Monday, March 23, 2009

In the Twilight Zone

This editorial originally ran in the Feb. 13 Standard-Examiner.

Twilight! Twilight! Twilight! Bad! Bad! Bad!

Move over, all you evangelicals in the deep South; some Utahns have another bone to pick with children's literature, and it sure ain't "Harry Potter"!

It's the "Twilight" series they are in a snit over.

That's nonsense, of course, but given that today is Friday the 13th and Valentine's Day is just around the corner, we thought vampires, shape-shifters and love an appropriate topic.

To the uninitiated, "Twilight" is Arizona author Stephenie Meyer's clever series of chastity and love between a human girl and a gorgeous, "vegetarian" creature of the undead. We kind of like "Twilight" and its sequels, in which Bella and Edward meet, fall in love, get married and live forever. (There's a lot more to it than just that, but we'll let you read the books.)

Apparently the marriage between Bella and Edward in "Breaking Dawn," the final book in "Twilight," has rankled the folks at Covenant Communications Inc., a Utah publisher. In a news release it pitched to journalists this week, Covenant used some of its writers to attack "Twilight."
Here are some gripes:

"... I am convinced it is none other than pornography for women ..."

* "The book is ... is illicit because the protagonists are of different species."

* "I've asked them (my kids) not to read the 'Twilight' series and had them consider what my husband and I have taught them ..."

OK, time for a chill pill here. First, we have no problem if parents tell their kids no to "Twilight." That's their right as caretakers of their kids. But the idea that the series is pornography or promotes sex between different species is just nuts.

You want to read pornography? Check out the lyrics of a song from Eminem; you won't find pornography in "Breaking Dawn."

The "Twilight" series, including "Breaking Dawn," is full of passion, but they are chaste tales, in which Edward and Bella, in love, regard the after-marriage honeymoon as the appropriate time for sexual intercourse. Despite being inherent opposites, characters in "Twilight" -- beyond just Bella and Edward -- reconcile their differences and resolve long-standing disputes.

And as for that ridiculous claim of "illicit" sex between "different species," only the foggiest mind would read "Breaking Dawn" and compare Bella and Edward's child, Renesmee, to something akin to the growling, bloodthirsty, man/beast Minotaur of Greek mythology.

We've kept our tongue planted in our cheek through much of this editorial, and this may be the last time we respond to a booksellers' pitch, but we think there's a lesson here: All of us -- adults and teenagers -- are going to fantasize about romance. "Twilight" -- in its own passionate manner -- keeps our brains stimulated as well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Flash Gordon TV series


By Steve D. Stones

Recently, Mill Creek Entertainment has released another excellent box set of classic Sci-Fi TV programs from the golden age of television. The set contains such classics as: Rocky Jones Space Ranger, Flash Gordon, Tales of Tomorrow, Captain Z-Ro, Space Angel, and One Step Beyond. Over 40 hours of DVD entertainment is contained in the set. For collectors of all things sci-fi, this is a real treasure trove of TV programming to have in your collection. It is perhaps the best $30.00 I have ever spent on any box set.

A particular favorite of mine in the set is the Flash Gordon TV series made in West Berlin, which aired from 1953 – 1954. Since I was a boy, the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, and the 1980 feature length film with Sam Jones have been favorites of mine.

Fourteen episodes are contained in this box set. The TV series does not have the same non-stop action and adventure that made the classic Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe so great, but fans of the genre will not be disappointed in this series. Crabbe was certainly born to play the role of Flash Gordon, with his chiseled good looks and boy like charm that every young boy living in the 1930s could relate to. Actor Steve Holland plays Flash in this TV series. He may not be Buster Crabbe, but he still has the athletic agility and boyish good looks that
made Flash Gordon the hero he is meant to be. Holland does not possess the same naive charm that made Crabbe so famous in the role.

The beautiful Irene Champlin plays Dale Arden, Flash’s lovely sidekick. Although Champlin is a brunette (I have a soft spot for brunettes), Jean Rodgers from the original Flash Gordon serials will remain the greatest Dale Arden of all time. Melody Anderson from the 1980 film comes in second place, in my opinion.

A favorite episode of mine is entitled The Brain Machine. Viewers will notice immediately that all the villains and aliens of the series have a German accent, while the heroes, such as Flash, Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden, are American. In The Brain Machine, Dr. Zarkov and Commander Paul Richardson of the Galaxy Bureau of Investigation are blamed for an explosion that kills hundreds of people on the planet Neptune. The explosion releases methane gas, causing breathing difficulties for the inhabitants of Neptune.

Flash and Dale Arden arrive on Neptune to help in the recovery effort and to install an air converter. They only have 48 hours to complete this task.

An agent of Zyderine named Prostar is sent to Neptune to destroy the air converter. Zyderine is also known as the Mad Witch of Neptune. She is a grouchy middle-aged woman in a funny costume containing a glittered headpiece and a magic wand.

Speaking of funny costumes, Prostar wears an outfit that looks like a child’s bee costume for Halloween, minus the pipe cleaner antennae on the top of his head. Pretty cheesy stuff. This is what watching old TV shows and movies is all about.

Zyderine, The Mad Witch of Neptune, kidnaps Commander Richards and Dr. Zarkov. She wants to drain their minds of their memory and intellect to learn of the defense secrets of the galaxy. Richards and Zarkov learn that it was Zyderine who forced them to release the explosion of methane gas on Neptune. She places them under the brain machine, which looks like giant metal hats in the shape of the tip of a fire hose nozzle. Again, pretty cheesy stuff, as I mentioned before.

Eventually Flash and Dale come to the rescue of Richards and Zarkov, but it is too late. Both have had their memories and intellect completely drained. To be continued in next week’s episode. If you can get past all the cheap looking props and costumes and just enjoy the Flash Gordon TV series as low budget sci-fi fun, then you won’t be disappointed. I always enjoy watching these old TV shows to pick out all the bad dialogue, costumes, props, environments and other mistakes that make the viewing experience fun.

One other funny mistake in The Brain Machine episode shows a scene of Flash and Dale in an interior shot of their spaceship. The shadow of the boom microphone can be seen on the wall behind them. It’s kind of like viewing an Ed Wood movie. It may be cheap, but it’s sure a lot of fun to watch!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sherman Hirsh on Lords of Magick

UPDATE ON March 11 -- "Ulric's Sword" added above, and a review at end of post
ANOTHER UPDATE on March 12-- another review by Steve D. Stones

WELCOME PLAN 9 CRUNCH FANS, to our week of The Lords of Magick, a wonderfully obscure 1989 fantasy feature about two wizards transported 1,000 years into late 1980s Los Angeles to rescue a princess from an evil wizard. We love this film, which cost less than $500,000 and has stubbornly stayed alive, available via online sellers. Later in the week Steve Stones and I, Doug Gibson, offer reviews of Lords of Magick and more. But first, we have a fascinating essay by the film's writer, screenwriter/director Sherman Hirsh. What follows is an entertaining, informative look into low-budget filmmaking in the 80s. It's worthy of being assigned to a filmmaking class. Plan 9 Crunch readers will recall Sherman's great essay on the making of Andy Milligan's Surgikill

So, enjoy this great essay, look for more as the week goes on, and remember that we're on Twitter now at

Thanks a bunch, now read on! -- Doug Gibson (P.S. Sherman refers to the film as Lords of Magic for mostly personal reasons. He would have preferred it was named The Thousand Year Quest).

Behind the Scenes with LORDS OF MAGIC

In the 70's, if you wanted to break into movies, you scammed your relatives out of all the money you could and made a Horror movie. So, I spent my 20's immersing myself in the lore of Gore, all the time wishing I could shoot a Conan movie. I had fallen in love with Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber and their peers as my chief escape mode while I was in Vietnam, and longed to commit those synthetic legends to film. However, nobody was making fantasy movies, yet. So, I wrote and tried to shoot zombie movies and monster movies and maniac movies and so on, all the while pretending to go to college and working and teaching film courses at a local junior college and trying to sustain a relationship and survive Cleveland. Obviously, the cards were stacked against me, and I felt I was getting nowhere, and taking a long time to do it. Having little to lose, I went to Hollywood at the tender age of 34. Hey, I sold two scripts in Cleveland, so I figured I could do better in the Entertainment Capital of the World!

In the mid-Eighties, before DVD's and Downloads made independent films a popular commodity, a lot of Indie films were made for the then growing Cable TV market. “CABLE FODDER” was the derisive term for these movies, describing their marginal quality and lack of strong Box Office cast members. However, the market was profitable for a while and many filmmakers tried to get on board.

All this sounds like ancient history now, and it is. I got to participate in some of that as the screenwriter of a semi-obscure mini-epic called LORDS OF MAGIC. If you remember my recent rant about my experience as the writer of Andy Milligan's last gasp, SURGIKILL, you will recall my mentioning LORDS OF MAGIC, which I had written before SURGIKILL. Unlike SURGIKILL, I had a chance to actually observe the making of LORDS OF MAGIC. While I didn't see all of the shoot, I did see some major scenes as they were filmed, and had a chance to speak to participants who were there.

I had sold a few XXX scripts once I got to Hollywood, and longed to graduate to something I could have my real name on and didn't have to apologize for. I got involved with David Marsh, a producer/director who wanted to crack the made-for-cable thing. “Give me a film I can shoot in two weeks for $120,000” he said. We kicked around a few ideas and a few scripts that never made it to a second draft. Then at one meeting he said, “Let's do one of those movies about a wizard rescuing a princess from a giant spider or something,” and eventually ended up formulating a Fantasy movie about wizards rescuing a princess from a nasty sorcerer. Probably one of the reasons the Middle Ages fell apart was everybody was wasting time rescuing all those damn princesses, resulting in them going from Feudal to futile. I, however, loved the idea of doing a fantasy.

LOM was the result of my messing with the generic prototype of the Sword and Sorcery Genre: Hero goes on a quest to save someone or something and gets a mate, after fighting a hammy villain and dealing with magic, and prevails because Good always wins out over Evil, even though Evil is more fun. However, I tend to want to warp the conventions of a genre, because while I love the genre, I hate the cliches. I split the hero in two and made them brothers. This was so I could separate them, sending each off on a separate adventure and have them re-unite at the climax. Instead of wanting to go on this quest, my protagonists are forced into it.

I used GHOSTBUSTERS as a plot model, working the scheme of having a lot of little events lead up to a big finale. This caused the director to brag to everyone who would listen, ”It's a lot like GHOSTBUSTERS!”

He didn't want to spend a lot of money on period props, sets, etc, and made me set most of the story in modern times, a thousand years out of the time of the heroes, hence my original title: THE THOUSAND YEAR QUEST. (This was also the premise several years later, of Coscarelli's BEASTMASTER II..) The final title came from a line I composed while I was revising the finale, “There can not be two Lords of Magic!” And there wasn't since we never shot the sequel I wrote.

I wrote the first draft of LORDS OF MAGIC while I was on jury duty. The judge asked all the jurors about their backgrounds and vocations. I said I was a freelance scriptwriter and he bitched and moaned about how Movies and TV never show what really goes on in The Courtroom. I was tempted to tell him that it was because trials are really boring and technical, with very little real drama. I chickened out and said nothing. For 5 weeks, I showed up at the LA County Court House and gave reasonable attention to the case, while pre-writing LOM in my head. The other jurors would see me writing notes in my little notebook and were sure I was writing a movie about this case. Little did they know... Eventually, we all got really annoyed with the whole process and gave the plaintiff $2,100,000, and went home. After a few script re-write meetings and the usual pre-production rituals, principal photography on LORDS OF MAGIC began in April of 1986.

A few minor technical notes: LORDS OF MAGIC was shot, before SURGIKILL, on the then state of the art video format, Betacam, while SURGIKILL was shot on old-school 35mm film. At the time, shooting a feature on video was comparatively rare. There were a couple features shot in the mid-70's on video, but they never went very far. There was one other feature made at the same time as LORDS OF MAGIC on Betacam. This is not to be confused with another extinct format, Betamax, which was a home video mode. Now, Betacam is obsolescent, having been replaced by HD.

The action which took place on Hollywood Boulevard, with the Redglen Brothers getting busted by the LAPD, was the first day's output. I got to watch the shoot. I even signed my first autograph for a nice tourist family from Canton Ohio, a small Rust-belt Ruin city near my hometown rust-belt ruin, Cleveland. This was my first look at the two young actors who brought my fantasy to life. The director and I had several differences of opinion about various aspects of the film, and casting was one of them. More on that later. However, I was totally satisfied with the choices he had made for the two wizard brothers.

Jarret Parker, as our Frodo-ish nice wizard, Michael Redglen, was a professional magician. He had done shows at the famed Magic Castle in Hollywood, performing some extremely clever tricks in a show he called Microcosmos. I was there the day he showed up, uninvited, at the producers office, amazed us with a few of his illusions and went home with the part. If you watch his body language when he performs his wizardly wonders on the screen, you'll notice that he really looks like he's doing magic. He did.

Ulric Redglen, the Bad Boy of Good Magic, was portrayed by Mark Gauthier, a professional actor, who got the part through the regular channel, by auditioning for it. He told me that he had mentioned to some friends of his who were into Black Magic and Witchcraft that he was playing a White Wizard and they placed a curse on the film. I think the curse is that it's taken over 20 years for the flick to get any real attention.

The Brothers Redglen were Merlinite Wizards, followers of Merlin. As far as I know, there were no such wizards, however, according to my source material, Merlin, or Myrddhin, was a real 13th century astrologer who had absolutely nothing to do with King Arthur. Wishing to avoid lawsuits, I needed a made-up name. Glens are green, so we'll use red, hence Redglen. I met an English tourist who told me he actually knew someone named Michael Redglen. Must be that curse at work.

Their native guide in this strange new world, Tommy Hill, was brought to life by David Snow, the star of the classic, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Good actor, but a tad old for a college student.

Salatin, our Boogy Man, was Brenden Dillon, Jr., a male model and ardent surfer. I always thought he was too pretty for the part. My Salatin would have been a repulsive ugly old creep, his appearance being a reflection of his befouled soul. The name, SALATIN, came from the name of a practitioner of the Dark Arts who first appeared as a character in an ancient play. I found the name in an old book on magic and witchcraft , my source material, which revealed itself to me as it lurked in the cut out bin of my college bookstore. Brendan told me that Salatin came to him in a dream, wearing a white robe. Salatin told Brendan that he approved of how Brendan was playing him. I rescued the old bastard from obscurity and he never talked to me!

I wanted to play Salatin. I'm a mediocre actor, but a brilliant ham. Unlike SURGIKILL, however, there is a little of me in LORDS OF MAGIC, all of it voice-over work. In the King's Court scene, you'll hear me shout the off-screen line, “Send for the Headsman!” I also supplied various screams, laughs, demonic growls, etc, for the end of the Gypsy scene.

Some superstitious employee told David that I had put REAL WITCHCRAFT in the movie and he took out a lot of the magic. I really hadn't, and most of it went back in. Did he really think he could make a wizard movie and not have magic? I left the old book I used as source material with the director so he could use it for reference purposes, but he got nervous and made me get it out of his house. He must have thought it was an actual Grimoir.

That old book was actually a modern re-print of THE ANTHOLOGY OF SORCERY, MAGIC AND WITCHCRAFT, a French text first published in the 1920's, I used that book for all sorts of magic related material. Assorted chants, curses, Latin phrases, ETC. all originated in that book.

There is a chant Salatin speaks during the magic duel at the end:
If you speak this chant in a darkened room lit by a single candle while drawing a pentagram on the floor in chicken blood, in the dark of the Moon, NOTHING will happen. This is not a real invocation of Dark Forces. It is nonsense words used in an ancient play. I copied it out of that old tome.

The aura of Magic attracted a few aficionados of the Black Arts to the project. There is a scene where the Brothers use necromancy to make a hanged corpse help them talk to “The Old One”. I was told that this was not the correct way to do this, and Ulric and Michael should have taken the severed hand of an executed felon and in the light of the Full Moon...blah, blah, blah.

Whether you interpret the “Old One” as either Satan or some nauseating Lovecraftian Deity, did we really want to talk to it? Sometimes the magic works, sometime it just fires up weirdos. Remember, however, that this all happened in Los Angeles, where the pound won't let people adopt black cats during Halloween because they get sacrificed.

A few months after the film had wrapped, I spoke to Richard Rifkin, the actor who got hanged for the scene. He told me he had hung there so long, when they finally cut him down, he couldn't lower his arms! He was supposed to have been hung by the neck, but a proper hanging harness system was not in the budget. OUCH!

Most of the interiors were shot at a rented sound stage in North Hollywood, across the street from the Ragu Spaghetti Sauce plant. The set designer made excellent use of the space. There are stairs at either end of a second story catwalk. Those stairs appear in the Inn scene and the old book vault, where Tommy and Michael are attacked by a demonized librarian. Her prosthetic make-up was created by Tom Shouse, a talented special effects artist who was the sculptor of the mermaid's tail assembly in SPLASH, for which he didn't get credit due to his non-union status. Her darting tongue was CGI. Since LORDS OF MAGIC left, the place has become the headquarters for a company which sells grooming products for the Latino market. Ragu moved too.

I was hanging around the set the day they shot the castle scene of the Brothers' trial. The King of England in 986 historically was Ethelred or Aethelred Evilcounsel, was played by John Clark, then husband of Lynn Redgrave. The assorted courtiers, as well as the customers at the Inn, were played by a local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a nationwide cult of Medieval re-enactors. They came in their own personal costumes, complete with huge swords, some costing almost a thousand dollars. However, they really knew the era and its customs. Never mind that they were dressed for a time 300+ years after the time portrayed. Hey, this is a fantasy, not a documentary. The Redglens' chief accuser was played by a disgruntled actor who wanted to be cast as the King, as evidenced by his slightly annoyed attitude. Not all acting is ACTING.

There is one huge set representing Salatin's temple and the location of the Alter of Skulls. It was done on a soundstage in Hollywood near Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue, the same studio where Raymond Burr shot his insert scenes for the original 1950's GODZILLA. I ran a fog machine. There was also a thick cloud of smoke coming from a fire burning in the middle of the set. The special effects team who did the effect used charcoal lighter fluid, a particularly dirty fuel. I was blowing soot out of my nose for hours afterwards. This scene was a re-shoot, because the director didn't like the first attempt. Unfortunately, you can't see Tom Shouse's alter, which was impressive. It was covered in sculpted skulls, but is barely visible in this version. There is a large gargoyle idol which was rented from Universal, and had decorated their Dracula attraction until that was re-vamped into the Conan the Barbarian attraction.

This scene was shot in November of 1986. The wrap party had been in August, but they kept shooting. Somehow, a 2 week shoot costing $120K took almost a year to finish and cost almost a half million!

I watched the shooting of the action scenes involving the Rejects gang, before and after they were possessed, as shot in an alley in West Hollywood. The Rejects were professional stunt players. When you see the Redglens doing stunts, it's really Mark and Jarret doing their own stunts. They learned those stunts and the swordplay from those stuntmen. This is the scene in which Ron Jeremy, Adult Movie star, director and Troma regular, played a zombie who gets blown up. After his scenes were completed, he hung around the set wearing only his undies. I guess he just wasn't used to being around a camera with clothes on.

One incident that night sticks in my memory. There is a shot where Ulric stabs a Reject with his sword. The zombie's torso was a standard department store dummy with its chest carved out. It was covered with a rubber-like skin, and the “Reject” stood behind it. When Ulric stabbed the torso, the skin tore back, revealing a chest full of guts, REAL GUTS, as furnished by a local butcher! The actor playing the Reject reached into the chest cavity and pulled out a huge chunk of real liver covered in movie blood and started chewing on it. Everyone who wasn't gagging was laughing. I will never know why the director didn't shoot a clean take, but what you see in the film is that shot, with the gross-out deleted in editing.

Bad old Ulric, having been separated from his righteous brother, strays from his mission, with a little push from Salatin. He picks up a prostitute and gets a room. Salatin shows up rather rudely in the bathroom as Ulric is getting ready to roll and seduces Ulric into betraying Michael and joining Salatin's side. In my written version, Salatin says that since his body is very old and no magic can preserve it forever, he wants Ulric and the Princess to breed him a son whose body Salatin can take over. Our intrepid director thought this was too creepy, and took out the part about taking over the lucky kid's body. This was later the premise of GHOSTBUSTERS II. Do you detect a pattern here?

This set was the scene of a small bit of temperment on Mark's part. He was standing on the set, waiting to nail his hooker, wearing only a loincloth. He demanded that everyone not working on the picture get out. A few did, but after all, it was a Sex Scene! “Hey, I'm an Actor, not an Exhibitionist!” he declared. It struck me that it was like saying, “I'm a doughnut, not a pastry!” He was a Pro and not a Primadonna, and gave up his struggle to maintain his dignity and did the scene. At least he didn't "BALE" on us!

The Quest culminates in a massive battle of sorcery, “Just like the one in THE RAVEN (Roger Corman's).” The warehouse set took up the entire sound stage, uh, warehouse. If you have read the review of LOM as posted by ARION1 on IMDB, he talks about this scene, pointing out various shortcomings. He cites the name of the place, MARSH ELECTRONICS. I needed to avoid any legal traps, so I used the director's name. He wasn't in the electronics business, but he had a lot of electronics, so I riffed off that.

Arion1 finds the scene confusing. That's because it is. Large portions of information are missing. When Michael and Tommy arrive at the warehouse to confront Salatin, they witness him destroying a follower named Morgan. Based on the film alone, you won't know why. Actually, Morgan was a banker, who dabbles in in the Black Arts. Earlier in the movie, Tommy takes the Redglens to see him, on the chance that he might know how they can find Salatin. Morgan won't cooperate until Tommy threatens to make public the fact that Morgan does strange things with goats in his garage. Morgan relents and helps the Boys, which is why Salatin fries him.

The battle scene has all kinds of problems. For no good reason, after flinging spells at each other, Michael and Salatin suddenly are swordfighting. Why would wizards fence? At least they weren't doing Kung Fu.

The battle scene was shot over several days, but I only got to watch one. Somebody had made a finely detailed miniature of the warehouse, with the intention to burn it. There were also several harmless little snakes who were supposed to be huge and frightening on that miniature set. Never made the cut.

I wish I had been there the day the tiger showed up. He was named Raja. He was a seasoned movie cat and everybody got a chance to pet him.

Arion1 says, “The film attempts (and for the most part succeeds) in attending to every one of the elements of a fantasy adventure.” Well, DUH! It's a Fantasy Genre film, Arion1! The whole essence of Genre is the use of recognizable conventions that make the mode immediately recognizable.

He also finds fault with the battle scene. He finds it confusing. The background material on Morgan is not the only missing data. Of course it's confusing. The whole sense of attack and reply is missing. The final cut is a muddled montage of scenes until the payoff at the end when Michael discovers that Ulric has been ensorceled by Salatin.

I hate the Princess and the Pea scene. It adds nothing to our understanding of the characters nor does it advance the plot. David demanded it. I always regarded it as bulk that displaced material of greater value. I hate that David tried to make LOM into an urban action picture and sacrificed a lot of the fantasy. The film loses its intended nature as a quest. Instead of having the heroes FIND Salatin, they have to have Salatin shoved in their faces. Salatin should not have survived the adventure. Instead of having Salatin get greased once and for all, he pops up in the end tag in an gimmick totally stolen from the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE movie.

I liked the castle used in that shot. It was about 4 feet tall and made of finely crafted cardboard. David kept it in his garage for a time after the picture was finished. He also had Ulric's sword, which I rescued from David's garage floor. It's my only souvenir of the movie, other than the original typed first draft of the script.

Does that mean you shouldn't see it. SEE IT! It's still a lot of fun, even if it has a few warts. If you are one of those fans who likes to find goofs and flubs in movies, I'll point out a few. If you watch the Redglens through most of the movie, you'll see that they are wearing amulets made by Tom Shouse, similar to those he made for BEASTMASTER. These amulets are made of metal and have glass eyes in their centers. However, watch closely and you will observe that in part of the movie, those amulets are felt and the glass eyes have been replaced by shirt buttons. Somebody lost the originals. “Lost” as in lost in the bottoms of their pockets.

While on Hollywood Boulevard, Ulric is startled by a kid's boombox when it blasts out a loud stream of music. Except that the music was never included in the final mix, so we don't really know why Ulric is suddenly chasing the kid down Hollywood Boulevard. He just starts chasing the kid for no clear reason. In the tavern scene, Ulric calls to Michael who is talking to a weeping girl, “Join us, Michael, if only in song.” Except that it's not Mark who speaks the line. It's David.

So, that's my memoir of LORDS OF MAGIC. Try to see it. There have been several copies available on eBay. I emailed one of the sellers in Texas that I had written it and that it seemed to be up for sale because it was a slow mover. He replied that it was because Science Fiction isn't very popular in Texas. Science Fiction? Did they think all those magic rays coming from the magicians' fingers were lasers? Was Salatin wearing a space suit? Beam me up, Ulric! Oh, well, at least it's not SURGIKILL!

Sherman Hirsh
LORDS OF MAGICK, a short review
by Doug Gibson
I enjoy this film, obviously, or we wouldn't be featuring it. It is hampered by inexperienced acting, 80s Los Angeles settings (I agree with Sherman that it should have been set in long ago times) and the early shot on video is a tad uncomfortable to watch. I can't really explain why, it just doesn't feel right.
Having said that, Lords of Magick is a fun tale. Its strength is it simplicity. As written by Sherman, two noble young brothers who are wizards rescue a beautiful princess from an evil sorcerer. What could be plainer. Jarrett Parker and Mark Gauthier work well together as Michael and Ulric Redglen. Ruth Zakarian makes a beautiful Princess Luna. The shots of hanged men, zombies and a possessed librarian are well done given the budget. The 80s gang members seem like they might have stepped out a Police Academy film, but I love the scene where the Redglen brothers use magic to escape two thuggish LA cops.
The zombie swordfights are a lot of fun. My favorite scene is the library and the possession that ensues. The final conflict is cramped but still exciting. The low budget synthetic electronic flashes look cool. There are places that drag. I personally would have trimmed about 8 to 18 minutes from the film. But Lords of Magick keeps my interest. Again, that is due to the overall simplicity and respect for the genre that is in the script.
Sherman talks about a resemblance to Ghostbusters. I have to say that watching Ulric and Michael strolling down Hollywood I was thinking "Beverly Hills Cop" for a few seconds. Maybe it was the music??
I hope these extended 20 minutes for Lords of Magick will spur a few sales via ebay, etc. It's a fun film. An earnest attempt to capture an era that will fascinate us forever.
ANOTHER UPDATE LORDS OF MAGIC: Pimple cream not required
I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to want to view this film. The artwork on the video box reminded me of all the geeks I knew in High School who spent their free time playing Dungeons & Dragons board games and coating their faces with pimple cream.
As a fan of “cult films,” I find that it is necessary to keep an open mind to all forms of cinema, regardless of whether or not the genre appeals to me. My second viewing of the film proved to be a much more rewarding experience. An evil sorcerer kidnaps a beautiful princess named Lina. Two Merlin Wizard brothers named Michael and Ulric Redglen are on a quest to save the princess. The two are captured by Knights in a tavern and are brought before the king to stand trial for necromancy.
The king eventually sets them free to continue their pursuit in finding the princess. In the forest, the Redglen brothers encounter a hanging corpse. After using necromancy to revive the corpse, he tells them to go to the altar of the skulls to meet the evil sorcerer Salatin. There they urinate on his altar, which infuriates the sorcerer. They demand the release of the princess. Lord Merlin soon appears and tells them to go fourth some 1,000 years into the future to battle Salatin and find the princess.
Their journey takes them to modern 1980s Hollywood, California. Although Hollywood is full of weirdos, dropouts and dead beats, the locals find the two brothers to be very strange as they wonder through the town. They think the Hollywood buildings are castles. A cop approaches them and demands they surrender their swords. Ulric fights one of the officers. Both brothers are arrested and forcibly put in the police car, but magically escape soon after.
Continuing their journey through Hollywood, the brothers find a poster advertising a theatrical production of The Princess and The Pea. Here they hope to find the princess. Entering the theater, they fit right in with the crowd dressed in medieval costumes. Outside the theater they encounter a woman who they think is the princess. A gang attacks them, thinking they are raping and kidnapping the woman. One of the gang appears to be adult film star Ron Jeremy. After reading Sherman Hirsh’s write up on this film, he confirmed for me that one of the gang members is indeed Ron Jeremy. I’m just glad I wasn’t on the set the day Ron decided to hang out in his underwear. The title of the movie would have to be changed to “Lords of Regurgitation,” if you know what I mean?
While battling the street gang, Michael recites a chant as a young man looks out on the street from his apartment window reciting the same chant. The chant transports Michael and Ulric to his apartment. Here they meet Thomas and ask for his help in battling Salatin. Thomas’ girlfriend does not believe that Michael and Ulric are wizards. Thomas takes the Redglen brothers to an address with the number 666 on the mailbox. They enter an old dark house filled with cobwebs and dust.
Michael and Ulric leave the room in search of The Chamber of Love while Thomas stays behind. A corpse rises out of a coffin with glowing red eyes. All three men eventually find Salatin holding the princess captive in a trance. Ulric breaks the spell of the trance. He realizes she is the real princess from a mark on her chest. The group flees the house and returns back to Thomas’ apartment. Here Ron Jeremy and his street gang attack them again. The gang is now possessed by the power of Salatin.
After defeating the gang, the Redglen brothers ask Thomas for candles, salt and chalk. They create a chalk outline barrier on the floor to protect the princess from the evil of Salatin. Thomas and Michael go to a local library to find a book written by Michael a thousand years ago. The librarian refuses to allow them access to a vault in the basement of the library, so the two carefully break into the vault to find the book. The librarian catches them and transforms into an evil demon.
Meanwhile, Ulric approaches a prostitute in Hollywood, and pays her with a gold coin for her services. While in the hotel room with the girl, he encounters Salatin in the bathroom mirror. Salatin convinces Ulric to betray his brother Michael by fornicating with the prostitute. He is now possessed by the evil Salatin, and kills the prostitute before leaving the hotel room.
Leaving the library, Michael and Thomas go to a gypsy named Esmeralda to ask for her aide in locating Salatin. She finds him in her crystal ball. This is one of my favorite scenes in the film because some of the special effects in the scene are quite intriguing. The skull and Buddha on the shelf in Esmeralda’s room move around and laugh. Ulric returns to Thomas’ apartment to lure the princess out of the chalk circle. She is led out of the circle and into the presence of Salatin.
Michael and Thomas soon find Salatin in a warehouse and discover that Ulric has betrayed them. Michael challenges Salatin to a duel. An armyof zombies is ordered to attack Michael and Thomas. The two escape the zombies with the princess through an opening in the warehouse wall. Both Thomas and Michael use their sorcery to destroy Salatin. With the death of Salatin comes the death of Ulric.
Michael then takes the princess back to his own time. Michael asks permission of his father to resurrect Ulric from the dead. His father must confront the archbishop for permission. The film ends with the princess delivering a message from Michael’s father, informing him that he is now a nobleman, and can now marry the princess.
This film is proof that you can’t always judge a film in its first viewing, or even by the video box art. I have a greater appreciation for it now that I have viewed it a few times and read Sherman Hirsh’s writeup on the film (found on this website.).
Making a movie is not an easy task, so we always need to keep an open mind when we sit down to watch someone’s hard work, even if it is just “Cable Fodder,” to use Sherman’s word. Forget the pimple cream when you watch Lords of Magic.
Steve D. Stones

Monday, March 2, 2009

HELL HIGH: It’s hell to be a teenager!

By Steve D. Stones

I remember seeing this film in the summer of 1990 on The Movie Channel hosted by Joe Bob Biggs just one month after I had graduated from High School. I spent a lot of time that summer watching movies on cable television because I was very nervous about my future and trying to decide what to do next with my life.
Like another 1980s cult masterpiece about High School life, Heathers, starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, Hell High really struck a nerve with me. It helped to summarize how I felt about the High School experience. I too had a tough time dealing with the peer pressures of my friends, my dislike of the football jocks, cheerleaders and popular people in school, not to mention a disregard for some of my teachers. Hell High really puts all these issues on the table for me.

A little girl in a pink dress named Brooke Storm plays with her dolls in an abandoned shed down by the swamp. She hears the sound of a motorcycle approaching, and quickly hides outside the shed. A teenage couple arrives on the motorcycle and runs into the shed. Brooke witnesses the teenage male rape and slap the teenage girl. The girl suggests the couple go somewhere else to make out, so the teenage boy picks up one of Brooke’s dolls in the shed and tears its head off. Angered by this, Brooke throws a bucket of mud at them, which forces them to lose control of the motorcycle. The two fly off the motorcycle, landing on wood stakes that impale their bodies, killing them.

It is now eighteen years later, and little Brooke is a beautiful grown woman teaching biology at a local High School. Her students are disrespectful and refuse to pay attention to her. She asks a student named Dickens to file away the tests from a biology exam. Dickens throws them in her face in front of the entire class. She violently slaps him across the face. Dickens is now determined to get even with his biology teacher.

Coach Heaton informs Jon-Jon that he is off the football team for good. He labels him a coward for quitting the team. Dickens uses this as an opportunity to recruit Jon-Jon into his group, now that Jon-Jon is looking for any kind of acceptance from anyone.

After school, Dickens and Jon-Jon follow biology teacher Brooke home. They climb up on her roof to watch her fondle herself in the shower.

One of Brooke’s colleagues suggests to her that she should get out once in a while and go to the football game with coach Heaton. She is very reluctant at first to accept this offer, but later agrees to go to the game when Heaton calls her at home. His call has interrupted her shower while Dickens and Jon-Jon were watching her outside on the rooftop.

Jon-Jon picks up Queenie at her home for the football game that evening. Queenie is in her room doing stretching exercises. She is dressed like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. She asks Jon-Jon to turn around for a second so she can change her top. Instead, she asks him to quickly turn back around, showing her bare breasts to him.

Dickens, Jon-Jon, Queenie and Smiley decide to sabotage the football game that evening by driving across the football field in Dickens’ car. To spite his former team, Jon-Jon catches a pass as the car darts across the football field.

After leaving the game, Dickens and the group go down to the swamp to collect bags of mud and slime. Dickens wants to scare the biology teacher Brooke by throwing mud at her house. Jon-Jon is against the plan because he is worried it will impact his future. Dickens labels him a coward, forcing him to go along with the group.

Teacher Brooke is home grading biology exams when the group arrives to harass and throw mud at her house. The group has put on Halloween masks to disguise their identity. If the viewer hasn’t noticed it by now, there is an obvious connection to this scene and the opening scene of the little girl Brooke throwing mud at the teenage couple that destroyed her doll. I find this connection to be fascinating and an important plot element of the film.

Brooke immediately has flashbacks of witnessing the impaled teenagers eighteen years earlier. The swim coach arrives to check up on Brooke, forcing the group to hide out until she has left. The swim coach gives Brooke a sleeping pill and puts her to bed. After she leaves, Dickens comes into the house to taunt Brooke in her bedroom. Jon-Jon tries to stop Dickens. A fight breaks out between them as Brooke gets up out of the bed and jumps out the window. The group assumes she is dead.

Dickens comes up with a plan to place the blame of Brooke’s death on the star quarterback. Jon-Jon goes to the local diner to steal a football jersey from the quarterback’s car to place at the scene of Brooke’s death. The quarterback chases him on a motorcycle.

After losing the quarterback, Jon-Jon returns to Brooke’s home to find Queenie bludgeoned to death. Brooke’s body is nowhere to be found on the front lawn. Brooke sneaks up behind him and knocks him unconscious with a rock.

Brooke goes back into the house and grabs a kitchen knife. She stabs Smiley in the head as he comes up the stairs to the bathroom. She then runs down the stairs and attacks Dickens. After tying him up, she opens a book on the table with an anatomy diagram of a frog. She has decided to dissect Dickens like a classroom biology project.

Jon-Jon regains consciousness and arrives to quickly free Dickens. Dickens attacks Brooke, falling to the floor where he lands on the kitchen knife. Both Brooke and Dickens die in this struggle.

The next morning Jon-Jon sits in his biology class blindly staring out the classroom window. The police arrive and arrest the star quarterback. The substitute teacher confronts Jon-Jon for not paying attention to her. He goes through a series of flashbacks from the night before, and lets out a loud scream in front of the entire class. This ends the film.

Next to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, I would say Hell High is my all time favorite horror film of the 1980s. It’s unfortunate that the film is not given very good reviews in most notable film encyclopedias. This is unfortunate because the actors are all quite good in the film, and the story is believable and entertaining. Looking at it now versus when I first viewed it in 1990, I would say it has aged very well, and seems to get even better with each viewing. I would urge all film critics who were initially critical of Hell High to give the film a second viewing.