EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Catherane Skillen, director of AVA: A Twist In the Road

I really loved the movie AVA: A Twist in the Road and keep talking it up to people. It left me with so many questions, so I had to speak to its creator. You can watch this film on Tubi. To learn more, visit the official Facebook page.

B&S About Movies: What I really liked about your movie is that it doesn’t feel like any other movie that I’ve seen this year. It doesn’t feel like a Hollywood movie. Instead, it feels very personal and very much from the heart. How much of you is in the movie?

Catherane Skillen: It is not autobiographical. Over the years I’ve observed people who depend on a partner,  you know…whether it’s a married person depending on their spouse, an adult child,  or a significant other, and they end up at the caregiver’s beck and call .

I could never understand how someone could give up their right to live their own life and reach their own potential. What do they have to give up? I mean, I think part of it is, of course, the financial reason…not having to work…having an easy life…being able to buy whatever you want, for instance.  But on the other hand, you sacrifice yourself in some ways because one is so dependent. That was one of the questions, or dilemmas, I had while writing this.

B&S: How hard was it to do a million different jobs on this movie?

Catherane: (laughs) It is really, really, really hard. And I did it in two different periods because I didn’t have the money. So, I did the first half with the cameraman and then the second half a couple years later with a different cameraman and different cameras (the first one was the Sony A7S and the second one was the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K).

My cameraman helped me a lot in terms of setting up the scenes because I was in those scenes when we filmed them. We had monitors but the monitor broke for the first shoot, so I wasn’t able to watch. It’s also so fast. We had to work so fast because of the time allotted for the locations with a lot of pages to shoot. I was really fortunate about some of these locations that were given to me, like the condo that the couple lived in. That wonderful, gorgeous condo with all the art. The owners just let me use it. We were there for four days and they told us that they were going on vacation and that we could use it only while they were gone. Then, their friends and family said, “Are you out of your mind letting this person come in with equipment and you aren’t there?” But they held firm, gratefully.

The art studio was actually two separate garages, a one-car garage and a two-car garage that were at the back of a property. The woman who owned the space had rented them out to two artists who allowed us to film there.  I  think the art studio is gorgeous and worked really well. Now, it’s no longer there. The house has been sold. The condo is no longer available either,  also sold. It’s all gone. We were so fortunate.

B&S: What was going on in your life to inspire this?

Catherane: I’m an actress and I wasn’t working. I’d always heard everybody say, “Make your own movie.” I had this idea for a really long time and started working on it, but I just didn’t really believe in myself and I didn’t know how I would film it. I didn’t know how to get the money to do it, and so I was kind of a dilettante about it.

I worked on it in dribs and drabs and kind of began to save a little bit of money. I had been telling myself I’d make it for years,  but didn’t. I finally got to the place where I thought, “If I don’t really jump in and do this, I could die before I do it,  and  how would I feel if I did not accomplish this?” I didn’t want to have regrets at my last moment.

So that really got me in gear and I really worked hard for two years to put this together.

B&S: You did acting before this, right?

Catherane: My first job was on Columbo. I played a waitress in the Jack Cassidy episode where he’s a magician. People are always…like…contacting me and saying, “Oh my gosh, you’re so beautiful”, which is nice to hear but they seem to be confusing me with the blonde assistant. I have to tell them, “No, I was the brunette waitress.” (laughs)

B&S: What was your intention with the ending?

Catherane: There’s that bracelet that Ava said she would never take off. It’s a symbol of their love and connection. Through her journey, she finally gets to the place where she’s ready to let it go. I see it as the beginning of a new chapter in her life, a whole new road ahead.

I think the big motivator in turning her life around was the promise she made to her mother. You know, as her mother was dying, the promise she made, and she always felt guilty about that.  So, hopefully, that came out. I was trying to reinforce that without getting too heavy-handed.

You can watch AVA: A Twist in the Road on Tubi and for free on Indie Rights Movies after October 14. Visit Catherane’s YouTube Channel to learn more.

Exclusive interview with Dave Wascavage, director of Suburban Sasquatch

Dave Wascavage has made some wild movies and that’s an understatement.

Working from eastern Pennsylvania, he’s brought mutant mushrooms (Fungicide), zombies on a home improvement show (Zombies By Design), aliens (Tartarus), demonic evil (Malevolent Ascent), reality TV ghost chasers (Adventures of the Haunted Hunted), creatures in the jungle (Infinities Lock) and of course, a bucolic Bigfoot (Suburban Sasquatch) to the screen originally via lo fi CGI and shot on video magic.

As Visual Vengeance prepares to release a new blu ray of Suburban Sasquatch, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Dave about his movies, his inspirations and why he keeps on making films.

B&S About Movies: The first time I discovered all of your movies, I watched every single one of them in the same weekend.

Dave Wascavage: You watched them all in one weekend? Man, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe y’all survived.

B&S: When Visual Vengeance announced Suburban Sasquatch, there was a big reaction. There’s a lot of love for that movie.

Dave: It’s great. Actually, I feel almost embarrassed by it. I have recognition, but don’t know how to react (laughs)

It’s wonderful because I love the thought of people watching it, laughing and having a good time. That’s the coolest thing. I just love  that I can bring a little bit of brightness to the world and help people have a little bit of fun.

B&S: I think that it’s impossible to watch Fungicide or Suburban Sasquatch and be in a bad mood. They’re just a joy to watch. I really dislike when I read people discuss their budget or effects and wonder, does that matter? In the long run, if you need a movie to have a big budget or perfect effects, maybe you need to reevaluate watching genre movies.

Dave: For some people, maybe it takes you out of the film. Maybe you’re watching this and you feel like it’s too low budget or there wasn’t any real effort behind it. But I think to your point, it’s entertaining to just get caught up in what happens and if something so bonkers happens that you have to pause and laugh at the absurdity of it, that’s cool. Even if it was cheap, it pulled something off. It wasn’t a cardboard cutout, it was a little bit better and maybe we kind of pulled it off. (laughs)

B&S: My theory is that shot on video films are the last bastion of regional filmmaking. A place where movies could be made outside of Hollywood, anywhere by anyone because the equipment brought the ability to create art to anyone. And unlike big budget movies, you’re not getting notes from a producer, there’s no focus group and you’re not having to follow any format. It’s the same reason why I love Italian exploitation movies, because truly anything can happen. And I find that the same things happen in your films, too.

Dave: There’s a freedom that you get and I was very specific about wanting to pursue this my way. I was trying to explain to my daughter, it’s not that I’m a control freak. It’s just that from an artistic perspective, I have a vision. And I don’t want somebody telling me the lighting should be different here and change this line there. I wanted to see what would happen if I created this piece of art.

I love the perspective that the shot on video genre gave complete autonomy to the creator to create a piece of art that wasn’t subjected to anyone else’s vision. It wasn’t necessarily created for the sake of money. None of my films have been created for the sake of money. So I had the freedom to say well, I’m going to put in there what I think this means to me. And there’ll be some people that are entertained or some people that don’t care.

Even from the trailer, I had thought, “How do I make something that really makes you want to learn more, just like the cover of movie that was so well done?” As someone who rented a lot of movies in the 80s and 90s, I would seek out a film that had art that was enticing. There were so many films that would draw me in and I would enjoy watching them wondering how they made this movie on a limited budget. I never felt these low budget movies were lackadaisical or their creators didn’t care. They were obviously trying to bring their idea to fruition.

B&S: Genre films also depend on advertising and packaging so much more than other films.

Dave: There’s the title. There’s the image. And then when you flip it over, and I did all my films, I had to have something that made you go, “Okay, this is funny or this sounds like it’s cool.”

Like there’s going to be more than just what I see on the cover. I don’t want to be bored by the film. And there are so many movies that I go to some and watch on these streaming services that I tune out of in about four minutes. I’ll think to myself, I know exactly what’s going to happen. And it may look pretty and the music, acting and cinematography are amazing, but if if I know what’s going to happen and I don’t feel the emotion from people, it’s not going to be interesting.

B&S: I’m looking for the same high from movies as some people get from drugs. I want them to make me feel good.

Dave: It’s almost like a comfort food. You want to put that film in! Every October I go through my entire catalogue of horror movies and they’re ones — that whether they’re good or bad from anybody’s perspective — it’s a comfort for me to watch them because I know that beats. I know what they’re trying to get across. I know the emotional gravity and you are so connected to it. And you know, that feeling is going to come along and I think like you just said, it’s a serotonin release.

The funny thing was to me that not many people would like the films that I’d want to watch. I would say to somebody, “Wow, Halloween 3 was great.” And they’d be like, “Oh, that was terrible.”

And I think that’s why I’m always the odd one out. I always love the weird and on the fringe. If it was mainstream, it didn’t hit it very well. I loved different pieces of different movies. They always hit with me and they became the comfort ones. Maybe they’re the ones that I want to emulate with something. They’re super dramatic, sometimes overly over the top. Cool! When that happens, the movie resonates with you and it sticks with you. Like I really love Burial Ground.

B&S: What other movies influenced you?

Dave: Most people my age would probably say that they were heavily influenced by Star Wars — and I was greatly — because I do think Lucas does an amazing job with painting with light. I think he has an amazing sense of scale and operatic story. That drove me to make something grand. I thought I always have to make it as grand as possible.

You’ve got John Carpenter. I mean, not only was he an amazing musician, but his directing and his sense of holding and a sense of capability when it came to putting people in these situations and how they respond to it, what always amazed me was his writing.

Then there’s Lucio Fulci and the Italian films, like their zombie movies.

But one of the largest influences was George Romero, not that I was able to emulate anything of his style but a lot of films like Dawn of the Dead, where they are basically a metaphor for something in society but they don’t really hit you over the head with it.

I kind of want to send a message in my films. Or at least people pull a message out of the films, like they did with Suburban Sasquatch, but Tartarus was a little bit more in-depth on that sense. It really got me excited than that you could send that message. Again, art is subjective. Two people can look at the same piece of art coming with different feelings and different perspectives, but also draw a different conclusion.

So those folks really drove me to believe that something like that was possible with moving pictures. Obviously the ability to have a low budget and survive, you know, I go to people like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson who started off with doing low budget. So I would think if they can start somewhere, I knew I could start with at least some middle amount, get something done and call it a day.

B&S: What inspired Suburban Sasquatch?

Dave: Well, it’s like most things in life. It’s a confluence of multiple inspirations. First and foremost, I was always inspired and fearful of Bigfoot. So I grew up in the 70s, where TV shows were talking about Bigfoot and it was a frightful thing and you only had books in the library to learn more. There were no movies about it. I mean, if there was a movie with Bigfoot, they just had him scaring people by standing in a window. Nothing where he was violent.

I thought that would be interesting to do this. You know, it’s 2003. And I thought, if I could buy that, I would buy it. But since I can’t buy it, maybe I’ll make it. (laughs)

I was just prepping Fungicide. I thought: “Okay, well, if I’m going to shoot one more movie, and I could put the money towards it, what would it be? And it’s either going to be Bigfoot or zombies.”

So they’ll all go for Bigfoot first. That would be a cool thing to tackle. So I wrote three scripts, you know, from the first script to a sequel then a third movie. I figured that if I ever came back to it, I wouldn’t have to write it. I would get the same momentum, tempo and ideology. And then getting people interested wasn’t hard to do people. They had seen me do Fungicide or heard me talk about it.

By the time the film started shooting, I didn’t turn people away. Everybody wanted to be a part of this because they were all fascinated by the idea of shooting a Bigfoot movie in the neighborhood. And the name just comes from that!

You know what everybody hears Bigfoot but Sasquatch is rarely used and it’s more closely tied to the Native American legend. So had to go into Suburban Sasquatch into areas where you never seen these monsters coming into, because the message of the film was about encroachment on natural areas and how our predatory behaviors are chasing out animals. And then obviously the sasquatch is going to be a defender of that area. So Suburban Sasquatch, there we go.

B&S: How did you get the cast that come together? Was this mostly friends or did you put a call out?

Dave: At the end of Fungicide, all these people had seen it and almost everybody would end up saying, “Oh my gosh, can I be in your next film?” And this was before streaming. So the more people that got to see it, the more I was excited because I thought, “Hey, look at this, what would you do different to try and learn from it?”

I wanted to be a little more serious with some of the actors because I had my friends and family who are willing to be a part of it, but I started putting out casting calls and I wanted to see what happen because I really wanted somebody who was different. Someone who had a different look than what I had seen before. I was actually interviewing a lot of models and actresses and I thought I really want to hit that one on the head as close as possible to what I described and then I just had more and more people coming and wanting to be alone.

For example, tthe role of Steve was played by Juan Fernandez. He came in, interviewed and he actually tried to be cast for different roles but everything was cast. He got the small bit part of a few lines. And after he read, I’m like, “Damn, this guy can act.” And I thought about it and said, “Why don’t you take the role of Steve?” I was going to do it, but it’d be better if you did it because you act better than I would. Plus, it gave me more of a chance to direct instead of being in front of the camera. He nailed it.

So by getting the word of mouth around and when people heard about it, that always helps sell your concept and your idea. I always tell people, “Look, this just may go nowhere. Thirty people may see it, but I will try my best to get it distributed to get recognition. And now here we are, right eighteen years later and we’re still talking about it.”

B&S: Now a whole new audience is about to see it.

Dave: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve gotten several deals over the years where it’s been in different countries and in different formats. It’s had some streaming success, but through Visual Vengrance putting this out, they’ve done an immaculate job on the packaging. They were so amazing to work with on the upscaing and the rescaling and getting the materials together. It’s so phenomenal because a lot of it is technical in nature and the technology has greatly improved since 2004. So in anticipation of my next films, I had to learn a lot more and try and get ready for HD upscaling. But they did an outstanding job and it’s wonderful to think that the audience for it is going to grow.

B&S: Your movies seem like family affairs.

Dave: I would say that I truly believe that my family wants to see me happy. I truly believe my family gets a kick out of being involved but not one of my family members is like, “Oh yes, I really want to be in front of the camera or behind it and get this thing done.” They’re all like, “Yeah, we’ll help you out for a day we’ll have some fun.”

I think they just want to see me be successful. And that’s the most you can ask of anybody, right? I mean, they’re dedicating their time to either be in front of her behind the camera or cooking or logistics. Like my wife Mary, I’ve relied on her for reviewing the screenplays and passing some scenes by her to get her take on things. You really can’t work in a silo. You have to have some kind of input to see if it’s going down a path and someone to challenge your vision because if something’s not clear to them, well then maybe you have to go back to describing it in a different way.

I’ve been blessed with with both family and friends wanting to have fun and be a part of it. And they’ll always want to offer more and I’ll say, “No, no, you’ve done enough!” Like I would love more help, but I feel bad asking you so because it’s been very wonderful having them help out.

B&S: You made Fungicide before Suburban Sasquatch. How did that happen?

Dave: I shot some very short films from 1987 through 1997 which were like two minutes long. And then I always thought to myself, it would always been a lifelong dream to shoot a full-length film. But I started to get into CGI graphics back then — really rudimentary and I’m talking about okay, I’m able to make titles appear on a screen or I’m able to make you know a really badly animated basketball — and I thought, “Well, if I can do this, what if I made a full-length film that didn’t rely on CGI but relied on really, you know, really poorly made products?” Because I can’t make props. (laughs)

So I actually had some time free and I said to Mary, “Why don’t we put like, you know, under $50 down, we’ll buy the equipment for the props. I have an idea for a really dumb film. And the great thing about it is the film concept is it’s so dumb that if Hollywood stole it from us, well, what are we going to lose?”

$150 budget, you know, that was our business model. So I wrote a treatment. Mary came in and she added some lines and modified some things. We got people together for a weekend and shot it. And then when it was done, we added five more minutes and crossed the line for a full-length film. Then you just spend a lot of time in post-production cleaning up and trying to make it look as best you can and getting by with what you could.

The whole idea was, “How can I drag it over the finish line and say it done?”

How can I get enough people can look at it and say, “I just watched the movie.” That was really the goal.

B&S: I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but it seems like you do a funny movie and then you do something really dark like Tartarus.

Dave: This is why I didn’t want to shoot a sequel to Suburban Sasquatch for a long time. I was really going to shoot around 2015, but then I kept thinking I don’t want to fall into a trap where I’m like the costume movie guy. Like it’s always a prop costume. So when the idea of Tartarus came up, I was really intending on making a 15 minute film to send to festivals, but I wanted to test out a brand new camera that had great depth of color. So I said to Juan, who stars in the film, “What about this idea, you know, it’s 15 minutes…” and he was all in.

As he read the the script, he said “This is really cool. I can do a lot with the character. There’s a lot I don’t know about his past and what he’s done here.”

And I said, “I have to hold that thought.”

So a week later, I come back with a fully fleshed script. And I thought that this movie is a good way to go outside of what I’ve done before to show people that I am more than just the costume movie guy and to try some of that with as little dialogue as possible. We gave him a little more of a voice and some more diaogue and it grew from there.

That’s why from Tartarus to Zombies by Design, I wanted to create almost a comical movie thats a throwback to 50s mad scientist movies, punctuated by short blasts of music, that’s almost goofy but also creepy.

I just want to try something new and different. I don’t feel like I want to repeat what’s out there when I do that. I’d become stale or it’s easy to compare my movies against others and see where my shortcomings are. (laughs)

B&S: Zombies by Design has a moment that feels like something right out of Fulci, the cameraman is about to get attacked by the zombies and instead of running, he just stares at them and gets eaten!

Dave: Thank you. That’s actually one of the best compliments I’ve got! I appreciate that because that was in the back of my mind as we were running it. I wanted the cocnept of the zombies — you know at this point, Walking Dead wasn’t on yet — this was a homage to what Romero and the Italian filmmakers did with dhambling zombies. It was just slow. It wasn’t something that was rushing to get you. It wasn’t like 20 Days Later where it was this virus. That was a new trope not to throw shade against it, but it was just wasn’t what I wanted to go for. And I really want to take the time to play this cartoonish end of the spectrum with the bad guys because it keeps the zombies separate. It keeps them as being this thing that’s out there slow and it’s unstoppable, relentless, but it will get there.

B&S: I think you do something really difficult and that’s walk the tightrope between horror and comedy.

Dave: Thank you, I would say — I mean if I look at every film I’ve done, — I try and pull one or two pieces out of it that I would say I’m proud of that, I’m okay with everybody criticized the other end, but the one that would hit two things on Zombies by Design that I did that I feel I would be hurt if people didn’t like the music because I really worked hard on that soundtrack and I was really happy with that. But also on the writing, I thought it was a neat idea. I love the concept and I love the comedy but I have to say I’m a little worried I was too much on the nose of the comedy. As I age, I look at comedy differently. I always like dry humor so I’m not sure if it was too over the top or some of the comedy got missed.

It’s very hard to get comedy right! You have to have good timing ,  good understanding that the joke and and all these films you have to run fast when it’s a lot of stuff! You have to say okay, it’s good enough, just keep going.

B&S: I think Malevolent Ascent is — and I mean this as a compliment — almost a movie like someone who lives close to you, M. Night Shyamalan, a movie that takes a confined area and a concept and runs with it. It’s a lo-fi version of one of his big concept — and big budget — movies.

Dave: Thank you. It was tough in that it was a very much a big departure from all the other films. There really wasn’t much humor in it. I felt like it was my most darkest because the character that you know ends up being the bad guy in the film, I really felt like it was close to being human in that sense that I don’t like making real human people that do violent acts. I just I like the supernatural type of thing. So that kind of bugged me but I felt like if I could get the story and script right, I felt like I could shoot it. But yeah, certainly nowhere near M. Night’s money-filled pockets. Nor his capability and skill set.  (laughs)

It’s another low budget “ket’s see what we can pull off here” movie.

B&S: You said there was a deeper message in it.

Dave: Spoiler warning, if you haven’t seen it yet. There are wo aspects, one which is as we see the character in the beginning who is ultimately going to be the bad guy, he’s just unconscious and I wanted the idea that evil starts out very simple. And it’s not as black and white as someone who’s terrible. This is someone who just basically fell downhill through their life. They had many things going wrong. So I wanted to be sympathetic toward people that fall into that trap and people do need help.

But the other part was that the concept of the film is to always climb. Always be striving, always survive no matter how bad you hear things are on the outside world. In this case, they all thought it was a nuclear attack. And, you know, as they got out, they didn’t know what the outside world was going to look like.

No matter what you must always try to survive and keep going every day. Just make one more day because you do not know what’s on the other side.

I was either going to have an end with, they come out and it really wasn’t nuclear attack, or they came out and they found that everything was fine. But I wanted to leave it ambiguous.

B&S: It goes back to Dawn of the Dead. It doesn’t spell it all out for you. In fact, the zombies could have been caused by anything from a probe from space to a virus to Hell coming to Earth.

Dave: Literally my favorite part of that movie is the first five minutes of it! It starts off in a TV station and there’s chaos and you hear people talking over each other and you as a viewer, you’re trying to figure out what’s actually being said and should I listen? It’s clear that nobody knows what it is and where it came from or even how far it’s been happening. That is as close to real panic and a real world situation as you’re going to get! No matter what people think that their government is going to help them or there’s some authority or people know what’s going on, it’s just chaos and they’re trying to maintain control. And that was so real.

That set the groundwork for that movie being completely frightening.

B&S: It was strange over the last few years with the pandemic and January 6 and war coverage how much of the 24/7 news cycle feels like the beginning of that movie.

Dave: There’s so many perspectives on it. I tend to be a very pragmatic scientific person. So the first thing I always go to is what information evidence do we have to go on? What’s actually taking place and I break things down in a very methodical way.

So that shows itself in the films but you see real world events, right? You can look at what’s happening over in the war in Ukraine now and you wonder what the heck is going on? Where did where did people seem to lose our sense of direction and our connectedness and our togetherness and it feels like we’re bordering right on the edge of chaos so many times. It’s frightening, but I sometimes, I have to ignore that to do things that make people feel good and positive. We have to support and listen and be sympathetic and peaceful as much as possible, despite my films probably showing the opposite, right? (laughs)

B&S: What’s next?

Dave: I think it’s okay to say but Suburban Sasquatch 2 and 3 are written and ready to go. I just need to get the time together and work on more the costumes. This is probably the first I’m mentioning out but Fungicide 2 is also written and that’s ready to shoot. There’s another horror film but I can’t mention the title because the title itself is just amazing. It’s been in gestation since 1998. Probably it’s finally gonna get see the light of day. And the problem I’d say is like the problem with Fungicide 2 is that I had a script last year. But after rereading it, I’m like, “Wow, that’s actually good to throw it away because clearly Fungicide isn’t very good. So I can’t put out something this good. It’s got to be dumbed down quite a bit because we can’t have quality for Fungicide 2. (laughs)

A visual aid for readers too young to have ever seen a blacklight poster.

B&S: I have to tell you, I love your CGI. I referred to it as “70s blacklight posters from Spencers.” I’d rather have what you do than perfect CGI. It sets up the mood of Fungicide so well.

Dave: That’s a huge compliment. The e funny thing is I think people probably look at it and say “My gosh, goodness guy, pay money or have something better done!” Well at the time, that was the best I can do. And I couldn’t reach anybody that could do CGI better but literally, like when you see flames exploding around a mushroom, I literally just learned it that day or the day before so it doesn’t look refined or real because that’s the best I can do. And when you’re making these movies, if I spend 50 hours on making perfect flame effects, that’s 50 hours less on editing, music, cinematography, color and script. There’s so many things that need work, you got to just cut your losses on some of them!

For Fungicide, I was even thinking maybe in the end of the movie, I’ll have some explanation where they’re holograms, which is why they look so fake. Then I said, “To heck with it!” (laughs)

I have a question for you. Let me ask you about in the big fight scene at the end of that ovie. What were your thoughts on that? Did you feel like it was too long? Should it have been different?

B&S: I loved it! I mean, I’m a lover of martial arts movies and fight scenes, so I thought it was a lot of fun.

Dave: Good, I love it too. But so many reviews are like, “The fight at the end is too long.” And I wonder, did you notice how fake the papier-mâché head looked?

B&S: The scene with the balsamic vinaigrette grenade in that movie is the hardest I’ve laughed in so many years.

Dave: That’s all my wife, Mary. When she says, “It’s a hobby,” looking straight ahead, I mean, she just knew how to hit the beat on that line. Now that’s comic timing!

I’m glad that I get to do this. I want to entertain people. If they laugh, and they think this film is stupid, but they had a good time laughing at it, I’m thrilled to death I really am.

I want to make the world just a little bit of a brighter place.

Want to hear even more from me and Bill from Drive-In Asylum?

We’re on the commentary track for the blu ray of Suburban Sasquatch from Visual Vengeance in August!

Select Bonus Features:

  • New 2021 Commentary by Director David Wascavage
  • Commentary from Sam Panico of B&S About Movies and Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum
  • Includes full RIFFTRAX version of the movie
  • Archival Behind The Scenes Featurette
  • Making The CGI for Suburban Sasquatch
  • From The Director’s POV: Archival Interviews
  • Limited Edition Slipcover designed by Earl Kessler FIRST PRINTING ONLY
  • Collectible Mini-poster
  • “Stick your own” VHS sticker set and more!

For more details on the label and updates on new releases – as well as news on upcoming releases – follow Visual Vengeance on social media – IG, Facebook or twitter

TWITTER @VisualVenVideo

INSTAGRAM visualvenvideo

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/visualvenvideo

Exclusive interview with Drew Godderis, director of L.A. AIDS Jabber

L.A. AIDS Jabber is one of the rarest and most sought-after bad taste movies of the shot on video era. It’s the story of Jeff, a mentally unstable young man diagnosed with AIDS who gets revenge on the world by injecting his blood into victims, giving them the same disease that he has.

Visual Vengeance is preparing the first wide release of the movie since it was self-distributed by director Drew Godderis himself and the blu ray will be loaded with newly produced bonus features and commentary from the original creator, Drew Godderis.

I had the true pleasure of getting to speak with Drew, who is as interesting as the movie he made.

B&S About Movies: So how did you decide to make L.A. AIDS Jabber?

Drew Godderis: It’s a project that originally was conceived back during the time when AIDS was a major pandemic. There are some very close correlations between obviously what’s going on now with the COVID because it knows no bounds and will affect anybody, as did AIDS.

I was doing a lot of character acting for five years, starting in the mid-80s and I was working quite steadily, traveling all over the country and making some pretty decent money.

My wife died at age 31. I had a two-year-old boy. I really had no family to look after the boy — he’s in the movie and did pretty well, he’s the detective’s son — but I was bound and determined to be a single parent. I needed him with me at all times because I had heard horror stories of leaving kids with other people.

I decided that I would get out of the acting game but wanted to figure out how could I keep my foot in that industry. So I said to myself, “Well, I’ve been on enough movie sets. I love writing and I’ve got an idea of how scripts were written.”

Now, I needed an idea of something that is going to be somewhat controversial. Something that people might say, “What the heck is this?” And so I was reading through the ideas and all of a sudden AIDS came into my mind. And I’m thinking this might be kind of frightening. A guy with a needle, who finds out that he is positive for HIV and back then there was no cure for it. They didn’t have a cocktail like they do now to take this thing into remission. It was a death sentence.

So the storyline is this kid who was late teens picks up a blood transfusion and probably got AIDS — which was one way to get back in the day — and decided it’s all over for him now. It’s a death sentence. Something works in his brain. And he says, “Look, I’m out of here. I’m going to take a few of those people that I don’t like, as well as some other people.”

Editor’s note: Spoiler warning in case you haven’t watched this movie yet…

At the very end, he has a chance to give himself up and he doesn’t. He rushes the cops with a needle and they shoot him. And then, we learn — after he’s laying on the ground — there was a misdiagnosis.

B&S: Were you worried about causing a controversy?

Drew: I intentionally stayed away from pointing any fingers at people’s sexuality because back then, it was considered to be a gay disease or something that only homosexuals could get. Other people were getting it from blood transfusions and heterosexual people were from having unprotected sex, but the media wouldn’t cover them. So there was this big stigma attached to people who were gay and that was really unfortunate.

I wanted to make sure when I made this movie that I wasn’t going to do that because as far as I’m concerned, people have a right to live their lives.

B&S: What was the budget like?

Drew: I had really no budget to speak of. I had already lost my house, then my son — who was two or three at the time — and I lived in a motel and eventually, even in an office that I was working in. The security guard knew we were living there, but he didn’t say anything.

When I finally finished the script, I did some casting and got a lot of young actors looking for non-union jobs, who weren’t in SAG or AFTRA yet. People — like me — would do a job for a low rate or maybe even a meal. Whatever, I was always willing to work. And they were too, because they’d walk away with footage they could show to other people and maybe get a better job somewhere.

So I was able to put this group of people together and start run and gun shooting. Everything was being done on the weekend.

I started shooting on 16-millimeter film. I had a cameraman from USC, he was looking to build a reel for himself that he could show potential companies, so I had this great 16-millimeter camera. from him. And as we were shooting it, we shot like a hundred feet of film and the thing broke down.

Thank God I was shooting video simultaneously for video feedback which saved money from buying so much film, because we could do video tests and then shoot.

So, ten minutes in, the camera doesn’t work and I just say, “Let’s shoot it on video.”

The cameraman leaves and the video assist guy became — for lack of a better word — the cinematographer. And we went on to shoot this thing on weekends and all throughout L.A.

B&S: Did that make you worry about the commercial prospects?

Drew: I had a decision to make. Am I going to continue shooting on video which limits my possibilities? The only venue I would have had before that would be either HBO or something like a video store. Now that it’s on video, HBO isn’t going to buy it. Actually, with the subject matter, they wouldn’t have bought it.

B&S: What’s it like going back and watching the blu ray?

Drew: It’s kind of like a time warp. In the extras on the blu ray, I went back to L.A. and interviewed everyone that’s still alive.

I also went to the different locations where we shot showing them what they look like now. They have graffiti all over and they’re unrecognizable! The film editor matched those scenes with the original one in the movie and you can really see how much L.A. has changed.

I have some real wild stories about some of those locations. I mean, we shot scenes with actors with real guns chasing a bad guy with no permits or permission and had we been caught…(laughs)

Not only could I have ended up in jail, but who knows what else could have happened!

So we were stealing locations in the sense that like the reporter, she does a scene in front of a police department on the street and another one in front of the local station. I guess we’re past the statute of limitations so I can admit all the places where we shot and didn’t have any permission.

There’s one shot that was done on top of a big skyscraper in downtown L.A. that we convinced the security people that we were CNN and since I had a real professional-looking camera — and a good story, we said that we needed a panoramic shot of LA for our CNN story — they allowed us to actually go up to the top of the roof and get the shot.

B&S: Tell me about the cast.

Drew: We found a great actor in Jason Majik, who played the lead. He brought a real darkness to that thing. He was in a couple of episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and did some other work and feature films, too.

B&S: How did you get this movie out there?

Drew: I self-distributed it mostly. I also worked with a couple of other tiny companies to get it to video stores, because that’s the only place you could have this.

Back then, to have somebody do something graphically to make a box — in order for me to get this thing put out — that was a big cost. I spent $1,800 to get 1800 boxes, which was the minimum I could order. And then it cost a few hundred bucks to duplicate the VHS tapes. It had a super limited release, but it’s been out there. In fact, as video stores close, I often see copies on Amazon and I buy them to give to friends. They might have a sticker on them from a video store in St. Louis, so I guess it got out there.

B&S: The new release from Visual Vengeance is going to really get it out there. Was it also released as Jabber?

Drew: Yes, that’s because I was still concerned about the political ramifications. So I figured under the name Jabber with a big needle on the front, people would say “What the hell is this?”

It’s to Video Vengeance’s credit that they said, “Release it under the real name.”

B&S: How did the re-release happen?

Drew: It’s funny. It had been sitting on the shelf for 30 years. I wasn’t gonna do anything with it.

Blood Diner, which I was in, was coming out on blu ray and I got interviewed for the behind the scenes footage on the re-release. Somehow, the folks at Visual Vengeance knew the producer of that segment and they were interested in releasing my movie. They have a great team that put this all together, I got to go to L.A. and do the extras and now there’s this cool Collector’s Edition.

Another thing that you should know…you remember watching the movie where the detectives switch in the middle of the movie? I bet you said, “What is going on there? Maybe he didn’t like a movie very much.” The truth is that actor — he was wonderful — had a busy schedule filled with conflicts and I needed to ensure that everyone could be there every weekend we shot. So that character got killed in a drunk driving accident and now we have a new detective who was recommended by the girl playing the reporter.

B&S: What can we learn from this movie?

Drew: You can have no money, but you can write a script. You can find people that want to work and want to act. You can literally bring it to fruition. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be scrounging for money along the way to try to feed everybody or get an editor though!

The editor was a well-known guy in Hollywood. But he did he couldn’t be associated with something like L.A. AIDS Jabber. He not only edited but he composed the soundtrack and we changed his name. He’s gone on to be very successful and I still won’t reveal his name.

Can I ask you a question? What is it nowadays with a lot of the kids and shot on video movies? Do they like rough around the edge stuff?

B&S: Yeah. It’s kind of an obsession with some of us because it’s like the last bastion of movies that had no rules, where everything today has been focus-grouped and producer noted to death. You have no idea what can happen next and can actually get surprised by these movies.

It’s a miracle when movies happen and especially SOV movies are miracles because how did people find them? Where did people find them?

Drew: It’s so interesting to me because when I started acting, I did episodic TV. Then I moved to direct to video movies and you’d get like, fifty bucks a day. I was in Blood Diner and then, I met Fred Olen Ray and did is movie Deep Space.

B&S: You’re also in Jackie Kong’s other movie, The Underachievers.

Drew: I was also in Evil Spawn and Cannibal Hookers for Donald Farmer and he makes my one movie look like nothing, he’s still making movies now.

It’s wild to talk to you about this movie, thirty years after I made it. It’s about the OG pandemic and it’s no Academy Award winner. But we know that and it’s okay. It wasn’t created to be that. And while I shot it on video by necessity, that’s why people are getting ready to see it again.

L.A. AIDS Jabber is coming out in August from Visual Vengeance. It has the following extras:

  • Commentary Track with Director Drew Godderis
  • Lethal Injection: The Making of L.A. AIDS JABBER
  • Bleeding The Pack: An Interview with Lead Actor Jason Majick
  • L.A. AIDS JABBER – 2021 Locations Visit
  • Interview with Blood Diner Director Jackie Kong
  • Actress Joy Yurada Interview
  • Cast and crew Interviews
  • Liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine
  • Limited Edition Slipcover – FIRST PRINTING ONLY
  • Reversible BR sleeve featuring original VHS art
  • Collectible Mini-poster
  • “Stick your own” VHS sticker set and more

For more details on the label and updates on new releases – as well as news on upcoming releases – follow Visual Vengeance on social media – IG, Facebook or twitter

TWITTER @VisualVenVideo

INSTAGRAM visualvenvideo

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/visualvenvideo

The collected The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick interviews

I had a great time talking with Austin Trunick, writer of The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II and hopefully you’ve been reading it all week.

Here are the links to all five parts:

  • Part 1: How did Austin first encounter Cannon and why did he write these books?
  • Part 2: Ninjas and where it all went wrong
  • Part 3: Tobe Hooper and Cannon
  • Part 4: Cannon urban legends and getting more of their movies on blu ray
  • Part 5: Least favorites and what movies Cannon didn’t make

You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media. You can also find Austin on Twitter for daily blasts of Cannon facts.

Austin recently guested on The Cannon Canon and it’s great, an interview packed with even more Cannon trivia than we got to in our conversation!

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 5

Thanks to Austin Trunick, writer of The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II, for spending an entire week on our site discussing all things Cannon.

Stay tuned — August will be the second Cannon month on our site. To check out every Cannon Film we’ve covered so far, check out the Letterboxd list.

B&S About Movies: Some Cannon movies are just so hard to find.

Austin: Didn’t you have trouble finding The Secret of Yolanda?

B&S: Yeah.

Austin: You’re not missing much. It’s worth a watch for the whole premise, but it’s not a great movie. The Berlin Affair is another one that’s a tough watch. It’s supposed to be this steamy love affair and this love triangle between the characters but there’s no chemistry at all.

B&S: It needs someone other than Liliana Cavani to direct it. Like if Jess Franco directed it…is it your least favorite Cannon Film?

Austin: It’s supposed to be this forbidden erotic film and nothing feels that forbidden or feels very erotic and you’re not even sure if the actors even like each other. I’m very hard on Mio Takaki in the chapter in the book. That’s probably my least favorite one.

B&S: Not Bolero?

Austin: Bolero is tough. Whenever I do a podcast about Cannon, people always ask if I want to do that movie and I ask, “Can we do another movie?” (laughs)

B&S: It’s supposed to be this erotic movie filled with so much sex and it’s robotic.

Austin: On Karina Longsworth’s podcast You Must Remember This her current series is the erotic 80s. And she did episodes on both Bo Derek and Brooke Shields. And in particular, the Brooke Shields episode was good. They both have very interesting paths into their careers and definitely both worked on some pretty skeevy projects on the way.

B&S: Cannon threw both of them a lot of money.

Austin: They’re both sex symbols and Menahem just fell for that. He wanted to be part of that phenomenon.

B&S: Luigi Cozzi is another person that Cannon worked with a lot. Menahem did after Cannon, too.

Austin: Menahem just saw him as someone reliable. His movies look like they cost twice as much as they did. He’s a very creative person and Hercules has great effects. The Adventures of Hercules may have a crazy production history and people may make fun of it because they don’t have the money to do it the same way as Clash of the Titans. But he made the monsters robots so that would explain why they’re moving choppy and they had that sort of stilted motion.

He can squeeze a lot out of a little and for a while, he was going to do Lifeforce even before he did Hercules. Klaus Kinski was going to be in it.

I love finding stuff about Cannon stuff that didn’t happen. Like I have the paperwork from Joe Don Baker with Golan and Globus, pre-Cannon, that voids his contract for their 70s attempt to make 52 Pick-Up

My files are just full of canceled projects and that’s going to be so much of the third book.

B&S: What’s the best one?

Austin: I’m probably going to cover around 150 projects that never happened. The most famous might be the Charles Bronson and J. Lee Thompson movie The Golem, which was based on the Jewish legend, and this guy was controlling the golem and using it to kill people and then it would down and escape through the pipes. He’s going in and out of these New York City apartments with no evidence.

The plan was to do it with the stop motion animation with clay and actually do this monster. I would have loved to have seen that. Yeah, it was just way too expensive for Cannon to make. That would have been one I would have loved.

They were going to make Cobra 2 with Marion Cobretti wiping out the entire cocaine racket. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, basically, but with Stallone instead.

Gunga Din was another one they advertised again and again with Roger Moore, Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. Menahem wanted to make it and finally Moore said, “We’re too old to play these soldiers now.”

They were even planning a Barbie movie when working with Mattel. The idea was that a girl wasn’t fitting into school and Barbie could come to life and help her. Bo Derek playing Barbie would have been Menahem’s dream casting. Or maybe Victoria Barrett.

There was also Pinocchio the Robot by Tobe Hooper with Lee Marvin as Gepetto.

These ads were pre-Photoshop just getting things put together as fast as possible before Cannes. A lot of them were made at the last minute. Like the ad for Death Wish 3, they took Bronson to the roof of a hotel to quickly get pictures of him holding the gun. And for Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, all they had was just a picture of Bronson from 10 to Midnight.

Thanks again to Austin for spending so much time discussing his books with us.

Grab Austin’s books now. They’re amazing and I use them constantly as reference material. The Cannon Film Guide Volume I covered 1981 to 1984 while the new The Cannon Film Guide Volume II is all about 1985 to 1987 and has sixty Cannon movies, more than forty new interviews and 300 images across 1,000 pages.

You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media by clicking the links. You can also find Austin on Twitter.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 4

In part four of my discussion with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we’ll get into the tall tales of Cannon.

B&S About Movies: Is there any truth to the story that Menahem Golan thought Spider-Man should have eight arms?

Austin Trunick: Yeah, when Menahem originally bought Spider-Man, he supposedly thought that it was like a Teen Wolf-style movie and a story about a teenager who transforms into a horrifying spider monster. Which is very funny. But that story may not even be true. Nothing exists beyond people saying that. But I don’t think that it was ever part of a synopsis or in any sort of script.

I think they convinced him really quick like, “Hey, if you’re going to meet with these Marvel executives don’t, you gotta know that this guy’s not a big giant hairy, terrifying spider.”

B&S: But when it comes to stories about the Go-Go Boys, I believe every one. I can be skeptical and still believe every single one.

Austin: Menahem Golan — especially later in his life — he was very big on his own mythmaking.

He would embellish stories and it’s funny because for every story there is, you wonder if the story is being embellished a little bit. And then sometimes you hear the actual story and it’s so much crazier! What I’m trying to do with these books is get to the realest version of the story, the closest version to the truth.

The biggest stories are the ones Menahem told! He repeated the story over and over and over again, through interviews and different profiles, about how he discovered Jean Claude Van Damme. And it’s always the story that he went out to a French restaurant and Van Damme was a waiter and brought out a bowl of soup for him and kicked the high kick over Menahem’s head without spilling the soup. He repeated that story so many times and I wanted to get the real Menahem meeting story from Van Damme himself.

B&S: I’ve even heard the detail that it was turtle soup.

Austin: Never mind that Van Damme had already been like an extra in Breakin’ and he went into the Cannon offices every day for like several years. When Bloodsport came out,  everybody wants to know where this new young action star came from and Menahem cooks up the soup story.

B&S: That’s why I love Cannon. It’s ballyhoo. It’s Chuck Norris reading Reader’s Digest and coming up with Invasion U.S.A.

Austin: Like the Barfly story that Menahem kept telling. Barbet Schroeder came into the office with a saw and was going to cut his fingers off if he didn’t get to make it. Menahem wasn’t even there at the time! He was off making Over the Top.

B&S: I think there’s a tie between Cannon and pro wrestling. Most wrestlers end up believing their character so much they become that character and can’t stop embellishing stories.

Austin: That’s a great way to describe them. It totally fits.

B&S: Menahem is very much like Stan Lee, too.

Austin: But there’s something to these B movie guys, they really have to grow larger. And then their legend grows larger and larger as time moves on. And part of that’s their own like sort of self-mythologizing, but I think people just continue telling these stories. I love to believe all of these stories.

B&S: Why is Tough Guys Don’t Dance so fascinating?

Austin: When I started the first book, that’s one of the ones that I wasn’t as familiar with. I was probably not familiar with other than the title. And it’s one that I just sort of discovered during my time researching Cannon that I grew to love it more and more. It’s the one I’ve probably watched the most in the last three years.

I talked about it on The Cannon Canon, but I also took a few trips left to Provincetown to search out the shooting locations. I got to interview Wings Hauser and John Bedford Lloyd for it. This is funny, but my wife also enjoys this movie, and she loves the Michael Dudikoff movies. She’ll watch some other ones with me now and then but for the most part, a lot of Cannon viewings for the books are just me on my own.

B&S: She didn’t want to watch Private Popsicle?

Austin: She’s watched Tough Guys Don’t Dance multiple times now and has gone to the location so that’s fun.

B&S: I think the only Cannon movie my wife likes is The Apple.

Austin: It gets better every time you watch it. Not too long ago, I got the 12-inch extended disco mix of “Coming.” So if you want to have more disco drum beats and have it be like several minutes longer, that’s something that you can bring into your life.

B&S: Why do you think — outside of a few exceptions — Cannon avoided the slasher craze?

Austin: There was a lot of competition there. And they tended to make action movies where they didn’t have as much competition. There was no shortage of low budget horror and I think it was harder for them to resell a horror movie and compete for that shelf space.

B&S: So they could put out weirder stuff instead, like Body and Soul.

Austin: Leon Isaac Kennedy! He had a lot of appreciation for Cannon. That movie has Muhammad Ali, who is probably one of the most famous people at the time on the entire planet. He’s in this small low budget boxing drama for Cannon, which was incredible. I mean, Leon Kennedy was able to just basically to call in a favor. He was just friends with Muhammad Ali, which is awesome.

B&S: I want more Cannon stuff to come out on blu ray and be reconsidered.

Austin: I want Vinegar Syndrome to release Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime). It hasn’t gotten any sort of official US release. It’s available in Europe, but here it’s near impossible to see. When I watched that, the copy I was working from for the book was a VHS rip onto a DVD with Greek subtitles that I ordered from like an English bootleg site. You couldn’t find it, right?

B&S: I watched it on a Russian bootleg site with someone screaming Russian dialogue over the actual movie. (laughs) That’s the only way to watch a movie.

Austin: It’s by Lina Wertmüller, a critically acclaimed director but also she wrote some great Italian movies, genre movies. It has Harvey Keitel playing a drug smuggler. Angela Molina is in it and there’s a mysterious killer. It’s very giallo, but someone is stalking and murdering drug dealers and leaving as their calling card — a heroin syringe jammed in the crotch. And it’s a wild movie and it’s a Golan Globus production and has never been released in the U.S.

Vinegar Syndrome or even Fun City should be all over that movie.

There are so many that are kind of languishing right now and haven’t had any sort of release. I don’t know the rights situation for Godard’s King Lear which is a movie that I like talking about it more than watching it. And you would think that somebody, if not Criterion, would have at least put out something. Maybe it had an MGM release in the U.S. on DVD but I even feel like that was like a region one bootleg or something in all regions from somewhere else.

Scorpion/Code Red has put out some stuff, though.

Can I pitch you on one of my ultimate releases?

If they’re not already working on it, one of these labels should be working on it. America 3000 is a weird, weird movie but it hasn’t had a release with its original soundtrack. Not even on VHS. Shout! Factory released it on a four-pack but it’s the wrong soundtrack. David Engelbach had actually gone and did an entirely different soundtrack, the voiceover was different, much less pronounced and the music cues were all different.

That’s what was in theaters, so there are theoretically film prints with the correct audio. But every version that’s been on streaming or DVD has the wrong music and dialogue on it.

B&S: Kino Lorber has been releasing lots of Bronson stuff like Murphy’s Law, a hangout movie of two people who should never hang out.

Austin: I’ve seen the script and like at the last minute, they changed the dialogue from just basic profanity to whatever language is in that film. I mean, Kathleen Wilhoite says language that is just as vulgar, but much more surreal and goofy and nonsensical.

In the final part of this interview, Austin talks about his least favorite Cannon film and we wrap things up.

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.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 2

In the first part of this conversation with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we discussed how he first found Cannon and why he decided to write his books. Read on to get deep into Cannon love in this free-ranging discussion.

B&S About Movies: I vividly remember being in elementary school and people actively losing their minds over Sho Kosugi. They’d seen Pray for Death and it became so hyperbolic, them getting excited about a movie that was better than the actual movie the way they were telling it.

Then again, you can’t really exaggerate Ninja 3: The Domination.

Austin Trunick: Oh, not at all. I mean, that’s impossible. No description can live up to just the beginning, those first ten minutes of the movie.

B&S: Cannon was ahead of the ninja trend, right?

Austin: Absolutely. I mean, you had some ninjas showing up here and there, usually as bad guys. The biggest appearance, at least in the West, before Cannon’s movies, was The Octagon, which had Chuck Norris fighting ninjas in there. 

But Cannon were the first ones to really put ninjas front and center. In The Cannon Film GuideVolume I I talked about how Sho Kosugi created so many of the things that we associate with ninjas in pop culture. Most of it came from a big bag of weapons that he brought with him to the set of Enter the Ninja

There are many times when Cannon followed a trend, but this is one time when you can argue that they were ahead of it, as they really kicked off the ninja craze that was everywhere in the 1980s.

B&S: G.I. Joe is my other passion in life next to movies. The entire Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow relationship — foreigner learns ninjutsu and the native son hates that an outsider has moved above him — that’s Enter the Ninja.

Austin: What year is that?

B&S: 1984.

Austin: So definitely after Enter the Ninja.

B&S: It’s not far from Franco Nero to Snakes Eyes.

The most important moment of Sam’s childhood.

Austin: Have you ever been to Keith Raineville’s Vintage Ninja site?

He has a section for you called Kosugi Kicks, which finds all these different examples of comic book artwork, toy artwork and video game artwork where it’s just basically artists copying the same four or five famous Sho Kosugi poses.

Suddenly, Sho Kosugi was everywhere. He was the most prominent ninja in those early years.

B&S: I love how in Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali’s These Fists Break Bricks, the book begins with how Hollywood used Asian actors and ends with Sho Kosugi as the biggest action star of the time and him eventually walking away from Hollywood.

Austin: Sho Kosugi was definitely one of my favorites, especially as a very young person. One of the first video stores I remember was Brookfield Video and I can still remember the layout of that store. I can’t remember details of my daily life but I remember everything about that store when I was five years old. In the Action section, Stallone and Chuck were up high on the shelves but at eye level for a very short kid was martial arts movies. Not just Sho Kosugi but lots of Godfrey Ho. Those movies need a big book written about them.

B&S: They’re less movies as they are hallucinogenics. Stephen Thrower said in Nightmare U.S.A. that he originally watched so many of those movies under the influence and can get the same high watching them. For me, it’s true. That’s why I call them movie drugs. You can get the same zoned-out high and bliss from murderdrone movies or Godfrey Ho’s re-edited ninjas.

My hometown video store was Prime Time Video and there was a definite hierarchy to the Action section. I can see the hand-drawn sign for that section and there was Arnold, Stallone and Chuck at the top, followed by probably Bronson but in the middle, it’s all Cannon.

Austin: Action — Bronson and Norris making action — was their bread and butter. They had appeal abroad, so Cannon had the formula: pre-sell a movie for $10 million, then make it for $5 million. They would come out ahead and if they had just stuck with that, they would have been in business for a long time.

B&S: I’m obsessed by that. They could have just kept on doing that. In that mindset, couldn’t they have lasted longer?

Austin: Oh, absolutely. The big movies were a problem.

The most frustrating part thing for me, when I think of where Cannon went wrong, was at the beginning of 1986. You have all these articles about how these two Israelis came in and took Hollywood by storm. People laughed them off at first but now, you have legitimate actors signing deals with them. You have the Stallone deal. They had Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and John Travolta, all these big names. I mean, theoretically, they had them (laughs).

You have directors who are starting to line up for work with them. And they have box office success. Coming off of Runaway Train they’re even getting Oscar nominations.

Early 1986 is the peak period. They had $300 million in a line of credit, which is impossible to think of, and investors had confidence in them. They could have spent some of that $300 million to make Superman IV for the full $24 million. They could have put more into their big movies like Masters of the Universe and Over the Top

How many $5 million dollar movies could Cannon have made with that money?

Instead, they went and bought Thorn EMI, which was an English company with a huge catalog of films but they also had a theater chain and Elstree Studios over in London. That cost $270 million of the $300 million that they had.

So the money they were supposed to put into movies, they spent on real estate and facilities that they didn’t need. It’s unfortunate because they make that deal and suddenly everything suddenly starts to fall apart. That’s the moment where everything begins to unravel. It’s sad because at that point, they also start getting investigated by the SEC. All of their productions that they were supposed to make that summer, they had to move or they were yanking budgets. They just didn’t have the money anymore.

They went from being $300 million in the green to $100 million dollars in the red over the course of three or four months.

B&S: When they got to the second act of the Hero’s Journey, they didn’t come back. They took the fall and couldn’t get it back. Did they start believing their own press?

Austin: Probably. I mean their motto became that they were the seventh major studio. Suddenly, they have stars and directors working for them. Famous names like Norman Mailer, writing scripts with a lot of prestige.

I think it’s probably easy to believe that suddenly you’re there, that you had made that step up even though there’s probably half the stairway in front of you at that point to climb.

B&S: It reminds me of how exploitation films suffered for a bit when blockbusters like Jaws took their formula but did it on a bigger budget. Did Hollywood catch on to the Cannon formula?

Austin: I think it’s more that Cannon got away from what was successful for them.

If you’re spending $20 million or more on a movie, you needed to make more than $500,000 at the box office. That’s the model they had for years. It didn’t matter how a Cannon movie did in the theaters. It didn’t matter if it was a flop or it wasn’t a critical success because they already made a profit on cable, foreign sales and video.

But when you’re spending a lot more on the movie, they couldn’t do that anymore. Some of these films needed to be hits and none of their big movies were.

B&S: Pirates was already a flop by those standards even before it was made.

Austin: Pirates is a very Cannon pickup because that’s a movie that several studios had already sunk money into. And then they abandoned it because they saw it was a sinking ship. They washed their hands and took the loss then instead of a bigger loss later. It looked like the movie wasn’t going to get released or even finished.

Cannon swoops into the rescue. I think they thought they could do it. Did they think that Walter Matthau or Roman Polanski’s names could make it a big hit?

I think they had other things they wanted out of the deal. They wanted to shoot a swashbuckling TV series called Sea Hawk and their thought was, “We’ll get a pirate ship out of this deal.”

That made the budget of the TV show lower. Part of the budget they were sinking into Pirates was also going to get them that ship. They made sure that the ship was included in the deal.

And it ends up parked near Cannes for years.

There’s a picture of Placido Domingo posing in front of it with Golan and Globus.

But that wasn’t their whole plan.

They thought that they could get their money back and Polanski promised them more films. They were really hoping to get to make The Two Jakes, the sequel to Chinatown, but there was no way that Jack Nicholson was going to make a movie at Cannon.

There’s a great reel on YouTube that has a bunch of unmade Cannon stuff. Their campaign books do that too. There’s an ad for a movie listed as “A Roman Polanski film.” No plot, no synopsis or anything. Just a picture of Roman Polanski and the Cannon logo! (laughs)

B&S: They did that all the time. There were ads for Spider-Man forever. Captain America too.

Austin: That’s probably the most famous unmade Cannon movie. Everyone that worked at Cannon or directed one of their movies was attached at one time or another. Tobe Hooper, Joe Zito…

Captain America had David Engelbach attached. Michael Winner too! I can only imagine what Michael Winner’s Captain America would look like. John Stockwell who did Dangerously Close at Cannon and some surf movies later on, his name was on it. Alberty Pyun finally got to do it (at 21st Century). And he was supposed to make Spider-Man too.

B&S: Cannon nearly made a DC and Marvel move in the same year.

Austin: Cannon paid $250,000 for those Marvel rights. That’s unbelievable.

In our next part, Austin discusses Tobe Hooper’s movies for Cannon.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 1

The Cannon Film Guide is a series of books by Austin Trunick and the first time that the movies of that vulnerable studio have been given the deep dive treatment that they so richly deserve. The Cannon Film Guide Volume I covered 1981 to 1984 while the new — and absolutely titanic in size and scope — The Cannon Film GuideVolume II is all about 1985 to 1987 and has sixty Cannon movies, more than forty new interviews and 300 images across 1,000 pages.

You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media by clicking the links. You can also find Austin on Twitter for daily blasts of Cannon facts.

I had the tremendous opportunity to talk with Austin about all things Cannon. Instead of coming up with a big list of questions, I thought it would be more entertaining — and a better read — to share the stream of consciousness fun when two people obsessed with Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus and their studio.

B&S About Movies: When you talk to people serious about serious movies, they often scoff at Cannon. Yet they made Runaway TrainBarflyLove Streams

Austin Trunick: Oh, absolutely. A lot of those influential, big-name guys wanted to work with them again. John Cassavetes briefly explored doing another movie with them, a follow-up to Love Streams. Even Robert Altman, he was developing Ready to Wear for Cannon for a while in late 1985. Those guys must have liked working with them.

B&S: Outside of the scandals we learned about later, people used to always talk about what a great studio Miramax was. But as Dimension, they were horrific to work with for so many genre filmmakers.

Austin: I mean, you’ll also find people who didn’t enjoy their time with Cannon and had a different experience.

B&S: How did you get started writing The Cannon Film Guide?

Austin: I did a lot of movie stuff for magazines. The main place was Under the Radar magazine. Right around the time my daughter was born — she’s going to be seven — I wanted a project that I could work on by myself, on my own, with my own guidance. That was really where this project started. It was something I could do on the side. Eventually, it ate up more and more of my time. A little bit here, a little bit there, and it became what I’m working on most of the time.

It was really born out of wanting my own project and Cannon was something that I loved and grew up with. You know as well as I do that the stories behind their movies are often as crazy as what was actually on screen. I wanted to get into those stories and find out everything that I could.

B&S: I think you picked the right time because there’s a danger of so many of these people being gone soon.

Austin: We’re at a crucial time. Especially when you’re looking at the early 80s, many of these actors and filmmakers are getting old. Many of these films, b-movies in particular, still aren’t getting the historical or critical looks that they deserve. And if someone doesn’t start doing those interviews, we run the risk of losing a lot of the people who have information and stories that we’ll want to hear.

One of the people I was most excited to talk to for the second book was James Karen – sadly, he passed away a few months after we did the interview. He’s someone who I was really thankful I got to talk to, and that I got to hear his stories.

We’re talking about movies that were made more than 40 years ago. Some of these people are in their 80s or older, and unfortunately could go at any time. It’s good to get their stories where we can. There are people that I sadly just missed out on, where I exchanged emails back and forth and it just didn’t work out. One in particular that was heartbreaking was Yehuda Efroni. He was in so many Cannon movies, a character actor that just pops up everywhere. I had finally found a way to contact him and I’d emailed. Then I heard back that he had passed away. It wasn’t even on IMDb or anything like that yet, it wasn’t really public. They’re just like oh, he passed away a while ago.

Cannon’s utility player Yehuda Efroni.

B&S: He’s so important to Cannon. He’s like the secret word, when he shows up, you go nuts.

Austin: I’m pretty sure he’s in more Cannon productions than any other actor by a huge margin.

B&S: He’d worked with Goram and Globus all the way back to Escape to the Sun, Operation Thunderbolt and The Uranium Conspiracy.

Austin: I think he was just someone that was close to Menahem, and they always brought him back.

B&S: What starts your love of Cannon? When was the first time you remember the logo before a movie? I’m not sure with Cannon, but I can remember the Orion Pictures opening or Vestron Video and I thought to myself, “This is going to be good because I like other movies with this logo.”

Austin: I definitely saw so many Cannon movies before I realized that they were all linked by one company. My first exposure to some of these movies was going to the video store with my father, when I was probably too young to be watching Chuck Norris movies. As I got a little older, I started renting lots of ninja movies with my friends after school. Then I realized when I would see the Cannon logo, “Oh, they make the Sho Kosugi movies. They’re the same people. They made American Ninja.”

Cannon was very good about putting their logo really prominently on their video boxes. Also, they had that large logo at the beginning of their later movies, and that spectacular music you hear when the film starts up. You could clearly see their logo on the spines or the fronts of the tapes, especially if it was Cannon Video or one of the big MGM boxes.

I think I really started to notice Cannon when I got a bit older and started to rent movies on my own. I would seek out Cannon movies when I started buying and collecting tapes at the end of the 90s — everyone was clearing them out to make way for DVDs – and that’s when I started to say, “Let’s collect these labels. They look cool on a shelf. Thematically, they tie together.” But it was a few years of watching Cannon movies before I started to realize that they all came from the same place.

In the next part of this interview, Austin gets into how Cannon influenced everything we know about ninjas, as well as what Charles Bronson meant to Cannon and exactly why the studio failed when they had a can’t lose plan.

Exclusive interview with James Duval

Starting with his first appearances in the Gregg Araki Teenage Apocalypse film trilogy and Independence Day, James Duval has created a memorable career in so many films. I was honored that he spent so much time speaking with me not just about movies, but about inspiration, art and his real life.

B&S About Movies: You were born in Detroit, right? So how did you make it to LA?

James Duval: When I was young, my father got a job and took him out of Detroit to Tucson. We went to Tucson for six months, then LA. I still have family in Michigan and up until 1981, I used to go there for the summers to spend time with them and give my parents a break.

B&S: You started off as a musician…

James: I grew up playing classical piano and used to do recitals and stuff when I was nine or ten. I did theater for a couple of years then and when I got to high school, the drama club was like, “Oh, we don’t let the freshman do plays.” And I found that really standoffish. It kind of turned me off to acting.

I was playing music and ended up meeting Gregg Araki in a cafe, record shopping in Hollywood.  He approached me and asked if I was an actor and if I’d be interested in being in a movie.

So here’s where I was: I had turned 18, moved to Hollywood, took an acting class for three months and couldn’t afford it. Had to stop. Met Gregg Araki and auditioned. Got hired and that set the stage for the rest of my career.

It helped that I had such a great working relationship with him that even when I wasn’t really working that much with other people, I was always working.

B&S: You always had someone who could find a role for you.

James: Yeah. For me, it was just trying to break out from working just with Greg to see if I could work with other people, which is sort of how I built my career over the years.

B&S: What’s it like to go from an independent movie to Independence Day?

James: That was wild. I was doing both at the same time, so that was like a dream for me. I get to make Nowhere and then I get to make Independence Day and I get to shoot them at the same time. Wow, this is going to be insane.

But I took the challenge. I got to say it was not as difficult as I thought. Because when you walk onto a set, the actors that you’re working with and the crew that’s on set — the director, the size of the budget, all those things — it kind of lends itself to this sort of environment.

I’m literally walking from a $1.5 million budget kids in Hollywood sort of making fun of Melrose Place parody and all of a sudden I land a multi-million dollar movie about the end of the world. Those environments completely lent themselves to the performance so it was very easy for me to shift from one character to the other.

I had a blast because they were so different.

B&S: Were you used to independent budgets and then saw the waste on a big budget film?

James: I gotta say, I became pretty good friends with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Since I got to know a little bit of the workings of the movie, it was budgeted $70 million actually. They brought it in at around $76 million and only went over three days — which by today’s standards is kind of insane because today, you couldn’t make Independence Day for less than $150 or $200 million.

It was really a testament to those two Roland and Dean who had come in so hot off of Stargate. To see how they kind of were easily able to manage this.

But you know, it was also quite incredible to witness Gregg Araki’s ascension. Actually, the ascension of both of these unique filmmakers to the next levels of their careers and being involved with that to some degree. You don’t think of that when you’re a young actor, but you look back on it later. I guess it was kind of like one step to the other with those filmmakers.

B&S: They’re such wildly divergent paths…

James: An such wildly different filmmakers! And they both love each other, but they do not make movies that are remotely anything like each other.

B&S: That’s why your career is so interesting. It crosses into so many different fandoms and so many different films.

James: I think I’ve been really lucky. That’s kind of my taste — all over the map. In the beginning of my career, it was kind of frustrating because it was like, “Am I the geek? Was I that weirdo? Am I that alternative guy?” They were trying to pigeonhole me.

in some ways, you know, I took roles refusing to be pigeonholed. Not necessarily an unconscious matter, but as an artist or an actor — if I can call myself an artist — I have to challenge myself. I needed to challenge myself.

B&S: Did you avoid genre films?

James: You’re gonna be mindblown by this, but in the 90s I did not want to do horror.

And I love horror! I love it. But we were kind of talking about being pigeonholed. And to some degree after a while. I was like, I don’t want to be thought of as this or that. Which in some ways held me back in the sense that Hollywood wants to rely on a certain time of actor.

So what kind of actor is Jim? I hadn’t decided that yet. Maybe I still haven’t established that I’m this kind of act or have gotten across the idea that I can play a range of characters.

B&S: But wasn’t that the time in the 90s when every horror movie was more about the gorgeous faces on the poster, the teen stars, than the monsters?

James: I wasn’t a fan. I found that stuff to be quite unwatchable for me.

It may have been great to see horror grow and change, but you know — I grew up with Halloween and Friday the 13th and The Exorcist.

I was so possessive of the genre that when they start to change it or when it starts to grow, well I was very opinionated. I wasn’t afraid to say I don’t like this.

So it’s been an interesting journey for me. Because the whole time I’m saying no to horror, I’m saying that because I love it so much. I don’t want to be involved with something that might turn me off because I’m so desperately attached to the idea that everything has to be good.

That was holding me back artistically. Because I was saying no to jobs and saying no to opportunities. And when I say I was saying no, it wasn’t like I was doing something else.

Instead of being a little bit more worried about how people perceive me — or being concerned with my ego or what my resume was — I had to really push that all aside and start focusing on learning and growing as an actor. The only way that I was going to do that was to constantly push myself.

After that, there was this weird transition where I did start saying yes to all these things.

I think one of the first ones I said yes to — and I love the movie to this day — was May. I said, I gotta get on this somehow!

I consider Lucky McKee to be such a great filmmaker and writer. I admire him on so many levels. One of my favorite things to do is to make him laugh. He’s got the greatest laugh in the world.

B&S: Wild Horses has one of the wildest casts! Angelyne is in it!

James: When I first moved to Hollywood, she used to live a couple blocks down the street. When I would get my coffee, she would walk in and I thought, “This must be where she lives.”

In the late 80s and early 90s, my friends and I had a saying. “If you see Angelyne, you’re going to have good luck.”

B&S: She was ahead of the reality show curve. She was selling nothing as if it was something. And there’s still some level of mystery about her, even in a world with no mystery left.

James: I don’t correspond on Facebook at all. When I first got off Facebook, it was because I decided that I didn’t need people I didn’t know knowing things about me. Where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m eating — is it anyone’s business?

It’s a generational thing. I started acting when I was 18 in 1991. And I feel like, as I learned about my career and made a transition, you have to fight these things that poisoned your ego which is so easy in this town and in this business. So it’s this constant fight.

I don’t want to talk about myself. I don’t want to promote myself. I don’t want to do any of that. How are you? What are you up to today? Tell me something interesting. What are we doing to get attention? And then when social media came in…well it’s like everything that you have to fight against as an artist, not as a celebrity but as an artist.

You’re fighting as an artist and trying to become an artist and work as a true artist. All of a sudden this social media comes in where everyone’s self-promoting and everyone’s talking about themselves and you’re not going to work if you don’t…

Look, I’m not going to knock you on that level. But I have to say that that’s just not a river that I want to go down.

B&S: It’s strange because when I was young, bands were important and mysterious because they fought doing press.

James: That was a wild thing when I was growing up. Of course, things evolve and change but a big thing was like, “Don’t ever be a sell-out.”

That’s changed. I mean, if you’re super rich, and then you’re doing things just for the money,  that’s selling out. But if you’re struggling to eat and pay rent for a few months, even though it’s for a commercial, I have no issue with that.

It’s when people already have proved that they’re resilient and have power and influence and maybe don’t need to make money that way and still do? When they don’t care — when they say they’re not responsible for what that company supports or does…

That’s just it’s kind of freaky to me.

So I love the idea that Angelyne still has that air of mystery. I mean, she still has it!

B&S: For decades!

James: I remember seeing her in the late 70s on Merv Griffin! She was the most famous person for not doing anything. Just because her husband started putting the billboards up. No reality show, no television, nothing. But she was in Earth Girls Are Easy!

B&S: Speaking of cultural impact, you’re Frank the Bunny.

James: That’s something I feel very fortunate about. It’s beyond flattering because Donnie Darko is one of my favorite movies I’ve ever done. Even without the following because from the moment I read that script, I was taken the same way everybody else is when they’re watching that movie.

I just knew something special because I could feel it.

It’s incredible to me to have that movie be part of my life, to play that character.

The fact that I got to be in Donnie Darko and see Jake’s performance, everyone’s performance. I really love it because the actors are all so incredible. The love between Jake and Jena is the center of that movie and the relationship with his parents even if it’s broken down…it’s like all of these people truly love each other. But it’s missed connections on all these relationships and we all get that. We’ve all lived that!

Then it moves into this other realm, this Twilight Zone!

That was my initial impression when I read the script. Like wow, this is like a modern-day Twilight Zone. The remakes and the comove come close, but they don’t have that magic that Rod Serling wrote, there’s something missing.

The script made me feel the way the Twilight Zone made me feel. Watching those original Twilight Zone episodes, there’s this dark moral compass happening that comes from this unimaginable place. Is it a twist of fate or is something being controlled or manipulated? Somewhere in between daytime and somewhere in that Twilight Zone, like darkness exists.

That said everything to me about the movie. I really like that kind of feeling. It’s kind of exactly how I approached it.

How I feel today…so for me, it’s so flattering to be recognized for that because I know people who are not happy about the work they’ve done and being recognized for it.

Maybe I would feel that way if they recognized me for some ridiculous role I did. “I really love that homeless guy you played in Now Apocalypse that gets raped by space aliens.”

That’s pretty funny actually.

B&S: Every character could be someone’s favorite.

James: If I did a character and it made you laugh and it made an impression, it could be any size role. Like in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I love everybody. Even the smallest characters get a chance to shine, like Richard Edson as the garage attendant! He had the best day after he took that car. Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop!

B&S: You’re in Sushi Girl with one of my favorite actors, Tony Todd.

James: I’m happy you brought that up because it’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve done. And Tony is one of my favorite people. I first met him back in 2007 and we constantly tried to find a picture to work together. We had a couple of fell apart and it finally culminated in Sushi Girl. Wow, what a movie for it to all work out.

Tony has always been such a gentleman to me. He’s the most absolutely incredible actor I’ve ever seen. When I met him, I said, you know it would be such an honor to work with. I felt like, I have to work with this actor before I die.

We also got to work with Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, Andy Mackenzie and even day players like Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn who came in. Everybody on that was so awesome and it was such a special movie for us. It was one of the most fun movies I’ve ever made. I wish more people would see it.

B&S: Is there another movie you’re proud of that you wish more people would check out?

James: I think Sushi Girl would be one. There’s a movie I did that played at Sundance called The Doe Boy and I don’t think many people saw it. I’m really proud of it. It’s kind of like a  dramatic coming of age and someone was brave enough to cast me in that.

B&S: I thought Beast Mode was fun.

James: That was really fun. Thank you for reminding me of that. You know, I don’t remember so many movies! I remember when you bring them up, but I’m fortunate enough to work so much and sometimes I’ll do like six or seven projects in a row, so I don’t remember him right off the bat. That comes from years of training in that sense to be quite honest. As actors, we get so attached to what we make. We get so attached to everything we perform, even auditions. So I felt this tremendous weight in the 90s when I did an audition and would worry. What do they think? What is the feedback? Yeah, it took so many years to get past that.

So the moment that I wrap, it’s kind of like, the moment I come out of an audition. Like if it comes out and it’s great, awesome. If it doesn’t come out, well, I went and did my best. And I kind of don’t think about it.

So the downside to that is there are some movies that I have done recently that I’m very proud of that I think that people haven’t seen. There’s a movie called I Challenger that’s playing now and it’s about an older stoner guy who sells weed to underage kids. He’s looking for direction in his life and he finds these Russian videos on burying yourself underground and decides he’s going to bury himself for 24 hours on a livestream. I’m very proud of that movie.

There’s also Without Ward and that stars Michael Gladis from Mad Men who absolutely delivers one of the best performances. It’s in the future and Martin Landau plays Ward, this guy who has created a drug that gives you whatever you want and keeps you asleep in these dreams and fantasies.

Twenty years later, they run out of the drug and everyone who was on it wakes up and the other part of the world that didn’t do the drug puts them under house arrest. Billions of people are quarantined for years and you can’t leave your house under penalty of death.

Now, the movie is about how a family and how have they been faring together? How is your future living locked in your house under the penalty of death? How was this twenty years of time and what distance has passed between them? That’s our movie and it starts wild and weird. All I can say to some degree — without spoiling it — is Michael Gladis’ character is watching a neighbor. (laughs) He’s kind of being a peeping tom and masturbating to her, but it’s funny — they fall in love without touching. And maybe that masturbation leads to saving the world.

I also loved this movie called The Runner that I did with a band called Boy Harsher. I’m super jazzed about this. I’m such a fan and it’d be crazy not to talk about it. It’s really, really great.

I’m really quite proud of a series of movies — they’re not available yet — with my roommate where we got frustrated for sitting around and ended up making six movies over three years in between other jobs. We have Harry Dean Stanton and got him just before he passed away. We have so many of our friends we met over making movies over the last few years. Some really great people, but I’m really proud of those movies.

We’ve got to try to make them available at some point but that’s what I started producing a little bit. It wasn’t a lot of money, but a lot of resources to get them together. The script got written by Brian McGuire — who also directed — in three days! 78 pages or 17 scenes and we shot it in nine days for almost no money.

It’s very much in the vein of sort of early John Cassavetes.

There’s one called The Block, another is On Holiday which takes place over a three-year holiday in Los Angeles and another is called Prevertere, which is the Latin base for pervert. It’s a pretty interesting movie and totally off the radar.

B&S: I love Cassavetes. Have you seen Love Streams?

James: The end of that is such Cassavetes with the dog. In some ways, his movies are real life with a sort of surrealism. There’s ridiculousness in real life that always comes into play. You find yourself in the middle of the most kind of depressing situation and the most absurd thing happens. They’re both happening at the same time. It’s so bizarre and inexplicable.

I was in The Weekend with Gena Rowlands. I lived in a bed and breakfast with her, Brooke Shields and D.B. Sweeney for three months and the other house was Jared Harris, Gary Dourdan and Deborah Kara Unger.

So of course, all I did was say, You know tell me everything! I need to know!”

She and her boyfriend Bob were so wonderful and so gracious to me. And she was such a joy to work with. I have to say she was such a pro and so open. She was welcoming in every sense of the word. One of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with. I was inspired by her then and I’m still inspired by her now. I was going through a bad breakup and she was so supportive. And it was a tough shoot at one point because we spent four or five 12-hour days on a dinner scene, all jammed together.

She didn’t get frustrated. She handled herself with grace. We all split a 20-year-old bottle of whiskey at the wrap party.

B&S: It reminds me of when I spoke with Courtney Gains about Robert Duvall. He said they did a scene on Colors and there was an hour delay. He was ready to see this great actor get mad and instead, he had humility. He said, “Now I have an hour to think about this scene.”

James: I can attest to that. When I worked on Gone In Sixty Seconds, we had those scenes where we were all in the garage and stacked up. And I was so nervous, I kept calling him Mr. Duvall and he’s like, “Call me Bob, kid.”

There we are and there’s Nicolas Cage, Scott Caan, Vinnie Jones, T.J. Cross, William Lee Scott, Angelina Jolie and we’re stacked up in that shot and you’re trying to figure out how to stand with those lenses. And everyone is watching playback but Robert Duvall and I asked, “Don’t you want to see how it looks?” He said, “That’s fine if they want to watch the scenes, but we could be doing another take right now.” And he was still looking at his scenes for the day! I took that with me. He was the only actor that never watched playback!

So many actors, so little room.

B&S: How much has yoga helped your career?

James: Yoga is not just a physical thing. It starts off as a physical thing, but the actual definition of yoga is to be joined together. The idea is you’re joining your physical attributes, mental attributes, and metaphysical or spiritual if you believe in that.

To give you an example, if you’re doing stretching yoga and you’re going well, my balance is more on the left than I am on my right. And I’m overextending my down in degrees, but not beyond that. You’re just moving physically and you’re thinking about that and checking in with your body. You are now mentally and physically linking those two aspects. So there’s a mental focus that comes with the physical practice.

Some poses are pretty difficult. You want to pop out of it mentally. When you start thinking about things like a bad relationship, instead you focus on the pose, you focus on being in the moment, which is everyone’s biggest challenge. I’m not in that relationship, I’m not worried about my rent, I’m just focused on my breathing. And by learning that, you’re literally learning how to mentally control your thoughts.

Most of our worries come from future events that haven’t happened or things that have already happened that we’ve moved beyond but that we’re still carrying with us. That doesn’t allow you to be in the moment. You have to get past that and say, “You’re okay. You have your vision, your hearing and you’re healthy. You can walk, you have a house, I’m okay.” And you know, for so many people, that’s a very difficult thing to do.

If you’re focused in the moment, then you can do pretty much anything.

I use yoga and there’s a side effect that you just get really strong and healthy. So if you’re practicing to get stronger, you’re gonna get the mental stuff, even if you’re not really trying to, because it’s part of the practice and vice versa.

As my yoga teacher says, It has increased my potential as a human being. To become a stronger person, to have more potential — in that sense, it helps me. It definitely helps.

B&S: Tell me about Tales from the Other Side.

James: I’m very flattered to be talking about it and to be a part of this movie. To be honest, it was a pleasant surprise to be talking about the movie because it was just shot last August.

I’m really, really jazzed about it and to be a part of this anthology series.

Without spoilers, my character may or may not be insane. The audience has to figure that out and we take them down that road, but it’s one of the things that attracted me to that project. The perception of who is my character? Is he who he says he is? How does he appear to you? Is he the same person at the end? We live in an insane world. Is he insane? I love that dichotomy.

B&S: Anthology horror is so great.

James: Yeah, I got to be part of Tales of Halloween and American Nightmares too.

B&S: Rusty Cundieff!

James: Yeah! He actually reached out to me because he liked my work. And that’s the biggest thrill. I also did another fun movie called ColdWater (Sam note: It was released as It Watches) and I play a really weird character. This guy is trapped and these escaped convicts are loose in the hills and there may or may not be some cold waters. And that movie, Rusty saw that and that’s how I got cast in American Nightmares.

B&S: You’re in Amityville Karen too.

James: (laughs) OK, Shawn C. Phillips. That script — I thought it was genius. It’s really funny. And super ridiculous. Just the ridiculous crap that we see daily on the news happening. Real life is now like a bad movie. You can’t believe people really behave that way.

B&S: It’s hard to stay centered with the news.

James: You know, one of the biggest lessons I always hear, you can’t love someone else. If you don’t love yourself — if you don’t like yourself — you’re the only person who knows you best, and you have to like yourself. How the hell could you ever accept anyone else? It’s not gonna happen. To learn to create a relationship with yourself — as crazy as that might sound — where you love yourself, where you treat yourself kindly and do things that are healthy for you.

That’s how you’ll thrive and then you can play with other people and they can thrive.

B&S: It only took me like forty-plus years to learn that.

James: I’m still working it out. Check back on me next week.

To see James Duvall in Tales from the Other Side, grab it now on DVD and on digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.