Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ray Dennis Steckler

My favorite cult/"incredibly strange" film director is Ray Dennis Steckler, who passed away this past January. Steckler's best work is from the 1960's and includes films such as "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies", (hereafter referred to as "Creatures"), "The Thrill Killers", 'Wild Guitar" and "Rat Pfink A Boo Boo". He also directed videos for Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin , Jimi Hendrix, and others

Steckler's best films are fun, unique, and just plain crazy. He was wildly innovative, given the small budgets he had to work with. "Creatures" was advertised as as "the world's first monster musical". It became a musical not because that's what Steckler had in mind when he started the film, but because it fit well the the available costumes. The dancing is really uncoordinated because the numbers weren't even rehearsed. Steckler also saved money by using family members and friends as stars of his films. Steckler ( often under the name of Cash Flagg) and his ex-wife, Carolyn Brandt, starred in many of the films. I remember reading that there was a scene in "The Choopers"where his kids were scared by a monster.The scene is only there because he didn't have a baby sitter that day so he worked them into the film.

"Rat Pfink a Boo Boo" is my favorite Steckler film. It's,fun,bizarre and unique. It features some of the great classic cheapness of his films. The title was supposed to be Rat Pfink and Boo Boo, but he couldn't afford the $30 it cost to have the title changed in the print. The movie completely changes course in the middle as well. What starts out as a thriller about a kidnapping becomes a comedy featuring "Rat Pfink" and "Boo Boo"dressed in cheap, weird, Batman and Robin type costumes. Steckler admitted that he thought the thriller part of the movie was pretty boring, so he finished it by changing it to a Batman and Robin parody. The obscure rockabilly singer Ron Haydock, who also appears in "The Thrill Killers" and other Steckler films, plays Rat Pfink, aka Lonnie Lord. This film also contains Steckler's most outrageous low-budget stunt - Rat Phink and Boo Boo appear at the back of a parade at the beginning of the film. The parade however has nothing to do with the film . Steckler just had Rat Phink and Boo Boo in full costume, stand at the back of the parade. One wonders what the organizers of the parade thought.

Although Steckler himself didn't achieve any commercial success, two who worked with him did. Lazlo Kovacs and and Vilmos Zsigmond. Both had fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising, which they had filmed extensively . They worked together on a number of "B" films, including "Creatures", and moved on to more mainstream films. Both worked on "Easy Rider" and numerous major films . Zsigmond won an Academy Award for "Best Cinematographer" for his work on " Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Some clips from Steckler films:

The trailer for Wild Guitar, starring Arch Hall, Jr, who made six low-budget films in the 1960's and will be the subject of a future post.

The trailer from "Creatures"

Riding the Pfinkmobile

The song "You are A Rat Pfink"

The "Incredibly Strange Film Show" Steckler episode (1988)



  1. I don't like musical numbers where everybody starts dancing in perfect harmony and it is a huge moment - it feels contrived and like too much. The unrehearsed fanatical dancing is much more fun:)

  2. Rewatched "Zombies" - unrehearsed and fanatical fits so well here:).