsty bunnies. That’s funny, right? Even the book it is based on, The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon, is described as, “a savagely humorous indictment of War, Nationalism and Capitalism.” Savagely humorous!  This movie may have had some success if it were created as a spoof of the giant, radiated, mutant bug/animal horror flicks that gained popularity in previous decades, but it is played absolutely straight.

So, how did MGM decide to make a picture like Night of the Lepus? Tom Weaver, in his book, Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, put this very question to lead actress, Janet Leigh. Her response:

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From the DVD case: Beware Tabanga! On a remote South Seas island, no one is safe from this hideous and unique monster. Tabanga is part man, part tree, all doom. Formerly an island prince, he was unjustly put to death by a witch doctor. Now he’s returned to life with roots, branches, and a vengeance. A macabre medley of creature feature, Polynesian kitsch, and Atomic Age cautionary tale, From Hell It Came is the killer-tree movie you woodn’t want to miss! (1957, b&w)

Mark saysFrom Hell It Came is one of those movies that leave an indelible impression on a child’s mind. One of the joys of writing online reviews is being able to help readers identify movies they remember from childhood.  I’m often asked if I can identify the movie “about a tree monster brought to life” by a tribal curse. My own memories regarding this movie are vague, at best, though it did inspire one of my very first nightmares. Unfortunately, that nightmare was scarier, and more memorable, than the actual film.

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