Dimension Pictures (1970-1981)

Dimension was also considered one of the more honorable companies of its kind, and the majority of people interviewed for this article spoke very fondly of the Woolners, and of their experiences making movies for them. Sid Balkin, a former Dimension executive, calls the company “a small but class operation where everybody looked forward to going to work every day.” Along with the wonderfully wild cinema they made, that’s not a bad epitaph.

For Woolner, exploitation pictures were always a family affair. He owned drive-ins and produced movies with his brothers Barney and Dave and met his wife Betty at a drive-in he owned in New Orleans; she would eventually become his business partner. He would also bring his son Kurt on the road with him when he was distributing movies.

“When I was 5, my father bought the rights to a number of really cheap horror films,” Kurt Woolner recalls. “He packaged them in something called the Dusk to Dawn Marathon. He went to some candy company and had them make these pink sugar tabs with a plastic covering that said ‘No Fright Pills: Take If You Have Extreme Fright.’ They would hand out the medicine, and if you got too scared watching the movie, you could chew on it and it would calm you down. I remember driving around the whole state with him, and he was handing out boxes and boxes of No Fright Pills to the theaters that played these films.”

When Larry Woolner came back from WWII, he was discharged in New Jersey, where the first drive-in had opened. He immediately saw their potential and decided to open his own in New Orleans. In addition, the Woolners also bought a theater two blocks from Bourbon Street to set up their offices and run movies, and it wasn’t long before Larry got the itch to make films him- self. He got together with a young producer/director named Roger Corman, and they made several pictures together.

The Woolners could tell Corman would go on to big things; “I thought Roger was very talented, and Larry was crazy about him,” Betty says. Their first collaboration was Swamp Women (1956), starring Beverly Garland and Jonathan Haze. “A big part of my father’s decision process was whether he could visualize the poster,” says Kurt. “So you can just imagine a movie called Swamp Women. That laid a very clear exploitation track to follow.”

Swamp Women (1956)

Three escaped female convicts, along with an undercover policewoman, Lee Hampton, begin a search for stolen diamonds in the Louisiana swamps. The escape, allowed by the authorities, is part of a larger plan by the authorities is to trail the convicts and recover stolen diamonds. When notified that the stolen diamond cache has been recovered by the undercover officer, they plan to rearrest the women and return the diamonds to their rightful owner. The plan fails to work as designed. During the inmates’ search of the swamp, they steal a boat from a research geologist and his girlfriend, resulting in the girlfriend’s death from the attack of indigenous alligators. After recovery of the diamonds, one of the convicts double-crosses the others, attempting to sneak off with the guns and diamonds, but she is killed by the one of the other convicts. The two remaining convicts begin to suspect the undercover cop, and threaten to kill the geologist if she doesn’t reveal herself. A fight ensues between the convicts and the undercover officer, assisted by the geologist. which allows the authorities enough time to show up and regain custody of the two remaining fugitives.

Haze had already been in several previous Corman films, including Apache Woman and Monster from the Ocean Floor, he would go on to star in the director’s cult fave The Little Shop of Horrors. Swamp Women was the first film he made with Corman to be shot on location in Louisiana; the state’s ex-governor owned a large plantation, and invited the director and the Woolners to make the movie there. Haze recalls the latter as “really good people. They played hard-guy, but deep down they were nice. Barney was always in a hurry, while Larry was much more cool and quiet, and not so much of a character.”

Haze played a pickpocket in the film, and had a scene in jail. When he first arrived in New Orleans, a policeman friend of the Woolners picked the actor up and put him in the pokey for several hours as a joke. When asked if the experience helped his performance, Haze replies, “Nothing ever helped my performances!”

The Woolners then produced Teenage Doll (1957) with Corman; the film was Barney’s idea and written by legendary Corman screenwriter Charles Griffith (Little Shop, Death Race 2000), whom the Woolners called “California” Griffith as a joke on Tennessee Williams, the writer of Baby Doll. That Elia Kazan film was popular and scandalous at the time, and Griffith figured out right away that this project would be the juvenile-delinquent version.

Teenage Doll (1957)

The Black Widows, a teenage girl gang, find one of their number killed; they suspect Barbara, sometime girlfriend of the leader of rival gang the Vandals. As the gangs prepare for a rumble, we glimpse the members’ home lives, exaggerating every type of family dysfunction; but that of their “average American” quarry is no better. Full of shadowy urban night scenes.

“They started the meeting with, ‘We’re gonna do a movie called Teenage Doll,’ ” Griffith remembers. “I said, ‘Baby Doll,’ and Roger said, ‘Exactly.’ ” As with Swamp Women, the Woolners put up the cash, Corman directed and the film was shot in 10 days.

Larry repeatedly asked Betty to come work with him, and it was Teenage Doll that she took an active role in the company. “It was just a Iark,” she says. “We were having more fun than anything else at the time. We didn’t realize there was so much money in it; it was more of a hobby.”

As the ’50s were coming to a close, the Woolners would produce one of the great classics of the drive-in era. The brothers and Betty had just seen Universal’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and were blown away. On the ride home, they bantered back and forth that they should have thought of the idea, and Betty countered that they should go with an opposite concept. With that, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) was born. As Betty relates, Larry always went “very first-class with the advertising. He felt the presentation was important. With Attack of the 50 Ft Woman, the ad is what sold it; the giant woman straddling the freeway.”

“I remember scratch paper in our homes filled with taglines my parents were working on,” Kurt says. “They were very hands on with that. My mom wrote the tagline for Sweet Sugar, which went, ‘If she couldn’t get a man easy, she’d get him hard!’ ”

In the mid-’70s during the Dimension years, Larry bought an S.F. Brownrigg movie called Scum of the Earth (1963), and the film’s producer, Mike Ripps, gave it a classic exploitation push. “I remember Mike Ripps as a boy, because he smoked the biggest cigar I’d ever seen in my life!” Kurt says. “I thought that ad campaign looked like it was created by some backwoods Satan-worshipping psycho! The campaign claimed this film was so shocking, armed guards would be at every theater. The movie would come into a town, they’d set up these flashing police bubble lights at the door and they’d hire a local kid and put him in a security outfit. They’d make this big deal, and it was a great success. It was pure showmanship.”

Scum of the Earth (1963

An innocent college student, Kim Sherwood (Downe), is lured into doing “glamour” poses to earn money for tuition. Once she has done this work she is blackmailed by the photographers into doing more and more explicit posing. Various forms of implied sexual violence follow until the girl is rescued from her desperate situation.

After churning out films for American International Pictures since the ’50s, Corman was itching to strike out on his own. In the early ’70s, he formed New World Pictures and brought Larry Woolner along with him as his sales manager. Producer Charles Schwarz was also on board as New World’s head of production, and his wife Stephanie Rothman was head of creative affairs. The company started off with a bang with The Student Nurses (1970), directed by Rothman.

The Student Nurses (1970)

Four young women all share a house together as they study to be nurses. Phred falls for a sexy doctor, Jim, despite accidentally sleeping with Jim’s roommate. Free-spirited Priscilla, who does not wear a bra, has an affair with a drug-selling biker who gets her pregnant and leaves her, causing her to seek an abortion. Sharon forms a relationship with a terminally ill patient. Lynn sets up a free clinic with a Hispanic revolutionary, Victor Charlie. Priscilla’s request to have an abortion is turned down by the hospital, so she gets an illegal one from Jim, with the help of Lynn and Sharon, despite Phred’s vehement opposition. Sharon’s lover/patient dies and she decides to join the Army Nurse Corps and serve in Vietnam. Victor Charlie is involved in a shootout with the police and goes on the run; Lynn decides to go with him. Phred breaks up with Jim, but Priscilla and she agree to remain friends. The four friends graduate together.

Sam Sherman, producer of Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) among many others, was friendly with the Woolners throughout the ’70s, and the first time he met Larry, the latter was beaming with pride about Doll House. “In this unpredictable industry,” Sherman says, “I’d never heard anybody brag to me about a movie they had, claiming it was going to start a trend. Upon its release, The Big Doll House (1971) a chicks-in-chains flick starring Pam Grier and directed by Jack Hill. It was not just an influential mega-hit, it was also reportedly the most successful independent film of its time.

The Big Doll House (1971)

Collier enters prison, having been found guilty of killing her husband. She is introduced to the beautiful occupants of her cell, doing time for crimes ranging from political insurgency to heroin addiction. The women often clash, which leads to their torture by sadistic guard Lucian . The torture ceremonies are viewed by an impassive cloaked figure. Collier’s cellmates Alcott and Bodine  plan to escape. Collier and another cellmate Ferina agree to go along. Assisting is their other lesbian cellmate Grear, though there are doubts Grear’s heroin addict girlfriend Harrad will be equipped to escape. Ferina, Alcott and Bodine break from the solitary confinement sauna and take their revenge on Lucian. The escapees wield guns, attitude, and sexuality to free themselves. During their escape they round up various personnel from the prison as hostages, taking elegant prison warden Miss Dietrich, sympathetic prison medic Dr Phillips, and two local men regularly allowed access to the prison to sell market produce, Harry and Fred.

Yet after a year at New World, Larry was ready to go solo himself and start Dimension Pictures. As for why they split from Corman, Betty says simply, “We had some differences.” Kurt adds, “Honestly, I believe they were doing so well that their two male egos couldn’t exist in such a quick, successful environment.” In his auto-biography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Corman wrote, “It was a most amicable split. When I bought him out, we went for a drink and Larry said it was the greatest year of his life. He walked away with a lot of money for a year’s work and we stayed good friends.”

Schwarz, who left New World to go to Dimension with Rothman, says, “All of us saw the opportunity to start a company that we could have a financial interest in and control the fate of. Those goals weren’t possible under New World, because it was Roger’s company.”


Dimension Pictures Logo (1972

Woolner set up the Dimension offices on Sunset Boulevard. New World’s headquarters were close by on the Strip, but Kurt says it wasn’t a case of two companies going after each other like rival used-car lots. “I don’t think the strategy was I want to be hovering over New World,’ ” he says. “He needed an office, let’s go down the street.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sugar Bowman agrees to serve two years working on a sugar-cane plantation rather than go to jail on a trumped-up drug charge. She arrives with new inmate Simone and encounters brutal guard Burgos and a maniacal plantation owner known only as Dr. John. Along with using a machete in the field to cut cane sugar all day, Sugar and the other inmates are forced to undergo Dr. John’s medical experiments, who is testing drugs. He also rapes the 17-year-old prisoner, Dolores. After being caught in an intimate situation with Carlos, a guard, Sugar is to be whipped, but when Carlos refuses, he is shot by Burgos. The female inmates attempt to hide and protect Mojo, Simone’s love interest who has vague voodoo powers, but the Burgos catches him and Dr. John burns him at the stake. After setting fire to the sugar cane fields and stealing guns and vehicles, Sugar, Simone, and Dolores team-up with two more guards to take Dr. John hostage and attempt to escape. While fleeing, Simone is shot and crashes her jeep with Dr. John. He maniacally claims to be immortal, to which she responds by shooting him and blowing up the jeep, killing them both and blocking the exit so the rest can escape in a truck. After ditching the two guards who helped her, the final shot is Sugar walking down a street in town with two men, apparently making good her escape.

The drive-in specialists definitely competed, but Kurt says his father’s attitude wasn’t “Come here, we’ll make a better offer than Roger.” The first film Dimension released was Sweet Sugar (1972), a Big Doll House take-off. During its first year, the company also issued Group Marriage (1973), a comedy starring B-movie queen Claudia Jennings, and The Twilight People (1972), a Filipino Island of Dr. Moreau-esque horror film featuring Pam Grier.

Group Marriage (1973)

Chris is not getting along with boyfriend Sandor and has an affair with parole officer Dennis. Dennis invites the couple to dinner with his ex-girlfriend Jan. At a picnic on the beach, Jan meets lifeguard Phil, who later sleeps with Chris and moves in with the other five. Phil brings in a person, lawyer Elaine. The “group marriage” of the six of them attracts media attention.

The Twilight People (1972)

While diving, Matt Farrell is kidnapped by Neva Gordon and Steinman and taken to an island where Neva’s father Dr. Gordo is experimenting, trying to make a “super race” by combining humans and animals. Dr. Gordon wants Farrell to be one of his upcoming experiments, but Neva begins to doubt her fathers’ work following a botched experiment on another test subject and falling in love with Farrell. She decides to help Farrell and the animal people escape. Steinman and his men hunt them down.

There wasn’t much to do at first, so when a script came into the offices, everyone would take a look at it. One day Betty found a receptionist giggling while reading a script called The Doberman Gang (1972), about a bank robbery pulled off with the help of a pack of trained canines. Betty read it that night, and once Larry took a look, he committed to make it. Greenlighted, lensed and released during Dimension’s first year in business. The Doberman Gang was a breakout hit for the company. One of the biggest moneymakers Dimension ever released, it spawned two sequels. Among the other aspiring filmmakers the Woolners met with were two USC students, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who came in trying to sell a script they’d written called Bordello of Blood, with Zemeckis attached as director. The company passed, and it was finally made as a Tales from the Crypt movie in 1996.

The Doberman Gang (1972)

Back in the early ’60s, the Woolners lived in Rome for a year or so while producing a cool James Bond clone called Lightning Bolt (1966). During that time, they met actor Mark Damon, who had a featured role in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath among others and today is a big- time Hollywood producer. Now that Dimension was up and running, Damon brought them a project he wanted to make called The Virgin’s Full Moon. The Woolners re-titled it The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973). In the film, Damon plays twins  one good, one evil  since the actor had always wanted to tackle a dual role. While it wasn’t a great movie. Wedding Night does feature copious nudity, and exploitation veteran Joe D’Amato served as cinematographer.

The Devil's Wedding Night (1973)

“They were just really good, solid, down-to-earth people,” Damon says of the Woolners, and even big producers who could have easily set up movies at major studios wanted to work with Dimension due to their reputation for decency. Balkin recalls the Woolners as “the nicest people I ever worked for in my life. They were extremely knowledgeable and extremely honest. They really knew what they were doing.”

Although Schwarz and Rothman would leave the company in 1974 and wound up in litigation with Dimension, Schwarz now says, “There were a lot of people in that (low-budget) world who were unreliable and tried to put things over on people, but I wouldn’t have become a founding partner of Dimension if I thought that was going to be a problem. Because I was on the inside and involved with a lot of the business deals myself, I would not have stayed for three years if I had seen any sort of problems.”

Dolemite (1975)

Betty says that her husband “just had a feel for what the public liked,” and with one of Dimension’s most infamous releases, he saw something no one else did. That film was called Dolemite (1975), and starred a raunchy nightclub comedian named Rudy Ray Moore. When she caught a screening of the film, she wondered if her husband had lost his mind, but Larry insisted on buying it. His instincts were right and they had another major hit.

“What nobody in the office really understood was the big following Rudy Ray Moore had,” says Kurt. “He spent 20 years in the trenches doing his comedy act. My father always respected him, because he pulled himself up from nothing.” Some had told Moore not to go with Dimension because it was a mom-and-pop operation, but he was more comfortable working with a smaller company. Moore and the Woolners remained good friends, and he often went to them for career advice.

Johnny Tough (1974)

Dion Gossett plays a young urban African-American. Gossett continually rebels against the white establishment, as represented by his teacher. The boy finds he can expect no back-up of his attitude at home, where his parents wallow in self-indulgence, so he feels that a show of force is his only option.  

Like most drive-in companies of the time, Dimension put out several blaxploitation films; in addition to Moore’s, they also released Johnny Tough (1974), which was directed by a minister (Horace Jackson), and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976), an idea which originated with Larry LeBron. “He threw a lot of ideas out,” says Dr Black producer Charles Walker. “If you sat and talked with Larry, he might throw five concepts at you. One time while we was brainstorming, he said, ‘Listen, it would be great to do a character based on Mr. Hyde,’ and we took it from there. Larry was instrumental in its formation.”

William Crain, who’d previously helmed Blacula (1972), directed the film; he was initially leery of making another blaxploitation horror entry, but Walker convinced him it would be a fun experience. Walker’s first choice for the title role was Blacula’s William Marshall, who turned it down; instead, the role went to Bemie Casey, whom Crain had known since junior high and who agreed to star if Crain would direct.

8479835633_2979d326c3_oLos Angeles Dr. Henry Pride (Bernie Casey) is an accomplished, wealthy, African American medical doctor working on a cure for cirrhosis of the liver along with his colleague, Dr. Billie Worth (Rosalind Cash). Desperate to create this remedy, Pride conducts unethical experiments on others and himself, which turns Pride into a white, Frankenstein-like monster with superhuman strength and invincibility, as he begins to rampage throughout Watts killing prostitutes and pimps. After not being able to test his remedy on Linda (Marie O’Henry), Pride goes into a rampage, which results in him being chased down by the police. Cornered at Watts Towers, Pride attempts to escape by climbing up the towers, which leads to the police gunning him down and causing him to fall to his death.

Pulling off the monster’s look wasn’t easy; several makeup artists tried, and walked off the film in frustration. Dimension initially didn’t want to go with appliances, but trying to make Casey white with powder looked terrible. Zoltan Elek, whose credits include Mask (1985), Independence Day (1996) and The Black Dahlia (2006), couldn’t pull it off either, but stayed on the film anyway. The artist says that making an african- american look white “is a very tough makeup job, even today.” A young Stan Winston finally came up with appliances that did the trick, while Elek watched and learned.

MV5BMTc0MjgzMmQtOTM4NS00NzQzLWE5NjItN2U0MjFlN2I1NWMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_

“I had no clue about appliance makeup,” Elek says. “I didn’t know that kind of work. Plus, I had just come to this country from Hungary, and there weren’t that many african- american people to make up there. I had to learn how to adjust colors. Working on this movie, I learned a lot about African- American make-ups, and Stan helped me get into the union, so I still owe him.” Besides Winston, another Dr Black crew member who went on to big things was cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, who later graduated to The Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense, among others.

Dr Black was a non-union film, so Winston had to make up Casey while they hid out in a trailer parked away from the shoot, usually hidden around the comer from the production with the blinds pulled. “There was no indication that this trailer was part of the company,” Crain recalls with a laugh. “I mean, we’re not talking great big star homes, we’re talking those trailers you see on the way to Lake Havasu!”

At the end of the film, Casey climbs the Watts Towers and is shot down by the police. Screenwriter Larry LeBron recalls, “I thought I’d be accused of stealing from King Kong, but I wanted him to be on top of the Watts Towers because to my knowledge, they’d never been filmed before. And they did some very spectacular shots there.”

Bob Minor, who stunt-doubled for Jim Brown, Sidney Poitier and Fred Williamson, performed the fall from the Towers. “We were only gonna go up so far,” Crain recalls. “Bob kept saying he wanted to go a little higher, like 20 or 30 feet. We were a little worried, but Bob felt very comfortable with it.” The producers did have to make a last-minute renegotiation: The higher Minor jumped from, the more money he was supposed to be paid. Ultimately, he did the stunt in one take, and several cameras caught the action, including one in a police helicopter circling overhead.

Once Dr Black was completed, the Woolners put together a great trailer with a hilarious rhyming voiceover. Some of the best lines include, “A monster he could not control has taken over his very soul!,” “Shot fulla lead and he still ain’t dead!” and “Don’t give him no sass or he’ll kick yo’ ass!” When the director (billed in the coming attraction as “Wliam ‘Blacula’ Crain”) first saw the trailer, “I really laughed. I said, ‘I’ll be damned!’ ” He says the Woolners treated him “first-rate all the way,” and Walker recalls that Dr. Black’s budget was less than $800,000 and it made about $10 million at the box office, a very nice profit margin. Dimension was now an established player in the drive-in world, and was thriving. “The first five years of the company were the best,” says Kurt. “For one thing, it was a starting company; there’s an energy with anything new and fresh. And second. Dimension actually did have substantial success at the box office.” “We had offers to go public, but we just weren’t for it,” Betty adds. “We wanted to keep it controllable.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dixie Dynamite (1976) A man who makes liquor illegally from a still is in cahoots with the sheriff, who then double-crosses him. The moonshiner is shot dead by the sheriff’s deputy. His two daughters decide to take over the family business, but when the sheriff and a corrupt local banker disrupt their operation and eventually destroy their still, the girls decide to get even.

The unprecedented success of Jaws in 1975 spawned a number of low-budget nature-runs-amok movies. Arachnids had already been done hilariously in The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), but they were utilized far more convincingly in one of Dimension’s best-known releases, Kingdom of the Spiders (1977). The film was directed by John “Bud” Cardos, who had starred in a number of drive-in flicks like Al Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists (1969), but the key creative force behind Spiders was producer Igo Kantor. Having overseen post-production for filmmakers ranging from Russ Meyer (music supervisor on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) to Ed Wood (technical advisor on Bride of the Monster), Kantor took the project to Dimension (for which he had previously done post work) because he knew Larry would give him a fair deal, and get behind the film.

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

For a more detailed synopsis go to Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) Post

Dimension’s biggest success was Ruby (1977). This tale of the super- natural was directed by Curtis {Who Slew Auntie Roo?) Harrington, who had the good fortune of getting Piper Laurie for the title role right after her big comeback in Carrie. Laurie plays a gangster’s moll who runs a drive-in in the ’50s. In the opening scene, she witnesses her mobster boyfriend getting gunned down in a nearby swamp, and many years later his spirit returns to wreak havoc. One of the projectionists gets strangled with a reel of film, and blood pours out of a Coke machine.

Ruby (1977)

In 1935, a lowlife mobster, Nicky Rocco, is betrayed and executed in the swampy backwoods as his pregnant gun-moll, Ruby Claire watches. He swears vengeance with his dying breath, and then she suddenly goes into labour. Sixteen years later in 1951, Ruby is now running a drive-in theatre in the backwoods near her home and employs some ex-mobsters. Her 16-year-old daughter, Leslie Claire, is mute and has been since birth. Soon strange and bizarre accidents claim the lives of Ruby’s employees, then Leslie begins to show strange behaviour, and then begins to speak… in her dead father’s voice. Nicky Rocco possesses his daughter’s body and terrorizes Ruby with levitations, telekinesis, maniacal laughing and bizarre sexual aggression.

“Ruby was sort of a post-Exorcist film dealing somewhat with possession,” Harrington said before his death last year. “And the idea of the ex-gangster moll living in this big old house and running a drive-in theater, all of that was very appealing to me.” (Ruby’s dwelling was actually the Hollywood Studio Club, where Marilyn Monroe lived when she first came to Hollywood.)

The director famously battled with Ruby producer Steve Krantz, and was not happy with the changes Krantz made to the film. Still, a lot of good stuff survived, and Ruby remains a spooky, stylishly made chiller. “The fact that what remains comes off as well as it does is very flattering to me,” Harrington said. (Rothman has been credited with directing new footage for a chopped-up version that played on television, bearing the Alan Smithee pseudonym, but Schwarz claims she had nothing whatsoever to do with the film. This version came out on VHS, while the original theatrical cut hit DVD from VCI.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Several other films Dimension released toward the end of the ’70s were quirky horror oddities. The Legend Of The Wolf Woman (1976), directed by Rino De Silvestro, stars Annik Borel (an aspiring French actress around whom the film-maker reportedly wrote the screenplay, due to her lupine features) as the title character. She turns into a monster in response to being molested as a child, her inner beast unleashed to seek revenge on several men who sexually assault her.

MV5BNTBhNDBlMTktODI3ZC00NjM0LThhZmItYmNkZmFkZDcwYWYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQ2MjQyNDc@._V1_

A victim of childhood rape grows up into a woman who has delusions that she is a werewolf, just like one of her ancestors was. She kills men until she falls in love with a man. She is then raped again and goes on a second killing spree against her rapists.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While information about this film is scarce, it’s easier to trace the history of The Redeemer Son of Satan! (1978), which Dimension released. Herein, six people are lured to what’s supposed to be their class reunion, but once they return to their old high school, they’re trapped and fatally punished for their sins by the Redeemer, a possessed priest. He’s under a variety of disguises, or can shape-shift into different personas it’s not clear which. The Redeemer grows an extra thumb, which is supposed to represent the mark of Cain. There’s also a Damien Thorn-esque child who rises from a lake, and a Howdy Doody doll that torches one of the sinners with a flamethrower. If all this sounds confusing, T.G. Finkbinder, who played the Redeemer, says, “There’s not much of a real plot in the film. It would be hard for me to even talk about it because I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone else does either!”

The Redeemer Son of Satan! (1978)

Producer Sheldon Tromberg and director Constantine S. Gochis announced auditions for the film in The Washington Post, and Finkbinder, who had just gotten out of graduate school studying theater, was offered the role not long after he tried out. The Redeemer was shot at the Stanton Military Academy in Stanton, VA, which had just gone out of business. Perhaps because it takes place in a school, Kurt Woolner thought The Redeemer was a student film, to which Finkbinder says with a laugh, “No, but you could certainly think that! In all fairness, many people who worked on the movie had recently been students. They were young professionals in the business, but it wasn’t somebody’s senior project; it just looks like it!”

Yet while The Redeemer didn’t have a huge budget, its makers tried to give it as much production value as possible. “I felt like I was on a real film ,” Finkbinder continues. “The crew worked hard and knew what they were doing. They also spent a lot of money on things that would help the film in post-production. They spent a lot on the mixing and editing afterward, and I remember going to New York to do redubbing.”

The Redeemer’s double digits were an idea from Tromberg, whom Finkbinder recalls fitting the stereotypical image of a producer  a larger-than-lfie character with a thick accent and a big cigar. The actor recalls the extra thumb being more trouble than it was worth; It was applied to his hand with putty, and because they were shooting in the summer, the putty would melt and the thumb kept slipping off. “Half the time I had to keep my hand in a certain position, which looked really awkward and unnatural, so the thumb wouldn’t fall off.”

Tromberg and Gochis made The Redeemer independently, and Finkbinder says it was some time before Dimension finally picked it up. “And I don’t believe they were necessarily the first people they approached,” he says. “I would call Sheldon occasionally and ask, ‘How’s the film going? What’s happening?’ Then all of the sudden, it was out in a lot of drive-ins and theaters.”

Ironically, Finkbinder went from haunting a school to teaching gifted students in Maryland. Every now and then, his pupils will ask him about the strange little horror film he starred in way back when. “I know I can be Googled and it will show up, so it’s funny that there’s still some interest in it. If people like the movie, or if it’s some weird footnote in horror history, that’s nice.”

By the end of the ’70s, the drive-in market started going through major changes. Greydon Clark, another Adamson alumnus and a veteran B-filmmaker himself, saw it happen first-hand when Dimension released one of his movies in 1978. Dimension had previously handled his outrageous Black Shampoo (1976), which was a big success for the company, and he liked the Woolners a great deal. He felt Betty was “an equal partner with Larry in all aspects, and deserves as much credit for the company’s success as he does,” and says they were “always above board” in their business dealings.

Black Shampoo (1976)

Jonathan Knight, the owner of “Mr. Jonathan’s”, the most successful hair salon for women on the Sunset Strip. His reputation as a lover has become so awesome that he is sought after almost as much in that capacity as he is for his experience as a hair stylist. Everything is cool for Jonathan until he messes with the mob in an effort to protect his young attractive receptionist, from her former boss. Action explodes when the “loving” machine becomes the “killing” machine. Jonathan, chainsaw in hand, gets down to the get down on the vicious mob gang that wrecked his shop and kidnapped his woman.

Dimension released Clark’s Hi-Riders (1978), which Larry felt would be very successful. But it didn’t do anywhere near the business he had expected, and soon he saw the writing on the wall that explained why. Previously, the studios hadn’t booked their films in the drive-ins because they were B-movie territory, a secondary market that was beneath them. But that summer, the majors started taking up the screens.

 Hi-Riders (1978)

Mark and Lynn (Darby Hinton and Diana Peterson) get caught up in a story of hatred and revenge after trying to collect on a bet with a “Hi-Rider,” a car club known for drag racing and, as the title says, having the rear of their cars “jacked up” much higher than stock. The  Hi-Riders are challenged to a drag race by one of the local hot heads and in a spectacular explosion both drivers are killed. The local boy’s father vows revenge. A fantastic stunt filled chase ensures between the Hi-Riders and the local henchman. Whipped into a blazing frenzy of violence the Hi-Riders are humping hot steel hogs on a raging rampage through the town.

“Larry was very depressed because he thought Hi-Riders was a really good action/exploitation picture, and had it been released two or three years earlier, it would’ve made some heavy money for him,” Clark recalls. “The film did modest business, but nothing like he expected, and he couldn’t get the play dates he could normally get. He told me the business was changing dramatically. He was afraid the exploitation pictures were being pushed out because the majors were beginning to make similar movies with budgets 10, 20, 30 times what he was able to do.”

In the early ’80s, Larry decided to retire, and sold off the Dimension library. It was shortly before the video boom, and no one could have guessed that one day DVD would create a whole new market, so all the films were let go for a very modest amount of money. “If he held on for five more years, he probably would have gotten 10 times what he got for the film library,” Kurt says. Betty wishes they had held onto the movies as well, because in every contract she would put in a clause for “any media to be invented,” which would have guaranteed them the DVD rights down the road. But she says it wasn’t hard to leave the business; she and Larry moved to Las Vegas and enjoyed their retirement before Larry died July 21, 1985 at age 73.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dimension Pictures Releases

As for the legacy of the Woolners and Dimension, Sherman says, “For a small company, Dimension was well-run and efficient. They did beautiful advertising campaigns, they gave their film s good titles, they presented their movies like major-studio product. They always looked for better-quality pictures that could compete with the majors. We always had to make excuses for our movies, but Larry Woolner didn’t want to release a film he had to make an excuse for.” Betty feels a number of Dimension’s titles could “stand toe-to-toe with the majors; we just could bend a dollar more than them.”

“Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are no companies like Dimension,” Clark says. “There used to be 10 or 12 outfits you could go to with a low-budget picture. They could get it played theatrically around the country, and they were truly independent. They were doing it with their own money, and they didn’t have a major studio behind them.”

“My father was proud of how he conducted himself in business,” Kurt concludes. “Above and behind his desk, he had this wooden box with stained glass in front of it. Inside the box was a light. You couldn’t see what the stained glass said until the light was on, but when it did, it spelled out: ‘BULLSHIT.’ He had a secret switch under his desk that turned on the light, and when people would come in and start giving him the spiel, he’d just reach under his desk and turn that light on!”

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fangoria 273

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s