So argues John Wooley, former Tulsa World journalist and author of the new book “Shot in Oklahoma: A Century of Sooner State Cinema,” which chronicles the motion pictures made within our borders. While most people know Oklahoma has served as a shooting spot for Hollywood blockbusters like “The Outsiders,” “Rain Man” and “Twister,” it’s the obscure horror flick “Blood Cult” that matters most.
“I don’t think people really understand what a big deal that was,” Wooley said. “It’s a little slasher film made for $30,000, but I don’t think people understand the doors that opened. It was an absolute groundbreaker, because it was the first movie aimed at home video, just for that market.”
In 1985, arguably the height of the VHS age, many movies already had skipped theaters and gone straight to home video as studios sought to cut their losses, but little ol’ “Blood Cult,” helmed in Tulsa and Tahlequah, was the first to be made specifically for videocassette.
After that, said Wooley, “the whole definition of what makes a feature film changed. Before ‘Blood Cult,’ it was very easy: a film shown in a theater, period. Afterwards, I bet you know 10 people who’ve shot feature films.”
So many direct-to-video productions have been made locally since that “Shot in Oklahoma” ends with “Blood Cult”’s revolutionary release. He said it would take another volume to cover that DTV explosion, but he’ll sign copies of this one, released by University of Oklahoma Press, on Saturday at Barnes & Noble, 6100 N. May.
In 320 pages, the breezy but meaty “Shot in Oklahoma” tracks the Sooner State’s usage as film locations, however fleeting, starting with Thomas Edison’s New Jersey-based crew in 1904. Behindthe-scenes stories are shared for the productions, including hits like the 1956 Best Picture Oscar winner, “Around the World in Eighty Days”; Burt Lancaster as “Jim Thorpe: All-American”; and the 1962 remake of “State Fair,” starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margret.
But it’s the coverage given to films made outside the studio system — such as John Milius’ “Dillinger,” Monte Hellman’s “Two-Lane Blacktop” or OU professor Ned Hockman’s little-seen “Stark Fear” — that makes the book so interesting.
“I love the esoteric stuff,” he said. To that end, he’s included several forgotten flicks, if they were remembered in the first place: “Just Between Us,” a 1960 drama starring a Tulsa girl and her German shepherd; “Prince of Peace,” a 1949 morality tale wrapped around a filming of Lawton’s annual Passion Play; the godforsaken “Terror at Tenkiller”; and “Dark Before Dawn,” co-produced by the E.K. Gaylord family, yet so dull that it was slammed within the Gaylords’ own newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman.
“There’s no shortage of bad films shot in Oklahoma,” Wooley said of the 1988 thriller, “but it’s just, on any level, not good. It’s quite a train wreck.”
The author has nicer things to say of his personal state-lensed favorite, 1971’s “This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!,” from “Blood Feast” auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis, the one-time WKY employee turned highly influential “Godfather of Gore.”
“It’s fast cars and gore and stupid hillbilly jokes,” Wooley said. “I have a real affinity for the cheap stuff.”
Having previously co-written “The Big Book of Biker Flicks,” he has another new book out, the biography “Wes Craven: The Man and His Nightmares,” and currently is researching his next text, a history of Tulsa’s iconic Cain’s Ballroom.
For that, he had just run across an account of the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten verbally sparring from the stage with a man who grew up as a Thalidomide baby. Although the stage is not the screen, Wooley sees his subject matter as the same.
“People just like stories,” he said.