Dave checks in with John Lechago and discovers that, despite a handful of issues, the bastard child of his directorial career deserves a little love.
“The questions you’ve sent me are fine, but before we chat face to face, I need a few better ones. Something provocative, scandalous or intriguing – even plain weird! This book is worthy of some truly original content. I know you can do it! I have faith in you!” – John Lechago, August 2015
Stirring words, and an important lesson for a couple of rookie authors working on their debut published tome: freshness and nonconformity oil the wheels of good conversation. That adage also fits with low-budget filmmaking, and it’s one that could easily be tattooed onto the left forearm of this Canadian auteur.
Born in Ontario, John Lechago caught the movie bug as a kid while acting on the karate class set of A Force of One (1979). His directorial debut gave a good impression of what was to come, as Blood Gnome (2004) was choc-full of practical effects, kinky sex, and general insanity. The ambitious Magus (2008) followed, although it was Bio Slime (2010) (aka ‘Contagion’) that really dazzled; Tom Devlin’s awesome practical effects announced the arrival of an uber-talented artist, while Lechago’s now-regular troupe of actors (Victoria De Mare, Al Burke and Tai Chan Ngo) brought familiarity and assurance.
Charles Band’s killer clown franchise came next, as Killjoy 3 (2010), Killjoy Goes to Hell (2012), and Killjoy’s Psycho Circus (2016) comfortably shattered the long established axiom of the law of diminishing sequels, each chapter bettering the previous with consummate ease. This year, Lechago helmed Blade: The Iron Cross (2020): an impressive new instalment in the beloved Puppet Master (1989) series, to which the “what if?” question had ironically drifted into our two hour conversation back in 2015 during the writing of It Came from the Video Aisle.
A follow-up chat shortly after the release of the book in late ’17 brought talk of a recently completed feature titled ‘Feast of Fear’. Made away from the relative comfort of the Full Moon umbrella, it was Lechago’s first real indie endeavour in almost a decade, although the director was insistent on describing the recent shoot with his typical candour:
“Can I send you a copy of my wayward film PIGSTER (formerly Feast of Fear)? It was quite a traumatic experience with a little bit of a story behind it…”
On the face of it, Pigster seems quite a draw. It’s a fucked up fantasy about an ancient pig-like demon who feeds upon the souls of those who have fallen under the spell of a mysterious fortune teller called The Dealer. It has Devlin’s gloopy f/x, the standard Lechago ensemble of actors, and, for the first time in his career, the ambitious filmmaker got to work with a few familiar faces – namely former Bond villain Robert Davi and the inimitable Clint Howard.
What could possibly go wrong?
“The film was just trouble,” confided a weary Lechago. “I collaborated with a veteran producer who I trusted and it ended up costing us quite a bit. It was a micro-budget piece of work, but still, it doesn’t have the same energy as my other movies. I always try to give my audience as much as possible, and in this case I ended up expanding twice the energy with less to show for it”.
He’s partially correct. Pigster is far from top drawer Lechago, but there’s nevertheless a nucleus of greatness that ensures its brisk sixty-four minute running time makes for an entertaining diversion. Filming from his own script, Lechago opts for the college student narrative backbone as a succession of goofy kids (the standouts being Alex Meth and Adam Michael Gold as Doug and Anthony, respectively) who harbour a variety of hang-ups decide that they should respond to an online ad that promises ‘wishes granted’.
The cat granting these is, of course, Davi, dressed as if he’s off to the funeral of Michael Corleone, and boasting a tan that the former President would be envious of. A last minute casting decision, the call to hire the occasional crooner was met with resistance from Lechago:
“The producer convinced me to change the script in order to accommodate him. It was a huge mistake, especially considering Davi was good friends with him. It was only for one day as well, but it was one of the most miserable days of my life.”
You have to sympathise with the auteur, because it breaks up a genuinely well-structured feature. Davi’s sequences don’t fit the tone of the film, and it also facilitates the biggest continuity jolt, as you don’t actually get to see this collection of college students making their wishes. It’s like watching Jaws (1975) without the opening shark attack.
It diminishes a cohesive storyline, but there’s so much else to enjoy. The character of The Pigster is an absolute delight. Dripping with goo and encased in fabulously fabricated make-up, this grim creation (along with a dizzying army of ghouls and freaks) wouldn’t be out of place in a bigger budgeted genre movie. Credit also to Lechago for the world he creates for this film. His visionary CGI rendering with meagre resources has always been something to marvel at (not least in his three Killjoys), and here he delivers once more, crafting a hell-based slaughterhouse with the propensity to dazzle.
For Lechago, the worst moment came when his producing partner unexpectedly quit the project before it had wrapped:
“He’d been paid too, and then he had the audacity to blame me for everything! With the help of Tai, Al and [the late] Joe Osborn I managed to get the flick back on track. Even now, I admit it’s not similar to any of my other productions, but I did give it my all. I’m proud that we were able to get it finished. And to be honest, the end result is actually something I enjoy!”
In the same way as its creator, Pigster is as mad as a box of snakes. Bursting with bold imagery, wry comedy and depraved scenarios, it’s heavy metal moviemaking with minimal funds, underlining how even Lechago on a bad day is still effortlessly superior to his contemporaries.