The archives here at The Dead Next Door are, to put it mildly, a bit disorganized, which is why I'm just now posting about another semi-lost regional horror nearly three years after I found out about -- and it was directed by one of the giants of the genre, to boot.
Back in 2008, Classic Horror Film Board member Paul Haight posted links to some interesting photos from the LIFE Magazine archive. According to the information on the site, the photos were from an amateur production of a Frankenstein film made in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by a crew of teenagers in 1959.
As it turns out, the teen director was none other than Tobe Hooper (that's him in the picture above, pouring chocolate syrup on one of the monster's victims), who would go on to later acclaim for his Austin-lensed Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Hooper himself joined the conversation briefly (you can see his comments here), sharing that The Heir of Frankenstein was his first 16mm production -- unfortunately, he didn't say whether it was a full-length feature or a short.
I've posted a few of the photos below, but you can see the whole archive at the LIFE site. (All photos are, of course, properly of LIFE.)
Kiss of the Tarantula (1975) was a minor genre effort from Georgia produced by Daniel Cady, a Hollywood character who was involved in the adult film industry, and who later married actress Maria Lease (a regular in Bob Cresse and Al Adamson films). This article from the local Columbus, Ga., newspaper (written to promote a special local screening) provides some interesting background, including the fact that the house in the movie was also featured in The Green Berets.
From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)June 2, 2002
Kiss of the Tarantula
It's Homegrown! It's Just Plain Bad! And It's Back!
Sandra Okamot, Staff Writer
Just before Christmas in 1974, Stephen King was in Maine, putting the finishing touches on his first novel, "Carrie," and Curt Drady was filming "Kiss of the Tarantula" here in Columbus.
Both King's book and Drady's movie featured an ostracized teen-aged girl who turned on her enemies --- Carrie with her telekinetic powers and Susan with her spiders. Both "Carrie" and "Kiss of the Tarantula" were released in 1975. The movie version of "Carrie" came out a year later.
From there, the similarities end. King has published at least one book a year, while "Kiss of the Tarantula" was Drady's first and last movie. He died in 1997.
Drady had just wanted to make movies, and to make them using only Columbus actors.
For "Kiss of the Tarantula," he had a budget of only about $60,000 and a shooting schedule that started Dec. 9, 1974, and ended 10 days later.
Hollywood connections persuaded him to hire Columbus outsiders for most of the big roles, including unproven Suzanne Ling to play Susan and former child actor Eric Mason to play Uncle Walter.
The Film Society of the Columbus Museum will present the movie outdoors on Saturday.
A spider named Jennifer
Darlene Drady Henderson, now 50, was living in Atlanta when her father made "Kiss of the Tarantula."
She helped him behind the scenes, though she says if you look very closely you can see the shadow of her head in one of the cars in the drive-in scene.
She made her biggest contribution after the movie was made.
"I was the tarantula girl," she said. Henderson would take the tarantulas to various radio and television stations around the country to promote the movie.
"I was deathly scared of them," she said. "I had to get used to them."
She became fond of one spider named Jennifer, who died on a flight to Indianapolis.
"Jennifer was tame and I got her to slow-walking," Henderson said. "I felt pretty sure about her, but I took three more. I put them in a box and wrote 'Do Not Handle' all over it. They smashed my box and killed Jennifer. Jennifer died and the other three lived. I had to get used to them and I had to act like I was not scared of them."
Henderson says "Kiss of the Tarantula" is admittedly not a very good movie. "But the thing is, my Dad grew up always wanting to make a movie."
When he began the project, Drady got in touch with some Hollywood folks who encouraged him to make the movie and then told him to hire the professional actors, which conflicted with his vision for the movie.
"These people did him really dirty," Henderson said. "Before he died, he tried to get a DVD made of the movie." She doesn't know the status of that.
"He lost everything," she said. "We almost lost the house. His every saving . . . it got to be very bad."
Yet she said he still had movie scripts he was working on just before he died, and he was trying to raise money to make another movie in Columbus.
"Daddy put all his heart in it," she said.
A homegrown preacher
One local actor, John Suhr, auditioned around Thanksgiving of 1974 but was not called back until filming had started.
"I got a call from Curt, who said he needed me to play a preacher at the grave site," Suhr said. "When I got there, they wanted me to read the 23rd Psalm. Suddenly, I had a speaking part. But there was not much acting."
In a later scene, Suhr plays the same preacher, but 10 years older. First, he's got his natural hair color, then his hair is powered to make him look older.
Suhr, 65, who works in advertising in Columbus, is now the keeper of the "Kiss of the Tarantula" minutiae. He has photographs, copies of the video boxes from foreign countries, prints of the movie.
He and Drady shared a love of movies.
"Curt really had a dream," Suhr said of his friend. "If he was 20 years younger, it may have happened. I think the thing people would be most surprised about is that there was video distribution in so many countries."
Suhr said Drady had three more film ideas the last time he spoke to him.
A hidden house
Drady hired director Chris Munger, whose one other credit is "Black Starlet," a "blaxploitation" flick about a girl who wants to be a star but ends up doing pornography, for "Kiss of the Tarantula."
His cinematographer, Henning Schellerup, had a more extensive career, mostly involved in "B" movies like "Maniac Cop," "Breaker! Breaker!," "Death Race 2000," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers," "Silent Night, Deadly Night" and "Cease Fire."
"We got to be really good friends with the cinematographer, Henning Schellerup," said Nonie Eakle, a Columbus veterinarian who had a small part in the movie. Schellerup died last year.
Eakle's childhood home, called "Hilton," was hidden within a copse of trees just off Wynnton Road and was a setting for John Wayne's "The Green Berets."
Much of "Kiss of the Tarantula" was filmed at Hilton, and Eakle's late mother, Nora, and her brother, Grandin, also appeared in the movie.
"I probably won't be recognized, but I'm in the Volkswagen scene," said Eakle, now 48. "I'm one of the hoodlums in the back seat."
As for her brother, you can see his feet in one scene. Her mother had a much larger role, playing a mourner in the funeral scene.
The Eakles kept a souvenir from the filming --- one of the tarantulas, Morticia.
"She lived about five years," Eakle said. "The funny thing was, my mother was mortally afraid of spiders."
Eakle said when Morticia died, they put her in formaldehyde and kept her in a bottle in the foyer.
"Then somebody dropped her and we eventually had to throw her away," Eakle said.
Eakle said her childhood home was "pretty much the whole movie." It has since burned down. Other locations included an old church, its cemetery on Double Churches Road, and the current site of Bill Heard Chevrolet, which was under construction in 1974.
A proper drive-in
"Kiss of the Tarantula" is now being shown to a whole new generation of moviegoers, and Tom Lenard thinks that's wonderful.
Lenard, who worked behind the scenes on the movie, now works for Auburn University making films for the state of Alabama and various federal government agencies.
Though he knows "Kiss of the Tarantula" is not the best movie ever made, he had fun making it.
"I can barely do a 30-second commercial" for the budget of "Kiss of the Tarantula," he said.
It was Lenard, now 54, who picked Hilton as a setting. "I knew Nonie," he said. "I was fascinated that 'The Green Berets' was shot there. I got approval from Nora."
During a nighttime drive-in scene filmed at the Bill Heard construction site, Lenard told Schellerup the setting was too pristine.
"I told them, 'You have to stop. I have a background in running theaters. After the movie is over, this is the way it looks.' "
And he scattered trash around the site and left some of the speakers hanging from the poles.
"That was more appropriate," Lenard said.
Mark Smith was 17 when he played the spider-handling Susan's boyfriend in "Kiss of the Tarantula." Today, he laughs at the memory.
"A long time ago in a hotel now out of existence, I played Joe Penny in one of the worst movies ever made," he said. "Joe Penny had about 45 seconds of lines in the movie."
Smith's longest scene was shot outside a now-defunct strip club called Boar's Head Lounge --- he had to wait for the bikers streaming in and out of the club.
Now 45 and a nurse, Smith says he was an actor for many years before he "got tired of being broke."
"Couldn't we just forget this one like the Battle of Columbus or Albert Fuller shooting Albert Patterson?" he asked.
Ron Prather, a 1970 Columbus College graduate, can be seen in the first 10 minutes of the movie.
"I was one of the kids in the Volkswagen," he said. Those kids get killed, of course.
He did his scenes and went back to Atlanta, where he was living, and didn't see the movie until last week. Even then, he only watched the first 10 minutes and turned off the VCR.
Prather, 53, laughs when he says the other movie he can be seen in, "Return to Macon County," is on par with "Kiss of the Tarantula." At least "Return to Macon County" starred Nick Nolte and Don Johnson, who went on to other things.
After spending 20 years in the advertising field in Atlanta, Prather went back to acting about seven years ago.
He's done several commercials for Just for Feet, Citgo, Valvoline and the Georgia Lottery. Prather also had roles in "Pandora's Box" with Michael Jai White and Joey Lawrence and in "World Traveler" with Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup.
Prather saw Suzanne Ling at the Actor's Express in Atlanta where he was doing a show. He said afterward she came up to him and introduced herself, saying they did a movie in Columbus a long time ago.
"I didn't recognize her," he said. "We had all changed."
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.