With all of the other peculiar things that happen regularly in Florida, you might have missed this: The cast and crew of the obscure Tampa-lensed shocker Satan's Children will reunite for a 40th anniversary screening this Saturday (Nov. 15) at the Tampa Theatre.
Appearing for a Q&A after the screening are Stephen White (Bobby), Rosemary Orlando (Monica), John Edwards (Joshua), John Mocsary (make-up effects artist), and Bill Dudley (sound recordist).
According to the promo below, Florida-based actor/director/Tim Ritter collaborator Joel D. Wynkoop will host the proceedings. You can read more about the film's director, the late Joel Wiezycki, here.
Before he made the insane faux-bigfoot horror film Blood Stalkers (1978), Robert W. Morgan had already established himself as a well-known (and a bit eccentric) bigfoot expert. This documentary follows Morgan and his team as they hunt for the Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. Portions of the film were later re-purposed in the very similar Bigfoot: Man or Beast film released by director Lawrence Crowley which includes additional, un-related footage.
Vinegar Syndrome has released the film on a double-bill with Cry Wilderness (1986), a family-friendly bigfoot flick.
I try to spread the regional horror gospel wherever I can, and earlier this month Country Living magazine (which is published by a local power co-op here in Columbus, Ohio) asked me to write an article covering some of the best/weirdest Ohio-made horrors.
You can see the article here, topped by a very large photo from Thankskilling. Other titles covered in the piece include Jay Woelfel's Beyond Dream's Door (1989), Homebodies (1974), The Wednesday Children (1973), Killer Nerd (1991), The Rage (2007), Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan ... and The Dead Next Door (1989).
For this week's trailer, I've selected Spookies, a disjointed haunted house flick from New York that both confounded and amused me when I first saw it. When I was putting together the Regional Horror Films book, I found a number of articles and interviews online that detailed its troubled production history -- one that involved two separate directors and crews, as well as a lot of bad feelings.
Now Max Evry over at The Dissolve has gathered all of the major participants from both stages of filming for what has to be the definitive oral history of Spookies/Twisted Souls.
You an read second-phase director Genie Joseph's account here. The official Spookies fan page is on Facebook.
While interviewing Beyond Dream's Door director Jay Woelfel a few weeks ago, I learned about yet another "lost" Ohio horror film that I'd never heard of -- director Eric Swelstad's 1990 production Blood Church (a.k.a. Fallen Angels, a.k.a. Heartland of Darkness).
Swelstad worked on Woelfel's film, which was produced in part as a project for a graduate-level film class at Ohio State University. That class is no longer part of OSU's curriculum, and in fact, the only other film made through the program was Swelstad's debut feature, which is about a small town taken over by a Satanic cult.
A number of Beyond Dream's Door veterans worked on what was then called Fallen Angels, including Scott Spears and actor Nick Baldasare. Also in the cast were local actor/DJ Dino Tripodis (who had a hand in the revival of Columbus-based horror movie host Fritz the Nite Owl in recent years), and scream queen Linnea Quigley, who was brought in from California for the production.
According to Woelfel, the production ran out of funds before a final edit could be compiled. There were also technical snafus in post-production that held up completion. That is likely why, although the film was shot in 1990, it is typically listed as a 1992 production.
"It was completely shot," Woelfel told me. "Eventually, about five years ago, the director got an edit done and was working on the sound. I did a score for the move at the point they finished the recut. The director and I were roommates, and we'd worked together at a movie theater in Columbus."
That was likely the version now known as Heartland of Darkness that was announced as an impending release way back in 2007. You can see a trailer on the website here, along with some production stills.
Swelstad is now the department chair for Media Arts at LA Valley College. He directed Frankenstein Rising in 2010.
The film still hasn't received an official release, although Swelstad's faculty page claims it played on cable. With Linnea Quigley's name attached, it seems like somebody could do something with it, but for now it remains unavailable, outside of a half-hour cut that turned up online.
I recently completed a feature for Country Living magazine on Ohio-based horror films, including details on this odd black comedy from Cincinnati. The article will appear in the upcoming October issue.
I know the kids just went back to school, but it's never too early in the year for the North Carolina slasher film Final Exam. I'll have a review of the new Scream Factory Blu-ray in the upcoming issue of SCREEM.
Whenever I hear actors talk about how hard their job can be, I usually roll my eyes. Yes, it may be challenging, but at the end of the day you're still just pretending. But when Marilyn Burns discussed the trials she faced while shooting The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I took her at her word. No one could watch that film or Ms. Burns' performance in it, and not walk away in awe.
Burns died on Aug. 5, and although she appeared in other horror films, the hour-plus of sustained hysteria she delivered in TCM remains her crowning achievement in film. Sweaty, bug-eyed and screaming for most of the last half of the movie, Burns added an emotional edge to a film packed with lunatics, serving as a terrified audience surrogate trapped in a living nightmare.
It was a physical performance in hot, often fetid conditions, and Burns sustained a number of injuries during filming -- that black eye, she said, was real. In one of her last interviews (posted on ScreenCrush), Burns remembered the shoot this way: "Everyone wanted to forget about it after the misery of the whole shoot, listening to that agonizing chainsaw, smelling all of the smells, watching the decay of rotting chicken on the set. It was disgusting. It was miserable."
This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Burns, who lived in Texas for most of her life, was 65.
With all of the new titles either returning on Blu-ray or debuting on DVD in the next few months, does it reflect poorly on me that the one I'm most excited about is a limited pressing of the loopy giant crab flick Island Claws?
You can see the cover here. The only extra on the disc will be an on-camera interview with Ricou Browning, the Creature From the Black Lagoon stuntman who worked on the film. As we previously posted, Island Claws may have been an elaborate money laundering project for associates of the Medellin drug cartel. It was once a staple on cable TV, but has been unavailable on legit home media since it was released on VHS in the 1980s.
Scorpion and Kino Lorber also re-released the Georgia-lensed William Girdler film Grizzly, which is now on sale at Amazon (it's cheap, too).
I'll be interviewing director Jay Woelfel for an upcoming article on Ohio horror films (scheduled to appear in the October issue of Country Living magazine), so this week's selection is the trailer for his Columbus-lensed mini-classic Beyond Dream's Door.
Although he's lived in California for decades now, he periodically returns to his home state to shoot new movies, including Closed for the Season (2010) and Season of Darkness (2012).
Although primarily based in California, Al Adamson ventured into North Carolina to collaborate with Teen-Age Strangler (1964) producer Elvin Feltner for this weird fantasy film, which was partly shot at Earl Owensby's EO Studios.
Things have been so busy around here the past few months, I never got around to posting what should have been the final portion of my "Summer of Blood" coverage of the 50th anniversary of Blood Feast. I spoke to director/producer Herschell Gordon Lewis late last year to discuss the momentous occasion, and portions of that interview appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of VideoScope magazine. Below isa longer version of that interview.
How did you and Dave Friedman get involved with the other Box Office Spectaculars partners, Stan Kohlberg and Sid Reich?
A nasty turn of fortune. Stan Kohlberg owned a bunch of theaters in the Chicago area, some of which were hardtops and some of which were drive-ins. He became much interested in becoming a partner in a production company, because that would give him an opportunity, he felt, to exhibit motion pictures for which he wouldn't have to pay typical film rentals.
That was simply Kohlberg's manner. Sid Reich? I guess you'd call him an industrialist. He owned a company in Rochester, New York, called BernzOmatic that made blowtorches and tools, and he was Kohlberg's partner in the theater business. Sid was a very decent fellow, I felt, and ultimately when [Box Office Spectaculars] ran into a situation which I'll describe to you in a moment, the other three partners sued Stan Kohlberg, and that was the end of Box Office Spectaculars.
How was Blood Feast financed?
There was almost no financing necessary because Dave Friedman and myself simply put up some money from previous winnings. We'd had, for example, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, which was a big winner. So we weren't really concerned too much about going in another direction, other than—because it was totally experimental; nobody had ever made a movie of that type before—we wanted to hedge our bets as best we could in case the move was total flop. I will say, on Kohlberg's behalf, he was willing to take a chance, so he came into the deal based on equal partnership. I've got to hand it to everybody involved here, because as you can imagine, if you want to project yourself back in time to that year, the notion of making a movie with the kind of content Blood Feast had could have been suicidal. We could have sat there with that movie, never getting a single play date out of it, except we knew Kohlberg would play it in one of his theaters.
That also was somewhat experimental, because Kohlberg already had a reputation for making it very difficult for a film company to collect film rentals. That was worth the risk, we felt.
What was the appeal of shooting in Florida?
Weather was a major factor if you're from Chicago. Florida is also a right-to-work state. That may not mean much to the typical major film company, but to an independent that doesn't want the IA or Teamsters involved, it's a benefit. There are lots of out-of-work actors in Florida. People want to work here. I came to the conclusion long before I moved to Florida that this was a very good place to make movies.
What can you tell me about Alison Louise Downe, who is credited as the screenwriter on a number of your films, including Blood Feast?
She was part of our team. We just named her as the screenwriter. When someone asks, "Who wrote the script for Blood Feast?", my standard answer has been, "What script?" We literally made that up as we went along. Later on, she became very difficult to work with and we parted company, but she always claimed she wrote the script for that and for She Devils on Wheels. She was simply part of the group. We assigned credits, sometimes we made up names.
Beyond Kohlberg's theaters, what was the plan to get the film distributed?
One benefit we brought to this mix was we had already established a minor reputation of making movies that the theaters could make money on. That came from our lowered demand for film rentals from a play date.
Let me explain that. A major film company would come into a theater and say, "Here's our deal. We get 80 percent the first two weeks, 60 percent the next two weeks, and from then on it's 50/50." We'd come in with our piece of crap, and we'd say, "Guarantee us one week at 35 percent. If you want to hold it over a second week, same deal, 35 percent." A theater owner could say to himself, "I can play to a half-empty house and make more money," which is of course what the nature of the business is. It's the film business. It's not a fundraiser. They could make more money with us, and they would take a chance because we knew how to put a campaign together.
I've always felt, even up to today, the campaign is just as important as what's on the screen. We weren't too concerned since the investment was so minimal in Blood Feast. What could we lose? I grant you, when I was cutting that thing in my little cutting room in Chicago, people would see this beat-up work print with grease pencil marks all over it and ask me, "Is this a medical film?" So I did have second thoughts about it.
We opened that movie, as you know, in one of Kohlberg's theaters, the Bellevue Drive-In in Peoria, figuring if we died in Peoria, who would know or care?
I found an article that indicated Scum of the Earth played at that theater as well.
I think that's true. I think Scum of the Earth was transitional picture. Scum of the Earth was the last black-and-white picture I ever made. I'll call it a transitional picture, because it wasn't in line with what we had been making. I didn't want to make any more of the pictures we'd been making. I felt that particular industry was going in a rather strange direction and I didn't want to be a part of it.
There was a lot of controversy around Blood Feast's release. Some newspapers refused to run the ads. How did you work around these issues while you were trying to market the film?
We reveled in it! As I remember, the Louisville Courier-Journal decided not to run any ads for a motion picture with the word "blood" in the title. There was a major company movie, I've forgotten the title, that was caught like a dolphin in a tuna net because the policy was aimed at us, but everybody else paid the penalty. It was truly beneficial, and the more attacks we had, the better off we were.
The movie was chopped to bits. We never knew what we were going to get back when a print came back to us, having shown at a place where the public outrage had led to somebody taking a scene out. It was inevitable, and we anticipated that. We knew that we were plowing new soil there.
There was an injunction taken out against the film in Sarasota, Fla.—by Dave Friedman himself, in an effort to drum up publicity.
Yes, that was Dave. There was only one of him. He was the ultimate showman. I recall, we were shooting somewhere in a very posh neighborhood in Miami, and they sent a policeman out, and Dave got the policeman to take a bit part in the movie. That little anecdote is true. We initiated much of the controversy surrounding the movie. What are you going to do with a movie that cost nothing to make, had a cast of nobodies, and primitive effects? You go for showmanship. That's what we did. History has justified it, I think. That may be too liberal a verb. We literally initiated a new genre of motion pictures. That's not easy to do when you have no budget.
Here's a California regional, Nick Millard's San Francisco-lensed masterpiece of gluttony-driven homicidal mania. Crazy Fat Ethel returned in a 1987 sequel, and there's even a remake planned. Could there be a more American horror film?
A few months ago I received a call from a Chicago Tribune reporter named Chris Borrelli. He wanted to ask me a few questions about Chester N. Turner, the director of the notorious shot-on-video oddity Black Devil Doll From Hell, for an article he was preparing in anticipation of Turner's appearance at Lincoln Hall.
The Dead Next Door receives a very brief mention in this very long overview of Turner's career. Who would have thought, given how much mystery surrounded Turner and his films for so long, that we'd see the man and his film's be the subject of stories in the Tribune and the New York Times?
Chester Turner signing autographs at Lincoln Hall. (Image: Chicago Tribune)
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.