Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Tim Whitfield and Joe Patnaud
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and if the fan film is your yardstick, none are as flattered as the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. Sure, these days you can find fan films on any subject imaginable from 8mm Lego recreations of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) to high-end, high-concept re-inventions of properties that may have lapsed into fromage (see Kevin Tancharoen's 2010 micro-epic MORTAL KOMBAT: REBIRTH), but none more prolific than the almighty Jason Voorhees.

As much as we bitch about crappy, no-budget movies, you have to understand, it's not that we don't like them, it's that we are really pulling for them to succeed. With Hollywood being one massive compromise machine that uses a committee to beat all of the creativity out of any original undertaking, we look to the indies to provide some creative fun while the majors wallow in the formula tar pit. What bugs us is laziness. We love a solid work ethic. If you are going to make a movie with your tax refund check and a bunch of your friends, we are all for it, all we asks is that you put the effort into it. Don't slack. Don't come up with a great idea and then find out that it's too much effort to make it happen. I can go watch a Hustler "parody" video if I want that kind of disappointment.

In 2003 when the concept of a "fan film" was still wobbling on its freshly hatched legs, Massachusetts resident Joe Patnaud released his tribute to the franchise with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE COLD HEART OF CRYSTAL LAKE.

Set in a wintery "off season" the short opens with a trio of hunters running through the woods. After splitting up, one hunter suddenly finds Jason Voorhees (dressed in winter camo for some reason) standing in front of him. Next thing he knows a knife is plunged into his forehead. One hunter runs back to the truck to get a machete (not a good idea) the other goes to help his friend (an even worse idea). Cut to... wait for it... a group of tweens are on a road-trip through the snow when all of a sudden their vehicle decides this would be the perfect place to cut out. As luck would have it, they have broken down literally a stone's throw away from the hunter's tent. One of the hunters is conveniently at the tent (he must have given up on helping his friend) and invites them inside as it is much "safer" inside. Seriously? I'm pretty sure a tent is the equivalent of a bowl that is filled with mac and cheese. It's simply a convenient receptacle for the hot, gooey contents.

Once inside, the alcohol comes out as does the hunter's story of how they are trying to bag the elusive Jason in-between Summer slaying sessions. When two of the guys go out to take a piss, the remaining guy and girl decide that since they have the tent to themselves, they should just start having sex! This guy must set land-speed records in the bedroom. I realize they've been drinking, but it doesn't take that long to take a leak in the snow. Of course, maddened by the smell of fun, likker and pheromones, Jason (Tim Whitfield) opens up a can of shank-ass on all considered.

As low-budget and amateur as it is (reportedly made for $250), COLD HEART actually brings up an interesting point. Why was Sean Cunningham more willing to make the logic leap of sending Jason into space rather than consider a mere change of seasons? I'd skip the camo jacket, but putting Jason in a winter environment is a simple, effective way of delivering the formula that audiences expect with nice "atmospheric" twist. There is a great movie in here somewhere. I imagine sort of a hybrid of GHOSTKEEPER (1982) and the Czech film WOLF'S HOLE (1987). I would love to see a scene where the "campers" are making a snowman only to find a semi-frozen Jason Voorhees inside.

Sadly, the feeling that it had been through the MPAA wringer is represented here by a lack of gory effects. To be fair, the few effects used are not bad for a fan film of that era, but I kind of cringe when the victim already has a red line on his head before the machete hits him. Besides, plenty of SOV efforts had been splashing the red stuff about long before 2003.

Patnaud would continue his meteorological themed reworkings of the FRIDAY mythos in 2009 with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE STORM. At this point Patnaud had a few DTV feature film credits under his belt and THE STORM is a huge leap forward in terms of production values.

Opening up with two girls in bikinis kissing, the less attractive of the two, Sarah (Crystal Swarovski), runs off to swim in Crystal Lake while the brunette (Marie Joelyn), who seems to be non-plussed by her same-sex connection, runs off only to promptly have her neck snapped by Jason (Tim Whitfield, again). Assuming that she has been bailed on by her would-be lover, Sarah heads back home just in time for a massive rainstorm and her meathead admirer, Barry (Asa Holly), to show up. Sarah complains of her awful day while Barry puts the moves on her, blissfully unaware of the disinterest in the almighty phallus.

Meanwhile her sister is all dressed up with supposedly nowhere to go, but plans to sneak out in the arms of her own admirer. Then there is dad, the local sheriff (Dep Kirkland), who radiates more menace than our masked killer particularly when he turns to Sarah and Barry and says "you're both doomed!" before leaving for work. A simple "stay out of trouble" would have sufficed, I'm sure.

Once dad takes off to check in at work, the power goes out and Jason shows up to open up a can of chili con carnage (oh come on, it wasn't that bad). In one scene Barry is going to try his hand at seducing Sarah with a bottle of wine, the only problem is that he can't find the corkscrew. I bet Jason can help him with that! This brings us to the major problem I have with this short. Even the mis-casting of the lead character Sarah, this is really well made fan film. Joe has even thrown in some gore, except any fan worth his salt is going to recognize most of the kills are aped from classic moments in the series. Big fan of the sleeping bag scene in THE NEW BLOOD? Patnaud recreates it here. It seems a shame to not use your own imagination to put some excitement into your tribute. I mean, we all freely admit that without the creative kill scenes, with a few notable exceptions, the FRIDAY THE 13TH series ain't much to look at.

Also, I can imagine Kane Hodder flipping out over the odd breaks in Jason's character here. Just after impaling Barry with the corkscrew, Sarah yells "what the hell are you doing in there?" Cut back to Jason who quickly looks side to side, seemingly panicked that he might get caught with his hand in the entrail jar! Sorry, what? Jason shows fear? Hell no. Jason is fear. That said, Patnaud manages some excellent lighting and really delivers the atmosphere for a little SOV short. Too bad it never could be a low-budget feature film.

No, no... it's just the way he's holding the machete.

Interestingly Patnaud's partner in crime Tim Whitfield, who played Jason in both films, went on to write, direct and produce a seven episode webseries titled FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE OBSESSION in 2011, based on his own 1997 VHS shot short.

A lesbian lover's break up during a camp-out at Crystal Lake is broken up by Jason Voorhees who deliberately avoids Amy (Hannah Townsend) and proceeds to crush and tear off the head of her now very ex-lover. Of course we discover that it's all a dream and that Amy is actually a big FRIDAY fan (stop groaning). We know this because her walls are covered with FRIDAY movie posters and she spends her free time ogling the nudie pictures in the "Crystal Lake Memories" book.

The bulk of THE OBSESSION is cringe-inducing dialogue scenes such as the one where Amy meets some fellow hikers on the trail and one girl overshares about her friend's break-up prompting Amy to mention that she broke up with her girlfriend recently. Miss Overshare then says "'Girlfriend?' So you are a lesbian!" to which Amy's pithy comeback is a smug "yes, I do eat vagina." Oooooh-kaaaay then. It doesn't get any better than that with Amy's lesbianism taking center stage with long conversations, an entire episode devoted to her date with a straight girl Stephanie (Marie Joelyn) who has never even had any lesbian friends, not even in school. Confusing the issue of what exactly the title refers to, we get episode after episode of impassioned romantic exploration of the real life feelings and issues of new lesbian couples. Steph also has an abusive black boyfriend (Rydell Danzie who also directs a few episodes) who comes looking for his "property" and wants to turn that "fish eater" into a "sausage" eater. Hoo boy. I guess idiotic racial stereotypes are acceptable. Wait... wasn't this supposed to be about some guy who wears a hockey mask and kills campers?

At one point Amy's ex shows up to have sex with her straight male roommate Todd (Keith Christensen II), "just to piss [Amy] off". This seems to bring out the Jason in Amy and she strangles her ex and stabs her roommate who is merely playing "Teenage Frankenstein" on Rock Band. Of course this doesn't take place until the sixth episode where we get allegedly heterosexual couples saying more stupid shit about lesbianism, so of course they have to die, which leads us up to the climax that is not only lame but doesn't go anywhere other than a gotcha ending. I really don't get what Whitfield is trying to do with this series. His script seems to set up a main character that we are supposed to care about, but *SPOILER* in the end decides to have her kill several people while wearing a hockey mask before killing herself. I can't figure out what exactly Whitfield is trying to say and I honestly wonder if even he knows.

Shot on digital, the lesbian love is done with no nudity because that would be crassly exploitative and not the sensitive portrayal of same-sex love that the filmmakers wish to express. Also there is very little blood as that would undermine the heart-tugging pathos. Or it just requires too much work. It certainly doesn't seem to be an homage to the '80s film series that we all know and love. When you say "FRIDAY THE 13TH fan film series" the last thing I think of is long, drawn-out relationship drama scenes with feelings, crying, and lots of hugz. Before the LGBTQIAXYZ flag-wavers start freaking out, it's not just that it's a lesbian drama that has nothing to do with FRIDAY THE 13TH that gets under my skin, it's that it's a drama that has nothing to do with FRIDAY THE 13TH. Even if it were straight, it would still be incredibly annoying and pointless. Well, except for a bit where a gay actor is clearly not interested in kissing the busty girl that he is supposed to be in a straight relationship with. Sorry, but that was pretty damn funny.

Interestingly, Whitfield actually got Joe Patnaud to direct the first episode which pretty much follows Patnaud's style of Jason themed shorts, which is not a bad thing. As soon as Whitfield and Danzie take over though, I would have completely forgotten that I was watching a FRIDAY THE 13TH story except for the fact that it says so at the beginning of every episode and Harry Manfredini's iconic score is used in every scene except the ones that use songs from bands featured in the various films. Honestly, re-using the songs is not nearly as cool as Whitfield thinks it is, mainly due to the fact that he either just pastes the song over the action, completely undermining it, or constructs an entire scene of nothing (like playing a game of badminton in the middle of a small clearing) as some sort of filler, which is exactly what this series doesn't need. Patnaud's films ran about 15 minutes each, Whitfield's episodes run about 10 minutes each for about a 70 minute total running time. THE OBSESSION could easily be cut down to about 30-40 minutes and be all the better for it.

I can deal with the bad edits, the occasional camera bobble (particularly amusing when it happens during another tender hugging scene at the end) and the amateur actors trying their little hearts out, but the fact that Whitfield is so wide of the mark when it comes to what the attraction of a FRIDAY film is, you have to wonder why he bothered tying it in to begin with. Unless it's just a convenient way to get your name out there as a videomaker. If that is the case, Whitfield's tactic seems to have paid off as he has just released the first installment of his new series FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE PHANTOM OF CRYSTAL LAKE.

Oh geeze... Someone figured out how to use the "paintbrush" effects.

PHANTOM opens with a nightmare of Jason killing off some foo' Kelvin (Jay McLeod) who is trying to figure out an excuse not to get with the girl, Diana (Evan Marie Ruiz), and getting killed by Jason. After waking up we discover that Diana has an avid interest in Jason's legacy and is going on a camping trip to Crystal Lake to follow the trail of clues. Wannabe gangsta Kelvin decides to go along, just in case. They start with a cabin where we get a flashback of some hipster douchebag is banging some chubby druggie with fresh tats and Jason strangles the dude and electrocutes the girl. Well, at least it looks like a FRIDAY fan film and not a lesbian romantic drama this time around. Even so, with such a wealth of backstory, you'd think someone would crank out a Tancharoen-esque rebirth. Something that relishes in the creative aspect of the film series. Maybe the Germans can do it! Eh, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Havoc: OFFICIAL PSYCHO PARODY (2010)

There is nothing worse than film class theorizing and I endured my fair share of it while at college.  The idea that film directors could fill their works with allusions and motifs would often lead kids on wild rides of speculation.  99% of the time their hypothesis revolved around sex.  Murderer uses a knife? That’s sex. Eyeball sliced with a razor?  That’s sex. Main character writes with a pen? That’s sex. True story: I heard the greatest pulled-out-of-my-ass conjecture after a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960).  Naturally, it was about sex.  There is no doubt Hitchcock infused his film with perversion, but this particular student was looking in every celluloid nook and cranny for double meaning.  So it was truly a shock to me when they delivered this gem: “The main character is named Norman Bates.  He is the master of the house.  Master…Bates…MASTURBATES!”  No, just no.  And while they may have been way off base with that one (or a relative of Gus Van Sant), I’m sure that student will be delighted to know that their analysis finally fits a PSYCHO film with the inevitable XXX parody.

PSYCHO XXX opens with some decidedly PSYCHO looking credits backed by some decidedly non-Bernard Herrmann sounding music (more on that in a bit).  The film begins in black and white but quickly shifts to color as Marion Crane (Sara Sloane) and her lover Sam (Michael Vegas) are lying around in a hotel room.  Amazingly, the filmmakers don’t, uh, insert a sex scene here in their scenario.  Odd.  Anyway, Marion goes to her job and is soon excusing herself with a bagful of cash.  This drives the boss irate when he finds out. Ha, just kidding.  We just get a random threesome as the boss and his client get it on with another secretary (Katie Jordan).  Marion makes her way down the road with her stolen loot and decides to stop for the night at the Bates Motel.  The owner is a quirky guy named Norman (Ryan McClane) and we know he is an odd bird right off the bat as Marion spots him sporting a pair of women’s heels.

Regardless of Norman’s apparel, she decides to check in. After having a short dream of her boss spanking her for her transgression, Marion takes Norman up on his offer for some dinner.  Bad move as she overhears Norman and his mother arguing about crotch-less panties.  Once in Norman’s company, she remarks how she is impressed by his taxidermy skills.  He points out his prize is Jezebel, the old maid (literally) he has stuffed sitting in the corner.  Somehow knowing that Norman stuffs things gets Marion turned on and we get sex scene #2.  Post-coitus, Marion goes to her room and gets into – you guessed it – the shower.  It is here we get a recreation of one of cinema’s most famous kills and, uh, it sucks.  Seriously, the filmmakers really drop the ball here.

Meanwhile, a detective (Lee Stone) shows up to investigate Marion’s disappearance.  He quizzes Norman and notes he is wearing women’s panties.  He opts to spend the night at a hotel down the road.  It is here the private dick reveals he is anything but that as he gets it on with a girl (Kagney Linn Karter) in his room.  He’s never heard from again (yes, they refused to parody his famous death scene).  Naturally, this is where Sam and Marion’s sister Lila (Breanne Benson) make their journey to the infamous motel.  They don’t get far with Norman so they opt to visit the local Sheriff (Mark Wood), who gives them the back story on why Norman is so bent.  In flashback, we find out that Norman’s mother (Tabitha Stevens) was a domineering type who scolding him by saying, “Norman, you don’t have any fashion sense.”  The horror!  After the investigating duo leaves, the Sheriff gets it on with his wife (Francesca Le) while he wears high heels.  When Sam and Lila get back to motel, they head up to the family house to spy on Norman and discover he is in his parlor having a tea party with his stuffed mother and Marion (both played by the actors posing motionless)!  Such a shock to the system can only mean one thing – Sam and Lila head back to their room and have sex!  The film then ends with footage of mother from the past telling Norman something like life is fashion.  The end.  Seriously.

Master…Bates…MASTURBATES!  Oh sorry, I don’t know what came over me.  As you probably have guessed from my write up so far, this PSCYHO XXX parody is a dud.  Director Gary Orona previously got on our “nice” list with his spirited FRIDAY THE 13th XXX and HALLOWEEN XXX parodies, so it pains me to put him on the “naughty” (and not in a good way) list.  It is doubly painful because it is obvious he and his producer/wife Tabitha Stevens made great pains to be faithful to the material (in fact, the DVD offers a bonus B&W version of the film for purists).  A good cast is hired and everyone seemed committed to their roles.  The filmmakers keep it in a period setting and attempt to be faithful to the characters; somewhere during the middle though the film goes completely off the rails.  Hmmm, I wonder what point that could be.  Could it be their interpretation of the iconic shower scene?  Any parody of PSYCHO – normal or X-rated – is going to live and die on how the shower scene is done.  It is literally cinema’s most famous murder. Orona apes Hitchcock’s famous style a bit, but goofs it up more than one should.  First, it appears Norman is attacking her with a big black dildo.  We can’t tell because we’re never given a clear shot of it (yes, they avoid copying the famous “knife to belly” shot).  Even worse is the music.  How do you do this scene and not try to copy the “ree, ree, ree” violin screeches?  The music employed here sounds more like an '80s Richard Band score.  The only thing sadder than a poorly done PSYCHO shower scene imitation is someone complaining about the merits of one in a XXX parody like me.

Even worse is their commitment to the parody angle.  There are the seeds of good ideas (like everyone noticing Norman’s cross dressing), but they never seem to go far enough. The script only had one funny line (Norman saying to dead mother, “Mother, I’m going to have to disagree. Cher is sexy.”).  I get the feeling Orona and company were thinking, “Jeez, this is hard to parody” and just threw their arms up.  It shows as they pretty much just slap sex scenes with the famous characters on the screen.  Nowhere is this more apparent then the ending.  I say ending, but I should say the film really doesn’t have one.  You know that big confrontation where they find out Norman has been dressing up as his mother?  Well, I guess the PSYCHO DVD that Orona was using for his source material froze up because that is nowhere to be found here.  There is no final confrontation.  The film just ends after Lila and Sam have sex. Perhaps they were hoping for a PSYCHO II XXX parody, but three years later it hasn’t arrived and Orona has seemingly left the hardcore world.  It is a shame as few filmmakers in this genre opted to go – ahem – balls out when it comes to the porn parody like Orona previous did, so maybe he just got burned out?  Either way, the PSYCHO parody is kind of like Norman in the original Hitchcock film in that it never goes all the way.  In closing, the only real positive thing I can take away from PSYCHO XXX is that it is better than the Gus van Sant PSYCHO remake.  Also, Master…Bates…MASTURBATES!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The "Never Got Made" Files #101: SKINS (1988)

If you look up the word prolific in the dictionary, you’ll probably see a picture of the gentleman to the left, director Armand Mastroianni.  Since his feature debut HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980), the New York native has worked non-stop in the film industry with 40+ features and a dozen television series on his filmography.  While readers of our blog will know him mostly for his horror efforts – the aforementioned HE KNOWS…, THE KILLING HOUR (1982), THE SUPERNATURALS (1986), and CAMERON’S CLOSET (1988) – he has worked in virtually every genre.  Like an old school craftsman, Mastroianni embraced change and enjoyed the challenge as he jumped from genre to genre.  In fact, it was a viewing of the action-revenge thriller DOUBLE REVENGE (1988) that initially got me on the hunt of SKINS.

Equaling the man’s abundant work is his generosity.  Within a day of my first contacting Mastroianni about SKINS, we were talking for hours about his career.  Within a week I had a package of nearly a dozen of his movies for me to watch.  So it came as no surprise when Armand was not only open to talking about SKINS, but that he was more than willing to help put me in touch with the pair of screenwriters, Ed Polgardy and Dale Schneck, he had worked with in developing this project.  It did, however, come as a surprise when I suddenly had a copy of the 25-year-old screenplay in my inbox.  Over the next few months, all three men were incredibly gracious with their time as they filled me in on their one-that-got-away.  So please join me below as I peel back the layers on the making (and non-making) of SKINS.

The first public announcement regarding SKINS came on December 10, 1986 with the following small blurb in Variety: “Dale Schneck, Edward Polgardy and Armand Mastroianni have scripted the horror feature "Skins," planned for filming by Heritage Entertainment with Mastroianni helming.”  The trio had actually met in 1982 when Mastroianni was told about Schneck and Polgardy by his agent and he found the duo hilarious.  Schneck had actually been Polgardy’s manager for a period, before they decided to start writing screenplays together.  Mastroianni found them to be a productive bunch and knew they would eventually write something together.

That opportunity presented itself shortly thereafter in the most unusual of places: TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. Mastroianni secured a directing gig on what would soon be one of the most beloved 1980s anthology shows, directing the third episode – “Pain Killer” starring Farley Granger – of the debut season.  “We actually started SKINS as a potential TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episode,” Mastroianni explains. “I came to Ed and Dale and was chatting with them and said, ‘Jeez, why don’t we get together and write something for TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE?’ It started to generate this story.”

“We had some springboards that we came up with for TALES,” Polgardy concurs.  “There was one about a meat locker called ‘Cold Storage.’  And SKINS was one of those.  We had sent them into [TALES script consultant] Tom Allen and he got sick after that.  And we decided we didn’t want that one story to go without doing something with it.”

All three men agreed that their concept behind SKINS warranted further expansion.  Not only was it a fascinating premise (demons from inner earth that wear human skins to blend into society), but it proved to be the antithesis of what the horror genre had devolved into by the early ‘80s.  “All three of us wanted to make a high-concept horror story,” Schneck recalls, “something radically different from the FRIDAY THE 13th sort of kill-the-teenagers genre.  Our research uncovered a demonic creature with his mythic origins in the Middle Ages.  The creature historically was covered in sores and scabs, and went around in the shadows of society covered in animal skins, thus the title. We decided to resurrect that creature into contemporary life.”

“We wanted to go back to something of a more classic creature film,” Polgardy says.  The group retreated to the Pocono Mountains, where they bounced ideas and concepts off each other.  When they emerged they had a feature length horror script that took influence from sources as diverse as Don Siegel’s classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) to Stephen King’s novel SALEM’S LOT.  The screenplay sets the tone right away with a cover page that evocatively describes the history of their unique creatures, the Eurynomes.

SKINS script opening (click to enlarge) 
© Mastroianni, Polgardy, and Schneck (1988, 2013)

Writers Mastroianni, Schneck, and Polgardy
The action of SKINS takes place during October in the small New England town of Raubsville, where Chambers Furrier Warehouse – run by mysterious new resident David Chambers and his underling Charlie Jenkins – is one of the main employers.  Protagonists Doug Carpenter and Shelley Logan, two 20-something New Yorkers, find themselves stranded in the town when his car breaks down on the way to a friend’s wedding.  Engine trouble is soon the least of their worries though after they meet Casey Reynolds, an 11-year-old boy who tells the couple about monsters residing in his town. Initially skeptical, they soon start believing him and suspect the creatures – which wear fresh human skin as a disguise – have compromised everyone from the town doctor to the sheriff.  “The problem,” Schneck explains, “the human skins deteriorated, thus an insatiable appetite for a new skin.”

Working on SKINS gave Mastroianni a chance to indulge in his favorite pastime of playing with audiences’ emotions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the script’s opening where Jenkins picks up a young hitchhiker and begins literally sizing the boy up.  But not for his potential as a victim in the traditional sense, but for his valuable epidermis that he can offer to his master.  “You think this guy is a serial killer, picking up this kid,” Mastroianni reveals.  “And the kid starts feeling creeped out because the questions start getting personal.  He is
Mastroianni's tracks to terror
asking his size and everything. The kid’s thinking, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to get out of here.’ And then it goes someplace else.  What I love in films is to take the audience in the direction they think they are going in and then give them a surprise.”

It also allowed the director an avenue to attempt to put up some previously thought of ideas onscreen, as displayed in the film’s penultimate chase scene that takes place at the town carnival.  “I’d come up with these set pieces in my head,” Mastroianni explains.  “I thought I’d love to do a sequence at the end where it’s on a roller coaster on fire. The first problem with being on a roller coaster is there is no way to get out because you’re strapped in your seat.  Most people are cringing because they are already afraid of the steep hills and all.  Now imagine if this creature were on the back of it, jumping from car to car towards them while the thing is on fire from all the electricity and stuff.”

Excerpts from the SKINS roller coaster scene 
© Mastroianni, Polgardy, and Schneck (1988, 2013)

“The thing I liked about SKINS,” Polgardy adds, “is that it had an incredible drive literally.  I mean, it started and it just had an incredible momentum that led to those last scenes in the movie.  You felt like you got on a rollercoaster in the story and you do get on a roller coaster at the end of the story.  We really had a lot of fun doing that.”

Smart Egg plugs SKINS in Variety circa 1988
Unfortunately, the ambitious nature of the script also proved to be instrumental in its downfall.  After a period at Heritage, the filmmakers took the project to Smart Egg Pictures, the company where Mastroianni had made CAMERON’S CLOSET (1988).  Re-teaming with CAMERON’S producer Luigi Cingolani, Mastroianni was given an initial budget of $2 million dollars to make the picture.  Despite doing some trims to the script, the team soon found the producer wanted to make more cost-cutting changes that were nonsensical.  “I remember Luigi wanted to make it in the desert at one point,” Polgardy divulges of the screenplay’s preproduction. “We were going crazy.”

“What the hell has that got to do with a furrier,” Mastroianni remembers wondering about the proposed decision to move the location from New England to the West Coast. Schneck agrees that New England, where fur trapping is much more prevalent, was the better place to place their action. “The whole idea of a creepy environment in the North was what we writers had always pictured,” he says.

Original SKINS ad:

The Man of the Writers' Nightmares
Polgardy also remembers Cingolani wanted the screenwriters to emulate more modern trends in horror; namely, a wisecracking serial killer currently burning up the box office. “All I remember is that Luigi constantly wanted our villain to be like Freddy Krueger,” he explains regarding the iconic character Smart Egg Pictures helped give birth to.  The screenplay, however, offers very little room for a Freddy-style villain and is thankfully bereft of any self effacing humor.  “You couldn’t have a Freddy Krueger [in our script],” Mastroianni contends. “Freddy was on his own all the time, he didn’t have a group following him or anything.”

Smart Egg advertised the film as part of their roster in February 1988, even going so far as to pencil in a July 1988 start date with a December 1988 delivery date for exhibitors (“They’re still waiting,” Mastroianni jokes). Preproduction, however, was fairly limited on the film.  Polgardy does recall that preliminary talks were done with special effects legends Tom Savini and Mark Shostrom to get their feel for the project.  Additionally, FX artist Bryan Moore did some groundwork design sketches for the creatures and even created a prototype of what a Eurynome would look like sans skin (see picture).  While no legit casting sessions were held, Polgardy remembers one big name being thrown around to play the main villain.  “They were considering David Bowie to play David Chambers,” he reveals. “We were looking at one key name and then some younger stars [in main roles].”

The SKINS crew:

Top Row (left to right): Schneck, Mastroianni, Eurynome prototype, Bryan Moore 
Bottom Row: Producer Luigi Cingolani, Polgardy

In the end, the project just proved to be too daunting for the amount of money the production was offering and Mastroianni felt it would ultimately do a disservice to their script.  “It became really apparent to us that we were going to make a much more compromised film.  It wasn’t going to be the film in that script because [Luigi] kept saying you can’t shoot this and you can’t shoot that,” he says. “It would have been a pale imitation of that.  Trust me, when we were about to start to shoot it, [the budget] would have dropped even more.”

Mastroianni was disappointed that he couldn’t get the project going and DOUBLE REVENGE proved to be his last project with Smart Egg.  He rebounded quickly though as he soon found himself in another world literally as he started work on the WAR OF THE WORLD television series.  As for the fledgling screenwriters, they were also let down by the turn of events.  “I think we were all very disappointed that we had come this far…then nothing,” Schneck says.

Perhaps the hardest hurt was Polgardy, who was just getting into show business at this time. “You have to understand, Armand had done a few movies,” he explains of his disappointment.  “I had never made a movie at that point.  I was a kid.  I told all my friends that it was being made.  So I had egg on my face after that one.”  Amusingly, Polgardy later became friends with screenwriter Brian Domonic Muir (CRITTERS), who was brought in to rewrite the SKINS screenplay by Smart Egg after the initial team’s tenure.  The disenchantment, however, did prove to be a creative impetus as Polgardy soon wrote the graphic novel FROM THE DARKNESS and it afforded him a career in the comic industry for 7 years.

Mastroianni & Polgardy, together again
Despite the film not being made, all three men have remained friends over the decades.  In fact, Mastroianni and Polgardy would later work together on the miniseries GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (2005).  Even more recently, Polgardy co-produced Mastroianni’s thriller DARK DESIRE (2012).  Asked whether or not they think they could ply their SKINS today, all three men agree that it could be done. “We could do it today for $2 million,” Polgardy says.  “It has a real good narrative drive and you could do the creatures real good.”

“It is not time specific either,” Mastroianni adds.  “There is a lot of that story that I still feel very close to. I like the journey you go on watching it.  You have no idea what you are in store for.  You don’t know where this movie is going.”

Perhaps Schneck sums it up best with his thoughts on pumping some blood back into SKINS. “I do believe that the concept of stolen identities is even more relevant as a theme now than it was back in 1988,” he says. “I would still love to see Armand and Ed make this horror film into something very special.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween Havoc: HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989)

Much like the Swedes, the Aussies ain't much for horror. They make excellent nail-biting thrillers, some of which court similar themes as the venerable horror film, but when it comes to pouring it straight-up, they do it with a trembling hand. Like the gin-soaked TV comedians of yesteryear, some times a trembling hand is all it takes to make for an entertaining evening. As one particular cemetery caretaker said in 1986, "some folks have a strange idea of a good time."

Relying on the tried and true "rock stars in peril" theme, the movie opens with three travelers driving to Lake Infinity (Lake Eildon) to work on a music video for the glam-rock band Young Rooney (not to be confused with the modern L.A. hipster band "Rooney"). The moderately annoying trio pick up a bubbly hitchhiker who is going to visit her boyfriend who is waiting for her at his campsite in the forest next to the lake. Next thing you know, our hitchhiker has found her camping sweetie covered in blood and is attacked by someone wielding a kuri machete. That's right, if Jason still haunts you, you're not alone!

After all parties converge on the lake, they board the houseboat and set to partying. Says one of the girls to one of the guys "the only thing you are going to get into me is booze!" Yep, that sounds exactly the way I remember my teenage camping trips.

Right away you know this is a rowdy bunch as the director, Evans (movie, TV and videogame veteran Alan Dale), decides to drive right next to his PA slash ambulatory bed warmer, on a two lane road while talking on massive cell phones that look like they were picked up at a military surplus store. Of course no band worth their salt is going to be out done by the director, no sir! Young Rooney, certainly act the first part of their name, with loud, over-the-top "wacky" hi-jinx such as a band member who makes the old "suckerface" on a glass window and later is pulled off the roof and falls into a chair. To show the verbal side of their tomfoolery, we get a quick insert of one side of a conversation: "...those guys are so mono-theistic, if Plato was there then, he would have said exactly what I did: 'the theory of relativity, the theory of forms, the continuum concept, Aldous Huxley is The Partridge Family, pan-dimensional!'" Uhhh... right. Well, you certainly can't accuse the script of being underwritten.

Of course no slasher movie worth its salt or otherwise is complete without a Prophet of Doom (aka "The Crazy Ralph"). Here the unnamed Ranger (Lewis Porter), in a righteous furor over the incredibly irritating, and not long for this world, ocker who has been hacking at trees with an axe for no reason other than he's "practicing!" If he was one of the band members his hacking would indeed be considered "practice". Says the Ranger, "I don't like to see the scenic wonderlands buggered up!" it's not just the trees, but he's not too happy about having film people down in these parts. As a decade or so ago, there was a terrible set fire in which a boy was badly burned, so they are definitely NOT to go to the northern part of the lake! Of course, as soon as the ranger leaves they bugger off for the northern part of the lake while the boys party like... well, wannbe rockstars... and the girls hang out in the living room playing Trivial Pursuit.

Those wild and crazy guys!

After arriving at the northern part of the lake things start kicking into a gear that I had no idea this movie possessed. One by two, our burned killer hacks and slashes his way through an amazing number of cast members with a jaw-dropping smorgasboard of shockingly professional gore effects. In addition to the feature film quality splatter, we get lots of amusingly odd moments. For instance there is the obligatory shooting-a-music-video scene in which Young Rooney totally rocking out while dressed like Ratt to a song that sounds like Dire Straights. There's a bit where a girl is taking a shower and suddenly the curtain whips back, there's a scream and we pull back to see it was another nude girl who just wanted to let her know that she's waiting to use the shower. Typical girl stuff. Speaking of random nudity, there's a scene where one of the band members is smoking something he rolled himself and sees a rather unattractive woman (a local stripper) glumly walking naked in and out of the lake. He looks at his roll-your-own and says "I've gotta stop smoking these mushrooms!" Pause. "This isn't a mushroom!" Draw your own conclusions, my friends, I'm fresh out of hypotheses.

In one bit they have yet another "homage" to a certain 1982 slasher film in which a couple of the crew discover an abandoned barn and... wait for it... say "what a great location!" before being killed off in separate areas of the barn. It's actually a pretty well executed sequence and I have to say, I've never seen anyone killed with horseshoes in a slasher film before. Another scene, in which a topless girl is stabbed repeatedly from under a bunk bed, is actually brutally effective because of the acting. The movie even boasts a plot convenience that involves throwing a brick cell phone in the lake, which is a serious cash outlay for an '80s shot-on-video horror flick. Seriously, watch a Donald Farmer or Jon McBride movie and tell me they anything close to that display of opulence. Hell these guys even do a burn-suit gag with a not-very-high fall! Sure the movie may have hambone acting and may be ridiculously over-written, but they show more ambition than a dozen of these SOV clunkers.

The late writer-director-producer Ollie Martin, a TV writer and DJ, whose dreamchild HOUSEBOAT HORROR was, was fired after three days by the executive producer Greg Petherick. TV director Kendal Flanagan was brought on board, so to speak, and apparently he is the one we can thank for delivering the goods in the second half of the movie. Also, the editor went and shot all the second unit work, leading to a rather patchy movie with seemingly random scenes spliced in here and there and a lack of cohesiveness in spite of lots of camera set-ups and a lot of script. Even so, this ends up way too entertaining and well made to even qualify for any "Worst Movie" award. Bad movie? Oh unquestionably, but the Christopher Lewis' and the Wally Koz's of this world have nothing to fear from HOUSEBOAT HORROR.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween Havoc: VAMPIRE COP (1990)

If there is anything film producers love to do, it is kill two birds with one stone.  How else can you explain the plethora of horror films that have a cop as the title character?  We’ve had the MANIAC COP series, the PSYCHO COP series, and the SCANNER COP films. Hell, I’m shocked HIGHWAY TO HELL (1991) wasn’t called HELLCOP and the werewolf cop film FULL ECLIPSE (1993) wasn’t called WEREWOLF COP.  You can almost hear the giddy producers saying, “We have a horror film and an action film! The best of both worlds.” To be honest, I’m surprised it took forever for a vampire cop to appear on the scene with the TV series FOREVER KNIGHT (1989-1996).  What doesn’t surprise me is that a low budget filmmaker was on the concept faster than Tom on an Aussie post-apocalypse action movie.  So who was this enterprising and capitalizing filmmaker?  Donald Farmer.  Goddamnit!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, VAMPIRE COP is about a vampire who is a cop (or, if you prefer, a cop who is a vampire).  We’re never told how he got this way.  We are just given vampire cop and told to deal with it.  The film opens in a club where a “Hot Bods” contest is going down while some of the whitest boy dancing ever is caught on film.  The club owner chooses two girls to go back to his hotel room for a night of action, but is soon interrupted by their former pimp Hans Geiger (Terence Jenkins).  He kills one girl and then takes the other back into his fold.  Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated bit intercut with this, Traci (Morrow Faye) is picked up by the side of the road by a guy named Joey who tries to put the moves on her.  By putting the moves, I mean he demands, “Shut the mouth and drop the pants.”  This doesn’t end well for him as Vampire Cop shows up and chomps him on the neck with his big fang-y teeth.  So Vampire Cop is like the real life McGruff as he is taking a bite out of crime.

At least Vampire Cop uses deodorant:

In reality, Vampire Cop is one William Lucas (Ed Cannon) and, you guessed it, he works the night shift.  He just happens to be on his way to an undercover sting to bust…you guessed it again…Geiger!  Not only is Geiger an unscrupulous pimp, he is also the city’s most unscrupulous drug dealer. Apparently busts are new to Lucas and his partner as they sit around and gab while the undercover officer in the motel room is being outed and shot by Geiger and his right hand man Kurt. Protocol is again breached as our two cops follow the guys to a warehouse sans backup and then Lucas’ partner is killed. Naturally, his response is to vamp up and kill Kurt while Geiger gets away.  Investigating the unusual crime reports (not every day you have people turn up bitten) is TV reporter Melanie Roberts (Melissa Moore), who now has Vampire Cop witness Traci living with her. Melanie’s investigative techniques involve just walking into Vampire Cop’s house unannounced while he hangs upside down in the closet (read into that all you want). Anyway, as expected, they get involved and soon are in bed.  Quickly after that they are all pawns in Geiger’s ridiculous attempts to clear his name and take over the city.

You figure if I am going to lower my standards with VAMPYRE (1990) that it only seems fitting that I continue to lower them (and bring further shame upon my family name) by checking out another film from the same company, Panorama Films. The fact that I willingly watched another film by Donald Farmer after seeing SAVAGE VENGEANCE (1993) should let you know how far I am willing to go to one up Tom in our unofficial “I saw a worse movie than you” Halloween Havoc competition. Shockingly, VAMPIRE COP offered a few surprises for this viewer still smarting from his first Farmer viewing.  The biggest one is that this movie is actually shot on film, which is a huge leap from the shot-on-video VENGEANCE (which was made in the ‘80s but unreleased until the ‘90s).  Now some might see that as offering salt as opposed to lemon juice on a fresh wound, but in the land of Farmer that is a big freakin’ deal.  A huge freakin’ deal. The film also offers some decent acting, especially from female lead Moore.  And Mal Arnold (yes, Fuad Ramses from BLOOD FEAST [1963] himself) plays a Lieutenant who gets properly chopped up.  There is also plenty of gratuitous nudity.  I guess it helps when the first thoughts of your female cast everyday aren’t “I need to get out of here” (google “Camille Keaton” + SAVAGE VENGEANCE for more info on that).  There is also a vampire meltdown at the end that is almost decent.  Again, a huge freakin’ deal in a Farmer film.

Of course, using film stock is only going to go so far and will merely present Farmer’s ineptness with a nicer sheen.  Would you believe a film called VAMPIRE COP never has the titular character in a cop uniform? I guess VAMPIRE UNDERCOVER COP just didn’t have that ring to it.  And the closest he gets to a cop car is some second unit footage of a car driving around the city with its lights on.  I mentioned in the VAMPYRE review how producers must love the vampire concept because all you need are fangs, blood and a cape. Well, all we get are fangs and blood here as Cannon growls wide-eyed into the camera. It also doesn’t help that Farmer writes Lucas as the dumbest cop alive. Seriously, he makes Sgt. John “Turkey” Turquoise from HOLLYWOOD COP (1987) seem like Sherlock Holmes or Dirty Harry. Vampire Cop goes everywhere sans back up and falls for the oldest trick in the book when two of Geiger’s ladies of the night call him and say, “We want to get away from him.  Come help us.”  And how do you write a movie in the ‘80s about a vampire cop and not have some goofy one liners? Farmer’s script actually introduces an interesting concept (Geiger wants to make his cohorts all vampires) but that comes literally within the last 10 minutes, so it is never given time to develop.  Farmer also can’t resist giving himself a small role as well and his acting in the finale – which rips off the ending of THE HOWLING – would make Tarantino go, “This dude is a bad actor.” In the end, VAMPIRE COP is only recommended for folks trying to one up their friends in the bad movie sweepstakes.