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David E. Durston, a writer and director best known for the 1970 cult horror classic “I Drink Your Blood,” died May 6 in his West Hollywood home of complications from pneumonia. He was 88.
Durston wrote for such ground-breaking TV shows as “Playhouse 90,” “Studio One,” “Rheingold Playhouse,” “Tales of Tomorrow” — one of the earliest science-fiction anthology shows — “Kraft Theater” and “Danger.”
He also produced the NBC musical variety show “Your Hit Parade” as well as the annual broadcast of the Tournament of Roses Parade for all three major TV networks during the late 1950s. Durston continued to write and develop original screenplays into his late 80s.
In the mid-’60s, he made the jump into directing his own low-budget, independent features. The first of these was “The Love Statue,” a 1966 black-and-white fantasy that explored the effects of LSD on a group of Greenwich Village bohemians.
Later, Jerry Gross of distributor Cinemation commissioned Durston to write and direct a no-holds-barred drive-in horror film. Combining Manson-style hippies, meat pies and a rabies epidemic, Durston created “I Drink Your Blood.”
“Blood” played with “I Eat Your Skin” (aka “Zombies”) on a double feature, and many fans put Durston’s film in the same class as such genre greats as “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Last House on the Left.”
His next film dealt with an epidemic of different kind. Tapped to write and direct a film for producer Charles Moss Jr., he fashioned a script about venereal disease called “Stigma.” The 1972 film introduced Philip Michael Thomas (“Miami Vice”) in the lead role of a doctor who discovers an outbreak of syphilis in an uptight New England community.
In 1979, producer Henry Blanke (“The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) brought Durston from New York to Hollywood to script an adventure film called “The Savage’s Apprentice.” The pic was to be directed by John Huston, with a prospective cast including Julie Christie and Dean Martin.
But after five months of work on the screenplay, the production was called off with Blanke in poor health. Durston contended that working with Huston and Blanke was one of the most rewarding and instructive experiences of his career.
Durston’s sharp editorial skills brought him work as a “film doctor” for numerous productions. He dubbed and directed insert sequences for the Turkish art film “Dry Summer,” later released on the fest circuit as “Reflections.” The movie won the Golden Bear for best film at the 1964 Berlin International Film Festival. Durston also supervised the dubbed U.S. version of Joe Sarno’s “The Seduction of Inga” (1971).
A native of Newcastle, Pa., Durston began as a stage actor, appearing in such works as Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” (in which he replaced Montgomery Clift), “Night Must Fall” and “Young Man’s Fancy.” One of his early roles as Tony Kirby in a summer stock production of “You Can’t Take It With You” brought him into contact with Broadway legend Moss Hart, who became an early mentor to Durston and encouraged the actor to write his own scripts.
Durston was one of many cast members in the Broadway production of “Winged Victory” who went on to appear in George Cukor’s 1944 film version.
He also found time to star in a demented play called “The Drunkard” and toured with family friend Bela Lugosi in productions of “Dracula” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“My father, who was German, knew Bela in Europe when Bela of a matinee idol in the theater,” Durston once said. “When Bela came to New York for a theater engagement, Dad and Bela got together, and when Bela came to the house, we all met him. I was about 12 years old then. When I grew up, I met Bela again, and we had two opportunities to work together.”
Durston is survived by his nephew, actor Jack Damon.
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