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02 January, 2010

Junkyardfilms.com’s Moldy Oldie Essay of the Month!: Bobbie Meets an Incredibly Strange Creature…

[Editor’s Note: January marks bookend milestones in the life of director Ray Dennis Steckler. He was born on 25 January, 1938, and died on 7 January, 2009. In honor of both anniversaries, MSTJunkie relates the story of her encounter with the cult favorite.]

It had long been a dream of mine to meet Ray Dennis Steckler, director/writer/star (under the nom de plume of Cash Flagg) of "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.” Finding out that he lived in Las Vegas, I made it my quest to find him... and I did one day in 2004.

His store, Video Exchange, located in a strip mall on the seedier east side of Las Vegas, was unremarkable and made no mention of the proprietor on the sign or door. I assumed I'd probably talk to a clerk who could tell me if RDS would be coming in or, if he wasn't expected, if he could he autograph a tape and mail it to me.

Entering the small shop, I was stunned to find Ray, wearing his trademark gray hooded sweatshirt jacket, sitting at a desk eating a hero sandwich!! So, with my typical calm demeanor, I walked up and said the stupidest thing I could..."You're Ray Dennis Steckler.” Looking up, he said “Yes, I know that.” I shook his hand and said "I'm your biggest fan!” Ray laughed and, putting down his sandwich, said "I've seen bigger. At best, you're a medium.” Inviting me to sit in the worn leather easy chair that took up almost all the available floor space in the memorabilia-filled shop, he and I had a fascinating conversation about his life and his movies.

Ray, then 65, moved to Las Vegas in 1969. Carolyn Brandt, his ex-wife and co-star of many of his movies, also lives in Las Vegas and they see each other often. Recently, she had been feeling depressed, thinking she had no fans left, so he asked her to go with him to a retrospective showing of TISCWSLABMUZ in San Francisco. Her unexpected and unannounced appearance on the stage brought the house down!

They had three children together (all now in their late 30's / early 40’s) and have three grandchildren. Ray had remarried and had two teenage children, three stray cats and three Cocker Spaniels.

When I asked Ray about the possibility of a sequel to TISCWSLABMUZ, he said he'd been approached about 10 years ago by a "major Hollywood studio" who wanted to buy the title but he refused when they declined to give him any creative control or final editing rights over the finished product. He isn't planning to do the sequel himself saying it was "too late.” BTW, the artist who did the poster for "Incredibly Strange Creatures" also did the poster art for "Spartacus.”

Of all his movies, he feels "The Lemon Grove Kids" (1966) is his best work and he watches it at least once a week. (Ray's house and yard were used in the film and he used many of his family members as extras.) He's a big fan of The Dead End Kids films of the 1930's and that influenced his decision to try his hand at silent comedy. He is currently working on a deal to have it released in Europe. I told him my favorite was "Thrill Killers" (1965) and he said "Blood Shack" (1971) was by far more popular...if you based it on sales alone. I bought "Thrill Killers" and the re-release of it "Maniacs on the Loose" which Ray autographed for me. I mentioned (much to my instant embarrassment!) that I owned two of his Cindy Lou Sutter porn movies, "Weekend Cowgirls" and "Red Heat” and he told me that he had only filmed the exterior shots and did the editing for some Iranian porn distributors. He didn't do any of the actual sex scenes. Apparently, he needed the money for another, more "mainstream" movie he was working on.

Ray showed me another tape he had just released "2 Lost Films by Ray Dennis Steckler.” In the 1970's he began filming "Face of Evil" but the star of the movie, Will Long, contracted hepatitis and died a few days later of liver failure. The project was temporarily shelved until another "leading man", Pierre Agostino (who was Ray's air conditioning repair man) was cast and the film was re-titled "Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher", also starring Carolyn Brandt, and released in 1973. The other lost film, "Slashed,” was never finished. Ex-stripper Lovey Goldmine, then wife or live-in girlfriend of Sammy Davis, Jr. and mother of his two children, called Ray one day and told him she had to leave town immediately. She and the children have never been heard from since. I bought this tape. I also bought "The Hollywood Strangler in Las Vegas,” the sequel to the first "Hollywood Strangler" movie. Ray autographed both for me, along with a new copy of "TISCWSLABMUZ.”

We discussed his current project "Two Old Men on Route 66", starring two of the actors from "Lemon Grove Kids", Herb Robbins and Mike Kannon. He told me that it was still an active project but there was, at this time, no set release date. He gave me a copy of his most recent release "Summer Fun" (2001), directed by himself and co-directed by his daughter, Katherine, and starring his granddaughter, Bailey Steckler. He also gave me copies of "Summer Fun Behind the scenes" and "The Making of Summer Fun.”

Ray had a wonderful sense of humor and was so easy to talk to that an hour and a half had passed and his hero sandwich sat still unfinished on his desk. I got up from the worn leather easy chair and, thanking him profusely for his time, began my exit. Ray got up and, asking me to wait, he went into the back room of the shop. He returned carrying his own personal, dog-eared copy of "Research Incredibly Strange Films,” a 1986 book long out of print, in which he wrote "To Bobbie...my #1 fan in Champaign, IL. (signed) RD Steckler 2004." He also brought out what at first looked like a lobby card from TISCWSLABMUZ but, in actuality, was an order form from which newspapers and movie theaters could order the posters and ad art prior to the movie's 1964 release.

Explaining that this was one of only 12 he had left, he autographed it "To Bobbie, When I say CUT!! I mean CUT!!! (signed) Ray Dennis Steckler 2004". For the first time in my life, I was rendered speechless! Ray hugged me and, thanking him for the gifts and his time, I wandered back into the bright Las Vegas sun. Looking back through the glass door, I saw him sit behind his desk and bite into his sandwich.

It was a great experience and one I'll never forget. Thank you, Ray, for your generosity and time.


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1 comment:

Vanessa said...

I'm Lovey Goldmine's daughter.. I came after the 2 you mentioned... I was just googling my mom's old stage name just to see if there was anything like pictures of her back when.. Anyway, what's this Blog about? If you have any questions, please email them to mizconti@gmail.com I'd be happy to answer them. Thanks! Vanessa