Horror History: Lionel Atwill

lionel atwillLionel Atwill
Born: Mar. 1st, 1885  Died: Apr. 22nd, 1946

If you are a fan of the old Universal classics, then you’ve seen Lionel Atwill. But it seems that younger fans today might now know him other than “that guy from the Universal films”. It’s really unfortunate too since Atwill was wonderfully talented at playing intelligent and authoritative figures. Granted, some of them were mad as a hatter, but that’s beside the point. Then again, that is where he seemed to excel!

Atwill could carry the lead in films, such as the original Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Vampire Bat (both 1933), but could also make the same impact when he was playing supporting roles in films like Man Made Monster (1941) or Son of Frankenstein (1939). He was always memorable with his distinct voice and glare, always leaving an impression. My first issue of Famous Monsters magazine featured an article on Man Made Monster, which to this day, remains one of my favorites. Same goes for The Ghost of Frankenstein, that I can still remember watching for the first time on a small 13″ black and white TV and enjoying the hell out of it. And Atwill is one of the reasons on both those examples.

In the early 40’s, he was sentenced to 5 years probation after being found guilty of perjury in a case about a young girl who had been raped at a “wild sex-party”, which was claimed to be at Atwill’s home. He testified that it was not true, which was found to be a lie after others testified. While he did work a little after this scandal, his career was pretty much done. I’m sure there is a lot more to that story as to what really happened, but I’m not sure we’ll ever really know. But he should at least be remembered for the fine work that he did give us.

For a great biography of Atwill, check out Hollywood’s Maddest Doctors, by Gregory William Mank.

Horror History: George Bau

georgebauGeorge Bau
Born Dec. 22nd, 1905, Died in March of 1974

Bau is another name in the movie industry that is pretty much an unknown, which is a damn shame, since if it wasn’t for people like him, we might not have had some of the incredible fantastic cinema that we have today. Back in the late ’30s, Bau was developing and creating new types of make ups, such as foam latex, that would be still used to this day. The stuff that he was inventing at the time was used by Perc Westmore on the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), allowing them to do wonders with Charles Laughton’s makeup. Bau also developed the first plastic bald cap, a method to preserve plaster molds so they could be used more than once, the pressure injection method of inserting foam latex into large size molds, and many more. I’m not trying to take anything away from modern day makeup artists, but these guys back in the beginning of cinematic makeup effects had to create their own methods and ways of making these effects work.

He worked on films such as Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), House of Wax (1953), and even Frankenstein 1970 (1958) to name a few. But without his discoveries and the inventions that he created, the world of monsters might not have looked as good as they did then, or do now. And for that reason alone, he needs to be remembered, and respected.

Horror History: Roy Ward Baker

Roy Ward BakerRoy Ward Baker
Born Dec. 19th, 1916 – Died Oct. 5th, 2010

Fans of British horror films of the ’70s will probably know this man, since between working with Hammer and Amicus, he was cranking out some entertaining films in a very short time. Starting his career at the bottom and working his way up, even as an assistant director on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), he eventually became a director. He hit some critical fame with A Night to Remember (1958), a film about the Titanic, which is still regarded as one of the best films on that subject. His first film for Hammer was the 3rd of their Quatermass series, Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Then in 1970, he made a huge hit with horror fans with The Vampire Lovers (1970), starring the lovely Ingrid Pitt. After that, he continued working with both Hammer and Amicus turning out great films, like Scars of Dracula (1970), Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), Asylum (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), And Now the Screaming Starts (1973), and even The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974).

Baker’s films were simple. They had all the elements to make a great movie, which is what he continually turned out. He has quite a few films in his filmography that some critics might consider cheesy or even bad, but I think horror fans might just call classics, or at the very least, pretty damn entertaining. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Horror History: Roy Ashton

Roy AshtonRoy Ashton
Born April 16th, 1909 – Died Jan. 10th, 1995

You cannot be even the slightest fan of Hammer Films and not have seen the work of Roy Ashton. He started as an assistant makeup artist back in the ’30s, before starting to work with Hammer Studios, where he created some of their most memorable monsters. But Ashton wasn’t just a makeup man, he almost had a career as a musician and opera singer. But the hours of devotion needed to learn the makeup craft pulled him away from his true love of music. He was the assistant makeup man to Phil Leaky for Hammer, who was the man behind the Quatermass films and Curse of Frankenstein. After Leaky and Hammer had a falling out, Ashton became their head makeup man. He created the look for their films like Curse of the Werewolf, The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies, as well as doing Peter Cushing’s zombie makeup for Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt.

It is a real shame that his name is not as common as Rick Baker or Tom Savini, since his work is still watched and enjoyed today by countless horror fans. But hopefully we can do our little part and hopefully change that. For more information on Ashton, there is an excellent book on him called Greasepaint and Gore, which is filled with great stories and plenty of artwork and photos of his work.

Horror History: Richard Jaeckel

jaeckelRichard Jaeckel
Born Oct. 10th, 1926 – Died June 14th, 1997

Jaeckel is one of those actors that you’ve seem to have seen in tons of stuff. Mainly because he has appeared in a lot of both movies and television. And he has “one of those faces” as they say, that seems very familiar. He played in a lot of westerns and military movies, such as The Dirty Dozen. So when you do see him on the screen, it is usually followed by “Hey…it’s THAT guy!”

For us horror fans, Jaeckel has appeared in more than a few classics, such as in William Grefe’s Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), where he using a shark to kill his enemies. He also appeared in two different William Girdler films, the bad smelling character in Grizzly (1976) that is trying to convince people just what they are up against, as well as in The Day of the Animals (1977). No matter what role he appeared in, Jaeckel always turned in a great performance and always kept your attention.

But for me, the best film he appeared in…or my favorite film of is, was actually his first real foray in to the horror genre. And that was with the 1968 Japanese film The Green Slime. Sure, it’s cheesy. But damn is it entertaining.

Horror History: Victor Israel

victorisraelVictor Israel
Born June 13th, 1929 – Died Sept. 19th, 2009

If you’ve watched any Spanish horror films of the ’70s, then I’m pretty sure you’ve seen Victor Israel before. This guy is like the Spanish version of England’s Michael Ripper. Making well over 150 films, he usually was cast as little bit parts, but was always so recognizable, that it would always make you think “hey…I’ve seen that guy before”. He played in several different genres, like appearing alongside Lee Van Cleef in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966). Of course, for us, it was the countless horror movies that he appeared in that had us remembering that face of his. With his pudgy appearance, balding, and strange eyes, he was always easy to spot. It is actors like this, that never make it as a top-billing star, but are the ones that fill out the colorful pallet of the movie, making it so much more interesting to watch. I know that is definitely the case for me when it comes to horror films.

Some of his most noteworthy appearances were in films like The House that Screamed (1969), Graveyard of Horror (1971), Paul Naschy’s Night of the Howling Beast (1975), and of course as the baggage clerk in Horror Express (1972). He even appeared in Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead (1980).

Horror History: Allison Hayes

allisonhayes2Allison Hayes
Born March 6th, 1930 – Died Feb. 27th, 1977

Allison Hayes appeared on quite a few television shows and movies, mainly B-movies, in her short career, but never seemed be able to break into the big time. But because of the films that she did make, cult horror fans have always remembered here. With films like Roger Corman’s The Undead (1957) or The Hypnotic Eye (1960), or probably her most famous, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958), she has made a definitely impact on the horror genre. One that will never be forgotten.

Unfortunately, her life was much more dramatic than the movies she appeared in. The last decade of her life, she was battling severe health issues, even having to walk with a cane. The pain was so bad, there were times that she had even thought of taking her own life. It didn’t help that the doctors didn’t seem to take her symptoms seriously. But after some of her own research, she discovered that the calcium supplements that she had been taken for some time, contained high levels of lead, which was causing her to suffer from lead poisoning. She was later diagnosed with leukemia. But before passing away, she had mounted a campaign to have the FDA ban the import and sale of this supplement that she had been taking, and eventually won in 1976. There are many reasons to remember Allison Hayes. So please do.