Horror History: Les Bowie

lewbowieLes Bowie
Born Nov. 10th, 1913 – Died Jan. 1979

Bowie was one of the men responsible for making Hammer Films, as well as plenty of other films, look as good as they did. While he did work on a varying type of special effects, he was mainly known for working on matte paintings and models. A lot of the shots in the films where you see a mountainous landscape was due to Bowie. The first film he worked on for Hammer was The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), where he created the title monster. But he also worked on some of their classics like Horror of Dracula (1958), Plague of the Zombies (1966), and many more films.

He also worked on the original Superman (1978) movie, where he would eventually win both an Oscar and a BAFTA for his work. Unfortunately, he passed away on the same night that the rest of the team that worked on the special effects for that movie had won. So he never knew.

Bowie’s work was one of those little things in the movie that might only be shown on screen for a few seconds, but really made an impact on the look of the movie. So that is the reason that he needs to be remembered for the hard work that he would go through, for very little money, for something that is only glimpsed at.

Horror History: James Bernard

James Bernard2James Bernard
Born: Sept. 20th, 1925 – Died: July 12th, 2001

There are some composers that make a cinematic impact, just as much as an actor or director. James Bernard is one of them. The music he created for films, especially the ones he did for Hammer Films, became part of the movie’s unique look and feel. When the music started, you knew you were watching a Hammer picture, just from the sound of it. It was always able to grab your attention and never let go.

His score for Horror of Dracula (1958) will be remembered as one of the greatest opening titles ever known to fans of cinematic music. It is still as powerful today as it was then. But he also created music for films like Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The House of the Baskervilles (1959), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), as well as the first two Quatermass films.

Most composers are hidden figures in the movie world, with only a few making a name where film fans would actually recognize. When it comes to horror fans, Bernard’s name is right up there at the tope. Thankfully a lot of his work has been archived on CD so we can still enjoy it, as well as fans to come. Truly a great and talented man.

Horror History: Whit Bissell

whitbissellWhit Bissell
Born Oct. 25th, 1909 – Died Mar. 5th, 1996

While I may have seen Bissell in something else, the first movie that I remember him from was from one of my favorites, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957). Not only was this a very different take on the classic Frankenstein story I knew, Bissell’s character truly was an evil S.O.B.!

After Teenage Frankenstein, I would see him everywhere, from other films to a ton of different TV appearances. His IMDB list 300 credits! He started his acting career in 1940, appearing in several titles though uncredited. He appeared in titles like Lost Continent (1951), Target Earth and Creature from the Black Lagoon (both in 1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), and in both the original 1960 version of The Time Machine as well as the 1978 version.

Bissell, with a very distinct voice, often used as an authority figure because of it, was an actor that always was on mark. He could go over the top if needed, or just be a quiet character on the side. But anytime we seen him on screen, it always brought a smile to our face. Outside of being a working actor, he served on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors for 18 years. So the next time you’re watching an old B&W sci-fi or horror film, and this guy’s face pops up, now you’ll know just who he is.

Horror History: Edward L. Cahn

edwardLcahnEdward L. Cahn
Born Feb. 12th, 1899 – Died Aug. 25th, 1963

Cahn started his career as an apprentice film editor but then quickly moved into directing. He started out directing a lot of westerns, crime dramas, and comedies, mainly Our Gang titles. But in the mid ’50s, when sci-fi pictures were starting to really take off, Cahn started working in that genre and made quite a few of them in a very short time. In fact, by today’s standards, Cahn might not be considered a great director, but he was quick and efficient, which is a very good trait to have when working on the world of low budget B-movies. But even those his budgets were low and time was short, the titles he made are still entertaining, even making a few classics while at it.

In his 31 years as a director, he credited with 125 films. That is 4 films a year average, with some years he was make 10! Imagine one of today’s directors trying to accomplish something like that. In those days, time was money. It was crank out the current picture and then quickly onto the next. Though even though that was the attitude, Cahn still put some quality in them.

During those years, he did make some great fun flicks, usually ones with some memorable titles. Such as Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Curse of the Faceless Man (1958), or The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959). Of course, probably his most famous film is the 1958 film that would go on to inspire Ridley Scott’s Alien, which would be It! Terror from Beyond Space.

So if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi/horror film for a Saturday afternoon, look up some of Cahn’s work. I think you’ll find yourself being entertained.

Horror History: Les Baxter

lesbaxterLes Baxter
Born March 14th, 1922 – Died January. 15th, 1996

Baxter was a composer that started in the film business in the early ’50s cranking out score after score in record time. In his career, he has score more than 120 films, with 15 titles in 1957 alone! He worked in many different genres, but for us horror fans, we remember him from his work that he did for AIP, especially the Roger Corman / Edgar Allan Poe films. He also re-scored a lot of foreign films that were being picked up and released here in the states, such as Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963), or even titles like Reptilicus (1961)

Baxter started his musical career at a very young age, learning the piano at the age of 5. In his early 20’s, he joined Mel Torme’s band, worked on radio shows including Bob Hope’s show, and even had a hit record in the 50’s.

But it is for his film scores that I learned of his name. Since these movies will always live on for fans like us, so will his music. Baxter always gave us something different and unique that always highlighted the film even more.

Horror History: Bob Cobert

bobcobertBob Cobert
Born Oct. 26th, 1924

If you were a fan of Dan Curtis and his early TV work, then you are well aware of the work of Bob Cobert, even if you don’t recognize the name. He is probably best known for working on the famous Curtis TV series Dark Shadows, that ran from 1967 to 1971. He also worked on the two feature films based on the series, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971), as well as the 1991 revival. But he also did a ton of different made-for-TV shows in the early ’70s with Curtis. Titles like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968), The Night Stalker (1972), The Night Strangler (1973), The Norliss Tapes (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Dracula (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Burnt Offerings (1976), and so many more.

Working outside of the horror genre, he also composed the music for Curtis’ war epics The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1988), as well creating his fair share of game show themes!

Cobert’s music had its own unique style that was recognizable, memorable, and always added to what we were watching on screen. Those films and shows would definitely had lost something without had it not been for his music.

Horror History: John Chambers

 john chambers 2John Chambers
Born: Sept. 12, 1923  Died: Aug. 25th, 2001

All horror fans know the names of Dick Smith, Tom Savini, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and quite a few others that became famous in the 70’s and 80’s. But what about John Chambers?

Chambers is probably best known for his creation of the makeup effects used to turn Roddy McDowell and other actors into ape-creatures in The Planet of the Apes.  He also worked on horror films like SSSSSSS (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), and even Halloween II (1981). This is the man responsible for creating Spock’s ears for the original TV pilot! He was such a talented and creative artists that he won an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards in 1969. He was also the first makeup artist to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But if that wasn’t enough, he also did a few things that shows not only his talent, but his humanity. Even before getting into movies, he worked at the Veteran’s Hospital creating prosthetic limbs for wounded soldiers. He also created other artificial parts, like noses, ears, and some entire faces, to help those soldiers who came back scared or deformed by the horrors of combat.

Plus, there was this little thing he did when he worked with the CIA as a contractor, first helping agents develop their own “disguise kits”, but then later in 1980, he was enlisted by the CIA to help with the rescue of six American embassy personnel who were hiding in the residence of the Canadian ambassador during the Iran hostage crisis. So they set up a fake movie production, with ads in Variety, big Hollywood parties, and everything, to make a science fiction film called Argo. Starting to sound familiar? The rescue was successful and in 2012, the story was made into a film, starring and directed by Ben Affleck. In the film, Chambers is played by John Goodman.

Just goes to show you that there is much more to some of these guys that were creating monsters and creatures for the movies.