Cash Flagg

Active - 1962 - 1983  |   Born - Jan 25, 1938   |   Died - Jan 7, 2009   |   Genres - Horror, Comedy, Drama, Crime, Adult

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Cult director Ray Dennis Steckler has spent his career making a series of low-budget horror and exploitation films that range in quality from surrealistic and imaginative to as downright dull as another family's home movies. Born in Reading, PA, in 1939, Steckler learned about film photography during a hitch in the Army, and relocated to Los Angeles after the service to begin his career. He labored backstage on television productions (an amusing anecdote concerns the time Steckler was fired from Alfred Hitchcock Presents for almost beaning the titular star with an A-frame) before getting his first professional motion picture cinematography experience on Timothy Carey's maddening The World's Greatest Sinner. Shortly thereafter, Steckler joined forces with producer Arch Hall Sr., who allowed him his first shot at directing with the campy rock & roll story Wild Guitar. That film also saw the debut of Steckler's thespian alter ego, acting under the nom de plume Cash Flagg (a name he would continue to use for onscreen appearances for several years). Cash Flagg was the star of Steckler's most famous production, 1963's The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Though frequently confusing and certainly bizarre, the film (billed as "the first monster musical") had a surreal vision and unique energy that is enjoyed to this day by cult and horror movie fans. It also featured the cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs and future Oscar winner Vilmos Zsigmond, both of whom cut their teeth on many low-budget productions. It also featured Steckler's wife, Carolyn Brandt, who would figure prominently in many of his future films. Though hampered by budgets that never exceeded five figures (and were often considerably lower), Steckler's pictures from the mid-'60s further cemented his cult status, especially the serial killer saga The Thrill Killers and the utterly strange Batman spoof Rat Pfink a Boo-Boo. Steckler was also known to re-release his older films under garish new titles with a ridiculous gimmick known as "Hallucinogenic Hypno-vision," which required ushers (and sometimes Steckler himself) to run up and down the theater aisles wearing monster masks in an effort to "terrify" the audience. As the new decade dawned, Steckler moved to Las Vegas and continued to work in the exploitation realm, though his budgets sank even lower and his films became even more confusing, and worse, often dull, relying on stock footage and over-dubbed dialogue to explain what was happening onscreen. 1971's Blood Shack (aka The Chooper) was a plodding haunted house story that Steckler was forced to add pointless rodeo footage to when distributors complained it was too short for a feature film; it was later re-released on video in its original form in perhaps the first instance of a director's cut that is actually shorter than the theatrical version. At this point, Steckler began using pseudonyms for his direction (including Wolfgang Schmidt, Cindy Lou Sutters, and Sven Christian), especially once he got involved with hardcore pornography. Steckler's endeavors in this illicit genre are suitably loopy, proven by titles like The Mad Love Life of a Horny Vampire and Sexorcist Devil. The director's fortunes continued to sink through the '70s, and reportedly Steckler decided to test his worth at one point by leaving a pile of prints of his films, clearly labeled, on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. An hour later he returned, and no one had bothered to steal them. In later years, Steckler ran a video store in Las Vegas (Mascot Video) and enjoyed his cult reputation, kept alive by releases of many of his films on Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video.

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