The Incredibly Strange Features of Ray Dennis Steckler

McFarland. Feb. 2023. 244p. ISBN 9781476689364. pap. $39.95. FILM
Ray Dennis Steckler might have had a conventional film career if he hadn’t accidentally nearly hit Alfred Hitchcock with a lighting rig and been fired by Universal Studios. Instead, he made The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Steckler is known by cult movie aficionados and MST3K viewers, but his shoestring budgets, deliberate pacing, and limited distribution make him a niche auteur. Curry (Film Alchemy: The Independent Cinema of Ted V. Mikels) offers a loving, insightful, and sometimes critical look at Steckler’s 11 completed films, interweaving plot summaries with information about cast and crew, production details, and outrageous anecdotes. His basement served as the set for scenes taking place in a bar, nightclub, or (improbably) a cave. As the drive-in/roadshow days declined, Steckler turned to adult cinema, and Curry delicately describes this era as well. But this section is often complicated by Steckler’s use of multiple aliases. The book includes a list of collectible memorabilia and newly conducted interviews with Steckler’s family and former crew.
VERDICT Curry combines extensive research with deft writing to reveal the life of a Z-movie director through his unconventional oeuvre. Aimed at cinephiles, the book celebrates an underdog who made movies in Hollywood’s shadow.
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