Friday, January 29, 2010

Blame it on Sir Graves Ghastly!

At 4:30pm Saturday January 31st 1976 the Sci-Fi classic B-Movie ROBOT MONSTER was shown on WJBK Television Channel 2 Detroit on a program called Sir Graves Ghastly Presents.

This was the incept date of my interest in Horror/Sci-Fi fusion. I had been a horror fan and a science fiction fan for a long long time but up until this point I had generally regarded them as separate interests. I loved the Saturday afternoon horror movies for years and especially made sure to tune in to Sir Graves Ghastly Presents when he had Sci-Fi movies on. I just could not get enough rockets and robots. The first time I saw ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS was on Sir Graves. (No robots or zombies but Mona the monkey was adorable) There were countless presentations of Frankenstein (The King of all Robot Zombies) and Mummy movies (yes mummies are zombies, they can also be robots, especially if they are compelled to obey your every command). But I had not really put Horror and Sci-Fi together until ROBOT MONSTER.

The thing about ROBOT MONSTER is that it jelled my movie making philosophy for me. It was a very very low budget movie and it did not try to hide it. The mere fact that there was no money for a robot costume affected the title of the movie itself. They could not get a robot costume but…they knew a guy with a really really good gorilla suit. To survive in low budget filmmaking you have to take what you can get, and when you get an opportunity to get something as high a quality as that gorilla suit, you adapt! You got a quality gorilla suit? Well if we put a space helmet on it with TV antennas…well that could be a robot right? Behind the faceplate of the space helmet the guy looked like he was wearing a nylon stocking to distort his features. In the poster work this was almost always portrayed as a skull inside the helmet. (As far as I’m concerned living skulls and skeletons count as zombies, so this ROBOT MONSTER definitely paves the path towards Robot Zombie Things). I couldn’t understand why they had the “Billion Bubble Machine” in Ro-Man’s hideout, it just seemed silly to me. Years later I had learned that ROBOT MONSTER was originally a 3-D movie. Ahhhh! Now it makes sense. As silly as the bubbles seemed on the small television screen, in its intended presentation, that being in a theater on a large screen with 3-D glasses on, those billion inexpensive bubbles were undoubtedly an added value to the low budget production. Take what you can get and put it to the best use that you can.

For a little added perspective, in 1976 I turned 15 years old and was starting to play around with my fathers Super-8 home movie camera. (A Bell & Howell AUTOLOAD Model 441) Man did I put that camera through its paces ( I’ll save that subject for a future blog.) Starlog Magazine would come out in August of that year which was the first fanzine to give a glimpse into the behind the scene workings of Sci-Fi movies.

One of my first animations was a sort of “Maze” of small white three dimensional blocks on a dark background. A slightly larger white box moved along the “Maze” chomping up all the blocks until they were all gone. This was a matter of taking what you can get. I did not plan it or prep for it. I just looked around me to see what was available and went from there. There was a box of small white building blocks, I just had to ask myself how these could be used for an animation. So I laid them out in a “Maze” and noticed that some of them were hidden under the overturned box. It was not much of a leap to imagined the box eating the blocks, and there it was. A low budget movie improvised and shot on the last quarter of the roll of film in my fathers’ home movie camera. I have to tell you it was kind of weird when Pacman came out four years later and I say that my “Maze” was laid out fairly similarly to the videogame maze and that the action was just like what was in my little home movie.

Star Wars came out a year later, so needless to say I found a new way to spend my Saturday afternoons, learning to make movies. I’m one of those people whose life was completely changed by Star Wars. I could not believe all the things that could be done in a movie with special effects. I had decided that I wanted to be one of these Special Effects Movie guys. I’d spent every dime I had (and some that I didn’t) buying every Star Wars toy and model kit that came out just to recreate my favorite scenes from the movie in miniature. (Yes, I was seduced by the Dark Side. Purchasing all those toys was the complete opposite of my low budget philosophy. And as they say “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.) Sadly, I was too busy with my Star Wars project to catch ol’ Sir Graves Ghastly anymore. I missed a lot of good “Bad” movies. But soon ONTV and Home Videos would bring bad “Bad” movies into my life and I learned what I was really missing. (Ever hear of I WAS A ZOMBIE FOR THE F.B.I.)