Boris Karloff

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Hopelessly Devoted to: Linda Watkins

Published April 18, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

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A ‘30s movie cutie, Linda Watkins may be best known to ‘70s television fans for playing Susan Saint James’ sweetly inscrutable mother on the first season of McMillan and Wife. Whether offering up a badly cooked brunch or joining James’ Sally McMillan in an undercover adventure or two, her presence was always enjoyably light.

A series of appearances on the cult ‘60s anthology Thriller, described by Stephen King as the best horror series ever put on TV, found her exploring saltier territory, though. There, with throaty persistence, she played cheating wives and aggressive tabloid reporters, career women and opportunists who left no stone unturned on the paths to getting what they wanted.

Her episodes proved to be some of the most interesting of the series, as well. Eyeglasses that caused the wearer to murder (The Cheaters), a pair of disembodied hands that terrorized and created beauty often in the same scene (The Terror in Teakwood) and a hairpiece that imbued its owner with a ravenously destructive beauty (A Wig for Miss Devore) all figured into the shows that she appeared on.

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Nicely working a similar theme, she played strong willed, defiant journalists in the latter shows, giving off a hard boiled feministic edge. The hats she wears as the brilliantly named Arabella Foote in Wig also provide her with some scene stealing capabilities, as well.

Watkins who went on to appear on episodes of such cult shows as The Munsters and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. also provided support as part of the cast of Bad Ronald, a psycho in the wall thriller that has gained a healthy following since its first airing in 1974, as well.

Interestingly, while she cataloged over 70 celluloid credits by the time of her death at the age of 68 in 1976, Watkins actually spent the majority of her career on the stage after being disappointed by the quality of her earliest roles in film. Thus, this makes her a maverick ripe for rediscovery. A nice portion of her work available online and on physical media.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Linda Watkins

A Wig for Miss Devore

Published April 10, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

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Coming off like Sunset Boulevard sewn into a glittering blonde tapestry with Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, A Wig for Miss Devore is definitely one of the gayest hours of horror ever.

The queer fan’s gateway into this second season episode of the classic Boris Karloff hosted Thriller is most definitely John Fiedler’s meek yet fervently devoted Herbert Bleake. Passionately protective of the faded diva that is Miss Devore, he is very similar to those of us who defend our own muted celebrity icons to the death. Of course, to the relief of terror lovers everywhere, death does rear its head here.A Wig Gay

Long forgotten by the studio that she helped put on the map, Patricia Barry’s saccharine voiced Sheila Devore sweetly believes that she will be welcomed back by them with open arms. After years away recuperating from a nervous breakdown, her chosen project is a script based on the execution of a centuries old witch. Interestingly, one of her primary requests is to use the wig that this true life enchantress wore as an accessory in the film. After Bleake blackmails the studio head, the faded Devore gets all her wishes. Unsurprisingly, once she puts the wig on her head, she becomes the picture of seductive youth and all her former naysayers fall at her feet, proposing marriage and setting her up as the studio’s queen. This fountain of fantasy has a price, though, and soon the innocent starlet is swept into vindictive rages that culminate in a series of murders to retain her vitality and ever ascending position in this imaginary filmdom’s ranks.

A Wig HugMuch like Boulevard, this story details the price that women pay for growing older in Hollywood. Separating itself a bit from that project, as opposed to a mysteriously regal beauty like Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, Devore is illustrated as the ‘40s version of a Jayne Mansfield type, a silly blonde who did inconsequential yet truly successful projects. Nicely, Barry skillfully takes this central temptress from innocent denial to furious retribution. She perfectly echoes the ache of despair that often characterizes the accesses of show business and its even more rampant denials, giving this project its special heart and a place of importance in the history of anthology horror.

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Marguerite Churchill

Published October 18, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

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One of early horror’s most refreshing presences, the glorious Marguerite Churchill charmed her way through two significant entries of macabre mayhem in 1936.

Working with Boris Karloff under the intense supervision of the distinguished Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), Churchill’s Nancy spends the majority of The Walking Dead radiating with lush concern for Karloff’s ill used John Ellman. Brought back to life after being sent to his death by a crew of mob lowlifes, including the eternally oily Ricardo Cortez as Nolan, Ellman’s revenge fueled actions are magnified in an understanding light here via Karloff’s haunted facial tics and Churchill’s sympathetic glow.

Marguerite-Draculas-Daughter_02Dracula’s Daughter meanwhile allowed Churchill to display a sassier nature. Consistently providing comic aggravation for esteemed psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), Churchill is full of zesty energy here. Even when her character faces peril as the victim of the exotic Countess Marya (Gloria Holden), Churchill shines with warmth. It’s no surprise that, at the film’s fade out, the darker charms of Holden pale next to Holden’s vibrant spark and Kruger’s Garth is as smitten with her as those many lucky viewers in the dark.

Ultimately surviving two of her three children by several years, Churchill retired from the screen in the early ‘50s. Later she spent many years overseas, before putting down roots in Oklahoma. Wherever she went, though, one hopes that she understood the depths of her filmic legacy and all the happiness that she provided cinema lovers, worldwide.

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: K.T. Stevens

Published September 27, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

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Sometimes heroines of horror are unsung simply because they don’t have any true horror projects to their credit. Take the unforgettable K. T. Stevens for example. While she doesn’t have a Frankenstein or Dracula on her resume, she did play Vanessa Prentiss on The Young and the Restless for years. Her face hidden behind magnificent veils due to traumatic scarring, this character was one of the more gothic villainesses of the classic early ‘80s of soapdom. The perfect amalgamation of one dark stormy night theatrics, Vanessa made life a living nightmare for Laurie, the soap’s most prominent anti-heroine. In fact, upon learning that she was terminally ill, Prentiss staged a fight with her rival and then threw herself off the balcony of her apartment building. This assured that Laurie would be charged with her murder, a final revenge as surely psychotic as anything that Peter Lorre cooked up in Mad Love. KT 3

Starting out as a juvenile lead opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Great Man’s Lady, Stevens enjoyed a fairly distinguished career including noir adventures (Port of New York) and guest shots on classic television shows (I Love Lucy, The Big Valley). She even took a shot gun blast to the chest as a supporting player in the T & A thriller They’re Playing with Fire.

Graced with a layered yet formidable presence, she was also a favorite of the producers of Thriller; the Boris Karloff hosted anthology series that always dealt with matters of the macabre. Stevens’ episodes were more criminal minds in nature than exercises in terror, but she got to show some range. She was the Capri pants wearing, con minded other woman in a first season episode entitled The Merriweather File. The second season’s Kill My Love found her calmly enacting calculated patrician control as the wealthy Olive Guthrie. Even though Guthrie is ultimately the victim here, her chilling use of subtle silence lingers long after the episode ends.

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The eclectic professionalism of Stevens, who passed away at the age of 74 in 1994, should come as no surprise, though. Her father was director Sam Wood (A Night at the Opera, King’s Row) and she made her debut at the age of two in one of his silent features with (child prodigy) Jackie Coogan, later Uncle Fester in the original The Addams Family.

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Lucille Ball

Published October 14, 2018 by biggayhorrorfan

 

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Known to many as the queen of comedy, the adventurous Lucille Ball was also movie royalty. Her many projects ranged from dramas (Stage Door) to musicals (Ziegfeld Follies) to smart amusements (Room Service). She also conquered the blacker edges of cinema with The Dark Corner, a popular film noir, and Lured, a gothic horror piece that had her showgirl facing down a Jack the Ripper type and a very neurotic couturier, played with nervy zest by Boris Karloff.

Admired for her enthusiastic appearances on a number of variety programs, Ball teamed with Mel Tormé to spoof the rock and roll flecked beach films. Nicely, The Surfboard Came Back By Itself also provides a bit of Jaws flair for all animals gone wild diehards.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Thriller Nights: Ramon Novarro

Published March 10, 2018 by biggayhorrorfan

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Heralded as one of the big screen’s most exotic lovers, Ramon Novarro’s filmic legacy has often been overshadowed by the notorious circumstances of his death. As a gay man, known to hire hustlers in his declining years, this former matinee idol met his end, violently, by a pair of brothers in 1968. His demise has since been highlighted in short stories, books and songs.

ramon mataBut, significantly, Novarro’s early beauty easily matched that of his co-star Greta Garbo, sultry pose for sultry pose, in the fun 1931 spy drama Mata Hari. Later in his performing life, he gave eagle eyed horror buffs a boost with a featured role in the beloved Boris Karloff hosted anthology show Thriller.

In the 1962 second season episode La Strega, Novarro appeared opposite the stunning Ursula Andress as Maestro Giuliano, the mentor to a besotted painter, played by the swarthy Alejandro Rey (Satan’s Triangle, The Swarm, Terror Vision). Working with authority and concern, Novarro supplies the proceedings with a compassionate figure here who believes that Rey’s involvement with Andress could end in tragedy, as her aunt is a powerful witch.Ramon 2

This doesn’t mean Giuliano isn’t up to a little adventure. He accompanies the entwined duo to a black mass which, kudos to the art direction of Howard E. Johnson and the cinematography of Benjamin H. Kline, contains some of the episode’s most fiery and striking visuals. Unfortunately, Guliano finds himself on the receiving end of the sorceress’ revenge here, making Novarro’s appearance an important yet all too brief one. Although, proving the adage that a woman scorned is a dangerous thing, everything does not go well for the characters portrayed by Andress and Rey either.

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Nicely, besides highlighting Novarro’s subtle talents as a performer, this tale is directed with gothic sweep by Ida Lupino. One of the few working female directors in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Lupino is known for guiding taut noir pictures like The Hitch-Hiker and, perhaps less elegantly, for her acting work in such gonzo genre projects as Devil’s Rain and Food of the Gods.

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Jo Ann Sayers

Published February 23, 2017 by biggayhorrorfan

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Granted, the elegant Jo Ann Sayers shared a strong professional association with one of the grand dames of cinema, Rosalind Russell. Sayers not only co-starred with Russell in the bright 1939 mystery Fast and Loose, but she also originated the title role in My Sister Eileen, a popular comedy that would bring Russell continued success in later years. Sayers, perhaps, showed her greatest sense of fortitude, though, in her final major screen role. As the determined Judith Blair, a skilled nurse and the favored companion of the investigative Dr. Mason, Sayers brings a sense of true spunk to the 1940 Boris Karloff thriller The Man With Nine Lives and proves that the women of those early horror programmers were often just as vital and adventurous as their male counterparts. jo-ann-sawyers-2

Following the determined Mason (Roger Pryor) to a deserted island, Sayers’ Blair is a magnificent trooper. Even after falling through loose flooring, she helps her curious companion pick away at a wall of ice and assists him in reviving the slumbering Leon Kravaal (Karloff), whose work has kept him (and several other unfortunates) secreted away in a coma for 10 years. Mason is thrilled when Kravaal awakens because, separately, the two have been trying to regulate the use of elongated deep freeze to cure patients of terminal disease. Soon Kravaal realizes that he has accidentally perfected his formula, but the antagonism of the three companions who have been trapped along with him proves to be disastrous. After a one of the men is shot, the unhinged Kravaal kidnaps everyone, determined to perfect his work on them.

Soon Blair is serving as cook, conscience and companion to all. As their numbers dwindle due to Kravaal’s psychosis, she even allows herself to be the mad doctor’s final guinea pig in order to spare Mason. With dignity and poise, Sayers enacts mother, heroine and dignified pin-up here – while the men are often regulated to simple emotions such as fear and anger. Sayers also foreshadows the popular final girl characters of the early 80s when Blair survives Kravaal’s tinkering and lives to work another day with Mason.man-with-nine-lives

Naturally, Karloff, sporting a dusty beard, is magnetic here, portraying a handsome and soft spoken genius eternally teetering eternally on the brink of madness. Visually, cinematographer Benjamin Kline also captures the icy set design with a taut arctic sweep, offering up a nice alternative to the moors and shadowy corners of the day’s popular Frankenstein and Wolf Man pieces. But the most impressive piece of cinema elegance here may be Sayers’ lovely cheekbones and expressive eyes, making her take on Blair a force of celluloid nature in every sense of the word.

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