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Stephen Schochet




Low Budget Horror Movies (Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi)

by Stephen Schochet


Filmmakers have found the horror genre to be a potentially low budget, high profit way of breaking into the business. Standing in a long line at a hardware store, Tobe Hooper imagined taking a chainsaw off the wall and cutting his way to the front, inspiring his creation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). George Romero found a local butcher in Pittsburgh to finance and provide blood and guts for his zombie thriller Night Of The Living Dead (1968). Wes Craven combined a nasty bully named Freddy that he knew in grade school with a frightening old hobo he saw hanging around his Cleveland neighborhood to create the dream killer Freddy Krueger for A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984). And producer Val Lewton was given credit for saving RKO studios (teetering on bankruptcy because of the overspending Orson Welles) by producing the highly profitable Cat People (1944). He kept the budget way down by showing suggestive shadows rather than the actual humanoid felines.

Low budget horror movies can mean small paydays to actors. Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle became disenchanted by movie stars demands for perks and high salaries. Horror movies were an antidote, if the Invisible Man or the Mummy demanded too much you could hire someone else and the public wouldn't know the difference. One of his hirelings was the very thin, forty-four year old Boris Karloff. The British-born part time truck driver endured weeks of brutal San Fernando Valley heat trapped in heavy padding and makeup when he played Frankenstein's Monster in 1931. Although he loved the creature Karloff, one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild, complained publicly about the Frankenstein movies," I was only in three of them but I get blamed for all nine." He also said," I get all the fan mail but somebody else gets the check." Each Halloween Boris's resentment grew when the neighborhood kids in Beverly Hills would ask him to go trick or treating.

Karloff's influence was felt in Berkshire, Englan during the making of Hammer Film's The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957). Fearing that any resemblance to the Universal's Monster would cause a lawsuit, make-up artist Philip Leakey worked hard to make Christopher Lee's creature gruesome and unique. Former cavalryman Lee became so angry at Leakey's painful experiments on his face; he threatened to run the cosmetic expert through with his sword. The fearful make-up man disappeared for several days delaying filming. Later a calmer Lee lamented to his co-star Peter Cushing who played Baron Frankenstein," Playing the creature is horrid. I have no lines." "You're lucky. I've read the script." replied Cushing. The film was horribly reviewed and highly profitable.

The film that most historians consider the worst ever made includes flying saucers hanging from strings, wiggling tombstones, and day scenes suddenly turning into night. It was originally called Grave Robbers From Outer Space but the Baptist ministers who financed it objected to that title, so director Ed Wood changed it to Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959), never explaining what the first eight plans were. Four days before shooting began the film's intended star, the morphine addicted Bela Lugosi passed away due to a heart attack. He was replaced by Wood's wife's chiropractor, who was considerably taller and disguised his appearance by holding a cape over his face.

Being mistaken for others was nothing new for Lugosi. Forgotten by Hollywood producers (some who thought he had died years before) the temperamental Hungarian thespian had scraped by in the early fifties by doing one man shows as Dracula. One night he was strolling through a small town when a young boy eagerly approached him with an autograph pad. "You see," he told a companion. "They know me everywhere." He took the pad from the boy then hesitated before signing. "And what is my name young man?" Without missing a beat the kid said," Boris Karloff."

Special effects in low budget horror films often take very creative turns. In The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) director Jack Arnold was stumped as how to show the effect of giant rain drops falling around his protagonist, played by Grant Williams. Then he remembered as a kid dropping water balloons out of his third story apartment building window and the impact they made when missed their intended target and hit the sidewalk. Arnold gathered the crew around and said," Anybody here got a condom?"

There was nervous laughter. "It's for an experiment for the movie. Come on you guys." Reluctantly, one of the men reached into his pocket. Filling the contraceptive with water and dropping it worked perfectly on film. A few days later a female bean counter from Universal's front office approached Arnold.

"I was looking over the budget and was struck by all the contraceptives you purchased. That's an unusual expense."

Arnold said," Well everyone on the film has done such a great job I thought I would reward them with a big party."

"Oh I- I see," replied the flustered woman. "Well. Carry on then."



Stephen Schochet is the author of the upcoming book

Hollywood Stories: Short Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies. He is also the author of two acclaimed audiobooks

Tales of Hollywood: Hear the Origins of Hollywood!


Fascinating Walt Disney: Hear How Walt Disney's Dreams Came True!

These entertaining gift items are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 1-800-431-1579 or wherever books are sold.

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