Martin Landau (June 20, 1928 – July 15, 2017) was an American film and television actor. His career took off in the 1950s, with appearances that included a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). Later, he had famous roles in the television series Mission: Impossible and mid-70s British sci-fi series Space: 1999.
Landau was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928. His family was Jewish; his father, an Austrian-born machinist, scrambled to rescue relatives from the Nazis. Aged seventeen, Landau began to work at the New York Daily News, where he spent the next five years as an editorial cartoonist until his decision to focus on acting. By the 1950s, he was working regularly on TV in series such as The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Landau’s first appearance in a horror film was in the obscure TV movie The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964), notable mainly for it being scripted and co-directed by Psycho writer Joseph Stefano. Terrified of being buried alive by mistake, a woman puts a phone in her crypt to be able to call home if she needs help. She dies and nothing happens. One day, the phone suddenly rings. Paranormal investigator Nelson Orion (Landau) is brought in to investigate.
In a 1966 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Landau was up against Robert Vaughn and David McCallum playing Count Zark, a Thrush agent, who operates from Transylvania and has developed a worldwide menace involving bats nicknamed ‘Operation Nightflight’. Evil Zark’s castle even had a moat filled with piranhas! With Landau in full-on heavy accented Lugosi mode, it must be assumed that Tim Burton or one of his associates may have recalled this deliberately OTT performance when casting for Ed Wood (1994), not that they mentioned it publicly.
A 1979 television version of Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Fall of the House of Usher gave Landau the opportunity to ham it up as none other than Roderick Usher himself. As if naturally, this romp led to a slew of early 1980s horror/sci-fi roles in low budget but fun alien invasion movies Without Warning (1980, with Jack Palance), The Return (1980) and The Being (1980 but released 1983), plus slasher Alone in the Dark (1982, alongside Donald Pleasence and Jack Palance, again).
Rounding out the 1980s, Fred Olen Ray cast Landau in his science fiction action movie Cyclone. But it wasn’t all ‘B’ movies, critically acclaimed roles in Tucker: The Man and His Dreams (1988) and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) led to an upsurge in Landau’s career that culminated in the aforementioned performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Landau studied Lugosi’s career extensively and excelled as the drug-addled Hungarian horror icon (“This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve been in!”).
Five years later, Burton’s Sleepy Hollow provided the actor with an uncredited cameo appearance, as a nod to his earlier lauded performance, and he voiced Mr. Rzykruski in the same director’s animated and exquisite Frankenweenie (2012).
Adrian J Smith, Horrorpedia