The Not-So-Golden Age of Cinema Got Its Start in Dallas, According to B-Movie Historian

Some of Hollywood's best worst movies were shot in Dallas including such classics as the rock 'n' roll schlockfest Rock, Baby, Rock It! and gigantic animal horrors like The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster.
Some of Hollywood's best worst movies were shot in Dallas including such classics as the rock 'n' roll schlockfest Rock, Baby, Rock It! and gigantic animal horrors like The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster.
Posters courtesy of Gordon K. Smith
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Cities like Toronto, Atlanta and New Orleans may be seeing a boom in film and television productions thanks to competitive tax breaks and a workforce of experienced crew members. However, Dallas beat them all to the punch in the '50s, '60s and '70s thanks to cinematic classics like The Amazing Transparent Man, The Giant Gila Monster and the immortal Mars Needs Women.

Gordon K. Smith, a local filmmaker, writer and film historian who specializes in chronicling the stories behind some of cinema's most beloved and berated B-movies, has a massive collection of these movies that were shot in and around DFW, and a lifelong love for them.

"When I was a kid, I loved sci-fi and horror and that was right in the realm of B-movies," Smith says. "Then people like Steven Spielberg figured out that they could make movies like them but with big budgets, but B-movies were just fun to watch. These are the movies that scared you as a kid and then when you watch them 20 to 30 years later, you realize, 'Oh God, these are so cheesy' and you enjoy them in a whole different way."

Every other year, he shares his favorite scenes and stories from these "so bad they're good" movies in a special showcase called It Came From Dallas hosted by the Dallas Producers Association. The 10th edition of the series kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson to raise money for the Texas Moving Image Incentive Program.

Dallas' B-grade schlock renaissance started in the late 1950s when the drive-in theater and made-for-TV movie markets gave filmmakers and production studios a place to make a quick buck as well as crews working on more famous and critically applauded films. Smith says that when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were shooting scenes around Dallas for director Arthur Penn's Oscar-nominated film Bonnie and Clyde, director Larry Buchanan was also in town shooting a colorized remake of his sci-fi epic Mars Needs Women.

These films feature glimpses of Dallas' past. Smith says audiences will recognize locations like Southern Methodist University and Love Field in Mars Needs Women or the Meadows Building on Greenville Avenue and parts of Fair Park in the cringeworthy rock schlockfest Rock, Baby, Rock It.

"I think Dallas has the good fortune to provide every kind of terrain and not every city can do that," Smith says. "Look at the [FOX primetime drama] Prison Break, which was supposed to take place all over the country. All of that was shot here."

Buchanan's work helped attract more film studios and production companies to Dallas back in the '60s to shoot their quick, cheap film projects that were rushed into production faster than anything with Adam Sandler's mug on the movie poster.

"They saw what Larry Buchanan could do and hired him to make remakes of their '50s black and white films but mostly in color," Smith says. "That's where we got movies like Attack of the Eye Creatures, Curse of the Swamp Creature and Mars Needs Women."

These films may not show up in classic cinema categories on pub quiz night but they paved a unique trail for modern pop culture. Smith says they inspired some of the film universe's most applauded filmmakers like Spielberg, George Lucas and Tim Burton to make the movies they wanted to make regardless of public sentiment or marketing surveys. Burton even made a movie about the life of legendary bad movie director Edward D. Wood, Jr.

"If you're a total nerd like me, you can watch a movie like Mars Attacks and just count all the references," Smith says. "John Carpenter's Starman in the first opening sequence is a POV [point of view] shot of an alien wandering through the desert and it's a direct homage to It Came from Outer Space. I told him that once and he said, 'You're the first person to notice that, thank you.'"

These B-movies also became their own film genre of unintentional comedies thanks to the cult TV comedy Mystery Science Theater 3000 that's returning for another reboot on Netflix with a whole new block of bad cinema like Mars Needs Women, which Smith says he tried to help score for the new MST3K season.

"A few of them still work exactly like they did back then, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day The Earth Stood Still," Smith says. "They still work today while others seized on the realm of camp that MST3K jumped upon."

Smith says the people who made these cheap, schlocky movies may not have been famous enough to merit a quick mention during the Academy Awards' In Memorium segment upon their passing but they are still entertaining to watch, even if it's not in the way that the filmmakers intended.

"B-movies became something that's stayed with us," Smith says. "I guarantee you that those people who made them said they were just making a fast buck on the drive-in circuit. They never dreamed we'd be celebrating them today."

It Came From Dallas 10 starts at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) on Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema located at 100 S. Central Expressway in Richardson. A donation of $10 is suggested. Visit ItCameFromDallas.com for more information.

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