HOLLYWOOD MORTUARY – Stars aren’t born… They’re embalmed.
HOLLYWOOD MORTUARY was my first vanity project – that is, one that I completed as a personal project and not as a paid assignment. It, if anything, is my signature project. People who call themselves Ron Ford Fans (God help them) probably came there thorough this movie, or at least heard of me first through its word of mouth.
In 1996, Kevin J. Lindenmuth (of VAMPIRES AND OTHER STEREOTYPES fame) was putting together his CREATUREALM projects: horror anthologies with the segments farmed out to Kevin’s many filmmaking friends across the nation (Kevin deserves a lot of credited for his networking, bringing us all together as a nation-wide community of digital movie guerrillas). I was asked to contribute a segment, so I started looking around for an idea of something impressive I could produce without a real budget.
It started with the title.
Randal Malone (whom I had just worked with on ALIEN FORCE) – never shy about pushing starring vehicles for himself – pitched me an idea he called HOLLYWOOD MORTUARY. Then he proceeded to tell me the plot of the “Incredible Dr. Markesan” segment of the Boris Karloff-hosted THRILLER TV series he has seen the night before on Nickelodeon. What he didn’t know is that I had watched it too. I told him I loved the title but that the story needed to be more original.
So I reworked the story into a new plot about Pierce Jackson Dawn, an obsessive make-up artist whose career is on the skids with the end of the horror cycle of the thirties. So he uses black magic to resurrect two rival horror stars (one of whom he murdered) in order to revive interest in the horror film. But the egos of the two late Hollywood rivals threaten to disrupt all his plans.
It was over a year later, after the film was released, that a critic pointed out the plots similarity to the 1950s schlock-fest, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER – a film I watched many times as a youngster. I probably had ripped it off sub-consciously. Let’s call it “unintentional homage.”
Randal Malone is a friend to many aging Hollywood stars, and I had access to them through him. I also had a few semi-celeb friends myself that I enlisted to play themselves in interview segments. Framing the story with real celeb interviews, as if they actually knew and worked with this character Peirce Jackson Dawn, I felt would add class, production value and prestige to my no-budge masterpiece.
I wrote fake interviews for Margaret O’Brien, Conrad Brooks and film director David DeCoteau. They were all marvelous, and all donated their work. I think I may have given Conrad fifty bucks.
Silent movie star Anita Page, however, was another matter. She was in her nineties then and unable to memorize lines. Reading from cue cards looked too unnatural. So I hit on the idea of asking her about the silent movie icon Lon Chaney (the Man of a Thousand Faces) and his facility with character make-up. Page knew him well and worked with him more than once. So when she talks about Pierce Dawn’s make-up skills, she was really talking about Chaney. The conceit worked beautifully, because her reminisces were passionate and honest.
HOLLYWOOD MORTUARY became part of the second CREATUREALM anthology film, FROM THE DEAD. I liked it fine for what it was, but it also left me unsatisfied. I wanted more! In short, it screamed to be developed into a feature. So, one year later, when the rights reverted back to me, per my contract with Lindenmuth, we expanded it. I wrote some new characters in. My friend film historian Tim Murphy played a sardonic version of himself, and actor Joe Haggerty played Morry Mackerman, a disruptive fan based loosely on fandom icon Forrest J. Ackerman. We also shot many new scenes, expanding the zombie killing spree sequence so integral to the plot. We also reshot the cheesy effect at the end, and I cut it into a feature film that made me happy. Still does, in spite of its crudeness. It is sincere and charming and funny, and pretty much the picture I set out to make.
HOLLYWOOD MORTUARY: THE FEATURE premiered at the Monster Bash convention in Monroeville, IL in the summer of 1999. It was the hit of the festival and I sold every one of the dozens of VHS copies I brought along for that purpose.
It was released on DVD by Dead Alive Video in 2000, with the short CREATUREALM version included as an extra.