In a world where Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has been mounted as a play by middle school students, should we be surprised that the folks at Seattle's Odd Duck Studio have turned one of our favorite regional films into a puppet show? Those of you in the Pacific Northwest have the opportunity to see Harold P. Warren's hypnotically dreary El Paso film Manos: The Hands of Fate re-imagined as Manos: The Hands of Felt from April 1-16 at 10:30 pm.
The show is presented by Puppet This, a Seattle-based puppet production company, and Eclectic Theater Company.
You can check out the event's Facebook page here. You can find even more info at the Puppet This site. You can also read our previous Manos musings here.
In addition to being a great place to pick up a zombie teddy bear or a bootleg copy of Unholy Rollers, the Wasteland always has a great guest list -- and there's usually a heap of regional horror-related celebrities in attendance.
Of particular interest to Dead Next Door readers this year: David Hess, the leering lead baddie in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (Connecticut); Evil Dead (Michigan) stars Ellen Sandweiss and Theresa Tilly (Betsy Baker, unfortunately, had to cancel); Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan; frequent George Romero collaborator Michael Gornick, who worked as a cinematographer and/or sound technician on Martin, The Crazies and Dawn of the Dead; actress Lynn Lowry, who appeared in I Drink Your Blood (New York), Sugar Cookies, and The Crazies; porn pioneer Radley Metzger; and Night of the Living Dead actors Judith Ridley and Russ Streiner.
The headliners this year also include director Ruggero Deodato, actor Michael Berryman, Tom Atkins, John Carl Buechler, and William Forsythe.
It's still just $20 at the door Friday and Saturday, and $15 on Sunday. Kids ten and under are free.
On Valentine's Day, we lost one of the legends of the exploitation flick biz, producer and director David F. Friedman. Although best known for his multi-flick partnership with gore pioneer H.G. Lewis (which resulted in the Florida-lensed "Blood Trilogy," Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red, as well as a handful of nudie-cuties), Friedman was a walking textbook of exploitation history. He'd worked the carny circuit and learned the art of pitching films from Ohio native Kroger Babb, helping that entrepreneur peddle his birth-of-a-baby classic Mom and Dad. After his split with Lewis, he headed to California where he made a series of elaborate adults-only films and horror flicks, co-owned the Pussycat chain of adult movie theaters, and eventually served as as president of the adult film industry's trade association. A staunch libertarian, Friedman enthusiastically defended the rights of filmmakers to peddle smut to the eager public, and often bragged that he'd voted for Richard Nixon six times (although, given Nixon's position on the porn industry, it's unclear how our former president felt about the endorsement).
While his compatriots in the sleaze-biz were often just as shady as their films, Friedman was a jolly, avuncular presence with a quick with a big cigar. He'll be missed. In his honor, a brief one-sheet retrospective of just some of the man's contributions to 20th Century culture:
Last month we wrote about our discovery of a previously-unheard-of, shot-on-video film from Mississippi called Southern Shockers that had turned up on video in Spain under the title Spirit of the Zombie. I found this discovery to be doubly exciting since not only was this an otherwise unknown film, but it was shot in West Point, Miss., a town where I spent six or seven summers in a row during my wayward adolescence. I was in West Point the first time I tasted alcohol, the first time I drove a boat, the first time I was almost arrested, the first time I ever walked into a public restroom in the aftermath of a knife fight, and the first time I ever saw a drunk man wildly fire a small-caliber pistol into a stocked pond during a fishing trip. Watching a cheap horror movie made during the same period I was actually visiting this town would be like time travel for me.
Well, thanks to the efforts of our new friend Jose, we have since been able to view said mystery film, and are happy to report that a) it does exist; and b) it's not nearly as bad as we thought it would be, which in the world of SOV horror movies is something of an accomplishment.
Since the film was apparently never released in the U.S. in any form, and even my contact in Spain was never able to bring himself to watch the entire film, that means that, other than the director and editor, I may very well be the only person on the planet to have watched Southern Shockers from beginning to end. Since we may never find out exactly who made the film or why it was never released on video, and because the one existing print is entirely dubbed in Spanish, I've decided to do you all a favor and provide as accurate a description of the film as possible.
And so, without further ado, the low-down on Southern Shockers -- with screen caps!
The film opens in some kind of filthy min-mart/diner combo where a weird-looking guy with thick glasses (sort of a poor man's Toby Radloff) meets two men in suits (a younger guy with a discrete mullet, and an older man) for lunch. The three of them promptly leave the diner and head to a nearby church, where we are first introduced to Preacher Hopewell (Eric Shusterman).
When Hopewell sees the men enter the church, he tosses his prepared sermon and launches into what I'm sure is an impassioned speech about ... something (remember, it's dubbed in Spanish) while his mousy organist nods in agreement.
Cut to our first story ("RX"), in which the fellow with the mullet (Tom Hatcher) arrives in West Point, Miss., to set up shop as the new town doctor.
Bitchin' cars and cheap gas -- that's why we miss the '80s
He's a bit disappointed to find that his new home is a dilapidated wreck, but happy to welcome a dark-haired beauty into the house while some locals stare bug-eyed at him through the windows of Marcia's Diner.
Mississippi version of a fixer-upper
Later that night, the young lady returns and has some lusty, back-lit sex with the doctor. The next day he awakens to find that he has mysteriously aged, and he becomes increasingly disoriented while walking down the street -- people keep touching him, apparently draining his life force. Or something. It's hard to tell. He eventually flees town in his car, but is hauled back by a policeman. After escaping the squad car, he's chased by a mob of townspeople until he reaches the scene of an accident. He's forced to touch an apparently dead man who is bleeding in the street, which causes said corpse to open its eyes. Cue unexpectedly fluid crane shot.
I don't know where all these people are going, but I wish one of them would help us find more information about this movie
Because the dialogue is unintelligible, the first story comes off the worst, because it's impossible to tell what's going on. Not so for the second story ("Moonshine"), in which the older gentleman from the diner (Robert Harrell) is shown making some white lightning at his run-down shotgun shack.
Another Saturday afternoon at Haley Barbour's house...
Soon, a gaggle of gnarly hillbillies arrive, looking to purchase some of his home brew.
Later that night, the moonshiner accidentally spills some of his latest batch on his hand, and is horrified to see that it nearly melts his skin! He briefly considers alerting his most recent customers, but instead dumps the booze and dismantles his still. Meanwhile, his impressively bearded customers begin melting and mutating in front of their horrified friends and families (and this was still two years before Street Trash!).
I see someone's been reading Tom Savini's Grande Illusions
They then predictably turn up at the cabin as puffy-faced zombies, out for revenge.
"Was that moonshine manufactured in an FDA-certified production facility?"
After being cornered in his cabin by the angry zombies, the moonshiner finally decides to do the only admirable thing, and swallows the rest of his tainted hooch.
"Moonshine" works much better than the first story, and has a nice (if cheap) EC Comics feel, which is what I think the director was going for. In any case, it's the highlight of the film.
Next up, our bespectacled third protagonist (Mike Gordon) gets the Preacher Hopewell treatment in "King of the Road." Gordon is first seen flying down a rural highway in clear violation of local traffic laws. He stops by a bar, where some good-looking girls and their boyfriend taunt him, then ask for a ride.
Trying to impress his carload of bimbos, our nerdy hero first drives really, really fast, then harasses a slower, elderly driver who crashes into a ditch. He then dumps his shocked passengers on the side of the road.
Enter a rampaging spirit of vengeance in the form of a long-haired demon (played by David Hopper, effects artist Chris Witherspoon, and Andrew Stewart) driving an old hearse with a skull strapped to the hood. The screamin' demon chases Gordon until HE crashes into a ditch.
If you're in the business of harvesting souls, always keep a bungee cord on hand
From that point forward, it's a foot race between the pudgy Gordon and his lithe, leather-clad, scythe-wielding tormentor. The two of them awkwardly gallop from a nearby Indian burial site (this is an actual historical site near West Point) and then through a junkyard, where Gordon finally meets his unpleasant end.
I foresee a future in producing music videos for local bands
Back at the church, the nervous men leave as the church organist congratulates the preacher on his sermon. As the preacher turns to leave, we get the expected ironic coda in which we discover that Preacher Hopewell was, indeed, born with a tail.
So, what do we make of Southern Shockers? While it's cautionary comic book stories are a tad predictable, the film itself boasts some decent special effects, okay lighting (always a problem with these Betacam and Super VHS movies), some interesting camera work, a decently executed car chase, and some banjo music to enliven what is otherwise a typically droning synthesizer score (to be fair, the score may have actually been dubbed in by the Spanish distributor).
In fact, while it's no classic, it's certainly on par with other contemporary SOV films from the same period, which makes it even MORE of a mystery why no one has ever heard of or seen this thing before.
We really would like to track down some of the filmmakers and find out more, so here's a more complete credits list. If you know any of these people, we'd love to hear from them.
Southern Shockers (1985)
Director: David Coleman Producers: Mike Gordon, David Hopper Editor: Ken Sanders Make-up and special effects: Chris Witherspoon Music: Ron Evans and Mike Hampton
Cast Eric Shusterman Mike Gordon Robert Harrell Tom Hatcher Tammy King John Sorrels Thomas Shinn Ken Sanders Ronald Demerit Don Smith Jerry Sanders Lyndon Love Anna Wilson April Fleming Greg Jeffries Andrew Stewart Vicki Stevens Greg Stroud
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.