Friday, October 25, 2019

Scripts from the Crypt

Those of you familiar with the old Magic Image script reprints, which oftentimes reprinted early drafts of film scripts for Universal Studios horror movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man, which included lengthy production history of the movies, you will be pleased to know that while the publishing company ceased over a decade ago, similar efforts have been in production courtesy of Tom Weaver and Bear Manor Media. Now known under the byline "Scripts from the Crypt," a series of books have been published (and continue to be published) to provide a similar service. Avoiding repetition of the prior Universal Studios offerings, Tom has been devoting his time preserving the more obscure and lesser known gems of vintage horror/science fiction.

"The series was born after the number of times I stood in front of my file cabinets of monster stuff -- clippings, photos, scripts, arranged alphabetically by title -- and I kinda idly wondered what will happen to it all after I am gone. Not that I am overly concerned, my files do not contain a lot of one-of-a-kind stuff. But then I realized, 'Oh yes they do. I've got a bunch of scripts of indie movies that might be the only copy in the world.' So I thought I could give them to a New York library or a university, they they would probably end up in the basement for fifty years and then get thrown away. Maybe a California library or university? Nah, the Big One would hit and the collection would all be at the bottom of the ocean. The only things in my collection that I figured would die with me were those scripts."

With understanding that when someone passes away, a library burns, Tom Weaver began pulling out the film scripts and organizing a project that has grown into a monster (no pun intended). "I thought the series should start with a bang so the first one became Robert Clarke's The Hideous Sun Demon, because I had two scripts for that movie. One was an early draft that was nothing like the eventual movie, and the second script that is like the movie. I thought that those two scripts, with a lot of stills and bonus material, it might be a fun project. So I went the extra mile on that one and filled it with a lot of still nobody had ever seen, and a production history of the movie. I went out and interviewed several behind-the-scenes personnel I otherwise would never have talked to and I got one of the female leads, Nan Peterson, to write something for it. Gary D. Rhodes wrote a piece about the movie's Texas world premiere and even transcribed an interview that Robert Clarke and Nan Peterson did in front of the drive-in audience that evening. The book became a behemoth."

The book sold so well that it became the first in an on-going series of books reprinting film scripts not available anywhere else. Tom Weaver, however, is not the only author who has become victim of the "cleaning the files" syndrome. Many authors who were responsible for dozens of books over the last three or four decades have, over the past few years, found either the well running dry or a necessity to clean out the house. Decades of research will always accumulate in filing cabinets and banker boxes, leading to an excess of material that puts good folks like Tom into a situation: how to get the information out publicly and avoid a trip to the dumpster. Many libraries have established a reputation for burying their donations -- not enough interns and little (if any) budget to accommodate. Collections tend to gather dust for lengthy periods of time until they are finally processed for scholarly access. Thanks to Bear Manor Media, who ensured a reasonable price to cover the cost of printing and production, Tom's project has reached its ninth volume. And there appears to be no signs of stopping.

The second book was one of Tom Weaver's favorites, The Indestructible Man. "The production history was interesting because the movie mysteriously went in and out of production, and the first ending they shot was mostly junked. I was never able to solve the mystery of why so much of it had to be re-shot. The people I'd interviewed over the years only remember that was what happened. I even found out that the movie might have been inspired by a true story." The third book, Bride of the Gorilla, gave Tom an excuse to write about the history of Realart Pictures, and Greg Mank an opportunity to write about Lon Chaney, Jr.'s career.

Gary D. Rhodes jumped back on board with Bride of the Monster, then provide some lost scripts of his own: a pair of scripts that Ed Wood wrote for Bela Lugosi that never went into production. That became Ed Wood and the Lost Lugosi Screenplays, reprinting "The Vampire's Tomb" and "The Ghoul Goes West." Fans of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Bride of the Monster will enjoy that book, which also contains some background material about these films that never existed.

One afternoon Tom Weaver's phone rang and he found himself talking to a woman who explained that her father was the producer of a short-lived TV production known as The Veil, which starred Boris Karloff. Only 12 half-hour episodes were produced but never telecast. She explained that her father had since passed away but she had a bunch of scripts from the series. Naturally, this formed another book of scripts and during an archeological digging Tom found someone who had scripts for The Veil that were never filmed. 

Among the highlights is a book reprinting a script for The Brute Man, the final film starring Rondo Hatton. He made the Universal backlot his personal prey ground and attained B-movie stardom at the very end of his life playing The Creeper, a character that appeared in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death (1944), House of Horrors (1946) and The Brute Man (1946). Physically deformed, he found himself employed at the studios as a hideous-looking murderer and has since gained stardom with an annual award named after him. Besides production and theatrical release information about Hatton's last film, and a wonderful tribute by George Chastain on other "brute men" in the movies, there is an 80-page Rondo Hatton biography that will knock your socks off.

At the last two conventions I attended, I could not help but observe how people passed these volumes by without a second glance. For the very few that paused to smell the roses and looked closely, flipping through the pages and reading the back covers, it was obvious that they were both surprised and pleased. It is my hope that this blog post helps a number of people avoid overlooking these treasures (and if you are reading this, you now know about them). You can find all of the "Scripts from the Crypt" books on Amazon.com and at BearManorMedia.com, but keep an eye out for additional volumes as they get published. These are the type of books that keep fans of classic horror and science-fiction movies looking forward to year after year.


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