Author Q&A: Author Gary A. Smith Talks Horror Films and Writing.

Cover of Gary A. Smith’s “Vampire Films” book. Cover photo Robert Quarry in “The Deathmaster”, 1972, R.F. Brown Productions/World Entertainment Productions.

 

One of the great things about doing this page is that not only do I get some great books from awesome companies, but I get to interact with some of the authors as well. A while back I wrote a review on a book by Gary A. Smith, entitled “Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between” (MacFarland, 2017) Not only was it a great book, but Mr. Smith and I got to emailing each other after the post, discussing our love for horror films.

Gary A. Smith was a regular contributor for Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine from 1980 to 2013, and has authored 7 books on various aspects of film history. He was also generous to agree to a Q&A for me on not only horror films, but some of the book writing process.

 

Q: What made you become a horror film fan, and also, what motivated you to write books on the genre?

A: I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was about seven years old. That’s when they started showing the old Universal films on TV. I wrote a paper for a college film class comparing the Universal horror films to the Hammer remakes and my professor said I should consider writing books on similar subjects some day. 

 

Q: Do you have favorite horror actor (s) and why?

A: I would have to say Vincent Price. I love him in anything, especially the Corman/Poe films. 

 

Q: Do you have a preference in studio films (aka Universal, Hammer, AIP), if so why?

A: I love them all but I have to say “my heart belongs to Hammer.” The first Hammer films I saw was a double bill of Horror of Dracula and Revenge of Frankenstein. I was eight years old and I was instantly smitten. Why? Even at eight I was an anglophile. 

 

Q: What is your “Top 5” horror films that you think everyone should see?

A: Yikes! That is a tough one. It’s easier to say which are my top 5 favorites. There are better horror movies out there I’m sure, but these are my favorites. Not necessarily in any order: Brides of Dracula, The Mummy (1959), Pit and the Pendulum, Circus of Horrors, and Son of Dracula. 

 

Q: What (in your opinion) are the qualities that make a great horror film?

A: The actors must approach the material seriously. Tongue in cheek ruins a horror movie for me. Stylish direction can make a horror movie, even if the material isn’t that strong. I watched Baron Blood the other day and that was certainly a triumph of style over substance. Most of Mario Bava’s films are.

 

Q: In your book “Vampire Films of the 1970s” you list many different genres of vampire films, such as comedies, odd films, and even mention wrestler El Santo’s films. Do you have a favorite part in the book that you cover?

A: The Hammer films, of course. But the movie I most enjoyed writing about was Nocturna. I still haven’t recovered from that one! 

Compass International Pictures’s 1979’s Vampire Disco film “Nocturna,” stars Nai Bonet, John Carradine, and Yvonne DeCarlo, and Anthony Hamilton, with music by Gloria Gaynor.

 

Q: What is the most difficult part in the writing process that occurs for you in getting a book published?

A: Getting the publisher to do it the way I want it done. Some are very intrusive and want to change everything. McFarland was very good about the Vampire book but I have had trouble with them on past projects. 

 

Q: Do you have a regular writing process for your work? Do you write everyday?

A: When I am writing a book I do write every day. My most recent project is now at the publishers and I was fairly obsessed when I was writing it. I love doing research and this new book involved a lot of it.

 

Q: In the “Vampire Films” book, you discuss some odd films that are just guilty pleasures (for me it was “Love at First Bite” growing up as a kid seeing it all the time. Another is 1986’s “Trick or Treat” with Gene Simmons of Kiss for me.). Do you have a guilty pleasure film that is just fun to watch? Why?

A: Actually most of my favorite movies are probably guilty pleasures to other people. I suppose The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is my guiltiest pleasure. I never get tired of seeing it. Why? Because it is deliriously awful in every way. 

 

Q: Is there a film that you would like to see, but for some reason, have not been able to get a copy of? And why?

A: Without a doubt that would be the Italian film The Pharaohs’ Woman. I haven’t seen it in decades and, to my knowledge, a decent copy of it isn’t available anywhere. 

Q: In your opinion, which is the most scariest creature in horror, the slasher (Jason and Freddy), the vampire, or the monsters like Frankenstein and Wolfman?

A: The slasher types are the scariest because they are closer to reality. Michael Meyers in the Halloween films is terrifying to me, especially in the first film in the series. Now that’s a great horror movie! 

 

Q: Do you follow current horror films? If so, opinions on them, or what they lack?

A: I do see current horror films and, more often than not, come away feeling disappointed. All the fuss over The Shape of Water this year baffled me. Best Picture? Really? It was a B movie dressed up in A movie clothing. I’d rather see Creature from the Black Lagoon any day. The other horror movie up for Best Picture was Get Out; a retread of The Stepford Wives.  

 

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

A: The book now at the publishers is about best selling novels that were made into films. No horror movies, I’m sorry to tell you. Some of the movies I write about are The Egyptian, Captain from Castile, and The Foxes of Harrow. These are books and films which are largely forgotten now and shouldn’t be. I hope my book helps to remedy that situation.

 

Q: Do you have any advice for those that are writers that want to write about film or writing in general ?

A: My way has always been to provide a detailed framework that I can send to prospective publishers prior to sitting down to write the entire book. I always include an Introduction to the project and several sample chapters. This eliminates the heartbreak of writing an entire book only to discover that nobody wants to publish it. And please do your research and provide the facts to the best of your ability. It seems that errors abound in film books in particular and these mistakes tend to be perpetuated. 

        

A very special thank you goes out to Gary A. Smith for taking the time to this Q&A.

 

My review on “Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between” (McFarland, 2017 ISBN: 978-0-7864-9779-9 eISBN: 978-1-4766-2559-1) can be found here in the archives.

For information on ordering a copy of the book, visit McFarland’s site at http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com

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2017 Halloween Movie Picks

Even though I have recently been focusing on book reviews lately, thanks to the many publishers that have sent me review copies (more to come), it’s always been my annual topic on this page to focus on horror films during Halloween. My last post , if you missed it, was a book review on 1970s Vampire Films. I always like to pass along a few rarer, or missed films, that people should check out during the month of October, because I like watching a least one horror film a day during the month. If you want to check out some of my older posts for more suggestions, click on the link at the side of the page, or type in the search engine “Horror Films,” and you will find some great suggestions. The following is some films that I suggest that I have recently seen from the last time I posted movie picks.

  1. “The Black Room.” (1939). This film, starring Boris Karloff, is more of a mystery/suspense film, but it is really underrated. I saw this film when I purchased a DVD Collection from WalMart called ” Boris Karloff 6 Movie Collection.” This film has Karloff playing the roles of twin brothers in the 1800s.

The film starts out years earlier, when two sons are born in a castle where a prophecy is stated that the younger brother will kill the older brother in the Black Room of the castle. Years later, the older brother becomes the baron of the castle and murders women in the land. The younger brother, who can not use his right arm, returns after traveling, and becomes popular among the villagers in the land. Jealousy ensues (I don’t give spoilers), and things go from there.

Karloff’s acting skills are unique here playing both brothers, especially for an early film like this. Today, and even in the 1960s, this is not a big thing, having the main actor playing two roles, but this is in the 1930s. The ending is a little predictable, but the film is still one Karloff fans do not talk about much. If you are not a horror fan, this film is still one to check out if you like medieval setting films. The run time is only 69 minutes, so it will not take much of your time.

The Karloff DVD cover that “The Black Room” and “Man They Could Not Hang” were on. This is a good buy for Karloff fans.

2. “The Man They Could Not Hang” (1939 re-released in 1947). This is another film from the same Karloff DVD. Karloff plays Dr. Henryk Savaad, who is convicted to be hanged after the death of a student during an experiment. The doctor was studying a way to bring people back to life, and before his execution, he allows another doctor to try the experiment on him. Months later, the jurors who convicted Savaad start to get murdered. Lorna Grey plays Savaad’s daughter in the film, who worked with John Wayne, The Three Stooges, and was in the 1944 Captain America serials. This film had a suspense feel to it, although the ending seems quick, it is still a film that deserves viewing.

Even though the poster looks scary, this film is pretty comical.
  1. “The Blood of Dracula’s Castle” (1969). If you would like a more comedic feel to your horror films, this one may be for you. The film is about a young couple who inherit a castle, only to find out that the people currently living there are kidnapping young women who need their blood in order to stay young. There is a butler, a hunchback ogre-like man (named Mango), and a friend who is a criminal in the area. The couple living in the castle, under the name Count and Countess Townsend are actually Dracula and his bride. This B-Movie is actually funny, whether it was meant to be, directed by Al Adamson, who is mentioned in my book review about vampire films, who was known to just piece together parts of other films and throw it into one full movie. This is one of the films that you may find of Mystery Science Theater, but it is still enjoyable.
The DVD cover that I have of “The Gorgon.”
  1. “The Gorgon” (1964). This Hammer movie’s billing says that it stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but Lee has a minor role in the film for the first hour. He appears as a major player in the last part of the film, but it is still a great film considering the time period.

A son goes to a village where his brother and father died. The father leaves a letter stating that he, and others in the past few years, have died by being turned into stone. Due to the local legend that the lurking of one of the Gorgon Sisters from mythology scares the townspeople, the local authorities refuse to investigate. Lee shows up as a professor, to help his friend look into these murders, while Cushing plays a local doctor who tries to keep his assistant from leaving him (who he is in love with) especially during the full moons.

Lee is humorous in the film, wearing a brown trenchcoat/cape that makes him look more like Sherlock Holmes than a professor. The music in the film helps build the suspense throughout the film, which is only 83 minutes long. This film was part of the two-disc DVD package “Hammer Film Collection,” and is the best film in the collection. Even though the look of the Gorgon may look cheesy for today’s standards, keep in mind the time period it was released in. Also starring in the film is Barbara Shelly, who was Hammer’s #1 female actress.

Madhouse-one of Price’s underrated films.
  1. “Madhouse” (1974). I can not suggest any horror films without mentioning at least one by Vincent Price. Although I love “Theatre of Blood” and “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (which is mandatory Halloween watching), “Madhouse” is a lesser known one later in his career.

Price plays Paul Toombs, who is a famous movie actor, known for his character Dr. Death. When his wife dies at a premiere party for his latest film, he ends up having to go to a mental hospital for several years. When he gets out (this is off screen), he is not sure if he had anything to do with the murder or not, even though he was acquitted by the courts. His friend, played by Peter Cushing, convinces him to bring back Dr. Death for television, since Cushing’s character was the head writer for the films. Several deaths start happening on the set of the movies, and some are based on his films, by a masked man. The ending is one that the viewer may or may not see coming, but it is an underrated film in the Vincent Price collection. Plus seeing Price and Cushing together in a movie is worth the viewing just to see two of the most known horror actors of all time.

The DVD cover is a little less interesting than the original movie poster, but still an all time favorite of mine.
  1. “Trick Or Treat” (1986). This film is not to be confused with the other horror film 2007’s Bryan Singer’s film “Trick R Treat.” I watched this movie many times growing up, which features cameos by Gene Simmons of Kiss, playing a radio deejay, and Ozzy Osbourne, who plays a preacher that appears on a television talk show.

Marc Price (who was known as Skippy on the show “Family Ties”) plays Eddie, a high school outcast who gets bullied at school and takes refuge in his Heavy Metal Music, especially his favorite singer, Sammi Curr (played by Tony Fields). When Curr dies in a hotel fire, a local deejay (Simmons) gives Eddie an upcoming album of Curr that the station will play on Halloween night. When Eddie plays the record, he hears messages (when played backwards) to take revenge on his classmates that have bothered him.

This movie is interesting for many reasons. First, it was released during the time of the PRMC , which was a council lead by Tipper Gore to put labels on music due to the lyrical content in 1985, that summoned artists like Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and John Denver to appear in front of Washington Senators. Second, there were many artists being sued and accused of having hidden messages in their music, which many would listen to the records backwards to get hidden messages (also known as backmasting).

The music in the film is by the band Fastway, who had success with the song “Say What You Will,” and featured Motorhead member Fast Eddie Clarke and UFO’s Pete Way. The film was the first film directed by Charles Martin Smith, who played Toad in the movie “American Graffitti.” Fields, who played Sammi, was a Solid Gold Dancer, and appeared in Michael Jackson’s videos “Thriller” and “Beat It.”

Besides this film being a good movie, it is now filled with many Pop Culture themes from the 1980s; the PRMC had to been an influence on the film, backmasting, transferring albums onto cassette tapes, and the theme of Heavy Metal fans being outcasts in normal society at the time. Some people goof on the cheesy 1980s film making of the time, but I enjoy this movie, and watch every year in October. The fact that Gene Simmons does a good job with his Wolfman Jack-inspired character, makes the movie a Kiss collector’s must have, as well as the humorous casting of Osbourne playing a preacher who is against rock music, which was the exact type of people he was against in the 1980s . This film is hard to find, but is worth it. I am glad I found it in a bargain bin years ago. It also brings childhood memories of watching this movie with friends, and seeing the soundtrack album cover in stores.

These films are suggestions for those that want to see something more deeper into the horror genre that is not drawn out for 2 hours, like most of the horror films are today. Enjoy them and enjoy your own Halloween movie selections!

Halloween 2016- Movie Picks!

In previous years here for Halloween, I have discussed older or rarer films that Horror fans should check out (search the title “Horror Films” on the page’s archives for the past posts). This year I want to share movies again, but this time, they are more recent (with the exception of one). Although I feel the Horror Genre has been lacking in past years, as opposed to the classic ones, here are a few that I enjoyed that you may want to check out for your movie fest-don’t worry, these are all spoiler free!!

the-boy-movie-poster-2016-picture-mov_3gmnkpat_b

1.The Boy (2016).  Lauren Cohen (Maggie Greene from “The Walking Dead”) plays Greta, a girl from Montana who takes a job as a nanny in England for an elderly couple who needs help with their “son.” The other nannies were not suitable and were “rejected.” The odd thing is the son is a porcelain doll. When the couple leaves for a vacation and leaves Greta with a list of things to do to keep the son happy (sing to him, change him etc), that’s when strange things happen.

I enjoyed this because as in previous doll movies, this wasn’t cheesy (although the plot may have been) like the Chucky films where a doll is running around killing people. There is great suspense buildup until the end, and the acting is quite good with Cohen (although I have only seen maybe 2 episodes of “The Walking Dead” and could not get into it). The ending of the film is a great horror ending.

theconjuring2-dvdfilm-0101936

2.The Conjuring 2 (2016). I was not a huge fan of the first Conjuring film (it was OK, but not great), so this film was a surprise for me. The characters Ed and Lorraine Warren from the first 2013 film are back as they go to Britian to cover a home with what seems to be a haunting. It is based on a 1977 case called the Enfield Poltergeist.

The film is scary and has a great use of music in it. There are times where the lack of music is perfect because you do not know what’s coming. The movie very well in the U.S. and is a good film, even if you didn’t like the first one.

thecavej_9362

3.The Cave (2005).  This film stars Lena Headey, who is in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” A group of cave explorers go to Romania to search for a cave with an underground river that may have cave species that have never been exposed to the outside world. When they go into the cave after one of the explorers hears noises as they video chat with him, the species are discovered.

I liked the film for its suspense of not showing what the species are immediately to the audience, and the film has a 97 minute run time. Other movies like this may draw out the story for over 2 hours, or show what is going on right out of the box. Granted this film had horrible reviews and did awful (I agree it’s probably a B- at best), but it is a movie that I overall enjoyed and made it all the way through. I also liked the ending of the film, which has a twist to it.

the-man-who-turned-to-stone-victor-jory-ann-doran-charlotte-austin-william-hudson-1957

  1. The Man Who Turned To Stone (1956). This film is also known as “The Petrified Man.” A group of doctors learn to extend their lives by draining vitality through transfusions, with without the process, they petrify. The doctors become staff members at a girl’s reform school, where they take bodies after several mysterious deaths that are claimed to be heart attacks. Investigations are started and that’s when the fun begins.

This film was in a 4 pack DVD Set I found at Walmart, with the films “The Mad Magician” (with Vincent Price-another great one), “Five,” and Christopher Lee’s “Terror of The Tongs”(which is more a Kung Fu type film than horror. I liked the film because of the run time (I love the films that are 70 minutes long-you can watch more in a day and not have extra dragged out segments). Even these cheesy films that end of on Mystery Science Theater have entertaining values to it, so if you are looking for an older film, check this one out. It has more a Sci-Fi theme to it, but still a good horror film.

 

Maybe these suggestions, or my previous ones in the past, will make a good horror night for you and friends this Halloween.

 

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The Scarce Scares

 

Since Halloween is less than a week away, I thought I’d give out some suggestions for those, like me, that like good horror films. I can always suggest the normal picks, like any of the Universal Monster films, but I decided to list a few rare ones that some people may not have seen or even heard of in the genre. Keep in mind; I do not like the gore films (such as the SAW series) or any other of the torture films. I also will not give out the spoilers so I won’t ruin anything. I also listed the year (because there are other movies with the same title) along with if it is color or black and white. Some can be found at your local library and some are in those 50 movie collections (where I got some of them). With that said, here’s some of my picks as some of the Underrated Horror Films.

devil's hand

1. The Devil’s Hand (1962- Black and White). This film involves a man that makes dolls in a shop and is also the head of a cult that follows a God named Gamba. The lead character Rick (Robert Alda) ends up becoming a member of the cult while trying to protect his finace. This movie is a good pick because the doll shop leader is played by Neil Hamilton, who went on to play Commissioner Gordon on the TV Show Batman just a few years later. At a run time of 71 minutes, there is not much filler in the film and is straight story.

 

 

stonehearst

2.Stonehearst Aslyum (2012-Color). I stumbled on this at the local library and was so glad I did. Most of the horror films recently are either competely stupid or gore filled. This film stars Kate Beckinsale (who I love especially in the Underworld series), Michael Cane, Ben Kingsley, and Jim Sturgess. Based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe, the story deals with a doctor (Sturgess) that works in an aslyum and his attentioned is turned to a young lady (Beckinsale). This is a great physcological horror film, with a great twist in the end.

 

the raven

3.The Raven (2012- Color). John Cusack plays Edgar Allen Poe and is asked to help solve some murders that are occurring just like the characters in his stories. Even though this is a Hollywood story, there are many topics dropped in the film that are rumored to happen in his real life, including the mystery of his last days.

phibes

4. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971 Color) and Theater of Blood (1973 Color). The reason I list these two together is because of the similar plots, both starring the great Vincent Price. A man gets revenge by killing off several people (in “Phibes” they are doctors by the inspiration of the plagues in the Bible, in “Blood” it is theater critics killed by Shakespearian plays). These two are also good history lessons. Being a big Price fan, these are some lesser known , but just as good. “Phibes” is getting a remake but check out this one.

theater of blood
Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart in Theater of Blood

 

 

 

 

lazurus effect

 

 

 

 

5.The Lazarus Effect (2015 Color). This movie was great because it’s a throw back to the films I like but yet not outdated. The run time is only 83 minutes. Olivia Wilde is a medical researcher who, along with her team, creates a serum called “Lazarus” that helps comas patients but ends up bringing the dead to life, as tried on a dog. Then the fun begins. The reviews were not great, but I liked it, especially with the run time and it was not really gory.

hitchcock
Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren

6. Hitchcock (2012 Color). This film may not be scary, but what’s watching horror without Alfred Hitchcock? This film is a biography (of sorts) that stars Anthony Hopkins as the director and his wife, played by Helen Mirren, as he creates the movie “Pyscho.” This movie was only in very limited release, but worth seeing, especially Hopkins acting.

 

maniac
Maniac 1934

7. Maniac (1934 Black and White). This film has several different titles, but is based on Poe’s “Black Cat” and a few other tales. A vaudeville actor works with a mad scientist who tries to bring back the dead. The actor murders the doctor and “becomes” him in looks and actions and starts to go insane. I got this collection from a 50 pack horror dvd collection and is only 51 minutes long. That’s shorter than a TV show on air today!!!

embalmer
The Embalmer 1965

8. The Embalmer (1965 Black and White). This Italian film has also different names depending on the collections, but is good cheesy, almost comedical horror. Think of something that may be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A man in a wet suit goes around Venice killing young ladies and embalming them to keep their beauty and adds to his collection. The film also has a Phantom of the Opera type feel to it, as the mystery man runs into the bottom canals and tunnels of Italy.

 

 

 

Most of these films are easy to find, so hopefully they will spark some interest if you are tired of seeing the same old films and would like to see something different. Some have a short run time, so you can watch a few at a time, like I like to do. Happy Watching!!