Larry Buchanan (January 31, 1923 − December 2, 2004), born Marcus Larry Seale Jr., was a film director, producer and writer, who proclaimed himself a "schlockmeister". Many of his titles have landed on "worst movie" lists or in the public domain, but all at least broke even and many made a profit. He is perhaps most famous for the films In the Year 2889, The Eye Creatures, Zontar, the Thing from Venus, Curse of the Swamp Creature, It's Alive!, and Mars Needs Women.
Buchanan was born in Lost Prairie, Texas, on Jan. 31, 1923. He was orphaned as a baby and was raised in Dallas in an orphanage. It was while growing up there that he became fascinated with the movies which were shown in the orphanage's theater. He considered becoming a minister early in life, but got into the movie industry instead.
Buchanan visited Hollywood and landed a job in the props department at 20th Century Fox. It was while working here where his film career got off the ground. He played some bit parts in movies around this time, and the studio gave him the stage name "Larry Buchanan", which he used for his entire career. He enlisted in the United States Army Signal Corps in order to learn how to direct. He was based in New York, which allowed him to act on stage in the evenings.
In the early 1950s Buchanan began producing, writing, editing, and acting in his own movies. The first was a one-reeler, The Cowboy in 1949, shot back in Dallas for $900. His first feature was Grubsteak (1952); he knew Stanley Kubrick from working around New York at this time and Kubrick offered to be cinematographer but wanted more money than Buchanan was willing to pay. Buchanan worked as an assistant to director George Cukor on The Marrying Kind (1952).
Buchanan is perhaps best known for exploitation, science fiction, and other genre films, including Free, White and 21, High Yellow, The Naked Witch (made for $8,000), The Loch Ness Horror, and Mistress of the Apes. Among Buchanan's work, eight direct-to-television films he wrote, produced, and directed under his own Azalea Films production entity in the mid- and late-1960s, for American International Pictures, still generate a good degree of fan adoration. The titles − The Eye Creatures, Zontar, The Thing from Venus, Creature of Destruction, Mars Needs Women, In the Year 2889, Curse of the Swamp Creature, Hell Raiders, and It's Alive! − were largely remakes of AIP films from a decade earlier. Buchanan's instructions from AIP were: "We want cheap color pictures, we want half-assed names in them, we want them eighty minutes long and we want them now".
In 1964 Buchanan created The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, which presented an alternate history in which John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald both survived Kennedy's assassination. In 1984 he produced Down on Us, which charged that the United States government was responsible for the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.
Among the notable features of Buchanan movies were:
- monsters with eyes made of ping pong balls;
- day-for-night footage "with a blue gel slapped across the camera lens with the noonday sun clearly visible on surfaces of water, car bumpers, etc.";
- extremely low production values;
- one reasonably well-known lead actor (such as John Ashley or John Agar).
Later life, death, and legacy
Buchanan died in Tucson, Arizona on December 2, 2004 at age 81. He died of complications from a collapsed lung, according to his wife, Joan Buchanan (they were married for 52 years). Buchanan left behind his wife, one daughter and three sons.
After his death, a long obituary in The New York Times summarized his work thus: "One quality united Mr. Buchanan's diverse output: It was not so much that his films were bad; they were deeply, dazzlingly, unrepentantly bad. His work called to mind a famous line from H. L. Mencken, who, describing President Warren G. Harding's prose, said, 'It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.'"
He left behind an entire career of poorly made films, many of which have become cult films for being "so-bad-they're-good." Buchanan chronicled his unusual life in his 1997 autobiography, It Came from Hunger: Tales of a Cinema Schlockmeister. This only authoritative record of Buchanan's life has recently been reprinted as a softcover book available on Amazon, the story of Buchanan's arduous journey from Texas orphanage to Hollywood director, and a look inside the wacky world of low budget filmmaking.
- Fox, Margalit (December 19, 2004). "Larry Buchanan Dies at 81; B-Movie 'Schlockmeister'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
- Goodsell p 61
- Goodsell p 62
- St. Clair Smith, Douglass (May 1986). "How Bad Were They?". Texas Monthly: 211.
- Goodsell, Greg, "The Weird and Wacky World of Larry Buchanan", Filmfax, No. 38 April/May 1993 p 64
- Craig, Rob (2007). The Films of Larry Buchanan: A Critical Examination. North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2982-8.
- Goodsell, Greg, "The Weird and Wacky World of Larry Buchanan", Filmfax, No. 38 April/May 1993 p 60-66