Monday, February 02, 2015

Teenagers Battle The Thing



movie poster
Teenagers Battle The Thing (TBTT) was an obscure, low-budget, monster movie released in 1959. It was also used for an extended version under the title Curse of Bigfoot in 1978. The plot of the film involves five high school students and their teacher who are enlisted by an archeologist/museum curator and travel to the small town of Ivanpah to help him excavate the ruins of an ancient Indian camp site. While doing so, part of the group stumbles across an ancient mummy's burial site. Thrilled with their discovery, they decide to bring it back with them. It turns out however, that they're in for more than they bargained for.

One of the teenagers in the film was Jan Swihart who played Sharon, the blonde girlfriend of Johnny (Bob Clymire). Nowadays she is known as Jan Hart and is a talented artist living in Costa Rica.

When I found a copy of this film on Internet Archive, I noticed a comment by Jan from January 14, 2014 stating that she was Sharon in the movie. She also included her website address. With information on this film being scarce and wanting to know more about it, I decided to contact Jan through her website and ask for an interview. To my delight, she agreed.

What follows is my correspondence with Jan via email over a 2-3 week period, approximately. She was nice enough to answer many of my questions and filled in a lot of missing info a well as correcting some of the misinformation listed on IMDb.

Was Teenagers Battle the Thing released theatrically or was it a TV movie?

It was 1959 and it was released in the town of Upland, California at a local theater. I never saw it in other theaters but my brother saw it on late night television at one time.
Jan Hart, Teenagers Battle The Thing
Jan Swihart in Teenagers Battle the Thing

Did you have to audition for the role of Sharon?

Yes. The director, Don Flocker came around to a lot of the local high schools to find his actors. I and Ruth Ann Manella who played the other girl were in Drama classes together at our high school, Upland High.  We auditioned by reading for him. The main kids were from four different high schools.

What was Don Flocker like as a director? Was he easy to work with?

Don Flocker was a very gentle director.  I think this was pretty much his first movie – and he honestly didn't provide much direction other than telling us our lines, setting it up and making sure it looked good to him. We really didn't have very emotional scenes and as I recall, the scene that was most emotional for my character was not really included – i.e. Running through the orange grove, screaming.

James T. Flocker was the film's writer and Don's brother, if I'm not mistaken. He went on to direct a handful of movies himself. Was he around the film set at all during production?

I believe that it was Jim who played one of the parts in the movie – would have to check.  The part of the teacher, I believe.

According to IMDb's entry for Curse of Bigfoot which is basically the same movie with new footage added on, the role of the teacher (Roger Mason) was acted by Bob Clymire. Does that sound accurate?

Johnny in Teenagers Battle The Thing
Bob Clymire as Johnny in TBTT
No. Bob Clymire played my boyfriend.  I'm sure of that.

You just answered my next question but I want to confirm. The character of Johnny, whom you walk with holding hands to the General Store to buy some pop, is actually played by Bob Clymire?

Yes.

I've just noticed we've been calling him Don Flocker but he's listed as Dave Flocker. It is Dave, correct? I think we've been confusing his name with the one he's credited on screen for the film, which is Don Fields.

I really remember him as Don Flocker, but after all this time I could be wrong. Hm. I don't know. I remember him as Don, and his brother Jim. Somewhere I have an original newspaper write up and I'll try to find it.

If it's not too much to ask, if you could find that newspaper write up, it would help a lot and be greatly appreciated!

I looked and looked – and just cannot find it.  Went through the box I thought it would be in.   I know it was published in the Upland News, Upland California in 1958 – and there was a debut at the Grove Theater in Upland.  The Upland News wrote about it.  The movie first was named Ivanpah but I am unsure when that was changed to Teenagers Battle the Thing.

So sorry.

That's too bad. I'm really curious what information could be in that article. Thanks for searching for it anyway. If you ever do come across it at a later date, please let me know.
It's not all bad news though. I was able to get in contact with Phil Catalli, who was one of the students in the added-on footage in Curse of Bigfoot.

Here's what Phil had to say:

Teenagers Battle The Thing
Dave Flocker in Teenagers Battle the Thing
"The teacher who was in the first part of the movie was Dave Flocker... he's not a professional actor but a teacher at the school where we filmed this scene in 1976... Alta Loma High School... Dave was the brother of Jim Flocker aka ..."Jim Fields" the writer & director of the original 1958 version of Teenagers Battle The Thing... Dave actually is in that movie as well... The movie was not long enough when a distributor wanted to buy rights to the movie, so Jim added the extra 1/2  (hour) scene in the beginning... He didn't even change the credits!.... Very low budget as you can see... I worked for Jim at the time and a aspiring actor at the time so he wrote (me) in as Danny.. "The Griffin Dude"... I was very nervous at the time since I was only 18...The other unpaid kids in the classroom scene were drama students at the school... Anyhow.. I can go on & on about it... if you need any more info, let me know... Jim Flocker was a great mentor in my life at the time even tho he made a lot of low budget late night type TV movies..." - Phil Catalli

Danny in Curse of Bigfoot
Phil Catalli as Danny "The Griffin Dude" in Curse of Bigfoot
Curse of Bigfoot
Dave Flocker in Curse of Bigfoot






Oh boy. It just gets more confusing by the moment.  I do happen to have a VHS tape of the movie and at least there are some names on it that might be helpful. 
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Jan & Bob as Sharon & Johnny in TBTT
What I read on this VHS back cover agrees with my memory that it was Don Flocker or Fields who directed the movie and his brother, J.T. Fields is who is shown in the photo you showed Phil Catalli.  J.T. Also played in the film as the teacher. The expert from the museum was William Simonsen.  Bob Clymire was a student from Fontana high school – and he and I were supposed to be boyfriend and girlfriend and took the walk through the orange grove to the grocery store, that was actually the Etiwanda Country Grocery store, with a wooden boardwalk like porch on Etiwanda Blvd….

VHS front cover
VHS front cover for TBTT
I still don't recall anyone named Dave Fields or Flocker.  Don is what I remember. (editor's note: it's possible that Dave Flocker not only used his pseudonym Don Fields on screen but also on the film set which would explain Jan remembering him as Don)
And yes, that is me reclining in the chair and I have no memory of this photo being taken but am sure it was.  We  (Don and his brother, Jim) went to Sears to shop for two sets of clothes I wore for the whole movie – the beige blouse and the brown bermudas.

Thank you for the cover image and back cover synopsis. That does help. However, the fact that you and Phil disagree about which brother played the teacher leaves that role credit unresolved. At least I now know he wasn't played by Bob Clymire.

Okay. I was there, though.

Sorry, Jan. I didn't mean to doubt you. I've just never seen so much contradicting information about a movie.

Here's another example I found doing more research this morning. I'm not saying I accept these as fact, I would just like to get your comment on them.

A user with the profile name tim on the Monster Kid Classic Horror Forum wrote:


I was in touch with COB (Curse of Bigfoot) star Jan Swihart a few years ago. She is now known as Jan Hart and is a teacher, artist and writer. She has a web site, too: www.janhart.com. She remembered her work on the film very fondly, doing it as a favour for a friend, but she never pursued a career in acting.

Another user with the profile TomWeaver999 who claims to know Bob Clymire wrote:


For those of you who occasionally ask yourself, "I wonder what TEENAGERS BATTLE THE THING star Jan Swihart is doin' right now..."

http://www.janhart.com/

She commented on the movie on Amazon and mentioned that it was shot in 1958 but her co-star Bob Clymire emphatically told me it was 1963. Who do you trust??


In my opinion, I would say it looks more like 1958 than 1963. Assuming he did talk with Bob, how do you think he came up with that year, Jan? 

That is utterly ridiculous.  I was still in high school. It was 1958. In 1963 I was at the University of California in Santa Barbara…and certainly not doing a movie.

It was 1958 and the footage shows it. (editor's note: I'll take Jan's word over TomWeaver999's second-hand information)

In your review on Amazon.com, you mention how much fun you all had making the movie. Can you recall any behind-the-scenes stories about what made it so much fun? Which cast member was the most fun to be around?


Teenagers Battle The Thing
Bob Clymire (Johnny) & Ruth Ann Manella (Linda)
The fun was in the experience!  An experience of a lifetime. I had wanted to be an actress and was a drama student in my high school, dreaming of one day making it to Hollywood! This experience let me understand, in addition to the fun and the novelty, just how much work was involved.  It began at 5 a.m. With all the makeup I had to put on.  Don supplied me with some makeup that he said was necessary for the camera – and it took awhile to put on each morning. Then the day went from around 7 a m to 7 pm. - out on location wherever we were filming. The fun was with the other cast members, waiting around for our parts…  I was fortunate to have my good friend, Ruth Ann as the closest cast member to me. I knew her and we did Drama class and plays together in Upland High school – and she was a very funny, very upbeat person. I loved the days with her. I wasn't as close to the other cast members – who were from different high schools and all guys.  I remember it as a unique opportunity and though I didn't really feel like I got a chance to explore acting a lot – I did have this wonderful, very unique 5 week (I think) experience in the summer of 1958. 

Were you paid for acting in the film?

No. No payment nor any promise for payment later. Just experience and the credits.

In another response, you mentioned that the Flocker brothers took you to Sears to buy the clothes you wore in the film. Was this at their expense or yours? Did any of the other cast members go on that shopping trip?

I have no idea if the other cast members had clothes buying days at all.  I didn't think about it until now., This was at their expense completely.  Somehow, or for some reason, they wanted me to be wearing the same thing every day – and I did.  I cannot recall about the others and cannot recall talking about it.  I just have this flash memory of standing in Sears at a rack of blouses – and I wasn't crazy about beige (still am not) but they were…

I imagine it was better than whoever had to wear "The Thing" outfit ? What was your impression of seeing the creature costume on set for the first time and was the head really made of paper mache?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
The Thing (aka the mummy) from TBTT

 I believe the head was made of paper mache – and really didn't think about the mummy outfit much, honestly.  We were young and really had nothing to compare it with – there were no other mummies out there after all.  I didn't question it at all.  If Dave and Jim thought it was fine it must be.  This was really one of the first… 
  
Can you recall who played the role of the mummy?


That's an interesting question I never wondered about.  We didn't interact with the mummy and I don't know who played the role…


I doubt you would know this either but it won't hurt to ask. Do you know who acted as the sheriff? He didn't seem to have too much acting experience.


Teenagers Battle The Thing
The Sheriff in TBTT


Have no idea.  Sorry.  We didn't even really meet him.  He just suddenly was there as I recall.


The scene where Sharon and Johnny walk to the store was obviously filmed on a bright sunny day but the you had to pretend it was night. Johnny remarks that the moon is so bright that a flashlight is not needed. Sharon remarks that there must be a billion stars in the night sky. While filming that scene, did you think that there was no way viewers would be convinced that it was after sundown?

No, not at all.
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Day-for-night scene in TBTT
I never had any feelings about whether or not the viewers would be convinced. I was just asked to do it, to act and was told that the filters that they would be using would make it feel and look like night. I was acting. 

I think that you are coming from a perspective that this was a really not believable horror film and how could these actors even think they were doing a credible job.  That wasn't our perspective at all.  I was just doing what I thought was the best I could do and believing that the director could make it work as he said he could.

Memorable line from Sharon: "Look at the stars. There must be billions of them!"


Unfortunately, Jan quit responding to my questions after that last one. I think she misunderstood the tone of my question and thought I was ridiculing her performance which couldn't be further from the truth. It's hard to conduct an interview via email and convey the tone that is intended. What I was trying to convey with the last question is with her never having filmed a movie before, I just thought she might have been surprised that a nighttime scene could be shot during daylight known as a day-for-night scene. I sent her one last email but she never responded and I didn't want to bother her any further. 

It's no secret that I love low-budget horror and monster movies. This blog is proof of that. Further evidence is the movie poster I designed for Teenagers Battle The Thing that you can see at the top of this post. I wouldn't have spent the amount of time I did on that or this interview or the trailer I cut together if I didn't have some affection for the movie. Is the film cheesy, are the effects ineffective and the monster design poor? Yes but I understand why and can appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do with a severely-limited budget. It's hard making a movie and it was especially hard back in 1958.

So what I would like Jan to know is that despite its flaws, I love TBTT. I love it for the same reasons I love Manos: The Hands of Fate. Those are two great examples of why I started this blog.

There were so many more questions I wish I got to ask Jan, especially about her art. Still, it was nice of her to take time to answer the questions I did get to ask and for that I thank her. Be sure to visit her website and check out her beautiful paintings and read her blog.

Watch this great video with breath-taking scenery featuring Jan's home and studio in Costa Rica. There are some awesome aerial shots that really give you a great view of her beautiful surroundings.



Here's one last thought from Jan with a review of TBTT on Amazon.com

You had to be there.

This was filmed during the summer of 1958 in the orange groves and nearby interesting places around Upland and Alta Loma, California. It took us about 6 weeks to film it and then it played one night at the Grove Theater in Upland. We all signed autographs.

What fun we had making it!

- Jan (Swihart) Hart



Below are some screen caps of TBTT.

road sign
Ivanpah town sign
Teenagers Battle The Thing
1954 Willys Jeep Pickup Truck

Teenagers Battle The Thing
The teens and teacher relax at the cabin
Teenagers Battle The Thing
The group explore their surroundings





















There's still a lot more I would like to know about Teenagers Battle The Thing and hope that some of the other surviving cast members will read this and be kind enough to fill in the gaps of missing information. What are your memories of the filming of the movie? Friends and relatives of the cast are also welcome to offer any details they can.

Teenagers Battle The Thing
Bob Clymire (Johnny)
According to the Sept. 19th, 1961 edition of  the Redlands Daily Facts, Bob Clymire was an English and drama major and member of the junior class. He was one of four UR students who attended an International Student Relations Seminar that summer. As a freshman, Clymire played on the frosh baseball squad and served on the Frosh Council. He was awarded honors at entrance to the university. He has been active in student government as sophomore representative and served on the Hong Kong committee and the Convoca tion committee. He has performed in many UR drama productions. Bob was student body president of Fontana High school. He was a member of Alpha Gamma Nu social fraternity.

Memorable line from Johnny: "Boy, I could sure go for a bottle of pop!"


Teenagers Battle The Thing
Dennis Kottmeier (Bob)
Dennis Kottmeier who played the role of Bob, recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Jacque. The Montclair High School sweethearts were both members of the student body and graduated in 1962. They were married Jan. 23, 1964. Dennis graduated Hastings College of Law in 1969 and worked for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. He eventually became the DA in 1981 and retired in 1995. He and his wife have four children and fifteen grandchildren.

Happy belated anniversary, Dennis & Jacque! If you happen to read this, I'd really appreciate any information you could provide about TBTT. Just write something in the comment section if you have any relevant information to add.

Memorable line from Bob: "By the way, you can bring me back a bottle of orange pop if you want"



Teenagers Battle The Thing
Ruth Ann Manella (Linda)
I don't know if Ruth Ann Manella-Mariana on Facebook is the same person who played the role of Linda in Teenagers Battle the Thing but judging from her profile photo, there seems to be a strong resemblance. Ruth Ann from the movie was a classmate and friend of Jan when they attended Upland High School. I found this information only after my correspondence with Jan ended, otherwise I would have asked her if she could verify this or if they keep in touch. I don't have a Facebook account so I'm unable to ask Ruth Ann myself if she is the same person as the one in TBTT.

Memorable line from Linda: "It's sure that if I go out there, something important will happen here and if I stay here, they'll probably find a flying saucer."


Teenagers Battle The Thing
Ken Kloepfer (Norman)
According to the May 28, 1986 edition of the San Bernardino County Sun,  Kenneth L. Kloepfer who attended Chaffey High School, was a judge in San Bernardino, Ca., lived with his wife and two kids in Rancho, Cucamonga and is possibly the same Ken Kloepfer who played the role of Norman in TBTT. He seems to be about the right age and lived in the same area as most of the other TBTT cast members.




Memorable line from Norman: "Hey! It moved!"

Teenagers Battle The Thing
Dave Flocker (Roger Mason)


Dave Flocker's film credits aren't too numerous after TBTT. Besides reprising his role as Roger Mason in Curse of Bigfoot (1976), his only other acting part seems to have been in a film called Ground Zero (1973), on which he is also credited as cinematographer. His last known credit is as a gaffer on The Lucifer Complex. It's interesting to note that although he is credited for directing TBTT (as Don Fields), it's his brother James, the writer of that film (as J.T. Fields) who went on to direct more than one film, Ghost Ship being his last in 1992. Unfortunately in doing my research for this post, I was disappointed to discover some disturbing information concerning James T. Flocker.

Memorable line from Roger: "Well it's sure that if a hunting rifle didn't stop it, that revolver of yours wouldn't do much good either."

Teenagers Battle The Thing
Bill Simonsen (Dr. Bill Wyman)
There's not a whole lot of information available on Bill Simonsen who acted in the role of of Dr. Bill Wyman in TBTT. It's his only film credit. His acting is not too bad which would lead me to believe he had some prior experience but the fact that he has no other credits listed under his name makes me assume that he was probably a friend of the filmmakers. It's possible he was a stage actor who acted in a few plays that the Flocker brothers saw and asked him if he would be interested in acting in a low-budget film. That's purely speculation on my part. I do know one thing. Ryan Stiles would be a dead ringer if there was ever a remake.

Memorable line from Bill: "It stood erect but was larger than a man."




Details on the film's remaining cast members are even more mysterious.

Walt the Sheriff
It was already established in the interview with Jan Hart that we don't know who played the Sheriff. Memorable line: "Bill, of all the weird stories I've heard, this is the strangest."

Girl Talking on Telephone
By process of elimination, I've determined that Mary Brownless is the girl on the phone at the Mitchell ranch who meets an untimely demise at the hands of the mummy. She's one of three females credited on screen and Jan already positively identified herself and Ruth Ann Manella as students Sharon and Linda. Memorable line: "Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"

The Thing (Mummy)
Probably the biggest mystery to be solved from this film is who portrayed the mummy? Memorable line: "Grrrrr!"




Teenagers Battle The Thing
Mary Brownless
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Walt the Sheriff

Teenagers Battle The Thing
Who is that masked man as the mummy?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Mummy aka The Thing











                                                                                                                                                                

Watch the complete film of Teenagers Battle The Thing. I took the liberty of adding a new graphic for the screen title.




Enjoy these screen caps from TBTT with some silly captions.

Teenagers Battle The Thing
Have you been flossing after every meal?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Jeep Willys
Teenagers Battle The Thing
 Teaching the Thing to tango
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Did I forget to turn the oven off?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
The hills are alive
Teenagers Battle The Thing
You can't see me
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Will you marry me, Roger?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Hold on. There's a cool song on the radio
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Sharon & Johnny respecting the Sheriff's authority
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Get me an orange pop!
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Rock
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Hard Place
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Does anybody think we look like ants up here?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Speak softly and carry a prayer stick
Teenagers Battle The Thing
There's a mummy in them thar orange groves
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Lincoln County Museum
Teenagers Battle The Thing
I think mummy overdid it with the mud mask
Teenagers Battle The Thing
When mud baths go wrong
Teenagers Battle The Thing
A perfect place for a picnic
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Norman is astonished as Linda looks on
Teenagers Battle The Thing
What do you suppose it is?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Norman, Sharon & Linda sifting stuff
Teenagers Battle The Thing
The church of archaeology
Teenagers Battle The Thing
I can see my house from here!
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Coming down the mountain
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Norman, Johnny, Dr. Wyman, Bob & Roger
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Johnny, Roger & The Sheriff investigate
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Johnny, Dr. Wyman and Roger Mason
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Bob & Dr. Wyman
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Roger loves to holler
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Roger Mason with Sharon & Bob in background
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Roger Mason on the lookout
Teenagers Battle The Thing
He didn't shoot the Sheriff
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Etiwanda Country Grocery Store
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Coughing up the dime plus 3 cents deposit
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Johnny & Dr. Wyman
Teenagers Battle The Thing
The wise Dr. Wyman
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Roger notices Dr. Wyman's resemblance to Ryan Stiles
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Dr. Wyman with a prehistoric cell phone
Teenagers Battle The Thing
On closer inspection, it looks like a rock
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Yup. It's a rock alright.
Teenagers Battle The Thing
1959 Chevrolet Parkwood
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Orange Grove Drive
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Are we there yet?
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Look, Ma! No seat-belts!
Teenagers Battle The Thing
In the back of a red pickup truck
Teenagers Battle The Thing
On the way to mummy's place
Teenagers Battle The Thing
Linda, Sharon, Johnny, Bob, Dr. Wyman, Norman & Roger


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