Ed Kelleher, 61; Horror Film Screenwriter, Critic
Ed Kelleher, a writer of offbeat films, a playwright and film critic who wrote screenplays for horror movies that have become cult classics, died May 14 of a degenerative brain disorder at a nursing home in Annandale, Va. He was 61.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Kelleher wrote the screenplays of four horror films considered so outlandish and amateurish that they have become favorites of aficionados. “Invasion of the Blood Farmers” (1972), “Shriek of the Mutilated” (1974), “Lurkers” and “Prime Evil” (both 1988) featured such standard horror-flick fare as blood sacrifice, cannibals, malevolent ghosts and religions turned to evil purposes.
In various reviews, the films were called “barely coherent, but rarely dull,” “full of inept acting, gore and ridiculous dialogue,” “deliriously insane” and “trashy, low-budget, inept filmmaking at its finest.” One critic noted that anyone who looked closely at the Abominable Snowman, a central figure of “Shriek of the Mutilated,” could see that it was wearing shoes.
Kelleher recognized the ridiculous nature of some of his projects, but he reveled in the lower reaches of cinematic respectability. He admired the work of 1950s schlockmeister Edward D. Wood Jr., but his sophisticated knowledge of film made his efforts far more nuanced.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Cindy Lucia, a critic and professor of English and film at Rider University in New Jersey. “His movies were definitely made with a sense of humor. They were campy, you could say.”
Not all of Kelleher’s efforts were of the slash-and-bleed variety. In 1997, he adapted his own play for the film version of “Stand-Ins,” a drama set in 1937 Hollywood that delves into the lives of the doubles of Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and other screen legends.
Kelleher, who considered himself primarily a playwright, wrote several plays that were staged in New York, Massachusetts and in playwriting workshops. The Village Voice praised his 1974 play “Scar Tissue” as an “absolutely fascinating little comedy.”
Working side-by-side on adjoining typewriters, Kelleher and Harriette Vidal churned out six horror novels under their joint byline. He also wrote dozens of unproduced works.
Edward Kelleher was born in New York City, and was pasting movie reviews in scrapbooks by the time he was 10. He studied Greek and Latin at a Jesuit high school, graduated from New York’s Fordham University and served in the Army in Germany, where he worked on the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
In New York, he held various jobs, eventually becoming an early rock-music critic. Under the name of Edouard Dauphin, he wrote a column on drive-in movies for Creem magazine. He later worked for Billboard and Cashbox magazines, and was a publicist for CBS Records. From 1979 to 1986, he was the publicist for the singer-songwriter Melanie.
As associate editor of Film Journal International in New York from 1986 to 2002, he interviewed such writer-directors as Jean-Luc Godard and David Mamet. He also reviewed many films, but had second thoughts about being a critic.
Kelleher continued to work on his largely unrecognized projects until his illness forced him to stop. His final screenplay was about Tom Neal, a B-movie actor of the 1940s and former boxer who had a law degree from Harvard. Neal once beat up actor Franchot Tone, breaking several bones in his face, and later went to prison for manslaughter in the death of his wife.
Survivors include a brother, Don Kelleher of Fairfax County, Va.