Samuel Z. Arkoff at Orpheum Theatre Halloween Spook-a-Thon -


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Samuel Z. Arkoff at Orpheum Theatre Halloween Spook-a-Thon

By Steve Ryfle     October 26, 2000

You may have about the sixth annual Spook-a-Thon Halloween film festival at the old Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles. We dropped in for the festivities last Friday night, including screenings of the original version of The Haunting, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Black Sunday. But the highlight of the night was a presentation of the 'Spooky' award to crusty ol' Samuel Z. Arkoff, one of the true granddaddies of exploitation cinema. Arkoff, though confined to a wheelchair, still looked good and still has a zeal for the biz, in his old-school way. He even announced plans to remake five films from his old company, American International Pictures (see below), although he wouldn't name which titles. Arkoff spent some time onstage, fielding questions from the Spook-a-Thon's Jon Olivan and the audience. Here's a little bit of what went down:

ARKOFF: I want to inform you that I'm 82. And although the legs aren't what they were, the brain is. [applause] At least if it isn't, I'm the only one who knows it. I made a lot of pictures, but my favorite pictures have always been horror pictures. Some people call them one thing; some people call them another, but they're still horror pictures. And I love them, and that's why I'm really in the business. I want you to know also that I, and my son Lou, are re-making five of our old horror pictures, which we're starting in November and working straight through. Hopefully, there'll be no strike. [applause]

I want to tell you something about this particular picture you're gonna see tonight, Black Sunday. Jim Nicholson, my partner, and I were in Rome, and we were looking at pictures. It was nine o'clock in the morning, and we really didn't feel like looking at pictures, since we'd been to a big party the night before. I'm seeing this picture, and I want to tell you, it bowled me over. That was Mario Bava, who was a cameraman in Italy, and Italy was not a particularly great field for horror pictures. But Bava was a great cameraman, and he could do the things in his camera that people have to spend a lot of money for special effects today. And I have always loved this picture. We did more pictures with Bava. We did Black Sabbath; we did a number of others, including Planet of the Vampires. I always thought that Bava was a great director, and had he been born in the United States or England, which are great horror fan places, he would have had a stature that was [greater]. He was really a fine man, and a damn good cameraman and director.


ARKOFF: Well, I got kicked out of the University of Iowa for not attending class. [applause] And I came to Los Angeles. My father had a clothing store, so I knew how to read shoe sizes, so I could earn a few bucks on sale days at the Broadway department store. You didn't have to be much of a salesman; all you had to be able to do was read the sizes, and when they came in, the shoes would be out of the box and tied together, and they'd generally get separated, so your big job was to find the other one. [laughs] But I used to come down here on Monday nights, when they would have a stage show. Mickey Rooney was on; [Donald] O'Connor was on; it was always a terrific theater. And it was built in the way the old theaters were, that you don't see anymore. Today they're just like ordinary storerooms. This has great history, this theater, and I'm delighted to get a prize in it.


ARKOFF: Well, we didn't have any money. I was a young lawyer at the time...and so, we started up, and there was really a great demand. We got young writers, young directors, and we made pictures for a cheap price, because we were paying virtually nothing, all for percentages. We had It Conquered the World, The Day the World Ended, a great many pictures of that type. In those days you didn't have the special effects that you do now, and we were frugal. We made one for $29,000. As a matter of fact that was on...The Beast With a Million Eyes (1955). We told Roger [Corman], 'We've only got $29,000 left,' because he ran overboard on Five Guns West. And so, he went out to Palm Springsnon-union I might addand he didn't even put his name on the pictures because he was afraid he get in trouble with the director's guild. So he did the pictures; he came back, and he was grumbling all the time. The thing about Roger was, he could make them cheap. He went off on another picture, and we supervised the editors, and finally we saw the rough cut, but there was no beast with a million eyes. There was no beast at all! I called up Roger and said, 'For God sakes, where's the beast? We've been selling that!' What we used to do in those days was; we would make up some sort of initial ad and send it out to the exhibitors, because we didn't have much reputation at that time.... And we had already pronounced. I said, 'Roger, we have to have a beast.' He said, 'I only had $29,000. You put the beast in the picture!' So, we tried one thing; we tried another.... Big theater people came out and wanted to look at the picture. What we finally did, we got ourselves a big teapot and put about 50 holes in it, and steam went through it. That became our beast. So, I've always felt that ingenuity is better than anything else.

Postscript: Arkoff and AIP are the subject of a new documentary, It Conquered Hollywood: The Story of American International Pictures, produced by American Movie Classics and scheduled to debut on the cable network next year. Supposedly, the doc is currently playing in one Los Angeles cinema, to qualify for Oscar consideration, but I haven't been able to find the theater yet.


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