Paul Blaisdell was an American artist, sculptor and actor, best known for his special effects creations for some of the early Science Fiction creature features made by Roger Corman. Despite the meagre budgets he was confined to, he is responsible for some of the most recognisable monsters of the late ’50s.
Blaisdell, born in 1927, began his career in Newport, Rhode Island as an enthusiastic artist with little recognition, making his way financially by repairing typewriters. His fascination for drawing monsters, in particular, did not lead to offers that prevented a stint in the army, though, on his return to civilian life, he began to get his work published in the many lurid pulp magazines of the time, including the likes of Spaceways and Other Worlds. These paintings found at least one admirer of note, the redoubtable horror enthusiast and publisher, Forrest J. Ackerman, who offered to become his agent. This meeting of great minds was to lead to his true calling.
Elsewhere in America, prolific film-maker, Roger Corman had stretched himself to the limit whilst making the film, The Beast With A Million Eyes, running out of funds at the somewhat critical point of constructing the ocular-heavy monster. Approaching Ackerman for inspiration, he was first offered Ray Harryhausen as a port of call but his remaining $200 was nowhere near the going rate. Last chance saloon came in the form of Blaisdell whose acceptably low fees and imaginative creations appealed to Corman’s outlandish ideals.
Whilst only possessing two eyes (Corman superimposed eyes over the top) the resulting beast, nicknamed “Little Hercules”, is an 18 inch marionette, designed to be a slave of the actual many-eyed threat. Complete with tiny raygun and shackles, despite him being largely obscured by Corman’s whirling effects, it was enough to convince Corman that Blaisdell had the talent and necessarily low cost of being his comrade-in-arms.
The film that followed, The Day The World Ended, required rather more input, necessitating Blaisdell to not only design the creature but to bring it to life onscreen. Requiring a hideous, radioactive mutant from the dizzy far-off year of 1970 (this time christened Marty), Blaisdell constructed a monster from foam rubber and cast his own body so that the suit could be built around himself., a pair of long-johns donned accordingly. Two obvious issues arose from this; the first, that Blaisdell was only 5’7″, not the towering mutant imagined – fortunately, the head added a significant lift. Secondly, the nature of the foam rubber meant that during the rain-filled climax of the film, the suit’s interior swelled up enormously, coming close to drowning the actor inside; pre-velcro, he was literally glued in. Regardless, the film is one of the better efforts of the era and the innovation of the artist encasing himself in his own creation was deemed a huge success.
It Conquered The World is undoubtedly one of Corman’s most enjoyable sci-fi romps and features an iconic if ludicrous invader from beyond. Suffering the usual significant issues on-set due to money and time (as well as forgetting to bring the required lights!), Corman had ditched the intended glimpses of the cave-dwelling monster and dragged it kicking and screaming — perhaps not kicking, thinking about it — into the bring Los Angeles sunshine. Hidden within the rubber teepee-like alien, “Beulah”, the good Mrs Blaisdell insisted her husband don an army helmet to protect during a scene where is charged by a bayonet-wielding army character. Just as well as the foam rubber provided little defence and would most likely have killed him in the most ignominious of circumstances had he not taken her advice. Ingeniously, Blaisdell had created a bicycle-chain/air pump system to operate Beulah’s limbs from inside but an onset ‘incident’ snapped the cables, leaving a slightly foppish-looking triangular imp thrashing around onscreen, Corman disallowing time for the appropriate repairs.
“Cuddles”, the She-Creature of Corman’s 1956 effort, broke new ground, seeing Blaisdell make a whole plaster cast of his own body and sculpting his design on top, only assisted by his wife in their garage. Not stinting on the scaly breasts, the creature is comfortably the most interesting and memorable aspect of the film and has become iconic even among monster/sci-fi fans who haven’t seen the film. The suit reappears in the last film Blaisdell worked on, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.
Further designs appeared in Attack of the Crab Monsters (just the one crab, this was Corman, after all) and Not of This Earth, but his effects for the films It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Invasion of the Saucer Men, for which Blaisdell is best known. The stomping lizard-man of It! was designed to fit the diminutive artist but was actually intended for the large-chinned actor, Ray Corrigan, who was not at all happy with his lot. The mask’s mouth had to be opened so that he could breathe and his more importantly get his chin to fit. Disguising the chin by painting it red and adapting it as the monster’s tongue, teeth were added to obscure the bodge job; lit-up eyes abandoned so he could see where he was stomping. Some scenes even see the actor adjusting the head so he could cope.
The huge latex and styrofoam heads of the invaders of Saucer Men fame appeared comedic even by this standard of Corman’s career. The horror and drama rather ended up as a teen movie, though the creatures are now instantly evocative of everything that is science fiction from the ’50s.
Though his designs were also used in films such as War of the Colossal Beast, Attack of the Puppet People, Earth vs. the Spider (a.k.a., The Spider) and How to Make a Monster, Blaisdell fell out of fashion as quickly as he’d arrived, the rise of Hammer and sleazier American films putting an end to the quaint, otherworldly monsters of the ’50s. His influence, however, can be seen in the likes of Stan Winston and Rick Baker, who paid tribute to him with the work on the film Invaders from Mars.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA