Friday, September 7, 2012

The "Never Got Made" Files #76 - #79: A glut of Donald Glut, part 1

Chances are pretty high that if you’ve found your way to our little corner of the internet that you already know who Don Glut is.  If you don’t, it is certainly through no lack of effort on his end as it would be easier listing what he hasn’t done in the entertainment industry over what he has done. As a first generation Monster Kid, Glut was famous before getting out of his teens thanks to his amateur films (41 in all) that graced the pages of Forrest J. Ackerman’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.  Glut soon parlayed his love for film into an education as he studied at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television alongside such notables as George Lucas, John Milius, and Basil Poledouris (who even directed GLUT [1967], a student short starring Glut as “himself”).  While at USC, Glut drew the ire of certain staff for his love of – gasp – fantasy and comic books (if they could see the movie industry now) to the point he was threatened with expulsion.  Soured by that experience, he swiftly flew into his other love and was a member of the Michael Nesmith-produced, late 60s rock band The Penny Arkade.   At the same time, some of his earlier films were gaining a cult following on the underground movie circuit.

Those are signs of a pretty prolific man, right?  Well, we haven’t even started. In the subsequent decades, Glut has maintained a steady career in writing.  He has written extensively for comic books, including creating the characters Dagar the Invincible and Dr. Spektor for Western Publishing’s Gold Key imprint; he has written for live-action television (SHAZAM and LAND OF THE LOST); he has written for over 30 animation programs, notably G.I. JOE, SPIDER-MAN, and TRANSFORMERS; he even ventured into the toy biz, co-creating the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line; he has authored several children and adult fiction novels, including the best selling novelization of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) and a 12-part Frankenstein series; he has also authored even more non-fiction books, including a respected series on dinosaurs (yet another love) and, most recently, the horror host examination SHOCK THEATRE CHICAGO STYLE; and, since 1996, he has written and directed 6 feature films and several documentaries with his company Frontline Films.  Whew!  Of course, we’ll always love him here for dinosaur consultant credit on CARNOSAUR (1993).

For someone that incredibly productive, you just know that they have more projects sitting on the shelf.  I initially contacted Mr. Glut (“Call me Don”) to talk about two unproduced films I had dug up information on.  Incredibly, between two phone sessions that lasted over a total of 3 hours, we ended up talking about nearly a dozen unrealized film projects.  Don was incredibly generous with his time, allowing me to tax his memory on some stuff that happened 40 years ago.  “With everything else they tax these days, one more won’t matter,” he said before we dove into the unproduced film history of Don Glut (with so many projects, we’ve opted to spread this series out over the month in three parts).

#76 - CASTLE OF GORE (early 1970s)

The first project I was hoping to unearth information about leapt forward from the pages of Fangoria.  Crawling comfortably into its fourth year, the magazine did a feature in 1982 in issue #17 on Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose 1960s gore features were gaining a new audience thanks to Wizard Home Video’s VHS releases.  A few issues later, Glut wrote in to inform editor “Uncle” Bob Martin about a project he had written for Lewis in the early 1970s. (Interestingly, the very next letter after Don’s was one from H.G. Lewis thanking Martin for the coverage.)

Okay, an anthology film called CASTLE OF GORE to be directed by The Godfather of Gore with segments centering on a werewolf, Jack the Ripper and voodoo?  This I have to know more about.

While past interviews have shown me that time has a way of fogging the sharpest of memories, this was definitely not the case here as Don exactly recalled the project from 40 years ago. The film’s birth showed Lewis’ penchant for pragmatism as it was born from the simple step of having a great location – a castle in the suburbs of Chicago (while Glut can’t remember the location, we’re pretty sure it was Givins’ Irish Castle, the only standing castle in the area). Don was friends with Ray Craig, then production manager on Lewis’ THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972), and Craig spoke with Glut about possibly writing a script.  “Ray contacted me and said, ‘Herschell’s got this castle and he needs a script,’” Glut recalls.  “I went to Chicago for one of my visits because my family is from there and Ray set up a lunch with Herschell.  So I went down and we ate in a downtown restaurant.  When you see Herschell Lewis in person, he’s nothing like you might expect.  He looks like an executive out of MAD MEN.  He wore a suit and tie and his office was very much a business office.  And in the back he had all of these editing machines and posters and everything.  So we had lunch and I mentioned something about I’m really looking forward to be working on a horror picture and he said, ‘I don’t make horror movies.’  I said, ‘You don’t?’ And he said, ‘I make gore pictures.’  So the title became logical – there’s a castle, the film’s going to have a lot of gore in it, so it’s CASTLE OF GORE.  That’s how it all came to be.”

Armed with the set up, Glut returned to California and began pounding out pages on his manual typewriter.  The premise was that a Crypt Keeper-esque host named Morgan would tell the audience three horror tales with the common link being that all the stories took place in or around the castle during different time periods.  Glut stories were written with an eye toward dark comedy and parody, as evidenced by the segment titles.  “Each one of the separate titles was a take off on a current popular movie,” he explains.  “The Jack the Ripper was called S*L*A*S*H with asterisks between each letter like M*A*S*H (1970).  The voodoo story was called LOVE GORY with the tagline ‘love means never having to say you’re dead.’ And the last one was THEY SHOOT WEREWOLVES, DON’T THEY?”

CASTLE OF GORE script opening
(click to enlarge)

Like most monster fans from that era, Glut was definitely a fan of the pre-code horror comics of the 1950s.  As such, his stories reflected the surprise twist endings that the medium was famous for.  “The Jack the Ripper story the big surprise was that Jack the Ripper was actually a woman and the punch line was ‘I’m really Jacqueline the Ripper,’” he remembers.  “All I remember about the voodoo story was about a married couple who cheated on the other and one of them came back.  He came back from the dead and she tried chopping him up with an ax.  The story ended with the body parts crawling along the floor looking for the spouse.  And the werewolf movie was set in a period in some earlier century.  The werewolf was also a land baron and he was taking advantage all of the villagers and farmers.  And then he would kill them to add frosting to the cake.  At the end, he didn’t realize this whole populace was made up of ghouls.  The last scene when they were all at the table and there’s this werewolf with an apple in its mouth on the table.”

Luck, however, was not on Glut’s side with this project.  Following THE GORE GORE GIRLS, Lewis transitioned out of the film business and spent the next 30 years concentrating on his work in the advertising field.  “He seemed to like the script and he liked me,” Glut recalls of Lewis, “but he just never made the movie.  And I was going to say, I never got any money for it either.”  It was definitely a learning experience for the young screenwriter and it proved he could write a complete script.  Also, it provided great practice in the EC-ish style as Glut would soon be penning stories for the Warren Publishing horror triple terror of CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA.

#77 & # 78 - RIPPED TO SHREDS / SUPERHEROES! (late 1970s)

The second film I was hoping to learn more about was an early slasher evocatively titled RIPPED TO SHREDS. Covered in an inch-tall blurb in Fangoria #15, the film project is something Glut was lined up to direct.  Hardly a memorable project for him, the back story on how he met producers Seymour and Mark Borde is more interesting.  “They were basically a releasing company but now they wanted to make their own movies,” Glut reveals.  “They were distributing a short film called FOOT FETISH, which was a stop-motion short film.  It was between two shoes and one falls in love with the other.  It was directed, written and produced by Randal Kleiser, who went on to direct GREASE (1978) and THE BLUE LAGOON (1980).  Randall was my roommate at the dormitory at USC (he also edited the aforementioned GLUT).  He was already moving onto bigger and better things at the time, so when he found out Seymour and his son Mark were looking for a director for RIPPED TO SHREDS, he had me call Mark.  So I went down there and met with them and they wanted me to direct it.”

Mark & Seymour Borde
Seymour Borde & Associates had been a film distributor for over 15 years and they were deciding to get in the film production business with their first production being SUMMER CAMP (1979) a T&A loaded comedy from director Chuck Vincent.  The script for the horror flick was written by one Paul Ross, who had previously written the late 70s supernatural-mentary JOURNEY INTO THE BEYOND (1977).  Glut couldn’t remember many details on the plot, but does recall the script’s cover featured letters dripping blood.  “I didn’t have any input on the writing,” he remembers.  “RIPPED TO SHREDS was a standard slasher movie.  I don’t remember what the plot was.  I think there was a lot of teenagers getting killed or something like that.  It ended actually with the girl being the hero, which was kind of a nice twist.”

The discussion of SHREDS is what really opened up the uncovering of other projects.  Glut’s time spent with the Bordes reveal another project they were hoping to attach him to.  The film in question was SUPERHEROES!  Described in Variety in late 1978 as “a spoof of a host of costumed comic characters,” this was another script by Paul Ross.  “It was a JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA/AVENGERS type of thing,” Glut explains of the second script. “SUPERHEROES! was a comedy and each one of them had some kind of problems.  I don’t remember it having a lot of action.  I remember it had a lot of scenes where the superheroes kind of sat around, told jokes and played off each other’s weaknesses.”

Box Office on SUPERHEROES!
(click to enlarge)

While the Bordes seemed intent on pressing forward with the FX heavy pictures, neither one came to fruition.  While the specifics may never be known as to why each one didn’t get made, Glut theorizes it was the more complex nature of the productions that kept producer Mark Borde from going forward.  “If he would have done the SUPERHEROES! movie, he would have had to do all of the special effects for the super powers.  And RIPPED TO SHREDS would have a lot of gore effects,” he explains.  “When he [later] did HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS (1984), he called me up and said, ‘Guess what we did? We blew up a car today.’ I said, ‘A real car?’ and he said, ‘No, just a shell.  There was no engine in it.’ But he was real proud of that for the fact he went the extra nine yards to blow up a car.  That was a big deal for Mark.  If that was a big deal, maybe it was the idea that the special effects were too involved and too costly down the road.” Indeed, the Bordes did retreat from fantasy to nature’s best special effect as they produced more T&A films in the 80s such as LUNCH WAGON (1981).  “Fred Olen Ray said, ‘Breasts are the cheapest of all special effects,’” Glut sums it up.    


This unmade project is by far one of the more fascinating from Glut’s history because it went a good ways into preproduction.  Tsuburaya Productions introduced the Ultraman character to Japanese audiences in 1966 and it proved to be an immediate sensation.  Over a decade later, sci-fi and superheroes were huge thanks to the worldwide success of STAR WARS (1977) and SUPERMAN (1978).  Tsuburaya had successfully re-launched Ultraman with THE ULTRAMAN, an animated series that debuted in 1979, and ULTRAMAN 80, a live-action series that premiered in April 1980.  The following month in May 1980, the company announced in Variety its intention to fund a $10,000,000 ULTRAMAN movie for Western audiences. The film, titled ULTRAMAN: THE JUPITER EFFECT, was to be written by Jeff Segal and to be filmed across the U.S. “including New York City, Washington, the Houston Space Center, San Francisco and the Grand Canyon” (article at bottom of the page).

This version didn’t get very far and soon Glut found himself in the cosmic world of Ultraman. Perched high atop the bestseller list for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK novelization, Glut was recommended by a friend in Japan and quickly hired to pen the script.  “Tsuburaya Productions wanted to get into a bigger market,” he recalls, “so they wanted to make an American ULTRAMAN feature length movie that would play in theaters with a big budget and a completely American cast.  No references to Japan anywhere in it. They hired me and I wrote the first draft of the script, which they paid me very well for.”

 Illustration © 2012 by Alex Wald;
Ultraman © 1966, 2012 by Tsuburaya Prod. Co., Ltd.
Glut was given free reign on the screenplay and decided to work in familiar territory as he included dinosaurs as the villains.  And not just any old dinosaurs either.  “I based the script on the idea that at the end of Cretaceous period when the asteroid hit some dinosaurs managed to take refuge underground,” he explains of the script’s plot.  “There was one group of dinosaurs that escaped below the surface and over the years, while we were evolving on the surface, they were too into humanoid types of forms.  They had wings, scaly skin, claws, and fangs.  Every once and a while they would get out and be seen by somebody.  That’s what gave rise to the legend of devils and demons.”

“The movie opened with a church being demolished to put up a parking lot.  There is one part of the church that’s been taboo and nobody goes near it.  They break the wall down and they find chained to the wall the skeleton of this humanoid creature with bat-like wings, thinking they found the devil.  These creatures resent having to live underground and over the years they found eggs of the prehistoric creatures living at that time.  They’ve been preserving them and mutating them over the years.  So they basically then are going to take over the Earth using these three monsters.  One was a land-based creature, one was a water-based, and one was an aerial creature.  So you basically had Godzilla, Rodan and Manda – creatures like that.  Each one of them had some kind of kaiju-like power whether it was electro-vision or fiery breath.”

More dinosaur baddies:

Illustration © 2012 by Alex Wald;
Ultraman © 1966, 2012 by Tsuburaya Prod. Co., Ltd.  
Illustration © 2012 by Alex Wald;
Ultraman © 1966, 2012 by Tsuburaya Prod. Co., Ltd.  

Illustration © 2012 by Alex Wald;
Ultraman © 1966, 2012 by Tsuburaya Prod. Co., Ltd.  
As this triple threat tore up the globe, it appeared that an even bigger force than the regular old Ultraman was required to take care of business.  “With Earth’s major cities being destroyed by these three monsters, the Ultra-people in the M23 galaxy realize that they now need an ultra-Ultraman,” Glut details.  “So they call all the Ultraman characters that had been in all the old TV shows together and they transfer all of their powers into one character.  So he is like the mightiest of all, he can do everything all of them can do.  And he comes to Earth for lots of major battles and things.”

Script meetings were had and Glut even tried recruiting his old friend Roger Dicken, creator of the chestburster in ALIEN (1979), to do the FX. Comic book artist and kaiju fan Alex Wald also contributed some impressive preproduction designs for Ultraman and his various foes. While a clear vision existed for Glut, the same can’t be said for the Tsuburaya side as Glut amusingly recalls a meeting with Noboru Tsuburaya and his entourage.  “I went through my whole plot.  My whole plot was based on organic things,” he reveals.  “It was actual animals that had mutated based on dinosaurs that had actually lived. Sure, they had powers, but there was nothing supernatural.  And one of them said, ‘Can’t you throw in a giant robot from space?’ And I quickly explained to them why a giant robot from space would have nothing to do with the story.  All they could see is that it would be kind of cool having a giant robot knocking a building down.  So that is one of the things I had to fight for, to keep it my vision and not just a big hodgepodge of things.”

Illustration © 2012 by Alex Wald;
Ultraman © 1966, 2012 by Tsuburaya Prod. Co., Ltd.  
A language barrier also provided some funny moments for Glut. Naofumi Okamoto, the film’s line producer who went on to be good friends with Glut, was one of the few English speakers within the production staff.  Yet some of the American slang in Glut’s script caused confusion for him.  “I had one of the characters make a comment relating to jealousy,” Glut explains, “and he said something like, ‘Well, the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head again.’  So I got a call again late at night – ‘What’s this green-eyed monster?  We have the one the flies, we have the one on the water, and we have the one on land.  But none of them have green eyes.  Is there a fourth monster?’”

Despite enthusiasm on both ends of the Pacific, the American ULTRAMAN film never went into production.  While some might view this as another depressing setback, Glut was thrilled to have worked on the project.  “It was one of the most fun writing experiences in my life,” he discloses.  “If you can imagine actually sitting there and getting paid to conceive and write scenes where a giant superhero is fighting a giant monster in a major city.  It was really like a dream come true.”

Make sure to check out part 2 where we discuss teenage monsters rumbling, horror actors-turned-killers, and nude pirate babes!

Variety article on U.S. ULTRAMAN
(click to enlarge)

Many thanks to Mr. Glut for the interview.  And thanks also to Phantasmagoria Photography for the picture of Givins Irish Castle and Alex Wald for the ULTRAMAN art.

2 Reactions:

  1. Back in the day we all loved Don and wanted to see him succeed, because we all felt he was one of us...he loved the genre unstintingly! Thanks for knowing how important to the genre he was in those days!

  2. Great read, thanks for the time and effort on it. Learned a ton of Glut tidbits.


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