Tom Weaver is one of the leading authorities on science fiction and horror films, with several insightful books on the genres. Some of his best work involves the gathering of filmmakers and actors who appeared in vintage sci-fi and horror features and allowing them to reminisce, offering first hand accounts and insights.
A SCI-FI SWARM AND HORROR HORDE is Weaver’s latest collection of reminisces, featuring tributes to the likes of Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and movie serials; as well as memories about working on such popular older films as THEM (1954), WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957), and THE SCREAMING SKULL (1958). These first hand accounts are alternately amusing and, sometimes, moving, offering fascinating stories about films that were considered throwaway drive-in fodder for teenage audiences, but have lived on as camp classics over time and generations.
Weaver appears to enjoy extending beyond the genres on which he is focusing. Screenwriter Edward Bernds, veteran writer-director of several Bowery Boys and Three Stooges comedies, offers memories of co-writing the Elvis Presley vehicle TICKLE ME (1965); a film included in this book because of some haunted house scenes. Bernds, and co-star Merry Anders’ accounts of Elvis’ kindness, friendliness, and enjoyment at doing some slapstick haunted house gags offers readers a side of the King that is too rarely discussed.
The Lugosi section is interesting in that it involves both a solid film (MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1943)) and a celebrated failure (BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1952)). The latter film features Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, a small-time comedy act that gained some notoriety in nightclubs by impersonating Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It has since taken on a cult status beyond any reasonable expectation, and accounts by two men who worked on that feature are interesting and amusing.
Others whose memories are a part of this book include Jimmy Lydon (on actor Robert Armstrong), Richard Kline (on low budget producer Sam Katzman), Sid Melton (on THE LOST CONTINENT (1951)), Troy Donahue (MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958)), Roger Corman (HOUSE OF USHER (1960)), Arch Hall Jr. (on Ray Dennis Steckler), Tony Randall (7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)), and Robert Pine (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)).
With each of these accounts, author Weaver steps back and simply lets the memories flow. These are not Q and A interviews, but lengthy, fascinating essays compiled by Weaver based on the lengthy, detailed comments of the subjects. It is most effective, and makes A SCI-FI SWARM AND HORROR HORDE a book that this reviewer can offer his highest recommendation. The essays that Weaver prints for continued posterity will continue to provide significant insight for future students of sci-fi and horror films, just as the movies themselves have lived on.
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