Horror History: James Carreras

jamescarrerasJames Carreras
Born Jan. 30th 1910 – Died June 9th, 1990

James Carreras was the son of Enriqué Carreras, who along with William Hinds, would form the company that would later evolve into Hammer Films. First starting just as a distribution company, they figured instead of buying other films to distribute, they could make their own films and distribute them, cutting out the middle man. Then Hammer Films was born. James Carreras would be the head of that division until he retired.

The great thing about Carreras was that he knew little about the actual making of films. He left that up to the people who knew what they were doing. But he did how to sell the movies. In fact, he was known for selling a movie before a script was even written! They would come up with a title, create a poster, and sell the movie on that alone. Then it was up to the screenwriter to whip up a story and go from there. And it worked. A lot.

Carreras’ policy was about as simple as you could get: make films that are guaranteed to make a profit. In those days, with these smaller film companies, sometimes your financing on the next film would rest on how well your last one did at the box office. And this is something that Carreras seemed to excel at. He was always bringing in fresh female faces to appear in their newest films. Starting the trend that would become known as Hammer Glamour. Again, he knew what would sell.

He was the head of the company until 1971, when he gave control over to his son, Michael.

Horror History: Amando de Ossorio

blinddeadAmando de Ossorio
Born April 6th, 1918 – Died Jan. 13th, 2001

With the recent announcement that Synapse Films is working on a new restoration of the original Tombs of the Blind Dead (1970), we thought it would be a great time to pay a little tribute to the creator of our favorite undead Templars, filmmaker Amando de Ossorio.

While he started as a journalist and producing radio dramas, once he got into the film business, it was making short films and documentaries. He started making feature films but it was in 1969 when he directed his first horror film, Malenka (aka Fangs of the Living Dead) which was a little cheesy but still had some great atmosphere. But it was the following year when he created his legacy, when he wrote and directed La noche del terror ciego, better known as Tombs of the Blind Dead (1970). Keep in mind, this was only a couple of years after George Romero set loose his flesh eating zombies unto the world, before Ossorio released his undead Templars that were feasting on the blood of their victims. With a unique twist on zombies and vampires, he gave us something that is still remembered and celebrated six decades later. Continue reading

Horror History: Morris Ankrum

Morris AnkrumMorris Ankrum
Born Aug. 28th, 1897 – Died Sept. 2nd, 1964

Now this is a guy that needs a little more attention. He is one of these character actors that was never a big star but appeared in so many of our favorite films, such as, of course, The Giant Claw (1957)! But you can also see him in Rocketship X-M (1950), Invaders from Mars (1953), Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), and even in Bert I. Gordon’s Beginning of the End (1957).

He actually was an attorney and even an economics professor before he was bitten by the acting bug and joined the theater. It was in the ’30s when he started appearing in movies, appearing in close to 300 movies and TV shows before he passed away. He was usually showing up as a military officer of some type, someone of authority, not to mention in more than a few westerns.

So when the next time you’re watching some old sci-fi/horror flick, see if old Mr. Ankrum doesn’t show up somewhere!

Horror History: Jeff Morrow

Jeff MorrowJeff Morrow
Born Jan. 13th, 1907 – Died Dec. 26th, 1996

Mr. Morrow is another one of these actors that had a pretty active career, is really known for a few films, for better or for worse. Granted, to be remembered at all, well… isn’t that the most important part?

Morrow started working on the stage by the time he was 20 years old, and didn’t make his movie debut until 1953 in the biblical epic Robe. But it is appearances in the Sci-Fi and horror genre in the ’50s that we are going to remember him. From the Sci-Fi epic This Island Earth (1955), to The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), Kronos (1957), and of course, The Giant Claw (1957). In the ’70s, while working as a commercial illustrator, he occasionally appeared in different projects, including a few low budget horror films like Will to Die and Octaman (both 1971). He also appeared in a lot of different TV series throughout his career.

The real beauty of Morrow was that he could play both sides of the coin, from the hero in The Giant Claw or the bad guy in Creature Walks Among Us, and he was always entertaining on both sides. While he may not have liked the fact that some of us still (fondly) remember him from the giant bird movie from outer space, saying he had never been “so embarrassed in my whole life”, I still get a kick out of watching it, and his performance.

Horror History: Sam Katzman

Sam KatzmanSam Katzman
Born July 7th, 1901 – Died Aug. 4th, 1973

Katzman was known as one of those B-movie producers, usually taking pennies to get films made. But how could that be considered bad, if he stayed in business for almost 40 years. And during that time, he produced 241 films. That averages out to 6 films a year, but early on, such in 1953, he produced 17 films! Okay, so most of them may have not been memorable, but when he worked in the sci-fi / horror genre, I think they were. Especially one particular title, The Giant Claw (1957).

He is the man responsible for instead of paying the money for someone like Ray Harryhausen to create the title creature, he spent a rumored $50 to some guys down in Mexico. You could barely tell by the end result, can you?

Besides that epic, he also produced genre films like It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956), The Werewolf (1956), The Night the World Exploded (1957), and Zombies of Mora Tau.

So while he might not have made the right choices all of the time, the choices that he did make are probably one of the reasons we’re still talking about him today.

Horror History: Mara Corday

Mara CordayMara Corday
Born Jan. 3rd, 1930

There are some actors and actresses that only make a handful of genre pictures, but make such a strong impression that we always remember them. Mara Corday is one of them. If she would have kept acting longer, instead of deciding to take care of her growing family, maybe we might have seen her in a few more. But it didn’t sound like her marriage to actor Richard Long was the easiest, so maybe it was better not to compete in the business.

But she did make a few genre pictures within a couple of years that I’ve always remembered her from. The first one was Jack Arnold’s Tarantula (1955), where she met a young actor who she became good friends with. His name was Clint Eastwood. In fact, they remained such good friends, that after her husband died, Eastwood would give her little bit parts in his films, such as The Gauntlet (1977) or Sudden Impact (1983).

She would appear in The Black Scorpion in 1957, with Richard Denning, but it was the other film she made that same year is one that I am most fond of, those she probably isn’t. It is The Giant Claw! Granted, she, along with the rest of the actors, never saw the title terror until it was already out. 

Corday even appeared in Playboy magazine as Playmate of the Month in Oct. 1958, but this was when they didn’t appear nude. But it is shame that we didn’t see more of her on the big screen, since she was a talented actress.

Horror History: Fred F. Sears

Fred F. SearsFred F. Sears
Born July 7th, 1913 – Died Nov. 30th, 1957

Being a director back in the ’50s is nothing like it is today. These days, a director can make one film every 5 or 6 years and still be considered a working director! But take a guy like Fred F. Sears, who’s directing career only lasted 10 years before dying of a heart attack in 1957. But during that decade, he cranked out over 50 features. So yeah, that’s averaging 5 pictures a YEAR!

He started his career on stage in regional theater, working as an actor, director, and producer. He was hired by Columbia pictures as a dialogue director, before moving into being a director. He always stayed with Columbia, working a lot with b-movie producer Sam Katzman. Together, they made films in just about every genre, from rock musicals, action thrillers, juvenile-delinquent pictures, and of course, the sci-fi flicks. He directed films like The Werewolf (1956), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1957), with the incredible effects by Ray Harryhausen. And of course, that same year, he directed The Giant Claw. While some might consider that film a failure, to me, because we’re still talking about it, I would say that one is a big success! But that’s just me.