Monte Hellman, the maverick director of such films as “Two-Lane Blacktop,” “The Shooting” and “Road to Nowhere,” died April 20 at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert, Calif., following a fall in his home on April 19. He was 91.
Hellman was a cult director who was widely admired within the industry, earning such fans as Quentin Tarantino; they liked his down-and-dirty storytelling, which featured poetic flourishes amid his genre films.
After working as an editor’s apprentice at ABC, he made his directing debut with the 1959 “Beast From Haunted Cave,” produced by Roger Corman. He became part of the Corman stable of veterans who learned how to get maximum impact on minimum budget. Other Corman alumni include Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard.
Hellman worked with Jack Nicholson in the 1960s, including two films shot back-to-back in the Philippines, “Back Door to Hell” and “Flight to Fury.” Hellman and Nicholson reteamed on two Westerns, “Ride the Whirlwind” and “The Shooting,” which used elements of traditional Hollywood oaters, spaghetti westerns and 1960s counter-culture sensibility.
He also directed “The Cockfighter” (1974) and “China 9, Liberty 37” (1978), both starring Warren Oates. “China” has the added distinction of a rare acting performance by Sam Peckinpah.
The road movie “Two-Lane Blacktop” opened in 1971 and the star pairing of James Taylor and Dennis Wilson drew some interest, but it wasn’t a huge hit; however, its reputation has grown over the years. Film Talk described it as “one of the greatest road movies ever made” and it was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012.
He directed “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!” (1989), a rare change of pace with a slasher sequel. He admitted it was probably his worst film, but he was proud of the fact that he started on the film in March 1989 and the final cut was ready in June.
His 2010 noir film “Road to Nowhere,” scripted by Variety‘s Steven Gaydos, won a special Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Tarantino was head of the jury and praised him as “a great cinematic artist and a minimalist poet.” Hellman later said it was the most personal of all his films.
Hellman later contributed a 90-second film to the multi-segment documentary “Venice 70: Future Reloaded” (2013).
In addition to making his own films, he directed sequences in other films and served in other capacities, such as dialogue director for Corman’s 1967 “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” and did second-unit work on “RoboCop.” He was credited as an editor on “The Wild Angels” (1966), “Two-Lane Blacktop,” and Peckinpah’s 1975 “The Killer Elite,” among others, and did uncredited editing on multiple films including the Monkees trippy comedy “Head” (1968) and the 1979 Lee Marvin vehicle “Avalanche Express.”
Hellman was an exec producer of Tarantino’s 1992 “Reservoir Dogs.” He was also a directing teacher at California Institute of the Arts.
Survivors include his daughter Melissa and son Jared.
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