About Herman » Interviews » Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Part 3 of 6
Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Herman Cohen, How to Make a Teenage Dracula
By Tom Weaver
This is part 3 of an interview that was published at HermanCohen.com in 6 parts. This interview originally appeared as a chapter in film historian Tom Weaver's excellent book Attack of the Monster Movie Makers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. 1994) and has been reprinted with the kind permission of the author (thank you, Tom!). For a list of the author's books currently in print, visit the McFarland & Co. web site.
In part three, Tom and Herman discuss the Teenage "sequels" TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, BLOOD OF DRACULA, and HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, and Herman goes into more detail on his relationship with Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff of American International Pictures.
Did you have a multiple picture deal with AIP?
No, it was just picture by picture, I never signed a multiple picture deal. Believe me, if one of my pictures had dropped dead, Jim and his people, which at that time was Sam Arkoff and Joe Moritz and so on, would have said, "Herm, we're not gonna do any more pictures with you!"
Sam Arkoff tells the story that a big Texas exhibitor asked for two new AIP horror pictures on Labor Day, and that I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD OF DRACULA were ready for him by Thanksgiving.
That's true. WEREWOLF did terrific—in fact, the big Interstate circuit in Texas kicked it off and it just did great. I made personal appearances in Dallas and Houston and Austin. Bob O'Donnell [the head of Interstate] said to me, "If we can get another picture like this, I'll give you the Thanksgiving date." So in discussing this with Jim Nicholson, I said, "What if I did I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN?" and Jim said, "Great!" I came up with the original story and got Aben in with me on the screenplay. And then Jim said, "Herm, if you've got a second feature to go back-to-back with FRANKENSTEIN, we'll have the whole program! We won't have to share it with one of the majors." So that's when I came up with BLOOD OF DRACULA, and we shot the two virtually back-to-back. O'Donnell gave us Thanksgiving in the entire circuit, with the kickoff at the Majestic in Dallas.
Herbert L. Strock directed the pair of 'em.
Herb was directing some Ziv TV shows at the time—"Highway Patrols" with Brod Crawford, a West Point show, so on and so forth. He was on the lot and I met him, and I felt that he was a director that I could get along with and work with. He was fast and quick, and that was what we needed—these were budget pictures.
TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN doesn't go over nearly as well as TEENAGE WEREWOLF.
Both FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD OF DRACULA were written and put in front of the camera in only four weeks, in order to make that Thanksgiving date. And there was a shortage of money at the time. So I had to really, really cut down.
So you made TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN very indoorsy to reduce costs.
And BLOOD OF DRACULA, too. Well, we got out of the house a little on BLOOD OF DRACULA—although it was just outside on the lawn [laughs]!
On TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, where did you shoot the scenes with the alligator?
At Ziv, which is where we shot the whole thing. Actually, that's quite a story. We got the alligator from the Buena Park Alligator Farm, and it was an alligator that they had brought in from Texas. There it was owned by a guy that owned a roadside inn in a small town outside of Dallas. He would hire a waitress who had no family, he would swing with her and what have you, and then when he got tired of her, he would throw her in a pool in his basement where he had this alligator! That alligator had killed about seven women! This is a true story! And when I needed an alligator in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, that's the one they sent me!
You shot that conclusion in color, which was very novel.
At that time, I thought that was quite inventive. We couldn't afford to make the picture in color, so I came up with that idea, and I talked Jim Nicholson into letting me spend a few extra bucks.
Did you think Gary Conway did a good job in TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN?
He sure did—he did a very good job. In fact, I changed his name to Gary Conway. His name was Gareth Carmody, and I thought that was just too classy. I sat down with his mother and father, who were schoolteachers who came to meet the producer, and we changed his name to Gary Conway. Again, it was Philip Scheer doing the makeup; it was an appliance, in about four parts.
Do you standby that Frankenstein makeup today, despite all the criticism it's gotten?
[Contemptuously.] Of course! Criticism never bothered me—I couldn't care less. Critics have to write something.
Didn't you ever run into problems with the censors on these older pictures?
Oh, sure we did! There were things that we had to cut out, but I can't recall what they were; it was a give-and-take situation. A wonderful guy named Geoffrey Shurlock used to be the head of the MPAA out here on the West Coast. He was head of it for twenty-five years, and of course everything had to be submitted to him—scripts in advance, and then the rough cuts when the pictures were done. Geoffrey and I became pretty good friends.
Take a look at my pictures. In my horror films, I never went for the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE type of blood and guts and tearing stomachs out and what have you. Most of my horror I did with sound effects and music. You thought you were seeing what you were not seeing.
I thought I saw a smashed and bloody disembodied leg and hand in TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN.
Oh, yes, but that wasn't really horror. I used to tell Geoffrey Shurlock, "Come on, Geoff, I'm doing this in good taste" [laughs], and I sold him on it. I had a lot of fights with his staff, so I always had to finish everything with him directly.
Why doesn't Whit Bissell try for a British accent when he's playing a British Dr. Frankenstein?
Actually, it depends upon the ear of the listener. Even today, when I talk to him at the Motion Picture Home, he sounds English to me. I spent the equivalent of fifteen years in England, and it depends what part of England you're from. He didn't have to talk like a Cockney or like the Royal Family to be "British." In the later pictures that I did with Michael Gough, I would try to have Michael talk "mid-Atlantic," so it wouldn't be too British—even though he was British!
At the end of TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, there are crates in Whit Bissell's lab addressed to One-thirteen Wardour Street, London. Was that an in-joke reference to Hammer Films, which was headquartered there?
No—that was the address of my office, which was in the same building! Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy, who were my partners in England, had the fourth floor at One-thirteen and Hammer had the sixth floor. Jimmy Carreras, the head of Hammer Films, was a wonderful friend of mine.
Six of your films had a teenager manipulated or transformed into a monster by an evil adult. What was it about that formula that you went back to It so often?
I have always felt that most teenagers think that adults—their parents, or their teachers, anyone that was older and that had authority—were the culprits in their lives. I know I felt that way when I was a teenager, and in talking to many teenagers, I found out that that was how they felt. (And even today—it hasn't changed, you know.) And so, in doing pictures primarily for the teenage audience, I thought that this theme would strike them just right.
And in some of your early pictures, you even had the songs and the comedy moments for the teenage audience.
I've always believed that, in making a horror picture, you gotta give the audience something to laugh at before you hit 'em.
BLOOD OF DRACULA was also shot at Ziv.
And also at a house I rented, someplace in Beverly Hills—that was the school in the picture. AIP didn't have its own studios or soundstages. When I did HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, I put up the sign that said AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL STUDIOS over the gate, but that's actually Ziv. In fact [laughs], they left the sign up long after the picture was over, so Jim and Sam would bring people to Ziv all the time, as though it was their studio!
How did you go about rounding up the teenage casts of these movies?
We'd just put a call out to agents, and they submitted various young actors and actresses. I auditioned those that I thought I wanted to audition, and that's how I'd pick the casts. It's the way I pick any cast for any film.
Herbert Strock told me you had reservations about having Sandra Harrison play the lead in BLOOD OF DRACULA.
Well, I didn't have reservations about her originally, 'cause if I did, I wouldn't have signed her as the lead! But she was a pain in the ass once we got started.
When the Film Forum Theater in New York City recently scheduled BLOOD OF DRACULA, she called the theater frantically begging them not to show it.
Once I signed her, she suddenly thought she was Joan Crawford—which she wasn't [laughs]! As far as her acting went, though, she was fine. I wasn't that excited about the picture itself, personally, but it was going to be the second feature to I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN and I had to get it done and get everything ready before Thanksgiving, for the opening in Texas. So I don't take pride in a lot of things that I did with BLOOD OF DRACULA because I had to slam-bang-rush it out.
Louise Lewis was good in BLOOD OF DRACULA, as the evil teacher.
Wasn't she? I had used her earlier as the principal in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF in fact, that's why I used her in BLOOD OF DRACULA, because she was so good in that first small part.
Why did you invoke the Dracula name in the title? Why not I WAS A TEENAGE VAMPIRE?
Because I thought BLOOD OF DRACULA was a damn good title. In fact, Jimmy Carreras tried to get me to change it [laughs]! He called me from London and he said [growling], "How dare you use Dracula! Dracula's my title!" I said, "What do you mean, your title? Did you forget about Universal? How about this picture and that picture? What are you givin' me this shit for, Jim?" [Laughs.]
A two-in-one follow-up to TEENAGE WEREWOLF and TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN was a great idea. Who came up with HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER?
That was completely my idea. Many a night I would leave the studio late, and at that time you didn't have good security like we do now. Now we have so many guards they bump into each other [laughs]! But at that time, studios used to be very dark at night—a light here, a light there. And I thought to myself, "Gee, what a great spot to do a horror film." There were several studios at that time that were being taken over by conglomerates, so I thought that would be a good plot for it. I knocked out the original story and I hired Aben Kandel to do the screenplay with me.
Why Gary Clarke instead of Michael Landon as the TEENAGE WEREWOLF?
I was very pissed off at Landon, because I wanted him to do HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER and he wouldn't. Michael got a lot of teasing for doing TEENAGE WEREWOLF from all the young actors in that period. We had a whole group that used to meet at the Cock 'n' Bull for Sunday brunch: Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Tab Hunter, Edd "Kookie" Byrnes and the gal that married him, Asa Maynor—it was a real fun crowd. Anyway, when TEENAGE WEREWOLF first came out, Michael was ribbed like crazy, because at that time they all wanted to be Serious Actors. When I approached Michael with HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, I certainly felt, for starting his career and getting him all this publicity, that he should have done it for me. And he didn't want to do it! So, like I said, I became pissed off at him at the time. But then, of course, everything got smoothed over; I was at his adopted son Mark's bar mitzvah a couple of years later and everything else.
So Gary Clarke took over as the teenage werewolf.
Gary Clarke had the same slight, thin build as Landon, and the same contour of the head. So Phil Scheer was able to do the same makeup that he did for TEENAGE WEREWOLF on Gary Clarke. Clarke did all right, he was very cooperative, and of course Gary Conway was, too. And Robert H. Harris, who played the crazy makeup artist, was a dream. A marvelous Broadway actor and a wonderful man personally; I wish I had had more things for him to do. I had seen him in a picture where he wore real thick glasses and he was playing a crazy guy who liked to start fires. I said to myself, "Who is that guy?" and I waited for the cast of characters at the end and got his name. And when I was about to do HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, I called him in.
Any anecdotes about the fire scene?
It was tough to do, and we had to do it in one take. Going from black and white to color at the end of TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN had worked so well that I decided to do it again: When Harris takes the two boys into his home in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, I went to color again, from there to the end of the picture, about ten minutes. I thought the flames and the burning of the masks—all of Harris' "children" on the walls—would look better in color, which it did. That ending was talked about by a lot of critics.
Were the two studio executives in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER meant to make Hollywood insiders think of Nicholson and Arkoff?
No. In fact, let me tell you something: I never thought of Sam Arkoff in any way, shape or form in those days. He had nothing to do with the making of the pictures. The fact that I went to AIP was because of my relationship with Jim Nicholson.
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