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.”

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Geretta Geretta Looks Back on ‘Demons’ at New Beverly Cinema

Geretta Geretta Demons photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013 when this screening took place.

Actress Geretta Geretta (a.k.a. Geretta Giancarlo) was the Grindhouse Film Festival’s guest of honor at New Beverly Cinema where they were screening a very nice print of Lamberto Bava’s “Demons.” This Italian cult horror film from 1985 stars Geretta as Rosemary, one of several people attending a special screening of a horror film at a local theater. Before the screening starts, however, she ends up putting on this weird looking mask she finds in the lobby which ends up scratching her face. Eventually, the scratch infects the rest of her body and turns her into a bloodthirsty demon. In short, she is the character who dooms everybody else in this film. Way to go Rosemary!

Geretta was extremely excited to be seeing “Demons” with the sold-out audience at the New Beverly, and she even brought some bobblehead figures of her character Rosemary, created by Cult Collectibles, with her to sell. Before the film began, Geretta asked everyone if there were any “Demons” virgins (a.k.a. people who hadn’t seen the movie before), and it turns out there were quite a few. To this, she responded, “This is good! You guys are in for a treat!” She also rattled off in rapid succession a few things for everyone to keep in mind while watching this film.

Geretta Geretta: This is a movie, we did it in Italy. I’m American, I have an Italian name, my family is Italian, but I went there, I was a model, I made a bunch of Italian movies, this is one of them, I made ten. We sound funny and our lips are moving in funny directions but not mine because I am actually speaking English when we shot the movie.

Grindhouse Film Festival emcee, Brian J. Quinn, was quick to say how all the other movies Geretta did while she lived in Italy such as “Murder Rock: Dancing Death” and “Rats: Night of Terror” are all worth seeking out as they are “good and entertaining.”

After we finished watching “Demons,” Geretta came up front to talk about its making and took questions from the audience. She told Quinn that making this film wasn’t a lot of fun as there was a lot of work involved like on any other film, but the set was never unpleasant or difficult. She also pointed out while most horror movies made today with similar special effects are done on very low budgets, the budget for “Demons” was actually a million dollars. Only the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini could get a movie made for millions back then, so this made “Demons” a special picture in that regard.

Geretta talked about how she auditioned for Bava and Dario Argento who produced and co-wrote the movie, and she also described the differences between how movies are cast in Italy as opposed to in America.

GG: You don’t really go in and do something. First of all, they cast by picture because they go by look first. So if you look the part then that’s enough for them because they figure they can direct and can get you to do what they want you to do, and it’s very rare everyone would be speaking the same language on the set, so really what difference does it make your mumble?

Most of the exteriors in “Demons” were actually shot in Germany, and the movie theater where the majority of the action takes place was in the process of being destroyed. Geretta was working on a television series at the time, and it was a two-and-a-half-hour drive from that set to where “Demons” was being filmed.

Geretta also pointed out how you never see Rosemary die in “Demons” and, having seen the movie a couple of times, I can verify this to be true. She joked how she was plotting the whole time to make sure her character would not die so she could be cast in the sequel. But when the time came to make “Demons 2,” Geretta was unfortunately out of town.

One audience member asked about the vomit which comes out of the zombies’ mouths, and the vomit does look appropriately disgusting. Geretta described its ingredients in detail as well as what was in everybody’s hair.

GG: The vomit that comes out of any orifice or anybody’s mouth is food coloring, Alka-Seltzer, and some other liquid. The stuff that’s in our hair is yogurt, food coloring and milk, and these are serious folks (the filmmakers) so none of us could change any of our clothes the whole shoot.

The audience reacted loudly to this particular description and understandably so. You’re dealing with ingredients which not only have an expiration date, but which let you know when they have expired. Can you imagine how smelly the set became? Yuck! Geretta then went on to say the film crew had to redo her hair every single day so it would match with what she called “dead yogurt.”

“Demons” was shot in twenty days, and Geretta said she was on set for ten. But while many American actors have found shooting on Italian film sets to be very different and at times very distracting with the film crews yelling at each other back and forth, she said she had no problem adapting to the “Italian style.”

GG: I did come to like things that are done the Italian way. In the Italian way you have lunch on the set, and hey it’s Italy, so you’re gonna have your choice of red or white wine which would never happen on an American set. Things are very calm and it’s more like a family, so maybe if there is some yelling or something it’s just like a family in the background. You tend to work with the same people over and over and over, and it’s just great. I loved it. In America you’re as famous as your last picture, and in Italy you’re as famous as whatever made you famous. It doesn’t matter what you did and it doesn’t matter how long ago, you stay the same. There’s a real appreciation for what you did, so it’s nice.

Ever since she starred in “Demons,” Geretta Geretta has proven to the world just how multi-talented she is. In addition to acting, she has gone on to write, direct and produce her own movies, and her career has also taken her to many different countries such as Italy, Ireland, South Africa and Switzerland. She shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, and it was great to see her at New Beverly Cinema. Many actors get sick of the movies they star in, but she made it clear how grateful she was that everyone showed up in droves to see “Demons” which she made so long ago. Just don’t ask her how long ago it was.

The Movie Trailers Which Played Before ‘Django Unchained’ at New Beverly Cinema

DjangoUnchained_poster2

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally back in 2012.

I was lucky enough to check out Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie “Django Unchained” at New Beverly Cinema, the same movie theater he bought and kept from going out of business. It was being shown in 35mm instead of a digital print at other theaters because Tarantino is still a big fan of film, and the New Beverly is known for showing movies in 35mm because that’s exactly what the owners and patrons like best.

One of the real treats of seeing “Django Unchained” at New Beverly Cinema is instead of getting coming attractions for 2013 movies, we instead get to watch movie trailers from the past. These ones were especially campy and represent the kind of movies Hollywood no longer makes, and I wondered if the trailers being shown before “Django Unchained” inspired this particular Tarantino film in some way. Many of the prints of movies and trailers shown at the New Beverly tend to come from Tarantino’s own personal collection, so even if they didn’t inspire this movie of his, then they must have been ones he loves watching over and over.

Let’s take a look.

The Arena 1974 movie poster

“The Arena”

This exploitation film from 1974, one which clearly was inspired by “Spartacus,” stars Pam Grier and Margaret Markov as female gladiators who have been enslaved in Rome and are forced to fight for their freedom. The trailer proved to be hilarious as the acting is over the top, and the narrator embellishes the more explicit elements of this movie by saying how the Romans “enslaved the most sensuous women to titillate the perverted pleasures of the Roman public” and how the main characters are “beautiful unchained women” whose bodies are “shaped into superb fighting equipment.” There’s also a bit of nudity and blood on display, the kinds of things you almost never see in a movie trailer today unless it is a red band trailer being shown for restricted audiences only.

Still, it’s great to see Grier here whom Tarantino cast in his movie “Jackie Brown,” and it is said she and Markov did all their own fights and stunts in “The Arena.” We should all known by now that Grier is as tough as the characters she has played in dozens of movies, and seeing her take on the Romans makes this one worth a look.

Boot Hill movie poster

“Boot Hill”

The trailer for this 1969 Italian Spaghetti Western runs four minutes long, much longer than the average movie trailer we see in theaters today. It stars Terence Hill as Cat Stevens, but the trailer’s narrator refers to him as “the man with no name.” It also stars football great Woody Strode as Thomas, a man who is quick with a gun and out for revenge over the death of his son. Together, these two help the inhabitants of a gold mining community which is being oppressed by a criminal organization.

This is another trailer which has a male narrator emphasizing the movie’s violence, and it’s fun to hear him say how “Boot Hill” is a town “where death comes quick,” “where death comes hard,” and where “death comes in two colors.” Seeing Hill and Strode walk into town all serious and without a smile on their faces brings to mind how Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz roll into town in “Django Unchained.”

“Boot Hill” was actually the last film in a trilogy of movies directed by Giuseppe Colizzi, and it was preceded by “God Forgives… I Don’t!” and “Aces High.”

Mandingo movie poster

“Mandingo”

This 1975 film was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kyle Onstott, and it stars James Mason, Susan George, Perry King, Lillian Hayman, former boxer Ken Norton and pro-wrestler Earl Maynard. It takes place in the 1840’s where a plantation owner trains one of his slaves to be a bare-knuckle fighter, and there are some brutal scenes of bare-knuckle fighting to be found in “Django Unchained.” It makes me wonder if Tarantino based the character of Calvin Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) on the ones played by Mason or King in “Mandingo.”

The narrator of this trailer describes “Mandingo” as being “the first true motion picture epic of the Old South,” but it’s a little hard to believe this as certain scenes appear to be very overwrought. The audience couldn’t help but laugh at the actress who told her lover “don’t kiss me yet, unless it’s just a cousin kiss” because the kiss which followed seems to be anything but a cousin kiss.

The movie version of “Mandingo” received a severe bashing from film critics like Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin and Richard Schickel, all of whom gave it their lowest rating. Tarantino, however, said it represents one of only two instances in the last few decades where “a major studio made a full-on, gigantic, big-budget exploitation movie” (the other being Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls”).

Tick Tick Tick movie poster

“…tick…tick…tick…”

Ralph Nelson’s 1970 movie stars another football great, Jim Brown, as Jimmy Price, a black police officer who has just been elected sheriff of a racially divided town in the American South. The fact he beat out the former Sheriff, a white man named John Little (George Kennedy), does not sit well with some of the townspeople. As the movie’s title and the endless ticking in the trailer indicates, the racial tensions will continue to rise until they boil over into a possibly fatal conflict.

…tick…tick…tick…” has long since become a cult classic for its cutting-edge portrayal of racial tensions and its tense narrative, and of all the trailers shown before “Django Unchained” at New Beverly Cinema, this was the one the audience laughed at the least, if at all. It looks like it still holds up to this day regardless of the passing of time, and the way the white characters treat Jimmy doesn’t seem much different from the way Django is treated in “Django Unchained.” It’s especially cool to see Brown as a Sheriff because he has always had the appearance of someone who can clean up a town single-handedly.

Take a Hard Ride movie poster

“Take a Hard Ride”

This Western from 1975 also stars Jim Brown as Pike, a rugged trail boss and former criminal who promises Bob Morgan (Dana Andrews) he will successfully transport $86,000 across the border to a ranch in Sonora, Mexico. Pike is forced to team up with a dishonest gambler named Tyree (Fred Williamson) for this mission, and they are soon being pursued by the ruthless bounty hunter Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef) and the corrupt sheriff Kane (Barry Sullivan).

The trailer for “Take a Hard Ride” made it look like a movie I really want to check out. Like “Django Unchained,” it is a mix up of the Blaxploitation and western genres and features one of the best casts a movie like this could ever hope to have. Brown and Williamson have always proven to be ultimate bad asses in whatever movies they appear in, and I love how the trailer’s narrator describes Cleef’s character as being “as sly as a rattlesnake and twice as deadly.” It was also great watching the scene where the cowboys and their horses crash down a hill because now I know where the filmmakers of “Young Guns II” got the idea for a similar scene.

After watching all these trailers and “Django Unchained,” it becomes clearer to see where Tarantino took his cues from as a writer and director. It also shows how brilliant he is at taking all the elements and turning them into a movie which is uniquely his own and not just an uninspired homage that pales in comparison to the films it inspired. “Django Unchained” proved to be a lot of fun, and the trailers which preceded it are for movies which look to be just as entertaining.

So Bad It’s Good: Ed Adlum on the Making of ‘Shriek of the Mutilated’

Shriek of the Mutilated movie poster

“The picture you are about to see… is not good.”

So said filmmaker Ed Adlum who introduced the screening of the 1974 cult horror movie he wrote and produced called “Shriek of the Mutilated.” This film played as part of a double feature along with another movie of his, “Invasion of the Blood Farmers,” for the Grindhouse Film Festival’s tribute to him at New Beverly Cinema back in September of 2012. Adlum also brought up a conversation his daughter Ingrid got involved in while she was a student at UC Irvine of what the worst movie ever made was. Ingrid said it was “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” but another student ended up saying:

“There’s one worse than that. It’s called ‘Shriek of the Mutilated.'”

“My father made that movie!” Ingrid said.

After Adlum’s introduction we watched “Shriek of the Mutilated,” and while it is far from brilliant to put it mildly, everyone in the audience had fun watching it. The movie even had the techno-pop song “Popcorn” by Hot Butter playing in a party scene, and listening to the song proved to be more exciting than the party. Brian J. Quinn, one of the programmers of the Grindhouse Film Festival, defended it by saying the worst movie ever made is a $100 million-dollar blockbuster which is a piece of crap, and “Shriek of the Mutilated” is certainly not that kind of movie.

“I don’t know about you but I had a ball,” Adlum told the audience after the movie had finished. “The thing isn’t as bad as I remember. The unintended laughs of which there were about 115 are really the best part of the picture. The things I can see that you can’t see like the guy wheeling Karen (Jennifer Stock’s character) into the room and banging into the door, I remember all of that stuff!”

There’s one moment where Lynn (played by Darcy Brown) is walking outside and picks up a broom and starts sweeping for no discernible reason before putting it back down. Adlum said it was “just a piece of business to do as she walked from here to there” and that “acting wasn’t essential” for anyone to be in this movie.

Adlum talked a bit about actor Alan Brock who played Dr. Ernst Prell, the professor who assembles a group of his students for a field trip to search for a dangerous creature known as a Yeti.

“Alan Brock was at one time a child star on film and hadn’t worked in years,” Adlum said. “He still lived with his mother and even though he was well into his 60s, he was so immature in that he had to be driven home every night instead of staying at the motel with all the other players and the crew. He had to be in his house and in his own bed, then I would pick him up in the morning and bring him back up to the woods (in Westchester County, New York) to do the film.”

The director of “Shriek of the Mutilated” was Michael Findlay, an exploitation filmmaker, and Adlum said the movie was his gift to Findlay for editing “Invasion of the Blood Farmers.” Adlum said he and Findlay were “fierce friends” as they “drank their brains out,” and he described him as knowing more about films than anybody else. For Findlay, “Shriek of the Mutilated” represented his chance to make a real movie as compared to the ones he was famous for like “Take Me Naked” or “The Touch of Her Flesh.”

Sadly, Adlum and Findlay had a big falling out at one point to where Findlay ended up calling Adlum a Nazi for some odd reason, and they didn’t speak again for years. Findlay died in 1977 on top of the Pam Am Building in New York City when a helicopter crashed and killed him and two other people. Upon hearing of his death, Adlum said he cried harder than when he found out his parents had died.

One audience member described “Shriek of the Mutilated” as starting off like a Bigfoot movie but then ends like a Manson cult movie, and he asked Adlum if this was always his plan.

“No, a lot of stuff was done on the fly and it kind of morphed into that,” Adlum said. “You think of stuff while you’re standing there. You may find a prop and work that into the film. Then when you’re all done with the picture and you’re editing it you say, these eight minutes is boring, let’s do something. So, you come up with what we call inserts, and sometimes inserts have nothing to do with the plot but they’ll make people go, oh!”

In talking about the music used in the movie, Adlum said it came from the Prague Philharmonic. This was back in the day of the Iron Curtain and the Eastern Bloc had no intellectual property rights with America, and America didn’t have any with them.

“I bought the record in the bargain bin, and I bought it for $2.98 with the express purpose of using it as background music in the movie” Adlum remembered. “The guy at the counter says to me, what are you doing with that? And I tell him and he says, well you better keep the receipt so that you can prove you have the rights!”

It also turns out Ivan Agar, the man who played the Indian Laughing Crow, was actually a chiropractor from Brooklyn, New York. Adlum said Agar had the funniest scene in the movie where a big line of drool comes out the side of his mouth, but this scene unfortunately didn’t make it into the final cut.

So yeah, “Shriek of the Mutilated” is not on the same level of filmmaking as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” but it was fun to watch even if we enjoyed for all the wrong reasons. It was a treat for us to hear Ed Adlum talk about its making, and you have to admire the sense of humor he has about the finished product. While he thought we would all head home after his Q&A, everyone stayed to watch “Invasion of the Blood Farmers” which showed just how much we appreciated him spending some time with us.

‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ Anniversary Screening at New Beverly Cinema

Judgment at Nuremberg movie poster

Stanley Kramer’s classic movie “Judgment at Nuremberg” got a very special screening at New Beverly Cinema on October 1, 2012. At the time, the movie was celebrating its 51st anniversary, and introducing it was Stanley’s widow, Karen Kramer. She took the time to talk not just about “Judgment at Nuremberg,” but also of her husband’s other work and the impact his films have had overall.

Karen was actually at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood the night before where they were showing another of her husband Stanley’s best-known works, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

“That film was all about greed,” Karen said. “And of course, globally we thought that was bad in 1963 when that film was made. But of course, globally now it’s become a national pastime.”

“Judgment at Nuremberg” is a different film, Karen said, and one which audiences of all kinds owe it to themselves to see again and again. Like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” this movie is as important to watch today as it was when it first came out.

“I don’t think any of us thought that genocide would ever exist again after World War II,” Karen said. “We knew all the facts and we knew all the heinous crimes that had been committed, but genocide unfortunately is running rampant again. So, this film is unfortunately very relevant (to today’s world events).”

Stanley had made “Judgment at Nuremberg” 14 years after World War II ended, and back then no studio wanted to make it and he had a very difficult time raising the money for its production. But Karen said Stanley thought it was very interesting to explore what happened with the judicial system during that time. The movie was inspired by the trail of four German Judges at Nuremberg who were tried for crimes perpetrated by the Nazi party. The question, however, becomes one of whether or not these particular Judges were fully aware of what Adolf Hitler was doing to the Jews.

“This (trial) is the one he chose because the judicial system was supposed to represent globally men of honor, men with education, men who were supposed to be fair to humanity, and these men of the Third Reich sanctioned all those heinous crimes,” Karen said. “But then I wonder about this and I think, yes of course they’re guilty but then you think about their position which was also explored in this film; if you were a member of a judicial system of the Third Reich, what would happen if you said no, I’m not going to participate? Would you lose your life, your reputation, your financial security? I suppose there was pressure put upon these men, but it doesn’t make it right.”

Karen was correct in saying Stanley explored this subject very well in “Judgment at Nuremberg.” The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and Stanley himself got a Best Director nomination. It took home two Oscars, one for Maximilian Schell who won for Best Supporting Actor as defense attorney Hans Rolfe, and the other for Best Adapted Screenplay written by Abby Mann. Stanley made over thirty movies which were mostly socially conscious films, and they garnered over eighty Oscar nominations. Karen remarked how Stanley himself never got an Oscar, but that he did receive the Irving Thalberg Award which is the most important award anyone can get from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Karen went on to tell a story about Montgomery Cliff who gives an astonishing performance as Rudolph Peterson and of how he had trouble remembering his lines on the day his scene was shot.

“Stanley and Spencer Tracy (who played Chief Judge Dan Haywood) got together and they said look, I think we can handle this but a little bit differently,” said Karen. “So, Spencer went over to Montgomery and said look, I know you can’t remember the lines but you know what this scene is about. I’ll sit very close to the camera and just look into my eyes and just play from the heart, which of course he did.”

Karen also talked about Judy Garland whose performance as Irene Wallner garnered her an Oscar nomination. Clift did his performance on the stand first and then Garland did hers, and Clift came to watch Garland perform.

“I think he wanted to make sure she wasn’t better than he was, but that’s how actors were then,” Karen said. “So, he’s watching this and he’s crouching down in a corner someplace watching her perform, and he’s crying and she’s crying. He’s just undone and the minute she finished of course everyone applauded her, and he just went over to Stanley and he says, ‘you know Stanley, she played it all wrong!'”

Karen said “Judgment at Nuremberg” is one of her late husband’s better films and that he used film constantly as a tool or weapon to fight against discrimination, bigotry and man’s inhumanity. She also made it clear how Stanley didn’t make a movie unless it had something to say.

“He didn’t think of himself as a message filmmaker which is what interested him, and he took risks,” Karen said. “His life was threatened often, and when we made ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ our lives were threatened because interracial marriage was against the law in sixteen states when he made that movie. He was always questioning things like in ‘High Noon;’ he would question standing up even if you’re alone to do the right thing even if people don’t support you. He often risked his financial security and his reputation to tell his stories.”

A big thank you to Karen Kramer for taking the time to talk about her late husband Stanley Kramer and this movie of his which continues to stand the test of time. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is as riveting to watch today as it was when it first came out a half a century ago. Don’t let the black and white photography turn you off of seeing this classic film because the issues it ponders are the same ones we are forced to deal with today.

Thomas Jane on Playing Todd Parker in ‘Boogie Nights’

Boogie Nights Thomas Jane photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This is from a Q&A which took place on October 5, 2012.

Actor Thomas Jane was excited to be a guest at New Beverly Cinema as the theater presented the first day of their Paul Thomas Anderson movie marathon. One of the movie’s being shown this evening was “Boogie Nights” which served as Jane’s big acting breakthrough, and in it he plays dancer Todd Parker who becomes a dangerous friend to the characters played by Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly. During a Q&A which was moderated by Brian McQuery, Jane talked about how he prepared to play Todd and of what it was like working with Anderson.

One audience member asked Jane if he prepared a certain voice or walk for when he played Todd, and he replied he usually took the script for “Boogie Nights” to this theater he was working out of in Los Angeles where he could get his fellow actors to play all the other parts. It was there where Jane did a lot of experimentation which led him giving the role his own interpretation.

“I’d bring in funny glasses, do my hair crazy and try all this different stuff like bringing in a flowered shirt to wear,” Jane said. “I didn’t have any clue about who this guy was. I just knew that I was trying to find him, and then it just clicked in one day. I think it was the voice and just doing the scenes in my little theater off of Hyperion and Melrose. The first thing I found as an actor was the way Todd talked, and once I found that then everything else happened with the role.”

Jane first heard about “Boogie Nights” from casting director Christine Sheaks who had sent him the script which she said was “pretty amazing.” Upon reading the scene where Todd, along with Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild, go to rob a drug dealer, Jane said he was especially interested in playing Todd. Then, after doing an improvisation with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly in front of Anderson which lasted about fifteen minutes, he was cast in the role.

Looking back at shoot, Jane recollected much of what went on was improvised on set, and he attributed it to Anderson’s jazz-like direction.

“One thing that’s notable about the way Paul Thomas Anderson works is the freedom he gives to his actors,” Jane said. “We did have lines to say and stuff, but if you had an idea at the moment or a line to throw in or if something happens by mistake, he always encouraged that spontaneity and that freedom. That was what was so fun about working on ‘Boogie Nights.'”

When asked if he had any stories about the actors he worked with, Jane came up with a great one about Burt Reynolds. He talked about the scene where Wahlberg gets into a fight with Reynolds over wanting to shoot his sex scene now instead of later, and Anderson told Jane to fuck with Reynolds and “get in his face” once Wahlberg ran away. So, Jane started messing with Reynolds like Anderson asked him to and even pushed him, and Reynolds ended up kicking Jane right in the nuts.

“He thought the take was over and I was some punk actor getting in his face,” Jane said of Reynolds. “Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t tell Burt Reynolds that we were doing a little improvisation after the scene was over! To his (Reynold’s) credit, he gave me a bottle of champagne in my trailer the next day and he actually turned out to be really cool.”

There was also a lot of talk about the scene at the drug dealer’s house when Cosmo kept throwing fire crackers all over the place. It turns out the actor playing Cosmo was actually a friend of Anderson’s, and the fire crackers were not originally in the script. However, it got Anderson the reactions he wanted so he just put it into the movie. But since the scene was shot over several days, Anderson had to find other ways to keep the actors on their feet.

“The first day was all fire crackers, but then we had to recreate that over the next three days,” Jane said. “After the first twenty or thirty fire crackers go off you’re kind of over it, but then you can’t hear anymore. So, Paul brought a starting pistol in and he used a starting pistol for a while and then that got old. I remember he brought in a big couple of boards and was whacking those together. That was a brilliant scene because all that stuff made the tension so high.”

Thomas Jane has come a long way from his hungry days as an actor, and seeing him strut his way onto the screen in “Boogie Nights” showed us a star had arrived. For him, talking about this movie at New Beverly Cinema was very special as he said he got his film education there. He also remembered when Sherman Torgan was running the theater back then and of how he let Jane in for free, and that popcorn and candy bars served as his nightly dinner for a time.

Jane has since moved on from “Boogie Nights” to make a successful acting career for himself, and he still has many great performances left to give.