By Jerry Chandler
I came to support a friend, but I initially stayed around largely for the Black Saint. That’s perhaps the best way to describe the start of the path that set me on my way to meet and become friends with Santos Ellin Jr. My friend, NC indie filmmaker Bill Mulligan, had met John “Doc Rotten” Slattery during the making of the indie film Fix It In Post. They hit it off well and Doc invited Bill onto one of his older podcasts to discuss a subject near and dear to Bill’s heart, films that were never released. Of course, in support of my friend, I tuned in and shared the podcast when and where I could. Plus, hey, it was a genuinely enjoyable podcast discussion, and it led to Doc having Bill back for a different podcast, the Decades of Horror the 1970s podcast to discuss The Wicker Man. It was there that I (so I initially thought) first encountered The Black Saint and his gleefully expressed love of the types of films that filled the exploitation theaters in the New York of the 1970s.
Santos was one of the primary voices helping to grow the then young Horror News Radio podcast and the even younger Decades of Horror podcast. Along with Doc, he was one of the only two hosts of the initial Decades of Horror the 1970s, and he was a part of the chorus of voices (along with Doc, Dave Dreher, Thomas Mariani, and Vixen, the Voice of Reason) that made Horror News Radio so much fun. Everyone on the podcasts was good, and they all more than did their part to make the shows as enjoyable as they were informative. But Santos brought a little something extra to many of the shows, especially the Decades of Horror shows, thanks to his experiences and his enthusiasm.
Santos was old enough that he had spent his early teenage years going with his father to see the various films being discussed in the theaters of Times Square in the New York of the 1970s. When he got old enough, he was still going on his own. There was a firsthand knowledge of the experience that often brought out some colorful stories about the experiences with those films in the old exploitation theaters that brought a little something extra to the discussions about them. It was also the time in his life that seemed to have made him the diehard horror hound that he was, seeking not only to watch and enjoy these films but also to know as much about them as possible.
It made him a knowledgeable voice to listen to, but, far more important than that, his love of these movies for what they were came through a thousand fold whenever he talked about them. It didn’t matter if it was a movie you’d seen or not, an hour with the Black Saint heaping praise upon them and you wanted it to be a long cherished favorite from your movie collection as well. As it stood, another reason I enjoyed Santos on Decades of Horror so much, most of the movies he lavished praise on were also longtime genre favorites of mine. It was nice hearing someone else speak so highly and passionately of films that in most cases got me blank looks when I brought them up in discussions in my day to day life. By the time Bill was making his return to Decades of Horror to discuss The Sentinel, I was onboard as a loyal fan of DoH for Doc and (especially) Santos as much or more (probably more) than I was to support my friend’s ever expending career and name in indie horror.
It was when Decades of Horror covered The Manitou that I realized that I knew of Santos Ellin Jr. and his love of the same offbeat films I loved before I’d ever heard the names Doc Rotten, Decades of Horror, or Horror News Radio. A few of the things he said in the podcast rang a bell. Two years before the podcast covering The Manitou, Santos had caught my eye back with his written work in a 2013 issue of Fangoria when he wrote about the same film there.
In Fangoria #321, Santos had written a two-page feature, a look back as it were, on the film where he expressed a level of love for The Manitou that made Trekkies look like merely casual fans of Star Trek. It was in this article I first saw him explain that his love for the film was so great that he owned three copies of the DVD (two still factory sealed) as well as the older VHS edition, explaining that he even kept a copy in his car just so that he always had one to loan to people who had never seen it before. While that read like hyperbole, I would have it confirmed some years later that, yes, he had indeed been keeping a copy in his car for just that purpose for quite some time. While my love for the film may not reach such levels, I read that instalment of Trash Compactor and decided that this was a guy I liked. Having had a few Fangoria talent appear at Richmond area events already, I had hoped that Santos would eventually make his way to one such event so that I might be able to talk about The Manitou and other 1970s genre films that so many people seemed to dismiss and ignore.
Seriously, listen to this episode of Decades of Horror. You will hear not only an entertaining podcast about a film, but you will hear a man discussing one of his passions with an uncontained and infectious joy that very few others can convey. I was already a fan, but having later gotten to know Santos, even if it was relatively briefly, and discussed the film with him, I probably like it more now having had his love for the film bubble over and infect me a bit. Certainly, I will never be able to watch the film again without thinking of him or of his comments about it.
The Manitou (1978) – Episode 10 – Decades of Horror 1970s
Later, thanks to a recommendation by Bill, I would sit in on a Decades of Horror podcast dedicated to The Blind Dead franchise. I had a blast. It’s always fun to talk horror movies with Bill, but it was even more fun talking them with Bill, Doc, and Santos. If it hadn’t already been obvious from hearing how he interacted with Bill, Santos proved himself to be an extremely open and generous podcast partner. The podcasts are Doc’s babies and he has to run the show, so there’s a level of control and coordination he has to have during the show, but Santos was billed as the host. Bill at least came in with a name in indie horror. He was an award winning indie filmmaker who was already becoming a name on the regional convention and film festival scene. I was coming on with basically nothing behind me. I’d had two short runs with very short lived and by then defunct genre sites and was really only just starting to work with Needless Things. It would have been extremely easy- maybe even understandable -for Santos to have been somewhat dismissive of my presence and not been at all generous with sharing time on the show with me during discussions or at all open with me before, during, and after the recording. He was already establishing a notable career in the horror community and had been around some major names. I was just a geek who happened to really like The Blind Dead.
But Santos was one of those people who didn’t get hung up on stuff like that. He was a fan, I was a fan, we could all talk together about a shared love as fans and enjoy ourselves while doing it, and that really was all that seemed to matter to him. It was very shortly after that podcast when we connected on Facebook.
We’d spend the rest of the year chatting about whatever was the topic of the moment, whether that was horror movies, books, comic books, TV, politics, great music, or being fathers. He fast proved that inside of the gruff exterior he occasionally put on display as The Black Saint, the man that Santos was underneath that character was one of the warmest, most generous, and most supportive people anyone could be lucky enough to know. He also had a greeting hug that could crush a rib.
Santos and the rest of the Grue Crew got themselves on the radar of Derek Tatum, the head of the Dragon Con Horror Track. With the support of Derek, the HNR team found themselves coming to Dragon Con 2016 as attending professionals. It was thanks to this that I got to spend some time with Santos face to face (and jeopardize a rib) even if their schedules as attending pros and my volunteer schedule kept such meetings shorter than they otherwise might have been.
But the Grue Crew truly enjoyed their first Dragon Con experience. They all wanted to return and they were more than welcome to return as far as the Horror Track was concerned. Santos even seemed enthusiastic enough about it that he changed some of his online bios to reflect this new relationship.
This was good news for me. A 2017 return meant more time to try to spend time together this time. The Grue Crew had gotten their Dragon Con legs under them, and I was taking a year off from volunteering. This year- as the plan went before life happened -we would get together and spend a little more time talking fun things and enjoying each other’s company. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.
In late August, Santos had more than just a small medical scare. The incident put him in the hospital for about a week, and travel of any kind for some time to come was out. But talking to him afterwards, he was well on the way towards being the Santos of old and looking forward to the next opportunity for get togethers. His humor about it was certainly intact, and he was one of the first to joke with me about my very recent and far less significant than his medical scare and hospital stay. But we were both feeling good, we were both looking forward to the next get together, and we were back to discussing and joking about things such as his venturing out last week to just get Wonder Woman on Blu-Ray but ultimately sacrificing way more money than he should have to Best Buy and their horror movie Blu-Ray steel book editions.
He was doing well, he was on the mend, and life was what it should be again. A day later I learned that he had passed away.
In the over 1,800 words so far in what seems like a very poorly written tribute to the man, I still can’t find the right words to say. I still can’t figure out how to accurately or appropriately describe the loss to his family, to his longtime friends, to the horror community, to me. I feel like nothing I can write here does his passing justice. But there are at least two things his passing makes me want to ask of anyone who reads this.
It’s only a matter of time. That was the last private message I got from Santos back from when I was checking up on him after his hospital stay. It’s only a matter of time, because there’s always more time. It was a promise of good times to come a little down the road, and one he would have happily kept. But life went and quickly made that a painful reminder that there isn’t always time later on down the road.
I can’t say I knew Santos as well as many of his friends, and certainly not Doc, and it will forever be my loss that I did not have more time with Santos. In the age of social media, there are a lot of people you connect with as “friends” who when they pass you recognize the passing of, but they don’t truly leave a hole in you. The passing of Santos was one of the ones that left a hole behind in everyone who knew him in any way. But as much as I’m saddened by the loss of my friend and the loss of any more time to become a better and closer friend, there are others for whom this hole is so much worse. He had many friends in life, and he had a large family that loved him. One of his most recent big announcements was about the engagement of his daughter, an engagement he can now longer be a part of as it moves along towards marriage. As badly as I’m fumbling for words, as wretched as I feel over this loss, what they’re all feeling now dwarfs anything that I’m feeling. They no longer have time with a cherished love one.
So one thing I ask is that you take and use the time you have when you have it in front of you. Let this be another reminder that we can’t always count on there being another time down the road.
I’d also ask that you get to know him as well as you can now- in the only way you can now -if you didn’t already know him in order to help remember him. Know him through some of his work.
Santos had an uncontainable passion for the horror films he grew up on. It’s what made him so much fun to listen to on Decades of Horror. Take some time. Stream them or download them. Listen to the man’s work. Enjoy hearing someone share their passion with this much enthusiasm.
Listen to the man. Enjoy the passion he showed for the things he loved in life. Help to remember him in that way.
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“Guard well the pips, and the fruits shall grow without let.”
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Jerry Chandler writes a lot. He misses his friend, and deeply regrets not having had more time with him.