He’s been called the Card King as well as the King of Pop Culture. A guy whose unyielding love of the realms of fantasy has found him both preserving legacies as well as creating them. As a ten year old I read the advice column he wrote in The Monster Times under the moniker Big G- both G for Gerani and G for Godzilla, the giant lizard supposedly penning those helpful hints (Shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone it was actually Gary!). As a teen I stuck Gerani designed Wacky Paks all over my High School gym locker (my fave being Slaytex Living Gloves), then in college studied his articles in Starlog with religious zeal.
Chances are, you’ve crossed paths with Gary Gerani and never knew it. You’ve watched his movies. Owned his books. Read his magazine articles. Collected his bubble gum cards. If you consider yourself a Monster Kid and came of age in the 70’s and 80’s, then Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, Dinosaurs Attack, The Monster Times, Fantastic Television and Starlog are all familiar friends that elicit warm, nostalgic memories. Gary had a hand in writing them all. And did I mention PUMPKINHEAD? That iconic 80’s creature feature that even the new monster kids on the block know and love? Gary wrote that one, too.
The real treat came in 1988 with the release of PUMPKINHEAD, a welcome return to old school monster movies in a genre oversaturated with unimaginative slasher sequels. PUMPKINHEAD never made it to my local theater thanks to poor distribution, but he became an eternal presence on my VCR where I discovered him like buried treasure, and 20 years later, he himself sits on my bathroom window in plastic Todd McFarlane effigy.
More importantly, the man behind these rites of passage has become my cherished mentor and deeply adored friend.
My personal path with Gary crossed back in 1996 when I was working at new Line Cinema analyzing scripts for Mike DeLuca. A script he had written called VAMPIRELLA made its way onto my desk, and I was blown away by its merits. I wrote up these merits in a very gushing “reader report”, a love letter that, alas, was not good enough to result in the script being bought by New Line, but did result in Gary Gerani contacting me to say Thanks.
Thus began the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say, a friendship forged by two guys whose love of the movies, particularly monster movies, has provided the fodder for endless dinners at Jerry’s Deli in Sherman Oaks, California; dinners where Gary and I can be found once or twice a month engaged in animated conversations all things genre. I love yielding myself to his reveries on the days of monsterdom a bit before my time, and it’s often hard for me to believe that my awesome buddy is the same guy who created all those wonderful benchmarks of my own youth. This industry we work and play in can both be very rewarding and demeaning. Failure does walk hand in hand with success on Hollywood Boulevard. But as long as I have my “Geek Out” sessions with Gary Gerani to look forward to, I know I’m not alone.
I usually get the Roast Beef on rye with a side of Russian dressing.
For Gary, it’s the turkey dinner with double mashed. Feel free
to join us. Order whatever you want. The geeking’s about to begin…..
|TIM: Dude! Did you see Warner’s
put out a double feature DVD of MOON PLANET ZERO and WHEN DINOSAURS
RULED THE EARTH?
GARY : YES! And even though it says it’s rated G on the
box, it’s actually the unrated edition! Best Buy actually
had to pull them off the shelves because of parents thinking they’re
getting their kids LAND BEFORE TIME and instead getting topless
Wow, I’m glad I got a copy.
You know, it’s funny, cuz when I was five years old, Hammer
put the G rated version out in American theaters, and my mom took
me to see thinking it a kiddie show, only to be horrified by all
the jiggling, near nakedness! Even at G it was pretty extreme.
I’ve been waiting for it to come out on DVD ever since.
Even through my hazy cloud of gayness I get the appeal!
(laughs) Well, Victoria Vetri does make quite a sexy cavegirl!
She would have made a perfect Vampirella!
Remember the first time
we came here to Jerry’s Deli? 1995? I was a script reader
at New Line. Gene Simmons had submitted a script to me called
VAMPIRELLA supposedly written by Mark Carducci, but it turned
out to be written by you! I have to honestly say of over the
1000 plus scripts that crossed my path at New Line, if I had
to narrow it down to the Top 10, VAMPIRELLA would be among them.
Maybe even top 5. Before BUFFY, UNDERWORLD, RESIDENT EVIL, your
script for VAMPIRELLA was an action/horror film unlike anything
that came before, but that has been echoed ever since. And I
really went to town praising the script in my coverage, (God
knows why New Line never made the film), and then I got a call
from you saying that YOU were the author and thanking me for
my positive review.
(laughs) God bless Mark Carducci! My late, beloved writing partner.
I don't know how his name came to be on the script… Well
actually I do- He put it there! What can I say? He was my best
friend and my writing partner, so he had some input and reactions,
but basically I wrote it. He did, however, slip it to Gene Simmons
who slipped it to you, but I guess when he saw the coverage,
he copped to what he had done and showed it to me. At which
point I said "Oh my God! I gotta get in touch with this
guy!" Anybody that likes my work that much, I have to sit
down and talk with him! And that led to us being friends.
|That was 13 years ago, and that began our
weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, as often as we can, “Geek Out”
sessions. Which I treasure, because...
Well, Tim. You're kind of like my younger brother in a lot of
ways. You came from New Jersey and I came from New York, so we
remember when Channel 5 used to run CREATURE FEATURES on Saturday
nights back in the early ‘70s. We even remember the theme
song they used, Dick Jacob’s version of that cool cut from
“It Came from Outer Space.” So there are all these
geeky little connections that we have…
we can remember what was on the cover of the first issue of FAMOUS
MONSTERS we bought. And what the paint smells like when you were
painting your Aurora monster models!
Absolutely, absolutely. And this
is total therapy for me! To connect with someone who brings
me back to my childhood, who loved all the same things that
I loved and still love. This is why we got into the entertainment
business, right? We wanted to create stuff like that ourselves.
I mean, I’m proud to say I’m a first generation
Monster Boomer fanboy. Now that was back in the early 60’s,
and if you were a film buff back then, things were relatively
bleak. You couldn't just get a poster of your favorite movie
off ebay, after all. Hell, you couldn't get a poster of your
favorite movie anywhere! It was literally against the law. Movie
posters were distributed to theaters by the National Screen
Service. They were not sold to the general public, so if you
wanted an actual poster, you had to find obscure little shops
in Greenwich Village like Mark Ricci’s legendary Memory
Shop, or Cinemabilia.
|I never knew this, this is fascinating.
Were they meant to destroy the posters after the films played
in theaters? Or return them…?
One thing you need to remember for context is this - Even though
audiences always loved movies, they didn’t really understand
or respect them the way they do now. There’s a famous expression,
“This is where I came in.” That expression comes from
the fact that, years ago, people would just walk into a movie
at any point. It would never occur to them that writers and directors
were devising a story that begins, pulls you in, then pays off.
Would they start a book in the middle? No. But with movies, it
became standard practice. PSYCHO, actually, was the very first
film to literally say in its advertising that we will not
seat you after the movie begins. Anyway, the main purpose of a
poster is to advertise an upcoming event; you’re intrigued
by what it promises, you go see the event, and that's that. But
now we live in an age where many of us appreciate the joy of the
poster itself, the excitement of the movie it promoted and its
place is in pop culture history.
But like I’ve said, owning this stuff was literally against the
law, so if you were a movie buff in the 60's, the only way that you
could get movie posters or stills was to be inventive. As a young student
at the High School of Art & Design in New York, I went to one of
the school officials and said, "I'm really into film. I’d
love to put on an auditorium show that overviews the history of science
fiction movies. Can you give me a letter on school letterhead, so I
can go to the studios and tell them I’m doing a presentation,
and would greatly appreciate some related visual material?” This
was my way of getting my foot in the door to all the studio divisions
in Manhattan, and coming away with 16 mm trailers, stills, posters and
Were the studios receptive to this?
Yes, they were because they said, "Oh, here's a student from the High School of Art and Design. He's doing something on film, which is a form of art. Sure!" Now, this wasn't a con job, because I ultimately put on a fantastic auditorium show with all of this material!
And you basically just cut & spliced these trailers all together?
Of movie trailers?
Yes. It was the history of science fiction movies in
Oh it was great! The trailers began with THE BEAST FROM 20,000
FATHOMS which was early 50's, and we eventually got to 2001:
A SPACE ODYSSEY, which was the big finale. 2001 came out in
1968, and this was like 1969, 1970. I remember putting the BENEATH
THE PLANET OF THE APES TV spot ahead of the theatrical trailer
to 2001, because the 2001 trailer was so much more dramatic.
I'd come home from the studios with little reels of film, then splice them all together on somewhat larger reels. Each reel would have a theme, usually based on a movie genre.
|That's fricking awesome.
How old were you at the time?
Well, it was my senior year at high school, so I guess
I was about 18. Here's an important point. Unlike today, nobody
else was doing this sort of thing back then. Back in the late
60's, all young people seemed concerned about, and rightfully
so, was the Vietnam War, racism, the changes in our culture, getting
high. Movies, with a few very important exceptions, seemed to
represent the establishment. Nobody in my circle really gave a
crap about them. Especially old movies. The most uncool thing
in the world in 1969, the world of Woodstock, LSD, and Jimi Hendrix,
was to be retro.
By the way, I’m sorry that I took you away from the Republicans tonight. Instead of sitting in here in Van Nuys at Jerry’s eating roast beef, you could be watching John McCain drooling over Governor Gidget, his running mate…
A totally different culture! We had just come out of those assassinations,
all of our values seemed to be changing. Science fiction and
fantasy? Not really relevant, in spite of the moon landing.
I mean, it was out there, 2001 and PLANET OF THE APES were indeed
huge hits at the boxoffice. But even so, if you were a science
fiction fan or a comic book enthusiast in the late ‘60s,
you were pretty much out of the “flower power” mainstream.
Even with STAR TREK and DARK SHADOWS being top shows
STAR TREK was not a top show then. It only became a
cultural phenomenon in the early 70's, in syndication. As a
matter of fact, that’s how I was able to sell my first
book, Fantastic Television, in ’77. That never
would have happened in the ‘60s.
You’re right about her! (Laughs) “Gidget Goes Republican.”
Sorry. Political detour! But getting back to being a horror and science fiction fan…
Like I said, it was the most uncool thing in the world. Because 100 percent of what my peers wanted to do was to change the world, or get stoned at rock concerts… By the way, rock n’ roll? If you used the term rock n’ roll in the late ‘60s, people would look for a pie to throw at you. Or maybe something worse.
It was “rock music,” man. Rock n’ roll was another George Bush-type early 60’s Republican idea! (laughs). No, seriously. Rock n’ roll as a term was considered corny and condescending at the end of the decade. It was “rock music,” period. Rock n’ roll as a term regained its popularity years later, once us Boomers got over our adolescent angst over such things. In the late 60’s, if you claimed to enjoy BEACH BOYS-style tunes, that’d be like, “How can you say something so embarrassing in public?” It was old school, wholesome, pretty sounding. Everything current music wasn’t. The reason why this has a bearing on what we’re saying is that it reflects the attitude of those times perfectly. The past was dead, for the most part, challenging the establishment was everything, and nostalgia hadn’t started yet. So if you loved super heroes or were an old movie buff or sci-fi fan during this period, you were usually an insecure, solitary kind of person who desperately looked for the couple of other people who had your interests. Never mind getting laid… (Laughs)
Yeah, loving that kind of stuff is pretty much a guarantee you’re not going to get laid.
Yes. Losing your virginity was especially difficult if you were a fan of science fiction growing up. If you were a fan of comic books you were a virgin for the rest of your life!
But luckily, thanks to THE DARK KNIGHT, you finally got laid this summer. (Laughs)
Oh, it was wonderful! (Laughs) I’d like to do it again sometime! Maybe in the fall? Looking back to my youth, if you fell in love with movies you became obsessed with movies. It was a totally one-sided relationship. The movie had 100 percent power and you were its slave. You might have to wait a year to see it on TV, and even then it might be cut up and censored. So, what we did, we found a way to change the nature of that relationship. Once you could somehow own a movie and watch it whenever you wanted to, it no longer had total possession of you. Now you could make that movie dance to your tune whenever you wanted. That incredibly gorgeous woman who had total control over you, who you were so gaga over, now, finally, you had some leverage, some degree of control. I’ll take this sick analogy with ‘woman’ even further. Back then, the movies were more like Pier Angeli (James Dean’s real-life actress girlfriend), a beautiful female who seemed sweet and sympathetic and open to your loving overtures, because you were one of the few who truly cared. Now, she’s more like Nicole Kidman, someone who’s got a sassy, haughty smile and little patience for semi-losers. “Hey! I’m still great, but you’re not so unique anymore! There’s an entire culture of film lovers out there now, just like you, so I afford to pick and choose. See ya later…maybe!” Back in the day, we were the true believers, the valiant vanguard, and film was our satisfied mistress. Today, Lady Cinema simply has too many suitors…our relationship with movies is entirely different.
Yeah. Now there’s DVD and Blu-Ray and Netflix, but when I was a teenager, it was VHS and before that, regular, edited programmed television. I used to actually tape the audio of movies off of the TV with a tape recorder! Speaking of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, I tape recorded that movie off ABC when I was 10 and must’ve listened to it over and over like a radio program. I can probably quote that entire movie from beginning to end, sadly! (Laughs)
|Which almost makes it not as special. I
mean you guys were Indiana Jones out there looking for the Holy
I’d be the kind of guy who would want to go to
an out-of-town place just because they were showing a particular
movie. My past is filled with stories like this. For instance,
HORROR OF DRACULA, probably the greatest of all the Hammer horror
films. It was in a Warner Brothers syndicated package for television
in the 60’s and it was shown on Channel 3 in Hartford, Connecticut
and therefore listed in the NY edition of TV GUIDE. So we geeks
knew this movie was being shown and we were desperately trying
to see it. Of course, I had caught it in theaters when it first
came out, but I do remember going to Long Island where my cousin
Joe had just put up an antenna aimed at Connecticut. So indeed,
we were able to pull in Channel 3 from Hartford, Connecticut,
enabling me to watch HORROR OF DRACULA at 1:35AM on a Friday night,
about two years before Channel 7 in NY premiered it for the very
first time. So, yeah, the moral of the story is, you had to hunt
for the things you loved, and therefore the satisfaction when
you found them was a hundred times greater than it is today.
A lot of young fans did that because that was the most they could do. At least you had the soundtrack
to the entire movie. And God bless that, because here’s the thing… Those of us who loved this stuff became the ultimate protectors of it. Everybody thought it was shit. And everybody thought you were shit. So we said to ourselves, okay, we’re going to change that. We’re going to change the world. Just the way the Beatles changed the world. We’re going to make the things considered absolute crap the most popular things ever. And by making these things respectable, we’ve made ourselves and our interests respectable at the same time.
Tell me about it, Gary. I feel like I have spent my entire life validating my interest and apologizing for the fact that I prefer Dracula to baseball. Not to knock baseball, but I’m just saying…
Baseball’s fun, but… (Laughs)
Right! I’m just not good at it! But I am good at biting
people on the neck (laughs).
My drive-in where I saw all my favorite movies is now a freakin’ swap meet!
Right! So you and I and my generation
grew up and became screenwriters and directors and film executives
and took something that was considered absolute garbage, like
the BATMAN TV show with Adam West, and transformed it into a
potential Oscar winner called THE DARK KNIGHT, which is currently
the second most financially successful movie in the history
of the human race. This is our victory. We were the vanguard.
We took all that stuff that was rich with imaginative fantasy,
all that wonderful stuff that our parent’s world said
was abnormal, stupid, childish, etc., and we turned it into
the most exciting and successful and interesting material in
entertainment history. That’s our legacy.
The monster kids.
The monster kids did this. The comic book kids... The ultimate
revenge of the nerds!
We finally found each other!
On a massive scale! Of course, the way you begin close
friendships is always kind of interesting. I was going to my
local movie theaters to grub stills and posters for my high
school show, when I suddenly found out that there was another
fellow in Brooklyn who was doing exactly the same thing! That
wonderful old movie palace is now some kind of bargain store,
Well, growing up in Brooklyn, we used to have a movie theater on every other block. Today they’re all gone…but you can still see the remnants. The beautiful architecture peeks out here and there, giving you little echoes of what once was. But anyway, one day I show up at the RKO Dyker and the gruff-looking manager says “There’s somebody here who wants to meet you!” And that is how Mark Carducci and Gary Gerani met, grubbing stills at the RKO Dyker. What could be more natural?
I was so happy to find another soul mate that it didn’t
occur to me that I had competition! At least not at first, that did
kick in a little later! (Laughs)
The difference between RAGING BULL and ROCKY, let’s put it that way.
|Big time! (Laughs)
I remember the first time we got together was at Tad’s Steaks
in New York. The most burnt steaks you could possible eat. So,
Mark and I… I remember we were testing each other at first.
It was almost like, “What are your politics?” With
us it was, “What’s the greatest TV science fiction
series?” Now, if you were a real fan of science fiction
and the darker side in general, OUTER LIMITS was like a Martin
Scorsese black and white experience versus STAR TREK, which was
more like a well-crafted Stanley Kramer diatribe. Both were quite
good, but clearly the Scorsese should be held in higher esteem.
No offense to Stanley Kramer or STAR TREK! (Laughs).
Brother’s do worse things to each other!
(Laughs) Right. Anyway, I said
OUTER LIMITS, and he said, “Oh, ok. You’re all right.”
So right away Mark and I knew we were on the same wavelength
and became great pals. There was definitely a sense of competition…
stealing from each other. Sometimes ideas, sometimes girlfriends….
Here’s a reference for real old movie fans. Fred Astaire
and Bing Crosby in HOLIDAY INN gives you a pretty good idea
of what my relationship with Mark was. We were great pals, but
watch out! One of the things that Mark did that pissed me off
then, but that’s hilarious to me now… There was
this TV Station, WCBS in New York... I used to call up and say
“When is REVENGE OF THE CREATURE ever going to make its
New York television debut?!” (Laughs) So, I knew these
people and Mark knew I knew these people. One day I go down
there to pick up a trailer they had put aside for me, only to
discover that Mark had shown up two hours earlier claiming he
was Gary Gerani…and he took my damn trailer! (Laughs)
Later that night, he confessed everything he
did… (Laughs) But look, I love Mark. Mark was like my
|Exactly. They do much worse things to each other.
We even made, or tried to make, Super 8 movies together. We wrote
scripts, I designed sets…God. Significantly, PUMPKINHEAD
was partially derived from those creaky old stories we concocted.
I remember an essay called THE 7 GARGOYLES OF SATAN, which was
where we first linked demons to the specific sins of man. In our
planned film ARMAGEDDON, which made use of this notion, one of
the demons was to be reptilian and creature-like…so we
literally used a Don Post CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON mask,
the one that Bill Malone designed. Even then, at this early stage,
the Gill Man seemed to inspire or inform PUMPKINHEAD. Our demon
was never some over-the-top icon from a corny fable…he
was literally an alien life form, but from a region we call Hell.
Of course, some critics claim that he looked a little too much
like the ALIEN in general…
The Creature from the
Black Lagoon is actually responsible for our first “connection’
so to speak. After FAMOUS MONSTERS but before FANGORIA in the
early 70’s, there was this wonderful publication called
THE MONSTER TIMES, which literally was in the form of a newspaper,
every issue had a theme, like the STAR TREK issue, the GODZILLA
issue, the EC comics issue, the PLANET OF THE APES issue…
Each one opened up to newspaper size and had a poster in the
center. And the thing that I liked about it was it had an edgier
wit, a New York feel to it actually. And there were advice columns
written by GODZILLA and written by THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK
LAGOON and it turns out after all these years, you were GODZILLA!
And you were THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!
My first professional writing gig was “Confessions
of the Black Lagoon Creature” in that early issue of THE
MONSTER TIMES, and, perhaps significantly, I was writing under
the name of the Creature! I do get credit at the end of the
story, however; I think it says “Transcribed (with maddening
results!) by Gary Gerani” Although the whole thing was
basically a humor piece with the Creech talking about how he
came to Hollywood, etc., I was careful to provide a plethora
of true production facts that had never been revealed before
in FAMOUS MONSTERS. Indeed, THE MONSTER TIMES may have been
campy and kitschy, but it satisfied a need during that bleak
period in the early ‘70s. FM was still around but seemed
to be getting a little stale… and the fact that TMT made
use of the original ROLLING STONE format…
|Yes! Before it became a magazine, ROLLING
STONE was a newspaper, and THE MONSTER TIMES was the same exact
As a matter a fact, the same guys that did all of those ROLLING
STONE issues -- SCREW magazine as well -- designed THE MONSTER
TIMES. Brill and Waldstein, if memory serves. I worked for them
for a couple of years, doing most of the monster autobiographies.
Then eventually they asked me to be a regular columnist, writing
as GODZILLA. Joe (Phantom of the Movies) Kane at that point was
the editor of MONSTER TIMES, and he wrote a very funny election
story about GODZILLA’s political ambitions...
FOR PRESIDENT! I remember that…
Of course! I actually went on
a little promotional tour for his presidential campaign. It
was the Big G all the way, a name that seemed to represent both
me and GODZILLA. I’d come into the office and there’d
be all these letters that the kiddies sent in for the Big G.
So I would read them and respond to them…
And you used to also write Episode Guides for Sci-Fi
and Horror themes TV shows which led to your book FANTASTIC
That was my first attempt to do something groundbreaking, if
you will. And I don’t mean that in an obnoxious way. Mark
Carducci lived in Bay Ridge and I lived in Bensonhurst. We’d
be waiting by the bus stop talking about all of these old films
that we loved. And we used to play a game called “Remember
the One,” which generally pertained to TWILIGHT ZONE and
OUTER LIMITS. “Remember the one where Agnes Moorhead was
battling those little robot-like aliens…?”
And more importantly, an episode guide.
|Kind of like the beginning of TWILIGHT ZONE:
Exactly! When Mark and I saw that movie together, we thought “Oh,
my God! Someone has finally put our relationship on film!”
(laughs) But, yeah, waiting for the bus, playing that game, it
occurred to me that no one had ever put together a comprehensive
study of fantasy television shows. So even though there had been
a book or two out on the STAR TREK phenomenon, it was my great
goal to actually transform this special form of entertainment
into a “genre”. And I called that genre FANTASTIC
TELEVISION. FANTASTIC TELEVISION seemed to say it all, because
it incorporated all aspects of fantasy fiction, which meant you
could include everything from a vampire in DARK SHADOWS to science
fiction aliens from STAR TREK to fanciful sprites like I DREAM
OF JEANNIE. So, it was a cool title and again, for the first very
time, we would have a complete overview, a study of these iconic
shows that were created for the small screen.
Yeah, that was vital, because now you didn’t have to guess. You could literally pinpoint the exact episode you were talking about. At the same time I was writing FANTASTIC TELEVISION, another interesting publication was coming into being, none other than STARLOG. I was in the middle of writing FT when I got a call from some magazine editors who eventually became STARLOG’s publishers. They knew I was really into the science fiction thing, so they said “We’re going to take a chance on a science fiction magazine called STARLOG. We know that science fiction doesn’t sell, and we’re probably not going to go past the 3 rd issue, but here we go anyway.” I wound up doing many, many articles for the first number of issues. It was a relationship that lasted quite a while, and I can remember doing re-workings of the same episode guides that were in FANTASTIC TELEVISION! (Laughs) So I got paid twice a good deal of the time.
I love it. I’ll call you up I’ll ask “What are you doing?” “Oh, I’m doing the card series for the new INDY JONES and they locked me away at Lucas ranch with the script and I’m not allowed to leave until I finish!”
Now, of course,
in between THE MONSTER TIMES and FANTASTIC TELEVISION, there
Here you are, this romantic partner to the genre and
now you get to really shine your spotlight on it by working
for the Topps trading card company! So starting in 1973 with
the card series for the PLANET OF THE APES TV show, again, something
I grew up with that I later discovered you created, for the
last 35 years, practically every time a movie comes out that
gets a trading card series, you’re the guy that created
and designed that series!
They don’t call me the Card King for nothing!
I always gotta complain, right? (laughs) But what can I say? I love putting these card sets together, especially the art sets, which have enabled me to work with some truly brilliant illustrators. I’d keep doing it forever if I could!
You get to be artistic, you get to see the movies before anybody, you get to pull the stills and write the cool captions on the back. Any particular favorites?
Universal Monsters Illustrated, some of the early X-Files…The Star Wars Galaxy and Widevision sets are pretty cool…
|Okay, speaking of the Star Wars Trading
cards. You must settle this once and for all. What is up with
that infamous C3PO card from the 70’s where it looks like
he’s got a dildo strapped round his waist?
For some inexplicable reason, a slide existed in the STAR WARS
master set that featured C3PO with a peculiar metal shaft jutting
out from his, er… lower regions. My best guess is that
somebody was fooling around on the set of the film, strapped the
“metal appendage” onto his costume and took a picture
as a joke. Somehow, this picture ended up in the slides they sent
over. By the time I got around to selecting the image, it was
the third or fourth series of STAR WARS cards, so I was using
every last photo that hadn’t been printed. Guess I was a
bit blurry eyed, so I never noticed the “problem,”
and neither did anyone at Lucasfilm or Topps. By the time the
kids starting noticing, it was too late! We eventually recalled
the card, airbrushed it and went back to press.
Poor C3PO. You neutered
Welcome to the entertainment biz, right?
In addition to the movie sets, you also created original
properties for Topps. It blows my mind ‘cuz it’s
such a part of my youth, but you wrote for the Bazooka Joe comics
and designed so many of the Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids…
I created the prototype for Garbage Pail Kids. It was one of
a few that were submitted, including a really wild one by Art
(MAUS) Spiegelman, who was pretty much supervising the project.
But for whatever it’s worth, mine was the one Topps went
|And then you created one of my favorites,
DINOSAURS ATTACK was my homage to the MARS ATTACKS set that had
come out in 1964. Mark Carducci and I absolutely loved those cards.
We didn’t know each other at that time, but we were avidly
collecting them. So the minute I got involved with Topps, the
first thing I proposed to them was a sequel called MARS ATTACKS
AGAIN! And I remember drawing up a whole bunch of storyboards
for that, but Topps didn’t bite, so I said, “Well,
why don’t we do something similar with H.P. Lovecraft?”
I started designing cards with these truly bizarre Lovecraftian
monstrosities, and that didn’t exactly excite anyone, either.
What was successful and popular most of the time were things like
Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages, those gleefully subversive
MAD magazine-style, slob humor properties. They celebrated barfing
and farting and all things disgusting, which is as it should be.
I got DINOSAURS ATTACK green lit at Topps only because dinosaurs
in general had become very popular in the late 80’s. I remember
coming up with a great promotional line: It’s time to take
dinosaurs out of the museums and put them back in the city streets
where they belong!
Again, you were really ahead of the curve. Now people are coming
up with comic book properties and before they even have drawn the first
page, they’ve already got a deal with a studio to do the movie.
This was before JURASSIC
Way before. I actually brought the idea to Joe Dante and he
said, “God yeah, sooner or later, somebody’s going
to do a giant dinosaur in the real world movie again! This is
fantastic! Plus I love the original MARS ATTACKS.” So
he optioned it and they were going to do it and in the midst
Had the trading card series come out already?
Actually, I showed them the art that I was developing for DINOSAURS
ATTACK before we even released the product. I was working with
Joe on the GREMLINS tie-ins we were doing, and because we both
were monster kids, we spoke the same language. So I knew when
I showed him this artwork he was going to go nuts. Back then,
you didn’t see dinosaurs chewing on people, except in
the wonderful old movies we both loved.
| Well, I have to admit, when I created the product,
I had envisioned it as a movie. In the back of my mind, I was
thinking: why the hell not? I knew some people in the business.
I was beginning to get into the screenwriting thing at that stage.
And the irony is, they did buy it and DINOSAURS ATTACKS
was announced in Variety as a big, upcoming Warners movie in development.
In the middle of this excitement Crichton concocts JURASSIC PARK.
I’ve been told that he was a huge fan of the DINO cards
and wrote JURASSIC PARK almost immediately after being “inspired”
by them. Who the hell knows if that’s really true. But anyway,
the galleys of JURASSIC PARK (the novel) were sent to all the
film studios and Spielberg winds up optioning Crichton’s
book. So now Joe and producer partner Mike Finnell are having
understandable second thoughts. “Oh my God, we’re
in the middle of prepping DINOSAURS ATTACK, and there’s
this other high-profile dinosaur property that Spielberg just
bought.” So, picture me. I’m the one who busted my
butt trying to revive the BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS-style genre.
I set DA up with a major director who “gets it,” hot
off of one of the most successful movies Warners ever produced
(GREMLINS). A major studio…an announcement in Variety…a
bonus from Topps! Then Mr. Crichton comes along and decides to
play with the same exact toys. Suddenly it’s all over for
me and an equally-disappointed Joe Dante. (Laughs) Once again,
welcome to Hollywood!
Ah, Gary. I think we’ve
all had that type of “ Hollywood welcome” in one
way or another. But no matter what, the card series did get
done and there was a comic book, which I do adore. And I so
love the fact that you’re the main character in it.
It was easier for the painter to have photos of people he could
use as models, so I wound up taking pictures of everybody at
Topps. Since the scientist was the main character, and since
I created this wacky thing, who was better suited to portray
Us monster kids always find each other! (Laughs)
|Elias Thorne, right?
Right, who recently made an unexpected appearance in a student
film, CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE SUPERGIRL. It was directed by a
very talented young filmmaker named Dan Nastro. As a favor, I
wrote the script and played the role of Thorne myself, just as
I had done in the DINO cards years earlier (Laughs). Actually
when you think about it, everything in life is so curiously connected.
I do this work for THE MONSTER TIMES, right? Since I was writing
for them on a regular basis, they give me a free classified ad
in the back of their publication. It reads: "I'm a collector
of 16 mm sci-fi movies! Fans and collectors, I'd love to talk
to you!" Well, good old Len Brown, who was the creative director
at Topps, also happened to be a movie buff and collector. He checks
out my ad and almost immediately gets in touch…
Exactly! We get to talking and he realizes that I write all these funny yet informative articles for THE MONSTER TIMES. "Hey!” he tells me. “You’re in Brooklyn. We’re in Brooklyn. Would you like to maybe come down and write some funny captions and jokes for us?" So I said sure! Little did I know that this would be my life-long career! (Laughs)
And now they’re putting out hardcover art books chronicling some of your most famous cards!
Apparently so. Abrams, a wonderful NY publisher, recently did a book reprinting the first five series of WACKY PACKAGES, and now they’re in the process of doing the same for the first five series of STAR WARS cards that I edited back in 1977. Each of those series will get its own book, each card will be printed large, and on the facing page will be the history of the card, which I’ve been asked to write. So, if all goes according to plan, these sets will all be cataloged and archived in the most astonishing way possible.
What's astonishing is that your archiving your archives. (Laughs)
I'm getting paid again, too…and maybe this time I'll get what I deserve for it! (Laughs)
So crazy when you think that trading cards were initially created to sell bubble gum, leading to the term "bubble gum music" which was used in a derogatory way to indicate the music’s disposable value. And now, ironically, they don't even sell gum with the cards anymore because the gum can damage the “value” of the card!
And now, its pop culture! Pop art! And quite frankly, what really is the difference between a Wacky Pak or a painting of a Campbell’s soup can by Andy Warhol. Why is one thing considered art and the other thing considered trash?
I always lamented the passing
of the stale piece of bubble gum with the cards. (laughs)
I sure loved the way it smelled!
Exactly, it was such an automatic thing. You open the pack,
shove the stick of gum in your mouth while you're looking at
the cards. Even now, without the gum, looking at old cards or
these books from Abrams…that flavor, that smell…it’s
never very far away.
It's all about timing, where the culture is and whatever. Luckily, we
now live in an age where a lot of the nonsense I've created seems to
be held in higher regard! (Laughs)
Art books and a Special Collector’s Edition of PUMPKINHEAD.
All in one month! And one can really argue that alongside Predator and
Alien, Pumpkinhead is truly one of the greatest and most identifiable
modern movie monsters since perhaps the Creature From the Black Lagoon
| We really owe it all to Stan Winston and his crew…their
involvement put us on a much higher level. Mark and I always liked
to think that you have the ALIEN, you have the PREDATOR, and then
you have PUMPKINHEAD. Unlike Freddy or Jason, our bogeyman was
a legitimate “creature", which was always the original
idea. So it's fair to say that two kids from Brooklyn, who grew
up loving monster movies better than ice cream, wound up creating
a well-regarded famous monster of filmland. As mentioned, we got
very lucky with Stan and Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis and all
those brilliant guys who were a part of it. It would have never
have been the film it was without them. Just recently, I did a
DVD commentary with P’s award-winning designers, Tom and
Alec – Tom actually played Pumpkinhead. It’s also
important to remember that Stan Winston was the director of this
movie, not the fx/make-up designer. He smartly handed the task
of creating the titular monster to his top designers, so he could
concentrate more on his directing responsibilities.
that's something people often don't realize, no disrespect to
And in all fairness to Stan, he would be very, very upfront about
that and would tell people almost immediately in a conversation,
"By the way, I didn't create PUMPKINHEAD. Tom and Alec did."
And they were so great at creating creatures, they went on to
start their own company. They're the monster makers responsible
for every ALIEN sequel and every PREDATOR movie, along with the
AVP franchise. Tom is still spry enough to inhabit those skin-tight
rubber monster suits!
You recently had a cool
little tip of the hat from Lance Henriksen.
Oh, that was wonderful! It was in the pages of Rue Morgue Magazine,
a special issue with PUMPKINHEAD on the cover for which they
interviewed a few people, Lance being one of them. And they
ask him "What made you do the movie?" And he says,
"Well I read the script, and there was one scene that I
loved so much that I just had to do the movie." For the
record, my buddy Mark was the hands-on screenwriter for PUMPKINHEAD.
As a film scripter, he was far more professionally down the
line than I was, and he could've had that gig without me being
attached to it at all.
|Backtracking a bit, while you were doing
Topps and MONSTER TIMES, Mark was pursuing screenwriting, right?
Yes, there was a period for a couple of years where Mark and I
were not seeing each other because... Well, I was living with
a woman who used to be his ex-girlfriend! So Mark was seriously
pursuing screenwriting and he had befriended a New York producer,
Billy Blake, formerly the editor of MILLIMETER magazine for which
Mark had done some articles. And it was Billy Blake who said to
Mark "Look, we’ve got the rights to this poem called
Pumpkinhead, and we'd like to produce a horror movie because we
think its a cool title. Do you have any ideas?”
So Mark essentially pitched to
them the "demon of revenge" idea that we had developed
together for one of our Super 8 films. And they bought the friggin’
thing! So Mark comes over to my house that night and says "Guess
what? I just sold our old backwoods demonology concept."
And again, he didn't have to bring me into that. He could've
found a way to squeeze me out, but we were pals and we very
much enjoyed working together. So we got it going and started
developing our original ideas into a scenario for the movie.
I always tell people, PUMPKINHEAD was the one moment in time
where everything seemed to come together for everyone involved.
It was perfect for Stan, it was perfect for Tom and Alec, it
was perfect for Mark and me; we were all at the peak of our
respective creative powers.
Scott Spiegel, with whom I worked on 2001 MANIACS, moderated
the DVD commentary, and he went on record saying that its his favorite
80's horror movie!
|Now, getting back to the scene with Lance…
Obviously, when you collaborate with another writer, there are
going to be some ideas that you invent, some ideas that your partner
comes up with, and some ideas that you develop together. The scene
that inspired Lance Henriksen to do our movie just happened to
be a bit-of-business I invented whole cloth; it’s the moment
after Ed Harley has sold his soul to the old witch and is driving
back in his little truck with the body of his boy, and we already
start to see that he's perhaps having second thoughts about what
he’s just done. All of a sudden, the dead boy lurches up
beside him, seemingly alive! And the child, still bloody from
the accident, says, "What'd you do, daddy?" Of course
it’s all just a hallucination, but it was a great scare
and a great psychological device to show Ed Harley’s guilt.
So Lance, in that Rue Morgue interview, says right off the bat
that "I read that scene and said I had to do this movie."
It’s been – how many years? -- and I never knew that!
In an era of "slasher" films, it really stood apart as being something new, a monster movie. And it wasn't just visceral, it had the psychological aspect and the heart of Lance Henriksen, which I think harkens back a lot to THE OUTER LIMITS, where you would have the most ridiculous looking monsters, but they were always id monsters with a sense of depth to them.
A couple other people have said
that to me recently and it makes me feel great. When we were
watching it, and it was a beautiful widescreen presentation,
we all said, “Ya know? This thing holds up, it really
hasn't aged.” Because of where it's set, because of the
physical effects, the whole experience plays as very real. Mark
and I were huge fans of DELIVERENCE; we wanted to do a movie
with that level of stark reality, but with a demon incorporated
into the plot. And PUMPKINHEAD does indeed have that gritty,
raw quality…but the cool thing is, you go to the nighttime
scenes in the graveyard with swirling mists and it suddenly
becomes something more akin to Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY! You
get the wonderful textures of Italian horror movies from the
60's, combined with the no-nonsense, gritty reality of a DELIVERENCE-type
experience. Somehow, that offbeat combination seems to have
Yes! Now we've seen monsters from the id before. And there are certainly
parallels in what Walter Pidgeon goes through in FORBIDDEN PLANET and
what Ed Harley endures in our film. But that’s good, because it
means that as a screenwriter/psychiatrist you’re digging deep
into a character’s troubled unconscious. You couldn't actually
state it in FORBIDDEN PLANET, but it's certainly implied that Dr. Morbius
resented all of his fellow workers, slaughtered them in his sleep without
knowing it, and ultimately just wanted to preserve a relationship between
himself and his daughter. It's all very edgy, it's not stated, but you
add up the pieces and realize that this” monster” is all
of these things that people don't want to face, feelings that are so
dark and disturbing that we have to hide them, erase them somehow. So
that movie is really the very first to reveal the unvarnished, ultimate
truth about our denial-addicted species. When we were writing PUMPKINHEAD,
we knew damn well that a ‘monster from the id’ story was
the best way to explore these issues. In the case of Ed Harley, he has
this simple, happy life with his son, a horrible tragedy occurs, he
snaps and his personal devil jumps out of the box! The devil being "I've
been hurt to the core, I need to get even. I want revenge. This will
not stand." Like Dr. Morbius, he eventually comes to realize that
he has unleashed something unspeakably horrible from within himself,
and as a result has innocent blood on his hands. So now he's going to
try to find a way to put that dark side of himself back in the box.
Well, in the classic tradition of FAUST, once you sell your soul to
the devil, you're fucked. I actually wrote a sequel with Mark that dealt
with the idea, "Is there a way out of this damnation?" But
generally speaking, you’ve had it, no matter how much you repent
and try to make things right.
|Speaking of doomed, PUMPKINHEAD at the time
fell victim to Dino De Laurentis...
Another sad story, right? PUMPKINHEAD turns out to be a pretty
cool movie, the posters are in the theaters, we’ve got a
nice buzz going. Then Dino DeLaurentis’ company goes out
of business a month before the film's about to come out. So instead
of the intended wide release at Halloween, it limps into theaters
almost a year later as a UA movie, is shown in just a few locations,
and its all over! At least, on the big screen.
and video is where it really earned its reputation. By the new
generation of monster kids.
Well, we kind of always knew that the people who loved
this stuff and really appreciated it - like us - would eventually
find it. But there we were. Young, sensitive creator/writers.
Our beautiful monster temporarily pulled right out from under
us, so to speak.
So what happened with Mark, Gary? What do you think made him take his life?
It really is the nature
of the beast, which is a darker beast then any movie monster
you or I could imagine. The key is to just survive, and in many
ways you, and I have forged a friendship over survival and that
need to nurse those Hollywood wounds by not forgetting the reasons
why we do what we do. If you remember, very soon after we first
met, I had made a very silly decision to leave New Line Cinema
to edit a brand new magazine called go figure which failed miserably.
And then you suffered the fate of VAMPIERLLA being made not
as the big budget studio production the script deserved, but
instead as a no-budget Roger Corman produced disappointment.
And that is when we really began meeting on a regular basis
for what I call our “Geek out” sessions. Talking
about these movies, getting excited because Sideshow Toys is
putting out twelve inch figures of the Metaluna Mutant or because
Sony is finally putting THE GORGON out on DVD!
Such great stuff! (Laughs) You know it's wonderful.
I feel so sorry for the civilians out there who don't have this
kind of giddy passion, who are just sitting there getting older,
with no dreams or even fan obsessions. I work with a lot of
young filmmakers and occasionally we talk about the difficulties
of the movie business. I say, "Listen. It's not a matter
of whether or not you're going to choose this profession. It's
already chosen you! We're stuck! We simply have to do this!”
Creating living dreams is our personal destiny, whether they
manage to reach the screen or not. If we stop breathing we die,
said Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA. If we stop being true to our
nature, we also die.
It's a very good question. I probably won't ever have a really good
answer. It's very easy to say this industry killed him, and there is
an element of truth in that. Just prior to Mark having the breakdown
that led to his suicide, he had gotten the rights to WEIRD TALES magazine
and basically wanted to do the same thing with this property that HBO
had just done with TALES FROM THE CRYPT. So instead of Zemeckis and
Spielberg as high-profile producers, Mark went after and got Oliver
Stone, Tim Burton and Frances Ford Coppola. Three of the hottest, greatest
movie directors were now going to be producing his made-for-cable half
hour show. Talk about a rush! The man had contracts that were actually
signed! But here’s a business where even if you have signed contracts,
it means absolutely nothing. After a little while, and following a Hollywood
Reporter article on the deal, the esteemed filmmakers we're talking
about decided they weren't interested after all. "No, no that was
never real," they said in the press. Poor Mark felt like a complete
asshole -- "Here are my signed contracts!" he would shout.
And people who were probably jealous to begin with would laugh at him.
"What good is climbing to the top of Mount Everest when everyone
says it didn’t really happen?” he used to tell me. That
crazy bullshit occurred just before he had his breakdown. So I do see
a definite connection there. Now, the reality check of all this is a
bit more complex: we all have a lifetime of demons that we drag along
with us. When people commit suicide, it's usually a number of factors
that lead them to this state. And there were indeed several factors
at work here, relating to his past, immediate future and personal relationships.
We won't get into this. But it all combined to destroy him, and... in
the last year and a half of his life, his wife Theresa and I did everything
we could, everything we could possibly think of to help him. And um...
the poignancy in here - I just finished writing a script called YOUNG
FILMMAKERS IN LOVE, which deals with kids who are obsessed with making
movies, and I kind of make use of what happened to Mark during the story.
And it dovetails into what we were just saying – the idea of having
to face a future where you can't do what you want to do as an artist,
which is your whole reason for living. Although he was an excellent
journalist, Mark wound up putting all of his eggs into the screenwriting
basket. Dangerous. At least I had Topps, and all those other wacky ways
of earning a buck. It looked like poor Mark was going to have to abandon
his dream, at least temporarily, and do work outside of the creative
arena. That, to us, had always been the Great Satan. So, you add all
this terrible stuff up, and that's how we lost him.
I know he's up there watching this, and I know he's enjoying this all.
|Ya know, he left behind his wife and a wonderful
young daughter who grows more beautiful with each passing year.
Little Alicia, who is now twelve, is happy and healthy and even
knows the truth of what happened to her father. And like I say,
they can't take PUMPKINHEAD away from her dad and me. We were
two kids from Brooklyn who wound up creating a famous Hollywood
monster.. And you know something? If that's all we did with our
lives, that would be perfectly fine. It’s a true, honest
reflection of our friendship, and the ultimate satisfaction, considering
how much monster movies meant to us when we were kids.
With all the ups and downs over this long eventful journey, here
today, right now, 2008, does Gary Gerani own the movie industry
you’ve called your dancing partner, or do the movies own
It's both of those things, but in a good way, you know? We own
each other and sometimes you have good days and sometimes you
have bad days. It's like a marriage. Not every marriage is perfect
every single day, but nonetheless, it's the right marriage.
VISIT TIM SULLIVAN AT: WWW.MYSPACE.COM/NEWREBELLION
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