Thursday, June 3, 2010
This whole marquee was actually just for Crispin, he is now going by "The Father of My Children, The Human Centipede: Crispin Glover".
My girlfriend and I love Crispin Glover. His nervous, awkward, bizarre charm always makes anything that he appears in more fun or more disturbing. From his brilliant, ultra-manic performance in "River's Edge" to his brilliant, ultra-manic dance moves in "Friday the 13th Part IV - The Final Chapter", to his legendary 1987 appearance on Late Night With David Letterman, the man is basically a human highlight real. He'll show up in a huge blockbuster like "Charlie's Angels" and make it way cooler just by smelling the Angel's hair (which we will talk about later.) Beyond his inspired work in movies, both major and indie, he is a truly subversive intellectual and some would even say deranged and/or brilliant artist.
I'd heard about "What Is It?" for years. A crazed art film with a cast made completely of people with developmental disabilities and Crispin. I didn't know how I felt about it. I respected Glover for making movies that nobody else would ever make in Hollywood (or elsewhere, for that matter), but I also wasn't too sure about his approach. If it was exploitative of the actor's conditions, I couldn't support it. If it was just meant to freak people out, still can't really get behind that. I decided I would never really know how I felt until I saw the film.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend were doing a random google search for Crispin Glover, and there it was: "Crispin Hellion Glover: Appearing Live at the IFC Center, Manhattan to present "What Is It?" and "It Is Fine! Everything is Fine." We both had the day off, so we bought our tickets to see "It Is Fine!". What we got was definitely not what we expected.
A long line on a rainy Manhattan sidewalk on a sweaty Memorial Day, mostly made up of hipsters and artsy looking folk, and strangely enough some extremely drunk frat looking kids. After a long wait, we filed into the theater. The lights go down. A door near the screen opens and I catch the distinct profile of Crispin Glover. Myself and a few others that caught his profile cheer. He shouts "Welcome!" in the dark then proceeds to read six of his art books from giant projections on the screen. They are visually interesting and wild, sometimes funny, sometimes just weird and sometimes scary. This goes on for quite a while. Glover never relents in his dramatic delivery. Shouting, shaking his fists, sweat pouring off of him. He finishes. The crowd cheers, then he shouts 'Enjoy The film!'
The dramatic opening thundering classical music blares and the title credits roll. The first time we see lead character, Paul Baker, played by Steven C. Stewart, he is falling from his wheelchair, his head smacks the institutional linoleum and an old, demented looking woman stares at him. We enter his world as an orderly lifts him back into his chair. He wheels to a room where the theme music starts skipping on a record player and he stares at a picture of what we can assume is his mother.
Stewart had severe cerebral palsy and can't really communicate verbally, though he tries.
This film completely surprised me. At first, I thought it was a sympathetic view of a man with a horrible disease, but I had no idea what I was in for. This turns into a deranged, psycho-sexual serial killer film where the killer in question has severe cerebral palsy. I was incredibly disturbed as the sex killings ramped up. I couldn't help but think that Glover was a completely demented person responsible for one of the most deeply fucked up films I had ever seen. In my heart, I knew that this couldn't just be exploitative trash, but the images are so incredibly strong and deeply disturbing that I couldn't handle it at some points. I haven't covered my eyes at a film since I was 11 at 'Predator 2'. This film actually made me feel sick while I was watching it.
I was actually tempted to leave at the end of the film, but I wanted to see how Glover would explain himself. As the credits ended, Glover jumped up in the still dark theater and yelled 'Any questions?' in a somewhat sardonic tone. Everyone cheered. A Crispin Glover Q and A is more like a Q and then he rambles for about a half hour, then a Q. This technique proved to be excellent, however, because Glover completely explained the entire movie, his philosophy on art and culture, how to be an outsider while still being inside the corporately funded film industry and basically everything else that came into his impressive mind.
Turns out, this film wasn't even Glover's idea. He read the screenplay, written by Steven C. Stewart, the main actor in the film. Glover was impressed and knew that only he could make the film happen. He flew out to Salt Lake City and met with Stewart and a dynamic creative partnership was formed. Once I found this out, I wasn't as offended by the film. Stewart was an intelligent guy, a good writer, and knew exactly what was going on. Not knowing this going into the film makes it incredibly more disturbing, however. So sorry for ruining that brain-fuck for you.
From a strictly male point of view, it makes sense that a man with severe cerebral palsy would write a bunch of sex scenes with beautiful women into a film he was going to star in. It actually would make sense that any guy would write a movie starring himself the same way! Glover said that the original screenplay was 150 pages long and would have basically been a hardcore porn film. They cut the script down to fifty pages, but maintained some of the explicitness of Stewart's screenplay.
Stewart actually died one month after this film was finished. Glover said that Stewart called him one day and asked him if he was needed for the film anymore. Glover said it was a very bittersweet conversation because he knew that if he said no, Stewart would die. If he had said yes, Glover said, he would have lived as long as it would have taken him to complete the film.
Glover financed this film himself, because he thought it was important that Stewart's film be made. He knew how important this film was to Stewart and knew how little time they had to make it. Learning this made me completely respect Glover in a completely new way, one that I couldn't have predicted. He went above and beyond to help a man that had been ignored and looked down upon his entire life. Sure, the movie is sick as hell, but that's the way Stewart wanted it. That is profound.
Stewart was put into a nursing home for his entire 20s because the antiquated mental health community of the Salt Lake City of the 1960s just thought he was retarded. The fact that he couldn't express himself verbally made him a 'mongoloid' in their minds and he was locked away for a decade. Glover says that this severe mental and emotional trauma reverberates through all his work. He was a pissed off guy. Imagine being perfectly intelligent but not being able to express yourself and being held somewhere against your will for ten years. You'd be pissed as well.
Glover rambled on, and I was very impressed not only by his level of intelligence, but by his level of empathy for people that struggle outside of mainstream society. He said that he acts in big budget Hollywood films and then takes that money and does his independent art with it. For example, "It is Fine!" was financed with the money that he made on "Charlie's Angels". He completely created his villain character for that role, including the hair-smelling fetish. Steven C. Stewart had a fetish for smelling hair, which is actually one of the main themes in "It Is Fine!". He loves women with long hair, and when they tell him they will cut their hair short, he murders them. Glover said he never consciously made that a part of his character in 'Angels', but it must have been lurking in his subconscious from working with Stewart.
It was a rollercoaster of a night, confusing one minute, horrifying the next, fascinating then confusing yet again. I walked out with much more respect for Glover than I ever thought I would have. He's so much more than George McFly.
As I walked through the lobby, Crispin raced past me. I said, "Hey, Crispin!" He spun around and said "Yes?"
I said, "Hey, that was amazing."
He flashed a truly maniacal smile, his eyes alight with strange fire and said, "Thanks."
No, thank you, Crispin. A truly misunderstood genius, an outlaw auteur. These people are getting more rare by the day, so thanks for sticking to your guns, Mr. Glover.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I really like regional films. Especially regional horror films. There is something about a bunch of non-pro actors doing their best to scare you and or amuse you with limited resources that really speaks to me. These are the real people. The guy who gets his arm blown off? He could be your mechanic. The lady whose tongue gets ripped out? She works at the mini-mart. Etc., etc.
My love for regional, 'Outsider' horror films has taken me into some pretty fetid waters. I have watched about 200 too many horrible home made horror films. But the good ones strike such a chord with me that it makes the unwatchable stuff worth sifting through.
Enter Night Feeders. This film from Asheville, North Carolina's own Jet Eller peaked my interested after I read about it on the excellent movie review site Critical Condition. They gave it a good review, so I added it to the queue.
I sat down on a lazy day off with a few beers and popped in the movie. I really enjoyed it. It is way, way better than 99% of the straight to video horror stuff out there. Its a simple tale of small town southerners versus alien invaders. It looks great, the acting is good, and the special effects (aside from a minimal amount of cheesy CGI) are excellent. I posted a positive review of the film over at the Rue Morgue forum, and none other than the director/writer, Jet Eller sent me a thankful message. We continued to correspond, and just recently I was lucky enough to sit down with Jet (via the internet) and get a little q and a going. So without further ado, I am proud to present the first interview on this site! Welcome, Jet Eller!
Fermented Film: What are your favorite horror films?
Jet Eller: Hands down, Night of the Living Dead. No film ever had such an impact on me. Yes, the acting was bad and it looked like it was shot on burlap, but it had impact. Not only did it break several "rules", but it did it brazenly.
FF: Who are your favorite horror directors?
JE: I liked early John Carpenter. His first few films were great. Ridley Scott is no longer a horror film director, but he has my vote as one of the best. Alien was a masterpiece. He took a simple story and kept you on the edge of your seat.
James Whale and Alfred Hitchcock are also favorites of mine. Hitchcock had such a great eye. I admire Whale because he was a pioneer (Frankenstein).
FF: Does 'Night Feeders' have any influences?
JE: Sure. Jaws, NOTLD, Last Man on Earth, Alien, and believe it or not, Attack of the Killer Shrews.
FF: Donnie Evans is great in this film, is this his first movie?
JE: No, not his first. Donnie and I did a feature together in 1990 called "Marley's Revenge-The Monster Movie". It was shot on 16mm (old school) and took 2 years to shoot. He played a bad guy redneck named Sloth. A very entertaining piece of crap (not Donnie, the movie...but Donnie is entertaining, too).
FF: 'Marley's Revenge'! Whoa, this sounds like fun. Is there any way to get a copy of this film?
JE: This summer, Marley's will be 20 years old and will be available on my website Jetpoweredfilms.com. Probably around late July.
Marley's revenge was a blast to shoot. We had 60 zombies, crazed vigilantes, a 14 foot skelotasaurus, and an Indiana Jones wannabe. Terrible, but a lot of fun for a fan of low budget films. If you only knew the work that went into it.
FF: 'Night Feeders' looks great, what kind of equipment was it shot on?
JE: Believe it or not, we shot it with a Panasonic DVX100. We shot it a 24 Frames per second (to give us a grainy "drive-in" look). This choice bit us in the butt later when we tired to put the CGI aliens in. The blacks were not true enough to match the composite and it gave us a "bad separation".
FF: Why did you choose CGI for the creature effects?
JE: It's a case where our hearts were in the right place, but our wallets weren't big enough. We chose CGI because I wanted something that scrambled in the dark and was vicious. I figured a person in a suit wouldn't work and if we kept the image in the dark, we could hint at odd size and skin textures without having a direct focus on it. Quick moving shots. Unfortunately, we had to make them brighter than I would have liked (to make the blacks go grayer to match the grain of the Panasonic). Shooting HI def would have prevented the problem. Back to the money thing.
FF: I was impressed by the performances you got out of your actors. What is your approach with directing your performers?
JE: I try to stress keeping it natural (easier said than done). But its much easier when the material is written with certain actors in mind. Donnie's part was written for him. What you see is what you get with Donnie. We've been friends for 30 years and I couldn't imagine doing a film without him in it somewhere.
The other actors work in the commercial industry here in North Carolina and I've worked with them on many projects.
If I could give a director's tip, this is it...drop any pretentious "I'm the director" bullshit and loosely work with the actors one on one. You'll get a better performance and the actor will have much more respect for you if you personally take the time and eliminate the problems he or she has about the part. A mass rehearsal without "one on one" can be intimidating to some. They can't read your mind and they look for you to guide them through the scene. With a ultra low budget, you want as much in your favor as you can get.
FF: The gore effects in 'Night Feeders' are excellent. Can you tell me a bit about the effects and who created them?
JE: We had a fellow named Andy Boswell handle those effects. He worked on Evil Dead 2 and tons of industrial films. He was also the fisherman with the life vest at the beginning of the film.
FF: Another Asheville, NC indy director is Joshua P. Warren. Are you familiar with his first and last film, the infamous 'Inbred Rednecks'?
JE: That sounds like fun! I've heard of him only through his Ghost books and paranormal activities. I didn't realize he had made a feature, also.
FF: Another indy genre vet who made some 'small townsfolk versus aliens' films was the late Don Dohler. Are you familiar with Don's work?
JE: Oh, yes, of course. Galaxy Invader was one of my favorite no budget films. Alien Factor was another one that reeked to high heaven, but it was fun as hell to watch.
FF: How do you feel about the current state of horror films, major and indie?
JE: I keep waiting for the new face of horror to show up. I'm not complaining about the great movies I've seen over the years, but most have become mirrors of other films. Nobody seems to have the balls to try something different. Remember how The Exorcist changed the way most people thought of horror? They brought in factors you just aren't suppose to bring in...#1 Harming a child...#2 Using religion so strongly in a film...#3 masturbation with the cross? Holy smoke, nobody's suppose to do that! A true assault of a filmgoing experience...I loved it and I miss it.
Just around the corner, one is waiting.
FF: What were the biggest challenges of the 'Night Feeders' production?
JE: Deer hunters...REAL deer hunters. The farm we rented to shoot on was in deer hunting country. We didn't know it but a lot of the hunters used the house as a hunting cabin (illegally). We were threatened with physical harm (said they were going to shoot our asses if we didn't leave). We didn't and they (or somebody) came back and destroyed our house set...completely.
FF: What's coming next from Jet Eller and co.?
JE: We just finished shooting "Never Feed The Troll". It will be available on the website this summer, also (BTW, the site is up, but not in a completed form). Night Feeders was sold to a worldwide distributer about 4 years ago. I refuse to go that route again. Distributers get so much of the money, there's nothing left for the filmmaker. "Never Feed The Troll" will be distributed by us, Jet Powered Films...at least for now.
I have written 15 scripts over the years and I hope to continue shooting my own projects. I'd really like to do another horror/comedy. I have one in mind, but we'll have to see how "Never Feed The Troll" does.
Three of my scripts are biographies, my favorite being "The Harpes" which I co-wrote with the decendant of Micajah and Wiley Harpe. If you don't know who these guys are, do a Google search and prepare yourself for monsters that even Leatherface couldn't rival. Absolutely terrifying story. America's first serial killers.
Special Thanks to Jet Eller for conducting this interview. Even specialler thanks to Jet for being an independent filmmaker who makes awesome horror movies! Keep up the good work!