Full Moon Features was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Mac Ahlberg, the extremely talented and prolific director of photography who worked on many of Empire Pictures and Full Moon’s most celebrated films, as well as an impressive amount of mainstream movies and television shows.
“Mac was a huge part of the Empire years. When I think of films like Metalstorm, Ghoulies, Trancers, Re-Animator and later From Beyond and even Meridian my memories are always about Mac and how we had such a great time on and off the set. Mac was an extremely talented and gentle man and also a great barometer of talent and taste. We spoke Italian together when we were shooting which made the actors even more paranoid than they usually are. Over the many years we developed key words which we used to either judge a performance or assess the talents of a director or co-producer. My favorites were “buffo” which in Italian meant ridiculous or goofy (usually judging a bad performance) and “clamp arshel” which in Swedish meant huge asshole (a general observation of big headed, know-it-all neophytes who were always around a movie set).
I loved Mac and will miss him greatly – but his beautiful work will live forever.” – Charles Band, Full Moon Features CEO
Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1931, Ahlberg began his career behind the camera working on European TV movies. In 1965, he served as both the director and D.P. for the Danish erotic movie I, a Woman, which proved to be so popular that he made two sequels.
After finding success in Europe, Ahlberg moved to Los Angeles where he soon met producer/director Charles Band. The very first film on which they worked together was 1982′s Parasite, starring a young, unknown actress by the name of Demi Moore. Ahlberg would go on to D.P. many more films for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, including some of the company’s most well-known features such as The Dungeonmaster, Ghoulies, Trancers, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Robot Jox, just to name a few. Serving as director of photography on a large number of Empire films directed by Stuart Gordon led to Ahlberg and Gordon becoming close friends. They would go on to work together on several more films after the Empire era.
In the 90′s, while Empire Pictures underwent a transformation into Full Moon Features, Ahlberg began a stint as director of photography on a number of big-budget Hollywood projects. His D.P. expertise on the movie Oscar, starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by John Landis, led to a working relationship with the latter which would see the two reunite on films Innocent Blood, Beverly Hills Cop III, and the HBO TV series Dream On.
Ahlberg continued to demonstrate his versatility throughout the 90′s, working as a D.P. on such a diverse array of projects as The Brady Bunch Movie, Good Burger, and the Michael Jackson music video for “Black or White.”
In the late 90′s, Ahlberg reconnected with Charles Band and his now thriving Full Moon Features studio and returned to D.P. numerous films for the company. In 2001, he worked as director of photography for a young director by the name of Danny Draven on Draven’s first movie Horrorvision. The two would reunite for the Full Moon movie Deathbed, which was also produced by Ahlberg’s old friend Stuart Gordon.
Well into the 2000′s, Mac Ahlberg showed no signs of slowing down and continued to D.P. for some of the most memorable Full Moon films made during that time, including Sideshow, William Shatner’s Groom Lake, and Puppet Master: The Legacy. His final film was the 2006 horror/comedy Evil Bong, starring Tommy Chong and directed by Charles Band.
Mac Ahlberg passed away on October 26th, 2012 due to complications from congestive heart failure in Cupra Maritima, Italy. He is survived by his wife Mary and his daughter Anina.
We asked directors Danny Draven and Stuart Gordon if they could write a few words about Mac Ahlberg. Here is what they had to say:
Mac shot my first film, and a few after. He was a legendary D.P., and shot some of my favorite horror films. I’m honored to have worked with him as a director. He was a real talent and amazing person, and the one who introduced me to Stuart Gordon. EVERYTHING I learned about cinematography and working with a D.P., I leaned from Mac. Even in his eighties, he was hanging out of cars with me low-budget style to get shots. I’m heartbroken to hear of his passing, and I’ll never forget all the great times on and off set we spent together. CHEERS TO MAC!
I always called Mac “The Professor” because he taught me how to shoot a movie.
He had been brought in to take over as DP during our second week of shooting RE-ANIMATOR back in November of 1984 and the first time I met him was on the set, a situation that was awkward at best. But Mac put me immediately at ease. “I’m here to do whatever you want,” he told me, which was saying a lot as he had worked on a hundred movies and this was my very first.
Mac put everyone at ease, his twinkling eyes and a joke at the right moment diffused any tense moment, and the actors loved him because he always made them look terrific. And I loved him for the same reason: he made my movie look terrific and made me look like I knew what I was doing. “I have a good feeling about this one,” he would tell me and it gave me enough confidence to keep going.
Mac and I worked together on seven movies and became friends for life, although he loved to tease me if I ever doubted him. When I would remind him that a scene was supposed to be dark, he would ask me if this was a radio play. “But it’s so bright,” I would complain. Finally he would hand me a filter that to this day I swear was opaque black plastic. “It will look like this,” he would tell me.
Mac loved to place lights in strange places: under tables, in closets and drawers. Once I asked him where the light was supposed to be coming from. “Where’s the music coming from?” was his reply.
A director and a DP need to have rapport, but I think it’s extremely rare for them to love each other. Mac was always telling me about his place in Cupra Maritima overlooking the Adriatic on the east coast of Italy. He had bought it for his daughter Anina when she was little so they could play together on the beach. “You must visit me there,” he would often tell me, “I’ll make hamburgers for you.” I used to kid him that I’d heard about these hamburgers for so long that I was afraid that if I ever ate one it would be the last thing I would ever do.
Mac retired to Cupra a few years ago and my wife Carolyn and I visited him there three years ago. (Thank God he and his wife Mary made us risotto con fungi porchini.) When we left, Mac and I hugged each other, both of us knowing that it could be the last time we would see each other. And it was.
Mac Ahlberg’s Empire Pictures/Full Moon Features Filmography
Director of Photography
1988 Pulse Pounders (unreleased)
*Produced by Charles Band but not owned by Full Moon Features
To fully appreciate the breadth of Mac Ahlberg’s career, check out his complete filmography on his IMDb page.