Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Undertaker & His Pals: Death Becomes Them

Genre stars big and small have been dropping like flies lately so this new column aims to keep up with those who have passed into the great beyond, but whose cinematic legacy lives on both in their films and the minds of those who remember them. Regardless of how big a star some of these people were, their participation in various horror, science fiction, fantasy, action adventure and exploitation cinema will never be forgotten.

***NOTE: This first list covers some of the genre thespian deaths between 2008 up to the present. If readers can help add to future lists, please do so in the comments below***

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PETE POSTLETHWAITE (Feb. 7, 1946-Jan. 2, 2011) lost a long battle with cancer, but left behind a slew of fantasy and horror roles from 1992's ALIEN 3 up to a brief role in the new CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010). Other roles include THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997) and the remake of THE OMEN from 2006.

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ANNE FRANCIS (Sept. 16, 1930-Jan. 2, 2011) starred in FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) and also featured in two episodes of the original TWILIGHT ZONE--The hour long 'Jess-Belle' from season 4 and 'The After Hours' from season 1; the former a witch story and the latter about mannequins that come to life. She also featured in Don Knott's sorta saucy 1969 risque comedy THE LOVE GOD? She died of pancreatic cancer.

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JUAN PIQUER SIMON (Feb. 16, 1935-Jan. 7, 2011) was a Spanish director of various genres from children's monster fantasy pictures like MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1980), FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976) and THE SUPERSONIC MAN (1979) to gruesome, gore soaked horror schlock such as PIECES (1982), SLUGS (1988) and ENDLESS DESCENT (1990). The cause of death was lung cancer.

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PETER YATES (July 24, 1929-Jan. 9, 2011) will be remembered by many for directing Steve McQueen in BULLITT in 1968, but to many fantasy fans, his 30 million spectacular, KRULL (1983) from Columbia will keep his memory alive. Yates also guided MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976) with Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel and also THE DEEP (1978) with a mostly naked Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte and Robert Shaw. Yates' cause of death was not released.

Robert Culp (left) with Bill Cosby from I, SPY (1965-1968);google images

ROBERT CULP (Aug. 16, 1930-March 24, 2010) featured in all kinds of movies and television shows such as the popular series I, SPY co-starring Bill Cosby. Some of his appearances of interest to genre fans are HANNIE CAULDER (1971), Bob Clark's BREAKING POINT (1976), THE GREAT SCOUT & CATHOUSE THURSDAY (1976), BIG BAD MAMA 2 (1987) and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3 (1989). Culp died from a heart attack after collapsing outside his home.

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FRANK FRAZETTA (Feb. 9, 1928-May 10, 2010), aged 82, died from a stroke. The popular painter had already suffered multiple strokes leading up to his death, but his legacy as an extraordinarily talented artist will indeed live on. His surreal sword & sorcery and horror painted covers have graced many a magazine and pulp novel. Fans of Warren's old mags no doubt adore this amazingly gifted artist.

One of Frazetta's most famous drawings were those for Warren's VAMPIRELLA magazine;google images

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DENNIS HOPPER (May 17, 1936-May 29, 2010) lost his near decade long battle with prostate cancer roughly ten days after his 74th birthday. The eccentric actor was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. His genre appearances include MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985), BLUE VELVET (1986) and his dual chainsaw carrying 'Lefty' Enright from Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) is memorable. Hopper also co-starred in George Romero's one big studio zombie epic LAND OF THE DEAD in 2005.

Vonetta McGee (left) shared the screen with the great William Marshall in BLACULA (1972);google images

VONETTA MCGEE (Jan. 14, 1945-July 9, 2010) was an attractive actress who starred in an eclectic list of genre fare. These include the gruesome Italian western, THE GREAT SILENCE (1968;according to Klaus Kinski in his autobiography, the two had an affair during shooting), BLACULA (1972), HAMMER (1972) and DETROIT 9000 (1973) to name a few. McGee died in hospital from cardiac arrest after being on life suport for 2 days.

Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie in a publicity photo for DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); google images

PATRICIA NEAL (January 20, 1926-Aug. 8, 2010) will, to all fans of science fiction, be remembered as the co-star of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); the carrier of Gort's message--'Klaatu, Barada, Nikto'. This theatrically trained actress did little work in horror, but fans will also remember her from John Irvin's slightly unnerving GHOST STORY from 1981. Lung cancer took her this past August.

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TONY CURTIS (June 3, 1925-Sept. 29, 2010) was a major Hollywood actor who starred in numerous prestigious productions. He also did a few horror pictures including the cult classic THE MANITOU (1978), a cameo appearance in CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966) and also in the lower tier THE MUMMY LIVES (1993). He also had a brief role in the truly horrendous and hilarious SEXTETTE (1978) starring Mae West. Curtis died from cardiac arrest at his home in Nevada.

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ROY WARD BAKER (Dec. 19, 1916-Oct. 5, 2010) was a prolific British filmmaker who, among his dozens of credits, will be best known in horror circles for his many Gothic and modern day horror movies. With titles like FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967), THE ANNIVERSARY (1968), VAMPIRE LOVERS, SCARS OF DRACULA (both 1970), DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE (1971), THE VAULT OF HORROR (1973), LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974) and THE MONSTER CLUB (1980), genre fans have much to seek out from this director who worked at both Hammer and Amicus. He left this world from natural causes.


SIMON MACCORKINDALE (Feb. 12, 1952-Oct. 14, 2010) was a stage actor who graduated to movie roles and television series'. His genre roles include the 1982 hit THE SWORD & THE SORCERER and JAWS 3D (1983). His fantasy/horror TV credits include QUATERMASS (1979), HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (1980) and the short lived US series, MANIMAL from 1983. MacCorkindale had been married to actress Susan George since the mid 1980s. His fight against bowel cancer ended October 14th, 2010.

DEAD & BURIED (1981)

LISA BLOUNT (July 1, 1957-Oct. 25, 2010) passed away at the young age of 53 from what is described as a rare blood disorder. While she will likely be best known in movie circles for the drama AN OFFICER & A GENTLEMAN (1982), horror fans remember her best for a string of obscure and classic genre flicks such as DEAD & BURIED (1981), WHAT WAITS BELOW (1984;SECRET OF THE PHANTOM CAVERNS), CUT & RUN (1985) and NIGHTFLYERS (1987).

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DINO DE LAURENTIIS (Aug. 8, 1919-Nov. 10, 2010) The cause of death for this lover of movies and producer for expensive and modest productions was never released. His expansive resume includes many action, fantasy and controversial spectacles. Titles include--DEATH WISH (1974), MANDINGO (1975), KING KONG (1976), ORCA (1977), FLASH GORDON (1980), two CONAN films, DUNE (1984), MANHUNTER (1986) and three additional entries in the Hannibal Lecter series. Dino also owned a NC based production company coined DEG which handled other horror fare such as CAT'S EYE (1985), KING KONG LIVES (1986) and PUMPKINHEAD (1988). He was also a producer on the long gestating production of TAI-PAN (1986), a film that, at one point, involved the Shaw Brothers of Hong Kong during the late 1970s. Dino was 91.


INGRID PITT (Nov. 21, 1937-Nov. 23, 2010) died of undisclosed reasons just two days after her 73rd birthday. The vibrant actress and author had collapsed prior to attending a birthday dinner. Her life story would have made a good movie in itself, but this buxom Polish beauty sunk her teeth into several popular British horror features such as THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971). She also took the lead in COUNTESS DRACULA in 1971 among other credits.

Director, Kershner and friends from the set of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980);google images

IRVIN KERSHNER (April 29, 1923-Nov. 27, 2010) was one of Roger Corman's young disciples who eventually went on to mentor George Lucas and even direct the seminal science fiction spectacular, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in 1980. Kershner also helmed RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE (1976), NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) and ROBOCOP 2 (1990). Kershner's cause of death was not revealed.

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LESLIE NIELSEN (Feb. 11, 1926-Nov. 28, 2010) left this world at 84 years of age from pneumonia. Long a favorite for his many hilarious comedic roles particularly as Frank Drebin from the POLICE SQUAD TV show and subsequent NAKED GUN movies, Nielsen played a lot of villains in his early career. Some of these were in the TV shows THE WILD, WILD WEST and Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY. He was quite nasty as a shady businessman turned violent rapist/murderer who takes on a Grizzly bear(!) in DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977). Nielsen can also be seen in the science fiction classic, FORBIDDEN PLANET from 1956.

Leslie Nielsen from DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977)

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JEAN ROLLIN (Nov. 2, 1938-Dec. 15, 2010) was a French director who specialized in erotically surreal vampire movies directing close to a dozen bloodsucker movies with an accent towards lesbianism and a high sexuality quotient. He also dabbled in other genres such as the unique zombie film, THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978). Cause of death was not revealed.


RICARDO MONTALBAN (Nov. 25, 1920-January 14, 2009) passed away at 88 years old from heart failure. He will no doubt be remembered for his venerable performance as the villainous Khan on an episode of the original STAR TREK; a role he reprised for the motion picture, STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN in 1982. He will also be remembered for his role as Mr. Roarke in the hit show FANTASY ISLAND (1978-1984).

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ROBERT QUARRY (Nov. 3,1925-Feb. 20, 2009) will forever be remembered as the modern day vampire Count Yorga in two movies and a third vampire feature, THE DEATHMASTER, passed away at age 83 of heart related problems. Some of his other credits include the blaxploitation horror hybrid, SUGAR HILL (1974), MADHOUSE (1974) and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) playing opposite Vincent Price.

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LOU PERRYMAN (Aug. 15, 1941-April 1, 2009) L.G. from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, Perryman was murdered in his Texas home on April 1st of 2009. He worked as a camera assistant on Hooper's original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE as well as parts in John Landis' THE BLUES BROTHERS and on POLTERGEIST for Tobe Hooper in 1982. Perryman was murdered by 26 year old Seth Christopher Tatum who had stolen Perryman's car. He later turned himself in to police confessing to the crime.

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DON EDMONDS (Sept. 1, 1937-May 30, 2009) The director of the first two ILSA movies succumbed to liver cancer on Saturday, May 30th. He was 72 years old. As an actor, Edmonds will be recognizable to fans who enjoy old TV shows like GREEN ACRES and THE MUNSTERS. He was also a producer and writer. Among his various behind the screen credits include a number of exploitation features and Tony Scott's TRUE ROMANCE (1993).

David Carradine (right) and Kate Jackson (left) from THUNDER & LIGHTNING (1977)

DAVID CARRADINE (Dec. 8, 1936-June 3, 2009) was found hanged inside a wardrobe in Bangkok, Thailand. With both a cord around his neck and extremities, it had been initially reported his death was a suicide. Later information ruled out suicide and both foul play and accidental death by auto-erotic asphyxiation were bandied about. Details are still not clear. Carradine had been a cult movie icon since the 1970s having appeared in dozens of genre fare particularly for former New World Pictures founder, Roger Corman.

John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell in Mario Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968);google images

JOHN PHILLIP LAW (Sept. 7, 1937-May 13, 2008) died aged 70 of undisclosed causes although cancer has been rumored. He will be noted for his performances in the violent Italian western classic, DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1967), the super thief in DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968), the winged Pygar in BARBARELLA (1968) and his genre defining, classic turn as Sinbad in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974).

John Phillip Law and Caroline Munro in the fantastic THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)

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STAN WINSTON (April 7, 1946-June 15, 2008) Passed away from multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells that develop in bone marrow). He was best known for his make up artistry in creating creatures for a series of blockbusters such as ALIENS (1986), TERMINATOR 2 (1992) and JURASSIC PARK (1993) to name a small few. Some of his early effects work included ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA (1977), MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1977) and PARASITE (1982).


ISAAC HAYES (Aug. 20, 1942-Aug. 10, 2008) was found dead in his home after suffering a stroke. He was 65 years old. Hayes won an Oscar for his genre defining score for SHAFT (1971). He got his own starring role in the superbly sleazy blaxploitation classic TRUCK TURNER in 1974 as well as playing 'The Duke of New York' in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1980). He later found renewed fame on the controversial television animated series, SOUTH PARK.


RUDY RAY MOORE (March 17, 1927-Oct. 19, 2008) Dead at 81 of complications from Diabetes. Moore was a raunchy, wildly popular "underground" comedian in the 70s who crossed over into movies where he brought his comic routine to cinematic life in a string of blaxploitation cult pictures such as DOLEMITE (1975) and THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976). His cult following never dwindled up to his death in 2008.

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FORREST J. ACKERMAN (Nov. 24, 1916-Dec. 4, 2008) The editor in Chief of the much lauded and fondly remembered monster magazine 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' died of heart failure in Los Angeles, California ten days after his 92nd birthday. His magazine and young at heart personality helped inspire and mold a legion of aspiring cinematic artisans. He appeared in some 200 movies in various bit parts and cameo appearances.


MAJEL BARRETT-RODDENBERRY (Feb. 23, 1932-Dec. 18, 2008) She played Nurse Chapel on the three seasons of the original STAR TREK television series eventually marrying the creator of the series. She was also featured in the original pilot in a different role. She lost her battle with Leukemia at her California home. She was 76 years old.

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