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I–K Entries
Steve Ihnat
Michael Jackson
Russell Johnson
Tor Johnson
Nathan Juran
Boris Karloff
Buster Keaton
DeForest Kelley
Erle C. Kenton
Val Kilmer
Akira Kubo
Stanley Kubrick
 
JOHNSON, TOR
(1903–1971). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Ghost Catchers (uncredited) (Edward F. Cline 1944); The Canterville Ghost (uncredited) (Jules Dassin and Norman Z. McLeod, uncredited 1944);  Angels in the Outfield (uncredited) (Clarence Brown 1951); "Inferno from Space" (1954), episode of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; Bride of the Monster (Edward D. WOOD, Jr. 1956); Carousel (uncredited) (Henry King 1956); The Black Sleep (Reginald LE BORG 1956); The Unearthly (Brooke L. Peters 1957); Plan Nine from Outer Space (Wood 1959); Night of the Ghouls (Wood 1959); "Pippi Longstocking" (1961), episode of Shirley Temple Theatre;  The Beast of Yucca Flats (Coleman Francis 1961).
 
People may be consulting this volume for various reasons, such as a quest for information about one favorite performer or some moderate curiosity about the world of science fiction films in general. But there are some, like Frank WU, who haunt its pages because of a deep, compulsive fascination with certain types of science fiction film which, their rational minds tell them, really deserved to be completely ignored, and there are not that many places where the likes of Nick ADAMS, Edward L. CAHN, Frederic GADETTE, Adam WEST, and George Worthing YATES may receive detailed and sympathetic consideration. I will now write an entry to serve as the ultimate litmus test: I will write about Tor Johnson, and if you recognize the name, and if you have even the slightest bit of interest in what I will say about him, then count yourself as one of the hopelessly addicted.

The conventions of film references require that the man be called an "actor"—but of course, he was actually no such thing, never revealing in any of his appearances anything resembling acting talent. A better way to describe him would be as a Presence, a strikingly large, bald man who inevitably commanded your attention and added a certain strange ambience to the films that chose to focus on him for more than a few seconds. And in this way, he could make very, very bad films a little bit better.

After immigrating from Sweden, Johnson worked for many years as a professional wrestler, in an era where these men were underpaid and mostly invisible. He drifted into films with a series of tiny parts, usually uncredited, as a strongman in a circus or carnival. That might have been the end of the story, but in the 1950s he encountered a director named Edward D. WOOD, Jr., who would (in certain odd circles) briefly make him famous before recurring heart problems forced him into retirement. Wood first cast him as Bela LUGOSI's henchman in the risible Bride of the Monster, where (as in all his films) he moved stiffly, recited his lines badly, and somehow seemed fascinating nevertheless. Similarly suspect performances followed in similarly awful films:  The Black Sheep, The Unearthly, and Wood's own Night of the Ghouls.

But two films stand out as Johnson's masterpieces, if one can sanely apply that term to any of his films. As a police captain transformed by aliens into a mindless zombie, he is the true star of the notorious Plan Nine from Outer Space; you may try very hard to forget everything about that film, but you will forever recall watching him slowly stagger across the screen, arms held stiffly in front of him, a figure genuinely frightening but also a poignant embodiment of the zombie's tragic plight. Then there is the film that actually cast him as its star, The Beast of Yucca Flats, best described as what would happen if someone attempted to film The Incredible Hulk with a total budget of seventeen dollars. In an astonishingly abominable film that even lacked a soundtrack, John was predictably unpersuasive as a scientist transformed by radiation into a sort of monster. Yet, over the years, many people have watched this film attentively and appreciatively—for to them, it is something genuinely important: it is a Tor Johnson film.

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