Sunday, February 7, 2010

Love Slaves of the She-Mummy – Embracing the Chaos

Welcome, Plan9Crunch Fans, you may recall a pair of very interesting essays from screenwriter Sherman Hirsh, where he recounts his part in the production of cult director Andy Milligan's final film, and where he recounts the making of the the low-budget medieval time traveling adventure Lords of Magik, both penned by Sherman. In the following three-part essay/review, Sherman provides readers a fascinating glimpse into the world of micro-budget feature filmmaking. Earlier in the decade he wrote an directed "Love Slaves of the She-Mummy, a feature within a mythical horror host's world, Morbif Mort. This witty film cost only several thousand dollars, and was shot on weekends in the filmmaker's home. Its genesis, and how it was made, is as fascinating as the film. Enjoy Part 1 of "Love Slaves of the She Mummy -- Embracing the Chaos, by Sherman Hirsh!
“…Once upon a Friday Night, a Long, Long Time Ago…”

{PART 1 – The Movie in the Movie}
Being welcomed back to Plan 9 Crunch, a Cult Film’s best friend, for the third time is a singular honor. My little $6000 farce, LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY is not a cult film in the usual sense, in that there is no small hardcore group of aficionados for the film, i.e. a “CULT”. Rather, this movie is for the cult, that cult being the hardcore group of aficionados of Late Night Horror Hosts. I recently ran HORROR HOST through Google, and registered 606,000 listings! Somebody out there cares about Horror Hosts. Must be that “Cult”.
They don’t make Horror Hosts like they used to. Almost every major TV market in the U.S. had one. The most famous one, of course is New York’s “ZACHERLY, THE COOL GHOUL”, who set the standard for all the others. He was imitated on the West Coast by the late, lamented Maila Murmi as “VAMPIRA” and “SEYMOUR”. In Cleveland, my home town, we had Ernie Anderson’s “GHOULARDI”.
There was a nationwide proliferation of wacky weirdos who trashed old exploitation films. They all did funny little sketches, electronically insinuated themselves into the movie, made nasty comments about the competition and picked up a little extra cash doing personal appearances all over their market areas. Some worked alone, while some accomplices, usually co-workers at the station.
In the early ‘50’s, the major studios released a large portion of their pre-1950 movies to TV stations. In the beginning, the stations didn’t just run the movie. Instead, they would have a local personality sit in a big easy chair and introduce and seriously explain the film. Zacherly was lampooning this when he sat on his throne and conspired to assassinate his movie. Every Horror Host after that did some permutation of Zacherly’s model.
The success of these shows was based on the concept that after 5 days of scholastic regimentation and homework, a kid could kick back with a Coke and a bag of Fritos and watch this weird jerk do vicariously all the loud dumb stuff Mom won’t allow in the house.
Audience participation was a huge factor in the success of these programs. Fans could send in pictures and letters and the host would show the pictures and read the letters if they weren’t too dumb. The host was the real show. The movie was just a target.
The heyday of the Horror Host is over. Outside of a few cable access amateurs doing grossly derivative material wrapped around whatever Public Domain movies they can scrounge, there are few left of any importance. The reasons for this are purely mercenary. In the beginning, the movies were relatively inexpensive, the shows were cheap to produce and their popularity made them profitable. Then, the studios pulled the films and put them out on Home Video. However, the Number One reason the various Shock Theater shows had their final fade outs was Infomercials, which cost nothing and paid better. Your local Horror Host was a victim of Ron Popeil and his peers.
Another reason was that, at the time, no one took these performances seriously, including the Hosts, themselves. For some hosts, it was just another chore to be done around the station. In most cases, the Horror Host gig was just a sideline. Ernie Anderson only made $64 a show. He did Ghouldardi for roughly 3 years and split Cleveland for LA, where he became a major announcer at ABC. Until his death in the mid-‘90’s, you could hear his voice between shows, as well his stint as the announcer on AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS in its early years.
This was typical of the job. Most of the Horror Hosts only did their shows a couple of years and them quit when it got too demanding or stopped being fun. In later years, Anderson had little regard for Ghoulardi, and didn’t understand how the character still had fans so long after this minor entry on his resume was ancient history.
Remember GREMLINS II, JACK THE BEAR, and FRIGHT NIGHT? Remember what they had in common, besides being relegated to ‘80’s nostalgia? They all had Horror Hosts as characters. I couldn’t find any movie actually about a Horror Host, so I made one.
The ‘90’s - I was Jonesing to make another movie. I formulated several concepts which got cut for various reasons, mostly monetary. I settled on doing a Horror Host based movie because it would use a single main set for the show itself and a few improvised sets where an imitation “cheapie” would be staged.
Like most filmmakers, I maintain a file of assorted ideas, titles and half-baked, half finished scripts. I raided it, looking for inspiration. I love blatant, nasty titles. Low budget movies need loud titles, because with no stars, the promise of cheap thrills is the best way to get attention.
From my list of lurid titles, I chose LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY. I had already written ZOMBIE MARINES WASTE VEGAS, I PUKE ON DRACULA’S GRAVE, and a few others, so I needed a virgin title. LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY would be the feature film my host was presenting.
I could just as easily have gone with “NIGHT OF THE GUTSTOMPER”, “WOLF WOMEN OF HOLLYWOOD”, or “VISCERA:ATTACK OF THE KILLER GUTS FROM THE HAUNTED MORGUE”. I did a little research to find out if there was a film already using my proposed title and the closest I could find was a listing on IMDB for “LOVE BRIDES OF THE BLOOD MUMMY”(’73). I never heard of it either.
I had to write a “bad” movie. I had to violate all the principles I had learned from writing 20+ scripts, and commit all the mistakes on purpose I had unlearned. I set about writing a bad script. Awkward, unnatural dialog, a hackneyed, improbable plot, supernatural claptrap and wall to wall movie clichés; all would be employed to create a movie a Horror Host could trash mouth with impunity. However, for the sake of the viewing audience, this bad movie could absolutely not be boring!
SYNOPSIS - LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY: Kyle Lyle, (Gregg Stickeler)a researcher, is contacted by police Detective Dali (Erica Cohen)regarding the arrest of his brother, Desmond,(Michael Enright)a reporter. Desmond has gone crazy, ranting about someone in his head. Kyle visits Desmond in jail and Desmond tells him about Vulnaviana, (think Vulnavia, stolen from Dr. Phibes) a dangerous cursed mummy. As soon as Kyle gets home from Desmond’s apartment with the mummy, he receives a mysterious phone call, and is goaded into meeting the caller. Mr. Minneapolis, (ME!)a rich diseased swindler, wants Vulnaviana, and tries to buy her from Kyle, who of course, refuses. Not that it matters, since Minneapolis has dispatched Blurt,(Gary Levinson) his staff mental case, to steal Vulnaviana anyway, just in case Kyle won’t cooperate, which he didn’t. However, Blurt blunders and allows himself to touch Vulnaviana, allowing her to enter his mind and take over, obviously what happened to Des. Kyle comes home and is confronted by Det. Dali, who wants to know what the corpse of a mental patient is doing dead on his floor, not that it matters, since Blurt gets up and leaves, announcing cryptically that it’s not the right time. Kyle returns to jail to consult with Desmond who tells him he must allow a priestess, Zenobel (Daria I. Dunall) to dispose of the Demon Queen. Meanwhile, Blurt, under Vulnaviana’s control, has killed Minneapolis and returns to Kyle’s place to kill Kyle and get the mummy so Dr. Sam Brancsisco (Sterling Von Radcliffe) can restore her flesh and she can rule, etc. The mad doctor has kidnapped an innocent girl (Pauline Lang, who did double duty as the living incarnation of the Demon Queen)whose body he will raid to restore Vulnaviana. THEN IT GETS WEIRD!
Principle photography of the pseudo-movie called LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY commenced in November of 1997, with a cast comprised of friends, co-workers, and total strangers who volunteered to sacrifice a few weekends to appear in non-paying roles in a weird little nano-budget hobby movie shot in the living room of my North Hollywood apartment. Actors will work for free if they like the part and you feed them. The cast of LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY was paid in Pizza, and as is customary, would receive copies of the finished movie.
The Lead and the Mad Doctor were people I worked with at my day job. A homicidal looney was played by “Vladek Blut”, actually old friend Gary Levinson, the creator of HELLROLLER, the first movie about a serial killer in a wheelchair. The rest of the cast members were pros and semi-pros who answered my ad in an LA casting paper.
We shot on weekends, which allowed me to use the rest of a week to build each of the seven sets. I built them from cardboard, paper drop cloths, found objects, and whatever else I could find. If you can’t scrounge, you can’t make these movies. The sets were decorated with stuff I already had as well as stuff I literally found in the street.
I had to buy a few props. In the course of shooting this movie, I learned the location of every Salvation Army, Goodwill and other thrift store in North Hollywood, as well as the location and contents of a slew of 99 cent stores. The exotic wardrobe was off-the-shelf costumes I scored in Hollywood. I rented a gorilla suit from a friend for a cripplingly exorbitant $20.
Production was relatively easy. My cast was totally professional, with no attacks of temperament, no refusal to comply with my requests and no shortage of actual creative contributions. For the seven weekends we shot, I filled 9 Hi8 tapes with action, drama, conflict, paranormal phenomena and pathos, all of it deliberately crappy. It was the Cinematic equivalent of SPINAL TAP. The whole “movie” was finally done and the Horror Host part was next.

{In the next installment, to be released late Tuesday night, Sherman recounts the making of the TV Show, itself. You’ll meet Morbid Mort and his gang, and experience the process of pretending to do TV.}

No comments: