Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Black Devil Doll on DVD, A Mother's Day Remake, and Other Jaw-Dropping Developments

Regional horror films, by virtue of the fact that they tend to be created by artistic loners operating outside the confines of the traditional film inudstry, often veer into the outre -- consider the excesses of Nathan Schiff's Weasles Rip My Flesh (1979) or Tony Malanowski's impoverished The Curse of the Screaming Dead (1982), for example. But for the hands-down, all-out winner in terms of visual dementia and mind-blowing lapses of taste, nothing comes within spittin' distance of Chester Novell Turner's shot-on-video classic Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984).

Filmed with an off-the-rack camcorder, Black Devil Doll concerns the exploits of a possessed, blackface ventriloquist dummy who invades the life of pious, churchgoing Shirley L. Jones and proceeds to break just about every cinematic taboo you can think of, at least as far as cinematic taboos involving ventriloquist dummies go.

As boring as it is inexplicable, the film has been a favorite of bootleg tape traders ever since it first appeared. And now, the folks at Rotten Cotton and Massacre Video have announced an official Black Devil Doll From Hell DVD this October, complete with bonus features, detailed liner notes from Greg Goodsell, and as an added bonus, Turner's second SOV feature, Tales From the Quadead Zone.

We have high hopes the DVD will finally shed some light on the mysterious Turner, who seemingly vanished after completing his unforgettable camcorder epics. Although a Turner imposter turned up on MySpace a few years ago, the latest rumor is that he died in a car accident back in the 1990s.

Just when I was recovering from the news above, I noticed an item on the Fangoria Web site indicating that filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman (director of three of the Saw sequels) has completed a remake of Charlie Kaufman's New Jersey-lensed Mother's Day, and is currently seeking a distributor. You can learn more about it at the official Web site, or over at Bousman's blog.

And finally, we just discovered that Code Red is releasing Nathan White's Michigan-lensed meditation on disease, garbage bags and cat hoarding, The Carrier (1988), which you can read more about over on The Bleeding Skull, if you are so inclined.

Meanwhile, back here at the ranch (house), I finally submitted a review of Horror High, along with an excerpt of my interview with director Larry Stouffer, to the fine folks over at SCREEM magazine for their Fall issue.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August Odds and Ends

Summer is almost over, the book is almost complete, and it's time to clear out the inbox.

First, we'd like to thank fan and Texas resident Eric E., who provided the lovely color transfer of the Weird Ones one-sheet above. As I reported a few months ago, Pat Boyette's oddball sci-fi picture was lost, along with almost all of the promotional materials, in a garage fire. Eric, however, is the proud owner of an original one-sheet, which he obtained from someone in San Antonio. The owner of a local magic store had apparently silk screened the one-sheets and sold a few before the rest were lost in yet another fire. Eric also provides us with the tidbit that Mr. Boyette and his crew would wear monster masks and run through the theater during showings of the film.

Another thoughtful reader, Thomas D., turned me on to two rarities, Tainted Image (1991) and the peculiar biker flick A Dozen Ways to Die, along with the Florida film The Disturbance (1989), a title I'd missed during my initial research.

Then Chris Poggiali hit me with yet another film I'd missed, The Dead Come Home (a.k.a. Dead Dudes in the House, 1988), from New York. As soon as I think I've turned up every possible oddball indie flick from the sticks, another one pops up.

In DVD news, Tim Ritter's Truth or Dare? A Critical Madness (1986) was released on a special edition DVD from SRS Cinema in June. Likewise, The Prowler arrived on Blu-Ray from Blue Underground in July. The Evil Dead (again?) is also coming on Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay.

VCI, meanwhile, has announced a slate of Halloween releases that should be of interest to regional horror film fans, including a re-release of the Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things special edition, a double feature of Swamp of the Ravens and Del Tenney's Zombies/I Eat Your Skin, and another twofer featuring Curtis Harrington's Ruby and the Georgia-lensed Kiss of the Tarantula. They're all scheduled for release on Oct. 19.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Luck Be a Lady With a Butcher Knife

Hard to believe, but 30 years ago this summer, Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) was winding up its estimated $30 to $40 million theatrical run. Filmed independently around Blairstown and Hope, N.J. (the camp in the film was Camp NoBeBoSco), Cunningham sold the film to Paramount, who turned it into a multi-part franchise that has continued, for better or worse, right up through the present decade (as with the Star Trek films, your best bet is to stick with the even-numbered entries).

And so, in honor of this milestone, a tribute gallery (and thanks to Fred Adelman at Critical Condition for the newspaper ads):

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Satan's Red-Headed Step Child

Fans of deranged Florida horror films hold Joe Wiezycki's Satan's Children (1975) in high regard when it comes to off-the-rails exploitation. What most people don't know, however, is that Wiezycki (who died in 1994) had made one film prior to his satanic panic opus, the long-lost Willy's Gone, which was financed through contributions from his WTVT colleagues, and concerned race relations in the South. The film was later retitled Ghetto Rat, but failed to find any sort of substantial distribution.

Courtesy of The Temple of Schlock

Chris Poggiali first report on this film a couple of years back, and you can still see the one-sheet over at Temple of Schlock.

I've since found a nice article in the local newspaper from 1972 on the film's premiere (posted below), which as a bonus includes an interview with fellow Florida director Robert Emery on his bizarro flick Scream Bloody Murder (1972).

According to a 1971 article in the Evening Independent, musician Ron Hoddinott provided the film's original score, and local artist John Mocsary (who also worked on Satan's Children and Road of Death) handled the make-up and special effects.

Since less than a dozen prints of Willy's Gone were struck, it's unlikely the film will ever turn up. That's a shame; considering the copious cultural inadequacies of Satan's Children -- the film manages to simultaneously mischaracterize homosexuals, rednecks, hippies and satanists -- it would be interesting to see Wiezycki's take on race relations in the 1970s.

From The Evening Independent, Nov. 17, 1972

Tampa-Made Films to be Shown Here

Fred Wright, Entertainment Writer

TAMPA -- Willie's Gone. Scream Bloody Murder.

These are two film titles, and each was filmed in Tampa and each is having its debut in Tampa within a month of each other.

All of this is symptomatic of the rapid rise and fall of film-making fortunes. Film-making in the Tampa Bay area has been at a low ebb since an independent, new York-based crew was in Clearwater last summer to shoot scenes for "Bang the Drum Slowly."

Now these two films are debuting, and another -- a really big shew -- seems to be gearing up, also in Tampa.

"Willie's Gone" is the first film by a local production company called Mix Ten, consisting of all local backers and director Joe Wiezycki, who is also producer for Channel 13's "Breakfast Beat" morning TV show.

The film, about a black youth from the ghetto who runs away and has adventures, debuts Dec. 1 at the Twin Bays IV complex of theaters.

"Scream Bloody Murder," the second feature film for American Pictures and Tampa's Robert J. Emory, opened last night at the Twin Bays IV and the Horizon Park IV complexes, and will run two weeks.

You may, in fact, have heard the shrieking ads on some local radio stations for "Scream Bloody Murder." Emory hasn't heard the ads, but he's delighted with the ealry response of his film.

And now talk is rampant about a film that has been in the talking stages for nearly a year, a film entitled "Of Greeks and Ships," to be filmed in Tamp with mostly Tampa backers and co-starring Christopher George and Yvonne De Carlo.

Supposedly director - co-producer - actor Socrates Ballis of California is only a few tens of thousands of dollars short of having the backing he needs to begin shooting.

"Willie's Gone" was a low-budgeter "brought in for under $100,000," starring an all-local-cast consisting mainly of students from the University of South Florida. It was filmed seven months ago in Tampa, in 35mm color.

With an R rating, it tells the story of interracial friendships, and it stars a 22-year-old Tampa black man, Ronald Bagley, who was cast partly because he looks like the 13-year-old teenager the script called for.

Wiezycki is naturally enthusiastic about his film. It represents a lot of time, effort and money, and it has a very contemporary theme, he feels.

"That's what's happening today," he says, pointing to the black-and-white friendships that develop in the film. "You see it more and more with the young people. You go to concerts and you see black kids mixing with white kids. It's an accepted sort of situation.

"That's what we're trying to say. Man is man regardless."

Another film is in the wind now, called "Merge," to be shot in Tampa and St. Petersburg on a bigger budget, between $175,000 and $200,000, again using local crew and actors.

Wiezycki also has a possible film deal with the government of Mexico going, for an original script by Tampa writer Gary Garrett entitled "Bad Billy."

"Willie's Gone" already has played in South Carolina, Birmingham and Columbus, Ga., and box office response is good, Wiezycki says.

With only six prints in circulation, it'll take awhile for Wiezycki and his fellow backers to get a return on their money, but they're confident.

The film is booked into other theaters in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas in coming months, and for a man who just a few years ago produced his first film, a serial for a local TV kids' show, Wiezycki is a lot further along in a film-making career than most people with the same ambitions.

As for Emory, film-making is an old occupation. His first film, also shot in the Tampa area, was "Willie and Scratch," again with local people. It hasn't played much in the U.S. but instead has saturated Central and South America.

But "Scream Bloody Murder" promises to do big business, considering the popular mania for psychological thrillers. The showings this week and next in Tampa are designed to test the market, to find the right crowd for the film.

Surveys are being made on who pays to see it. Private screenings are held for different age groups -- teenagers and young 20s -- then rap sessions are held and the film is criticized.

Out of all this, Emory feels the market for "Scream" is "young, the 15 to 26 age group. It's a 'think' picture, a psychological picture, not a horror picture. The young kids dig it. At least I hope they do."

Emory's next film, to begin in February, will star Ray Milland and local locations. The title is not certain but it's based on the book "A Fragile Bark" written by an ex-priest about his priest days.

ANOTHER Trailer of the Week: Horror High (1974)

Code Red's special edition Horror High DVD finally arrived this week. I'll be writing a review of the new disc for an upcoming issue of Screem magazine this fall, and my full interview with director Larry Stouffer will be featured prominently in my upcoming book, The Dead Next Door.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

William Grefe Returns to Horror

Fangoria has reported that Florida filmmaker William Grefe and screenwriter Gary Crutcher are trying to revive an old script they put together in the 1970s called Why Won't Valerie Die?

Even better, Crutcher and Grefe, who previously collaborated on Stanley, asked writer, historian and Temple of Schlock curator Chris Poggiali to update and finish the script. Chris has been a huge help to me during the research and writing of The Dead Next Door, so it's great to see him involved in a project with one of the 13 filmmakers I interviewed for the book.

Chris explained to me in a recent email that he wrote 30 new pages of material based on Grefe's original six-page outline and the existing 90 pages of script material, and restructured some of the original script.

"Gary and Bill are both thrilled with the result, which is a whodunit mystery/ghost story that -- to me, anyway -- is reminiscent in structure to THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL but also calls to mind THE NAKED ZOO," Poggiali says. "Despite my recent input, it's very much still a 1971 script. In fact, because they wanted it finished in the style that it was originally written, I had to teach myself how to write a shooting script, which was a totally new experience for me. It was very difficult at first, because it's like directing a movie at the same time the movie is being written, but once I got the hang of it I actually enjoyed it. Gary is especially impressed with the way I mimicked his style, because he has no idea who wrote what anymore!"

Crutcher, as Chris mentions above, wrote The Name of the Game is Kill (1968), a crazy thriller featuring Jack Lord that at one point was supposed to be released by Code Red, but now appears to be in limbo.

Here's an excerpt of my Grefe interview, in which he describes his first meeting with Crutcher in the 1960s:

"[He] didn't look like a typical Hollywood guy. He had short hair and a suit and tie. I said, 'I'd like to read a couple of your scripts.' He opens up his briefcase. He's got a .45 automatic, he's got a dagger, and it's lined with pills ... I never hired him, but when I made the Stanley deal, I called him."