Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Love Slaves of the She-Mummy – Embracing the Chaos, Part 2

{PART 2 – Morbid Mort’s Midnight Mausoleum Matinee}
By Sherman Hirsh

{Previously, I wrote about how the movie LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY came to be. I expounded on the origins of the Late Night Horror Host phenomenon, and how I used that to synthesize my own version. With the movie part finished, I was now able to develop the show itself and come up with a horror host.}

But who was my Horror Host? Should I rip off one of the originals, or try to create my own, i.e., the one I would do if I had the opportunity? Drawing on my own experience, I invoked the spirit of Ghoulardi, who has an imitator called The Ghoul, who in turn has an imitator called Son of Ghoul. My host would be a small town no-talent hack who was the imitator of an imitator of an imitator times 10.
Most of these shows were called “Shock Theater”, after the standard package of AIP, ALLIED ARTISTS, HAMMER & UNIVERSAL films licensed to the stations. I would avoid trademark turmoil by giving my show an original name. I wanted something new but sort of inept. I settled on MORBID MORT’S MIDNIGHT MAUSOLEUM MATINEE. It’s clear, yet excessively redundant too much.
Being a local show, I had to throw in a lot of obscure references only a regular viewer would find familiar. If you have ever had the experience of watching TV in a town other than the one in which you live, you’ll know the feeling. It all looks so different, yet so normal. Imagine viewing LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY as if you were stuck in a motel on a Friday night with nothing to do except watch TV. You endure commercials for local firms and products, different news and weather personalities, etc., and then you decide to watch an old movie you had not seen for years. Plus, you were curious about this Morbid Mort. Would he be as great (or lame) as the horror host in your hometown? Who, or what, was this “Zombina” Mort keeps attacking? Was there really a disease the local adolescents feared called FEJI, Flesh Eating Jock Itch?
And what does Mort’s catch phrase “EMBRACE THE CHAOS” really mean? Remember, I’m riffing off Ghouldardi. My dilemma was doing Ghoulardi without actually doing Ghoulardi. Morbid Mort theoretically is doing Ghouldardi without ever having seen Ghoulardi. Ghoulardi’s catch phrase, one of many, was “STAY SICK”. EMBRACE THE CHAOS is a reference to the anarchy and unrestrained lunacy that appeal to so many adolescent males, the core audience of Horror Host shows.
I wanted to know more about the Horror Host genre. I knew there were others working the Monster Movie beat, but since I don’t have access to the TV stations of other cities, I needed information one was not likely to find in a library. Was there any repository of the annals of Late Night Horror Host lore? YES! MONSTER MAGAZINES! FILMFAX, CULT MOVIES, PSYCHOTRONIC, and all the others, some of which are still on the stands. However, the greatest advocate of Horror Hosts was SCARY MONSTERS. I found a load of articles, a veritable cornucopia of Horror Host data. I don’t know about you, but there are some magazines I never throw away. SCARY MONSTERS, despite a somewhat juvenile tone, was never short on facts. Putting what I got from Scary Monsters together with my own experiences, and what I made up, I was able to conceptualize a reasonable replica of a “typical” small time Late Night Horror Host.
However, there was another factor most people have overlooked. Almost every standard gag a Horror Host does, e.g., crashing the movie, weird visuals, creative use of music and sound effects, etc., has its genesis in the work of pioneering TV surrealist, Ernie Kovacs. A Horror Host goes on the air and plays with the station and the medium itself. Nobody did this before Ernie Kovacs. Zacherly was the first Kovacs imitator, and every Horror Host after Zacherly imitated Zacherly. This is why I acknowledge the two Ernies, Ernie Kovacs and Ernie Anderson in the credits for Love Slaves of the She-Mummy. Just as a footnote, it should be noted that one of Ernie Kovacs’ co-workers was Richard Lester, the director of all the early Beatles films, and a worthy surrealist in his own right.
Ghoulardi did most of his shows in Limbo, just a black, setless studio with a single underlight, as did other hosts. Some hosts had sets. I like sets. I like the opportunities sets offer for improvisation through the decorations and props. My guy, Morbid Mort, got a set.
I work alone. I can’t afford an assistant, at least not one who wouldn’t steal my camera. I had to do all of the behind-the-scenes work on the movie myself. As Dirty Harry says, “A MAN’S GOT TO KNOW HIS LIMITATIONS.” I knew I needed a lot of time to prepare the set. I started building Mort’s set in April of 1998. 4’x8’ sheets of corrugated cardboard, with a cheesey magic marker “stone” pattern formed the walls of Mort’s pseudo-Gothic lair. It was set up in the corner of my apartment where once had stood the throne room of the palace of “Vulnaviana, The Demon Queen of Lemuria”!
The walls were textured with a variety of oddments and found objects. The same store where I bought the costumes supplied a skeleton candelabra and an inflatable Egyptian sarcophagus. If you look closely, you will also see the poster for LORDS OF MAGICK. The fireplace is adorned with an inscription of Mort’s EMBRACE THE CHAOS, written in runes. The actors brought additional unsolicited props and decorations, all of which added to the illusion that the set had been there a long time and had accumulated a realistic quantum of clutter. When actors like what you are doing, they will contribute!
MORBID MORTIMER McCOBB – Morbid Mort – The Morbid part is obvious. Mortimer is a funny name and the MORT part suggests the Latin word for Death. McCobb? Just a play on the French word MACABRE, which most Americans pronounce as “macobb”, swallowing the R, unless you are a fan of the William Castle film of the same name which people had referred to as “MACK-A-BREE”.
Two interesting little anecdotes came out of that. I looked up the origin of the word MACABRE, and my unabridged dictionary had none. Then, I forget where, but I read that the word actually has a Scriptural origin. There is the Biblical story of Judah Maccabee, an Old Testament war hero responsible for a particularly bloody campaign, inspiring the French to coin a slang word for a bloody corpse: MACABEE’. MACABRE describes something in the manner of, or which resembles a mangled stiff. One of the buyers of Love Slaves of the She-Mummy bought it because his name WAS McCobb and he collected anything bearing his family name. Hey, a sale’s a sale!
Mort was played by Mitchell Gordon, a full time improv comic and part-time waiter. He was an enthusiastic performer, but his improv background sometimes got in the way. In improv, one milks a concept for everything it has. I was constantly at odds with him because I wanted him to make a point and move on. Instead, he would grab my idea and run with it. He was at times brilliantly funny, and at other times he bogged me down in superfluous dialog. He did, however, nail the personality of an obnoxious semi-pro TV Late Night Horror Host.
I gave Morbid Mort a few stooges. The obligatory Hunchbacked Henchman was played by Robert Grindlinger, a talented make up artist and long time actor. He had appeared as a child actor on DARK SHADOWS!
Rob’s wife, Briony James, was Circe, Mort’s girlfriend. If you get to see LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY, you’ll notice that in the first segment, there is no Circe. The actor I originally cast as Circe decided at the last minute of the first shooting day, that she “didn’t need This for her resume” and declined to participate. We improvised some compensatory dialog and hoped we could find a Circe later.
Briony showed up the next day and asked to just watch the shooting, but I offered her the part and she graciously accepted. Historical note: I took her name, Circe, (Greek for Hawk), from the Homeric legend of the witch who turned men into pigs. There was a very good Horror anthology in the late ‘50’s called Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and it ran a story about a modern version of Circe I saw and never forgot.
The Girl was played by a brilliant performer, Daria I. Dunall. She had played the Lemurian Priestess, Zenobel in the movie section, and when she saw my casting ad for the TV Show shoot, she called me and asked for a part. I told her to dress anyway she wanted and create her own character. I can’t praise her talent enough. She’s cute, creative, and a joy to work with. She did exactly what I wanted her to, and I rarely had to tell her what that was. She is a total professional and I wish I could use her again.
Character #5 was Malocchio, a repulsively ugly puppet I created after the basic TV shoot to be in quick segments I used to fill in gaps in the TV Show I couldn’t fix with the humans. If Mort blew a line, I could have Malocchio (Italian:“Evil Eye”) not only say the right line, but give Mort a hard time about it. There was no Malocchio when I conceived the movie, but I needed something to mend the tears.
We shot the TV segments over three weekends in October of 1999. We started with a sketch in which Mort flashes people in a silent movie. Then we shot the opening of the show, followed by other sketches and the little inserts Mort and the gang threw in to corrupt the movie.
Mitch had only committed to three weekends, so when his time ran out, we stopped. However, the cast members were so clever and productive, by the time we wrapped, I had more than I needed to finish the movie.
When the cast wasn’t there, I also shot a variety of commercials, bumpers, and all the other crap TV stations stick in between slivers of entertainment. Not all of it made it to the DVD.
I had originally wanted to burn and blow up things like Ghouldardi did, but alas, it was not to be. I wanted to use more blood than I did. Again, there was my security deposit to consider, as well as my neighbors. I had already disturbed their peace and tranquility with several weekends rife with screams, gun shots and weird chanting. No one complained. Maybe those things aren’t abnormal in North Hollywood.
Recently, I changed my mind about how simplistic I wanted the TV show and the feature to be, and went back and added new sound effects, music and a few visual doodads. I also cut 10 minutes from the original 95 minute running time. “They” declared that little movies should always run 87 minutes. SURGIKILL runs 87 minutes. LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY now runs 85 minutes.
However, I hate to waste good material and I decided to put the excluded material worth saving on its own DVD. I will be including some of this neglected material in the Extras disc included with a new version. While preparing the EXTRAS disc for the new version, I had to, I mean I had the opportunity to revisit all the original footage. While searching for deleted scenes and the most embarrassing blown takes, I discovered that I could have made it better. I got a powerful urge to re-edit the whole movie, an impulse I had to resist. I realized that if I cut the thing using all the angles I shot, it would get “good”. Shoot it right, edit it wrong – that’s not how they taught it at Film School!
The project ground to a halt and languished for a spell. I tried to edit it using old fashioned tape to tape methods. It was so totally slow and frustrating, I gave up frequently. In four years, I managed to edit only the first 38 minutes. That, coupled with the demands of work and a crisis in my physical health kept LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY on hold for 7 years.
Then, my fortunes reversed and I was able to acquire a gutsier computer and enter the world of digital Non-Linear Editing. I was able to edit the whole project from scratch in a matter of weeks. Once finished, I had to find a way to get it to my soon-to-be adoring public. I offered it to Troma. Troma declined. did not. The original release version is available there. The pimped out version will probably end up on eBay, along with all the obsolete editing equipment I bought and abandoned. Or at a yard sale.
While all of the people who were friends of mine got their copies, the majority of the cast members have never seen it. As soon as the original version was completed, I wrote to all of the cast members I could not contact in person. Every letter came back – Address Unknown. They had all moved. Of course, that had nothing to do with their association with the movie.
So that’s the saga of LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY. Although the film is still largely unknown, it did get a favorable review in David Oakes’ ZMDB, the Zombie Movie Data Base. And Filmbaby recently sold its last copy and ordered more, so get yours now before they run out! But wait, there’s more! I’m older now, but little wiser. I’m still trying to get SCREAM, ZOMBIE, SCREAM!, a new film, together. Wanna be a Zombie? I can’t promise you raw brains, but there will be pizza.
By this weekend, read a review of the DVD of Love Slaves of the She-Mummy!

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