Services will be held Sunday for filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler, a longtime Las Vegan whose no-budget hits (including “The Incredible Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies”) made him a B-movie legend.
Steckler died Wednesday night at Sunrise Hospital following a 10-year battle with heart disease. He was 70.
Steckler had been hospitalized since Nov. 19, but had been in and out of the hospital “on and off since June,” said his wife, Katherine Steckler.
Last August, doctors told Steckler that he had less than nine months to live, she added.
Yet even as he faced the end, Steckler said, “‘I am the luckiest man in the world,'” his wife recalled. “‘I made a living doing something I love.'”
Granted, Steckler never became a Hollywood heavyweight with multimillion-dollar budgets at his disposal.
“If you don’t have any money, it won’t stop you if you really want to make movies,” Steckler said in 2007 when “Grindhouse” — a big-budget, two-in-one homage to Steckler-style exploitation fare — opened in theaters.
“Grindhouse” directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez “made two movies for $70 million,” he said. “And we used to make them for $10,000 apiece.”
Yet even with micro-budgets and unsung performers (including Steckler himself, performing as Cash Flagg), such favorites as 1964’s “Mixed-Up Zombies” and 1966’s “Rat Pfink a Boo Boo” made him a hero to cult connoisseurs around the world.
Born Jan. 25, 1938, In Reading, Pa., Steckler began making movies as a teen with an 8 mm camera his stepfather bought him.
His passion took him to Hollywood, where he became a freelance cinematographer working on mainstream productions in addition to his own incredibly strange creations.
Steckler moved to Las Vegas in 1970 and taught filmmaking at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Later he operated local video stores, where fans could meet the man behind the movies.
Yet the auteur behind “The Thrill Killers” also was a loving family man, “the room dad” at his daughters’ schools, who “was the one on the field trip, videotaping it for all the kids in the class,” Katherine Steckler remembered. “He was a hands-on dad.”
In addition to his wife of 23 years, Steckler is survived by daughters Linda Arnold of Maui, Hawaii, Laura Steckler of Sunland, Calif., and Morgan and Bailey Steckler, both of Las Vegas; sister Judy Conrad of Reading, Pa.; and two grandchildren.
His funeral, which is open to the public, will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Palm Mortuary-Eastern, 7600 S. Eastern Ave.
Review-Journal writer Mike Weatherford contributed to this story. Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.