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How Did ALF Work?

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alf.wikia.com

Shortly after ALF debuted on NBC in 1986, the furry little wisecracking alien was seemingly everywhere: on lunchboxes, in toy stores, on T-shirts, and hanging from rear-view mirrors. Even though he had terrible table manners and house cats weren’t safe around him, ALF seemed like he’d be a fun guy to work with. But all was not happy on the set, due in no small part to the logistical nightmare Paul Fusco’s puppet presented.

Being ALF

For the first two seasons of the show, there was a little person inside of an ALF costume for any full-body scenes. At one point, 33-inch-tall Mihaly “Michu” Meszaros was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest person. And while life in his native Hungary as a youth was brutal (thanks to unscrupulous circus owners), a day in a furry costume under hot studio lights may often have been worse.

Any close-ups or talking shots of ALF were a puppet operated by the alien’s creator, Paul Fusco. The entire soundstage was built on a four-foot-high platform so that Fusco could sit underneath it and make ALF move and talk through one of the dozens of trap doors that were cut through the floor.

Members of the cast had to carefully negotiate the stage while reciting their lines without stumbling, and also without constantly gazing downward to make sure they avoided all the possible pitfalls. And every time ALF was moved to a different spot, all the lighting and camera positions had to be readjusted, making for endless delays. While a typical 30-minute sitcom takes about three to five hours to actually film, the ALF cast was required on stage and in makeup/wardrobe for 20 to 25 hours (spread over two days) to film each episode. Not surprisingly, none of the actors involved were disappointed when ALF was cancelled after its fourth season.

Where Are They Now?

Max Wright
The actor who played Willie Tanner had the most onscreen time with ALF, much to his consternation. Wright often resented all the best jokes being given to a puppet, but because of his hilarious portrayal of the long-suffering family patriarch, many of the plots paired him in some adventure or scheme with the furry alien. Wright went on to co-star in The Norm Show and make occasional appearances as the Central Perk manager on Friends. Sadly he received some unwanted publicity in 2005 when a tabloid published photos of him smoking crack cocaine. He now prefers to act in the theater, and acknowledges that despite his complaints at the time, “ALF brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”

Anne Schedeen
After playing Kate Tanner, Anne Schedeen did a few small guest roles on other series, but she ultimately retired from acting. She turned her love of scavenging through antique shops and flea markets into a second career; she’s been professionally decorating the homes of friends and fellow actors in the Los Angeles area for the past dozen or so years.

Andrea Elson
While playing teenaged daughter Lynn on the show, Elson met a production assistant named Scott Hopper. Romance bloomed and the pair married in 1993. Elson continued to act for a while, but after the birth of her daughter in 1997 she decided that being a mom was the full-time job that appealed to her the most.

Benjamin Gregory Hertzberg
Benji Gregory, as he was known when he played the youngest Tanner, has mostly fond memories of life on the ALF set. However, he also remembered that the main thing he wanted to do every day was go home and skateboard. He’d started acting in commercials at age 13 months, and even though he did do a few cartoon voice-overs after ALF ended, he decided that he’d had enough. His parents invested his earnings and he went to the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. In 2003 he joined the U.S. Navy and eventually became an Aerographer's Mate at The Center for Naval Education in Biloxi, MS. Today he lives with his wife in Arizona.

Mihaly “Michu” Meszaros
Michu, who’d defected from Hungary in 1980, became a U.S. citizen in 1990, an occasion he described as “the biggest day of my life.” After retiring from show business, Michu became a real estate developer. The city of Hawthorne in southern California named its shortest street “Michu Lane.”

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11 Terrifying Facts About The Hills Have Eyes
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Image Entertainment

In the late 1970s, Wes Craven was a struggling filmmaker known for only one thing: a little horror flick called The Last House on the Left (1972). Though he was itching to branch out and make other kinds of movies, he could only find financing for horror films, so he agreed to make a movie about a group of hill people savaging a vacationing family. Though he may not have been in a hurry to admit it, Craven found that he was really good at scaring people.

Produced on a tight budget, under sometimes grueling conditions, The Hills Have Eyes cemented Craven as one of Hollywood’s great horror masters. The film was released 40 years ago today, and it’s just as brutal as ever. So let’s look back on its unflinching terror with 11 facts about the film’s production.

1. IT WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

According to writer/director Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes was inspired by the story of Sawney Bean, the head of a wild Scottish clan who murdered and cannibalized numerous people during the Middle Ages. Craven heard the story of the Bean clan, and noted that the road near where they lived was believed to be haunted because people kept disappearing while traveling on it. He adapted the story to instead be about a group of wild people in the American West, and The Hills Have Eyes was born.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY NECESSITY.

After Craven released The Last House on the Left in 1972, he tried his hand at making films outside of the horror genre, but according to the late director, “Nobody wanted to know about it.” In need of money and searching for a better career path, he finally answered the request of his friend, producer Peter Locke, to write a horror film. At the time, Locke’s wife Liz Torres was performing regularly in Las Vegas, and so Locke was frequently exposed to desert landscapes. He suggested that Craven set the film in the desert, and Craven began to craft the screenplay.

Budget was also a concern, so Craven structured the film to feature a relatively small cast and very few locations.

3. JANUS BLYTHE WON HER ROLE BASED PARTLY ON SPEED.

For the role of Ruby, the filmmakers needed an actress who could pull off the flighty and feral character convincingly, so, in the words of Locke: “We had sprints.” Actresses trying out for the role were asked to race each other, and Blythe’s speed won out.

4. PETER LOCKE PLAYS A SMALL ROLE IN THE FILM.

Because of the film’s small budget, even Locke was drafted to join the cast. He appears as “Mercury,” the feather-covered savage who appears only twice: once in the film’s opening minutes, and then again as he’s pushed off a cliff by the Carter family’s dog, Beast.

5. THE TARANTULA SCENE WASN’T PLANNED.

The scene in which Lynne Wood (Dee Wallace) discovers a tarantula in the family trailer is a foreboding moment that signals the trauma to come, but it wasn’t in the script. According to Craven, they simply found the spider on the road during shooting, put it in a terrarium, and decided to add it into the film. Don’t worry, though: Wallace didn’t actually stomp the spider in the scene.

6. THE DEAD DOG WAS REAL (BUT THEY DIDN’T KILL IT).

During the scene in which Doug (Martin Speer) discovers the mutilated body of the family’s other German Shepherd, Beauty, a real dog corpse was used. According to Craven, though, the dog was already dead.

“Let’s just say we bought a dead dog from the county and leave it at that,” Craven said.

7. THE FILM WAS ORIGINALLY RATED X.

Though it might seem relatively tame by modern standards, the film’s graphic violence earned it an X (what we now call NC-17) rating from the MPAA, which meant cuts had to be made. According to Locke, significant footage was removed from the scene in which Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) kills Fred (John Steadman), the scene in which Pluto (Michael Berryman) and Mars (Lance Gordon) terrorize the trailer, and the final confrontation with Papa Jupiter.

8. MICHAEL BERRYMAN CONSTANTLY FACED HEATSTROKE.

Berryman, who became a horror icon thanks to this film, was apparently game for just about anything Craven and company wanted him to do, though he personally told the producers he was born with “26 birth defects.” Among those birth defects was a lack of sweat glands, which meant that the intense desert heat was particularly hazardous to his health. He soldiered on, though, even in intense action sequences.

“We always had to cover him up as soon as we finished these scenes,” Craven recalled.

9. THE CLIMACTIC EXPLOSION COULD’VE BEEN DEADLY.

Because the budget was small, production on The Hills Have Eyes often meant taking risks. Actors performed stunts themselves, sometimes putting themselves in harm’s way. For the scene in which Brenda (Susan Lanier) and Bobby (Robert Houston) set a trap to kill Papa Jupiter by blowing up the trailer, the crew members who set the explosion actually couldn’t tell Craven whether it was safe to have the actors in the foreground of the shot.

“We didn’t know how much of a blow-up it was gonna be,” Craven said.

10. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS MUCH MORE HOPEFUL.

According to Locke, the film’s original scripted ending involved the surviving family members reuniting at the site of the trailer, including Doug and the baby, signifying that they had survived and could finally look forward. Craven, though, opted for something more bleak, and so the film ends on a shot of Doug brutally stabbing Mars while Ruby looks on in disgust, a reversal of roles that the director liked.

11. IT STARTED AN INTERESTING CHAIN OF HORROR HOMAGES.

The Hills Have Eyes is admired by fellow horror filmmakers, so much so that one of them—Evil Dead director Sam Raimi—chose to pay homage to it in a strange way. In the scene in which Brenda is quivering in bed after having been brutalized by Pluto and Mars, a ripped poster for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is visible above her head. Raimi saw it as a message.

“I took it to mean that Wes Craven … was saying ‘Jaws was just pop horror. What I have here is real horror.’”

As a joking response to the scene, Raimi put a ripped poster for The Hills Have Eyes in his now-classic film The Evil Dead (1981). Not to be outdone, Craven responded by including a clip from The Evil Dead in his classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

Additional Sources: The Hills Have Eyes DVD commentary by Wes Craven and Peter Locke (2003)

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Tiny Star Wars Fans Can Now Cruise Around in Their Very Own Landspeeders
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Radio Flyer

Some kids collect Hot Wheels, while others own model lightsabers and dream of driving Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder through a galaxy far, far away. Soon, Mashable reports, these pint-sized Jedis-in-training can pilot their very own replicas of the fictional anti-gravity craft: an officially licensed, kid-sized Star Wars Landspeeder, coming in September from American toy company Radio Flyer.

The Landspeeder has an interactive dashboard with light-up buttons, and it plays sounds from the original Star Wars film. The two-seater doesn’t hover, exactly, but it can zoom across desert sands (or suburban sidewalks) at forward speeds of up to 5 mph, and go in reverse at 2 mph.

The vehicle's rechargeable battery allows for around five hours of drive time—just enough for tiny Star Wars fans to reenact their way through both the original 1977 movie and 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. (Sorry, grown-up sci-fi nerds: The toy ride supports only up to 130 pounds, so you’ll have to settle for pretending your car is the Death Star.)

Radio Flyer’s Landspeeder will be sold at Toys “R” Us stores. It costs $500, and is available for pre-order online now.

Watch it in action below:

[h/t Mashable]

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