Monster Kid #3

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Zip Caplan and Cast of Thousands

Silver Bullet Records

If you watched much kids' TV programming at all in the '50s and '60s you were sure to see plenty of two things: monsters and heroes. Besides the late night weekend chills of Shock Theater, baby boomers also thrilled to afternoons of adventure with western, jungle and crime-fighting heroes. Another, even more influential entertainment force for that generation was the still-young musical phenomenon of rock and roll. Zip Caplan was obviously heavily effected by all three of these irresistible forces of that time as witnessed by his new CD entitled MONSTERS AND HEROES which presents music from classic horror and adventure productions performed using electric instruments. It's an interesting blend of subjects and styles and a real treat for fans of monster and muscleman movie music.

The CD starts off fittingly with an electric guitar version of the Universal Pictures fanfare, followed by the creation music from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Just when you are wondering if mixing Franz Waxman and rock instruments is a good idea, the music segues into BRIDE's stirring march music which accompanied the villagers' pursuit of the Monster. Caplan and co. make the piece sound as if it had been written with the electric guitar in mind. The new rock arrangement gives the music an interesting edge while still retaining the original spirit. From that point on I was hooked. Although horror fans most strongly identify Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake with DRACULA, it also served as the opening music for some other early Universal horror films. Here it begins the suite from 1932's THE MUMMY which probably contains the first re-recording of some of the film's sparse but effective background music. Other Universal music includes a bluesy rendition of the SON OF DRACULA titles, a MUMMY'S HAND suite (which is basically an up-tempo version of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) followed by a sort of Les Paul version of that happy little ditty Universal used to tack on to their end titles in the forties. A frustratingly short but moody selection from THE WOLF MAN sets the stage for an enthusiastic version of the "Festival of the New Wines" number from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN complete with faithfully done vocals and even a recreation of Chaney's angry outburst at the end. Also featured in the monster category is the GODZILLA theme and a lively interpretation of the sacrificial ceremony from KING KONG.

The hero portion of the CD includes the rousing theme from THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV show, as well as music from the classic Max Fleischer cartoons, and a fun version of MIGHTY MOUSE. There's also a rollicking jam built around the title music from TARZAN FINDS A SON (and many other Tarzan films, although it was originally the title music for TRADER HORN).The disc steps briefly into the funky '70s with the title music from ENTER THE DRAGON, the comic book-like adventure starring the almost super-human Bruce Lee, one of the final stars to capture the imagination of action film fans of the baby boomer years. The remainder of the music is of the western hero variety so it lends itself quite naturally to the guitar. Tracks include cues from THE LONE RANGER TV show and serials, ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION and, one of the highlights of the CD, an expanded version of the theme from THE CISCO KID. Even though we've already heard variations on it in an earlier track, the CD concludes with a wild performance of the William Tell Overture, better known to generations of kids as THE LONE RANGER theme, with a slight Latino flair thrown in.

The tracks randomly alternate between monster and hero selections. If this had been released in the days of vinyl records, the music might have been divided by genre on sides A and B of the album. It might have played better that way too. You may find yourself programming your CD player to group all of the horror music together for a more consistent flow. Also, the slavishly accurate vocals on some of the tracks are slightly at odds with the tone of the music. If the point of this electric redux is to give the familiar music a fresh new sound, the occasional recreations of vocals like the singing in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION as well as spoken word like the high priest on THE MUMMY'S HAND track, remind us too much of the original films and seems in conflict with the feel of the new instrumentation.

These days there are many fine CDs available for fans of classic horror films. Excellent recordings of music by great film composers like Salter, Skinner, Waxman, Steiner, Herrmann, etc. now abound that yesterday's horror fans could only dream of owning. Monster Kids everywhere owe a particular debt of gratitude to the Marco Polo CD label and especially, orchestrator John Morgan and conductor William T. Stromberg for their marvelous recordings of music from several classic horror film scores such as HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN, KING KONG, SON OF KONG and others. Most fans seem to prefer hearing film music performed as close to the original versions as possible. I generally agree with that thinking. If my music collection was on fire and I could only save one CD... well, it probably wouldn't be MONSTERS AND HEROES. I'd grab one of the Salter & Skinners CDs, or Silva's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or David Schecter's MONSTROUS MOVIE MUSIC CDs, or any number of others priceless items in my CD rack. But as long as all of my classic horror music CDs are safe and sound, I certainly want Zip Caplan's MONSTERS AND HEROES among them. The electrified approach to this music may not be to every fan's taste, but I found it an enjoyable change of pace done with obvious reverence and affection for the movies and bigger than life characters that many a Monster Kid grew up with. This was obviously a very personal project for Caplan and his love for the subject comes across in every note. And for $15 postpaid, it's one of the best bargains in monsterdom.

MONSTERS AND HEROES can be ordered from the official Zip Caplan website


The Mad Monster
Retromedia Entertainment, Inc.

For many years I was very curious about THE MAD MONSTER. It never seemed to play on television in my area when I was a kid and the photos from it I saw in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland always fascinated and frustrated me. I wondered exactly what the monster supposed to be. The image of Glenn Strange as the hairy creature wearing bib overalls was intriguing, if a little silly looking. Someone once described the shaggy creature's appearance as looking like Gabby Hayes with fangs. The movie still rarely shows up on TV except on Mystery Science Theater which is not the best way to see any film for the first time. But in the home video age, almost nothing remains completely unavailable and I finally snagged a bootleg vhs copy of THE MAD MONSTER a few years ago and was able to satisfy my curiosity about the movie. Did it live up to the imagination of a rabid monster kid? No, but it is an enjoyable little poverty row romp with a few nice touches.
Produced by PRC in 1942 and directed by Sam Newfield, THE MAD MONSTER stars George Zucco as a vengeful scientist experimenting with wolf blood. Former Universal starlet Anne Nagel appears as Zucco's unsuspecting daughter and future Frankenstein Monster Glenn Strange is Zucco's Guinea pig who becomes the werewolf-like title creature. The plot is similar to PRC's THE DEVIL BAT made two years before, but Zucco's Dr. Cameron is nuttier than Lugosi's Dr. Carruthers ever dreamed of being. Carruthers at least made an attempt to be warm and charming in public to mask his dark feelings. Cameron is not only utterly unlikable all the time, he is always on the verge of erupting and goes into his bitter rants against his fellow scientists at the drop of a hat. And who can blame him? His brilliant idea of transforming American soldiers into wolf men and unleashing their animal ferocity on the Nazis is ridiculed by the narrow-minded leaders of the scientific community. Go figure. Cameron then uses Petro, his simple-minded handyman, as the proof his theories and the instrument of his revenge. Whether it was intentional or coincidence, Glenn Strange seems to be playing a combination of two of Lon Chaney Jr.'s most famous characters. In monster form, after the now-familiar time-lapse transformation effects, Petro stalks through the foggy woods like Chaney's THE WOLF MAN with the desire to kill (shockingly, his first victim is a small child). In his human form he is reminiscent of the slow-witted Lenny from Chaney's critical triumph OF MICE AND MEN.

Leonard J. Kohl's book The Sinister Serials of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. quotes Strange on his friendship with Chaney.

"Just a pair of easygoin' roughnecks, that's all we were. Nothin' in common with the upper crust, but plenty in common with one another. I paid a kind of backhanded tribute to Lonny in that little imitation Wolf Man picture I made called THE MAD MONSTER, playin' the human personality as a sort of MICE AND MEN lamebrain and then, of course, doin' the creature as a take-off on THE WOLF MAN. Lon never would let me live that down! He'd rib me about knockin' off two of his pictures at once for years to come!

THE MAD MONSTER was recently released on DVD by Retromedia Entertainment, the newest venture of legendary low-budget filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. Retromedia has recently been delighting B-movie fans with it's high quality releases of a growing list of obscure films such as TEENAGE ZOMBIES, THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, KING DINOSAUR, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN, GIANT OF METROPOLIS, THE FEAR CHAMBER, DEATHMASTER and others. Their DVDs usually have some fun extras thrown in such as the humorous drive-in movie skits with Fred Olen Ray and "Miss Kim" (Mrs. Ray) that introduce several of the disks. A moving tribute to actor John Ashley was included on the BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT disk. Their packaging is refreshingly lighthearted too. The blurb on the back of THE ALIEN FACTOR facetiously proclaims "Super Dooper Deluxe Edition of the this Timeless Sci-Fi Classic!!!" Even though the movie is far from a classic, the DVD delivers with out-takes, unused stop-motion footage and more. Retromedia's THE MAD MONSTER also includes a second feature, THE BLACK RAVEN, which also stars George Zucco with Glenn Strange in (believe it or not) a comedy relief role. THE BLACK RAVEN is a poverty row old dark house thriller made by PRC the same year as THE MAD MONSTER. It's a fairly enjoyable whodunit with a group of mysterious characters all stranded at Zucco's inn on a stormy night.

Retromedia's print of THE MAD MONSTER isn't great, but it's probably as good as any currently available and is certainly an improvement over my old vhs copy. It's doubtful that any better source material will turn up at this late date so this may be the best it ever looks. Also featured on the DVD is the original trailer from the movie and a 12 minute excerpt from a fascinating audio interview with Glenn Strange recorded in 1966 by Bob Burns and Don Glut. THE MAD MONSTER is one of those movies that I probably won't take off the shelf too often. However, having a decent copy of it has been a small personal quest of mine for awhile and it's nice to know it's there if the mood ever strikes me. Here's hoping there are more hard to find nuggets like this coming to DVD in the future.

Retromedia's products can be ordered from their website

Count Gamula


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