Over the years, many movies have been filmed in the Hamptons. In recent years, they’ve presented this place as one of the great world-class resorts. Something’s Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson is an example of that. Wall Street starring Michael Douglas is another.
There’s another group of films that are set in the current-day Hamptons, but in a Hamptons set-up somewhere else because filming in the Hamptons has become ridiculously expensive. The film Murder in the Hamptons is an example of that. It was filmed in Canada.
But I’d like to take you back to years ago, to the early 1960s, when movies were made here presenting this place as an isolated spot where the surf rolls in and the morning fog covers strange and evil activities.
Case in point is the movie The Flesh Eaters, filmed in Montauk in 1963 and released for national distribution the following year. It terrified moviegoers and it created a stir. People going to see it were given a souvenir monster sponge at the door that afterwards they could soak in water in a sink to release wet red fake blood from this creature into their hands.
I recall the making of this movie in Montauk vividly. I was an eager teenager in those years and somehow, I got to be a part of the production. Sort of. I will explain.
There is an inn in Montauk on Old Montauk Highway between downtown and Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa that today is called Surfside Inn & Restaurant. It has a front porch that looks out over the ocean, a restaurant and — in those years — a bar, pool table, jukebox and dance floor where late into the night a singles crowd could drink and carry on.
One evening I got there early, and I noticed there were about 15 people sitting around a very large table in a private room in the back, all eating dinner and reading from identical movie scripts. I asked Peggy, the owner of Surfside about it and was told they were filmmakers from New York who had rooms upstairs, this private dining room on the ground floor, and, if I was nice to them, a garage out back where they kept a 10-foot-tall papier-mâché monster with six arms that was to star in the movie. They’d be in Montauk for four weeks filming.
At my request, Peggy took me back there and introduced me as the publisher of a new local newspaper and asked if I could sit in. This was the third year I was running Dan’s Papers. I’d be their scribe. They said sure.
The routine was to film during the day and in the evenings go over what had been done and what the plan was for the next day. The people around that table were the director, the filmmaker, the actors, the cameramen, the prop people, and the makeup and costume people. A star in this movie was Martin Kosleck, an older actor, also there, who in earlier movies was often chosen to play an evil Nazi scientist out to conquer the world. This was not too long after World War II.
The plot was simple. An airplane pilot with a single-engine plane for charter had been hired to fly an over-the-hill actress and her secretary from LaGuardia Airport to Martha’s Vineyard for rest and relaxation. The opening scene is in that plane. The pilot is handsome, the secretary young and pretty, and the over-the-hill actress, used to being coddled and fussed over, is now demanding, sad and slightly inebriated. In a fog, the engine gets balky and the pilot has to make a forced landing on a beach of an island which is not even on his chart. The actress complains. The secretary is eager. The pilot says they must either find people or make camp. His radio is also out.
The only other person on the island, the pilot soon discovers, is this crazy Nazi scientist who has built a laboratory tent on the beach. He is out to produce a substance that when put into the surf will kill anyone who tries to swim in it. He wants to bring the world to its knees — but otherwise he is nice enough.
Every morning, we’d head out to the beach to film the scenes. Hardly anybody was at the beaches. There were no film permits needed, and you could park at any beach for free — so we would just take over a beach, shoo any tourists or sunbathers away if they showed up and film for the day.
Besides attending the dinners, I watched much of the filming. They put me in one scene, or should I say, just outside one. It was the scientist’s white laboratory tent, and inside the scientist was trying to befriend the secretary, who’d come in to talk to him. My job, just outside the tent, was to shake the tent flap to simulate a strong wind which was supposed to be blowing that day. You can’t see me doing it. But I think that puts me in the movie. I guess.
I still remember the grand finale. I helped carry this giant monster, its arms waving, from out of the garage onto the back of a pickup truck. It was a grand sunny summer’s day. I then got in my car, a big old convertible with tailfins and followed the pickup truck down the Old Montauk Highway as that monster waved his arms and threatened me the whole way along the beachfront to the set on the sand.
Packets of dry ice were set onto this beach. They caused white fog to blanket the scene. As for us stagehands, using ropes, we dragged the monster up the beach from the surf where he’d been born — trick photography — and then, amidst the chemicals, red blood and dead fish in the sea grow to 30 feet tall to get to the welcoming scientist purring to the monster about taking over the world — whom the monster then eats.
Thus began filming in the Hamptons.
By the way, Jack Curtis, who directed this film really well, conveniently died young after the movie came out. He is revered today as a great director whose life was cut short.