It's true -- low-budget horror film directors are frequently accused of committing crimes against good taste, manners, and cinema in general. A few notable regional filmmakers, however, have committed actual crimes. Here's the quick and dirty Line-Up of the Damned:
Panning for Gold in Baltimore: We've written extensively about former infomercial star Santo Gold (a.k.a. Santo Rigatuso, a.k.a. Bob Harris), the demented mind behind the formerly-lost wrestling film Blood Circus (1985). But we'll repeat ourselves anyway. Rigatuso was eventually convicted of mail fraud in connection with his cheap gold jewelry and credit card authorization business in 1989, and served 10 months in prison. You can read more about it at the Santo Gold Museum. Or get Santo's side of the story here.
Andy Milligan Meets the Army of God: If you've read Jimmy McDonough's fascinating biography The Ghastly One, then you know late director Andy Milligan's life was awash in slightly less-than-legal activities. If you haven't read that book, though, you wouldn't know that one of the actors in the film Carnage (1984) was Dennis Malvasi (a.k.a. Albert Alfano), who later gained some measure of infamy when he and his wife Loretta Marra helped accused murderer James Kopp (who had killed an abortion clinic doctor) escape the country. Malvasi himself was affiliated with the militant anti-abortion group The Army of God, and was arrested in 1987 for bombing several New York City abortion clinics. He was arrested again in 2001 for assisting Kopp, and released in 2003. You can read his whole sordid story in New York Magazine.
Image Courtesy of Fred Adelman/Critical Condition
The Godfather of Gore Goes to Jail, Sort of: Herschell Gordon Lewis was one of the most successful and notorious regional filmmakers who ever spilled a gallon of fake blood, but he ended the first phase of his filmmaking career with 1972's The Gore Gore Girls. Two years later, Lewis was arrested along with business associate Irving Kaufman for their participation in what the Chicago Tribune described as a "bogus abortion referral service franchise." He was eventually convicted of mail fraud charges related to an auto rental franchise business.
According to Lewis, he never actually served any time. Here's his response from the book Shock Value (page 211), after John Waters asks him about the arrests:
"In the abortion thing, I was simply the advertising agency. There never was any particular legal action on that. I don't know quite where that came from but it refers to nothing. Where I lost my fortune, temporarily, was through an auto-mobile-rental deal in which I was the principal investor. The thing went down the tube and everybody got nailed. My theaters and everything I had went with it. At the time I thought it was the worst thing in the world that ever happened, but invariably one springs, phoenixlike, from the ashes."
In Too Deep: Hairdresser-turned-pornographer Gerard Damiano made only one horror film, Legacy of Satan (1974), not long after he made his mark at the helm of Deep Throat (1972), the film that took porno mainstream and got actor Harry Reems (nee Herbert Streicher) arrested in 1975. That film was financed by Louis "Butchie" Peraino, son of Colombo crime family member Anthony Peraino.
The Perainos set up two companies, Bryanston Pictures (a production company) and Bryanston Distributing, in part to mask the massive revenues made by Deep Throat. Bryanston, however, became a success in its own right, and distributed a number of regional horror films, including Damiano's Legacy of Satan, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The House That Cried Murder, Andy Milligan's Blood, and Lord Shango.
Legacy actress Christa Helm, by the way, was murdered in 1977. Her killer was never identified.
Ain't it Funny How the Night Screams: The marginal Kansas-lensed slasher film Night Screams (1987) may be best known to horror fans for featuring clips of another marginal slash film, Graduation Day, on a television during its opening sequence. Others may remember it for featuring actor Ron Thomas, who played one of the Cobras in The Karate Kid. But among the Wichita banking community, it is even better known as "that crappy movie executive producer Richard Caliendo financed with money he obtained via shady real estate transactions, defrauding local banks to the tune of $280,000"
In 1992, Caliendo pleaded guilty to making false statements in order to obtain loans for producer Dillis Hart II that were used to finance the film. Hart used the bank loans to buy property from Caliendo, who then paid Hart part of the proceeds to make the movie, and used the rest to pay off an existing debt on the property he'd just sold Hart. Strangely, this complicated real estate transaction is far more interesting than almost anything in Night Screams.
I'm saving the biggest regional horror "true crime" story for a separate post (hint: it involves cocaine and giant, mutant crustaceans). Before we get to that, though, we've got to look at the other side of the criminal justice system -- horror movies made by attorneys.
Two Views of the Shrews: First, Radford Baines urges us to report to our local authorities AT ONCE any sighting of a giant, killer shrew; then, Festus, Rosco P. Coltrane, and Miss Sweden 1956 encounter "two or three-hundred" (or maybe just a half-dozen) of the nasty things!
Summer is here, which means it's drive-in season -- and the perfect time to encourage you all to attend DVD Drive-In's annual "Drive-In Super Monster-Rama" at the Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Pa., Sept. 10 and 11. This year's lineup includes: The Comedy of Terrors, The Oblong Box, The Incredible Melting Man, Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Blood on Satan's Claw, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, and one of our all-time favorites, The Witchmaker.
BOOK UPDATE: We're still plowing ahead on The Dead Next Door, and the end is finally in sight. We've been hunting for some additional images to help spice up the listings in the book, and help has arrived in the form of Fred Adelman, the man behind the fanzine and Web site Critical Condition. Thanks to Fred's amazing archive of horror and exploitation movie admats, we're even closer to the finish line than we would be otherwise.
I just did a count, and so far I've unearthed 369 regional horror films (1957 to 1989) for the listings.
DVD UPDATE:Code Red continues to trot out more fascinating releases, with both David Durston'sStigma and the California-lensed Slithis arriving on DVD this month.
The bigger news, though, is that the company will release Horror High on Aug. 10. That film, from Texas director and S.F. Brownrigg associate Larry Stouffer, was previously released (in it's cut TV form) on one of those Rhino "Horrible Horrors" DVD collections. The upcoming release is supposed to be uncut. A few years ago, the film was adapted as a musical and presented at the Mansfield Playhouse in Mansfield, Ohio.
While we're on the subject of Horror High, that film's screenwriter (and Texasn) J.D. Feigelson (using the pseudonym Jake Fowler) also penned one of our favorite TV movies ever, Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), another title that's getting a long-awaited special edition release via VCI. Extras include a deleted scene, TV promo spot, and a commentary with Feigelson and director Frank De Felitta.
Blue Underground has also announced a special edition of William Lustig's Maniac on Blu-ray on Oct. 26
PASSINGS: Character actor John David Chandler, who appeared in a number of William Grefe films, died in May. Former Fangoria editor David Everitt, who was responsible for many of the magazine's retrospective articles in the 1980s and also served as the anonymous reviewer "Dr. Cyclops, died on May 7.
Cashiers du Cinemart editor Mike White is releasing a compilation of old, new and revised articles from his quirky 'zine, entitled Impossibly Funky. It includes an introduction by H.G. Lewis, a forward by Film Threat editor Chris Gore, who White has occasionally skewered in print.
I present to you actress and Lima, Ohio, native Lucy Grant (nee Winegardner), intrepid co-star of both Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) and Shriek of the Mutilated (1974). In Blood, she played the woman who gets killed by Egon in the motel room (her husband in that scene, coincidentally, was producer Ed Adlum); in Shriek, she wisely used a pseudonym ("Luci Brandt") while portraying the unfortunate woman who has her throat cut with an electric carving knife just before she murders her husband by dropping a toaster into his bath water.
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.