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Now in our tenth calendar year!
PCR #460  (Vol. 10, No. 3) This edition is for the week of January 12--18, 2009.

The Tampa Film Review for January  by Nolan Canova
"The Wrestler"  by Mike Smith
R. I. P. –- Ray Dennis Steckler  by ED Tucker
NFC/AFC Championships Edition .... Gettin' Crazy With The Cheese-whiz In Arizona .... “Feel Sorry For Those Giants.” .... Tony’s Coming Back To Tampa! .... Clemens Got Some Splainin’ To Do .... Pacman Jones Needs A Job .... Ravens Defeat Titans  by Chris Munger
 by Matt Drinnenberg
 by Mike Smith
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CF Presents Retrorama

R. I. P. – Ray Dennis Steckler

There is never a day that goes by that I don’t stop for a moment and consider myself one incredibly lucky individual. Throughout the course of my life, I have had the opportunity and good fortune to meet many of the people that I admire. Some of these meetings amount to nothing more than a single brief conversation. Others lead to casual friendships and sometimes even more. Ray Dennis Steckler was one of those people I was proud to call a friend.

In 1991, I was recently graduated from college and adjusting to being in the work force full time in a career position. One day I heard from a friend that Ray Dennis Steckler, the man responsible for such cult films as The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies, The Thrill Killers, and my personal favorite, The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, owned a video store in Las Vegas. I had become familiar with Steckler’s work through articles on his career in early issues of Fangoria magazine. This had led me to obtaining copies of many of his films when mail order specialty video rental became popular in the late 80’s. I quickly tracked down the store and called there one evening after work. The genial person who answered the phone had obviously encountered my kind of Fanboy before and took my questions in good natured stride. I concluded the conversation by asking if he could pass my contact information on to Mr. Steckler and possibly see if he would call me. To my surprise, he merely said “why don’t you just call back on Thursday when Ray will be here?”

I did call back on that Thursday and I spent about an hour talking to an extremely friendly and enthusiastic Ray Steckler about his film career. I was only a budding poster collector at the time and the $75.00 price tag was a LOT of money to me then, but I managed to locate an original one sheet for Incredibly Strange Creatures which I mailed to Ray to sign. That framed poster still resides on a wall in my parent’s home in Ocala and probably helps deter guests from staying too long!

Ray and I stayed in touch after that and talked on the phone from time to time. Knowing that I would get to meet him in the flesh was part of what steered me towards Las Vegas as a vacation destination in 2001, when my wife Cindy and I decided we were due for one. By this time, I was on a quest to interview some of my idols for articles or a possible book. I met with Ray twice that trip at his video store and we talked about all manner of film related topics both on and off tape. Not only was he patient with my questions (many of which he must have answered a hundred times before) but he even bought me lunch one day. Portions of these interviews were later printed in issue #39 of Scary Monsters Magazine and served as the basis for the more in-depth one printed here on this site.

I learned a lot about Ray in those few hours we spent together. He had worked within the Hollywood studio system but couldn’t stand the way it treated its members, both the up and coming and those past their prime. Ray had tremendous respect for most directors and actors and believed that almost anyone could contribute something valuable to a film. Most importantly, he taught me to make do with what you have rather than wishing for what you don’t.

The movies he made were not what he would have preferred but they did get completed, they were released theatrically, and they paid the bills. Ray never pulled any punches when talking about his film career and he never had any false delusions of grandeur. He was proud of what he had accomplished because he made films that were seen in theaters while many others never got that far. Regardless of anyone’s opinions of the cinematic merit or entertainment value of his movies, Ray did have a career in filmmaking.

Ray was a very generous man. I have heard many stories about him helping actors who were down on their luck and giving jobs to friends who needed money. He was certainly very kind to me when sharing his time and insights. During one of my visits, a shabbily dressed man came into the video store with a beat up VHS copy of Jurassic Park he was trying to sell. Even though DVDs were rapidly gaining in popularity and this was a common title, Ray still gave the man $5 for the tape and then insisted he take a cold bottle of water from the refrigerator with him because it was so hot outside. After the man left, Ray looked at me and said “you know, I will probably never be able to sell this tape but that guy looked like five dollars was the difference between life and death to him. I hope he spends the money on food.” I never forgot that.

When I returned to Las Vegas in 2004, I immediately headed out to see Ray. He had remodeled his video store and put in a production area in the back. At that time he was very much in demand for revival screenings of his films and fielded several phone inquires during my visit. We caught up on the current marketing of his films on DVD through Media Blasters and talked about how they were reaching a new audience. He was also in the process of putting together videos of the footage he had shot over the years including some short films originally intended as features. I took advantage of this opportunity to flesh out my original interview and cover some areas I had overlooked before.

I caught some grief in 2007 when I turned up unannounced at Ray’s new video store (he had recently bought back one he had sold off years earlier). He wasn’t upset that I was there but I hadn’t told him in advanced and might have missed him. I explained that time was tight on this trip and I hadn’t wanted to make any promises I might not be able to keep. With my apology accepted, Ray gave me a tour of the new store and the one across the parking lot that was under construction at the time but would soon be open for business. I got the inside scoop on the sequel he was planning for his best known film, Incredibly Strange Creatures, and even met one of the actresses up for a part. He always had something going. Our schedules finally synched up on this trip and we were able to have dinner together, something we had attempted and failed at on both my previous visits. That evening at the steak house in the Las Vegas Hilton, Ray, his wife Katherine, my friend Danny and I all spent a wonderful evening talking films and Vegas history. I had no way of knowing it then but it would be my last time seeing Ray.

I knew my December 2008 trip to Vegas was going to be even more hectic than the previous one but I had learned from my mistakes. I contacted Ray by E-mail about a month out and informed him of my impending visit. Unfortunately, a week or so before I was scheduled to be there, Katherine E-mailed me to say that Ray was back in the hospital. It had not been a good year for him health wise and heart related problems that went back many years had caused him to spend a lot of time there off and on. I did manage to meet up with director and mutual friend Ted Mikels while I was in town. Ted called Ray during my visit and things seemed to be looking up. He was recovering well and expected to return home soon but not in time for Christmas.

Sadly, Ray was never to make it home this time. He passed away on the evening of Wednesday, January 7. Ironically, I had just published my 2008 wrap up column and expressed my hope that the pop culture related death toll that had been so prevalent that year would ease up in this one. Now, barely a week into the New Year, the incredibly strange filmmaker is gone. We are not off to a promising start.

Ray Steckler never took himself too seriously and always managed to have a sense of humor about the film industry and his place in it. He was as appreciative of his fans as they were of him. In spite of the turmoil his family was suffering during his last weeks, the first Christmas card I received last year was from them. Cult movie fans have lost a unique filmmaker. I have lost a friend.

ED Tucker
Honorary Lemon Grove Kid

"Retrorama" is ©2009 by ED Tucker.   All graphics this page, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.