Horror History: Jack Taylor

jacktaylorJack Taylor
Born Oct. 21, 1936

Taylor was always easy to spot, with this glassy blue eyes and usually with a handlebar mustache. While most know him from his work in the Spanish film industry, he is actually American born, starting his acting on TV, appearing alongside Marilyn Monroe on an episode of The Jack Benny Show. He would later move to Mexico, appearing in various stage plays, as well as working the Nostradamus series. This originally was a 12-segment serial that was later combined to make four features, starting with The Curse of Nostradamus (1961), Nostradamus y el destructor de monstruos (aka The Monster Demolisher, 1962), Genii of Darkness (1962), La sangre de Nostradamus (aka The Blood of Nostradamus, 1962). Taylor would appear in the first three films.

He would leave Mexico and head to Spain, where he really made his name, especially in cult cinema, working on ten films with Jesus Franco. He appeared in such titles as Succubus (1968),  Eugenie (1970), playing Quincey in Count Dracula (1970), and  Female Vampire (1973), among many others. He also worked with many other directors who seemed to specialize in the horror genre like Leon Klimovsky’s Orgy of the Vampires (1973), Amando de Ossorio’s Night of the Sorcerers (1973) and the third entry in his Blind Dead series, The Ghost Galleon (1974). He even worked with Paul Naschy in Dr. Jekyll vs the Wolfman (1972) and The Mummy’s Revenge (1974). One of his more notable appearances is alongside Johnny Depp in Romain Polanski’s The Ninth Gate (1999).

He has always been a favorite of mine, bringing a smile to my face when I see his name in the credits. He always delivered a fun performance, no matter the budget or quality of the overall production.

Horror History: Abel Salazar

abelsalazarAbel Salazar
Born: Sept. 24th, 1917  Died: Oct. 21st, 1995

In the world of the Mexican horror genre, Salazar was the equivalent to someone like Peter Cushing or Vincent Price. Okay, maybe he didn’t have the same acting chops as Cushing and Price, but he loved these films and not only appearing in quite a few of them, he also was the producer of many of them.

In the late ’50s and ’60s, he appeared in films like El vampiro (aka The Vampire, 1957), El ataúd del Vampiro (aka The Vampire’s Coffin, 1958), Misterios de ultratumba (aka The Black Pit of Dr. M, 1958), and my personal favorite, La maldición de la Llorona (aka The Curse of the Crying Woman, 1963). One of the most famous titles, though usually because it is laughed at, is El barón del terror (aka The Brainiac, 1962), which he starred as the title creature!

While some may consider these films a little silly, especially The Brainiac, most are filled with so much atmosphere and creepy sets, that if you’re a fan of the old Universal classics, I think you’ll love these as well.

Horror History: Gale Sondergaard

Gale SondergaardGale Sondergaard
Born Feb. 15th, 1900 – Died Aug. 14th, 1985

This is an actress that only appeared in a handful of horror film titles, but was known to be one of the character actress that audiences love to hate. She tended to play wicked and evil characters that she actually enjoyed playing. In an interview in 1974, she said about the characters she’s known for were “usually more colorful than the hero and, from an acting standpoint, more fun to play.” So wicked in fact, that she was actually cast to play the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, but turned it down when it was decided to make the character more ugly and scary than originally planned as a beautiful witch like in a Disney film. She was also the very first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, in the film Anthony Adverse (1936), which also happened to be her screen debut.

As for her horror roles,  you can find her in such titles as The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Black Cat (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), and The Climax (1944).

The real horror in her life was when she was blacklisted during the McCarthy “Red Scare” in Hollywood because she refused to testify and give names. She didn’t work for 20 years because of it. It really is a shame what we missed during those two decades when nobody would hire her.

Horror History: Richard Johnson

Richard JohnsonRichard Johnson
Born July 30th, 1927 – Died June 5th, 2015

Two of my all time favorite films: Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), which are about as two different films that you could get. And this man, Richard Johnson, stars in both of them. I think I actually saw The Haunting on television one night at my future wife’s house, watching it with her and her mom, amazed at how creepy this old black and white film was. Then finding out that this suave and distinguished gentleman was also the same actor who played Dr. Menard in one of the greatest zombie films ever committed to film! Boggles the mind. 

While Johnson had attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, performing with John Gielgud’s company before joining the navy in 1945. After the war, he was back to acting before making his film debut in the early ’50s. He was actually offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No, before Sean Connery, but turned it down because he didn’t want to be stuck in a 7-year contract! While he really didn’t appear in a ton of horror films, half-dozen or so that he did appear in, he was always memorable and entertaining. Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, some of my favorites of his work are Beyond the Door (1974) and Island of the Fishmen (1979), but there are a few more gems in there for you to do a little research on if you’re not entirely sure of Johnson’s other work.

Horror History: Nathan Juran

nathanjuranNathan Juran
Born Sept. 1st, 1907 – Died Oct. 23rd, 2002

Juran’s first career was that of an architect before he got into the film business as an art director. This career choice won him an Oscar for How Green Was My Valley (1941) and another nomination for The Razor’s Edge (1946), working on several other films before he made his move into the director’s chair. His directorial debut was for The Black Castle (1952), staring Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff. He would go on to direct some great films in the sci-fi horror genre in the ’50s, such as The Deadly Mantis (1957), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Of course, there were some films that didn’t get the praise that one would hope, like The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). At least from the critics back then. If they weren’t entertaining, fans wouldn’t still be watching them and talking about them and keeping them alive.

After working in film, he moved to television and worked on several series, like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, and a few more.

While Juran thought of filmmaking in the sense of a business as oppose to having a passion for it, when looking at some of the great films that he help create, it didn’t matter what the reasoning behind why he was making them. We will just be forever grateful for the work that he did give us.

Horror History: Germán Robles

roblesGermán Robles
Born March 20th, 1929 – Died Nov. 21st, 2015

Robles became a star after appearing as the Count Duval, in his first feature film, El Vampiro, in 1957. And that was even a last minute decision. Back in the ’50s, producer Abel Salazar was all set to start his new vampire film with another actor already cast as the Count, one that had already an established name. But when he thought back to the Universal pictures, like Dracula and Frankenstein, where both featured a monster played by a relatively unknown name, he decided to follow that same route. So he went to see a play and found Robles on stage and thought he would make a great vampire and hired him on the spot. Robles would go on to play Count Duval in the sequel El ataúd del Vampiro, aka The Vampire’s Coffin, in 1958.

While he would appear in a few other Mexican horror films, like the cult classic The Brainiac (1962) and the Nostradamus series, he continued to work in film and on the stage. But it is because of his performance in these early Mexican horror films, that had such amazing atmosphere and style back then, that he needs to be remembered. While we all know Lugosi and Lee, Robles’ name should be up there as well, since he gives us a splendid performance as the Count. Lucky for us, these movies are both available, so do yourself a favor and seek them out.

Horror History: Luciano Pigozzi

luciano pigozziLuciano Pigozzi
Born Jan. 10th, 1927 – Died June 14th, 2008

Sometimes referred as the “Italian Peter Lorre”, Pigozzi is more like the Italian Michael Ripper, because if you watch any amount of Italian films, whether it be westerns, horror, giallo, or any type of exploitation films, you will probably see Pigozzi in there somewhere. And like both Ripper and Lorre, he was always entertaining to see on screen.

Appearing in more than 100 films, sometimes billed under the name Alan Collins, one of his first genre roles was in the 1961 film Lycanthropus, which was re-titled under the more exploitive title Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory. But he can also be seen in several of Mario Bava’s films, such as The Whip and the Body (1963), Blood and Black Lace (1964), and Baron Blood (1972), as well as plenty of titles from director Antonio Margheriti, who he was good friends with. He also appeared in some of the more cheesy Italian fare, such as Yor, The Hunter from the Future (1982) and Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983).

So the next time you’re watching an older Italian film, keep an eye out in the opening credits for Pigozzi (or Collins), or look for that wonderful and easily recognizable face. Then you can impress your fellow movie friends by shouting out “Hey! That’s Luciano Pigozzi!”