The Cliff Monster

The “Monster Boom” of the 1950’s led to an explosion of monster movie magazines. Although there were a few gems, the bulk of these magazines were just quickly thrown together cash grabs. Special effects artist Paul Blaisdell and editor/actor Bob Burns took notice of this and decided to start a truly special magazine. This decision was especially appropriate given how Blaisdell’s work in magazines is what led to his film career in the first place! The original plan was for the magazine to be called The Devil’s Workshop and to focus exclusively on homemade special effects tutorials. Imagine Don Dohler’s Cinemagic done a decade or so earlier and you’ll have a pretty good idea of Blaisdell’s vision. This was eventually changed to plans for a more traditional monster mag called Fantastic Films which would feature “The Devil’s Workshop” as a regular column. The name was changed to Fantastic Monsters of the Films when their printer claimed such a magazine without the word “monster” in the title wouldn’t sell. Sadly, issues with the printer also resulted in the end of the magazine’s brief run.

But what a run it was! In addition to “The Devil’s Workshop,” there were interviews, gag photos, reviews, short stories and plenty of other articles to delight readers. Starting with the 1962 first issue, readers were tantalized by ads for short movies called The Cliff Monster Filmland Monsters from the mysterious Golden Eagle Films. The equally mysterious Cliff Monster also appeared on the magazine’s membership card and was even the subject of the magazine’s “Name The Nameless Monster” contest. Did you guess Paul Blaisdell was behind the films due to the magazine running a contest based around the monster? You’re absolutely right! But you’d be wrong if you thought the monster really didn’t have a name. Just as he had given nicknames to the costumes he created for various horror movies, he gave one to the prop used in the movie: “Cliff.”

“Cliff” was a mechanical model that stood well over a foot tall. This clockwork creature could be wound up and “programmed” to make sequences of certain movements. It’s only natural to want to make a movie when you create something like that! Blaisdell also created another mechanical model like “Cliff,” but the resulting dinosaur only appeared in a photograph used for the magazine and apparently never appeared in any films. The Cliff Monster was shot using using a 16mm camera owned by Bob Burns and the finished product was available for purchase in both 8mm and 16mm editions. According to the article “My Friend, The Fiend” from the fifth issue of Fantastic Monsters of the Films, the version sold to the public was actually a “condensed” version of a presumably longer project. Filmland Monsters was a different story. Blaisdell got permission from American International Pictures to take footage from the trailers for The Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, The She-Creature and Invasion of the Saucer Men and combine it with newly shot scenes of the films’ monsters in action. Like The Cliff Monster, it was also available in 8mm and 16mm versions. But their availability died off when Fantastic Monsters of the Films met its untimely demise.

Thankfully Donald Deveau has uploaded both of these rarities onto YouTube with the permission of Bob Burns:

The short combined running time makes it obvious why this never made the jump onto VHS and other home video formats. That said, I can easily imagine The Cliff Monster doing well theatrically if it was shown on the spook show circuit. While not the first titles to be released directly to the home viewing market, they are the earliest such original horror productions in that field. Although direct-to-video movies like Sledgehammer and the various trailer compilations of the 80’s might be better known to horror fans, Bob Burns and Paul Blaisdell are the ones who deserve the credit for starting it all!

Bibliography:

Paul Blaisdell – IMDb
Bob Burns – IMDb
Bob Burns III – Wikipedia
Paul Blaisdell – Wikipedia
Roger Corman’s Monster Maker, Paul Blaisdell – The Unsung Hero of 1950s Monster B-Movies | Stan Winston School of Character Arts
Don Dohler – Wikipedia
Beast Meets West | Phoenix New Times
Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker: A Biography of the B Movie Makeup and Special Effects Artist by Randy Palmer

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