Paul Blaisdell

Active - 1956 - 1959  |   Born - Jul 21, 1927   |   Died - Jul 10, 1983   |   Genres - Horror, Science Fiction

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Paul Blaisdell's career was the stuff that nightmares were made of, especially for baby-boomer filmgoers. Blaisdell's career in movies lasted barely four years, and seldom involved pictures budgeted even in the six-figure range. If he isn't remotely as well known as, say, Dennis Muren or Jim Danforth, then that's because he never had more than a fraction of their budgets to work with. Blaisdell was born in Newport, RI, in 1927, and attended the New England School of Art and Design. Among his first steady work assignments after graduation was as an illustrator for various science fiction pulp magazines. It was during this period that Blaisdell entered the orbit of Forest J. Ackerman, a science fiction writer who would later become famous as the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Ackerman became Blaisdell's agent, and this led to his entry into movies. One day in 1955, Ackerman received a call from fledgling producer/director Roger Corman, who had completed a film called The Beast With a Million Eyes, which played nicely enough, but for one problem -- it had no monster. Corman made the movie knowing that he couldn't afford much of a monster, and had built the plot around the idea of an alien consciousness that occupied the bodies of existing animals; it was a clever idea, but the movie's distributors knew that audiences that had paid to see a monster movie would expect to see a monster in the movie. Corman needed an affordable creature, and Ackerman steered him to Blaisdell, who created a barely believable alien and a flying saucer for 200 dollars.

All of a sudden, low-budget filmwork started coming Blaisdell's way and over the next three years, he worked on more than a dozen features, devising and animating a vast array of unearthly creatures, as well as sets, special effects, and props. Blaisdell was responsible for the design of the Tabonga, the walking killer tree stump of From Hell It Came, the three-eyed mutant in Roger Corman's doomsday drama The Day the World Ended, and the bulbous-headed Martians of Edward L. Cahn's Invasion of the Saucer Men. He also contributed to films such as Bert I. Gordon's The Amazing Colossal Man (he devised and built the giant hypodermic needle), Attack of the Puppet People, and Earth vs. the Spider. Blaisdell's most enduring creation was the title character for Edward L. Cahn's The She Creature -- the huge figure, sporting breasts and what amounted to natural prehistoric armor, immense strength, and rows of teeth in the most improbable places (anticipating the attributes of the title creature from Alien), was genuinely scary. Not all of Blaisdell's creations worked out quite so well, alas. The title-creature from It Conquered the World was intended as something unearthly; and -- given the supposedly steamy conditions on the planet Venus, whence it came -- perhaps it should have looked like something that would grow in a greenhouse; but it should not have looked like an angry turnip, which is exactly what it did look like. Despite lapses like this, Blaisdell's successes still outshone his failures. One of his most grisly creations was for the movie Not of this Earth, a small, hovering alien assassin-creature, which he devised around the framework of an umbrella -- equally impressive was the "embryo" state of the alien, which Blaisdell also created.

Blaisdell made small onscreen appearances as an extra in some productions, such as Motorcycle Gang and Dragstrip Girl, and was very much a part of the business by 1958. His screen career ended that year, however, owing to a series of unfortunate incidents -- several of his creations were destroyed in a fire during the shooting of How to Make a Monster, and his proposed budget for the movie Beast From the Haunted Cave was rejected. He did one last job, for Edward L. Cahn, who was making a sci-fi/horror film at United Artists and needed a monster -- the resulting creature, for It! The Terror From Beyond Space, looked scary in silhouette or close-up, and the latter showed some of his inspiration on the fly when the headpiece proved too small for actor Ray "Crash" Corrigan, whose chin protruded from it, so Blaisdell painted the chin red and made it look like an alien tongue. He left the business in 1959 to return to carpentry and more conventional design work, and was forgotten by everyone except a few fellow professionals and millions of baby boomers who grew up with (and often had nightmares built around) his creations. Blaisdell would probably have gotten his due amid the boom of interest in 1950s sci-fi, during the 1980s and 1990s, and might even have found some financial reward on the convention circuit and designing model kits and masks, but it wasn't to be. Paul Blaisdell died of cancer in 1983 just a few days short of his 55th birthday, and a few years too soon for fame to finally find him.

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