Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon on their Favorite Hollywood Screenwriting Movie, Barton Fink

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article is about a screening which took place in July of 2011.

Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon dropped by New Beverly Cinema to host a double feature of the movies they consider to be the best about screenwriting in Hollywood: “Barton Fink” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Garant and Lennon are known for writing the scripts for the “A Night at the Museum” movies, creating the MTV sketch comedy series “The State,” and starring in Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” They were invited to screen some of their films, but both flatly refused as they consider only two of them “watchable.”

Much of the evening was spent talking about “Barton Fink,” as they both see it as their life story. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Joel, it stars John Turturro as the Barton of the movie’s title, a respected playwright from New York who moves to Los Angeles to write for the movies. While there, he stays in the dilapidated Hotel Earle where he befriends insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), who tells Barton he sells “a piece of mind.” Barton also deals with the overzealous movie boss Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner, in an Oscar-nominated performance), who tells him he cares deeply about his writing ability but who, in the end, is far more interested in what the audience wants to see.

Garant and Lennon recollected about watching “Barton Fink” back in 1991, the year before they started working on “The State” for MTV. They found it funny and abstract as Jack Lipnick chews out Barton for being “too fruity,” and they both looked at each other and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if movie studios were really like that?”

But soon after that, they both found those meetings Barton had were exactly like ones they ended up having in Hollywood. They consider this and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to be a far more accurate depiction of Hollywood than Robert Altman’s “The Player,” and, as John Travolta said in “Pulp Fiction,” “That’s a bold statement!” Tony Shaloub’s character of movie producer Ben Geisler ends up getting fired without ever reading Barton’s script, and to this the two of them replied, “That’s Hollywood!”

They also joked about how “Barton Fink” acted as the origin story for John Turturro’s character of Jesus in “The Big Lebowski.” John Goodman, who is also in “Lebowski,” ends up giving Turturro a box, and the Coens never say or show us what is in it (very smart on their part). For all we know, it’s Jesus’ bowling ball in there. Either that, or it is the same box featured at the end of David Fincher’s “Seven.”

Garant and Lennon recently released a book they wrote called “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at The Box Office and You Can Too!” If you take a good close look at the title, you will see the word “fun” has been crossed out. They were a hilarious delight as they talked about their ups and downs screenwriting in Hollywood. It was as fun to hang out with them for this double feature as it was guessing what their favorite quotes from “Barton Fink” were. They did, however, make it very clear that this was not one of them:

“The writer is king at Capitol Pictures!”

A few years later, I got to interview with Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon about “Hell Baby,” a horror comedy they wrote, directed and starred in. I brought up how I attended their double feature of screenwriting movies and of how “Hell Baby” was made independently without any interference from studio executives. I assumed they enjoyed the immense freedom they had in making this film, and it was the kind of freedom which was denied to them when they wrote the “A Night at the Museum” movies.

Please check out the interview below which I did for We Got This Covered. In addition, to Garant and Lennon, I also got to talk with Keegan Michael Key, Rob Huebel and Rob Corddry.

So Bad Its Good: Josh Olson on His Favorite Cult Movie Musicals

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

Writer Josh Olson, best known for penning the screenplay to David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” dropped by New Beverly Cinema to introduce two of his favorite cult movie musicals: “The Apple” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” These films were not well received critically or commercially when first released, but they have since gained a cult following, and the fans have come to appreciate them for reasons the filmmakers did not exactly intend. This was especially the case with “The Apple” which has since become one of the most unique movie musicals ever made.

Olson thanked those who came to this double feature and made clear to us he worships at the altar of “The Apple” and shows it to those unfamiliar with it (a.k.a. virgins) everywhere. He even remarked how two close friends of his, after they saw it, had a baby. The movie tells the story of two young Canadian musicians, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), who travel to America to participate in an infinitely popular music festival. They are approached by the powerful entertainment agent Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) to sign with him, but Alphie sees the dark side of the music industry and refuses to be a part of it. Bibi, however, finds herself caught up in the wild lifestyle this industry has to offer, and it is up to Alfie to rescue her from Boogalow’s evil clutches.

In addition to screenwriting, Olson works for a website run by filmmaker Joe Dante called Trailers from Hell, and he talked about how the trailer for “The Apple” was one of the first he did a commentary track for.

Josh Olson: I stand by almost everything I said on that commentary except at one point I did use the phrase “it’s so bad it’s good,” and I regret that today. This movie has taught me that that phrase is meaningless. Intention does not matter. There are great movies out there that are so much better than the filmmakers intended them to make or had a right to make. Everything is accidental in this business so I don’t think it matters. I think either a movie is great or it is not, and there are movies that people think are wonderful that just won’t entertain you one iota as much as “The Apple” will.

Olson made it clear to the audience he will never again use the phrase “so bad its good” in reference to “The Apple” as he considers it to be one of the greatest movies in the history of the world. Once it was shown, he came back to the front of the audience to introduce the movie version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and said there was no way to top “The Apple,” so he wasn’t going to even try.

Olson talked briefly about “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” before it started. It was directed by Michael Schultz who previously made “Car Wash” which Olson described as a “weird, urban Robert Altman film,” and also “Cooley High” which he called one of the most formative films from his childhood. Olson told the audience at the New Beverly how Schultz got involved in making a cinematic adaptation of the Beatles’ classic album.

Josh Olson: Robert Stigwood (one of the most successful movie producers of the 1970’s) came to him and offered him “Grease” to direct, and Schultz looked at it and said, “This is fucking horrible and I don’t want anything to do with it.” So, he passed on “Grease” and it then went on to make a trillion dollars, and Robert Stigwood came back to him with the idea of turning the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” into a movie starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. To this, Schultz said, “Wow, this sounds like a worse idea than ‘Grease.’ But what do I know, I passed on ‘Grease.’”

After watching the “Sgt. Pepper” movie, we were all in agreement with Olson that it was one of the most “batshit” ideas for a feature film, and it remains one of the biggest critical disasters in motion picture history. Olson, however, did try to rationalize this particular movie’s existence as it was made back in the 1970’s.

Josh Olson: It was a better time back then, and you have to have the yin to balance out the yang. The really good ones (movies) were almost indistinguishable from the really bad ones. But we had people thinking “Sgt. Pepper” was a good idea for a movie, and we also had people who were making “Apocalypse Now” back then, so it was a small price to pay.

Big thanks to Josh Olson for putting this crazy double feature together. “The Apple” isn’t so much a movie musical as it is an experience, and you won’t find another one quite like it. As for “Sgt. Pepper,” we may never get another opportunity to see it on the big screen again, so those who stayed could not quite say they regretted sitting through it. But yeah, it really was a bad idea for a movie.

Edgar Wright Talks with John Landis About 'Animal House'

Asks for Babs!

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2011 when this screening took place.

Edgar Wright continued his film festival he named The Wright Stuff II at New Beverly Cinema with “Animal House,” and joining him for this screening was special guest John Landis who directed it and succeeded in making what Wright called the first “adult gross out comedy ever.” Landis said director Todd Phillips had already made three movies where he did several shot for shot steals from “Animal House,” and even Wright had to admit he may have subconsciously stolen the taking coat gag for “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” from it as well.

“Animal House” was Landis’ third film, and he made it soon after finishing “Kentucky Fried Movie.” However, he was not the first choice to direct as it was initially offered to John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”), then later to Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) and Mike Nichols (“The Graduate”) who all turned it down. Landis said they all passed on it saying, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Landis was drawn to this project by what he called “a very smart script” written by Doug Kenney, Harold Ramis and Chris Miller. Landis gave a lot of the credit to Kenney who had come to this from the Harvard Lampoon where he was described as being “consistently brilliant.” Kenney wrote scripts called “Laser Orgy Girls” and “Charles Manson In High School,” but then he did “High School Yearbook” which eventually evolved into “Animal House.” The thought was there were so many off-color elements to where it made more sense to set it in college.

“Animal House” marked the film debut of many young actors who would soon become big stars in their own right. It was John Belushi’s first movie, and he was already an established star thanks to “Saturday Night Live.” Tom Hulce was doing the play “Equis” on Broadway when cast, and Bruce McGill was discovered doing Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” As for Karen Allen, she originally drove her friend to audition for it, but she never planned to audition herself. But Landis took one look and told her, “First off, you just lost a friend. Second, we want you in the movie!”

Others from “Saturday Night Live” were considered, but Lorne Michaels was getting pissed about losing more of his cast. While Landis got Belushi despite a crazy schedule which had him available for only three days a week, Michaels refused to let Dan Aykroyd be in it. Then there was Chevy Chase, the show’s first breakout star, who was getting offered everything and decided to do “Foul Play” with Goldie Hawn instead.

The only veterans in “Animal House” were Tim Matheson who started off as a child actor, and Donald Sutherland who was already a big star. All of Sutherland’s scenes were shot in two days, and he was offered $35,000 plus gross points. Sutherland, however, instead took an offer of a flat $50,000 which turned out later to be a mistake as the movie made over $140 million. Everyone else was paid scale except for Belushi, and the horse got $150,000. This led Landis to admit, “I got paid less than the horse!”

The late John Vernon who played Dean Wormer was talked about quite a bit. Vernon played his role so deadly straight, and Landis said Vernon got exactly what the movie was all about. Vernon was also the only one involved with “Animal House” who knew it would be a success as Landis remarked at how he said, “No one realizes what an important movie this will be.”

“Animal House” had a budget of $2.1 million, was shot in 32 days and averaged about 43 setups each day of shooting. Landis said the studio left them alone during the making of it, but they later complained about certain things. They did not like the actors who were chosen and even said, “Why’d you hire John Vernon?! He’s a television actor, a villain in a Clint Eastwood movie!”

The studio also voiced concern over the scene where some of the characters visit a black bar. They feared, Landis quoted them as saying, that “black people will riot” and would “tear up the screen.” But Landis and the producers were adamant of how the scene was told from a white person’s perspective and that it was meant to be subjective. Landis even got Richard Pryor’s take on it, and Pryor said, “I think it’s funny and white people are crazy!”

Studio executives also had an issue with the girls never being shown going home after the party. This led one of them to ask, “How do we know those girls weren’t raped?”

Test screening “Animal House” was an interesting story. The filmmakers took it to Denver where it had audiences screaming with laughter. Landis even taped the audience’s reaction and played it for Belushi over the phone. As a result, Belushi jumped at the chance to attend another screening of it in Atlanta where it ended up being shown to a bunch of what Landis called “drunken booksellers” who sat in stone cold silence throughout. Landis said Belushi came out of it saying the movie needed to be recut, but he was told to shut up by the producers who reminded him he wasn’t around for the Denver preview.

In the end, audiences found “Animal House” to be extremely funny and filled with many laugh-out loud moments, and that’s even if not everybody got the Belushi erection joke. That there was a sold-out audience at the New Beverly is proof of how it continues to stand the test of time. Landis thanked everyone for coming out and said the movie will soon be debuting on Blu-ray, and that all the grain which was taken out while being remastered has been put right back in.

The Grindhouse Film Festival Pays Tribute to Russ Meyer and Tura Satana

Faster Pussycat Kill Kill movie poster

Back in May of 2011, the Grindhouse Film Festival paid tribute to director Russ Meyer and the late actress Tura Satana, both of whom are best known for having worked together on the exploitation classic “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.” This film screened at New Beverly Cinema along with “The Doll Squad” which Tura co-starred in, and in attendance were two actresses from the 1965 cult film: Haji and Susan Bernard. Both said if Satana were still with us, she would have been very pleased by the large turnout.

Satana starred as Varla, the leader of a trio of thrill-seeking go-go dancers. Her contribution to the 1965 movie was she added karate scenes and even choreographed them with the stunt director. Satana died in February of 2011 from heart failure, and Haji burst into tears confessing just how much she misses her and her pot roast. Bernard said Satana had a very big heart. She was 72 when she passed away, but we came out of this screening feeling like she left us way too soon.

In talking about Meyer, both ladies described him as a “good hearted man” who always visited his mother on Christmas Day. They described his editing and photography on his movies as being consistently top notch, and he always worked with the same five men crew which became a “tight knit” family. Bernard also remarked how he had a natural instinct about actors in what they could do without direction. It got to where he went up to the cast and said, “Here’s your scripts, do your thing.”

Bernard recalled her big driving scene where she got into the truck and of how she told Russ she had never drove a stick shift before. To this, Meyer replied, “You’ll figure it out.”

Both actresses made it very clear Meyer always took care of the girls and made sure they were well rested and that he ensured they did not have sex during filming as he always wanted them to look horny onscreen. Working with Meyer also made them both understand what he stood for: freedom of expression, anti-prejudice, equal rights for everyone and, along with the late Hugh Hefner anti-censorship.

Haji further remarked if you went into Meyer’s movies a complete wimp, you came out a toughened and changed person. He had the cast sleeping in tents out in the desert with scorpions, snakes and tarantulas threatening them when they least expected it. After doing one film with Meyer, Haji said she came out if it “rugged,” but they remained very good friends all the way up to his death.

“Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” is considered the cinematic origin of girl power and female empowerment. Unlike the endless number of films which came afterwards, it had no cursing and no nudity. Haji even said you could take your kids to see it. Whether or not taking kids to this movie is a good idea, there is no doubt of how much influence it has had on movies and popular culture. This cult classic still draws quite the crowd for good reason: women have the upper hand against those against them, and they are never ever weak. When you think about it, this was not always the case with movies back in the 1960’s.

So Bad It’s Good: Ed Adlum Looks Back at ‘Invasion of the Blood Farmers’

Invasion of the Blood Farmers movie poster

Ed Adlum was the Grindhouse Film Festival’s guest of honor at New Beverly Cinema on September 25, 2012. Among the movies of Adlum’s were showing there on this evening was his 1972 cult horror movie “Invasion of the Blood Farmers.” Many have described this film as being delightfully dreadful, and Adlum is not blind to its lack of quality. Watching it with an audience, however, and hearing Adlum talk about what got him to make movies made this a highly entertaining evening.

Adlum was actually involved in the music business before he decided to make movies, and he was a writer for Cashbox Magazine back in the 1960’s. This determination which led him to do the things he wanted to do came about in his youth.

“When I was a kid, I was one of these ambitious fellas who was gonna show everybody in the East Bronx that I was special,” Adlum said. “Now how that happened is up to the psychiatric profession, but it happened anyhow. I was short, I was not especially good looking and frightened of girls. I was number one in school and you know how that can happen, and I was the kind of person who often said in his own head I’m gonna be something special. So, when you have a motivation like that, all you need is the occasion, and the occasion came along.”

From there, Adlum talked about how he met Jimmy Walker whose band Castle Kings he ended up joining as a guitarist. He went on to say Walker and him made “several really bad” albums after being signed by Atlantic Records and that they eventually split up to do their own things. Adlum then went on to join the army as everyone was in the army back then thanks to General Dwight Eisenhower. Following this, he started Replay Magazine which covered the jukebox and coin-up industries.

When he moved to California, Adlum decided he wanted to fulfill his heart’s desire to make a movie. He came up with the story for his directorial debut while talking with a friend of his named Jackie.

“Why don’t we do something about a planet that’s dying from lack of food and call it Hianus and they all come to the earth in search of a food supply for their planet back home, but they find it in human blood,” Adlum said. “And I stop right in the middle of the floor and I say ‘Jackie I got it, Invasion of the Blood Farmers!’ From that point I went to my friends in the jukebox business and I raised the money. One of the guys that worked with me at Cashbox Magazine named Ed Kelleher and I wrote the script. We made that movie for $24,000 dollars.”

Adlum went on to describe “Invasion of the Blood Farmers” as being “bad good” and that “it is just a hoot which is like saying I don’t believe this picture.” Doing the movie also got him to meet Mike Findlay who ended up directing a film Adlum wrote and produced called “Shriek of the Mutilated,” and they became “fierce friends” as a result.

“Invasion of the Blood Farmers” cannot be mistaken for classic cinema as it has a number of things wrong with it: bad acting, erratic editing and serious continuity problems. Still, none of us could come out of it saying we were not entertained. When all is said and done, Ed Adlum did achieve his dream of making a movie, and in a way this was more than enough. The only thing even funnier than the unintentional laughs in the movie itself is, despite all the blood and gore, how it ended up getting a PG rating from the MPAA. Even in the 1970’s this group proved to be a hypocritical bunch! Some things never change.

Here are some other tidbits of trivia about this movie:

Most of the cast members worked for a six-pack of beer as payment.

It was shot over three weekends and never made its money back.

Cast members Richard Erickson and Richard Kennedy were so bad at memorizing dialogue that they ended up having to read off cue cards.

The production went through eight and a half bottles of stage blood.

 

William Lustig, Robert Forster and Company on the Making of ‘Vigilante’

Vigilante movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: It was a shock to learn of Robert Forster’s death on October 11, 2019 after a battle with brain cancer. He was 78 years old. I remain in awe of his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” for which he deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as he was able to convey so much while doing so little. Having bumped into him once at New Beverly Cinema, I can also confirm he could not have been a nicer guy.

The following article is about a screening which took place at New Beverly Cinema back in 2010 in which Forster was one of the main guests, and I present here in his memory. RIP Robert.

Filmmaker William Lustig appeared at the Grindhouse Film Festival at New Beverly Cinema to talk about his 1983 “Death Wish” exploitation knock off, “Vigilante.” Joining Lustig for this Q&A were some of the film’s stars: Robert Forster, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Frank Pesce. For these four men, the evening was full of laughs and great memories as they discussed the making of this movie which was shot in what they called the “real New York” with blue collar workers and all.

The print of “Vigilante” being shown was from Lustig’s own collection and was over twenty years old. The color was pretty faded which the director apologized for. While they could have shown a digital copy of it instead, he was quick to remark, “The great thing about going to the Grindhouse is the prints, warts and all.”

Forster said he got cast thanks to Pesce and Lustig who remembered him from another movie Lustig made called “Alligator.” The role of factory worker Eddie Marino was originally given to Tony Musante who later turned it down by saying he did not want to work with “those guys.” Forster said the three guys onstage with him did more for his career than anybody, and he also got four or five film roles from Pesce alone as well as a set of golf clubs which he still uses.

Forster also had a very positive overview regarding his career as an actor:

“I never ever worried about the jobs I didn’t do. Every single movie I’ve done has been instructive to me in its own way.”

Pesce said he was also responsible for getting Williamson cast in “Vigilante,” but Williamson saw it a bit differently:

“I don’t remember how I got involved and I don’t give a damn!”

Suffice to say, Williamson was the coolest guy in the theater on this evening.

Pesce also gleefully told one story about the scene between him and Williamson where he was chasing him and they get separated by a chain link fence. Between takes, Pesce asked Lustig, “Should I spit through the fence at Fred?” “Do what you want to do,” Lustig replied.

So Pesce did what his instincts told him to do, the director yelled cut, and afterwards Williamson went up to Lustig and told him point blank, “Cut the spit.” Williamson’s reasoning in saying this to the director was very blunt:

“You don’t do that to a brother!”

Lustig also got Williamson to talk about some of the ad libs he came up with on set like when he was asked what he thought about capital punishment:

“Do you think anyone really misses Ted Bundy?”

Pesce also remarked how the scene with the guy in the wheelchair he pushed over was actually an homage to a similar one with Richard Widmark in “Kiss of Death.”

“Vigilante” may not be great cinema, but watching it with an audience was highly entertaining and we were lucky enough to have Lustig, Forster, Pesce and Williamson on hand to talk about it. Lustig summed it up best:

“There always seems to be a need for retribution movies.”

 

 

Joe Dante Talks About the Making of ‘Innerspace’ at New Beverly Cinema

Innerspace movie poster

On August 22, 2012, UCLA’s Association of Movie Archivists (AMIA) student chapter concluded its “Something Old, Something New” festival at New Beverly Cinema with a double feature of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Innerspace.” The audience also got a special treat when the director of “Innerspace,” Joe Dante, stopped by, and he took great delight in sharing his experiences in making the 1987 science fiction comedy.

Dante pointed out how both movies actually have something in common; William Schallert, who played Grant Williams’ doctor in “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” also plays Martin Short’s doctor in “Innerspace.”

“Innerspace” was originally meant to be a “serious spy movie” when Dante first heard about it, but he said wasn’t interested in directing it. Warner Brothers at one point even thought about making it into a movie about a crew exploring the human body, and Dante said he didn’t have the heart to tell the executives there was already a movie about this subject which was called “Fantastic Voyage.”

But when Jeffrey Boam, who would later write the screenplay for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” rewrote the script, he turned it into a comedy. Boam described his script to Dante as “Dean Martin being shrunk and then put into Jerry Lewis,” and this got Dante interested in making the movie. The only thing was Steven Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment, was making the movie, and Spielberg wanted his protégé Robert Zemeckis to direct it. Zemeckis, however, decided he didn’t want to direct, and Dante said he “inherited it” as a result.

Dante said he had a “wonderful experience” making “Innerspace” mainly because of the cast which included actors Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan among others. The movie was shot in San Francisco, and things went fine even though Senator Dianne Feinstein apparently hates it when filmmakers come up north to shoot there.

In talking about working with Short, Dante said the actor “liked doing many takes” and that he “did a lot of improvisation” throughout. But when Dante had to tell Short that they had “more than enough takes” to work with, Short got on his knees and told him in his Katherine Hepburn voice, “No Joe! Please let me do just one more!”

What made “Innerspace” less fun for Dante, however, was that the studio found it to be “not funny.” After one particular day of filming, Dante recalled studio executives from Warner Brothers invited him out to lunch and told him what he was doing wasn’t funny and they thought he “should know that.” They also described Short as being “not very attractive” and wanted to recast the role with someone like Dennis Quaid instead. Upon hearing this, Dante asked them, “Did you even read the script?!”

Dante reflected there are many executives involved in the making of any movie, and they all want to “have their say” in what ends up onscreen. After hearing what they had to say, Dante said he wondered if he was the only one on the set who thought what he was doing was funny. While this conversation left him with a lot of anxiety, he decided to “plow on” and just make the movie he always intended to make.

When it came to test screenings, Dante said “Innerspace” got “one of the best previews” of any movie he had ever worked on. He even recalled how the studio executives who once doubted him were “high-fiving each other” and believed they had such a hit to where “they didn’t think it needed any advertising as a result.”

“Innerspace,” however, ended up flopping at the box office in the summer of 1987, and Dante said this was because Warner Brothers did not know how to promote it and that the original poster failed to include the movie’s actors on it. Dante even recalled the review from Los Angeles Times which said the movie “crashed and burned.” Regardless, it later became one of the first movies to find the audience it deserved on videotape and DVD, and it has since developed a strong cult following. It also won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and this was back when CGI effects were far from ever becoming a reality. Film critic Roger Ebert apparently thought the red blood cells we see in the movie were actually real, and Dante ended up having to tell him they were not.

Joe Dante said most comedies don’t work unless they are seen in a movie theater, and “Innerspace” is definitely proof of this. The audience at New Beverly Cinema was laughing constantly throughout, and the movie still holds up very well to this day. It was great to see Dante this evening as his presence was once again a reminder of how delightfully entertaining a filmmaker he truly is.

Grindhouse Film Festival’s Screening of ‘Blood Beach’ at New Beverly Cinema

Blood Beach poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This screening took place back in 2011.

With the beginning of the fall season, the Grindhouse Film Festival screened a movie at New Beverly Cinema to let the feeling of summer linger just a little bit longer: “Blood Beach.” This 1980 low-budget horror flick has been out of print for many years, and it still has not seen a DVD release in America. It’s amazing anyone was able to find a print of it to show on this particular evening of November 8, 2011. Joining the audience for a Q&A following the screening were the movie’s writer and director Jeffrey Bloom, director of photography Steven Poster, and actor John Saxon.

Bloom told the audience he had not seen “Blood Beach” in 30 years, and Saxon said he remembers its first screening but doesn’t remember audiences laughing at it like they did at this one. Poster sees it as his first real feature, and this is despite the fact he had worked on other movies beforehand, and Saxon confirmed this was the first time he ever played a police chief in a movie. Looking back, Bloom described it as a “beautiful looking film” even if we couldn’t tell it from the faded print which looked like it had been mostly drained of its color.

This was a very low budget production which found life through an Asian financier who was looking to do horror movies. Bloom recalls writing the script for “Blood Beach” in a week and a half, and he had a celebration in order to promote it which had buttons with the following saying: “Blood Beach Sucks You In!”

At this same party, a movie executive accosted Bloom, saw his button and subsequently told him, “Artists don’t promote their movies like this!” He then tried to rip the button off of Bloom’s shirt until Bloom explained to him why he was wearing it in the first place. From there the executive told Bloom, “Give me the script!”

Two weeks later, “Blood Beach” started production.

The special effect of sucking victims into the sand proved to be quite effective, as you can tell from the movie’s poster. To achieve this frightening effect, Bloom said tractors were brought in to dig into the sand. Afterwards, the crew built a platform where a “membrane” was placed where the actors could easily be pulled into the sand. This led to the movie’s clever take on a famous catchphrase from “Jaws 2:”

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water … you can’t get to it!”

As for the monster causing all the murderous havoc, the cast and crew agreed its reveal proved to be a “big disappointment” and that it looked like nothing more than a “giant artichoke.” One audience member asked what the concept of the creature was, and Bloom replied they never had one which was the problem. No one had bothered to draw up pictures as to what they wanted this monster to look like, leaving it up to the creature designer to come up with something.

Poster laments how no one can seem to find out who owns the rights to “Blood Beach.” He has had the opportunity to remaster a lot of the movies he has worked on like “Dead and Buried,” and he says it’s a shame he can’t do more work on this one: It’s a better film than he remembers it being. There is a lot of humor to be found in this low budget horror flick which has since gained a cult following, and critics overseas found it to be hilarious. Like many lost movies out there, hopefully this one will eventually find its way to a digital release.

Since writing this article, there have been a few updates regarding “Blood Beach:”

As of 2012, it has only been officially released on DVD in Germany.

In 2015, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema re-released it in 35mm as part of the “NY! Hudson Horror Show” which was held in Yonkers, a city in Westchester County, New York. It was promoted by a new theatrical poster designed by artist Stephen Romano.

Quentin Tarantino and His March Madness at New Beverly Cinema

Quentin Tarantino New Beverly Cinema photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011.

With his birthday falling on March 27th, actor, writer and director Quentin Tarantino plans to celebrate the month of his birth at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, the same theater he saved from becoming just another Supercuts. The theater’s calendar for March includes a number of exploitation classics, some animated movies that Walt Disney would never have even thought of making, and several other films which are not currently available on DVD. Many of these cinematic experiences are very rare, and it is highly unlikely you will see them anywhere else.

Tarantino ended up making a surprise appearance at the New Beverly on March 1st, 2011 to introduce the first double feature of his month of programming: “Crack House” and “Redneck Miller.” Now “Crack House” was one of the myriad releases from Cannon Films during the 1980’s, and it follows young lovers Rick and Melissa whose relationship gets torn apart when Rick’s brother gets shot to death by a rival gang, and Rick quickly rejoins the gang he left for a better life to avenge his brother’s senseless murder. Of course, this all goes awry when Rick gets sent to prison while Melissa falls in with a drug dealer and gets hooked on crack cocaine.

Tarantino described “Crack House” as being very, very special to him as it came out in 1989, the very last year in which exploitation movies played in movie houses. From when he was young, he talked about making a list each year of the ten best exploitation movies that came out, and among his top picks was George A. Romero’s “Day of The Dead.” “Crack House” got the very last exploitation movie of the year award from Tarantino before these lists were rendered obsolete.

With exploitation movies, Tarantino said we were all attracted to them through their “50’s-ness of juvenile delinquentness.” Basically, these films were the bad boys of cinema, the ones which didn’t follow the rules nor did they ever apologize for being trashy entertainment. From the 1950’s onward, exploitation cinema succeeded in reflecting the juvenile delinquents of each passing decade. But when it came to the 1980’s, these same movies suddenly became unwatchable because, as Tarantino correctly pointed out:

“The 80’s were one fucked up decade!”

But “Crack House” is one of those rare 80’s exploitation flicks which does get better as it goes along. Even Tarantino admitted how shocked he was to find he actually “gave a fuck” about these characters who might seem like stereotypical bad boys to everyone else. The “Pulp Fiction” director also acknowledged the terrific “guest star” cast which included Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft) as a no-nonsense cop, and all-time football great Jim Brown as a vicious drug kingpin.

Tarantino’s brand of March Madness at the New Beverly will culminate in a week long showing of “Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair.” This is the combined version of both films into one single movie which screened at the Cannes Film Festival and has never been seen before in the United States. At four hours long, there was no way New Beverly was just going to show it two nights of the week! However, as I write this, all advance tickets for each night are now sold out (NOOOOO!!!). Your best bet is to get to the theater really early in the hopes you can get in through the standby line.

In any event, here’s to a month of great, unabashed entertainment at the New Beverly Cinema!

Top photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times.

 

Geretta Geretta on Working with Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei

 

Geretta Geretta Demons photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place in 2013.

Actress Geretta Geretta (a.k.a. Geretta Giancarlo) was at New Beverly Cinema to talk about her role in Lamberto Bava’s Italian horror movie “Demons.” It turns out that movie was one of ten she made while living in Italy for several years, and her time there also had her working with a couple of other Italian filmmakers: Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei. Both have long since gained a large cult following for their cinematic work, and Geretta took the time to tell the audience what it was like working with them.

Fulci has been called the “Godfather of Gore” by many, and he is best known for his films “Zombie” and “The Beyond.” Geretta worked with Fulci on “Murder Rock: Dancing with Death” which was about the owner of a prestigious New York ballet school who teams up with a male model in an attempt to solve the murders of a few students. One male audience member told Geretta how the movie has one of his favorite death sequences ever, and she was thrilled to hear this and quickly responded, “kiss that man!” Her description of Fulci as a filmmaker and as a person surprised those who didn’t know him as well as she did.

Murder Rock movie poster

Geretta Geretta: He was known to have a difficult personality, and that’s putting it lightly. He had a lot of tragedy in his life. A couple of his wives committed suicide, and his kids were on drugs. Everything was really bad for him, and he had to work. He had to keep working and get that job done. So, when you went to the audition your agent said, don’t talk back, don’t say anything, and don’t ask any questions. What’s your motivation? Your check. Just shut up and do whatever he says. For me, working with him was a dream. I have no problem following direction. But he literally would go into a shaking fit, start screaming, spit coming out of his face, rolling on the ground furious. That’s what it was like working with Fulci.

Mattei was another Italian filmmaker who had gained a significant cult following for his exploitation movies such as “SS Girls” and the zombie flick “Virus: Hell of the Living Dead.” In many circles he is considered to be the “Ed Wood of Italian filmmaking” as his films were filled with a lot of stock footage, bad acting and utterly ridiculous dialogue. Still, Mattei got to work with many noted filmmakers such as Fulci and Claudio Fragasso, and he was lucky enough to direct actors like Lou Ferrigno, Donald Pleasance and Richard Harris before they became famous.

Of all the movies Mattei made, the one he was proudest of was “Rats: Night of Terror.” Inspired by the look of futuristic 1980’s movies, it takes place more than a century after a nuclear war has devastated Earth. What is left of society has been divided into two groups; those who live comfortably in underground cities, and the scavengers who are forced to live in the sunlight. But soon, these two groups are forced to work together to defend themselves against a horde of flesh-eating mutant rats which are prepared to devour everything and anything in their path.

Geretta played Chocolate in “Rats: Night of Terror,” and she gleefully shared what it was like auditioning for Mattei.

Rats Night of Terror poster

GG: With Bruno (Mattei) it was kind of different because with Dario (Argento) it’s all hushed in the halls and everything’s like yes sir, yes sir, and Bruno was like all excited about everything. He asked me, hey kid! You afraid of animals? And I go, no. He then asked, are you worried about furry things? I said no. And he’s all, great because it’s gonna be rats! And I won’t even tell you the things we used to do before the cameras started rolling because it was very scary.

Geretta then went on to say while Bava and Argento had a million dollars to make “Demons” with, Mattei’s budget on “Rats: Night of Terror” was so low to where the film crew kept the dead rats they threw at the actors so that they could reuse them (yikes!).

It was great to listen to Geretta Geretta talk about these two filmmakers, both of whom have since passed away. While some critics have long since dismissed the films of Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei, they both still have a strong legion of fans who are more than willing to see every single movie they created. Both Anchor Bay Entertainment and Blue Underground have gone out of their way to remaster their films for new generations of movie buffs to discover, so the stamp they left on the world of cinema is not about to disappear.