In the world of horror schlock cinema, Ray Dennis Steckler made Lloyd Kaufman look like Robert Zemeckis, and Roger Corman look like Steven Spielberg. Yet there was a cult audience even for his bottom-of-the-barrell grindhouse output--chiefly due to his most "popular" film, 1964's The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.
But writer/director/producer Steckler put out a steady stream of z-grade drive-in stinkers throughout the 1960s, ranging from the rock n' roll exploitation movie Wild Guitar to the kiddie flick The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters.
Aside from Mixed-Up Zombies, his horror non-classics also included The Thrill Killers and Blood Shack. He even produced the film Ski Fever, directed by hard-up former Universal scripter Curt Siodmak. As for Mixed-Up Zombies itself, the Caligari-inspired tale of a man turned into the undead by a gypsy fortune teller for dating her stripper sister would eventually become an MST3K favorite.
Under one of many pseudonyms he would use over the years (Sven Christian, Wolfgang Schmidt, Cindy Lou Sutters, Harry Nixon, Christopher Edwards, Cash Flagg, etc.) he descended into the world of softcore porn in 1968 with Sinthia, The Devil's Doll. It wasn't long before softcore became hardcore, and at first Steckler tried blending skin with horror, resulting in gems like The Horny Vampire and Sexorcist Devil.
Steckler had transitioned fully into adult films by the mid 1970s, producing and directing a string of them during smut's glorious pre-VHS heyday of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of these films starred his future ex-wife Carolyn Brandt.
When VHS took over in the '80s, Steckler tried to transition back into "mainstream", which in his case meant more horror drek like Las Vegas Serial Killer. His last movie was 1997's Summer of Fun, after which he stepped away from the camera and started up a video distribution business in Las Vegas, which he ran until his retirement two years ago.
Ray Dennis Steckler died of a heart attack on January 7, leaving behind a body of work of decidedly bad quality. Yet, for those for whom yesterday's trash cinema is like fine wine that gets better with age, Steckler's passing is certainly an event worthy of some reflection. The Vault of Horror salutes you, Mr. Steckler, on your journey to bad movie heaven. Say hi to Ed for me!
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