Quantcast ICONS OF FRIGHT presents TIM SULLIVAN'S SHOCK N' ROLL ISSUE 4: GARY GERANI "It's The Great PUMPKINHEAD, Gary Gerani!"

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.


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.

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 Sullivan (11/12/08)

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 cavegirls!

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…

And 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 other goodies.

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!

Of movie trailers?

Yes. It was the history of science fiction movies in trailer form.

Wow! (Laughs)

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.

And you basically just cut & spliced these trailers all together?

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.
Assassinations...

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 then?

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.

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…

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.

Really?

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.

Which almost makes it not as special. I mean you guys were Indiana Jones out there looking for the Holy Grail!

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.

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)

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).

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, of course.

My drive-in where I saw all my favorite movies is now a freakin’ swap meet!

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?

Wow.

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)

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).

The difference between RAGING BULL and ROCKY, let’s put it that way.

(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 brother.

Brother’s do worse things to each other!

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 format!

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...

GODZILLA 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 TELEVISION.

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…?”
Kind of like the beginning of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE?

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.

And more importantly, an episode guide.

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.

Now, of course, in between THE MONSTER TIMES and FANTASTIC TELEVISION, there was Topps!

Ah, Topps!

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 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!”

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 him!

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 with.
And then you created one of my favorites, DINOSAURS ATTACK.

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!
This was before JURASSIC PARK?

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 of it…

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.

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.

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 Professor Thorne?
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…

Us monster kids always find each other! (Laughs)

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!

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.

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?

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 himself!

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.

And that's something people often don't realize, no disrespect to Stan.

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.
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!

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!

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 worked.

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.

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.

Cable 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.
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.

So what happened with Mark, Gary? What do you think made him take his life?

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 you?


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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