Miami's B-Movie Mogul

K. Gordon Murray may have invented the weekend kiddie matinee, but don't forget his scowling bikers, howling werewolves, lumbering mummies, brain-sucking monsters, and scheming decapitated heads

In the Murray universe, the suave, darkly handsome, and splendidly attired Salazar is best remembered as the urbane, cerebellum-snacking Count in the mind-blowing The Brainiac. "Yes," Marge recalls drolly, "Paul ate brains out of a dish."

Each film required four or five evenings of dubbing. Murray gave the director a deadline, handing over a script one month beforehand. "He never read a script in advance to see if he liked it," Nagel notes. "Once he picked you, he went with you," never interfering with the dubbing operation. "He would give me a fee for directing, a fee for writing -- about $250 for each -- plus the voice acting. I'd pick up $600 or $700, and Marge would pick up a couple hundred dollars. And that was a lot of money."

While Murray's movie merry-go-round certainly provides the Nagels with some fond memories, they hold no illusions about the virtues of the resulting product. The Invasion of the Vampires. The Man and the Monster. 100 Cries of Terror. All bear Paul Nagel's stamp as English-language director.

Jonathan Postal
K. Gordon "Ken" Murray (above) was unknown to the 
general public, but an icon to the psychotronic 
cognoscenti who treasure radioactive mutants, female 
prison inmates, vampires, and bikers
K. Gordon "Ken" Murray (above) was unknown to the general public, but an icon to the psychotronic cognoscenti who treasure radioactive mutants, female prison inmates, vampires, and bikers

Paul: "Aren't they awful? I can honestly say that neither Marge nor I have ever sat down and watched one of them all the way through."

Marge: "They're dreadful! But they meant 50 cents a loop to us." And Murray, she hastens to add, was always a wonderful boss. "Very fair with us. He paid every penny that he offered, and there was never any quibbling about it."

"Cool it dad! Stay out of their way if you can! Their motors are flaming! ... Their mamas are on fire! ... They're dogs! ... On the loose! Chicks! Choppers! 'n' Cheats! Making quick getaways, and getting away with everything! Makes Hell's Angels look like Boy Scouts. A teen-age story for mature adults. An innocent girl the prize in a dirty game. SAVAGES FROM HELL."

Having squeezed the juice from other filmmakers' work, Murray decided to give it a whirl himself, although at first he did not completely forsake the foreign fare that had served him so well. He began modestly. In 1964 he corralled a crew headed by Soundlab dubbing director San Fernando, ordered costumes made for Stinky the Skunk and Ferocious Wolf (characters from the Little Red Riding Hood movies) and Puss N' Boots, then repaired to a trio of Santa's Village wonderlands -- 1950s roadside tourist meccas replete with gingerbread chateaux, toy workshops, resident Santa, and local-girl pixies -- to shoot footage for three featurettes. One Santa's Village was located just west of Chicago, the other two in California.

Shamelessly, the first short film, the 38-minute Santa Claus and His Helpers (1964), sutures in scenes from the Mexican Santa Claus. This farrago of nonsense -- the custom-made costumes appear to have been tailored by toddlers -- screened just prior to Christmas in conjunction with Murray's full-length Mexican import The Queen's Swordsman, thus creating the impression of a double feature; with typical audacity, Murray gave his film top billing in newspaper ads.

Two years later he released the similarly demented Santa's Magic Kingdom and Santa's Enchanted Village (both clock in at thirteen minutes) as opening acts, of sorts, for one of his kiddie features, although with this pair he resisted the urge to steal from existing films.

Amid this vortex of Murray-related activity -- children's matinees, TV horror hullabaloo, cheesy shorts -- in 1965 NBC dangled the possibility of Murray ascending to marquee status with his own network TV program, The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray. This would have put him on an equal par with the exalted Disney, whose minions prepared Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, hosted by Uncle Walt himself, for broadcast on NBC every Sunday evening. But the deal never materialized. In a way, this failure marked Murray's apogee as an entertainment avatar, with a glacial, almost imperceptible decline soon setting in.

Murray's matinees, now banking on the German movies, performed less well than his Mexican fables, their audience diluted as copycat competitors -- notably the New York City-based independent Childhood Productions, but also some major Hollywood studios -- muscled into the market. And the big players, weary of missing out on weekend revenues, had begun to strong-arm exhibitors to sever their exclusive agreements with Murray. "When the major film companies put pressure on the theaters," Schermer explains, "we had to back off."

After experiencing success with only the first (Rumpelstiltskin) of four German fairy tales, Murray licensed the final four for broadcast on television. By the end of the decade, he had virtually abandoned kiddie movies entirely. "Then, like clockwork," sighs Craig, "Paramount and MGM launched two highly successful TV matinee programs [for kids], using mostly reissues of their older films well into the late Seventies and, in some cases, the early Eighties. So they saw [the market] and they took it."

Meanwhile Murray again dramatically changed tack: After his trial runs with the Santa shorts, he began production of full-length pictures, returning to his roots with exploitation movies. "He felt there was a need for product for drive-in theaters," notes Schermer. So Murray scotched his eponymous company, grandly renaming it Trans-International Films; powwowed with a coterie of stalwarts headed by Schermer and dubbing director Reuben Guberman; hired a Cuban exile, José Prieto, with a limited résumé (the 1964 horror short Love Goddesses of Blood Island) to direct, plus a crew principally composed of nonunion Cuban Americans; leased a studio in Dania; and, based on his own story idea, made one of the most tawdry, fulsome, salacious pictures in the annals of exploitationana: 1967's innately cynical, X-rated Shanty Tramp.

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