How Sam Sherman, Independent-International Pictures, Severin Films and DVD Drive-in are Bringing Ballyhoo and Blood Back to Resuscitate the Drive-in.

Kevin Nickelson continues his interview with producer Sam Sherman (part one can be found here) before speaking to David Sehring at Drive-in-Sanity Films LLC and George Reis at DVD Drive-in about their latest collaboration to bring the drive-in back during the pandemic.

Diabolique: You ended up working with Hemisphere, for a time, doing just about everything, and you found out that they were kind of doing something backwards. They were doing some Filipino war epics and prioritizing submitting them overseas before gearing them for the U.S. theaters and drive-ins. Did you see something they didn’t?

Sam Sherman: Very strange story. Hemisphere Pictures consisted of the following people: Irwin Pizor, the president; Kane W. Lynn, executive vice-president; and Eddie Romero, who was their director in the Philippines and another vice president. That was Hemisphere Pictures. I’d discovered them quite by accident because I was collecting 16 millimetre films. I had a print of a Lippert film called Shoot to Kill. I wanted to get a poster for it. I liked to put posters up in my basement, right by the little screening room. I found Screen Guild Productions, which became Lippert Pictures. They were in New York at 723 Seventh Avenue. I came there. It was a little, nothing place. This lady secretary came out to greet me. I said “Do you have this picture Shoot to Kill?” She said “Yes, we do.” I said “Do you have a poster for it?” She said “No, I don’t.” Well, she sent me to a place in Tennessee where I got a lot of rare thirties posters for next to nothing. William Pizor was the head of that, who had been a partner of Robert Lippert and Lippert Pictures. They were involved with making pictures with Jimmy Carreras in England, which became Hammer, Exclusive and then Hammer. I never met anybody but the secretary. She told me to go and get these posters. Years later, I was looking to do a documentary based on an article I did in Screen Thrills called Hillbillies on the Screen.

It was about The Beverly Hillbillies, which had taken the same name as a 30s singing group. I wanted to show how hillbillies went back in time. It was then that I discovered Irwin Pizor. His father made a picture back in 1935 called Paradise Valley, starring that original singing group, The Beverly Hillbillies.

So I came now to where the (Screen Guild) had moved, 729 7th Avenue. The big United Artists building. The move happened because Irwin wanted a bigger office. After his father William Pizor had died He (Irwin) sent the secretary over there. She found there was an office that was available for lease. The head of that office had recently died and his wife wanted to sell the lease and the furnishings. So, they went over there and they found Elizabeth Taylor against this fancy, fancy carved desk. She said “My husband was just killed in a plane crash. Her husband was Mike Todd. The office was his at United Artists from when he made the film Around the World in 80 Days for them. Now she was selling his office and his fancy antique, huge big desk. Irwin took it. The office became the repository for Screen Guild Productions, Irwin’s TV company within Canada, along with Teledynamics Corporation and a new, little venture called Hemisphere Pictures. I got there, into the big office and there was Irwin at this big, fancy desk. He had a beautiful three piece suit that he would wear, replete with a gold watch chain. I told him I wanted to buy a picture from him and asked him if he had a negative that his father made of a film called Paradise Valley from 1935? Irwin said “Not only don’t I have it, I’ve never even heard of it!”

Well, there it is. I’m into a situation where I’m depressed already. I’m getting nothing for the trip. Irwin is kind of a salesman, a king of bait and switch where you go to buy one thing, it’s not there and he offers another thing. Irwin says “I have plenty of other negatives, other films. Maybe there’s something else you want?” I said “Oh, what have you got?” He takes out a list. I see the 1934 The Scarlet Letter. I knew it was a great film. I had to read the book, The Scarlet Letter, at City College. I didn’t want to read it because it sounded boring, so I borrowed a print from Joe Franklin. Loved the film! Of course I read the book after. It turned out that the film was really an identical version to that book.

I told Irwin “I’d like to have this one, The Scarlet Letter. I arranged to buy it from Erwin. This took place over a period of weeks, but we agreed to it. Those were the days where you shook a hand with somebody and didn’t have to have a contract. You’d make it later. He agreed quickly to things and I’m the same way. I came through (Irwin’s) office one day and there’s a man sitting in the corner of the office in a white shirt with sleeves and no tie at a little tiny schoolboy desk. He said to me “Who are you? Who’ve you came to see?” I said “I’m Sam Sherman. I’m a young filmmaker. I’m buying The Scarlet Letter from Irwin.”

He replied “Oh, that’s something my uncle George (Robert G. Vignola) did. His uncle had directed that picture. I said  “Geez, that’s amazing!” We ended up talking. He told me his name was Kane Lynn. I didn’t know this at the time, but he was a former World War II naval hero pilot, as well as a commander in the Navy. I didn’t know anything about how great a man he was, sitting in the corner there like nothing. Irwin’s the big guy. That would change later when Kane took over everything at the company. He liked me, called me Sammy. We became great friends. Kane was always interested in talking to me, seeing what I was doing.

Once I got The Scarlet Letter, I started releasing it with Denver in the south. We were talking one day about Hemisphere putting out their first film. It was a war picture called Raiders of Leyte Gulf that turned out well. That was 1963. I thought it was a brand new picture.

Later, I had the negative. I saw that it was a 1959 picture that Kane and Eddie Romero had made early. It was not made by Hemisphere. The history is that it was, yet it wasn’t. They made it in 1959. They couldn’t give it away for three years so they quietly formed another company around it called Hemisphere and Kane Lynn was explaining to me they were playing it at a drive-in in Texas. They were going to have a pilot, or maybe it had already been done, parachute into the drive-in. I said “What kind of money you guys making on this thing?” Kane said “Well, we mainly sell it overseas. Domestically, we’re making about $35 a play date.” I said “That’s it? That’s not a business. You got to be kidding. $35 a play date? Denver Dixon, with his western that means nothing, is doing over a hundred dollars a date! With The Scarlet Letter, which you had and didn’t want, we’re getting five hundred to a thousand dollars a date. What kind of business are you running?” “Well, what would you suggest?” he asked. I said “You’ve got to go into horror pictures and forget about war movies.” Well, they listened to me. I said “Look, I work for Famous Monsters magazine among other things. I know a lot about horror pictures.” I kept telling them that, not just once but many times. They made a new picture, called The Walls of Hell with Jock Mahoney. It was a great, great movie. They had a big screening for the Department of the Navy in New York. I went to the screening. All the big brass from DOD came in from the Pentagon. They sold it far and everywhere, wherever they could give it away in the United States. A guy by the name of Joe Orenstein came to work for them. I knew him through Joe Franklin. He looked and talked just like Jimmy Durante. He says “Oh, it’s going to be great. I’m going to be out there selling and I’m going to be doing so…” He couldn’t sell Walls of Hell and he was coming in there to do mailings for them. I remember Irwin Pizor saying to his secretary, and Irwin was rather frugal, “Well, let him come in and do his mailings, but he’s got to bring his own stamps!”

I talked to (Hemisphere) some more about horror pictures. Kane says to me “I have a horror picture I made, but it’s of no value. I sold the television.” What did that mean? Has it evaporated because he sold it to television? I said “I’d like to see it. What is it?” He told me “Terror is a Man”. I’d heard of it. Never saw it anywhere. It was on television but I never saw it. He said “I’ll run it for you. In those days, to see it the only thing you’d had were 35 millimetre prints. He went to set up the screening for me across the street at the preview theater from where they were. He ran it just for me. The whole big screening room was like a theater. He ran Terror is a Man. I said “Kane! What a great picture you made. It’s a classic!” It was kind of a takeoff on Island of Lost Souls by H.G. Wells. It was terrific! What a great movie. Kane said “You really like it?” I said “Hey, this is a crowd pleaser. It’s a great film. Why don’t we change the title and reissue it?” He said “Okay, let’s do something.” So we ended up re-titling it Blood Creature. Joe Orenstein was looking at this and said “Yeah, I think that’s the way to get rid of Walls of Hell. I’ll put it together with this horror film. Blood Creature and Walls of Hell. They booked it into a big, indoor theater in Trenton, New Jersey, and the thing grosses over $15,000 in one week. No paid advertising of any significance. So the theaters owed Hemisphere half of that box office. Joe came back from the circuit that owned it and there (in his hand) he had a check. He was walking by everybody with that check. He showed it to everybody. It was a $7,500 check. $7,500 in one week. Blood Creature and Walls of Hell. All of a sudden, Joe Orenstein was now on a salary.

He started booking pictures all over the country. They kept running that double bill, but they realized horror was the answer. Next, they picked up a Philippine picture, which they titled The Blood Drinkers, along with a crummy American film called The Black Cat. The latter was a very amateurish, terrible picture shot on fogged stock and gray. It was a black and white film, too. Well, no one wanted black and white with gray fog coming in over the image. I saw the film. I said “You’re not kidding. It’s an amateurish piece of junk with a fogged negative on it.” “You can’t run this.” They said they were going to run it and did. They put it as a double bill on the bottom of The Blood Drinkers, which was a part tinted, part color film. Blood Creature, The Blood Drinkers and The Black Cat. And, they had a small fortune that sent them on their way to horror. That’s how it happened.  The Black Cat was an awful picture and it had mistreatment of animals. I like animals and all that. It was just awful. 

D: You go on to one of the films you’re most known for, Satan’s Sadists, a picture that was almost sold to AIP and Sam Arkoff.

SS: I was involved with Al [Adamson] on all the productions made in the 1960s. Movies that we couldn’t give away or we lost the rights to. Blood of Dracula’s Castle and stuff like that. We were always looking for our own distribution company. Then, along came a big project called The Unavenged, a western to be made in Spain that Al would direct. It would star Robert Taylor, Dana Wynter, Keenan Wynn and George Montgomery. We were making this for ABC pictures and Cinerama. At ABC, I worked with Barry Diller, who became a major executive in the industry. So we had this thing going. Al went to Spain and it turned out the Spanish co-producer was lying. They were splitting half of their end with the Italian end. They were planning to have the studio work done in Italy, which was to be post-sync. ABC wouldn’t accept that as they needed live track only. The Italians also wanted to replace some of our leads. Instead of Robert Taylor, they wanted Raf Vallone. They had this one and that one. All great actors. ABC wouldn’t accept that so they killed the whole deal.

Al came back from Spain depressed, having spent his last $50,000 on this project. He stayed at the small, Edison Hotel on Broadway. Al said to me “I don’t know what to do. I’ve got to get out of this industry. I’m just fully blind.” I said “Listen, forget about these co-productions. They have separate agendas overseas. You can’t make a co-production. You’ll never get what you want on this side. Let’s make a small film. We’ll raise the money to make the picture. We’ll control it and distribute ourselves domestically. I’m doing that right now. That’s not a problem. When we sell it somewhere overseas, we get five grand a year it’s ours. We get two grand a year, it’s ours. Don’t worry about other people holding our money up. Al said “Yeah, it’s a good idea.” We had about five pictures that have been done. I was involved with those five. They were all, basically, disasters that we couldn’t give away with the exception of our interest in Allied Artists for TV syndication. That was a mini-major we were involved with. We were not looking to be a full distribution company. We’d rather work with the studios like Allied Artists, lay it off and not to be involved with it. I had a talk with Dan Kennis, who had been Irwin Pizor’s partner at Teledynamics.

John Carradine in Blood of Dracula’s Castle, 1969.

Dan was was a friend of mine and he was now winding down a TV syndication company and was looking for something else to do. I told this to Al and he said “yeah, let me come up with something anyway.” I left Al at the hotel. At seven o’clock the next morning, he calls me. He says I just wrote something great. I stayed up all night and I wrote Satan’s Sadists.” I said “Satan’s Sadists is the title I had for The Fakers. I needed it to promote that.” He said “just forget that, I need it here. You could always come up with another title.” Which is all true. He said “I’ll tell you the story” and we continued talking over the phone. I said “that’s great. I like it. It’s excellent.” He says “Let’s go over to Danny and offer it to him. Maybe he’ll back it.” At 11 o’clock we went back to Dan Kennis’ office. Al reads the whole thing off the yellow pad. Dan Kennis says “I like it. I’m going to back it.” I said “Okay, great. Let’s do it. I think we also have to have our own distribution company. We’ll get screwed if we give it to anybody. It’s a really top project and it will do well.” Dan says “I’ll back the distribution company, too.” So that’s what really happened. He did get the money to make that picture and it was really excellent. Came out really good. I took it on the road from coast to coast. I took it around to some distributors and exhibitors all over the place. That was at the end of May, 1969. In June we had the beginning of five hundred play dates throughout the country. We started Independent-International.  

D:  Having the wild success of Satan’s Sadists, you go on to your next project, a film with the early title Blood Freaks. Later, it morphed into Dracula vs Frankenstein. The road to get that project done took a few years I understand. 

SS: It was actually two films that Dan Kennis was backing: Satan’s Sadists and one called Blood Freaks. I said “We’ll title it The Blood Seekers so that somebody wouldn’t hear our title and steal it because we thought it was a strong title. Al shot the film in March of 69. And he really wasn’t ready. You get so many elements that have to go together into shooting a film and Al wasn’t fully prepared. I said to Al “Don’t go.” He tells me “No, I’ve got to. I’ve got this. If I don’t I’m going to lose this, that and the other thing. The whole house of cards is going to fall apart. I’ve got to shoot it now.” I said it’s not ready.” It’s this, that or the other thing. I was one of the main producers on it. I couldn’t influence him. He pushed that thing forward and he threw it together badly. The lab that was working with Al had this editor they supplied. He was an amateur kid who ruined the first assembly of the original film. The film could have been okay by itself. Not great, but okay. But the editing on it was so horrible. They send the print into New York and we take it to the preview theater. Dan Kennis and one of his friends Sid Fraser, who was involved with that project, screened it. They both hated it all. They said no, this can’t be released. We’re junking it. We’re going to take our first loss. Our first loss of the day. Danny was really unhappy. He had the power on the deal to junk the film. I said “Danny, would you mind if I took this thing over and fix it up in some way? I don’t know how, but we’ll pay you guys back and you’re out of it. You care?” Danny said “No, pay us back and we’re out of it. We have no obligation.” Right. So I rented a Moviola and started looking at it. There was a scene where Tony Eisley’s character in the film was talking about the mad doctor who worked at this amusement pier, doing a horror show. The line goes “Well, it’s run by a Dr. Duray. At least that’s what he calls himself.” In the script, I didn’t like this name because it sounded like the actor Dan Duryea.

So I made sure to say to all the actors to call him Duray. Somehow I was out when Regina Carroll managed to use the word in a scene. I guess, if I said it enough, somebody would think they had to do it rather than not do it. It ended up in the film anyway. The point of the matter is the line “at least that’s what he calls himself.” I’m thinking we’ll make him something else. How about if he’s the last of the Frankensteins and he’s going to bring the monster back. Sounded like not a bad idea. Then I said, well, let’s also have Count Dracula. I rewrote this thing. I went out to the west coast to work on it with Al, taking this bad work print with me.

There was a fellow in Al’s building at Ray Dorn’s Hollywood Stage Studios by the name of Tony Lanza. He was a good editor. He had a promo reel for a film he was making about a giant guy with a second head stuck on its neck. It was going to be called Two-Headed Transplant, but it hadn’t been made yet. He made a 10 minute promo reel that he was going to use to promote the final picture. I could see he was a clever editor. I saw how he cut back and forth to cover the cheat. There were many tricks to it. I said “Tony, you seem like a good editor. Maybe I could hire you to do something.” He said “Sure.” Al didn’t like me talking to him. Al was very possessive and jealous and figured that I’m going to go over and start working with Tony Lanza and not him. I said “Al, you’re vice-president of the company. You’re part of our company. Why am I going to work with somebody else? You’re in with us here. Don’t be insecure. I just want to use Tony Lanza as an editor. That’s to our benefit.”

Tony did a great job in re-cutting that whole, awful first cut. He fixed it up the best way he could. We went ahead and shot for a week, however long we shot, footage of the monster and other stuff. And I wanted John Carradine to play Dracula. Al said we can’t afford him. He’ll be $1,500 a day for three days. That’ll be over five grand, which was real money back then. He said “I want to use our friend Roger Engel. Roger was an investment counselor who was helping us in raising money for everything. I said “Why do you want Roger? Al says “he looks like Dracula to me.” I had the idea of only wanting to use name actors. Al had the idea that, if somebody looked the part, he could make it work on screen. That was the difference in our opinions. Eventually we blended it and did both. Al had his new people that he made work while I had my name actors.  

D: So it was yourself, not Al, who preferred to use veteran actors?

SS: Al wanted to discover new people. We had a long talk early on about this whole thing. I told him if we’re going to make small pictures with nobody in them, and nobody knows us, it’s going to make it seem like a small amateur thing. And we can’t give it away. We need to put recognizable people in these films. Al went back to his thing about how he wants to discover new people. I said “Hey, major studios can discover new people and can spend millions to promote them. You can’t do that. You don’t mean anything nor do I. We don’t have any money to promote an unknown person as he wanted to do. We’ve got to have name people in the films to sell them. It makes them seem like a Hollywood professional movie, not amateur night in Dixie. Al listened to me and, from that point on, we did just that. Al liked movies as I did. He loved a lot of these older actors. He’d say “I have no problem with it (hiring them)”. I just said “We’ll keep doing it”. Now, in the case of what became Dracula vs Frankenstein, Al had never seen Lon Chaney Jr. or J. Carroll Naish. He just got them from this agent Jerry Rosen.

I tried to get Paul Lukas to be the mad doctor. I’d seen him on television and he looked pretty good. I was talking to him on the phone when I sent them the script. He read it back and forth and called me back. He says “Sam, I can’t do this film. It’s entirely too bloody.” Then I went to Francis Lederer, who also had a European accent and had been in Return of Dracula. He agreed to do it, having no problem with the bloody aspects in the script. The problem was that he was head of a bank in Canoga Park and had to go to DC for a banker’s conference while we were shooting. So I went to this Jerry Rosen and he offered Chaney and Naish, two for the price of one.

Lon Chaney Jr. (in the role of Groton, the Mad Zombie) and J. Carrol Naish (in the role of Dr. Frankenstein, aka Dr. Duryea). Independent-International Pictures, 1971.

By coincidence, I was sending Al to find Angelo Rossitto. There was a dwarf in the script and I wanted Angie because he was with Bela Lugosi in several pictures. I liked him in them. He had a newsstand on Hollywood Boulevard. Al was walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard, looking for Angelo. He said to me: “I can’t find your man. There’s a dwarf that Jerry Rosen has. We have to go with his man.” It turned out that Angelo was Jerry’s man.

Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto) sells tickets at the entrance of Dr. Duryea’s ‘House of Horrors.’ Dracula vs Frankenstein. Independent-International Pictures, 1971.

Once Al started this thing, then he knew Chaney was dying of throat cancer. Nash was also in bad shape. He had a stroke or something, or whatever it was. Al did the best they could with them. When I got hold of this thing, I cut out all the dialogue of Chaney. I just made him a mute. I said, forget this, this (Chaney’s dialogue) can’t be used. Al was great to work with. “Do whatever you want to do” he said. “You’re the head of the company. You have to sell this.” He was a great partner for me. We worked together on many things. We worked together because I’d like to do this; we did it.

Now, what was interesting, when you talk about J. Carroll, a lot of people think that he was wheelchair-bound before filming even began. Not only was he ambulatory, he did not know how to operate a wheelchair. Well, I should know, because I was injured in the army. I was in a wheelchair. So I knew how to use it. I was trained to use a wheelchair. To give you an idea of the kind of character I was in the Army, I’d go find an unoccupied floor, take some of the guys with me out of the ward and the beds, and run wheelchair races down the hallway!

Sam Sherman with J. Carrol Naish on the laboratory set. © Sam Sherman.

We got Naish, who doesn’t even know how to use a wheelchair. Well, when we were shooting the lab with the monster and everything, he kept wheeling over to the high voltage switchboard from Kenneth Strickfaden’s machines. I said “Oh my God, he’s going to be electrocuted! I’m going to kill J. Carroll Naish. I said “Mr. Naish, please stay right here.” I told Al “would you chalk off the areas that Mr. Naish can go to?” I said “Mr. Naish, see the markings here? Please don’t go beyond this.” But, he kept going back to that switchboard. Well, for some strange reason, Ken Strickfaden rented those machines to us but refused to come to the set to work them. Don’t ask me why. So Naish, who can hardly use the wheelchair, keeps drifting over to the switchboard. I was there the whole time, stopping him whenever he would get too near. I’d keep saying “Listen to this. Please stay over here.” Well, years later I would see that same first Batman serial that Naish played the lead heavy doctor. And he had all those same Strickfaden machines that we had rented. He had them years before in that serial. He put on big rubber gloves and operated that switchboard. In fact, the only one on the set. J. Carroll had known how to use that switchboard from previous experience with it. Here I am trying to get him to wheel away from it, afraid he’s going to be electrocuted!

Al Adamson and crew, film Zandor Vorkov (as Count Dracula) and John Bloom (as the Frankenstein Monster) in the monster creation scene. Gary Graver is behind the camera. Dracula vs Frankenstein. Independent-International Pictures, 1971.

J. Carroll had a scene where Zandor’s Dracula is telling him something. Something like “Dr Frankenstein, I will give you orders and you will take them.” Naish sees himself really down, going from where he was at studios down to nothing on this little picture. And he turns to Roger or Dracula and points his finger at him. He says “You, you…you’re full of shit!” Oh my God. We all cracked up at that one. Al looks at me and says  “Oh, that’s really not that funny.” He didn’t say it wasn’t funny, just not that funny.

When I first met Naish, I said to him “Mr. Naish, I know this is not exactly PRC.” I was just kidding with him. I didn’t know if he had a sense of humor or not. He looked at me and said “You bet your ass it isn’t!” He starred in the great horror picture for PRC called The Monster Maker from 1944. We didn’t get a chance to talk about that but I had a nice chat with him.

Eventually, we went through this whole thing, fixed it up, made it into a picture. I didn’t realize that he (J. Carroll) was the neighbor of Forry Ackerman. A close friend of his called me up after we went through all the changing and the release and all this stuff. Naish had obviously heard that this thing was playing coast to coast and was a big hit. He probably thought it was going to be some failed student film that would never see the light of day. Naish asks them if they could get the people that had that picture to send him, press book, posters, photos, and everything. He wanted everything from the film. I wrote him a long letter and sent him all the stuff. And I think I talked to him later on the phone. This movie was the last thing he ever did and one of the few films that he got top billing on. I’d say a lot of people know him best from this film.

It’s hard to believe, but, It’s the truth. 

J. Carrol Naish with Forrest Ackerman on the laboratory set. © Sam Sherman.

D: Now let’s talk about the work that you’re doing with David Sehring of Drive-in-sanity and, David Gregory, this whole, road show drive-in tour. How did this idea formulate and what is it essentially? 

SS: Well, basically, in the time of the Corona virus you have theaters closed. Major studios closed (as far as distribution). You have people wanting to get out of their homes and begin to get back to life. They want to get some entertainment. Drive-in theaters are now opening but they have no product. The studios aren’t distributing anything to them. They don’t want to distribute new pictures and waste them when they could, eventually, be back in a real market. So David Sehring and I were talking. He said “Well, why don’t we go back to the drive-ins with classic drive-in movies for people who’d seen them or people who’d never seen them. Young people who’d never heard of them.” And we just started doing this and it began to grow.

D: If there is any, small silver lining to the pandemic it’s that drive-ins are stepping in for social distancing entertainment. Was this something that you and David saw and said “we could do something here?”

Al Adamson and Lon Chaney Jr. (in the role of Groton, the Mad Zombie), on the set of Dracula vs Frankenstein. Independent-International Pictures, 1971.

SS: Yeah, we talked about it ourselves. We had made up HD versions with David Gregory (of Severin Films) for his use. And these are all from our original negatives. We  said why don’t we go ahead and use those? We can make up whatever digital versions they need. They don’t use 35 millimetre prints anymore. So we were chatting about it and decided to go forward with it.

D: Do you have a set number of markets that you’re going to be touring with this? 

SS: It’s kind of on the way now, but it’s starting at the Circle Drive-in in Pennsylvania. We’ve got drive-ins in the south, drive-ins on the west coast, all kinds of people that want to do this. We’re starting with Dracula vs Frankenstein. David is working with Raphael Engel (Roger Engel), who was Dracula in the picture, and he’s done a special promotion about Dracula suggesting people donate to one of the blood banks and that’s going to be running some of the drive-ins. When he (Raphael) can get out, he will get out too, and also be involved with the promotion.

Zandor Vorkov (aka Raphael Engel). © Sam Sherman.

David Sehring explains more…

Diabolique: Were you the monster kid growing up? Also, how did you end up with Drive-in-Sanity Films and working with Sam on this new project?

David Sehring: I actually grew up in the sixties, watching Creature Features late night on TV in Columbus, Ohio. I got to see these films such as Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Dracula vs Frankenstein, Beast of Blood. They were all part of my introduction to horror, especially on the big screen. I was lucky enough to have drive-ins in the neighborhood in Columbus. Most of them are gone now.

In 2003, I got an opportunity, while working at AMC, to launch the first 24/7 Hi-Def horror and Creature Feature channel. It was called Monsters HD. This was when HD was brand new. It launched as part of a service that Cablevision, which owned AMC started. It was sort of a satellite service (debuting on the Voom DTH Satellite platform, in fact) that had exclusive high definition channels, like 21 of them, originally at the time. We worked for a guy named Charles Dolan, one of the very famous entrepreneurs who actually helped start HBO. He had a cable system out on long Island and was very entrepreneurial, ahead of his time. Dolan started these niche channels and I got to do my dream job, which was Monsters HD. I programmed, restored and remastered lots of horror films from every decade and worked with the studios. I was buying libraries at the time. I got to meet Sam Sherman, who wanted to sell his library and we couldn’t come to an agreement. I told Sam “Your films meant a lot to me as a kid. And I got interested more and more with horror because of your movies.” He said  “Yeah, you’re one of us, you know.”

What I admired about Sam was that he was, he was a raconteur. He could chew your ear off, but you learned something new every day. We had licensed Dracula vs Frankenstein and mastered it the high definition. Even though it was shot in 16 and blown up, we went ahead. Because normally we considered 16 as not to be worthy of it. The transfer would only do 35, but I made the exception for Sam. We did this interview with him and he just jawed on and gave us all his backstory on this. We just maintained this friendship.

Gary Graver (DP) on set with Zandor Vorkov (aka Roger Engle). © Sam Sherman.

I’d been working at IFC Midnight. I helped source products for them but, then, left there because we just couldn’t come to terms. I’d reconnected with Sam and said “Let’s do a drive-in type of a business and see if we can get something going.” I started to talk to some of the few boutique blue labels out there. Vinegar Syndrome was one of them and another was Severin. I managed to convince those guys to help license and remaster Sam’s library, mainly the Hemisphere Pictures and the Al Adamson pictures, because that’s what I associated with Sam. With the remastering we’ve had the opportunity to go to the drive-in market, which is hungry for movies because the studios are now keeping it for their own streaming services.
While some of them back new releases, there’s still a drive-in market there that’s opened up. The key film I think I and everyone who grew up with the Independent-International library recognizes is Dracula vs Frankenstein. A film that’s known either for its campiness or for something that connected to the fan.

D: I understand Raphael Engel/Zandor Vorkov has shot a piece for the event? Expand on what his role will be and any other extras the event will have.

DS: It was shot as a PSA. He’s dressed up as Dracula. He’s a little gray now, but he does a great job and we are going to be airing this PSA in front of the movies. I hope fans like it. You can only see it at the drive in belt, but we’ve got some shots out there that are being disseminated of how he looks today. We’re planning to develop it even further because as you know, he breaks the fourth wall. We are working on various interactive and other types of opportunities where he breaks the fourth wall and engages the audience because Sam and I like audience participation in the same spirit as the spook show. If you’re familiar with those, a Frankenstein monster would be walking through the audience. We’re going to have some fun at the drive-in with it. Especially as Halloween gets closer. They’re not going to be long or anything, but we’ve tested this out a few years ago at the Circle Drive-in towards the end.

Zandor Vorkov (aka Raphael Engel). © Sam Sherman.

And finally, George Reis…

Diabolique: How did you come to be involved with Severin Films, Sam Sherman, David Sehring on the road tour project?

George Reis: I’ve known David Gregory and his great company, Severin Films, for years. I’d spoke to Sam Sherman, at length, several times over the years. The first time was when the “Blood Island” films were coming to DVD and I wanted to give them full coverage on DVD Drive-In. The second time was when I asked him for licensing permission to screen a 35mm print of Dracula vs. Frankenstein at the second Drive-In Super Monster-Rama event back in 2008. I met David Sehring when he was in charge of the Monsters HD cable channel and I was writing copy for them. He has been the main force behind getting this drive-in nostalgia initiative off the ground, and he’s very passionate about it.

D: It seems as if people want nostalgia, comfort entertainment during the quarantine. This, combined with drive-ins being ready for social distance entertainment, would seem to make a perfect marriage? Is all of this what sold you on the project?

GR: When I set out to get a nostalgic monster movie event at a drive-in theater off the ground back in 2007, it was really difficult to get any venue interested. The Riverside Drive-In Theatre, in Vandergrift, PA, was open to the idea, so I’ve been hosting Drive-In Super Monster-Rama there every September since 2007. Now we also do a Spring event, the April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama. It took a few years for the September event to find an audience but now, due to its success, other drive-ins all over the states have been doing their own similar monster movie weekends. I’ve had people come to the event, see how it’s done, and now no longer come because they were able to convince their own local drive-in to let them come in and do their own “monster-rama” type weekends. I guess imitation is the best form of flattery here.

Now, with the pandemic and the current need for social distancing at events and gatherings, drive-in theaters have re-entered the lexicon, virtually overnight, which I find fascinating. A few years ago, the community at large didn’t even know that drive-in theaters still existed. Younger people had pretty much no clue what drive-ins are, or they had certainly never been to one. What’s remarkable, in terms of what I’ve been trying to get people interested in again for the last 15 years, is that these drive-in theaters (as well as pop-up drive-ins) are looking to show older movies since there is barely any new product coming out of Hollywood at this time. Now drive-ins seem very open to showing the schlock cinema of Al Adamson where, I think, before all this they wouldn’t touch that type of thing with a ten-foot pole. So it’s a perfect time to roadshow these kinds of films, and so far, they seem to be bringing in crowds, especially during a time when public entertainment is extremely limited.

D: Is there a consideration to keep this going if more drive-in owners come calling? More film packages and ballyhoo?

GR: David Sehring is the man with great vision and ability to license these films and make them available for screening. If he made other film libraries available, I would be the first to jump on it and book them for a Drive-In Super Monster-Rama event. I already booked the entire Blood Island trilogy for September 2020, along with the precursor to these films, Terror is a Man. These entries from Hemisphere Pictures (who also originally released Adamson’s Brain of Blood) are part of this IIP film package that is being made available. I absolutely plan on re-creating some of the original ballyhoo campaigns when we show the Blood Island films in September.

D: What is it about IIP’s film catalogue that fascinates you?

GR: Since the IIP catalogue consists of all of Al Adamson’s films, everything is catered to drive-in theaters, at least in terms of what was in demand on double and triple bills 40 or 50 years ago. You have monsters, bikers, naughty airline hostesses, horny storybook princesses, mad scientists, kung-fu avengers, vindictive cowboys and cowgirls, aliens and everything else under the sun. As good or bad as Adamson’s films might be, seeing them in a drive-in setting will definitely give one an authentic experience of what these outdoor theaters were like in their 1960s and 1970s heyday. Of course, these films are as fascinating to me on the small screen, and now again on the big screen, as Adamson’s work also acts as a history of drive-in cinema. The IIP catalogue also includes all those mouth-watering Philippines horror movies that Sam Sherman either had a hand in the production of or brought over to the US. You have the aforementioned Blood Island trilogy as well as the unique vampire epics The Blood Drinkers and Curse of the Vampires, which I’m also hoping to bring back to the drive-in screen.

Anthony Eisley and Al Adamson. © Sam Sherman.

While it is an uncertain time we live in, I would like to think that the drive-in revival is not just a temporary blip on our cultural radar that will only disappear again when things return to normal. Now, more than ever, film entertainment is needed. As far as us 60s and 70s drive-in monster kids are concerned, if this success comes as a result of Sam Sherman, David Sehring, David Gregory, George Reis and their extravaganza Sam Sherman’s Retro Road Show Camp Classics Drive-In Tour, that will be blood icing on the corpse cake.

Next play date for Dracula vs Frankenstein and Brain of Blood is at The Family Drive-In in Stephens City, Virginia, July 1 & 2.