Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
While a director like Terrence Malick is lauded for a lack of productivity, with his long periods of creative silence serving to construct the aura of a complex genius, those megaphone-wielding artists at the coal face are revered with no such devotion. Don’t misunderstand me, I worship at the temple of the elusive Malick like any self-respecting cinephile, but the task of churning out a veritable production line of feature films, with a different array of pressures and artistic sensibilities is not an achievement to be scoffed at.
The luminaries of the modern day quickie are few and far between, with old-school filmmakers like David DeCoteau and Fred Olen Ray still cranking out a remarkable number of pictures, but in 2018 it looks like we can finally add Andrew Jones to that roster. Jones’ output hasn’t exactly been infrequent these past few years, with his production company North Bank Entertainment pumping out fifteen features since 2012, but this year sees his schedule increase to a staggering EIGHT movies.
“It just means I’ll rarely sleep” joked Jones from his home in Wales this week. “Seriously though, we’ve worked out a production schedule which is manageable across the year. It does mean there will be zero downtime, as I will always be at some stage of prep, filming or post-production on several projects at the same time. Having said that, I like to be busy, and it’s a great opportunity for a lot of people to get regular work and build a feature film CV within a very short space of time.”
It’s a massive achievement for the thirty-five year old filmmaker, who sees his latest movie WEREWOLVES OF THE THIRD REICH head into all the major retail establishments in the UK this week. Set during the height of World War II, a ragtag group of American soldiers known as The Fearless Four are shipped off to a military prison. While they’re being transported, Nazis attack the convoy, but the rebellious Yanks manage to escape. Travelling deep into rural Germany, they stumble upon an SS Experiment Camp run by the notorious Doctor Mengele, who plans to fuse human and animal DNA to create an army of Werewolf soldiers.
The fact that the synopsis reads like a homage to a host of classic exploitation movies is not something Jones is afraid to distance himself from; “It’s a love letter to so many different genres of film” concedes the director, “Spaghetti Western, Macaroni Combat, Tarantino, Dirty Harry, Mad Scientist flicks, and obviously Nazisploitation pictures like Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS (1975). We just set out to make a bizarre and fun B-movie homage: High art and historical accuracy simply weren’t on the agenda!”
Jones is certainly right in that assertion, and you have to applaud the ambition of Werewolves of the Third Reich, which is a perfect showcase of the increasing budgets that he’s had to work with of late. Acclamations aside, Jones’ latest will likely do little to attract a new army of admirers, with a talky first hour that’s likely to exasperate the masses, coupled with a distinct absence of werewolves. For the die-hard’s though, there’s a lot to latch on to with parts of the script such as Sgt. Peck’s verbal face-off with ‘Fighting Joe’ Kane among the best dialogue that Jones has written. Meanwhile the breakneck final chapter with an explosive conclusion is a rewarding pay-off for our patience, and a cheeky epilogue rounds proceedings off in a satisfying manner.
If there was one thing that did bother me, it was that for a man with a career built on pinpointing industry trends and responding to them with his films, just how did the idea of Werewolves come in to play? “Well we got the greenlight due to World War II films selling so well right now!” recalls Jones, “4Digital Media had tremendous success with one they released, while High Fliers also sold good quantities of titles that they picked up for distribution. So overall the film companies were keen for us to provide more War-based content, but they also felt there was a gap in the market for a Werewolf film, besides everyone felt the title alone was outlandish enough to capture consumer attention.”
John Lechago, the wildly ambitious filmmaker whose name is etched into the annals of Full Moon Pictures history thanks to the third, fourth and fifth Killjoy movies – a series that flips on its head the law of diminishing sequels – began life with the sleazily funky low-budget horror Blood Gnome (2004). The astonishingly ambitious Magus (2008) followed, but it was with his third picture BIO-SLIME that the Canadian delivered what would be arguably his best work up to that point.
Its genius lies in its simplicity. The whole film is set in one apartment block, and a scuzzy one at that, as a crazy array of residents busy their lives with fighting off their over-zealous landlord (Al Burke), and dealing with the ribald sound effects coming from the porn shoot on the same floor. Unbeknown to everyone though is the threat of a creature that’s inadvertently been unleashed within the building, and is about to hold seven of the tenants hostage, picking them off one by one.
Shot in twelve days, and then spending two years in post-production, Lechago’s movie succeeds thanks to the director’s energy and attention to detail. Undeterred by the pressure of a short schedule, the number of set-ups Lechago manages is impressive, and when blended with his brisk editing style, it creates the illusion of a picture that cost ten times the budget of Bio Slime.
Bio Slime also marked the first collaboration between Lechago and make-up wizard Tom Devlin, whose initial introduction the director recalled to me during an interview for the book It Came From the Video Aisle! “I first met Tom at a convention. Here’s this kid who saw Blood Gnome and Magus who comes over and says “I do make-up effects”. At the time, I was still doing my own make-up. Well, I noticed all these tattoos on his body, and they’re not normal tattoos, it’s Frankenstein and things like that. I later found out how much of a fan he was.”
“I started Bio-Slime with the idea that creature was just going to be black slime, and I made up little samples of slime and that. In theory it was great, but when you scale it up you find that in larger quantities it just doesn’t work. Obviously, we had to use better make-up effects, so I relented and asked Tom to help out. He came by and he was just great. I thought that we needed a monster, and he said great, and that it was his specialty. So I just sketched something that would be ‘like’ what I want, and one day later he came back with the complete monster suit, and it’s EXACTLY how I sketched it! There’s a little bit of CGI in the movie with tentacles coming out of people’s backs, but for the most part it was kept in the background. Tom just really impressed me, and so by the time Killjoy came around, I said we must get Tom…”
Devlin’s make-up work is vital in making Bio Slime the low budget masterpiece that it is, an accolade I think it’s very much deserving of. It’s not just the Lechago and Devlin show though, as fine work from the Killjoy crew like the aforementioned Al Burke, Tai Chan Ngo and the hypnotising Victoria De Mare all assist in forming a fine supporting cast, with special mention to schlock-horror icon Vinnie Bilancio as Troy.
Eight years have passed since Bio Slime was made, while it’s five years since it made its home entertainment debut in America, but in the strangest of scenarios it has crept onto UK DVD this week under the title ALIEN CONTAGION, complete with a cover that’s derivative of the Alien franchise. More alarming is the fact that this is all news to writer, director and copyright holder John Lechago who expressed his concern to me this week from his LA home.
Whatever the legality of this bare bones release, which was submitted to the BBFC by Second Sight eighteen months ago under the title Specimen, I’d urge you NOT to buy it anyway. The American release is far superior, and comes complete with an informative commentary and a wealth of supplementary materials that make the extra few pounds well worth it, and this is a film that should be savoured with the best edition possible.
Werewolves of the Third Reich and Alien Contagion were released on UK DVD w/c 19th February.
Buy Bio Slime from Amazon
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