Icons of Psychotronic Film

We know that it is impossible for us to publish articles on even a small fraction of the psychotronic films that have been made and that continue to be made. That’s especially true when our definition of the term “psychotronic” is so broad. Often, it is easier to find these kinds of films by looking at the actors, writers, directors, and producers who specialized in them. As a result, we are creating a list of articles about psychotronic film icons. It, like everything else around here, is a work in progress.

We’ll start with a list and add to it over time. When we can, we will write articles about people on the list. In those cases, there will be links. Otherwise, do a Google search on the names and see what comes up.

Icons

JR Bookwalter (producer)

Bookwalter belongs on this list more than anyone because he is the Platonic ideal of a psychotronic filmmaker. From his first feature, The Dead Next Door (probably the most expensive super-8 film ever produced), to his micro-budget films like Chick Boxer (later released as part of his series “Bad Movie Police” — get it all in Crimewave!), there is a charm to his films that can’t be denied. He stopped directing and became a distributor of other people’s psychotronic films. But most of all, Bookwalter has changed the way I look at psychotronic film as a genre.

John Carradine (actor)

Carradine is probably best known to regular film lovers for his roles in films like Stagecoach (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940). But to psychotronic lovers, he will be remembered for… Well, it’s hard to say. He was in hundreds of them! Of particular note are his performances as Dracula in House of Frankenstein (1940) and House of Dracula (1940). He played Dracula again 21 years later in Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) and then 13 years after that in Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979). He was often cast as a mad scientist — as in The Unearthly (1957) with Tor Johnson and The Astro-Zombies (1968) with Tura Satana. In later years, he became the kind of actor that everyone just loved to see on screen — right up there with Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr.

John Carpenter (director)

Like Tobe Hooper, critics have spent most of Carpenter’s career complaining that he made different movies. But unlike Hooper, Carpenter’s career has been reevaluated by modern critics even though they would have hated him a few decades ago. It’s shocking that The Thing (1982) was panned when it came out. What did critics want to see?! He will always be known for Halloween (1978). But Carpenter’s immense skills as a storyteller go way beyond on that. My favorite of his films is In the Mouth of Madness (1994). But I think many of his films are under-appreciated like Prince of Darkness (1987) and Vampires (1999).

David Cronenberg (director)

Cronenberg is pretty much the inventor of body horror — a term coined to explain why what are essentially art films are so much fun. His early films like Rapid (1977) and The Brood (1979) were more standard horror. He really branched out in films like Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986). And reached his artistic pinnacle with Crash (1996). Then he became much less interesting although there were still flashes of brilliance in films like eXistenZ (1999). And he is never boring.

Bert I Gordon (director)

Gordon is known primarily for one film: The Amazing Colossal Man. But he’s been making films all along — the most recent in 2015 when he was well into his 90s. And they are pretty good! I think even I have tended to dismiss his directing talents. But even at his worst, he never made an incompetent film. Early on, he was known for creating films with very large and very small characters. But he’s a lot more than that.

Tobe Hooper (director)

One of the five legends of late 20th-century horror, Hooper is kind of a tragic figure. He’s like the Welles of horror in that no one ever got over gushing about his “first” film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a shame because Hooper is probably the best filmmaker of his generation whose films are endlessly entertaining. He also has a bad reputation because of the controversy about Poltergeist (1982). This is odd given that the film is one of the least interesting of anything he was ever involved in. Ultimately, I think he is criticized because, after Chainsaw, critics really wanted to see him go Hollywood. He never did. And thank God for that. Unappreciated gems: Eaten Alive (1977) and Spontaneous Combustion (1990).

Richard Matheson (writer)

Matheson is perhaps the greatest psychotronic writers. But he would have hated to hear that. He seemed to spend most of his time outside of writing complaining about how little money he made from writing and how all the films made from his writing were awful. Not that he was wrong. He should have been paid better and his stories deserved better treatment than they often got. But given the time and genre, he did all right. And the films were almost always better than he claimed. His best known novels were his first: I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man. But he’s best known for his work in television: The Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror. He was also a very funny writer.

Vincent Price (actor)

When I was a kid, Price was horror. His face was enough to scare me — even if it appeared on The Brady Bunch. Like others, he walked a line between being terrifying and self-parodying. But at his best, in things like House on Haunted Hill and Theatre of Blood, there was no one better.

Notes

We are listing what each person is primarily known for. A lot of actors have written a screenplay or two, or directed a film. Similarly, writers often show up in films. But we don’t want to mess with that. Some cases are harder but we’ll do our best.

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