Scenes from Professor Morlock

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Professor Morlock

The opening scene from the original “Professor Morlock” in which cub reporter Janet Lawton Mara Marini) begs editor Ed Thicke (Edward G. Robinson) to let her investigate the strange doings at the closed insane asylum.

Marini had achieved stardom with the previous year’s film noir hit “Dame with a Gun.” The first film in the Morlock franchise was designed as a star vehicle originally called “Janet Lawton, Girl Reporter” and was only retitled “Professor Morlock” just as the film was about to open and a real Janet Lawton was being tried on espionage charges, for which she was later executed.

Marini was said to resent the attention Jesse Merlin received for playing Morlock and accepted “Bikini Party on Waikiki Beach” to avoid taking part in the sequel. It turned out to be a happy decision for her since she wound up getting her first Academy Award nomination for the film. She would eventually wind up winning two Best Actress Oscars, for “Bikini Party on Pismo Beach” and for the movie remake of “Camille.”

Ed Thicke became a recurring character in the series, with increasingly obscure actors playing the role as the budgets decreased. A popular Morlockian note of trivia is that beloved character actor Wilford Brimley made his movie debut in the role for “The Ghost of Professor Morlock.”

Morlock's first attempt to transplant a woman's brain into a gorilla, from the first "Professor Morlock." There would be many others.

The Return of Professor Morlock

A famous scene from “The Return of Professor Morlock” in which his mindless slave known only as Ghoul Girl (Amy Ball) encounters a globe in the professor’s torture chamber and remembers that she was once a nurse named Amanda Globe at the asylum where he was committed . It would later come out that she was born a princess on a faraway alien planet that Morlock had kidnapped her from and when she eventually returned, she acquired super powers which would allow her to do savage battle with him.

Amanda Globe prepares to disciplined for disobedience by Morlock’s cat o’nine tails as Ruprecht (Tom Ackerman) looks on sadistically in a typical scene in the second film in the series, “The Return of Professor Morlock.”

Ball was an ardent feminist who loathed playing the shrinking victim Amanda in the early films. She was a popular figure amongst the cast because she was the only actor who would stand up to the cheapness of the producers, often refusing to come out of her dressing room until Ackerman was given his promised boxed lunch. After “The Ghost of Professor Morlock,” she retired from acting to work for a coffee company and make politically radical film documentaries on leftist causes.

She had no interest in returning to the role after the series reboot and didn’t appear in “The Bride of Professor Morlock.” She agreed to look at the story for the follow-up, “The Daughter of Professor Morlock,” with great reluctance but was delighted to learn that far from being the timid door mat she was in the first four films, Amanda was now a hard-edged fighter who had developed super powers after living on an alien planet. When Ball saw that Amanda’s first scene in the film after her dynamic entrance was to beat the living crap out of Morlock for everything he’d put her through in the past, she signed on without bothering to read the rest of the script.

The Testament of Professor Morlock

Morlock (Jesse Merlin) and his evil assistant Ruprecht (Tom Ackerman) attempt to transplant the brain of Amanda Globe (Amy Ball) into a gorilla (legendary stunt man Peter Fields) in the exciting climax of the third Morlock film, “The Testament of Professor Morlock.”

By this point in the series, the budget had been slashed so radically that the actors were performing in front of painted backdrops and the laboratory equipment was regular kitchen utensils. The film received universally terrible reviews but the fans loved it for its acting and clever writing and “The Testament” turned out to be a highly profitable entry in the franchise.

Jesse Merlin was so fed up with his oppressive contract that he left the film in mid-production to go to England to star in a horror version of “Charlie Chan” for Hammer Films that he hoped would end his typecasting as the insane professor. While the Chan film had some spooky aspects, it wasn’t on a par with the Morlocks and was derided by critics for its shockingly racist attitude towards the title character which required Merlin to have his eyelids taped and speak in patronizing pigeon English. What’s more, he became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with the studio for breaking his contract that lasted for years and led to his living in poverty until his career was resurrected by the reboot of the series with “The Bride of Professor Morlock.”

With Merlin’s unexpected exit, the film had to be rewritten on the fly and used the device of a gypsy fortune teller named Olga (Jaz Davison) channeling the professor from hell. The rewriting benefitted Ackerman as Ruprecht, whose role was built up after Merlin’s departure. After the financial success of “The Testament of Professor Morlock,” the studio planned to kick off a new horror series centering on Ruprecht but Ackerman’s addiction to reefer was so overwhelming at that point that he could be seen in many of the shots puffing on a doobie, so the project was ultimately shelved.

The Ghost of Professor Morlock

By far the worst of the Morlocks (and the only one to be shot in black & white) was “The Ghost of Professor Morlock.” Top-billed Amy Ball would only agree to shoot for a single day and appears in less than seven minutes of the film and Jesse Merlin (who was in a bitter money dispute with the producers) was seen as Morlock for a little more than ten, with his performance edited together from outtakes and unused scenes from the previous movies.

The rest of the film is Amanda Globe’s fiancé Brick Stockman (a character who never appeared before and mercifully never showed up again) appearing at the séance parlor of gypsy mind reader Olga from the last entry “The Testament of Professor Morlack” (played again by Jaz Davison, whose performance was the only redeeming aspect of the film) to determine what became of the missing Amanda. They spend 65 minutes sitting in front of a dark gray curtain reciting inane dialogue to each other with only occasional cutaways to Tom Ackerman (who was rumored to be high as a kite on reefer throughout the shoot) as Ruprecht chasing an Amy Ball look-alike through cardboard sets.

Brick Stockman was played by Glenn Simon, an actor best known for his performance as G-Man Chuck Chuckman on the TV series “Red Hunters,” in a laughably wooden performance. Simon’s mysterious murder less than a year later is still a subject of Hollywood gossip, when it came out that he was a well-known transvestite and that his death was a hit arranged by the head of a studio who'd dress up with him in sequin gowns and troll the streets of Los Angeles on Saturday Nights. The scandal was well-chronicled in the book "Drag Queen: The Mysterious Death of Glenn Simon."

“The Ghost of Professor Morlock” is frequently named at the top of lists of the worst film ever made and was memorably lambasted on an episode of “Mystery Science Theater.”

The Bride of Professor Morlock

The famous opening scene from the series reboot "The Bride of Professor Morlock" in which Winston the Wonder Pug witnesses Morlock reemerging from the grave. Morlockians were so excited by the return of the character that in many theaters, the film had to be stopped for several minutes while audiences cheered.

Morlock was doubled in this scene by legendary hand model Gustave "Bergie" Bergström.

One of the defining aspects of the Professor Morlock franchise is Morlock’s ability to easily seduce members of either sex. By far the most graphically erotic scene of this kind in any of the films was the wedding night sequence in the series reboot “The Bride of Professor Morlock” in which the professor discovers that if he doesn’t produce a descendent once every thousand years, he turns into dust. The sex scene between Morlock and his bride, the Goddess of Darkness (played by Broadway star Stephanie Fredricks) was so explicit that over six full minutes had to be cut out for the film to receive an R rating in the United States, although the full unedited version is available on the Taiwanese DVD.

Fredricks won her fourth Tony Award the year that “The Bride of Professor Morlock” premiered for her work in the Broadway musical version of Disney’s “The Great Mouse Detective.” Her performance as Morlock’s bride was loved by the public and rhapsodized over by the critics, but she was so embarrassed by the film that she didn’t even mention it in her three volumes of autobiographies.

Jesse Merlin was reluctant to return to the Morlock role for the reboot because of the notoriously one-sided contracts he had been shackled to over the years but had no choice because he was nearing starvation and contemplating suicide when the offer was made. His salary was for SAG base pay but included 5% of the profits. When “The Bride of Professor Morlock” became the third biggest box office hit in history at the time, he became an overnight multi-millionaire.

Morlock (Jesse Merlin) once again ties up Janet Lawton (Mara Marini) in her underwear and tries to transplant her brain with that of a gorilla.

Marini loathed the scenes where she was tied up in her underwear but they had become emblematic of the character. Since she owned 20% of the profits of the film, she agreed to the scene only if the set was cleared. That meant that Merlin had to play all of his scenes with her against a green screen. They were never actually on the same set at the same time until "The House of Professor Morlock" when Merlin contractually prevented from speaking to her.

The gorilla was permitted on the set at any time because he was an old Marini family friend.

Professor Morlock's Daughter

The most famous entrance in the history of the"Morlock" franchise, from "Professor Morlock's Daughter."

After spending the first four films as Morlock's helpless victim, Amanda Globe (Amy Ball) returns to earth after acquiring super powers on an alien planet by blasting through the wall of the professor's asylum laboratory, hell-bent on revenge.

Tensions could run high between “Professor Morlock” stars Jesse Merlin and Mara Marini.

When Marini won her second Best Actress Oscar for the film remake of “Camille” shortly after the premiere of "Professor Morlock's Daughter," the Academy made a tactical error of having Merlin and Jonny M. present her the award. Jonny was clearly delighted but Merlin spent the entire speech standing to the side of the stage with his personal assistant, mocking the choice.

When Merlin's name was announced as a nominee for Best Actor for "The Curse of Professor Morlock" at the following year's ceremony, Marini could be seen flipping the bird from the audience while seated next to her longtime companion, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

The two made up after the death of actor Tom Ackerman, who played Ruprecht in the series. When Ackerman inevitably overdosed on reefer, Merlin and Marini tearfully embraced at his funeral and have been close friends ever since.

The Curse of Professor Morlock

When Morlock (Jesse Merlin) has a zombie curse placed upon him and raises an army of the undead, the only hope for the survival of humanity is the alien super powers of Amanda Globe (Amy Ball) in what is universally regarded as the best film of the series, “The Curse of Professor Morlock.”

Both Merlin and Ball got Academy Award nominations for their performances, the only acting nods that the series ever received. Ball was considered the favorite to win Best Actress but had the misfortune to co-star in the Eddie Murphy gross-out comedy “The Big Fat Family Who Farts All the Time” which premiered just as the ballots were going out. That film was a critical and box office catastrophe that many blamed for her failing to take home the Oscar for “Curse.”

The film did win Oscars for its art direction and ground-breaking makeup, although Merlin suffered greatly from wearing his zombie application which doctors attributed as the reason for his demented behavior in later years.

Ace investigative reporter Janet Lawton (Mara Marini), still under the power of the nymphomaniac hex Morlock placed on her in “Professor Morlock’s Daughter,” prepares to once again sexually ravage her love interest, no-nonsense cop Jack Mannix (Jonny M.).

The Janet Lawton character initially wasn’t included in the story of “The Curse of Professor Morlock,” but Marini so enjoyed shooting the graphically erotic nymphomaniac hex scenes in the previous film that she agreed to make an unpaid cameo in “Curse” if the device was included in yet another scene with Jonny. It proves to be one of the most sexually-supercharged sequences in the entire series.

The House of Professor Morlock

Amanda Globe (Amy Ball) tells ace investigative reporter Janet Lawton (Mara Marini) that since global warming is diminishing her alien super powers, she must leave earth and won’t be able to battle Morlock in “The House of Professor Morlock.”

In this, the only Morlock film that Jesse Merlin directed, fans were quick to notice that he inserted himself in many scenes in which his character didn’t take part.

Mara Marini as Janet Lawton and Michael Lackey as Zombie #3 being directed by Jesse Merlin in “The House of Professor Morlock.” With the astonishing popularity of the rebooted Morlock franchise, Merlin finally had the leverage he needed to demand the director mantel of this eighth film in the series. One of his primary motives for wanting the job was that he felt it finally put him in a position of authority over Miss Marini, who always commanded higher billing and a massively larger salary than his in the four previous Morlocks that they had appeared in together.

But Merlin overestimated his influence, since a standard clause in Miss Marini’s contract stated that directors weren’t allowed to speak to her directly but had to submit any communications to her in writing through an assistant (most of which were ignored). This applied not only to first-time directors like Merlin, but also to the two films she made with Martin Scorsese and the four with Steven Spielberg.

Miss Marini’s outrage in the picture is very real since it was taken on the first day of shooting when Merlin was unaware of that clause in her contract. It represented only the second time they had spoken together off-camera; the first being at the premiere of “Professor Morlock’s Daughter” when she mistook him for a waiter.

The Wrath of Professor Morlock

The Morlock franchise began a new phase when sexy zombie Priscilla Robin Greenspan) rose from her muddy grave in "The Wrath of Professor Morlock."

Greenspan was a veterinary student with no ambitions for an acting career when director Joe Mullich hit on her while they were waiting at the checkout line at Trader Joe's. Greenspan broke Mullich's nose but he didn't hold that against her and cast her in the star-making role after having looked at thousands of auditions.

The Plot of Professor Morlock

As the Morlock franchise continued, each film contained more nudity and graphic sex. In this scene from “The Plot of Professor Morlock,” Morlock Jesse Merlin) uses his supernatural powers of hypnotism to seduce his longtime nemesis, no-nonsense cop Jack Mannix (Jonny M.). The result was one of the most explicit sex scenes of the series.

Visitors to the set attested that the action was not simulated, although both actors have refused to talk about it.

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