PITTSBURGH MADE: Aftereffects: Memories Of Pittsburgh Filmmaking (2005)

In the late 70s, a group of ambitious Pittsburgh filmmakers decided to work together to make a movie called The Manipulator and later Effects. Due to a distributor problem, it was never released in theaters or on home video with just two theatrical screenings. One was at the U.S. Film Fest — which is now the Sundance Film Festival — and then the world premiere at the much-missed and long-gone Kings Court Theater in Oakland on November 9, 1979.

26 years later, Effects would finally be released on DVD and shown at the Warhol in Pittsburgh. Today, there’s a gorgeous AGFA blu ray release of the film and you can watch it any time you’d like, but at one point — as Tom Savini reminds you in this documentary — all he could do was tell people about the movie because there was no way to see it.

Directed by Michael Felsher and featuring nearly everyone involved with the film — David Belko, Susan Chapek, John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, Debra Gordon, Joe Pilato, Pasquale Buba, Savini, George Romero and Marty Schiff — the bulk of this story takes place poolside at John Harrison’s house as the cast looks back on a movie that was hidden for so long. There are also moments filmed at the old Mind Over Media building, a place I worked at just a few years afterward.

This was a bonus feature on the releases of Effects, but this new blu ray has so much more, like an exclusive feature-length edition of AfterEffects with over 15 minutes of never-before-seen interview footage, commentary from Felsher, more interview clips with George Romero, deleted scenes, highlights of the evening Effects played the Warhol, the 2005 DVD trailer and a book with all-new tributes to Buba, Pilato and Romero.

I often think that so much of the culture that I love is disappearing, that the people who made it are fading away. This has been shown to me so many times this year. This movie allows me to look back on so many that are gone and sit amongst them, learning how Pittsburgh once made its own films. Great films.

This is worth the watch just to hear how much Pilato loved his first lunch at the Squirrel Cage.

You can get this from MVD and Diabolik DVD.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Survival of the Dead (2009)

The last film in the Living Dead series and the final film George Romero would make before he died in 2017, Survival of the Dead is a movie I’ve avoided for some time. He told Bloody Disgusting, “…the idea was to make a film about war or entities that don’t die, conflicts, disagreements that people can’t resolve, whether it’s Ireland or the Middle East or the Senate…that was the idea. And then I decided that was the best way to depict it. And then I had this other idea about an island would be a logical place for people to go, an idea I sort of played with in some of the other films. So I said OK, the best way to tell this story I think is to have a protagonist go to the island only to find out that it’s in the middle of basically a war that won’t die, between these two old guys. And the moment that came together I remembered The Big Country. And I’m always looking for something different sort of stylistically with these films so that they’re not the same which makes it more interesting for us as filmmakers. All the people on the set, production design, DP, good friends of mine, we sort of work as a big family. So we all sat down and I made everyone watch the big country. And then my thought was “Hey why don’t we go full on with this, go widescreen, not mute the colors, really try to make it look like William Wyler”. So that was something we did as a fun exercise to give it a different taste.”

Filmed in Canada instead of Pittsburgh — yes, this is something that I will always call out — this is the story of Plum Island, Delaware, a place that has always been home to the feud between the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. The rise of zombies has added something new to their war: the O’Flynns are trying to wipe out the living dead while the Muldoons leave their loved ones chained up and waiting for a cure that they believe will soon be invented. It also has the Nation Guard Soldiers from Diary of the Dead getting involved and, as always, an ending that takes out most of the cast.

Alan Van Sprang’s Sargeant “Nicotine” Crockett character is the first Romero character to make two movies, unless you count Tom Savini’s Blades showing up as a human in Dawn and a zombie in Land. You may also connect the unnamed cop Joe Pilato plays in Dawn with Captain Rhodes in Day.

Before he died, Romero was working on Twilight of the Dead, a movie that would be about zombies from Land of the Dead in a world where they are the top of the food chain. Supposedly, it’s still going to get made. There was also another movie called Road of the Dead that had been talked about.

I want this movie to be bigger than it is. I want it to say things that it cannot. I want more and realize that I am being greedy.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Slaughter Drive (2017)

Doug Stevenson (director, writer and star Ben Dietels, who is also one of the hosts of Neon Brainiacs) feels like a failure but wants to keep filming and trying to make something that people want to see. He accidentally leaves his video camera in a park overnight and films an actual murder, which is probably the second worst thing that has happened to him that day, as he arrived back home to have to listen to his soon-to-be-ex-wife pounding it out with another man.

That said, he was hoping that reuniting with his old friends Todd (Vincent Bombara) and Chris (Chris Crighton) would mean having a fun summer and forgetting the cards that life has dealt. And then there’s that murder.

Slaughter Drive doesn’t shy away from gore, which is welcome, and has the same kind of love for 80s horror — most essentially shot on video slashers — that I do. It could use a little more focus near the end, but the fact that it comes together so well on the budget it has is a miracle. There are so many streaming horror movies that don’t have a fraction of this film’s originality or desire to be great. I never want Ben to stop making movies and trying new things.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Diary of the Dead (2007)

While filming a horror movie about a mummy in a forest, some University of Pittsburgh — yet this was shot in Toronto — students and their professor learn from the news — with the soundtrack taken directly from Night of the Living Dead — that recently dead are awaking and walking.

The fifth film in Romero’s series of Living Dead films — it’s actually a prequel to Land of the Dead — Diary changed the way he shot films. It used computer-generated imagery which allowed for the film to be shot quickly with just a few handheld cameras instead of the multiple angles, long filming sessions and extensive editing he was known for. Personally, I understand the experiment, but I don’t want to see a master like Romero making a found footage movie.

Romero told Cinemablend, “I had this idea that I could use film students out shooting a school project and zombies begin to walk and they document it. I wanted to do this subjective camera thing before I knew anybody else was working on it. I didn’t know about Cloverfield or anything else. I thought we were going to be the first guys out there with one of these.” He still used a cinematographer to try and keep the shots looking less like the shakycam that most found footage makes me nauseated with.

I’d like to report that this film is good but I struggled through every scene. What always worked for me — at least in the first three Living Dead films — is that you find characters to feel for and get to root for. None of these students seem as if they can come close to that. If anything, the subtext has become full text and even more ham-fisted. Seriously, if you think that defibrillator to the zombie’s head is awesome, that’s what the messages in this movie are doing to your brain. Where Dawn hinted, this screams in your face, “Do you get it?”

The effects are pretty good but this whole thing just made me sad. I realize that people need to keep working, money needs to keep being made, but I started to feel like I do when I watch a later Argento movie. I want it to be great, I keep rooting for it and then I just feel this tremendous wave of sadness. I want more from the directors I love and I realize in no way is that fair. They’ve given me enough.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy (1988)

Braddock has been in the news a lot lately, being the adopted home of John Fetterman. Yet for years, Tony Buba has been there, making documentaries about the former steeltown where he was born and continued to live, all while working in movies, doing sound for George Romero films and showing up with his brother Pasquale as drug dealers in Martin and bikers in Dawn of the Dead.

Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy takes place at the end of the eighties, a time when so much of America gave up on Pittsburgh and its surrounding mill towns. Where once Braddock was Pittsburgh’s shopping center with seven movie theaters, by the time of this movie it was falling to pieces — it would get worse — as the mills in Homestead were being closed by U.S. Steel, who said they were in the business of making money, not steel.

I grew up directly between Pittsburgh and Youngstown with a grandfather who spent his whole life in the blast furnace after liberating concentration camps. He used to tell me about getting frostbite on one side of his body and a suntan on the other as he worked at J&L in Aliquippa and would come home covered in dirt and grime in the small hours of the day, sleeping when everyone else was awake and then going back the very next day and doing it all over again.

Buba plays himself, trying to make a movie with Sal Caru, a local character who was also in one of his shorts Sweet Sal. Except that Sal thinks that just because Werner Herzog liked the movie, Tony is going to leave Braddock behind, just like the steelworkers did when they started making money. He’s ready to battle everyone in his way, leaving rambling explentative-filled answering machine messages demanding an audience.

There’s a moment before his confession that Tony looks at an animated card of Jesus and times when he thinks about how expensive Hollywood things are, how the rich men running the mills spend as much in a day as people in Braddock make in a year and how he can’t waste anything. He feels guilty about things like wanting to leave his hometown behind for Hollywood before realizing this is where he belongs.

While I’m a transplant to the greater Pittsburgh area, living in Mount Oliver, Edgewood, Allentown, Homestead, Dravosburg, West Mifflin, McKeesport and now Monongahela in my life, I feel such an emotional tug to this place. You can look at the Waterfront shopping area built on the top of the dead Carrie 6 furnace and see that even though this town is now about tech, we haven’t forgotten the past. I still miss Alexander Graham Bell’s bar on 8th, a place in Homestead where every table had a telephone and you could call table to table. I’ve hunted down where the old drive-ins were, the defunct movie theaters, the places that Pittsburgh used to be.

The struggles within this film of the steelworkers are long gone. So many of us have forgotten them, so many are gone now to be honest. My grandfather has been dead twenty years by now and I miss him and those stories every day. But Pittsburgh trudges on, even as one of the few mills still open is right down the street from my house now, the Clairton works, making the air itself the worst in the state. It smells like eggs on a foggy day, but once you couldn’t wash your clothes outside if you lived above the mills and Homestead ceremony is filled with the bodies of union men and the Pinkertons who got off boats to try and break their line, one of the largest instances of armed warfare inside our country.

I came away from this knowing why Tony Buba loves Pittsburgh because I think sure, we might complain about it, we might wish it were different, but we love everything about this town. We’re lifers. I couldn’t imagine caring about anywhere else.

You can buy this from Kino Lorber.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Writer Jesse Andrews was born in Pittsburgh and his family home in Point Breeze was used as lead character Greg’s (Thomas Mann) house in the film, while Rachel’s (Olivia Cooke) house is in Squirrel Hill and Earl’s (RJ Cyler) house is in Braddock. This film actually gives a pretty good tour of the city, as the old Schenley High School, The Warhol, Copacetic Comics and Oakland all show up.

I first watched this because it was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who did such a phenomenal job on the reimagined The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

Greg’s parents — Nick Offerman and Connie Britton — force him to spend time with Rachel, who is suffering from leukemia and not attending school. As she grows sicker and loses her hair, Greg assures us that she does not die in the end. To keep her spirits up, he shares the film parodies that he creates with his co-worker — he is afraid to say friend about anyone — Earl.

Greg begins to neglect school — and even a popular girl named Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) as he struggles to stay positive as Rachel gets worse. He even loses his friendship with his collaborator as they finish making a movie to try and help her spirits.

I can’t think about this movie without tearing up  Gomez-Rejon made it in the attempt to create a more personal movie and deal with the loss of his father. It really says something about growing up and the people we gain and lose as we stumble through life. I recommend it highly.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: Scream Queens’ Naked Christmas (1996)

Available as an extra on the new Terror Vision blu ray of Santa ClawsScream Queens’ Naked Christmas is such an oddity in our overly saturated by pornography world of 2022. It’s dirty, kind of, but not really in any way as much as it’s women taking their clothes off which seems perfectly chaste today. It ends up here, a combination movie for this week of Pittsburgh movies and holiday classics — classics may be stretching things but it is the season of giving — directed by John Russo, who was also the publisher and managing editor of Scream Queens Illustrated, a magazine that chronicled horror movie actresses — and showed their boobs, let’s be frank — in a time when getting on the internet often involved needing to be at a university or the slowest dial up ever.

As a kid, I often fantasized about what it would be like going to the Edison Hotel and what was waiting for me inside. I should have been shown this film because the dancing in it is about as sexy as any so-called Pittsburgh adult club I’ve ever been in. At least the Tennyson Lounge used to let you get up on stage and sing, The Cricket was cheap to drink at and you could get dollar slices at Anthony’s when that was still a place. In fact, I’ve always liked the aura of sin in clubs of ill repute more than experiencing the sin because it’s just a transaction and the sooner you realize you’re just a mark, the quicker you can just hang back and soak it all up. The robotic dancing in this, the faraway eyes — just imagine it darker, smelling like more perfume and if you dumb glitter all over yourself and burn your money, you too can have an authentic experience.

With Wayne (Grant Kramer) from Santa Claws hosting, basically this video is John Russo and Bill Hinzman videotaping women and getting them naked for the yule season. Sue Ellen White only did this movie, but Lisa Delien (using the stage name Lisa Duvaul) was also in Eyes Are Upon You and Amanda Madison (using the name Christine Cavalier) appeared in other movies like Psycho DancePsycho VampireSlaughter Secretaries…yes, all Wave Productions. She’s also in Donald Farmer’s Red Lips.

The main star is, of course, Debbie Rochon, whose career took her everywhere from getting a scar on the streets of Vancouver at the age of 14 and being an extra in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains to buiding her legacy as a scream queen in movies like LurkersTromeo and Juliet and so many more, being picked as Draculina magazine’s Scream Queen of the Decade (1990–1999). She’s still making movies today, shrugging off setbacks like nearly losing four fingers of her right hand to a prop machete. She’s also one of those people who appear so perfect that you wonder if they’re some kind of android. I hope she never stops making movies ever.

This movie is ridiculous but I’m also strangely happy that it exists. If you saw Santa Claws, you’ve seen it already, but I respect that Russo is out to make money off you more than once for the same exact product.

PITTSBURGH MADE: 6 Souls (2010)

Swedish directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein also directed Underworld: Awakening, but today we’re here to discuss this Pittsburgh-shot movie that is packed with City of Bridges locations such as downtown Pittsburgh, the Fort Pitt Tunnel, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, the Community College of Allegheny County, the now-closed Spin Bartini and Ultra Lounge in Shadyside, the Braddock Carnegie Library where I saw Earth in concert one magical night, the home of Mayor John Fetterman, houses in Schenley Farms, the Collier maintenance yard and — most importantly — Ritter’s Diner in Bloomfield.

Writer Michael Cooney also was behind Jack Frost and its sequel Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman and this movie is as absolutely dumb as those movies. Dr. Cara Harding (Julianne Moore) is recovering from the death of her husband when her father introduces her to Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a patient who can do more than switch personalities, he can also change physical characteristics with each different side of his brain. Like how one of those forms, David Burnberg, requires a wheelchair.

Cara learns that the real David was killed many years ago and when she brings the man’s mother to met Adam, he tells her something so upsetting that she screams that he is evil.

Meanwhile, Cara sees no issue letting Adam play with her daughter Sammy (Brooklynn Proulx), who has given up on God after the deatah of her father. I mean, she already knows that Adam is also taking on the aspects of a metal singer who killed himself named Wes — not Sammie Curr — and his house is filled with Satanic paraphenelia and a dead body in the bathtub.

After Adam is arrested, Cara meets a witch doctor who shows him how she does psychic surgery and can move souls into containers. This is followed by a story about a faithless priest who told people in town that they didn’t need vaccines and still got his daughters shots. The people killed those two girls and the witch doctor sucked out his soul and filled his body with mud so that it would roam forever. I would assume this is supposed to be Washington County which track. Tarentum would also work.

So yeah — Adam isn’t Adam, he’s the soul of all that priest in a new body, the real Adam is dead and Sammy is the one that he really wants. Whew — I went into this hoping for another Yinzer Giallo film, but it’s so filled with the supernatural that it just doesn’t work.

You can watch this on Tubi.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Stigmata (1999)

Sure, this is set in Pittsburgh, but mainly it was shot in Vancouver and Los Angeles, with Pittsburgh only being used for some establishing shots. Let me tell you, there’s no goth clubs like thee one where Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) has a freakout and imagines wearing a crown of thorns. I mean, we had Metropol — in the Strip and on the edge — but it never looked that cool, trust me.

All that sigmata — the wounds of Jesus bleeding on the hands, feet and head of a mortal — show up because Frankie’s mother sends her the stolen rosary of dead priest Father Paulo Alameida. Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is dispatched by the Vatican to see if her wounds are actually divine.

The whole reason this is happening is that the dead priest had found something like the Gospel of Thomas. The Catholic Church wants it kept quiet because it claims that the Kingdom of God is inside all of us and not a building, which would ruin the little empire they’ve set up.

Amazingly, director Rupert Wainwright followed the movie Blank Check with this, then went on to remake The Fog. This is a Pittsburgh movie that I just can’t deal with as hardly any of the city that I love so much is in this, either in feeling or actually seen. If it was set here, that whole subway scene would be way different, because the T — sorry, the Pittsburgh Regional Transit — doesn’t go all that many places.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Kenny (1988)

Kenneth Easterday was born with sacral agenesis, a congenital disorder in which the fetal development of the lower spine is abnormal. The first amputation surgery used his shin bones to replace his missing spinal column. They held off on the second surgery as he wasn’t expected to live, but then his second surgery improved his mobility by amputating the rest of his remaining legs at the hips.

This didn’t stop Kenny, as you can see in the movie, as he got around on a skateboard.

Directed and written by Claude Gagnon, this film is about a documentary crew trying to see what Kenny’s life is, living in the mill town of Aliquippa with a large family. Funded by Bandai Entertainment Inc. and Toho and staffed by a Japanese crew — Gagnon often worked between Canada and Japan — this film has a great cast as well, including Pittsburgh native Caitlin Clarke (Dragonslayer), Liane Curtis (whose father was the voice of Pops Racer and directed The Flesh Eaters; she’s in Sixteen Candles and Critters 2: The Main Course), Zach Grenier (he was Ed Norton’s boss in Fight Club), the man considered Pittsburgh’s finest actor Bingo O’Malley and Kenny’s real-life brother and sister Jess and Karen.

What’s amazing in this film is that it never gets overly dramatic. Kenny is actually pretty much fine with the hand that life is dealt him, laughing that the documentary crew wants to ramp up his pain and refusing the fake legs that everyone thinks will make him feel normal. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see the old Market Square that I miss so much, giving you a view of George Aiken’s so perfect that you can smell the fried chicken.

This is now available on blu ray from Canadian International Pictures, a Vinegar Syndrome partner label.