In the mid-nineties, Kevin Lindenmuth was my hero. He self-financed, wrote, produced, directed and edited a feature horror film, “Vampires and Other Stereotypes,” which was filled with Hollywood-quality prosthetic effects. More than that, he got it distributed worldwide on VHS, the then-reigning format for home viewing.
Imagine my thrill when he asked to be in his second feature-length film (which turned out to be even more popular, and to spawn two sequels), a dark, original vampire drama called “Addicted to Murder.” I shot my scenes in LA and Kevin cut them into the rest of the footage, which was shot in New York.
I was inspired and greatly motivated by his ambition and drive, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
So I did.
Kevin’s love of dark tales began in some disturbing childhood events.
“My father was going to medical school in Chicago, and one of my earliest memories was walking into a white room and seeing all these headless bodies,” Kevin reminisced. “I remember asking, ‘Where are their heads at?’ Their heads were all covered for the medical students with white fabric, and in the white room it looked like there were all these headless corpses. For some reason, I was at his school and had wandered into a room I wasn’t supposed to go into…”
Kevin also remembered other childhood traumatic such as a babysitter who would have sex with her boyfriend in the same room as him. He also remembered being held hostage by spinsters when his ball bounced into their yard and he and some friends tried to retrieve it. “That was scary,” Kevin remembered.
Other influences Kevin cited were the horror films on TV and the 1960s supernatural soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” As people who know me well know, that show was one of my prime corrupters, er, motivators, as well.
Kevin started, like most of us microbudgeters in those days, making super 8 films in his back yard.
“’Vampires and Other Stereotypes’ was the first feature I did on my own, but I did make lots of Super 8mm films when I was a kid, mostly stop-motion animation stuff. Then, in college, there were the student films, which were weird, like “Roadkill,” where it was this guy’s job to hit and run people during the day.”
However, the payday and liberation from his day job did not come from his first feature effort. New strategies had to be considered.
”While one of the more well-known Brimstone titles, ‘Vampires and Other Stereotypes’ was the least lucrative of them all,” Kevin explained. “That is primarily because it cost the most to produce. That was the only movie I got money from an outside source (parents!). I still haven’t made money back on that film!”
Long before social media, Kevin struck on the idea of farming out segments of his anthology films to fellow filmmakers throughout the nation. It had the additional happy effect of drawing us all together into a community, myself among them. I don’t remember much destructive competitiveness, bickering or pettiness among any of us. We were all thrilled to get the boost of Kevin’s growing horror movie machine. And Kevin was able to make quality product at a budget that afforded him a profit. Most of us remain good friends.
“A year after I shot ‘Vampires and Other Stereotypes,’ I wanted to do another movie, as did Mick McCleery, who starred as the demon in that flick,” Kevin continued. “Mick was a really good filmmaker. So we came up with ‘Twisted Tales,’ an anthology. He directed an episode, I directed one, and the third was directed by a friend of Mick’s, Rita Klus, who helped work on ‘Vamps.’ That was the first collaboration, and that went smoothly.”
By the time Kevin finished “Addicted to Murder,” he was already in contact with many other filmmakers around the nation.
“This was from going to the conventions like Chiller and Fangoria, and also from magazines like ‘Independent Filmmaking,’ ‘Daculina,’ and ‘Alternative Cinema,’” Kevin said.
He began including cameos of other microbudgeters in his early films. Some of those include Scooter McCrea (“Shatter Dead”), Jeffrey Arsenault (“Night Owl”), and myself (“Rage of the Werewolf”).
“I also enjoyed killing (‘Fangoria’ writer) Mike Gingold a few times (‘Addicted to Murder 2,’ ‘Alien Agenda’), which was weirdly cathartic.”
Other anthologies followed, among them the franchise anthologies “Creaturealm,” and “The Alien Agenda.” My signature film, “Hollywood Mortuary,” started as a short film produced for one of the “Creaturealm” films – “Creaturealm: From the Dead.”
The video stores in the 1990s saw a lot of Kevin’s movies, which he tirelessly self-distributed, selling and reselling around the planet. But, as it did for all of us, things began to shift with the turn of the millennium and the rise of the cyber age.
“I made a decent living with the indie movies in the mid-to-late nineties, but in the early 2000s, even sub-distributors didn’t want to pay any money for independent films,” Kevin explained. “Also, my contact at Blockbuster decided to establish his own company (Maverick Films) and just funneled his own movies in there, so Blockbuster was out.”
Since that time, sadly for his fans, there have been no Kevin Lindenmuth horror films.
“The reason I stopped making the features was that I couldn’t afford it anymore and I didn’t consider it a hobby. Plus, I had to pay bills and survive. It isn’t like I became an indie filmmaker to make millions. Everything made on one movie went into the budget or budgets of the next ones.”
Kevin moved in another direction that has paid off better than the narrative features ever did.
“I went in the other direction and started making documentaries,” Kevin said. “It was an opposite process – making something out of a bunch of footage rather than shooting a specific bunch of scenes for a narrative – but far more people and far more income was made making the documentaries. And it is something I enjoy doing.”
“My recent one, finished a few years ago – ‘The Life of Death,’ – is getting a widespread release on DVD through Wild Eye Cinema next month,” [Actually, due next week. December 15 – RF] Kevin said. “That documentary, which features interviews with genre personalities like Tom Sullivan (‘Evil Dead” effects), Lloyd Kaufman (Troma), Bob Fingerman (‘Adventures into Digital Comics’), Jack Ketchum (‘The Girl Next Door’), Keith R.A DeCandido (‘Done the Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity‘’), and past collaborators like Scooter McCrae, Debbie Rochon, and Sasha Graham – all talking about their perception of death. It’s one of my favorite projects so far.”
Kevin has also spent his post-feature filmmaking time writing books about filmmaking. Some of those include “The Documentary Moviemaking Course,” “How to Make Movies,” “Making Movies on Your own,” and “The Independent Fimmaking Experience.”
Kevin’s fans, however glad for him we are, still miss looking forward to his next dense, dark horror drama.
“I miss working on the narrative films, too,” Kevin admitted. “I’d love to make another horror film. In fact, I recently collaborated with Tim Ritter and wrote a Truth or Dare/Addicted to Murder” cross-over movie, which I’d love to do. But that’s sort of gone to the wayside [for now]. The main problem is recouping the money invested in these movies – and also the time. It’s been 25 years since I shot my first movie, and it’s not any easier or more lucrative. In the meantime, I do have a zombie book coming out called “The Dead Don’t Die,” that I co-wrote with Evan Jacobs (‘Walking Between the Raindrops,’ ‘Alien Force’), so the collaboration with other filmmakers is still happening.”
“I do think, though, that I’ll be making another feature in the next few years,” Kevin concluded.
You BETTER not be yanking our chains!
Followers of this blog (and you know who you are, That One Guy) are already aware that my customary once-a-week post has slipped off for the last few weeks. I have been even more swamped than usual, what with directing one play, rehearsing one, and performing in another all at the same time. And that doesn’t include the two short films I am acting in. But I am back now, though the pace of my life hasn’t slowed down any. Gotta get back up there and ride that horse, dammit. Or something like that.
The subject of this installment is Chris Mackey, the only microbudgeter I ever met with a burning passion for publicity and promotion. That makes him unique in a crowd of unique folk who spend a majority of their energy in creative pursuit, for (most of the time) little or no compensation.
I met Chris early on in my movie making (for want of a better word) “career.” We met at a collector’s show where I was promoting one of my films. He later contacted me to do an interview for his fanzine, “Guestar.” That ‘zine continues today as a website (http://guestars.wordpress.com). I enjoyed his enthusiasm and banter so much that I invited him to play the Forry Ackerman-inspired self-styled publicist character in one of my first features, “Hollywood Mortuary” (1999). Type casting, right? That’s what I thought. However, Chris was a beginning actor and didn’t think he would be able to memorize the lines, even though I told him they need not be letter-perfect. The role went to a more seasoned actor, Joe Haggerty, but Chris would make his mark later as an actor, as you shall read later in this blog.
“The first movie [I remember seeing] in a theater was ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1969),” Chris said of his earliest genre influences. “My friends insisted on front row, and these apes on horses, I swear, Jumped over our heads.”
Like most of us in this rag-tag microbudget club, Chris became obsessed with those images on the screen.
““My mother would take me and my little brother to family- themed matinees during summer,” he continued. “Most memorable were ‘The Time Machine,’ (1960) and ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ (1964). I would act sick and stay home to watch the morning movie. I would [also] turn my TV down at 11 pm and watch the late movies. [In those days] it seemed every network had one until 2 am. I haunted the school and city libraries for any books on film.”
Chris spoke about his early ambitions and his road to becoming a generator of publicity.
“[I] was going to be an artist, any kind really,” he said. “But, then we discovered I was color blind and I switched to black and white, with pens and brush ink. Then I was going to do comic-books, but [then I] found artists as good as me or better [who were] not making any money at it either. So I switched to publishing independent comics.”
Chris was heavily influenced by Mark Thomas McGee’s book “Beyond Ballyhoo,” which he read over and over.
“Then something clicked in my brain,” Chris mused. “Why are some movies boring and others try so hard to keep me awake for 90 minutes?”
Chris concluded that the difference was, in his words, “promotion and ballyhoo.”
“Movies need a title, a hook and moments [that make] you stay eating that popcorn and drinking that soda until the credits.”
Thus, in 1983, began the Guestar ‘zine, which has since morphed into the website Chris refers to as a “cyber ‘zine.” It is driven, he says, by interviews with (mostly) microbudgeters, and is filled with movie reviews, which Chris cites as his main love in doing what he does.
“Move reviews feed me,” he said.
He studied the way that Galaxy Press promoted science fiction at comicons and in comic book stores. He was also influenced by the promotion work done by Action International Pictures. He developed a philosophy to always praise, and never condemn. That, he concluded, was the secret to serving genre to the masses.
It can, however, still stir up controversy.
“Ballyhoo isn’t dead. Just don’t put ‘em down, and we both shall flourish. Many a cyber cat-fight [has been waged] on Amazon over my soft reviews of stuff I love. Really.”
He also tried making his own films with his brother and his friends.
“I don’t like being behind a camera, but we made a few.”
Next Chris began organizing Star Trek and Star Wars conventions in his Central Californian home town. “A rival promoter offered me $60 an hour to play Darth Vader at a mall for a weekend, because only I was big enough for suit.”
Thus began a new chapter in Chris’s life.
“I have had 21 great chances to be in films,” Chris said. “I Played a mad scientist more than once, and a drunken ex-teacher in “Evil Ever After” (2006). [I played] Hugo Strange, a Batman villain, seven times in a web-series and documentary.”
I finally turned my camera on Chris when he played the cockroach in “Deadly Scavengers” (2001). This time, however, he was cast first and the suit was made to fit him. Sadly, most of his suit work was obscured by the producer who made the decision to cover up our fun rubber suit monster with generic images of real cockroaches, superimposed right over Chris! For me, my original cut is far more entertaining.
Chris also played an alien in my short film, “That’s How They Get You,” which was a segment in Kevin Lindenmuth’s anthology, “The Alien Agenda: Time Enough (2002).”
And then there is Chris Mackey the microbudget producer.
“I was offered the rights to a film, ‘Minds of Terror,’ for less than $300 that starred Conrad Brooks and Joe Estevez,” Chris said. “It was dumped because all [of the] violence was shot off screen or implied, and it had no nudity, I designed a poster and marketed [it on] on Ebay and Amazon and re-titled it twice and sold again. Now it’s about to get an MST3000-like fan-film riffing version for Christmas.”
“I’ve [also] line produced, just because it needed to be done, on films I wrote, like ‘A Dove among Pigeons’ (2011).”
Chris also produced and directed a horror western short film called “Boot Hill Blind Dead,” (2011) co-produced by William Combs. Yours truly, the author of this blog, played the lead character, who relates the tale of “the handsome Stranger” at a wild west roadshow. That film will soon be re-released as part of the horror-western anthology “Bloody Spurs,” alongside my own film, “Man Without a Saddle.”
Family comes first of course, and Chris’s family life often felt compromised by his movie making/promoting ambitions – a common problem among microbudgeters, and a key reason why my 25 year marriage failed 8 years ago. We often make promises to ourselves that we will end this madness once and for all. But it is always a temporary decree, because guys like us need to do this to be happy, no matter how meager the rewards.
“I said last year I would end my involvement in microbudgets. But, I’m writing even more and look for “Tribal Black Ops.” Next year.”
I sure will, Chris. I can’t wait!
The Pace of Things
Time is money, even in microbudget (or perhaps especially so). If you take too much time getting it in the can, you’re burning meager resources, and tempting the labels of pretentiousness and egotism. But if you move too fast, you can get sloppy and destroy any chance of rising above the dreck and challenging the attitudes and preconceptions that many bring with them to the screening of a microbudget film.
I’ve been at both ends of that spectrum. But mostly, I have been accused of moving TOO fast. I learned on the run, trying to please producers who gave me little to nothing and expected results yesterday. It’s the groove I fall into whenever I am on a movie set. Yet I look back now and cringe at some of the sloppy details, most of which could have been fixed while keeping on schedule and budget if I had taken a moment to step back and look at it coolly.
Of Price and When
The pace of your shoot is heavily determined by budget and deadline. Many of the short films I make now are for timed competitions (see Ron Ford’s Microbudget Blog, July 4, 2015), a challenge I find especially stimulating and feel particularly suited to, given my background. In those cases, shooting fast is everything. But still, without taking care and time to get good sound, images and performances, the project will have little chance of taking home awards.
Even if yours is a personal project, and costs you nothing but your time – that is, even when there is no incentive to move more quickly – there must be some sort of urgency to the pace of the shoot, lest cast and crew people become bored and move on to other projects. I’ve been there, too. One project I acted in in the early 2000s was never completed, and can never be now, though we would love to. We’ve all changed too drastically. – That is a tragedy.
Hurry Up and Slow Down
The only really answer to the question of how quickly or slowly to shoot your project is to strive to make the best movie you can, under any given circumstances. In other words, go in prepared, do your homework, take your time on the set, and try to get it right. But keep an eye on the clock. – Oh. And try not to panic.
Remember: Sound. Lighting. Performance. Those are what count. No matter how special your effects are or how revolutionary your ideas, if those basics aren’t up to snuff, nobody will give a damn.
NOBODY. WILL. GIVE. A. DAMN.
I have a vague memory of my first viewing of “The Wizard of Oz” on TV as a small child, something that would become an annual event. I remember the Tin Man’s first appearance, and my brother and I getting very excited because there was a robot in it! “It’s not a robot, it’s a Tin Man,” my mother said. But tin or steel, a metal man is a robot in my book.
The point is, robots have always been cool, the stuff that fuels geeks to become microbudget filmmakers.
When I learned that a guy living not an hour from me, in a rural section of Eastern Washington, had the finest collection of movie and TV robots this side of anywhere, I had to see for myself. After a little field work, I tracked down electrical engineer and musician John Rigg and finagled my way into a visit to his “Robot Hut.” Quite an honor. He doesn’t do it for just anyone, or he wouldn’t have time to do anything else. I’d like to say it was my movie credits that opened the door for me, but it probably had more to do with my knowing the daughter of one of his best friends.
So my friend Mitch Tiner and I went to visit. Mitch is a great friend, and he does all the special effects make up and miniatures for my films. Sometimes he acts and does the music, too. He was as excited to see this collection as I was.
From the road, John’s ranch fits right in with those around it. But if you pull in and look at the far side of one outbuilding, you will see a giant robot display on the wall, emblazoned with the legend, Robot Hut.
Robot Hut video produced by Colin Malvaney for The Spokesman Review.
Inside are 4,000 plus robot items. Many of those items are life size, meticulous, hand-built, replicas of some of the most famous robots from movies and television. John built them all from scratch, many times re-building them three, four or five times until they met his exacting standards. The imperfect earlier models were sold off or given away to fans who couldn’t believe their luck!
You enter the building through an “airlock” anteroom, powered by a devise fans will recognize as Krell technology from “Forbidden Planet.”
That is the prelude to a perfect replica of that movie’s Robbie the Robot right inside the door, who speaks to you as neon tubes light up where a mouth should be.
Also in attendance are Gort, Tobor the Great, Maria the “Metropolis” robotrix, Johnny Five, Huey, Dewey and Louie (“Silent Running”) R2D2, C3PO, B-9 (“Lost in Space”), the walking tin can from The Mysterious Doctor Satan, the sentient machines from Venus that attacked in “Target Earth,” and many, many more.
And there are some pretty swell non-robotic items thrown in for the sheer fun of it.
Flying saucers from “Lost in Space”, “War of the Worlds” and “Forbidden Planet,” for instance.
And the one and only Time Machine from… “The Time Machine.” (Okay, not the one and only, it’s a copy, but it’s a pretty damn perfect one.) A second Time Machine John built was seen last season in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”
Rigg has been obsessed with robots his whole life, and possesses a natural gift for mechanics and building things. In 1980 he decided to recapture his youth and find the six toy robots that meant so much to him as a child. Along the way, he started collecting other robots as well, and then it became a sickness that many of us geeks can relate to. In John’s case, it was a glorious disease. These hand-built masterpieces are a testament to the films they are copied from – to their durability and to their ability to inspire the geeks and artists of the future.
Every microbudget auteur started as a movie fan. Most of us, enamored of one genre more than another. For whatever reason, the majority of us that I have known got there through a love of horror, science fiction or action movies. I am no different. I have been a horror guy for as long as I can remember. As I got older I learned to appreciate all genres, and now I am more inclined to follow directors than genres in my viewing selections. But when I was little, man, monsters were all I cared about. And among monster makers, Universal reigned unrivaled.
I will soon be teaching a class on Universal monsters for a local Community College outreach program. I have been studying up. preparing curriculum. What follows is part of that prep, but has much to do with why I am driven to make movies now.
* * *
The term “horror movie” did not exist before 1931, according to film historian David J. Skal (“The Horror Show”).
David Skal also said, monsters in Hollywood are the “gangsters of the id.”
Like the gangster movie, the horror film has its roots in the Great Depression. Dark escapism was the soup du jour for a public whose carpet of security had just been pulled out from under them. Those shell shocked people were only too eager to dive into darker waters than those waded in the giddy Jazz Age ‘20s.
In 1931, “Dracula,” with Bela Lugosi, was burning up the box office on Broadway. Yet, Hollywood was reluctant to take the bite. The reason for that, at least as far as Universal is concerned, was that the studio head, Carl Laemmle, Sr. had a distaste for morbid content.
No American film before that time had featured a supernatural creature. In pictures like “London After Midnight” and “The Cat and the Canary,” the vampire or the creeper always turned out to be a hoax, with a person in disguise who had an agenda. It was always Farmer MacGregor, who was thwarted by those meddling kids. Papa Laemmle, however, was being pressured by his son and heir apparent, Carl Laemmle , Jr., to make the movie. He thought dark horror stories were just swell, and he was sure that “Dracula” would blow up at the box office.
MGM was also sniffing after the rights to the Broadway play, so Papa Laemmle bit the bullet and procured the rights to make “Dracula.” Papa had one proviso, however, that the great silent star and make-up maestro Lon Chaney must play the Count. That plan fell short, however, when Chaney died of lung cancer, just a few months after diagnosis. So the search was on for a new Dracula.
But that is another story.
“Dracula” was made with Bela Lugosi in the lead, and no matter what you think of that dank but creaky melodrama, it was a box office smash, vindicating Carl Laemmle, Jr., and making Lugosi an icon. The horror cycle had begun. When Papa stepped down a short time later and Jr. ascended to studio head, its survival was ensured – for a time at least.
Tim Sullivan is a science fiction writer (The Martian Viking, Lords of Creation), raconteur and all-around cool dude. As an actor, he can be seen in a multitude of pictures from the microbudget era, including Twilight of the Dogs, Hollywood Mortuary and Deadly Scavengers.He also wrote some scripts (V-World Matrix,Eyes of the Werewolf) and even directed a little (Vampyre Femmes). I asked him to write something about his work in those days and what he did instead is write this affectionate love-letter that touched my heart. I haven’t seen Tim in better than a decade now, and I often ache for his conversation and company these days.
I’ve known Ron Ford for over a quarter century, maybe closer to thirty years now. We first met while working on a movie called The Laughing Dead at Old Tucson, Arizona. Old Tucson was a full-service-Western-town-outdoor-and-indoor-standing set that had been built in the late thirties for a movie called Arizona with William Holden and Jean Arthur, and added to over the following decades. There was a Spanish Mission, complete inside and out, a town square, as well as the requisite main street with wooden sidewalks and saloon. By the time we shot there, Wild West Shows were staged on the streets and a national high school cheerleader convention once messed up our sound while the girls led cheers for imaginary sports fans.
It was a great place to work. Unfortunately, Old Tucson burned down some years later, and as far as I know they haven’t rebuilt it. But in those days it was like living in a cowboy fantasy to be there. I’d seen so many Westerns shot on those sets that it was like being at home in some strange way. We had a blast.
Ron and I kept in touch when he and his wife Paula moved to LA, where I was living at the time. Not too long after it became apparent that The Laughing Dead would never find an American distributor (I hear there’s a Thai DVD available, but I haven’t seen it), Ron told me he was planning to make a shot-on-video feature with a guy named Mark Gordon, who would be a producer and shoot the thing as well. He had the equipment and knew how to use it, so we set out to make Alien Force, starring Tyrone Wade, an Australian body builder and all around nice guy, and the beautiful and talented Roxanne Coyne. Somehow Ron got the guy who used to play Robin to Adam West’s Batman (Burt Ward) to play an alien in a wild costume.
The main problem, as seasoned actor Michael Wayne (who joined the cast to play the villain) pointed out to me one day, was two directors. For some reason, Mark kept butting in on Ron, even though Ron was well prepared and knew exactly what he wanted to do, was well liked by the cast, and had written the script.
Need I add that Ron started his own production company, Fat Free Features, as soon as possible?
Twilight of the Dogs, written by and starring Tim Sullivan
There he made his magnum opus, Hollywood Mortuary, in which Ron played a Bela Lugosi-like actor named Janos Blasko, and I essayed the role of Pratt Borokoff, lisping away as I’d been doing since first seeing Boris Karloff in the early sixties and trying to imitate his voice for the amusements of my classmates. It’s a film for fans of classic horror, and Randal Malone makes the most of his lead role as a makeup man who becomes an undertaker, Pierce Jackson Dawn. It was inevitable that he’d find the secret of bringing the dead back to life, of course, and he gets to work on Borokoff and Blasko pretty soon, making them do his evil bidding. He wants nothing less than fatal revenge on the studio moguls who ended his movie career.
I call him Janos to this day.
Ron Ford and Tim Sullivan as Janos Blasko and Pratt Borokof in “Hollywood Mortuary”
We had tremendous fun, even though much of Hollywood Mortuary was filmed during one of the worst heat waves I’ve ever suffered through. One thing you can always depend on with a Ron Ford Movie is a family atmosphere, and that was abundant on this shoot. Another thing you can always depend on is that he’ll get the picture made come hell or high water. Ron never quits.
And that’s not all. When I directed my own feature a couple of years later, Ron was there to help in every way he could. Did I mention his generosity and kindness?
If it isn’t obvious by now, let me just add that I’m very happy and proud to call Ron “Janos” Ford my old friend.
* * * *
Thank you, Pratt old thing. I feel the same way. A few editorial things: I am no longer married – not for 8 years now. Old Tucson was indeed rebuilt, and Tim was delightful in all his roles in Alien Force and all the pictures he appeared in. Don’t listen to his modest self-deprecation.
Vista Street Entertainment is one of the distributor/producers that I often created product for in the late 90s and early 2000s , the golden age of microbudgetry. Jerry Feifer, who owns and runs the company, specialized in erotica – erotic action, erotic comedies, erotic horror – all-erotica, all the time. He is perhaps best known for the Witchcraft series. Parts 13, 14 and 15 have recently finished shooting. However, back in 1999, I wrote and directed part 11. To date, it is the only movie I ever made on 16 mm film that was released. Jerry and I had worked together before, peripherally, through some of the projects I did for producer David Sterling. I learned that Jerry was planning to do another Witchcraft film, after a break of a few years. I told Jerry that I wanted that project, since it was, even at that time, known as the longest-running series in horror. It seemed like it would be a nice feather in my cap. Jerry, in the spirit of movie showmen, gave me a counter offer. He said he had a nearly impossible project for some Korean investors. They wanted to shoot an erotic version of Terminator, with a buxom female terminator, that would be designed to include actual effects sequences from the Terminator movies, copyrights be damned. The name of this masterwork? “Turborator.” For a pretty non-existent budget I would have to deliver new buxom ladies willing to shed their tops pretty much on a daily basis for the shoot. It would be a nightmare of logistics, organization and sweat and sleepless nights, Jerry told me, but if I pulled it off, I could do Witchcraft XI. I went him one better. I said if I pull off “Turborator,” I want to make “Wichcraft XI” on film. He agreed. Nightmare doesn’t start to cover it. The trials and tribulations of “Turborator” could be a whole other blog post. Hell, it could be a book. Needless to say, though, we got it all in the can. I used my pseudonym Mac Cobb in the credits. There was a sympathetic rapist in the horrendous script that I did not want association with. I should probably be flogged for committing it to video at all, but there it is, full confession. I felt kind of dirty about it then , and now. Okay, really filthy.
I don’t know what became of “Turborator” in Korea, but Jerry used scenes I shot for it in two other incomprehensible mashup movies using scenes from other projects with the same actors in them. One was “Red Light Stalker,” and the other was called “License to Kill,”James Bond be damned. The formula for a witchcraft movie is that it be a horror film with what Jerry calls “love” scenes every 15 minutes at least. That means topless simulated sex, which pretty much kills the pace if you have any pretense of telling a real story. But that was the formula that came with the job, and I did my best to tell a full story in spite of the boobage. The previous entry in the series was a vampire film. I wanted to take the series back to it’s origins, witches, and to make as serious a horror film as I could under the circumstances.
With my theater background, I naturally thought of Macbeth and the three weird sisters who predict Macbeth’s fate in the beginning of the play. I came up with the idea of having a drama teacher who is actually a Satanist using three University students as vessels to resurrect a trio of evil witch sisters who were buried on the grounds where the university was later built. I wanted to call it “Witchcraft XI: The Weird Sister,” like in Macbeth, but Jerry thought that Shakespeare stuff was too highbrow, and changed it to “Wichcraft XI: Sisters in Blood.” C’est la mort.
I also pushed the level of gore in the series. Jerry was not fond of the red stuff, but I talked him in to letting me take it a little further than he was comfortable with. I was shackled with some of the casting and some I had control of. It was a mixed bag, but it was always great to work with old friends like Stephanie Beaton, Mikul Robins and Joe Haggerty. I also brought in silent screen star Anita Page, in one of her last screen roles, as an ancient nun who guards the key to the gateway to hell. Anita had been in some of my earlier films, along with her caregiver, Randal Malone. I knew her quite well. Jerry was amazed and thrilled to find that she was in the movie. He was a fan!
In the end, I delivered less footage than any other director who had ever worked for Jerry. I thought he would be pleased, I planned my shoot so efficiently that I save him money. He surprised me initially by getting angry, telling me it couldn’t possibly cut with so little coverage shot. But the coverage was all there, just not a lot of takes, because I rehearsed a lot more than I usually did before shooting, for the very purpose of not wasting expensive film. Jerry ate his words when of course it did cut, and he was very happy with the film. He continued to hire me for other projects after that.
Steven Warren was a make-up effects guy that Dave Sterling introduced me to. He was young, very young, like 18 I believe, maybe 19. He was nervous and awkward and really nice and bursting with creative energy. I liked him a lot. He created some wicked gnarly decomposing witch-things that out of stone knives and bearskins. Okay, not quite, but he just grabbed his kit and improvised and beautifully creepy things emerged that delighted me. In the film story, the witches are intent on raising the monster demon Abadon. Spoiler alert, they do! Originally I had intended to use a stop motion puppet for our giant monster, just because I grew up on Harryhausen films and because they are awesome. That did not work out on our budget, however, so Steve and I improvised in his back yard. He threw a monster costume together that he wore himself and I shot him, lying on my back and using the sky above as a blue screen. It was the only shot in the movie not shot by our DP Scott Spears, and also the only one that that was shot on video and not 16mm film. A short time after we wrapped, Dave Sterling called, waking me up to tell me that Steven had hanged himself in his closet that morning. Apparently he had been having girlfriend troubles and didn’t know how to cope. I was pretty heartbroken. We all were. In the end, we dedicated the film to Steven. It’s a shoddy memorial to such a beautiful young soul, but it’s the best we could do.…
Jeff Leroy was an invaluable player in nearly all of my early Southern California movies. He shot most of them, always with style and aplomb, and always with an eagerness to take artistic risks. He also edited most of those movies, and provided digital and miniature effects as needed. He is one of the few DPs I have ever worked with who was as conversant with the history of film as myself. When I said I wanted Mario Bava-style colors in THE CRAWLING BRAIN, he knew just what I meant and delivered the goods without further explanation necessary.
Jeff is the epitome of the independent, grassroot, microbudget filmmaker guy. He is a one man band who creates over the top, effects laden marvels like nobody else is making. RAT SCRATCH FEVER is part Gerry Anderson, part Bert I. Gordon, part Sam Peckinpah, and all mind-boggling entertainment. Jeff writes, directs, creates effects, shoots and edits his own stuff. It’s a shame he isn’t more known, but kudos, he’s still slugging it out and making a living after 36 years of this.
Jeff cites THE WAGES OF FEAR and THE WILD BUNCH as his two favorite movies. I can’t argue with those choices. But he also lists a diverse assortment of influences, and when you see his movies, they make total sense as the source of his muse.
“The Poseidon Adventure in late ’72 made a huge impression on me,” Leroy said. “I saw all those disaster movies and became interested in the combination of characters you actually care about combined with special effects. Particularly miniature destruction. Late 60’s early 70’s seem to be a really favorite time for me: PATTON, 2001, DEATH WISH, DELIVERANCE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. STRAW DOGS, TAXI DRIVER. Sci fit v shows like STAR TREK, UFO, SPACE: 1999 (Season 1), BUCK ROGERS (season one). SUPERMAN 1978. – Where is all the fun in today’s comic book movies? Only GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY got it right.”
Jeff took those influence and, independent from the start, he raised funds and made his own movie.
“I’ve been making home movies since 1979. My first released film, CRACK UP, was completed in 1996,” Leroy said. “It was my loving homage to Sam Peckinpah. The 16mm film was kind of a mess, but coherent enough to get released. And the check didn’t bounce!”
Jeff did get burned in other ways, however, and that cemented his conviction to do it all himself.
“On my second film, THE SCREAMING (1999), the co-producer promised this prop guy that worked on BABYLON 5 would build this great prop for my movie,” Leroy said. “He kept promising this prop right up to the minute we were shooting. Then. he finally admitted he didn’t even start building the prop while we were shooting. Since then, I’ve had a strong distrust of everyone. If you don’t handle it yourself, it will be screwed up. Since those days I’ve met some DP’s and producers I really like to work with and grown to trust them. And actors, too. Phoebe Dollar. Victoria De Mare. Tasha Tacosa. Rachel Riley to name a few.”
Jeff has a philosophy about filmmaking, and it’s grounded in realistic commerce. That’s probably why he is still doing this, 36 years later.
“Unless you are independently wealthy, you are taking thousands of dollars from someone to make a movie that will hopefully make the money back and turn a profit,” Leroy said. “If you make some artistic masterpiece only you have the brilliance to understand, you won’t be in business long. Not everyone can be David Lynch. I attempt to make fast moving, fun, exploitation films that people will enjoy with some artsy touches. Movies that I enjoy watching and keep the producer in black ink. That’s about it.”
Jeff is staying busy with titles that would make any exploitation hound drool.
“[My 2006 film] WEREWOLF IN A WOMEN’S PRISON has two sequels coming! DRACULA IN A WOMEN’S PRISON and FRANKENSTEIN IN A WOMEN’S PRISON,” Leroy gushed. “I also have a very funny movie or web series called GIANTESS ATTACK that I’m working on. As you know, the market for straight to video movies is in the toilet. I am very grateful I can still do this and scrape out a living.”
Amen Jeff. You’ve done a valiant job of it. Keep it up. You are an inspiration to the rest of us.