HORROR HITS: RICHARD GORDON by Tom Weaver

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What does Producer Richard Gordon mean to you?



 

If you're a fan of classic horror films, you know he's the only living producer to have worked with the genre's most valuable players—Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi—not to mention the black and white beasties in Fiend Without a Face, the First Man into Space, and other 1950s horror movies.



 

If you take your fright flicks on the ghastlier side, you remember his more gory goblins from the Silicates on the Island of Terror, the mad slasher of the Tower of Evil, and the interstellar shocks delivered by Inseminoid.



 

A master of both worlds, Richard Gordon has been a behind-the-scenes titan of terror for over a half-century, collaborating during his years of active production (1956-1981) with some of the field's most formidable stars, such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, and Terence Fisher.

 

Take a film-by-film excursion through his cinematic chamber of horrors in this definitive interview.


Book Points by Laura Wagner

In Tom Weaver's archives there must be long rows of file cabinets that
he regularly packs with material on vintage horror and sci-fi films; and I picture these overfilled cabinets beginning to vibrate and rattle and rumble whenever the build-up of never-published production information and photos becomes too great. The quaking grows in intensity until the only way to ease the pressure and avoid explosion is for him to release some of this material via a new book or two.

BearManor Media may have recently saved us from a detonation when IN ONE DAY they debuted two new Weaver books, one about the 1959 sci-fi movie The Hideous Sun Demon; we may deal with that in a future column. The other is The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon ($24.95, softcover), a book-length interview with the English-born, New York-based producer of the made-in-England fright favorites The Haunted Stranger (1958) and Corridors of Blood (1962) with Boris Karloff, Fiend Without a Face (1958) with Marshall Thompson, Island of Terror (1966) with Peter Cushing, Horror Hospital (1973) with Michael Gough, as well as First Man Into Space (1959), Devil Doll (1964), Curse of the Voodoo (1965), The Projected Man (1966), Naked Evil (1966), Secrets of Sex (1970), Tower of Evil (1972), The Cat and the Canary (1978), and Inseminoid (1981).

Gordon actually wrote the first chapter, a six-page reminiscence about his beginning days as a producer in the mid-1950s when he specialized in low-cost crime movies, starring the likes of Pat O'Brien, Zachary Scott, Wayne Morris, Keefe Brasselle, Richard Denning, Faith Domergue and other imported American actors. There are also contributions by Frederick E. Smith, the writer of the short story on which Devil Doll was based, and Norman Warren, director of Inseminoid, and a humorous intro by Robin Askwith, a supporting player in Gordon's Tower of Evil and the star of his Horror Hospital.

Not only does the book provide the history of Gordon's horror movies, it also makes the reader fully aware of what a producer's job IS: With his hands-on approach to moviemaking, Gordon is in a position to give us a fly-on-the-wall view of the start-to-finish process for each picture: It begins with him securing the rights to existing story material (Fiend Without a Face, Devil Doll, The Cat and the Canary, etc.) or supervising the writing of original scripts, then moves on to financing, casting, lining up locations, serving as on-set peacemaker, all the way to scoring, dealing with censors, promotion, theatrical distribution and sometimes even the movie's decades-later home-video release.

Gordon even talks about some of "the ones that got away"--movies he'd hoped to make but, for one reason or another, couldn't; they include a remake of Karloff's 1933 The Ghoul, new versions of Dracula (with Karloff) and The Most Dangerous Game (with Bryant Haliday), a Karloff-starring filmization of Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," and more.

Gordon is sharp, his memory a thing of wonder; he describes everything thoroughly and often with some humor. Tom has his humorous moments too, of course, although they're not always in the best of taste. For instance, when Gordon mentions that Karloff made his home in the NYC apartment house The Dakota where Rosemary's Baby (1968) was shot, Weaver merrily chimes in, "And where John Lennon was ALSO shot!"

This is definitely not a biography--it's strictly about Gordon's movies, and almost reads as though Gordon's first day on this Earth was the day he started producing his first picture. I assume, since the autobiographies that Tom co-wrote with Robert Clarke and Paul Picerni describe those actors' childhoods, that for this book, the decision to avoid the early years was Gordon's. However, Tom does find sneaky ways to get Gordon to talk about his boyhood: He asks Gordon questions about the movies he saw as a kid, the way they were ballyhooed in England, etc. And thank goodness he does, because raconteur Gordon spins some amusing tales: risking his teenage neck by going into London's seedy Limehouse section once a week for 15 weeks to see the serial The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand in the only local theater running it; trying to find ways to get into theaters showing the Karloff and Lugosi horror classics (rated "For Adults Only" in England at the time); insisting that a theater manager run Busman's Honeymoon (a.k.a., Haunted Honeymoon, 1940) with Robert Montgomery at its scheduled late-night showtime even though he and his brother Alex were the only two people in the theater, etc. He even describes the experience of attending plays starring Tod Slaughter.

Even though Gordon has been featured in several of Tom’s McFarland &
Co. interview books, I don't believe there's much duplication. In a few spots, the reader is advised (via a parenthetical Editor's Note) to read the Gordon interview in a particular McFarland-Weaver book for further discussion of movies on which Gordon was involved but not as producer; for example, Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952) with Bela Lugosi and Svengali (1955) with Hildegarde Neff.

Tom often has more information than he can comfortably squeeze into the text, so here, as in his other books, some of it gets re-routed into the photo captions, which often give us biographical tidbits about the person pictured, the location, additional production information, etc.

Gordon gives a lot of insight into both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi – separately and the way they interacted with each other. In particular, I found Gordon’s comments regarding the way Bela was depicted in Ed Wood (1994) interesting.

However, my favorite this time around is in the Corridors of Blood chapter: a piece of 19th-century artwork depicting Horace Wells, the real-life dentist and anesthesia pioneer upon whom (Tom opines in the caption) Karloff's Jekyll-and-Hyde character in that movie is based. In the captions, Tom also indulges in his usual subtle, sometimes easy-to-miss wordplay; for example, a photo of Gordon in a relaxed pose on the Tower of Evil set next to the large stone statue of a pagan god is called "an idol moment." A Cat and the Canary shot of Carol Lynley in the grip of the monstrous Cat, who wants to steal her inheritance, is described as "a bad heir day." There’s lots of pictures, some familiar, others behind-the-scenes and probably never-before-published.

In addition to being superbly written, this is definitely the best looking book BearManor has ever put out. It is presented in a larger format, the picture quality is stellar, and the layout is classy. A must-must-read.


From MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT magazine, reviewed by Bryan Senn:


"a must-have volume for every fantastique fan's bookshelf"
"wonderful stories of Karloff and Lugosi"
"an excellent overview of Gordon's career"

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