Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 3

As we start part three of my discussion with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we’re at the end of discussing Cannon’s attempts at making movies with Marvel.

B&S: I want a Joe Zito Spider-Man.

Austin: I wish he had done more for Cannon.

B&S: Well, Red Scorpion feels like a spiritual Cannon movie. And it has Savini effects!

Austin: He did Invasion U.S.A. with Zito too. He also did John Savage’s burned-up hand on Maria’s Lovers.

B&S: It’s not a far drive from Bloomfield to Brownsville.

Austin: And of course, he did Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for Cannon.

B&S: I love that Tobe Hooper did three movies for Cannon. He had a good experience there, right?

Austin: Yeah, I mean, up until the end, I would say it was good for Tobe and Cannon. But both sides soured pretty hard by the end. He did speak nicely of them afterward so maybe it wasn’t too bad.

He got to make Lifeforce. Basically a Hammer-style movie with gore, nudity, a large budget and an incredibly long shoot for Cannon. And so many people worked on that, between Nick Maley, John Dykstra, Dan O’Bannon on the script. It would be really hard to ask for me.

Unfortunately, with Invaders from Mars, which he was excited about, that’s another project where he got pressured a lot by Cannon toward the end, because he was going over budget and over schedule and Cannon rarely allowed that in any of their movies. He got away with it there. And they also wanted it to be scarier.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a movie that Tobe initially didn’t want to direct but they couldn’t get any directors approved that he wanted. They finally needed someone to shoot it fast because they have already pre-sold it and promised to theaters, so Tobe ended up jumping in to take it over. They made that movie ridiculously fast and Cannon did not get it.

I mean, I don’t think anybody got the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel they expected.

You can see in the trailers and print ads that Cannon was selling it as a continuation of the original movie and they didn’t get that. (laughs)

It’s such a fun movie, but you can tell that they were just horrified seeing the footage. They sent Newt Arnold, who directed Bloodsport, as kind of a company man to finish the movie if they had to fire Tobe and keep it on schedule.

That made a lot of ill will between Tobe and his crew with Cannon. Who was Cannon to send one of their goons to take the movie out of their hands?

Does a promo photo get any better?

B&S: That’s not the first time Tobe had issues, like he was fired from The Dark and there’s this big period between Eaten Alive and The Funhouse where projects kept falling to pieces.

Austin: I did get some great Tobe Hooper stories in the second volume. You definitely get the sense that he was somebody who like to shoot stuff over and over and over again until it was right. He loved to play around a lot on the set which is the opposite of Cannon. They wanted stuff to be on time and on budget.

B&S: I always have felt that Hooper would have been a better regional filmmaker, closer to George Romero. Other than getting stuck in what he called the horror ghetto, Romero made the right path for himself. Staying around Pittsburgh — and Canada at the end of his career — he was able to control and have his crew that he trusted.

Meanwhile, Tobe went to Hollywood and he’d often call people out — like Wayne Bell — to Hollywood from Texas because he didn’t trust anyone. Maybe he got overwhelmed by the system.

But Romero and Hooper both made their Citizen Kane with their first film. Romero took a few decades, but he eclipsed it. Hooper didn’t.

That’s a lot to live up to, much less working for Cannon.

Austin: I think Cannon in the end was just kind of disappointed that Lifeforce wasn’t this giant film. You know, the next Star Wars or at least 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For them, they gave Tobe Hooper all the time in the world to really do this stuff. And it’s a very unique movie.

But those movies maybe don’t have the gonzo magic of shooting in this filthy smelly cabin in the middle of Texas. It was visionary magic maybe because of the limited resources.

Invaders from Mars is the one that I like the least. I love the alien designs and things like that, but of his three Cannon movies, it’s probably my least favorite. It’s the least successful just because it was one where I think he would have wanted more time. He was not around for the post-production at all.

B&S: Strange Invaders is a similar failure.

Austin: A lot of these directors who were kids in the 50s and saw a lot of these science fiction films, probably on TV in the 60s, and fell in love with them. So you have a whole generation of directors who suddenly wanted to make that sort of movie. And audiences didn’t want to see it.

B&S: John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic now but was hated when it came out.

When it comes to Tobe Hooper’s Cannon movies, my wife said, “These movies failed because only people like you love them. They were for you. And there weren’t enough people like you to make them successful.”

She also said that Chainsaw 2  is the most unrelenting gross movie. Not because of the gore, which it has, but because every scene is covered in decay and filth.

Austin: The carnival lair is so incredible. That’s something I asked people who worked on the film about, because they got local art students to fill that place out because they filled out this gigantic set — the inside of the Austin American Statesman’s old printing facilities — in the middle of a June heatwave with animal parts from a slaughterhouse.

When I spoke with Bill Moseley and Bill Johnson, they both talked about how this place kind was just so hot — 120 degrees — with all the lighting and equipment and just having all this meat in there that’s still rotting. They can still remember how disgusting it was.

A lot of the crew got sick. Everyone except for Bill Mosley!

There was a rumor going around that it was because they used actual skeletons, the kind that came from medical schools in India.

B&S: Savini said every movie used the same place, so maybe every movie is cursed.

Austin: Today, a place once filled with rotten carcasses, the Sawyer house from the first movie, is a bed and breakfast.

B&S: Speaking of Star Wars, Cannon sold Masters of the Universe as the Star Wars of the 80s.

Austin: That movie went through so many problems and changes but even when they got to the TV spots with audience reactions, there’s a kid saying, “This is as good as Star Wars.” And they use that in their national campaign for the movie. But I think that’s Cannon and unfortunately, they didn’t come anywhere near being Star Wars.

B&S: No one making it wanted to make a toy movie. They made a Jack Kirby movie. Then why pay for the rights?

Austin: Yeah, I mean, I remember feeling disappointed as a kid. I wondered, where are all the characters? Where’s Orko?

He-Man had been a phenomena but by the time Cannon made it, it was nearly dead. Mattel thought it would save the toy line but they only made a few figures from it. Edward R. Pressman had been trying to make it for years and by the time it happened, it was too late.

B&S: It feels like Cannon was decades ahead of the streaming model of just constantly making content.

Austin: Cannon took more chances. I’m paraphrasing Roger Ebert here, but he had commended Cannon for taking more chances than really any other studio in the 80s. And to their credit, they could do that because they were very good at pre-selling the movies.

In the next part of this interview, we discuss the tall tales of Cannon and if they’re true, false or if that even matters.

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