Horror History: Stelvio Cipriani

stelviociprianiStelvio Cipriani
Born Aug. 20th, 1937 – Died Oct. 1st, 2018

For some reason this name might not be that familiar (which is a shame), but if you’re a fan of Italian movies, then you’ve most likely heard his work. Cipriani is a composer that has written music for over 200 films. Working in many different genres, he created his share of horror film scores. He worked with Mario Bava on quite a few films, such as A Bay of Blood (1971), Baron Blood (1972) and would later score Rabid Dogs (1974). He also did the music for Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremony (1972), Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks on High Heels (1971), as well as films like Tentacles (1977), The Great Alligator (1979), Nightmare City (1980), Piranha 2 (1981), and a few more.

When he scored Tentacles , he re-used the main theme from one of his earlier movies, La Polizia sta a Guardare (1973), which apparently a young filmmaker named Taratino liked the film so much that he used it in this film Death Proof (2007).

With all the great Italian films out there, the music is usually very effective as well as important to the whole feel of the movie experience. That is why these hard working composers, like Cipriani need to be noticed and remembered.

Horror History: Alberto Dalbés

albertodalbesAlberto Dalbés
Born Apr. 3rd, 1922 – Died Sept. 14th, 1983

Spanish horror from the early ’70s, especially that of Jess Franco’s work, probably have seen Dalbés’ face at some point. For me, I first became aware of him from appearing as the mad doctor in Paul Naschy’s The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973). He really was fun to watch there, playing a scientist so driven in his plans to create a new life form, that he had no care or whims about other people, even having them killed to be used to feed this beast he was creating. Great stuff.

He made his screen debut in 1943 in a film called Youth Kicks and worked in quite a few movies before moving to Spain, where he continued to appear on screen. He appeared in other genre films like Maniac Mansion and Cut-Throats Nine, both from 1972.

He seemed to work quite a bit with Jess Franco, appearing in quite a few number of his pictures, such as Night of the Assassins (1974), The Demons (1973), Tender and Perverse Emanuelle (1973), Dracula: Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972), The Curse of Frankenstein (1972), and so many more.

So the next time you find yourself watching a Franco film, you just might want to keep your eyes open to see if you don’t see Dalbés come onscreen.

Horror History: Karl Freund

freundKarl Freund
Born Jan. 16th, 1890 – Died May 3rd, 1969

Karl Freund was a German cinematographer that worked with some other top names in the business: Robert Wiene, F.W. Murnau, and Fritz Lang. When he finally made his way over to the states, Universal quickly put him under contract, where he would photograph several of their films, including a few horror films like Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). He would eventually direct a few films, two of them being horror, and both of which have become classics. The first one was The Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff, the second one was Mad Love (1935), starring Peter Lorre. This would be his last film as a director.

Freund went back to being a cameraman, because that is what he knew best. He won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for The Good Earth (1937), nominated again for Blossoms in the Dust (1941), and was given an Oscar in 1955 in the Technical Achievement department for the design and development of a direct reading brightness meter. He eventually went to work in television, specifically on the I Love Lucy show, and helped developed the 3-camera system for filming TV shows, which is still being used today. He also developed a new way of lighting the sitcoms, making them look a lot better than what they had been.

So while he was obviously a very talented cameraman, and gave the industry some amazing technical advances, he also gave us horror fans some great movies to watch, which we still continue to do today!

Horror History: William Gaines

williammgainesWilliam Gaines
Born: March 1st, 1922  Died: June 3rd, 1992

Gaines created Mad Magazine in 1955 and published and oversaw until his death in 1992. Why am I mentioning this magazine on a horror website? Because before Mad Magazine, there was E.C. Comics, which published titles like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and a few more interesting titles. Gaines had taken over the company that his father started when he passed away in 1947. Gaines started to delved into more serious subject matters and into scary stories. Each issue featured murder, vampires, zombies, and other strange things. But there were messages in there and those that wrong people, always got what was coming to them. Even though he lost, the fight that Gaines gave is one that all supporters of free speech should be proud of. It ended with a ratings being developed with certain restrictions, such as not being able to use certain words in your comic titles… such as Horror, or Fear, or Terror, which pretty much put an end to Gaines horror comics. Continue reading

Horror History: Richard E. Cunha

Richard E. CunhaRichard E. Cunha
Born March 4th, 1922 – Died Sept. 18th, 2005

While some of the directors that worked in the low budget film markets might not have their names remembered, the movies they created usually are more than remembered. Mr. Cunha is one of those. During WWII, he served as an aerial photographer, later making training films, newsreels, and even documentaries, which is where he learned his craft. Once he got to Hollywood, he worked on a few films that would cement his name in horror history.

Keep in mind, he made these four features which were all released by Astor Pictures, in 1958. Pretty amazing when you think how long it takes to make feature films today. Cunha told Mary Baumann in his book The Astounding B-Movie Monster that “these films were made in six 10-hour days and had a lot of fun doing them. These films are: Giant from the Unknown, She Demons, Missile to the Moon, and Frankenstein’s Daughter.

Are these high quality made films? No. But are they entertaining? Damn straight! So the next time you are watching one of these, make sure you give note to the director’s name (not to mention the countless others that worked on it) and give a little acknowledgement to their hard work!

Horror History: Bryan Haliday

Bryan HalidayBryant Haliday
Born April 7th, 1928 – Died July 28th, 1996

If you’re a fan of obscure British horror films, then you might know the name of Bryan Haliday. He appeared in films like Devil Doll (1964), Curse of the Voodoo (1965), The Projected Man (1966), or my personal favorite, Tower of Evil (1972). But if you’re a serious cinephile, then you definitely know something else he was involved in.

Haliday started Harvard with the plan of studying international law, but instead fell in love with acting. In the late ’40s, he was one of the founding members of the Brattle Theatre Company which took residence in an old church, turning it into an actual theater, producing numerous plays there. Later, it was turned into a movie house.

In 1956, along with his partner Cyrus Harvey, they founded Janus Films, which specialized in foreign film distribution, which was later acquired by The Criterion Collection. So if you have a number of Criterion’s DVDs and Blu-rays, I’m sure you’re familiar with Janus Films emblem. Haliday was a huge fan of cinema and really got into film acting just because he enjoyed it so much. The titles he appeared in weren’t going to win any Academy accolades, but he enjoyed them. And so did we!

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.