Thursday, November 26, 2015

Three very kitschy Christmas movies

(This essay originally ran in the Dec. 20, 2007 Standard-Examiner)

By Doug Gibson

Every December (or after Thanksgiving!)  the best Christmas films pop up on TV: "Miracle on 34th Street," "A Christmas Carol," "Going My Way," "The Shop Around the Corner," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — I refer to the Boris Karloff-narrated cartoon — "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" and, of course, that other Jimmy Stewart classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."

We all have our favorite Christmas cinema moments. George Bailey's joyous run through Bedford Falls, Ebenezer Scrooge dancing for joy on Christmas morning, Macy's Kris Kringle speaking Dutch to a World War II orphan girl, and my favorite, crusty but lovable Father Fitzgibbon's surprise reunion with his mother after decades apart.

There are great holiday films. Much has been written about them. But today let's spill some ink about the other Christmas films, the kitschy ones. They're all over the dial. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel!

Most aren't worth five minutes of our time, but some still spread holiday magic. We've all heard of "A Christmas Carol" or "Scrooge," but how many recall the Fonz — Henry Winkler — starring in "An American Christmas Carol"? There are two well-received versions of "Miracle on 34th Street," but do you recall the kitschy 1973 TV version in which the lawyer was played by actor-turned-newsman David Hartman?

Even the biggy, "It's a Wonderful Life," has a kitschy cousin. Remember "It Happened One Christmas," the gender-switching knockoff starring Marlo Thomas?

Indeed, the competition is fierce for those kitschiest Christmas movies that still entertain us. But here are three finalists, all made on the cheap, yet still being sold and garnering holiday TV showings.

So, without further adieu, here is the best kitschiest Christmas film:

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" — This 1964 film was shot in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, N.Y., using many minor cast members from a NYC stage production of "Oliver Twist." It has a catchy theme song, "Hurray for Santy (sic) Claus," that you'll hum afterward. The plot involves Martians coming to earth, kidnapping Santa and whisking him away to cheer up the Martian kiddies. Two earth children are kidnapped along with Santa. Santa and the earth kids fight off a Martian baddie, prep a goofy Martian to become that planet's Santa, and launch off to earth in the spaceship. We never know if they made it home — perhaps the budget didn't allow that. The acting has to be seen to be believed, but the film has a goofy charm. It was a big hit on the now-gone "weekend matinee" circuit and played theaters for years. Pia Zadora, who was briefly a sexy starlet in the 1980s, plays one of the Martian children. John Call, as Santa, does a mean "ho, ho, ho." (Update, in 2011 holiday season this film played at the North Ogden Walker Cinemas for $2 plus a donated can of food!)

And now, the second-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa Claus" — Don't confuse this 1959 Mexican film with Dudley Moore's "Santa Claus: The Movie" or Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause" films. This import is weird and a little creepy, but it sticks with you. Old Kris Kringle is a sort of recluse who talks to himself and lives in a castle in outer space. He has no elves. His helpers are children from around the world who can't sing very well, though they belt out a lot of songs. Santa's reindeer are, I think, plastic and he uses a key to start them. Santa also works out on an exercise belt to slim down for the chimneys. For some reason Santa hangs out with Merlin the Magician. Enter "Pitch," a devil. His goal is to stop Santa from delivering presents. Pitch is a wimpy fellow in red tights and wears what looks like a short middy skirt. Santa and Merlin foil Pitch's nefarious plans. The film also focuses on two children, a poor girl and a rich, neglected boy, who resist Pitch's temptations. There are magic flowers and even special drinks. Santa glides safely to a chimney using a parasol. If this film sounds to readers like the after-effects of taking two Percocet, you got the gist of it.

Finally, the third-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa and the Three Bears" — If you lived in Southern California long ago, this 1970 blend of live action and cartoon was a Thanksgiving afternoon staple on KTLA Channel 5. The animation is mediocre, but the story has a simple charm. A forest ranger teaches two excitable bear cubs about Christmas while their grouchy mother bear wants them to hibernate for the winter. The ranger agrees to play Santa for the cubs on Christmas Eve, but a storm keeps "Santa" away ... or does it? The best part of the film is the live-action beginning and ending, where the ranger sits by the Christmas tree with his grandaughter, a sleepy cat and many toys. The ranger is voiced and played by Hal Smith, best known as Otis the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Grumpy Mama Bear was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma on "The Flintstones"). The uncredited director is Barry Mahon, who made soft-core sex films in the 1960s with such titles as "Nudes Inc." and "The Sex Killer."

A footnote: These films can occasionally be found on TV. Indeed, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and "Santa Claus" are usually broadcast a Friday in December on KULC Channel 9 in Utah at 9 p.m. Antenna TV plays "... Martians" during the Christmas season. Both Santa Claus films mentioned here have also been spoofed by the snarky robots of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A veritable scrapbook of all things Ed Wood and 'Bride of the Monster'

Review by Doug Gibson

I thought I knew all there was to know of “Bride of the Monster,” Ed Wood’s deliriously entertaining thriller that places Bela Lugosi in his last starring role, the last time he carried a film, that the plot and film’s success relied on his performance. I’d read several books with information on “Bride of the Monster” and perhaps three times as many articles. 

I was wrong, though. “Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster,” part of the Scripts From the Crypt collections edited by Tom Weaver, published by BearManor Media this year, is a literal — in fact intentional — scrapbook devoted to all things related to the iconic “Bride of the Monster,” which is generally the third-most popular Ed Wood film, after “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and “Glen Or Glenda.”

The film’s synopsis, as well as the script (an actual copy) is included in the book. The film involves an exiled mad scientist, Dr. Eric Vornoff, trying to make atomic supermen in his home, by a swamp and a lake, near a city in Florida. A woman reporter, (Loretta King) her boyfriend detective (Tony McCoy), and other police try to put a stop to it. There’s also a government agent, Professor Strowski, (George Becwar) presumably from a communist country, trying to kidnap Vornoff. The mad scientist is helped by a very large mute, Lobo, whom he found wandering in Tibet's wilderness. Lugosi plays Vornoff and Tor Johnson plays Lobo.

Film scholar Gary D. Rhodes presents a very interesting essay on the film’s history. Here are some things that I learned. “Bride of the Monster” was once a part of a package of films that Wood and film producer Richard Gordon hoped to sell to Allied Artists. Besides Lugosi, another star of a film was to be Boris Karloff. Eventually, these hopes were reduced to one film, “Bride of the Atom,” that would have starred Karloff, Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. That would have been an excellent teaming of three legends, but in the early 1950s, not many were impressed with the idea.

In the Allied Artists scenario, Karloff would have played Vornoff, Lugosi Strowski, and Chaney Jr. Lobo. Eventually, Allied Artists nixed the whole idea and left Wood scrambling to seek funding as well as he could, eventually getting the lion’s share of the funds from star McCoy’s father. 

Another tidbit of information I learned is that “Bride of the Monster” appears to have been ... drum roll ... a box office success. Of course, Ed Wood never saw a cent of the profits, having signed it away. But the film, with capable distribution and successful people in the industry behind it, including Samuel Arkoff, was handled effectively. It was in distribution for years, and about a year as a first-run feature. In one article, Bride’s share of receipts for a week in Los Angeles are tagged at $8,000-plus. The history of the film’s distribution is covered in detail, and it shows a film that was always in theaters in the mid 1950s, in double features, triple features and as part of live spook shows. The film was even paired with the Raymond Burr version of “Godzilla.” This information, a treat for fans, was gathered by Dr. Robert J. Kiss.

I recall reading, probably in “Nightmare of Ecstasy,” Rudolph Grey’s oral history of Wood, someone mentioning that if any Wood film made money, it was “Bride.” The information in this scrapbook provides strong evidence that is accurate.

The scrapbook also includes dozens of pages with small, paragraph-packaged facts on the film, compiled by Weaver, who, along with Rhodes, has a long list of previous literary accomplishments covering genre films. Weaver does offer an interesting take on who might have written most of “Bride of the Monster.” Some say Wood; others say Alex Gordon. Weaver favors Gordon, arguing that Bride’s “companion films,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and “Night of the Ghouls,” have certain Wood trademarks (lectures about violent youth, overwrought narration) that are absent from the tighter, more disciplined “Bride” script. Weaver also reminds that if you pay attention, you can see an unbilled Conrad Brooks behind a window early in the film.

It’s fun to read the script, because frankly, it presents a more exciting film that ended up on the screen. Obviously, budget limitations and a very limp octopus prop hampered what’s on the screen. But it is sad that the film does not have the promised battle royal between a atomic giant Vornoff and the monster octopus as depicted in the script. In the film, Lugosi’s double submits weakly to the octopus. Again, it's likely due to costs and a poor monster prop.

Besides what I have mentioned, this scrapbook contains many photos, an excellent essay on the career of character actor Ben Frommer (the drunk in “Bride of the Monster) , an essay on the music score (Bride had an original score!), as well as very interesting interviews with ”Bride“ star Loretta King, Wood’s last wife, Hope Lininger Lugosi, and a 1970s interview of Wood by Fred Olen Ray. I have seen all of these before in the now-defunct Cult Movies magazine, but it’s fun to have them in the scrapbook.

Also gathered are the script from Lugosi’s Las Vegas act in the 1950s and his testimony before Congress, shortly before his death, on his long struggle with drug abuse. (A page of that testimony is missing from the book, though). Also, ”Bride’s“ very small press booklet is included. There are copied recollections of Wood and Lugosi from the Gordon brothers and an interview with Richard Sheffield (also missing a page), the last person to see Lugosi alive. There's even a playbill from an "Arsenic and Old Lace" touring company with Lugosi as Jonathan Brewster. And even more ... but get the book!

We who love the minutiae of our cult films obsessions salute this book. Like ”Nightmare of Ecstasy,“ it’s a collection we will pore over hundreds of times over the years, reading a little, or most of the volume if we have a long weekend. Re-read, re-read, re-read, we do what we can to feed our love of Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, ”Bride of the Monster,“ and more. How fortunate we are to have books like this, that respond to our needs.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Who was Larry Semon? New bio details silent clown's life

Review by Doug Gibson

When ever the subject of Larry Semon turns, I unconsciously think of that also-forgotten movie, “The Comic,” that Dick Van Dyke starred in almost 50 years ago. It dealt with a silent comedian, who after years of hard work attained fame, let his ego intrude, fell hard and lived out his life forgotten. Except that Larry Semon didn’t spend decades forgotten. He died soon after his fall, still making films, still trying to seduce a bemused public — who no longer cared for his talents — into returning him his fame and fortune.

Semon literally worked himself to death, dying in 1928 after about two months of convalescence, a body worn down by over-work, stress and failure. He was still a “movie star,” with a beautiful wife, and lived well, although he could no longer afford it. Film historian Claudia Sassen, a cartoonist and member of the faculty at Technical University of Dortmund, Germany, has done a commendable job with “Larry Semon: Daredevil Comedian of the Silent Screen,” McFarland, 2015. (800-253-2187) That a biography of Semon would come from Germany is no surprise as his popularity has endured there.

Sassen’s biography shows a lot of research, a valuable addition to serious scholarship of silent cinema. It provides insight into Semon’s family, his early upbringing in a traveling show business family (his father was a magician), Semon’s success as a newspaperman cartoonist and writer (he wrote an expose, learned from his dad, of how magicians did their levitating tricks, etc.), and his tension-filled relationships with studios, such as Vitagraph. He attained stardom in one- and two-reel shorts working with future stars such as Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and sturdy slapstick veterans like Hughie Mack, Patsy DeForest, and Frank Alexander.

Semon was a perfectionist; his two-reelers usually cost far more in money and time than others of that era. This indirectly led to his career downfall as legal battles with Vitagraph hampered the box office potential of his feature films. Sassen describes an entertainer who was single-minded, aloof to most of the cast and crew, and downright cold to his first wife and only child, whom he essentially abandoned with an increasingly modest stipend. 

As Sassen notes, he thrived in the early era of slapstick, with daredevil stunts, fast-paced action and little drama or romance. He was good at it. Watch his early silents on YouTube or other sources; some of the stunts are amazing. But this was a subgenre that didn’t require a star with pathos. And to be very frank, Larry Semon cannot generate pathos; the audience does not feel sorry for this funny-faced jokester. But he is funny. “The Saw Mill” from 1922, shows Semon, along with Oliver Hardy, at his best in crazy comedy.

A chief strength of the biography is its insight into the film world that Semon helped shape, how films were made, the value placed on actors and crew. And the drama of Semon’s life can entertain. particularly his ill-fated affair with co-star Lucille Carlisle, and his battles with studio executives.

Like many other two-reel comedians, Semon’s fortunes turned south when he moved in features. If anyone has seen a Larry Semon feature, it tends to be the 1925 “Wizard of Oz,” which is an extra on “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939, disc, pops up on Turner Classic Movies and online sources, including Amazon Prime. The film is, and I’m not exaggerating, jaw-droppingly bad. It doesn’t even have the ability to improve on repeat viewings. Every so often, I watch the film again, hoping to like it even a little, to no avail. It still stinks.

"Wizard of Oz” is an ego-trip film. One from a director/star so self-absorbed that he thought he could tamper with a classic, turn it into a tedious melodrama with Dorothy as a supporting player, a passive participant to the silly pratfalls of Semon’s “Scarecrow,” Hardy’s “Tin Man,” and an of-the-times racist caricature (“G. Howe Black”) as the cowardly lion. Characters switch roles so often ones gets a headache trying to decipher an indecipherable plot. “Uncle Henry” is a morbidly obese domestic abuser (Alexander)!

This review, provided in Sasser’s biography, appropriately summarizes the film: “Mr. Semon, How Could You? Listen folks, if you want to see something that will make you sick, see The Wizard of Oz played by our eminent comedian, Larry Semon. ... But I surely wasn’t prepared for what I got — a regular Semon comedy under the disguise of The Wizard of Oz. ... When you are transferring a well-known and well-loved story to the screen, is it necessary needlessly to butcher the plot?” ... Larry Semon, you owe an apology to the people who have read the Oz books, and do humble beg the pardon of Frank Baum’s memory for the wrong you have done this story.“

As Sassen notes, ”Wizard of Oz“ was eagerly awaited by many, and its first week of release, in Los Angeles, broke records. However, the film more or less bombed elsewhere.

Semon was sage enough financially to avoid much responsibility for the ’Wizard” fiasco. But, trying to turn failure into success, he made himself personally financially responsible for other films, including the now-forgotten ’Spuds.“ This broke Semon’s finances and the situation only worsened. As the biography notes, near the end of his life he couldn’t afford routine domestic costs, and had to rely financially on his last wife, actress Dorothy Dwan, who besides playing Dorothy in ”Wizard“ was having success in silent cowboy films.

Semon tried hard to change his career fortunes. He directed films, was frequently in vaudeville, massaged his character to be more subtle, like fellow comedian Harry Langdon, and even played a straight drama role in a crime drama, ”Underworld,“ which I’d love to see (Sassen writes highly of it). But he couldn’t shake the public perception that he represented a category of silent comedy, high-action slapstick, that was already antiquated by the latter 1920s. It would be resurrected in sound comedy shorts several years later, but Semon was dead.

It was officially pneumonia and tuberculosis that ended Semon’s life at 39 on Oct. 8, 1928. From reading Sassen’s biography, though, it seems stress and hard work, and perhaps bad health habits, had worn him out. His death, as Hollywood deaths sometimes do, have spawned myths that he really didn’t die, that he might have done a runner to avoid all those stresses. But that’s nonsense. Semon had a loyal wife, Dwan, who loved him and was working hard to maintain their household. And Semon was a driven, committed entertainer, not one to give up.

It would have been interesting to see if sound would have resurrected Semon nearer the top. We’ll never know; his wife, tired of show business, retired soon after his death. Sasson’s book is unlikely to bring Semon greater acclaim, but it is a valuable resource for fans of the genre.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The other, much-maligned Larry Semon 'Wizard of Oz'

To Plan9Crunch readers: I am reading a very interesting biography of mostly forgotten silent comic Larry Semon and will review it in a few to several days. In the meantime, here's a re-run of a review of Semon's most notorious film, an ill-advised adaptation of L. Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz."

By Doug Gibson

Ever heard of Larry Semon? That's all right. He's not nearly as popular as his peers. He was a silent movie comic. His physical comedy and sad sack face made him very popular in one- and two-reelers, but his character had a tough time creating pathos with viewers. He needed to be seen in small doses.

Semon had ambition, though, and in the mid 1920s he worked with the son of the late L. Frank Baum, to bring Baum's Wizard of Oz series to the big screen. The 1925 film (versions range from 72 to 81 minutes) is a curio. A huge flop at the box office -- it more or less ruined Semon's career -- it is nevertheless fascinating. It's a so-bad-it's-interesting ego trip from a star who desperately needed a director other than himself. Still, there are moments -- particularly at the beginning of the film -- that feature talented slapstick comedy. Yet, in this film are Semon, of course, big fat slapstick veteran Frank Alexander, a very young Oliver Hardy and Semon's very pretty wife, Dorothy Dwan.

Here's the film in a few paragraphs: We start in Oz, where Prince Kynd (Bryant Washburn) and the citizens are upset with corrupt leaders, including Prime Minister Kruel. The bad leaders consult the Wizard, a con man, who suggests they bring the lost Princess Dorothy back. We cut now to Kansas, where the womanly Dorothy (Dwan) lives with Aunt Em, (Mary Carr) a limp dishrag of a woman, and Uncle Henry (Alexander) a big, fat domestic abuser. He literally punches anyone he meets.

Competing for Dorothy's love are farmhands Semon and Hardy. There is a black farmhand named Snowball. Be advised the film is very racist and the character, played by actor Spencer Bell, is billed as "G. Howe Black." (Later in the film, Semon's character lets loose with a tasteless racist jab at Bell's character) Ths racism was unfortunately the norm for those times.

The film meanders on coherently while the characters are in Kansas. It's cliche-ridden, but there are talented, physical slapstick gags with Semon, Hardy and Alexander. There's a funny bit with bees, and another with a swing. But once the main characters are blown to Oz in a shack it loses all sense. The first nonsensical twist is having Aunt Em -- who is in the wind-guided shack -- disappear when they arrive. It gets worse: Semon turns into the Scarecrow, Hardy the Tin Man and Bell the cowardly lion, but they really aren't these characters. They are disguises. Alexander briefly turns into a good guy, then reverts to being a bad guy. Incomprehensibly, Hardy's Tin Man turns bad too.

Finally, Dwan's Dorothy more or less disappears from the film, becomes betrothed to Prince Kynd, and wants to see Semon's Scarecrow done away with, too! In fact, the film degenerates into a series of bad slapstick gags designed to showcase Semon trying to outwit the Oz folk who want to capture him. The Wizard (Charles Murray) is still hanging around. By then it's really no longer Baum's Wizard of Oz. It's just an overlong, badly paced Semon slapstick show.

As I mentioned, the film bombed. Semon's career was harmed. He puttered around in films for a few more years, then died young. Many believe stress over his bankruptcy contributed to his death. For a long time this film was considered obscure and very hard to find. Lately, though it has popped up on DVD, either as an extra to the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, or as the feature attraction in a DVD of silent versions of Baum's Oz tales (there are several as far back as 1910). It also gets plays on Turner Classic Movies, which continues to ignore Harry Langdon's better features, such as "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" and "The Strong Man," etc. You can see it on YouTube sans music.

I will say one good thing about the silent Wizard of Oz. Semon's Scarecrow very much resembles in looks and mannerisms of Ray Bolger's much-lauded Scarecrow in the later classic. It seems clear that Bolger did borrow from Semon's portrayal and also managed to bring the empathy to the character that Semon could not achieve. Cult movies fans should note that many of Semon's silent shorts can be purchased today. Also, his shorter two-reel films, many are on YouTube.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Behind the scenes at Overlords of Magick

By Sherman Hirsh

Today we are privileged to read another fascinating, fact-filled essay by popular guest blogger Sherman Hirsh, screenwriter and director. Sherman has provided fascinating blog posts on the independent productions of "Surgikill," "Lords of Magick," "Scream, Zombie Scream," and "Love Slaves of the She-Mummy."(Part 1 and Part 2) Today, he writes about the production of his next film, "Overlords of Magic," a sequel to "Lords of Magick."

“Somebody want to wake up the sound man?”

It was 2AM on August 1st.  We had been shooting since 6PM, and we were exhausted, and had three pages to go.  These were the last shots on the last day of production.  One petty torment after another delayed our wrapping OVERLORDS OF MAGICK once and for all.  The camera card filled up and the spare was missing in action.  The last few shots were recorded on my backup camera.  Takes were being ruined by extraneous loud flatulent noises from the fog machine.   Street noises ruined others. 

Finally, through the sheer determined professionalism of my incredible cast and my pig-headed refusal to schedule any more shooting days, we finished and the actors stole as many props as they could get away with and went home. (Why not?  They were only getting $10 an hour.  At least they waited until we were done.  On one picture I made, LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY (1998),  an actor stole a prop he was due to use and I had to steal it back so we could do the scene.) At long last, we had finished the principal photography.  

Day One was May 18th.  We shot 5 nights a week, for roughly 6 hours each, and except for two weeks when we were down because a couple actors had previous commitments.   We worked straight through until we got everything I scripted.  That’s right, we shot the whole script.  We dropped nothing.  Not a single page hit the floor.  11 actual shooting weeks, 55 days, 300 and something hours on hot cramped sets, and it was finally over.  So, how and why were we doing this?

30 years ago, I wrote a little comedy fantasy meant for Cable, called “The Thousand Year Quest”.  The producer changed the title to LORDS OF MAGICK, and shot it.  What came out was a quirky odd-ball movie that somehow achieved Cult status.   Although it was never sold to the Public, only rented on perishable VHS, you can view the bootleg LORDS OF MAGICK on YouTube.  Even though there is no DVD, somehow, somebody was sufficiently impressed/confused/amused/annoyed  to tout the film to the cult movie crowd. 

In 2011, CINEFAMILY, a noted revival house in Hollywood scheduled a screening of LORDS OF MAGICK.  When I learned of this, I called the theater and inquired if anyone associated with the film would be there.  I was told that the producer had declined his invitation, and an editor backed out.  I told them I was the writer and to my surprise,( since nobody gives a rat’s rump who writes a movie), was told I could attend and do a Q & A after the screening.  I had just done the same thing a few weeks earlier for the world premier of SURGIKILL, the film I wrote that was Andy Milligan’s last project.  That screening attracted about 40 customers, and I had no reason to believe that LORDS OF MAGICK would do any better, especially since it was the lesser known of the two films and had an obscure director, not one with an already prominent cult reputation. 

Well, CINEFAMILY was packed!  FULL HOUSE!  LORDS OF MAGICK ran and was very well received.  They loved it!  I was astonished at how much they liked it, since it had received so many nasty reviews, mostly on YouTube.  Usually, with a “cult” film, people mock it, laughing at all the mistakes and stupid occurrences.  Not this time.  They laughed at all the right places.  I was complimented about it several times.  The Q&A was a dream.  I answered questions and told stories I had told a dozen times before and got tremendous happy feedback. 

During the Q&A, somebody asked me about the title.  I told them about my original title, THOUSAND YEAR QUEST and how I had written a line in a final battle scene where the villain boasts, “There cannot be two lords of magic!”  I recounted how the director latched onto that line and made it the release title, and how I had mitigated the slight by getting him to use the alternative spelling, with the “K”.

Then somebody asked me if there was going to be a sequel.  I replied with, “THERE CAN NOT BE TWO LORDS OF MAGICK!” and got a major laugh.  However, since I had recently finished SCREAM, ZOMBIE,. SCREAM, and was looking for my next project, I thought, “Why not?”   I don’t like doing sequels.  All the best material went into the prototype and the sequel turns out to be some bastard concoction with no soul and usually not even a true sequel,  i.e., “what came next,” just a perfunctory re-make. 

I wanted to break that.  I needed a powerful script.  It had to have a strong premise that still represented the genre.  I don’t have the genes for drama, so it would be a comedy.  What kind of comedy?  Not a campy sophomoric orgy of stupidity like SURGIKILL.  I don’t like Stupid.  I like Crazy.  For the plot, I would take LORDS OF MAGICK, and turn it inside out.   Instead of two brothers propelled out of the Dark Ages to battle Evil Incarnate in 1980’s Hollywood, my heroes would be two modern brothers sucked into, well, as our tagline states so eloquently: “In the last place on Earth where Magick rules, THEY broke all the rules.”

My heroes would be smart, brave, resourceful equals, not stupid, cowardly bumblers who escape destruction by sheer luck.  Smart, but crazy!  Rather than being forced to deal with forces they don’t understand, they would be experienced in the realm of preternatural and anomalous phenomena, or as they put it,” Weirdiosity.”

It all starts with the script.  I began a script that was a direct sequel to LORDS OF MAGICK.  My heroes, JACK & ARNOLD, (named for the great director of Universal monster movies who finished his career directing GILLIGAN’S ISLAND).  They were two guys who were convinced that LOM was REAL, a warning of ordeals to come!  They were afraid that the villain, Salatin, was preparing his revenge and they had to confront him and end his rampage.  Garbage.  When it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.  Let’s try something else.

OK, same guys, but this time they have acquired the Sword of Ulrick, the actual prop weapon Mark Gauthier, the actor who played Ulrick,  carried in LORDS OF MAGICK, and the only known prop to survive.  I have it and I intended to find a way to use it.  Anyway, these guys are in college and have apparently been misbehaving with the sword and are being counseled by the college faculty spoilsport to stop believing the sword has powers, etc.   Better garbage, but still…

Premise number three was an attempt to breathe life into the most overused, tired, clich├ęd, trite, hackneyed, worn-out devices in all of Fantasy, “And they woke up and it was all a dream…”  I changed the title to SWORD OF THE DREAMERS.  OK, so what if it is a dream?  What if the guys KNOW it’s a dream and act accordingly?  They go through all kinds of nastiness and come back fighting.  They get killed, wake up and go back to sleep and get right back in the fray.  The villain finds a way to kill them where they stay dead in the Dream World, and they have to deal with that.  They can’t, and another fabulous idea is discovered to sucketh mightily.

Up to now, I had been trying to come up with a sequel to LOM.  OK, forget the direct sequel concept.  The basic framework for LORDS OF MAGICK was that it was Episode One of The Merlinite Chronicles, with the idea of there being others in a series of Merlinite stories.  (Happens all the time in those fat fantasy paperbacks).  Instead of what happened after and because of LOM, what if I wrote a totally independent story that had nothing to do with LOM, other than the presence of a Merlinite Wizard?   What if Episode Two had little or no reference to the events and characters of Episode One?   New bad guy.  Different way of getting the heroes into the action, being that they are basically kidnapped and blackmailed into fighting the villain.  

They are drawn to a strange magical land which does not exist in another reality, nor is it in the past.  It’s in the real world, it’s happening now, but the land is concealed by magick and kept apart from the modern world.  Until our heroes mix things up.  The story is their odyssey through this “Oz Wannabe” as they try to eliminate an evil maniac who will steal the magick of this land and use it to conquer the rest of the world.  Following the same plot model as LOM, i.e., a bunch of minor magical incidents leading up to a big pay-off, things started to fall into place.  (Actually, LOM was plotted after Ghostbusters.) 

I finished the complete first draft on May 5, 2015.  It only took 3 years and 47 drafts.  I had to sacrifice some wonderful characters and some great scenes, but I had to whittle the thing down to a manageable state.  So, you will never see Uncle Ankh, the talking mummy, or  Mother Medea, 

Abbess of the Abyss, the cannibal seeress who trades her knowledge for human flesh,  or the evil Jim Hotep, vile henchman of the real heavy of this piece, The Pharaoh Cleopatrick IX!
It’s a fantasy, with our wizards, monsters, a genie, a magic lamp, an elephant, and more.  It’s a farce, with myriad references and allusions to classic comedy routines.  It’s a romance with the beautiful Guinevere of the Grave, who has been dead for 300 years, but makes a comeback.  And, let’s not forget the greatest menace of all, The Purple Parking Pixie!  Somewhere along the line, Jack & Arnold became Jack & Toby, and the title reverted to OVERLORDS OF MAGICK.  You will meet King Hoozon the 1st, and Cedric, the feral eater of rotting rabbit.  The Pharaoh’s high priestess, Nefertootsie, threatens our heroes and all of this is instigated by the Merlinite Wizard, Merlin Monroe.  

When I mentioned that the writing took 3 years, that time included other preparations.  I was buying props, costumes, set design elements, even whole sets.  I was augmenting my complement of equipment with new lights, lenses, special effects and post production software and anything else that caught my eye.  I developed a serious eBay addiction and if I saw an interesting item, I would write a gag or even a whole scene around it.  We may be a low budget movie, but we look good!
And now I sit here, facing hours of footage files, double that in digital sound files, special effects, music, sound effects, and all of the other technical “assets” that comprise a film.  Somehow I must force it all together in a way that makes sense, and isn’t boring.  Shooting is the best part.  The rest is about as interesting as doing laundry.

I miss my cast.  I was blessed for this project with a fantastically talented and professional company of actors who did exactly what I wanted them to do.   You will hear from them in the future.  Who are they?  Buy the movie and read the credits

I had something resembling a real professional crew on this project.  My co-producer, Devai Pearce, ran my front office, freeing me to make the movie, and making sure the company got paid..  Arihel Bermudez supplied a super-sharp digital sound track, while Shadow ran the camera.  And let’s not forget Lion, our Rastafarian Stagehand.  However, I have to give a huge acknowledgement to Karl McNulty, known in the industry as UltraKarl.  As the production designer, Karl created major sets, props, costumes, special effects, and gave us a great visual treat.  I would throw an idea at him and he’d throw a prop back at me.  Or a castle.  Or a Middle Ages magic car. 

I hope to have OVERLORDS OF MAGICK finished by the end of this year.  We missed the deadlines for most of the important fantasy film festivals.  There’s always next year.  Until then, I leave you with the catchphrase of OVERLORDS OF MAGICK, Everything Was Impossible Until Somebody Did It!