LEADING LADIES: ADRIENNE BARBEAU

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Adrienne Barbeau in THE FOG (1980)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Adrienne Barbeau, an actress whose long career continues through to this day as she is still actively making movies, but in her heyday, during the 1980s, she was on screen quite often in horror movies, especially those directed by John Carpenter. She and Carpenter were married from 1979 – 1984.

Here’s a partial look at her very impressive 152 screen credits:

MAUDE (1972- 1978) – Carol Trayner – The TV show on which Adrienne Barbeau became a household name, playing the adult daughter of main character Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) in this Norman Lear spin-off from ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971-79). Maude is Edith Bunker’s cousin. Her liberal independent character was the complete opposite of bigot Archie Bunker. So, by the time Barbeau branched into movies, she was already well known to American audiences.

THE GREAT HOUDINI (1976) – Daisy White – Barbeau’s first movie screen credit was in this 1976 TV movie starring Paul Michael Glaser as Harry Houdini. I saw this one when it first aired, not just because I was a fan of STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) the 70s cop show in which Glaser starred, but because in the cast I noticed was one Peter Cushing playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! It was Cushing’s first ever American TV movie, and he shot his scenes right after finishing work on STAR WARS (1977). THE GREAT HOUDINI is a really good movie, by the way, and features a very impressive cast. Besides Paul Michael Glaser, Adrienne Barbeau, and Peter Cushing, the film also starred Sally Struthers, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Vance, Bill Bixby, Nina Foch, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Geoffrey Lewis, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Clive Revill. Barbeau is excellent in a supporting role.

RED ALERT (1977) – Judy Wyche – TV movie thriller starring William Devane about a malfunction at a nuclear power plant. Pre-dates the more well-known THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) by three years.

CRASH (1978) – Veronica Daniels – TV movie about the crash of Flight 401 into the Florida Everglades. Also starring William Shatner, Eddie Albert, Lorraine Gary, and Ron Glass, among others. Follows the formula of the AIRPORT movies, except this one is based on a true story.

SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME (1978) – Sophie – Another TV movie, this one written and directed by John Carpenter. In fact, it was on the set of this film that Carpenter and Barbeau first met. Long known as the “lost John Carpenter film,” as back in the day it never was released in the U.S. on VHS, and didn’t appear on DVD until 2007, this thriller centers on a woman played by Lauren Hutton being stalked and terrorized by an unknown male assailant. Barbeau plays the main character’s best friend.

THE DARKER SIDE OF TERROR (1979) – Margaret Corwin – Made for TV horror movie centering on clones. Also stars Robert Forster and Ray Milland.

THE FOG (1980) – Stevie Wayne – Barbeau’s first theatrical starring role is in this John Carpenter horror movie, which sadly, since it followed upon the heels of Carpenter’s breakthrough megahit HALLOWEEN (1978) was not well-received or treated kindly by critics at the time. I’ve always loved THE FOG, as it’s unique in that there aren’t too many other horror movies where fog and what arrives in it are the main menaces in the film. It’s an eerie ghost story, and the fog special effects are superior and when combined with Carpenter’s music, pretty much unforgettable. Curiously, one thing I’ve never liked about this movie, and it’s an unusual dislike for a John Carpenter film, is that in spite of a very impressive cast which includes Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and John Houseman, there’s not a single character I like in this one. None of the characters come to life for me, nor are any of the performances memorable, with the possible exception of Charles Cyphers’ Dan the weatherman character, who also gets one of the the best scenes in the movie when he answers the door to his weather station in the fog. But it’s a small role. This is unusual, since in most John Carpenter films, you do have memorable characters and performances, whether it’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN, or Kurt Russell in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982) to name just a couple.

Adrienne Barbeau and Harry Dean Stanton in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Maggie -This is one of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances, in another genre film by John Carpenter. This futuristic science fiction actioner starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hardened criminal sent into Manhattan which is now a maximum security prison in the “future” year of 1997 (!!!) by tough guy warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the President (Donald Pleasence) from terrorists. Another John Carpenter classic. There’s a lot to love about this one even if believability is low throughout… Donald Pleasence as a U.S. President?… Great action scenes, another fantastic music score by Carpenter, and unlike in THE FOG, there are lots of memorable characters and fine performances, including Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, the tough as nails unflappable girlfriend of super intelligent and resourceful Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), who both help Pliskin rescue the President from the villainous The Duke (Isaac Hayes).

SWAMP THING (1982) – Alice Cable – another theatrical horror/science fiction release, but this time not directed by John Carpenter, but by another classic horror movie director, Wes Craven. Not terribly well-received at the time, but I’ve always found this one mildly entertaining.

Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau in CREEPSHOW (1982)

CREEPSHOW (1982) – Wilma Northrup “The Crate” – this is another of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances. In fact, this one just might be my favorite, pure and simple. In this superior horror anthology movie, directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King, Barbeau appears in one my favorite segments, “The Crate” which is about a hideous man-eating creature living inside a crate. She plays the relentlessly harsh and belittling wife to Hal Holbrook’s meek Henry Northrup, so when his visibly shaken friend Dexter (Fritz Weaver) shows up at his door one night with a horrifying tale of a man-eating monster back at the college campus where they teach, it gives Henry one wild idea to help solve a nagging problem before he decides to help Dexter take care of his monster dilemma.

THE THING (1982) – Computer voice (uncredited) – back with husband John Carpenter again, this time providing the voice of a computer. Arguably Carpenter’s best movie, this classic remake which was also initially panned by critics is today on so many horror movie fans’ lists as the best horror movie ever made. Period.

THE NEXT ONE (1984) – Andrea – Intriguing science fiction film about a stranger from the future played by Keir Dullea who meets the widowed wife of an astronaut played by Barbeau and her son.

TERROR AT LONDON BRIDGE (1985) – Lynn Chandler – TV movie starring David Hasselhoff about Jack the Ripper committing murders in 1985 by the newly restored London Bridge in Arizona. Written by William F. Nolan, who also wrote the screenplays for such genre films as THE NORLISS TAPES (1973) and BURNT OFFERINGS (1976). Nolan just passed away days ago, on July 15, 2021.

OPEN HOUSE (1987)- Lisa Grant – horror movie about a serial killer targeting real estate agents!

TWO EVIL EYES (1990) – Jessica Valdemar – Horror anthology movie based on Edgar Allan Poe tales directed by George A. Romero and Dario Argento.

DEMOLITION MAN (1993)- Computer voice, uncredited – Barbeau once again provides her voice for a computer in this science fiction actioner starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.

JUDGE DREDD (1995) – Central voice – another Sylvester Stallone science fiction action film, another opportunity for Barbeau to lend only her voice to a film.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992-1995) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle/Martha Wayne – Barbeau provides voicework for this animated Batman TV show. Her voice work as Catwoman is arguably what she is most remembered for today.

THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES (1997-1998) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle- more voiceover work as Catwoman.

THE CONVENT (2000) – Adult Christine – Horror movie about demonic possession and a cursed convent.

GOTHAM GIRLS (2000-2002) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle – provides her voice yet again as the Catwoman in this animated TV series about female superheroes and female supervillains in Gotham City.

UNHOLY (2007) – Martha – Horror movie involving conspiracies, witches, Nazis, the occult, and secret government experiments. Should have been called UNBELIEVABLE.

WAR WOLVES (2009) – Gail Cash – Made for TV horror movie about werewolves, soldiers, and werewolf soldiers! Also starring John Saxon.

UNEARTH (2020) – Kathryn Dolan – Barbeau’s most recent theatrical film credit is in this horror movie about fracking.

Adrienne Barbeau in 2020.

While I jumped from 2009 to 2020, Barbeau was actively working during this decade, appearing in movies and on television nonstop during these years. And she has several projects in pre-production at present.

For me, Adrienne Barbeau will best be remembered as a leading lady from the 1980s in which she appeared in some of the decades biggest horror movies and contributed greatly to these films with her noteworthy performances. So there you have it. A brief partial look at the career of Adrienne Barbeau.

Hope you enjoyed the column and join me again next time when we look at the career of another leading lady.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

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LEADING LADIES: SUZAN FARMER

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Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today is an actress mostly known to horror fans for one major horror movie. The actress is Suzan Farmer, and the movie is DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer Films’ second Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee, and the direct sequel to their mega-hit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

In DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the undead count is resurrected when his servant murders an unsuspecting guest at the castle and uses the man’s blood to rescuscitate his vampire master. Suzan Farmer plays one of the guests, Diana, who’s married to the brother of the slain sacrificial victim. It’s a memorable performance in a movie that has continued to age well over the years, and is held in much higher regard today than it was upon its initial release back in 1966, when it was widely viewed as an inferior sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA.

Here is a partial look at Suzan Farmer’s career:

THE SUPREME SECRET (1958) – Tess – Farmer’s movie debut in 1958 at the age of 15.

THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963) – Constance Beverley – High seas adventure which takes place in 1648 and also stars Lionel Jeffries, Oliver Reed, June Thorburn, and Hammer regulars Michael Ripper and Duncan Lamont.

THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) – Angela – Hammer pirate adventure written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Don Sharp. Starring Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Duncan Lamont, and Michael Ripper.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Susan Whitley – Farmer plays the daughter of a wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff. She’s stuck in the castle while Karloff conducts bizarre experiments, all the while her boyfriend Stephen (Nick Adams) tries to convince her to leave daddy and get the heck out of there! Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” Also starring Freda Jackson and Patrick Magee.

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Diana- My favorite Suzan Farmer role and performance. A big reason for this is she’s in some of the best scenes in the movie, certainly the best Dracula scenes. The scene where Dracula (Christopher Lee) attacks her from an open window, and later when he slits open his chest and invites her to drink his blood, are two of the more memorable sequences in the film. Farmer also enjoys playful chemistry with Francis Matthews, who plays her husband Charles. Their dialogue together resonates throughout the movie, and they really do seem like a young married couple very much in love. Farmer also dubbed the high-pitched screams for co-star Barbara Shelley.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Vanessa – Shot simultaneously with DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using many of the same sets and cast, including Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Farmer.

PERSECUTION (1974) – Janie Masters – Farmer’s last movie credit is in this thriller starring Lana Turner as an evil mom tormenting her adult son played by Ralph Bates and his family. Also starring Trevor Howard, Patrick Allen, and Ronald Howard.

LEAP IN THE DARK (1980) – Grace- Farmer’s final screen credit was in an episode of this horror anthology TV series.

Indeed, after 1966, the majority of Farmer’s screen appearances were on the small screen on various TV shows.

Suzan Farmer passed away on September 17, 2017 at the age of 75 from cancer.

I hope you enjoyed this brief partial look at the career of Suzan Farmer. She made a lasting impression with only a few appearances in horror films in the 1960s, especially in the Hammer Film DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Speaking of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, with the recent passing of Barbara Shelley, and six months earlier of Philip Latham who played Dracula’s loyal servant Klove, all the major cast members from that classic Dracula movie are now gone, sadly.

Here’s a toast to them, a wonderful cast in a classic Dracula movie.

Please join me again next time for the next LEADING LADIES column, where we’ll look at the career of another leading actress in the movies, especially horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

LEADING LADIES: LORRAINE GARY

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Lorraine Gary in JAWS (1975)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, specifically horror movies.

Up today an actress whose claim to fame is pretty much due to one famous movie and its sequels, but that’s okay because her performances in those movies are quite memorable. I’m talking about Lorraine Gary, who played Chief Brody’s wife Ellen in JAWS (1975) and in two of the three JAWS sequels.

I watch JAWS nearly every summer, and it seems with each viewing I notice Lorraine Gary more and more. She certainly never received much praise back in the day. That all went to Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Steven Spielberg, John Williams, and of course, Bruce the shark. But Gary’s performance as Brody’s loyal and caring wife is really good, and in her own subtle way, she enjoys some of the more memorable non-shark moments in JAWS, in a film that is chock-full of classic moments. She also shared wonderful chemistry with Roy Scheider.

She received more screen time in JAWS 2 (1978) and again added solid support in what remains the best of the JAWS sequels. Gary would come out of early acting retirement to appear in the last of the JAWS movies, JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), a decision that most fans probably wish she hadn’t done, since the fourth and final JAWS movie is by far the worst. And Gary hasn’t made a movie since, which is sad for fans, because she’s very talented, and the movies have missed her.

Here now is a partial look at Lorraine Gary’s career, on today’s LEADING LADIES:

DRAGNET 1967 (1967) – Mrs. Frank- Gary’s first professional acting credit is on the classic police TV series.

MCCLOUD (1970) – Joan Stanford – Gary appears in the second episode of the famous TV series. Dennis Weaver, the star of MCCLOUD, would star in DUEL (1971), directed by a very young Steven Spielberg who would direct Gary four years later in JAWS 1975).

NIGHT GALLERY (1972) –  Barbara Morgan – stars in the season 3 episode of the famous horror anthology TV series entitled “She’ll Be Company For You” which also starred Leonard Nimoy.

THE MARCUS-NELSON MURDERS (1973) -Ruthie- stars in this TV movie which introduced Telly Savalas as Kojak to the TV world.

JAWS (1975) – Ellen Brody – it’s easy to forget that JAWS was Lorraine Gary’s big screen debut. Her natural caring style is front and center here as Brody’s wife. She enjoys many fine moments in the movie, like the scene where she admonishes her husband for not wanting their sons to play in their new boat, but upon seeing a picture of a shark attacking a boat, she changes her tune, “Michael! Did you hear your father? Out of the water now! Now!” to her tearful goodbye as she sends Brody off on his trip to kill the shark on the Orca, with Quint yelling obscenities in the distance. The next time you watch JAWS, pay attention to Gary’s performance. She quietly adds a lot to the movie. She also gets a memorable moment when Hooper joins them for dinner, and she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.”

CAR WASH (1976) – Hysterical lady- memorable bit in this classic comedy.

JAWS 2 (1978) – Ellen Brody- returns along with Roy Scheider for the sequel, and gets more screen time. Again shares strong chemistry with Roy Scheider. The best of the JAWS sequels.

JUST YOU AND ME KID (1979) -Shirl – stars in this comedy with George Burns and Brooke Shields.

1941 (1979) – Joan Douglas – part of a huge cast in Steven Spielberg’s big budget World War II comedy which was a major flop back in the day. Cast includes Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, and John Candy.

JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) – Ellen Brody- came out of retirement to play Ellen Brody one last time, in what is clearly the worst of the JAWS sequels. Hasn’t made a movie since, which is sad, because Gary is a wonderful talent.

Okay, there you have it, a brief look at the career of Lorraine Gary.

ELLEN BRODY: Martin hates boats. Martin hates water. Martin… Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the mainland. I guess it’s a childhood thing. It’s a… there’s a clinical name for it isn’t there?

BRODY:  Drowning.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

LEADING LADIES: BROOKE ADAMS

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Brooke Adams in 1978.

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Brooke Adams, who, if you’ve seen the outstanding 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, you’ll definitely remember her performance as one of the contributing factors to it being such a great movie.

The Philip Kaufman directed INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) is one of those rare instances where the remake is as good or arguably better than the original. There are many reasons for this. Among them, Kaufman’s direction, a truly unforgettable chilling ending, and a fine ensemble of actors, including Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy. I saw this at the movies when I was just 14, and it instantly became a favorite. I also immediately became a fan of Brooke Adams.

Here now is a partial look at Adams’ career, focusing mostly on her genre credits:

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971) – Nurse (uncredited) – Adams’ first appearance on the big screen, an uncredited bit as a nurse, in this tepid horror movie by director Gordon Hessler, featuring Herbert Lom and Jason Robards. Based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) – Party Guest (uncredited) – another uncredited bit in the Robert Redford version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel.

SONG OF THE SUCCUBUS (1975) – Olive Deems/Gloria Chambers – plays the lead in this TV movie about a modern-day rock star haunted by the ghost of a Victorian era musician.

MURDER ON FLIGHT 502 (1975) -Vera Franklin – part of an all-star cast in this TV movie about a series of murders on a jumbo jet, featuring Robert Stack, Ralph Bellamy, Sonny Bono, Fernando Lamas, Hugh O’Brian, Walter Pidgeon, and receiving most of the hype at the time, Farrah Fawcett.

SHOCK WAVES (1977) – Rose – stars alongside Peter Cushing and John Carradine in this low-budget thriller about Nazi zombies.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – Elizabeth Driscoll – my favorite Brooke Adams role. Stars alongside Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy in this superior retelling of the classic Jack Finney story. The best part of Adam’s performance here is that she does fear very well and captures how unsettling it would be to be caught up in such a dire situation as the imminent invasion of the pod people.

invasion of the body snatchers 1978 adams sutherland goldblum

Brooke Adams, Donald Sutherland, and Jeff Goldblum about to get some bad news on the telephone in one of the many tense moments in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978).

CUBA (1979) – Alexandra Lopez de Pulido- co-stars with Sean Connery in this romantic adventure by director Richard Lester.

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Sean Connery and Brooke Adams in CUBA (1979).

THE DEAD ZONE (1983) – Sarah Bracknell – David Cronenberg’s effective adaptation of Stephen King’s novel stars Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, and Martin Sheen. A good role for Adams, as she plays Sarah, the former girlfriend of Walken’s Johnny Smith. When Johnny awakes from a coma, five years have passed, and Sarah is now married to someone else. Jonny also finds that he now possesses an unusual power. Excellent horror flick!

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Brooke Adams and Christopher Walken in THE DEAD ZONE (1983).

THE STUFF (1985) – Special Guest Star in Stuff Commercial – appearance in Larry Cohen’s campy horror comedy, starring Michael Moriarty.

SNAPSHOTS (2018) – Patty – Adams’ most recent screen credit, in this drama co-starring Piper Laurie.

All told, Brook Adams has 66 screen credits. A lot of these have been on television.

Born on February 8, 1949, Adams is still actively acting. She has been performing on both the big and small screen since 1963, with her first big screen performance happening in 1971. For me, I’ll always remember Adams for her riveting performance as the very frightened Elizabeth Driscoll in the 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this edition of LEADING LADIES and join me again next time when we look at the career of another lead actress in horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

LEADING LADIES: ZITA JOHANN

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Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in THE MUMMY (1932).

 

Zita Johann only had eight screen credits, but one of them is well-known to horror fans.

When she starred opposite Boris Karloff in THE MUMMY (1932) she delivered one of the great performances in a Universal monster movie. Her portrayal of Helen Grosvenor, the reincarnated Princess Anckesen-Amon, was mystical, mysterious, tragic, and very sexy.

And in terms of classic horror, that’s all she wrote. It was one and done for Johann, which is too bad, because she was really good in THE MUMMY.

Here’s a partial look at Johann’s film career:

THE STRUGGLE (1931) – Florrie – Johann’s film debut is in this drama about alcoholism, the final feature directed by D.W. Griffith.

TIGER SHARK (1932) – Quita Silva- Romance directed by Howard Hawks, also starring Edward G. Robinson and featuring J. Carroll Naish.

THE MUMMY (1932)- Helen Grosvenor – one of Universal’s best monster movies. Slow-paced but eerie to its core, this Karl Freund directed thriller features a remarkable performance by Boris Karloff as the living mummy Im Ho Tep, who, once resurrected, seeks out the mummified body of his former love, the Princess Anckesen-Amon.

THE MUMMY is really a tragic love story. Im Ho Tep’s life is shattered when his forbidden love, the Princess Anckesen-Amon, dies at a young age. When he tries to resurrect her using the Scroll of Thoth, he’s found out and sentenced to death. He meets a horrifying end as he’s buried alive.

Centuries later, in 1921, his mummified body is discovered and accidentally resurrected. He resurfaces in 1932 and helps archeologists unearth the tomb of the mummified Princess Anckesen-Amon, in the hopes of once more bringing her back to life.

While attempting to do so, he discovers Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who’s the splitting image of Anckesen-Amon. Convinced that Helen is Anckesen-Amon reincarnated, Im Ho Tep seeks to kill her and bring her back to life so they can live together for all eternity.

THE MUMMY also features the phenomenal make-up work of Jack Pierce, and fine supporting performances by Edward Van Sloan and David Manners, but it’s Boris Karloff and Zita Johann who drive THE MUMMY.

Johann’s wide eyes and dark features give her a sensual, mysterious presence. She makes for a strong, independent female character, and she’s convincing as the reincarnated princess.

In THE MUMMY, Johann delivers one of my favorite performances by an actress in the Universal monster movies.

RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1986) – Librarian – Zita Johann’s final screen credit in this 1980s zombie flick.

Zita Johann was born on July 14, 1904 in Austria-Hungary. Before acting in the movies, she performed on Broadway starting in 1924.

In THE MUMMY, she and director Karl Freund did not get along. According to Johann, Freund went out of his way to make her life miserable on set. That being said, Johann did develop the reputation for being a difficult actress to work with. Evidently, she turned down lots of scripts, which may explain why she made so few movies.

I wish Johann had made more movies. Her performance as Helen Grosvenor has always been a treat for me and one of the best parts of THE MUMMY. Watching Johan portray Grosvenor, you’ll easily see why Karloff’s Im Ho Tep was in love with her.

Johann passed away on September 20, 1993 in Nyack, New York at the age of 89 from pneumonia.

Zita Johann – July 14, 1904 – September 20, 1993.

I hope you enjoyed this LEADING LADIES column and will join me again next time when we look at another leading lady from horror cinema.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

LEADING LADIES: JAMIE LEE CURTIS

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Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN (1978)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Jamie Lee Curtis.

Curtis of course burst onto the horror movie scene with her signature role of terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s groundbreaking classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). And with some perfect symmetry, Curtis’ most recent role is once again Laurie Strode in the latest entry in the HALLOWEEN universe, once more titled, curiously enough, HALLOWEEN (2018). Curtis’ career has come full circle. Of course, she still has a whole lot more acting to do.

In HALLOWEEN (1978), Curtis was so memorable as Laurie Strode not because she screamed a lot.  She did not scream her way to fame a la Fay Wray fifty-five years earlier in KING KONG (1933). No, Curtis’ performance was noteworthy because she created in Laurie a vulnerable yet resilient character who faced doubts about dating and boys but was more than up to the task of protecting the children she babysat from masked killer Michael Myers.

The original HALLOWEEN is famous because of John Carpenter’s outstanding direction, along with his now iconic music score. I was 14 when HALLOWEEN came out, and I still remember all the hype and excitement surrounding it.  Sold out showings, and long lines of people waiting to see it, often spilling outside the theater into the parking lot. I also remember Siskel and Ebert’s initial review of the movie, a review in which they both praised Carpenter’s phenomenal direction. I don’t remember how at 14 my friends and I were able to buy tickets to this R rated feature, but somehow we did, as we saw this one at the theater.

I remember the theater erupting in screams during the movie. I also remember Jamie Lee Curtis.  When the movie was done, and I had returned home, I couldn’t get Carpenter’s music out of my head, and I recalled all the scares, and the image of Michael Myers with his now iconic mask, and this actress named Jamie Lee Curtis.  There was something about her that really resonated with me.  The best way I can describe it is I felt as if Laurie Strode was someone I knew in real life. As I’ve watched and re-watched HALLOWEEN over the years, I’ve attributed this feeling I had back in 1978 to a very authentic performance by Curtis.  I felt like I knew her because she acted like a real person.

Here’s a partial look at Curtis’ career, as we examine some of her 74 screen credits:

HALLOWEEN (1978) – Laurie Strode – Curtis’ signature film role was also her film debut.  She had appeared in numerous TV shows before this, including COLUMBO (1977) and CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1978) but this was the first time she appeared on the big screen. And she has never looked back.  Quite the film debut. In addition to the top-notch direction and music score by John Carpenter, and the presence of Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis is easily one of the best parts of HALLOWEEN (1978).

THE FOG (1980) – Elizabeth Solley – Curtis stars in John Carpenter’s next horror movie following HALLOWEEN. At the time, Carpenter was a victim of his own success. THE FOG was not well-received by critics in 1980. Siskel and Ebert expressed their disappointment, citing that the film lacked a definitive threat, a la Michael Meyers. However, the movie’s reputation has strengthened over the decades. It’s now considered one of Carpenter’s best films. Not only that, but it’s high on a lot of people’s lists for best horror movies period.  I definitely like this one a lot.  I still prefer HALLOWEEN though. Curtis, for her part, is fine here, but her role is not the lead, and she makes much less of an impact than she did in HALLOWEEN.

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Jamie Lee Curtis in THE FOG (1980)

PROM NIGHT (1980) – Kim – John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN gave birth to the slasher movie, and suddenly everyone and their grandmother was making horror movies with masked knife-wielding killers terrorizing teenagers. This one’s not directed by Carpenter, but does star Jamie Lee Curtis. It did well on its initial release and has established a reputation as a decent slasher flick, but this one never did anything for me.  For me, not even the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis could save this HALLOWEEN rip-off.

TERROR TRAIN (1980) – Alana – another crazed killer attacking teenagers, this time on a train.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Narrator/Computer Voice (uncredited) – An uncredited Curtis provides the voice of the narrator and computer in this exciting futuristic crime thriller by John Carpenter, notable also for Kurt Russell’s memorable performance as Snake Plissken.

HALLOWEEN II (1981) – Laurie Strode – Inferior sequel to HALLOWEEN. Rick Rosenthal takes over the directing duties from John Carpenter, and his vision here is far less impressive.  Curtis is okay, but sadly, spends most of the movie confined to a hospital bed and in and out of a medicated stupor.  While this really is not a good movie, it is actually better than most of the later HALLOWEEN films, some of which are really, really bad.

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With Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN II (1981)

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983) – Curfew Announcer/Telephone Operator (uncredited) – A disaster upon its initial release, this was part of John Carpenter’s vision to create a HALLOWEEN series featuring different horror stories each year and not necessarily be about Michael Myers, but film audiences wanted Myers and didn’t really accept this movie. That being said, this one has enjoyed a growing reputation over the decades, and there are some (not me) who consider this to be the best of all the HALLOWEEN movies.

TRADING PLACES (1983) – Ophelia – This funny comedy by director John Landis stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Murphy, who was insanely popular at the time due to his stint on Saturday Night Live, is the main reason to see this one, but Jamie Lee Curtis is also hilarious in her role as prostitute Ophelia. She makes the jump into a non-horror movie quite nicely.

GRANDVIEW U.S.A. (1984) – Michelle “Mike” Cody – Drama in which Curtis co-stars with C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze that asks the question, can the young folks from Grandview U.S.A. pursue their dreams and shed their small town roots? Nothing special.

A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) – Wanda Gershwitz – co-stars with John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin in this uproarious comedy written by Cleese. Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

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Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)

FOREVER YOUNG (1992) – Claire Cooper – co-stars with Mel Gibson who plays a 1939 pilot awoken from a cryogenic sleep in 1992. Written by J.J. Abrams.

TRUE LIES (1994) – Helen Tasker – plays the wife of a spy, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in this entertaining action comedy by director James Cameron.

FIERCE CREATURES (1997) – Willa Weston – Reunited with her co-stars from A FISH CALLED WANDA, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, this time with lesser results.

HALLOWEEN H20 – TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998) -Laurie Strode- Curtis returns to the HALLOWEEN series after a three film hiatus, and the emphasis returns to Laurie Strode, still dealing with the trauma caused by Michael Myers twenty years earlier. The masked killer of course once more sets his sights on terrorizing Laurie. Some girls have all the fun. This film was well-received when it first came out, but it hasn’t aged all that well. That being said, I still like this one a lot.

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Facing fear in HALLOWEEN H20 (1998)

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)- Laurie Strode – Curtis returns as Laurie Strode for about two seconds before her character is abruptly killed by Michael Myers in the most undramatic and anticlimactic of ways. By far, the absolute worst of all the HALLOWEEN movies.

FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Tess Coleman – co-stars with Lindsay Lohan in this remake of the Disney classic.

SCREAM QUEENS (TV Series) (2015-2016) – Dean Cathy Munsch- TV horror/comedy series about a— you got it— a crazed serial killer terrorizing, among other places, a college campus.

HALLOWEEN (2018) – Laurie Strode – Curtis comes full circle, playing Laurie Strode once again, this time in a movie that ignores every other HALLOWEEN movie in the series except the original. Lots of hype and box office success, but ultimately this one was a letdown. Curtis’ scenes and storyline are the best parts, as she is once again still dealing with the trauma from Michael Myer’s original attack, now forty years earlier. Everything else in this film is pretty bad. A major disappointment.

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Taking on Michael Myers yet again in HALLOWEEN (2018)

And that wraps things up for this edition of LEADING LADIES.

Join me again next time when we check out the career of another Leading Lady.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

LEADING LADIES: BARBARA SHELLEY

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Barbara Shelley in DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in horror movies.

Up today it’s Barbara Shelley, a woman whose talent and beauty adorned some of Hammer Films’ best shockers.  Of course, Shelley starred in more than just Hammer horror movies, appearing in all sorts of movies and TV shows as well.  Here’s a partial look at her long and successful career, focusing mostly on her horror films:

MAN IN HIDING (1953) – Barbara Shelley’s first screen credit, under her real name, as Barbara Kowin, in this British whodunit murder mystery starring Paul Henreid and Lois Maxwell.

BALLATA TRAGICA (1954) – Betty Mason- Shelley’s first credit as Barbara Shelley in this Italian crime drama.

CAT GIRL (1957) – Leonora Johnson- Shelley’s first horror movie, a variation of the more famous CAT PEOPLE (1942), where she plays a young woman affected by a family curse that warns she will turn into a murderous leopard when angered.  Some girls have all the fun.

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958) – Madeleine –  One of my favorite Barbara Shelley movies, this atmospheric horror movie about a mad scientist named Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit) conducting strange blood experiments in a creepy prison is a subtle exercise in “thinking man’s horror.”  It looks and plays like a Hammer Film, but it’s not, but it was written by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some of Hammer’s best shockers.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) – Anthea Zellaby – Probably my favorite Barbara Shelley movie, this science fiction classic about the strange children with the glowing eyes is one of the best science fiction horror movies ever made.  Also stars George Sanders, Michael Gwynn, and Laurence Naismith.

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961) – Beth Venable – Shelley’s first Hammer Film, another cat tale involving murder and the supernatural. Also starring Andre Morrell and Freda Jackson.

THE SAINT (1962) – Valerie North – appeared in the episode “The Covetous Headsman” of this classic TV show starring Roger Moore.

THE GORGON (1964) – Carla Hoffman- co-stars with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in this Hammer shocker that is topnotch throughout except for an ending that exposes some very weak special effects when the titlular monster is finally shown on screen. Major role for Shelley, as her character is integral to the plot. Directed by Hammer’s best director, Terence Fisher.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (1965) – Bryn Watson – starred in the episode “The Odd Man Affair” of this classic secret agent TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Helen Kent – Becomes Dracula’s victim in this excellent Hammer Dracula movie, the first direct sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) with Christopher Lee reprising his role as Dracula once again. Also starring Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Thorley Walters, and Philip Latham. Directed by Terence Fisher.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Sonia – Reunited with DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS co-stars Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer in this Hammer Film which also used the same sets from that DRACULA sequel.

THE AVENGERS (1961-1967) – Venus/Susan Summers – “From Venus With Love” (1967)/ “Dragonsfield” (1961)- Two appearances on the spy TV series starring Patrick Macnee.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967)- Barbara Judd – Classic Hammer science fiction movie, part of their Quatermass series, originally titled QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Stars Andrew Keir as Professor Quatermass.  This one’s got an impressive mystery and tells a neat story.  Also starring James Donald and Julian Glover.

GHOST STORY (1974) – Matron – Haunted house tale not to be confused with Peter Straub’s novel or the 1981 film based on Straub’s novel. Shelley’s final performance in a theatrical release.

DOCTOR WHO (1984) – Sorasta – appeared in the four part episode “Planet of Fire” of this classic science fiction TV show.  Peter Davison played the Doctor.

UNCLE SILAS (1989) – Cousin Monica – Barbara Shelley’s final screen credit to date in this horror TV mini-series starring Peter O’Toole as the mysterioius Uncle Silas.

Barbara Shelley was born on February 13, 1932.  She passed away on January 4, 2021 at the age of 88.

I hope you enjoyed this partial look at the career of actress Barbara Shelley, one of the more influential actresses from 1950s-1960s British horror cinema.

Join me again next time when we look at the career of another actress in horror cinema in the next edition of LEADING LADIES.

Thanks for reading!

—-Michael

Leading Ladies: FAY WRAY

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Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in King Kong’s clutches in KING KONG (1933).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.  Up today, it’s Fay Wray, the woman who King Kong carried to the top of the Empire State Building in KING KONG (1933).

Fay Wray had a ton of credits.  She began her career as a teenager in silent movies, and so by the time she made KING KONG in 1933 at age 26, she had already amassed fifty four screen credits!

All together, Fay Wray had 123 screen credits, but none bigger than her role as Ann Darrow in KING KONG.

Here’s a partial list of Wray’s movie credits:

GASOLINE LOVE (1923) – Fay Wray’s first screen credit.

THE COAST PATROL (1925) – Beth Slocum- Wray’s first feature film role.

DOCTOR X (1932) – Joanne Xavier- horror movie with Lionel Atwill, famous for being shot in Technicolor.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) – Eve Trowbridge – Thriller directed by KING KONG director Ernest B. Schoedsack and featuring Carl Denham himself, Robert Armstrong.

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)- Ruth Bertin- classic horror movie featuring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, and Dwight Frye.  Atwill is the mad scientist, Douglas the hero, Wray the heroine, and Frye is the creepy guy the villagers think is the vampire— but they’re wrong.  Very atmospheric creepy horror movie.

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) – Charlotte Duncan – Reunited with Lionel Atwill in yet another classic horror movie.  Like DOCTOR X, it was also shot in color and was believed to have been lost for decades before being re-discovered in the late 1960s.  Directed by Michael Curtiz, who also directed that little wartime movie, CASABLANCA (1942).

KING KONG (1933) – Ann Darrow – the film that made Fay Wray a star, and she spends most of it screaming, as she is abducted and chased by Kong throughout.  Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, with an outstanding music score by Max Steiner, and starring Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Wray, and of course King Kong.  Amazing special effects by Willis O’Brien.  This classic movie still holds up wonderfully today.  By the way, Wray was not blonde.  She wore a wig for her most famous role.  That is her real scream, though.

MASTER OF MEN (1933)- Kay Walling- The last of eleven movies Wray made in 1933!

BLACK MOON (1934) – Gail Hamilton – Horror movie about a voodoo curse, directed by Roy William Neill, the man who in addition to directing many of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies also directed FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934) – Louise Loring – Crime movie starring Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas, based on a book by Dashiell Hammett.

THE CLAIRVOYANT (1934)- Rene – Effective mystery/horror movie with Claude Rains as a fake clairvoyant who suddenly finds himself with real predictive powers.

HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955) – Kay Stanley – Film-noir with Edward G. Robinson and Alan Ladd.

CRIME OF PASSION (1957) – Alice Pope- more film-noir, this time with Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, and Raymond Burr.

TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957) – Mrs. Brent-  First of four “Tammy” movies, starring Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Nielsen, and Walter Brennan.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS – “Dip In The Pool” (1958) – Mrs. Renshaw/  “The Morning After” (1959) – Mrs. Nelson – two appearances on the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS TV show.

PERRY MASON – “The Case of the Prodigal Parent” (1958) – Ethel Harrison/ “The Case of the Watery Witness” (1959)- Lorna Thomas/ “The Case of the Fatal Fetish” (1965) – Mignon Germaine – several appearances on the classic PERRY MASON TV show starring Raymond Burr.

GIDEON’S TRUMPET (1980) – Edna Curtis – Fay Wray’s final screen credit, in this TV movie starring Henry Fonda based on the true story of Clarence Earl Gideon.

Even though she never had a bigger role than Ann Darrow in KING KONG, Fay Wray enjoyed a long and successful movie career.  She passed away in 2004 at age 96.

Fay Wray – September 15, 1907- August 8, 2004.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of LEADING LADIES.  Join me again next time when we look at the career of another Leading Lady.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEADING LADIES: VERONICA CARLSON

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Veronica Carlson

LEADING LADIES:  Veronica Carlson

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in horror movies, especially from years gone by.

Today we look at the career of Veronica Carlson, the Hammer starlet who burst onto the scene in the Hammer Dracula movie, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) and would go on to add her beauty and elegance to several more Hammer Films before leaving the business altogether for two decades.  She returned to films in the 1990s and has since appeared in a few low budget movies.

But she’s best known for her roles in the Hammer movies, and if you’ve seen her, you know the reason why.  Sure, she was stunningly beautiful back in the day— she was a former model, after all— but she was also a decent actor.  It’s really too bad she didn’t make more movies.

In DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE Carlson plays Maria, a young woman who ends up being Dracula’s most sought after victim.  In this, the third film in the Hammer Dracula series, Dracula (Christopher Lee) seeks revenge against the Monsignor (Rupert Davies) who had exorcised his castle, and he does this by pursuing the Monsignor’s niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson).

Carlson is absolutely beautiful in this movie.  She shares most of her screen time with her goofy intellectual boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) who eventually gets to be the hero in this one, and she’s very convincing as a young lover infatuated with her handsome boyfriend.  She’s also sufficiently frightened and mesmerized by Dracula.

Carlson followed up this performance with the female lead in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969), Hammer’s darkest Frankenstein movie.  She plays Anna, engaged to a young doctor Karl (Simon Ward), and all is well until these two young lovers are blackmailed by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) into helping him with his latest creation.  This film also contains the most controversial scene in the entire series, where the Baron rapes Anna, a scene that Peter Cushing is on record as saying he did not want to do.

Anna (Veronica Carlson) tormented by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing)

Anna (Veronica Carlson) tormented by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is a lurid, brutal movie, and Veronica Carlson is up to the task at playing the tormented victim of Baron Frankenstein.  One of her best scenes finds her dragging a dead body which has been unearthed by a busted water main in her courtyard, and she has to do this while she’s pummeled by a forceful water spray, because if she doesn’t hide the body and the authorities discover it, she’ll either be arrested or worse, have to face the wrath of Baron Frankenstein.  It’s a chilling suspenseful scene.

Carlson also appeared in the next Hammer Frankenstein movie, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), the only film in the series not to star Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was Hammer’s failed attempt to re-boot the series with Ralph Bates playing a younger Baron Frankenstein in what amounted to be a remake of sorts of their first Frankenstein movie, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was directed by longtime Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and unfortunately, he proved to be a better writer than a director. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is the worst film in the series with very little to offer other than a fine cast, which included Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.  Carlson is quite good yet again, but she’s simply not enough to save this movie.

Veronica Carlson would star with Peter Cushing one more time in THE GHOUL (1974), a mediocre horror movie about an attic holding a sinister secret. This one also co-starred a young John Hurt.

Carlson may return to the big screen here in 2015.  She’s listed in the credits of a still unreleased horror movie called THE RECTORY.  It would be nice to see her on the big screen again, even now at 70 years old.

Here’s a partial list of Carlson’s 21screen credits, concentrating mostly on her horror films:

SMASHING TIME (1967) – Movie Actress At Premiere- Carlson’s first screen credit, a bit part in a musical comedy starring Michael York and Lynn Redgrave.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) – Maria- Carlson impresses in her first starring role in this third Christopher Lee Hammer Dracula movie, the studio’s most profitable horror movie ever.  A box office smash.

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) – Anna – tormented and terrorized by Peter Cushing’s evil Baron Frankenstein.  Probably Carlson’s most riveting performance.

CROSSPLOT (1969) – Dinah- small role in this thriller starring Roger Moore which also features Moore’s future Bond boss “M” Bernard Lee as well as Hammer supporting actor Francis Matthews.

PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU (1970) – Liz – comedy starring Ian McShane with a screenplay co-written by Woody Allen.

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – Elizabeth Heiss – stars in her second Frankenstein film for Hammer, the only one without Peter Cushing.  Ralph Bates is OK as the devilish Baron Frankenstein, but Darth Vader himself David Prowse plays a pretty ineffective monster.

OLD DRACULA (1974) – Ritva – awful horror comedy starring David Niven as Count Dracula, released the same year as Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, no doubt trying to cash in on that film’s success.  Also stars fellow Hammer actress Linda Hayden and Carlson’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED co-star Freddie Jones.

THE GHOUL (1975) – Daphne – Mediocre horror film starring Peter Cushing as a man with a sinister secret.  Also stars John Hurt.  Carlson’s last film appearance for 19 years.

BLACK EASTER (1994) – Veronica Carlson returns to horror movies in this B movie terror tale.

FREAKSHOW (1995) – Grace Harmsworth – Carlson in another B movie, this one an anthology, also starring Leatherface himself Gunnar Hansen from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).  Reportedly Carlson’s segment is the best.

THE RECTORY – An as-of-yet unreleased horror movie evidently in production at present with Veronica Carlson’s name in the credits.

I was fortunate enough to meet Veronica Carlson at a horror movie convention in the late 1990s.  It was one for the ages, as it was the same convention where I met Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, and Michael Ripper.

Veronica Carlson will be forever remembered for her notable performances in two of Hammer’s best shockers, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.

Hopefully we’ll see her on the big screen again.

Veronica Carlson was born on September 18, 1944, in Yorkshire, England, UK.   At present she is 70 years old and living in the U.S. where she enjoys a successful painting career.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

LEADING LADIES: EVELYN ANKERS

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LEADING LADIES:  Evelyn Ankers evelyn ankers

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in horror movies, especially from years gone by.

Today we look at the career of Evelyn Ankers, the Universal starlet best remembered for starring opposite Lon Chaney Jr. in the classic horror movie THE WOLF MAN (1941).  She would go on to star in a bunch of horror movies in the 1940s, most of them with Chaney, and when the horror boom died down after World War II, Ankers’ career quieted as well.  In the 1950s, while only in her thirties, she “retired” from the big screen to raise a family with her actor husband Richard Denning [THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)], although she continued to appear on the smaller screen of TV sets across the nation in guest spots on various television shows. She came out of retirement for one last movie role in 1960 co-starring with her husband Richard Denning in NO GREATER LOVE, a drama about Christian missionaries in Africa.

I’ve always enjoyed Evelyn Ankers’ performances in the Universal horror films from the 1940s.  She was particularly good as Gwen Conliffe in THE WOLF MAN, the woman who Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) falls in love with.  The role of Gwen Conliffe was more than the usual standard love interest.  For starters, Gwen is engaged to be married to Frank Andrews (Patric Knowles) and so she has no business giving Larry Talbot the time of day, yet she does.  Further complicating matters is her fiancé Frank is the gamekeeper for the wealthy Talbots, and so he works for Larry Talbot’s family, a reminder that she— the daughter of a storekeeper— really isn’t supposed to be in the same social class as Larry Talbot.

For Larry, he’s taken with Gwen as soon as he lays eyes on her, and Gwen for her part is clearly interested in Larry, not enough to break off her engagement, but enough to take a moonlit walk with him to see the gypsy fortune tellers, a walk that directly leads to Larry’s being bitten by a werewolf.  In fact, Gwen is directly connected to Larry’s ill-fated destiny to become the wolf man.  She’s the first character to mention werewolves to Larry, citing the “even a man who is pure in heart” ditty.  She makes that walk with him to see the gypsy fortune teller, who unbeknownst to them is a werewolf.

She’s also the last person to see Larry before he turns into a werewolf for the first time, and he gives her the pendant he received from Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) so she can protect herself from the werewolf.  And if there’s any doubt about her true feelings towards Larry, at the end of the movie, she’s searching the fog filled woods for Larry, which puts her directly in the path of Larry’s murderous alter ego, the Wolf Man.

Gwen Conliffe is a complicated female lead, and Ankers nails Gwen’s character completely.

Ankers also starred as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein’s (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) daughter Elsa in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) in which Lon Chaney Jr. played the monster, and she also starred as Claire Caldwell opposite Lon Chaney’s Dracula in the underrated SON OF DRACULA (1943).  She’s very good in both these movies.

Here’s a partial look at Ankers’ 62 screen credits, concentrating mostly on her horror film roles:

FORBIDDEN MUSIC (1936) – A Lady of the Court – Ankers’ first film role, uncredited.

MURDER IN THE FAMILY (1938) – Dorothy Osborne – Ankers’ first credited role in a feature-length film.

HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) – Norma Lind – stars opposite Abbott and Costello in this comedy in which Bud and Lou spend time in a haunted house.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) on their fateful moonlit walk through the fog shrouded woods.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) on their fateful moonlit walk through the fog shrouded woods.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) – Gwen Conliffe – Ankers’ signature role, and the role she’s most remembered for today.  She’s more than just Larry Talbot’s love interest in this film.  For starters, it’s a forbidden love, since she’s engaged to another man, and secondly, she’s instrumental in leading him towards his fate of becoming the wolf man, introducing him to the idea of werewolves and being with him on the fateful night when he was attacked and bitten by a werewolf.

NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE (1942) – Mary Sloan- co-stars with Lon Chaney Jr. and Broderick Crawford in this adventure about settlers tangling with outlaws in the Klondike.  This was actually shot before THE WOLF MAN but released after it, making it the first time she co-starred in a movie with Lon Chaney Jr.

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – Elsa Frankenstein- again co-starring with Lon Chaney Jr.  Ankers plays Elsa Frankenstein, the daughter of Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein, while Chaney plays the Monster, taking over the role from Boris Karloff.  Bela Lugosi’s second stint as Ygor is the best part of this movie, while Chaney’s Monster lacks all of Karloff’s nuances and emotion.  Ankers is OK as Elsa Frankenstein, but the role is rather standard.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (1942) – Kitty – meets up with Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) as they take on the Nazis.

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) – Beth Colman – Universal monster movie where mad scientist John Carradine turns a female gorilla into a human woman.

SON OF DRACULA (1943) – Claire Caldwell – Once more Ankers plays opposite Lon Chaney Jr., this time going up against him as he plays Count Dracula.  Her role in this one is rather peripheral, as the main heroine in this underrated thriller from Universal is Louise Albritton as Claire’s mysterious sister Katherine who loves the supernatural and actually allows Dracula to make her a vampire so she can in turn make her true lover Frank (Robert Paige) immortal and ditch Dracula!  Take that, Drac!  I told you this one was underrated.  I actually really like Chaney’s interpretation of Dracula.  While it’s not Lugosi, it is a far cry from his sympathetic Larry Talbot, and it’s nice to see Chaney play a true evil character.

THE MAD GHOUL (1943) – Isabel Lewis- another mad scientist movie, this one with George Zucco, Robert Armstrong and Turhan Bey, about a scientist who turns a student into a ghoul.

WEIRD WOMAN (1944) – Ilona Carr- Back with Lon Chaney Jr. again, Ankers plays a woman suspicious of Chaney’s new wife, who has an island native heritage and is mixed up with voodoo.  She’s one weird woman!

JUNGLE WOMAN (1944) – Beth Mason – it’s the return of the ape woman from CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, this one with J. Carrol Naish.

THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) – Julie Herrick – The third film in the INVISIBLE MAN series, none of them direct sequels, follows a fugitive Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) who becomes invisible and then exacts revenge on a family he believed had cheated him.  Ankers’ Julie is the daughter of the couple Griffin terrorizes, and she’s also the object of his affection, although she is not interested in him.  Smart girl!

THE PEARL OF DEATH (1944) – Naomi Drake – back with Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) again, this time in a tale about murder and a valuable pearl.

THE FROZEN GHOST (1945) – Maura Daniel – Ankers co-stars with Lon Chaney Jr. for the last time in this thriller about a mentalist (Chaney) who feels his powers are to blame for a man’s death and decides to get away from it all by hanging around a mysterious wax museum.  Hmm.  I think he needs a better travel agent.  Ankers’ final genre film.

BLACK BEAUTY (1946) – Evelyn Carrington – co-stars with her husband Richard Denning in this horse drama.

TARZAN’S MAGIC FOUNTAIN (1949)-  Gloria James Jessup – Tarzan film written by THE WOLF MAN screenwriter Curt Siodmak starring Lex Barker as Tarzan in a tale involving the fountain of youth.

NO GREATER LOVE (1960) – Evelyn Ankers’ final film appearance, co-starring with her husband Richard Denning in this tale about missionaries in Africa.

While I’ll always remember Evelyn Ankers for her role in the classic THE WOLF MAN, she added a lot of class to a lot of other movies as well, especially horror movies from the 1940s, and I certainly enjoyed her performances in such films as THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN and SON OF DRACULA.

Evelyn Ankers passed away on August 29, 1985 from ovarian cancer.  She was 67.

Evelyn Ankers.  August 17, 1918 – August 29, 1985

Thanks for reading!

—Michael