I was a Teenage Movie Maker

Reviews

DVD TALK 

More or less a video autobiography of one man's passion for making (and remaking) the genre films of his youth, I Was a Teenage Movie Maker (2006) is a sometimes crude but mostly beguiling and sometimes quite charming documentary not necessarily limited to like-minded amateur filmmakers and monster movie fans. Cinema Epoch's lavish two-disc collector's edition - who'd ever thought there would ever be stuff like this available on video? - includes not only a feature-length documentary, but a whopping 41 amateur films, commentary tracks, and a feast of other extras, some eight hours worth of 16mm movie madness.

Donald F. Glut's amateur movies, shot between 1953 and 1969, acquired a kind of legendary status over the years partly because the films, with titles like Son of Tor and Spy Smasher vs. the Purple Monster, were frequently mentioned in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fantastic Monsters, the kind of publications crammed with photos printed on that wonderfully cheap, pulpy paper that a generation of kids weaned on the "Shock Theater" TV syndication packages of the late-1950s poured over with knee-knocking enthusiasm.

Moreover, some of these films featured honest-to-goodness Hollywood actors like Kenne Duncan and Glenn Strange, or original sci-fi movie props and costumes, like the Metaluna Mutant head from This Island Earth or one of the bug-eyed aliens from Invasion of the Saucer-Men. Around this time, Glut attended USC where his classmates included people like George Lucas and John Carpenter. Randal Kleiser (later the director of Grease) was even recruited to play Captain America in one of Don's movies.

Though I Was a Teenage Movie Maker includes interviews with people like Kleiser, Bob Burns, Bill Warren, and (a sadly frail) Forry Ackerman, about 95% of the show consists of Don himself looking straight into the camera talking about those formative years, intercut with lots of clips from the movies themselves. It's too long, the sound and lighting aren't so hot, and even Don's shirt has what looks like a big coffee stain on it, and yet, somehow, once you start watching you can't turn it off.

That's because instead of coming off as insufferably egocentric, Don's kind of in an insulated world all his own. His enthusiasm, single-mindedness and childlike (though not childish) affection for movie monsters, serials and superheroes are genuine. Though he's honest with himself about his movies' many shortcomings, Glut agreeably accentuates the positive. The stop-motion may be lousy but, gee whiz, that explosion there was sure kinda neat.

The 62-year-old Don talking straight into the camera and the 17-year-old star of all those Teenage Werewolf movies don't much resemble one another anymore, but listening to Don today one is convinced that, at the core, they're definitely one and the same.

The film has a peculiar charm that almost (if not quite) transcends what would seem to be the DVD's very limited audience. Perhaps unintentionally, a running gag gradually emerges as Don proudly shows off one memento after another. It soon becomes apparent that Don has saved absolutely everything from his youth: every costume, every toy. One teenage pal recalls, "We had one leather jacket between the four of us." Cut to Don, holding the treasured item, "I actually have the original which I got about 1958 or so....And yes, it still fits." After a while this becomes funny, with each 45-year-old clip followed by a cut to Don showing off some carefully-preserved original costume or prop like a proud father, like the miniature volcano resting on top of washing machine in somebody's (his mother's?) basement.

The story has an odd sort of poignancy, too. Glut basically kept refining the same kind of amateur movie over-and-over. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but when Don was accepted into USC's famous film school none of his teachers or classmates would take him seriously. Where other students emulated Kurosawa or Godard, Glut was still looking to Ford Beebe and Erle C. Kenton for inspiration. At a time when classmate George Lucas was directing the experimental Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB, Glut was making stuff like Wrath of the Sun Demon and Superman vs. the Gorilla Gang - which got a C-minus.

As student films go, Superman vs. the Gorilla Gang exhibited a thorough knowledge of the basics of narrative storytelling and technical ingenuity. "Yeah," his instructor concurred, "but it was a Superman movie." Don was crestfallen.

He never reached the heights of his many famous classmates, but Glut still managed a career pretty much doing what he had wanted to do all along: writing comic books and histories of the genre (including several well-thumbed volumes on this reviewer's bookshelf), scripts for cartoon shows and, eventually, he even directed a few retro features like Dinosaur Valley Girls (1996).

Video & Audio

I Was a Teenage Movie Maker is presented full-frame and with new documentary footage shot on video in the usual manner. Because Glut shot everything on 16mm negative or reversal stock, the film clips all look great, and are surprisingly sharp for what they are. No subtitle options are included.

Extra Features

Besides the documentary, All 41 of Don Glut's Amateur Movies are included. Disc One divides the shorts into two sub-sections, "Dinosaurs" and "Classic Monsters," while on Disc Two one can find "Teenage Monsters," "Superheroes," and "Miscellaneous." The shorts, almost all of which are silent, feature new music tracks; even those with contemporary soundtracks have newly-added music. (However, a few shorts crib stock music from serials, etc.) The amateur films all have Audio Commentary tracks with Glut.

More Stuff to Check Out has everything from Deleted- and Behind-the-Scenes footage of the amateur movies along with home movies Glut took on his 1962 visit to Hollywood (at Forry Ackerman's house, at Disneyland, the La Brea Tar Pits, etc.). Among the more interesting clips is Count Gore DeVol Interviews Don: Glut looks bemused by the horror movie host, who seems so interested in what Don has to say that he goes in and out of character, losing his phony Hungarian accent. The segment also has footage of Don and some friends restoring a real-life Frankenstein tombstone in Chicago to its proper place. (The marker had been stolen then abandoned in another part of the cemetery.) A Still Gallery rounds out the extensive supplements.

Parting Thoughts

The indefatigable Don Glut is like hundreds, perhaps thousands of youngsters who, inspired by monster movies and old movie serials begged, borrowed or stole 8mm and 16mm movie cameras during the 1950s-1970s trying to recapture some of that magic that had so captivated them. If there can be such a thing, Glut took this obsession to its apex. Highly Recommended.

Review by Stuart Galbraith.

DVD DRIVE-IN

 Donald F. Glut is no doubt one of the most significant names in monster movie and fantasy fandom. As a writer, he’s done everything from movie and TV scripts (including two of my favorites, “Shazam!” and “Land of the Lost”), comic book scripts, novels and non-fiction books, short stories, as well as the novelization for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. As a filmmaker, he has recently delved into erotic horror features such as THE MUMMY’S KISS and COUNT DRACULA’S ORGY OF BLOOD. But Don’s movie-making bug originated from a series of amateur films which started in 1953 (at the mere age of nine!) and ended in 1969, all having to do with monsters, dinosaurs and super heroes. The films had been acknowledged in the pages of Famous Monsters and Castle of Frankenstein magazines, as well as in several monster movie books, but rarely seen by the general public. This DVD not only gives us a very cool documentary on Glut and his early monster movie-making days, but also compiles all 41 efforts, with a monstrous (pun intended) amount of other extras.

“I Was a Teenage Movie Maker” is more a less a portrait of a young boy growing up in 1950s Chicago, fascinated by the old Universal horror movies he watched on “Shock Theater,” as well as the then-current fantasy flicks he caught in the theater. Wanting to be able to view these types of films in his own home (this is before they were available for the home market via Castle Films), he set out to make his own flicks on the family’s 16mm camera (and all of Don’s subsequent short films where shot in this format), not only directing them, coming up with the plots (no scripts, as most were improvised), creating the make-ups and camera effects, he was most often the star, getting his neighborhood pals act to in them as well. In such pre-historic tales as “The Earth Before Man” (1956) and “Dinosaur Destroyer” (1959), Don was experimenting with stop motion effects before he knew who Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen where, or how they conceived their creations!

A series of "classic monster" films commenced with “Frankenstein Meets Dracula” (1957) and “Return of the Wolfman” (1957), and when AIP’s youth-aimed drive-in horrors were in vogue, Don did a series of “teenage monster” films, such as “The Teenage Werewolf “ (1959), “I Was a Teenage Apeman” (1959) and “ I Was a Teenage Vampire" (1959). Super heroes and heroes based on 1940s serial cliffhangers were the subjects of most of his more-polished 1960s works. On a visit to California (where he would eventually relocate for good), Don met up with Bob Burns, who would show up in his films with his famous ape and mummy costumes, and donned Superman tights in a recreation of Kirk Alyn’s persona. The friendship with Burns also would lead to getting such serial heavies as Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan for one of his films, and most impressively, the legendary Glenn Strange doing a final turn as the Frankenstein monster (wearing a rubber mask) in “The Adventures of the Spirit.”

Glut makes for a lively and very likable interview subject here, talking about these films with the passion and glee he must have had when he originally crafted them as a boy. Often showing off some of the original props and equipment, he recalls all aspects of making these movies, from his influences, to the ambitious camera effects (can you believe he even attempted an “invisible teenager”?), the various filming locations, his move to California and USC film school, and much more. Among the other individuals interviewed for the documentary are Forrest J. Ackerman, Randal Kleiser, Bob Burns, Jim Harmon, Scott Shaw, Paul Davids, Bill Warren, Don’s mom (who made some of the super hero costumes and lensed some of the earlier films!) and a number of friends who acted in them.

All 41 of Glut’s amateur films are included here, separated by category and spread across the two discs. Shot in both color and black & white, the quality on them is pretty good, sometimes hampered by crude lighting or other limitations originating from the original shooting. Since all of the films were shot silent (some of the later films have added narration, dialog and sound effects), newly-scored music can be heard on most of them, but you also have the option of hearing Glut’s insightful and anecdote-filled commentaries on each and every one.

Disc 1 contains the “Dinosaur” films: Diplodocus at Large (1953), The Earth Before Man (1956), Dinosaur Destroyer (1959), The Time Monsters (1959), The Fire Monsters (1959), The Age of Reptiles (1960), Time Is Just a Place (1961), Tor, King of Beasts (1962) and Son of Tor (1964) (the latter two boast a King Kong-like giant ape). Also on the first disc are the “Classic Horror Monsters” films: Frankenstein Meets Dracula (1957), Return of the Wolfman (1957), The Revenge of Dracula (1958), The Frankenstein Story (1958), Return of the Monster Maker (1958), The Teenage Frankenstein (1959) and The Slave of the Vampire (1959).

Moving on to Disc 2 are the films concerning “Teenage Monsters”: The Teenage Werewolf (1959), I Was a Teenage Apeman (1959), The Day I Vanished (1959), I Was a Teenage Vampire (1959), Return of the Teenage Werewolf (1959), The Teenage Frankenstein Meets the Teenage Werewolf (1959), Revenge of the Teenage Werewolf (1960), Monster Rumble (1961), The Invisible Teenager (1962) and Dragstrip Dracula (1962). Also on the second disc are the “Super-Hero” films: Captain Marvel (1962), Superduperman (1962), The Human Torch (1963), The Adventures of the Spirit (1963), Spy Smasher vs. the Purple Monster (1964, a four-chapter serial which was released to theaters and actually played on television), Batman and Robin (1964), Captain America Battles the Red Skull (1964), Captain America vs. the Mutant (1964), Superman vs. the Gorilla Gang (1965), Rocketman Flies Again (1966), Atom Man vs. Martian Invaders (1967) and Spider-Man (1969).

Other extras on Disc 2 include a “Miscellaneous” section with three other of Glut’s short films: Jeepers Creepers Car Chase (1965, which stars TV horror host Fred “Jeepers’ Keeper” Stuthman), Wrath of the Sun Demon (1965, a USC student film which features Bob Burns in the original “Hideous Sun Demon” mask, as well as an appearance by an authentic mutant headpiece from THIS ISLAND EARTH) and For What Purpose? (a 1966 USC student film which actually features no monsters or fantasy characters). Another section of extras includes a trailer for Spy Smasher vs. the Purple Monster, 1962 home movies taken in California which include Forrest J. Ackerman and director Bert I. Gordon, home movies of Ackerman visiting Chicago (watch Forry tear up an issue of rival mag Horror Monsters in a humorously improvised bit), test footage from some of the monster and super-hero films, home movies of the 1964 New York’s World’s Fair, a recent appearance by Glut on Count Gore DeVol’s show, unedited behind-the-scenes footage from six of the short films, deleted scenes and interview footage that didn’t make it into the final cut of the documentary, an image gallery, a filmography of Glut’s amateur films, and a brief “shameless plugs” section.

Anyone remotely interested in the history of monster movies or greatly admires their collection of vintage Famous Monsters issues will want to give this exhausting, all-inclusive compilation of Donald F. Glut’s early fantasy films a look, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who fancies themselves a true “monster kid!”

reviewed by George Reis

ODDBALL COMICS

I just returned home from a special screening of writer/director Donald F. Glut's upcoming DVD, I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER...and it was great. (The party was held at the Hollywood hills home of Randall Kleiser, director of GREASE 2 and THE BLUE LAGOON, not to mention Don's college roommate.)

Like many kids my age, I first became aware of Don's amatuer monster movies through the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and other monster mags of the 1950s and 1960s. Around 1968 or 1969, I met Don at the "Ackermansion" home of Forrest J Ackerman, where he screened all 41 (!) of the movies in his first "Intergalactic Film Festival", filmed from the age of nine and progressing right through Don's graduation from the University of Southern California. Don was not only incredibly prolific, he was incredibly clever, often coming up with rather good (and sometimes, hilariously awful) home-made production tricks in emulation of the Hollywood movies he loved. (My throat is raw from laughing; how can you resist a movie featuring warring gangs of teenage monsters called MONSTER RUMBLE, or a hand-lettered card reading "Radiation causes Igor's back to grow" as an explanation why a hunchback character's body changes from shot to shot or a pseudo-serial titled SUPERMAN VS. THE GORILLA GANG?) Dinosaurs, monsters, teenage monsters, superheroes...all the stuff we love were fodder for Don's films. Don's movies also featured such actors as Glenn Strange, as well as props from Bob Burns' famous monster movie collection.

This documentary is also a testiment to following your dream, and to parents who encourage their kids' ambitions, no matter how nutty they may seem. (Don's 80-year old mother appears throughout the DVD, and she has some of the funniest lines in the whole thing!)

Anyway, this DVD is a LOT of fun, and I'm not just saying that because I'm one of the "talking heads" making an appearance in the disc. It was also great to see quite a few old friends I hadn't seen in years, including Bill (KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES) Warren, Ray (THE 3-D ZONE) Zone, Jim (THE GREAT RADIO HEROES) Harmon and Forry himself.

I'll make a post here when Don's DVD is released; I think that many of you will really, really enjoy I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER!

I encourage you to check out Dinosaur Don's remarkably Oddball career at
http://www.donaldfglut.com/

review by Scott Shaw!

DVD MANIACS

Before Don Glut became a known name in horror and science fiction movie fandom, he was a kid like the rest of us and like so many kids did, he made his own movies with friends and family using the meager resources he had available to him at the time. Glut has since gone on to making a few feature length indy movies and doing plenty of writing for both page and screen but this documentary takes a look at his early output. Anyone who made their own films as a teenager, be it with an actual film camera as Glut had or with a VHS camcorder as those of us who grew up in the eighties would have used, should enjoy this look back at the films Glut made in his teenage years and marvel at how much better they are than the ones that most of us made.
The film begins by giving us some biographical information on the man behind the camera, explaining how his early years spent in the Chicago of the 1950s lead to a fascination with monsters and superheroes and how the Universal Monsters specifically had a huge impact on him. From there we learn how Glut took his mother’s 16mm camera (he was lucky enough to have access to 16mm when almost everyone else was stuck with an 8mm camera) and set out into the backyard to start filming epics of his own. Glut didn’t just bark orders from behind the camera, however, he also did the effects work and came up with the ideas in addition to playing casting director and starring in many of them as well. Interestingly enough, Glut gives his mother a lot of credit for his creativity over the years, explaining that since he lost his father at a young age she was the most important person in his life and she always encouraged him to do his own thing.
Somewhere along the line, on a trip to California, Glut befriended Bob Burns who shows up in a few of his later movies and as the young filmmaker kept hammering away his projects started getting noticeably better with each subsequent attempt. With the rough dinosaur movies of the early fifties we see a kid monkeying around with a camera but by the time Glut was making his superhero movies in the sixties it’s obvious that he’s actually figured out what he’s doing and some of this material is remarkably impressive. His connection with Bob Burns wound up being beneficial in that Burns knew some of the older serial actors of the early 40s who Glut was so impressed by and was able to get a few of them to appear in a couple of Glut’s short films. These shorts leave an interesting legacy and will certainly make anyone who attempted similar projects while they were in their teens more than a little nostalgic.
Glut is interviewed at length throughout the documentary and he explains how he met up with Burns, how he accomplished some of the effects and where he got some of his costumes from. He talks about casting his friends in various parts and how he wound up going to film school in California. He’s a genuinely likeable guy with a lot of interesting tales to tell and appearing alongside him here are a bunch of the people who appeared in his films and even his mother! Celebrity interviewees include Forrest J. Ackerman, Bob Burns, Scott Shaw and Bill Warren and throughout all these talks the filmmakers manage to paint a really fun portrait of Glut and his movie making history.

Everything on this set is presented 1.33.1 fullframe and while some of the really early shorts are in rough shape, for the most part this material looks surprisingly good considering the no-budget origins and age of the films. Color reproduction is decent though it fluctuates in some spots and while there is some print damage and a bit of fading here and there in the archival bits it’s never overpowering and to be completely honest a pristine presentation probably wouldn’t suit this material nearly as well. The newer documentary footage is shot on video and it looks decent enough.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that is used on the documentary is fine and while it's hardly reference quality you can always hear everyone easily enough which is all that matters here.

There is a ton of great material in here and while sitting through all of it in one sitting would probably make your brain melt if you sample a few at a time they make for really entertaining little diversions. The earlier ones are very rough around the edges but they’ve got that sort of charm that makes little kid’s drawings so cool to look at. The movies get steadily better as the years go by to the point where by the time we hit the mid sixties some of these projects are starting to look pretty professional. It’s interesting to see Glut’s take on completely recognizable characters such as the Universal Monsters and some of Marvel and D.C.’s better known properties alongside characters like Rocketman and Spy Smasher (and even Will Eisner's The Spirit!) who aren’t as popular now as they were decades ago. If the movies themselves weren’t enough, Don Glut has supplied a commentary track for every single one of these forty-one shorts! He explains how he pulled off some of the effects, tells us where he got some of the ideas from and who some of the players in the movies are. A few of these are silent or don’t have much dialogue with them, so having the optional commentary tracks to listen to during playback is a nice touch.
Also included on the second disc is a home made trailer for the Spy Smasher movie, various and assorted bits of test footage clips from many of the films in the set, and some home movie footage that Glut shot on vacation to California, a trip to the World’s Fair in New York City, and during a convention appearance in Chicago by Forrest J. Ackerman of Famous Monsters Of Filmland fame. But wait, there’s more! Also included is some random behind the scenes footage from a bunch of the movies that Glut made, an appearance that Glut made on Count Gor DeVol’s television show, a large still gallery, and deleted clips that weren’t used in the final versions of many of these movies. It’s probably safe to assume that Glut didn’t throw anything away while he was making these films as this is an absolutely massive package of material.

If you ever made your own movies as a kid, be it on film or on video, you’ll likely really appreciate this documentary and the massive collection of shorts that makes up I Was A Teenage Moviemaker.

POP SYNDICATE

Most film fans won’t be all that familiar with the name Donald F. Glut. Those that do will most likely recognize his name as that on the novelization of George Lucas’s Empire Strikes Back or through his work as a writer on television cartoons from the 1980s (He-Man, G.I. Joe and Transformers). These days, he’s mostly directing horror-themed T&A flicks like Dinosaur Valley Girls, but in his youth, he created one of the most prolific filmographies of genre fare ever. And all of it has been pretty much unseen, until now.

I Was A Teenage Movie Maker is a two-disc look into the childhood/teenage works of then-amateur filmmaker Glut. With the main program set as a documentary, the piece lets Glut detail his evolution as a would-be director, starting with his earliest home camera and a few friends who couldn’t keep straight faces while shooting their scenes. The bonus of the set is that all 41 of Glut’s amateur films are included.

Now granted, most people simply won’t care. This is, after all, no-budget short films shot by a bunch of kids. However, there are those of us that fondly remember shots of Glut’s Son of Tor, a stop-motion tribute to Son of Kong showing up in monster-movie magazines in the old days. Glut was what we wanted to be, making films about Captain America, dinosaurs and Frankenstein.

The shorts on the set are basically divided into four sections: the early Universal-inspired monster mashes (and which are easily the least of the bunch, as they were some of Glut’s first efforts when he was just a kid); the teen-year “teenage monster” films; the dinosaur stuff he worked on for pretty much the entirety of his years doing this; and finally his super-hero work, which is notable for many things (among them, getting Glenn Strange from House of Frankenstein to play the monster again). The super-hero shorts are very interesting on several levels. Glut befriended a collector named Bob Burns and through him was able to use all sorts of real props from Hollywood. That’s the real Captain America uniform from the old serials. The best of the super-hero section is the multi-part Spirit serial, which guest stars all sorts of characters, from the Mummy to the Shadow to Superman.

So how did Glut get the rights to use all these characters? Well, he didn’t. They were amateur films. They also aren’t mentioned anywhere on the DVD cover in detail. Through his Cinema Epoch label, Glut chooses to emphasis the history of his work, and let the shorts serve as extras for those brave enough to check the set out. Going further, each and every short has optional commentary by Glut, discussing the making of them, some of his own history, etc. Sure, it sounds like a total vanity project, but it’s pretty fun stuff.

Yes, they’re basically watching (mostly) kids play dress-up for home movies. But there’s enough legit historical stuff here to make it worth watching for the serious collector. Beyond involvement by Burns and Strange, others to contribute included legendary Hollywood make-up man Paul Blaisdell and Ken Henricks, who reprised his film role as the Purple Monster.

If you grew up on Famous Monsters of Filmland, the magazine we ALL read back in the day, this set will bring back a lot of great memories.

Reviewed by Madison Carter

CINESCAPE

They weren’t as prevalent as today’s all-pervasive video cameras, but in the pre-video age many families owned their own movie cameras. The majority of these cameras were put to work on documentary projects, chronicling the family’s trips to the beach and Christmas parties. Very few of those amateur cameramen even thought to put their lens to work on a narrative film – few had an inkling of how to go about it, and there were far fewer sources of information to teach one how to go about it. We now know that there were a few kids out there shooting their own backyard horror movies due to enterprising film archivists like those who put together the DVD compilation MONSTER KIDS HOME MOVIES. But it’s a sure bet that the number of amateur spook show directors increased dramatically with the coming of the great monster movie magazines of the early 1960s. Not only could readers discover articles revealing the secrets behind their favorite SHOCK THEATER movies, but through the letters-from-readers pages, they found out about somebody just like them who was making his very own creature features. Chicago teenager Don Glut inspired an entire generation of amateur filmmakers. And some, like John Carpenter, Joe Dante and M. Night Shyamalan, went on to acclaimed professional careers.

Like many kids, Glut was crazy about dinosaurs, monsters and pulp superheroes. Watching movies like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, he longed to be able to watch these films with his friends any time he wanted (just as we’re able to today). The only way he could think of to do this was to make his own movies. Using the 16mm camera he inherited from his father, he set out to do just that, using color or black & white film depending on what movie he was trying to emulate. His indulgent mother Julia was behind the camera on most of his early epics, and also sewed costumes and served refreshments at screenings. Every other school project was an excuse (as if he needed one) for Glut to set up some model dinosaurs or put on a Frankenstein mask in front of the camera. The results horrified the Catholic school nuns and his snooty professors at USC Film School, but the kid was undeterred. Not knowing how such beasts were brought to life in KING KONG, Glut “invented” model animation on his own, and after seeing the Lon Chaney biopic MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES in 1957, he was soon doing damage to his own face with basement makeup experiments.

From his first dinosaur on the loose flick “Diplodocus At Large” in 1953, to his 1969 unauthorized version of “Spider-man”, Glut strove for thrills and chills without regard to his zero budget, sometimes risking his own neck with only one goal in mind: to make the kind of movies he wanted to see himself. In that regard at least he was way ahead of his contemporaries George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. As reported in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Mad Monsters, he became something of a legend among monster fans. How was he able to make the surprisingly professional special effects in “The Invisible Teenager” and “Captain Marvel” (both 1962)? How did he get Glenn Strange to play the Frankenstein Monster in “The Adventures of the Spirit” (1963)? How did he get them to show his 1964 serial SPY SMASHER VS. THE PURPLE MONSTER on television?

Glut, now a successful low budget filmmaker (his latest, THE MUMMY’S KISS: SECOND DYNASTY debuts on DVD this month), author, and acclaimed amateur paleontologist (his DINOSAUR ENCYCLOPEDIA is an invaluable reference work), has long wanted to share these films with anyone that wants to see them, but has feared the potential legal hassles of presenting even amateur films featuring characters like Superman and the Human Torch, not to mention the heavily trademarked Universal Frankenstein makeup. However, emboldened by the appearance of other amateur shorts such as the celebrated “Batman: Dead End” at conventions and on the web, he began to make some of them available via the internet, and then hit upon this fairly simple idea. Thus, the feature length documentary I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER combines clips, interviews and other footage to tell the story of his amateur productions in a genial, no-frills manner that is nonetheless fascinating for anyone with an interest in filmmaking, genre or otherwise. The 2-disc set includes the 41 shorts as a DVD bonus – for historical purposes only, of course. One would think that the documentary would cover everything, but Glut also covers the whole shebang with a commentrak and gives us scene-specific details and plenty of amusing anecdotes. There are even some deleted scenes from the doc that provide some of the funnier stories, plus there’s an interview with Glut from Count Gore DeVol’s TV show and more.

As for the value of the films themselves – which are categorized as “Dinosaur”, “Monster” and “Superhero” titles, which puts them roughly in chronological order as well - their quality understandably varies, and their entertainment quotient may depend entirely on your interest (or tolerance) for backyard cinema. Although Glut has composed his own music tracks to go with them, the fact that the earlier shorts are silent weighs heavily against them, and watching them all in one sitting may become a bit monotonous. However, the 1960s superhero adventures are exciting, funny, and full of action, while Glut’s KONG knock-off “Tor, King of Beasts” at times has its model’s aura of pathos. One could do worse than to put on a string of them at a party, and of course the DVD set provides ample opportunity for further research on your own.

Reviewed by and Copyright © 2006 Brian Thomas.

FILM THREAT

Don Glut isn’t a famous filmmaker, hell he isn’t even a well known filmmaker to the mainstream, but what makes him such a likable person is that he’s well aware of that yet still talks about his films with charisma and sheer heartfelt emotion.
Because with Glut, his short animated films are capsules of his childhood, and not so much productions to be scrutinized. Which is not to say there’s not a surprising amount of ingenuity and originality behind them. Glut was a young boy influenced by films, and he felt he wanted to take up the profession and made as many movies as he could with his best friends. Glut, in the end is a man who was given lemons and made lemonade.
He’s never apologetic about the quality of the films, and really explores how he was able to bring together such little resources and make so much out of them, from monster movies, dinosaur films, and really shoddy but entertaining superhero films in and around his house which managed to be apart of some grade A filming locations Glut went to town with.
Glut is the filmmaker in all of us, the person who wants to tell a story and entertain us and adamantly display his love for film in spite of lacking the funding to do so. “I Was a Teenage Movie Maker” becomes even more of an entertaining bit of film obsession when Glut explains his friendship with Forry Ackerman and their attempts to bring Glenn Strange in to film a low-budget Frankenstein film.
Glut’s films become increasingly professional, and he’s one of the first filmmakers to view film as a medium for entertainment that he made for himself and eventually turned into a career. The conversations with Glut are utterly engrossing, and the man knows films even if he was never an iconic legend.
But most of all, Glut is proof positive that you don’t always need a lot of money to create a film that’s entertaining and important. You just need creativity, originality, and a lot of heart. Something many aspiring filmmakers would do well to remember.
Reviewed by Feliz Vasquez, Jr.

FILM FANADDICT

Before the days of the Internet and countless magazines dedicated to the topic, the inner workings of the movie industry were shrouded in mystery. There were no “behind the scenes” documentaries spilling the closely guarded secrets either. Cinema was a far more impressive medium because “movie magic” was just that, magic. It’s into this era that Donald F. Glut was born and began his life-long love affair with movies, making forty-one amateur films in a time when independent filmmaking was unheard of. Cinema Epoch’s recent DVD I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER is Don Glut’s story, as told by himself and the people who helped make his dreams become reality.

Enchanted by the film industry, young Don Glut wanted a way to be able to watch movies at home whenever he wanted. Since it would several decades before the VCR was invented, Don decided that the best solution would be for him to make his own movies starring himself and his friends. The imaginative Glut quickly graduated from pulling dinosaur toys around on string to full blown Universal style horror films, complete with special effects and sequels. As Glut stumbled on the secrets of stop-motion animation and other effects tricks, his films increased in quality and scope. He began sending stills to Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Glut started to become well known in a circle of b-movie and comic book fans that supported his filmmaking and helped whenever they could. Glut eventually landed a spot in USC’s film program
and his films were shown in film festivals and television.

Glut was a pioneer in independent filmmaking, and he remains a cult icon for his unending dedication to the horror, sci-fi, and superhero genres. I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER takes the form an extended interview with Glut where he reminisces about his career as an amateur filmmaker. Glut’s enthusiasm for the topic is both entertaining and infectious. Though the majority of the film is a head-on shot of him in a chair, Glut manages to hold viewers’ attention like a trained showman. Interspersed throughout the film are snippets from the movies being discussed and occasional asides with some of the other people who were involved in Glut’s movies and life. None of them manage to be as entertaining as Glut himself, but their inclusion is important to appropriately display just how revolutionary and talented Glut was.

Cinema Epoch’s two-disc edition of I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER is full of approximately five hours of supplemental materials. All forty-one of Glut’s amateur films are here, complete uncut and available for the first time. As you’ll have learned from the documentary, they each get increasingly better in quality as they go along until they become comparable to some modern independent and underground films. Some are therefore better than others, but you’ll definitely want to check out all of them since they all have a unique charm. If that’s not enough, there are also some deleted scenes, photo galleries, and outtakes.

I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER stops Glut’s story abruptly after he gives the details of the final amateur film he made. The rest of the story is that Glut got to live out his dreams as a professional. He’s most well known for writing the novelization of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for his USC classmate George Lucas. After his amateur career, Glut became a writer for comic books (Captain America, others) and for cartoons like Scooby-Doo and G. I. Joe. Glut still makes movies, but now with a budget and locations more exotic than his mother’s basement. Glut’s story is one that any aspiring filmmaker or dedicated movie fan has to see.

Reviewed by David Carter

This is a totally different approach in telling the Don Glut story. The two DVD set starts off with Don, in a first person narration, telling us how and why he got into film making. Unlike most kids in the early '50's, Don's family actually own both a 16mm camera and projector. His initial inspiration to make films was that he couldn't buy any movies to show in his own home! If you can't buy them...you might as well make them!

He leads us through the evolution of his film making with clips, interviews and an unbelievable number of props that he used more than 40 years ago. He must throw nothing out and most of what he has still works!

Through high school in Chicago, Don and his friends made all sorts of monster movies, usually based on the hot movies of the time. One thing does come across and that is his love of dinosaurs. When it came time for college, Don visited California, met with and was befriended by Bob Burns and that led to all sorts of contacts including Forrey Ackerman and Glen Strange. Can you imagine having both Bob and Glen appearing in your amateur films? Now calling California home, Don added writing to his résumé. He authored a number of books on dinosaurs, wrote comic books for Captain American, Vamperella and wrote the book treatment of "Empire Strikes Back." In addition he wrote for a large number of TV shows such as "Shazam," "Land of the Lost," "Spiderman," "G.I. Joe," and "The Transformers!" Of course, while writing paid the bills, Don was a movie maker and 1994 began producing and directing independent films such as "Dinosaur Valley Girls," "The Vampire Hunter's Club," "The Mummy's Kiss," and the recently released "The Mummy's Kiss: 2nd Dynasty."

"I Was a Teenage Movie Maker" takes us through those formative years of learning and experimentation and amazes us the energy and creativity used in making amateur films. What make this package unique is that it includes all 41 of Don's amateur films plus extra bonus footage! That's right, over 12 hours of priceless entertainment. There's even a "Count Gore De Vol Creature Featurette." About the only thing missing from this long look at the unique career of Don Glut, is the extra time you'll need to watch and enjoy it all.

Reviewed by Count Gore DeVol

DVD DRIVE-IN

Donald F. Glut is no doubt one of the most significant names in monster movie and fantasy fandom. As a writer, he’s done everything from movie and TV scripts (including two of my favorites, “Shazam!” and “Land of the Lost”), comic book scripts, novels and non-fiction books, short stories, as well as the novelization for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. As a filmmaker, he has recently delved into erotic horror features such as THE MUMMY’S KISS and COUNT DRACULA’S ORGY OF BLOOD. But Don’s movie-making bug originated from a series of amateur films which started in 1953 (at the mere age of nine!) and ended in 1969, all having to do with monsters, dinosaurs and super heroes. The films had been acknowledged in the pages of Famous Monsters and Castle of Frankenstein magazines, as well as in several monster movie books, but rarely seen by the general public. This DVD not only gives us a very cool documentary on Glut and his early monster movie-making days, but also compiles all 41 efforts, with a monstrous (pun intended) amount of other extras.

“I Was a Teenage Movie Maker” is more a less a portrait of a young boy growing up in 1950s Chicago, fascinated by the old Universal horror movies he watched on “Shock Theater,” as well as the then-current fantasy flicks he caught in the theater. Wanting to be able to view these types of films in his own home (this is before they were available for the home market via Castle Films), he set out to make his own flicks on the family’s 16mm camera (and all of Don’s subsequent short films where shot in this format), not only directing them, coming up with the plots (no scripts, as most were improvised), creating the make-ups and camera effects, he was most often the star, getting his neighborhood pals act to in them as well. In such pre-historic tales as “The Earth Before Man” (1956) and “Dinosaur Destroyer” (1959), Don was experimenting with stop motion effects before he knew who Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen where, or how they conceived their creations!

A series of "classic monster" films commenced with “Frankenstein Meets Dracula” (1957) and “Return of the Wolfman” (1957), and when AIP’s youth-aimed drive-in horrors were in vogue, Don did a series of “teenage monster” films, such as “The Teenage Werewolf “ (1959), “I Was a Teenage Apeman” (1959) and “ I Was a Teenage Vampire" (1959). Super heroes and heroes based on 1940s serial cliffhangers were the subjects of most of his more-polished 1960s works. On a visit to California (where he would eventually relocate for good), Don met up with Bob Burns, who would show up in his films with his famous ape and mummy costumes, and donned Superman tights in a recreation of Kirk Alyn’s persona. The friendship with Burns also would lead to getting such serial heavies as Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan for one of his films, and most impressively, the legendary Glenn Strange doing a final turn as the Frankenstein monster (wearing a rubber mask) in “The Adventures of the Spirit.”

Glut makes for a lively and very likable interview subject here, talking about these films with the passion and glee he must have had when he originally crafted them as a boy. Often showing off some of the original props and equipment, he recalls all aspects of making these movies, from his influences, to the ambitious camera effects (can you believe he even attempted an “invisible teenager”?), the various filming locations, his move to California and USC film school, and much more. Among the other individuals interviewed for the documentary are Forrest J. Ackerman, Randal Kleiser, Bob Burns, Jim Harmon, Scott Shaw, Paul Davids, Bill Warren, Don’s mom (who made some of the super hero costumes and lensed some of the earlier films!) and a number of friends who acted in them.

All 41 of Glut’s amateur films are included here, separated by category and spread across the two discs. Shot in both color and black & white, the quality on them is pretty good, sometimes hampered by crude lighting or other limitations originating from the original shooting. Since all of the films were shot silent (some of the later films have added narration, dialog and sound effects), newly-scored music can be heard on most of them, but you also have the option of hearing Glut’s insightful and anecdote-filled commentaries on each and every one.

Disc 1 contains the “Dinosaur” films: Diplodocus at Large (1953), The Earth Before Man (1956), Dinosaur Destroyer (1959), The Time Monsters (1959), The Fire Monsters (1959), The Age of Reptiles (1960), Time Is Just a Place (1961), Tor, King of Beasts (1962) and Son of Tor (1964) (the latter two boast a King Kong-like giant ape). Also on the first disc are the “Classic Horror Monsters” films: Frankenstein Meets Dracula (1957), Return of the Wolfman (1957), The Revenge of Dracula (1958), The Frankenstein Story (1958), Return of the Monster Maker (1958), The Teenage Frankenstein (1959) and The Slave of the Vampire (1959).

Moving on to Disc 2 are the films concerning “Teenage Monsters”: The Teenage Werewolf (1959), I Was a Teenage Apeman (1959), The Day I Vanished (1959), I Was a Teenage Vampire (1959), Return of the Teenage Werewolf (1959), The Teenage Frankenstein Meets the Teenage Werewolf (1959), Revenge of the Teenage Werewolf (1960), Monster Rumble (1961), The Invisible Teenager (1962) and Dragstrip Dracula (1962). Also on the second disc are the “Super-Hero” films: Captain Marvel (1962), Superduperman (1962), The Human Torch (1963), The Adventures of the Spirit (1963), Spy Smasher vs. the Purple Monster (1964, a four-chapter serial which was released to theaters and actually played on television), Batman and Robin (1964), Captain America Battles the Red Skull (1964), Captain America vs. the Mutant (1964), Superman vs. the Gorilla Gang (1965), Rocketman Flies Again (1966), Atom Man vs. Martian Invaders (1967) and Spider-Man (1969).

Other extras on Disc 2 include a “Miscellaneous” section with three other of Glut’s short films: Jeepers Creepers Car Chase (1965, which stars TV horror host Fred “Jeepers’ Keeper” Stuthman), Wrath of the Sun Demon (1965, a USC student film which features Bob Burns in the original “Hideous Sun Demon” mask, as well as an appearance by an authentic mutant headpiece from THIS ISLAND EARTH) and For What Purpose? (a 1966 USC student film which actually features no monsters or fantasy characters). Another section of extras includes a trailer for Spy Smasher vs. the Purple Monster, 1962 home movies taken in California which include Forrest J. Ackerman and director Bert I. Gordon, home movies of Ackerman visiting Chicago (watch Forry tear up an issue of rival mag Horror Monsters in a humorously improvised bit), test footage from some of the monster and super-hero films, home movies of the 1964 New York’s World’s Fair, a recent appearance by Glut on Count Gore DeVol’s show, unedited behind-the-scenes footage from six of the short films, deleted scenes and interview footage that didn’t make it into the final cut of the documentary, an image gallery, a filmography of Glut’s amateur films, and a brief “shameless plugs” section.

Anyone remotely interested in the history of monster movies or greatly admires their collection of vintage Famous Monsters issues will want to give this exhausting, all-inclusive compilation of Donald F. Glut’s early fantasy films a look, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who fancies themselves a true “monster kid!”

reviewed by George Reis