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.
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.