If you are familiar with the world of old school direct-to-video horror, the name Bret McCormick might ring a bell. Between the mid-’80s and the mid-’90s, he cranked out an array of low-budget genre flicks in this arena. Most were shot in Texas and covered everything from the surreal gory horror of The Abomination to straight-ahead action fare like Blood On The Badge. Burnout from living on the treacherous fringes of showbiz led him to retire from filmmaking, a common fate for many regional schlockmeisters.
That said, when you have schlock in your bloodstream, it never really fades away. Texas Schlock finds McCormick, now a writer, coming full circle to create an overview of low-budget genre filmmaking in Texas. He begins his tome by explaining the love for genre fare, particularly the cheap and less reputable form known as schlock, that began in his childhood as well as the unpretentious aesthetic that it led him to develop. As the subsequent pages reveal, many of his cohorts in the book have a similar view.
What follows is a chronologically organized series of chapters on key Texas low-budget genre filmmakers that range from b-movie notables like Larry Buchanan and S.F. Brownrigg to one-hit wonders like Hal P. Warren and Terry Lofton. Don’t let that description lead you to expect a book of cut-and-dried profiles and/or interviews. Instead, Texas Schlock is like the films it deals with, shifting from one shape to another to fit the available resources.
Chapters often begin with in-depth synopses for the filmmaker’s key titles, written in a likeably informal style that mixes plot information with a veteran schlock fan’s observations on things like style and special effects. From there, each chapter is different: some have interviews that McCormick conducts with the subjects while others use credited interview sources from elsewhere (everything from magazine interviews to autobiographies).
For filmmakers who have passed on, he will often incorporate memories from relatives. This pays off in the Hal P. Warren chapter, which includes fun interviews with two people, one the child of an actor and the other a child who acted in the film, who have grown up in the shadow of Warren’s inimitable Manos: The Hands Of Fate.
When he reaches the chapter about himself, McCormick handles things in a playful manner: he writes his biographical text in an self-deprecating manner and hands off the synopsizing duties to fellow filmmaker Glen Coburn, who tackles the job in a surrealistic yet bitingly satirical manner.
Throughout most chapters, McCormick weaves in little bits of autobiography to add context, usually in reference to how met or worked with the person being discussed. This tactic sinks some books but since the author is legitimately part of the history he is covering, its use adds a personal touch that makes it easier for b-movie fans to connect with the material. In doing so, McCormick allows the reader to understand both the struggle and the sincere cine-love that drove his efforts as well as those of his cohorts – and this makes Texas Schlock a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any self-styled exploitation cinema historian.