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Roger Corman's Unsung Monster Maker - Paul Blaisdell

Roger Corman's Unsung Monster Maker - Paul Blaisdell

WHO WAS PAUL BLAISDELL?

Paul Blaisdell didn’t start out as a monster-maker, he started out repairing typewriters. And at the time of his death in 1983, he was working as a handyman in Topanga Canyon doing odd jobs for money to buy groceries.  But in between, Paul Blaisdell was responsible for fabricating some of the most iconic, imaginative and affordable creature characters in cinema history.

Pictured above: Two of the green alien antagonists from Roger Corman's "Invasion of the Saucer-Men."

BREAKING IN AND "THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES"

Sci-fi writer and magazine publisher Forrest J. Ackerman “discovered” Paul who had submitted some of his technical aircraft illustrations to fan magazines.  Paul broke into the film industry when Roger Corman at American International Pictures sought Mr. Ackerman’s advice while looking for someone to design and create the title alien character for his low-budget sci-fi film, THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES after the film was already made and screened and the distributors complained that there was no monster.  Using foam rubber and modeling paint, Paul created a marionette puppet very quickly at a cost of $400.00 (two-hundred for materials and two-hundred for labor) which even in 1955 was an absurdly low cost for the hero creature in a feature film.

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FROM MONSTER MAKER TO MONSTER SUIT PERFORMER

Corman was satisfied enough with the result to hire Paul again to make a full monster suit for THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED.  Paul molded the suit out of foam over a pair of his own long johns and, since the suit fit, he ended up performing the creature on screen as well, as he would do with nearly every creature that followed.

Pictured above: "The Day the World Ended" monster suit marked Paul Blaisdell's first time performing one of his creature creations.

A MONSTER MAKER'S WORST NIGHTMARE: Broad Daylight

Perhaps his best known (and most often mocked) design came with Corman’s IT CONQURED THE WORLD.  The character was meant to be immobile and only seen in brief glimpses in the depths of a dark cave; however, while shooting on location in Los Angeles, Corman found himself losing light and unwilling to bring a generator to location so he could shoot with movie lights, he made Paul drag the creature (dubbed “Beulah”) out of the cave into the cruel, unforgiving daylight.

Picture above: The much-maligned, and terribly lit, final creature from "It Conquered the World."

BREAKING NEW GROUND WITH "THE SHE CREATURE"

The title creature from THE SHE CREATURE fared a little better.  Paul was one of the first to do a plaster lifecast of himself and sculpt his creature on top of the resulting mold.  Modified novelty vampire teeth and swim fins finished the look.  Paul had nearly a month to complete the work, working alone in his garage with his wife, Jackie, as his only assistant.

Pictured above: Paul & wife, Jackie Blaisdell, work on the creature suit for "The She-Creature" in their garage.

HELLO 1960s, GOODBYE MONSTER MOVIES

Giant crabs, flying bat-like aliens and many re-combinations of his previous monsters followed as Paul kept providing Corman’s monsters for over a dozen films between 1955 and 1959, but with the 1960’s came an influx of European monster movies.  The independent science fiction films were no longer the fashionable thing, and as Corman turned his attention to comedies with teenagers, surf culture and hot-rods, Paul’s creature work essentially dried up and then stopped altogether.

Pictured above: Yet another fabricated creature from Paul Blaisdell's time with B-movie king Roger Corman.

A MONSTER MAKER'S SWAN SONG

In his last on-screen role, Paul played the villain in one such teen hot-rod comedy THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW who is revealed at the end to be not a ghost at all but just a man in a costume (a repurposed version of his old She-Creature outfit.)

Pictured above: A repurposed "She-Creature" suit became the basis for this Paul Blaisdell creation for "The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow."

LIFE (AND DEATH) AFTER MONSTER MAKING

Bitter and disillusioned, always believing that had he been given larger budgets he could have created better monsters, Paul left the monster-making business and never went back. After an ill-fated attempt to start a behind-the-scenes movie magazine, rival magazines wouldn’t even write about him. His monsters fell victim to circumstance all but destroyed by neglect while Paul disappeared into obscurity doing odd jobs in Topanga Canyon where he later contracted and ultimately died from stomach cancer.

Pictured above: Paul Blaisdell shows his real face at the end of "The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow."

REMEMBERING PAUL BLAISDELL

But if you look at Paul standing proudly with one of his most memorable creations, one of the title monsters from INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, (along with his assistant and longtime supporter, promoter and defender, Bob Burns, and a flying saucer they made together) you see a monster-maker at the top of his game, using the most meager tools and materials to create fantastic creatures that ultimately influenced all the monster-makers who would follow, from Rick Baker’s Martians in INVADERS FROM MARS to Stan Winston’s PUMPKINHEAD.  Indeed the name Paul Blaisdell deserves a place in the pantheon beside those legends.

Pictured above: Bob Burns & Paul Blaisdell pose with a repainted mask from "Invasion of the Saucer-Men" and a flying saucer they built together.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Vincent Di Fate’s great article on Tor.com “The Strange Creature of Topanga Canyon.” And Chad Plambeck’s tribute to Paul, “So Much More, with So Much Less.” As well as the excellent biography "Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker: A Biography of the B-Movie Makeup and Special Effects Artist," by Randy Palmer.  And finally to the great Bob Burns who seems to have all the cool pictures.

-David Sanger