movie reference

Forgotten Horror: THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST

1945 was a banner year for classic horror fans: Universal Studios released THE HOUSE OF DRACULA starring Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine and Glenn Strange as the Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster. RKO Pictures release ISLE OF THE DEAD with Boris Karloff as well as THE BODY SNATCHER with Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Horror fans of all ages where squirming in their seats as they prepared to be scared by some of the greatest names in horror. Even the legendary Rondo Hatton had a movie out, JUNGLE CAPTIVE. It was a high time for horror fans, as all of these movies are now considered classics of the genre with actors who have their name whispered in reverence.

It was bound that a gem or two would slip between the cracks.

One of those gems was THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST, released by Republic Pictures in 1945 on a double bill with THE PHANTOM SPEAKS. Although now known primarily for matinee serials and westerns, Republic released a number of “horror” based films and this is one of the great, if forgotten, ones.

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST is set in the small African village of Bakunda where a rash of murders has caused the native drums to beat continually in warning. Bodies have been found nearly drained of blood with two small puncture wounds to their necks. The workers of the Liberty Rubber Company’s M’Ktuba Plantation have been refusing to work, causing plantation owner Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) no small amount of concern. We are introduced to Roy and his fiancée, Julie Vance (Peggy Stewart) shortly after she returns from aid work in a nearby hospital. Quickly rounding out the troupe are Julie’s father, Tom Vance (Emmett Vogan) and Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers.) After some discussion on the fact that the natives believe the murders are the work of a vampire, Roy decides that it may be a good idea to speak with a local bar owner named Webb Fallon (John Abbott.) Despite Fallon’s short time in the area he has learned much of the local underworld, and Roy believes he may have some knowledge of the situation among the natives. With that, we are set off on an adventure which rivals the classic Universal Monster movies: vampirism, curses, voodoo and religion are showcased as the stars try to vanquish the vampire and restore order to the region.

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     THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was directed by Lesley Selander, who was better known for his plethora of westerns than for his few horror and science fiction movies. In fact, out of one hundred and twenty-seven films, one hundred and seven of them were westerns.

Selander’s western roots are easily visible in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST. Like many westerns of the day, there is gambling at the local watering hole, accusations of cheating, a bar fight, a jealous dancing girl, and even a trek to the neighboring Indian reservation, sorry, native village, which ends up in an ambush. Once you are aware of Selander’s body of work, seeing the re-occurring themes and obligatory plot points which define classic westerns stand out all the more. However, rather than harming the film, those beats make the foreign setting more familiar.

Father Gilchrist comforts the Vampire

Father Gilchrist comforts the Vampire

One of the major positive points that Selander had to work with was a script by John K. Butler and Leigh Brackett.

John K. Butler had gotten his start in the early twenties as a script reader at Universal Studios during Carl Laemmle’s tenure at that famous studio. He eventually became known as a writer for a multitude of westerns and contributed many scripts to the pulp magazines of the day, including Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Detective, Black Mask and Double Detective. His career stretched past the silver screen and into America’s living rooms as a television writer for series such as The Gene Autry Show, Casey Jones, 77 Sunset Strip and many others.

His collaborator on THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was a novelist and pulp writer by the name of Leigh Brackett. Brackett had started making a name for herself as a writer of fantastic science fiction and solid detective stories when she worked with Butler to adapt her original story, THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST, to the screen. It was far from her last time writing for the screen, as she later was hired to work on William Faulkner’s script for THE BIG SLEEP, which lead to writing scripts for several major John Wayne films, including RIO BRAVO, EL DORADO, and HATARI. During the seventies, Leigh Brackett was approached by a young George Lucas, fresh off the success of STAR WARS, to write the script for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Sadly, she died of cancer shortly after turning in the script and today Brackett’s contribution to Empire has been questioned. Some say that Lucas hated the direction she was going in and hired Lawrence Kasdan to rewrite the whole thing. Others say that the descriptions of The Force and the scenes involving Yoda are classic Brackett, and contributed to the success of the sequel. Either way, she received a writing credit beside Kasdan. Brackett’s original script has never been officially released, and it is said that the only place it can be read is at the Lucasfilm Archives and at Eastern New Mexico University. It is not available for check out or copying.

Adela Mara dances as Lisa in THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST

Adela Mara dances as Lisa in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST

The actors involved in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST are a mixed bag. Charles Gordon, who plays the “hero” Roy Hendrick, seems to be overwhelmed much of the time, coming off somewhere between a spoiled frat boy and a spineless coward. His leading lady, Peggy Stewart, is portrayed with more compassion and fire as Julie Vance. In fact it is just over halfway through the movie that Julie finally has a break out moment as she unknowingly stands up for the villain before quickly succumbing to him. Roy, on the other hand, never seems to progress past a plot tool. Even his realization that the vampire does not have as much a hold over him as he thought was done off screen, and that struggle and realization is something that we are sadly deprived of seeing. Equally, Emmett Vogan, with his long and varied career, is completely forgettable as Tom Vance, and seems to only serve the purpose of playing host for dinner parties and as an ineffectual chaperone to his daughter, Julia.

At first viewing Father Gilchrist seems to have been intended to be the essential “Van Helsing” of the film, however, it is a role he does not quiet fill. He is not as knowledgeable as others in the film in regards to vampirism, but states that he does know evil. He is the one character that seems to give our vampire pause and seems to uncover a chink in his immortal armor. Sadly, his only real contribution is giving Roy’s character that vital boost that makes him almost rise to hero status. I say almost, because he seems to be helpless even after he breaks the vampire’s hold and his fiancée is kidnapped. He requires the assistance of Father Gilchrist, Tom Vance, and Simon Peter.

Simon Peter is native on the side of the angels in our movie. Played by African-American actor Martin Wilkins, Simon Peter seems at first to be rather stiff. Sadly, in that day, no one expected the minority actors to be a major part of the movie. THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST, intentionally or not, bucks that trend. Yes, the stilted speech is there as is the muted emotion, but Simon Peter rises beyond the expectations of 1945 audiences. While I stated earlier that Father Gilchrist may have been intended to fulfill the “Van Helsing” role, Simon Peter is the one who actually succeeds in the role. It is Simon Peter who, after the vampire causes a mirror to shatter in the Vance home, to plainly state that evil was the cause. He and his fellow native determine the identity of the vampire with a deduction that escapes the “hero” despite the incident happening right beside him. And it is Simon Peter who, relying on ancient lore, takes the first steps and actually strikes the vampire down. Unfortunately, the witless Roy undoes all of his work and falls under the vampire’s thrall moments later. Later in the film, Simon Peter comes back to hold the hands of the colonials and take the major actions to save the day. Martin Wilkins had parts in over around forty different films and television series from the 1930s to the 1960s. He is probably best known for his roles in several Bomba the Jungle Boy films, but was uncredited in many works, including AFRICA SCREAMS with Abbott and Costello and several Tarzan movies.

With such a sparsely inspiring heroic cast, you may be asking why to take the time to watch this film and why I start off referring to it as a forgotten gem. The answer is simple: Adela Mara and John Abbott.

John Abbot as Webb Fallon

John Abbot as Webb Fallon

Adela Mara was an actress and entertainer who started in show business at the age of fifteen with the Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra as a singer and dancer. She was eventually spotted by talent scouts and signed on to make movies. Her role in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST is not a big one, but it is memorable. As Lisa, the dancer in the vampire’s bar, she performs what at the time would have been considered a highly erotic dance. The producers wisely use her dancing skills and exotic beauty to enhance the foreign aspect of the movie. You get a strong sense that she has some plans on the vampire owner of the bar, but it quickly becomes clear that she is looking out for herself when she teams with a vengeful ship’s captain, played by Roy Barcroft. Her death at the hands of the vampire is practically a given after such a betrayal.

Now we come to the vampire, Webb Fallon, played by John Abbot. He was not exactly the dashing figure that we think of now when we think vampire and he was more along the lines of Rick from CASABLANCA than Dracula. He possessed the foreign accent and the dapper clothing, but his relationship to the Dracula vein of vampires is remote. He ends a barroom brawl in his establishment by mesmerizing the previously mentioned ship’s captain, but due to unfortunate camera angles, the result is slightly comical. Other than that, Webb Fallon is a more fully developed character than nearly any other vampire up to that point, save Countess Marya Zeleska of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER.

Webb Fallon also has something which was usually lacking in vampire stories at that time, an origin story. Nothing is explicitly stated, but you are given the following framework: Originally a ship’s captain in service to Queen Elizabeth, he fights the Spanish Armada and is rewarded. At some point, presumably in Africa, it is implied he causes the death of a young woman and is “doomed to roam the earth due to a great evil committed in life, forced to live off the blood of the living.” His current mission in his accursed afterlife is to break up the romance and love of Roy and Julia.

John Abbot manages to convey a duality to Webb Fallon that at first is a little odd. On one hand, you have the bar owner who seems world weary and jaded, and on the other, you have the vampire who is determined to survive and indulge in his own base desires. This duality is part of the reason you can almost forgive the majority of the characters from not realizing he is evil. You find yourself feeling for Webb Fallon, even as you realize that he is plotting to kill everyone.

The Vampire is Foiled

The Vampire is Foiled

Overall the film is head and shoulders above other b-movies of the time. It walks a fine line with its mishmash of genres, but the directing of Selander combined with the script by Butler and Brackett, as well as the acting of Abbott, create a memorable movie which you will enjoy right up to the blazing end.

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     There is so much attention paid to the Universal Monster movies that it is often easy to forget that other studios were out there making horror movies. If you take a little time, and give a little chance, you would be surprised at what you could find. THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST is such a find, and I would highly recommend it.

Reprint: Stacy’s Comic Casting Couch – JUSTICE LEAGUE

Like my Star Wars 30 year Gap series, I had planned on doing more of my Comics Casting Couch articles as well. I have drafts of several, most of which have been marked for development in the real world, but this one is a favorite. 

I wrote this one in February of 2013, prior to the release of the MAN OF STEEL movie in June of that year.At the time,  Warner Brothers & DC were denying a unified DC Movie Universe. I, like many others, thought that was a missed opportunity and quickly wrote up my pitch for a Justice League movie. It introduces the idea of multiple heroes to the world and even uses the much aligned Man of Steel movie as a jumping point. Now, of course, we know now that Warner Brothers has decided to make their SUPERMAN V BATMAN movie (or BATMAN V SUPERMAN, whatever) and attempt to develop a unified series of movies, but I was pretty proud of the fact that I had worked this up quite a while before they admitted to that. I even cast a currently popular wrestler/actor for a major part, before James Gunn!

Let me know what you all think. Here it is, copied and pasted from an old blog, with only a few grammatical changes: STACY’S COMIC CASTING COUCH – THE JUSTICE LEAGUE

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Hello out there world! It’s the return of the Stacy’s Comics Casting Couch! And this week, we cast, THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!

Justice League TitleThe concept is simple, you have the greatest heroes in the world, band together to combat threats that no one hero could handle alone. Over the years, in various incarnations, these heroes have dealt with everything from alien invasion, inter-dimensional invasion, temporal invasion and even invasion from within. They defeated countless foes and saved untold lives, but there is one villain that they have never defeated… HOLLYWOOD.

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The Story

As we start out excursion in a new DC Universe based movie, the only super powered hero the world has ever know is the alien being known as Superman. After the turmoil and destruction of his initial appearance, people slowly began to feel safer actual to warm up to the idea of a Superman. World peace looked like it was finally within our grasps. But all hope is dashed when Superman turns on the people he swore to protect. Cities are destroyed; people left homeless and lives shattered. He gives no reason for his actions as he spreads destruction in his wake, he simply becomes a force of nature. No one individual can stop him, so it is time for a League to rise and take a stand.

The Main Characters

Henry Caville as Superman

Henry Caville as Superman

Superman has turned against the Earth. Now a mute, emotionless force of nature that is feared by all who stand in his way, he has begun to systematically take out the world’s infrastructure. What could have caused this change, and what connection does the strange star shaped growth on his back have with his current actions?

If we decide that the new Superman movie coming out this year is the beginning of the new series of DC inter-connected movies, let’s keep some continuity from the get go and have the actor who plays him be familiar. We are not really sure how Henry Caville will be as Superman when the movie is released*, but let’s all send good vibes that it will be something to build a universe on.

Eric Bana as Batman

Eric Bana as Batman

From the depths of a secret underground network, a dark knight of justice watches events unfold as the world’s protector turns against it. He has no name, only a description given to him by the cowardly criminals he vanquishes, Batman. Until now he has focused on keeping the city of Gotham in some semblance of order, but now the actions of an alien threaten to topple everything he has worked to accomplish. He sets his contingency plan into motion and contacts his agents; it’s time to go to work.

While I think that using Superman as part of the new interconnect movies is great, I don’t think the Dark Knight series should be used. Let’s start fresh with a new Batman that is a myth to the world at large. Instead of being a loner, he has placed himself at the head of a group of non-powered heroes who stay in the shadows to help the common man. While Superman may relatively new to the public, this Batman has been in the shadows for years fighting crime, undetected. Let’s go with an actor who has several comic and sci-fi films under his belt, and I think that Eric Bana could knock this one out of the batpark. For more mystery, let’s make him Dick Grayson and give hints that Bruce Wayne has disappeared, setting up a plot thread to be picked up in a future film.

DB Woodside as John Stewart

D.B. Woodside as Green Lantern

The threat of a Kryptonian gone mad is not something that goes unnoticed in the grand scheme of things, and with the interstellar repercussions that could erupt The Guardians of the Universe have sent their own investigator to find out the cause: Green Lantern John Stewart.  Drafted into the Corps after being captured by insurgents while deployed in Iraq, he has been away from his home world for over a decade. Now he comes back to defend it, but is he ready for all that he finds?

I think the same stipulation I put on the Dark Knight movies should apply to the Green Lantern movie; recast and start over, heck, you could even make mention that the regular Green Lantern is detained fighting the space pirate Kan-Ja-Ro if leaving the door open for a Ryan Reynold’s Hal Jordan is really necessary. D. B. Woodside has the look to play John Stewart, and has played in unbelievable settings in the past (Buffy The Vampire Slayer).

Cat Zingano as Wonder Woman

Cat Zingano as Wonder Woman

As Superman continues his rampage across the world, he runs across a small island nation hidden by highly advanced technology in the Mediterranean Sea called Themiscyra. The Themiscyra military see him as a threat and attack. After a short battle, Superman has left the island in ruins. Even their highly advanced society could not stand against a mad Kryptonian. Acknowledging that their people cannot recover without help, Queen Hippolyta decides to reveal her people to the world. She sends her daughter, the Amazonian Princess Diana, to the United Nations to ask for help. But while she addresses the U.N., the villain reveals himself and forces her to take up arms to save no only her people, but civilization as we know it.

Wonder Woman is TOUGH to cast. Many of the actresses who are qualified can’t bulk up enough to pull it off. My first thought here was Olga Kurylenko from Quantam of Solace, but I just am not sure she could manage the physicality of the role. So for this one, I am going strictly for the build and looks; Cat Zingo has proven herself a fighter in mixed-martial arts ring, so she has the power needed to amaze us as Wonder Woman.

Tristan Wild as Cyborg

Tristan Wilds as Cyborg

Victor Stone was a promising young quarterback for the Gotham County High School football team. While visiting his parent, scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs in Gotham, he was injured in a horrible explosion. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have died, but his parents acted quickly and used equipment at the lab to stabilize him till an ambulance arrived.  While their son was on the verge of death in the hospital, the Stones were told that they had been fired from their positions with S.T.A.R. for the misappropriation of lab equipment, i.e. the very items that saved their son’s life. Word got out and a mysterious benefactor offered to pay all current and subsequent medical bills. The Stones were also hired on to Wayne Enterprises to work the R&R division. Using their new resources, they began to replace their son’s destroyed body with new advanced cybernetic parts. Victor becomes involved with rescue efforts after one of Superman’s rampages, and he is seen as a hero. The media name him Cyborg, and the Batman clandestinely recruits him for his anti-Superman task force.

Tristan Wilds may not be a name known to the general public, but he made waves during his time on the HBO series The Wire. He later went on to more main stream television roles and worked with George Lucas on his World War II movie, RED TAILS. While he has turned more toward music as of late, I still think he would make a Cyborg that would explode off the screen.

Dave Bautista as Starro

Dave Bautista as Starro The Conqueror

Through the Batman and Green Lantern’s investigation, it becomes evident that Superman has been possessed by a Starro, an alien that latches on to their prey and relays control of said prey through a central hive-mind. Normally, millions of the small, star like creatures are dropped on planets from orbit, but once the presence of a Kryptonian was confirmed, their ruler, who goes by the proper name Starro the Conqueror, decided that he wanted to take control directly. He eventually realizes that he is unable to influence enough control over Superman to use him indefinitely and decides to cast his starro creatures out to form his army. He positions his star-shaped ship over the state of Kansas and prepares to meet the super powered beings that have banded against him in mortal combat.

The idea of recreating the cover to Brave and The Bold #28 is super tempting. In fact, it might be possible to have them heroes fight a giant Starro just like that. Once it has been defeated, then the hive mind aspect comes into play and “The Conqueror” appears, having possessed a powerful alien being years before. While the “mini-boss”  Starro fight would draw on the classic cover B&B cover, the big boss fight would show a Starro closer to his appearance in the 2009 R.E.B.E.L.S. series. Strap a giant flesh-colored star to the chest of Dave Bautista, and you have Cobi from R.E.B.E.L.S. Vol. 2 #5.

The Supporting Cast

Outside of the main heroes mentioned above, you have several heroes that emerge from the shadows, either part of the Batman’s network or gifted individuals that realize they have to act. Most can be done as cameos, a great chance to have some fan eye-candy, but a few take a slightly larger role.

Cary Elwes as Green Arrow

As one of the Batman’s secret operatives, Green Arrow could be shown fighting Starro’s spore driven army in Seattle or Star City.  Cary Elwes is the actor I have ALWAYS wanted to play Green Arrow. Just get him back into shape from his Princess Bride Days.

Jason Lee as The Flash

I know that everyone has hung their hat on Ryan Reynolds for playing a Flash role, and I to think he would be a great wise cracking Wally, but I also think that Jason Lee is underappreciated as an actor. His Barry Allen, late of Central City CSI, could not only figure out how to combat the starro possessed public, but implement that solution at super speed and free everyone at once.

David Ogden Stiers and Dolph Lundgren as Martian Manhunter

Okay, hear me out on this one! Yes, David Ogden Stier is a nod to the Justice League television pilot, but I don’t want to see him painted green! He’s a great actor, so he can play John Jones, private eye. When he transforms to a form closer to his own, we get a green Dolph Lundgren or that type with appropriate forehead prosthetic and one of the more current costumes.

There are many other cameos that could be done. You could have Zatanna protecting a cruise ship from possessed passengers and then have one of the starros be blasted off, sink below the waves, and show Aquaman and the Aquafamily protecting Atlantis.  Imagine a Hawkman and Hawkwoman flying over New Orleans and saving people from starro spore infected Mardi Gras revelers. So much potential!

Shooting Notes

Start off the film with a flash back and a situation (possibly from the new movie) that would give a starro spore a chance to graft to Superman. Begin showing Batman as a shadowed figure behind a computer directing other street-level heroes; maybe even have him be an Oracle type figure (that could be passed off later as he takes a more direct hand in the battle) and then he gathers his troops to battle Superman (yes, Grayson could have Kryptonite, maybe even a Kryptonite tipped arrow) but he is stopped from finishing Superman off by Green Lantern. Cue initial distrust & obligatory fight scene, Green Lantern against every street-level hero that is appropriate, and they realize that Starro the Conqueror is actually responsible. When they approach Starro the Conqueror’s base, they are aided by Wonder Woman, fresh from the attack on the U.N. (flown in by an Air Force pilot named Steve Trevor). They succeed in freeing Superman, but then have to face a monstrous Cobi/Starro. After defeating him and telling him to spread the word that the Earth is off-limits to cosmic conquistadors, they set up a network to contact each other again if they are ever needed. BONUS: An after credits scene of could include a blonde haired G. Gordon Godfrey reporting on the events of the movie, trying to paint the heroes in a bad light. While in his dressing room after going off the air, he activates a boom tube, returns to Apokolips and telling an imposing Darkseid that the Anti-Life Equation is on Earth.

If done right, a Justice League movie could be as big and serve as a root for other DC movies. Moving the focus away from Superman and Batman onto other heroes helps deal with the overpower issue, and the global scale of the attack gives cameo opportunities to practically any character.

But, as always, I won’t hold my breath until Hollywood (or DC Comics) comes knocking!

Thanks for reading!

Stacy Baugher

From the Sketch Book… Happy Friday the 13th!

Happy Friday the 13th, 06/13/14

So, this is another thing I’ll be doing occasionally.

Before I ever picked up a camera, I was artistic. Art classes from before 1st grade, Honors Art in high school, scholarship offers, a short time in college for Commerical Art and Design. Then I made some bad choices, thought I was in love, quit college and then later found I had been an idiot.

Yep, I am a walking cautionary tale.

Since my kids, Ms. 6 year old and Mr. 2 1/2 have shown some artistic ability, I’ve been practicing, mainly watercolors and batiks, to get back some skills to help them advance. As a child, I never really got support when it came to my art. Pretty much all the conversations with an art related career and my family ended in, “But how will you make a living?” Art as a way of making money never occured to them.

Lots of the skills are gone, but I am slowly getting muscle memory back. Working with watercolors, keeping a sketchbook, practicing blind contours, slowly getting a pop culture wax batik done, trying to remember all I have forgotten. It’s slowly coming back to me.

What all that means is, you will occasionally be subjected to my juvenile and unprofessional “art work.” 

I just thought about it, does Friday the 13th hold the same meaning in other countries as it does here in the United States? Has anyone outside of the United States seen the Geico Camel Hump Day commercials that inspired this sketch? For that matter, does anyone outside the United States really know the hockey masked killer Jason from the Friday the 13th movies? Dunno. Feel free to comment below or look up the Hump Day Camel Commercial on YouTube.

Have a safe one and God Bless!

Stacy

@stacybaugher

Archive Shot: Kansas City Southern Through Edwards, Mississippi

The Kansas City Southern Through Edwards, Mississippi

This is another image I took a little while back. I had been driving down the backroads between Jackson and Vicksburg and made a stop in Edwards, Mississippi to shoot an old water tower that sits just across teh street from the train tracks. While I was shooting the water town I heard a low rumbling. It took a minute, but I realized that it was a train. I walked toward the railroad tracks and took a look down each direction and caught sight of it, a big red engine coming toward me fast.

I ran back across the parking lot and eyeballed the situation. I knew that the train would be coming on fast and Iwould have only a second to get the shot. I double checked all my settings and waited. When it hit it was fast. I panned with the camera and shot a quick series of images, almost a spray and pray. Luckily it worked and this image was the result.

An interesting note about this location: In the Cohen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?,  the bridge in this image and train tracks are the same ones that George Clooney and Holly Hunter walk over in the last scene of the film, when Everett give Penny the ring and she tells him it is the wrong one. The old blind man, played by Lee Weaver, rides down this track on his railroad handcar as the movie ends. While many of the scenes they shot were more in the Canton, Mississippi area, this one in Edwards is is easy to spot once you have been there.   

There is a possiblilty that this image will be avalible as a print in the near future. Feel free to let me know if you might be interested.

Thanks for reading, new work will be coming within the week.

Stacy Baugher

@stacybaugher