- By TOM WEAVER
- Giant From the Unknown, She
Demons, Frankenstein's Daughter and
Missile to the Moon -- four horror pictures that
any fan of '50s exploitation is sure to remember fondly.
Unfortunately, little has been written in horror retrospectives
about the director of these movies, Richard E. Cunha.
Along with his good friend Arthur Jacobs, Cunha plunged
into the adventurous arena of shoestring science fiction
by forming Screencraft Enterprises, a name that would
soon become identified with a handful of threadbare
thrillers that genre fans have come to love.
What were budgets and shooting schedules like on Frankenstein's
Daughter and Missile to the Moon?
Richard Cunha: All of our budgets were under $80,000,
and we tried very hard to bring them in for approximately
$65,000 or less. I think we were successful in most cases.
When we turned the negative over to Astor after the picture
was accepted, we were paid $80,000. Our shooting schedules
were always six days. I believe on Missile to the Moon
they gave us an extra day of preproduction where we did
some of the monster scenes out at Red Rock Canyon, about
80 miles from Los Angeles.
were some of your locations for Frankenstein's Daughter?
Richard: The exterior scenes were done at [producer]
Marc Frederic's home. The interiors were a set. Our art
director, Don Ament, was a super guy; I worked with him
subsequently at E.U.E. Columbia for many, many years.
Don was just a fabulous guy -- he would go around and
see what sets were available cheap, and then redesign
them so they'd work out for us. He was great at that.
Q: Can you tell us a little about
Richard: They were all keen. John Ashley, Sandra
Knight, Sally Todd. Donald Murphy was absolutely great.
I don't recall what happened to any of these people; it
always seems whenever I make a picture, that's the person's
last picture. It must be something I do.
Where did you get the props for your laboratory scene?
Richard: We got a character that was furnishing
those to the studios, and we took what the studios wouldn't
take -- for a price, y'know? We'd say, "We can't
afford your real prices, so give us the junk from your
backyard," and he'd say, "Okay, if you guys
clean 'em up, make 'em look pretty good, you can have
'em." So we did it, and returned them to him in twice-better
shape than he gave them to us.
Q: Was it Paul Stanhope or Harry
Thomas who did the very unusual Frankenstein's Daughter
Richard: Stanhope [started on the picture. Harry
Thomas came in later]. That wasn't an unusual situation
at all, it was a situation where we just got trapped,
again, without any money. We had no preparation time,
and Frankenstein's Daughter was designed on the
set, on the first day of shooting. And suddenly someone
came up to me and said, "Look -- here's your monster!"
And I nearly died. We said, "No, that's not quite
what we need, but by God we can't do anything about it!"
And we pushed the guy on the set and started shooting
-- the show must go on. So the monster wasn't designed
like that, it just -- ended up like that.
Whose idea was it to remake the earlier Astor release
Cat Women of the Moon as Missile to the Moon?
Richard: It was Astor's idea. They thought, well,
shucks, it'd be a good idea to redo the movie, they could
get a little bit of sex in and have some pretty girls
wandering through the scenes. And it was patterned after
Where did you get the giant spider used in Missile
to the Moon?
Richard: We rented it from Universal Pictures. In those
days we used to go around to the prop shops, nose in the
back room and see what we could get cheap. That spider
was in Universal's prop shop, and it was in terrible disrepair;
we just managed to put it together the best we could.
As I recall, we paid practically nothing for it, and they
were kind enough to let us use it. It wasn't even written
into the picture until we found it in pieces at Universal.
Who designed the rock creatures and what were they made
Richard: They were made of sponge rubber that was cast.
Harold Banks made those for us. He was a very creative
man who made the fiberglass pieces for Giant From the
Wasn't it tough on the people who played those monsters
-- working in Red Rock Canyon in midsummer?
Richard: The worst -- absolutely the worst. And
if you'll remember we had one scene where we had to plaster
them to the sides of giant rocks, for them to break out.
And, you know, it took a while for the plaster to dry
with them in there! They'd be yelling, "Get us out
of here, get us out of here!"
was it like working with so many beauty queens in one
Richard: A real pain. None of them were actresses
as such, they were all beauty queens who couldn't hit
marks and couldn't say lines -- it was quite frustrating.
Of your four horror films, which one is your favorite?
Richard: My favorite was and always will be Giant
From the Unknown because that was the most fun to
make. We did it in a spirit of fun, we had the most cooperation
-- that was a ball.
Were you disappointed with any of the films?
Richard: I think the biggest disappointment to me
was Frankensteins' Daughter, only because of our
monster creator; I can't blame anyone for that, we just
didn't have enough money to create a monster that would
represent Sally Todd. And as far as Missile to the Moon
is concerned, again, the money was so meager that it was
just impossible to create the proper atmosphere for a spaceship
-- although I think, on the money we did have, the interior
of the spaceship worked well. It included many pieces of
grip equipment, as I recall, and we used a big dimmer bank
for some of the controls on the missile. And we just scraped
together whatever we could to make do, and that's all there
was. There was X number of dollars, and you don't run over
on these low-budget films -- you shoot the opening scenes
and the end scenes, and then fill in the picture in between.
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers
and many others available from McFarland