We all know Durston, who passed away a couple years back at the age of 88, as the director of I Drink Your Blood. But what else did he do? In this post, I want to share a bit of what I found from rooting around to give a fair shake to Durston’s film career. I’m not sure I’m any closer to feeling like I understand the man, but giving a little more on his body of work he left us is hopefully a step in the right direction. Limiting to feature films–as opposed to his radio and TV credits (a comprehensive list of these contributions here)–in the thirty years ending in 1994, Durston acted, wrote, directed, produced or edited not quite a dozen films, from exploitation fare as in IDYB, by far his most famous film, to gay hardcore porn. Not the most prolific career, but an interesting one, to be sure.
Some say of Durston, reflecting on films such as Stigma (1972), Blue Sextet (1970), and Felicia (1964), let alone Manhole (1978) and Boy-Napped (1975), that he, in the words of Classic TV History Blog “seems to have been one of those figures who hovered on the fringes of the movie industry for decades, carving out a marginal career with an energy that surpassed his talent.” While Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (FAB Press, 2007) remembers Durston in a much more positive light. Both could well be true.
According to Randall Rutledge‘s problematic book, From Movie City to Music City USA: My Journey through Showbiz and how it Works [sic] (Magic Valley Publishers, 2008), Durston started as journalism major in Missouri, but ended up a contract player in George Cukor’s Winged Victory in 1944. Durston’s IMDB entry, which contains a lot less work and awards than Rutledge claims he accomplished–Durston did not earn seven Emmys, for example–says he was also in the cast of Winged Victory’s Broadway production. He worked as a writer and producer on a couple of radio and television shows in the 1950s (Navy Log, Your Hit Parade), presumably learning various jobs behind the camera.
Durston took the helm of several films in the 1960s. First up was Felicia in 1964, but since it was not released in the US, not much info about it is readily available. It did have a novelization (see bookcover, right) by the very prolific Michael Avallone (writing as Mark Dane), and probably the first film role by a young–he’d have been about 24 at the time–Raul Julia. The lead was played by Louise Allbritton.
LSD was the topic of his next film, The Love Statue, in 1965. This was an early exploitation movie about the drug, and Durston actually dropped acid (under the watch of a physician) to get a better feel for his subject matter. The name of the film was changed from The Love Drug to The Love Statue when newspapers of the day would not run ads with the former name. In 1967 Durston directed the English dubbed version of the pathbreaking 1964 Turkish film Susuz yaz (also known as “Dry Summer,” or sometimes as “Reflections”). However, Durston did not have anything to do with the original making of this one.
This brings us to I Drink Your Blood in 1970, which I won’t dwell on much here since I talked about it at length last time. This film was inspired by a couple things on Durston’s mind: an article about a rabies outbreak abroad, the then-recent Manson murders, and tales from a friend who’d just emerged from a cult. These fun little vignettes come together in IDYB. For more information on IDYB’s history, especially on the existence of several different cuts and its cult status, see Horror at the Drive-In: Essays in Popular Americana (McFarland, 2008).
In 1972, Durston’s other moderately famous film, Stigma came out, which launched the short career of Phillip Michael Thomas, as a physician suffering horrible racist slurs while treating a super duper virulent STD in a small town:
Another I Drink Your Blood actor makes an appearance in this one: Rhonda Fultz (the pregnant and inexplicably bewigged “Molly” in IDYB)
From here, Durston’s career as a filmmaker goes into its swan song. Durston had “always had a hand in the specialized and insular netherworld of gay hardcore porn,” according to Landis and Clifford’s indispensable book, Sleazoid Express (2002). Durston wrote and directed these last couple films under the name “Spencer Logan” and/or “David Ransom.” In 1975 he made Boy-napped! a hardcore gay porn film starring the late Jamie Gillis–-who, as it happened, passed away just a few months before Durston in 2010. In 1978 another gay hardcore film Manhole was made, also with Gillis. Landis and Clifford say this last film was called Manhold, not Manhole, as IMDB has it, and that it was not released because one of the cast members got a role in Escape from Alcatraz, and the association with gay hardcore would have been bad for this unspecified person’s career, as well as for Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster. At any rate, I don’t have much elaboration on Durston’s apparent long relationship in this “insular netherworld” of the cinema world. Durston seems to have left cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, returning only in 1994 as the editor of Hard Drive, an independently produced softcore flick.
There’s not enough information here to get a sense of Durston as an individual, nor much about his legacy. So to jump to the conclusion that Durston “seems to have been one of those figures who hovered on the fringes of the movie industry for decades, carving out a marginal career with an energy that surpassed his talent” seems too harsh, especially since most accounts of him dwell on his cult hit I Drink Your Blood, and them list out his other work without saying anything more about Durston or his work. Hopefully, I’ll find more info to fill in some of the gaps here.
Next time, I’ll see what I can find about IDYB’s main tour de force, Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, who passed away in 2003.