A color photo of Saucer Man. A costume made by Paul Blaisdell for the 1957 film, ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men.’
The cheaper they are, the better they are.”
—Frank Zappa in 1973 referencing his love of horror movies, especially Roger Corman’s 1956 film It Conquered The World.
Unless, of course, you happen to be a huge Roger Cormanfan, the name Paul Blaisdell may be lost on you. This is a very sad thing given the many famous monsters Blaisdell created for Corman’s nutty cinematic flicks and other popular sci-fi/horror low-budget B-movies of the 50s and 60s.
Very early in his career, Blaisdell caught the attention of Forest J. Ackerman. Ackerman, the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine suggested to his friend Roger Corman that he hire the young illustrator, who he was representing to work on The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), as the services of Ray Harryhausen were far too expensive for Corman’s production wallet. Corman took Ackerman’s advice, and the film would be the first time Blaisdell would have the title of “monster creator” as a part of his soon-to-be extensive resume. With a total budget of only $200 to build the monsters for the film, Blaisdell created a hand puppet, something he had never done before. He and his wife and collaborator Jackie named the eighteen-inch creation Little Hercules and Corman was apparently happy “enough” with the results to hire Blaisdell again for his next film, Day The World Ended. And let’s face it, Blaisdell talent came cheap and this directly aligned with Corman’s movie studio budgets.
Day The World Ended challenged Blaisdell once again as he was tasked with making a life-sized rubber monster suit for the 1956 film. Blaisdell had never made a monster suit before, and for the movie, he would also be the man inside the monster suit marking his first “appearance” in a Hollywood film. Dubbed by Blaisdell as Marty the Mutant, the costume, which Blaisdell and Jackie glued together one piece at a time was actually quite terrifying. Here’s a little blow-by-blow from Blaisdell’s cohort Bob Burns on how Marty was made:
“The headpiece was pretty interesting. That was built up over an army helmet liner and the top part of the head, the sort of pointed shape up at the top, was actually made out of plaster over a wire framework that he’d built up over the helmet. The ears he made out of a form of resin or possibly fiberglass at that time I don’t know if they even had resin in the ’50s. The head was built up, so he had to look out through the mouth, so he wore a pair of sunglasses behind it. And the teeth he sculpted up himself, and I think those were out of clay. The horn things were flexible; it was a kind of early vinyl that he used. He sculpted up Marty’s face out of this resin-like material. There wasn’t much rubber on the head at all…He used to get his supplies from a place called Frye Plastic’s, they had the little plastic spheres that he’d use for eyeballs and all that stuff.”
Remember, Burns is talking about a man who had never done this kind of special effects before and was operating on sheer talent, ingenuity and being inspired to create outside of his usual wheelhouse. For their next film, Corman would finally have a legitimate hit on his hands thanks to a few key things falling into place. The first, Lee Van Cleef (a regular in sci-fi film during his early career) and Peter Graves signed on to appear in the leading roles in It Conquered The World (1956). Actress Beverly Garland also agreed to appear in the film, and her performance gave the movie credibility teeth as did the script. Though he would have a next-to-nothing budget, Blaisdell created an unforgettable monster, which historically, is as easily recognizable as Godzilla. Here, let me refresh your memory: This is Beulah—the fire red, nearly impossible to describe alien from Venus:
To help promote the film, Beulah and Marty the Mutant toured around the country during which Marty was mysteriously torn to shreds (pictured above). For Corman’s 1957 film, The She-Creature, Blaisdell made a plaster cast of his entire body, then used it as the foundation so-to-speak for the She-Creature. He and Jackie spent a month inside their garage making Cuddles, and Corman and fans of his films loved it. In 1957 alone, Blaisdell played a crucial role in eight movies, creating effects and monsters, making it even more difficult to understand how his contributions to horror and sci-fi cinema and FX could be so overlooked. Of course, not everyone forgot about Blaisdell’s work as he has a cult following, much like Corman. It’s also important to remember Blaisdell’s competition in the monster department was pretty fierce as they were pitched up against real movie monsters like Christopher Lee, rubber monster suit category killer Godzilla, and the giant spider from 1955’s Tarantula, which still scares the shit out of me to this day.
Much more after the jump…