Welcome to Blake Myers’ nightmares. Or are his horror short films the American dream? Audiences will get to decide for themselves at 7:30 PM on Wed. April 27 when BLOOD, GUTS & ROBOTS, a retrospective including eight of these will screen at the Plaza Theatre. Then next Wednesday at the Plaza, see a different side to the filmmaker with the world premiere of his first feature-length documentary DISABLED BUT ABLE TO ROCK, the true story of Betsy Goodrich, a high-functioning autistic woman with a heart of gold with the not-so-secret alternate identity of singing superhero Danger Woman. That screening is part of the 2011 Atlanta Film Festival (April 28-May 7) which also will be showing two 1976 classics, NETWORK and a digitally remastered cut of TAXI DRIVER, at the Plaza on May 3 and 5 respectively.
The J.J. Abrams-directed/Steven Spielberg-produced SUPER 8, out June 10, starts with the magic of a boy and his Super 8 home movie camera, on which he captures proof that the government is covering up aliens on a crashed train. As far as we know, none of the monsters in Blake’s shorts are real, but these films, though not for those who are squeamish about a bit of homemade blood and gore, do capture that raw joy and magic of DIY special effects and guerilla filmmaking. Now everyone can do it with a digital camera, but back in the day, that wasn’t the case and these kinds of raw, no-budget, for-the-love shorts were the jumping board for many of today’s top directors from Spielberg to Peter Jackson.
Blake also is the festival director of the Buried Alive Film Festival, an annual horror movie festival at the Plaza Theatre which is steadily gaining a reputation for screening some of the most cutting-edge shorts and independent features in the genre. This year’s BAFF is Nov. 10-13, and the call for entries is open.
How did you get started making super-8 horror shorts in your backyard in Chamblee? And how old were you?
I started with Super 8 films when I was 19, and right after I read [director/producer, Troma Entertainment] Lloyd Kaufman‘s book, ALL I EVER NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FILMMAKING I LEARNED FROM THE TOXIC AVENGER. Through high school I made movies with VHS cameras, but then it was time to upgrade to film. I bought a camera from a thrift store and bought my film stock from the old Kodak factory in Chamblee. I had my footage developed by some weird old dude who lived in the woods and processed my film in a bath tub. So most of my super 8 movies ended up looking like artsy snuff movies.
I was completely scared out of my mind when I saw NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET parts 1 and 2 in the first grade. I was too scared to watch new horror films growing up, but I loved Godzilla and the Universal Monsters. As I grew older, I got into cheesy sci-fi and horror movies like BLOOD HOOK and DARK STAR (1974). Eventually I wanted to reclaim my fear of horror films, which led me to making them and realizing how much fun it can be making scary movies.
Can you tell us just a little bit about each of the shorts you’re showing at the Plaza and what about them will appeal to ATLRetro readers?
CALLING YOU (1997; shot on Super 8, converted to VHS, transferred to a computer and edited with Adobe Premiere 1) is about a guy who came home to nail more girls to the wall.
BLOOD FARMING GOTHIC BABES (1998, screening on 16mm) is the story of the Gothic Babes and how thy ran out of blood to feed their evil garden. But when a jogger comes by, they get a chance to refill their bucket.
MUNCHING MOTHER F**G NUBS (1998, screening on 16mm). When a hardworking scientist has a big zombie-growing project going on in the backyard, it’s nice that her pregnant lesbian lover helps out. As they taunt and torture their subjects, it’s only a matter of time until the zombies rise from their graves and wreak havoc!
HOW TO EXTRACT CRANIAL FLUIDS (1999) is my tribute to THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE. A sadistic clown mad scientist conducts an unspeakable operation on a still living woman’s decapitated head. She will have her revenge in the weirdest way.
DESTROY ALL ROBOTS (2001). Carlos had it easy till his robot broke down. Now Hernandez the robot repair man is messing everything up. Or is he fixing it?
THE ADVENTURES OF SASS PARILLA THE SINGING GORILLA, CHAPTER II: ARE WE THERE YETI? (2004) In the second installment of this mini-epic, Sass Parilla is tricked into traveling to the Himalayas and doing battle with a giant Yeti.
JUMP ROPE WITH GUTZ! (2007). Little girls and gore. Be careful to follow the speed limit when you drive through neighborhoods. It could be your last drive.
PANELS FOR THE WALLS OF HELL (2008). William is a projectionist at a film festival, his festival programmer is really annoying, and then the filmmaker busts in to the projection booth. Things escalate into a bloody mess. Somewhat based on real life.
Plus mystery screenings!
My biggest special effects challenge was how to get enough blood to pump through ripped off body parts. That’s when I discovered enema bag kits that came with a large hot water bottle and lots of tubes. When you buy five enema kits and 30 bottles of chocolate syrup people look at you real funny in the Walmart. But it made a great effect!
After Super-8, you graduated to 16 mm. What was different about working with 16 mm and how does that compare to digital video today?
16mm was much harder to use and lots more expensive. I learned to have someone else run the camera after half of my footage for BLOOD FARMING GOTHIC BABES came out wrong. I love my digital camera and digital video. It makes the production of independent film so much easier. It’s amazing to have instant access to your footage and be so much more affordable. The 16mm film stock and processing would eat up all the costs, and there would barely be enough for fake blood.
I first saw Danger Woman at DragonCon 1994. She had gotten into an altercation with [the band] GWAR and caused a scene. After that my friend saw that she had a concert in one of the conference rooms. He pulled me in, and I haven’t been the same. Danger Woman was singing the theme from THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO [TV series] with a small band. Her singing was the worst I ever heard, but the passion she displayed for singing it and performing it surpassed anything I had ever seen. I was an instant fan and bought three of her tapes.
What inspired you to film a documentary about Betsy?
I was required to make a film for documentary film class. So I decided to do in on that weird lady at DragonCon, Danger Woman. But after going to her house, and meeting her family, I found there was a lot more to this story than just Danger Woman.
How many years has it taken you to film DISABLED? And over that time, how did your vision of what the documentary would cover change and evolve?
This September will make the 14th year I’ve worked on the DBATR. There were plenty of times when I wondered how I was going to complete this film. I have 200 hours of footage that span 10 years, and [it’s] shot on four different formats. I had no idea it would take this long to make the movie. At the beginning I thought about using animation to express ideas, but over the years, I collected so much footage that really spoke for itself, and extra elements seemed to take away from the authentic video I had collected. It definitely became a more serious project over time. Honestly it took many years to get to know Danger Woman and her family, and people’s lives are constantly changing. Shooting over many years gave me the opportunity to capture that change and reflect how Betsy deals with her situations.
Many people are familiar with Betsy from DragonCon or the Silver Scream Spook Show matinees and may have considered her loud or abrasive. But you found a wonderful, extraordinarily kind and compassionate human being. Without giving away too much, what’s one thing viewers will learn from this documentary that might surprise them?
I think people are going to be surprised by how much you can relate to someone like Betsy Goodrich. When you get to know her and the hardships she has had to overcome, it’s inspirational to see what a great attitude she has.
Last year’s Buried Alive Film Festival was the best yet from Ashley Thorpe’s Hammer-inspired SCAYRECROW to Andre Paim’s SADNESS from Brazil to that wacky J.D. Skeleton from Michigan to Frank Henenlotter’s HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE documentary. Looking ahead, is there anything you can reveal about this year’s festival?
I’m glad to say that this year’s call for submissions is going great. We’ve received more films than ever this year, and they’re coming from all over the world. But I’m not buried alive in film festival submissions yet, so the good news is we’re still looking for some more scary movies for this year’s BAFF. So send them to me.