In Part Two of our interview, film producer Sam Sherman talks about the making of Dracula Vs. Frankenstein as well as some of the actors he’s worked with.
ArtsBeat LA: I think it’s great that Dracula Vs. Frankenstein is going to be back at the drive-in again.
Sam Sherman: Well, that was David Sehring’s idea. He’s a great marketing man and a fan of ours, too. With the virus and everyone sequestered as I am, we got the idea that drive-ins could stay open. People are separated in their cars.
But the problem is that the major studios are closed, and drive-ins can’t get product. We’d just restored a bunch of IIP [Independent-International Pictures] titles, so we could make them available in whatever format they want. There was always a tie-in with Hemisphere Pictures, and when they went out of business, we acquired everything they owned, too.
When we got around to shooting Blood Seekers, I wanted to use John Carradine as Dracula. But everyone said, “We can’t afford him. He’ll cost $1,500 a day.” So we cast a friend of mine, Roger Engel, as Dracula. But we couldn’t say “Roger Engel as Dracula,” so Forry Ackerman and his wife came up with the name Zandor Vorkov. He’s remained a friend over the years. He gave the memorial services after Al [Adamson] died at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City.
When Dracula Vs. Frankenstein became a cult favorite, I told him he had to go to Chiller Theater and other conventions to sign pictures, and he didn’t think he was that popular. But David Gregory of Severin Films flew him out to the coast for the documentary about Al as well as [for] Dracula Vs. Frankenstein at the prestigious Egyptian Theater where we’d had the premiere of the 3D Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.
They had a Q&A, and he got up there. The crowd went crazy! They just went wild, and he couldn’t believe it. They came up to him for autographs and with questions. They said things like, “I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you!” He didn’t know he was that popular, but I did.
How was it working with Lon Chaney? He was pretty much on his last legs.
It’s a funny thing. When we started Blood Seekers, I first wanted the actor Paul Lukas. He sounded like Bela Lugosi. I called him up and he said (in a Hungarian accent), “Very well. Send me your script.” He read it and re-read it and finally said, “Sam, I can’t do this film. It’s too bloody!”
Then I thought of Francis Lederer, who’d done Return of Dracula. He had no problem with the script, but he was the head of a bank in Canoga Park and was going to a bankers’ convention at the time we were shooting. So we went to Jerry Rosen, an agent Al knew. He offered us J. Carroll Naish and Lon Chaney Jr. in a two-for-one package at a very low rate.
Once we got them, we found out they were not in great shape. In the script, the character of the mad doctor was put in a wheelchair. Everyone thought that Naish was actually confined to a wheelchair, but he was not. He didn’t even know how to use a wheelchair! And Chaney had serious throat cancer. Everything he said was so raspy I had to cut all of his dialogue out of the film.
We’d been working on the film for so long that my original composer, William Lava, passed away. I knew Joseph Gershenson at Universal, so we had access to some Universal music, including some from Creature from the Black Lagoon. This is good music, and it gives the film some familiarity. My wife found an old abandoned church in New York that had actual bats in the belfry flying around. We thought it was a great place to shoot the ending of the film.
I’m my own worst critic. I could keep changing things. “It’d always be much better if we did X, Y and Z.” Al said, “How much money do you have left?”, and I said, “$5,000.” So that’s how we knew we were finished – when we went through the $5,000! He would shoehorn whatever money we had for a particular project, but me – I was never happy with it, ever. It didn’t matter if it was $5,000, $50,000 or $100,000. I’d still be unhappy.
What about the creative process? Did you follow AIP’s model and come up with a marketing campaign first, and then build a film around it?
Many times, yes, that’s correct. We’d have a poster made for which no movie existed. We’d use that to get advance money from theater people around the country and then make the film. We went so far as to make phony stills. We’d stage scenes that were never in any film (laughs)!
In Satan’s Sadists, [Al Adamson’s wife] Regina Carroll became known as “the freak-out girl.” How did that come about?
Just a silly idea of mine. Regina was totally unknown. She was a dancer. She had an act in Las Vegas. She met Al at her father’s coffee shop on Santa Monica Boulevard, down from Al’s office at Hollywood Stages. Al was in there having lunch. She was waiting on him, and she spilled some coffee on him and engaged him in conversation. We had many discussions about that over the years. A: it was an accident; or B: she did it deliberately because she knew he was a director and she wanted to get some work. We just don’t know.
Regina was a great gal…very sweet, very nice. Al was casting Satan’s Sadists, and asked if she could do it. He’d put some dances in it, and she was very happy to do that.
“The freak-out girl.” I was working on the campaign while we were doing the picture. I remembered in the silent era there was an actress, Clara Bow, who was in a picture called It. She became known as the “It” girl, meaning she had great sex appeal, and that was the thing that stuck. I decided I was going to make Regina well-known with nothing. Everything at the time was drugs and dancing, and “freak out” was a popular expression. They were freaking out, or they went to a freak-out party.
I decided to use that in the print advertising and also in the trailer. “Also starring Regina Carroll as the Freak-Out Girl.” Just a silly idea, but it seemed to work, because years later, people would say, “I just love the Freak-Out Girl!” She’s a tough mama, she’s this, she’s that. She played the same sort of character in Angels’ Wild Women. We had these girls with whips and chains beating up guys, but that wasn’t in the original film. In the original film, she’s such a sweet girl, and that’s more of how she was in real life.
Regina was so great. She treated IIP as a family company. Whenever she wasn’t cast in a picture, she’d be doing wardrobe or something else. She was an actress, she had range. She did everything we asked her to do. She could be a tough mama in a biker gang, or she could be as sweet as could be.
Regina Carroll sadly died from cancer in 1992 at the too-young age of 49. In 1995, Al Adamson was reported missing by his maid. Five weeks later, police found his body buried under the tile and cement where his hot tub once stood. His handyman was found guilty of the murder.
With the digital restoration of the library, Sam Sherman is looking forward to renewed interest in his films. He is currently finishing his memoir, When Dracula Met Frankenstein.
Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, the film, is scheduled to play at the Circle Drive-In in Dickson City, Pennsylvania, with more dates and theaters to be announced.