Bob Clark Director Profile Part One – The Early Years

Clark was born in New Orleans in 1939. “We moved to Birmingham, Alabama, we were lower middle class, but we actually had a maid.  I used to go with the maid on weekends to what would have been called ” Colored Town” to play with the kids there, I loved them. When I moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1950s, it was a restricted community, and I went to a segregated high school. There were ” No Jews Allowed” signs on the beach still, and I didn’t understand this, it shocked me. I lived on the west side of town, which was near ” Colored Town” then, as well as the Florida Braves baseball stadium. I was quite a savage little being, we were very poor, my father died, my mother was a barmaid, so I pretty much ran the streets. I used to climb up on the top of the fences of the baseball stadium, and run along, and the guards would chase me. The black kids called me ” Cheetah,” and they would meet me later, and say ” Hey, you’re Cheetah!”. I used to go to the theaters down on Las Olas Boulevard. I did like horror movies, but I liked all movies.

I had no intention as a youth of perusing a movie career, but I always wanted to be writer from the earliest time I could remember. It wasn’t until I got into college that I started to think about films seriously. I was a film buff, but not an addict if you know what I mean…I wasn’t crazy about films but I liked ’em. So I’d say it was probably at college, at the University of Miami where I started thinking about making films. It’s a long, long story but I got into films when I was an actor in the local Miami film industry of the mid sixties.

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After college in 1964, Bob was directing a stage production of Arthur Miller’s “A View From a Bridge” in Miami when was approached by Charlie Brunn.  Charlie was a cross-dresser, his wife was a very butch lady and they had three kids, it was a strange situation. He owned Lee High Acres, a manufactured community in the Everglades, and was bent on being a movie producer. “He came up to me and said “I’m doing a movie on Miami Beach and you’re going to direct it. At that point I knew nothing about film cutting, continuity, nothing. These people promised that they would teach me. When I got on the set they knew less than I did.”


The odd circumstances continued when he found out that this zero money production was to be called THE SHE MAN and starred a transvestite.
BOB CLARK: “The ‘She Man’ script idea was about a Korean war veteran who was a deserter and the way he hid out was to disguise himself as a woman. It wasn’t a comedy either, it tried to be a serious spy thriller.” Local townspeople were recruited as actors and filming commenced in the hydroponic greenhouse and funeral parlor of Lee High Acres, which served as soundstages. “It was a remarkably surreal experience, and the results, as you might expect under the circumstance, were incomprehensible. John Carradine was in it and Lila Lee, the silent film star, and it was an education. My editors name was Hack… get it? He was a local editor out of Fort Meyers. Nobody knew anything about filmmaking. My cinematographer was an ex-newsreel cameraman, nice guy. Nobody knew anything.

Next came The Emperor’s New Clothes.
BOB CLARK: That one I’m willing to mention! I think it’s lost, but it wasn’t too bad. I got to work with John Carradine, Lila Lee and a great singing group. After I did She-Man, I asked Charlie, “Can I do this one?” I did ’em back-to-back.

What was Carradine like?
BOB CLARK: John was a nice man. He was a severe alcoholic, fought the problem all his life, but he was there to work; he was a pro. When I did my first movie, I told Charlie, “I don’t know anything about movies.” And he said, “Oh, we got that covered with your cameraman and editor.” The cameraman [Gerhard Maser] was a WWII Nazi field cameraman and had never shot a feature. So I did She-Man with the famous book The Five C’s of Cinematography in my hand, figuring how to do continuity, etc. But by the time we did Emperor, I was kind of halfway there to understanding the difference between a movie and a play.

Another film was made back to back with THE SHE MAN called THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES, an original comedy script by Bob based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, set in modern times. Starring John Carradine in the title spot, and featuring 60s pop group Spanky & Our Gang (“Lazy Day”) as “roving musical troubadours,” it seems quite a promising step up but seemingly does not exist for us to judge. “The soundtrack got lost when we ran into problems with the backers. I don’t think the film does exist.” This back to back baptism by fire set the spark though, and theatrical aspirations were abandoned.


“For the next five years, I decided that film was what I wanted to do with my life. So I did any job in the industry imaginable.” Florida was one of the most active hubs of low budget filmmaking around, making a steady stream of horror/rock n’ roll/biker/mondo drive-in fare and Bob worked steadily on more films than he can remember including some K. Gordon Murray films, including a stint as assistant director on Murray’s SHANTY TRAMP, the exploitation interracial romance drama that was “quite the shocker” at its time of release.


So I figured at that point what I would do was become an AD. That’s a nice position to be in to learn how everything works… it was interesting. But it was another four years when I started thinking with my friend Alan Ormsby that the next thing we were gonna do was a horror film first. That was just short of pornography to get a break in.

So, my first movie was Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. My brothers and the Gotch family put up $40,000, and we made the movie. Ted V. Mikels agreed to distribute it in the States, but somehow it got to Canada and to Peter James, John Trent and David Perlmutter at Quadrant. They bought the film and distributed it, and it did very well in Canada.



The story focuses on a theatre troupe, led by Alan (Alan Ormsby). He is a mean-spirited director, who travels with the others by boat to a small island that is mainly used as a cemetery for deranged criminals, to have a night of fun and games. Once on the island Alan tells his group, which he refers to as his “children”— numerous stories relating to the island’s history and buried inhabitants. he leads them to a cottage where they are supposed to spend the night. He then opens a chest they had brought with them, puts on a mystical robe and says that they are to prepare for the summation at midnight. Alan takes sheer delight in torturing his cast with threats of firing them if they do not do as he pleases which always makes them go along with his plan. At midnight using a grimoire, Alan begins a séance to raise the dead after digging up the body of a man named Orville Dunworth (Seth Sklarey). Though the original intent of the ritual may have been solely as a joke, Alan appears disappointed that nothing happens.

Afterwards the party continues and Alan goes to extremes to degrade the actors, using the corpse of Orville for his own sick jokes. Then, however, animated by the fell ritual, the dead return to life and force the troupe to take refuge in the old house. Unfortunately for the group, the dead get their revenge, and in the movie’s closing credits we see the group of corpses boarding Alan’s boat with the lights of Miami in the background.

“I learned the whole business waiting until I could make the first film I had any control of, which was CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS.” – Bob Clark

Shot in 35mm for $50,000 in 5 days and 11 nights at the Miami Dade County Nursery in 1970, CHILDREN, besides having one of the coolest titles for a horror movie, is one of the most enjoyable of the no-budget early 70s horror fare released in the wake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s success. Co-screenwriter/ makeup artist Alan Ormsby does triple duty in the starring role (in an amazing pair of vertically striped bell-bottom pants) as a overbearing, patronizing theater director taking his troupe out to an island graveyard for some black magic “games,” including attempts to revive the dead. While the horror PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS comedy mix is stagy at times, the script is obviously not by the usual cheapo movie bozos and the theater people archetypes (the joking fat guy, the emotional wreck, the flamers, the cynic, the stud, etc.) are fresh.

David Trimble and Forrest Carpenter designed and built the graveyard set.
David Trimble and Forrest Carpenter designed and built the graveyard set.

CHILDREN was very much a homegrown project. The cast is made up largely of friends and students of my brother who was a professor at the University of Miami. The zombies are made up from doctors, lawyers and dentists from the area. We had the most elite group of cannibals of any film, I think. We were obviously inspired by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but we thought our comic approach was unique. The performances are a little amateurish but it holds up. In retrospect I think I learned more on that movie than I would off on three conventional movies.”

Informality led cast members in CHILDREN to refer to each other by their real names in the film. Contrary to what you might have read, Ted V. Mikels had nothing to do with the film’s making, but eventually did wind up distributing it through his Geneni company, and possibly receiving parts of the film’s generous box office that Clark and Ormsby did not. At the time Bob was in the Screen Actors Guild as Benjamin Clark to avoid confusion with another actor with his name, and kept the pseudonym for his director credit.

When did you meet Alan Ormsby?
BOB CLARK: At the University of Miami. We were at the Rink Theater together. Both of us had an interest in writing and film, and the same sort of bizarre sense of humor. He eventually became the star of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. He also did all the make-up effects.


How did that film come about?
BOB CLARK: It was done with private money, about $50,000, near Coral Gables, Florida. Again, it was done entirely with amateur actors. All those people crawling out of the ground at the end were college professors, wives and city councilmen.

Valerie Mamches getting ready for a scene (also pictured assistant cameraman John MacGowan)
Valerie Mamches getting ready for a scene (also pictured assistant cameraman John MacGowan)

The combination of slapstick humor and graphic violence was an odd mix.
BOB CLARK: I felt it was original. But, let’s face it, it took a lot of inspiration from Night Of The Living Dead. I saw it for the first time a couple of years ago. Now I think some of the humor is a little heavy-handed, but the whole film holds up really well.

Did the low budget present any problems?
BOB CLARK: We’d shoot all night and spend the day guarding the set from kids who’d get in and vandalize it. The film was shot over 11 nights. It would rain all day until 6 pm, when we’d start shooting. And it would start raining again at 6 am, when we’d stop. The film was touched by fate.

With the bad luck you’d had on the first two films, did you think this film would make any money?
BOB CLARK: We were very naive. We figured we would make a lot of money–we didn’t, of course. But somebody got rich on it. It’s done quite well on cable and it’s had a good video life.

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To what extent would you say that Children was influenced by Night of the Living Dead?
BOB CLARK: I had seen Night of the Living Dead and admired it immensely, and indeed we based Children on it. We didn’t want to copy it, though. We saw Children as a satirical version of Night of the Living Dead. We wanted to have fun with the idea of it.

It certainly has a different look than George A. Romero’s film.
BOB CLARK: We purposely tried to bring a look that was a bit different than Night of the Living Dead. Alan Ormsby would come to the set a few hours early to do the makeup effects, even though neither he nor or his assistant had any schooling about makeup other than teaching themselves. After Alan finished with makeup on the other actors he would come to the set and get ready to act in the film.

Interview with Alan Ormsby  Exploited VHS (1999)

It had a much lower budget than Night’s $714,000 price tag, correct?
BOB CLARK: We had so little money to make it. The truly independent film has the incredible problem of shortness of cash. When we started, it was nearly impossible to make an independent film. Nowadays it’s much easier; this is proven when you see how many independent films get slid into the realm of the major studios. We had $60,000 and we stole and cheated everything we could in gear and equipment. We only had eleven nights to shoot the whole film in Coral Gables, Florida, and it was not a short film.

How did you pull it off?
BOB CLARK: I planned out every aspect of the film in great detail. I didn’t do storyboards, but I had [index cards of every part of the film, as well as schematics. If we were supposed to do seventeen shots in one day, we did seventeen shots.

You must’ve had a very dedicated crew.
BOB CLARK: I am a great believer in the co-operative nature of film art. I believe it is a very wise and important thing to work with and listen to your crew and to hear their ideas. From the lighting people to the actors, I always take note of good suggestions.

It must have been a challenge shooting on location at night.
BOB CLARK: Yeah, it was, but we were disciplined, we were determined. It was an adventure, to say the least. The night was a break in a way, because at least we were out. The gardens were a little bit isolated, so we didn’t have sound problems. But everybody was so committed. Those ghouls you see running around included an assistant dean of the University of Miami, a couple of professors, a very famous Miami Beach doctor…there are some pretty elegant people among the ghouls! They all wanted to have fun. And Ormsby did too; here he was, the lead actor, who did all that makeup. It’s not the best makeup ever in the history of ghoul movies, but pretty damn good considering that he had to do it all, every extra, everybody.

How did Children launch your career making features in Canada?
BOB CLARK: When the film was first finished, horror schlockmeister Ted V. Mikels [director of Astro Zombies, The Corpse Grinders and The Doll Squad was just starting a small distribution company in the United States. They didn’t put much money behind the film when it came out and it didn’t do too well. Later, the film was bought by Quadrant Films in Canada and they put some substantial money behind the marketing and promotion of the piece, and the film was a moderate to large success in Canada and that’s where everything started. Quadrant later gave me money to finance my next picture, DeathDream.


Seth Sklarey played Orville, the abused corpse and later vengeful zombie, in “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.” The undead makeup job was augmented by Mr. Sklarey’s natural physical attributes (he appears to be both tall and lean). The result is a zombie you would definitely not want to be locked in a room with.

How did you come into the part of Orville? Did the person making the casting decisions already know you and think you were right for the part?
SETH SKLAREY: A girlfriend of mine at the time bicycled up to me and said, “They are casting a horror movie and they described the look they wanted for the lead and it fits your description.” She took me to Bob Clark and he signed me on the spot for $350 up front and $350 at the end. I never saw the second $350.

What was it like, making the movie?
SETH SKLAREY: You will be happy to know that Alan Ormsby was an obnoxious asshole when the camera was off as well. I don’t think it was acting.

So Alan was just playing himself, not acting at all.
SETH SKLAREY: You got it.  Bob Clark, who is a great director, purposely shot me slightly out of focus, because he thought I would move. I didn’t. Not one reviewer has taken into consideration the “acting” and control of playing dead. Some horror film fans and directors have complimented me on my “performance” and said it was the best they had seen. It took a great deal of control to keep from strangling Alan throughout the movie. The mosquitoes in the “graveyard” were horrendous. The only way I could keep myself free from them was to close the lid on the coffin and doze off between scenes. Some wise guys started to fill in the grave during one of my naps and I gave them a demonstration of what Orville would have done had he been real. They knew it was me but THEY soiled their pants.


Did you know when you were cast that you were going to be the lead zombie?
SETH SKLAREY: No, it was all in the script but I wasn’t given too much access to the script. [Alan] Ormsby probably made half of it up as he went along too but there was a script. I had no lines so I guess they figured there really wasn’t any reason to give me a script. I never knew what was going on!

How long did it take you to put on the makeup?
SETH SKLAREY: It used to take three hours at night to put it on and two hours in the morning to get it off. A guy named Gary and a girl, whose name I don’t remember, maybe Ann Farmer, did my makeup. They put it on but I usually took it off myself once I got home. It was latex pieces that they would put on and then paint over. Then they dried it all with hair dryers. The hair was my own but they put some stuff in it to make it look white.

I had not thought about the challenge of lying perfectly still before, but you are right. Being still is something that I could do, but, even with my eyelids closed, small eye movements would probably give me away. Is it (staying motionless) something you have always been able to do, or did you have to work out a technique?
SETH SKLAREY: When I was a kid I was impressed by the Hindu fakirs and always practiced shallow breathing and trying to hold my breath under water for twenty minutes. I think my record was sixty-one seconds.

Did you ever fall asleep on the set while they were filming?
SETH SKLAREY: Oh yes, a bunch of times. The movie was filmed at the county nursery and the mosquitoes were horrendous. I would go to sleep in the coffin because I could close the lid and shut the mosquitoes out. One time, I went to sleep in the coffin when it was in the grave and these wise asses started to shovel dirt in on top of me. I came flying out of that coffin in full costume and makeup and just scared the hell out of them. They knew I was in there and they knew I was an actor but they didn’t know what to think – they weren’t expecting that!


Were there any dangerous stunts in the movie?
SETH SKLAREY: Probably the worst was exposing us to so many mosquito bites. We could have gotten malaria, yellow fever, or dengue fever. I would not have been surprised if there weren’t a few tsetse flies out there too. There were a few bats out at the graveyard, but they could not get them on camera. Of course, Anya was kind of batty, but that is a different story.

I hope they had a padded mat or something to take the hard knock out of your fall.
SETH SKLAREY: It was a single mattress on the floor. It would knock the breath out of you to fall on it. Fortunately I had some judo training and could take a hard fall. I always fancied myself as a stuntman and loved watching Jock Mahoney, Sally Field’s father in the TV show “Yancy Derringer,” in which he did his own stunts. Again, I knew if I did anything to break my fall it would show as phony on the screen. So, I opted for reality for the sake of art and was sore for a week.

You mentioned that Children was filmed at a plant nursery, was it on an island?
SETH SKLAREY: No, the island was a different location. It was the Dade County plant nursery. That was where most of it was shot. The house was in Coconut Grove. It was owned by a friend of mine, Tony Gulliver. He was the still photographer on the movie. He had an old house that was typical of the type in Coconut Grove and we filmed all the interiors there.

Is that house still standing?
SETH SKLAREY: Yes, the house is still there. Someone bought it and fixed it up but it’s still an old house. We did one shot at the end on an island off the coast of Miami. That was with us [the ghouls] sailing off in the boat. The boat was called The Ram, it was owned by an old friend of mine, Harry Boehme, who is also in the movie. He was one of the ghouls. The “graveyard” was the old Dade County plant nursery in South Dade off Old Cutler Road. It was starting to become a very affluent neighborhood, but there was a large tract behind a County Park (Matheson Hammock) where they grew plants and trees for that and other parks. It was heavily wooded and, during the hot, wet summer months, was mosquito infested. The woods were dark, damp, and clammy – ideal for a horror movie.

Carl Zittrer – Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things


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