Unearthed: A (Secret) History of Horror at USC
Beneath the Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre at the University of Southern California (USC), a fluorescent-lit corridor connects a series of rooms brimmed with film cans, metal shelving and machines. This is where celluloid dreams are preserved – and as of late – filmic nightmares, unearthed. Around back and down two flights of stairs you’ll find the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, home to over 70,000 motion picture negatives, magnetic sound elements and release prints… and in just the last three years, home to what might be some of the most important discoveries in modern horror film history.
In October 2011 USC revealed the finding of CAPTAIN VOYEUR (pictured above), a short written and directed by genre auteur John Carpenter. Made in 1969 when Carpenter was a student at the school, the eight-minute black & white film follows the ghoulish adventures of a man obsessed with a female co-worker. Eventually, he dons an eerie mask and follows his co-worker home, intent on murder. A possible precursor to Michael Myers and the seminal 1978 horror classic HALLOWEEN, CAPTAIN VOYEUR was only a preview of things to come.
The man behind these major discoveries is Dino Everett, the head Archivist at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. After accepting the position in 2010, Everett immediately began his search for the student films of both Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon. Initially a fan of both filmmakers, it wasn’t long before he saw a horror jigsaw puzzle unraveling. He could make clear parallels between the films he loved as a kid and the ones he was now working to preserve. Through his research, he not only managed to find some of the genre’s hidden gems, but also discovered one film in particular that just may be the prototype for countless modern-day horror flicks.
We recently sat down with Everett to discuss his job as an Archivist, his love for the genre and, most importantly, his monumental discoveries…
FANGORIA: So what is it you do at USC? How long have you been at it?
DINO EVERETT: I run the film archive at USC. I took the job three years ago, but before that I worked at the UCLA Film and Television Archive for seven years, the second largest in the US next to Library of Congress.
FANG: USC is known for producing some of the biggest names in cinema – George Lucas, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer just to name a few – but it has also contributed greatly to the horror genre. Tell us a little of what you’ve discovered at USC over the years?
EVERETT: When I took the job, the main thing I wanted to find were John Carpenter’s films. We all know that he went here, but the only thing USC had to show for it was THE RESURRECTION OF BRONCHO BILLY, which won the academy award in 1970—Carpenter was only one of a team of writers. The guy who started the archive [Herb Farmer] was great at saving everything, so I eventually found an old lab receipt that said: “’Captain Voyeur’ Carpenter.” I checked, and we had the negative and sound elements, but no print. No one had ever catalogued it. I pulled the elements and there was the hand written credit I was hoping for: written and directed by John Carpenter. I later found another one he directed called “Lady Madonna,” but all we have is the sound and production book.
FANG: Where do you think the picture elements are?
EVERETT: When I’ve asked him [John Carpenter] about it, he goes silent. He doesn’t want people to see his student films because he was still learning, but I say it’s like finally hearing the demos of the Rolling Stones or Beatles.
EVERETT: While looking through some of the papers and documents for CAPTAIN VOYEUR I came across a list of titles for the 310’s [a production course required of undergraduates] of 1969. One of them was titled BLOOD BATH, and next to it was written: O’Bannon. There was an early article with Carpenter in either FANGORIA or Cinefantastique where he mentioned seeing BLOOD BATH in school and was intrigued by how it affected the class.
I went on the hunt, but turned up nothing. I then reached out to O’Bannon’s widow Diane to ask if Dan had saved any of his student films. When I went to the house and saw what she pulled out, I immediately became a teenaged fanboy again. She handed me a banker’s box that had BLOOD BATH written in marker on it, and inside was a treasure trove! He had the student version of the film and apparently he revisited the idea when he was working on STAR WARS, spelling out detailed notes about the differences between the 1969 16mm student version and the proposed 1976 35mm version. He even had new titles made. Also in the box were all of his 8mm 290’s [an introductory production course] including his final project called GOOD MORNING DAN! (1968). When I watched it, I saw that Carpenter had done some camerawork on the film; making that the very first time they worked together.
FANG: That’s a pretty significant find!
EVERETT: Yeah! But the most important piece of the USC horror puzzle is a short film made by Terence H. Winkless, Stephen “Alec” Lorimore and Milton C. Hubatka in 1971 called FOSTER’S RELEASE. That film is the single most important “lost” horror film there is! It is the blueprint for so many other films like HALLOWEEN, BLACK CHRISTMAS, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, WHEN A STRANGE CALLS…the list goes on and on! There are also another couple of films by a guy named Charles Adair, who was in the same class as O’Bannon and Carpenter. He made this cool atmospheric zombie flick called THE DEMON and this funny little stop motion kids horror thing called THE GOBLIN IN THE ATTIC.
FANG: What else can you tell us about FOSTER’S RELEASE?
EVERETT: Well, it’s virtually unknown. It’s so wildly important, it baffles the imagination that it’s flown under the radar for this long. We really have to thank Diane O’Bannon and Jason Zinoman [author, SHOCK VALUE] for bringing this to light. Jason, who conducted the last interview with O’Bannon, saw it and put it in his book SHOCK VALUE. Also, when I approached Diane about BLOOD BATH, she had mentioned that she had Terry Winkless’ film starring Dan, and that it was basically a short film version of HALLOWEEN. Diane and I worked out the details for me to take in Dan’s film collection at USC and when I finally watched FOSTER’S, I was blown away at the similarities between not only HALLOWEEN, but many horror films of the 1970s and ‘80s. The funny thing is, the film is not exactly a USC film, but just like DARK STAR and probably many others, the students would continue to hang around the school and use the equipment even after they had graduated.
FANG: In regards to FOSTER’S influence on HALLOWEEN, isn’t it safe to say that all creative endeavors are in some way influenced by the immediate things around us… stuff we read, watch and so on? Whether consciously or unconsciously?
EVERETT: Absolutely! It’s probably best to say: “FOSTER’S similarities to HALLOWEEN” because proclaiming something is the “first” of its kind in any artistic endeavor is a slippery slope. I’m more interested in who did it well, not who did it first. Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN is the best of the “babysitter” movies. ‘nuff said. But to find an earlier example is very exciting for a horror fan.
FANG: Have you always been a horror fan? What attracts you to the genre?
EVERETT: As a little kid I would read TOMB OF DRACULA comics and of course Famous Monsters of Filmland because the pictures were much cooler than cowboys or superheroes. I was a child of black & white television, so I grew up with the Universal Monsters on the all-night-creature-features. One night, after the monsters ended, I started flipping the channels and stumbled upon some French movie that I guess was coming in from Canada. It was a vampire movie and when the vampire seduced the woman, she got naked! Then when he bit her it was pretty gruesome! I was only like seven years-old, but that was when I realized that people were making a different kind of horror from the earlier types. From then on, I was hooked.
FANG: Learn anything interesting about Dan O’Bannon?
EVERETT: He really is this unsung hero of horror and was probably one of the most important figures at that time at USC. Everyone you talk to who was there in the 1960s will probably tell you that Dan had this overflowing energy of creativity. That’s actually what has rubbed people the wrong way at times. He was this high-strung genius, always creating. I really think that [John] Carpenter wanted to work with O’Bannon because he saw that he was able to take nothing, the same nothing that all the other students were given to work with, and turn it into something professional looking. He was a genius at makeup and often played multiple roles in his movies. He kept impeccable notes on everything, always giving proper credit to anyone who actually came up with something. For instance, in his DARK STAR notes he spells out that there were six drafts of the script and that the original plot and idea was [John] Carpenter’s. He specifically stated that the ending would be like Bradbury’s KALEIDOSCOPE and that it was originally titled THE ELECTRIC DUTCHMEN, which was in reference to a story THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (where Carpenter’s original idea came from). He was also someone who knew something about virtually everything, because he was such an avid reader. In his storage he kept every book he had ever read… and there were thousands. He had such respect for the art of writing that he never broke the binding on a single paperback book.
FANG: What are your plans for these films once they’ve been fully restored?
EVERETT: The plan is to compile them into a feature length program called “SHOCK VALUE: THE MOVIE: How Dan O’Bannon and some USC outsiders helped invent modern horror.” I want to have a big premiere here at USC in October of 2014 and then offer the project up to play around the world at various repertory houses. I figure many people will be interested in seeing these important and historic short films.