When we talk about the movies of directors Michael (1937-77 killed by helicopter blades) and Roberta Findlay (1948-), many will think of pornography, if they know the filmmakers at all. But it is their horror movies that this article will be concerned with, and even though Michael Findlay only made a couple before his early death, Roberta made several more – and a couple are worth a look.
Also, the horror films that the once married couple were involved in – Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) and Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) can’t be discussed without mentioning the work of director and writer Ed Adlum (1944-) and screenwriter Ed Kelleher (1944-2005).
I’ll start this article off from the point of view of Roberta Findlay. She said of her career as a pornographer as compared to that of her horror career: “You know the money shots in porn films? Well, this was just a different substance. It was red.”
Roberta’s horror career is one that began after her soft-core work with her husband in the 1960s, as she worked on those two mentioned 1970s horrors, then went back to pornography and then returned to horror in the 1980s. She retired after her punk comedy Banned (1989) failed to find a distributor.
“There were no more video distributors to sell garbage to,” she said rather self-effacingly of her horror career, in the end, which included the recent releases of Blood Sisters (1987), Prime Evil (1988) and Lurkers (1988).
I guess you could say that Roberta and husband Michael never really worked their way up from the bottom, although there are admirers of their sleazy sex pictures which perfected the art of ‘quality’ sexploitation for a generation of movie goers in the 1960s.
“People who like those old movies seem to have deep psychological problems,” said Roberta in another interview She admitted she carried out her career for the money and she hid behind male pseudonyms for several of the porn flicks she directed in the mid to late 1970s.
It was also in the 1970s that she declared she had no interest in women’s lib or the idea of being seen as a feminist filmmaker.
“As long as I get paid,” she said in one interview, she will be that feminist if you want her to be.
The Michael Findlay directed features in the 1960s reached their popular peak with the Her Flesh Trilogy (1967/68) which Michael produced, directed, wrote and edited. These black and white soft-core and low-budget epics were popular and as for deep psychological problems, none had them more-so than the lead character in the director’s The Ultimate Degenerate (1969) who could only have sex with women using corn cobs and cans of whipped cream. But almost enough said about these minor atrocities except to mention that Roberta denied her input in these movies despite being credited in many early examples. They are also examples of the formation of the early slasher movie with women being killed by a disturbed male antagonist while there is sexual titillation going on.
“My husband was making those films and I guess I knew about them. I was in school. I wasn’t quite married to him as yet, but I left home at sixteen and moved in with Michael and he was making these pictures…”
Roberta said she doesn’t remember if she was on the set of the Her Flesh Trilogy. But she was on the set for many more over the years and began eventually to photograph Michael’s films which would peak with Shriek of the Mutilated.
Roberta loved b-grade cinema of the 1930s and 40s and thought anything Michael did in the beginning was “fabulous and spectacular”.
Indeed, to watch the Her Flesh Trilogy shows a good filmmaker at work in a sleazy world of murder and peeping toms.
Michael, when he first met Roberta, felt he didn’t share the pretensions of some of the other films she enjoyed such as The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), I Married a Witch (1942) and Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958).
She said of Michael’s early movies that he directed and edited which Roberta later did the photography: “Mike called the shots though and essentially wrote the films although some scenes were semi-improvised.”
That Roberta appeared in some of Michael’s nudie nasties was because she was so nervous that he would “succumb to his leading ladies” if she wasn’t there.
Her work as a photographer shows some beautiful images in otherwise shabby narratives, which by the early 70s had turned into hardcore sex films.
Before Invasion of the Blood Farmers and Shriek of the Mutilated they made a film called The Slaughter (1971), which was so awful that it was shelved. It was later that a producer bought the Argentine shot film and added an extra ten minutes of footage at the end and retitled the film Snuff (1975) under the pretence that there was a real snuff murder at the end of the film, something which capitalized on rumours at the time that such films really existed. Children need only to watch Tik Tok today!
The producers of Snuff used protesters outside cinemas upon its release and the film made a near unprecedented $300,000 in its first few weeks. The controversy of this film helped mobilize the anti-pornography movement because of the market value of screen depictions of violence toward women. The Findlays made just $1500 from the film.
Roberta said of her beginnings as a filmmaker that she just “picked up a camera and shot”. The first was The Slaughter and when she told Michael that she didn’t know what she was doing, he told her: “Aim it and press the button.”
Roberta went on to edit as well and she said it was “great fun… putting together a film is a fun puzzle.”
She remembered during the second leg of her pornography career that she was shooting in a closed shopping mall for the hardcore film Honeysuckle Rose (1976) when the cops busted her and her cast and crew, sending 20 of them to jail for obscenity. Eventually the charges were dropped.
Roberta said of Michael: “He was a film nut – a true cinephile… He knew more about film history than anybody I’ve ever met.”
She said the reason why she worked as a cameraman on Michael’s later horrors was because “he had panic attacks and was very scared” and later added that “He was very disturbed. He had a lot of emotional and mental problems and the films were a good outlet.”
“A lot of it had to do with being Catholic… I guess he found the most anti-thetic thing to being a priest.”
It was after the failure of The Slaughter that the Findlays got involved with producer and director Ed Adlum and his film Invasion of the Blood Farmers. Adlum and Michael had become “firm friends” upon meeting and he would edit Adlum’s movie.
“There was this big blowsy Irishman sitting at the moviola,” said Adlum about their first meeting and how “We both loved to drink beer.” Adlum also found Michael “a troubled guy” who had done one year in the seminary and quit. No wonder really!
Adlum got his start in showbusiness making “several really bad” albums according to himself with Jimmy Walker and his band the Castle Kings in the 1960s.
For Invasion of the Blood Farmers, he raised money from friends in the jukebox business after Adlum got inspiration from a friend to make a film about people who find sustenance on blood.
The film was written by Adlum and another music-oriented writer Ed Kelleher. The pair would also write Shriek of the Mutilated and Kelleher would become a successful novelist and write a couple of Roberta’s later 1980s horrors.
Invasion of the Blood Farmers was made for $24,000 and it is said that most cast members acted for a six-pack of beer when it was shot over three weekends.
With a lurid exploitation title worthy of those coined by Al Adamson (1929-95 murdered), the film starts with narration: “Their gods were different… they made mistletoe the kiss of death… they were the Druids!”
The narrator sounds a lot like James Mason (1909-84 heart attack), but it isn’t, as what would James Mason have to do with such a movie? Few would recognise the cast names in the film… But directed by Adlum, this ultra-low budget piece of anti-Druid nostalgia is fun with Roberta credited as cinematographer under the pseudonym of Frederick Douglass. But according to Adlum this isn’t so as Michael and someone else filmed the movie.
The plot has a young couple become involved with ‘farmers’ who drain the blood from victims they keep in their countryside lair. The girl’s father is experimenting with blood in another nearby country house…
“It has undergone the most incredible transformation,” says the doctor about a blood sample which is reproducing at “a wild rate”. This bubbling blood the doctor thinks could be “a major milestone in pathology” or “a major disaster for mankind”.
No-one seems too concerned as the doctor has a leisurely breakfast the next morning and reads the newspaper while his daughter’s boyfriend who is supposed to be helping out suggests they go for a ride through the town. Yes, it is that seriously loopy.
That it was written by movie lover Ed Kelleher shows that there is some serious tongue in cheek involved. Kelleher plays the hippie character mopping up the blood in the bar in one scene of Invasion of the Blood Farmers.
The film has actors obviously reading from cue cards while the ‘farmers’ are using the blood to help resurrect the Druid Queen of the Sangroid. There are also characters named Creton, who leads the Druids and Sontag or Kinski/Kinsky, who is an associate – not to mention a blood farmer named Egon.
The Druids, so it seems, would definitely be interested in the doctor’s experiment producing a never-ending source of blood!
There’s a kind of sound effect like pigs snorting as the blood Is being drained from victims which is similar to that of The Slime People (1963).
Not to be taken seriously, Invasion of the Blood Farmers is a work of art of some sort that lives in a world of its own like Adlum and Kelleher’s and the Findlay’s follow-up Shriek of the Mutilated which is their ‘masterpiece’.
“The thing isn’t as bad as I remember,” said Adlum at a 2012 Grindhouse screening of one of his movies which had audience members laughing.
Invasion of the Blood Farmers definitely got an R-rating from the MPAA according to Adlum despite reports it got a PG and it was later seized as a video nasty in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.
As for Shriek of the Mutilated: “This whole place is fabulous,” says a young character Keith Henshaw played by Michael Harris (no info) in his only film. He is a guest of Dr Prell at Prell’s favourite restaurant, where even the salad is “fabulous”.
The “exclusive and unique clientele” enjoy “a specialty here I know you’ll enjoy” says Prell.
So, Keith and Prell have a portion each which is the set-up for Shriek of the Mutilated.
Perhaps one of the most perfect good-bad horror movies ever made, I hated this film as a twelve-year-old when I stayed up after midnight to watch it… But it has grown on me over the years until it has become one of my favourites. Yes, it is fabulous!
Young Keith is one of a bunch of students that Dr Prell is going to take to Boot Island where there are reports of the sighting of a yeti or sasquatch… “Or beast or abomination” according to mentally disturbed Spencer St. Clair played by Tom Grail (no info) who has a bit as a bar patron in Invasion of the Blood Farmers. Poor Spencer went on Prell’s last expedition and survived an attack by the yeti or monster.
Spencer laughs maniacally while draining a vodka bottle and is the life or death of the party where the hit song Popcorn is playing in the background… But he will never be the same again as he returns home and tries to murder his wife for trying to curtail that night’s drinking… It is with her dying breath that she throws a toaster into the bathtub where Spencer is reclining with a beer covered in blood.
As cheap as Shriek of the Mutilated is, you’ve got to admire Adlum and Kelleher dreaming up the screenplay for this monstrous masterpiece which follows Prell’s expedition with four students, including actresses Jennifer Strock (no info) and Darcy Brown (no info). Strock has a role as Girl on Rack in the notorious horror Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) but like most of the cast failed to make the transition to full time or even part time acting in feature films noted by IMDb.
“This, my friends, is Dr Karl Werner,” says Prell as he introduces the students at the mansion on Boot Island and then asks: “… Is it still out there? Have you seen it?”
“No, but I heard it,” says Dr Werner. “Your yeti is waiting for you yet Ernst.”
Werner is played by another forgotten actor Tawm Ellis (no info).
There is a mute hulk of an Indian servant at Werner’s small mansion named Laughing Crow who looks slightly malevolent and who is also a specialty cook.
The film is photographed in the same fashion as Invasion of the Blood Farmers simply because it is probably Michael again along with a credited Roberta Findlay behind the lens. Michael Findlay is directing this time and put together what he shot in the editing room. It looks almost amateurish at moments but it is all the more endearing as a result.
We look at Roberta Findlay’s horror movies in PART TWO.