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.
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.