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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Corman’

Three deaths in quick succession, one inevitably overshadowing the others, so let’s look at those first, starting with actor William Campbell, who merits inclusion not least because he is quoted in Richard Matheson on Screen discussing Running Wild (1955) co-star Mamie van Doren, who later appeared in Matheson’s The Beat Generation (1959).  His mainstream credits include The Breaking Point (1950), Battle Circus (1953), Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Battle Cry (1955), Love Me Tender (1956), and The Naked and the Dead (1958).  But he is best known for his genre roles in multiple Star Trek series and two cult classics, Roger Corman’s Dementia 13 (1963) and the patchwork Track of the Vampire (aka Blood Bath, 1966).

Next, the body of actress and July 1959 Playboy Playmate Yvette Vickers was recently found in her home in a state of decomposition so advanced that she may have died as long as a year ago.  Remembered primarily for playing sexy, adulterous white-trash vixens in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), she rose above the mire with Hud (1963), and was later cast by Curtis Harrington (who described her in our interview as “a good friend”) in his genre films What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and The Dead Don’t Die (1975).  She had reportedly become severely paranoid; when we saw her at a genre-film convention several years back, she seemed quite sociable, if dramatically heavier than in her (luscious) centerfold.

Finally, although I’m not normally the type to celebrate the death of another human being, as one of the many who were working in Manhattan on 9/11 (albeit not near Ground Zero), I do revel in that of Osama bin Laden.  I recall so many things about that day:  hearing that the first plane had flown into the World Trade Center, and envisioning some sort of little Piper Cub; watching from the roof of our midtown building as the second tower burned; the surreal walk downtown to the Alphabet City apartment where my generous friends sheltered me while I was stranded in New York City that night.  I also remember walking back uptown the next day, seeing the poster for Schwarzenegger’s then-imminent flick Collateral Damage, and thinking, “Good luck with that.”

But most of all, I remember learning how terrified my daughter had been because, at the age of twelve, her grasp of Manhattan geography was insufficient to reassure her that I had been at a safe distance from the tragedy, and she apparently had a very tough time of it until things were explained to her.  I hope she is reading this now and knows how much her concern meant, and still means, to me, and how much it hurts me to think that I had even inadvertently caused her pain, and how much love and pride I feel for her every day.  And to all of those less fortunate ones whose fathers (and mothers and children and siblings and grandparents and neighbors and loved ones and friends) didn’t come home safely from that dark day, I say this:  you are avenged.

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After some delays related to their exhaustive “Steampunk Fortnight” coverage, Tor.com has my latest installment of the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series up, along with the usual yummy artwork.  This one covers the remainder of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle, along with such related works as Matheson’s The Comedy of Terrors and Corman’s The Terror (both 1963), plus AIP’s other Poe films.  I’m still awaiting word from my contact there—who is presumably up to her, um, hips in steampunks—about the direction of my next post, so I can’t say when or even what to expect, but as always I shall hope in my modest way that it will be worth the wait.

In other Matheson-related news, a new Twilight Zone feature film has just been announced that is said to be utilizing stories written by Rod Serling and You-Know-Who for the original TV series.  Hey, that sounds like a great idea, especially considering the universally high regard in which the last attempt to rehash Zone episodes for the big screen was held, especially after it resulted in the deaths of Vic Morrow and two illegally employed child actors.  Richard had already opined back then that it wasn’t wise, but I suppose nothing can withstand the current Hollywood steamroller of sequels, remakes, “re-imaginings,” reboots, et alia, so let’s just lie back and think of England.

The most intriguing, and potentially exciting, news from my personal perspective (and what else would you be looking for on this blog?) is that for several days last week, Richard Matheson on Screen—despite having just come off press in the first place—was out of stock pending a reprint.  I say “potentially exciting” because I have no idea how far off the mark my instant quip of, “Gee, they sold all forty copies already!” might have been.  But it seems safe to conclude that demand must have exceeded McFarland’s expectations, however modest those might have been, and I’m relieved to see that it is once again listed as “available for immediate shipment,” so there is no waiting…

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Somehow, amid all the chaos of Movie Night-and-Day-After (see “Harmonic Convergence”), plus getting Alexandra back to Cornell yesterday—resulting in our getting to bed around 2:00 this morning—I managed to write my latest Matheson post for Tor.com.  It’s the first of a two-parter devoted to the four Edgar Allan Poe films he scripted for Roger Corman and American International, along with a few others he wrote in between.  For your convenience, I have added a new link to the Blogroll at right that takes you directly to a handy-dandy index for the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series, although as usual, Tor.com is packed with stuff of interest to genre fans, so you could do worse than scroll through the other posts to find mine.  Either way, enjoy!  Bradley out.

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Concluding our eclectic selection of Boris Karloff credits from the Bradley Video Library catalog…

The Devil Commands (1941):  HUAC name-dropper Edward Dmytryk directed this misleadingly titled coda to Karloff’s “Mad Doctor” series (see The Ape in our previous installment).  Based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water, it concerns a scientist who establishes that human brain waves can be recorded, and are unique (like fingerprints), just before his wife is killed in a car crash. When Boris’s machinery picks up her distinctive waves after death, he launches an all-out effort to contact her spirit beyond the grave, and is immediately dismissed as a nut-job by his colleagues, daughter, and associate/future son-in-law.  So he sets up shop in an isolated cliff-top mansion, joined by a shady spiritualist, a snooping housekeeper, and an employee whose brain was partially cooked by a previous experiment.  Although strictly speaking science fiction, this programmer is filmed in a gothic-horror manner, complete with Dark Shadows-style narration by the daughter—who, alas, probably could not have known about some of the events she relates.  Sadly, Boris’s habit of stealing corpses from the local boneyard (since for some odd reason he needs to have dead people hooked up to his gizmo in order to contact other ones) draws the attention of the sheriff, with predictable results.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947):  An utterly routine (albeit mercifully brief) comic-strip programmer, notable only for the presence of Karloff as the titular villain.

Thriller (1960-62):  Having already covered this series in some detail, I’ll merely enumerate a few highlights besides “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” adapted by Richard Matheson from the short story by H.P. Lovecraft protégé August Derleth and Mark Schorer.  They include the atmospheric “Pigeons from Hell,” also directed by John Newland and based on a story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard; four other episodes based on stories by Derleth, written either with Schorer (“The Incredible Doktor Markeson,” an especially creepy episode in which Karloff stars as well as hosts) or without (“Mr. George,” “Trio for Terror,” “A Wig for Miss Devore”), sometimes using his Stephen Grendon pseudonym; an adaptation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” also with Boris; three based on works by Cornell Woolrich (“Guillotine” [adapted by Charles Beaumont], “Papa Benjamin,” “Late Date”); Beaumont’s other, inferior episode, “Girl With a Secret”; and a whopping ten written and/or based on works by Robert Bloch (“The Cheaters,” “The Grim Reaper” [starring William Shatner], “The Devil’s Ticket,” “The Weird Tailor,” “Waxworks,” “The Hungry Glass” [also with Shatner], “’Til Death Do Us Part,” “A Good Imagination,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” “Man of Mystery”), two of which were remade in his Amicus anthology films.

The Raven (1963):  Extrapolating from “The Black Cat,” the successful comic segment of their Poe anthology film Tales of Terror, director Roger Corman and screenwriter Matheson went all-out in this comedy; Matheson left the series afterward, saying he couldn’t take the films seriously any more.  Featuring Peter Lorre in the title role, Karloff (appearing in his second film allegedly based on Poe’s poem) bemused by Lorre’s ad-libs, the obligatory Vincent Price, the heavenly Hazel Court (who rejoined Corman and Price on Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death the next year), and a very young Jack Nicholson as the dubious—in every sense—hero, Rexford.

The Comedy of Terrors (1963):  Written by Matheson and directed by Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur, this is a black comedy about unscrupulous undertakers who drum up business the hard way, with veteran horror stars Price, Lorre, Karloff, and—carried over from Tales of Terror—Basil Rathbone.  Originally slated to play the more athletic role of Price’s acerbic landlord, which ultimately went to the ironically older Rathbone, Karloff has a hilarious scene in which he delivers a rambling funeral oration, complete with every imaginable synonym for the word “coffin.”

I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963):  Again, I won’t belabor this anthology horror film, having discussed it in multiple posts devoted to director Mario Bava, but it would be a shame to omit it.  As with Thriller, Karloff hosts and stars in one segment, effectively playing a Russian vampire opposite Mark (House of Usher) Damon in “The Wurdalak.”  Sadly, you won’t hear his voice in the uncut Italian version, only in the one re-edited by the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, AIP.  The other segments are “The Drop of Water,” as a ghost reclaims a ring stolen by a greedy woman, and “The Telephone,” in which a girl is stalked by her ex-lover.

The Sorcerers (1967):  One of three films (the others being La Sorella di Satana and Witchfinder General) on which the reputation of Michael Reeves rests; his early death of an alcohol and drug overdose ensured a kind of James Dean fame for the British director.  Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as an elderly couple who invent a machine with which they can share the sensations of, and ultimately control the actions of, a disaffected youth played by Reeves’s perennial lead, Ian Ogilvy.

La Camara del Terror (The Fear Chamber, 1968):  One of four Mexican horror films for which Karloff shot footage (in L.A., I believe) shortly before his death; behind-the-scenes machinations altered some of the resulting pictures from their original conceptions.  Hard to imagine what they had in mind for this one, which as it stands is an incoherent mishmash about scientists using blood from frightened girls to fire up a living, power-hungry rock.  At least, I think that’s what it’s about…

Targets (1968):  Peter Bogdanovich’s first and probably best film (I’m not a fan; it’s mercifully unlike his other work), this stars Karloff as an aging actor who feels his Hollywood horrors can no longer compete with real life, and Bogdanovich as a young guy who chats up oldtime filmmakers (quite a stretch for both!).  Proving his point, a seemingly mild-mannered young man suddenly goes on a killing spree, eventually konfronting Karloff (sorry, too much Famous Monsters of Filmland in my youth) at a drive-in screening of one of his films—in reality, The Terror, made by Pete’s sometime mentor, Corman.

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Yes, I know I should be indexing Richard Matheson on Screen, but when Matheson news this big hits, well, that’s like asking the tide not to come in—Gauntlet has at last unveiled Matheson Uncollected: Volume Two, and as usual, it’s a humdinger.  You won’t want to crack open the book, for fear of taking your eyes off the stunningly evocative jacket art by Harry O. Morris, whose recollections of working with the master on more than a dozen books we were proud to include in The Richard Matheson Companion, but if you don’t open it, you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice.  For Matheson completists, this is the big one, and although the book cries out for an introduction—say, by my friend and fellow Matheson scholar Paul Stuve, who helped put it together—to set some of its contents in context, I will try to pinch-hit for him by providing a preview, if not a review (since I won’t get to read it from cover to cover until mine is finished).

The idea behind Matheson Uncollected is identical to that of the equally invaluable The Beatles: Past Masters, which assembled songs that for whatever reasons did not appear on their formal albums, so that if you owned those plus the two volumes of Past Masters, you would have everything the Beatles issued commercially.  As if that weren’t enough, Gauntlet has characteristically gone the extra mile by including four previously unpublished items:  the newly rediscovered short story “An Element Never Forgets”; the unfinished novels Red Is the Color of Desire and The House of the Dead (an alternate version of which appears in the lettered edition); and Matheson’s unfilmed first-draft adaptation of his novel What Dreams May Come.  This screenplay was written in 1985 for Stephen Deutsch—producer of Somewhere in Time and, as Stephen Simon, the final script by Ron Bass—and director Wolfgang Petersen (see “Das Boot Camp”), here misspelled “Peterson.”

Among the previously published stories in Volume Two, mostly—as its title suggests—collected for the first time, are two each that made their debuts in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (“Leo Rising,” “CU: Mannix”) and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (“Getting Together,” “Person to Person”).  For the record, Tor did include “Person to Person” (adapted in a YouTube video) as one of the bonus short stories in its 1995 edition of I Am Legend, apparently with little if any fanfare, but since the other contents of that collection are all readily available elsewhere, it makes sense for collectors to have this one, no?  Here, too, are “Mountains of the Mind” (Marvel Science Fiction, November 1951), inexplicably listed in the table of contents as an unfinished novel; “Now Die in It” (Mystery Tales, December 1958); and “Where There’s a Will,” an early collaboration with his son Richard Christian for Kirby McCauley’s 1980 anthology Dark Forces.

The pick of the litter, at least for completists, is “The Hunt,” which Paul recently excavated from a copy of the March 1952 issue of West magazine, and which not only has never been reprinted, but also appears in none of the standard Matheson bibliographies…including, I am sorry to say, the otherwise exhaustive list we had already compiled for the Companion and its revised edition, The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson.  The micro-short story “Portrait” comes complete with its accompanying illustration by Tenille Enger, and was written for Framed: A Gallery of Dark Delicacies, the 2003 anthology compiled by L.A. booksellers and Matheson über-boosters “Gomez and Morticia” (i.e., Del and Sue) Howison.  “Haircut” appeared in the 2006 Gauntlet collection Masques V, whose co-editor, Gary Braunbeck, also contributed a “Button, Button” sequel to Christopher Conlon’s award-winning tribute anthology He Is Legend.

Paul was kind enough to share some of the contents of Volume Two with me while it was being assembled, and although I had hoped to be in print first, so that I could crow about including hitherto unpublished material, I was able to mention several relevant items in my own book, such as the little-known fact that “Now Die in It” was later expanded into Matheson’s twice-adapted novel Ride the Nightmare.  Both “Mountains of the Mind” and “An Element Never Forgets” are among the group of loosely connected stories set at fictional Fort College, as is “Trespass” (aka “Mother by Protest”), the basis for his 1974 TV-movie The Stranger Within.  Matheson cannibalized The House of the Dead in his Pit and the Pendulum screenplay, since Poe’s story is unusually lacking in narrative structure; based on the four chapters here, there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between them, but unlike Red Is the Color of Desire, it does not include an outline of the rest.

Okay, time to grab some lunch (it being Sunday afternoon as I write this) and get back to work.

Bradley out.

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Concluding our look at genre films on New York’s three independent stations (WNEW, WPIX, and WOR) during my youth.

With its crudely animated but absolutely unforgettable six-fingered-hand title sequence, WPIX’s Chiller Theatre competed with WNEW’s Creature Features, although I don’t think they overlapped 100%; as I recall, Chiller started at 8:00, and I faced a crisis of conscience every Saturday at 8:30:  stay on channel 11 or, more often, switch to 5?  Two films I’m pretty sure I remember seeing on there were Mario Bava’s What (which I always imagined giving rise to any number of who’s-on-first jokes along the lines of, “You saw What?”) and The Crawling Eye, although the latter appears to have migrated to WOR at some point.  In fact, WPIX was an excellent source for Bava’s early works—Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, The Evil Eye—some of them still in glorious black and white.

WPIX showed the fewest genre films of the three and, perhaps as a result, seemed to have the least clearly defined identity in that capacity, despite the presence of a number of heavyweights.  Toho, for example, was well represented with Godzilla, King of the Monsters and several of its sequels, as well as Atragon and The Mysterians.  My records also indicate a boatload of Hammer films (The Brides of Dracula, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, The Curse of the Werewolf, Demons of the Mind, The Devil’s Bride, Fear in the Night, Five Million Years to Earth, The Nanny, The Phantom of the Opera, Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Taste the Blood of Dracula), although I think many of those only debuted on WPIX in later years.

The Anglo-American oeuvre of producer Herman Cohen (Horrors of the Black Museum, How to Make a Monster, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Konga) straddled the Atlantic, while British-born Harry Alan Towers was an early master of international co-productions such as Against All Odds, The Brides of Fu Manchu, and Circus of Fear.  WPIX also offered films produced by Italy (Castle of the Living Dead, The Cat o’Nine Tails, Snow Devils), Spain (Cauldron of Blood, Dr. Orloff’s Monster, Graveyard of Horror), or both (Horror, Terror in the Crypt).  Sid Pink shot Journey to the Seventh Planet and Reptilicus in Denmark, while Gammera the Invincible and its sequels demonstrated that Toho did not have an exclusive on the kaiju eiga (giant monster) subgenre.

Last but not least, WOR was notable in a number of ways, including sheer quantity, with about as many genre offerings as the other two put together, a steady stream of which appeared on Fright Night and their Saturday-afternoon Science Fiction Theater.  The former aired at 1:00 on Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on your point of view, and was all too often joined “already in progress”—to my intense and enduring rage—due to sports (mostly Mets games, as I recall).  They also showed plenty of movies during the week, and their library included such BOF favorites as Colossus: The Forbin Project, Count Dracula, The Day of the Triffids, Horror Hotel, The Last Man on Earth, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Psycho, The Thing, and Village of the Damned.

WOR had a lock on the Universal classics from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and their many sequels to Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (the screenwriting debut of You-Know-Who) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy.  They also showcased Bela Lugosi’s work for lesser studios in The Ape Man, The Devil Bat, The Invisible Ghost, Scared to Death, Voodoo Man, White Zombie, and Zombies on Broadway.  And WOR’s parent company owned RKO, ensuring Thanksgiving Day screenings of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young, as well as access to the Val Lewton canon (The Body Snatcher, Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, Isle of the Dead).

The early black-and-white work of master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth) and Bava’s later work in color (Baron Blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil) both aired on WOR.  So did that of Paul Naschy, the “Spanish Christopher Lee,” who starred in Assignment Terror, The Fury of the Wolfman, Horror Rises from the Tomb, The Mummy’s Revenge, and Night of the Howling Beast.  Further cementing the station’s international credentials, it showcased a myriad of offerings from Toho, including The Human Vapor, King Kong Escapes, The Last War, Varan the Unbelievable, Yog—Monster from Space, and innumerable entries in their long-running Godzilla series.

Globally, in fact, WOR had no peer, with genre films from Germany (Creature with the Blue Hand), Italy (Battle of the Worlds, The Cursed Medallion, Lightning Bolt, Mission Stardust, The Murder Clinic, Next!, Screamers, The Secret of Dorian Gray, The She-Beast, War of the Planets, Yeti), Japan (The Evil Brain from Outer Space), Mexico (Attack of the Mayan Mummy, The Brainiac, The Curse of the Doll People, The Curse of the Stone Hand), the Philippines (Beast of the Dead, The Island of Living Horror, Tomb of the Living Dead, Vampire People), and Spain (A Bell from Hell, Fangs of the Living Dead, Horror Express, The House That Screamed, Marta, Murder Mansion, Night of the Sorcerers, Ship of Zombies, Witches Mountain).

Domestic output was hardly overlooked, including 1950s SF epics from producer George Pal (Conquest of Space, When Worlds Collide).  AIP cut a wide swath with films by Roger Corman (Creature from the Haunted Sea, Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Teenage Caveman), Bert I. Gordon (Beginning of the End, War of the Colossal Beast), Herman Cohen (I Was a Teenage Werewolf), and Edward L. Cahn (Invasion of the Saucer Men).  Meanwhile, the mother country weighed in with smatterings from both Hammer (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Revenge of Frankenstein) and Amicus (Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., The Terrornauts, Torture Garden, The Mind of Mr. Soames).

But quantity does not always equate with quality, and another of WOR’s hallmarks was its high sleaze factor, which made me envision their headquarters as some squalid den of iniquity.  They featured bottom-of-the-barrel films by Al Adamson (Beyond the Living, The Creature’s Revenge, Man with the Synthetic Brain, Vampire Men of the Lost Planet), Larry Buchanan (Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Eye Creatures, In the Year 2889), and Del Tenney (Zombies).  And there were a few entries whose memories still give me the willies with their gore, grim atmospheres and/or grimy milieuxChildren Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Don’t Look in the Basement, The House of the Seven Corpses, Kiss of the Tarantula, and Silent Night, Bloody Night.

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Harrington on Hopper

I was fortunate enough to interview director Curtis Harrington for Filmfax a few years before his death in 2007, and now that Dennis Hopper has left us as well, I thought I’d share some of Harrington’s recollections on their best-known collaboration.  His feature-film directorial debut, Night Tide (1961), marked one of Hopper’s first leading roles. Harrington also directed Hopper in Queen of Blood (1966), cannibalized from a Soviet SF film acquired by Roger Corman, and both men acted in the unfinished Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind.

“I was very passionate to get on and establish myself as a director of feature films,” Harrington related, “and after writing the [unpublished] story [“The Secrets of the Sea”] when I was in Europe in the early ’50s, I came back to Los Angeles. I was thinking, ‘What would be a good subject?’ I thought of my story and I began to turn it into a screenplay. Nobody ever published any of my short stories. I wrote quite a few in that period….I put it together with the help of Roger Corman. And I knew, obviously, I couldn’t start out by making a high-budget picture, so I was perfectly happy to be making a film [on a shoestring]…. I think it came about because I submitted the script of Night Tide to his company [The Filmgroup]; that’s probably how it happened. He passed on it, because it was too artistic from his point of view, but he said, ‘I’ll help you raise the financing for it,’ and he did.

“I had a lot of silly experiences trying to raise the money. One person introduced me to some members of the Mafia, and then I met a very eccentric man who had helped finance some low-budget movies, so it was quite an adventure…. We shot the film non-union, and the union was still very, very rigorous in their oversight. You know, you had to have what they called the IATSE ‘bug’ on the film, or projectionists in theaters would refuse to run it. The way we got around that, we couldn’t afford the price of a union cinematographer–Vilis Lapenieks was a maverick, an independent–and so Vilis Lapenieks did about eighty percent of the film. Then we got in [Corman’s longtime cinematographer] Floyd Crosby to do just a few days’ work on the film, and thereby we got the bug.

“[Supporting player Cameron] was very involved in the occult, and she was a marvelous painter, a very striking personality. I decided first of all to make a short film celebrating her personality and her work, called The Wormwood Star [1956]. And then, when I came to make Night Tide, I decided that her own aura of mystery and so on would make her perfect–even though she was not an actress–to play the mysterious woman in black, so I asked her to do it and she did it. But my interest in her was primarily as an admirer of her paintings, and I own one of them. She was a striking figure, onscreen and in real life. There’s a book where she’s mentioned quite often that came out recently, called Sex and Rockets. It’s all about her and her husband in the late ’40s, who blew himself up. He was a rocket scientist at Cal Tech, and some experiment or something went bad, and he blew himself up with explosives, before I ever met her.

“[Hopper] went out and got drunk on the last day of shooting, and we couldn’t finish the film [right away]. I found out later that that’s very common. Julie Harris told me a story that fit with that about East of Eden [1955], when they had their [wrap] party, and she said she went to [Hopper’s sometime co-star] James Dean’s dressing room because he didn’t seem to be at the party, and she heard terrible sobs coming from within the dressing room. She knocked on the door and he came to the door with tears streaming down his face and he said, ‘What am I going to do? It’s all over.’ It’s hard to explain, but psychologically, actors live through their work, and a film is kind of a hothouse atmosphere that lasts a certain length of time and gives them a whole life during that time, and then it’s all over, so it’s quite understandable. It would be like ‘the blues,’ after all the excitement and everything. It’s all over, and they don’t like to give that up, psychologically, and that was true of Dennis. So he was a perfect angel during the whole production, but the last day of shooting he went out and got drunk at lunch, so we were unable to finish the film [until the postponed shots could be completed later]. He didn’t do it consciously; that was an unconscious thing.

“I don’t remember how I met [composer David Raksin] originally, but I showed him the film, just on the off chance I might get him to agree to do the score, and he said he would love to do it. Again, there was no money–you just could barely scrape enough money together to have a small orchestral group play it under his direction, but I think his contribution is major to the film…. It never got much distribution. AIP put it out on a double bill, but at that time there was no market for sort of independent films. It was still the period of double features. There was a low-budget film and a high-budget film, and they all went out in tandem, and that’s the way it was released. I think it played in a lot of theaters accompanying [Richard Matheson’s] The Raven [1963], one of the Corman movies…. [But] Dennis is very, very proud of the film. They often do retrospectives of Dennis Hopper’s work at film festivals and art museums and so on around the world, and he invariably insists that they include Night Tide.”

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During the renaissance of Gothic horror, British beauty Hazel Court worked for both Hammer Films and American International Pictures (AIP), directed by Terence Fisher in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) and by Roger Corman in The Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Many of the actresses appearing in such films shun the association, but since she entitled her autobiography Hazel Court—Horror Star, she seems rather to have embraced the genre, to which her contributions include Ghost Ship (1952), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), and Dr. Blood’s Coffin (1961). A friend bought me the book (published by Tomahawk Press in 2008 just after her death) while I was seeking material for Richard Matheson on Screen, yet it’s only now, with my magnum opus on the verge of being proofread and indexed, that I have had a chance to read it from cover to cover.

Born in 1926 (just ten days before Matheson), Court feelingly describes her family, her happy upbringing in Birmingham, her experiences during and after World War II—which claimed her first love, identified only as J.W.—and the fulfillment of her childhood aspirations when she made her debut with two lines in Champagne Charlie (1944). Her career progressed through magazine covers and glamour shots, a contract with the Rank Organization, a starring role in Meet Me at Dawn (1947), and an appearance in the late Ken Annakin’s first feature, Holiday Camp (1947), enabling Tomahawk to cross-promote his autobiography, So You Wanna Be a Director? Court also became a staple of episodic television, and it was on her first of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that she met her second husband, ex-actor Don Taylor, who directed her in “The Crocodile Case” and was married to Court until his death in 1998.

In addition to guesting on such shows as Bonanza, Danger Man, Thriller, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Kildare, and Mannix, Court starred with Patrick O’Neal in the single-season comedy Dick and the Duchess, which she was promoting in New York when The Curse of Frankenstein was #2 at the U.S. box office. It’s easy to forget that she was probably more familiar to cinemagoers at the time than either of her Curse co-stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—who also had a supporting role in The Man Who Could Cheat Death—about both of whom she writes with great affection. This makes Hammer’s decision to hire her all the wiser (I had not realized that her seven-year-old daughter, Sally Walsh, played her character as a child), but it’s interesting to note that while they used her as a more traditionally imperiled heroine, Corman cast her as a sensually sinful “bad girl” in all three of their Edgar Allan Poe films together.

Tomahawk claims that Court is the only actress to have worked with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Lee, and Cushing; equally impressive were her off-screen collaborators Fisher, Corman, Matheson, and his friend Charles Beaumont, who co-wrote both The Premature Burial and The Masque of the Red Death. She cites Matheson’s The Raven as the film she most enjoyed making, offering delightful anecdotes about encountering the young Jack Nicholson and watching Price, Karloff, and Peter Lorre try to outdo one another, and writes about the painting and sculpting she successfully pursued as her acting career wound down. After starring with Price in Masque, Court continued making television guest spots through 1972, and her last appearance was an unbilled cameo in The Final Conflict (1981) as a favor to producer Harvey Bernhard, for whom Taylor had directed Damien: Omen II (1978).

Hazel Court—Horror Star is enjoyable and, as the memoir of such an icon (especially one no longer with us), perhaps invaluable, but leaves the reader wanting more, e.g., Ghost Ship is mentioned only in passing as one of two films she made with director Vernon Sewell and her first husband, Irish actor Dermot Walsh. She details the courtship leading up to their 1949 wedding, yet then Walsh virtually disappears from the narrative, with no discussion of why their marriage “was not the strongest in the world” or how their divorce affected Sally, who was almost thirteen when Court married Taylor in 1963. However, she has not skimped on the book’s 200 photos (one of which confirms the existence of her fabled topless modeling scene from the rare European version of The Man Who Could Cheat Death), so as a celebration of Court’s career highlights and red-haired, green-eyed beauty, it is eminently satisfying.

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On the occasion of his 84th birthday, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

A living legend in the film industry, Roger Corman has directed more than fifty low-budget independent motion pictures, thirty-three of them for American International Pictures (AIP), which was founded by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff in 1954 as the American Releasing Corporation.  Born on April 5, 1926, he has also produced and/or distributed hundreds more for his own companies, New World Pictures and Concorde/New Horizons; given a generation of major filmmakers their first big break, on one or both sides of the camera; and even acted in occasional films.  Long before there was a Sundance Institute for independent filmmakers, there was an unofficial “Corman School” whose many prestigious alumni include Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Gale Anne Hurd, Jonathan Kaplan, Jack Nicholson, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, and Robert Towne.

Associated with AIP since its inception, Corman became disillusioned with the studio over changes made by cofounder Nicholson to four consecutive films without his knowledge, and after making Von Richthofen and Brown (1970) for United Artists, he took a twenty-year hiatus from his directing chores to get married, start a family, and found New World, which he eventually sold in 1982.  As a director, he is probably best known for AIP’s highly successful series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, which in its use of color, Gothic horror, classic literary sources, and relatively low budgets served as an American answer to the Hammer horror revival that was then underway.  Corman initiated the series, directing the first eight films, half of which—House of Usher (aka The Fall of the House of Usher, 1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), and The Raven (1963)—were based on Poe’s work by acclaimed author and screenwriter Richard Matheson.

Matheson’s friend and colleague, Charles Beaumont, weighed in with The Premature Burial (1962), written with the late Ray Russell; The Haunted Palace (1963), which took its title from the poem by Poe, but was primarily based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; and The Masque of the Red Death (1964), which was rewritten by R. Wright Campbell and incorporated Poe’s “Hop-Frog.”  The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) was scripted by Towne, then still in his twenties, and Corman’s team included Vincent Price (who starred in all but The Premature Burial), composer Les Baxter, and cinematographer Floyd Crosby, an Oscar-winner for the semi-documentary Tabu (1931).  Art director and production designer Daniel Haller later directed AIP’s more overt Lovecraft films Monster of Terror (aka Die, Monster, Die, 1965)—adapted by another member of Matheson’s circle, Jerry Sohl, from “The Colour Out of Space”—and The Dunwich Horror (1970).

Corman made his directorial debut with a Western, Swamp Women (1955), after producing three films, including Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), and while his subsequent genre credits as a producer are too numerous to mention, he has directed several sometimes borderline SF films, most of which are cult classics, like It Conquered the World and Day the World Ended (both 1956).  The former pits Peter Graves against fellow scientist Lee Van Cleef, the minion of a cucumber-like creature from Venus trying to take over the Earth with bat-shaped control devices, while Richard Denning starred in the latter, as irradiated mutants menace a group of survivors after an atomic war.  These gained additional “bad cinema” luster when Dallas-based auteur Larry Buchanan remade them, for even less money, as Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966) and In the Year 2889 (1967), respectively, to round out two packages of genre films for American International Television (AIT).

Remade by Jim Wynorski in 1988 and, incredibly, again by Terence H. Winkless in 1995, Corman’s Not of This Earth (1957) was written by Charles B. Griffith—who scripted no fewer than seven of his genre films—and Mark Hanna, with Paul Birch as an alien seeking blood for his dying race, and Corman’s frequent and formidable leading lady, Beverly Garland, as his gutsy nurse.  In the self-explanatory Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), atomic fallout is fingered as the culprit once again, not only rendering the crustaceans colossal but also giving them the ability to absorb the brains of those they kill, which still makes them no match for a cave-in and high-tension wires.  The Undead (1957) cashed in on the Bridey Murphy craze, with prostitute Pamela Duncan hypnotized as the subject of a regression experiment and sent to the Middle Ages, where she is inconveniently jailed as a witch; it was reportedly shot in six days, with interiors built inside a disused supermarket.

With a running time only slightly longer than it takes to read its title, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957) mingled Corman regulars and an unusually threadbare beast, created on an off day by the entrepreneurial effects team of Jack Rabin, Irving Block, and Louis DeWitt.  Responding to reports of the Soviet Sputnik, Corman and writer-producers Rabin and Block then banged out War of the Satellites (1958) in just two months, although any resemblance to reality was, presumably, purely coincidental as aliens attempted to foil manned space flight.  To Corman’s dismay, AIP retitled Campbell’s script Prehistoric World as the more exploitative Teenage Caveman (1958), with a relatively young, albeit hardly teenaged, Robert Vaughn as “The Boy,” who breaks his clan’s laws and heads for greener pastures roamed by The God That Brings Death With Its Touch, finally revealed as the deformed survivor of an atomic war.

In between the Poe series and such spoofs as A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), Corman continued to dabble in SF with the likes of The Wasp Woman, in which royal jelly from a queen wasp turns Susan Cabot into the titular terror, and The Last Woman on Earth (both 1960).  Shot back-to-back with Haunted Sea, this featured the same leads—Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, and “Edward Wain” (debuting screenwriter Towne)—enmeshed in a post-apocalyptic love triangle, reminiscent of the somewhat higher-toned The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959).  One of Corman’s more unusual efforts of this period, X—The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963), was written by Russell (also an editor at Playboy, in which capacity he acquired many stories by Matheson et al.) and Robert Dillon, with Ray Milland as a driven scientist whose experiment leads to enhanced vision but ends in tragedy.

Corman’s swan song at AIP, the ill-fated satire Gas! or, It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (1970), included an homage to Poe in general and The Raven in particular, with a character named “Edgar Allan Poe” appearing periodically to comment on the action, riding a Hell’s Angels chopper with a raven perched upon his shoulder.  It concerns a nerve gas that is accidentally unleashed and prematurely ages all those over twenty-five to death, leaving the youth of America to run the country in a scattershot mélange of communes, bikers, rock music, hippies, and a deus ex machina ending.  Corman’s sole directorial credit since 1970, Frankenstein Unbound (1990) is based on Brian W. Aldiss’s novel, with scientist John Hurt transported by a time slip from 2031 to 1817, encountering Victor Frankenstein (Raul Julia), his Monster (Nick Brimble), Mary Godwin (Bridget Fonda), Lord Byron (Jason Patric), and Percy Shelley (Michael Hutchence).

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