Dave chats to SOV icon Phil Herman about one of his most notorious offerings.
Carjacking reached epidemic levels in America during the early ‘90s, particularly down the east side of the country in hotspots like New Jersey. A little further south in Maryland, the heinous murder of award-winning research chemist Pam Basu in 1992 resulted in Congress enacting tougher laws and clamping down on a crime that was rapidly spiralling out of control.
For a young, ambitious filmmaker like Phil Herman, the chance to make a ‘ripped from the headlines’ shot-on-video feature was too good to refuse.
“Yeah, carjacking was a real issue back then,” remembers Herman. “Especially in my home town of New York. I was sitting down watching the news in disgust, but then I wondered if I could make a movie out of this. I came up with the idea of a carjacking serial killer. He would prowl the city streets and just prey on everyone, good and bad. A real sadistic nut. A man who really can’t fit in, with a nagging girlfriend who nags too far. Her mysterious death draws the attention of the local investigators, and they begin to keep an eye on our jacker, Mike Rivers.”
In JACKER (1993), the role of Mike Rivers is played by Herman himself – and far from being a piece of vanity casting, he’s actually really good. Dressed in a pork pie hat and plaid shirt, the streetwise New Yorker brings a swagger and sleazy wit to the titular psycho, even if a couple of traits – blood instead of milk on his cereal – seem a little cartoonish.
“Directing, writing and producing was always what I wanted to do,” admits the filmmaker. “But when I went to TV production school, I was a little bored which brought me out from behind the camera for the first time. During class projects I was always made the announcer or reporter or anything that needed talent in front of the camera. I had a natural ability to adlib and felt that I had a screen presence too. I couldn’t find anyone to play Jacker/Rivers so I figured I’d do it. I became that character.”
Although it’s obvious to draw parallels with the type of murderous loners we’ve seen in Mark Blair’s vastly underrated Confessions of a Serial Killer (1985) and John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), the accents, location (Queens) and grime suggest the influence of William Lustig. “We have some kind of maniac going around” comes a line. It’s the perfect homage, albeit in a lo-fi, lo-res kind of way.
“Even though Jacker is not a hardcore horror, I think it’s scary in the way that it could be real. A person like that could exist. I shot it gritty and raw. I always preach to people to be your own person, and don’t make a colour by numbers movie. Be original. Don’t be intimidated by certain styles or types of movies cause that what sells. Don’t be a sell out and don’t look down your nose at any filmmaker. Everyone is different and film is an expression that should be yours.”
Three decades on, Herman is still making films. His latest, Doomsday Stories, is about to wrap. However, while talking Jacker, an unmistakable pang of nostalgia creeps into Herman’s voice as he reflects on the manner with which he used to work.
“I wrote the story in a weekend. We shot, edited, and released in thirty days. It was the fastest and most profitable movie I ever made. We used multiple Sony and Hitachi VHC cameras. I still have all the footage. The cameras were small and the quality was a lot better. We did all our editing deck to deck and Barry Gaines composed the music. On this one, since it was a bigger budget, we also brought in SOV legend Dave Castiglione to help cut it together.”
“Back in those days everything was either done at conventions, through self-distribution or by using SOV distribution companies. Remember, we had no access to the internet! WAVE Productions headed by Gary Whitson, really got our movies out there and provided lots of sales which led to the sequel, Jacker 2: Descent into Hell (1996).”