Low Budget Horror StoriesWritten by Stephen Schochet
Filmmakers have found horror genre to be a potentially low budget, high profit way of breaking into business. Standing in a long line at a hardware store, Tobe Hooper imagined taking a chainsaw off wall and cutting his way to 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 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 overspending Orson Welles) by producing highly profitable Cat People (1944), keeping budget way down by showing shadows rather than cats.
Low budgets can mean small paydays to horror actors. Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle became disenchanted by movie stars demands for perks and high salaries. Horror movies were an antidote, if Invisible Man or Mummy demanded too much you could hire someone else and public wouldn't know difference. One casualty was Boris Karloff who endured having make-up applied by Jack Pierce for four hours a day to play Frankenstein's Monster. Although he loved creature Karloff, who founded screen actors union, complained publicly about Frankenstein movies," I was only in three of them but I get blamed for all nine." He also said," I get all fan mail but somebody else gets check." Each Halloween Boris's resentment grew when neighborhood kids in Beverly Hills would ask him to go trick or treating.
Karloff's influence was felt in Berkshire, England during making of Hammer Film's The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957). Fearing that any resemblance to 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 him through with his sword. The 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 creature is horrid. I have no lines." "You're lucky. I've read script." replied Cushing. The film was horribly reviewed and highly profitable.
Who Lives In The Star Wars Galaxy? Written by Stephen Schochet
It's hard to say where old Hollywood ended and new Hollywood began. People in industry don't think of themselves as making history, they are just going to work. But day in 1967 that Jack Warner cleaned out his desk at Warner Bros. studio, George Lucas and Frances Ford Coppola arrived on lot.
The two young filmmakers were very different in demeanor. Coppola a legend at UCLA film school was 27, a loud boisterous mixture of mogul and marxist, who prided himself in dressing like Fidel Castro. He impressed film executives at first with his bravado, but later would upset them with his reckless overspending. Five years younger, Lucas, who went to USC, was quiet and introspective. The only guys at Warners who were below 30 and wore beards, they hit it off instantly with Coppola taking mentor role. Lucas had made a thirteen minute science fiction film project called THX 1138, a dark look at a computer controlled future. Coppola convinced his protégé to extend it into a full-length film and talked Warner Bros. into financing it.
Over next few months wily Coppola played both sides. "I'm telling you this kid Lucas is making a great film." Coppola told Warner brass. "Don't put pressure on yourself, they don't expect anything," He reassured Lucas. When they saw completed THX 1138 Suits were furious. "Francis what is this?" "I don't know, I've never seen it." replied bewildered producer. To Lucas's dismay studio cut out parts from THX 1138 before they released it. "They're cutting fingers off my baby."
THX failed at box office and Coppola was held financially liable for $300,000, but two filmmakers were given another chance to make a low budget movie at Universal. Impressed by success of Easy Rider (1969) old guard at studio was reaching out to new talent, once again Coppola would produce and Lucas would direct. Lucas was encouraged by his wife Marsha to make second project more positive. At USC he had studied anthropology learning that American male has a unique mating ritual, he drives around in cars trying to pick up girls. Lucas combined this observation, with his own love of classic cars, his small town upbringing in Modesto, CA and his appreciation for top 40 songs played on radio by disc jockeys like Wolfman Jack. The result: American Graffiti.