For fans of Invasion of the Blood Farmers (you know who you are), the limping Druid blood farmer Egon is by far the most popular character in the film. With his oversized hat, his overalls, his spray-on gray hair, and that magic cane, Egon follows in the great minion tradition established by Igor, Lobo, Torgo and all the others that came before in that he is both a servant of evil, but also evil's inept Achilles' Heel; it is his own incompetent mistakes that ultimately allow good to triumph. In this case, Egon's loss of an ancient key provides the heroes of the film an important clue while complicating the blood farmers' plans to resuscitate their comatose queen. Or something like that.
Jack Neubeck, who played Egon, also returned as the snarky Tom Nash in Ed Adlum and Michael Findlay's Blood Farmers follow-up, Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), in which he distinguished himself both by singing an impromptu song about a killer Yeti, and also having his leg removed and eaten.
Neubeck, a Broadway veteran, has since moved into the more lucrative business of commercial development and real estate in Arizona, but still performs regularly on stage in the Tucson area with big band revival act called The 3Bs. You can also purchase his album of showtunes and standards at CD Baby.
I spoke to Jack back in 2007 about his brief but memorable film career.
Where did you go to school?
Adelphi University in Garden City, Long Island. Then I got into the Actor's Equity in my freshman year in college. That's how I basically got into the movies. It's funny. Norman Kelly, who was the father in the Invasion of the Blood Farmers, he said, "Oh I've got these friends that are doing this horror film, and they're looking for some skinny guys." I went, and that's how it all happened.
So Norman Kelly introduced you to Ed Kelleher and Ed Adlum. What exactly did they present to you, in terms of explaining the film?
Well, they just presented that they were doing these low-budget horror films. I was supposed to just be an extra on the thing, but they liked what I was doing, and I didn't complain about the 16 hour days, so they said, "Hell put this guy in everything; put him in some more."
How long did it take to film Blood Farmers?
I think it was actually -- I'm guessing it was over like eight days. They would always do it on weekends because they could get the rental of the equipment for one price. We'd always work on the weekends.
What was filming like?
Well, when we were doing Blood Farmers, they had this idea. Originally, it was called Invasion of the Blood Farmers because we were supposed to be coming from outer space. But they couldn't find any effects that were cheap enough, so they said, "Well, we'll make 'em Druids!" It was a very fluid experience. They would change as things were happening.
One of my favorite stories is when the dog was chasing me through the woods. They didn't want to get a trained dog, so Ed had a neighbor who had this white husky. It was only about nine months old. They said, "What we're going to try to do is let the dog run through the forest, and you try to remember which way he's going, and then we'll edit it so it looks like he's chasing you."
Then we got to the brook, and they said, "Well, when you get here you're going to stop and confront the dog." We get up to the brook, and the owner of the dog gets behind me out of camera view and calls the dog, and the dog just runs right by me. I tried to stop the dog and I land in the brook. So they put food all over me -- they put dog food all over me. The dog is there, and here I am fighting the dog looking fierce, and the dog's just licking the food [laughs]. It was great. We didn't have a care in the world. It was a lot of fun. It really was very fluid, as I said. I think the script sort of just happened. They had the basics of what they wanted to do, but then they would just say, "We've got this place to shoot this, let's go shoot that." It was quite an experience.
Did you know any of the other cast members from school?
I knew Norman, and over the course of time I got to know some of them a little bit better. Norman was my contact, though. I knew the guy that played the head of the druids, Paul Jennings. I had met him earlier, through Norman as a matter of fact. And then I got to know Ed Kelleher a little bit. The guy that filmed it then directed Shriek, Michael Findlay. That was just tragic. He was killed in that helicopter crash at the Pan-Am building. He was a great guy. He'd tell tremendous stories about he and his then-wife [Roberta Findlay]. They were doing low budget porno movies on the side.
Ed Kelleher said in an interview that he paid most of the cast and crew with six-packs of beer.
That was the norm. In fact, I was telling somebody when I did Shriek of the Mutilated, I think I paid more for the tape when it came out in VHS form -- when VHS was very expensive -- than what I got paid for doing the movie! It was a great experience. I was still in college when I was doing Blood Farmers. Shriek, I had just graduated and I was doing another job at the time. I was doing Man of LaMancha in New Jersey with Howard Keel, so it was just a lark. A lot of fun.
Your character in Blood Farmers was mute, but a lot of the other actors had to deliver some pretty ridiculous dialogue.
I told people that was the greatest blessing that I had -- I didn't have too many lines!
I don't know how Paul Jennings got through it without cracking up.
Oh, I'm telling you, when he was doing that stuff -- more power to you, buddy, because that was pretty bad. It was really an incredible experience for a kid to go and do this stuff. We did have a lot of beer, though. There was a lot of beer.
You also figured prominently in the poster art.
Yeah. That was funny, too. That was Ed Adlum's wife that I was poking with the pitchfork. The whole thing was definitely a family deal.
Was there any kind of premier for it in New York?
You know, I don't think there really was. It was on 42nd Street when 42nd Street was really seedy. I saw it there. You knew where it stood in the scheme of things when during the movie there was a guy hawking popcorn and candy, walking through the aisles selling this stuff during the movie.
You were one of the only people to return for Shriek of the Mutilated. How did that happen? Did no one else want to come back?
They just called me and I was available. The thought of being one of the good guys -- well, being the bad guy is much more fun. Ed Kelleher called me up and asked if I would be interested. As I said, I had just gotten out of college. I had another job, so it really didn't matter. I was footloose and fancy free. I knew it wasn't going to make my career, so I didn't really care.
Were conditions on Shriek as loose as they were on Blood Farmers?
Pretty much. I didn't shoot as many days on that one because I was in pretty much the first couple of days, when they were doing the party stuff. We shot part of it at this really nice home on Central Park West. Then we went up state and did some of the shots with me, finding my leg and all that stuff. That was about it. I only shot, I think, about maybe five or six days on that. The other reason they liked me was that I did just about everything on one take. I'd say, "Let's do that again," and they'd say, "No, that's good. Let's move on."
The party scene was definitely a highlight. Did they just throw a party and film it?
That's it. They got as many people together as they could. I think both Eds called everybody they knew and said they'd provide the booze for the thing. That was real booze going through there, so it got very loose. Now, who was the guy that played the crackpot? Tom Grail. He had actually been in Blood Farmers, too. He was at the bar when they were talking at the bar, so he was a returning cast member. He was a character, too. I don't know how they pulled together all these different people, but it was great.
The other highlight was your Yeti song.
I just made that up when I was there. That's what I did, believe it or not. I moved to Tucson in 1986, but prior to that I was in the original company of Evita and the original company of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway. I was a singer. I still do it now to a degree. I sing with the symphony here every once in awhile. But it was a great diversion. It was a trip.
Any memories of the other cast members?
Jennifer Stock, she was very nice. She was a very nice young lady, and so was my counterpart [Darcy Brown]. In all honesty, Shriek of the Mutilated was probably a little bit more structured because Mike Findlay took over the directing of the thing. Because he had been a cameraman for so long, he had a much better idea of how he wanted to do it --the order he wanted to do it, the order he wanted to do the cutaway shots. In Blood Farmers, it was just really hit or miss.
Did you keep up with the other cast members? They all seem to have vanished. Bruce Detrick passed away a few years ago. He'd done some soaps and was an AIDS activist in New York. A few of the others did some Broadway as well.
So he passed away? There you go. I was the MC the first time they had Broadway Fights AIDS. It goes way back. It was -- it was trying to see friends that were these young men, 20 years old. Where's David? He's sick. And the next thing you know, he's passed away. It was a hard time.
Did your family see these films?
It's funny, years ago my dad was consulting out in the L.A. area, and he walked into this theater in south L.A. and saw Blood Farmers. He said, "Well, that was very interesting." Blood Farmers got a lot more play in the theaters than Shriek.
Did Shriek play 42nd Street while you lived there?
I never saw it on 42nd Street. Then different family members would call me and say, "Oh, we just saw it on TV."
When it came out on DVD, I got these e-mails from people in New York asking, "Are you the Jack Neubeck that played Egon? We're having a party, it just came out on DVD, we're so excited." I really wish I could have found who was doing the DVDs because I would have loved to have done an actor's commentary. It was hysterical. Some of the scenes with the blood overflowing, they would just get Stein's blood and then they'd put some Alka-Seltzer in the things. Just great stuff.
By the time the second film came out, you were on Broadway, right?
Then I stopped. It was just one of those things. I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I think the reason that happened to me was just to add a little color to my life. It sure did that.
Did your Broadway co-stars know about your film career?
Oh yeah. Every once in a while we'd have people over. We used to have a lot of parties, my ex-wife and I. She was a dancer in Evita. That's why I moved here, because she was from Tucson originally. We'd have a lot of parties and we'd always have showings of the stuff. Everybody would just howl. "Oh my god, look at you, look at you!" Now as I've aged a little bit, people say, "That's not you." Yeah, that's me. No doubt about it.
At least in Shriek you had the least offensive wardrobe in the entire cast.
I actually had nice overalls in Blood Farmers. The magic cane was a little bit far fetched. Again, it was one of those things that they didn't want to pay for anything real special, so I had this cane, and the cane had magic in it. I don't know if I still have that. I think I might still have that somewhere.
Did you do any television or any other film work?
I never really did television. That was my own fault. I never really had an agent. I just got everything on my own. That's where I probably made a mistake. As I said, everything's for a reason. I had a great career. I worked solid on Broadway for seven years. Not too many people can say that.
I'm not saying it changed the direction of my life, but it was great. As a result of the two movies, Paul Jennings introduced me to somebody. I was working at a law firm on Wall Street. I started out just being a messenger, because they didn't have faxes back then. Eventually I was digesting depositions, and they offered to put me through law school. I said, "Let me think about it." Then through this friend of Paul Jennings, I got a gig in the Bahamas for six months singing and dancing. You never know what direction you're life is going to go.
After you left Broadway, what did you do?
I literally did a show on Broadway and moved here on a Tuesday. I just totally changed my whole career direction, and I'm one of the owners of this company The Planning Center. We do master planning of communities, zoning work, and landscape architecture.
You also recorded a CD. That was done in 1992.
I was disappointed that the Yeti song wasn't on there.
Well, I've been just waiting to do another. I'm ready to do another one. Maybe I'll throw the Yeti song on there!
Back in the 1980s, I remember reading in wonderment about the censorship issues that many horror and exploitation films faced when they were released on video in the U.K. Dubbed the "Video Nasties," these films fell afoul of England's Video Recordings Act of 1984, which imposed a strict censorship code on video releases.
There were 72 films in all that were either prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), or considered for prosecution. Since then, some of the films have either been released in cut form in the U.K., or even released uncut in some instances. But back in the 1980s, local police were empowered to raid video shops and seize any material that may have been in breach of the law. Those of us reading about this in the U.S. would typically cluck our tongues and feel privileged that, although parents groups might protest the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Anthony Timpone might get raked over the coals by Morton Downey, Jr., at least we could rent Dr. Butcher, M.D., down at the local supermarket. (Thinking back on it now, though, how weird was that?)
The majority of those 72 films were either low-budget U.S. or Italian horror films, and an unlucky 13 (EDIT: Actually, 14!) were regional productions:
Axe! (North Carolina, 1974) Blood Feast (Florida, 1963) Blood Rites (The Ghastly Ones, New York, 1968) Don't Go in the House (New York, 1979) Don't Go in the Wood (Utah, 1981) Don't Look in the Basement (Texas, 1973) The Driller Killer (New York, 1979) The Evil Dead (Michigan/Tennessee, 1981) Fight for Your Life (New York, 1977) I Spit on Your Grave (Connecticut, 1978) The Last House on the Left (Connecticut, 1972) Mardi Gras Massacre (Louisiana, 1978) Snuff (New York, 1976) Unhinged (Oregon, 1982)
Now, there's a documentary out about the whole Video Nasties controversy called Video Nasties! Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, courtesy of director Jake West (Evil Aliens) and producer Marc Morris, which has been making the festival rounds. It includes trailers for all 72 films on the DPP list. Here's the documentary trailer:
Larry Stouffer's Horror High (1974), recently released on DVD by Code Red, has long been a favorite of mine. The Texas film is a take on the Jekyll & Hyde story, with awkward teen chemist Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi) accidentally transforming himself into a murderous monster. In 2007, Mansfield, Ohio, resident and Horror High fanatic Jeff Kilgore adapted the film as a musical (with Stouffer's permission), and presented it four times at the Mansfield Playhouse, with Cardi in attendance for the opening performance.
I conducted an e-mail interview with Kilgore just before the play debuted in the summer of 2007, originally for an article that appeared on the Fangoria Web site (but that has since vanished during the tangled redesign of that site). As far as I know there haven't been any repeat performances, but with the film now out on DVD perhaps some enterprising horror convention organizer can convince Jeff to dust off the script again ...
Where did you first see Horror High? Had you watched it a lot in the ensuing years, or did the memory just stick with you?
I first saw Horror High (as Twisted Brain) on television in 1979 on a Columbus-area late night movie program called Double Chiller Theatre. I saw it a total of three times between 1979 and 1981; twice on Double Chiller and once on a Cleveland station late-night movie. Between 1981 and 2004, the movie remained only a memory. The good old Friday night monster movie shows died off, and while I know it was available on VHS at one point, I'd never been able to locate a copy until I found it on DVD as part of a horror movie collection.
The film obviously struck some kind of nerve with you -- what, to you, is the appeal of the film?
I suppose it's emotionally satisfying on some basic level to witness a likeable character like Vernon Potts, who has been wronged by practically everyone in his life, find a way to extract revenge upon his tormentors. The worm turns, and all that. Something that escaped me when I first saw the film was the tragic romance within the plot. Vernon harbors a secret love for a girl named Robin, one of the popular girls in his class. Robin is the only classmate who treats him with any decency, and seems to have a bit of a crush on Vernon as well. Neither is ready to admit it to the other until it's much too late ... and I just found that to be hopelessly bittersweet and painfully romantic. Vernon and Robin find the love they've been searching for, but it ends unhappily ever after for them.
When and why did you start adapting it as a musical?
I started working on this around December of 2004. Initially, I was writing it simply to amuse myself; sort of a way to stave off the winter blues. I had loved the movie since I was 14 years old and decided it could work as a stage play. Originally I had envisioned a more comedic adaptation of the original screenplay, but I started toning down the jokes shortly into the writing of it. Once the comedy was eliminated, my inner voice spoke up and simply said, "This needs a rock score added to it. This crazy project of yours just might work for real ...".
In addition to Larry Stouffer, who else from the Horror High team have you been in contact with? How did you find them, and what was their response to your idea?
The DVD of Horror High I had purchased accurately recreated my previous viewings of the film -- the print was horribly faded and scratchy, the sound quality was abysmal; it was 1979 all over again. I had read somewhere that Larry Stouffer had provided an uncut, crystal clear copy of the original Horror High for a screening at a film festival, so I did a search on the Internet and found his e-mail address. I wrote to him, asking if there were any plans to release a "special edition" of the film, considering the sorry shape of the print used for the DVD. He wrote back a few days later (much to my surprise!) and informed me it had been so long ago since the film had been shot that he figured there would be little or no interest in the picture at all. If I remember correctly, I replied to him with an e-mail that began, "Dear Mr. Stouffer ... I have this incredibly wacky idea ..."
Mr. Stouffer put me in contact with James P. Graham, who was the executive producer of the original film. I wrote a proposal to Mr. Graham detailing exactly what I wanted to do with Horror High. Mr. Graham telephoned me one morning, we discussed my idea for about 20 minutes, and then a week or so later I had permission to continue with my work. Eventually through them I also came in contact with Pat Cardi, who played Vernon in the film.
All three gentlemen have been extremely supportive and encouraging with this project. I'm terribly grateful for their input, advice, and of course their blessing to let me "play around" with their original work!
Did you write all of the songs, or do you have a collaborator?
I wrote all of the original songs in the play, as well as a couple of pieces of incidental music that are scattered throughout the play. There is an instrumental piece from the original film I rearranged and wrote lyrics for. And of course, there is an arrangement of a song fans of the film will most definitely recognize ...!
Those who composed and wrote the music from the film that is used in the musical play are Rush Beesley, Euel Box, Jerry Coward and Joy Buxton. My collaborators ... that is, those who performed, recorded and engineered the new songs, are Walter Burbach and Christopher Dillon, performing as The Liquid Air. Walter played electric guitar and programmed some of the keyboards, Christopher played bass guitar and drums, and I programmed keyboards as well.
Can you tell me a bit about your background -- college, theatrical experience, etc.?
I grew up a genuine "monster kid" of the 1970's, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, building Aurora monster model kits and staying up late on Friday nights watching horror and sci-fi movies on television. I became interested in theater in 1976, partially from watching reruns of "Dark Shadows" on WEWS out of Cleveland. The next year I tried out for my first school play, an adaptation of the TV series "Get Smart" in which I played the Chief of CONTROL. (I just realized something; television has had more significance than I realized in my theatrical interests ...!)
Over the years I've done quite a bit of local community theater work, both behind and on the stage. I played several characters in Neil Simon's The Good Doctor, the Reverend John Whitherspoon in 1776, and was part of an improvisational comedy group for close to eight years. One of the roles I enjoyed most was playing Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors at the beautiful Renaissance Theater in Mansfield during the summer of 2003. Being eaten up by the giant Audrey 2 was too much fun!
How did you get the Mansfield Playhouse to present the production?
More or less, I just kept pestering the Mansfield Playhouse board of trustees about it! I have been active there since 1998 and served on the board for a few years. They knew me, I knew them. I kept suggesting that they try it out seeing as how the stage is usually "dark" during the summer months. After some discussion, they agreed to give it a shot.
Can you describe the show, and how it compares to the plot of the film? Are there any particular special effects planned for the stage presentation?
This musical follows the film almost exactly; I added a couple of new scenes, but nothing was excised from the story. If you're familiar with the Twisted Brain version of the film, the opposite applies; there is an eight-minute long subplot involving Vernon's father that just meanders on and on and ON ... it stops the film dead in the water. When I made my proposal, I asked if I could strike that out of my version of the story. Mr. Graham told me, "We didn't shoot that, it wasn't in the script, we had nothing to do with it." So Vernon's father met his demise at my hands.
What are your plans for the show after its Mansfield debut?
After these initial 4 performances I plan to see if it needs any further polish, and then ... who knows? Hopefully Vernon Potts will eventually make his way to a theater near you...! :-)
It's back to school time, so we've decided to dedicate September's trailer of the week selections to educational-themed regional horror films. First up: North Carolina's Final Exam (1981), which features one of the most boring, non-descript killers in cinema history.
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.