The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Web Magazine and Sourcebooks

Volume #1, Issue #7
"Stand By For Mars!"
July 2006

The Thunder Child: Documentary Reviews
The Sci Fi Boys
Review by Ryan Brennan

The Sci-Fi Boys documentary on DVD
Directed by Paul Davids, Universal Studios, 2005. ISBN B000FOQ1KO. Available from

The Sci-Fi Boys is filmmaker Paul Davids' affectionate homage to several of the men and films that inspired and entertained generations. Featured are Forrest J. Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Peter Jackson, Rick Baker, Leonard Maltin, John Landis, Stephen Somers, Dennis Muren, Roger Corman, and many others who have influenced and shaped the science fiction films, books and magazines that we watch and read. This documentary presents them in new interview segments along with archival footage and clips from the amateur films produced by some of the subjects.

The front cover clues us in right away to the nostalgic fun factor of this release. The illustration is by Basil Gogos, the artist who brought so much pleasure to youngsters back during the heyday of the highly influential monster magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, or FM as it became known to fans.

Depicted are several Sci-Fi Boys: Dennis Muren, Rick Baker, John Landis, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Peter Jackson and, appropriately, Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor and soul of the aforementioned FM.

Recommended Links
  • Official Sci Fi Boys Website
  • Forry's Wide Webbed World
  • Monster Kid Magazine Online
  • Monster Kid Home Movies DVD
  • Classic Horror (and Sci Fi) Film Discussion Boards
  • Bob Burns' Official Website
  • Basil Gogos' official site
  • Sci-Fi Boys seems to be a spin on the term Monster Kid, a moniker that has both a specific and general meaning. The specific meaning is primarily in reference to those kids of a certain time period -- the late 1950s -- when the first TV syndication package of the old Universal horror films became available. These kids ate up the exploits of the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, the Wolfman, The Mummy and any other creepy crawly that came their way, often shivering under their covers in their dark bedrooms after an evening of classic scare cinema. The more general meaning refers to anyone who has a love and admiration for these sorts of films, whether this love started in the silent era or just yesterday. The distinction here seems to be that while the Sci-Fi Boys all started as fans, they managed to turn their youthful interest into gainful careers.

    Famous Monsters of Filmland
    Ackerman's magazine FM certainly worked its spell on a generation of filmmakers. Prior to the existence of this magazine the inner workings of the Hollywood studios, particularly as related to special effects and special make-up, remained a mystery. While some Sci-Fi Boys, like superfan and memorabilia collector Bob Burns, were given entree into the inner world, most could only guess at how certain cinematic achievements had been accomplished. FM, under Ackerman's long editorship, changed that, revealing the secrets and bringing both the stars of the movies and the creative artisans behind the scenes into focus. It helped that 4E, 4SJ, or Forry, as his friends and readers came to know him, was also a fan and had friends like Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

    Ray Harryhausen
    Ray Harryhausen launched his unique career in the field of stop-motion animation thanks to viewing Willis O'Brien's work on King Kong during its original release. Harryhausen's subsequent films then inspired more filmmakers to seek careers in motion pictures. And so, from Ackerman's magazine and Harryhausen's films, among other influences, men like Dennis Muren, John Landis, Rick Baker, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were nurtured in their incipient interests in films of the fantastic. Ultimately, from Peter Jackson's opening statements to the film's conclusion, this documentary is about how one person's life work can inspire others in their own lives.

    Part of the fun is seeing these filmmakers, fans still, talking enthusiastically about their lifelong interests. Stephen Somers (director of The Mummy, Van Helsing), Bob Ducsay (Somers' producer/editor), Frank Darabont (director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), Dennis Muren (Star Wars, T2: Judgment Day,Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones special effects), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Animal House, Michael Jackson's Thriller video), Stan Winston (Batman Returns, Pearl Harbor, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines make-up artist), Rick Baker (Men In Black, Hellboy, Planet of the Apes, X-Men: The Last Stand make-up artist), William Malone (director of The House on Haunted Hill remake), Steve Johnson (Species, Blade II,The Cat in the Hatmake-up artist), Roger Corman (legendary low-budget filmmaker), and Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong) all discuss how their lives have been affected by this thing called science fiction.

    No Dante?
    A curious omission is the absence of director Joe Dante (Gremlins,The Howling), then a youngster who unexpectedly found himself a regular contributor to FM when a letter he wrote led to an ongoing series. More curious is that clips from his film Matinee, both a tribute to shockmeister and master showman William Castle and a nostalgic reflection on the sci-fi craze, are employed.

    Don Glut
    Forry has been dubbed the first and foremost "fan" of cinefantastique but many others who did not achieve careers in the industry nevertheless made names for themselves within the fan community. Don Glut (author of The Empire Strikes Back and other books) was one fan who built an underground reputation as the creator of numerous amateur films. (His DVD I Was a Teenage Moviemaker is announced for 2006.) Glut certainly seems to be an early practitioner of the home movie as something with more ambition than merely to record the family's annual Christmas holiday but others were soon there with him, producing their own miniature epics, at one point encouraged by various make-up and film contests in the pages of FM.

    left to right. Seated: Peter Jackson and Forry Ackerman
    Standing: Famous Monster's cover artist Basil Gogos, Rick Baker, Bob Burns and Paul Davids

    While creating these 8mm (and sometimes 16mm) gems, most of us budding filmmakers had no idea that others were doing the same thing. FM provided a focal point where everyone's interests converged. But knowing that other filmmakers existed didn't provide a method for seeing their productions. The successful DVD release of Monster Kid Memories allowed us to see several of these fan classics. One of the treats of The Sci-Fi Boys is to see more such footage, much of it from this documentary's director, Paul Davids (Roswell, The Transformers writer). Among other clips from his own 8mm excursions we get to see "Siegfried Saves Metropolis," a winner in the FM film contest.

    We also see clips, either in the main body of the documentary or in the Special Features, from the early films of Harryhausen, Dennis Muren, Steve Johnson, Jeff Tinsley, Don Glut, Bob Burns, Fred Barton (who restored Robby the Robot and sells replicas), and William Malone (owner of the original Robby).

    Archival footage
    Some of the archival footage is of particular interest. More footage is shown from the 1992 Oscar ceremony in which Harryhausen won the Gordon Sawyer Award. We also see Harryhausen's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony (with his friend and partner Arnold Kunert and FXRH publisher Sam Calvin in the background). A 1983 TV appearance during the 50th anniversary year for King Kong has Forry and Harryhausen discussing the film and handling the Pterodactyl armature from the film. We get a glimpse at some moments from a very impressive short film by Steve Johnson, Everloving, showcasing the special effects knowledge he's acquired in the industry to great effect. And a 1970 color documentary shot by James Gunn captures Forry in the Ackermansion expounding on the history of science fiction film. In old and new footage we also hear Forry reading his eulogy to George Pal.

    There is more of interest, too. Nods are given to: William Castle, as much for his films -- 13 Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler -- as for the gimmicks he employed to promote them; Ed Wood (Plan Nine from Outer Space, for his irrepressible love of filmmaking; George Pal (War of the Worlds, The Time Machine), the single producer most dedicated to the genre; Paul Blasdell, for the general public a largely unsung hero of make-up and creature effects who conjured cucumber monsters (It Conquered the World), She Creatures and aliens (Invasion of the Saucer Men, It! The Terror from Beyond Space) practically from thin air so limited were his resources.

    The movies that these Sci-Fi Boys watched were considered juvenile films and given "B" budgets. But now the kids are grown up and are making the same kinds of pictures they loved on "A" budgets. The publication of FM and the increased interest in science fiction films influenced an entire generation. The impact this had on the films during the last 30 years of the 20th Century still hasn't been properly assessed.

    The film meanders
    If a criticism could be leveled, this would be it. Although we are presented with a wealth of riches and marvels, the film meanders. It needed a thesis statement from which to hang its munificent bounty. Embedded amongst the visual pleasures is the message that the world of filmmaking today was forever changed by the giants of the past, by magazines and films, filmmakers and others who inspired and encouraged individuals to pursue their goal of making films of the fantastic. For many of us its preaching to the choir, but to the unitiated, the lack of focus may keep this statement just out of reach. That said, Dennis Muren's extras in the Special Features section is practically a 101 course on the history and direction of special effects. Invaluable.

    The Sci-Fi Boys is recommended viewing for those wishing to better understand fandom and its very real impact on the film and television industry or just for a warm, nostalgic reminiscence. Over one hour of special features provide more interviews, more home movie footage, and many interesting photos and documents. Above all, the heart is in the right place and it is offered to the viewer with a deeply felt love. Don't miss it!


    Learn more or
    Buy Now

    Learn more or
    Buy Now

    Learn more or
    Buy Now

    Learn more or
    Buy Now

    Learn more or
    Buy Now

    All text © 2006 The Thunder Child unless otherwise credited.
    All illustrations retain original copyright.
    Please contact us with any concerns as to correct attribution.
    Any questions, comments or concerns contact The Thunder Child.