Samuel Z. Arkoff, a maverick Hollywood producer who churned out more than
500 low-budget — and often hugely profitable — cult movies, died of
natural causes Sunday, his son Louis said. He was 83.

Arkoff, who said movies were no good unless they titillated audiences,
tapped into the youth culture long before the major studios took notice of
the lucrative demographic.

Among his best-known releases were the Michael Caine thriller “Dressed To
Kill,” “The Amityville Horror,” “I Was a Teen-Age Werewolf” and the “Beach
Blanket” series starring teen idol Frankie Avalon and “Mickey Mouse Club”
belle Annette Funicello.

The stout, cigar-smoking producer, an Iowa farm boy who graduated from law
school in Los Angeles, was a businessman first. The word “art” never
crossed his lips, trade paper Daily Variety said.

“Thou shalt not put too much money into one picture,” ran one of Arkoff’s
many mottoes. “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.”

With the late Jim Nicholson, Arkoff co-founded American International
Pictures in 1954 and hit pay dirt that year by distributing “The Fast and
the Furious,” a gritty action film directed by future B-movie king Roger
Corman. The $60,000 film grossed $250,000.

“I Was a Teen-Age Werewolf,” made in 1957 and starring Michael Landon,
cost $100,000 and was shot in six days. It grossed $2 million. “The
Amityville Horror,” a haunted-house thriller starring James Brolin and
Margot Kidder, grossed $65 million domestically in 1979, making it the
biggest independent film until “Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles” 10 years
later.

In 1979, AIP also picked up the North American distribution rights to “Mad
Max” after the major studios passed on the Mel Gibson breakthrough
picture.

Horror was a mainstay of AIP films, but the company was quick to
capitalize on other genres, such as gangster films (“Machine Gun Kelly,”
“Dillinger”), blaxploitation (“Blacula,” “Black Caesar”) and drug culture
sagas (“Wild Angels,” “Wild in the Streets”).

“I think my dad was one of the first mavericks,” Louis Arkoff told
Reuters. “A movie was never a good movie unless it contained two thrills a
reel. He always said people go to the movies to be entertained and to be
titillated.”

Credit: Reuters