Giant From the Unknown, She Demons, Frankenstein's Daughter and Missile to the Moon -- four horror pictures that any fan of '50s exploitation is sure to remember fondly. Unfortunately, little has been written in horror retrospectives about the director of these movies, Richard E. Cunha. Along with his good friend Arthur Jacobs, Cunha plunged into the adventurous arena of shoestring science fiction by forming Screencraft Enterprises, a name that would soon become identified with a handful of threadbare thrillers that genre fans have come to love.

Tom Weaver: What were budgets and shooting schedules like on Frankenstein's Daughter and Missile to the Moon?

Richard Cunha: All of our budgets were under $80,000, and we tried very hard to bring them in for approximately $65,000 or less. I think we were successful in most cases. When we turned the negative over to Astor after the picture was accepted, we were paid $80,000. Our shooting schedules were always six days. I believe on Missile to the Moon they gave us an extra day of preproduction where we did some of the monster scenes out at Red Rock Canyon, about 80 miles from Los Angeles.

Q: What were some of your locations for Frankenstein's Daughter?

Richard: The exterior scenes were done at [producer] Marc Frederic's home. The interiors were a set. Our art director, Don Ament, was a super guy; I worked with him subsequently at E.U.E. Columbia for many, many years. Don was just a fabulous guy -- he would go around and see what sets were available cheap, and then redesign them so they'd work out for us. He was great at that.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your cast?

Richard: They were all keen. John Ashley, Sandra Knight, Sally Todd. Donald Murphy was absolutely great. I don't recall what happened to any of these people; it always seems whenever I make a picture, that's the person's last picture. It must be something I do.

Q: Where did you get the props for your laboratory scene?

Richard: We got a character that was furnishing those to the studios, and we took what the studios wouldn't take -- for a price, y'know? We'd say, "We can't afford your real prices, so give us the junk from your backyard," and he'd say, "Okay, if you guys clean 'em up, make 'em look pretty good, you can have 'em." So we did it, and returned them to him in twice-better shape than he gave them to us.

Q: Was it Paul Stanhope or Harry Thomas who did the very unusual Frankenstein's Daughter makeup?

Richard: Stanhope [started on the picture. Harry Thomas came in later]. That wasn't an unusual situation at all, it was a situation where we just got trapped, again, without any money. We had no preparation time, and Frankenstein's Daughter was designed on the set, on the first day of shooting. And suddenly someone came up to me and said, "Look -- here's your monster!" And I nearly died. We said, "No, that's not quite what we need, but by God we can't do anything about it!" And we pushed the guy on the set and started shooting -- the show must go on. So the monster wasn't designed like that, it just -- ended up like that.

Q: Whose idea was it to remake the earlier Astor release Cat Women of the Moon as Missile to the Moon?

Richard: It was Astor's idea. They thought, well, shucks, it'd be a good idea to redo the movie, they could get a little bit of sex in and have some pretty girls wandering through the scenes. And it was patterned after their movie.

Q: Where did you get the giant spider used in Missile to the Moon?

Richard: We rented it from Universal Pictures. In those days we used to go around to the prop shops, nose in the back room and see what we could get cheap. That spider was in Universal's prop shop, and it was in terrible disrepair; we just managed to put it together the best we could. As I recall, we paid practically nothing for it, and they were kind enough to let us use it. It wasn't even written into the picture until we found it in pieces at Universal.

Q: Who designed the rock creatures and what were they made of?

Richard: They were made of sponge rubber that was cast. Harold Banks made those for us. He was a very creative man who made the fiberglass pieces for Giant From the Unknown.

Q: Wasn't it tough on the people who played those monsters -- working in Red Rock Canyon in midsummer?

Richard: The worst -- absolutely the worst. And if you'll remember we had one scene where we had to plaster them to the sides of giant rocks, for them to break out. And, you know, it took a while for the plaster to dry with them in there! They'd be yelling, "Get us out of here, get us out of here!"

Q: What was it like working with so many beauty queens in one picture?

Richard: A real pain. None of them were actresses as such, they were all beauty queens who couldn't hit marks and couldn't say lines -- it was quite frustrating.

Q: Of your four horror films, which one is your favorite?

Richard: My favorite was and always will be Giant From the Unknown because that was the most fun to make. We did it in a spirit of fun, we had the most cooperation -- that was a ball.

Q: Were you disappointed with any of the films?

Richard: I think the biggest disappointment to me was Frankensteins' Daughter, only because of our monster creator; I can't blame anyone for that, we just didn't have enough money to create a monster that would represent Sally Todd. And as far as Missile to the Moon is concerned, again, the money was so meager that it was just impossible to create the proper atmosphere for a spaceship -- although I think, on the money we did have, the interior of the spaceship worked well. It included many pieces of grip equipment, as I recall, and we used a big dimmer bank for some of the controls on the missile. And we just scraped together whatever we could to make do, and that's all there was. There was X number of dollars, and you don't run over on these low-budget films -- you shoot the opening scenes and the end scenes, and then fill in the picture in between.

Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co.

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