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A Sci-Fi Swarm And Horror Horde by Tom Weaver

01/02/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy A Sci-Fi Swarm And Horror Horde in the USA - or Buy A Sci-Fi Swarm And Horror Horde in the UK

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pub: McFarland. 404 page indexed large hardback. Price: GBP39.95 (UK), $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-4658-2.

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When I first opened the plastic seal of this book, ‘A Sci-Fi Swarm And Horror Horde’, a quick flick to look at the photos also revealed what appeared to be articles than interviews. Reading Tom Weaver’s introduction, he explains that there were many occasions where those he interviewed would speak at length without a need for questions and just had to doctor a little to ensure some questions were added to break the dialogue up a little. There were some, here it’s sixty-two, that this was difficult to do and this book is the result. There is also a pointed reminder that as he picked up these interviews over an extended period that many of these people are no longer with us making this book of historic interest now as well. I concur with him also that a lot of the people from the B movies are likely to have greater insight into the industry than those at the top. Fans of the genre, like we are, encase them all. I’m only going to pick out some of the highlights below.

The opening interview with actor/producer/writer Jimmy Lyndon isn’t even about him but of his friend, actor Robert Armstrong, who was one of the co-stars in the original ‘King Kong’ and is positively riveting. What struck me most was Armstrong repaying a favour a thousand fold to someone who helped him out once with more than he expected. How often do we see that kind of thing happening today?

Joanne Fulton tells about her father, special effects director John P. Fulton, as being a difficult person but also points out the conditions they worked under, Universal being stingy with effects budgets. More importantly, how the key studios didn’t want to acknowledge there was even a special effects team working behind the scenes lest it spoils the ‘magic’. Truly insightful and shows how far we’ve come today.

We’ve all heard of the casting couch way to getting roles in films but reading Lisa Davis and Nan Peterson’s accounts of how they avoided it and lost roles should make you really think. Speaking of Lisa Davis and a 1958 film we don’t really see over here, ‘Queen Of Outer Space’, I never knew that many of its costumes and armaments came from ‘Forbidden Planet’ and there are accompanying photos.

If you thought that the Norman Bates character was based on the cannibal Ed Gein’, reading the chapter, ‘The Calvin Beck – “Norman Bates” Connection’, will clarify the mother’s boy was based on several sources.

In a similar fashion, Ib Melchior clarifies the picture on how his property of ‘Lost In Space’ was stolen by CBS and later with the 1998 film, how he got one payment and really screwed over a small percentage which should disturb anyone reading this. Make a note that you go for nett not gross on any Hollywood contract and make sure this is valid for any company that it aligned with.

I liked Alex Gordon’s discussion about the 1962 film, ‘The Underwater City’, where he explains that dry underwater scenes had helium bubbles to simulate air bubbles but had a tendency to sink down again and crew were forever trying to blow them away from the set.
For those of you into the original ‘Planet Of The Apes’ film, although it isn’t really discussed with an interview with make-up man Kenneth Chase, there is a photo showing Maurice Evans having his Zaius orang-utan make-up put on.

Picking out money interviews in this book is really tough but I think Gary Conway’s detailing and candid views about ‘Land Of The Giants’ is a must-read. What is more relevant is how much power the star of the show had back then because the series would end if they left. This has played a part in the ensemble casts of today where there is no one lead at the top making any of the regular cast expendable. I’ve always suspected that so nice to see someone familiar with the industry agreeing with me.

Writer Ken Kolb’s examination of the proposed film ‘Sinbad Goes To Mars’, together with his plot here, shows a lot of insight. Like, for instance, producer Charles Schneer wanted a monster in every scene whereas Kolb relied more on giving the right moments for Harryhausen to make the most use of. Although I haven’t caught up on all the recent Harryhausen film books out there yet, this interview also contains four detailed illustrations for the film by artist Chris Foss which should satisfy both camps.

Even if you don’t know all the people, let alone some of the films, here, I bet you know their faces and their connections. If you want insight into the conditions of early Hollywood, you’re going to be appalled at some of the practices of extended hours and the dangers people were put in before unions got organised there. You will also be appalled by the activities of some people whom you thought were squeaky-clean, too.

I sometimes wonder what writer Tom Weaver thinks about what he discovers from these interviews but I suspect that it might prejudice him with the people he interviews or them about him. So read and draw your own conclusions because this is a fascinating long read.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 9 votes in the sci-fi charts

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