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Ray Dennis Steckler, RIP

LAS VEGAS–According to his Web site, actor, director, producer Ray Dennis Steckler died here. Jan. 7, a couple of weeks short of his 71st birthday. He was the producer, director and one of the stars of the movie in episode 812 – THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES. MSTies may also remember his bit part as “guy thrown into pool” in the movie in episode 506 – EEGAH!
Born in Reading, Penn., Steckler learned about film photography during a hitch in the Army, and relocated to Los Angeles after he left the service. He worked on the crew of several TV shows (Alfred Hitchcock himself once reportedly fired him from the set of “Alftred Hitchcock Presents”), then got his first cinematography experience on Timothy Carey’s “The World’s Greatest Sinner.” He also served as cinematographer in “Secret File: Hollywood,” Frenzy,” “Goof on the Loose,” “Scream of the Butterfly,” “The Velvet Trap” and “The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio.” He wrote the screenplay for and acted in 1961’s “Drivers in Hell” (aka “Wild Ones on Wheels”).
Steckler also worked with Arch Hall Sr., directing the movie “Wild Guitar.” Steckler also appeared in the movie, using the stage name Cash Flagg. He was also billed as Cash Flagg in 1963’s TISCTSLABMUZ. Cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and future Oscar winner Vilmos Zsigmond both worked on that film, in one of their first gigs in the business. It also featured Steckler’s wife, Carolyn Brandt. Later came the serial killer saga “The Thrill Killers” “Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters” and the inexplicable “Rat Pfink a Boo-Boo.” (It was supposed to be titled “Rat Pfink AND Boo-Boo” but according to legend someone at the lab “screwed up”). Steckler also did some of the cinematography for “Eegah!”
Some of his films were shown in “Hallucinogenic Hypno-vision,” which essentially meant the ushers (and sometimes Steckler himself) would run up and down the theater aisles wearing monster masks. He also directed the video for Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”
Here’s a Stecker anecdote that only MSTies will appreciate: In 1969, just after he had wrapped production on “Super Cool,” Steckler was walking to his car when he encountered Coleman Francis, drunk and lying in the gutter. Steckler felt so bad about Francis’ condition that, even though he had finished work on the movie, he decided on the spot to add some scenes just to give Francis some work and some badly needed cash. Steckler gave Francis some money and told him to report to the studio the next next day. Steckler and his crew were astonished when Francis showed up for work bright-eyed, clean shaven and nicely attired (Francis had used the advance pay to buy a decent second-hand suit and make a trip to the barber), which was a bit of a problem, since Steckler had wanted him to play the part of a disheveled bum.
In the ’70s, Steckler moved to Las Vegas and continued crank out low-budget work, including 1971’s “Blood Shack” (aka “The Chooper”). Steckler began using pseudonyms for his direction (including Wolfgang Schmidt, Sven Christian, Sven Hellstrom, Harry Nixon, Michael J. Rogers, Michel J. Rogers, Cindy Lou Steckler–Steckler denies that he ever used the name Cindy Lou Sutters), especially when he began to dabble in porn. Titles from that era include “The Mad Love Life of a Horny Vampire” and “Sexorcist Devil.” He later opened a video store in Las Vegas, called Mascot Video, selling it in 1995.
He sold videos of his works via the Web, including six volumes of footage of young actresses and dancers in nude auditions. He was very accessible and always cordial with fans, though, like many moviemakers, he was not a big fan of MST3K and reportedly he did not find the MSTing of TISCTSLABMUZ amusing.
He had two daughters with Brandt. In 1985 he married his second wife, Katherine, and they had two daughters. He also had two grandchildren.

61 Replies to “Ray Dennis Steckler, RIP”

  1. Ed says:

    Aw, man! :sad:

    I had the opportunity to yak with Steckler over the phone a few years back, and he seemed like a really swell guy. I’ve got an autographed copy of The Incredibly Strange Creatures sitting on my shelf, and he was even kind enough to allow me to use a clip from it in a low-budget endeavor of my own a number of years ago.

    Totally bonkers filmmaker, but a nice guy.

       1 likes

  2. Ouch, I just watched 812 for the first time in a few years a few days ago, too. One of my favorite episodes of season 8.

    So long, Ray.

       0 likes

  3. HeatUpTheDeathRay says:

    Aw! This one is actually a shocker and a really sad one. :sad: Take care, Ray. Happy trails.

       0 likes

  4. Cabbage Patch Elvis says:

    Wow, really sad news. I was fond of The Incredibly Strange Creatures since I rented it at a seedy video store years ago (who couldn’t be drawn in by that title!) and by his work with Arch Hall Jr in Wild Guitar. Extremely sad to hear of his passing, but the man most definitely left his mark. RIP

       1 likes

  5. Brandon says:

    Sad to hear of his lost.

    But, when you think about it, he was kind of a “poor sport”, when it came to MST3K. It’s a good thing he never got to Beverly Garland. He might have turned her.

       0 likes

  6. Pemmican says:

    Aww, heaven just got a little brighter. A true- pioneer? Artist? Rollercoaster enthusiast? “Zombies” (even the abbreviation is too long to type) is a rare bit of celluloid that could have perhaps gone on to capture a flower in bloom, or a flight of geese alighting on a pond. We’ll settle for bumming around the boardwalk and getting acid poured on our faces, thanks.

    Definently one of the true players in the odd networking that led to some great MST films – I was surprised to read he had a run-in with Coleman Francis.

    One for the road: “If he wasn’t confused by the beach, he wouldn’t be Jerry!”

       2 likes

  7. Goodnight, sweet ponce.

       0 likes

  8. Gordon says:

    “Incredily Strange”

    Let’s just stop there.

    I feel for his family at their loss, but on the bright side (and as some of us get older we start thinking these things), he led a long and fruitful life.

    And considering how many of us hardly ever get to do what we really want to, this man spent DECADES making movies. Crappy, almost entirely unwatchable movies, yes, but in spite of that, he clearly enjoyed what he did. I hope when I go, hopefully after just as many years, that I can say that I was so blessed to spend my days doing what I loved.

    Men like Steckler, Tony Cordova, Bill Rebane – say what you want about their “quality” as film makers (and, oh, there’s lot to say) – they sure were determined, weren’t they?

    Now, let’s have a moment of silence…..and then get our Schick Out of Shave.

       0 likes

  9. BigZilla says:

    Loved the Coleman Francis story.

       1 likes

  10. Roswdower17 says:

    Shick out of Shave-fantastic. I love that line and I just laughed out loud at work. So long, Dennis. At least you kept me amused. :cry:

       0 likes

  11. Now he’s the incredibly strange director who stopped living

       1 likes

  12. Clint says:

    @ Castle Monster:

    Well said. We just lost the man behind one of the oiliest movies ever.

       0 likes

  13. norgavue says:

    Dam that’s too bad. He was still making movies as of recently. Incredibly strange is my favorite episode. So long Ray.

    “Hey thats the director, Ray dennis steckler.”

    “It is!”

       0 likes

  14. JoeK says:

    Too bad he did’nt like the MST3K version. It let his movie be seen by a whole new audience that probably never would have seen it otherwise.

       1 likes

  15. sdogmoore says:

    I just like this tidbit on imdb.com abotu Steckler…
    Alternate Names:
    Sven Christian | Conrad Denke | Christopher Edwards | Cash Flagg | Sven Golly | Sven Hellstrom | Max Miller | Harry Nixon | Otto | Michael J. Rogers | Michel J Rogers | Wolfgang Schmidt | R.D. Steckler | Raymond Steckler | Ray Steckler | Sherwood Strickler | Cindy Lou Sutters

       0 likes

  16. The Professor says:

    Awwwww. Now that’s a shame. People just keep dropping like flies, don’t they? :cry:

       0 likes

  17. Meadows says:

    Wow…he was clearly NOT a fan of the MST3K version. Check out this snippet from a 2004 interview. No love:

    ET: I’d rather be in one of your films any day! Speaking of cheesy science fiction shows, what do you think about your films being shown on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”?

    RS: I think it’s just disgusting. I think the people that wrote that should be ashamed of some of the things they said. If they want to poke fun at my films, that’s fine. We went out and made a movie and they have a right to say what they think about it, but some of things they said in that show were just disgusting. I don’t even like to talk about it because it upsets me so much. They never had the rights from me to show the pictures. The guys that do that show just have no respect for what a filmmaker goes through with very little money. You give up a lot to make a movie like “Strange Creatures”, time and money. I did not need the kind of racist, sexist and even anti-Semitic remarks those guys made. I just think they were wrong to do it. I hope they made a lot of money off that and then spent it unwisely. The show is off the air now so it really doesn’t matter. Let me ask you something, have you ever heard me knock anyone before?

    ET: No, I can honestly say in anything I have read or seen about you, you have never said an unkind word about anyone. I can also add that I know first hand from talking with other filmmakers that you are not alone in your sentiments towards that show. Fortunately “Mystery Science Theater 3000” has been canceled and that is all in the past.

    Full interview here: http://www.crazedfanboy.com/spotlight/raysteckler.html

    Wow. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen episode (it’s one of my favorites), but what are the “racist” and “anti-Semetic” remarks he’s referring to?? (Sexist I can kinda see…I seem to remember some “manly woman” remarks.)

       0 likes

  18. My tribute (of sorts) to TISCWSLABMUZ

    http://www.castlemonster.com/strange.htm

       0 likes

  19. Sorry about the formatting issue…

       0 likes

  20. Meadows says:

    BTW, is it ironic that he says he made that cruddy movie with “very little money” but hopes that the MST3K guys took the money they made from the show and “spent it unwisely”?

       1 likes

  21. I have to admire someone who was able to follow his own star, even if the work does nothing for me. I don’t think TISCWSLABMUZ has any conventional virtues, and it doesn’t rise/sink to the level of a Manos or Red Zone Cuba, which are fascinating despite themselves.

    But Steckler was someone who wanted to spend his life in film, and by God, he did, and seemed to have no complaints about the level on which he did it.

    And I have to say, I enjoy that he caps off his comment about MST3K by saying, “I hope they made a lot of money off that and then spent it unwisely.” Even at what he pretty much bills as his all-time most negative, he wasn’t as negative as 70% of all comments on the Internet about anything.

       1 likes

  22. casimar says:

    Not to disrespect the dead (and promptly goes on to do so) but I hardly think someone who sold archives of nude audition tapes on his website and directed copious porn can describe a bunch of PG-rated (at worst) comedians as disgusting…? Just an observation.

    I respect everyone’s regard for him, but I don’t understand it or share it. It all sounds so… oily. And these are high points?

       1 likes

  23. magicvoice says:

    He was just peeved because of all the comments about the “Manly woman.” That was his wife.

       0 likes

  24. Cabbage Patch Elvis says:

    I’m sort of surprised at how hostile he seemed to be towards MST3K. You’d think he’d have a better sense of humor considering some of the corny and goofy stuff he put into his movies. Sad, really…

       1 likes

  25. darktimmy says:

    His Las Vegas filmed porn is some of the most hilarious anti-sexy stuff imaginable, very poorly shot starring seedy weirdos with an often hallucinatory all-dubbed soundtrack.

       0 likes

  26. DrChadFeelgood says:

    Wait – who’s this “ET” schmuck who says, “Fortunately, ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ has been cancelled…”?

    If it wasn’t for MST3K, as JoeK says in #14, greasy little squints like Steckler and his abominable progeny wouldn’t even be KNOWN about in the 21st Century.

    How was Episode #812 “racist” or “anti-semitic”? For that matter, how was the movie itself not considered “racist” or at the very least a huge insult to women?

    What about that “gypsy fortune teller” character MAOAM Estrella?

    Greasy, dark makeup, huge gangly mole, thick, incomprehensible accent and a tendency to hurl acid in the faces of equally drunken doughy guys? That’s not a “negative stereo-type”?

    And don’t get me started on “Ortega”! And zombies!?! I’m third-generation Zombie, dammit! The whole thing is offensive!

    Jeez. Some people just need to learn how to take a joke. Too late for Ray, though, isn’t it? Oh, well.

    “Madison!”

       1 likes

  27. Meadows says:

    Good point about the stereotypes in the movie, Dr. Chad.

    Although I never connected that the “man-woman” was his wife. That might have been what sent him over the edge in his disdain for the episode.

       0 likes

  28. Cabbage Patch Elvis says:

    …or maybe it was the joke about him looking like he should be gnawing a piece of cheese?

       0 likes

  29. The most common comment that MSTed filmmakers seem to have amounts to “It’s a lot easier to mock a movie than to make one.” That’s hard to deny.

    I’ve always considered MST3K as a sort of found art collage: taking bits of cinematic detritus and running them through a different sensibility to make something of (hopefully) greater entertainment value.

    But you can hardly blame the makers of the original films for having different ideas about the value of the source material vs. what the Brains did with them, than most viewers do.

    (In the case of Zombies, I find both pretty low. I put the movie on the same oily, enervating shelf as Eye Creatures, and I personally don’t find the riffing nearly funny enough to compensate.)

       1 likes

  30. Rob Willsey says:

    RIP Cash Flagg

    Yes, it’s disappointing that he didn’t have a sense of humor about his work. They even point out how sexist Zombies is. He clearly misunderstood if he thinks any of it is racist or Anti-Semitic. There were comments about the Aryan looks of the male dancer, but that’s a far cry from offensive. Anyway I did see that TCM broadcast TICSWSLABMUZ a while ago. Maybe they’ll run it again now.

       0 likes

  31. Bobo "BuckDat" Briggs says:

    Interesting story about Coleman Francis. It’s too bad he didn’t stay clean though, considering his eventual death.

       1 likes

  32. James says:

    Who are these “other filmmakers” that ET is referring to?

    If nothing else, TISCTSLABMUZ has preserved the Long Beach Pike’s Cyclone Racer in on-ride color footage along with other images of this long departed fun center.

       0 likes

  33. Earl B says:

    You left out the best part of the RAT PFINK legend: as it goes, the lab screwed up … and Ray couldn’t afford the $35 it would’ve cost for a new title card.

    As a has-beeen guerilla filmmaker myself, I have great affection for a guy who squeezes his stars into an actual parade to get his footage, then high-tails it when people start asking “Officer, who are those guys?”

    And he did a pretty good Huntz Hall.

    So long, Ray.

       1 likes

  34. Kenotic says:

    Like a number of the Z-grade directors who went down the path of booze and porn, the guy seems to follow the part.

    And yet…

    The story about Coleman Francis is pretty cool. As much as his movies sucked, no one wants to hear of a drunk B-movie actor passed out over the gutter. As little as the money probably helped the next day, it was a pretty nice gesture.

       1 likes

  35. big61al says:

    Ray Dennis Steckler had no business complaining about MST3K. After all he was the one that made the turd of a movie that someone is just saying smells like $#!7. oh well he’s gone now and we can just enjoy the treatment MST3K gives it.

       0 likes

  36. losingmydignity says:

    Steckler probably made the mistake that many casual viewers do in thinking that the Brains anti-sexist anti-racist, etc. jokes are the real thing. The stuff about his wife is pretty obvious, but anti-semetic? Didn’t the Brains give Ortega some vaguely Jewish borsch belt type voice and jokes? Could that be it? Or the Nazi stuff with the dancer?

    Well, he was certainly an American orginal.

    One little anecdote–a friend of mine has been interviewing b movie filmmakers for a film he’s making and interviewed Steckler. (As mentioned he was very friendly to fans and people interested in his work). At one point my friend started asking Steckler about his X-rated work and Steckler just stood up and said “end of interview.” And that was it. According my friend, Steckler really wanted to be remembered as a family friendly kind of filmmaker. Weird, huh?

       1 likes

  37. John M. Hanna says:

    Its sad that he is dead, but at the same time I’m peeved about what he said about MST3K. Many other actors and directors have loved them for lampooning their work (its all in jest.) And as for racism and sexism, I can turn my TV on any time of the day or night and find one stereotyped or cliched character after another. Sadly, some of them are real life.
    R.I.P. Ray. You were awful proud of the “movies” you made.

       0 likes

  38. CaveDweller says:

    This is really shocking and sad news! “Strange Creatures…” is one of my favorite Sci-Fi Channel era MST3K episodes because there was so much the MST3K crew had to riff on with that movie. It does suck though that he was such a poor sport about MST3K though. It always amazes me that some of these people who don’t take to MST3K well don’t realize that if it weren’t for MST3K, no one would even know anything about them or their work. I certainly wouldn’t have ever watched a Ray Dennis Steckler movie on my own!

    Oh well! R.I.P. Ray.

       0 likes

  39. The Bolem says:

    Wow, to lose another true MST legend so soon after Bev…I had just put his recent DVD 4-pack on my new shelf when I heard the news.
    That Mixed-Up movie was my favorite SciFi era ep, and reading that story about him seeing how far the director of my all-time fav ep, “Red Zone Cuba”, had fallen…this isn’t the greatest way to start off the year.

    Yet the term schadenfreude applies here, just as with his movies: TISCTSLABMUZ is fun on its own, and there is something I love about his approach to filmmaking, but man did it and his performance ever deserve the bots’ treatment. I feel like I’m laughing at and with him whenever I watch it.

    He did seem to be a talented choreographer, and I like to think of him as a sort of genius who could never come close to his full potential due to a fixation. Like how Dario Argento’s an all-around brilliant director, but he just can’t make anything work unless he has a woman being stabbed to death in it (including fashion shows). Flagg could likely imbew anything he directed with a sense of fun, but just couldn’t get his brain out of zero-budget exploitation mode.

    Of course, the only other RDS movie I’ve seen is the one from the year of my birth: “The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid-Row Slasher”, which was a chore to sit through since it seems to have a lost-then-redubbed soundtrack (ala “The Creeping Terror”), so I’m not sure if I’m even basing my praise for him on anything. (You might find THSMTSRS worth seeking out: his wife plays a title roll, and there’s a picture of her wearing her Incredibly Strange dance outfit on the wall of her bondage den)

    Anti-Semitic…hmmmm…Could he have meant the Columbo riff?

    Ahh, I don’t hold his contempt of the show against him. At least ‘made a lot of money then spent it unwisely’ was more clever than anything that Galbraithe guy ever wrote…

       0 likes

  40. I’ll bet a hundred bucks he never even watched it. :cool:

       0 likes

  41. John Seavey says:

    Sounds like he had a pretty good life, all told; he made it to seventy-one, managed to spend a lot of it following his dream of making films, and had kids and grand-kids. Still, you always want one more day.

    It’s a shame he went out feeling that way about the MST3K treatment of his film; I’d have liked to talk to him about it and maybe tried to get him to see it the way I see it, as an irreverent “roast” of low-budget movies that nonetheless got them seen and appreciated by a much larger audience than before.

    I think that in a strange way, I can appreciate director/writer/actors like Steckler a lot more after seeing MST3K than I could before, and it would have been nice if he’d had a chance to see the good MST3K did his reputation as well as the bad.

    But oh, well. Maybe in Second Banana Heaven, he and Coleman Francis are kicking back with a legion of fans that said, “I first saw your work on Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and finally being able to appreciate that for the compliment it can be.

       0 likes

  42. #39 re: “lost-then-redubbed”

    Usually, an ultra-low-budget film with a post-recorded soundtrack never had one recorded on-site. And I’ll bet that Creeping, legend of the lost soundtrack notwithstanding, was that way, too.

    Getting the cast to record their lines later was cheaper than renting sound equipment and a crystal-sync camera for the whole shoot. With the intention to do your sound in post, you can even shoot the movie with a cheap, hand-wound 16mm camera (as we know Hal Warren did with Manos).

    (In the full interview, Steckler is proud of one of his movies that actually had a sync soundtrack.)

    #32:

    Thanks for the info about Long Beach. I’d always assumed it was Santa Monica Pier.

       0 likes

  43. Krasner says:

    I’m totally going to buy “Incredibly Strange Creatures: One More Time” when it comes out in June.

       0 likes

  44. Cornjob says:

    Now who’s going to film gay dancing and racist production numbers? Wait! Don’t answer that question. I’d rather not know.

       0 likes

  45. The Bolem says:

    #42: Thanks for clearing that up.

    What I meant is that 90% of what you hear in “The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid-Row Slasher” seems to be the strangler’s internal monologue, blurring the line between dialogue and narration. It sounds and feels a lot like “The Creeping Terror”, even though that movie’s scenes look like they were originally meant to have dialogue (heard its soundtrack was dropped in a lake, but we’ll get to that in a few weeks won’t we?). The VO in THSMTSRS seems added in to give us something to listen to during the endless “auditions” our photographer’s Models perform before he gets as bored as the audience and Kills them.

    See, becuase it was also called “The Model Killer”. That title actually seems more appropriate until the last 5 minutes, when the the Hollywood Strangler does, indeed, meet the Skid-Row Slasher. If you make it ’till the end, this is rather shocking, since they appear to exist in seperate movies that were inappropriately edited together until that point.

    According to Videohound, his MSTed masterpiece also goes by a comparable title, “The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary”. I’ve gotta tell ya’, I have to have to question Steckler’s otherwise sound judgement when I hear that he at one time tossed aside as inspired a title as “The Incredibly Strang Creatures That Stopped Living And Then Became Mixed-Up Zombies” for the sake of remarketing. I can only hope that it wasn’t actually his decision.

    Regardless, I wish him peace in the oiliest level of heaven.

       0 likes

  46. Rhys says:

    Aah, I was really sad when I first read this, I couldn’t believe it!

    As Soon As I read the news I watched the MST3K ep of TISCWSLABMUZ in memory. :)

       0 likes

  47. Joel Kazoo says:

    Although I never connected that the “man-woman” was his wife. That might have been what sent him over the edge in his disdain for the episode.

    I think so, too. M&TB REALLY gave her a hard time in this episode. If they had kept to to one or two jokes, I really think RDS would’ve let it slide, but they brought up her manliness so often I lost count! If someone kept repeatedly saying nasty things about my wife, on national television, no less, I wouldn’t think too highly of them, either! As a result, I would probably look upon all that they do with extreme distaste, no matter how awesome it may be. Seriously, the ridicule they gave his poor wife is really a turn-off for me, and makes what should be an extremely enjoyable episode come off as an extremely mean-spirited episode, rendering it very hard for me to watch without the aid of the FFWD button.

       1 likes

  48. Adam says:

    :cry:

    I knew him. Went by his store every couple of weeks to talk and check what DVDs he had in stock. Mostly to talk. And listen. He had great stories. He didn’t care for MST3K, no, but he was nice enough to sign my copy of the MST3K version, maybe just because he knew me. Very sad that he is gone, and glad I got the chance to know him.

       1 likes

  49. Bobo "BuckDat" Briggs says:

    By the way, should be pointed out that he re-married in the 80’s. So Carolyn Brandt was actually his ex. Might not be what set him off although she IS the mother of his two older daughters so…

       0 likes

  50. Bobo "BuckDat" Briggs says:

    #48
    I know where that store is as well. If I would have known it was his store I would have stopped by to check it out and say hello when in town. Weird to think he’s been at that store all these years.

       1 likes

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