Iron Range Native Recalls Cult Films, Discusses New Productions – Hometown Focus

After leaving Los Angeles in 2003 with my family, it looked like I would never get back into television and film again. I was wrong. I met new movie partners here and started writing for this publication from my hometown.

I started writing for Hometown Focus in 2014 with many stories about growing up in Virginia, summers on Lake Vermillion, being bullied for my stutter, and succeeding, to some extent, in Hollywood.

Kay Olson, actor Rock Hudson’s mother, lived with us every summer on Vermillion Lake (she lived in Newport Beach, Calif., but loved the Northwoods) and treated me like her own grandson. Rock Hudson also influenced me, saying, “Your stutter won’t hold you back.”

He was right! Twice held back in grade school, I ended up graduating from the University of Minnesota with a dual major in Journalism and Theater Arts (Film) with a B-plus average. Since the age of 7, I wanted to be an actor and make films. I even told Kay and Rock, “because I won’t stutter or be bullied.” Without Rock and his mother, I probably never would have moved to Los Angeles or made movies.

After moving straight to Los Angeles after college, in five years I helped produce two cult movies, Malibu High School and Microwave Massacre, and had the number one public access show in the country (with sponsors!), Craig Muckler’s Hollywood Showcase, and I stuttered on it.

Later, I got a call from the president of the National Stuttering Association telling me that I was an influence for people with speech disabilities across the country! As a child, of course, I hated my stutter, but it was my silver lining that drove me to produce, write and act in films!

In 2016, my now cult movie, starring Jackie Vernon, the late great comedian and voice of Frosty the Snowman, played for fans in Hollywood, and I was the guest. When I was young, our family vacationed at Kay Olson’s in December 1964. On December 23, Kay took us to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and saw Rock Hudson’s footprints. Rock told me that one day I would be on Hollywood Boulevard like him. On December 23, 2016, here I am on Hollywood Boulevard at the other Grauman’s Theatre.

I was very lucky in LA, as you can see. I got married in 1989 and started a family. We moved back to Minnesota because Laura and I thought it was just a better place to raise our daughters, Naomi and Emily. I started selling Aflac and Colonial Life Insurance. But luckily I ended up teaching film seminars at the University of Minnesota and met the head of Compleat Music DJs and did some video as well. With similar interests, we formed a film production group in 2007 called Persistent Productions. Well, I was back in the production game. In Minnesota, but associating with some of my old friends from the film industry.

Persistent Productions filmed the documentary in select theaters in 2018, A taboo identity. That same year, producer Steve Read hired me to help produce Precursor, one of the greatest horror films produced in Minnesota, which we shot in Chisholm and elsewhere in the region. The star was a gifted young actress, Madeleine McGraw, who now stars in the recent hit The black phone. The film had a red carpet premiere at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. It opened in theaters and on demand on September 2.

I was also hired as one of four producers and as an actor on an equally awesome production shot in Duluth called The hand that nourishes, for which I brought in the great actor Chris Mulkey as a key character. We’re looking forward to a big fan reaction and national reviews on this as well.

The hand that feeds is one of the first feature films made in the region as part of a rebate from the Upper Midwest Film Office. It was almost exclusively a Minnesota production, with many cast members and crew from Duluth and the Iron Range. The musical score is entirely a product of Minnesota from local artists and composers. The film won Audience Favorite at the North by North Film Festival and screened at Crypticon and the Twin Cities Film Festival.

For the past three years, I’ve helped produce and star in low-budget fare like Mind Melters 2, Angry Asian Murder Hornets, and Mark and Clark.

I will be a guest at Crypticon at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Plymouth, Minnesota September 16-18. I will be there with Tom Arnold, Chris Mulkey and William Forsyth.

I am also co-author of a book called The Narcissist’s Handbook or How to Become a Narcissist and 12 Easy Steps with Katherin Kovin Pacino, Al Pacino’s stepmother. We hope to publish it in 2023.

What’s great is that I was able to use my experience in films in Hollywood to work with the best professionals in my home country. It’s a real honor to give back to the community where I was born and raised.

Craig Muckler is originally from Virginia and currently lives in Eagan, Minnesota.

Marjorie N. McClure