In Memoriam: Samuel Z. Arkoff

A man who knew what movies are all about passed away this weekend. Samuel Z. Arkoff died of natural causes at the age of 83 in Burbank Sunday. One of the founders of American International Pictures in 1954, Arkoff knew that the teen population would gladly feed their cushy post-war allowances to the box office for the right fare.

AIP started with horror pictures like The Beast with a Million Eyes and It Conquered the World and quickly moved into rebel pictures like Motorcycle Gang and Reform School Girl.

Arkoff knew that kids wanted an excuse to get out of their parent's houses and into those rolling bedrooms at the drive-ins. Nothing made those bench seats cozier than teens in peril from even the silliest of creatures.

In the 60's the screams of enjoyable terror gave way to fan and laughs in the newly spawned Beach Party genre. From Muscle Beach Party to Beach Blanket Bingo, the tone was light and the skin was plentiful. Once the waves flattened out for Frankie and Annette, AIP moved on to some culture.

With adaptations like Wuthering Heights, Dorian Gray, and Murders in the Rue Morgue, AIP ensured that come English finals Cliff's Notes would be abandoned and tests would be failed. While horror remained the bread and butter, blaxploitation begin writing some checks with Blacula, Slaughter, Coffy and Cooley High.

Not only did Arkoff foster some of the great genre pictures of the B-movies, he also gave starts to some A-list talent. Under the AIP banner, Roger Corman came into his own with The Pit and the Pendulum and his masterpiece, X, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Francis Ford Coppola took his first helming gig for Arkoff with Dementia 13. Martin Scorsese even got an Arkoff boost with Boxcar Bertha. Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern all owe their starts to Arkoff's checkbook and vision.

Arkoff told his own story in the 1992 book Flying Though Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants and the history of AIP was covered in It Conquered Hollywood! The Story of American International Pictures, a great TV documentary that will hopefully be put out for the home market.

Canonize Arkoff as the patron saint of the indie filmmaker. He lived by the motto, "Thou shalt not put too much money into one picture, and with the money you do spend, put it on the screen. Don't waste it on the egos of actors or nonsense that might appeal to highbrow critics." Wisdom like that can't be found anywhere but in a man who loved movies. Not films, but movies.

After a decade or more of over-budgeted bloated messes that support overpaid, low talent stars, a man like Arkoff should be seen as the direction the entertainment end of the industry should turn: little solidly constructed genre works with talented, hard working, hungry actors.

In a week of almost nothing but mourning, we as film lovers should seek to celebrate this man who knew that movies could give us the escape that we all sometimes need. Check out one of the titles mentioned above or go to and punch in Samuel Z. Arkoff and go hunt down at least one of the 139 titles that he produced.

Jordan Rosa





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