Kool Kat of the Week: Daniel Griffith, Local Filmmaker and Purveyor of All Things Cinematic and Obscure, Ballyhoos it up at Monsterama 2014

Posted on: Jul 30th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/Contributing Writer

Daniel Griffith, local award-winning filmmaker and founder of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, will be joining a sinister line-up of horrorific guests at the inaugural Monsterama Convention, founded by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and ATLRetro contributing writer, AnthonyTaylor, which will be creeping into the Holiday Inn Perimeter in Dunwoody this weekend, August 1-3! So, prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulish proportions!  Griffith will be joined by a guest list filled to the bloodcurdling brim with chillers like Victoria Price, daughter of Vincent; Hammer scream queen Veronica Carlson, director Jeff Burr, filmmaker Larry Blamire (LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA), Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Brian Keene, ATLRetro’s very own “Chiller-ess in Charge”, Anya Martin, Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. Professor Morte [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Shane here], Kool Kat Madeline Brumby [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Madeline, here] and so many more!  So, haunt on down to Monsterama this weekend and get your bones a’rattlin and your classic monster fix!

Griffith, purveyor of all things cinematic and obscure, and no rookie to the B-movie and classic horror genre, has produced and directed over 45 documentaries, with his company, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, spanning a wide-range of film history, genres and subjects.  His documentary library is far too prolific to list them all, but in a nutshell he has directed and produced: THE BLOODIEST SHOW ON EARTH: MAKING VAMPIRE CIRCUS (2010), THIS ISLAND EARTH: 2 ½ YEARS IN THE MAKING (2013), [both will be screened at Monsterama this weekend], RETURN TO EDEN PRAIRIE: 25 YEARS OF MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 (2013) and THE FLESH AND THE FURY: X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL (2012).  Griffith is currently in production on CELLULOID WIZARDS IN THE VIDEO WASTELAND: THE SAGA OF EMPIRE PICTURES, the official feature-length documentary delving into the rise and fall of Charles Band’s legendary Empire Pictures studio, known for cult films such as RE-ANIMATOR (1985), ZONE TROOPERS (1985) and GHOULIES (1985). His documentaries have gained him not only notoriety in the cult film arena, but also the 2012 Rondo Award for “Best DVD Bonus Feature” for his documentary biopic on Universal B-movie actor, RondoHatton, TRAIL OF THE CREEPER: MAKING THE BRUTE MAN (2011) and the 2013 Forrest J. Ackerman Lifetime Achievement Award.  Griffith is also the official documentarian for the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVD releases.

ATLRetro caught up with Daniel Griffith for a quick interview about his devotion to film history, from the greats to the barely-knowns, his desire to set a story to film and his trek into the deep dark cavernous minds of long ago filmmakers, plotting the map of film history.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Griffith, take a sneak peek at an excerpt from his documentary, PSYCHO’S SISTER: MAKING THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! (2013), delving into the history of the 1968 drive-in thriller!

ATLRetro: As a documentary filmmaker, you are foremost a film historian and avid preservationist, which is clearly evidenced in the wide variety of documentaries you’ve produced with your company, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel it is important to not only preserve, but also to share these stories?

Daniel Griffith: The media of the past serves as a type of looking glass or time capsule. It is the definitive visual representation of artistic achievement and human frailty. Therefore, it is important to have a documented record of how those works were created, if only to build awareness and preserve its shelf life. Selfishly, I became a documentary filmmaker to further understand the medium of cinema and television. To me, the film artisans of the past are the direct link to the motion pictures of the future. Studying and understanding their contributions was the BEST film school. But, as I moved from project to project, I began to recognize how many films and television series have drifted into obscurity. I guess I made it my responsibility to tell the story behind those works.

You seem to give a lot of love and respect to the underdogs, to the films and projects of yesteryear that never quite reached the level of success in the industry that the majority set out to achieve. What is it about these films, these filmmakers that magnetize you? That compels you to tell their story?

I never compartmentalize the films I document. To me, the least successful motion picture can have just as much value to an individual as the most revered or noteworthy. It is my duty as a film and television documentarian to change the way we look at the works of the past; to give each production an equal opportunity to share the spotlight. Who knows? A viewer may discover that the best stories of human triumph and creativity come in the cheapest, most misunderstood packages.

You’ve produced many bonus features and documentaries for Shout! Factory, Synapse Films and VCI Entertainment, etc. over the years, which has included a comprehensive peek into your fans’ favorite sci-fi, horror and ‘80s B-movies, westerns and a variety of retro filmmakers and film companies. Can you tell our readers how you became a documentary filmmaker?

It began with a simple challenge; to singlehandedly create a narrative and follow through with its execution. About eight years ago, I was developing one motion picture script after another. Slowly, a case of cabin fever set in. I was restless. I wanted to get out into the field and visualize a story on film. While discouraged, I revisited a wacky holiday episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000, entitled “SANTA CLAUS.” During the opening credits, a title card reading “K. Gordon Murray Presents” appeared on the screen. I thought to myself, “Who is this K. Gordon Murray guy, and why did he choose to distribute this surreal, Mexican children’s film?” In that moment, a documentary concept was born, and simultaneously the seed that would eventually become Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

The name “Ballyhoo” draws to mind a long list of whimsical, colorful and raucous shenanigans of the circus variety. What’s the story behind the name?

My company name and logo are comprised of several unique personal events. The logo itself dates back to my first exposure to the works of the cinematic showman, William Castle, and his film, HOUSE ON HAUNTEDHILL. The scream that accompanies the logo is the first scream you hear prior to the opening credits of that film. It was the scream that woke me up as a child when the film played on television. Utilizing it in the context is my way of saying to the viewer, “WAKE UP! The show is about to begin and you don’t want to miss it!” And the name Ballyhoo represents two of my passions; the energy found on the midway of any traveling carnival and the promotional tactics used on the motion pictures of the past.

As a guest on several panels at the first ever Monsterama Convention, including a Q&A session with Victoria Price, Vincent Price’s daughter, and a panel discussing documentary filmmaking, what do you hope to pass on to the eager ears of the convention-goers?

Well, for one, this is a great opportunity to learn more about one of the greatest actors of our time. Vincent Price was not only a celebrated actor in film and television, but he was also an accomplished cook, author, painter and art critic. While he is remembered for his chilling performances in the DR. PHIBES films, as well as William Castle’s, THE TINGLER and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, there was much more to him than the horror genre that sustained him.

Additionally, two of your documentaries [“The Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus” (2010) and “This Island Earth: 2-½ Years in the Making” (2013)] will be screened throughout the weekend; two very different documentaries, but both created with the same amount of respect and enthusiasm for the subject matter. Can you tell our readers what your favorite experience was while making each and what you would do different, if you could go back and change anything?

Well, one of the greatest experiences I had working on all the Hammer documentaries, including VAMPIRE CIRCUS, was visiting the renowned Pinewood Studios in England. Filmmaker John Hough, who previously directed Hammer’s TWINS OF EVIL, gave me a private tour of the entire back-lot. This is the studio where most of the James Bond films where shot, the 1978 version of SUPERMAN, the first ALIEN film and Stanley Kubrick’s, FULL METAL JACKET, just to name a few. It was astonishing!

As a filmmaker, you are getting the chance to live out your dream every time you create and release your work into the world, a dream you’ve had since your early childhood. Any advice for the next generation of Kool Kids who long to dive head first into the land of imagination and cinematic storytelling?

Watch as many films as you can! Don’t be afraid to take chances on viewing films that are outside your comfort zone. Just because it’s black and white, or subtitled, doesn’t mean you will not enjoy it. Like an author with a library card, watching films is your first, best education.

Who would you say are the filmmakers that inspired you most?

There are simply too many to count. I continue to be amazed by filmmakers, past and present. I have always admired the way Orson Welles demands more out of everyone, including himself. I deeply admire the poetry found in every frame of a Sergio Leone film. Being a child of the ‘80s, I have always responded to the childlike sentiments found in almost every Spielberg film. On a more obscure note, I find the offerings of director Joseph H. Lewis strangely addictive. This list could go on and on and on…

In such a short amount of time, you’ve got 45-plus credits under your belt, releasing shorts to full-length documentaries, and have gained a following in the MST3K, B-horror and sci-fi circles, with a promise of more to come! Can you give our readers a hint of what’s next for Daniel Griffith and Ballyhoo Motion Pictures?

In a perversion of Al Jolson’s famous line, I’ll have to say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” More Mystery Science Theater 3000 productions, for sure. I am currently in post-production on an epic documentary about the history of television’s most iconic series! However, unfortunately, I cannot divulge the title at this time. But, if you find me at Monsterama, I just may be persuaded to tell you.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

While attending the Monsterama Convention, you’ll have the opportunity to stop by the Ballyhoo Motion Pictures table to view original props from various B-movies of the past, as well as purchase EXCLUSIVE retro movie items!

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

From the offices of Warren Beatty: “Will you produce a documentary on the history of Dick Tracy?” The answer is, “I’m on my way!”

 

All photographs are courtesy of Daniel Griffith and used with permission.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

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Ho Ho Howdy! Really Big Big Santa Throws a Seasonal Shindig for All Ages and Conquers the Martians at the Plaza Theatre on Saturday Dec. 3!

Posted on: Dec 2nd, 2011 By:

When Really Big Santa dropped a personal invitation to  ATLRetro readers or all ages.  He’s making a list and checking it twice, and if you really want that vintage Red Ryder, we’d recommend you not be naughty and miss SANTA’S SUPER SATURDAY SHOW this Sat. Dec. 3 at the Plaza Theatre. Here’s an exact transcript from the big guy at the North Pole…

Ho Ho Howdy!

There’s a new tradition in Atlanta Christmas events, and it’s happening at the historic Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon! Really Big Santa and his fine friends from Blast Off Burlesque are throwing Santa’s Super Saturday Show on Saturday, December 3rd. There is a Kiddie’s Matinee at 1pm and a “Grown-ups” show at 10 that night!

There will be vintage Christmas shorts, commercials and cartoons before the show starts! Then a live holiday show performed on The Plaza stage, with some of your favorite Christmas tunes performed by some of your favorite performers in a way never before seen! It’s a chance to sing and dance with Santa Claus in person!

After the show, it’s movie time! Stick around because there’s a screening of the [1964] B-Movie Christmas Classic, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS!

Tickets for the 1pm show are just $5. The 10pm tickets are $10. For each new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots you bring you’ll get $2 off one ticket! There will be pictures with Santa in his big chair  before the show! $10 gets you a 5×7 print and a high resolution digital copy sent to your email!

A portion of the proceeds goes to help support The Plaza Theatre, and your toy donations go to help our brave Men and Women of the United States Marine Corps in their drive to provide gifts for families in need. If there’s one thing you can do for Santa this Holiday season it’s this: Help local businesses by supporting your neighborhood merchants and help those in your community that are less fortunate!

Yours Truly,

Santa Claus
——
Coming to you Directly
From the North Pole
Top O’ The World at True Magnetic North

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Bikers, Bigfoot & Buxom Babes in Nixon Masks With Machine Guns – DEAR GOD NO! Pushes the Limits of ’70s Exploitation at the Plaza Theatre All Week Long

Posted on: Oct 20th, 2011 By:

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last month, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. But while cast, crew and Kickstarter contributors filled many seats, the enthusiastic crowd also included plenty of curiosity-seekers, wondering if this homegrown homage to ’70s exploitation movies could deliver the over-the-top shocks it promised. From the enthusiastic audience response, it did and then some, making even this blogger, who has a high tolerance for cult flick violence, want to shout “DEAR GOD NO! they didn’t go there!” Now those who didn’t make it out will another chance to see it on the big screen when it starts a one-week run at the Plaza Theatre this Friday Oct. 21 through Thursday Oct. 27.

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all. Those who’ve been around the Atlanta alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror movie scene for a while will recognize plenty of familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse), Jett Bryant (Bigfoot), Nick Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Bill Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (if you missed last week’s Kool Kat on Madeline, which includes her DEAR GOD NO! experience, read it here), Jim Stacy (Starlight Drive-In, Palookaville, Get Delicious!, AM Gold) and many more.

For the uninitiated, B-movies date back to the beginnings of film-making, but the ’60s/’70s variety – also called “grindhouse” movies thanks to the seedy cinemas they often played (when they weren’t at the dying drive-ins) – pushed the limits of onscreen sex and violence in such an audacious way that they gained a cult following and a new generation of contemporary imitators from Quentin Tarantino, who, with Robert Rodriguez, even produced a double-feature called GRINDHOUSE, to the makers of last year’s HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. It may be tempting to dismiss DEAR GOD NO! as just the latest in that subgenre, but the level of affection, craftsmanship and fun (yes, strange words perhaps to be paired with an ultraviolent flick) elevate it – that is, if you have a strong stomach and buy into the filmmakers’ sense of humor. Yup, this movie is NOT for everyone.

Since last month’s opening, director/screenwriter/executive producer James “Jimmy” Bickert has taken DEAR GOD NO! out on the road to two festivals and it’s won at least one award.  We caught up with Jimmy recently to find out more about how DEAR GOD NO! is exploding Atlanta onto the underground film map, go behind-the-scenes during production and find out what’s next for the movie and its makers.

ATLRetro: Since the sold-out world premiere in Atlanta on Sept. 9, you’ve taken DEAR GOD NO! to two film festivals. What’s been the reaction there?

Insane. I knew a party would break out with the home team, but the reaction in Tucson & Las Vegas was equally outrageous. People were sneaking in cocktails, yelling, laughing, cheering, applauding and even giving me free beer and shots in appreciation. We picked up an award for Best Exploitation Film at the Arizona Underground Film Festival. I received so many handshakes and pats on the back in Vegas [Pollygrind 2011] it felt like we were running for office. Haven’t heard if we won anything there yet. I just got back. It’s starting to gain momentum as an ultimate party movie. Film festivals are rescheduling us at midnight, and that’s perfect for an exploitation film.

Let’s start in the beginning, what’s the story behind how you came up with the idea for DEAR GOD NO! and got it off the ground?

Shane Morton, Nick Morgan and I were tossing around some ideas and came up with the idea of a Bigfoot vs. Biker crossover exploitation film. Something you would see at the end of a genres cycle. Originally we were going to attempt to make a lost film from the ‘70s that had somehow resurfaced on DVD, but as I began writing it, the pacing was too fast for a ruse. It almost becomes an action film. I’ve always been a big fan of ‘70s exploitation trailers so I tried to create something that would incorporate the fun ballyhoo they delivered and sustain it for a feature-length running time. DEAR GOD NO! gives you bikers, horror, sexploitation, cool cars, blood, laughs, gross outs, explosions, boobs, Nazis, Bigfoot, lofty themes, crazy dialoguw and incestual lesbian rape! Never seen that one before? Well, we got it. According to the reviews, it all works. Whew!

What classic exploitation and horror films served as inspirations for DEAR GOD NO!?

It’s hard to pinpoint all of them because many are subconscious. The ones I’ve noticed the most coming through are DEATH WEEKEND (a.k.a. HOUSE BY THE LAKE) and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. But there are some moments from Something Weird Video collections of stag loops, SAVAGE SEVEN, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS and NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST. We even rip on SCHINDLER’S LIST. The film is packed with obscure exploitation references, but they only enhance the script. If you don’t catch a reference, it won’t hinder the experience. Visually there are many pop culture influences like E.C. Comics and Men’s Adventure pulp magazines.

With DEAR GOD NO!, you push the limits for onscreen violence, nudity and gore. What were your parameters for what was too extreme, does anything in the movie make you uncomfortable, and is there anything you filmed that went on the cutting room floor because it was too much even for you?

I don’t feel anything is off limits if it fits the story. DEAR GOD NO! has ‘60-‘70s style nudity and gore so it may push the boundaries for what some people expect from that time period, but it never enters the realm of what critics currently call the torture porn genre. We crossed over into that realm with one scene involving a pregnant character. I kept enough in to give the audience a good jolt but most of it hit the cutting room floor. There has to be a good balance to keep things fun for the crowd and it was starting to push into nausea. The genre is packed with that stuff now and it’s not what DEAR GOD NO! is about. We’re more John Waters than HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. It’s suds cinema for drunken friends and not porn for loners in raincoats.

OK, bikers and Nazis are classic ingredients for exploitation movies, but why Bigfoot?

Bigfoot is a staple of the Southern drive-in, and I wanted to cast him in a good movie for a change. He has been getting crappy roles since NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Atlanta has the ultimate Sasquatch/Yeti in Jim Stacy, so we had to exploit him.

What was your favorite scene in the movie to shoot and why?

The squibs were the most fun to shoot because the extras love it. There is such a look of shock when it goes off and everyone on set breaks into applause. I could shoot squibs all day. It doesn’t get old. My favorite scene in the film is when the inebriated biker gang runs across a hillbilly kid who has them completely perplexed. Even after seeing it 100 times, I cannot watch a festival screening without laughing out loud.

Why did you decide to shoot DEAR GOD NO! all in Super 16mm with equipment from the ‘70s? Were there any specific effects which you’re particularly proud to have accomplished in the traditional way, versus CGI?

I wanted it to be authentic as possible, and we really immersed ourselves in things from the era. There were props that didn’t make it on screen from the ‘70s, but it helped create the illusion that we were making a film in 1973. I want to go back as soon as possible. We were all pretty proud of our van explosion. That’s a classic practical effect that Hollywood has been getting away from by using computer overlays in After Effects. There’s a poorly [executed] CGI explosion in MACHETE when a car blows up but doesn’t move or fall apart. We couldn’t have that, and what good Southern film doesn’t have an explosion in it? Not much that I want to see.

The cast and crew boasts a who’s who of Atlanta grassroots indie scene of actors and artists including many of the same folks behind the Silver Scream Spookshow, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Splatter Cinema, Starlight Drive-In, etc. You’re the writer/director/exec producer, but are you proud to share the credit with a homegrown team, especially as DEAR GOD NO! gets screened across the country and around the globe?  

When we show up at a festival, people know we are from the ATL. We ran up such a large tab at the gay bar next door to PollyGrind 2011, the owner said he should change his theme by replacing the rainbow flag with an Atlanta Falcons banner. Shane Morton and I drank a torture porn crew from L.A. under the table in Tucson. We even had an 8-hour start on them. Yeah, they know where we are from and we’re proud of it.

There are a ton of talented people in this town. I’m still amazed we got them all together. One of the aspects of DEAR GOD NO! that I’m most asked about is the music by The Forty Fives and the score from Richard Davis of Gargantua. There is a whole cast of musicians like Johnny McGowan, The Biters, The Booze, Adam McIntyre and Kris Dale involved that essentially come from The Star Bar including our lead actor Jett Bryant from the band Bigfoot and actor Billy Ratliff from Truckadelic. Just about everyone from Dusty Booze and The Baby Haters was involved. You will see a ton of Atlanta musicians as extras and Gargantua’s Creepy Kenny even built us a flame wand now in use at The Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. There is a very big Star Bar connection with this film.

Seems like typical movie investors might get squeamish funding something this extreme, so it’s not surprising that to hear you used Kickstarter to raise some of the money and pulled some out of your own pocket. What was the budget and how was it funded?

You’re right. We had cast and crew drop out because they didn’t understand what we were attempting. Many people thought we were making porn or God knows what. It’s hard to convey that you are making a unique exploitation film when they don’t understand any of the references. Even worse if you’re asking someone to invest money.

It’s hard to really gauge the budget because so many talented people contributed time for free. Jonny Rej (Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse /The Plaza) gave us some free film and equipment, Slopes BBQ fed us, Fuji North America gave us ½ off on film stock for shooting a feature. It went on and on. It was a very quick shoot with a massive amount of preplanning between A.D. Michelle McCall, cinematographer Jonathan Hilton and I which helped keep cost, time and favors down. We didn’t wear out our welcome too bad. I do have a budget number, but I save that information for when someone buys me a beer.

After the Plaza limited engagement, what’s next for DEAR GOD NO! More festivals? Is there a distribution deal and when will it be commercially available on DVD/download? Is it true there’s going to be a sequel?

We currently have a quite a few distributors interested from all over the world. At the end of our festival run, we’ll sit down and start seriously negotiating which rights and territories we want to part with. We currently have festivals lined up in Raleigh, Erie, Mobile and Bogotá, Colombia. Theatrical screenings (mostly midnight) are booked in Portland, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Las Vegas and London. We’re adding screenings every week, and people can keep up to date by liking our Facebook page or checking the website at www.deargodnomovie.com. If you live in a town that shows midnight movies, ask for us or send me information about the theater.

It’s true there is a sequel in the works called FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS. It will have your jaw on the floor….again.

All art and photos courtesy of Big World Pictures.

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Retro Review: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL: School’s Out at the Plaza This Weekend

Posted on: May 12th, 2011 By:

By Mark Arson, Contributing Writer

Art Opening & A Movie Presents ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979); Dir: Allan Arkush (with Joe Dante and Jerry Zucker, uncredited); Executive Producer: Roger Corman; Starring P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, The Ramones; Art from Dave Cook, Derek Yaniger, R.Land, Kevin Rej, Chris Hamer, Josh May, Matthew Manning, Shane Morton, Scotty Mominee and Trish Chenard. Fri. May 13, 9:30 pm and Sat. May 14, 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Teen comedies are a tricky thing to pull off. Any film can be funny with good enough writing, but for a teen comedy to be memorable, for the audience to really fall in love with the setting and characters, some sort of fantasy element has to be at play. As most of us know, the day-to-day life of being in high school can be tedious and excruciating. Some of the best movies from this category excel at this, many of the films of John Hughes, for instance. Before those, though, there was ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Originally pitched as DISCO HIGH, and slated to star the Bee Gees, as fate would have it, the film ended up centered around the Ramones, a fitting choice as they fit in better in the world of B-movies than they did in real life.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is set at Vince Lombardi High, where dozens of students smoke and buy test scores (as well as a ridiculous variety of  other things) in the restrooms, paper airplanes defy the laws of physics, there are…er…..about three teachers total, and Riff Randell pretty much does what she wants. Riff, played as the embodiment of a free spirited teenager by PJ Soles,  is the self-proclaimed #1 Ramones fan. She also happens to have written quite a good song for them, which was written by The Ramones in real life (a stroke of genius). Part of the conflict in the film involves Riff trying to get her song to the Ramones, but the major friction occurs between the new Principal, Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov, at the top of her game here) and, well, the entire student body. The earlier rebellion swells to a standoff by the end of the film—mice explode, documents are shredded, and the Ramones even show up at school!

The Ramones and #1 fan Riff Randell rock the walls off Vince Lombardi High in ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Photo credit: New World Pictures.

As I said earlier, the fantasy element is really important to a film like this, and as such, the focus on the Ramones couldn’t be more appropriate. In the movie, they ride into town playing to a line of fans waiting in line for days for tickets to their show, 100 tickets are bought by the kids at the high school, and tempers flare upon Principal Togar’s burning of hundreds of their record albums. It’s hard to imagine now, since they’re evolved into a musical legend (partly cemented by all of their founding members having died years ago), but the Ramones really weren’t all that popular at the time, especially not in the US. They are obviously great sports here, though (especially in the dream/fantasy sequence), and their propensity for playing it straight makes it all the more convincing that they could really have been the biggest band in the world. Maybe their confidence was just something that was easy to pick up on film.

Mary Woronov plays Principal Evelyn Togar in ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Photo credit: New World Pictures.

It seems unlikely that the Bee Gees would have inspired the kids to blow up the school at the end of DISCO HIGH, even though it would have been hilarious if they did. The film we (fortunately) did get instead is full of memorable characters, some of which are Ramones playing themselves, of course, and plenty of great vintage ‘70s comic moments and teenage rebellion. You’ll have a hard time understanding why the Ramones weren’t huge, and you’ll wish that you went to Vince Lombardi High, what’s left of it anyway.

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