Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #68: THE ANGER (1984)

I documented the history of the unmade anthology BLOODY PULP (1982) a few weeks back, but little did I know that I would inadvertently have another unfinished film project fall into my lap.  While researching PULP, I decided to look up information on New York-based special effects artists and found profiles on Tom Lauten and Jennifer Aspinall in Fangoria issues #40 and #43, respectively. While finding info on PULP proved to be unsuccessful, I noticed both articles mentioned an unfinished UK production called THE ANGER.  One of the sole clues about the film’s construction was that it was produced by one Mike Lee. “Hmmm,” I thought, “the BLOODY PULP guys later worked with Michael Lee on TWISTED SOULS (aka SPOOKIES). I wonder if it is the same guy.”  A quick inquisitive email asked PULP co-creators Thomas Doran and Frank Farel if they knew anything about the mysterious THE ANGER. My hunch paid off big time as Doran responded, “How do you know about this?!!!” and Farel added, “Know anything about THE ANGER? I should say we do!”  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it jolted this junkie.

Before we get into the details, let’s back up a bit and give some history.  Producer Michael Lee earned his initial success in the entertainment industry by creating the British video label VIPCO (Video Instant Picture Company) in 1979.  Riding the wave of the VHS craze, Lee proved to be very successful by distributing lurid titles such as THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) on the fledgling format.  Helping double his success was the rise of the “video nasty” phenomenon, a modern day witch hunt of violent films on video by the U.K. government co-facilitated by the tabloid press.  Why bother dealing with real problems when you have imaginary killers to blame?  And, after all, we know most of the world’s problems are a caused by the filmmaking of Ulli Lommel (THE BOOGEYMAN) anyway.  The resulting furor made Lee a wealthy man and, before the hard times hit (Video Recordings Act 1984), he made the age old mistake of thinking that success at selling a product equates to being equally successful at making that product.
Thus was the genesis of THE ANGER.  Hoping to cash in on the market that had treated his bank account so well, Lee sought to produce a horror movie in his home country.  The film went before the cameras in November 1983, but shut down completely about halfway through filming in December.   Very little info is known of the film.  In fact, below is literally all the ink you will find on THE ANGER on this great big globe from the FX artist profiles.

                Fangoria 40:                                               Fangoria 43:     

So exactly how does a trio of filmmakers from New York (Thomas Doran, Frank Farel, and Brendan Faulkner) get involved with a shelved project languishing across the pond? As the old saying goes, the way of the world is meeting people through other people.  Producer Lee contacted the group via FX artist Arnold Gargiulo, who had previously worked on their short HELLSPAWN.  The purpose of contacting new filmmakers was to recruit them to possibly salvage the project.  “After we met Michael Lee, Tom Doran traveled to the UK for the purpose of evaluating the footage completed,” Farel elaborates, “and determining whether Tom, Brendan and I might be interested in taking it over. Tom's decision: it was a total disaster, not worth the cost of salvaging. I've seen some of the footage and can't say I disagree.”

So was it really that bad?  According to Doran, it was.  While the filmmakers outside of Lee remain unknown, bits of the plot of THE ANGER remain alive via memory.  According to Doran, the film was set in America and involved a young married couple buying a house in New England.  Providing a window into the muddled nature of the production, even this minor detail was apparently mishandled.  “I remember the guy saying and falling to his knees. Something like: ‘Honey, I found a house - in New England!’ Wife: ‘New England? How can we afford a house in New England?’” Doran recalls.  “Huh? The writer, or one of them, who was Canadian, I guess didn't realize that New England encompasses 6 freaking states - with a zillion towns of all sizes and levels of prosperity. It made no sense.”

It looks like producer Lee at least had some business savvy as THE ANGER appears to have been riffing on the popular haunted house subgenre evidenced by box office hits such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) and POLTERGEIST (1982).  “They go live in the house and strange things happen,” Doran remembers. “There's a stuffed ape toy that comes alive. There's a monstrous face in an oven that eats someone and spits them out - truly hilarious.”  Yeah, Lee was definitely getting his POLTERGEIST freak on, but he was no Steven Spielberg.  While the filmmakers were definitely trying to ape (pun most definitely intended) 1982’s top horror hit, the end results delivered more unintentional comedy than horror according to Doran.  “The husband gets hit in the head with a GIANT meat cleaver,” Doran recalls with amusement.  “He goes into a room, screams, and then stumbles out with this freaking giant thing stuck in his head! The blade was like 8.5 x 11 inches. I was dying.”

In the end, the 40 minutes of roughly edited material screened for Doran proved to be a pointless rescue.  “It wasn't worth it,” Doran says, “I mean, here I was turning down the chance to direct. But, the footage was laughably bad; one actress I remember was good, but not the others that I saw, but it's hard to say without seeing it all cut together really. There was going to be no way to match locations, etc., so it really wasn't a good proposition - even if the footage was great to begin with.”  Ultimately, Doran and his co-collaborators convinced Lee that starting from scratch was a better idea and TWISTED SOULS (aka SPOOKIES) was born.  Lee, however, wasn’t above saving some dollars…uh…pounds and one of Lauten’s mechanical effects from THE ANGER lived to see another film.  “If you look at that mechanical head,” Doran mentions, “you'll see where the Snake Demon idea [from TWISTED SOULS] came from.”

Filmmaker Thomas Doran wasn’t the only one who had his blood boiled by THE ANGER.  Preeminent genre journalist Philip Nutman, Fangoria’s British correspondent, was actually on set for some of the filming and he was kind enough to let us pick his brain for the (thankfully) hazy memories.  “It was my first ever set visit for Fango,” Nutman reveals via e-mail, “I think I was 20-years-old.”  Like the young soldiers often sent to fight wars on the frontlines, he soon found himself – what is it they say – knee deep in the shit on this ultra-low budget production.  “The production couldn't afford a real studio,” he recalls, “The day I was there, I think it was some old house they rented, which had a space they'd turned into a make-shift non-soundstage.”  

A graphic throat wound effect
courtesy of Aspinall
Plot and production details remain foggy with him as well, although Nutman does remember the ineptness on display by the mystery director.  “I have a vague recollection the director's name was John (something) and he might have been one of the founders of Vipco. He couldn't direct his way out of a wet paper bag. He may have been one of the ‘so-called’ writers.  The script, according to Lauten, was terrible.”  Doran’s description of the aforementioned screened footage proves Nutman right and, no doubt, wet paper bags used to house neophyte directors were relieved worldwide.  And it was this greenness that ultimately led to the film being shelved.  “Basically, stupidity and no money,” sums up Nutman on the project’s death.

Alas, the set visit wasn’t a total bust as Nutman does have one vivid memory from the shoot. “The only ‘actress’ I recall was the body double for the female lead, who sat around talking to me naked all day,” he remembers.  So at least we can know producer Michael Lee had some knowledge of what sold and attracted audiences.  “The nude body double, who was Scottish, took a liking to me,” he confides, “and asked me to give her a ride home, which I did. I then spent several hours at her apartment watching TV with her and her cute younger sisters. Maybe she wanted to shag a rather shy, cute 20-year-old lad -- or was trying to set me up with one of her sisters. I'll never know, because I was too shy!  Many years later, I discovered, the body double was actually one of the leading performers in the British underground hardcore porn movie business!”  In the end, Fangoria was able to publish very few words on the failed project in the profiles on the New York-based FX artist Lauten and Aspinall.  But both articles did allow for some of their superior make-up befitting a better film to be shown.  Here are some of their creature effects (Aspinall's on the left, Lauten's on the right):

As of this writing, footage from THE ANGER has never been released in any format and seen by less than a dozen folks. Mostly likely it ended up being a nice tax write off for producer Lee and sits rotting in a vault (or garbage dump) somewhere.  The original cast and crew remain a mystery to this day, probably much to their relief.

Author note: I did try to contact both Lauten and Aspinall for their thoughts on THE ANGER, but never heard back from either of them.  To be honest, I don’t blame them as it was a long time ago and both of them have moved on to award-winning make-up careers.  

1 Reactions:

  1. Excellent work, William! It's great to get updates on some of these films; every now and then I'll be digging through one of those old 'zines and wonder whatever happened to some movie just peripherally mentioned. It's amazing how many failed attempts there were during the '80s horror boom that at least *some* footage was shot for before being abandoned.


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